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Links to Chew On: In One Fell Swoop

April 25, 2013

Wow… Has it been a while since I cleaned out my link supply.  I guess it’s well and past time, now, isn’t it?  So here’s a half-year’s supply of links for you to gorge in one fell swoop.

(Incidentally… it’s taken this long because I typically don’t just post the links, I often include my own commentary.  That takes a lot of work and blogging time.  Of necessity, my commentary on these links will be kept to a minimum.)

  • John Scalzi and David B. Coe were just two of the authors who weighed in when Amazon announced their new author ranking tool.  Neither was terribly enthused, and neither took the bait.  Myself?  I can’t say I have an opinion that counts; I’ve got no dogs in this race. 
  • Mary Robinette Kowal shares some words of wisdom as she parses the difference between “audience” and “market”.  A hint: you want someone to read your story, right?  Who is it that you hope will read it?
  • Some people don’t quite trust the “cloud”, or Amazon.  This story of a user whose data was wiped by Amazon without explanation is part of the reason why.  Some further perspective and updates on this story could be found here and here.
  • SCIENCE!  It boggles the mind!  Imagine if this artificial leaf technology proved viable, and really took root…
  • SCIENCE!  It boggles the mind!  Imagine if we could develop viable technology based on the insanely mind-boggling weirdness of Quantum Entanglement that somehow enabled faster-than-light communications! 
  • I’ve occassionally been critical of some aspects of Apple’s business… but when it comes to criticizing Apple, this is is just a bridge too far.  Seriously… literal demonization is for intellectual lightweights
  • SCIENCE is SCIENCE!  It still boggles the mind!  Also, space opera-class tractor beams, here we come!  (Imagine the real-world practical applications of a system like this.)
  • I know I’m the last geek on the internet left to opine on this, but, hey, did you hear Disney bought Star Wars?  What am I thinking.  Of course you did.  It was only the biggest news in Geekdom when word got out.  I found some additional (and interesting) reactions here, here, and here.  Actually, I do have a somewhat unique opinion of my own to share on the topic: Prequel Remakes, anyone?  As in… Prequels that don’t suck!? I actually have an idea or two about how that might work – what you need to keep and what you need to jetison – and it’s a lot more complicated than “Kill Jar Jar Binks”.  If anybody actually cared enough to ask, and I found the time to answer, I might share those thoughts in another post.
  • Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of chatter in the Writing World, that I saw, talking about the Random-House/Penguine merger.  Here’s the NY Times, Hollywood Reporter, and Publisher’s Weekly on the proposal (which, as I understand, has subsequently been green-lit by a Justice Department that’s clearly asleep at the wheel).  Speaking strictly from a business-strategy perspective, this is bad for writers, inasmuch as it presents a strategic “threat” (in the classic “SWOT” analysis style) to writers.  The reasoning is fairly simple: for writers publishing in the traditional industry, the publishers are their customers (not the actual readers, although the readers are still very highly relevant; see above-linked wisdom from Mary Robinette Kowal on audience vs. market).  When the suppliers in an industry (i.e. the writers) are many in number and the customers (i.e. the publishers) are few, that creates an imbalance of power in favor of the customers, who are able to negotiate/force lower prices or customer-favorable terms on the suppliers.  (This is the same effect that allows Wal-Mart to lean so heavily on its suppliers.)  That means, ultimately, that less money will flow toward writers.  It’s bad for readers too, because of the opposite effect: when suppliers (in this case the publishers) are very few in number, and customers very many, the suppliers have disproportionate power to force customers to accept whatever terms they dictate.  This is why monopolies have traditionally been considered bad in America (although the government’s monopoly-fighting powers have been severely restricted and defanged in the last few decades).  For some further thoughts and legal analysis, check out Scrivener’s Error on the subject.
  • Hey, did you hear there’s a whole new way to get published, these days?  It’s called self-publishing. But with new publishing dynamics comes new ways to scam would-be authors.  Here’s John Scalzi, again, with a warning note about one of the myriad new ways self-published authors may find themselves on the business end of a scam operation…
  • Did Nathan Bransford really just compare the biographies of Steve Jobs and George Washington to NaNoWriMos?  Nathan clearly knows his stuff, but his argument that even without the traditional publishing industry large-scale, high-quality, critically and culturally important, time consuming and expensive books will still be produced sounds a bit off-key.  His pointing toward Kickstarter as a means of funding 500,000-dollar epic biographies and such doesn’t bear any meaningful resemblance to reality.  (How many crowd-funded Kickstarter publishing projects can you name?  I can think of only a small handful, some even quite successful, but none with which I am familiar are at all comparable to a Steve Jobs or George Washington biography.)  Nathan also misses the mark in a big way by arguing that books are commodities.  Some books, perhaps, are.  But many books, and especially the most important books, and possibly most books generally, lack a critical element of what makes a good a commodity: fungibility.  The fact is, one book is not easily traded for another; one author is not the same as the next.  Because of this, books are different than commodity goods.  That’s just basic economics.  This doesn’t necessarily negate the question of whether books should be cheaper and easier to produce, or whether digital disruption is a good thing, or the fact that there are big problems in the traditional publishing world.  But it does undermine some of the basic underpinnings of Nathan’s argument. 
  • Speaking of Kickstarter, here’s the story of one of those very few successful publishing Kickstarters with which I am familiar: Tobias Buckell’s Kickstarting of his new novel The Apocalypse Ocean.  I haven’t read the other books in this series (this is the fourth; the first three were traditionally published) but the first book in this series is still on my To Read list (which I’m sure I’ll catch up to eventually).  The story of Buckell’s Kickstarter campaign makes for some pretty fascinating reading.  Obviously this relates to the pri0r link, and in case you missed it, I threw in a second link to an interview Buckell did in which he discussed his Kickstarter experience.
  • The State of My Career“, in which author Jim Hines responds to critics of his who popped up on the blog of Kristine Rusch (here).
  • The  Encyclopedia of Fantasy is Free?  Oh, here it is…   
  • Here’s a fun little article on the Macroeconomics of Middle-Earth (and the impact of Smaug)… because DRAGONS!
  • It is the conventional wisdom, now, among the brashest cheerleaders of self-publishing that you will automatically make MOAR MONEY self-publishing than you can going the traditional publishing route because ZOMG 70% ROYALTIES!  AMAZON 4EVR!  But best-selling author John Scalzi would like to disabuse you of that notion as he discusses how the finances of an e-book “gold mine” would actually work out for him, based on the data and sales of his most recent best-seller.  Short form: self-publishing will work for some, of course, but it is not automatically the best decision, financially speaking, for every author.  (About which, Scalzi has another thing to say about the reasons writers write.  Yes, it’s about artistic stuff or love of story, or whatever.  But, quite frankly, it’s also about the money.  Not “get rich quick” money, but “hey, I could do this for a living” money.  There’s nothing wrong with that.)
  • Bilbo’s “Contract” with the Dwarves… Because Hobbits!
  • Tobias Buckell shares some thoughts on being a pro-writer
  • There’s been a lot of interest bubbling up around the idea of resales of ebooks.  Here’s John Scalzi with some thoughts on this recent Publisher’s Weekly piece that speculates on an Amazon patent filing; there are some interesting comments from readers on Scalzi’s post. Scalzi follows up with an additional thought. But that’s not the end of the story, as Tobias Buckell points out a news story on a judicial ruling on the resale of mp3s, and suspects this will have an impact on the idea of reselling ebooks.  The Guardian takes a crack at the topic, as well (with an extended aside on the subject of the difficulty of citing e-texts in academic papers). I suspect we have not heard the last of this, yet…
  • Macmillan Settles with the DOJ: And thus this particular episode of Publishing Cat Fight (that is, episode 3.x, “Major Publisher Collusion vs. The Trustbusters”) came to a close… but the show promises more shenanigans and hijinks in future seasons.  (You knew the networks were going to renew this one…)
  • Speaking of more shenanigans and hijinks… Independent Booksellers sue Amazon and the DRM-happy Big publishers, because DRM as it’s currently implemented effectively locks Independent Booksellers out of the e-book market.  Not surprisingly, John Scalzi has a few thoughts on this, which I feel merit linking.  But there’s another perspective on this lawsuit that needs to be considered, as well: the technical side.
  • Speaking of DRM, Tor UK has a run-down of what it’s been like after one-year DRM-Free.  The short take-away: Tor UK thinks the move has been “hugely positive”.
  • I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the Epic Smack-Down battle between SFWA and Random House with their new e-book imprints such as Hydra and Alibi?  Well, here’s a link rundown of what I’ve seen on the story: I first became aware of the story when John Scalzi (outgoing president of the SFWA) noted that it looked like RH’s Hydra imprint was trying to suck authors dry.  He followed up with an assessment of an actual contract from Hydra’s sister imprint Alibi. Scalzi’s assessment? RH was acting like Jurassic Park’s “raptors at the fences“, systematically testing the resolve of hungry-for-publication authors for weaknesses.  Publisher’s Weekly carried RH’s response to SFWA’s slamming.  SFWA provided an official response here. John Scalzi had further thoughts and musings on the event related to advances and negotiating power. As part of the fallout to the debacle, Random House made changes to the contracts at Hydra and Alibi. Scalzi further opined on the changes made to the contract (tl/dr: good on RH for changing the contracts after public outrcy, but mostly those contracts still sound like they suck; note: this is my reading of it, and may not comport with the author’s actual intentions).  Literary agent Evan Gregory responded to the whole story with a defense of “royalty-only contracts” as a viable path to publication for many niche-genre writers.  But the legal shark from the Scrivener’s Error law blawg smelled blood in the water… here’s Scrivener’s analysis of the end result, and from a legal perspective, the shark is not pleased.
  • I still see the “No Adverbs” writing advice zombie periodically rear its misbegotten head, but this is perhaps the final take-down of that silly and erroneous writing advice.  To extend the zombie metaphor: it’s a headshot.
  • This video about Damsels in Distress in video games makes a lot of awesome points, and is well worth watching.  But the big take-away for me, as a fan of the Zelda game franchise?  Based on this vid’s mock-up of a Master Sword-weilding Zelda, I would so play a Zelda game where Zelda was the protagonist and got to kick but with sword and shield. She looks awesome as her own Hero.  Maybe this time Ganon targets the other piece of the Triforce and Zelda has to save Link?  Yeah.  I’d play that.  Here’s the home site for this video series, and I look forward to more of these at Feminist Frequency (where there are more videos on other topics of interest to speculative fiction fans).
  • So… Amazon purchased Goodreads… This has inspired a a number of folks to opine on the acquisition and its implications, including here, here, and here.  For myself: I was this close to jumping into Goodreads and setting up an account.  I mean really: this close.  As in, it was really more a question of when would I find the time than if I would.  But now?  I’m going to wait.  I’ve let Amazon have enough of its claws on my personal preferences.  I’d prefered to have had a separate, independent place that filled Goodreads’ role.  So, we’ll see how the site evolves and Amazonifies before I decide to take another look at it.
  • In which Tobias Buckell vents about frustration with news media that wanted to make him a poster child for the Brave New World of Publishing, and then lost interest when they learned he was taking a hybrid approach.  The money quote: “In retrospect, I should do what a couple other preachers of the new digital movement do. Decry traditional publishing, say you should go it alone, while working with a corporate behemoth of my own anyway so I get hybrid career and the attention boost.”  This is so true: nearly to a man most of the biggest names in digital self-publishing have achieved their success by simultaneously shouting about the death of large-scale corporate publishing and the virtues of the go-it-alone approach while raking in the benefits of deals and agreements with large corporate publishers of one kind or another. (Chuck Wendig has some mirror-image-like thoughts on the same matter.)
  • Dramatic publishing debacles are never, it seems, in short supply.  This time it’s Night Shade Books – which has published some pretty great stuff, but apparently has been financially mismanaged for years.  They want to pay back all their authors the  royalties they’re owed.  But to do it, they’re going to sell those author’s contracts, and force some pretty onerous contract changes going forward, like a sharp cut in royalties and some provisions that are ripe for abuse.  At least, that’s the picture I’ve gleaned from a variety of sources that have shared opinions on the subject.  Here’s Jason Sanford, Michael Stackpole, Tobias Buckell, agent Joshua Bilmes, Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review and Girl Genius creators Phil and Kaja Foglio with more on the whole sordid tale.  (In fact, that’s just the beginning… each of those has several more links you can follow to find even more juicy details.)  Obviously, I don’t have a dog in this fight – I’m a “pre-published” writer, so-to-speak, and have no business connection with Night Shade nor with any of their authors.  But based on the information I’ve seen in these places, were I in a position to have the choice the Night Shade authors have before them, I’d probably say: thanks, but no thanks; I’ll take my chances in bankruptcy court.
  • Chuck Wendig isn’t actually arguing with Hugh Howey in “Indie First? What Is Best In Publishing?” (The obvious two possible answers: “To crosh the traditional publishers, see dem driffen before you, and hear de lamentations of deir big box bookstores.” vs. “To crosh the self-publishers, see dem driffen before you, and hear de lamentations of deir poorly designed covers.”  Take your pick.)  Sadly… Howey and many of those who are cheerleaders for the digital self-publishing model are so far into “One-True-Wayism” that a relatively moderate voice like Wendig saying “Hey, waitaminnit, there’s more than one path, and different paths will be better for different people for different reasons” sounds, to these One-True-Wayers, like an attack.  The best quote from Wendig’s article, for my money: “Preference matters. The parameters of happiness and satisfaction are not universal across all of authordom. When you say something is best, you’re speaking in terms so simplistic they’re meaningless. Best how? Best for money? Readership? Respect? Happiness? Everybody has a different metric…” This is a microcosm of one of the most important lessons I learned in my MBA: How you measure something, and the metrics you use to measure it, matters, and to arrive at a useful comparison between options, you need to be able to be able to take account for a variety of different preferences on a variety of different axes of measurement.  When you put useful though like this into something, you won’t come out with a “Option A is the BESTXRS 4EVR!”  Instead, you’ll have a useful model into which people can input their own preferences and ideal outcomes and come out with the best individualized option that meets their own preferences.  Wendig’s article is sort of an analog, purely-qualitative version of a useful model like that, and it’s well worth the read.  Tobias Buckell, who has linked to Howey as a voice of reason on self-publishing before, has this to say on a related topic (vis-a-vis Howey using his platform in unpallatable ways): “Don’t punch down“.
  • A short film… Because ZOMBIES! And also Heartstrings! Yeah, I found this zombie/father-themed short flick both moving and refreshing.  You should check it out.
  • It turns out: this whole digital self-publishing revolution?  We’ve been there before.  In “Nobody’s Job But Yours“, webcomic artist and self-published novelist K.B. Spangler discusses the similarities in the boom & bust of the two media.
  • Because this is something important, I’m going to link it: “David Farland’s lack of insurance due to refusal of insurers to let him sign up for a plan” by Tobias Buckell with a link to this article: “An Army of Friends Rally Around Best Selling Author David Farland“.  I’ll leave to the reader as an exercise a study of the political, social, and moral implications of this story…
  • Charlie Stross muses on some ways that publishing could change, if legacy boilerplate contracts were modified to fit modern market realities…
  • And Stross again, back on the subject of self-publishing, on why he feels it would not work for him… this touches very briefly on something I’ve been musing, myself, about self-publishing.  In the modern digital self-publishing paradigm, I’ve wondered at what factors help or inhibit success.  The relative prolificity of an author seems to be one such factor.  Many of those who are successful cite the size and growth of the backlist as a key factor of their success.  This, then, favors authors who can write faster.  Authors who, for whatever reason, take longer to write a good book… may be at a disadvantage in the digital self-publishing world.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2013 1:07 pm

    That “No Adverbs” article was awesome. I would still say that SOME adverbs can be stripped out to help tighten up your prose. But not all of them. Yet again, we find that a piece of writing advice is circumstantial rather than universal. Imagine that.

    I’m in the same boat as you and Stross as far as writing speed. Even if I could write more, faster, the books I want to write tend to be the the long, door stopper type. I don’t have any fear or loathing for the production and management part of self-publishing—in fact I look forward to it—but it’s a matter of having time to produce the volume of work that self-publishing seems to require for good sales. Yet I’m not too excited about locking myself into traditional publishing either, based on what I’ve been hearing about their ever-more-draconian contracts. For part time beginning writers, especially of big books, success looks like an awfully tall cliff to climb. Those who have the luxury of writing full time never seem to understand that.

    • April 29, 2013 3:04 pm

      I’ve learned that most, possibly all writing advice of the “do this, never do that” variety is never universal (heh; I said “never”). With things like adverbs and adjectives, yeah, their overuse can drown a story. But so can the overuse of anything that you need to write to tell a story – characters, plot, conflict, and so on, down to the most basic of building blocks.

      As for the writing speed thing: yeah, I feel for you. I’ve been working a few short stories into the mix to give me something to feel accomplished about and, theoretically, something that I can get published (or self-pub, depending) and start getting my name out there while I chug away endlessly at those novels. I doubt it’s quite enough to offset things on the career/audience side of things. But otherwise, I’ve got nothing figured out how to deal with this problem.

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