Prepping For The Publishing Doomsday

I am a fan of the show Doomsday Preppers.

If you’re not familiar, each episode offers segments that take a look at one or several “preppers” — people who are convinced that the world is on the cusp of destruction — in order to explain what they fear and what they’re doing to countermand the coming apocalypse. Each prepper has his own crazy-flavored vision of how the world is going to end: some fear economic collapse, others solar flares or EMPs or polar shifts or nuclear attack or mutant zombie hillbillies or whatever. The list goes on and on and on.

Some preppers are smart. Some are stupid. Many are fucking nuts.

It’s a fascinating show. You see people hoarding water, building compounds in the middle of nowhere, spending butt-tons of money on subterranean shelters, and damn near all of them are stockpiling guns.

But watching every episode, I’m struck by the thought: “These people are wasting their lives.” I mean that literally — they’re expending a great deal of time, effort and money to thwart a dreaded outcome whose likelihood is… ehhh, ennhh, y’know, not really all that likely. It’s one thing to prep a little bit — “Oh, if an emergency happens, we’ve got some supplies and a strategy.” But a little prep ain’t getting your ass on that show. These people are building armored bug-out buses. They’re running their kids through weekly panic drills. They’re spending hours a day in Ghillie suits, hiding in spider holes they build in their own backyard.

They’ve imagined the worst case scenario and they’re clinging to it like a tick.

So. Speaking of doomsdays…

Let’s talk about publishing!

Publishing pinballs drunkenly between the bumpers of optimism and the flippers of holy fucking shit-hell the meteors are coming fairly regularly. The Internet is good for this: we get to see every moment as it happens and we have zero time to process it. All our processing is done out-loud, together, and mass hysteria runs rampant. Every shadow that passes over our prairie dog heads seems like a hungry hawk when it might be nothing more than a harmless vulture or a passenger plane. Or, y’know, Underdog.

The most recent publishing news is, of course, that Amazon is being given a leg-up by the Department of Justice as the DoJ sues Apple and several big publishers for collusion.

(Sidenote: educate yourself about Amazon’s e-book strategy with this blog post from Charlie Stross.)

Once again the cries of panic have risen over the walls of our digital city. A big shadow is passing over our heads. Publishers and bookstores are in danger. Amazon is a mecha-robot stomping toward Bethlehem.

And writers feel lost. Worried. Bookstores are exploding like a landmine gophers! Books are on fire! Publishers are throwing writers out of windows! An army of self-publishers is marching on New York!

So you turn to me. Your drunken, pantsless Sherpa. Waiting at the top of Mount Penmonkey, stroking my beard seductively at you. *stroke stroke stroke* *comb comb comb*

Okay, you don’t really turn to me so much as I kidnap you in a van and yell at you as we barrel toward the liquor store at increasingly troubling speeds, but whatever. Just the same, let me tell you what to do:


Calm down.

Breathe easy.

In. Out. In. Out.

Maybe have a drink. Take a walk. Sip some oolong tea.

Then, when you’ve relaxed: keep writing.

Stay the course.

Let the squirmy anxiety-ferret you’re holding go. Free him. You don’t need him. He’s bitey.

Put all this bullshit out of your mind.

Stories aren’t going anywhere. Books still exist, both inside Kindles and on meatspace shelves. If a major publisher goes down in flames, a smaller publisher will wink, shake its hips, and step up to the plate. If a major bookstore chain shits the bed, indies will fill the gap, or another chain will rise. If libraries suck the pipe — well, that’s bad for a community and not good for books, but you, little Wordomancer, Inkslinger, Storyspinner, can’t do shit about that. You can’t control any of this. You can, however, control your output. And there exists an audience for your stories. Which is the key, isn’t it?

What, you’re worried about Amazon? Amazon Schmamazon. It’s done no favors to the publishing industry (or the government, given their lack of paying sales tax), but it’s done a lot of favors for overall reading habits. They’re an imperfect juggernaut of a company. You’re free to distrust them (I certainly cast them a wary gaze), but to reiterate: you don’t control them. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. And if things start to suck for writers, other solutions will slide into the gaps — new competitors, new services, or authors who sell their work DRM-free and direct to the readers.

People always want stories.

Book sales — e-books in particular — are up.

Authors have more options now than they had ten years ago.

The Internet is a disruptive-yet-equalizing force that even Amazon cannot fight.

Should you educate yourself? Sure. Should you be aware of your options? Absolutely. Read. Talk about it. Express frustration. But don’t let it get in the way of doing what you do.

Don’t let it get in the way of your stories.

Because all the publishing woes — or publishing successes — mean a soggy sack of dicks if you don’t have a finished story to bring to the party. So keep writing. Keep telling stories. Eye on the prize, Eye-of-the-Tiger.

45 responses to “Prepping For The Publishing Doomsday”

  1. Just wanted to say, that I think the part starting with ‘Calm down’ and ending with ‘He’s bitey’ might be some of the best advice I have ever heard, not just about publishing, but about anything. I’m now planning to print it out, nail it to the wall and the next time I’m stressing about something that is really out of my control, I’ll look at it and try to calm the fuck down. And drink som oolong tea. Raspberry oolong is really good.

  2. I will happily let you kidnap me in a van and yell at me on the way to the liquor store.
    If you’re buying.
    Yeah… Amazon is a corporate shark gobbling up souls, but I’m not going to let THEM scare me out of writing. Then they win… Or I just lose… Or something profound.
    Ask me again when it’s not 4AM.
    twitter: @theliz13

  3. Thanks, Chuck. Can’t be effing writing if I’m riding around drinking with you now, can I?

    The sky’s been falling for billenia, and will for billenia more. We can look up and wait for it or tell great stories about OTHER people who look up and wait. Door #2 for me, I think.

    Gawd, will the sun ever freaking come up?

  4. As far as I can tell, publishing has always been in meltdown, it’s just that thanks to the internet we now all know about it, instead of a few gin-swilling editors and agents. It’s certainly harder to earn a living from writing novels than it was in the 20th century, but that’s about the only difference. And that was an abberation in itself. Before that, it was more like nowadays: a few bestsellers like Dickens made a living (and in Dickens’ case, wore himself literally to death, promoting his own work) and everyone else was an amateur.

    It all comes back to the difference between goals and aspirations. You can aspire to be published, hit the bestseller lists, get optioned for a movie, etc. – because a little daydreaming helps get you through the tough days – but your *goal* should be to write a damned good book and work at getting it to your chosen audience, whether that’s via an agent or self-publishing or whatever. That’s the only bit you control.

  5. “So you turn to me. Your drunken, pantsless Sherpa. Waiting at the top of Mount Penmonkey, stroking my beard seductively at you. *stroke stroke stroke* *comb comb comb*

    Okay, you don’t really turn to me so much as I kidnap you in a van and yell at you as we barrel toward the liquor store at increasingly troubling speeds, but whatever.”

    Haha laughed out loud, as usual! But I appreciate your final message, too. Publishing must have seemed like a totally impenetrable world 10 years ago; now it seems like only a semi-impenetrable world. The world of publishing may be in transition, but readers gotta read and writers gotta write. Thanks again for all the wonderful blog posts!

  6. *John Cleese voice*

    Stop that! Stop that right now!

    How are we supposed to write when we’re supposed to be running around like chickens with our heads cut off, hmm?

    *throws up hands*

    (thanks for the voice of reason. darned few of those these days… and it’s scary that you’re one of them!)


  7. “Amazon Schmamazon. It’s done no favors to the publishing industry (or the government, given their lack of paying sales tax), but it’s done a lot of favors for overall reading habits. They’re an imperfect juggernaut of a company.”

    Thanks for that. My sentiments exactly. I often fear the overall hysterical tenor I read coming from the bigger, more corporate side of things skews my responses to be a little too rah-rah about Amazon. The truth is, as usual, more complicated. I’m a staunch supporter of Amazon mainly because of what it’s enabled me to do (the nano-press I founded last year just signed its fourth author this weekend. We’ve managed nearly 30 titles since late December. Many are Amazon-exclusive to take advantage of marketing promotions, but several at least are available on Nook, as well). It’s certainly imperfect (for the reasons you mention and for myriad others besides), but at this point it feels less imperfect than many other options.

    Truth is, as you so often (rightly) note, there’s no perfect or even “right” way to do things right now. All we can do is our best.

    I will note I think I disagree a bit with your sentiment about not worrying about it, if I’m reading it correctly. I totally agree that the stories need to come first, but only that they come first. Now is a great time for authors to more actively involve themselves and participate to a far greater degree in how stories reach readers. I think that focusing solely on stories and words will cut authors right out of the bigger discussion about how both can reach readers.

    And I know, maybe I’m more proactive than a lot of other authors, but I’m for one sort of tired about the head-patting “You just write and let the big-boy table worry about all that messy money and business stuff” mentality that seems to pervade so much of the discussion. After investing so much time, effort, and energy in creating something entirely new from nothing at all, I don’t want to just hand that over to somebody else while keeping my nose to the screen and my fingers on the keys. You mention educating yourself and knowing your options, and that’s a great start, but I think it’s a great time for authors to use some education to create entirely new options nobody’s ever thought of before.

    I think the absolutely wrong thing to do is to concentrate solely on stories while people like literary agents, acquisitions editors, marketing directors, and publishing managers attempt to make all the decisions with regard to things like DRM and file format standards.

    • @Will —

      I’m not advocating against being proactive, or being savvy authors who know what to do with their stories or the business — I’m suggesting that *worry* is by itself useless. It gets you nothing but anxiety. It’s unproductive. And I’ve learned that the biggest thing an author can do is be productive. Above all else, you have to write. I see way too many pontificators in writing then I do people actually *writing* — and that, at its core, is our primary function. To tell stories. We need other modes and skills to back that up, but the key thing to remember is that it’s not the reverse — the more an author worries about creating new systems for himself, the less an author is actually writing stories that will benefit from new system.

      So, for me, the takeaway is focus on writing first, then do something with that writing. That might be something bold. That might be putting into the pre-existing system. I don’t know what’s best for any person’s book and I dare not say.

      And don’t automatically knock the “give it to someone else” factor. You’re doing exactly that with Exciting Press, yeah? You’re a publisher. Signing authors. Which has authors ceding some control to you. I like my publishers. I also like self-publishing. Both work well off one another for me.

      Point is, there’s a lot of options for writers and there will be new ones as the months and years go on.

      Douglas Adams said it best: “Don’t Panic.”

      That’s what I’m advocating.

      — c.

  8. Chuck. Thanks for reminding us that there has been and always will be ‘Chicken Little’ running through the barnyard of the literary world (and the world at large) yelling The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”

    It’s interesting that evolution always has a way of separating the week from the strong. When it’s time to change in order to propagate the species, the weak will die off, the strong will get stronger and that which needs to change to survive will change. Chaos is a great agent for change.

    For those of us that intend to reap the rewards of that change; sit back, dring whatever tea and keep do what we’re doin. When the dust settles and the victor’s emerge, we’ll have the goods to market without all the stress of the transition.

  9. Chuck, thanks for the level-headed perspective screamed at us with appropriately flaming hair, strained vocal chords and fast/furious humor. We need to hear more advice like this. It was great throughout, but I think the most key and essential sentence may have been this one: “The Internet is good for this: we get to see every moment as it happens and we have zero time to process it.” Ah, if only we were still able to process our information flow at a 19th-century pace. Think how many conclusions we wouldn’t be jumping to, how much calmer we’d remain, how cooler our heads would be.

  10. Damn well put. We should totally adopt “Keep Calm and Carry on” as the official Penmonkey mantra in the face of all current and possible future publishing doomsday scenarios.

    Or, even better. “Keep Calm and Beard the Fuck On!”.

    I’d pay good money for a “Keep Calm and BTFO” t-shirt. Just saying. Time to monetize up this beeyotch with some merchandise!

  11. *If libraries suck the pipe — well, that’s bad for a community and not good for books, but you, little Wordomancer, Inkslinger, Storyspinner, can’t do shit about that.*

    Um, yeah you can. You can vote, you can attend city council meetings, you can volunteer and advocate. Some of us who write AND work in libraries know this, Chuck. Some of us got some of YOU started in writing by providing those stories free of charge, so don’t be dissing one of the first sources of inspiration or I’ll have to shush your ass HARD.

    • Oh, lord, calm theyself, @Cincoflex.

      I’m not suggesting writers are completely disconnected from the library system — but I’m also not sure you’re ever going to find the entire library system saved by a bunch of writers.

      I’m also not sure how you get that I’m dissing libraries in this post.

      Yes, writers have a tiny bit of personal authority over the fates of publishers and libraries — you can buy books and shop at indie bookstores and frequent libraries, and you can sign and talk at those places, too. But being a writer and writing stories doesn’t fix the library system, it doesn’t fix epic budget cuts, it doesn’t fix backward library administration.

      And, to be clear, I worked for the library for a number of years. I know libraries have problems that go a lot deeper than what writers can fix.

      — c.

  12. Shit seems to hit the fan then slide cleanly off the blades so fast nowadays it’s impossible for me to keep up. By the time I’ve adjusted my Panic-o-meter to suit the general consensus I’m in the wrong mode – it’s much scarier when you’re in panic mode when everyone else is calm, and vice versa.

  13. Ah, I see now. Thanks for that clarification, Chuck. I’d anticipated I was misreading to some degree. I totally agree. It’s like that old song about sunscreen. “Realize that worrying is like chewing gum to solve algebra.” Or however it went. Vonnegut probably said it, too.

    And you’re partially right about Exciting Press, up until ceding control. We offer–so far as I know–industry-leading royalties, and we try to be more partner than publisher. Authors have full control over every aspect from design to promotions. They don’t have to do everything, but they get to approve it.

    I fully agree with you about the pontificating bit, too. I always worry about reading too much writing/publishing advice. I also always worry about contributing much to it.

    Anyway, thanks for the clarification, sir, and as always, thoughtful post. I always like how you disguise careful analysis with well-placed expletives.

  14. As long as the liquor store we’re barreling to has good bourbon and you’re buying. ;p

    I’ve pretty much been calm and concentrating on the writing. I just feel like at this point in my life I don’t have time to miss a beat and put energies into self-publishing when I should be seeking out an indie publisher or whatever. So that’s where my “panic” moments (note I said, “moments”) begin.

    I will disagree with you about libraries sucking the doom pipe. There is something we can do about that. We can use them (good number usage equals more monies often times). You can promote them. You can offer classes there to make them more viable (which helps get your name out there as a writer). You can join the “Friends of the Library” book and help make sure they stay viable. Because the library often is where a reader is going to be turned on to your stories. A friend comes along and says, “Dude, you have to read everything this dude Wendig wrote…” They don’t always agree with said friend, so they check out a book (or borrow an ebook, like my library does — see libraries are swinging with the times, too), and read Irregular Creatures. Next thing you know the new reader is googling “Pen Monkey” and is a complete convert and buys everything she can from this drunken, pantsless Sherpa. True, I can’t do more than the above for libraries, but I can do that.

    I also can share this post and tell the rest of my writing friends to take off the Ghillie suits and keep writing.

  15. I agree, we need to keep writing no matter what. What ticks me off, is that I don’t own my ebooks on Kindle. I know it’s in the fine print, but I paid money for the books, and did so to save money on the books I wanted. So if something happened where Amazon had to pull back those books, I will be pissing fire.

    On another note, I keep the boks, but they jack up the price. That’s when I shop around, I can’t see Amazon being the only frog in the pond. Maybe the biggest, but not the only one. A lot of books I read come from small publishers. And though I ave those books on Kindle, I think a lot of them are offered on other formats. So as a reader, this is where I’m concerned.

    As an author, I’m worried to a point, but not to the point of not writing. I’m writing my ass off so I can get published. And I’m not letting greedy fuck-tards take that away from me.

  16. Chuck, I’m a fan! Great post and the best advice possible for writers in these post-publishing-apocalypse times: just keep doing what you always do, which is write, because that’s what’s important in the long run.

    Good luck!

  17. Love it. Exactly what I’ve been saying. I shamelessly plagiarized ‘The Story of Chicken Little’ ‘cept I made it ‘The Story of Meejah Little’ to blog about
    the self same thing some months back. Breathe people – that’s all y’gotta do!

  18. I can never get too worked up about the state of publishing, because the husband manages the book department in his store. He continues to come home with nothing but, “Holy shit I sold a ton of X book,” or various news of people handing their hard-earned monies over to a corporation in return for sweet, sweet pulpy reading material.

    So, until he’s out of a job, I’m remain calm. 😀

    (Also: people steal books on a somewhat regular basis. I now know that is a thing. We have the Internet, and people still steal books. It’s nearly quaint.)

  19. Ah yes, it is always important to keep in mind that booze flows *towards* the writer.

    Good words Penmonkey! Guard that mountain top from the riff-raff stockpiling toilet paper and ammunition.

    Not only am I writing. I’m finishing. And that be the point.
    Carry on wayward simian!

  20. Thanks, Brah. I dig your chill way of addressing the issues, providing some info, and then telling all that mess to get bent so you (and we) can get down to what we’re supposed to be doing (creating stuff, and whatnot).

  21. “Calm down” is good advice in almost any situation. Except maybe certain intimate crescendos.

    On the other hand, that thing about endangered libraries…that’s actually something that ordinary tax-paying folks CAN do something about. Libraries are funded with city or county money, from your property taxes. If your library has a measure on your local ballot, read it. If they need funding, vote for it. And use your library. The better their circulation stats, the more argument they have that they’re serving the community and deserve the pittance they get from each individual pocket.

    Your property values (and civilization as a whole) will thank you.

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