Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Maybe it's okay with you if the first reaction a kid has to a toy is to start crying, but it's not with me." (Life With Unicorns)

Here is the email I just sent to Fisher-Price, about a toy that really they ought not to be making. (In the real letter, I used Mr Bunches' real name)

Dear Customer Service,

I am writing about your "Octonauts GUP-A Mission Vehicle," (  which we just purchased today at a Target store.  The vehicle is shoddy, which is the reason for my writing.

We paid $19.99 plus tax for this toy, which was the third or fourth in the set that our son, Mr Bunches, had bought.  He watches the Octonauts shows, and he has slowly been collecting the Octonauts playsets at a rate of one every week or 2 as a reward for doing good in school or helping out.

Today, as I said, he got the GUP-A, which to my surprise turned out to be not even up to the minimal standards of the other toys.  The primary problem is the capsule windshield, which does not close tightly.  I was unprepared for this, as (a) I generally expect things we purchase to work properly and (b) it is a submarine, which means that kids are going to use it in the water or at least pretend it is underwater, and although I am not a sailor of any sort, even I know that submarines which do not seal airtight would face serious problems.

When the capsule is closed, it rests rather stupidly on the edge of the plastic.  It feels like it should lock tight. It has two small holes where it appears it should lock tight, as well as two tabs adding to the general lock-tightiness feel of it. But it does not lock tight.

While this is no doubt a problem for any kid who wants to get more out of his Octonauts than simply recreating the experience of the 1963 U.S.S. Thresher disaster, it is more of a problem for Mr Bunches, as he has autism and so when things do not work perfectly, he finds them distressing.  More than distressing: in this case, Mr Bunches was reduced to tears in the 10 minutes he worked and worked to get the windshield to lock tightly.  When I helped him (because I, unlike Fisher-Price, do not like to see 7-year-olds sobbing about their new toys), by showing him that he could still play with it, albeit without the windshield locking, and when I even showed him promotional stills of the toy on various websites which show that the windshield does not lock tightly:

Inline image 1

(a photo which, if enlarged, would show the windshield resting loosely on the toy), 

...this did not help him, and he continued to cry and entreat me to help him.

In the end, Fisher-Price, we had to take two small pieces of Duck Tape to tape down the cockpit, thusly:

Inline image 2

I find it incredibly annoying to have to tape a brand-new, just-out-of-the-box toy, let alone having to do so after your toy has reduced my son to tears.  

But even worse is that it didn't work.  Shortly after trying that fix (which was his suggestion), he tried to play with the GUP-A for a while, but found it so distressing that he could not get the windshield open then that he eventually left the toy sitting on our table and went up to his room to lie down.

Congratulations are in order, since that must have been the intended effect of this toy; otherwise, one would have to assume that Fisher-Price simply doesn't care about whether or not it produces quality merchandise for children.

And 'quality' is not a word one would apply to this toy, or the Octonauts line in general.  Aside from that glaring flaw, the GUP-A, like every other crummy toy in this line, is made of shoddy plastic and has suspect engineering and design.

The plastic feels roughly the weight and sturdiness one would associate with breakfast-cereal (or perhaps fast-food restaurant giveaway) toys.  This is apparently the intention of Fisher-Price and is no doubt done to increase profits, as we have bought numerous other toys on similar design, including your own "Imaginext" line of toys, and found them to be sturdy and durable -- and the same price, generally. So why cheap out on Octonauts? God only knows, but we do appreciate the opportunity to have toys break quickly, as we were wondering what we would do with that little bit of extra money we had.

The design of this toy, too, as I said, is, to put it scientifically, crummy.  You have two little buttons on which a character may be placed to hold its foot to the deck so it doesn't fall when played with. That's a good idea! Too bad you screwed it up, as the two holes are too far apart to work for one figure (a situation that again drove Mr Bunches to distraction even before he learned of the windshield problem), and each GUP (as we know from watching the shows, something your designers should) is generally meant to be operated with just one Octonaut in it -- so if you were to suggest to your child that the holes are to let the Octonaut stand on either side (a suggestion that honestly makes no sense, as why would the pilot not want to look straight out the windshield), or suggest that an Octonaut could share the GUP-A with another (leaving one GUP vehicle behind, of course), your child might point out that this is a ridiculous suggestion.  

Your child, if he is autistic, might start crying when you suggest that and say, tearfully, "Please fix the feet," and continue trying to get one foot on each small button.

We've put up with hard-to-shoot nets, flimsy ropes, and the rest of this shoddy line of toys, but I'm going to tell Mr Bunches from now on that he can't buy any Octonauts toys.  Maybe it's okay with you if the first reaction a kid has to a toy is to start crying, but it's not with me.

I'm going to post this on Amazon, and on your site (if it allows reviews) and on my site, as well, in hopes that no other kids or parents will have to go through this.

Update:  After writing the above, Mr Bunches wanted to take another whack at playing with the "Sucktonauts," as I now think of them.

It was too disheartening to take a video of him trying to work the GUP-A, but I did show him trying to press the GUP-D down to shoot the net.  This is a kid's toy, in which you press a fin on the back to make the net shoot out via a puff of air.

Watch this video, and ask yourself why this toy had to be this way:

It take nearly all my strength to press that button. I'm 44 years old. Why, Fisher-Price? 

Friday, November 15, 2013

If you can't win the race, trip the competition (Overthinking Stuff)

This post was brought on by a post I read today on Sandra Ulbrich Almazan's blog.  Sandra is a scientist and a sci-fi writer (and a good one) and today mentioned a post she'd read elsewhere about  "Binge Publishing," which isn't a thing, but which apparently is intended to be a thing by authors who don't want competition.

After commenting at length on Sandra's blog, I went and read the original post, which appeared on Libby Hellman's blog on October 22, 2013.  Rather than limit myself to a comment there, I thought I'd republish it here and comment directly.

Here is her post, and my comments are in red where inserted.  All pictures except the one of the books are mine.


NEW RULE: No More Binge Publishing!

BooksYou know how Bill Maher has his New Ruleshtick? Well, I’m taking a page from his playbook. Many of you aren’t going to like this, but I think it has to be said: STOP publishing all these ebooks. I don’t want to sound negative,
Anytime you begin a sentence with "I don't want to be..." you are exactly that thing. If a disclaimer is needed, it isn't working.

 but it’s getting nuts out there. Ever since the self-publishing floodgates opened, “the more the merrier” has been the rule of thumb for indie authors.
As a lawyer, who writes, I operate in a world where we rely on "evidence." This is not true of a writer, who writes.  But here is some evidence:
600,000-1,000,000 books are published per year.  About 1/2 of them are self-published/indie books. (Source: Forbes.)  This suggests that publishers and indie authors are putting out about the same output.  Those numbers, though, are also questionable, as there is no source for them, and a difference of 400,000 in potential numbers is more than statistically allowable. (the official ISBN agency for the US) instead cited a study that showed this:
The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287 percent since 2006, and now tallies more than 235,000 print and “e” titles, according to a new analysis of data ....
Bowker’s research into self-publishing was prompted by an earlier study that showed 2011’s 148,424 self-published print books represented about 43 percent of that year’s total traditional print output and contributed to the first significant expansion in print production since 2007. While print accounts for 63 percent of self-published books, e-books are gaining fast. E-book production in 2011 was 87,201, up 129 percent over 2010. Print grew 33 percent in the same period. While self-publishing is a DIY undertaking, Bowker’s analysis shows its infrastructure is made up of a handful of large firms. In 2011, CreateSpace dominated the print segment, supporting the creation of 58,412 titles (39 percent of self-published print books). Smashwords topped the e-book producers with 40,608 titles (nearly 47 percent of total self-published e-books). The combined divisions of Author Solutions (part of Penguin Group) produced a total of 47,094 titles and Lulu Enterprises checks in with 38,005 titles. The Bowker analysis shows that beyond these four players, no company has more than 10 percent of market share.Small presses, a category that is defined as publishers who have produced 10 or fewer books, accounted for 34,107 self-published titles -- 21,256 print and 12,851 e-books -- in 2011. Print book production by small presses increased more than 74 percent between 2006 and 2011 -- hearty growth that’s dwarfed by CreateSpace’s 1702 percent increase during the same period. While marketing their works remains the next great hurdle for self-published authors, Bowker research points to major influencers within their control. Bowker surveys of book consumer habits show that authors can effectively reach more readers with online excerpts, retailer recommendations and customer reviews.

So if you didn't read all that, here's a breakdown: 235,000 print/ebooks by indie authors in 2012. Indie authors account for less than or close to 1/2 of all published books. 
Back to the post:
If you’re not making the sales you want, just write a new book and publish it. Add to your series. Start a new one. That’s the way to boost sales. I know people who are publishing five or six books a year! 
Name one.
Which is why I call it Binge Publishing. (Btw, I’m talking about new books here, not backlist novels. Will deal with them later.) 
Why are backlist novels different? If the motivation -- to increase sales -- is the same, shouldn't all publishing be treated the same? The publisher's meaning of 'backlist' is a book that's been in print for a year or more but is still selling well enough to be put in bookstores -- so an old book that's still being put out. If your book was published two years ago as an ebook, it doesn't need to be restocked (ebooks don't run out). If your book was published two years ago as a book and you want to add to the format, that's not a 'backlist' book, that's changing the format.  

But either way, if the issue is "putting more books into circulation," then either backlist books aren't an issue at all -- they are already in circulation -- or they are identical to a 'new' book, in that they add to the amount of books out there.
Who came up with this notion? What expert, exactly, figured out that the best way to sell more is to write more?
Who, for that matter, said it's a notion, AT ALL? I've been writing for years, and indie publishing for years, and have NEVER heard anyone say "put out a bunch more books and you'll make money."
I googled advice for self-published authors and checked out a few sites, admittedly just skimming them. NONE said "put out a bunch of books."

It seems that this is both superficially true (more books to sell = more sales) while simultaneously being something people should think about. But to treat it as something that is regularly told to authors needs, at the least, some source or attribution, as, again, I've been indie publishing for years and have never been told this.

(NOTE: I have been told "Just keep on writing and hopefully someone will notice you." But that's not the same as "flood the market and you'll make millions," which is the advice Libby implies people are getting.)
 While it’s true that books are viewed as fungible commodities,
They are? A 'fungible commodity' is an item that is easily replaceable: one is as good as the next. Televisions and laptop computers are more or less fungible commodities. Money is a fungible commodity: If I lend you $5 and you give me back five $1 bills as payment, the difference is immaterial.
I have never heard anyone say that of books: Is one book truly interchangeable with the next? Is one book by an author truly interchangeable with the next? I used to love John Irving. Then I read "Last Night In Whatever I'm Bored" and I never read another book by him. I've read all of Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, the first half of his "Split Infinity" series, and all his "Incarnations of Immortality." I haven't read any of his other stuff.  I've read SOME of Kurt Vonnegut's stuff, and I can tell you that there is a world of difference between "Slaughterhouse 5" and "Player Piano."

 that’s nothing new. When I started in this business as a traditionally published author, 
That is an important point to keep in mind.
it was clear that if my books didn’t sell well, there were three or four other enthusiastic authors waiting to fill my shoes with their “product.” My novels were eminently replaceable. 
Harper Lee wrote ONE book. It is NOT "eminently replaceable."  No good book is.
But whoever said one novel should be replaced by five is wrong.
Nobody said that. Again, where is a quote, a source, a reference? Are we quoting "He Who Shall Not Be Named?" Is this paraphrasing someone? 

More books do NOT necessarily mean more sales

A few wise authors are beginning to realize the ‘write more’ theory is flawed. In fact author Mike Dennis admitted just that on the KBoards Writers’ CafĂ©, an online forum where a lot of self-published authors hang out (including me). His post was promptly followed by advice from others urging him to market and promote differently, write MORE books, or write in a different “hot” genre. However some of the authors in the forum did acknowledge reality. V.J. Chambers was one: “You know what amazes me? Here we have clear evidence that the ‘formula’ is not a formula after all, and there is no guarantee of success in this business. Basically, that the universe as we know it is entirely uncertain. And yet, in these comments, people still want to find some way to make the formula work. People keep trying to figure out why it’s not working. Here’s the reason: There are no guarantees. Everything is uncertain. There’s no surefire path to success.” Amen to that. Here’s why…(at least IMHO)…
If you go read that thread, which I did, you'll find that Dennis pulled his book from Amazon's KDP Select program because Amazon (in his words) made it "more difficult to cash in on Select." Select is a program Amazon pushed to allow people to borrow books through it's Prime (I think?) membership, and the authors got paid for a borrow as though they'd sold a book.  Pulling your book from a program may adversely affect sales.

Dennis also admits his ad for a book on 'BookBub' (more about that service later) was "a few weeks too late," again, his words.  But here's a bigger thing: Dennis isn't doing what LIbby says he is. Here's how Dennis began his post on that thread: by posting his publishing record and sales, which are:

Jan 2012     6 titles       1077 sales
April 2012   7 titles         745 sales
May 2012    8 titles         383 sales
Aug 2012    9 titles         159 sales
July 2013   10 titles          90 sales
Sept 2013  11 titles          65 sales
Oct 2013   still 11 titles     42 sales 

So his best sales were when he flooded the market with 6 books (Were they all that month? He doesn't say). He then put out five books in the next 17 months.  So that's 11 books in 17 months, or just under one per month.  

Dennis doesn't say which books sold what, but his first six books averaged about 180 copies each. When he released book 7, if they all sold equally, they averaged 106 copies each in that month.
The big drop came in May, 2012, when he sells only 383 -- or less than 50 copies each. But there could be lots of explanations for the drop beyond 'binge publishing.' There's a reason, for example, that 'backlist' items are a year old: people don't buy old books as often as they buy new. Advertising drops off.  The market gets saturated: if you have 50 fans, and all 50 have bought your first six books, they won't rebuy them just because you wrote a 7th.
So 'binge publishing' was questioned by Dennis, who apparently believed (based on his thread) that simply publishing a lot meant you'd sell a lot. (Dennis, like Libby, doesn't say who said that.)  
But neither of them seem to ask whether the genres they were publishing were good sellers, whether they are good writers (Dennis appears to generally average 3 1/2-4 stars in Amazon reviews, so he must be okay in reviewers' minds), whether they are advertising enough, or any other reason why books might (or might not) sell.
Putting books out there doesn't mean they will sell.  Books aren't a cornfield in Iowa, and buyers are not Shoeless Joe.
But that's not an argument against publishing as much as you want/can. It's just common sense: Yes, having things available to sell gives you better possibility of sales. No, just having a lot of stuff out doesn't mean you will sell.

Moreover, what Libby is arguing is that Dennis' sales were reduced by other people binge publishing: so Dennis, who binged his first 6 books at least, now (via Libby) gets to benefit from other people not doing that? That seems to be the implied argument here.

Alternatively, Libby is using this to prove that Binge Publishing doesn't work, but Dennis' experience seems to say it can

The craft of fiction

Many people still think they know how to write a great novel from day one. 
Again, who? Based on what I see from writer's blogs, not a single writer out there thinks they know what they are doing. There is an entire, GIGANTIC (and fun) group called "The Insecure Writers' Support Group." I'm a member.

People who think they know how to write a great novel 'from day one' may or may not be wrong, either. 
Some even sell a bunch of books, which I think confers an inflated sense of talent. 
Yes, those jerks who achieve success in the marketplace after being judged on their merit sure do overinflate their talents. GOD HOW I HATE IT when people assume that many  reviews, good sales, and generally positive reactions are taken to mean they are good at what they do.
See also: the fact that "Twilight" (which I think sold 'a bunch' of books) was deemed trash by writers like Stephen King -- a member of the old guard who want to bar the door -- was also deemed more complex than Hemingway novels. (Source).  

While artistic merit, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, 'talent' can be measured somewhat objectively, and selling a bunch of books is one way. True: advertising helps, and there are other factors, but it's hard to sell a lot of a terrible thing.  Put more simply: If you have sold a lot of books, and you take that to mean you are talented, you may be on to something. Sales and talent are not necessarily directly related, but they are not unrelated, either.

The craft of writing isn’t something you automatically ‘get’ fresh out of the gate. It comes with practice. An Eye for MurderMy fourth book, AN EYE FOR MURDER, was the first of my books to be published, and I still have the other manuscripts in a drawer. Why? I needed to learn the craft of writing fiction. For example, a writer needs to learn narrative and dialogue, how to create suspense, build a believable setting, perfect the choice of language, use point of view correctly. We learn over time.
This is about where I lost it. What is to 'get' about writing? 

Rules about writing exist for a reason, but that reason is not "to make you follow them." Rules about writing exist for the same reason we tell our kids not to eat pizza for breakfast: you must learn the rules -- things that make books intelligible, plots flow, words have meaning -- before you can intelligently decide not to follow them. This is Ezra Pound's philosophy, and mine: Once you know what the rules are and how to follow them, you can ignore them if you want.

How do you learn rules? By trying things out. I learned the rules of evidence primarily by using them in court. That's how all lawyers learn them, including my evidence professor, who's now a U.S. Attorney. We read them in books and know them, more or less but then we try them in practice.  So you learn rules by writing and trying different stuff out and seeing what works and what doesn't-- for you and your prose and your (hopefully you have them) readers.
So how do you know what works? 

Well, first, do you like it? If so, it works at least a little. 

Then run it by other people. Do they like it? Seems like you're on a roll. 

Now, you could run it by other people in a reading group or your family or a paid editor or an agent, etc. -- or you could publish it and see what people think.  That is the revolution that indie publishing allowed: I am no longer bound to write only what some person on Madison Avenue with a BA in Romance Literature thinks might sell to people in a mall bookstore.  I can instead write something that I think will sell, and then test that theory.

Imagine if any other good for sale worked like publishing.  Imagine if the guy who invented Popsicles (I recently read about this so it's on my mind) had to first submit his Popsicle idea to a bunch of Popsicle editors and agents:

Dear Agent P:
  I am a manufacturer of frozen goods in the Midwest, and I have this idea...

Dear Mr. Sicle:
  We're sorry, but your idea for delicious frozen treats on a stick did not meet our needs right now. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, and are returning your sample in the attached ziploc baggie. Sorry it melted!

Only in publishing does the idea exist that submitting your product to an arbitrary, unknown, unaccountable reviewing board is necessary to obtain approval for sale.  (Well, that and pharmaceuticals.)  And that is because in the past, the means of production of books were controlled by that Star Chamber in New York and by bookstores.  When I first started indie publishing I investigated how I could get my book into an actual bookstore, and learned that for hte most part, I couldn't.  Why? Because publishers locked up the market (as they tried to shut down Amazon anyway, only to get slapped by antitrust laws.)  

So in the past if you wanted to know if your writing was good (or not), you could show it to friends or family, or send it in an envelope to faraway New York, hoping for the best.  Now, you can put it on a blog, print it in a book, or publish it on Amazon, and find out if people like it that way -- without sharing the profits with MacMillan or Steve Jobs.

This isn't an argument to just throw together any old claptrap and put it on Amazon. It's an argument that if you wrote something and you like it and you think other people might like it, SELL IT TO THEM. If they pay you for it, it's good and it doesn't matter if you don't have a 'believable setting' or any of the other stuff Libby wants you to swear adherence to.
I worked this morning on a story in which there is a BLOOP that leads to a sentient couch flying to the South Pacific.  I'm pretty sure that it meets none of Libby's rules.  The predecessor to that story has sold handily and the one published review of it so far liked it a lot.
Screw 'rules.' Learn them so you know what they are, then decide how and when you will use them.  

Make your own 
and see if 
people like 

 If you are writing a lot of books, say six per year, you have little time to develop your craft. 
No, you ARE DEVELOPING YOUR CRAFT.  This is like saying 'if you are running a lot of miles per year, you have little time to develop your running."
You’re too busy churning out “stuff.” And, please, don’t tell me your editor will “fix” it. Like authors, the pool of editors who will take your money has multiplied too.
All of them hacks, no doubt. If I were an editor I'd be a little stung by Libby's slagging off an entire industry for no reason on a side note.  Note the straw man argument: Who said their editor would fix it? Nobody: but Libby set up a straw man and knocked it down. YAY. 
 And judging from the results, many of them don’t understand craft that well either. 
Name one. Give me a name. ANY name that supports your point.
Like it or not, half-done books pollute the stream for everybody else.
Speaking of Piers Anthony, as I did, he once published a book in which he took his editors -- at the publishing house, part of formal publishing (which gave Libby her start and which she is still  a de facto part of: if you got where you are through traditional publishing, it doesn't matter if you are now self-publishing. You operate within the framework set up by and maintained by traditional publishing -- to task, noting that five different editors had screwed around with it so much it was nearly destroyed.   I remember the book, in which he left in (I think as endnotes?) their comments.
Indie books are not the only ones that suffer from poor editing, and are not the only ones that are bad.  I've read lots of terrible books that came out of traditional publishing -- both bad books with bad writing (ANYTHING by David Foster Wallace) and bad books with bad editing.
Like it or not, indie authors are not the only ones putting out junk.
 Which is why we hear that so much self-published writing is crap.
We hear this from people like Libby, and others who either still are traditional publishers, or were.
 Hey, I understand. When I finished my first book, I thought it was fabulous. The two agents who turned it down were polite, saying things like “it’s not what we’re looking for.” I realized later that was code for, “girl… go learn how to write!” 
It could also be code for "It's not what we're looking for."
I cringe now when I look back at that first attempt. And I don’t think I’m that different from other writers. 
Based on?
Bottom line: over the long haul, it’s self-defeating for you and for everyone else, to publish sub-standard work.
Yes, but that is not what you are arguing. You are arguing "binge publishing," and by this sentence you equate "binge publishing" with "sub-standard work," without any evidence that one automatically (or even regularly) equals the other.  Many prolific authors are very skilled. 

Stephen King, who I think is a pretty good writer overall, has 90 books listed on Wikipedia. His first was published in 1974, the latest in 2014. That averages 3 books per year. 

Isaac Asimov published 506 works in his lifetime -- 7 per year, on average, but let's assume it was more because he probably didn't publish much as an infant.  
Binge publishing isn't new. Alexandre Dumas published 277 works in the 19th century. 

R.L. Stine 
'binge publishers.'
Binge publishing is not limited to any particular genre: Shakespeare and R.L. Stine are 'binge publishers.' Both I think are generally well-received.
There has not been, to my knowledge, any demonstrated causal link between binge-publishing and quality. 
So while it's never good for any producer of goods to put out substandard material, there's no proof that publishing a lot means the goods are substandard.
Nor is there really proof that the quality of one indie book causes people to ignore others. If you read a terrible book put out by Bantam, do you avoid Bantam books thereafter? My gut feeling is that overall, indie works are perceived as substandard (in part because 'established' writers like Libby work hard to make newbies seem substandard and to quell competition via articles like this), but that readers are perceptive enough to know that if John Doe writes a crummy ebook, that doesn't mean Richard Roe's indie book is equally crummy.
More likely -- again, this is my gut feeling -- readers are conditioned now to perceive traditional publishing as a gatekeeper of quality and to feel that indie authors must not be as good because they could not make it in the traditional publishing world.  Writers who get traditionally published and then self-publish get the benefit of that perceived quality; as more writers opt not to even try for traditional publishing, that perception may fade.  It has already in other artistic endeavors: many pop stars are indie stars discovered and then brought into the fold (Carly Rae Jebsen and Justin Bieber among them.)


Let’s face it. With over a thousand self-published books hitting the virtual shelves every day, the market is flooded. 
Ever look at a candy bar rack at a convenience store? Libby would advise you, if you are a candy bar maker, to not even bother.
You’ve heard the figures: only about 10% of what’s available is read, even if it’s sold.
Source, please? I wasn't able to find this figure anywhere. I did find this site, which said that 57% of books sold aren't read to completion
 At what point will we realize this is an unsustainable model?  What happens when readers conclude it’s too overwhelming to browse the digital “stacks?” 
Average size of a Barnes & Noble book store: 26,000 square feet. (Source: Reuters.)
Goodreads lists 2,468 books published between 1900-1999; they are listing only the 'popular' books published in that century. That's 2 books per month for an entire century -- just the POPULAR ones.
Ever walk through a library? I did, just this past Saturday.  There were thousands-- THOUSANDS -- of print books just in the childrens' library.  I wandered and wandered, with Mr F at my side, looking at the sheer number of books, occasionally stopping to pull one out, but largely overwhelmed by volumes upon volumes of volumes.

If indie publishing 
continues at the 2012 pace 
then indie publishing 
is increasing 
the total number of books 
in the world 
per year.
What she posits has already happened: Google says there have been 129,864,880 books published, ever. (That's according to  If indie publishing continues at the pace Boiwker found in 2012 -- 235,000 books that year -- then indie publishing is increasing the total number of books in the world by 0.1% per year.
ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT. If indie publishers continue to publish at the same furious (?) rate that has LIbby complaining, the total number of books in the world will, at the end of ten years have increased by one percent.

In a way, they already have. “Discoverability” is the new buzz word these days. Websites that profess to curate books for readers either by subscriptions or other means have popped up like mushrooms after a rain. It’s a problem, btw, that affects not just indie publishers, but traditional publishers as well. And some of these services are, at least anecdotally, seeing flatter yields. Take BookBub, which used to get fabulous results for authors. (I’m not talking about free books, which probably deserve a blogpost of their own—but books on sale for $.99 or more.) The number of books sold after a BookBub ad has slowed, at least for me and other authors I’ve talked to. 
Anecdotal evidence, isn't.  This is similar to "affirming the consequent," a logical fallacy that occurs when people argue from anecdotal evidence with superficially pleasing logic.

Affirming the consequent works like this:

If I have a cold, I will have a sore throat.
I have a sore throat.
Therefore, I have a cold.

If the first sentence is true and the second sentence is true,  people who 'affirm the consequent' believe that the third is true, but it doesn't follow: in the logic of that closed universe, all colds have sore throats but not all sore throats are proven to be caused by colds. So the third sentence may or may not be true, but it cannot be proven based on the evidence provided.

With that in mind, look at Libby's argument again:

1.  Websites that help books get discovered are proliferating. (Unproven assumption not directly connected to argument)
2.  BookBub used to get good results for authors. (Same)
3.  BookBub doesn't get good results anymore.

From those three premises -- not facts, not yet -- Libby assumes that the proliferation of books is the problem:

The same is happening with books on ENT and Pixel of Ink. Why? Because the sheer volume of promoted books is just too much for BB’s subscribers. The market has become so cluttered that even sophisticated discoverability tools are growing sluggish.

Because having too much stuff is always a problem for tools that help you discover stuff? Why is that? Libby assumes without evidence that BookBub has become less effective because of more books existing. But what if BookBub (a service devoted to promoting free and cheap books, apparently) is not as effective because there are other, better tools out there? 

I googled "websites to help find free books," and neither this site (the #1 result) nor this site (#2) listed BookBub in the top 20.  Same with #3, and the Author Marketing Club, which lists about 25 sites that allow you to list your free Kindle ebook, doesn't include BookBub. 

But OF COURSE it is indie authors clogging the Internet with shoddy books that is wrecking BookBub; it could not possibly be that newer websites are better, or that simply the proliferation of websites has eaten into the market share of BookBub's subscribers.

BookBub, by the way, makes you join to get their list of free ebooks. Amazon's "Top 100 free" doesn't make you join. Nor do a variety of other sites. Possibly people are sick of giving out their email to get something that everything else gives out free? 

Also, while Dennis and Libby were complaining about BookBub, author Liz Matis sold 5,706 books in one month after placing a $380 ad on the site in March, 2013. That's roughly the same time Mike Dennis -- Libby's anecdotal supporter-- was seeing a drastic drop in his books.

Libby may or may not approve of Liz; she has released 5 books in 2 years, although one was a set of books with multiple authors.

Nothing about BookBub's (supposed) lack of results is directly related by any evidence or argument to indie authors publishing multiple books in a given year.

Author Exhaustion and Anxiety

For a moment when I read that, I thought "OH BOY HERE WE GO: WRITING IS TOTES HARD, GUYS!" It's not. Writing isn't hard at all. You know what's hard? Coal mining. Writing is a piece of cake. 

And yet, even traditionally published authors are being pushed to publish more than one book a year.

Imagine asking the producers of your goods to produce more goods! "Even traditionally employed baristas are being pushed by their shift managers to make more than one cup of coffee per day." Publishers asking writers to produce more isn't just allowable; it's directly contrary to Libby's argument: if the business leaders think binge publishing works, why wouldn't we assume it might be good strategy? 

As Jeffery Deaver said in the October RT Book Reviews: “The problem I have now is … one of endurance. I’ve got so many ideas for novels, I don’t have the energy to write them as quickly as I used to. This year I did two books and it was exhausting!” 

Note the complete lack of any mention in that quote of anyone pushing him to write more than one per year. Perhaps in the link he says it? Apparently, nobody is allowed to write more books than Jeffrey Deaver, so if you have a lot of ideas, please send Mr. Deaver some 5-Hour Energy bottles.

There’s an old story in the mystery community about a woman who had a full time job but was writing a novel on the side. It took her about a year, so she went part time to see if a less demanding job could help her write faster. It still took her a year. So she quit her job altogether, thinking she could write even faster… but it still took her a year.

Probably because with no other income she lost her home and it is difficult to write in a cardboard box in an alley.  

That story is 
the mystery writer's 
equivalent of 


 The point is, it often takes that long to figure out what your book is about, what you’re trying to say, and how to say it. 

Famously fast writers include Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike (who wrote a book a year)(but who also didn't like hobby writers), Christopher Hitchens, Stephen King (well, you guessed).

Robert Louis Stevenson 
Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde 

The process itself is part of what makes a writer an author

Stephen King says you've got to read a lot to be a writer. Jack Kerouac had 30 tips for writers, including "write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind" and "remove literary, grammatical, and syntactical inhibition." 

I rarely tell people how to write or comment on writing at all -- the method or process-- and this is why: what works for one does not work for the other, any more than one kind of exercise is 'perfect.' You have to like what you do and find a process that works for you. If that is writing quickly, great. If you write slow, great.  WRITE HOW YOU WANT. (I am more grammatical than Kerouac.)

Unless what you want is to tell others not to write, in which case, I think you ought to keep quiet. 

don't let 
someone tell you 
to do 
what you love, 

That's not advice. It's suppression.

I’ve got to wonder whether the demand for new work is so insatiable that authors need to push themselves. Do publishers and writers really think readers won’t flock to your next book if you wait a few months?

In a piece full of opinions, that question is left unanswered.

What happened to anticipation?

Every July I look forward to a new Daniel Silva book. Every fall I anticipate a new Sara Paretsky. It’s a celebration, an event, kind of like anticipating a new season of Homeland. Why are we taking that pleasure away from our readers? Why not make your release a celebration, a thrilling event people are happy to wait for? If you launch with a flourish, you might even get more attention for your “baby.” 

Recently I asked a friend if he was going to find out the sex of his baby before the ultrasound. He said "No, we want it to be a surprise." I said "Isn't it a surprise whenever you find it out?" He said "We'd rather wait and find out in 9 months."

I said "Why stop then? Why not wait 18 years? Ask your kid on his or her 18th birthday: so, what are you, a boy or a girl? Imagine the surprise!"

Libby may like to parse out her favorite authors, and I kind of get that: I traditionally save a good, new book that I'm looking forward to to start reading during the holidays, like how last year on Thanksgiving Eve I started reading This Book Is Full Of Spiders.

That may not be for everyone -- a book about spiders on Thanksgiving. 

In other situations, I want more NOW. When I finished The Gone-Away World I almost immediately bought Nick Harkaway's next book, and I was sad when it was done that I didn't have any more to buy.

The point is, I don't insist that my preferences be an industry standard. And standards can change. We used to wait 3, 5 years for a sequel to a movie. Now they film them more quickly and we've come to expect them in a year, tops

Okay, before you climb all over me, let’s explore the possibility that you really are a fast writer, and have so many ideas you can’t possibly rein them in. Go ahead. Write four books a year. Then put them away for a few months. And then edit or re-edit. There isn’t a book around that can’t get better over time. 

This may or may not  be true.  Kerouac (him again!) wrote On The Road in three weeks, by hand.  The Boy In Striped Pyjamas was written in 2 days, and is being made into a movie and has a 4-star rating with 127,000+ reviews on Goodreads.  Isaac Asimov suggested

"Write fast, and you’ll have a conversational tone. You’re writing as fast as you can put the words together, just like when you’re speaking.  This gives your words power and immediacy, engaging the reader."
That's not an argument against editing, because editing should be done. But there's no reason to delay publishing a book merely for the sake of delay.  Letting a book sit for a bit -- a day, a month, a year, whichever works -- -can help a lot.  I wrote my book the After about 3 years before I actually published it as an ebook, and I think it helped the book, although I made almost no changes before publishing it.

And before others tell me how bone-headed I am and how your sales have just exploded because you’re writing so many books, good for you. Let’s talk again in a year. Someone on KBoards called Mike Dennis’s thread the “Most Depressing Thread of 2013.” I don’t agree. I think it’s one of the first times we’ve had an honest discussion about self-publishing. It’s been long overdue. I realize I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I’d love to know your opinions. Don’t hold back. I didn’t.

My opinion is already in here: people who tell you not to do something you love, without any evidence or sound logic behind it, are not helping you.

I said this on Sandra's blog yesterday, but I'll tell it again.

Sometimes I race my son, Mr Bunches.  He is 7, and small.  I am 44 and tall.  He can't win if I try, so I don't really try.  But he doesn't know that, and he likes to win more than anything, really.

So when we race, sometimes, he will pull at my shirt or try to stop me or cut in front of me, all in hopes of winning.

Yes, he's cheating. In a 7-year-old who was going to win, anyway, it's cute and eventually I'll teach him not to do that.

But it's not cute when someone who should know better tries it.  Advice like this from people like Libby isn't help, it's a hindrance: what Libby seems to be saying is she can't compete with the number and drive of indie authors, so please slow down.  Her advice is the literary equivalent of my 7-year-old trying to trip me up.

It's not cute, and it's not warranted.

and publish, 
whatever you want,
however much
you want.

I am going to close with two more Kerouac quotes, rules 28 and 29 of his 30 rules:

28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better 29. You're a Genius all the time 

You're a 

the time.

Want to read Kerouac's rules yourself? Right here

You're a Genius All the Time
Get Kerouac's advice on your own shirt:

Click here to buy "You're a Genius All the Time" 

(Hey by the way I published a lot of stuff and if you're interested in that book about that couch, and the BLOOP! you'll have to wait but click here to see a bunch of my books all of which cost only $0.99. )