No one will read your book (and other truths about publishing)
September 1, 2021 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Books compete in a crowded market for a sliver of our attention. “One of the biggest ironies about this business is that there are lots of people who want to become authors, but that doesn’t necessarily equate with the number of people who are voracious readers,” says Rachel Deahl, news director at Publishers Weekly. “There is a disconnect. Not enough people read enough books.”

Again, Deahl: “People tend to buy the books that are already really popular. They look at the bestseller list to see what they want to buy and that reinforces this tiny amount of books at the top. It’s a very top-heavy system. The tricky thing in publishing is success begets success. But it’s really hard to create that spark.”

via the newsletter of Dianne Jacob, author of "Will Write for Food"

Previously in the "hard truths about publishing" genre: "Who will buy your book?"
posted by veggieboy (125 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a kick in the head, but all of it rings very, very true to what I've seen; both from friends who've published and then been immensely frustrated, and from my own experience trying to sell a book. Working through page after page of agent listings and, from that, extrapolating what the incentive structure of the publishing world really is was a deeply upsetting experience.
posted by COBRA! at 9:47 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


It is depressing. I started reading more actual books as opposed to the internet a few years ago when I realized that, uh, someday I will die and realistically reading 52 new books a year (I don't count re-reads) would in fact be a very good rate for a non-academic and therefore if I live another thirty years (which given climate change, poverty, general despair, etc I think is wildly optimistic, probably more like another fifteen) that would only be 1560 books for the rest of my life.

And of course, when you've got this book death clock, well, you've got to exclude, exclude, exclude. The book that is only moderately interesting and the book that is, eg, All About Lacan are equally excludable because you're always trying to hit the sweet spot of intellectual growth-plus-grippingness.

I'm reading Love's Next Meeting: The Forgotten History of Homosexuality and the Left in American Culture and I have to tell you it really hits that "very readable and also very informative" mark.
posted by Frowner at 10:04 AM on September 1 [46 favorites]


would only be 1560 books for the rest of my life.

Welp, wish i hadn't read this
posted by ominous_paws at 10:37 AM on September 1 [64 favorites]


Add to this the growth of MFA programs. Per this Atlantic article, in 1972, there were 52 MFA programs in writing. In 2016, there were more than 350. You may not be able to make a living from your writing, but a lot of people can make a living from your belief that you'll be the exception.

There are other reasons to write and even to get an MFA, but I find the growth in MFA programs really disturbing, especially considering that most people who put up the $50,000 or so aren't going to be able to make a living as teachers, let alone writers. (That's not meant to be disparaging toward teachers - I just don't think that's the real goal of people going into MFA programs.)
posted by FencingGal at 10:41 AM on September 1 [60 favorites]


Welp, wish i hadn't read this

Reminds me of the first time I read this:
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
posted by clawsoon at 11:06 AM on September 1 [8 favorites]


You may not be able to make a living from [x], but a lot of people can make a living from your belief that you'll be the exception.
This is brilliant and I'm stealing it.
posted by Hatashran at 11:08 AM on September 1 [55 favorites]


My two books did well back in the day (good reviews, nominated for awards, sold decently, actually earned back the advance) and I still made barely enough to buy a used car. I got my rights back recently, and now I sell several books per month on Kindle, and I'm absolutely delighted by every sale. It's not a way to make a living. But I made a living so I could afford to do the things I want to do, and one of the things I want to do is to write books.*

*Another one was to be an adjunct instructor, which is also not a way to make a living.
posted by Peach at 11:14 AM on September 1 [40 favorites]


I don't know much about publishing, but I have probably read over 10,000 books from NYT bestsellers to self-published works that got less than 100 reviews on Goodreads (surprisingly the number of reviews has almost zero correlation to quality). My strong suspicion is that with the self publishing route, the qualities that result in success are self-promotion, volume of output a close second, and then quality of output as a distant third. With traditional publishing, it seems like who your agent is and how much the publisher will commit to marketing your work is the biggest deal, unless you get a screenplay. I've pretty much stopped reading NYT bestsellers. I'm going to sound snobby when I say it's because people who don't read much like them. The truth is I'll read lowbrow literature and I'll read hack literature, but bestsellers often seem to be all of the worst stuck together with slick editing and a trendy premise the main recommendation. There are always exceptions though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:17 AM on September 1 [10 favorites]


It's curious, because in some fields and contexts there does seem to be a supply of voracious readers. The usage numbers for Archive of Our Own (which of course is free to use) are frankly astounding. There's some kind of market failure here.
posted by praemunire at 11:19 AM on September 1 [19 favorites]


10,000!!!
posted by obfuscation at 11:26 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


There's some kind of market failure here.

I think the market failure is clearly outlined in the above quote, "People tend to buy the books that are already really popular"...although that misattributes the failure to readers, when it's really a publisher problem. Publishers decided to kill the concept of midlist fiction, focusing entirely on bestsellers, which created the winner-take-all system we see today. Self-publishing (much of it driven by AO3 writers) tried to fill that gap, but as Amazon won the majority of the self-publishing business, the pay structure it put into place was--again!--winner-take-all. So self-published writers began to fall into two groups: Those who could pay for (or go into debt for) extravagant amounts of marketing for a shot at becoming one of the superstars, and everyone else.

And exactly like with the MFA comments above, a market for training grew up around self-publishing, a market that itself is now overextended, with a few superstar trainers and many others struggling to get by. (There are now courses to learn how to create courses, at which point the entire system implodes upon itself.)

So anyway, I agree. There is absolutely no shortage of readers, nor is there any shortage of book-length attention spans; there's simply a shortage of fair and reasonable distribution methods.
posted by mittens at 11:28 AM on September 1 [24 favorites]


There are different types of book buyers.
People who don't read much, but will buy and possibly read the current big best sellers. And people who read voraciously. There are far fewer voracious readers, and they are a different audience. Most publishers are chasing the super big numbers. Best sellers that sell to millions, who only read a few books a year.
You don't need to reach that audience (millions of people who don't read much) as an individual writer. You can build a small audience of voracious readers and still get a decent number of sales.
posted by Zumbador at 11:29 AM on September 1 [6 favorites]


> "I got my rights back recently, and now I sell several books per month on Kindle"

Thanks for the heads up that your books are available on Kindle now! I've been meaning to pick them up.
posted by kyrademon at 11:32 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


There are different types of book buyers.
People who don't read much, but will buy and possibly read the current big best sellers. And people who read voraciously.


then there’s obscure readers like me. Self published a book on your astral journey meditation techniques and only 100 people in all of time will read it? Sign me UP
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:35 AM on September 1 [13 favorites]


…. And… thank you for your service ….
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:36 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


I read a lot of books.
I have many more books (physical, digital) than I will ever be able to read.
That's hardly going to stop me from getting more.
posted by chavenet at 11:43 AM on September 1 [21 favorites]


“If you ask people how many books they read in the past year, they’ll say four. Or two,” she says. “There are lots and lots of people eager to become writers. But we need more readers. We need more people who are readers than we have writers.”

Um...I don't think that they know any genre readers, especially romance. I mean, 2-4 books -- we're talking about this week, right?

I've slowed down a bit recently, because I've started the amazing Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty and each one is 500-600 pages. But I'm in the third one and I started less than two weeks ago.
posted by jb at 11:55 AM on September 1 [24 favorites]


Okay, look, I would never buy a book written and plotted at the level of most writing on AO3 - even writing I enjoy and that I think is basically good and comparatively sophisticated. Fanfic isn't just "non-monetized novels", it's a genre of writing that works differently than stand-alone fiction. Fanfic written at a frankly fairly low level can still be satisfying and enjoyable due to context, community, clever interpretation of the fandom, etc. Fanfic written at a fairly high level can still be emotionally pretty fanservice-y and simplistic - like, I can think of several very fine writers the emotional tenor of whose work is extremely implausible and angsty-fanservice-y, and that's fine when you're reading Remus Lupin Is Very Sad, but it really wouldn't fly in a standalone. Again, I like fanfic, I recommend fanfic and I recognize that there are many writers who either write both fanfic and stand-alone published stuff or who start by writing fanfic and move into writing standalone work.

You can see this pretty clearly if you contrast a self-published light romance or SF novel with fanfic - the plotting, characterization and general level of coherence have to be much greater because there's no already filled in background from the primary work and canon/fanon conventions. Like, compare a weak self-published romance with a strong fanfic (and I'm happy to make recommendations if asked but I think you can find your own) - even there, the amount of plotting that a weak romance novel needs to do exceeds what a strong fanfic does.

This is not a knock on fanfic at all, just saying that I don't think that Ao3 represents a failure to sell stuff.
posted by Frowner at 11:58 AM on September 1 [22 favorites]


Almost a third of Americans don’t read books at all.

I suspect a good number of the remaining two thirds are lying.
posted by BWA at 11:59 AM on September 1 [16 favorites]


I hope the FPP is right about MetaFilter's own jscalzi's advance... If so, well done!
posted by chavenet at 12:14 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


"There is a disconnect. Not enough people read enough books" says person whose job it is to sell books.
posted by JDHarper at 12:15 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Love Jscalzis' books, but NKJ probably deserves the same kind of advance. Hopefully she got marketing $$$ at least. I'm kind of surprised more traditional best selling authors haven't been forced to pay for their own marketing in a similar fashion to rock stars in the payola era.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:19 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


The usage numbers for Archive of Our Own (which of course is free to use) are frankly astounding. There's some kind of market failure here.

AO3 is (1) free, and (2) mostly porn.

Published books (1) cost money, and (2) have fewer tongues wrestling for dominance.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:22 PM on September 1 [11 favorites]


MetaFilter: Not a way to make a living.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 12:29 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


They look at the bestseller list to see what they want to buy and that reinforces this tiny amount of books at the top. It’s a very top-heavy system.

Remember "the long tail," that's what was supposed to be the key advantage for Amazon and other online retailers. To some degree it's worked, but the systems that help you find the needle in the long haystack haven't really materialized.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:30 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


Ebooks and POD, especially through Amazon, have made it easier for many books to continue their available life (e.g. Peach's example above). That is different from discovery, which has been and will always be a challenge.
posted by PhineasGage at 12:45 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]



AO3 is (1) free, and (2) mostly porn.

More published works would be smutty too if the publishers and distributers weren't so prissy about it.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 12:57 PM on September 1 [12 favorites]


Okay, look, I would never buy a book written and plotted at the level of most writing on AO3 - even writing I enjoy and that I think is basically good and comparatively sophisticated.

You might well not. But, um, the American public's literary taste just isn't that sophisticated, nor, frankly, are the standards of genre (the nearest comparator) that high. "I would stay up all night to read this tropey fanservicey fanfic but wouldn't dream of buying it in book form--too much unrealistic angst"? Nah. And, while this might not really be the case for ambitious literary fiction, it's not like there isn't a community/participatory aspect to published genre work.

My point is: there are a lot of people who will read voraciously once they discover that with a little effort they can intermittently get the reward of writing that pushes their buttons. Fanfic is a cheap way to make this discovery, but it shouldn't be the only one.
posted by praemunire at 12:57 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


"I would stay up all night to read this tropey fanservicey fanfic but wouldn't dream of buying it in book form--too much unrealistic angst"? Nah.

Well yes, actually. Not the "too much unrealistic angst" part, but the buying part. As you noted, AO3 is free, and that's really the end of the discussion. If people had to pay for each AO3 story like they did for books, and those stories further weren't all conveniently collected in one place as they are with AO3, the readership numbers would be very, very different.

Not to mention that, by nature, AO3 stories are built on existing IP owned by someone else, something that wouldn't fly with commercial works, which in turn would massively affect readership. Would current AO3 readers read original works by the AO3 authors they currently read in the same numbers, let alone pay for them? I highly doubt that.

It's just such a different beast from commercial publishing that it's not really useful to compare.
posted by star gentle uterus at 1:05 PM on September 1 [13 favorites]


..I don't think that they know any genre readers, especially romance. I mean, 2-4 books -- we're talking about this week, right?

The quote refered to people not readers and that sounds right or even a little generous, as self reported numbers tend to be, to me.
posted by Mitheral at 1:06 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Several of the biggest bugbears I have re fan/self-published fiction revolve around the need for people to

a) spell and error check your work
b) employ an editor (see a above)
c) EMPLOY AN EDITOR!

Plus ... most of it is disjointed thought processes that do not hang together properly. With over 8.1 million uploaded 'works' there is [sadly) a lot of scum and fluff that floats to the top.

I have spent time on AO3 trying to find something that is readable, maintains interest, and the writing style is continuous and cohesive enough for me to merit allocating (limited) time and attention. While it is 'fanfic' dominant and as betweenthabars notes:

AO3 is (1) free, and (2) mostly porn.

A sad reflection of how writing by some is used as a form of catharsis or personal therapy which pops open a Pandora's box of emotions and dark thoughts...
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 1:10 PM on September 1


EMPLOY AN EDITOR!

Well, yes, and plenty of people do. But they're expensive, and if you're operating on an extremely thin margin to begin with, you have to ask yourself, is it better to spend the next dollar on an editor, or put it towards a Facebook ad?
posted by mittens at 1:16 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


If people had to pay for each AO3 story like they did for books, and those stories further weren't all conveniently collected in one place as they are with AO3, the readership numbers would be very, very different.

To put this in perspective:

I recently fell head-first into a new fandom. After a couple of months of reading, I have 130 stories from AO3 that I've downloaded and saved to Calibre. I've read even more than that - some were no good, some were fine but not really worth re-reading, some I just forgot to download.

That's a heck of a lot of reading.

The average length of these stories is probably a bit shorter than a novella. Some are very short, some are very long, and most are somewhere in between. Even if we assume I've only read the equivalent of ... oh, thirty books, then that's still a lot of books. And a lot of money, at book prices!

But it's not that I'm reading fanfiction because it's free. I have a book budget that I actually don't manage to spend each month. It's just different than books; I have a different relationship to the community that produces it (e.g. I'm PART of it, not just a consumer), there is a different level of investment in a new story, and ... my main motivation for reading more fanfic is "I want to read more about X, give me everything you have about X" not "I want something interesting to read."

I get the sense that for a lot of people who are heavily into specific genres that can be broken down by tropes (like cozy cottage romance), there can be similar churn through titles. Romance and mystery readers are notorious for reading tons and tons of books, aren't they? My experience as a fanfic reader is more like that than the experience of someone who looks for books in the NYT bestseller list.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:19 PM on September 1 [19 favorites]


A sad reflection of how writing by some is used as a form of catharsis or personal therapy which pops open a Pandora's box of emotions and dark thoughts..

Also, I really do not understand why the word "sad" is in this sentence
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:21 PM on September 1 [16 favorites]


As you noted, AO3 is free, and that's really the end of the discussion.

Not just free - absolutely frictionless.

I spent most of last Sunday reading an 85,000-word fanfic, and it wasn't that I especially loved the source material or the pairing or the author's kinks or writing style. Someone posted a link to it on Twitter, my first thought was "Huh, what an odd premise, how on earth would a person write that convincingly?"

Thirty seconds later I'd read the first paragraph, and the first paragraph convinced me to read the second paragraph, and the second paragraph convinced me to read until the end of the chapter, and the only button I had to push at any point in the process was the one that said "This work contains adult content - do you wish to proceed?"

My book budget is sufficiently high that I can spend $15 on a Kindle book and absolutely not worry about it. I could buy about as many books as I have time to read and not impoverish myself. But I get anxious about paying even a tiny amount of money before I actually think I'm going to like the book. I can read reviews, I can download the free sample, but nothing beats being able to click and immediately start reading. The sticking point here is never "I don't have enough money" or "this is more money than I want to pay" - the sticking point is "it's too much trouble to make a decision about this." This is also why I often have an easier time with Twitter doomscrolling or podcasts than novels. (Hi! I have depression!)

The monetization system for Chinese web novels is that you get to read a ton of chapters and then, when you're hooked, you have to start paying to keep reading. I'm not surprised that's a system that works very well for some creators (though it privileges absolutely interminable series).
posted by Jeanne at 1:39 PM on September 1 [15 favorites]


Hmm... on my Kindle, there were 16 library loans and 17 "purchases" (though a couple of those were free books). I ordered 11 books through Alibris. We went to a bookstore once and I picked up 3 books. I don't think I checked out any physical books from the library this year.

So that's 47... plus a few books I got as Christmas gifts or purchased before this year started. Let's say there were 6 of those (it may have been more). So I guess in a full year I probably read about 70 new books, plus a lot of rereads of old favorites. Fantasy and SF, some science, a few on music, a little history, a couple of books on Stoicism.

For comparison I have seen one movie in a theater so far this year, and hope to see a second if COVID doesn't get in the way. (Honestly, the only reason we went is it was during a 44 hour power outage, and we wanted the air conditioning as well as some distraction). I watched probably 3 documentaries on Netflix. My spouse and I did rewatch all of the MCU movies, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that's mostly stuff we own.
posted by Foosnark at 1:40 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Would current AO3 readers read original works by the AO3 authors they currently read in the same numbers, let alone pay for them?

Not in quite the same numbers, but we’re up to at least… three? Hollywood-movie-successful series written by people who started in fanfic. There might be more reader money going to fanfic-trained authors than to MFA graduates with just those three.

Honorable mention to all authors who started with tidied-up rôleplaying campaigns.
posted by clew at 3:12 PM on September 1 [8 favorites]


Would current AO3 readers read original works by the AO3 authors they currently read in the same numbers, let alone pay for them? I highly doubt that.

Er, yes. I certainly have, and will continue to do if my favourite authors on AO3 publish original fiction and I can find it. Recently I even went in the other direction when the author of the three excellent Greta Helsing books (which I paid money for) mentioned her AO3 pen name in an introduction, and I was able to find her fanfic. One of the great things about AO3 is that if you know your way around their system you can filter for quality to some extent, as well as for content, but it is frustrating when you find a really good writer who you know must have published elsewhere but don't know well enough to ask. And this is not to mention the (admittedly god-awful) likes of 50 shades and Twilight, which began as fanfic with the names filed off.
posted by Fuchsoid at 3:14 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


Oh, one of the ones I was thinking of is only streaming movie successful.
posted by clew at 3:14 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


I just want to point out that a significant majority of female nominees for Nebulas and Hugos in the past decade or so got their start writing fanfic. Yes, including NK Jemison. It’s not “just porn,” at this point it’s a serious proving ground.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:21 PM on September 1 [23 favorites]


would only be 1560 books for the rest of my life.

Welp, wish i hadn't read this


Because it cuts in to your book reading?
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:28 PM on September 1 [9 favorites]


Would current AO3 readers read original works by the AO3 authors they currently read in the same numbers, let alone pay for them? I highly doubt that.

Look, the fanfic ecosystem is various. Would I read an original work by someone who is fun but kind of a wobbly writer, can't really plot and usually writes 1000 word comic pieces that depend on widely recognized tropes? Probably not. Someone who has written creative work at a high standard that is inventive, various in tone and well-observed? Quite possibly.

People do routinely underestimate fanfic because unless you know what you're looking for you're going to end up with a lot of amusing enough but just for fun stuff and/or porn. Over the years I've read probably ten or twelve writers whose fanfic is really just a hair off from publishable fiction. I've read one BBC Sherlock novella that was absolutely publishable as a thriller. I've read about half of a famous Captain America fanfic that was essentially a historical novel and could probably actually be published with the serial numbers filed off. I've read work where I got the sense that if the writer wanted to do more extended, elaborate stuff they certainly could.

Characterization is the biggest challenge in the work I see - the norms can be so angst-heavy/"I think about my issues ALL THE TIME" sad fan fanservice that characterization can feel very one-note in even otherwise very talented work. The thriller and the historical and a really extremely scary Cthulhu/Sentinel/Stargate crossover did not have this problem and stood out because of it.

But anyway. 99% of the time fanfic hews to its own internal logic and you can't expect it to be novels any more than you can expect ice cream to go in the toaster, but there are definitely people with the capacity for standalone writing.

The pandemic has been the Time of Light Historicals, Romance and SF for me so I know whereof I speak - the thriller, the historical and the Cthulhu one were better than a number of well-recommended light reads that I've looked at during covid.
posted by Frowner at 3:42 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


I strongly agree with the general point that there's just so much to read that the average audience for most books is going to be pretty small. I don't see anything which can solve that problem.

In re fanfic, I was very impressed by Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation. I even forgive that there's no reason to think the story will be finished.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:47 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Awww kyrademon! Thanks.
posted by Peach at 4:02 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Kutsuwamushi: "Also, I really do not understand why the word "sad" is in this sentence"

Well I did not understand the use of 'Also' in your sentence. But, aside from that...

It is 'sad' that when one turns ones efforts to a creative process the best that can be produced is some ill thought and decidedly shoddy and tacky porn fantasy the writer has tucked inside the darker corners of their mind. There are many 'writers' (I will avoid the 'Not everyone should...' ) who do not think through the process and go back to their writers workshop class lesson which said 'Write what you feel' or 'Write what is on your mind'. When many of these tales unfold there us little to redeem them and in most instances go beyond fantasy and delve into puerile sexual drivel that a 12 year old may have written.

An infinite number of monkeys would not produce 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' or 'Lolita'.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 4:07 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Setting aside the fact that my experience of fanfic has been radically different than yours, it is absolutely poisonous to say that a person’s genuine, non-commercial expression of creativity is “sad purile drivel.” That attitude kept me from writing fiction for decades because “I’ll just be terrible and being a terrible writer is worthy of vicious mockery so why bother.” Now I’ve written original fiction that has been published in a semi-pro market and guess what, I only got committed to improving my writing and started enjoying the process itself after I started writing fanfiction - none of which, by the way, was porn.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:14 PM on September 1 [23 favorites]


It is 'sad' that when one turns ones efforts to a creative process the best that can be produced is some ill thought and decidedly shoddy and tacky porn fantasy the writer has tucked inside the darker corners of their mind.

Point A: There are only two genres in fiction: What Happened? and What Did It Feel Like? While many people read and write both, we have been told that there is an undying war between the two genres, and it's necessary to take a side. To do your part in the war, you must minimize and disparage the genre on the other side. If you're not with us, you're against us--and against True Fiction.

Point B: It isn't sad when one turns one's efforts, etc., it's wonderful. Everyone should write a book. Even if they can't. Even if it's not any good. The experience is character-building. If the best you can come up with is a decidedly shoddy fantasy, surprise! You're still one up on the person who never had the courage to write down their shoddy fantasy.

Point C: We are all shoddy fantasists in our heads. Consciousness is nothing but one tacky fantasy after another. If they ever come up with an MRI that can project our fantasies on the walls, we'll never work in this town again. Really great fiction does remarkable things to those fantasies, turning them into something immortal, but as anyone who has read a biography of a favorite author knows, we're all puerile 12-year-olds deep down.
posted by mittens at 4:22 PM on September 1 [26 favorites]


Okay, look, a clarifying note about fanfic: It's fan fic. If you are totally uninterested in campy science fiction, you aren't going to enjoy Stargate Atlantis fanfic, not even the two really good M.R. James pastiches or the hilarious one where they figure out how to make the gate translator translate books. If someone says to you, "why not poke around on Ao3 if you're bored, I'm sure you'll turn up something to read even though you hate genre fiction and pop TV", they are a bad friend. Fanfic is propped up by the reader's familiarity with and interest in the original material. That is why it is seldom standalone.

If you're horrified by proximity to porn, also, Ao3 is not going to be a great place for you. There's a lot of material so there's a large absolute number of non-porn stories but yes, there's a lot of porn. The internet is, as the poet said, for porn.

Most sexual fantasy is puerile in the cold light of day, an unfortunate truth. The advantage to Ao3 porn, even the kind that is anatomically impossible and flinch-inducing, is that it's not written by a cis straight misogynist with a sixties asshole mentality and a giant...thesaurus, like so much literary sex is. Better risible cocks than Norman Mailer, etc.

Also, use the tags. Exclude, exclude, exclude - this isn't just a principle useful in constructing your serious reading list.
posted by Frowner at 4:27 PM on September 1 [16 favorites]


Not sure absolutist statements like "There are only two genres in fiction..." are wise.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:44 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Most sexual fantasy is puerile in the cold light of day, an unfortunate truth.

Time once again to quote the amazing Joanna Russ:

"Only those for whom a sexual fantasy ‘works,’ that is, those who are aroused by it, have a chance of telling us to what particular set of conditions that fantasy speaks, and can analyze how and why it works and for whom. Sexual fantasy materials are like icebergs; the one-tenth that shows about the surface is no reliable indicator of the size or significance of the whole thing. Sexual fantasy that doesn’t arouse is boring, funny, or repellent, and unsympathetic outsiders trying to decode these fantasies (or any others) will make all sorts of mistakes."
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:47 PM on September 1 [13 favorites]


It is 'sad' that when one turns ones efforts to a creative process the best that can be produced is some ill thought and decidedly shoddy and tacky porn fantasy the writer has tucked inside the darker corners of their mind.

I've thought that about Henry Miller, and Lawrence Durrell when he starts writing about what he thinks women think.

Anyway, back to the article, writing has always been a bad way to make a living. For every Evelyn Waugh or JK Rowling who ended up with a castle, there are multitudes who woke up early and sent out manuscripts and never got anywhere at all, and there are others who were wildly influential and founded genres, yet died penniless in a bedsit.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:50 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


The answer is, in fact, cost. I buy very few hardcover books (2-3 a year), but maybe a dozen new paperbacks, and a couple dozen more used paperbacks. The Pandemic introduced me to my city's free online library. Yes, the selection is limited and many of the books are cruddy, but in the last year and a half I have read 1-2 books a week.
posted by acrasis at 4:55 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


People often tell me I should put my wild but true stories into a book, or that I should simply write a book, any book.

The thing is is I'm trying to survive, eat and pay rent over here, and this has always been the case.

I have published authors in my family. I have some published authors as friends. They went through no small amount of hell to get to the point where they were published, and even after being published it never paid the bills or really was monetarily worth it considering all of the unpaid work with submitting manuscripts, doing edits and dealing with publishers.

And it's not like they're still making a living writing books as a career. None of the people I know who have been published are still writing books. They've been through the wringer of commercial publishing and realized the writing - or math - on the wall and decided there were better things to do with their time.

The market of people that might actually buy and read my book is really rather small, and a lot of that "market" has already read many of my stories for free right here on MetaFilter or elsewhere on the internet.

And I like that just fine, because I write for fun and to try to entertain people a little and give something with whatever talents I have.

I am a lot like the children's book Frederick in that I try to collect warm stories to share in dark or cold times, except maybe I also value hard work a bit more than Frederick.

This is fine and good and is in a way its own currency that doesn't need to be monetized or thrust into performing in a capitalist culture and society. And I hate dealing with the pressures and demands of deadlines - I've done plenty of technical and marketing related commercial writing, and writing under deadlines is terrible.

In the extremely rare chance I wrote yet another Great American Novel or even the next Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test I would absolutely hate going on promotional tours, library speaking gigs or book signings or any of that stuff.

I would be openly surly and rude about being expected to sit at a table greeting dozens or hundreds or worse thousands of total strangers who thought they knew who I was from a book.

The very idea of sitting at a table for hours on end meeting an endless line of strangers expecting yet another piece of me because my theoretical book spoke to them in some way and they had things to say or questions to ask about it makes me want to scream in very real horror. It sounds like a complete and total nightmare and I don't know how some authors in particular deal with it without going totally insane. I'd go full on JD Salinger or even Ursula K. LeGuin and become a recluse. I would want people to forget my face so I could just be a nobody.

I don't have the drive to be a great author and make that effort to write something that might become a "good" or "great" book because I'm very comfortable with my mortality and legacy - or the lack thereof. It's fine with me if no one remembers who I am in 50 years or less. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm just one little piece of talking, thinking star dust, and soon I won't be here aware that I'm here and that has its own beauty and solace of the promise of nothingness.

I don't really have anything important to say that hasn't been said even better by someone else that needs to be a book.

All that being said? Well, I have a confession.

I have written several books. One of them is like 750 pages long and written almost entirely in a sort of fugue state that lasted three days. No, really, it was something like 500-600 kilobytes of plain ASCII text. That's a whole lot of typing in three days, like Stephen King levels of output for a very brief moment.

And all of these books are very, very smutty. In fact they're so smutty that I would be sincerely offended if someone tried to soft-pedal them as erotica. They're definitely porn. In particular they're mostly a niche fetish and kinky sort of porn.

I'm very gifted at writing erotica and/or porn. I've published a bunch of stuff under pseudonyms on a variety of the usual sites for this sort of thing and they're well received. There's even a couple of novella or novel length pieces floating around out there on the internet, but they're pseudonymous for a reason and I will deny that I wrote them if someone ever managed to connect the dots.

I don't really talk about them here (or in general) because MeFi has some issues with being sex positive and not prudish about a lot of things, but so does most of the world.

Anyway, not everyone needs to or should seek to write a book or get it published. Books are amazing, reading is amazing, writing is also amazing.

But just because someone can write doesn't necessarily mean they have a decent novel in them, or that they want to deal with the increasingly cut throat and underpaid world of publishing, or even want to deal with any level of success or fame if it becomes a big seller or what it would do to their lives or mental health.

Because even if an author makes it to the best seller lists and becomes the hot new thing, most people don't think about what actually happens next to the author in those situations. There is a heavy price to pay for that kind of success or fame.

Shoot, just look at J.K. Rowling. She's constantly held up as a rags-to-riches runaway success story for writers and she ended up being a remarkably awful human being once she achieved her financial successes and felt comfortable enough to take her mask off.

For the record, if anyone catches me aspiring to be J.K. Rowling any time between now and when I'm good and dead please whack me with a large pointy stick until I stop doing that.
posted by loquacious at 5:17 PM on September 1 [15 favorites]


it is 'sad' that when one turns ones efforts to a creative process the best that can be produced is some ill thought and decidedly shoddy and tacky porn fantasy the writer has tucked inside the darker corners of their mind.

What an unpleasant and condescending point of view. I'm sure that your hobbies are all very deep - you don't create or enjoy anything "shoddy and tacky," I'm sure. That would be sad. Where's your great novel?

It's wonderful that people are enjoying themselves through writing. It's wonderful that they're using it to bond as a community, to process their feelings, or even just get off. (What the fuck is wrong with getting off?) It doesn't have to be "art" to be worthwhile, and it also doesn't have to live up to your personal standards to be "art."

I just read a story where the author was clearly processing some feelings. It was about what would have happened if, instead of the colonial forces that invaded their country fucking it up for decades to come, they had their asses kicked out by the super-powered protagonists. I didn't really like the story, to be honest; it was a pretty one-note revenge fantasy and the pacing didn't work for me. But it wasn't written for me, and the author could have written complete and utter gibberish and there would still be value in them using their writing to "process their feelings" or for "personal catharsis."

Like, how self-centered do you have to be as a reader to see that as value-less unless it produces something you like? To call that "sad" because it's not, by your personal standards, good enough art?

I am sure this comes off as pretty strong, but the sneering, unwarranted scorn that drips off your comments is pretty hostile toward entire swathes of people who don't deserve it. And you're in a thread where people have outright said that they read and write fanfiction, you're saying this to our faces. I honestly thought we were past this - this kind of sneering at fanfiction is, like, so circa 2010. The discourse has advanced, please keep up.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:30 PM on September 1 [25 favorites]


I think I've read maybe two or three books this year, but I've read millions of words of fanfiction. In the end I know what I'm getting with fanfic, if I don't like something I can scroll down a bit and try something else (even if it's starting to get harder, I'm running out of fandoms). Purchasing (or hell, even pirating) a novel is a way riskier investment of time and maybe money.
posted by simmering octagon at 6:29 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


mittens: I tip my hat to you as you hit the nail on the head far more eloquently than I could.

Kutsuwamushi: "What an unpleasant and condescending point of view... Where's your great novel?"

"it is 'sad' that when one turns ones efforts..."... I DID try and all I got was sad, puerile, sexual fantasy intermingled with vague plot lines that led nowhere.

Regardless if it is fanfiction or any other genre, I am not 'sneering at fanfiction' nor being condescending when I say that huge swathes of self-published written works are of lamentable readability and poor quality regardless of genre or media type (e.g. blogs and podcasts). By all means write if you feel that doing so does something for you (it did for me and I soon realized that I was no good at it and should focus my creative attentions elsewhere) but keep it in your personal folder... Equally, in an unequal world which actually does not give prizes just for trying or for turning up, critics WOULD deem something not 'good enough art'. It is a simple fact of life. Crap is crap no matter what veneer is brushed over it. There are published authors whose work is definitely crap but they have been paid for it. That is a sad reflection on the business of publishing.

The discourse has NOT 'advanced' in any way shape or form, people are paid to criticize and apply their opinions as judgement to others. In the real world there are people who should write their thoughts down. They should really not be be published. The same applies to blogging and podcasting and volunteering to read an audio book and recipe sites and... many people believe they can do it and the end result is some very bad output. All praise for someone doing it, but in the process do not expect a free pass when the creative piece is garbage. Regardless of media type drivel is drivel. Netflix (for example) regularly pulls programs that are not up to grade - insufficient people watching, a realization that the storyline simply does not work etc. Just think of the music that is published and the huge percentage of which has a small, less than mainstream following. Yes it has value, but if it unpleasing to the ear ...

I am unsure how being a realist about the lack of quality in many published works is 'unpleasant and condescending' and where the 'unwarranted scorn' comment comes from. You have framed your comments in such a way that I am now aware condescension works two ways. I did not realize until now. Thank you. In a non condescending way. Being 'good' at something, taking pride in what you do, and ensuring that what you do is something you are capable of is important in a competitive world.

It is why I have not tried free-fall sky-diving...
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 6:38 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


but keep it in your personal folder

This is what I don't get. Why? Worst case scenario (for the writer) no one reads it. Best case scenario, someone reads it and likes it. Who gets to decide what gets published (for free, on the internet)?
posted by simmering octagon at 6:45 PM on September 1 [15 favorites]


You can think things are bad all you want. But you're essentially saying that things you think are bad should not be allowed to exist in public. Like, how dare people be amateurs, they should be ashamed of themselves for trying and burn everything they've ever made. How on earth could anyone find that condescending?

Being 'good' at something, taking pride in what you do, and ensuring that what you do is something you are capable of is important in a competitive world.

Failure is despicable, trying new things is for losers. Jeez.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:50 PM on September 1 [14 favorites]


All of you/us are edge cases, in the US at least. According to Pew, the average adult reads 12 books a year, with a median of 5 I think. 27% of adults have not read a single book “in whole or in part” in the last year. With work, family, and *cough* iPads, I get through about 1 every 2 weeks, so call it 30 per year. It feels like that’s a lot but there are clearly levels and levels. The 10,000 mentioned above is a book per day for 30 years!!
posted by freecellwizard at 7:17 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


There are published authors whose work is definitely crap but they have been paid for it. That is a sad reflection on the business of publishing.

Is it, though? People read that crap. People pay for it. Seems to me the business of publishing can quite accurately understand that sometimes, the people do not want Quality. Like, The Da Vinci Code and 50 Shades of Gray weren't good writing, on a technical level. Their prose, for the most part, wasn't enjoyable or lovely in and of itself. And yet, millions upon millions of people read and enjoyed those books and other bestsellers like them. They clearly found something of value in that crap. They enjoyed the experience of reading those books, and not only for puerile reasons, because there are a lot of bestsellers that have mediocre or subpar writing, no porn, and yet are wildly successful anyway. For every person sniffing and sneering about books like this being "crap" and lowbrow and garbage or whatever, there are dozens upon dozens reading and enjoying them.

And this holds just as true for fan fiction, which as others have said, is an explicitly amateur space that makes reading frictionless. Sometimes I'll look at the most popular fics in a given fandom or pairing and go, "yikes, that fic is hot garbage," but clearly many people very much enjoyed that hot garbage! Sometimes, I'll be browsing AO3 and despair of ever finding a good fic or even just enjoyable fic ever again, such is the wasteland of badfic hidden from my sight by my extremely extensive AO3 Savior blacklists. And then I go and write my own, and have a lot of fun, which is independent of what anyone thinks of my writing! I share that writing, because that's part of the fun, and whether or not my writing is perfect or not, people comment positively on it and I get to feel the warm, happy glow of community, of gifting something to my community that I know many of them will enjoy.

I've written fan fiction for long enough, and improved enough, that I know I could write a reasonably competent novel, should I put the effort in. As Frowner says, it would require more work in terms of characterization and plotting, but I could do it with the skills I've learned and improved on from reading and writing fan fiction. But, like, I don't want to. I don't want to compete for that tiny, tiny slice of the pro publishing pie, or even the Amazon self-publishing pie. I'm perfectly content to be a hobbyist who writes for few hundreds or thousands of people who read and enjoy my fic. I don't think there's anything sad about that, just as I don't think there's anything sad about the baker who only bakes for their family, friends, and their office. But I'm also not about to sneer at anyone who does make the jump from fan fiction to pro fiction. Like, NK Jemisin and authors like her did not spring fully formed as award-winning writers, writing only the good stuff. They wrote a bunch of less good stuff first, and even shared some of that less good stuff, which we should all be grateful for because it probably led to the kind of growth and improvement that gave us their best works.
posted by yasaman at 7:35 PM on September 1 [15 favorites]


I prefer getting books from the library to buying them - both because I don't need a copy of every book I read and because I find the limited loan period incentivizes reading when I might otherwise be tempted to try to convince some internet yahoo to stop being a dick about other people's creative endeavors.

I do try to buy some books, because I want to support authors I like, but I would prefer to better fund public libraries and beef up the revenue libraries can contribute to authors.
posted by the primroses were over at 7:44 PM on September 1 [8 favorites]


In the internet age one of the side effects has been the belief that mediocrity is 'OK'. Anyone who is good at something is 'elitist', or someone is 'entitled' or any form of denigration that makes the person using those words feel better about themselves. IF mediocrity is 'OK' then perhaps you need to check in with your physician, your EMS person, or your lineman etc to determine whether or not they are mediocre or not. Mediocrity did not make the Interwebs work (or continue to do so) nor many other inventions or 'Great Works' that were achieved by persistence and trying in the first place. Writing is one of those activities which has its personal rewards. Given the quality of material I have seen, many would be better off consulting with an analyst.

showbiz_liz: Your extrapolation of what I wrote is most interesting. 'With electronic self-publishing, it's become easier than ever to be "an author." And harder than ever to get attention to your work. Most successful authors have some combination of talent, persistence, and luck'. See here for some stats. Let us not knock effort or prevent people from 'trying new things'. Like the Emperor's New Clothes, unless someone stands up and calls out the futility of the whole enterprise then things go nowhere except for a lot of people gnashing their teeth at their unrequited publishing ventures. Regardless of the merit of the activity.

What EXACTLY is wrong with saying the vast majority is crap? It is. The sales figures and critical assessment say it all and anyone with half a brain can see when they attempt to read torrents of drivel. yasaman is most erudite in a clear explanation of why the whole art of writing and publishing is truly a waste of time and effort. I agree re Da Vinci Code, 50 Shades of Gray, and would like to add EVERY book by Jeffrey Archer.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 7:48 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


Addendum: obviously, library collections buy more bestsellers than lesser known works, but it's rare that my library system doesn't have a copy of something I go looking for. Most of the books I do buy fall into the category of "can't get from the library," so library access also results in more of my book budget going to authors with a lower profile.
posted by the primroses were over at 7:52 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


The free content business model established by fanfic is definitely coming for more genres.

A growing chunk of the younger fantasy/SF market is now taken up by webnovels which work by getting people addicted to free chapters then charging for the latest releases via online publishing platforms or Patreon.
posted by zymil at 7:52 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


yasaman is most erudite in a clear explanation of why the whole art of writing and publishing is truly a waste of time and effort.

Hey! That is not at all what I said! That's actually the exact opposite of what I said. Just because I, personally, think the likes of The Da Vinci Code is crap doesn't mean I don't know and accept that many people derived pleasure and entertainment from it. It wasn't a waste of time and effort on the part of Dan Brown, and not only because he made bank. Other people read and enjoyed his art. It had value to them, they paid for it and read it and many of them didn't think it was a waste of time and effort.

You don't get to just say that all writing is a waste of time and effort because of your personal value judgments. We can all wish people had better taste, but thousands of years of human history suggest people in aggregate will never have better taste, and yet, good art still withstands the test of time and it still has value, regardless of commercial success or wide appeal. And so-called "bad" art has value too.

"Mediocrity" in art remains subjective. Mediocrity in, like, aircraft piloting does not. We can accept a wide range of skill in art, we can enjoy less skilled art for still providing us some entertainment or pleasure despite its lack of skill, in a way that isn't at all analogous to the examples of emergency medical services or physicians. There really, truly is not a slippery slope from The Da Vinci Code to your pilot crashing your plane, I promise.
posted by yasaman at 8:03 PM on September 1 [19 favorites]


Thank you, showbiz_liz, for responding to that part of that awful comment.

Being 'good' at something, taking pride in what you do, and ensuring that what you do is something you are capable of is important in a competitive world.

I'm sorry that you felt you weren't good enough at writing to continue. I'm frustrated at how toxic your response to that was - to decide that meant you should quit, and everyone else who isn't really good at it should also quit. That you don't see how toxic it is to view creativity as a competition where you have to be good enough to participate.

It is such a depressing and capitalist view of creativity - that views it something whose purpose is to create a product to be consumed, rather than something that we do because we're human. Being creative and sharing our creativity with others, is something that nourishes us; you think we have no right to that unless we're "good" enough at it, and that's just, I don't have the words.

The discourse has NOT 'advanced' in any way shape or form

It really has, but it has apparently left you behind. You're still saying that you're just being "realistic" about the quality of self-published work - but note that no one here has objected and said that most self-published work is good, actually. You're several years behind. We've mostly moved on from "actually, a lot of it's better than professional work" - which, while true, is not as fundamental as "the quality of the work isn't the only thing that justifies its existence."
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:07 PM on September 1 [24 favorites]


Taking a dump on other people's creativity is just rude. Do you tell the neighbor the paintings she makes in her garage are crap, when she tries to sell them at a yard sale or the neighborhood art fair or Etsy? Do you tell the neighbor who plays guitar in his basement that he sounds like crap, when he plays at the local street fair or puts his music online on CD Baby? Whoever feels the need to rip what they think is mediocre is probably the one who might be better off consulting with an analyst.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:08 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


yasaman: The figures I included in my prior link say it like it is in the publishing world. Note the number of rejections, where people SUPPOSEDLY in the know have made a value judgment re a specific piece of work, and the low percentage success rate (I believe 2%) of authors (regardless of the quality). So, writing for commercial success is 98% a total waste of time...

I stand corrected. "There really, truly is not a slippery slope from The Da Vinci Code to your pilot crashing your plane"... unless that slippery slope is a looming mountain and the pilot is engrossed in 'The Da Vinci Code'...
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 8:16 PM on September 1


webnovels which work by getting people addicted to free chapters then charging for the latest releases

"Oh no!" cried Little Dorrit.
posted by clew at 8:21 PM on September 1 [10 favorites]


Kutsuwamushi: Your quotes in the last paragraph make sweeping, unqualified statements. I am talking here about commercial success which is the main theme of the post itself. If someone feels empowered and enabled by writing then that is fine by me. I tried and quickly realized I was no good and my energies better spent elsewhere. "I'm frustrated at how toxic your response to that was" - how on earth you determined and added 'toxic' to my own self-realization that I was not good enough is odd. Remember it is a competitive world and looking at the realities of the publishing world I diverted my creativity (very successfully I will add) elsewhere. "whose purpose is to create a product to be consumed" - by publishing it anywhere it is in the hope that it will be consumed... There are many dark and dusty corners of the Web which are best left undisturbed.

PhineasGage: No, I wear ear plugs or walk away. I am referring to garbage not mediocrity in a COMMERCIAL world. "Taking a dump on other people's creativity is just rude." - no, it is not rude it is a value judgment. Critics get paid to make value judgments. I am not criticizing the activity or the process at all. People should be creative. They should also realize that by putting what they create out there, people like me will go 'that is crap' in innumerable ways. Predominantly by not buying/reading/watching etc the end product. Again, people should stop being so sensitive to failure and embrace it as a means of progressing. The end product being crap does not denigrate the creative act. Note that please.

There are many (some famous) paintings which I look at and try to determine if they are better turned on their side, upside down, or faced to the wall. I hear the utter hogwash that someone spouts about the inner meaning and the strife the artist was going through during the creative process of the work and shake my head. While the process of creation is important, there has to be a connection with reality and an understanding that, in a commercial world, the relative assessment by a large group of people that something is 'good' and worthy of their attention or money is important. It does not necessarily make the end product 'good', just assessed to be so. Take some of the worst schlock horror movies and turn these around using the exact same tropes and you have 'Scary Movie'. Now that was good.... relatively speaking.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 9:03 PM on September 1


"I hope the FPP is right about MetaFilter's own jscalzi's advance."

It's correct but does not note that is for 13 books, and that I did not get all that money up front. I get some when each book is turned in, and then some more when the book is published. To get all of it I have to write all the books. I've written five on the contract to date. I have a while to go before I get it all.

(However in the meantime I'm also getting royalties from previous books, audiobook sales/royalties as those went to a different publisher, foreign language sales and film/TV options. Do not worry for me. I am fine.)

With regard to the idea that NK Jemisin should get paid what I do: I would be very surprised if her overall income was not close to what mine is at this point. Her advances are lower but her sales are excellent, which means her royalties are significant. Likewise she's writing the script for the screen adaptation of the Broken Earth trilogy and I believe her other properties are also under option. Plus she has that MacArthur Foundation grant. I am of course delighted for each of her successes and wish her more, befitting her position as the most significant SF/F writer of our generation.

As for me, all I can do is acknowledge that statistically speaking I am an outlier in several ways, be mindful of that fact, and do what I can to leverage that outlier status to be useful to other writers.
posted by jscalzi at 10:10 PM on September 1 [35 favorites]


I am talking here about commercial success

You might have decided that you're only talking about commercial success now, after receiving a lot of strong pushback, but this is how you started:
I have spent time on AO3 trying to find something that is readable, maintains interest, and the writing style is continuous and cohesive enough for me to merit allocating (limited) time and attention. While it is 'fanfic' dominant and as betweenthabars notes:

AO3 is (1) free, and (2) mostly porn.

A sad reflection of how writing by some is used as a form of catharsis or personal therapy which pops open a Pandora's box of emotions and dark thoughts...
Those are your words. You wrote them. You kicked this all off by being a condescending jerk about fanfiction, and then when questioned and called on it, you dug in your heels. You continued to denigrate people who share their creative work but are not, in your opinion, good enough to share their creative work. When you bring up self-published authors in subsequent comments who are attempting to sell their work, it's in conjunction with fanfic, which you continue to mention explicitly. It's only now that you object that you are only talking about people who are trying to sell their work.

I am not criticizing the activity or the process at all. People should be creative. They should also realize that by putting what they create out there, people like me will go 'that is crap' in innumerable ways.

Do you knit? God, what an awful sweater. It's so sad that's the best you could come up with. Who in their right mind would want ruffles on a sweater. Oh, you're doing this for fun? You like to knit while you hang out with your friends? Well, I don't want to look at it.

I'm not a jerk! You wore it, if you share your work, you should know people might criticize it!

(Oh, I was only talking about people who are trying to sell their sweaters on Etsy.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:12 PM on September 1 [20 favorites]


Criticism is an art form, too. If all criticism does is call something crap, then it has earned the same criticism. Criticism that cannot be acted on is useless. If all there is to communicate is whether something was liked, click the thumbs up or the thumbs down and spare needless words. But good criticism gives insight, gives history, gives context and background and reasons why things may or may not have felt like they worked. Merely admonishing mediocrity, as if to discourage it... what purpose does that serve? No one can really divine what mediocre artist will suddenly find brilliance. Or whose mediocrity is in fact sublime to the right audience. Is it better to delight dozens of teenagers with just the right "drivel" at just the right time, or to publish a commercially successful work, well edited and backed with marketing that thousands of people pick up once and think is "okay, I guess?" It all depends who you ask.


"Crap" is an arbitrary zero point that can be set anywhere. Business ventures can succeed or failure. Art is not so easily defined in such terms. All art is successful. All art is a failure. All art succeeds. You made something, brought it into the world of your own will, imagination, the unreal, made real and given physical form. All art fails. You never quite produce the vision you had in your mind. So many things could have gone better. So many minor mistakes that could not be fixed or there was no time to correct, and yet... past some minimum level of technical skill, whether something resonates with people, whether it has that spark that makes the right person light up with joy... that almost seems out of one's hands. Sure the more skilled you are, the more tools you have, the quicker you work, the more things you can tweak and tune and maybe, just maybe find that lightning suddenly in your bottle. But still... it's not something easily reduced to a one dimensional scale.

That's not to say things can't be polished, that there is no need to strive to improve. Almost anything can be made better. But I do not long for the pre-internet world where most all art there was easy access to was well-polished and marketable. When people think only the best of the best deserves to be seen, so much that could be enjoyed is hidden. I am so glad I have access to the whole range of amateurishness to professionalism. I am genuinely happy when I run across something that rough, amateur, and unpolished though it may be, is just so my thing that it doesn't even matter. Ninety percent of everything is crap, but it's different crap for different people. And you don't really know beyond your own self until you shovel it out there.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:42 PM on September 1 [16 favorites]


The main point of the post is how difficult it is to succeed within the realms of publishing (old school printed) i.e. as Ellen Griffin said in the substack article 'You will not become a millionaire from your book'. Commercial success...

I am trying to see where I have directly been a 'condescending jerk about fanfiction'. Neither have I directly 'denigrated people'.

Equally, 'When you bring up self-published authors in subsequent comments who are attempting to sell their work, it's in conjunction with fanfic, which you continue to mention explicitly' Confused by this. Example/s?

Could we please keep this discussion civilized and not degenerate into a name calling exercise? Your opinion of me may or may not be true or relevant but it is unnecessary. Thank you.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 11:03 PM on September 1


Zalzidrax: Most eloquently put and I agree with you wholeheartedly. Your first paragraph is truly wonderful.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 11:08 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


There are only two genres in fiction: What Happened? and What Did It Feel Like?

And, sadly for me as someone who almost exclusively writes the latter, the former is very much in vogue at the moment. Basically every "nice" rejection I've had in the last couple of years has been along the lines of "we love your prose but the plot wasn't exciting enough". Which is fine, but I'm never going to be someone who writes thrilling plots.

I used to dream of writing paying enough for me to quit my day job, but lately I've been channeling advice like Bambu's. I'll still keep writing whether or not I succeed at it in the eyes of capitalism, because it satisfies something inside me. Having a few people, even if they're my friends or people already in my circle, tell me they liked what I wrote or it touched them in some way is a pleasant cherry on top.

I'm also very thankful at this point in my life that I didn't go down the MFA route that I strongly considered in my early 20s, because scraping a living that way seems to involve lots of work that I now know I don't actually enjoy, like teaching and self-promotion and social media and reviewing. The work I do enjoy is pretty much purely the writing. My comms-related tech job means I'm not constantly stressed about money or forced to do work I dislike in order to survive, and I get just about enough time to focus on writing.

I'm too old and tired now to keep trying to force myself into a shape that just isn't me in order to succeed by external standards, and increasingly I feel almost belligerently relaxed about this prospect, paradoxical as that sounds. It feels deeply liberating to commit to doing my life *big Sinatra voice* myyyy wayyyy rather than pretzeling myself into something different in order to please people or a market or whatever, even if that means I only ever write stories for the benefit of the handful of people who already enjoy my work. I'm never going to be an influencer or someone who writes deeply zeitgeisty stuff, because I don't understand or care enough about how that world works in order to do it; not being good at those things used to give me the deep fear that I'd never succeed, but then the belligerent relaxation kicked in and now I'm cool with that!
posted by terretu at 1:34 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


What EXACTLY is wrong with saying the vast majority is crap?I

I don't know that it's "wrong" exactly", it's just so vague as to be meaningless.

Sure, I agree - there's a lot of stuff out there that's not very thoughtful, not very perceptive, won't make us smarter, won't make us kinder, won't teach us anything new at all, goes for the cheap thrills, reveals ugly stuff about the author's prejudices, won't stand the test of time, doesn't aim for more than being a pleasant distraction, and could even achieve those modest aims better if slightly more skill was involved.

I do think that critics provide a useful service by pointing out flaws, but it's useless if they just leave it at "crap".

Some of my favourite novels reveal some ugly stuff about the author's prejudices, no scratch that, if I just look closely enough, I'm sure all of them do to some degree or another. (Virginia Woolf was a snob and antisemite, David Foster Wallace had issues with women, Heimito von Doderer was a Nazi). I will totally read something that just aims to be a pleasant distraction, because sometimes that's just what I need, and it actually takes a fair amount of skill to hold someone's attention and not confuse someone who wants to put in as little work as possible (which is me when I'm in the mood to read that kind of stuff), not to accidentially kill suspension of disbelief and immersion and aesthetic illusion, and it's always interesting to see how it's accomplished.

Point is, every single creation, no matter how acclaimed or mocked has flaws, and merits, and every reader has to do their own calculation whether the flaws outweigh the merits for them. Critics provide a valueable service by putting things in context, point out comparisions. "Has been done already, and better" is often interesting to me, when argued plausibly (although hardly ever true exactly; but I do often like going back to the source of inspiration), "Fails at what it apparently sets out to do" too (but then it matters what it set out to do; sometimes I can see value in the mere attempt). I'm actually fairly quick to decide that the flaws outweigh the merits, that something doesn't deserve my time and attention right now.

I wouldn't be so quick to label something that doesn't immediately grab me as "crap" though. I often like to reserve judgment; maybe it's just me who's not in the right frame of mind for this right now. But yeah, sometimes I'm pretty sure that I will never be in the right frame of mind for something, because I do actually agree with you that not all creative output deserves equal consideration by me. There are books I will give a second and a third and a fourth chance (some of favs have gathered dust on my bookshelf for years, before I was ready for them), and books I will dismiss at a glance and that's as it has to be, if I want to use my time wisely, because you are right, there _are_ opportunity costs.

And for that, sure, we need value judgments. With nuance, though.

Things can be crap for a million of different reasons, in more or less interesting ways, and unless you can be precise about it, there's no point in bringing it up at all. I value failure, I think it's often more interesting than success, I think it's inevitable, and ultimately at the core of every type of art, no matter how time-tested or ephemeral. I don't think someone like would have much of interest to say about it though.

I certainly wouldn't have much time for reading literary criticism by someone who thinks Lolita is a good point of comparision for porn, which is actually meant to turn you on. (I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you missed the point of porn rather than the point of Lolita.)

I'm glad you found something that earns you more external validation than creative writing. I suspect, whatever it is, probably also earns you more external validation than your literary criticism. And yet, you keep engaging in it, in this thread at least! Maybe external validation is not the be all and end all of everything after all?
posted by sohalt at 1:35 AM on September 2 [6 favorites]


This needed a trigger warning for the 95 percent of those of us who have been through publishing.
posted by johngoren at 1:55 AM on September 2 [8 favorites]


I do think that critics provide a useful service by pointing out flaws, but it's useless if they just leave it at "crap".

Perhaps more to the point for this thread, which is about readers in general, is that there is as much a need for response as there is for someone else asking to be heard. The thread itself gives example of this, where we are all writing for no pay in a conversation, sometimes critical, out of nothing more than the desire to exchange ideas and maybe kill some time. We look at each other's comments and respond to them critically because we, I think, hold that there is some value in the exchange. With fiction this should be no different, the concept of "Don't be a jerk." should apply and hold one back from being petty or mean just for the sake of it or to "prove" one's own superiority of taste or values, but thoughtful engagement means taking the writing seriously and responding in kind, to whatever level one is comfortable with. Giving fiction a pass because the writer is "putting themselves out there" isn't treating the work with the kind of seriousness or even sometimes respect one treats other writing.

As was mentioned above in several instances, fan fic is a somewhat different thing than a lot of other writing, like some commercial works it relies on a sense of familiarity for its popularity, the reader generally will have some sense of character and world and some expectation of tropes to follow or purposefully subvert and respond to the work based on that, which allows for quick reading and high levels of consumption since the basics are more or less known. This isn't that different than some other serial works, like, say, some fiction that follows the same detective through roughly the same patterns dressed up in new ways, or romances where the basic concept holds steady but is given new character and situational dressing to add novelty. Fan fic is undoubtedly a good training ground for improving one's writing for some because it allows certain things to be held constant while working on other aspects of storytelling.

Not all fiction is like that of course, some attempt other things and succeed or fail by different measures, none constant for all readers, but the value in engaging seriously with the works comes from the respondent providing insight into what they understand the works to be doing and how that compares to other works or the respondents own insight into fiction and the world. Setting that aside by just going with the banality of likes and dislikes, empty generalizations, or only offering support for the effort or saying nothing at all because writing is hard leaves fiction as yet another impoverished arena where individual consumption is all and quantitative stats are the deciding value.

There is or needs to be a cultural element to the arts to keep them from simply becoming another degraded element of capitalism, quickly consumed and even more quickly forgotten. Not all fiction needs to aspire to larger social importance, but there is significance in having some shared sense of excellence and lasting value in some writing, and that requires meaningful engagement with the works and the response to them. While it is inarguable that publishing houses have had many faults throughout their history, leaving fiction to the mercies of social media-like engagement metrics doesn't seem like the best path to improvement.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:39 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


I think one of the things that's rough about the modern world is that people are competing in a much larger realm, and if you aren't careful, you'll find yourself despising everything in the ordinary-to-pretty-good range-- that is, most of life and most people.

As for comparing Stross' and Jemison's incomes, it might be relevant that Jemison is much earlier in her career.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:49 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


In the internet age one of the side effects has been the belief that mediocrity is 'OK'. Anyone who is good at something is 'elitist', or someone is 'entitled' or any form of denigration that makes the person using those words feel better about themselves. IF mediocrity is 'OK' then perhaps you need to check in with your physician, your EMS person, or your lineman etc to determine whether or not they are mediocre or not.

I had to look it up to make sure I wasn't confusing another word but nope. Google defines mediocre as of only moderate quality. Boy howdy that sure describes the vast majority of trade work I see. I'm an electrician not a linesman so not _really_ in a place to judge but most line work is just ok too IMO. I can't imagine it's different in the medical world. Like the old joke goes: "What do they call the guy who passes with the lowest mark in medical school? Doctor."
posted by Mitheral at 6:21 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


For those of you triggered or bothered by having your work in ANY medium be criticized: you don’t want to put it in front of folks if you can’t deal with it being called shit (which is why I have never released any of my music publicly, not interested in what others have to say about it, I do it for pure pleasure). This is doubly so in the creative media realm. And as far as making money with publishing, my very first Photoshop book sold over 125,000 copies - it was deemed a total success at the time, but that success was largely because it was the only Photoshop book for the first two years the program existed. If that had not been the case, I likely would never have seen royalties. So it goes. My book “Photoshop Channel Chops” sold under 13,000 copies, and I just saw a signed copy on sale on eBay for $5000, which is obviously lunacy, as I expressed in a message to the seller. If you want to write, go for it, just don’t expect to make a nickel from it, and you’ll be fine.
posted by dbiedny at 6:30 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


my main motivation for reading more fanfic is "I want to read more about X, give me everything you have about X" not "I want something interesting to read."

[skipping the tedious discourse in between]

This is my point, that [x] can be the Wacky Flirty Adventures of the BTS Boys or the True Love of Aziraphel and Crowley or The Angst-Ridden Heartbreak of those guys from The Untamed, but it doesn't have to be. As noted, for many it's Alpha Male Meets Feisty Heroine-type stories, or Murder Happens in Cozy Community With Slightly Distinctive Subculture. There's an underlying "people just don't want to read" theme in many analyses like the FPP that I just don't think holds true.
posted by praemunire at 7:58 AM on September 2


Most actual adults with a long writing history aren't bothered by the fact of criticism, at least no more than typical adults are bothered by, eg, work feedback, comments from a partner asking that one remember to clean out the dishdrain, etc etc.

The issue here is criticism based in ignorance of genre/period/style/etc. Why doesn't Jane Austen write realistic novels a la Zola, for instance? Why doesn't Amazing Stories publish stories about rocketships but with Dostoevsky's approach to interiority? Why isn't Star Trek more like Stalker? I mean, those questions can lead to some pretty interesting places, but they aren't gotchas. "Star Trek is bad because it isn't Tarkovsky and people who accept anything less than Tarkovsky are ignorant and immoral" may be polemic but it's not helpful TV criticism.

"This genre is bad and nothing you say can convince me otherwise, also I will not engage with it enough to build the genre reading skills that it presumes" isn't a useful thing to say and is going to strike pretty much anyone with background as pompous and ignorant.

I think it's possible to say something in general to the effect of "writing about wish-fulfillment sexual fantasies is itself bad because of [these reasons I will provide] - "erotica", porn, wish-fulfillment sex in otherwise serious novels are all bad for us as a society" but it's not really useful to say "these things are childish because they are childish and therefore reading and writing them are bad".

Or similarly, you could say that fanfic itself is bad because it is very direct derivation of contemporary creative work by identifiable individuals, and no, Milton did not write Bible fanfic, fanfic is a genre with a history, rules and conventions and it did not exist in the 17th century - although even there you run into respectability politics, like, it's fine to write Wide Sargasso Sea but it's not fine to write "Written by the Victors" because Charlotte Bronte is Serious and Stargate Atlantis is schlock.

The thing is, it's difficult to argue that all fanfic everywhere is so bad that even someone familiar with the referenced work and with genre conventions would find it worse and more tedious than light historical, detective, romance or science fiction novels, and if what you really want to say is that only serious, ambitious fiction that aims to challenge and unsettle the reader is worthwhile, well, sure, that's a makeable argument but it also doesn't target fanfic in particular.

I mean, look, no one has to like fanfic, but if you say a bunch of incorrect things about how it works and people object, that's not the same as being "triggered" by criticism. Note: I have written zero fanfic since about 2007 and even then didn't really bother publishing it on these our internets, so I have no fic in this fight. I also have zero IRL friends who write fanfic and only one IRL friend who reads it, so again, no particular real life stakes for me.
posted by Frowner at 8:13 AM on September 2 [10 favorites]


The popularity of fanfic proves that people DO read enough. Lots of people do read voraciously. Contrary to the premise of this article, it's actually extremely easy to find readers.

What's difficult to find? BUYERS.

It's plain false to allege that people don't read enough, and it's neither here nor there to argue about whether fan fiction is good or bad. To make sure that writers can earn a living by writing things that people are OBVIOUSLY ALREADY WILLING TO READ, we need to be asking "what's a good business model for selling written work" and "what are some ways to get people to pay for the things they read". Perhaps even "what's a good way for writers to get paid without making readers pay for each thing they read". What we need are the netflixes and spotifys for books, but apparently Kindle Unlimited is the best we can do? Ugh.
posted by MiraK at 8:47 AM on September 2 [16 favorites]


One of my papers at college was on the hidden sexual imagery in 'Lolita'. It is an elevated form of porn as it works at a higher level of the psyche. I suggest a re-read as, once you know the 'hidden' imagery is there you will see it - there are countless and very well structured. What made me mad was my college professor took my work and spent a summer touring the literary circles giving a presentation using my work. He made big bucks from that. I did not. Time to go to the attic and dig out that paper...

Frowner: "Most actual adults with a long writing history aren't bothered by the fact of criticism" - seems like there are a few comments here that would perhaps refute that. To the point of even seeing criticism re a specific genre when there is none.

dbiedny: "For those of you triggered or bothered by having your work in ANY medium be criticized: you don’t want to put it in front of folks" - you have hit the nail on the head re what I have been saying.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 8:58 AM on September 2 [4 favorites]


One of my papers at college was on the hidden sexual imagery in 'Lolita'.

That's why I specified porn designed to turn the reader on.. I would argue most of the sexual imagery in Lolita is not particularly hidden, obviously there's a strong intention to portray the narrator as extremly horny, but that still doesn't automatically make it a good comparision for anything else that may also happen to have sexual imagery. Sorry for the derail.
posted by sohalt at 9:30 AM on September 2


we need to be asking "what's a good business model for selling written work" and "what are some ways to get people to pay for the things they read"

That though does point to a couple issues around fanfic. One being fanfic writers basically can't get paid for their work because they don't own the rights to it. Which connects to the second issue of reading not necessarily being a transferable interest, where if one reads a lot of fanfic, the fan part might be the compelling interest, not the reading, so there isn't much carry over to other authors or works. That all feeds into what the article was suggesting about celebrity authors and the lure of the bestseller, a lot of people only want what they know, so developing writers are not going to be on their menu often, unless perhaps another celeb recommends them.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:30 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


What we need are the netflixes and spotifys for books

Respectfully, this would not solve the problem at hand, which is: how would it be possible for a great many people—let's say at least ten thousand people in the US alone—to make a modest, independent living writing fiction?

If a Spotify for fiction arose, I think it would just repeat what the actual Spotify does: generate a few billion for its executives, a few million for established stars, and fractions of cents for everyone else.

In the context of the problem, centralization is bad, because it destroys artists' leverage, warps art into a fungible commodity, and reinforces power laws and network effects—by which I mean the tendency for popular things to become still more popular and squeeze out alternatives.

One example of that last effect is the modern recommendation algorithm, which employs a shitload of machine learning and software engineering to show you what everyone else is already looking at. (Another is the fact that a thread about the market for for-profit, original fiction has turned into a debate about fanfic.)
posted by Iridic at 9:52 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


Which connects to the second issue of reading not necessarily being a transferable interest, where if one reads a lot of fanfic, the fan part might be the compelling interest, not the reading,...

And even if it isn't, the fan packaging might still be the decisive factor.

Take for instance the migratory slash fandom. Often the properties it latches onto really seem rather easily interchangeable. One might conclude that the draw is not any specific IP, but rather a certain dynamic between certain characters that can be more or less easily projected on it.

But if popular authors in those fandoms then go on to publish M/M erotica, they still often complain how much harder it is find readers for their original work - even if they self-publish and offer promotional deals where you can also read it for free. You need the familiar brand as the hook, even if it isn't the main draw.
posted by sohalt at 9:59 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


There was no golden age when a larger proportion of the population made a living from writing books. Because of the recently developed opportunities for inexpensive self-publishing and direct marketing, a larger (although still small) percentage of writers are able to do so than ever before, which is wonderful.
posted by PhineasGage at 10:23 AM on September 2 [6 favorites]


Some thoughts.

Great writing is alchemic. The sum is greater than its ingredients and, when it pours out of me, I am in awe of its living, self-sustaining beauty.

Great writing exists. It is a discipline that, for most, takes tens of years to perfect. I loathe the world of instant authors. It is to art what instant self-improvement is to self-growth. It is noise where there should be music.

Among my writing forms, I write metric, rhyming poetry. Those who believe in an equality of high and low art have not been exposed to enough bad rhyming poetry.

Writing for money is like going to Casablanca for the waters: you were misinformed.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:47 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I agree that there's a huge problem with the Spotify model with creators getting pennies and executives making big bucks. However, subscription services are also one of the only models through which people have been shown to be willing to pay for content. Patreon and newsletter subscriptions work for writers really well, for this exact reason. People are happy to pay to rent content much more often than they're willing to pay to own it.

A writer-Netflix doesn't have to be the only thing in existence of course. It can be a valuable vehicle for getting your work out there and becoming popular. Maybe then folks will be able to direct buyers to their pateron page or whatever. OR it could even turn into a viable business model for some writers if they do what stand up comedians do: treat the writer-netflix like another publisher and put their work on writer-Netflix only when writer-Netflix pays a large sum up front in addition to royalties. (And take care to avoid musicians' Spotify approach which seems to really suck for musicians!)

Amazon does this for writers but it does it SO BADLY. There was a couple of years during which writers really were "discoverable" on Amazon, and the awards Amazon gave out resulted in some stars being born. But Amazon publishing seems to be bent on cannibalizing itself. It truly is a cesspit now.

And finally: the point I was making about fanfic was not to say we need to somehow make money from writing it. It was to show how silly it is to argue that "people don't read enough". People absolutely do read voraciously. I think it's rather hoity of us to say that folks who are constantly sneaking onto Reddit and Facebook to read articles and comment sections during their work days and binge on buzzfeed listicles during their lunch hour and then stay up half the night reading porny fanfic are not "real" readers. The internet has made it so that most of us spend all fucking day reading! We are all voracious readers! As long as we are bent on deluding ourselves with the "nobody reads anymore" nonsense, we aren't going to notice the historic popularity of the written word these days. It's a golden age of reading, damn it. Novelists just need to figure out how to make our work as addictive as a Twitter thread if we want to make money - and that isn't a new idea, either, novels took off as serialized cliffhangered stories and exploded as pulp fiction, after all. We're going to have to get back to our roots!
posted by MiraK at 11:24 AM on September 2 [18 favorites]


There was no golden age when a larger proportion of the population made a living from writing books.

I'm not talking about books, necessarily. In the 1920s, there were over 3400 monthly (and quite a few weekly) periodicals published in the US, with a collective circulation considerably higher than the population. Hundreds of those magazines were dedicated to fiction, and they paid authors anywhere from around a cent* to 30¢ a word. Adjusting for inflation, that range goes from $.16-$4.88 per word. That kind of money, that kind of volume, could support thousands of professional writers, and did.

Now. Obviously there are all kinds of social, cultural, historical, economic reasons why that particular market configuration is no longer possible, hasn't been for decades. No disputation there. But I disagree that there has never a better time than today to be a writer. I disagree that writers should be glad to have a slim chance at an audience, so long as they just keep hustling on Amazon or churning out Leverage fics.

*Weird Tales was considered extremely stingy at the time for paying half-cent rates. After eighty years of inflation, that works out to about eight cents a word, The New Yorker's current rate for fiction.
posted by Iridic at 11:25 AM on September 2 [8 favorites]


I've started a book that I think will work out quite nicely, but the bulk of the writing will have to wait until I retire, both so I have the time to do it well and with full attention, but also so I have the luxury of writing it exactly the way I want to write it and to not give even the slightest damn about whether it makes any money. Fortunately, retirement is not so far off.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:54 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Like a of MeFites, I read a lot online, reducing my reading time for books. I grew up reading, with limited tv (we had CBS and NBC, it was a big deal when an ABC affiliate launched on VHF. You can tell I'm a geezer, VHF was a Thing), and no videogames, to say nothing of streaming video, Web, etc. We devoured books, reading what was on the shelves, like the Nancy Drews that I read several times over, or the grownup fiction, well over my head. The Library was a haven, generally still is. In competition with streaming video and videogames, books have a tough time. I read to my kid every single night, and once read a school book to him, a required novel that was pretty terrible and he just couldn't. He does not read for pleasure, the habit didn't take, this is true of many, many people. I lost my reading mojo for a while, and getting it back is non-trivial, but I persist.

Lots of information and journalism is being pushed to video, a move I despise because every forking text news site wants to shove video at me, and I want text. You know, NY Times, the gray lady, so called because the wall of text was kind of gray. But I believe reading for pleasure as well as information will last. If you're at all adequate at reading, gathering information from text is wildly more efficient for most purposes. The exception for me is subjects that I have little foundation in; video courses work well in that instance. So many videos are vastly longer and chattier than merited, which makes me feel stabby.
posted by theora55 at 12:06 PM on September 2 [7 favorites]


Also, MeFites who write or have written books, please hook us up in your profile.
posted by theora55 at 12:07 PM on September 2 [5 favorites]


Thousands of words about how writers can't make money and not a single mention of Kickstarter?

I'm a first-time comic book writer. In 15 months, I raised $50,000 on Kickstarter solely by selling my first comic book series. I started completely from scratch, and built an audience along the way.

I signed to a traditional comic book publisher several months before the first Kickstarter campaign (I ran 3 in total), but they had no hand in the campaigns themselves. The book is still 8 months away from retail.

And it's not just comic books - all manner of fiction and non-fiction are available via crowdfunding. Kickstarter is an extremely viable avenue for writers seeking to sell directly to readers. Amazon is not the only game in town.
posted by jordantwodelta at 12:09 PM on September 2 [8 favorites]


One being fanfic writers basically can't get paid for their work because they don't own the rights to it.

People do, though. It's an odd loophole -- rather in practice than in law -- but fan artists producing comics get support Patreon, Kickstarter, and one-shot Gumroad sales. Fanfic writers are quieter about it, but they do it too, often at times of particular economic need.

AO3 refuses to allow mention or linkage of this kind of thing to avoid legal trouble. I came up at a time when everyone knew that you just did not involve money in fan creations, outside of costs, in order to avoid destroying the "fair use" argument and stay under the radar of the vast, capricious corporations and/or authors. Things are different today. Young people in particular have a much harder time than they did twenty years ago, and raising money for fanwork has been normalized. Plus, it is a lot of work. Emotionally, I don't like it because it's tempting fate, but I do not live a life of lecturing young creatives (often LGBTQ and without family support) about their choices.

Every so often people try to take fanfic "legitimate" and get the authors paid for their work. But the payment's in pennies, the TOS is restrictive, and the whole thing is always profoundly out of touch with what fans want from fandom.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:45 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


I read a lot, but it's mostly pop-sci and SF&F and I don't read any of the books people of my social milieu, class, income level and background are supposed to read. That's fine, though I do feel a bit excluded among some of my more intellectual friends and relatives who have all read X that just came out.
I don't get this moral imperative that a) people must read and b) people must read a lot of books each year and if they don't they're bad people and there's something wrong with society as a whole.
posted by signal at 1:00 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


The undeniable truth is there is a mismatch between people who want to get paid to write and people paying to read - is it higher than it used to be? Probably not, there's more competition from other forms of entertainment, but there are also higher levels of literacy. But a phenomenon doesn't have to be recent to be worth contemplating. For me, it does raise a couple of questions that have to be dealt with seperately. (I want to apologize for so far devoting most of my contributions to the least interesting one).


Can we get more people to read? Can we get people to read more?


Honestly? Probably! I certainly read more when I'm on vacation and I also read a lot more before I entered the workforce. Reading often takes more effort than other forms of entertainment, so it takes a bit more leisure too. Give me more leisure and I'll read more.

Also, it's fairly easy to make the case for some element of market failure being at play. Clearly there could be more diversity in the publishing industry; some market segments are bound to be underserved. They teach you in B-school that you can increase your ROI by focussing on your key customers, so it seems to pay off to neglect the rest. Of course, they also teach you that it sometimes makes sense to have loss leaders, just for your image, to set yourself apart, to get customers you otherwise wouldn't get and who might stay loyal thereafter (people who didn't see themselves as readers, who suddenly see themselves as readers and might start reading other stuff too). But publishing seems to be doing less of that now, and I do think that's a shame.

I do think that fanfiction actually solves some of these problems. You might still feel up to it after a long day of work, for instance. It doesn't necessarily take less effort, but it generally promises to - you're already invested in the characters and often also familiar with the setting (unless it's AU) and the backstory, so there's usually a somewhat guaranteed reduction of cognitive load, and the pay-off is more reliable too. If it proves in some way challenging after all (as I think it very well might), well, you're hooked already, and if not, no drama, you didn't pay for it and won't think twice about closing that tab (whereas some people seem to feel a compulsion about finishing books; I think some problem might also be a bit of cultural attitude of being too precious about reading novels). It's low risk, high reward, so the decision to start reading also takes no effort at all (we always have to account not just for the effort of the activity, but also for the effort in making the decision).

And fanfiction has loss-leaders galore. It may be comfortable and familiar, but it's also wild and weird, and not lowest common denominator at all. The rare pairs add the special charm! No matter how out-there your preferences, you're bound to find something. No market segment, no matter how not commercially viable, is ever completely neglected.

But we have also observed at length in this thread, that fanfiction success doesn't reliably translate to commercial success. Clearly the question of getting people to read is not the same as getting people to pay for reading.

Can we make more people pay for the stuff they already read?

Maybe? I'm part of the problem here, I'm one of the people who reads a lot of stuff without paying for it. Not necessarily fan-fiction, but articles, essays, opinion pieces, moderated comment sections... I do know that's no way to support quality journalism, and I guess I would be willing to pay more for it if there was a better model than just paid subscriptions to all the newspapers and magazines. There's some room for improvement here, but yeah, it rests heavily on appealing to people's morals, so I see some limitations.

Also, I'm not quite sure how it would work with fanfiction - some of its special low-stakes, low-effort charm is based on not paying for it. Personally, I do actually buy a lot more books than I actually read already. Perversly, I'm almost more likely to start reading something I didn't pay for - I don't feel particularly obliged to finish anything I read, but once I paid for it, I do feel somewhat compelled to pay my full attention while I read, which, during the week, I often can't muster. (Maybe I am a bit too precious about reading myself.) There are certainly fanfiction authors whose book I would want to read - but once it's a book I pay for, it has to compete with other books I paid for, and there are already many unread ones on my shelf, so I might not get round to it immediately.

So are there are other ways of making writing a viable career for more people?

Sure. Universal Basic Income. I would be in favour of that anyway, regardless of creative outcome. But yes, I think it would be good for Literature too. Sure, more quantity doesn't mean more quality - but more risk diversification. Maybe not everyone should be a writer, but I'd rather some people are writers who shouldn't be than some people who should be writers can't be. I think it's a great loss and danger for a society, if the only people who get to share their perspective are those who come from a certain financial background/win the lottery in terms of hitting the Zeitgeist.

Some people seem the worry that such a scenario would make everyone immediately drop all the dull stuff that keeps things running and go be artists, and then we would have way more art than anyone can reasonably appreciate and nothing would run any more. I don't think that's terribly likely though, because of the still unsolved final question.

How can I keep myself motivated to write when people are so unlikely to care?

Maybe not at all! And that's perfectly fine.

So, what happens if anyone gets to be a writer, regardless of demand?

Some people will find enough of an audience to satisfy them, and that's great - I really don't think only audiences large enough to turn a profit for a publisher deserve to be served.

Some people will find no audience and won't mind, and that's also great, I find it inspiring, I could learn from them to free myself of the need for external validation.

Some people will find no audience and look for a more rewarding use of their time. And that's perfectly fine too.

I never wanted to write for living, I always placed a high value on financial stability, so I would never depend on writing for money. I could totally see myself writing just for kudos and likes. Sadly, I have no talent for fanfiction and not other ideas for short-cuts to an audience and no patience, I guess, to build one and not enough motivation just to do it for myself. People like me will always be reliably left to keep doing the dull stuff to keep things running, just to feel a bit useful once in a while.
posted by sohalt at 1:04 PM on September 2 [5 favorites]


So are there are other ways of making writing a viable career for more people?

There's a huge demand for writers in corporate settings: technical writing, grant writing, website copy, proposals, user guides, reports - especially the government-required kind that nobody reads but MUST be written and saved, specialized writing (legal verbiage, medical notices, IT release notes). These jobs tend to pay exceedingly well! And, heck, if any significant portion of anyone's job involves writing emails or creating scripts for presentations and demos or sales pitches, I mean, ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL of this is "real writing" just as much as reading buzzfeed listicles is "real reading". (IDK how much people who write Buzzfeed listicles get paid but I'm pretty sure it's a real living too!)

I make an excellent living from my writing - writing proposals for corporations. It baffles me how I spent years and years simply not noticing that I had literally achieved my childhood dream of becoming a writer. Noticing how much my corporate masters are willing to pay for my writing makes me more confident when I sit down to write fiction on my own time, where before I used to think, "ah, I am a beginner, I don't know how to do this" now I think "I'm a fucking professional, I got this, shut up inner critic!"

I'm just saying, we all seem to have this idea that "writing isn't a viable career" unless we're earning our entire living from writing pulitzer-winning novels - not at the kitchen table after the kids are finally in bed, but waking up at dawn to hack out 1500 words before 10 am, and then spending the rest of the day and night feeding our writer's soul with too much booze and contemplative fishing/manly wrestling and having enviable quantities of sex. I don't know what the point is of defining "real writing" as that tiny subset of the writing world.

If we reworded that question into: "Are there other ways of making highbrow literary novel-writing into a well-paid career for more people?" it sounds a lot less plaintive. It begins to sound less like, "How can we end the unfair rigged game that writers are forced to play to survive under capitalism?" -- which is a sentiment that targets our sense of justice - an unwarranted ploy, imo, because unlike musicians, novelists aren't exploited by big companies for most part! There isn't cause for moral outrage here.
posted by MiraK at 1:50 PM on September 2 [13 favorites]


I have to echo strongly what MiraK wrote above. For the last 15 years or so I have worked as a fulll-time freelance professional writer, with a mix of corporate as well as journalistic and magazine/web writing. It has been absurdly remunerative, and by far the most financially and personally/professionally rewarding career I have ever had. I

It has taken me all over the world, it purchased the house I live in, and I'm using the same skills I developed on that side of the writing business to advance the comic book career I am now building that I mentioned in this earlier comment.

I strongly encourage anyone who has ever considered writing as a career to do it.
posted by jordantwodelta at 3:33 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


I make an excellent living from my writing - writing proposals for corporations. It baffles me how I spent years and years simply not noticing that I had literally achieved my childhood dream of becoming a writer.

Ha, I had almost the reverse experience - I got into a career in grant writing because omg I get to write for a living! And then for many years of terrible stressful jobs I kept going “but I get to WRITE tho” and then burned out super hard, then realized, hey, I enjoy writing a lot more when it’s not work for hire. Now I have a job with very little writing, and have found a lot more mental energy for personal writing projects.

What I ultimately learned - from that, from selling a story for a few cents a word and workshopping many others with a writing group, and from writing fanfic - is that “being able to say I’m a professional writer” and/or “making money from writing” are not actually things I highly value (though, you know, I’ll take them). What I personally value is causing an emotional reaction via my writing. (This was an element of my grant writing as well, I was great at emotionally affecting case studies of victims/clients.) Both my published story and my fanfiction have resulted in people telling me “this part was so disturbing/upsetting, this one was so sad, this one was so thrilling” and, frankly, the feeling I get from that sort of feedback is far more incentivizing than potentially making a living from fiction. Because I already know from experience that writing for work is WORK, and that would be the case if I became a professional fiction author as well. But if I’m able to put something in front of a handful of people and have them react that way, I’m happy.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:25 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


I totally know what you mean ... I've had writing jobs that ate my soul too - work is too boring, terrible boss, toxic culture, etc., and I feel lucky to have landed in a job where the writing feels good in spite of the pressure and deadlines. For me, I have few marketable skills outside of writing, so I have been very motivated to keep switching to new writing jobs rather than to different types of work when my soul got ate in a writing job. This part is luck for sure. It's hard to find a good fit even if writing jobs are easy-ish to find.

It's so interesting to hear about writers' attitudes towards (their most beloved forms of) writing. You say you don't want writing to become WORK, showbiz-liz, which I definitely get. I have a novelist friend (day job: English prof, formerly an editor for 20 years) who starts her writing day by telling herself sternly, "Do your work, Sandra," - without thinking of writing as work, she says, she'd never be able to hunker down. For me the reward of writing is to explain and teach and make ideas understandable - I kind of don't even care if others read what I write, but I do need someone to ask a question in order to get started (or even just a firm mental image of a particular real person who I want to explain something to), else I can't write! Boo.
posted by MiraK at 4:48 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


Anecdata: I have books that WAY more people have read than my fanfic. I also have some fanfics that WAY more people have read than some of my books.
posted by headspace at 6:12 PM on September 2 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I should have been more precise. It's a real mistake to limit one's notion of writing to creative writing and journalism, when there's a whole world of corporate writing out there, where writing is indeed still a quite marketable skill. "Not getting paid to write" and "not getting paid to write what I want" are two very different complaints. I did in fact get paid quite a bit to write in my previous job and I should probably be more grateful for that.

It's fair to suggest that someone who likes other forms of writing might like corporate writing as well, as there tends to be high overlap in skills - identifying what's relevant to the target reader, organizing the flow of information, keeping things clear, concise, coherent and cohesive, time management (which is a bit different for writing tasks, I often find), general work habits, getting over the fear of the blank page.

But my own experience mostly drove home for me that the fantasy for me is really less about "getting paid to write" and more about "connecting with a reader". Sure, it does matter in corporate writing too - in my job, I mostly felt the decive factors for winning the tender were price and politics, my job was mainly to not make us look unprofessional, but there were certainly one or two cases when, all else being equal, good writing would have made the difference (and I probably botched those). Mostly however, it was the kind of writing job that really can be described as "the kind that nobody reads but that must be written" - and turns out, the "nobody reads"-part bothers me, even if I do get paid!
posted by sohalt at 9:51 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


It's a real mistake to limit one's notion of writing to creative writing and journalism, when there's a whole world of corporate writing out there, where writing is indeed still a quite marketable skill. "Not getting paid to write" and "not getting paid to write what I want" are two very different complaints.

Heh. For me, had I realized it at a younger age and better developed my technical skills, corporate writing would likely have been a fine career as I really enjoy the headspace of writing, but have minimal interest in writing fiction or many strands of creative writing. Writing up corporate reports might have allowed me to enjoy the process of writing while not subjecting many readers to what I wrote. I liked helping other people with their projects, creative, academic, or otherwise, than creating worlds of my own.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:22 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


Boy, a lot in this thread rings for me. I wanted to just add a few quick things:

- I know of several people, including some in my own family, who read A LOT, and no matter how much they esteem the authors of what they read, they refuse to pay for any of it—they pull it all down from torrents instead of paying for it. That's not a problem of capitalism, that's a problem of culture and ethics. The culture allows it, borderline encourages it. And there's plenty of silicon-valley-anarchist types ready to tell you that doing so is screwing the big corporations and so is laudable (and they completely ignore the fact that every one of them is stealing from the authors whose work they enjoy.)

- I'm an engineer, and putting in a 40-hour-workweek (and writing fiction on the side) is barely possible because, to be successful in my field, companies expect you to be working than your timecard captures. It's near-universal, and I've heard it time and time again, even again this week. Maybe there are places where 40 hours means 40 hours, but I've never found them.
posted by newdaddy at 8:01 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


In terms of paying for one's reading: For me, the decline in bookstores has led to a decline in paying. There is a new-books bookstore close to me and I buy books there sometimes, but like most successful contemporary bookstores it stocks almost entirely on-trend new pop books, so there often isn't anything I want to buy - there's no point in wanting a book and going there to look for it unless you want something that was published in the last two years and is popular on lithub. (Except, oddly, they have all the NYRB republished stuff and that's mostly what I buy.) I mean, it's a charming place and politically very good, but it really brings home the changes wrought by the consolidation of publishing, Amazon, etc over the last 20 years - you can't run a bookstore by having old books or a deep bench, it all has to be the latest stuff that's getting pushed to your consumer demographic.

And books are expensive! If I'm shelling out $15 for a new book, it can't be some acceptable on-trend litfic that I'll just sorta like okay and then forget in a month because it has the bien pensant style and attitude appropriate to the literary class in 2021. If I'm shelling out $15 for a book, it needs to be the exact book I want.

Of course you can order online and in theory you can order from the bookstore, but I've never met a bookstore that was really good about ordering books for you and calling you when they're in - this may happen in New York City or wherever, but around here it's always maybe it will be here in six weeks but we probably won't call you and so you have to remember to stop back in six weeks to see if it's there and maybe we already shelved it and sold it to someone else, who knows?

And - and I know this plaint goes on and on, but I am a lost soul who used to buy books all the time - the used bookstores have fallen off too; there's one fairly good one left but even there it's "curated" and they stock pretty much all large, high-quality used paperbacks and hardback so anything published before about 1995 is a no-go unless it was published in a fancy edition.

And then one of the country's oldest and best science fiction bookstores, Uncle Hugo's, was burned down in the protests last year. That was the last place where I'd go regularly to buy new books because they had a huge selection and I could actually think, "hey, here is a book I'd like to read" and there was some likelihood that it would be on the shelf. Mere weeks before the pandemic I walked in there and spent sixty bucks. It is not polite to speak negatively about anything that happened during the protests but I really, really wish whoever burned the bookstore down had not. (Like, it wasn't a casualty of another fire - someone broke in and set it on fire.)

So now I get most paperbacks used on eBay, which helps almost no one. But I do like a paper copy that I can read even if the electricity goes out or there's internet foolery.
posted by Frowner at 8:43 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Of course you can order online and in theory you can order from the bookstore, but I've never met a bookstore that was really good about ordering books for you and calling you when they're in.

Thanks to the recommendation of a friend, I now order all of my books from a local bookstore through bookshop.org. It's slightly more expensive than Amazon, but it's almost as convenient. I say "almost" because there's no prime delivery and you have to wait a few more days for your books. But you can support your local bookstore without going there in person or being limited to what they have in stock.
posted by FencingGal at 8:56 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Pirating is a problem in part because so many people who don't write don't seem to think that it's real work. They must think that it's just an extended version of writing an internet comment you're really into. It's been a thing for a long time, though -- authors have always met people at parties who say, "I've always thought I had a book in me." I'll never forget going on a date with someone who said, when I mentioned my fiction, "Oh, I'm a pretend writer too!"

Musicians and artists don't get people saying this quite so much, but they also suffer from pirating and "clients" who think they don't need to be paid for their work. Maybe it's a general devaluing of the creative in the era of mass reproduction, I dunno.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:19 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


(Neither here nor there but maybe we need a Mefi writers' group to discuss concerns of the day and/or work)
posted by Countess Elena at 9:19 AM on September 3 [11 favorites]


And finally, after actually reading TFA, I have to say, I find the tone of it dismissive and belligerent; also large parts of it are clearly wrong. It's manifest that some people do make the New York Times bestseller list. It's obvious that some books sell enough copies to keep their authors afloat.

Maybe it's fun to write an article that rains on everybody's parade—but it disinclines me from taking the contents at all seriously, regardless of who in the industry the author knows.
posted by newdaddy at 1:04 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


That's also something I didn't like about this article. There are writers who need the facts put to them this way, but they are not the kind of people who are going to listen. Hard-working low-self-esteemers already know the facts.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:52 PM on September 3 [4 favorites]




I read the article newdaddy posted earlier, but can't get to it now because of the paywall. It made the point that people expect things to be free and that's a huge part of the problem - and it is, but I couldn't help but notice that I was only reading that article because it was free. And while it was interesting, it didn't really meet my standards of journalism I am willing to pay for. And I can't help but notice that pretty much everything posted on Metafilter is free - and when there's a paywall, people post ways to get to the article without paying. It's probably overly simplistic to say that's part of the problem, but isn't it?

When I was a child, my mom was kind of a news junkie and subscribed to three different papers plus TIme and Life magazines. I read all of them. But now I have access to thousands of newspapers and magazines. I subscribe to a few of them and I think it's important to do so, but I'm not going to get a Los Angeles Times account for one article that looks kind of interesting. Before the internet, I would have only known that article existed if it was picked up for syndication or if someone physically clipped it out and mailed it to me. When Slate switched to a paywall after a certain number of articles, I decided it just was way too clickbaity for me to want to support what they're doing - even though once in a while, they'll have something really great. (And if you used up your free articles on the clickbait without realizing you were clicking on something dumb, you can't read the one thing that's great.)

I realize fiction and journalism are two different problems, and this thread is more about books, but I think the expectation that things should be free is part of the problem. I feel a little twinge of negativity every time I end up paying to rent a movie on Amazon, but it's really not different from a few years ago when we were renting videos from Blockbuster (except Blockbuster gave you seven days instead of two). It's the expectation that has changed.
posted by FencingGal at 5:47 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Being 'good' at something, taking pride in what you do, and ensuring that what you do is something you are capable of is important in a competitive world.

Wow, I'm sure glad I never thought that way, nor do any of the other unusually or even moderately successful writers and artists I know. Nurturing that attitude is the best way to smother the creative spark.

In my experience, the willingness to be "bad" at things is essential to all forms of growth. And, as the article points out, being "good" isn't even always necessary for making money.

Life is capricious. Maybe nobody will read your book, even if it is published by one of the Big Five. But, the one thing that's sure is that nobody will read it if you fall into despair and don't even write it.
posted by rpfields at 9:43 AM on September 4 [7 favorites]


Analogous to the music industry, authors get a pittance while massive distribution companies like Bertelsman and Amazon continue to take the lion's share of profits. This is their business model, but please keep bringing up moral objections around artists not getting paid.
posted by sneebler at 10:57 AM on September 4


Re AO3 and its "frictionless" model: there is a commercial / for-pay parallel to it, and that's Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service. If you like reading in the way that other people like watching TV or knitting or whatever, as casual entertainment, and you're not too picky about particular titles, it's not a bad deal on the consumer's end of the bargain. (I suspect that in usual Amazon fashion it's probably a questionable deal for everyone else involved...)

Ten bucks a month gets you three digital magazine subscriptions plus an unlimited number of books, subject to a 10-book check-out/check-in model. The available titles are pretty sharply divided between A-list bestsellers (typically a few years out from release, although there are occasional exceptions which I suspect are loss leaders to encourage new subscriptions) and a very "long tail" especially of genre fiction.

It's very heavy on romance in particular, and it wouldn't surprise me if it's upset the economics of the pulp-paperback romance novel industry—where my understanding is that a relatively small number of very dedicated readers have always been responsible for most of the sales.

And whatever anti-porn prissiness might pervade the publishing industry in general, it sure doesn't seem to have affected what's on offer by Kindle Unlimited. If Amazon's ranking is to be trusted, it's currently showing the top Unlimited titles as Verity by Colleen Hoover (a "romantic thriller"), The Seventh Realm Part 2: A LitRPG Fantasy by Michael Chatfield (part of a genre I was previously unaware of), and The Casanova by totally-a-pseudonym T.L. Swan (Book 3 of "The Miles High Club", apparently a fantasy set in a world where workplace sexual harassment laws don't exist). The number of cover images featuring men sporting neatly-trimmed beards and positively Schwarzeneggerian pecs is very high.

Several friends of mine who are romance-novel junkies basically switched from frequenting used bookstores (one of which had a deal where you could fill a paper shopping bag with as many pulp novels as you wanted, for a flat rate of maybe five bucks) to using Kindle Unlimited. That's bad for the used bookstores, certainly, but it seems like by moving them to the primary market instead of the secondary, it ought to result in at least some additional revenue flowing to authors.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:24 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Kindle Unlimited has been very hard on self-published authors (see here, also here). I'd like to say that I'm too principled and that's why I don't have KU, but mainly it's because the selection is no good.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:43 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


The article itself is more balanced, but the subheads are kind of criminal. "No one will read your book", "Self-publishing is not the answer", "You will not make money from your Patreon"— what's the point of not merely being discouraging, but flat-out wrong?

Anecdata: I've self-published a dozen books, sold 40,000 units, and between that and Patreon I can pay the mortgage and eat. It's just above the poverty line, mind you, but it's a living.

Almost all of those sales, FWIW, are non-fiction.
posted by zompist at 3:30 PM on September 4 [5 favorites]


Almost all of those sales, FWIW, are non-fiction.

How specialized a subject? I ask not as a challenge, but wondering whether niche subject writing with strong appeal to a narrow market makes more sense than more general emphasis in self publishing due to the latter already being the more satisfied by major media sources and the internet at large already.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:02 AM on September 5


How specialized a subject?

Conlanging and linguistics, which are niche enough that I didn't think a traditional publisher would know what to do with them!
posted by zompist at 1:58 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


Conlanging and linguistics, which are niche enough that I didn't think a traditional publisher would know what to do with them!

Yeah, I can totally see the value in self publishing for that kind of writing and I'd like to see more of it for non-fiction writers. I'm sure the current generation of youtube/podcast celebs already see the appeal and imagine there is a lot I'm unaware of, but I'd love to see it grow to the point where it breaks some of the stranglehold traditional academic and other specialty presses have on the niche subject market, where the prices are so often completely askew for normal readership.

There is, of course, some mitigating concern over assessing actual expertise in self published writing, but then there is also plentiful examples of questionable authority in traditionally published works, so that isn't an entirely new concern, just one that remains vital given how readily bad info can spread online.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:47 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


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