Thursday, January 23, 2014


The way to make money from books is not by writing them but by publishing them.  The money that used to come to publishers from readers buying books now comes to publishers from authors paying to have their books published.  Being part of the machinery of publishing no longer means looking for quality, but rather finding authors with big enough egos and the financial resources to pay for publishing.  This does not mean that the authors will be particularly skilled unless they have already had experience with publishing in the past.  Today’s publishers are not looking for quality, but for what will sell.  One’s ability to know what that is will mean success for both them and their authors.
Mostly what acquisitions people do is acquire whatever sold before.  The BEST ones, the ones that can really make money by getting it from both the writers and the readers are the ones who can guess where the public’s obsessions are -- not now, but when the book comes out -- and can find whoever is writing that stuff now, edited and ready to print.   A nice trick.  Few, if any, can do it.  
My advice to them, of course, is to keep track of long-form blogs.  And the self-publishing houses.  For instance, Mark Miller, the UCC minister who went through school in the class right behind me in Portland, has been using the self-publishing business “AuthorHouse” to publish a series of murder mysteries involving ministers.  (AuthorHouse charges to provide self-publishing packages.  Others, like, do not.)  Mark's murder mysteries are available as Kindle books through Amazon.  Now Mark has been discovered by  which is a podcast interview program that interviews author epublishers and self-publishers, specifically in the “immersion” genres.  This is part of a increasingly separate industry that closes the gap between reader and author -- not a publisher, but a matchmaker.  Mark's abilities, of course, are honed by ministry.
This is not Mark Miller.  I don't know who it is.

There is a similar separate industry sponsoring books, radio, videos and websites at an (ahem) educated level like NPR or TEDtalks.  They center on scientific information and political analysis, with a side-line of National Geographic-type travel and natural history,  accessed through websites and television.  For those who enjoy yellow journalism there is a shock-version streaming along parallel for the Great Unwashed.  It's hard to know whether there's a "mainstream" anymore, unless it's being listed on Amazon, which is why it's named for a big river.

At the local level, people go on making books so their friends and grannies can admire their work.  Some of these circles are big enough to include a whole state or an ecology.  They won’t make anyone rich.  Most people don't go looking for these books, so sales depend on authors to be assertive.  There used to be editors who sifted the publisher's slush pile, but no more are there actual piles of printed manuscripts because print on paper is gone.  My bio of Bob Scriver, Bronze Inside and Out, was acquired by the U of Calgary Press through a faculty member who had a contract to look for bios of Alberta personalities.  That was ten years ago.
This bit of information was on a website for authors:
Using the anonymous job site Glassdoor, we found that the average salary for an acquisitions editor at a publishing house is $59,472 a year. These salaries are self-reported by employees and may include editors at different stages in their careers, at different publishing houses and in different locations around the country where salaries might vary.
The site breaks out figures from specific companies. For example, at Pearson, the average salary for an acquisitions editor is $88,250. At Elsevier it’s $60,000, and at Publications International, it is $31,996. At Bloomsbury, an associate acquisitions editor makes about $60,000.  Why not be a famous acquisition editor?

No stats on how many jobs there are.  The real heart to acquisitions is now a hunter/gatherer (free lance) agent and the real skill for an agent is not finding and encouraging authors so much as it is knowing enough about the remaining publishers.  Editors employed by publishers had time and resources to groom promising individuals  -- the “Perkins factor.”  We’ve all heard about editors who took authors in hand and transformed them into famous people making fabulous sums.  That theoretical function is now supplied by MFA programs which mostly employ familiar authors on a payroll which lets those worthies keep writing if the teaching doesn’t interfere too much.  They tend not to be innovators.  
Long ago I asked one of the more famous Montana writers, a woman, whether writers could make a living writing.  She said no, unless they added teaching, lectures, panels, and so on.  The writing was a means to that end.  None of this registers with most authors who think of becoming a famous writer as a single leap from scribbling to suddenly appearing with Charlie Rose.  
Charlie Rose

Nor do they understand how traveling around being public will drain their writing ability.  A writer who reaches the heights of movie deals and late night TV shows is likely to have at least an agent and probably a team that handles all kinds of things.  At least one writer actually hires other writers to use his style, cranking out manuscripts which he reviews and signs.  (This is also done in the art world.)  
So the choice is stark: write -- or promote your books.  I choose to write.  For those who want to learn to write well, there is only one relevant piece of advice:  do it.  Read and write.  That grows your brain.  Good writing is not a matter of being told the principles of grammar or plot construction or of having the secrets of the human sensorium revealed.  Nor is it a gift, an implant from the muses.  The cells of the brain can only record and grow and thus be ready to produce IF you send the tingling of writing and reading through their axons, making more connections, more awareness, more abilities.  
Today not all concepts are in print so it’s also important to “read” images and sound, either directly on devices like tablets or even through print or spoken words.  Consider this edgy research.
The fMRIs after the reading assignments revealed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, the area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. Heightened connectivity in other parts of the brain suggested that readers may experience “embodied semantics,” a process in which brain connectivity during a thought-about action mirrors the connectivity that occurs during the actual action. . .
“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said Gregory Berns, the lead author of the study. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

But be warned.   The most recent advice is that “monster porn” is OUT.  No more fantasies about lallygagging with Big Foot.  No more afternoon romps with a Cthulhus.  Amazon won’t publish your ebooks, even if you’re making enough money to put the kid through college.  This is beyond bestiality.  But don’t say the Bible forbids it.  Cthulhus is not listed as a forbidden food in Leviticus.  None of those ancient guys knew about the Cthulhus and I daresay it would take a whole tribe to eat one, though it sort of vaguely resembles a cuttlefish.

The real mythology, the kind that can cause damage, is about publishing.

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