Tag: how to

A New Age Dawns, Part IV

And here we are, part four. I don’t know how long this series will continue–until I’ve said everything I want to say, I guess. I reckon this post is half to two-thirds of the way through. At any rate, I said last post that I would discuss our world’s culture. This is one of my favorite parts of world-building, developing cultures for the various races and nations that inhabit by universe. There are a couple of broad approaches to this step: one, to choose a culture from some point in Earth’s history and base your fictional culture around it; two, to build a completely fictional culture from scratch. Both have their own difficulties. For the first, you’ll obviously have to do a lot of research, and your fictional culture may not seem as original. The upside is that this can often give the cultures of your story world an extra level of realism, because they seem like things that really existed. It also saves you a lot of work when it comes to developing religions and government systems and the like. The other method uses a lot less research and can result in a much more unique and “alien” world. However, it’s a lot of work to create a fully-realized culture from scratch, and often you’ll end up borrowing bits and pieces of actual Earth culture anyway.

Which do I prefer? The first method, which you’ve probably already seen from the last post. We have a vast, rich history; why not draw on it? I love connecting my stories to historical and mythological civilizations and events. I feel that it gives them a heightened sense f realism and that sort of timeless quality we associate with good mythology. Also, basing fictional civilizations off of real ones can help your idea flow, give you suggestions for important historical events and such. One way to make your fictional culture seem more unique is to combine multiple cultures from Earth’s history. I’ve played around with this a little bit in a project I’m working on, creating a culture which, for example, is a mix of Feudal Japan and Medieval Ireland. Very different cultures, but both island nations with strong traditions of independence and bravery. This obviously won’t always work, but it’s something to consider when designing your world.


So, back to our world. I said previously that the gnomes were similar to the Ancient Egyptians, the fortress-dwelling humans had a civilization comparable to Western Europe in the Renaissance, and that the nomadic humans were like Touaregs, Bedouins, or Mongols. I’ll start with the humans.


So the humans on this world are descended from the crew of a crashed spaceship. The first thing we must ask is: where did this crew come from, and what nation did they serve? My thought is that this was a crew of independent researchers, which means they would likely have come from all sorts of places, and have a very mixed cultural background. Probably their initial government would have been an oligarchy of the ship’s officers, headed by a “king”–the captain. In a mysterious and hostile world, a strong central authority would likely have little trouble holding onto power. The people would need swift decision-making ability, and would thus be more likely to put decision making into the hands of one or a few leaders. So I don’t see a democracy rising. The captain and officers are not elected; the captain promotes the officers. So, it seems likely that they would continue with this system, of having the “king” appoint both his successor and his officials. From there it’s only a small step to living in fortresses. The humans would’ve probably built their first castle on the ruins of their crashed ship, building a fortress from knowledge they remembered from their history lessons. The population would then have expanded to the point where they needed to establish another fortress, and the necessity of trade between the two would give rise to the nomad class.


But I think we need to backtrack a little bit. What is it that caused the humans to regress technologically? They would probably have lost some technology over time, but not enough to send them to a Medieval level of existence. There must have been some event that caused this. It’s a harsh world; I’m thinking a combination of alien plagues and dangerous beasts killed off a large portion of the crew, probably a number of their most skilled and educated men and women. I’m going to change what I said before. The ship didn’t crash in a defensible location. It crashed in the middle of the desert. The survivors of the plagues and such were forced to leave their ship and its technology behind, or face certain death. They would’ve stopped and built their fortress as soon as they could, probably in the nearest mountains to wherever they crashed. Once they were established, they would probably have sent people to the ship, but by that time I reckon they’ve lost the knowledge to use a lot of the technology. They would’ve started with a writing system, and I doubt that would be forgotten. However, I think it’s safe to assume that none of the survivors knew how to build a printing press, and it would be awhile before one of those was re-invented. With their technology lost and no access to modern forms of communication, the epistemology of this culture would’ve gone to a Medieval level within a couple of generations. This means a totally different way of looking at the world…


Anyway, so the humans are descended from a multicultural group that lived in a fortress. They had captains which eventually morphed into kings. They set up another fortress and began trading with it, creating a new subculture, the nomads. There’s our basis. What sort of culture would develop from there? I reckon it–or at least, the fortress-dwelling half of the culture–would be one with a generally Medieval flavor, with many new traditions that have arisen on this world and were either unknown or obscure in Earth’s history. I doubt it would have a strong resemblance to any particular Earth culture, however. The nomads, on the other hand, would probably seem initially more similar to Bedouins and such of Earth. They live in a desert, so they’d naturally adopt the dark-colored robes worn by such peoples (for protection from sun, sand, and wind). Living in tents would be a necessity; but these people have giant beetles to ride around on, so perhaps they build their tents more like palanquins atop the beetles’ backs and rarely set them up on the ground. I could see them in that case creating tall, thin, yurt-like structures which would be designed to be lived in even while being transported.


Of course,  now I could spend quite awhile coming up with different cultural traditions, but that’s more fine-detail stuff. Right now I’m concerned with laying down the bones, the framework. For now, I think it would be best to move on to the gnomes, who I shall talk about in my next post.


~ Jared


A New Age Dawns, Part III

Okay, so in the last installment, I talked a bit about life forms. At the end I said I would discuss overall world technological level in this next post, so I guess that’s what I’d better do.

All right! The world so far isn’t exactly suggesting a particular level of technological advancement–the only thing that suggests a particular level is the fortresses inhabited by some of the humans dwelling on the surface. However, these fortresses could be as primitive as cave systems burrowed into mountainsides, or something as sophisticated as NORAD (which, incidentally, is also a cave system burrowed into a mountainside). My initial vision of these fortresses was that they were more like Medieval castles. Huge, labyrinthine stone structures built on easily defensible areas, like mountains and hilltops. That still doesn’t necessarily suggest anything, because they could be very old castles, which the modern people are still living in out of convenience. I do know, however, that this is going to be a sci-fi/fantasy. That in itself suggests something.

Here’s the idea that just sprang into my mind: the humans, on the surface of the world, are not native to the world. They’re the remnants of a spaceship crew, a crew of interstellar explorers. They still have a goodly amount of the technology from the spaceship, but they don’t understand it anymore. They’re able to replicate some of it, but they don’t comprehend the principles it works on. To them, it’s very much like magic. But a magic that is not understood is dangerous, so I imagine there are only a few people trained and trusted enough to operate this misunderstood technology. These elite people would be the wizards, the sorcerers, the mages. Through long study, they learn to operate and recreate the ancient machines, but they don’t really understand how the machines work. It’s like when you get so used to the routine of doing something that you cease to have a conscious understanding of what you’re actually doing.

So the fortress-dwelling humans have some pretty advanced technology, but it isn’t widespread. Their technological level aside from that is, I’m thinking, about equivalent to 17th century Earth. Fortresses have printing presses, but there still aren’t many books; people have guns, but still fight with swords and plate armor; more advanced machinery and vehicles are beginning to be invented, but have not come far. This level of technology implies a certain organizational structure–absolute monarchy, supported by a strong official church. I’m thinking each fortress is essentially its own kingdom, and maybe there’s whole networks of fortresses who have banded together and elected a high king, for mutual protection. Then there could be an overarching church, or possibly a few different churches. These may follow religions which are twisted versions of ones we know here on earth… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now, what about the nomadic humans? I doubt these people have the “wizards” of the fortress dwellers. A nomadic lifestyle just isn’t conducive to that sort of thing, too much machinery and too many books involved. However, they probably have all the best weapons, since people look up to them for their bravery in traversing the wastelands. I doubt it would be difficult for them to bargain for quality weaponry. Now, how do they travel? I imagine they might sometimes buy powerful, advanced vehicles from the “wizards” of the fortresses, but for the most part, they’d use animals. Some sort of animal native to the world, I’m thinking… insect life seems to dominate the surface, so giant beetles. So these guys ride beetles, are bristling with weapons, and occasionally have more advanced technology, which is so advanced it seems like magic to them. But other than that, I doubt their level of tech is much different then our Bedouins and Touaregs and such here on Earth. They probably live in tents, or maybe yurts, like the Mongols.

Now we must consider the gnomes. Humans who lived fully underground might need a certain level of technology to maintain their existence. However, gnomes are adapted to the underground. It’s their home territory. The gnomes, living a life sheltered from the elements, able to feed themselves from the abundant fungi and to quench their thirst with vast underground lakes, are probably a lot “softer” than humans. I doubt their tech is as advanced…. I’m seeing a general technological level in line with that of the ancient Egyptians, except obviously a lot less advanced when it comes to building structures–gnomes have their structures pre-built, in the form of caves. Well, somehow, they’ve been able to prevent humans from coming and living underground. Aside from indicating that they have a general isolationist policy and a strong central government–although it could be simply a number of tribes with strong traditions–this implies that they have some sort of power capable of resisting human technology.

My first thought is to make this power some sort of magical ability. But the question is, is this ability a “racial ability” of the gnomes, or a more general thing that is inherent to the world, like the Force? The former would lean the world more towards sci-fi, while the latter would lean it towards fantasy. But I just had a thought. What if it’s both? Here’s how I’m thinking it would work: the gnomes have some sort of special organ, or perhaps a gland in their brain, that allows them to respond to signals sent out by the sentient crystal creatures. The sentient crystals are the source of “magical” power in the world. A gnome who taps into the energy field they project  can work “spells” of potentially vast power. Perhaps there are a lot of creatures on this world who can tap into the energy field from the crystals. Humans, since they aren’t native, wouldn’t even know the crystals have this power, much less be able to tap into it. But I can already see a plotline where a mad human tries to graft gnome organs into an unsuspecting kid, thus granting him vast power no human has ever had…

So, humans in general have Renaissance level tech, with a sprinkling of much more advanced technologies which they don’t understand and therefore consider magic; the gnomes have a much lower level of tech, but can access a semi-mystical “power field” to make up for it. I like that, so I’ll go with it. I think I’ll start considering culture in the next post.

I hope this is useful to people! I’m definitely enjoying it.

~ Jared

A New Age Dawns, Part II

‘ello! Time for another post. So when we left off last time, I’d just drawn a map of the world, and decided basically what it looks like. It’s time now to discuss what sort of life forms inhabit the world. I usually have a basic idea of what the world’s life will be like when it first pops into my head–in this case, that idea was “gnomes.” From this idea, you can begin extrapolating what the rest of the world’s life is like.

However, what if you make up some continents and geography, but have no idea what lives on the world? The first step there is to determine what the intelligent life forms are. This is basically personal preference. You can  make them whatever you want. However, it’s good to have at least one species of intelligent life in your world which is relatively easy for humans to relate to–anthropomorphic mammals or some sort of humanoid race, for example. Then you might think of your world’s geography, and try to get a sense for what sort of people might fit into it. If you have a world with a lot of crags and mountains and such, why not a race of winged people? Or in a very cold world, what about people with fur? In my world’s case, the most readily inhabitable area is the Underground, so it makes sense for one of the main intelligent races to be Gnomes. Gnomes are really short, after all, which means they should be ideally suited for a life amidst the cramped confines of a tunnel network. It might also make sense to have a race of intelligent mole type creatures, or perhaps some sort of insectoid race. I’m just sticking with gnomes for now.

But what about the surface? I’ve been toying with the idea of populating the surface with nomadic humans. Think sci-fi Bedouins. Now, I know the surface isn’t all desert; I described it as “wasteland.” (and if I really didn’t, strike that from your memories. :P ) Humans can adapt to all sorts of terrain and climates, so it makes sense for them to be the dominant race up there. If it’s really that harsh, then I suppose there’s two options for them: live in massive, cramped fortress-cities, or keep wandering so as to stay ahead of any trouble. This sort of thing is really a matter of personal preference, but I think it’ll make for a more interesting world, with more conflict, if there’s two groups of humans: one group that lives in fortresses, and one group that travels. I think the traveling group will be the connection between the fortress dwellers and the gnomes.

Now, historically, nomadic folks–gypsies, for example–have been little trusted. But I’m going to go a different route here. The fortress dwellers think the travelers are really brave for traversing the wasteland, and look on them as heroic figures. Some of them pretty much depend on the travelers for food and such, so they don’t want to do anything to aggravate their suppliers. The travelers, on the other hand, view the fortress dwellers as soft and cowardly, but generally keep this to themselves because they, too, need the goods the fortress dwellers create. Meanwhile, the gnomes jealously guard the Underground, refusing to allow humans to escape there.

…but we’re starting to get a little side-tracked. That stuff I’ll spend a lot more time on later, when I talk about creating cultures. This here is just deciding the basic life forms of the world, so I guess I should move on to animals. There are clearly two distinct ecologies at work here, the Underground and the surface. That’s probably the first step when deciding flora and fauna for your world: figure out how many different ecological areas there are, and their locations. Of course, geography will be huge in this step. (see why I figure that out first?) An alternate first step might be to ask yourself this question: what is the dominant sort of flora or fauna on this world? Reptiles? Birds? Conifers? To some extent, this will be decided by the geography and climate of your world, but a goodly part of it will also be determined by what sort of feeling you want the world to have. A world dominated by insects and fungi will feel a lot more alien then a world dominated by mammals.

Now here’s what I’m thinking. The surface, being a harsh wasteland, is going to need animals that can withstand that sort of thing. Insects with tough exoskeletons seem to be a good choice, and they’d also fit with the barren, alien feel I want the surface of the world to have. So lots of huge insects and arachnids… giant sand scorpions… mantids the size of lions… butterfly-ish creatures the size of jumbo jets. I’m thinking those won’t be fliers so much as gliders, riding the desert winds to wherever they’re taken. The underground, on the other hand, is a lot safer, a lot softer, a lot less dangerous. Probably the underground creatures are much smaller; they’re also likely mammals as opposed to reptiles, because they’d need some way to regulate their body heat without the sun. A lot of these are probably adapted to digging, though if there are really some big caverns, I’m sure there’s creatures that never leave them. Here I’m thinking of going with more primeval, Ice Age type creatures… probably some giant bats and digging apes… and a whole lot of fungi. Not many plants in the underground, of course. Now, what about some sentient crystals? I sort of like this idea… some sort of crystalline creatures… it might be that these go to the surface, as well, and sort of tie the two ecologies together. Might be something mysterious about them, also. Silicon-based life forms can be rather interesting.

So now the world is a little bit more defined. There’s basic geography; basic flora and fauna; basic intelligent races. The next thing to figure out is the overall technology level of the populace, but I’ll save that for the next article.

Peace out!

~ Jared

A New Age Dawns, Part I

Well, I forgot 3-D design class was canceled this morning and got up early even though I didn’t have to. So I suppose there’s nothing for it but to write a blog post. Huzzah for unexpected free time!

Anyway, after reading Rich Burlew’s excellent series of articles about designing a D&D campaign setting (which can be found here: http://www.giantitp.com/Gaming.html; it’s the “New World” series), I felt inspired to write about my own world building techniques and theories. Now, I’ve been building worlds since I was knee-high to a fairy dragon. World building is what got me interested in writing stories, in the first place. I had all these worlds I’d made up; I needed stories to put in them, didn’t I? I’ve drifted away from world building a little in my current works, but it’s still an integral process to any fantasy story, be it novel, game, or movie–and it’s quite fun, as well!

A bit of history: So the very first world I built didn’t start out as a world; it started as an island. I’ve always been fascinated with dinosaurs, and after seeing an ad in the newspaper for that old Dinotopia TV show, I was inspired to create my own Dinotopia. I hadn’t read the original books or seen the show, but the idea appealed to me so much that I spent months building my own world of dinosaurs and humans. By the time the original island had grown to the size of a continent, I decided it needed its own world. I made up several more continents and tossed them all together, started coming up with an overarching history for the place… of course, the Dinotopia continent (the name of which became Dunor), was still the center of the world. That world went through so many permutations… in its current incarnation, it has been combined with another world of mine, Shadowglade, and the overall world is called Stella Aetherium.

Anyway, that’s a pretty haphazard way to build a world. I’ve learned a thing or two about the process since then, and while I’m definitely not the most talented or creative world builder around, I thought I’d share some of my experience. So there’s any number of starting points for a world. Maybe you need someplace to set your new story idea that features martial arts master gnome and a gentleman dragon; maybe you wanted to explore your obscure theories about the development of ancient democracies in a fictional setting. I shall assume, for the purposes of these articles, that we are creating a world simply because we want to, without the intention of setting a particular story there or really doing  much of anything with it (though I may discuss integrating stories into the world in a later post).

The first thing to figure out is what kind of world you’re working with, or what genre it is. Is it a steampunk world? A far-future version of earth? An alien planet? A high fantasy world filled with elves and dwarves and dark lords? Each of those will determine various and sundry things about the world; of course there’s many other sorts of worlds, nearly infinite permutations. I think I’ll build a world from the ground up in these articles, for the purposes of demonstration. So let’s see… hm… my initial thought is to make this a fantasy/sci-fi blend world, featuring gnomes, a beautiful, vast, and intricate underground, and an extremely hostile surface. This is the first thing that jumped into my head after a minute or so of thought, so I’ll just run with it. I think it’s good not to spend too much time on the initial concept. If you were making a world to put stories in, or for a campaign setting in an RPG, or some other more serious purpose, then you’d probably want to come up with several ideas, write them down, and pick two or three that you like best–I’ve found that combining two or more base concept ideas often makes for a more vibrant world. Variety is good!

Okay, so the next step is geography and the general universe around the world. I think a bloated, ancient, scarlet sun would be appropriate for this place. There’s five other planets in its solar system, all gas giants, one of which is fairly large in the night sky. The planet has four moons, but only one of them is very large. Now, the world has a hostile surface… I’m thinking a lot of desert, but cold desert. A good deal of craggy stones. Vast, rocky basins which were once lakes and seas. Perhaps some poisonous oceans? I like that idea, so I’ll stick with it. Maybe all the water found on the surface is poisonous, and the only thing safe to drink is the springs that bubble up from underground. I’m going to say that there are four continents in the world: a small, icy one at the north pole, a much bigger one south of that, and two smaller continents, sort of circling each other, in the east. I think there will also be a whole lot of floating islands, which obviously won’t have any water safe to drink on them, but are rich in certain other resources. At this point, I find it useful to draw a basic map. It really helps to get the structure of the world cemented in your mind, and can lead to a lot of geographical information that would’ve been much harder to come up with without it. So, let’s do that…

And there you have the most basic map of the world. Now for the underground. I won’t bother drawing a map for that at this point, because it’d be way too complicated, what with all the tunnels and caverns. The underground is going to be really different from the surface. It’s vibrant. It’s alive. It’s magical. I’m seeing someplace with a lot of glowing fungi and crystal formations. Maybe something a bit like Journey To the Center of the Earth, with huge open caverns that have lakes and oceans, animals, some sort of light source. The underground seems like the place where the fantasy side of this sci-fi/fantasy blend world is going to come in.

I think that’s enough for this first article. We’ve got the world defined in broad strokes; now it’s going to be time to start determining what sort of life lives on it. Gnomes, of course, but who knows what else might be there? Now, remember, it’s best not to think too hard in this stage. Just brainstorm, write down whatever ideas come to mind, start assembling the basic framework of the world. At this point, it doesn’t have much flavor, but there are definitely some suggestions of heart and life.

Anyway, I hope this will be helpful for some people, or at least interesting. Until next time!

~ Jared

The Poor Man’s Approach to Publishing

Well, it has been quite awhile since my last post, hasn’t it? My only excuse is that school has kept me busy. But, I’m on Christmas break now, and I shall try to keep up with this better. For my reopening, I shall post the monster paper I wrote for English Comp this semester. I think my writerly friends will find it interesting. The title doesn’t quite fit anymore, but hopefully it doesn’t meander too much. Without further ado….

The Poor Man’s Approach to Publishing

Jared Schmitz


This paper explores the problems with the current publishing market and potential solutions for dealing with them. Chapter one defines the problem and gives an introduction to the two main types of publishing. The next chapter examines the consequences of these problems and introduces the idea that problems in the publishing market affect much more than just the market itself. Chapter three presents several solutions to these problems, going over such things as P.O.D. presses and query letters. Chapter four studies the feasibility of the solutions presented in the previous chapter, stating which options a potential author will likely find the most useful. The final chapter steps away from the individual author’s standpoint and looks to the future, speculating on the results of various changes in the publishing market. Overall, the discussion contains an overview of the publishing world and how an author can handle it.

Chapter I

A Sea of Presses

“The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.” Russell Baker

The modern publishing market is huge and labyrinthine. So many stories circle the world, created by millions of authors and thousands of publishers. Getting one’s own work published, even achieving a modicum of success, seems easy at first glance, especially as a writer producing high quality fiction with deep meaning. But the market does not work that way. Low quality, mass market books of little literary value flood the shelves. Publishers don’t want to consider an unknown writer who doesn’t have an agent. Agents don’t want to consider authors who haven’t published novels. One can simply browse through Writer’s Market, a listing of publishers and agents, to see the truth of this statement. Breaking into the market and becoming a successful author of fiction is, in actuality, very difficult. Hostility towards newcomers runs rampant in the modern fiction publishing market, and for unknowns who want to achieve successful careers as novelists, this problem often becomes insurmountable.

Granted, there must be standards. Publishers cannot simply accept every manuscript that comes their way. Literally thousands of poorly written dishrags of books circle the P.O.D. and self-publishing market. If publishers accepted everything sent to them, the market would fall into an even worse state than it already stands in. Standards would drop even lower. Publishers and authors would lose respect in the eyes of readers. Nevertheless, the general reaction to the possibility of bad literature entering the market has, in fact, kept an unknown amount of good literature from publication. Publishers, taking such extreme measures to keep poorly written books out of circulation, often let potentially exciting offerings from unknown authors slip through the cracks.

One can think of the publishing world as a castle, standing guard over a dragon’s hoard of treasure. The authors make the peasants, some of whom have enough luck to be hired into the castle’s staff. A few of them even become treasurers for the local lord, and gain access to the dragon’s hoard. But the rest? They languish in the village. Without finding a chink in the castle’s defenses, they will likely never see its marble halls.

The “castle” has two  entrances. It has two main paths for a prospective author to take towards publishing a novel, two chief categories of book publishers. “Traditional” and “nontraditional” publishers form the primary groups of publishing houses. In traditional publishing, the generally accepted and “old-fashioned” model, an author sends a manuscript or query letter to a publishing house, which then reviews the submitted materials and decides if it should publish them. If the publishing house decides in favor of the manuscript, it will pay the author an advance, edit and format the book, create the cover art, and market and distribute the book (James-Enger, par. 2-3). Traditional publishing houses have many resources, and much to offer an author. However, manifold problems exist for an author using this method. It takes a very long time, the author has little control over the process, and most traditional publishing companies won’t consider un-agented submissions (Fawcett). Also, a number of “gatekeepers” involve themselves in this method, the basic submission guidelines of the publishing house being the most obvious of them. If a manuscript does not meet the guidelines, the publishing house will discard it without a second look. Even if they accept the manuscript, it must still get past layers of editors.

Agents, another important aspect of the traditional publishing process, make another form of “gatekeeper.” Like diplomats of the publishing industry, they work as go-betweens who use their contacts and influence to get an author’s work noticed and hopefully accepted by a publisher (Agent Query.com). They can assist an author greatly, and in fact, most large publishing companies won’t even consider manuscript submissions that don’t come from an agent. Capturing an agent presents an author with many of the same difficulties as capturing a publisher. Quite a few agents won’t accept submissions from authors who don’t have published books. All of them will need a cut of the profits. Agents share information with each other, which one must also consider. If an author happens to offend an agent, or show himself to be hard to work with, other agents will find out, and they can make things even harder. Getting and keeping an agent presents a very tricky problem for unknown authors without much money to spare.

And then an author must consider nontraditional publishing–i.e., self-publishing. Once scorned, even considered an “axe” to an author’s career, self-publishing has become more popular and accessible in recent days. Self-publishing, and achieving success with it, still presents a difficult problem. On the one hand, self-publishing would seem like an easier route to take than traditional publishing. After all, the author doesn’t need anyone to accept his manuscript (James-Enger, par. 7). With a little time and effort, he can get his book out into the world without having to deal with agents or editors or slush piles. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Self-publishing often causes an author more difficulties than traditional publishing. From an author’s viewpoint, expense constitutes one of its chief problems. The author must pay large sums–in the thousands of dollars, with some vanity publishers–to publish a book. For example, AuthorHouse, a self-publishing company, charges almost six-hundred dollars for a basic publishing package (Authorhouse.com). The author will receive no help with editing, cover art, or marketing unless he pays someone else to do it. Without plenty of funds or an extensive set of skills, the author will have a very hard time making any progress with self-publishing.

Expense and lack of support don’t make up the only problems an author who attempts self-publishing will face. Marketing, for example, often proves itself as one of the biggest obstacles to becoming a successful, self-published author. The author will have to do all the marketing on his own when he self-publishes a novel. Marketing a novel well enough to make money off of it is not easy. Without the right tools, resources, knowledge, and connections, it becomes well-nigh impossible. And this says nothing of distribution. Even if an author has strong marketing skills, most bookstores and libraries won’t stock self-published books. Quite often, Internet venues like a personal website or Amazon.com (James-Enger, par. 10) provide one’s only option for distributing self-published books… and even so, there is still more.

Self-publishing also has something of a bad reputation. Imagine a knife store that gets its inventory from a collection of random people who may or may not know the first thing about metalworking–and proudly advertises it. The store would fail within a month. Few people would voluntarily make purchases from it, and likewise, most bookstores would rather stock books from well known, reputable publishers than self-published books from unknown authors.

Bleak prospects line the walls for unknown authors. Many writers look at the obstacles arrayed against them, those towering castle walls, and give up with hardly a fight. But great numbers of people have become successful, published authors, and even the poorest, most unknown person can certainly do it again. Publishing simply requires time, effort, dedication, and sometimes a steady source of funds. Later sections of this paper will explore options for the prospective author. It will also go into more depth on the consequences of the difficulties with modern publishing, for both the individual and the book industry as a whole.

Chapter II

Pan-Cultural Chaos, Or a Prayer for Open-Minded Editors

In the previous chapter, this paper discussed the problems with the publishing market; it also discussed the difficulties a prospective author must face in his quest to become a successful novelist. The consequences of these problems and difficulties are several, and as a thousand tiny germs can sicken a strong man, they affect much more than simply the book industry or the individual author. The consequences stretch across society. It’s relatively easy to point out the consequences for the individual author. The large scale consequences are both much harder to spot and less widely recognized. A few problems exist, but one of the largest results of the difficulty with getting published in the modern market also forms one of the most insidious: a stagnation of modern literature. The lord of the castle, in refusing to give full consideration to all those who approach his doors, keeps himself in ignorance of the fascinating ideas they might bring him.

From the individual standpoint, as a lone man or woman staying up ‘til all hours of the night writing some hopefully inspired piece of fiction, the consequences make themselves clear enough. Almost every author will have a very hard time getting his book published. Often, it won’t get published at all. Even the most famous, bestselling authors of the present day received numerous rejections. J.K. Rowling tried to get Harry Potter published twelve times before someone accepted the manuscript (“The JK Rowling Story” par. 40). One author says “I received something like 50-100 rejection letters, some of which now make me laugh” (Schwabauer). An author can write stories for his entire life and, due to the way the publishing market works, never see his books in print.

This problem leads into another, perhaps more dangerous, problem. For many authors, the difficulty of getting published in the modern market causes much discouragement. Some authors don’t mind the difficulty–they aren’t writing for publication, just for their own enjoyment. It doesn’t bother them if no one ever reads their work, because they don’t mean for others to read it. But many, perhaps most, authors genuinely hope to make a living from their writing. The discouragement that results from the struggles to achieve that dream can seriously reduce an author’s inspiration, confidence, and willingness to write. This makes it much harder for him to write new stories, which of course makes it even less likely for him to get published.

All that said, some good has resulted from these difficulties. According to one author,

Discouragement made me see that I had to either write what everybody else thought I should write and increase my chances of acceptance, or give up on writing, or write what I felt passionate about with little regard for the market…You could say that the discouragement and resistance helped me to take a realistic look at who I was and why I wanted to write (Schwabauer).

Serious literary authors must master their craft,  hone their skills to a level of deadly sharpness. At the least, they must become knowledgeable in all the other areas necessary for publishing. One can look at the difficulties, not as a hindrance, but as a powerful learning experience.

Still, equally clear consequences show themselves in the book industry itself. A lack of new, talented authors in the industry, of people bringing fresh vision and ideas, forms one of the biggest consequences. Very unusual or potentially controversial stories will rarely attract publishers, because of the potential risks involved with putting them in print. Most publishers only want to publish books they think they can sell. If the publisher doesn’t feel as if it can sell a book, then the book won’t get published, no matter how brilliant the author or story. This, though it does prevent some poor writing from getting into the market, also keeps many potentially very interesting authors from publication.

This unwillingness to take a risk branches into other problems. A further negative consequence exists for the book industry, which comes in the definition of “what will sell.” Quite often, the books that sell have little literary value. They offer nothing to the reader but cheap thrills and ideas that have been done too many times to retain any freshness or interest. Mass market books, little more than dressed-up clones of what has gone before them, invade the book industry. This causes the definition of “what will sell” to become even narrower, which builds on itself in a cumulative effect. As time passes, publishers accept fewer and fewer varieties of stories, which causes fewer and fewer to be acceptable. The trap in this situation shows itself clearly. The definition of “what will sell” continues to shrink. This definition would broaden and the circle would break, if publishers became more willing to put out unusual stories. People would have more options to choose from.

The narrowing of the definition of “what will sell” in the book industry translates into a much wider consequence for society as a whole: a stagnation of literature in the modern world. With the exception of a few standouts, the last decade has not seen many new books written with any real literary value. Myths, legends, and stories make up the hearts of all cultures. Stories change the way people think. They affect one’s most deeply ingrained ideas. If literature is stagnating, drowning in mindless repetition of what’s gone before as it seems to be, then will society not stagnate as well? Will the heart of culture not be lost, corrupted, made shallow and empty?

Chapter III

How To Succeed (or Not)

Dealing with the publishing market presents many difficulties, but with perseverance and hard work, the prospective author can achieve success. A discussion of different methods, as well as the pros and cons of these methods, follows.

A few common methods exist to go about getting published traditionally. On the simplest level, an author can  query as many publishers and agents as possible, ignoring any strictures on simultaneous submissions (which many publishing houses have). As one author says,

One [rejection letter came] from a publisher who said they would not consider simultaneous submissions, but were inconsiderate enough to sit on my novel submission for over a year without returning even a form rejection in the SASE I provided. When they finally replied to my query, their letter said, in essence, “What? You sent us a novel? We must have lost it.” That was the last time I respected a ‘no simultaneous submissions’ policy (Schwabauer).

Unfortunately, this method often will not prove effective–especially if an author’s query letters don’t match up to the rather high standard. An author should invest a great deal of time into writing good query letters, as they make up a very important aspect of the traditional publishing process. It would go beyond the scope of this paper to discuss methods for writing successful queries, but books and the Internet hold a plethora of resources on the subject.

There is more to the querying dynamic than quality of writing or inattentive submissions editors. The changing market constitutes another reason for the frequent failure of the mass querying strategy. Publishing companies make attempts to predict the market, of course, but no one can truly say what consumers will want to purchase tomorrow. So, a prospective author should always keep himself aware of the current fiction market, what’s hot, what isn’t, what the publishers want to see. To this end, an author should obtain a copy of Writer’s Market, a book which contains a listing of publishers and agents, their submission guidelines, and the sorts of books that they currently publish. An author can “chase the market” and write only what publishers want, in an effort to gain acceptance. If vampire stories are hot, then write vampire stories. However, this method doesn’t always prove effective. In the current, highly unpredictable market, keeping track of publishing trends can stymy an author.

Also, “chasing the market” often requires an author to give up what he most wants to write, in exchange for something of transient popularity. For example, Amish fiction or “bonnet novels” have become quite popular in recent times (MacGregor, par. 11). Not many authors dream of writing bonnet novels, and how long will this trend really last? An author should write what he feels passionate about, because passion will never go out of style. In one author’s words,

If you are writing in a hot genre, you may find that you can get by with half-baked plots, characters and ideas. That is, you can make a living selling vampire stories when vampire stories are hot. Or Amish stories when Amish stories are hot. Or, what the heck, Amish Vampire stories when that market comes into its own. But why write stories you have no passion for? What’s the point? (Schwabauer).

Regardless, if an author only cares about getting published, “chasing the market” deserves consideration as a strategy.

Next, an author must consider which publishing house to query, which would provide the most effective method for publishing, which he would most like to work with. One of the Big Five? A large house outside of that powerful group? A small, little-known press? This choice will have a large effect on whether or not an author’s manuscript becomes published, on how much money he makes from the publication of his novels, and on how much work he will have to put into promoting his book after publication. Many authors pursue publishing contracts with the “Big Five.” The Big Five make up the largest portion of the traditional publishing industry: Scholastic, Random House, Penguin, Bantam, etc. Their numbers and exact constituents fluctuate, because they often buy and sell parts of each other (Allen, sec. 34 par. 1). They can make or break an author. Most authors only dream of getting published by them. One must typically achieve significant success in smaller, more mundane publishing endeavors to be considered by the Big Five. In addition, even if an author is lucky enough to have his manuscript accepted by one of the Big Five, it likely will not last long, as they usually keep a book in print for only six months.  They also won’t publish authors who don’t have agents. Still, they can bring nearly instant success, recognition, and popularity, and many authors chase after their contracts.

Pursuing either a small press or a large house outside the Big Five constitutes a potentially more effective option. Small presses, such as Zumaya Publications, Elixirist, and Flying Pen Press (Writer’s Market), typically offer the easiest prospects for getting published, but also offer small payment. Some authors prefer them because they keep books in print for many years and sometimes put a more significant effort into promoting them than larger houses–as they have fewer books to sell, they must make larger efforts to profit from what they have (Allen, sec. 33 par. 3). On the other hand, many small presses prefer to have the author himself heavily involved in the promotion process, and don’t offer much assistance with marketing (Barnard, par. 10). A prospective author should also keep in mind that small publishing houses have higher failure rates than large ones. For this reason, among others, many authors prefer to seek out the “large presses.” These publishing houses have considerably more weight to throw around than the small presses, as well as higher payouts and bigger sales. They tend to last longer. Though they lack the size and influence of the Big Five, landing a contract with them will certainly be less of a challenge, and they will probably bring an author more recognition than a small press. The prospective author must ultimately decide which sort of publisher to use based on the kind of book he has, and the sort of dreams he has for it.

As far as dealing with agents goes, an author must move with caution. Every author who follows the traditional publishing route must decide whether or not to hire an agent. A difficult and time consuming process, this involves many of the same methods as going straight to a publisher. The author sends his query letter or manuscript to the agent, who reviews it and determines whether or not to read further. If he likes the manuscript,  he’ll then follow much the same process as the author, and attempt to land a contract with a publishing house. Agents usually have an easier time of this than authors, but one can’t be certain that his manuscript will even get looked at. Many agencies have a bad reputation for leaving query letters sitting in their inboxes indefinitely without looking at them or replying to the author. As with publishing companies, writing only what’s hot when querying agents can make a workable plan. Of course, whatever an author writes must seize the reader’s attention, even among its specific genre. If his story has nothing interesting to offer, it won’t much matter if it’s part of an extremely popular genre.

So, the author had best ensure that he’s writing a good, unique story. This may seem like a much-too-obvious solution, but the further development of writing skills certainly won’t harm one’s publishing efforts. Some ways to do this include joining a writer’s group and getting critiques from peers, attending workshops and conferences to learn tips and tricks of the trade, and of course, writing as much as possible. Writers who attend conferences also have a good (or at least, much better) chance of meeting editors and agents, who can at the least provide feedback on the marketability of the author’s work. Regularly attending writer’s conferences can provide a good method for building up contacts in the publishing world.

But not all authors want to follow the traditional publishing route. Many of them prefer to self-publish. Self-publishing has become much easier in recent days, and it seems that the future of books may find itself in self-publishing (Grossman). Self-publishing can even lead to a contract with a traditional publisher. If an author achieves success with a self-published book, a publisher may offer to buy the sequel. As Daniel Saurez, a self-published author quoted in the article “Books Unbound,” states, “I really see a future in doing that, where agencies would monitor the performance of self-published books, in a sort of Darwinian selection process, and see what bubbles to the surface. I think of it as crowd-sourcing the manuscript submission process (par. 15).” Of course, one must first achieve that kind of success on one’s own. First, the author must consider what sort of books he wants to write. Not everything is well-suited for self-publishing. One small press editor says that, in general, an author should only self-publish if he’s writing a short story anthology, a book of poems, non-fiction for a niche market (such as a handbook for identifying UFOs or a local history book), and other such things (Allen, sec. 4 par. 5). Essentially, self-publishing tends to cater more to “niche markets.”

All that isn’t to say that self-publishing a novel won’t work. Christopher Paolini, author of the extremely successful Inheritance series, started as a self-published author (Grossman, par. 14). Another self-published author, Lisa Genova, attempted traditional publishing many times over, but no one wanted her novel, Still Alice. She finally gave in, paid a few hundred dollars to a self-publishing company, and published Still Alice herself. A year or so later, it had reached the New York Times best-seller list (Grossman, par. 2). So, having decided to attempt to self-publish a novel, the author must then decide which self-publishing method to use. Publishing through Amazon makes for an extremely easy time getting one’s book onto the market. Within a few minutes, an author can have his book listed in Amazon’s Kindle store, with the option to print copies as people order them, all for no charge (Amazon.com). Easy? Yes. But marketing that book, actually selling it once it’s available, poses a potentially very great challenge.

Those don’t make up the only options for self-publishing. For the more wealthy prospective authors, vanity presses provide a potential avenue toward publication. Though some consider the term “vanity press” as synonymous with self-publishing, a distinction must be made. Vanity presses do all the work of publishing (cover art, editing, printing, etc), much like a normal publisher, but their funds come from the author himself. They make up a portion of the self-publishing industry; the fact that they generally offer full-service publishing separates them from the other self-publishing options available. However, as with most self-publishing options, vanity presses typically require the author to do all or most of his own marketing. They tend to have bad reputations, and many of them make profit by scamming hopeful authors. A few reputable vanity presses exist in the market, notable among them AuthorHouse and Morris Publishing (Allen, sec. 32). However, publishing with a vanity press will usually not be worth the time and money spent or the potential damage to an author’s reputation it can cause.

P.O.D. presses, such as Lulu, sometimes present a better option than publishing via vanity press. P.O.D. stands for Publish On Demand, a process by which an author submits a novel for sale, and the P.O.D. press prints copies as people buy them. Amazon uses P.O.D. technology for its self-publishing service, and authors have achieved success by using it. With this method, the author usually won’t have to pay much money, as the P.O.D. press will simply take a commission from the cost of each book the author sells. Though clearly advantageous cost-wise, this method presents difficulties in the areas of marketing and distribution. Some P.O.D. presses, like Lulu, offer distribution services through their websites, certain bookstores’ websites, or Amazon.com (Lulu.com), but many do not. Most P.O.D. presses also do not offer marketing services, so an author must promote his novel on his own. Thirdly, the higher per-book cost necessitated by the commission paid to the P.O.D. press can put people off. Most people aren’t willing to spend twenty dollars on a paperback. With strong marketing skills and a good book, an author can achieve success with P.O.D. publishing, but the potential cost can outweigh the benefits.

One must carefully weigh the options before opting for any single method. Small press or large press? The Big Five? Vanity press or P.O.D.? With numerous options available, an author can at times feel overwhelmed. No choice, however, will result in irredeemable consequences. Too many mistakes will certainly make the road to publication much rockier, but another path, a second chance, always exists.

There is one more problem this paper must discuss–the potential dangers to society of the modern publishing market’s obstinacy, of the narrowing of the definition of “what will sell.” As previously discussed, when publishers believe that only certain kinds of books will sell, they won’t publish anything else. As they further specialize, the variety in the market shrinks. While probably an entire book could be written on the subject, this paper will only touch on the issue and how to handle it. In essence, solving this dilemma would require publishers to change their standards. Rather than accepting for publication only the novels they believe will sell, they must accept stories with unusual and varied viewpoints, stories that will broaden minds and introduce new and interesting ideas to the culture. This wouldn’t require publishers to accept every book that came their way, regardless of quality; rather, they would have to choose with a mind towards bettering society. Indeed, one could argue that publishers, as the legislators of the book market, have a moral responsibility to publish books, not for money, but for the benefit of readers. Who could guess where the market would go, what new ideas would be produced, how society would change, if this were the case? The possibilities are limitless.

However, in reality, publishing is a business. Publishing houses exist, for the most part, for profit, and not for the betterment of society or literature. They will likely never publish books altruistically. A more practical method for solving the problem, then, would be an attempt to “nudge” the market in a better direction. Publishers could gradually shift the expectations of the public. Bestsellers are marketed, not made. Any of the large publishing companies could make a significant profit off of any book they chose, considering the resources they have at their disposal for marketing. Rather than choosing the books their analysts have decided people will like the most, they could choose books that present new ideas, other viewpoints, a broader scope. They could take a risk and use their powers to help up-and-coming novelists, instead of always relying on the old favorites. A new phenomenon could be born.

All that said, it will likely not be long before self-published authors can compete with the big time contract authors of the major publishing companies. One can already see it happening, as the self-publishing market grows bigger and bigger. New and better ideas will get out there, one way or another… but publishers, with their wealth and resources,  could offer great assistance to the process. They could ensure quality of writing and large areas of distribution. They may or may not do this. But regardless of what happens, something must change for publishing houses to remain competitive.

Chapter IV

And So, to Become Successful

Imagine this: you send a book, this golden story that you’ve poured heart and soul into for months or years, to a publisher or agent. A few months go by. At the beginning, you can think of nothing else but the book. You’re full of hope and nervousness. All you want is to see that letter or that email, with news that will break your heart or make it soar. But the time passes, and it doesn’t take long for the excitement to be pushed back by the humdrumness of day-to-day life, or perhaps the anticipation of writing the next novel. Then one day, you open your e-mail, and sitting in the inbox is a message from the publishing company or agent. Fingers shaking, you scan the lines. They’ve accepted the manuscript! Never expecting that they would like your story so much, you don’t know how to feel. You’d been braced for rejection. The relief and the joy comes in waves. You call up all your family and friends. Post triumphant statuses on Facebook. Perhaps dance around your house with a silly grin. Maybe people won’t want to read that novel so much, but it’s been published!

Or perhaps you self-publish the novel and upload it to Amazon. You put in a little effort to advertise it around the web, to friends, to businesses you frequent, without expectation that anything much will happen. For the first weeks or months, nothing does. But then, whether it got published traditionally or not, a few people buy the book. They write glowing reviews. Suddenly, it’s selling thousands of copies. Publishing companies approach you with million-dollar offers to put your story’s sequel in print. You’re planning book tours. The story becomes a New York Times bestseller, and you can’t help but smile and think of how, just a few short years ago, that story was nothing but a few words and figments drifting around your head.

Most writers have such dreams. The writer himself decides whether or not those dreams ever come to fruition. Any route to successful publication will present many difficulties. Only those with the fortitude and determination to overcome these difficulties will succeed. The method or methods the prospective author should use in his quest vary according to the person and the book in question, but a few general rules apply.

With that in mind, self-publishing usually makes for a more feasible route to the initial publication of a book than traditional publishing. The lack of gatekeepers means any author should find it very easy to publish a book through a P.O.D. or vanity press, or perhaps Amazon.com. The difficulty comes with sustaining the novel, keeping it in print, advertising it, etc. As a side note, with print on demand technology, the author won’t have to worry about the costs of keeping the novel in print, making P.O.D. publishing more feasible from a cost standpoint. At any rate, in general the author must have plenty of spare time and a fair amount of resources to self-publish successfully. The ultimate feasibility of self-publishing depends largely on the author’s own resources.  If the prospective author has a good deal of time and money to devote to the venture, then self-publishing would probably make for a good choice. If he’s poor and working too hard to spend many hours a week promoting his book, then traditional publishing would make the best choice.

As for traditional publishing, it often seems less feasible than the self-publishing option at first glance. The likelihood of an author being accepted by any traditional publishing house appears quite small–only 1-2% (“Slushkiller,” sec. 3). Small presses, though possibly the easiest to get into, still present challenges of their own. The likelihood of obtaining a contract with one of them does not necessarily increase with decreasing size of the house. Many small houses only publish very specific materials, and won’t except the majority of manuscripts presented to them. The likelihood of getting into one of the Big Five houses is even lower. They, for the most part, have little concern for new authors and would rather stick to the established names they’ve been working with for years. Though perseverance and the right contacts can lead to obtaining a contract from them, the author could probably spend his energy more effectively elsewhere, such as in querying smaller houses. In the end, then, a medium sized publishing house may provide the most feasible option. But even so, remember that in most cases, only 1-2% of manuscripts get published traditionally.

With this in mind, an author’s getting an agent can greatly increase his chances of being publishing traditionally. Getting an agent presents many of the same difficulties as getting accepted by a publisher, except that the author probably has higher chances of being accepted by an agent. In turn, an agent can greatly increase the author’s odds of landing a contract with a traditional publishing house. If the author’s manuscript is good enough for an agent to want it, at least a few publishers will most likely feel the same way. Aside from that, in many cases the agent can use his contacts and influence in the publishing world to push the manuscript much more effectively than the author could himself.

As stated in the previous chapter, a few methods exist for and author to pursue a traditional publishing contract. The feasibility of mass querying, the first method listed, relies on the quality of the author’s query letters and the locations to which he sends them. Depending on the circumstances, this method can work very well, but it can also have a high chance of failure. If done properly, though, the author can expect more success from this strategy than from most others. Of course, it is also one of the more difficult to do properly, and the potential amounts of time the author must spend on researching publishing houses, writing and sending queries, and then doing more research can become rather prohibitive.

Research, in point of fact, often does not present as much difficulty as one might imagine. If the author knows where to look and has some good contacts (contacts, though not necessary, usually help), he can keep track of the publishing market with surprising ease.  Plenty of resources exist in the public domain for those wanting to stay up-to-date on the publishing world. Writer’s Market, for example. It is not at all infeasible for a single author to keep himself in the know about the market. The difficulty generally comes in the amount of time the author must devote to his research. Many people don’t have that time. Even so, with time, or the lack of it, making the only real difficulty in this method, authors have no excuse for not doing at least a little market research.

Finally, the development of writing skills themselves probably makes up the easiest part of the whole process. Regardless of whether an author publishes traditionally or non-traditionally, he must have strong writing skills. An author who lacks writing skill, like a dancer with no rhythm, makes his art painful to its partakers. Even writers with little real talent for the written word can gain sufficient skill to be competitive. Basic good grammar and a solid grasp of the English language can make one stand out. The number of published authors with poor grammar astounds some readers. With a solid grasp of the language and a little practice painting work pictures, most anyone can become a skilled enough writer to publish a story. Now, naturally, some people will have a much harder time with this than others. But as previously stated, the development of writing skills most often makes up the easiest portion of the publishing task. Classes and books about writing abound, and one can never discount the advice and critiques of friends with a literary bent. No author can afford to neglect his writing skills.

As mentioned earlier in this paper, the stagnation of modern literature, and with it, society, has become one of the biggest problems caused by the nature of the modern publishing market. In the previous chapter, this paper listed a few potential solutions for the problem. Unfortunately, changing the modern publishing market, and society itself, has been and always will be quite difficult. In actuality, the solutions this paper listed are most likely little more than pipe dreams, though lovely ones. Affecting some change may well become possible, but it’s unlikely that the market will ever see a true turn-around.

Those wishing to make changes will have to start small. This means that people of good taste and fine literary discernment must band together to support a new, underground publishing market. With the advent of modern self-publishing and its ease of use, this could become possible. Consider the independent music industry, which has done much the same thing with a different artistic medium. When thought of in those terms, independent books and publishing companies seem much more feasible!

Chapter V

Writers of the Future

“It means your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.” Doc Brown, Back to the Future Part III

Nothing stays the same forever. The publishing market, already facing attacks from the outside and dueling with its own anachronistic nature, must soon transform. The market’s entrenchment in society means that this change won’t happen  immediately. But, like a cliffside filled with caves by the pounding of the sea,  the currents of society will inevitably reshape the publishing world. Traditional publishers won’t have to be more accepting of potential authors… but neither will potential authors have to use traditional publishing methods to achieve success. Changes will come in a variety of forms, but this basic fact will fuel them. The common author will have to decide whether to view these changes as a hindrance or as a help.

The drift towards user-created content in modern society has already been a boon to self-publishing authors. As the drift grows in size, self-published novels will gain more and more acceptance from the general public, and as a result, the self-publishing market will likely grow. Traditional publishers, conversely, will shrink, as both readers and authors drift more and more towards self-published novels. Many traditional publishers, especially the mid-size ones, may disappear altogether. Small presses could well last, as their command of niche markets will continue to give them appeal to certain writers. The large presses likely have enough resources to hold out in the face of self-publishers for some time. Even so, the danger of erasure will force traditional publishers to change. They will likely become more open to submissions from new and unknown authors. This means that traditional publishers will probably start publishing many more books than they do today, especially e-books. The quality of these books may drop from their current level, but the traditional publishers will attempt to compete with the self-publishers by throwing their weight and resources behind producing mass quantities of books.

A change in traditional publishing towards mass-production of books seems the most likely possibility. But perhaps more discerning individuals will take command, and the change will run towards quality rather than quantity. Because poorly written books and derivative stories will flood the self-publishing market, traditional publishers may choose to emphasize the quality of their own books. “None of those people really know what they’re doing,” they might say. “Trust our professional authors to give you nothing but the very best novels on the market.” They will set even stricter standards, and produce only the finest books. The traditional publishers will also attempt to take all the newest and freshest ideas for themselves, in order to put their books in an even higher league then those of the self-publisher authors. For prospective authors, this could make for wonderful news, as the authors may have access to more lucrative contracts; of course, more significant than the money would be the fact that anyone with a good enough idea would have a stronger chance of acceptance for publication.

Now, if the traditional publishers choose to compete with self-publishers on the basis of quantity, they will likely end up having to combine their resources to stay alive. The opposition from millions of people independently putting their books on the market could become quite stiff, and as previously mentioned, will likely destroy many mid-size publishers. In order to protect themselves,  many of the traditional publishers, and especially the Big Five, will eventually combine themselves into one “super-publisher.” Even now, the Big Five buy out parts of each other and other publishers on a regular basis. Their ascension to a conglomerate makes the logical next step. This “super-publisher” would likely have quite a high degree of control over the literature that makes it into the market, which would of course give them a fair amount of control over society itself. Whether or not the publishing conglomerate would remain an independent entity or fall under the control of the government or some large corporation is debatable. Clearly, the results if the conglomerate did not remain independent would be immense.

Because this super-publisher will base its power on quantity of sales and books produced, the quality of literature will probably continue to drop. On the other hand, if the traditional publishers take the quality route, and begin producing the very best books they possibly can, a literary renaissance may well result from the market’s reshaping. The common man may not find these new books affordable. The traditional publishers, becoming smaller and more elite, will likely increase the cost of their books. Not everyone will have access to whatever good literature the traditional publishers produce. Thus, this renaissance may have a significant downside, only affecting the higher levels of society. Even if society produces good quality literature on some level, it seems that the common folks–the peasants waiting outside the castle–will still have a hard time obtaining it, and the best their culture has to offer.

Therefore, to attain true change,  prospective authors must band together to ensure quality of literature. Though a writer’s guild already exists, in order to create change, a new group would have to rise. This group would have a different purpose than the current writer’s guild. For one, they would champion all writing, not just screenplays and the like. They would dedicate themselves to writing stories simply for the sake of creating a good tale, and they would not care overmuch about the cash. If someone forms this group or something like it, a literary underground with self-publishing as its medium would spring into existence, in counterpoint to the giant commercial publishers. Granted, this perhaps makes for an overly idealistic prediction, one unlikely to happen, but one can do nothing without first dreaming it.

Depending on the circumstances, this underground literature movement could achieve great success or dismal failure. If faced by a single super-publisher, the group would face great adversity. One could speculate for some time about whether this adversity would destroy them or make them stronger, but such would go beyond the scope of this paper. Even if many smaller, quality-focused publishers oppose the movement, rather than one super-publisher, its chances of success may not rise any higher. People would pay less attention to them if  “official” publishers who focus on high quality books already exist. The chief difference between those publishers and the underground movement, aside from the size and resources of corporations, would be the movement’s concern with making books affordable to the everyday person. Emphasizing this difference would be crucial to the movement’s success or failure. In either case, whether faced by one publisher or many, the movement’s success would likely result a more accessible literary renaissance. By supporting it or anything like it with all the resources they can spare, people who care about the state of literature could greatly assist this movement’s success. But if the movement fails, literature will continue to decline, perhaps with ups and downs, but never again reaching the heights it once attained.

All this assumes that the rights to free speech enjoyed by modern American society continue to exist in the future. If these rights see any degree of reduction, it is most likely that publishers will indeed become a conglomerate, one influenced or run by whichever entity controls the government. In this case, derivative ideas and mass-produced books would likely become the name of the game, as free thinking is not conducive to an oppressive regime. Authors with new and brilliant ideas would have little to no chance, and in fact might even see persecution. The further suppression of literature would result in an even more extreme stagnation of culture.

But such speculation goes beyond the scope of this paper. Assuming that rights to free speech remain the same and a viable underground literary movement forms, and if people who believe in good literature will fight for what they believe in, the future of literature does indeed seem bright. For a time, it will continue to stagnate, but in some years, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, the literary world will explode with color and interest.

Works Cited

James-Enger, Kelly. “Knowing Your Publishing Options: Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing Have Their Own Sets of Pros and Cons.” Writer Feb. 2011: 40-41. Print.

Fawcett, Shaun R. “Book Publishing: Problems with the Traditional Model.” Article Alley. Article Alley, 2 August 2006. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.

“About Literary Agents.” Agent Query.com. Agent Query LLC, 2011. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.

Authorhouse.com. Author Solutions, Inc., 2004-2011. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.

“The J.K. Rowling Story.” Scotsman.com.  Scotsman, 15 June 2003. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.

Schwabauer, Daniel. E-mail interview. 27 Sept. 2011.

MacGregor, Chip. “The Trends in Fiction.” MacGregor Literary. MacGregor Literary, 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.

Allen, Wendy C.. “Publishing Methods.” Squidoo.com. Squidoo.com, 7 Aug. 2007-3 Nov. 2010. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.

Gage, Kathleen. “Write, Publish, and Market a Book with No Out-of-Pocket Money.” Publishing Central.com. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.

Grossman, Lev and Sachs, Andrea. “Books Unbound.” Time 2 Jan. 2009: 71-74. Print.

Amazon.com. 1996-2011, Amazon.com, Inc. Web. 19 Oct. 2011.

2012 Writer’s Market. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2011. Print.

Barnard, Ashley. “Small Press vs. Self-Publishing.” Fantasy Fiction.com. Fantasy Fiction.com, 17 June 2011. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.

Lulu.com. 2002-2011, Lulu Enterprises, Inc. Web. 23 Oct 2011.

Nielson-Hayden, Teresa. “Slushkiller.” Making Light. Nielson Hayden.com/Making Light, 2 Feb. 2004. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.

How to Turn a Third-World Nation Into a Major Power

This is something from my old, now defunct blog. It probably has some holes, but it was amusing and I thought it would be fun to post.


Have you ever wanted to take a poor, starving African country and turn it into the next great power? We all have, haven’t we? But knowing where to start and how to go about this is quite another matter. So, I have decided to put forward this simple, eight-step plan. I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to put it into effect, but that’s beside the point.

So how does one go about achieving this lofty goal?
Step one: Money. You’ll need a large, steady supply of it, because your nation won’t be self-sufficient for a long time. How to get this money? Use your imagination. Start a major fast-food chain, play the stock market, rob banks, con rich dummies into sponsoring you. While you’re waiting for the money to come in, move on to steps two and three.
Step two: Begin training a successor. You must always think on the long term.
Step three: While you’re waiting for funds to accumulate, choose a country and build a team. When choosing a country to take over, location is very important. Anything in Central America is a no-no, because of the USA. South America is safer, but still not advisable. Similarly, Asia is a difficult proposition because of China. The Middle East is dangerous because of the constant violence, but certainly doable–and the oil will give you a powerful resource. Eastern Europe is a definite possibility: there isn’t much to get in your way there, although Russia and the EU might present problems eventually. However, the best option is probably Africa. Constant turmoil, people in need of a benefactor, plentiful natural resources, and a lack of caring from all world powers make African nations perfect targets. Now that you’ve chosen a country, build your team. You’ll need a small group of loyal, skilled followers, although it is possible to achieve this goal on your own. My suggestion when it comes to followers is to find an expert computer hacker, someone with lots of money and no particular skills (heiresses are nice), someone with a strong knowledge of current economies, a military tactician and strategist, a charismatic administrator (to be your right hand), a thief, and three or four experienced body guards. This should give you all you need for step four.
Step four A: For those with a more peaceful outlook. Hack into your chosen nation’s computer systems and begin bribing government officials. These bribes, along with discreet assassinations, should allow you to build a strong power base. Once this base has been constructed, rig an election and put yourself in power.
Step four B: For warmongers, or if your chosen nation is controlled by a dictator. Viva la revolucion! Move in with your team and begin spreading propaganda among the people. Your aim is to get them to join your guerilla army. You’ll need to make heavy use of the funds you’ve acquired to equip this army–it is imperative that it outclass the government’s forces. Once you’re strong enough, launch a coup and place yourself in the position of dictator.
Step five: A propaganda campaign. Make sure everyone knows you’re their new best friend. Use the power of stories to manipulate the population–this is a time where it is money well spent to hire a skillful storyteller. Through very careful, almost subliminal manipulation, you can build approval for your new state. Once the people see your promises beginning to come true, you can back off on this.
Step six: You have, through peaceful or not-so-peaceful means, gained control of your chosen nation. Now you must reform it, and construct your platform for world domination. The first reform you must make is to the economy: ban inflation and remove all government controls on buying and selling. Establish a flat tax, and promise never to raise it. Establish a gold standard–this is very important. A total free market is your only option here. The economy may seem to fail at first, but it will recover. In the meantime, support yourself and your endeavors with the funds you acquired in step one. The next reform you must make is to the system of law. Most third world countries have a Civil Law system in place–you must replace it with Natural Law. Recognize that the government’s job is not to create laws, but to enforce them. The basic foundation of this system of law is this: do all you have agreed to do, and do not encroach on other persons or their property. All other laws will follow from this. Your goal, remember, is to have as few laws and regulations as possible. Abolish lawyers. Impose swift, harsh penalties for infractions. The death penalty is a must, but don’t use it too liberally. The third reform you must make is to the government. A republic is not a good option at this stage, because bureaucracy will rule. A constitutional monarchy is my preference–it places a significant amount of power in your hands, yet it also allows the people to feel as if they have influence. This establishment of government should be done within the nation’s existing laws, and you may have to make new laws before you can change the government. This, however, should be easy if you have the money for bribes or the muscle for assassinations.
Step seven: The government, economy, and law system have been reformed. The people are behind you. The nation is ready to stretch its muscles. Encourage people to set up factories and mines, in order to take advantage of your resources. Employment will skyrocket, and people will begin to have the money to buy advancements in technology. As your nation becomes more and more industrialized, increase the size of your military. Spare no expense in training and equipping. Launch major recruitment drives. Then, once the army is large enough and your industrial base powerful enough, unleash yourself upon the nations around you. Conquer outright the first two, then give all others a chance to surrender and join your regime. If they do not surrender, fight them until they do. If the war drags too long, carpet bomb them until no one is left alive. Ruthlessness is the key. At this time, the propaganda campaign must be designed to convince your citizens of their superiority, and their duty to liberate the peoples of surrounding nations.
Step eight: Create alliances with major nations, especially the US. Refuse to join the UN. Continue expanding your empire, but be careful not to grow too large–inevitably, your regime will fall apart. However, if you keep it small enough, it can last indefinitely. Stay out of major wars not started by yourself. Export your products all over the world, with the goal of making nations everywhere dependent on you. As your trading and military influence grows, so will your cultural influence. This is important–when people admire your culture, they will be less likely to hate you. At this point, your goal has been achieved. You are a major world power, able to dominate. But remember–DO NOT OVERACHIEVE!!! If you attempt to fully conquer the world, you will fail. Your nation will fall apart before you manage it. You can control the world just fine without conquering it. Peaceful trade is the key. You will never fully dominate the world, because that is not the nature of human society. Let other nations continue to exist, to keep your own nation strong through competition. In this way, you can leave a legacy to last through the ages….
So, that is how it’s done. None of this is proof against bad luck, of course…. You must be very, very careful. Have one person you can trust implicitly–it looks good to the people, as well as being beneficial to yourself. But trust no one else. Make sure you have a strong security force and military. Hire the best tacticians and planners. And always remember….
There are countless small nations this plan would be suitable for. Don’t give up if you fail with your first target. Good luck, I wish you all the best in your efforts.
~ Lucius