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JA Konrath on luck

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Sep 28, 2015.

  1. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Among other things, which would take much longer to explain, I think Konrath's position on fake and bought reviews is completely unethical.

    I do think Lee more than got the best of him in that exchange, but people can read it for themselves and decide what they think.

    I also think you are being very unfair to Lee saying that he is a 1% author who is unqualified to comment on how the industry works overall. That simply shows you don't know the man or his work in the industry and for authors. Firstly Lee when he appeared on Konrath's blog was speaking as a rep for Author's United around the very troubling issue with Hachette, and I think Lee was on the right side of that fight, not for himself, but for authors and a good publishing industry in general.

    Further Lee works hard on behalf of other author's organizations who work hard on behalf of average authors, and aspiring authors. He is currently coming off a very active term as President of ITW and has done similar unpaid work for other organizations. During that time he has kept himself informed, and in fact commissioned studies on the state of the publishing industry overall and what that means for unpublished and not yet branded authors and their careers. He has served his constituency very well indeed. And I suspect considering his success and workload he had no need to do any of that work at all. I am grateful that he has.

    I can guarantee you that Lee is extremely well informed on how things work for both the average writer and the aspiring writer because he has worked at it and genuinely seems to care about it. To suggest otherwise is simply unfair and inaccurate.
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Russ:

    I don't find your analogies compelling. I think entertainment is an entirely different animal, and it's an area I work in. You don't know musicians, or actors, or writers who are very good and check all the right boxes and don't get anywhere? I do.
     
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I'm sorry, but I just don't agree. If a writer isn't getting anywhere, he's doing something wrong.

    A year and a half from now, I hope to have my fourth book published in my primary series. At that point, I'll drop the price of Rise of the Mages and promote the heck out of it.

    Many other authors have pursued this strategy and succeeded. If no one buys Rise, that means that I've done something wrong with the cover or the pitch. If I give up at that point, it'll be on me, not on luck. The correct course of action is to evaluate the pitch and the cover, make changes, and promote it again.

    If people buy Rise, but there's no sell through, then I know there's an issue with my writing. It doesn't mean, "Oh, I'm unlucky." If the book captured my readers' interest, they would have bought the next book.

    Obviously, luck can play a role in attaining mega success. Maybe Taylor Swift reads my book and tweets about it, catapulting me to fame and riches. But on the low side, I just don't see it. I have the ability to put my book in front of readers. If the readers don't respond, then that's on me, not on luck.

    I have no idea about musicians. If there's no avenue for them to get their music in front of listeners, then luck may very well be the dominant factor in their success.

    I definitely think that luck plays a huge role in acting. There are only so many parts, and everything depends on being in front of the right decision maker at the right time.

    Writing no longer depends on such. There is no decision maker, and there is a way to get your books in front of an audience.

    Explain to me, please, where the luck is in that equation?
     
  4. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, Russ, I doubt we're ever going to agree on publishing issues.

    Konrath's take on fake reviews is not unethical, in my opinion. He's not condoning sock puppet reviews that authors use to boost sales. He's just saying that in the grand scheme of things, they don't actually do that much harm (at worst the convince someone to buy a book they end up not liking, not unlike back cover blurbs and advertisements have been doing for ages) and that beginning to police reviews will end up doing more harm than good. I have to agree with him there.

    I am completely against Authors United personally. I think their entire campaign is a hideous joke. They don't know what they're doing and they are NOT representing authors as a whole, which they keep claiming to do. Lee came to The Passive Voice blog often to argue his point of view, but he was not convincing. (He was also very belligerent, which didn't make him look good in the slightest.) He argues a very, very particular view of the publishing industry that does not mesh with the experience of many, many authors lower down on the totem pole than he is. He may think he is doing what's best for all authors, but he is looking at the big picture with a very myopic view.

    And Steerpike's point is entirely correct: there are hundreds of authors who going through the publishing process doing everything they are supposed to do, but getting nowhere because of factors out of their control. There are thousands of writers who never even get into the publishing process because no matter how hard they work no matter whether they are doing everything they are told will work they can't get a break. Being "accepted" into publishing is entirely out of their control. This is what people generally mean by luck. Either the factors out of your control come together in your favor or they don't and there's nothing you can do about it.
     
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Note that I agree that being accepted by a traditional publisher is luck dependent.

    My position is that success as an indie author is not dependent on luck.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    @Brian:

    You keep posting those things, but I don't see any empirical data to back any of it up. It seems to me to be just wishful thinking. Of course there are things you can do to make success much more likely - no one is claiming luck is all there is to it. However, to adopt your position, then every writer who isn't making a living from their fiction (which, by the way, is the vast majority of them) is just doing something wrong as opposed to having done all the right things and just not made it. Every single one of them. Just from a sheer statistical perspective, that's highly unlikely. I think the idea that there is a formula X, Y, Z to follow to guarantee financial success as a fiction writer is wishful thinking. If it helps motivate you, then great. We'll just have to disagree on the rest of it - no matter how many ways you reword it, it just doesn't hold up with what I actually see in the real world. To me, there's no argument but that there is a component of luck involved. The only question is how significant it is.
     
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  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    So you have a way to guarantee that readers will find your book, readers will buy your book, readers will enjoy your book, etc? None of those has a luck component involved?
     
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    And your empirical data is ... what exactly?

    All you keep saying is, "Entertainment is different."

    Wow. That's an impressive argument.

    Yes!

    Most small businesses fail. Take, for example, a small shop in Corona that sold high-end used clothing for children. They'd been around for years in a location central to lots of houses. They decided to move to a high end shopping center outside of town. Their lease cost a lot more at the new location, causing them to raise their prices. Their stuff ended up costing as much as new stuff did when the new stuff was discounted. With the combination of being further from their base customers and their higher prices, they ended up going out of business.

    Is that bad luck?

    No. They made a bad decision, and it cost them.

    If a business doesn't do enough research to formulate a strategy or doesn't adapt to changing market conditions, is it "bad luck" when they fail? I don't think so. I think that it's luck if they succeed.

    The fact is that writing as an indie author is a business. Bad decisions will ruin you. I truly believe that most indie authors do not treat their writing as a business at all, much less do what it takes to succeed.

    Again, an indie author absolutely has to come up with a plan, respond to data, be adaptable, and be persistent to succeed. The lack of any of those elements is likely to result in failure. In my eyes, that failure isn't due to luck; it's inevitable.

    Are you seeing authors develop a plan based on real life data, follow that plan, adapt their business based on their own results, and still fail?

    I seriously doubt that you can honestly answer that question in the affirmative.

    Sorry, but in this case, I don't think your personal observations are showing you the complete picture.
     
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Mythopoet,

    There are promotion services available that put your book in front of readers. Author after author have tried these services and gotten great results. Those who don't get great results on the first try typically find that altering their pitch and/or their cover makes all the difference for the next go around.

    A percentage of the people reading that first book will enjoy it and move on to the next books in your series, resulting in profit. The more entertaining your book, the more people go on to the next one.

    Maybe you get "lucky" in that more than the average amount of people read your book, but it's not "luck" to hit an average ROI if your pitch and cover are right. The more series you have out, the more times you can do this.

    So, no. It's not luck. It's getting books on the market in a series and promoting correctly.

    EDIT: Note that this doesn't mean anything is easy. For example, let's say an author chooses to write in a genre that doesn't have a lot of readers. That author is out of "luck." From my perspective, though, I'd say that lack of "luck" was because of a poor decision on the author's part.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Yes. I've seen lots of these people. They research, the make a plan, they put their very best effort in, and the results just don't come in. Some of them give up, but many of them keep striving, keep looking for information that will help them, keep trying new things, keep working hard, and success still eludes them. It happens all the time. I've seen several people get frustrated because they work so hard, they invest, they do everything that is recommended, and they never achieve the success that some people who did much less achieve much faster. It's just that kind of business. Even when you do everything you can do, there's a luck factor. You can't force readers to respond favorably to the product you have to offer.
     
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  11. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    That's the problem right there!

    I agree. You absolutely cannot force readers to respond favorably to what you want to write. A key component in the equation is that you have to write what the readers want to read.

    Study the bestsellers in your genre. That's what the readers want. Give it to them, follow the plan, and you'll succeed.

    And sorry, but I don't buy this at face value. What exactly did they do to fulfill "everything that was recommended?"

    I only found kboards recently. Were they members there? Did they post their problems and get advice on how to fix it? Were their cover and pitch awesome?

    I seriously doubt it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes. And, in addition to the above, some of them have had the benefit of getting a series published through a traditional publisher like Harper Collins and then going through all the steps you're talking about both to support their traditional work and their self-published work, and it isn't panning out. And they're good writers. And the readers who have read their work seem to really like it.

    You're an engineer, right? You have to know that the absolute nature of the hypothesis you're putting forward makes it almost impossible to be true. Even a single case of what I'm talking about disproves your hypothesis. Instead of stubbornly trying to push the absolute vision here, you should be looking for a more reasonable middle ground that accepts that sometimes factors that are outside of your control (e.g. luck) come into play.

    My personal observations don't have to show a complete picture, they only have to show one instance that deviates from your hypothesis to demonstrate the hypothesis is wrong. You get that, right? I mean from a science point of view and all...
     
  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    But all you're saying is, "I know this guy and he followed all these steps and failed, so you're wrong."

    How do you know that he followed all the steps? What were his results when he promoted the first book in his series on his free days? Which/how many promotion services did he use? How many people does he have on his email list? If under 2000, what is he doing to increase it? What did fellow indie authors advise him regarding his pitch and cover when they didn't sell? What changes did he make to those?

    I think I'm taking a very reasonable position. I am not saying in any way that an author will absolutely become the next JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer through hard work. That level of "success" is dependent to a large degree on luck.

    What I'm saying is that, if you write enough books in genres that readers want to read that follow the tropes and formulas that the readers want and (perhaps?) your writing is of some minimum level of quality and you promote correctly, you absolutely can reach a monthly income in the 4 to 5 figure range.

    I don't understand why that is deemed a crazy notion.

    And you have to understand how many qualifications I put on my hypothesis. How in the world could you possibly think that any anecdote you come up with meets all those criteria?

    What I don't get is why you have such a vested interest in luck being involved.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
  14. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Lee is a very tough man from a very tough background. While he speaks directly and aggressively, I can respect that. In context I find his arguments far less outrageously phrased that Konrath's who often likes to make noise just to attract attention.

    The funny thing about Lee is that he actually really knows the current data on the business and works hard for authors who are not as his level.

    I bet you didn't even know he was coming off a very well regarded two year term as ITW president. How do you feel about his work as ITW pres and president of the Mystery Writers?

    I know you didn't know he commissioned a major study that put together a whole bunch of data to understand how authors who are not yet branded should promote themselves, because the last time we discussed the traditional publishing industry you had not even heard of the company that does this work most frequently and with the most data.

    We don't agree because you simply don't have much real knowledge about the traditional publishing industry and don't seem interesting in learning about it.

    Judging by the slush piles (now inboxes I suppose) and the number of indy publications going on it seems that there are more people trying to get into the industry than ever. These hoards of people who have quit are nowhere to be seen, or at least, are not growing in any way we can tell. It really seems that with word processors more and more people are willing to have a crack at it for good or ill.

    Factors out of your control are not the same thing as "luck". Luck is unpredictable and uncontrollable. They are things that cannot be foreseen or rationally planned for.

    Market forces, which while they may be beyond our control, can be seen, studied, understood, often predicted and rationally planned for.

    They are two different things. Not all things beyond our control are "luck" or chance.
     
  15. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I think entertainment is a very, very hard way to make a living.

    I am not a proponent of the school that says there is as clear a path to success as "checking all the right boxes." When you are dependent for your living on getting a subjective positive reaction from the public there are a lot of variables that you need to deal with, some of which are hard to measure.

    Having said that I am certain that there are many musicians etc who are very good, and follow conventional advice and don't make much money. There is definately luck involved and market forces that impact musicians. I just don't think that luck is significantly more important in these fields than other endeavours where the market only seems to allow an elite few to make a living at it.

    I think of those types of endeavors as having really tough filters along the road, it is hard to get through them. There may be several filters along the road in fact.

    I don't suggest the filters are perfect either. There will be times when a demonstrably poorer musician does better than his superior for some reason. But I would suggest the measure of an entertainer (at least for this discussion) is very much about giving the audience what they want. Figuring out what the audience wants, and how to get it to them is very, very hard indeed.
     
  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    You're making a lot of assumptions about what I know and don't know, Russ. Though I admit, I certainly have not studied Lee Child as much as you must have done to have so much intimate knowledge of him. And of course I'm sure you have very good reason to think that Child's argumentativeness in a comments sections is because he's a tough guy with a tough past but Konrath is only trying to make noise to get attention. I'm sure you're not being biased at all.

    To be honest, I don't care at all about Lee Child. I don't read his books because I have no interest in them and what I have seen of him on The Passive Voice blog and Konrath's blog has not given me any reason to be interested in what he has to say. Nor do I generally care in the slightest about traditional authors associations and most of them have given me no reason to. I don't even know what ITW is. Google says... Illinois Tool Works? International Telecoms Week? Doesn't sound right. And I'm sure you're not just using the initials intentionally to confuse others and appear more enlightened.

    I'm not sure what knowing the company that performs a study has to do with being well-informed. What matters is the study itself and its methodology. If you have valid studies to cite, then I suggest you actually cite them instead of just name dropping.

    I learn more and more about the traditional publishing industry every day from people who have been part of it and lived to tell the tale. Authors who have been in the trenches for decades. I wouldn't dare to guess where you're getting your so-called knowledge from, Russ, or how much of it you have because I don't know you. All I can do is debate specific facts and their meaning. But you seem to prefer name dropping and then acting as if mentioning Lee Child makes you an expert on publishing. Well, it doesn't. Not even if you happened to be Child himself.
     
  17. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Actually they are deductions, not assumptions there is a difference. Everything I post about Lee is easily verifiable. As is everything I post about Konrath. I admitted my dislike on Konrath upfront. I thought that was the fair thing to do.

    You cared enough to come to the conclusion that he is a 1% telling the 99% what to do based on his experience. That was factually wrong. He has studied, represents well, and continues to represent large groups of regular authors who like how he represents them. You made assumptions about his lack of knowledge that are simply factually wrong.

    Good of you to admit that you just don't care what large well informed groups think or say. That just means that you are not open to different opinions from people who work within the industry.

    Oh...ITW is International Thriller Writers. A large well respected organization. I use ITW because it is a common shortform. I also use SWFA, and many other shortforms that pretty common in the industry. Feel free to google SWFA (hint they don't make sports optics), or other writers group shortforms.

    .

    In context this would be correct. But we were not discussing the contents of studies (which I have happily done on many occasions in the past) but the level of Lee Child's knowledge of more common writer's experiences. The fact that he has commissioned studies on those experiences and has read them etc conflicts with your claims of his ignorance.

    Not knowing the name of the company that does the largest, most and best studies for the industry just shows a basic lack of knowledge on the subject. It would be like talking about the automotive industry and someone making strong claims about what they do, or don't do, and then not knowing who Toyota is. Or about political polling but never having heard of Gallup.

    You certainly weren't debating specific facts when you claimed Lee was ignorant of the 99% experience. You were rather quick to make those comments either not knowing or caring if they were true. You were quite unaware of his work in the field, and when it was brought to your attention you certainly showed no openness to changing your position.

    I did post once before about my sources of knowledge about the publishing industry. It is entirely possible you missed it. I know the industry well because my father spent his whole career in it, I worked in it when I was younger, and my wife works in it full time right now. Many of the people I spend time with away from the office make their living in it right now as agents, editors, writers etc. Despite that I try to always post things that are easily verifiable from public sources and not just gossip. It is just common courtesy.

    No name dropping involved.
     
  18. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    All of his comments on The Passive Voice, which is what I have been talking about, my only real exposure to him and his arguments, were clearly based on his own experience. Nothing he was saying was representative of authors in general. If anything, it was representative of particular groups of authors or particular situations. So if he has studied the industry so much, he is using his knowledge to come to the wrong conclusions. It's useless to say "but he does this and this, he must know what he's talking about!" That just turns it into an appeal to authority, which is a logical fallacy. I can only judge Child by what he actually said there. And his arguments were highly flawed.

    I'm sure you would disagree, because we really do seem to see things in completely opposite ways. So I just don't think I'm going to respond to your comments anymore. Honestly, when I saw your comment in this thread I had forgotten you were that very myopic person I had argued with before. If I ever forget again and say something to you, just mention Lee Child or something so I remember to stop getting involved in futile discussions I don't have time for.
     
  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    How about as a reminder I say "Codex" to remind you of the time you asserted that the industry didn't do much if any research on what consumers want based on no fax and didn't even know the leading company in the field or had read of their studies?
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    How about if we all get back to debating the topic and not the personalities involved in debating the topic :)
     
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