Thursday, January 21, 2010


The present chaos in authored content and media is spawning any number of games for getting ahead in one way or another. Here’s a necessarily incomplete list. (New ones pop up all the time.)


1. The writing “contest” with an entry fee, maybe one that comes with a subscription to the magazine sponsoring the “contest,” which includes publication in the magazine.
2. A “reading fee” imposed by a magazine (like Glimmertrain) which has on-going contests all year round: long stories, short stories -- the categories mean a mix of writing so the mag not only has income but also has a good overview of what’s going on out there. The amount of entries is probably staggering.
3. Professional journals (publication in them is necessary in order to get academic tenure) are charging the writers per color page, knowing that writers WANT color pages, while the institution “underwrites” the other pages. Will they be charging for ALL illustrations soon? Or just charging to include an article at all? How about competitive bidding to get one’s article into a journal? Sure, your article is better but the other guy will pay more money to get it printed. Or more probably some pharm company or other commercial enterprise paid.

Academic journals have abandoned being judges of quality. Today it’s all politics and networking with the goal of preserving the existence of the press itself and its employees. Universities can no longer afford to fund them as an aspect of education. Anyway, as some of the “faked” articles -- high science and philosophy written in gobbledegook that were published as though they were valid -- have demonstrated, the willingness and leisure to really winnow articles is no longer there. Those legendary three expert referees who were supposed to be watchdogs -- are now more often one. Expert readers expect to be paid and will not be used again if they don’t respond to the press’s interests. Some have special interests of their own, like defending their pet theories,


1. A print book with accompanying CD-ROM. Been tried and discarded.
2. An ebook with inserted vids made by a professional vid company: not much diff from a product website with clickable vids. Transparently commercial.
3. An ebook with true story elements on vid composed by the author who also wrote the priint in which it is embedded.
4. Vid events controllable by paper signals embedded in paper writing. (See the Jan. 2010 Esquire for a vivid example.) Mind boggling. No one really knows what to do with it yet.
5. Website “publishing,” simply curating as they aggregate writing according to the tastes and standards of the website owner. Maybe just aggregating.


1. “Author’s websites” that purport to list authors (of unknown quality) for the sake of the possibility of agents or publishers finding them. Forget it.
2. “Author’s websites” that purport to network writers so they can help each other and form social networks. If you want a lot of friends who are writers, buy books.
3. The only really effective networks are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the several used book websites like Powells, Abebooks or Alibris. Even then, you’ll have to find out what to look for ahead of time. I’m even suspicious of Lulu’s directory.
4. Good bibliographies and footnotes remain helpful. So are listservs and affinity groups like the H- (humanities) academic groups who ask for and get recommendations. But you have to stay on top of the list enough to know whom to believe, or at least who is in sympathy with your point of view.


1. Long years ago I signed up for Famous Writers’ correspondence course. It was of no use whatsoever. Things haven’t changed much.
2. If you are a person who wants to write for the sake of writing, the best thing you can do is read the best books you can find. They will sink into your soul and become an aquifer for the rest of your life.
3. One kind of writer’s book is valuable: the style guides or accepted usage books that can sort out things like “bring” versus “take” or where to put that wretched comma.
4. If you just want to “be” a writer and you really want to sell books, then all the how-to might be helpful. Stuff like how to do a “blog book tour.” The expectation now is that you will take on your own publicity and marketing, even distribution. That means paying up-front the way publishers used to pay, designing the campaign or paying experts, paying for ads in mags and newspapers, soliciting interviews on radio and TV, and possibly even schlepping the books around to various places which will mostly take them only on consignment. Nothing personal. ALL bookstores take new books on consignment only, even from the big publishers. (Used books are paid-for inventory.) It’s just been kept secret.

5. If you want the books to look good, you will have to educate yourself or pay a designer, layout artist, editor (to catch grammar, usage mistakes -- line editing -- as well as to advise you that this needs to be tightened up, that has already been done, you’re repeating yourself, where did that quote come from” and so on). It’s possible you already have these skills yourself. So far I have not run across any critics who will write a review for pay after the book is published (they just get the book free) but there are plenty of readers of manuscripts who will give advice for fees. Their goals and standards might not be the same as yours.

6. Books are radically Balkanized: that means they are divided up into assigned compartments. Most people are focused on Manhattan popular publishing, partly because of the television and magazine media connection. Your chances of wiggling in there are zilch. Regional publishing also is controlled by gate-keepers, but you might be in sympathy with them already. The same with affinity publishers: for cops, for EMT’s, for makers of this or that, for duck-hunters, cat-lovers, and so on. To move into affinity territory, you have to really KNOW it which means keeping up with the print. Here’s an area that needs to be developed, maybe in a book: actively seeking books you want. Most book readers are passive: book just happen.

The bottom line is that it’s probably more work to get a book published than it is to write a book.


Lance Michael Foster said...

So as I told a writing friend who asked, is there no hope for us, given the realities of the publishing world today?

Depends on what you mean by "hope" and what you want as a result.

If you mean can we get published, can you get your work out there for people to read and use, and maybe make a few bucks doing it, yep, there's hope

If you mean can we live on our writing income, become famous, be on Oprah, win a Pulitzer, have our book made into movies, have thousands or even millions of readers, be on bestseller lists, and be read someday in the future alongside Mark Twain and CHarles Dickens, nope, no hope.

But there will always be dreams :-)
Until you wake up :-(
Here's to not waking up :-)

Lance Michael Foster said...

PS. "Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper."

Medicinehorse7 said...


My name is Kevin Martin and I am an old classmate of Lance, I noticed that you have information on Natives relative to some Art I am doing. Please check out my Blog:

Have a good day - Hi Lance - Nice comments - Hope is the fiber in all wisdom!

Lance Michael Foster said...

Yeah, Mary, Kevin and I went to IAIA together, and he is now working on a digital rendition of a Blackfeet man

Kevin is a great artist!

(And, Kevin, I definitely need more fiber, and hope, in my diet!)