Wrapping up the LMBPN Kerfuffle and the Nebulas

The Nebula Awards were announced yesterday [see http://file770.com/2018-nebula-awards/ for full coverage]. That brings to a close the minor kerfuffle around the 20booksto50K kerfuffle that I covered here.

As I said in that linked post, four works that were both Nebula finalists and on the 20booksto50K not-a-slate were from the publisher LMBPN which is associated with 200booksto50K (specifically it owns the trademark). Naturally I was curious to see what the reaction was to the results where from the key figures at 20booksto50K and there is a post on the Facebook group today from Craig Martelle. I won’t quote the whole thing, it’s mainly a post about how great 20booksto50K is (and it genuinely does appear to be a strong community of writers helping each other). However, there is a section on the Nebulas that I want to talk about:

“We are setting a new and nearly unreachable standard in author support – all authors, not just indies. The publishing processes that Michael Anderle has set up condense the publication timeline in such a way that books don’t sit around on someone’s desk for six months, waiting to earn money. This is the ebook market and one might as well earn for six months, re-roll and earn more. There is a great saying that we have in the Marine Corps: Amateurs talk tactics and professionals talk logistics. In here, we talk about the uncool logistics. You want input on your tactics (the quality of your story), then talk to those who are vested – your readers. Six indies nominated for Nebula awards last night and zero indie winners. What matters most is which stories resonate best with the readers and which ones will lead to new stories bringing more readers on board. Who is going to be the most professional of the authors? Out of our six finalists? Only one is not a full-time author and that is by choice.
I am not talking down about any winners or any other authors – being a full-time writer comes with great risk. It is not something to be encouraged lightly. Or discouraged. Working hard at the right things, with intentionality of purpose, and personal drive toward achievable goals. If you can’t motivate yourself to write when you’re supposed to be writing, then maybe a full-time author gig isn’t for you. It’s really freaking hard. Indies represented strong and proud last night. Professionals in every way.”


Sorry but that is a b*llocks bit of narrative. The idea that ONLY the authors on the 20booksto50K list are the only finalists that were “indies” is false. The claim that there were “zero indie winners” is best described as a lie. The winner of Short Story (“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, Phenderson Djèlí Clark from Fireside 2/18) has just as much, if not more, claim to be indie as any of the works published by LMBNP. All of the main story category winners have published independently at one time or another.

There were several attempts at the time to spin the 20booksto50K fuss as a struggle between indies and trad-pubbed authors. It was a tempting narrative for lazy thinkers but one that did not stand up to examination. There were finalists from the 20booksto50K who have had worked published by more traditional routes (Lawrence Shoen, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne) and finalists who weren’t from 20booksto50K who had published more independently. Overall it is a really bad way of categorising authors taxonomically and a deeply misleading way of characterising the conflict.

It’s really sad to see Craig Martelle still trying to spin what happend as an indie v trad-pub conflict. I was impressed by how other people involved learnt from what others were saying and moved forward positively (e.g. Jonathon Brazee) in a way that found common ground rather than trying to amplify conflict. It’s a shame Craig Martelle is sticking to a tired narrative.


17 responses to “Wrapping up the LMBPN Kerfuffle and the Nebulas”

  1. Also, The Tea Master and the Detective is from Subterranean, which is probably a bit bigger than LMBNP, but still in the same category i.e. not big pub.

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  2. He’s sticking to the tired narrative because he’s selling something — services to indie authors. So he’s got several things to push:

    1) That license publishers are slow, out of touch and a dead end and that print is a dead end or after thought. In actuality, print sales have grown, e-book sales have declined in growth, and a large number of indie authors are trying to do print/POD editions to get bigger audiences and get their print editions into bookstores and other retail vendors, at least in their home markets, as well as to get more reviews. Indie authors are entering the next stage, which is creating small presses out of their offerings and hiring or creating distributors for their wares.

    Of course the LMBPN group will do print services too, but their bread and butter — their service advantage — is putting out e-books and e-anthologies at a fast pace and selling marketing tactics for e-books. And as the license publishers develop boutique services for indie authors, nipping at Amazon’s model, LMBPN has to show that they are better at those services than big publishers which have infrastructure resources.

    2) That LMBPN is still really valuable for services even if their works didn’t win the Nebulas. And that’s true, most works don’t win the award and a nomination is valuable for getting name awareness by itself, even with the slate controversy. But that’s not enough to be reassuring — he has to imply that the Nebulas are rigged against indies, an idea borrowed from the Puppies, to explain the “failure” of his services. The fact that a large bulk of authors are now hybrids, who publish both indie fiction and license deals with publishers, he pretends doesn’t exist because that doesn’t help him push the idea that his company’s services are more valuable than other strategies, companies and options self-pub authors might take.

    3) Since a lot of this group’s work and LMBPN’s product to the group is self-help psychology more than practical logistics, he’s taken the psych manipulation of blaming the customer for any problems they may be having in publishing and with his services. You’re only really going to be successful and professional, he’s selling, if you are a “full-time” author — which is hard and only really high achievers who are committed manage it. So if you have problems, it’s just that you aren’t committed enough; it’s your fault. Those who are committed and use his services succeed. That’s a standard selling line for some instructional seminars.

    Of course, we have hundreds of authors who are bestsellers in sales and still can’t afford to do it full time. It’s a rare opportunity to go full time and usually involves having a spouse/partner who has large enough and regular income to pull it off, or a lot of grants/Patreon/family handouts sort of system. One of the reasons a number of successful authors didn’t come into writing till after 50 is that they didn’t try until they’d retired from their main job and/or their kids are grown and out of the house. So that’s really his most egregious selling point, but it’s a standard false manipulation.

    His promise is also that if you write a lot and he gets it out there quick and regular, you’ll sell a lot — that this is the only strategy that really works. And it can work, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a time-honored tradition in fiction in fact. But you can also do that without taking seminars and doing anthologies and buying services from this guy. So far, nothing LMBPN has been squawking seems to be particularly unique and valuable, while a number of the claims are just bull.

    And the reality is that some people cannot write and publish like that, and it’s not a moral failing or a lack of commitment and professionalism. It’s not the only way to do indie publishing. And if the only way you can do it is to hire a bunch of other people to churn it out for you (who then apparently sometimes just cut and paste plagiarize, including from other indie authors,) then while it isn’t wrong to play book packager that way (minus the plagiarizing,) it is a question of why you are bothering. It’s not to tell stories and connect with an audience. So if you just want to sell stuff, there are a lot of other things you can sell that take way less time and make way more money than fiction, than trying to get a bit of a money pool Amazon puts together for KDP out of its spare change. Or you could go full out book packager, a type of business that can be pretty profitable (which is what LMBPN is doing, sort of.)

    Selling marketing services/advice isn’t a scam. Putting out anthologies as a marketing tactic for authors is not a scam. But trying to sell indie authors that your way is the only way in an industry — that’s a scam. Often a legal one — and hey, Smashwords and Amazon did it first — but still it’s marketing hype over substance.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Martelle is not just retreading the tired old indie versus traditional rhetoric, he’s also trying to sell the 20Booksto50K system of putting out a “minimum viable product”, i.e. a quickly written and published and barely edited book, letting it earn money and then fixing it later, if necessary.

      The idea that only full time authors count and the implication that everybody else is a hobbyist and not worth bothering with is another old indie author chestnut. A lot of indie writers are obsessed with going full time and earning six figures. Everything under six figures is apparently not worth bothering with and they will tell you so, too. Of course, whether the author writes full time or not has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the story, but then it’s not about quality for these folks but about making money.

      And no, I have no idea why they don’t find something easier than writing to make money either. But then a lot of these money-oriented indie authors are veterans of other get rich quick schemes or questionable ways to make money without work. There are people who used to make money with these awful low quality content SEO-optimised websites that used to flood everybody’s search results approx. ten years ago before Google killed them. There a people who developed smartphone apps when that was a hot market. There are people who used to make money by flipping houses and coincidentally helped to cause the real estate bubble which caused the 2008 financial crash (thanks a lot, folks). There are people who used to be professional poker player, something I actually thought was a joke at first. These folks are obsessed with making money with comparatively little effort and they damage whatever field they enter. I really hope they find some other way to make money soon.

      Also, how on Earth does Martelle know that the other Nebula winners are not full time authors? I know that Mary Robinette Kowal’s other job is puppeteer, a job that’s not exactly known for high income and job security. As for the others, I have no idea if they’re full time or not and I don’t particularly care either.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Also Subterranean is not an indie nor owned by a larger company. They are a small press that has specialized since the 1990’s in SFFH anthologies, novellas and short novels, chapbooks for their main imprint, and then do collectors’ and limited, illustrated editions of various big selling books in nice bindings. They arrange those editions with the authors and their main publishers as a subsidiary rights deal. For a long time they had a prominent magazine as well. They are widely respected and frequently get award nominations for their stuff.

    Liked by 4 people

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