August 14, 2013

“Readers are not simply page turners, they are thought turners…”

Readers are not simply page turners; they are thought turners, as well—true imaginative partners, not passive audience members.”

I love that.

This is from a thoughtful essay about the mid-list by the author of the traditionally published Red Sonja series, and also the now indie-published Fall of the First World series:

Midlist authors reaching their readers in this age of instant gratification brings me to another observation, this one regarding my former agent, Don Maass, who has been spectacularly successful in developing precisely these sorts of instant-gratification, industrial-quantity products that regularly appear on the bestseller lists, where sales “consistently override all product development decisions.”
Maass and I once talked about the possibility of my writing my breakthrough novel. When I knew him, early in his career and, as it turned out, near the end of mine, he championed my fantasy trilogy The Fall of the First World, then recently out of print, and tried to get it picked up for republication. No one wanted it, but I credit him for his hard work and his appreciation for a book series that had nothing in common with the Tolkienesque clones that were as popular then as they are now. On the other hand, Maass failed me in a number of ways. He refused to show Magicians(later retitled The Fair Rules of Evil) to Doubleday, even after an editor there asked to see it; he preferred to pitch it to paperback houses. It was published under its new title by Avon, who dropped the ball miserably on distributing it. I also recall Don’s dismissing one my pitches (for a manuscript titled Sinister) because it mixed genres. “Is it a horror novel?” he asked me in 1987. “Or is it a police procedural? It has to be one or the other.” Perhaps I was ahead of my time, given the enormous success we’ve seen over the past fifteen or so years with precisely those kind of cross-genre novels.
Don would have no interest in representing me now because I myself am no longer interested in trying to develop the kind of book-as-product that he has so successfully managed to promote in this modern era of readers-as-consumers. (I know this because I recently pitched him with a new idea and never received a response.) But I think it’s important to keep in mind what Don has helped to accomplish for his brand of writer. His methodology has been undeniably profitable and has helped shape the current system of fiction publishing in New York. However, we are moving at the speed of light into fascinating new regions of author-reader exchange as a benefit of digital publishing, web publishing, independent publishing. In a year-end blog dated this past December, Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, reports an encounter he had with Maass in which they came down on two different sides of writers publishing independently. Mark Coker thinks that the future for many writers is in self-publishing; Maass, contrarily, says, “If you don’t care to reach readers, then by all means self-publish.” ( As a woman who responded in the Comment sections of Coker’s blog says, Maass turned her down when she pitched him, and if she’d listened to him, she’d still have no readers. Instead, she now has thousands as a result of self-publishing her novels. It’s simply the difference between writing to reach readers, even if the cost-benefit ratio does not look good in a purely business sense, and writing to produce a product that will appeal to customers and succeed in a purely business sense. (Again, there used to be room for both types of story, back when we still had the midlist.)
Much of the discussion in the Comments section of Coker’s blog has to do with the concept of black swans—the outliers in any field that seem to come out of nowhere, exactly in the way that the latest writers or hit novels used to appear from the midlist. Where are these black swans now? They’re coming from the self-published authors and independent publishers.


Read his whole essay.

Tara Maya

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