The Morning Coffee – 19 February 2014

Top stories this morning include a satirical self-pub ebook which has to be read to be believed (link), a question to readers about what they want (link), still more controversy over Hugh Howey's Author Earning Report (link), and more.

  • tumblr_n14b7iwNqc1qd206po1_1280[1]Baboon Fart Odyssey (Charlie's Diary)
  • The book industry isn't dying, it's thriving with an ebook assist (Yahoo Finance)
  • Dzanc Books Offers Free eBook With Every Print Purchase (GalleyCat)
  • How I Brought My Thriller from the '70s into The 21st Century (Publishing Perspectives)
  • How Publishers Can Push For Reader Attention (Forbes)
  • Made to Order: what’s not being published that you want to read? (Dear Author)
  • One quarter of Brits want to self-publish a book (Female First)
  • Ten Reasons You Can’t Trust Everything You Read About the Author Earnings Report (DBW)
  • Who’s Got The Ether? Publishing, Hugh Howey and the downfall of old assumptions (The Watershed Chronicle)

About Nate Hoffelder (11579 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

13 Comments on The Morning Coffee – 19 February 2014

  1. Disappointing to see sci-fi writer Charles Stross bash self-publishing “cultists.” He claims that they refuse to listen to any “FACTS” that don’t indicate you can get rich quick, but doesn’t link to anyone who is actually saying any such thing. Instead, he links to Chuck Wendig, who unconvincingly attacks self-publishing and also doesn’t provide any evidence that self-publishers are delusional, other than arguing Author Earnings only provides “extrapolated half-data.” (Which is not true.) After mocking those who say that readers should be the gatekeepers, Chuck then says “… we are all on the same side, or at least we should be.” This shortly after attacking another writer as having an Amazon rating on the level of “Broken Robot Toilet.” Nice to declare a truce after you’ve fired all your bullets.

    So back to Charles Stross, he goes on to talk about how someone published a book on Amazon called “Baboon Fart Story” that is consists only of the word fart. Obviously, this was a joke, but Charles seems to think it proves some point about how crappy self-published books are. Which it doesn’t. What does a gag like Baboon Fart Story have to do with the writer of the next Confederacy of Dunces publishing their own book after years of rejection by traditional publishers? What does it have to do with the fact that traditional publishers have neglected the sci-fi genre for decades and fans are flocking to Hugh Howey and other self-published writers. What’s Charle’s real point here? That the ladder should be pulled up now that he’s established as a sci-fi writer?

    The kicker to all this is Charles actually bought the Baboon Fart Story book! So someone made a buck off him by writing fart over and over. Seems that completely disproves his point that you can’t make money on Amazon selling junk.

    But this is all in keeping with the snobbery that underlines all arguments against self-publishing. How dare someone make money on a book that has the word fart in it? How dare someone make money on a book that is clearly meant as a joke and isn’t a serious novel like us real writers write and real publishers publish?

    What if someone wrote a really funny book called “Baboon Fart Story?” What if people wants to spend a buck to see what a book that only has the word fart in it looks like? What does any of that say about self-publishing in general? Nothing.

    Because small factories manufacture whoopee cushions, and people buy them, doesn’t mean we should discount small factories that build Tesla cars, just because they aren’t made by the Big Three car companies. There’s no connection between a whoopee cushion and a Telsa, and there’s no connection between Baboon Fart Story and the thousands and thousands of self-publishers who take their work seriously and try to share information we each other to improve their sales.

    But I guess trying to slather all writers who are excited about having the freedom to reach an audience on their own with terms like “shit volcano” and “fart” seems like good spin when you can’t come up with any real arguments.

    • Just because you don’t like what he says about your group doesn’t mean you can ignore the criticism.

      Stross didn’t mean to label all self-published authors as cultists, but he’s right in that there are some who obsess about it to such a degree that it’s becoming a cult. I do think Konrath is one; I can’t read him anymore because his posts have become sermons.

      And Howey is nearly as bad. His earnings report really is as flawed as some say; I think the Dear Author critique (by Sunita?) was probably the best take.

      I know this might be hard to hear, but from the outside some people in self-pub do appear to be cultists.

      • Calling people cultists is a way of shutting down debate, not encouraging discussion. When you don’t explain who exactly you’re calling a cultist, or provide any links or quotes as to who the cultists are, you’re painting as broad a brush as possible. Which is what Stross apparently intended.

        How is Howey’s report flawed? The Dear Author critique by Sunita (which I just checked out) is pompous gibberish. Doesn’t say anything at all. It follows the exact same pattern as a lot of the other empty arguments against the Author’s Earning report. First she states that she is an expert in data and an “empirical researcher” so us mortals will never really understand what she’s saying, but trust her, the facts aren’t there. We’re not idiots, we understand data can be manipulated, we understand facts can be interpreted many ways. But she doesn’t provide any alternate theories. She simply tries to create confusion.

        And she, and most of the other criticisms I’ve read, fail to address the key point. Hugh’s report (of which there will be more in the future hopefully) has a very specific purpose. If you are a writer considering self-publishing on Amazon, are you better off waiting for a traditional publishing deal, even though such deals are currently very unfavorable to the writer?

        The conclusion his data reaches, which no one has successfully disputed in my opinion, is that you’re better off self-publishing. Others can look at the data in other ways and perhaps come to other conclusions, fine, I’d like to hear someone really make that argument. (Here, I will: what the report cannot quantify is the publicity advantages a major publisher can bring to a writers career over many years. Assuming said publisher really invests in the writer long term.)

        But Sunita doesn’t really make any argument other than to say, you can’t really know, the facts aren’t there, etc. She doesn’t reach any conclusion from the data (despite her expert status) and simply says you “might” want to consider going for the Amazon imprint. (But doesn’t provide her logic for that conclusion, you just got to trust her as an expert.)

        She says she has no dog in the hunt, but she spent a lot of time looking over the data. Why? Why write such a long post that basically says nothing except, you can’t really know anything? She says “treat it as entertainment.”

        Again with the sneering attitude of Stross and others. There are writers out there who are really struggling with questions about where to take their careers. They are artists who want an audience, and they are working class people who are struggling to pay their rent. They would like some hard facts. Sunita offers nothing except confusion. (And a link to another post by another “expert” who also says that she knows better than normal people how to judge data and also comes to no conclusion other than to say theres no way to know anything.)

        Hugh’s report at least gives writers some real data so they can make choices. He at least tries to logically interpret that data in terms of real life decisions a writer has to make, and his arguments are very convincing to me. He also states over and over that self-publishing is not the only way. But his report clearly indicates, that for some people, it is a good way to go. And he transparently presents the facts so anyone can look at and decide for themselves.

        • “Calling people cultists is a way of shutting down debate, not encouraging discussion. When you don’t explain who exactly you’re calling a cultist, or provide any links or quotes as to who the cultists are, you’re painting as broad a brush as possible.”

          This is true.

          One thing I took away from the Dear Author piece was the problematic nature of extrapolating from a single day’s ranking to a year’s income. Given that sales ebb and raise, that extrapolation is almost certainly inaccurate. And BTW, I have also seen tweets from various sources which reinforce that point, with some posting sales graphs that show that different titles peaked at different times.

          • The Dear Author piece was totally wrong about that and I can prove it. There’s no attempt to predict the sales of a specific title (that would be truly stupid). The contention of Howey and his Data Guy is that the cross-section (one day’s results) is representative of the comparative market share of different publisher types. This type of relationship is very common in non-normally distributed data. Individual books go up and down, but each day is a decent reflection of every other day for **aggregates**.

            If someone had been tracking a smaller sample of titles over a longer period of time and his data matched up with the larger sample, that would be good indication of Howey’s contention is correct. Well, guess what? I have and it shows roughly the same split (my categories are not the same, but the Big 5 (formerly 6) are easy to identify and their share fluctuates some, but has been in that range for some time).

            Furthermore, I can even tell you why, but it’s a bit complicated. The short version is that it’s all about the difference between customers who shop at Amazon and those that shop at bookstores. Amazon results are driven by the small minority of people who buy and read lots of books (50 or more a year). Those folks are underserved by traditional publishing.

            The problem with the Dear Author piece is that the writer doesn’t understand the data. At all.

          • One of the big problems with all the criticisms of the Earnings Report is they fail to acknowledge the fact that it was just the first of what will hopefully be many. So arguments that it doesn’t have a complete enough data picture, weaken each time a new report comes out. The second report already addressed many criticisms by going beyond the 1000 top sellers.

            The other problem is none of the critics, at least as far as I’ve seen, provide any real conflicting data. They simply say, we can’t know. One of Dear Author’s weakest arguments was the data is all from Amazon. Well, that was made clear up by Hugh up front, and Amazon is what most self-pulishers are worried about. Despite Dear Author’s claimed status as an expert statistician in the field, she didn’t provide anything in the way of hard data about markets other than Amazon.

            People want information. Authors Earning report is providing some. Critics are providing none, which is in keeping with the entire problem in the traditional publishing realm, lack of transparency. (Not to mention fake best seller lists.) Which is why Authors Earnings was started in the first place. Does it give a complete picture of the entire market? Nope, but it’s a good start.

          • As I’ve said before elsewhere, the most important thing about the report is that it shows that indie sales make up a big piece of the pie. The actual numbers are more or less window dressing, especially when you consider how consistent they were across both surveys. You can quibble over what percentage that piece is, but even at the widest possible margin of error, there can be no question that piece exists.

            Lots of people are selling and lots of people are buying self-published books, in blatant defiance of the conventional wisdom that says no one should be able to find anything “good” in that huge Internet slush pile. Funny how that works.

    • I wrote Baboon Fart Story.

      You make some good points. So did Stross. I’m just proud that my little experiment served its purpose by being taken up by BOTH sides of the self publishing debate.

      It got published, so yeah, any crap (lol) can get published. It got taken down, so yeah, there are still obstacles in self publishing. Both self publishing and traditional publishing are valid paths to take, and each have their own bag of issues to deal with. Basically, life is complicated and nothing is easy.

      If I made a millions dollars from a gag book, that would’ve been easy I guess. But I didn’t, and technically I only made 35 cents when Stross bought it. 🙁 Damn you Amazon.

  2. I’m setting the Baboon Fart Story to music. Sing to the Spam tune:

    Fart fart fart fart
    Fart fart fart fart
    Farty fart, farty fart

    Faaaaaart, FAAAAART

    Now will Monty Python sue me for copyright infringement?

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