two hilariously contradictory views on the publishing industry

Pat Rothfuss: Why I love my editor…

Penelope Trunk: How I got a big advance from a big publisher and self-published anyway

OK, they’re really only “contradictory” inasmuch as Rothfuss is impressed by and grateful to his publishing overlords, whereas Trunk is full of mockery and scorn. And of course they emphasize different things; Rothfuss basically lived in poverty and squalor until he hit the big time, whereas Trunk has been super-successful in a few industries and spends her life thinking about how businesses succeed and fail. You might not necessarily expect a fantasist who lived on ramen for most of his life to have the same priorities as a kick-ass entrepreneur. (I worry that I’m painting Rothfuss as a schlub or a failure here; that’s not my goal. Penelope Trunk is not likely to write anything, ever, that hits my heart as squarely as THE NAME OF THE WIND. Which, by the way, is not except possibly in the broadest sense “what people [were] looking for.” I think people are most affected by things they didn’t know they wanted until they had them. I would never have sought out a contemporary British comedy of manners, but MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND is one of the ten best books I’ve read in the last ten years. And I’ve read a lot of really good books in the last ten years.)

I don’t think I’ve ever read a traditionally published author say anything but (apparently sincere, and quite warm) good things about their publishers. But fiction authors probably don’t know as much as Trunk about marketing, and they’re probably happy not to know; it isn’t professionally useful for them. There are at least some genre authors who could use their blog as a sales platform the way Trunk is doing it, but most of them owe that capability to traditional publishing. (Exceptions: John Scalzi, Amanda Hocking, E. L. James, Howard Tayler, presumably others.) I do still wonder why no one’s run the numbers and jumped ship, though. Maybe because they figure there’s no going back? But how can that be right? Maybe DAW wouldn’t take Pat Rothfuss back if he scorned them, but someone would. That’s not true for a midlist writer, obviously, and then I guess the interesting question is whether a midlist writer has less or more to gain from jumping ship.

I wonder if it’s down to the view of the craft. Penelope Trunk doesn’t need to spend all her time writing to produce a good book — in fact, she’d better not; she has to demonstrate success in and leverage insights from some non-writing field to give her books any credibility. But, for a fiction writer, any time not spent writing is time not spent honing a craft that is at least mythologized to be incredibly exacting and time-consuming. (I sometimes wonder about this. Then I realize how crappy I was five years ago, when I started writing THE DANDELION KNIGHT, and how much better I am now, and how good I’m still not.) And, for fiction writers, writing is all they’re selling; it’s not a summary of insights from some other accomplishment, it’s just itself. Anything Penelope Trunk learns about marketing, or accomplishes in marketing, is both useful for itself (in part because she already knows a lot about marketing) and potential book material. Anything Pat Rothfuss learns about marketing is maybe useful for itself, except that he already has the services of specialists who know more about it than he does, but he can’t use it in the book — unless the last Kingkiller installment takes a seriously sharp left.

I sure would like to hear more on Norman Spinrad’s self-publishing experiments. But I worry that no news is bad news there.

tnc nails it once more

From Ta-Nehisi Coates, Penn State and the nationalist impulse”:

Throughout Sandusky’s trial, I’ve thought back to the crowds of students angrily defending Joe Paterno. It’s not that those students were particularly monstrous — on the contrary, it is the normalcy of their behavior, the humanity of it, that amazes. As others have said there’s [a] line between Penn State, the Catholic Church’s scandals, and the scandals among the ultra-orthodox Jews out in Brooklyn. (I hope I phrased all of that right.)

What you see is the human impulse to squelch the rights of individuals for the greater glory of a nation. We can see that even here in America, looking at civil liberties in the post-9/11 era. But in the Sandusky trial it’s boiled down in the worst possible way. The impulse is to be horrified by people defending Penn State’s handling of this, because, at the end of the day, it’s only football. But when football becomes your identity, when football raises buildings on your campus, when you so much relate to the players on the field that their affairs absorb your weekends, then it’s no longer “just football.” You take on aspects of the religious and the national.

As an academic, I naturally have a sensitivity for matters relating to college athletics, and I have predictable biases. At some point we’re going to have to come to terms with how our universities do business — and in this sense big sports are continuous with big research, lucrative pursuits at best orthogonal to what everyone knows is the core mission of universities, the education of students.

That elision conceals a lot of important differences, of course. But I think it’s an interesting insight, and new for me, so I’m going to let it stand for now.

losers must die in full view, part II

I try to avoid doing too much linkblogging, but this was unavoidable. From Sudhir Venkatesh, via the Freakonomics blog: Thugz on the Bailout

… they laughed when I said the government should prioritize the punishment of senior management. In the words of Shine, the elder statesman of the group, “You have to be real careful when you mess with folks at the top, because when the war is over, you’ll need these guys real quick. Ninety-nine percent of people just doing what they’re told — you couldn’t find half a brain among all of them. But the ones with the brains — don’t let them go.”

I was deeply upset by this comment. In fact, I thought A.I.G. Chairman Edward Liddy might have been communicating with Shine.

“You got to be kidding me,” I said to Shine, my blood boiling. “Have you been watching the news? These guys are the ones who created this mess. You don’t want them to hang?! Whatever happened to the law of the jungle? Whatever happened to letting people take the hit for their behavior? Isn’t that what your world is all about.”

Portis, 42 years old and with a six-year grand larceny prison sentence under his belt, answered for Shine. “There’s two kinds of brains you need to run a good business. Sometimes you need “Sleepy Heads.” You know, the ones who pick up the money from the crews; the ones who make sure everyone got ammo; the ones who just do their job, don’t cause no trouble. Then you need bona fide Killers. The Killers like watching you bleed to death while they are eating a plate of ham and collard greens. You understand?”