Don’t Touch Anything!

*This is a placeholder. This is only a placeholder. If this were an actual post, you would see information, and opinion, and somebody being WRONG on the INTERNET! Possibly. *sigh* Look, I’d intended to be up much earlier, but for a confluence of reasons, I’m running short on sleep (by a bunch, and spread over a couple of weeks, really) and I’ve just barely started my coffee, and the Creature aka Wee Dave aka the Delight of My Eyes *clenched teeth* is – well, he’s more than stirring: he’s sitting up in bed and sucking his thumb at the world in general. And though Mrs. Dave does have more time today than she would otherwise, it starts earlier than usual. Until I have an opportunity to get to the office, throw up (like Chunk) some ideas you’d like to know more about, perhaps from someone a bit less practiced than the more senior Mad Genii.*

Ok, himself is fed, changed, bathed, soothed, and put down (for a nap. I’m told it’s important to remember to include that point). This one – now that I can finally get to it with something resembling a clear conscience – is going to look a lot like a State of the Writer post (Insanity? Confusion? Frustration? Could be, dear readers, could be), but I hope it’ll segue into something actually worth reading informative, and – perhaps, perhaps – enlightening. Unless you’re a dwarf, and then I hope it’ll be endarkening. Note the line-out in the previous sentence. I’m going to come back to that.

Wee Dave turned one this past week. I’m told this is something of a milestone, and not an altogether arbitrary one. Mrs. Dave and I kept him alive for a year, without losing our minds (much: see the above paragraph for implication/foreshadowing) or running screaming from what passes for life in this fallen world. It was close a few times, though. He’s (mostly) a delight. Most of the time. Especially when he’s asleep and quiet. I like those times a lot.

All right. The Raspberry Pi Traveling Writing Rig is proceeding apace. I have the Dremel drill press almost set up to put the finishing touches on the case for it all, and need to put together something to carry Das Keyboard in the manner in which it would like to become accustomed. And in which I would like to be so. I’m planning something in leather, so I’ll need to put together a stitching horse before that can become realized. I was going to do that, anyway, as I’ve got plans for making some moccasin-style boots that I’m itching to make a reality.

I’ve learned over the last couple of years that my joints are not quite as elastic as they used to be. I’m doing something about it (several somethings), and one of those things is changing my footwear. Every positive inch of heel adds something like twelve degrees of lean (if you were to maintain proper joint alignment) which requires an unpleasant amount of shifting in order to compensate for. This will entail shortening of muscles as full range of motion is lost, as well as extra stress on ALL THE JOINTS. Which results in pain. A pain I could really do without. So I’m looking at shoes that don’t have enormous soles. My New Rocks languish in the closet. They’re pretty sure I don’t love them anymore. Which isn’t true: I just don’t love them enough to put up with knee pain.

Unfortunately, nobody makes what I’m after. No, I tell a lie: nobody makes what I’m after for less than about four hundred. Which I’m just not willing- I tell another lie. I’d love to pay someone to make me the shoes. I just can’t afford that. I can afford to get enough leather to make myself a pair, and to make a pair for Mrs. Dave. Upside is I can actually do the work myself. I just need to put together a stitching horse. And buy a bull hide. And some nice conchos. It’ll still be spendy, but not as spendy as just buying a pair. Plus I get to further develop good skills. Can’t have too many of those.

Unfortunately, all of this work (and the activity board for the Boy-Creature. Need to do that soonest) is going to take time, and time I don’t really have to waste. I already don’t get much writing time (though there’s a plan. It involves money, and a lady trusted by people we trust, and maybe a couple of mornings a week during which time I don’t have to be on the Active Daddy Clock (Heaven!!)) and what I do get is in fits and spurts. It’s maddening, especially when my brain moves faster than my fingers. Which is always, again, frustrating.

One of the things about being anything is the investment of identity in the activity. “I’m a plumber.” “I’m an engineer.” “I’m a writer.” A writer who don’t write ain’t a writer, not to put too fine a point on it. And a writer who doesn’t write often enough becomes a rusty writer. This feeds into Imposter Syndrome (For me, and for most other creators I know. I’ve heard tales of one creative person who doesn’t deal with that voice, but I’m not sure I quite believe them.)

Imposter Syndrome is when that SOB voice in the back of my head starts in on the “if you were a *real* writer – a genuine author – you’d have finished/submitted/published more stuff. Y’know, like Peter/Jason/Cedar/Sarah/Amanda/Pam/Dave/Larry.” So I answer it, “not like John?” And it responds, “ok, now you know you’re really nuts. John’s a freak of nature.” So at least there’s that. On the other hand (you have fingers) there’s learning to let enough be enough. I finished a few chapters across a couple of different projects, I wrote a short story and plotted another, and I’m getting a mess of other shorts ready for publishing. And I have a one-year-old son, for whom I’m the primary caregiver.

Oh, sure, I can make excuses. That one-year-old is usually a pretty acceptable excuse, at least in the set of people who are also parents. It’s harder to convince myself that it actually excuses my relative lack of productivity. (This despite Sarah’s, Cedar’s, and everyone else’s insistence that it does. Look, I’m pretty bright and reasonably savvy, but I’m also an American male, and we’re raised to believe we don’t have limits that we can’t overcome simply with an effort of will. Which will become another post, now I think on it.) This has been my struggle in the past few months, ever since the words started flowing again.

Kris Rusch had a great post recently (like many (most? All?) of her posts), but one piece stuck out to me. In it, she quotes one of the Random Penguin people to the effect of, “if you want to be a solo artist, you’re probably not going to be happy.” Now the context was about working in the happy fam-damnily at whichever part of the Random Penguin empire the publisher-critter works. Kris suggested, not impolitely, I thought, that authors are usually solo artists, and that looking at them otherwise is, perhaps, not entirely keeping with reality. The vast majority of the work we do as writers is inside our own skulls.

Now on the upside, I can do a lot of the preliminary work around whatever else is happening. On the downside, that means I spend most of my time there, and if I’ve learned anything from reading Sir Pterry, it’s that you need to bounce around the rest of humanity to actually be one of ‘em, and as uncomfortable as that may well be, it’s important. To my writing, if nothing else. (And there is else.)

So how’s the writer doing? The writer is doing. He’s working on the bits and pieces, and endeavoring to learn which stuff is the small-stuff-not-worth-sweating. I’m suspicious that it may turn out to be “most of the stuff.”

Oh, speaking getting in touch with the rest of humanity, I’ll be appearing at LibertyCon this year. I’ll even be on some panels. I’ve got an Author Alley slot sometime, too. It’s all at LibertyCon.

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Of Puppies and Principles

I have, courtesy of being narcoleptic, rather more experience with psychology than I would like, what with the way long-term sleep deprivation causes interesting psychiatric/psychological issues. I’ve also studied it the formal way and informally via observation and a lot of reading. Not to mention, I learned how to interact with humans by explicit observation and deduction because I’m sufficiently Odd not to get it the normal way (by osmosis while growing up).

Anyway, this little piece of anecdata leads to some thoughts about what could be considered the Sad Puppy Manifesto (although it isn’t, since the Sad Puppy organizers were – and are – more interested in doing stuff and getting results from said doings than in writing manifestos. Besides, the usual purpose of a manifesto is so the factions can have wars to the death over the wording of Chapter 27, Paragraph 45, Clause 15… Oh wait. That’s political manifestos. Nevermind). Despite this and the individual color of the three campaigns to end Puppy-Related Sadness, there actually are some broad principles that underlie the Sad Puppies campaigns.

  1. Story first. This doesn’t mean that other things aren’t important. It just means the most important thing is a story that grabs readers by the collar and hauls them into its world.
    1. Characters nearly first. Characters readers can relate to and empathize with (this does not mean readers need to like them, nor does it mean readers have to be exactly the same as them. It just means the characters have to make sense in context, do things that make sense to readers, and have goals that make sense to readers. Bonus points if you, the evil author, can have someone agreeing with a character who is doing something the reader actively loathes.
  2. Meaning and message should arise naturally from the characters and plot, not stop the action for a sermon. It’s natural for a commanding officer to let loose a lecture/tirade to a recalcitrant subordinate. It’s not natural for the hero to pause in the middle of slaying the monster to ponder the feminist psychosexual subtext of the monster’s appearance. He can do that later in his nightmares.
  3. Respect the readers. This should be bloody obvious, but it’s pretty obvious from some of the commentary that there are people who’ve missed it. I look at it this way: my potential readers are anyone capable of reading English who enjoys science fiction and fantasy. That is a hell of a lot of people, and they come from all kinds of places and lifestyles. There are city-dwellers, rednecks, bored housewives, computer programmers, you name it – and that’s just in this country. All of them have their own ideas about how things should be. Don’t assume they’re inferior to you – and if you do believe such a thing, try not to let it into your writing (and if you can’t, make sure an editor you trust cleans it out).
  4. The award that matters most is people buying the work. That doesn’t mean other awards aren’t nice: we all like a bit of recognition now and then. But if with all the millions upon millions of people out there who could be reading we can’t build an audience over time, then something isn’t working right. It could be sucky distribution. It could be that presentation or some of those other intangibles need a bit of a boost. It could also be that you’re writing for an audience of half-a-dozen and you’re already selling to them. (If so, do consider broadening your horizons a little bit).
  5. More voters and more votes mean more representative results. In 2008, fewer than 500 nomination ballots were cast for the Hugo awards. There were categories where the nominated works had fewer than 20 votes. In that environment, it doesn’t take much for someone with an agenda and a loyal following to push out anything they don’t like. In 2015, more than 2000 nomination ballots were cast. That makes it harder for things like the Sad Puppies campaigns, or our not at all hypothetical person with an agenda to push out everything else – but it doesn’t make it impossible. More people voting means that absent corruption on the part of the officials (which doesn’t appear to be a factor based on the information that’s publicly available), the results will tend to reflect the desires of the broader public (because the voters are a sample – and by the very nature of statistics, larger samples tend to be more representative of the overall population than smaller samples – and yes, I know it’s not that bloody simple. I’m trying to keep this short and failing miserably).

So, the tl;dr version? Plot and characters over message, respect your readers and really respect the ones who hand over their hard-earned money to buy your works, and the more voters at all stages of the Hugo awards, the better.

So, if you’re a member, read the stories, then decide which way you’re going to vote.

And while you’re at it, review the WorldCon 2017 Site Selection bids and pay your $40 to vote for the one you prefer: you’ll get automatic supporting membership for WorldCon 2017 before the price goes up.

You don’t get to bitch about the result if you don’t participate in the process.

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A Sense Of Place

So, today I decided we’d go back to Writers’ University TM and I was perusing the topics y’all suggested, when Cedar asked me a question which I can dispatch easily enough in a single blog post, which must be written quickly, because I have to go to the doctor (this time hopefully, really, for the all clear, although I refuse to get my hopes up.)

She asked “How much description is too much?”  Ah, oh.  That’s sort of like asking, “How high is high?” or “What color is rain” or another of those things that have no certain answer.

But there are answers.  Or at least there are guidelines that let you determine how much description is too much for what you’re doing right at this moment.

Let’s start with the fact that when I first had professional instruction in the craft — The Oregon Professional Writers Workshop with Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith — Kris told me I had “blind cat syndrome.”

This colorful description comes from the fact that at some point she had a near-blind cat, who — when moving from place to place — would only react to things when almost atop of them.

At the time I thought she was being mean, but I tried to put more description in, to make her happy.  Now, in retrospect, I look back at those stories and realize she was absolutely right.  I had absolutely no clue how to convey my character moving through the a landscape/area and so what I did was mention things only when she needed them.  The effect was bizarre, like your character is in a featureless land which extrudes things at need.  It’s enough to pop you out of the story.  You have this “She went into the kitchen, turned the stove on” (so far so good, I mean, kitchens have stoves) “she picked up the clay bowl and started beating eggs.”  Bowl?  Eggs?  Clay bowl?  What are those?  Where did they come from?  What in heck is she doing?  Now imagine instead of a mundane situation you’re in a future house and she’s doing things that you don’t expect.  Impossible to follow?  Not exactly, but not immersive.

But because that’s where I was stuck, I couldn’t see the problem.  So, in a normal process of learning, I over-corrected.  Fortunately my next novel was historical and Shakespeare, so you can actually excuse it, and some people don’t see anything wrong with it, but if it were contemporary and about some woman in a kitchen, it would read like this:

She went into the kitchen, where the white-enamel stove glowed softly.  She had cleaned it lovingly just a day before.  The kitchen, a small room with a wall of exposed brick and teak cabinets was in fact spotless, even gleaming, because this nameless character lived and died by her furniture polish.  There was also a table, well built and sturdy in the manner of upscale tables of the late twentieth century.  She’d bought it from a craftsman at a local fair.  There was also a refrigerator, polished stainless steel with glass shelves, filled with all the provisions she’d need for a week.

The first cabinet to the left as you came in the kitchen, contained a set of clay bowls fashioned from local clay by a third generation vegan potter. She withdrew one, and admired the sheen of morning sun on its glaze. Then she opened the fridge, and glanced at the perfect eggs bought from a ……  Now, put prettier words in, and you have Shakespeare novels.  Fortunately, as I said, being historical, they kind of passed under the radar, but if you do that to a modern book, you’re going to make your readers fall asleep.

So, description.  When you can’t yet “see” what you’re doing it (and seeing it is a matter of trusting the process (no, really) and writing a lot) how do you do it without destroying the story, or at least keeping the reader solidly out of it?

You know, when I read amateur stuff, for contests, mostly, nothing pops me out earlier than bad description.  So, it’s really important to get right.  Which is hard when all I can tell you is “it varies.  With the story.”

So, I’ll give you some rules of thumb on description, not just how much is too much, but the never do this.

First the never, ever, ever do this:

1- Beware empty descriptions.

There are some adjectives that tell the reader plain nothing.  Like “verdant”.  “He climbed the verdant slope” — is that underwater, in the sun, grass or trees?  Tell us “he climbed the grassy slope.”  Or “she was very beautiful.”  Yeah, that’s nice, but your beautiful is not my beautiful.  And while you should leave some space for the reader to fill in (more on that later) you still need to give something to form an image in my mind.  If you don’t want to get specific, then just give us a simile “She was beautiful and remote like an ice sculpture sitting in the middle of a perfect banquet table, which I could not reach.”

2- Beware brand names

PARTICULARLY when they don’t exist.  Okay, this might be a particular madness of mine, but I tried to make my stuff realistic by saying things like

“The broom was a gryphon 55″.  You know everything you need to know about it, right?  No?  Then perhaps one should say “The broom was a gryphon 55 with a gleaming chrome carapace, cylindrical and about two feet long, with a gentle bulge at the end, over its anti-grave mechanism and its cyber-brain.  It was hard not to think of what it looked like.” (GAH.  Why am I in Luce’s head now?)

3- Beware withholding details later on that you then drop on the reader.

This applies to blind-cat-syndrome mentioned ahead, but also to stuff like describing your character as say “A slim young woman who moved gracefully” and then five pages in telling us she’s blond.  If the reader has been imagining her as dark haired, you’re going to give that poor reader whiplash.

The bewares of that vary with circumstances:

1- Cut your cloth to fit your garment.  What I mean by this of course is that if your character is in modern times, you don’t really need to describe things like diners, or kitchens, or streets to the nth degree.  You just need to give us a feel for the TYPE it is.  “It was a rural road, with weeds growing on the side, and fences keeping the cows from wandering across the gravel expanse barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other.”  Or “it was a highway, stretching into the sunset, flawless asphalt gleaming black under the reddish rays of the sun” or something.

BUT if you are describing say a Roman villa or a Shakespearean house, you have to describe it, and if you are in the character’s head, you have to describe it without letting on that this is not normal.  So, for instance, “It was a middling cottage, the thatch new, the windows fitted with painted shutters.  The bottom floor contained a kitchen and a great room.  Up the stairs you’d find the sleeping quarters.  Judging from the bottom floor, those would be neat and tidy, with fresh rushes on the floor.”

2- Beware the words you use.  I’m writing this in haste, on my way to the doctor, and my mind won’t do flowery or poetic, but make sure that the words fit the rest of the tone of the book.

3- If you describe something in extreme and loving detail, make sure it has a relevance to the plot.  I.e. either that bowl is cursed and when it breaks will unleash the undead on your poor character, or you’re describing the bowl to distract us from the fact that those eggs are dragon eggs.

4- beware the character can’t see the world except what you show him/her.  So what you take the trouble to describe will assume huge proportions in his/her head.  In one of my early books I described a man as having huge hands, but I used “Hands like shovels”  For some reason this meant nine out of ten people thought he was the villain.  (He wasn’t.)  It was almost the only description, and it didn’t sound friendly, so…

5- DO NOT bring the story to a stand still while you describe things.  Sometimes description is important.  I get it.  Sometimes a sense of place is essential to the story.  HOWEVER if you’re going to engage in really long descriptions, weave them around the character’s actions.

She turned from smoothing the silk sheets, and lay her hand on the windowsill.  Outside the wind was whipping the cedars to a frenzy.  Somewhere, from the estate came the sound of peacocks crying.  She could hear the maids outside the door, the clunk of the tweenie’s coal bucket as she laid the fire in the next room.  She ran her hand along the silvery walls, as though she were blind, until she reached the standing desk.  Pulling a sheet of paper towards her, she wrote “My dear Gervase,” but she couldn’t go on.  Tears blotched the creamy expanse of paper, with the crest of the Duke of Allingham at the top.”

The cheat:

I worked out a cheat, which ensures that I have enough to go give the reader a sense of where he is, before I focus on objects.  For instance, in the paragraph just above, I’d have started the first scene in the book by giving the reader some points.  A sentence of two, or at least a paragraph usually does it.

It was a well appointed room, light and spacious.  The south facing windows looked out on the lawns and woods of the estate.  An enormous bedstead, in dark carved wood, took up most of the room, leaving barely enough space for a standing desk, a clothes press, and a little table on which rested a couple of leather bound books.  The bed was turned down, the sheets showing the dull glimmer of silk.”

As long as you make sure you have the general layout, people can sort of see it, and no one is surprised there’s stationary on the desk, or a pen.  You can later fill in the wall color or the smell of wax from the floors.  (Unless one of those details is important, in which case it needs to be up front.)

That is the most minimalist description you can have.  Later on you can build layers on it, to increase the effect of the scene, to set the emotional mood, or to elucidate the character.

And in the end that’s what you need to know.

What is too much description?  It’s description that serves no purpose.  The reader doesn’t need to know the exact shade of blond in your character’s hair.  He just needs enough to imagine your character.  Yes, his image won’t match yours but it doesn’t need to, unless the image is essential to the story.

So if the imagine is essential to the story, describe the image to the last iota of shade and sensation (and I didn’t say above, but in your descriptions try to evoke all five senses.  That’s a lesson for another time, as I’m in a rush.)  If it’s not, give the reader enough to get on with, then get out of the way of the story.

And now — she says – I rush to the doctor as soon as I shower and change out of my fluffy pink robe and bunny slippers.  And if you believe that description, you have my character all wrong. ;)

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Oh those pesky ebooks

I’m going to admit right off the bat this morning that I am operating under a handicap. No, not the usual one of not enough caffeine. My beloved ROG laptop has decided to become the bane of my existence. The battery, overnight yesterday, decided not to work. Now the keyboard is lagging and, at times, not registering keystrokes. Since it is out of warranty with Asus, I’m dealing with the extended warranty through Squaretrade. That means it gets to be sent in for repair. It also means I have to move all my work over to the backup machine (now my family knows why I always have at least one other working laptop as well as a tablet on hand at any time). So, if there are weird missing letters, that is the cause. I’m trying to catch them but. . . .

Anyway, back to being a Mad Genius.

First things first. If you are registered for WorldCon, you should have received notice that the Hugo packet now available for download. Fair warning, some publishers sent only extracts of their nominated works (Ancillary Justice and Skin Game come to mind). John C. Wright’s work is all combined in one file and not necessarily listed in all categories where he is nominated. So it is a bit of hunt and place for him. At least there is a note with the packet that explains this. So, if you are voting this year, start reading. There is a lot of material to get through.

Now, on with the show, so to speak.

Despite all the attempts made by traditional publishers (Baen excluded) to convince readers that e-books are nothing but a novelty that will soon disappear, it is clear they are here to stay. It is also clear that readers are becoming more and more discerning about how e-books look. I’m not just talking about covers but about the interior of the e-book as well. They want the “printed page” to look as professional as the printed page of a physical book. In other words, they want it to look pretty. Or, more simply put, they want it to look professional.

What am I talking about? Joe Konrath talks about it over on his blog. If you scroll down, you will see two examples. The first is pretty similar to most e-books you find out there right now. There is nothing really wrong with it and it is certainly a far cry from those early e-books that had to be hand-coded. But it is simple, almost plain. It is workable but, let’s face it, it doesn’t look like what you expect a printed page to look like.

Now scroll down and look at the second example. I’ll admit that it is a bit too fancy for me but it serves my purpose of illustrating the difference you can have with just a little thought and work. The only thing I would probably do differently is lose the drop cap. I’ve never really liked them and they don’t, in my opinion, look right on dedicated e-book readers. On tablets, they are much better. Trying to read an e-book with drop caps on my phone is problematic at best because of the small screen. But remove it, keep much of the rest, and you have a “page” that looks more professional. Well, it looks fancier and that, to many readers, means professional.

Several books ago, I changed the way I format my e-books to start utilizing small caps on the chapter headings as well as the first line. I removed first line indent on the first page of each chapter. I used special font characteristics (such as bold and italics) to set off the text of the chapter headings and the first line. The key with doing this with e-books is not to small cap and bold or italics the entire first line because of the way readers can alter font size. You don’t want three lines suddenly bold or italicized. So I decide going in if I will do only the first X-number of words or the first clause. Then I follow it throughout the book. Consistency is the key.

What I have found since doing so is I get fewer reviews that focus on the fact my books are indie published. Even though I have no concrete proof that the change in formatting is the reason, I can reasonably make that assumption because of the timing. Those comments stopped, for the most part, around the time I changed my formatting. So, here’s my suggestion, find a publisher of books of the same genre as what you write. Look at their formatting of their print books. Now try to duplicate what their page formatting looks like. The benefit to doing this is two-fold. The first is that your book will, as stated before, look more “professional”. The second is that those readers who follow that publisher will pick up your e-books and there will be a familiar feel to them because they look like those of their favorite publisher. Both can help increase sales.

Since I already touched on reviews — the bane of all authors at some point in their careers — if you haven’t heard already, Amazon has decided to go after paid reviews and has sued several of these review mills. This is something we should all welcome. Now if they would just do the same about the sock puppet reviews. . . .

Anyway, Anne R. Allen has a very good post about why we shouldn’t pay for Amazon customer reviews. Read it. Think about it.

I think her post rang as strongly with me as it did because I was talking with my writers group Sunday about reviews. The newer writers looked at me like I had grown a second, or maybe a third, head when I told them I welcomed the occasional negative review. They couldn’t understand why any author would want to see a one or two star review on their work. Wasn’t that like admitting your baby is ugly?

I explained that, as a reader, I am suspicious when there are nothing but five-star reviews for a work. That’s especially true if there are a lot of reviews and the vast majority are five-star with only a very small percentage of any other ranking. It makes me wonder if the author or publisher didn’t stack the deck. Then I explained that there have been a number of times when I’ve seen books with nothing but five stars that I’ve looked at the sample and found anything but a great book. For me, at least, the three-star reviews have been more reliable than the vast majority of reviews on either end of the spectrum. That said, yes, you do want those four and five star reviews, especially if you are trying to be accepted by a lot of review sites because many of them have a requirement of the number of reviews/level of reviews you must have before they consider your work.

Go read the article and let me know what you think. There’s more I’d say but I am about to throw the laptop across the room, so I’ll stop here. What are your thoughts about e-book design and reviews?

 

 

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Who we write (and publish) For.

I’ve noticed something over the last few years of my involvement with traditional publishing.

I’ve noticed I have to change my socks.

Well… I have noticed a few other things too. One or two. The disconnect between customers and writers is what I was planning to write about however. It is possibly more interesting than the state of my socks (yes, dear reader, I confess, I am socks obsessed. I have had it blamed on the army, but in truth it comes down to my fish farming time, where I spent a lot of nights trying to cope with the storms that would destroy the farm if I hadn’t been out in them, fixing, unblocking… with my feet utterly numb, and wet. Dry warm socks were a distant dream that kept me going.)

The problem the author faces is that he (or she) may be drawn from the very people he will appeal to, and know them well, but he’s out of contact with a lot of them. Even if he has a vast twitter following, or is a very popular blogger… that is still the tiniest fragment of the world, and may well be not a representative sample, or even a sample representing the kind of people who would love his writing.

The vast majority of those potential customers do not live in New York. They did not do liberal arts degrees at Liberal East Coast Colleges. They do not work in New York Publishing. They do not all know each other. They do not attend WorldCon. They wouldn’t recognize a Hugo if it bit them on the leg.

Now, it’s a big, complex world and the US is a big, complex country, with as many little interest groups as I have pairs of socks… well, something like that, anyway. You can be a ‘bestseller’ simply selling well to ONE of those little interest groups. (I read somewhere that 17K hard-back sales will get you onto the NYT bestseller list. I suspect it varies week-to-week, and may well be much lower than that, if you have inside knowledge of which stores to target). This is why books appealing strongly to a highly invested audience – be that transsexuals or neo-Nazis, can LOOK like they’re universally popular- because really it’s a very low bar (not saying it’s an easy bar, but say 20K out of let’s say 200 million (not everyone will read, or will necessarily speak the language the book is written in) is 0.01% … and a bestseller. You can get there, just on sales to transsexuals and their friends. Of course if you want sell say… 2 000 000 copies – just 1% of that 200 million you need to appeal strongly to several small special interest groups or at least one group with enough people (if you appeal strongly) – let’s say to gay readers so 1 in four would buy your book — you could look like a super-bestseller while 95% of the population doesn’t really love your book.

In reality, of course, few books appeal that strongly to any demographic segment. You’re lucky if you appeal to 5% of any one segment. Of course many authors will appeal to a lot of demographic segments – some strongly—and some less so, but still adding numbers. And of course even a tiny percentage of big market segment is still a lot of books. Say your book appeals strongly to Mormons selling to 1 in 100, more or less 60K copies, and to 4 in 10 000 women… you’ve still stormed to near the top of the bestseller list.
It doesn’t take a commercial genius to work out 1) books with a narrow sector of interest have to appeal a lot more strongly to do well – on the other hand you’re much more likely to gain strong partisans if your book has a very precise target, especially if it is under-served. So for example a book about Japanese gay Muslims would probably go down really well and be ardently supported and pushed by any Japanese gay Muslims… there probably aren’t that many, though. 2) For a publisher, (unless you’re a specialist publisher, or don’t care about money), your output probably ought be either carefully targeted or sure to appeal to a broad demographic range. An Indonesian non-niche publisher would have to be as daft as a brush to have his entire output with non-Muslim heroes – and Muslim villains. An individual author, of course, can do niche and succeed, or try for a broad brush, appealing to a lot of segments. He is far less constrained than any major publisher ought (by any measure of common sense) to be. Their output must re

I can hear you all now: “Why are you bothering to tell us what is glaringly obvious? Why don’t you talk about socks instead? We all know socks sells, but we have no idea how or why.”

Well, I am writing about it, because it plainly is something which evades many editors and publishing houses, and the chances are quite a few authors never really thought about ‘who is my target?’ ‘Who am I writing for?’ ‘Who do I hope to sell to?’

For authors publishing traditionally, that answer was ‘my publisher’ – pleasing the readers was irrelevant, as long as your publisher loved you. The publisher lived in New York. They had liberal arts degrees at Liberal East Coast Colleges. Their world was New York Publishing. The circle they move in all know each other. Their views on politics and society are near identical, and they attend WorldCon, and think it important. The Hugo Awards were very relevant to them. And as they were the only gatekeepers, pleasing them was all-important, and readers who were not like them were stupid ignorant peasants they and could take what they were given, be grateful, and pay up. Lots of readers –neither ignorant nor stupid—just walked away. This is very obvious in the declining sales numbers reported by people who have everything to gain by hiding this decline. It is real, even if Patrick Nielsen Hayden says his sales are booming (think about it. Bowker and Bookscan – with no reason to get it wrong also report enormous falls. If he is telling the truth – that means the rest are doing far worse. Quite a nasty insult, if false. Perhaps they are, as not one of his peers gainsaid it. But maybe neither he nor they worked it out. It doesn’t seem a field long on strategic thinkers, or veracity, for that matter.)

It made a gap that Indies, Baen and various new start-ups –like Castalia House– have exploited.

It’s been very revealing during the various bursts of rage at the Sad Puppies by traditionally published authors and their publishers. We’re getting to see that dislike, that disdain, that ‘second (or possibly far lower) class citizen, should not be allowed to vote, aren’t ‘Real Fans’, should be put in a dog-pound (we’re not human, and there is no need to treat us as such, apparently. Now I do understand that as far as this monkey is concerned, but most of the pups, their supporters and friends are as human as their detractors.) You get editors like Betsy Wolheim at DAW telling us filthy hoi polloi “as an editor, it makes me angry to see a writer as important as GRRM having to spend his valuable time informing ignorant people about the history of worldcon and the history of the Hugos.” Thanks Betsy. A good spin attempt to blame us for GRRM’s decisions. He’s adult, he can decide what he wants to do. We pig-ignorant revolting peasants can’t actually MAKE him do anything. He wasn’t going to write any more if Bush was re-elected IIRC. The tide of BS from this has overflowed my gum boots.

I said I needed to change my socks.

I respect and like my target audience. It’s what I believe is quite a large audience, over quite a few sectors of society. Basically it is people who judge people on their merits as individuals, value battlers, who believe in independent thought, who value freedom and honor and integrity. I don’t do group-think or political correctness or kissing up. I work with my hands (and my brain), I hunt my own food. These are my people, and that’s who I write for. (A few of them may even live in New York and have Liberal Arts degrees, although I have yet to see any evidence of them being in NY literary circles – for which I am devoutly grateful.)That’s who I publish for. That’s what writers need to always keep in the forefront of their communication and their books.

But who in the hell do the authors and publishers who think we’re ignorant shit write and publish for?

It’s not you.

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Okay, So I’m Late

And I don’t have the continuation of Elf Blood, yet.  I’d like to tell you this is because I have sort of an excuse.  Two excuses.  The first is the insane push to get the other house on the market so maybe it will sell during the short Colorado Sales Season and before we become insanely broke paying for double living arrangements ( a necessity foisted on us by the stupid cats.  Particularly the geriatric one.)

Yesterday I did about seven hours of painting and cleaning and came home unable to move/think, which has been pretty standard, and why any revision/writing is going at a glacial pace.

Right now I’m proofing/taking pen to a collection, Here Be Dragons, which contains among others, such little known gems as the third nuns in space story, and things like Blood Ransom.  I’m hoping to put it up before memorial day, so all my push is going into that.
cover1withlettering

It weighs in at 90k words, and I’ll put it up for the first week at the introductory price of 2.99.

Then what time I have is going to cleaning up/fleshing out/putting on bits on the thing I called The Haunted Air, but which is now Witch’s Daughter, and yes, it’s the story of how Michael Ainsling, youngest brother of the Duke of Darkwater gets involved with some very unsavory elements.

cover

And what time I have should be understood to be around not just painting/fixing the other house but actually writing Darkship Revenge and trying to shut up Bowl of Red for Baen.  So, you see I’m kind of running on fumes, and going as fast as I can.  I promise to have Elf Blood and Rogue Magic, if not up at least on serialization again in a month or so, but give me a little space to breathe.

My priorities right now are dictated by money — see where we’re paying mortgage and rent at once.

Anyway, this is the longest “the IRS” (paying that self employment tax eats my account) “ate my homework” ever, but I promise to get stuff up soon.

Toodles.  I go write.

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Push-Button Start

I’m back. I didn’t mean to take two weeks off from blogging, but that’s what it ended up being. It’s not that I haven’t written anything in two weeks, just that what I have written was for a class. I feel like I am coming up from deep water at the moment. I came home yesterday afternoon once I’d finished up with the last of the final exams, and I did some math. Really easy math. How much would I have to write every day in order to produce 200,000 words this summer? Once I had that number, I talked to my First Reader and took the rest of the day off. Last night? I binge-read. When I have the time and no guilt holding me back, I read very quickly, and I’d finish one book and roll right into the next one. I’ve been working my way through two series, and I wound up alternating back and forth between them. Dana Stabenow’s Liam Cambell mystery books, which are set in Alaska and while they aren’t the most brilliant of books, are still fun reads (and the first book in the series, Fire and Ice, is free!). And Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series, which was highly recommended to me and it’s as good as they said it was.

But that was yesterday. I think I went through four books in eight hours, give or take, as I was doing other things in there, too. I wasn’t just reading to forget my sorrows and drown my troubles. Finals week was pretty rough, but it was over. No, my idea was that I needed to reset my brain so that today, I would be able to write fiction. Granted, I still need to do some reading. But I need to switch over to different books, and make notes while I’m reading. This book I’m working on will need me to read Kjelgaard, L’Amour, Andre Norton (specific books, I had Galactic Derelict to read the other day and it didn’t help), and probably Heinlein’s Juvies. Like I did with the Pixie for Hire series, I want specific flavor notes, and they will help get my brain all oiled up and ready to purr like a kitten.

Last night was mind candy reading. Today it’s time to figure out how to actually turn the production back on. I have a few methods for this, because by now this is a familiar place, coming back to fiction after a semester-long hiatus. I finished Dragon Noir in February and haven’t written anything but blog posts and papers since then. I have no idea whether any of this will work for you, but it might, and frankly I haven’t had my coffee yet, nor time to think much since I left a warm bed. So here you are, and here I am, trying to get my brain started. It’s not, title of the post notwithstanding, as easy as a push-button start. It’s more like a cranky little outboard motor with one of those pull-cords you expect to break off in your hands any second, so you have to pull hard but not TOO hard and…

I’ll go do dishes. Sarah says that works for her, too, or ironing. Pretty sure that Sarah and Amanda and I all find that standing in the shower works. It’s not the running water, I don’t think, but the mindless task that our body can take care of while the bulk of our mind is set free to wander. Given that I’ve taken two weeks off of pretty much everything, I know I have dishes to do. Or, if the First Reader did all of them, I’ll find something else to clean. I know I need to organize and catalog the library again, we were unable to find a book last night that he needed, something that we both find frustrating… except that library organization will probably wind up like it usually does, with me sitting on the floor next to a heap of books, reading.

I’ll go for a long country drive or walk. This works both with and without the First Reader, and we have about six hours of drive time scheduled for tomorrow, heading down into Kentucky to visit family. I am sure that if my brain still isn’t running smoothly by then, that will do it. We bounce ideas off on another, and he tends to spark my mind very well when I’m stuck on a plot point. Today I am working at a party, and we will talk during that drive, too. The walk will hopefully happen, although our skies are rather gray at the moment. Any of these work because again, they get you doing something that you don’t have to think too much about, leaving your creative mind free to frolic off into… wherever.

I’ll write. This sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes just the act of making words happen starts to get the process moving. Once I have finished up with this blog post (after this paragraph, I think) I will pour myself some coffee, take the time to clean off my desk (it’s a foot deep in books right now, and I’m not joking about that. I have textbooks to sell/trade, fiction, and… dunno what that stack is…) and then I will write. Something. Might have to pitch it, tomorrow, once I have the distance to read it objectively. But today, it will prime the pump, like I vaguely remember on one engine you had this little bulb thingy and…. oh, who am I kidding. I know nothing about engines. Heh. There is a reason I write more horses than cars into my books. I’m about to write about a spaceship, and that will be a matter of ‘push the button and it goes’ because as an author, that’s my perogative. Now, if only my brain were so easy to deal with.

 

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