Open letter to the Dutch semi-professional publishers of SF and fantasy

Open letter

Hi, it has been a while. You might know me from “Ator Mondis”. And maybe not.

I do no longer write in Dutch, unless I am forced to. And I trust you have no problem reading this.

Update, Sunday November 25, 2012: I am starting the talks with the semi-pro’s. Decided to do interviews. As soon as I have content and we went through all the editing I will publish them here.

This open letter is triggered by two things.

This tweet:

“Hi boys and girls”

And these parts from this article on Dutch design written by Bert Hagendoorn.

Dutch Digital Design: zero reputation

[…]

We are a sparking hotbed of creativity, also on digital productions. Could it really be — like Mediamonks stated: that we simply do not bundle our forces? I fear they are right.

[…]

Who is doing well, internationally? According to Mediamonks especially the Swedish, but also the Brazilian and since recent also the Russian people are asked a lot as digital designers. [..] what are they doing right? […] Especially, they work together. They form one front and work actively on their marketing and promotion. And that is something we [the Dutch] do not. The Netherlands are not on the map. And that is a missed opportunity.

[…]

How is this possible? It appears that Dutch bureaus rather compete against each other than aid one another. The Swedish do that differently: they work together and put their expertise in the market together. And that pays off. In the end it delivers them a good imago and a lot more work. […] That is something we should be able to achieve here as well.

How incredibly striking.

I love you

While I bailed out around 1992, you started, continued and/or rebooted. (Mike Jansen, Roelof Goudriaan, Remco Meijsner, …).

You offer a platform for Dutch writers that would not exist otherwise. You offer Dutch SF/F writers the opportunity to be published. In book-form. Which is awesome.

Let’s talk

I want to see what is going on. How you are doing. What is possible. What has been tried.

And I want to know: why do you still focus your publications on the Dutch-language market? Why is nobody using the opportunity to market Dutch writers internationally?

I might piss you off at some point in this post, but that is not the reason for- nor the purpose of this open letter.

By the way

I have software that publishes Word-files to HTML, PDF and ePub with one press of the button. See as example this site from the book I wrote. The source Word document is 1000 pages and contains over 250 illustrations. It takes me less than 60 seconds to publish it all. (Loading the file in Word and then saving it to HTML cost most of the time.)

The software is incredibly Beta, the ePub probably uses the wrong ZIP compression as it does not work on some readers, but works and can be improved. (On Windows)

Something new?

I probably will not telly you something new in the post below. Or ask you any new questions. If you are busy and have no time to read this whole lengthy post, this is the short version:

Working together, Dutch writers, European market: why is this not happening yet?

Are you working together?

My first question is: are you working together? Bundling forces?

Why paper books?

The second question is: why paper books?

How much time do you spend just on that?

And what about the cost?

For whom are you doing this?

Is it worth it?

Why sell the e-work/why not for free?

Why do you sell those e-books? Why not offer it all for free?

I will come back on that.

What is your business model?

In a short exchange with Jurgen Snoeren on Twitter today I stated mockingly that a patatkraam is a better business model than selling books to get your revenue.

Hell: putting your writers in a patatkraam is probably a better business-model. Sell shitloads of patat-friet (and kroketten and frikandellen) and you can build a fund to make awesome books, do promotion and even pay your writers!

But let’s not go there.

Why do you do it?

Why? Seriously. For the money?

Why in Nederlands?

I sympathize that writing in English is not the easiest if you are not native speaker, if it is not your daily thing and if you also have to make up the story, craft it. And so on. But the Dutch language is a dead end side-road of the international highway.

Even broken English is better than Dutch.

Why not go European?

I might understand the “Dutch Identity” thing. I also understand — as said before — that English is a barrier for Dutch writers who do not use English on a regular basis. The thing is: Dutch writers writing in Dutch are invisible for the rest of the world.

I used words like “masturbatory” in this context in the past when I was 20 and angry. Now I pretend to be more civilized.

Dutch language automatically isolates each of these writers from an incredibly large audience of English, German, French, American, Spanish, Portugese — and so on — audience!

Europe is the shit. European SF/F writers are the shit. We do not know yet who they are, for the same reasons all these other countries have no clue who we are: international  invisibility.

The language barrier is gone, as long as you use English. Only we do not seem to realize that.

Most of your current Dutch audience masters a proper reading-English. Dutch SF/Fantasy readers order at Amazon, have Kindles, Nooks or download cracked versions online to read on their e-reader.  This is 2012, not 1961.

Yes, yes, yes…

What the fuck do I know. Where was I in the past years on these annual round-table talks you held in obscure places in the Netherlands and Belgium, help find a solution?

And do I have any fucking clue how much work it is to translate Dutch to English? I do not. Based on my own production speed I guestimate 1000 words takes 2 hours including typing and editing. So an 8.000 word story takes one day.

What if?

I wondered.

What if you: the Dutch semi-professional SF/Fantasy publishers would:

  1. Bundle your forces — Continue to be care-takers of your own authors, develop them, but join forces to build a springboard to the rest of the world.
  2. Create a central place — Where all Dutch writers would be made available for the rest of the world?
  3. Drop Dutch. Focus on English — So that your writers can be read by the world inside AND outside the Netherlands?
  4. Include all promising Dutch authors — Not just the writers you have budget for, not just what you can print on paper, but everyone who would qualify? From aspiring promising beginners to the experienced old dogs?
  5. Drop paper books alltogether — Is it really worth it? The time? The effort? The Return on Investment?

If this is nothing new to you: why is step 1 to 4 not happening? Do you guys hate each other so much that even a beginning is not negotionable? Is X, Y and Z really that big an idiot — or whatever you might think? How difficult is it? Really?

Honestly. All you need to publish the shit is a server, a WordPress install and the goodwill from all. Paste the stories as a new post or page. Done!

Hell: let that server be managed by someone you trust and is neither of you, to avoid any prisoners dilemma of possible hostile ego-take-over.

What about business?

What about it? How are you doing?

Ator Mondis ran break-even — on production cost — and only because one awesome person (Mike Jansen, looking at you) MADE THE PHOTOCOPIES IN A SECRET MAGICAL LAB. That one single lucky break was the magic sauce that made Ator Mondis possible for 2 years.

The subscriptions only paid for the stamps and envelopes and even then I hardly did break-even. The 150 hours I spent per issue were unpaid for. The unknown amount of hours Mike spent, were unpaid for. The writers were unpaid. The illustrator (me) was unpaid.

We had 150 subscribers. Most of them read and/either/or Holland SF / SF Terra.

What about your hours?

And how many readers do you have?

Do you reach over 20.000 unique readers per year? Per book?

Not just being random. See Elf Fantasy Fair. They do the kind of thing where people get into cars and trains to get together and dress up to have fun. And apparently over 20.000 people show up. (What the fuck! What awesomeness! What marketing power/cleverness! Does anyone ever invited him to be your adviser?)

What if?

I think “lack of interest” does not hit it. I do think the average audience for a book is more than 2.000 people. Even if you just take the Dutch speaking market. And I was wondering…

What if?

  1. Books are not the answer? — Maybe the entire idea of “books” (looking at the paper ones!) is not what it is about?
  2. Asking money is the wrong approach? — Look at Facebook. How many people would have joined if the subscription fee would have been 2 euro per year to begin with?
  3. There is a huge market out there? — And indeed your work (i.e. pruning and publishing Dutch writers) can reach (ten) thousands of people?  Per year? Per month?
  4. You can develop that market? — See “goodwill” I look specifically at Humble Bundle. The e-book version reached sales of over 1 million US dollar.
  5. You focus on goodwill? — See Humble Bundle again. And things like Kickstarter. Goodwill comes from reach and from doing stuff other people like and appreciate. The Oatmeal collected 1.4 MILLION US dollar for the Tesla Museum on goodwill alone.

Still there?

I can imagine that at this point, your mind starts to wonder off. You know, like: what the fuck. What is the point?

What I believe in

  1. Dutch SF/Fantasy is completely worth it — Everything. Even if [fill in whatever]
  2. Dutch writers can do it — Sure 90% of all [fill in whatever, including the Paul Harland Prijs] is shit, 5% is OK and the top 5% might be even quite good. And each year 2% out of those 100 are new and show potential. See “kick ass”
  3. Each year can lead to 2 new — potentially — awesome writers — See my guestimate above.
  4. Each writer with potential can be developed to be publishable in 2 years — Just guide them. Pair them with other writers. Give them clear goals and instructions. Let them write (at least) 5 stories per year (see “stimulate your writers” later).
  5. We can kick ass internationally — I think in 5 years time we can kick complete ass and show the world Dutch-based and Dutch born writers that equal and maybe even top the best ones who are NOT Dutch.

What I think you can do

  1. The same, but differently — You already select writers. Offer some editing and feedback to the ones who make it through your filters. But maybe you do some things (paper books?) that can be dropped. Maybe there are other ways to reach the same goals.
  2. The same, but more effectively — You already publish writers. But maybe by changing your game (work together?), you might reach more people.
  3. Work together — Like said; maybe you think X sucks and Y is really too weird to be in the same room with and Z never paid you back that beer. Who Fucking Cares. You are not going on a boat-ride from Den Helder to Den Briel: tightly super-glued together as best buddies.
  4. Build one single international springboard — Make an English site. Aim at Europe and the world. Do not be shy about writers who are not there yet. Allow everyone who has potential and quality to appear. Love your young talents. And of course: promote and publish each and every writer you think is already one step further.
  5. Make your own recommended writers-lists — Here is where you differentiate: you promote who you like. Your favorites. Your recommendations. Help those strangers out there find in all these collected books and stories the ones you think matter. Make multiple lists. Collect writers and tell the world in descriptions like: “These are the works of writers still in development I think show great potential”. Tell the world why you chose them, why you love them, why they touch you.
  6. Let someone else host that site — Choose someone who does not give a shit about any old or new feud between any of you. Choose someone who only cares about keeping that bloody site up.
  7. Use something like WordPress or Drupal or Joomla — Something that you can set up in a day. Something that works. Something that is disposable. Easy to use. Standard.
  8. Focus on short stories first — What works online is short. 2000 words. 5000 words. 6.000 words.
  9. Offer free epubs and PDF documents when it is long — If it is long: make it downloadable. For free. Allow for offline reading! Offer service to your visitors. To your readers.
  10. Publish the content in your lists as epub and PDF – Hell: why not do the same for your lists. Be your own Vincent van der Linden. Let people download your bundles of “Best Dutch SF/Fantasy of the year 2014”.
  11. Stimulate your writers — Don’t be shy. Make them feel wanted. Loved. Ask for work. Have them write 5 short stories per year. Fill that site. Let them earn their position of most awesome top-5 Dutch writer ever. Let them sweat.
  12. Do it in English — Dutch culture? As in: obscure and forgotten? As in: no-body in the world ever knew Dutch wrote SF and Fantasy too?
  13. Use your friends — Use social media. Spread the word. Have other people spread the word. You know how to sell books. I think this will probably be easier.
  14. Count page-visits and downloads — Metrics! It is not about money but eyeballs. How many readers downloaded your writer from your stack of writers? 100 times? 10.000 times? From which countries? Who came back? Who is suddenly downloaded a lot by one and many, including other stories?

And this is it. You want more? Not enough? Sounds simple? Doable?

What about quality, new talent?

Ah!

  1. Lists — Use lists. Recommend what you like. What you think is awesome might be poep in the eyes of others. And who gives a shit. Your list. Your taste.
  2. Stimulate your writers — Want things better? Stimulate the writers. Writing is doing. Writing. Getting feedback. Correcting. More writing. Ask them for work. Etcetera.
  3. New talent — You have the Paul Harland Prijs. Other contests. Be like vultures. (Some of you already do.) Become the care-taker of the ones you like most. Let them write! (see “stimulate your writers”)

English?

Yes. Not all easy for each and all writers. Solvable. You found ways to print books on paper.

What I believe this is about

This is about us. The writers.

About our work. Out art. Our craft. Our voices. It is about Dutch talent (in the broadest sense, including non-natives).

This is about NOT BEING READ. And NOT BEING VALID outside the Netherlands. About not being valid even within the Netherlands.

Like: “Paul Harland who?”

This is about dead end streets where writers stop developing at some point as something is missing: an audience. A greater stimulans. Like international breakthroughs. Even if this is “just” publication in professional magazines abroad.

This is about: “the world is bigger than the Netherlands” and “it really does not take much to reach it” (www.dutchsffantasy.com, English language, Twitter, Facebook, international friends, spreading the word).

This is not about just writers. Also illustrators. And hell: who knows?

Peter: your idea sucks

Thanks. The funny thing is: if you reached this conclusion for whatever reason, I can only read one thing: you do not want to change. You rather continue things the way you did. And maybe that makes you happy. That is fine.

What you do not represent in that case are your writers. Unless they too like things the way they are. Gezellig en klein. Obscure. Being red by 20 people. maybe 100 or 500 people at most.

That is fine.

Peter: you got a point, but we knew this already

Thanks. As said before, I probably did not write anything new here. And as said before, the main question is: why is this not happening yet?

You got a point, we knew this already, we want it, BUT:

it is impossible/difficult/the others suck/I will not change/I am happy the way things are

Since you do not earn shit-loads of money by publishing a niche-product in a niche market I can only guess it happens for the following two reasons (either / or).

  1. It is not about writers, but about you — You find yourself more important than your writers. Your goal is not to publish writers, but to look good to a small group of people by doing so. Your press is a vanity-press.
  2. You have no vision — You do things without a clear vision. Yes you publish, but you have no idea why exactly.
  3. You tried and the others indeed suck — Let’s sit together.

Let me be clear: nothing wrong with that. Vanity and lack of vision: been there, done that, lost shit-loads of money due to that.

Let’s talk

So: let’s talk.

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One thought on “Open letter to the Dutch semi-professional publishers of SF and fantasy

  1. Ik hoop dat mensen reageren – al was het maar om de discussie op te starten. Want dat is nodig. Ik denk persoonlijk dat je onze schrijvers eerst in het Nederlands moet leren schrijven – al was het maar om hun eigen cultuur te blijven houden en dat te leren gebruiken als basis voor hun teksten. En dan als stap 2 vertalen en de buitenlandse markt op.

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