2014: Mid(ish) Year Review

Well… that middle-of-the-year point has come and passed, and that means it’s time for me to take a look back at the first half of 2014, and measure myself up to what I’d hoped to accomplish for the year.  Public accountability and all that.  So I’ll go through my 2014 goals one-by-one and say a word or two on them.  Feel free to, you know, move along until I post something of actual interest to you, but hey, I wouldn’t mind you sticking around and commenting at the end to help keep all of us honest!

 

2014 Goals

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: This was a goal well-met, which wasn’t surprising, but was a welcome milestone.  I can’t be sure of the exact number of words I read through July 1st, because I hadn’t recorded an updated on the progress of the novel I was reading at the time for several weeks, but I believe it was somewhere in the neighborhood 600,000 words to 630,000 words.  Not too shabby.  If I set the goal of reading 400,000 words in the second half of the year, I’ll surpass 1,000,000 words of fiction read in 2014 easily.  So, that’s what I’m going with.  One Million: here we come.

(Click on down to read the rest of the goals…)

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Links to Chew On: Can You Hack It?

So… I’m going to try to make this a regular feature – regular here meaning “happening on a consistent basis” as opposed to the very irregular thing they’ve been in the past.  I’m thinking, the last day of the first month of each quarter (thus, January 31st, and subsequently March 31st, June 30th, etc.).

And so without further ado, here are some tasty links to chew on:

  • Author Jason Sanford has some wise and reasonable words to share with you about all the “rules” of writing: don’t let them turn you into a hack!  Now, I’m no pro (as yet and, who knows, possibly ever) but I get this feeling I’ve expressed similar sentiments before.  Good to know I’m in good company when it comes to thinking that way.
  • Who would win in a fight between Zombies and Mother Nature?  BoingBoing says Mother Nature.  Her secret weapons include vultures, the California Condor, flies and their maggoty offspring, bacteria, molds, and fungi.
  • Musician David Lowery says “Silicon Valley Must Be Stopped, or Creativity Will Be Destroyed” in an interview that mainly seems to be a response to the GoldieBlox/Beastie Boys controversy. What he means is that tech start-ups that intend to make money off of the work of artists and creatives without first obtaining permission from those creatives for the use of the the things those creatives created need to be reigned in, and copyright law needs to be followed.  And, while this is undoubtedly true, it makes for a rather less-sensationalist headline.  And, frankly, in this particular instance, at least, it’s difficult for me to feel a lot of sympathy for the Beastie Boys – this may not be, as the article says, a “David and Goliath” story in terms of who’s got the money, but it’s certainly a “Daisy and Goliath” story in terms of the broader cultural headwinds. Still, it’s an interesting read – and while I might personally fall slightly on GoldieBlox’s side in this round (for one thing, I’m actually inclined to like GoldieBlox’s version of the song in question), I can definitely appreciate how this can be abused.
  • So, more and more teenagers are getting published, both through traditional means and through new digital self-publishing means.  This is a thing.  Oh, what I wouldn’t have given, at the age of something-less-than-twenty, to have had a book published.  And oh how glad I am, at the age of something-more-than-thirty, that what I wrote back then wasn’t published. I’ll stand by the Scalzi quote in that article: “The bad news [for teenage writers]: Right now your writing sucks.”  Mine did.  (I’d say it sucks arguably a lot less now.)
  • Chuck Wendig talks about the Digital Book World survey of self-publishers, traditionally-published authors, and hybrid-authors, and about digital author-publisher Hugh Howey’s response to that survey (along with a link to a rundown of this discussion by Porter Anderson).  Later, Chuck discusses the latest big news-splash author turning down a major traditional deal (i.e. romance author Brenna Aubrey) and gives his take on it.  The summary version: There’s different things going on in the different worlds of digital self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and they have different risks and different rewards, and authors should take into account a lot more than just the money side of the equation into their decision-making matrix.  That’s more-or-less how I roll on this ongoing digital evolution discussion. So Wendig gets my vote for “guy (i.e. person) who actually thinks before blathering on the internet about digital self-publishing”.
  • The Smithsonian talks about a new study published in PLOS ONE that demonstrates a strong statistical correlation between the language and tone of a book and the economic conditions that preceded it.  Or, in other words, books published after hard economic times with high unemployment tend to be darker and more negative.  I wonder what this suggests about the book(s) I will someday write…?
  • So Daddy Blogs are a thing that exists. I did not know this before. (I have a wife, so of course I knew that Mommy Blogs were a thing). And here’s a daddy who’s kicking butt and taking names – especially when it comes to diaper-changing stations in public Men’s restrooms.  As a dad, this is something that I’ve been aware of as being a problem already, but since reading this post I’ve started noticing a little more often whether a men’s restroom has a changing station or not. Suffice to say, of course, that as a devoted and loving father, I’m on-board with this campaign.  So far, most places I’ve been out to have had changing stations in the men’s rooms.  Next thing I’d like to add to this list, as a father of a semi-independent pre-schooler: retractable step stools for at least one of the sinks (in both men’s and women’s rooms).  Try holding a baby, the baby’s diaper bag, and then trying to lift a 3-4 year old up so he can reach the faucet to wash his hands! It’s cumbersome to say the least… I’ve seen these places so I know it’s a thing that can be done, but I see them far-too rarely, and often not at places where I think they’d make the most sense (like places specifically catering to the toddler or younger crowd).

2014: Goals, Plans, Dreams

On one hand, I’m not sure there’s much purpose, at this point, in setting “goals” for the year.  I frankly have no idea what to expect in terms of time, sleeping of the baby, and energy levels in the year to come.  How can I set goals if I don’t even know what I’m going to have to work with?  However, I think there’s value in looking forward to the year and trying to assess what can be accomplished and what I want to accomplish.  So I’m going to follow the model I’ve set for myself the past couple years and look at my year ahead, and how that fits into my longer-term goals and dreams.  The one caveat: this year, I’m going to focus here primarily on the first half of the year, after which time passes I’ll assess where I am again and plan going forward from there.

Thinking About Long-term Goals

My thinking about my long-term goals hasn’t changed much over the past year.  Here’s what I had to say about my long-term goals last year:

I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams… it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”.  By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write… but that I aspire for my writing to be published.  …Now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux.

On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model.  I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and  how those problems negatively impact authors.  So, for me, it seems I could go either way.  There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road.

But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.

I then went on to dig into some of the “whys” behind my preference for “traditional” publishing to “digital self-publishing”, but I won’t rehash those here.  The reasons remain, largely, the same, though perhaps the size of my dreams has moderated somewhat in the year past.  (I’m basically in my mid-thirties, now.  Older and wiser.  Getting “rich” off of writing no longer seems even remotely achievable, even as a stretch-dream.)  But the overarching long-term goal I stated before, and the reasons for pursuing it that I give, remain the guiding star by which I’m plotting my medium-term journeys.

2014 Goals

In the last two years, I’ve given my goals as it relates across 4 categories: how much I plan to read during the year, how frequently I intend to write, completion of manuscripts and submission of manuscripts.  This year I’d like to add some new categories, while I’ll be dialing back somewhat on several of the prior four.

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: In 2013, I was able to put over a million words worth of fiction reading under my belt.  I’d like to think I could do that again.  But I’m not quite ready to publicly lay down a goal that ambitious for this year, and given the total state of flux that V.R. has left our life in, I can’t even say whether it’s realistic or feasible to do it again.  Instead, I’ll focus on the first half of the year.  I want to try to do at least 400,000 words of fiction by July 1st, 2014.  Depending on how I do on that goal, I’ll adjust my 2014 expectations accordingly at that time.

2) Find a consistent writing schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: In the past two years I’ve set ambitious goals for myself in terms of the frequency of my writing – at least, they were ambitious to me.  In both years I failed utterly to achieve those goals.  Right now, I simply don’t have a clear idea of whether or not I even can keep a consistent writing schedule.  So my goal for the first half of 2014 is to try and find one.  This is at least partially contingent on V.R. finding his own consistent sleeping schedule.  While 2013 was marked by a complete lack of consistency on his part with regard to sleep, 2014 is so far shaping up to look like it might be different.  I’m not sure what happened on January 1st, but things have been normalizing quite a bit since then in V.R.’s sleep department, though we’re by no means out of the woods.

If I can make it to the mid-year point on this goal successfully, then I’ll be in a better position to gauge how much writing I can achieve, and how frequently I can write in the second half of the year.  If not, it’ll be a continued search for a predictable and consistent schedule.

3) Contingent on the success of Goal #2, focus on completing a final draft of one short story: This goal is entirely contingent.  If I can succeed in finding some sort of consistent writing schedule in 2014, then my first effort will be to complete a final draft of a short story, namely the same short I’d been working on previously (i.e. Story of V).  Since last I put words down on Story of V, the world of that story has blossomed in my head, and it now constitutes an out-of-chronological-order “chapter” in a longer epic fantasy series of short stories.  In my head, these stories are each independent stories with their own characters (with a few recurring characters) and their own beginnings, middles, and ends.  But a thread runs through them that ties them together into a larger, hopefully coherent narrative.  That’s the idea, anyway.  But first… if I can, I want to finish this story.

4) Contingent on the success of Goal #3, submit completed story to a professional market or content: More contingency goals. If I can find time to write, and if I can thereafter finish a draft of this story, then and only then will I have something to submit.  Basically: I’ll cross this bridge when and if I come to it.

5) Develop a plan to revitalize the blog: The first of my new goal categories concerns this very blog.  Simply put, the site is dated and clunky. For a long time I’ve been wanting to update the blog to make it better and cleaner and update the visual appeal.  The blog also lagged a lot in 2013 for posts and content. A lot of this was due to lack of time for blogging, this is largely true. But some of it was for lack of something to blog about.  I believe that I need to take a broader view on what sorts of things are of value to discuss on this blog, and what I want to talk about.

This goal isn’t to complete the revitalization.  It’s to set up a plan to do so.  That plan will need to balance competing desires for maximum blog-beautifulosity and interestingification with minimum time input.

6) Find a consistent blogging schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: Similar to Goal #2 in almost all respects except instead of relating to fiction, it relates to blogging.  I’ve long wanted a consistent posting schedule; maybe in 2014 I can figure out what a realistic schedule might be.

7) Personal Life Renewal: You know something else that dropped off a lot in 2013? My personal life. As in the whole Husband and Father thing.  I was so overtaken by being father I had to be (for little V.R.’s sake) that I hadn’t taken time to focus on being the father I want to be (for both V.R. and B.T.) Not to mention, you know, romancing Dear Wife. Of this I’ll say no more, except that I want to be very clear that these three people are my highest priority, and I want to acknowledge that here in my blog.

There.  That should be enough to keep me very busy for the next six months.  How do you plan to spend all that time?

Links to Chew On: The Great Library

Oh look: it’s my semi-annual link dump.  Enjoy these links to chew on:

  • Has one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World been reborn?  Bibliotheca Alexandrina explores the new Library of Alexandria – which is pretty awesomely cool.
  • Jim Butcher offers his advice to aspiring authors (of which I am one).  He warns that most aspiring authors will kill their dreams by their own hands.  I know of what he speaks: I struggle daily with whether to pull the plug and turn off the terminal life support on which my dreams of authordom subsist.  (Those dreams have been nigh-mortally wounded by my abyssmally-low wordcount productivity, which is a result of many factors, chief among which is my decision to focus my attention on things that I’ve deemed more important than writing – you know, the stuff I go on and on and on about here in my blog.)  If I ever come out on the other side of this, it will because of my dream’s will to live, to survive, to endure and, yes, to “transcend”.
  • Cory Doctorow has some thoughts on the ca. 19th-century marketing platforms that Publishers are currently using, and how they can move forward into the 21st-century.  (Hint: It doesn’t involve DRMed eARCs.)  Marketing is one the of four or five top reasons to go with traditional publishing instead of self-publishing.  But if traditional publishers can’t be bothered to use modern tools to do a more effective job at this, then that severely diminishes the argument in their favor.  Heck… even I, with my homely Microsoft Access and Excel skills can do better than a word processing file to keep track of this stuff.  (Okay, who’m I kidding: I’m mostly a whiz at Excel and pretty darn good at Access, too; but who else am I kidding: these aren’t so rare talents that any given corporation can’t find an intern or two who’s at least sufficiently competent with these basic tools to create a better tracking mechanism than that…)  As the number of publishers drops to a few, large corporations, it seems nonsensical to me that they can’t find the wherewithal to do even basic 21st-century business stuff.  I hope this changes, and changes soon.
  • Speaking of Marketing, this recent post on io9 about “7 Misconceptions About Sci-Fi Publishing” talks a bit about Marketing in one of its 7 points (the seventh, in fact).  It jives with a lot of the things I wrote about book marketing on my blog here, but comes with added extended quotes from actual book publishers!  The other six points in that piece are of varying grades of quality.
  • In “Movements: So What Do You Think of My Story…” on Strange Horizons, Filipina author Rochita Loenen-Ruiz discusses the mindset and headspace needed to write about cultures other than your own.  Her article doesn’t use the word, but it’s highly critical of people who use “Exoticism” when writing other cultures.  By the same token, the piece praises those who approach writing other cultures with a humble attitude, as exemplified by: “I have these characters from a culture that is not my own, and I’m trying to get it right.  Can anyone help me and take a look at this?”  For my own purposes, since I work largely in secondary-world fantasy, this becomes a question of how to portray interesting non-real cultures that reflect more than just the typical Western-European tropes, but which are also not mere cultural charicatures.  Except for the occasional foray into sci-fi, I won’t have a lot of “Japanese” characters or “Filipino” characters or “African” characters or, for that matter, “European” characters.  But I hope that I will be able to write characters from a variety of different fictional cultures and borrow – graciously, humbly, and respectfully – from a variety of real-world cultures to fill my invented worlds.  So, not “Japanese” characters or “African” characters, but characters with a clear cultural and ethnic connection to other real-world cultures, and done in a way that is interesting and (hopefully) not offensive.  I’ve no doubt that I have and will fail, from time to time, but I will strive to improve.
  • Packing to go on a book tour is not something I have to worry about.  It may not be anything I ever have to worry about (but it’s a worry I’d love to trade up for).  If, however, I do have to face the challenges of preparing for a book tour, John Scalzi’s rundown of how he packs for it would undoubtedly serve as a useful primer.
  • This is really for my own theoretically future-reference, but seeing as how I have almost no experience querying and writing synopses for my stories, this turn-by-turn run-down of what to include in a synopsis should prove a useful instructional aid if I ever need it.
  • I’ve waxed on and on about my inability to spend any time writing (and my attendant shame at being so anti-prolific).  One could say I’m “obsessed with daily wordcounts”, inasmuch as you extend that phrase to include obsession with a daily wordcount that’s consistently 0.  Author Jason Sanford looks at this sort of obsession a little differently.  The crux of his argument is that quantity does not equate with quality – but frankly I take that as a given, an article of faith.  On the other hand – you can’t have quality with a quantity of 0.  Author Rachel Aaron – she of the 10,000-words-a-day fame – also has some thoughts on this subject, to wit: she likes her some writing speed, but she still has to go back and rewrite to make her stories better, and she finds herself doing that more and not less as she goes along.  So at the end of the day, she and Jason are basically on the same page: you can’t skip the rewriting/editing/revising/whatever stage.  I suppose that what is best in life is to have both, eh?  Fast first drafts and nice, thorough rewriting/edting/revising/etc.
  • Here’s a very brief round up of links on SFWA and the GenderFail Kerfuffle – these links go mostly to authors whose blogs and feeds I already follow, but contained within these links are a wealth of additional links that provide a lot of food-for-thought.  First, I saw SFWA President John Scalzi’s post on the subject.  Without a little more context, though, I was more-or-less a fish out of water.  What, precisely, had happened?  Thankfully, Jim Hines was on hand with a somewhat more complete round-up of links on the subject (although see also the caveat he adds here, and his additional thoughts).  Included in that list was a link with a pretty thorough diagnosis of what happened, and included scans and/or PDFs of some of the offending material.  (Hines’ link list is worth perusing if this issue is of interest to you.)  The quick-and-dirty version: the last few issues of the official SFWA publication have had some problematic and misogynistic material in them: from a female warrior in an overtly “sexy” chain-mail bikini, an article about “lady” editors that spends too long extoling the phyiscal attributes of some of those editors (i.e. their beauty), and a praise of Barbie as an exemplar of longevity as attributed to her maintaining “quiet dignity the way a woman should.”  And then in the latest edition, two venerable old authors of the genre – the ones who wrote about the attractive “lady” editors, lambaste their critics and compare them to censors, fascists, and mass-murderers. Mary Robinette Kowal was more angry about how those two authors were able to singlehandedly trash the credibility of the SFWA with the misogynistic rant than about the rant itself – an understandable reaction from a former board member.  Jason Sanford is a little more direct and to-the-point: it’s “Time for the men of SF to tell the sexists to go to hell“.  Tobias Buckell, without providing context for why the post was necessary, linked to an article that made the point that “criticism isn’t censorship“.  (Jason Sanford seconded that notion.)  N.K. Jemisin made a reference to the SFWA kerfuffle (as well as to past kerfuffles such as RaceFail and others that were new to me) in her Continuum GOH speech.  This is one of those cases where I’m glad this discussion is happening before I become a writing professional.  It’s good to see people who are gracious and upright about these issues bringing them up and pushing for change – it’s good to have good examples.  It’s also good to expose myself to viewpoints that may illuminate some previously-unexamined latent sexism that I may contain within myself as a product of the culture I grew up in.  I hope I can be better, myself.  Meanwhile, some people are leaving SFWA over the ongoing sexism, while others are joining in the hopes of making a change in the organization.  At present, I am in a position to do neither…
  • The SFWA Gender-Fail dust-up was really just the beginning.  Misogyny is just one form of hatred and bigotry, and now an SFWA member has hijacked the SFWA twitter feed to spread other forms of hatred.  The hater-in-question was briefly referenced in Jemisin’s Guest-of-Honor speech linked above, and he took the opportunity to direct a lot of his own trollish malevolence toward Jemisin, and to do in a most transparently racist way.  There are now members of SFWA calling for him to be kicked out of the organization.  I don’t get a say – I’m not in SFWA – but I support their cause, and if you happen to be in SFWA, you should to.  Check out Amal El-Mohtar’s post on the subject linked above.  He’s got details on how to contact your SFWA representatives.  (ETA: The deleted section is no longer relevant, thanks to the next bullet.)  Tobias Buckell shares some similar thoughts on the matter here.  Jemisin replied (only a little obliquely) here, with a true take-down that cuts to the heart: “There can be nothing more pitiful — dangerous, certainly, but still, pitiful — than a person whose self-worth depends solely on their perceived ability to diminish others. That is a person who truly has nothing of his own.”  Some additional reactions to the aforementioned hateful bile here.  (As it turns out, the SFWA Board started looking into what actions it thinks it might take…)
  • At the end of the day, SFWA decided to expel the member referred to above.  Jemisin – the injured party in this case – responded to Beale’s expulsion, then offered a glimpse into her thought process had SFWA chosen not to do the right thing (thankfully, a counter-factual).  Meanwhile, writer SL Huang has a convenient timeline (with tons of links) of events in this latest dust-up, starting from the January 2013 SFWA Bulletin with the bikini chainmail cover and the initial, mildly offensive articles by Resnick and Malzberg, going through Resnick & Malzberg’s subsequent meltdowns, former SFWA president John Scalzi’s apologies, the unmasking of a serial sexual harasser from within the halls of Tor Books, the reactions of aforementioned hateful racist, homophobic, misogynistic turd, subsequent online discussion related to said turd’s misuse of SFWA communication channels, and finally the expulsion of said turd.  That’s a lot of controversial stuff, and I could link to all of it, but in the interest of time it seems more efficient to link you to someone who’s already aggregated a lot of those links…
  • It seems Amazon has decided to get into the Fanfic business… I haven’t much – or anything, really – to say on the subject.  I don’t write fanfiction or tie-in-fiction or anything of the like and neither do I have any desire to tread down that road, pesonally.  I  have way, way, way too much of my own stuff that I want to do to worry about adding to other peoples’ worlds.  But I’ll let some other, pro-authors opine: here’s John Scalzi, Jim Hines, and Tobias Buckell with some thoughts.
  • An infographic on the effects of writing on the brain http://www.bestinfographics.co/amazing-facts-about-writing-and-the-brain-infographic/
  • A modest bit of research on the classifications of Geeks and Nerds
  • Tobias Buckell has some interesting thoughts on the nature of “advice” from people who are doing well in publishing – whether via the new “self” model or the old “traditional” model: their advice is heavily skewed by their “Survivorship Bias“.  In other words: they think that because what they did worked for them, that there is some universal truth that can be taken from their experience and replicated perfectly.  What the Survivorship Bias ignores is the stories of the people who did the exact same thing as those who succeeded and yet… they failed.  Because they failed, we don’t hear their stories, so we assume the stories of the successful are accurate.  There’s a lot more than this on Buckell’s post, and you should check it out.
  • So how did that case/trial against Apple for publishing colluding work out? No big surprises, but Apple was found Guilty.  The evidence suggesting probable collusion seemed pretty strong – which is why all the publishers eventually bowed out; they knew they couldn’t win this fight.  Only Apple had pockets deep enough to bother trying.  Scrivener’s Error, of course, has thoughts on the ongoing matter here and here.
  • Scott Lynch doesn’t understand what you mean when you say you’re looking for a “shortcut” to publishing success…
  • Is Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader on it’s last legs?  They seem to have made the decision to exit the “tablet” business.  It would be pretty sad if that were the case – the Nook readers are the only really substantial competition for Amazon’s Kindle readers, as far as I can see.  I’m aware others exist, but without being attached to a content-purchasing backend, I suspect they’re all pretty much dead-in-the-water.  Nothing against Amazon (really; I use them all the time) but I’d really prefer they didn’t have a de facto monopoly over e-book distribution… (and no, Apple doesn’t count, first, because they don’t make readers, they make only tablets, and second because hello aforementioned antitrust litigation.)

Links to Chew On: In One Fell Swoop

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.

2013: Goals, Plans, Dreams

I’m more than a few weeks late, at this point, in getting to talking about my goals and plans for the new year.  I’ve already lost five out of the fifty-two weeks this year.  But that still leaves forty-seven weeks, which is still plenty of time to plan ahead for.

I wanted to follow along in the same vein as my goals post from last year.  Give a list of specific, actionable and measureable goals by which I can check myself throughout the year.  (I defined “SMART” goals in my post last year.)

But before I get to those, I wanted to take a moment to muse about my long-term goals and dreams.  What is it, exactly, that I want to achieve?

Thinking About Long-term Goals

I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams.  I talked about them in last year’s goal post, for instance.  And it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”.  By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write (however slow I am at writing, I am writing), but that I aspire for my writing to be published.  Of course, now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux. 

Of course, when I say I want to be “published” part of what I mean is that I want to be read – that is to say, that I think others will like what I write, and that it’s worth their time to read it.  (A pretty audacious thing to say, I know.)  And, once upon a time, the most sure-fire way to get your words in front of people who might be interested in reading them was to go the “traditional” publishing route: get your book picked up by a big-name publisher, or your story printed in a big-name magazine.  Sure, you could self-publish your book, but save for a few exceptions, that way lay madness (and, too frequently, financial ruin, especially if you went the way of the Vanity Press).  Without the distribution muscle of an established publisher, it was nearly impossible to get your work into bookstores.

We all know now that the world has changed.  Thanks to technological disintermediation, we have a viable alternative to the old traditional way of doing things with Digital Self-Publishing.  Today we have concrete examples of authors who’ve made it big bucking the old system and taking their books directly (and digitally) to the people: illustrious success stories like those of Amanda Hocking and E. L. James and Hugh Howey and so on.  It’s a new golden age, a publishing bonanza!  But then, when you dig right down into it, you find that the bloom is already off the rose, and amazing success (or even modest, work-a-day living success) is harder to achieve than many initially thought.

On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model.  I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and  how those problems negatively impact authors.  So, for me, it seems I could go either way.  There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road. 

But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.  (This probably comes as no surprise to regular readers… although I have been fairly critical of both roads to publication, I think on balance I’ve been slightly more critical of the Digital Self-publishing reovolution.)  However, inspired by a recent post from Jo Eberhardt’s Happy Logophile, I find myself asking… why?

Why?

I’ve spent some time thinking, and it’s a question that I’ve found harder to answer than it should be.  The answer – the honest answer – seems, at first, to be a shallow response.

A first pass: As a child, I never dreamed of getting my book digitally published; I dreamed of having real, physical copies of my books available on bookstore shelves.  Riposte: So what? Times, and the world, have changed.   If you want a career as a writer, you’ve got to go where the money is.  Counterclaim: But there’s still too much money on the table in the Physicl Print world… why would I voluntarily give up as many as half of my potential sales.  Besides, going-it-alone is essentially a crapshoot: there’s no sure-fire way of rising above selling a small handful of e-books to achieving real success, and there’s no objective or consistently-reliable way of discerning or differentiating high-quality self-published e-books from uninspired pablum.  And besides again: I can’t afford the editing and cover-artwork and design and whatnot I’d need to make the thing at least marginally presentable, and I’m insufficiently skilled (and insufficiently endowed with the free time needed to gain the skills) to do it myself.

When you dig down into it, then, my reasoning is at least a little better than merely shallow.  As a practical matter, I’m focused on traditional publishing because that’s what my current resources best allow.  That’s not an insignificant matter.  I have all the (non-free) time in the world to wait on editorial response and the machinery of publishing to do its thing.  But I don’t have the free time needed to make self-publishing work. 

But the real reason is more than mere practicality, I think.  I want to be successful.  Given my resources, I can’t be successful at self-publishing.  But more than that, I suspect that even if I had the right resources, I still wouldn’t be as successful at self-publishing as I believe I would be in the traditional publishing world.  The fact is… I really want to get rich off of my writing.  And all things considered I still feel I have a better shot at getting rich in the traditional path.

I’m sounding shallow again.  But the reality is… it’s not about the money.  It’s about what the money buys.  As a husband and father, financial success in publishing gains me security for my family and a true legacy to pass on to my children.  And, as an author, it buys me artistic freedom to pursue the projects I want to work on without worrying about whether the next thing I do will be a home-run or just a modest base-hit (or, for that matter, a ball or even a strike, if I’m going to keep using this whole baseball metaphor thing that I’m really ill-equipped to use).

But why would I worry about being successful at writing if I’m decently capable of being successful at a more regular career – like what I’m doing in my day job?

Don’t get me wrong: I like my day job a lot.  But when it comes down to it… I never wanted to be an analytical genuis growing up.  I never really wanted to be a corporate executive.  And I surely didn’t want to be a mid-level manager.  I’m practical, and my idea of a practical and achievable career goal has changed over time.  But in my heart-of-hearts, deep down, the practical is a cage.  There’s only one thread that has been constant throughout my life.  Writing.  If you ask me not what I am or what I do for a living, but who I am, there is only one answer, and it is an answer that has not changed since my earliest childhood: I am a writer. 

As to why, then?  It all comes back around to this.  I am a writer.  And I want to be who I was born to be and do what I was born to do.  And I want to be able to do that and still be a good provider for my family and for the future.

2013 Goals

That’s the long and short of why, so now I’d like to get back to the more traditional version of a goal-setting post: the actual, concrete, measureable goals I’ve set for myself for the (not so) new (anymore) year.  I’ll start with the easy one.

1) Read at least 750,000 words worth of fiction in 2013:  I wanted to set a goal that was a stretch for me – compared to last year – but which was also firmly achievable.  My goal last year was to read 550,000 words of fiction, but I blew that goal away, reading over 950,000 words of novels and fiction.  Since last year was the first time I’ve ever tracked the volume of my reading, I don’t have a track record: I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little for me.  So I set my goal much higher than my 2012 goal, but lower than what I actually achieved.  That way, I know 750,000 is achievable, but it’s still a higher expectation.  I’m looking forward to

2) Write at least 1,750 words of new fiction per week* in 2013:  This one is a little more challenging.  In 2012 I’d set a goal of 2,000 words per week.  I didn’t even come close.  My average per week, when I wrote, was around 1,400 words… if you take my average for every week in 2012, the picture is even bleaker: only 940 words per week.  That’s because I only wrote anything at all on about two out of every three weeks.  I want to do better than that in 2013… but I also want to be realistic.  I’m not going to do 2,000 words per week in 2013.  Not gonna’ happen.  That’s just being honest.  2012 was a busy year with a lot of stuff going on.  2013 will be much the same: different things going on (the old “Home Project” that ate up significant chunks of 2012 is mostly complete now) but still just as busy with new, time-annihilating things (I’m sure you’ll hear more about V.R. in the coming months ahead). 

So, why 1,750?  I approached it from two directions.  I wanted to write more per week than I did in 2012.  More specifically… I wanted to write an average of, or close to, two chapters in “The Book of M” per month (except for months when I’ll be working on short stories and other writing projects).  So far, with 7 chapters in the bag, the chapters are averaging around 3,700 words.  At 1,750 words per week, I would be writing approximately 2 chapters’ worth per month.  Now, those words I’ve planned are project-agnostic: they may be from “Book of M” or from some short stories, or even from some SF&F-related non-fiction if such writing opportunities come avaialble.

You’ll note the asterisk up there in the statement of my goal.  That represents a caveat. Last year, I’d intended to write a certain number of words per week, but I had enough foresight to see that some weeks things would come up.  So I gave myself an escape clause, allowing me to write nothing in seven of the fifty-two weeks.  In reality I spent 18 weeks writing nothing.  I want to do better this year, but stay realistic.  So I’m giving myself 14** weeks off, this year.

My summary assessment: this will be a difficult stretch goal for me to achieve in 2013.  But I think it’s possible.

3) Complete first drafts for at least 2 short stories having less than 8,000 words apiece: This is a duplicate goal from last year.  I didn’t achieve it.  I got 2/3rds to 3/4ths of one short story written last year.  I’m going to try to finish it and write one more.

4) Submit at least 1 completed and revised work to a professional market: Because I’m never going to get anything published if I don’t submit anything to a publisher.  So this year, I want to try to do that.  Unlikely I’ll have anythign accepted for publication this year.  But I really ought to try if I really want to make a career out of  this.

So… those are my goals for the year.  They’re measureable and consistent with my overall goals and dreams for the future. 

Well, then.  Tell me about you.  Did you set some goals for yourself in 2013, related to writing, or reading, or anything else in your life?  Tell me about it in the comments, or link back to a blog post if you’ve already blogged it.  And good luck in 2013!  Good luck to us all!

 

________

**After some contemplation about the things I expect to take place through 2013, I had to change my expected “0-word weeks” caveat from 12 weeks to 14 weeks.  I think that will be, frankly, more realistic.

The New York Times on the Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy

There’s a recent article on the New York Times about the shady business of buying Book Reviews called “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy“.  This is a pretty crucial read, I think, if you’re an author today.  And it paints a pretty stark picture of what I think is a fairly dystopian underworld that supports and undergirds the digital self-publishing revolution.

In many ways, the story it presents – that of sulf-published authors eager for a little fame and some positive acclaim for their work pay money for good reviews – is an unsurprising one.  Despite policies on Amazon and other sites against this kind of thing, there aren’t, to my knowledge, a lot of mechanisms to enforce this and prevent insincere, pay-for-play reviews.

It’s unlikely I’d have to actually answer this question, but in case it’s not clear: why should authors be worried about a system where some can purchase positive reviews in order to buff their sales?  Because it’s one more barrier to entry that keeps authors from being legitimately successful based on the quality of their work.  You want to be successful, and get a lot of sales of your hot-new-ebook?  Then be prepared to pony up for some positive buzz.  Strike that.  Be prepared to pony up for some artificial, fake positive buzz.  In short, it is profoundly unfair, and a market inefficiency to boot.

It could be argued, I suppose, that there’s nothing different from paying for positive reviews and paying for a cover artist or paying for an editor’s services.  It’s all part of the cost-of-doing-business.  It is different, though, because those fake reviews are deceptively positioned as the genuine opinions of actual readers: they’re supposed to be a stamp-of-approval from one reader to another, and signal that a book is bona fide.

But, truth-be-told, I’m no big fan of authors having to pay for all the services that go into producing a quality book in the first place, either.  I recognize it as a necessary precondition: something you have to be willing to do if you’re going to self-publish.  But there’s still a huge problem with that: it also necessarily excludes authors of limited financial means from entering into the market on a level playing field.  I’ve toyed with different ideas for how to deal with this situation – how to level the playing field for self-publishing aspirants so that those without financial backing but with tons of talent can still make a splash – but I haven’t seen any solutions rise in the marketplace, yet.  There’s Kickstarter, but Kickstarter is only likely to work if you’ve got an established audience (this has been the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen to date).  I take that back.  There is a mechanism by which established authors of limited means can try their work out and get the services they need to polish their book (though it may at times be a tad inefficient): the traditional publishing industry.

And so, this is how it goes.  The article suggests that its protagonist’s business (that of Mr. Rutherford) is no longer extant – having been discovered and effectively shut out by the likes of Google and Amazon. But I’ve no illusions that this isn’t still going on, in some form or other, with other players in the same roles.

And I think it’s a curious scandal, and one that needs more attention, that Mr. John Locke – he of the first-to-sell-a-million-ebooks fame – is implicated in this article.  Mr. Locke, it turns out, was a big-time customer of this positive-review-mill: a fact which he apparently carefully neglected to mention in his how-to book on self-publishing, How I Sold One-Million E-Books

This is not to say that others didn’t achieve their success more legitimately: by genuine readers reading, liking, and reviewing their books, gratis.  But it’s a painful revelation that Locke, and undoubtedly others, achieved their fame and success in such an underhanded way.

But there’s the rub, you see.  Even this scandal aside, the digital self-publishing revolution is still a pay-for-play system, inasmuch as the best-quality-looking covers and the best editing and the best copy-editing and so on will all cost an author money: doing this well isn’t free or cheap.

This is, of course, part of why I still prefer the “traditional” approach for myself.  I have no fan-base to speak of (the readers of this blog notwithstanding, their numbers cannot support a novelist’s career).  I cannot afford even the legitimate the costs of e-book production, let alone afford to buy black-market reviews.  Traditional publishing offers, at present, my best, and most legitimate, chance at success.

Still, I know the traditional path is not for everyone.  I just hope that new, better models arise that allow authors to spread the word about their digitally self-published e-books.  If I think of anything that just might work, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Some other views on the scandal:

K.W. Jeter says “Amazon Should Do What’s Best for Indie Writers & Readers” – the problem with Jeter’s argument is that it seems like he’s trying to suggest that John Locke was an isolated case; but considering the huge amount of money Rutherford was making on this scam, that’s clearly not true: Locke was far from alone in this practice, and there are by necessity many more self-published authors like him, or else the facts in the reporting are wrong. Jeter clarified his thoughts (with quotes from his post) in the comments and it looks like my reading of his point was too narrowly focused on his reaction to Locke; I must apologize for misreading and mischaracterizing his post. It still bears pointing out that obviously, based on the numbers Rutherford was pulling down in his scam, John Locke was not alone in soliciting Rutherford’s services.  Whether Locke or one of the legion of others who used Rutherford’s services, the result is the same: a debasement of the utility of reviews for self-publishing authors.

Chuck Wending says “Bad Author Behavior… Is Bad Author Behavior” – Chuck would have us shrug it off… but he’s wrong and we shouldn’t.  Why?  Because if problems like this are not railed against they become the norm, they become systemic: and then that becomes just what you have to do in order to get published.  Self-publishing becomes an ugly caricature of itself, a pay-for-play slum.

Fellow writer/blogger Jo Eberhardt opines.

More links to come as I encounter them…

Links to Chew On: Publishing, Dialog, Language, Culture, DRM, and Weirdness

It’s time for another helping of the various links I’ve accumulated over several weeks on both diverse and literary topics, and with occassional added commentary.  Enjoy:

  • Jeff VanderMeer is Dreaming Well of the Future of Publishing…  and Jeff VanderMeer knows whereof he speaks – a man who has traditionally published and self-published both; my experience of Mr. VanderMeer (very limited though it is) is one that leaves me the impression of a very intelligent and thoughtful man, and I find this essay thoughtful as well; It matches pretty well to things I’ve been saying on this blog before: here, here, here, here, and here… oh, also here and herehere, too, and of course, here.  Hmm… you think this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while?
  • Jay Lake has a great little primer on dialog tags and the progression of style from said-bookisms all the way up to tagless dialog – it was really useful to see this laid out with some clear examples.  I don’t strive for purely tagless dialog, or even for the elimination of all said-bookisms (I believe they have their place in fiction writing), but I do try to be sparing and economical in their use.
  • Aliette de Bodard discusses character names, and different cultural approaches to naming conventions… a topic I ought to spend more time thinking about when I do my culture worldbuilding.
  • Another common Fantasy trope goes under the microscope: this time, it’s the axe-wielding Dwarf in an essay by Jim Hines; Steve Bucheit has a writing prompt based on Jim’s short essay: Story Bone
  • National Geographic has a Photo-essay on endangered languages: those in threat of extinction when the last few living speakers pass away
  • How much more pleasant would my afternoon commute be with a self-driving carSwoon… Let’s just say that I, for one, bow to our new robot overlords (if it means I don’t have to put up with crazy drivers and traffic jams)…
  • Tor Books decided to drop DRM, so UK publisher Hachette decides to double-down on DRM 
  • Author Cory Doctorow responds to Hachette’s draconian letters warning authors against publishing their titles in other markets without DRM; let’s just say Cory Doctorow doesn’t find Hachette’s position credible, or lawful… (I don’t know the relevant contract law, but I’m skeptical that a contract can dictate the terms of other contracts one party may have with a third party – that seems like a real stretch at best.)
  • So some author self-publishes a book filled with racist stereotypes and other derogatory things. Mostly, the world doesn’t notice or care, because poorly-written openly racist claptrap isn’t a big market these days.  More’s the pity.  (This is called sarcasm.)  Then a venerable and respected magazine of weird and speculative fiction decides to publish and promote said racist claptrap after forcing out the former, respected editor of said magazine, and against the editorial advice of said former editor. Get the whole sordid story here (background on said racist claptrap), here (author N.K. Jemisin reacts to the news), here (author Jim C. Hines reacts) and here (author Jeff VanderMeer and husband of said former editor dishes with the insider information on how it went down).  Finally, of course, said now-fallen-from-grace magazine retracts after the internet falls on its head, as the internet is wont to do when egregiously stupid collides with highly visible. I toyed with linking to the book in question, or to the “publisher’s” website, but decided not to push any traffic in that direction. 
  • In response to the above, a sub-pro short story market has decided to go pro. That’s pretty awesome.  Here’s Mary Robinette Kowal with some of the details.
  • A father and writer looks at violence in his books: this is one I’ve been trying to think more about, but just don’t have anything at this time to add.  I’ve talked about what I call the “Dark Matter” of fiction before, and fictional violence is a part of that.  No easy answers, but lots of questions.

Data on the Ebook Revolution

I’ve said before that I’m a data-hound.  I don’t like airy statements that lack any real numbers to back it all up – I prefer solid statements based on actual, verifiable data.  There’s a lot more of the former than the latter in discussions of digital self-publishing and ebooks and related topics.  So some new, solid data on industry trends is a real treat for me.

  • Pew Internet on the Rise of E-reading: The study shows that one-fifth of Americans read an e-book in the past year; those who use e-readers read more and are more likely to purchase books than to borrow them.  This research gives a good sense on the direction of the broader market for e-books and how things have evolved.
  • Dean Wesley Smith and Mike Shatzkin each comment on the data unearthed by the Pew Internet survey.  A key take-away is that e-readership is growing.  But there are some surprises in there as well: like the fact that e-reader owners are still more likely to be reading a print book than an e-book.
  • Self-published Author Lindsay Buroker argues that more authors are making a “living” self-publishing than you might think.  To back up her claim… she points to a small number of authors who appear to be doing well (i.e. anecdotal data).  She goes on to offer advice for making it big based on doing the same thing that these folks are doing….
  • But then along comes a new survey from Taleist on self-publishing that will disabuse you of the notion that there’s easy-pickings gold in them thar hills. Continue reading

Quality vs. Speed

During my MBA, one of the problems that was often discussed is the tension between having quality information with which to make decisions versus having timely and fast information with which to make decisions.  In an ideal world, your information is both timely and accurate.  It’s hard to make good decisions unless you have information that is both accurate and timely.  But in the real world, there is a trade-off between timeliness and accuracy.

I offer this by way of analogy.  This holds true outside the world of business and MBAs as well: in whatever field of interest or endeavor of human activity, there is always a tension and a trade-off between the quality of something and the speed it can be done.

Author Dean Wesley Smith, who has become something of a self-publishing advocate, talked about this in a recent guest post gig he did on the “Fictorians” blog.  I found it interesting, then, that he took a stand against one of the most commonly-cited positives for new authors to choose self-publishing over traditional publishing: speed.

The argument goes this way: traditional publishers suck because you write a book and then a publisher accepts it and then it’s like two years before the book comes out and before you sell a single copy.  Or, you self-publish and the book is out tomorrow and you’re selling like hotcakes.

And hey, I can dig that argument.  I mean, yeah, two years is a long time after you’ve already invested whatever into writing that novel in the first place.

Which gets to the heart of Dean’s argument: you did invest time and learning into writing that novel, didn’t you?

Continue reading