Worldcon, day 1

Have arrived in Kansas City, MO for MidAmeriCon II (commonly known as Worldcon 74).  Have a list of panels I want to see, from hard Science Fiction to publishing.  There are several people here I hope to catch up with.  Already met a few neat people I hope to keep in touch with in the future.

One thing stands out in my mind as I look around: this place is Trad-pub. All of the panels are centered around the concept of New York publishing, from getting an agent, to writing a winning elevator pitch, to how to handle rejection (really?). There is even a panel on “Small Press Publishing” where the moderator is the Head Editor of one of the biggest publishing houses in the world. Small press, right.

Since I don’t suspect I’ll ever belong to Trad-Pub-Land (the next Hive story going off to the New Yorker in October to be rejected so I can publish it in January notwithstanding), I don’t think there is much there for me.

But that’s not why I do these things. The world of publishing is going through the fourth complete sea-change in the last fifteen years right now. Technology has broken the power of the big houses to control what the public sees. You all are able to buy my books directly and recommend them to a friend, and you cannot purchase them off a book shelf anywhere except the Powell’s in Beaverton, OR, and a small mailbox store in Seattle (the owner is a friend of my wife and likes having books for sale on his counter, me and several other local authors he knows).

To be “Trad-Pubbed” is to have been an author who used to get big contracts through the NY houses, but who has either seen the advances drop to almost nothing, or who has simply been cut loose and abandoned. I feel sorry for those folks, because they have to re-invent themselves mid-career.

For some of them, it isn’t as painful, as they are usually able to get their rights back after thirty-five years if it has gone out of print. (New books, being electronic, will NEVER go out of print, according to how contract law is currently working.) If they signed “good” contracts, they might have term limits built in (“you give it back after ten years…” etc.) or sales thresholds (it must sell X copies in a year or the rights revert, etc.), but most writers did not sign good contracts. (I won’t go into THAT stupidity, other than to say that young authors are taught to not ask questions by people who absolutely know better.)

For me, I have the freedom that Jeff Bezos is going to enforce on the world. (And if you think Jeff’s going to lose, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you, cheap.) ANYONE can write a book, slap a cover on it, blurb the back, and put it up for sale. You might never sell a single copy of it, except to your mother, but you have published a book. Most authors will never, ever, make a dedicated living from their writing alone. I don’t. (Yet.)

But all I have to do is keep publishing, and relentlessly hustle. Our waitress this morning wanted to know if we were writers, because our hotel is two blocks from the Con and filled with us. I handed her a business card for Auberon, which gave her a tangible thing to have, to look at, maybe to buy later. The return on my business cards is lousy, in that I probably only get a handful of readers from a box, but the box costs me $10, so it actually pays for itself.

I don’t need many fans, if they are dedicated to my words. I net about $3 from each e-novel I sell (less for the novellas and almost nothing from the short stories) on Amazon. You can do the math pretty easily from there to determine how much money you would want to make in a year, and break that down into how many novels you sell on a daily basis, average, to be free. If I have more novels for folks, and keep writing more, then my chances of replacing the day job go up.

Trad pub does not offer that, any more. Once upon a time, you could make a comfortable career mid-listing and have a happy, middle-class lifestyle. If you hit big, the spouse could quit their job and you could enjoy things. Today, those numbers measure in the hundreds in Trad-Pub land, and thousands in the Indie Press (me and folks like me struggling to get to that point).

So I hustle, and I blog, and I write daily. I try to talk you into introducing me to one of your friends you think will enjoy my writing, because that word of mouth builds my fan base. If I had enough support to stop day-jobbing, I would at least double my daily word count, at a dead minimum. Probably triple it once I got the brain muscles built up to do that regularly. Did it for Fairchild, when I had to turn out a new novel, in a new universe, from scratch, in a very short period of time. It worked out to 3000 words per day, for 15 days. 47,000 words, which is 7000 more than the definition of a novel.

I can do it. Trad Pub would never stand for it. But they don’t get a vote. And they don’t get to stop me. I view them as the competition for your dollars, so I have to know what they are up to, and how to produce a better product.

So that’s Day One of WorldCon (Thursday). Let’s see how silly Day Two can be.


shade and sweet water