A Guest Blog by K. W. Jeter
Dean here to introduce K. W. Jeter a little to those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading K. W.’s work or meeting him in person. (I am headed off for one more trip for the estate, but will be able to moderate comments just fine while on the road. K. W. and I will both be answering any comments.)
K. W. has been a friend of mine for a very long time, and like me, has walked away a couple of times from this crazy and stupid business called traditional publishing. And since K. W. is a true writer, he keeps coming back, which makes his true fans, which I am one, very excited. K. W. is a New York Times bestselling author and is widely credited as having coined in 1987 the term “steampunk.” He wrote Morlock Night and Infernal Devices, two of the earliest novels in the genre.
In addition, he has written many other science fiction and thriller novels, more than I can count, including Dr. Adder, Farewell Horizontal, Soul Eater, and In the Land of the Dead.
You can find out a ton more about him and follow his writing and blog at http://www.kwjeter.com/
In addition to his writing career, he has worked as a researcher for the University of California Medical Center on AIDS-related bereavement issues with heroin addicts, and as a creative writing instructor for Portland State University in Oregon. After residences in England and Spain, he currently lives with his wife Geri in San Francisco, California – though that might change. His long-awaited sequel to Infernal Devices, titled Fiendish Schemes, will be available in 2013 from Tor Books.
Now over to K. W. Jeter.
The Kingdom of Shadows by K. W. Jeter
It’s a real honor to be the first guest blogger on my friend Dean’s website. If you’re reading this, it’s because you know that this site is one of the premier sources for not just information and advice about the brave new world of e-publishing, but also for the passion and excitement that Dean brings to the subject. Plus, when it comes to the, shall we say, less attractive aspects of traditional publishing, a vision comes to mind of Dean manning a small booth at the side of the road, from which he’s handing out free torches to the enraged mob heading into the hills to kill the monster. But he’s always been that way.
It’s likely hard to believe, given how important Dean’s become to the indie e-publishing scene (he’s name-checked by all sorts of online honchos), but I think I was actually the first person to say anything to him about the revolutionary online possibilities that would be coming along for free-lance authors. (This would have been back in the early nineties, IIRC, and the term I used – “disintermediation” – was one that had some currency at the time, but which seems to have largely dropped out of the vocabulary since then.) I remember clearly seeing the lightbulb switch on over Dean’s head, as he immediately perceived the lovely economics that come about by removing as many middle-men, all taking a cut, from between the author and the reader.
A lot of things still had to come about, though, before the revolution could get underway. I don’t think either one of us, that far back, could have foreseen the importance that the online marketplaces such as Amazon.com were going to have for indie writers and e-publishers. That’s a game, the rules of which are still being written – the upcoming holiday gift-giving season has the possibility of being the point at which indie e-publishing finally moves from beta to the 1.0 stage. So when Dean says that you better have as many titles up & live for the Kindle and the Nook and whatever other formats, you should listen to him. It will be big.
Of course, the whole indie e-publishing thing looks a certain way to so-called “legacy” writers of, to put it politely, a certain age. I’m old enough to not just be Amanda Hocking’s father, but her grandfather if I’d gotten an early enough start by knocking up my high school girlfriend at the senior prom. And I have to confess I envy Ms. Hocking – she’s going to have a long and successful writing career, the essential parameters of which are going to be set by the reality that she has a viable alternative to whatever the traditional publishing industry tries to hand her. If everything works out between her and St. Martin’s Press, then great; she deserves it. But if it doesn’t, she can go right back to online self-publishing and make another pile of money that way.
And that’s an escape hatch that writers such as myself did not have for most of their careers. (The alternate metaphor would be, given what’s happening to traditional publishers, that indie e-publishing is a lifeboat casting off from a Titanic that keeps running into the same iceberg.) The traditional publishing industry used to be able to tell writers, “Our way or the highway,” and they weren’t kidding. The industry can’t do that now.
I was one of the many writers who decided back then that the highway was preferable, and who walked away from the traditional publishing industry in order to go do other things.
Or to put it another way, the industry walked away from us.
Dean’s wife and accomplice Kris, on her own blog, recently made an apt comparison between traditional publishing and the sport of professional baseball. She’s right about that, as she is about a lot of other things, but to my mind there’s a point where the comparison breaks down: there’s never been a head coach so stupid as to believe that he could put together a pennant-winning team by getting rid of all his reliable singles and doubles hitters, and having nothing but home run hitters on the roster. More baseball games have been won by singles and doubles than by over-the-fence home runs; that’s why the RBI stats are so important. But when the traditional publishing industry, including the big chain bookstores, prefers to concentrate solely on their big names and top sellers, to the virtually total exclusion of their midlist, they’re exactly like that hypothetical baseball coach who thinks he can win with nothing but home-run hitters. And the results are obvious in the publishing industry’s doleful numbers. The results are also obvious in the careers of those writers who either got cut from the line-up or who put their bats back in the rack on their own initiative. That’s why there’s about a ten-year gap in my own bibliography.
That gap has ended now.
A few months ago, I self-published online a novel that any number of trad publishing editors told me was one of the best things I had ever written – and even one of the best things they’d ever read – but which they couldn’t figure out a way to publish. They obviously thought it was better to go scouting for nothing but home run hitters, instead. Of course, they wound up signing Snooki from Jersey Shore instead – but hey, that’s their business.
Then as the winds grew stronger, the sails filled – and my brave little indie ship really picked up speed, just as I hope yours have. I kicked off a whole new series of thrillers, of a type I had never done before – so different that I figured I need an open pseudonym for them, just to keep them separate from all my other stuff. My alter ego Kim Oh, bless her, wrote the first three books in rapid succession. “Rapid” in this case meaning that the first one took about twelve days from start to finish, the second one fourteen days – and the third was done in ten days. Granted, these are at my preferred genre novel length of 50,000+ words and not thousand-page doorstoppers, but 150,000+ words in six weeks is a pretty good cruising speed, even if it’s way off the pace to break any Guinness world records.
The big question, of course, is did the books turn out readable? Well, Dean was gracious enough to read the first two and here’s the blurb he gave me: “Real Dangerous Girl grabs you from the first sentence and leaves you wanting more about this wonderful character. Thankfully Kim Oh is giving all of us more . . .” Dean’s pretty well-read in the thriller genre, so I like to think he knows what he’s talking about when he says something nice about mine. (If you want to check them out for yourself, the first one is Real Dangerous Girl.)
My own assessment? They were a ton of fun to write.
And a big, big part of that fun – and the ability to write so productively – came about from knowing that I would be able to get these books into the hands of readers who might also enjoy them, without having to deal with the increasingly dispirited and discouraged, deflating and depressing morass that the traditional publishing industry has become. I’m such a relentlessly sunny personality – stop laughing, Dean – that I’ve come to regard it as a blessing that I got punched in the face (and had my money embezzled) so many times by the traditional publishing industry. Legacy writers like me can really appreciate this new world of indie self-publishing, in a way that those of you who are just starting your careers will never be able to truly understand.
To which I say – good for you. You aren’t missing anything.
The trade winds are blowing, your sails are filling – hoist anchor now. These are the best of times for writers such as yourselves. Don’t miss them.