(Anticlimatic) attack of the POD people

Here’s a little story for you.

A few years ago, I found out a friend of mine had written a book. A real-life book!

I was going to meet this person face to face, so I bought their book off Amazon, squirreled it away in my bookshelf, and when we met, I asked them to sign it.

The thing that was odd to me at the time was that this person seemed — almost embarrassed by my grinning enthusiasm. When I asked, they finally said “I just did it through a vanity press – it’s not from a real publisher.”, or words to that effect.

Now, to be fair, they work in publishing, so that sort of thing mattered significantly to them. (I shouldn’t use the past tense — I’m sure it still matters.) But me? I’m basically a consumer; I don’t know the publishing industry – I only know reading.

I’m closer to the publishing world than I used to be — married into it, you might say — but even so, I hardly ever hear the term ‘vanity press’ anymore, at least not in reference to reputable businesses like lulu.com. That’s partly because of the indie gaming industry and how it works, but also because I think people are starting to feel a shift coming in the traditional publishing world. Either way, I tend to look at the whole thing from the point of view of an outsider, and this is what I see with my outsider eyes:

Only people in publishing care how a book is published. The “POD” label is invisible to the consumer; they’re just looking for a good book.

This is a true statement. I know it, because I’ve been the consumer who bought a book and didn’t know (or care) that it was from a POD press until someone told me. It just doesn’t matter.

Is it a good or a bad book? That matters. Publishers, editors, and agents provide a filtration system that helps improve the quality of the products they (eventually) produce; it’s fair to say that the traditional publishing method filters out a lot of crap.

But it’s not the only way such things can happen.

I think I know what indie book publishing is going to look like

Over on the Writers Digest website, someone named Jane writes a series called There Are No Rules.

Her most recent post is “My Big Rant on Self-Publishing”. It starts out like this:

I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing people bash self-publishing. The things I hear usually fall into two categories:

  • Most self-published books aren’t quality
  • Some self-publishing services are unethical

If you agree with one of the above statements, let me lay it out real clear for you: The landscape is changing, and if you haven’t noticed, you’re behind the times.

Now, before you dismiss this as yet-another rant from yet-another scheming self-publishing ne’er-do-well, I should point out that this particular “Jane” is Jane Friedman. Jane Friedman was the President and Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide, one of the world’s leading English-language publishers, for eleven years. She came to HarperCollins from Random House, where she was the Executive Vice President of Random House, Inc., Executive Vice President of the Knopf Publishing Group, Publisher of Vintage Books, and founder and President of Random House Audio Publishing.

It’s fair to say she knows a few things about the publishing industry as it exists today. When someone like that talks about what’s true about publishing today, I feel fairly safe believing them.

In her post, she writes:

  • Distribution models are changing. With advancements in technology, and the power now within an average writer’s hands, it’s not necessary to have physical bookstore distribution to achieve success.
  • Traditional publishers now rely on authors to do the marketing and promotion.
  • Communities will decide what books are worthwhile.

And I think “this sounds really familiar to me. Where have I seen this before?”

Oh yeah: the indie game industry.

Once upon a time, there were about a half-dozen major game companies who published their games, and about the only way you could ‘make it’ in the industry was by writing for those games and getting published by those companies. You might see the rare, rare bird out there — some guy who’d written his own game that got a little bit of play in his local cons and had some support, but that was damned uncommon, and the products that the guy turned out were obviously substandard to the quality of the products produced by the big boys.

Then came the internet. With it (and usenet) you had a flurry of homebrew games and creations that actually got farther than your home. Some of the early and long-time successes from that time were games like FUDGE (with a still-bustling community almost two decades after it showed up on usenet, and at least two major spinoff games that have themselves created spinoffs), RISUS, and Sorcerer (notable for not being in all-caps, I guess).

Still most of these internet-distributed games were just that – internet distributed. Nothing but bits and bytes. There was no final product; no book to hold in your hand.

Then the guy behind Sorcerer (who I believe had experience in publishing through his academic background) printed real live copies of the ‘final’ version of his game. High-quality copies. Copies that were easily as good as any other book you’d see in your local gaming store. That the game itself was good was more important, but the big deal was “holy crap, someone outside the Big Boys made a book, and sold it, and made it work, and has a big group of people playing it and reading it. HOW CAN WE DO THIS?

And the answer at the time was “well, you can’t – not easily – but it can be done, and until then, you can sell PDFs of your games for cheap.”

And then, very slowly (to the indie gaming industry, that is — where lifespans are measured in dog-years and evolution occurs at a rate not seen outside a mad scientist’s lab in the basement of a nuclear reactor), the self-publishing industry started to catch up to what the indie game designers wanted to do, and they could make their own games and print them and SELL THEM TO PEOPLE OH MY GOD.

There was a glut of publication, let me tell you.

Maybe one in every ten games that came out were good. The rest were crap and died a quick, possibly painful, and justified death. There was a lot of recrimination on the boards that supported the indie-game publishing effort (indie-rpgs.com and story-games.com), along the lines of “why did you release this when it wasn’t more than half-baked?” and “we need some quality control up in here, or we’re going to become a laughingstock”.

And that has happened, and the products you can get today are better and better – the crap-to-quality ratio moving into a favorable zone with every day.

Here’s what it looks like today:

  • Distribution models changed. Lulu.com and Indie Press Revolution has made publishing books financially and logistically possible for people who have Real Jobs, Real Lives, and Other Things to do.
  • Traditional publishers now rely on authors to do all the marketing and promotion. Pff. It’s not like there’s ever been much in the way of marketing in the gaming industry. RPGs only predate the internet by about a decade, so a huge amount of what the industry does in the way of ‘marketing’ is done via the internet — there is very little that the Big Boys can do in the way of marketing that *I* cannot likewise accomplish do. Google adsense is affordable, and reaches most people right where they live – their Inbox.
  • Communities will decide what books are worthwhile, and communities won’t have ego-filled judgments. I have seen this happen firsthand in the indie game design world. Story-games and Indie-rpgs.com are the crap-filter that Independent Fiction Publishing needs in order to thrive.Not a service. Not a business. A community of people who all want to accomplish pretty much the same thing, and are committed to making sure that the whole bloody thing doesn’t become a laughingstock.And they don’t do it for money. They do it for love of doing it — for love of reaching people and knowing they enjoyed their game.

That’s where indie publishing is going. That’s where (and how) it will succeed.

Does such a community already exist? Maybe. Publetariat has a forum. I plan to check it out. Maybe it already is what it needs to be.

Maybe it can evolve.

The number you are trying to reach…

Things have been a little crazy in my personal corner of the Internet for the last couple weeks.  Let me see if I can give you a tour and tell you where I moved all the furniture:


  • My ‘main’ blog, which was at www.doycetesterman.com/journal.html, is now right at doycetesterman.com. It also has a new design, which is apparently different enough that people thought it was a mistake.  The newsfeed for this blog has also changed — the new feed can be had simply by clicking on the big orange button in the top right corner of the page.
  • Random Average is no longer just a blog, but a blog, a forum, a scheduling calendar, and a PONY!  You can get to it via the same ol’ http://random-average.com, but the newsfeed has changed: there’s one for the forums and a different one for the blog.  They’re all linked off the front page of THAT site, top left.
  • Adrift didn’t move, but the news feed is different than it was, and the look is different.  Easiest thing to do in that case is to just go to http://doycetesterman.com/adrift/ and get new links.
  • With all this done, I’m completely ‘off’ of Movable Type — the only thing left up are the eight years of archived posts from both Average-bear (which didn’t make the jump to doycetesterman.com in the first place) and eight years of Random-Average gaming stuff.  The Random Average archives are linked off the new Ning-based R-A site (top left),  and the Average-bear archives are… exactly where they are… which is where you’ll find them if you know where to look.  Ahem.

Not changed:

  • FireflyWiki, RandomWiki, Storyball, doyceandkate — all safe as houses and very unlikely to change. (All those sites are built with PmWiki which, unlike Movable Type, has actually made updating and maintaining them easier, rather than harder.)

Sprucing up the room no one ever sees…

So I redid my blog page this weekend, splitting my via-Twitter posts out into the sidebar (where they fit all nice and cozy) and putting the ‘big’ posts in the main column. I like the look of it a great deal, while at the same I smirk at the irony of redesigning a web page that almost no one ever sees.
Seriously, show of hands: does ANYONE read this from the page I linked to, and not from a news reader?

Being at home

So, I think I like where I am with the blog and the blogging and such.
Yes, I’m still getting the feed from Adrift to sort itself out. (De, I couldn’t number them, but I could give them far less opaque titles – hope that helps.) Yes, there’s an awful lot of super-short via-Twitter posting going on. Yes, the newsfeed from the site is actually also picking up the gaming posts from my other blog. Sure. All that’s going on. Right now, what you’re getting from the site is a few longer screeds, in between which I pop out short little snippets of thought on random subjects, bits of story stuff that have nothing to do with anything else I’m talking about, and the occasional grand segue into a topic only I really care about.
Be honest, people: that’s pretty much how it is around me most of the time, right?
If the blog reflects that, then it’s close to doing what I want – much, much closer than it has been in the past. (Now if I only I could get the goddamned thing to accept posts from Flickr again.)
And you know what? I’m happy with everything that’s going on. Facebook and Twitter are giving me the community chatter I sometimes want (something that used to be a function of the blog comments section; now, not so much), and Adrift…
… I tell you, it’s just nice to be writing something just for the sake of writing it. It’s been awhile.
Feels good, all of it.
That’s all I had to say. Carry on.

An explanation of what’s going on with this Finnras/Adrift thing.

What, if I can ask, are you doing?
The basic idea is to tell a story via serialized flash fiction. Wow, that’s a lot of annoying pop-terminology in a fairly short sentence.
1. I’m posting a story, via twitter.
2. I will make one post a day, advancing the story (allegedly).
3. Each post will be no more than 140 characters in length, due to the way twitter works.

It’s a bit like writing one or two comic panels a day. It’s a bit like haiku. It’s an exercise in saying more with less, and trying to make the thing interesting each day, as well as overall.

It’s actually pretty fun.

I’m collecting the whole thing on a blog. If you want to view it that way, visit the website (Newsreader people can subscribe here.)

Alternately, you can twitter-follow @Finnras to read it in it’s raw, immediate form. There’s also an RSS feed there, which I have no doubt you can locate on your own.

How long will this madness continue?
I have a pretty good idea of what happens for quite some time ahead of where we are at this point in the story. Getting through all that 140 characters at a time will take quite awhile, by which point I might have even more ideas about what happens next.

What I’m saying is this could go on for awhile.

Where did you get such a cool/crazy/stupid idea?
I was inspired by the tales of one Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer and Professional Hero. There’s lots more out there on the internet about twittering short fiction, and that’s all cool, but none of it provided inspiration for this beyond Othar… and a character (Finnras) I invented a few years back and never really got a chance to hang out with.

The setting? Some of the broadest brush strokes within the setting come from the “skeletal setting” provided in Matt Wilson’s Galactic RPG.

I have tweaked the blog…

I have tweaked the blog templates (this journal and all rss/atom feeds) to more informatively “title” the posts I share from Twitter (or at least conceal the real title with something else). Rather than “Briefly (via Twitter)”, what everyone should see instead are the first five words from the post itself; a prelude, if you will — a hint, a foreshadowing of the impending 140 characters of greatness.
Previewing the look myself, I find I like it quite a bit better (for differentiation between posts, if nothing else).
The only thing I can’t do is actually change the title of the post — I can only conceal it. That “title” value is immutable (due to the Twitter code itself) and will continue to crop up in certain places (such as the comments page and any email notifications that the blog sends out).