Friday, May 4, 2012

What's Wrong With Publishing, or The Kobayashi Maru

Today someone asked "how's your book doing?"
It's great to be able to say-- "Which one?"
As of last December, I only had one novel out for sale-- A Memory of Grief-- now I've got two novels published, with a third due out later this year-- while I also do work on book #4, the one to follow.
And I've got five story collections out in print-- while working on several more.
And-- the other novels I've got in the immediate pipeline.
So the book(s) is/are doing well, thanks. Better every day.

In our talk, I said it was tough being an Indie writer, as you're responsible for all the promotion-- as well as writing more. No matter if you're promoting one book or writing another, you feel like you're not doing enough if you can't do both at the same time-- and with a regular day job and a family, you have little enough time as it is.

He smiled and said, "You've got a real Kobayashi Maru situation there."

This touched my nerdy little heart. For those of you who may not have your geek creds, the Kobayashi Maru was a plot device used in Star Trek. It was an exercise at Starfleet Academy, designed as unwinnable, no matter what the player did. It was designed to teach prospective officers the meaning of fear and failure. Everyone failed. Until James T. Kirk came along, a man who refused to accept failure, ever. He beat the Kobayashi Maru by cheating the rigged game! Kirk hacked the game computer to allow for a winnable scenario. And won it.

The whole idea is legend to those of us who get it. It shows us what Kirk's indomitable spirit is all about, and why he's successful as a Starship Captain.

This had tremendous resonance with me, because of another recent communication. I told a pro writer about my ambition to write fiction full-time, making it my living.

The response was "Forget it-- it's a pipe dream. You can't make a living writing fiction. I've had too many friends who've come to a bad end because they tried this."

Now this is a person who has been writing and publishing in the traditional pub world for almost 20 years. They said that they can sell a new book on a short proposal. They've got a spate of prestigious awards and nominations. With terrific, high-level reviews from professionals, a following, a number of books with good covers, a good website, and impressive sales rankings and reviews on Amazon. And with the support of big publishing behind them, offering hardback, paperback, e-books, audio books, and translation editions.

And this person cannot make a steady enough income to survive!
That, dear readers, is What's Wrong With Big Traditional Publishing.
Someone is making a ton of money here, and it ain't the person creating the product. A pro, with everything in place, is not getting a steady income from a terrific backlist and a regular supply of new books.

Wonder why. Maybe because Big Trad Pub gives a piddly 17.5% to the creator of the work, then another 15% comes out of that for an agent.

So we have a system that creates the expectation of failure. You can have everything going for you, do everything right, and you still get nothing but scraps from Big Trad Pub (for which they expect you should be groveling and grateful).

Sorry, ain't buying it. Like James Tiberius Kirk, I reject this rigged system, and the attitude of failure it fosters.
It's the Kobayashi Maru scenario once again-- a system that's unbeatable.

So, like Kirk, I'll go outside the system to beat it-- and do what's necessary to succeed. If that means Big Trad Pub is Starfleet, and won't let me be a captain without playing their losing game, I'll go rogue and get my own damn Starship.

I'll follow in the steps of others who began at Starfleet, and who have also rejected Big Trad Pub-- and are now making a very nice living.
Folks like JA Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Barry Eisler, just to name a few. The ones who show you how to succeed, how to reach for the stars, not be afraid of them.

For some time now, when people have asked what the middle initial T stands for in my name, I've answered "Tiberius."
Now you know why.

Live Long, and Prosper.
And Non Carborundum Illegitimatus.

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