Janny Wurts on Slow Burn in publishing

Brian G Turner

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Janny Wurts writes a piece for A Dribble of Ink about the slow burn effect in publishing - and how good talent could be losing out to corporate interest:
http://aidanmoher.com/blog/featured...ajectory-of-slow-burn-success-by-janny-wurts/

Rising costs and the collapse of the independent distributors took their industry toll in the nineties, but more than these, the insidious effect of computer tracking drastically shortened the time span for new work to establish itself. Instant access to sales figures let publishers and chains cherry-pick, ditching the effort required to build a slow burn approach, and enabling a quick shift toward immediate sales. One editor summed up the result rather baldly: buy up cheap books by new talent, throw the debut books at the wall like spaghetti, see what sticks, discard the rest.
 
The book selling model went badly wrong in the 90s - independents closed, not able to compete with amazon and the chains, the supermarkets took loss leaders for footfall and devalued books, hitting margins, and amazon opened self publishing to anyone and flooded the market. Good authors were caught between this - no small bookshops to let the slow burn take off (Colin Bateman was supported by an Irish chain of bookstores and built from there, ended up writing Murphy's
Law for the bbc), no interest to the chains, no way to stand out in the sea of self publishing.

I think the small press market is starting to take some of the slack from these, and, if they can combine and use joint marketing/fight into distributors, there is hope. There must always be hope. After all, the readers still want good books...
 
it would help if indie bookstores came on board for the fight though. Foyles, self-styled indie giant, has been stripping out indie presses from their online store since before christmas. that doesn't help exposure at all.
 
Indie bookstores need to know what market they want to inhabit. At the moment, many are either trying to compete with the big boys in terms of bestsellers to get people in, and yet also trying to be niche. I think, it has to be one of the other. We have one doing well in Belfast, called No Alibis, which is a crime imprint shop, but which also supports local writers with talks and the like, and readings. It's doing well.
 
Firstly, I admit to knowing nothing about publishing, however, surely this "slow burning" is something that is increased by the advent of social media and the rise of the internet? What I mean is that instead of one friend telling some more friends, who tell some other friends, who tell work colleagues and the people at the gym, you tell Twitter and Facebook and it is spread much more widely and more quickly. Isn't that what happened with 50 Shades of Gray?

On the other hand, if the book is already discontinued and pulped then you aren't going to get hold of it except second-hand. Also, this starring and reviewing of books at online sales websites looks highly dubious to me; clearly partisan and not independent, but it seems to be believed by the vast majority. It would surely be in the interests of the online booksellers themselves to sort that out - maybe partnerships with a website like Chronicles who could give proper independent reviews?
 
Yes, but how do you start a slow burn when there are millions of authors out there on social media, some pretty poor, some very good. The number of times it's happened - that a book became talked about widely enough to rise out of the morass - is pretty rare. Lottery winning rare. We used to have a vehicle to support authors coming out and the new vehicles haven't replaced it. What they've left is a model where the majority of people producing the work to sustain the model don't get paid enough to do the job of continuing to produce what's needed.

I know a lot of people on the Chrons, and elsewhere, see me as one to watch. It's very nice, and very encouraging, and all that there. But, frankly, so much time has gone into writing, and none of it has been paid. There are few advances. This is no reflection on my publisher, who offers the same deal as most small publishers (and more generous in terms of royalties etc than most) but I am having to find the time to write the book with no income from it, around other jobs. Which means I'm under huge time pressure (and should probably not be posting) to work, look after my family, write a book and balance a very, very lean income/expenditure form. How many others give up? How many simply can't keep going?

We have an unviable market that actively puts hurdles in front of our producers, and no longer has a platform to support emerging talent (the writers who've been honing, who've been getting better, who are prepared to get good, not just pop their first drafts on kindle - and please note, that is in no way about any sper I know here. That model is there because there is nowhere else to go, and I don't mean it as a criticism.)

Rant over. I'll go edit. :D
 
Yes, but how do you start a slow burn when there are millions of authors out there on social media, some pretty poor, some very good.
I expect, exactly the same way as one did before. All I'm saying is that technology ought to help that, rather than hinder that. However, I can see that without the support net, everything is expected to happen more quickly, and I do understand your argument.

Janny Wurts quote was saying that "computer tracking" is the problem, but I would say that instead it is the very much old problem of 'a workman blaming his tools' or 'computer-says-no'. It is not a bad thing to have more information, it is how you deal with that information and the decisions that you make based upon it.
 
The most important thing about social media isn't the technology, but the communities. And those communities are vast herds chasing the new shiny. Those herds aren't interested in sharing enthusiasm for something that has been out for five or six years already.
 
The most important thing about social media isn't the technology, but the communities. And those communities are vast herds chasing the new shiny. Those herds aren't interested in sharing enthusiasm for something that has been out for five or six years already.

No? Then how do you explain some of the threads on here, where classic sf is discussed, and Tolkien and Lovecraft have active threads? I'm in a space opera group on Facebook - they love the older stuff. It's not getting new stuff talked about that is always the trouble, it's about breaking past the comfort zone and getting groups to try the new stuff.
 
I doubt this site drives book sales the way the more popular blogs and communities like TOR and goodreads do. And they're definitely about the new shiny. Like music hipsters, SFF bloggers get a lot of cred for being early adapters of the next big thing.
 
The most important thing about social media isn't the technology, but the communities. And those communities are vast herds chasing the new shiny. Those herds aren't interested in sharing enthusiasm for something that has been out for five or six years already.
I partly agree with that. It isn't a technology problem because you can see people only interested in shiny new things away from online communities. There is now a throwaway culture where everything must be upgraded and replaced with the newest version, including clothes and accessories, and probably including friends and partners too! So, yes it is cool to be an early adopter.

However, you also have a phenomenon of Book Clubs where people are actually encouraged to try new genres and new authors. At least, that is how my wife's book club works. There are loads of Book Clubs and I would think that their recommendations hold more clout than blogs and online communities for the reasons I already gave about the quality of those online reviews. I accept that I may be wrong about that though. I'm probably too old to be the target audience for blogs about books.
 
I think it's kind of a business insider/ publisher push thing. There's a big fuss about new books because those are the books people are wanting to sell right now, so publishers send out ARCs and encourage reviews and discussion and all that.

It came as a bit of a surprise to me when I started paying attention a little more to the business side of things, that the books people were talking about were the ones published this year (or possibly, at a pinch, maybe last year) but the books I loved were nowhere.

Quite apart from anything else, there are an awful lot of books that were not published this year. I suppose you put your marketing budget where it'll make the most impact.
 
I think it's kind of a business insider/ publisher push thing. There's a big fuss about new books because those are the books people are wanting to sell right now, so publishers send out ARCs and encourage reviews and discussion and all that.

I agree. From the publisher's POV, it's a business thing. From the bloggers and other readers, it's a social network thing. The latest book shows up on the radar, and now it's what everyone's talking about. And people only have so much bandwidth.
 
Janny Wurts quote was saying that "computer tracking" is the problem, but I would say that instead it is the very much old problem of 'a workman blaming his tools' or 'computer-says-no'. It is not a bad thing to have more information, it is how you deal with that information and the decisions that you make based upon it.

I don't think you understand the issue with computer tracking, Dave. The workman is the author, and the tools are those of the bookstores and the publishers, and totally out of the control of the author.

The way that bookstores and publishers use it, a book has only a couple of months to make its mark. If it doesn't do well enough almost immediately, it might be pulled from the shelves in a matter of weeks. The big chains that kept books on their shelves much longer than the smaller ones before them alleviated that somewhat. (But in the US Borders went under and B & N has severely cut back the number of their stores, so not much help from there anymore.) But there was and is still the problem that the people at the publishing house who keep track of these figures will not buy the next book by an author even if the present book has done well over a period of several months, if it did not sell enough books during that specified period at the beginning. (This happened to Katharine Kerr at one point, but fortunately another publisher picked her up and continued to publish the series.) Note that before computer tracking the publishers would not have had figures on the book immediately, so that by the time they did have sales figures, those sales would encompass several months instead of just weeks. Because of this, they were interested in books that had "legs" -- that continued to sell at a respectable rate (or even became more popular as time went on) so that the sales added up nicely -- and not just books that made a big splash at the beginning.

With computer tracking, a lot of midlist authors were squeezed out, or changed their names. For some their initial sales under their new names did well enough for the publishers to keep them on and give them the chance for word-of-mouth to bring in more and more eager readers, establishing a new career (for instance Megan Lindholm writing as Robin Hobb -- cover art by Michael Whelan in the US and John Howe in the UK didn't hurt) but others did not manage those big initial sales figures and went under again.

The issue is even more complex than that, but I'm not going to go into all that here. Suffice to say that I agree with what Janny Wurts said about computer tracking.
 

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