Mad Haiku for Books

I stole this, cackling gleefully, from a friend of my First Reader (and made a new friend in the process, Hi Jonathan!) and the denizens of the book of face have been playing with it. I thought it would be even more fun to challenge all of you and sundry to play along. it’s writing, sort of. But it’s more a way to make you stop and think about words. Poetry is hard, but have fun with it.

So… here’s the thing – write a haiku about your favorite book. I’m not sure, reading the thread of the original challenge, if the point is to stump ’em all, or to be guessable. You decide!

Oh, and if you want answers? Highlight the space beside each haiku’s writer, and you’ll magically see the book’s title.

British spy decides
To fight an occult war for
Control of the djinn

-Misha Burnett (Tim Powers’ Declare)

Alien probe arrives
We travel to learn about them
Three armed they were

-Christopher MacArthur (Larry Niven’s Mote in God’s Eye)

You can’t be crazy
Wanting to leave makes you sane
Fly safely, Captain

-Kacey Ezell (Joseph Heller’s Catch 22) 

I live on the moon
Mike will help me get it done
I want to be free

-Spike Souders (Robert Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress)

Got me a nice raft
Float down the Mississippi
With my best friend Jim.

-Pat Patterson (Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn)

God’s redemption plan
From Old Testament through New
One answer – Jesus Christ

– Nancy Guyotte (The Bible) 

A desert highway
Gonzo American dream
Nothing is the same

-Roger Ross (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson)

orphaned space child
founds new religion
martyrdom

– Alan Couture (Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land) 

one ring is found
a journey begins
the world changes

-Alan Couture (JRR Tolkein, Hobbit) 

A Small Lord
Tries to Become a Bigger Man
Ends an Interstellar Mercenary

-Christopher MacArthur (Lois McMaster Bujold, Warrior’s Apprentice) 

One bad decision
A lifetime running from guilt
Ends as a tuan.

– D Jason Fleming (Conrad’s Lord Jim)

Could I reach orbit
Then I’d be a wanted fan
Leslie has my back.

-Pat Patterson (Niven and Pournelle’s Fallen Angels)

The trunk ate someone
Tourists are quite odd fellows
Falling off the edge

-Joseph Capdepon (Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic or any Rincewind book)

The hero travels
The sword is jumped
He wishes to hero again

-Sanford Begley (Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road) 

Galactic Patrol
Brings the Winter of Boskone
Cleave Through to Helmuth

-Owen KC Stephens (EE ‘Doc’ Smith, the Lensman)

Literal flat earth
Narrative casualty
Drives the parody

-Kurt Schneider (Terry Pratchett, any Discworld novel) 

I can’t wait to see what the readers here come up with!

42 Comments

Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: CRAFT

The Artiste and the Professional

The Artiste and the Professional

My dad died last week. Not a surprise. I’d been waiting that call. A toss up whether it would be Mom or Dad who went first.

I’ve always thought of myself as the Artiste, the dilettante, writing spontaneously. Just enough of a professional to respond to kicks in the rear—usually self-afflicted—to stay on task and at least pretend to be a professional. And I really need to be a professional today, and for the next couple of weeks.

So I’ve got my head down, trying to keep on track as I sit in the quiet of the house I grew up in. I need to write, to edit, to do a cover. And Blog.

I think we writers are all a combination of artist and professional. We need the inspiration, the vision of what we want to create, but we also have to be businesslike in our production, in our awareness of the market, the traps in contracts. Indies especially cannot neglect the business side of their careers.

Me? What do I need to do, to be professional? I told too many people—readers of mine, for the most part—that I would be releasing seven titles this winter. And I’d only released the first. But the second was ready to go. So I wiped a tear and published it.

29-god-of-the-sun

And the third book is . . . odd. I need to reread it and get ready to kick it out the door. Heh. As if I’m in any condition to tell if my characters are angsting enough or not. As if I give a damn if the cover is brilliant, or merely good enough. A bad state of mind to be in. I am so glad I don’t need to write, right now. But I can buckle down and get it out the door on schedule. And the next four will go out on time as well.

Time will pass and writing will start again. Partly because this is my business, but more because I’m driven to create stories.

Because for the long term, for a long successful writing career, I think the artist side is much more important. That special touch that brings the characters to life. That makes the readers want to move to that place . . . or avoid it at all costs! The perils expressed so well, the reader is scanning the pages, breathing hard and telling that lump in the pit of their stomach that the author could not possibly kill their favorite character!

So the care and feeding of the artist is important. The artist’s soul is easy and fun to satisfy. A trip to the museum, the beach, the mountains, a battle reenactment, researching something you love. (Researching something you don’t love is the fault of the business mind. ;))

The artist’s body, on-the-other-hand is more difficult.

Must have caffeine!

Go easy on the carbs!

No decongestants or antihistamines!

Get plenty of sleep, even if you can’t breath!

Oh, and avoid stress. Heh. As if that was possible.

Health, family, jobs, moving . . . even the election. And internet arguments.

We live in stressful times, culturally, politically, technically. We writers are in mid-adjustment to a massive upheaval of our industry. The internet made online sales possible. Ebooks became a thing . . . and with Amazon, a very big thing. An easy big thing for both readers and writers. Our adjustments to a new marketplace is ongoing and unavoidable. And the market place will keep changing. The tech that helps us will infuriate us as it keep changing.

Just remember that it’s the story that is important. The rest is just new equipment.

But when things get especially rough, when several stresses join forces, it’s time for your big mean professional alter ego to step up and take over. Let the artist creep away for a good cry and long nap. And the professional can decide if the diet can slip for a few days or if antihistamines are a good idea, right now. The professional also has to decide if editing is a good idea, or not, in this state of mind. Perhaps this is a good day to kick back and read something pleasant and light.

For me? Tomorrow will be a good day to start the editing.

But today it’s ice cream and a good book.

 

Try this if you’re looking for one. College Interns. Studying Dinosaurs. In the field. What could go wrong?

102-tale-of-three-interns-grunge

24 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Making History is Messier than you Thought

For reasons related mostly to my current work in progress (those Prussian Knights I posted a snippet of a few weeks back? 42,000+ words and counting), history in general and what winds up making something worthy of the official history books has been in my mind a fair bit lately. Especially since the Prussians have a soundtrack, called “anything Sabaton recorded”, and for whatever the reason metal history does what this story wants.

(As a digression, kids would probably be much more interested in history if they got introduced to it by metal history geeks like Sabaton – the number of times I’ve stopped what I was doing and gone chasing references on some neat obscure thing they did a song about only to find that the actual history is even more badass than the song says it would totally work. And yes, I am a 49 year old metalhead. For a very specific selection of bands.)

Between this and the events of the last few months on top of the events of the last few years, I’ve been thinking that we’re in the middle of watching history get made, and it’s a very messy, ugly process which will – hopefully – be summarized as something like a “period of turmoil leading to…” whatever comes next (the not-hopeful version involves “elimination of disruptive influences” or similar weasel words and a history that’s outright lies as opposed to the normal bias that’s impossible to keep out of anything. Yes, this is why they say the winners write the history books. Take note of who is writing (and publishing) the history books right now, and draw the appropriate conclusions about who won what).

The forces that have dominated civil (or uncivil) discourse of late are in the process of losing what was once a near-absolute grip on public expression, and they don’t like it. This is showing up in the Big 5 versus Amazon rolling arguments, the repeated attempts to delegitimize and other all things Indie, the Sad Puppies campaigns (and yes, the Rabids as well. Had the reaction to Sad Puppies 2 been less vitriolic, the whole thing would have likely faded off and been forgotten by now. Instead, well… Take note, folks. If you don’t like something, the best way to deal with it is to politely ignore it and let it rise or fall on its own merits. If it really is as bad as you think, it will sink. Of course, if there’s manipulation behind the scenes that’s a whole nother argument).

All of which leads to mining actual history, hell plundering history for awesome, badass, balls-to-the-walls adventure and complicated, messy, realistic world-building. Take, say, some of the more interesting Chinese Imperial dynasties, throw that culture into some far future Empire and play with where it goes (fair warning, it has been done more than once, and you have to really understand bureaucratic wankery to really make it work). Or mutate the Australian penal colonies into some far future prison planet.

Or, may your deity forgive you, American Presidential Elections in Space.

Just remember if you do this, you must also have American culture more or less intact in space, which means that the entire messy, brawling, individualistic, freedom-loving mess has to have survived the attempts to regiment it and make it more European. Which means you need to understand the difference between communistic cultures (in the sense of “the welfare of the community is most important”) and individualistic cultures (“the autonomy of the individual is the most important”) (The USA is the most individualistic culture on the planet, closely followed by, in no particular order, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Most of the Asian cultures are extremely community-focused. European cultures are somewhere in between but tend to focus more on the community the further East you go. And some are so far on the community-focus that they will punish victims of crime as well as perpetrators on the grounds that whatever the victim did to be targeted by the criminals encouraged social disorder. Personally? Ugh. But if that’s your thing, you’re welcome to it).

Regardless, the best way to rip off history and culture is probably the simplest. Read as many primary documents as you can. If you can’t read the actual primary docs, aim for translations of them. That’s where the clues to the mindset live.

Because one thing is absolutely 100% guaranteed: if you transplant the forms of a culture without the mindset, you’ll have the authorial version of cargo cult fiction.

57 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

How to Build A Web Presence

The short answer to this is “Danged if I know.”
I was very shocked at being asked this by an old friend who started writing at the same time I did and who has NOW decided a web presence in the key to her selling.  The fact that she thinks it’s more important than covers is just proof of my theory of writers: we are all just barely sane enough to function, but we have blindspots in which we compete with patients in padded rooms. I love the woman dearly, but her blindspots are wearing blindspots who have seeing eye dogs.

Leaving that aside, I didn’t answer her email. Not because it was out of order, but because it took me weeks of thinking about it to even come up with a glimmer of an answer.  Because it’s not that easy.

I was once at a dinner party wtih Glenn Reynolds of instapundit, the blog whose circulation more or less rivals the New York Times, and he was asked how he became “instapundit.”  His answer was “Like most things in my life, by accident.”

That is, at best, what could be said about my blog.  It has a fairly impressive readership (less now, because this week I’ve hardly been there) of 2 to 4k a day, which isn’t shabby for someone who started after everyone knew blogs were out.  But how I got there is… complicated.

I started it because my agent told me to.  Mostly she was right (sort of) as SOME webpresence is needed to sell at all.

My first two or three years were nothing much.  I was in the political closet, and also trying not to reveal anything about our family life, as the boys were in elementary and middle school at the time.

This meant most of the time I couldn’t think of anything to write about.

This couldn’t go on, so at some point I took gloves off, first about writing and second about politics.  Though if you’re looking for a political blog, that’s not what According To Hoyt is.  It is mostly whatever crosses my mind.

Whatever crosses my mind is often political or shades that way, because my mind was bent that way often by the turmoil that was the seventies in Portugal.  You had to know if someone had scheduled some big thing or if someone was setting fire to cars in an area, because that might be your normal route to school or shopping.

From that wanting to know WHY was a step and developing opinions that didn’t fit anywhere on the Portuguese spectrum was a very small hop for me.  Because I’m me.

What this meant is that in our early days of marriage, where we could barely afford food, we subscribed to three daily newspapers and at least five political magazines.

It’s who I am, and it’s my interest and the lens through which I view the world.  But there are others and they also come out to play in the blog.  Anything from literature and theories on what literature SHOULD be to history to weird science and futurism.  My blog is hard to define, except by its community which is great. EVEN if Alexander Pournelle calls it the Hoyt Home For The Tragically Gifted.

Somehow my blog led to Glenn Reynolds asking me to substitute for him (as one of a team of 6 back then) while he was away, and then to my joining the team permanently as the night dj (NO I haven’t quit or been fired.  I took a week and a half vacation due to trying to finish a book while having a bad head cold.  I’ll probably go back tonight, or tomorrow night at the latest.)

All this, plus Facebook (which I’m trying to cut back on because it’s a people eater) means I have a fairly large web presence, which my kids call “very stompy” (whatever that means.  They turned 22 and 25 and I stopped understanding a word they say.)

How did I get there?  No clue.  How can you duplicate that success?  Boiled if I know.

I can, however, give you some hints that I know helped:

1- Be you.  Don’t try to sound educated, or professorial or anything of the kind, unless that is who you are, naturally.  Just be you.  I swear readers can smell “Phony” a mile off.  Don’t be phony.

2- Part of one: talk about things that genuinely interest you, but not things that are so obscure they will only interest physicists or left handed seamstresses, or something.

3- talk of something other than writing.  Yeah, writing too, it’s who you are, but give value to people who aren’t writers.  MGC, I think, trails behind all our personal blogs in hits, because it’s a writers’ blog.  Like left handed seamstresses, that’s a specialized niche.

4- if you can, particularly in the beginning, get promo from people who have bigger platforms.  Links at insty (instapundit) are good for 4k or so hits in one night.  And some of them will stay.  Try to have one once a month or so.  BUT if you don’t have levers to get to somewhere like that, try for the giants of YOUR niche.  Passive Guy, say.  Or whoever it is who stomps it about where your interests live.  If you have friends who have bigger blogs, offer guest posts, and at the end put something saying “I normally blog at” with link.  I blogged at Classical Values, for a while.  Few bloggers (blogs eat your life too) will turn down free guest posts.  If they do, they’re either bad, you pissed them off, or they have a bad memory and you didn’t remind them.

5- be funny or at least amusing and cultivate a voice, just like you would for novels.

6- Post EVERY DAY.  If, like me this last week, you have to go AWL, have guest posts.  You’ll still lose readers and some of them won’t come back, but it’s better than dead air.  (Trust me.)  I don’t know why post every day works, except through “be habit forming.”

7- Police your community.  I actually have had to ban very few people, but remember the “drunken uncle at the wedding.”  If a poster is just there to attack and is making other people uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to ban him.  He might not be doing anything wrong, but his right to express himself doesn’t trump your right to have your normal commenters enjoy themselves.
Also, if the community gets in an unpleasant rut, nudge them.  My commenters once, while I was asleep, misunderstood something someone posted and attacked.  He got defensive and they ran him off the blog.  You don’t want that, particularly if it’s someone interesting.

People who say they’re not responsible for the tone of their comment sections are disingenuous or clueless.  You can police just enough, intervening to break up things just enough that you keep it from becoming a snake pit without neutering it.

8- It takes time.  So plan it.  I haven’t, and it’s more or less eating my life, so I’m now trying to learn balance.  Remember it’s part of your job, so schedule an hour or so and a visit at lunch, but don’t let it stop your  writing.

9- Is it worth it?  Particularly if you’re political, does it lose you more readers than it gains you?
I don’t know.  I go through periods of thinking so.  Then I get ten people in an afternoon at a con, all of whom started reading me because of instapundit, and I go  “Maybe not.”
I know that I’m selling way better than before I had a web presence and that friends who help people sell tell me that if you don’t have a web presence you just don’t sell.  But you have people like Doug Dandrige who have a sporadic blog and mainly hang out on face book, post amusing memes and the occasional book promo. And he ain’t hurting.  I guess you need to do what works for you.

10- Oh, yeah, don’t over saturate.  By all means, let your blog readers know you have a book coming out, but dont’ do this more than once every couple of weeks, and don’t become like the energizer bunny “buy my book, buy my book, buy my book.”Even at instapundit, where my value is news and commentary, but I can get away with pushing books (mine and others) I know (I see my amazon account) if I link my books, be they new releases or sales more than once a month, people start tuning it out.  So, be sparing with the naked “BUY MY BOOK” even if you think you’re SUBTLY weaving it in your posts.

There was this guy who used to be on panels with me at mile hi who no matter what the theme of the panel was, strong women, made up religions, brass asses, always made the same answer, “In my book, I handled brass asses with a polishing cloth, on page thirty five.  I think I did the right thing, because–”  Don’t be that guy.  Our response to him was between tuning him out and daydreaming of beating him to death with a brass donkey.

So, how do you build a web presence?  I don’t know.  But if you try, you’ll find a way, provided you’re authentic, post every day and don’t bash people over the head with promo.

Good luck.

70 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Is it really so hard to be nice?

Sooner or later, 4th Wave feminists are going to have to realize that that price of equality, means not being able to hide behind oppression narratives. Especially not in a workplace such as publishing, the traditional arm of which — because it’s centered in New York City — is 98% Hillary-votin’ and Trump-hatin’, to the tune of “He’s not my fucking President!” In fact, I am pretty sure we’re going to watch the trad pub sector of prose publishing specifically spend the next four years loudly broadcasting its hatred for all things Trumpian and “deplorable.” Just in case we forgot how much Manhattanite progressives loathe and disdain anyone who lives between the west bank of the Hudson, and the eastern border of Sacramento.

But because 4th Wave feminists — lacking any real battles to fight, yet having been raised up in the ways of rage and anger — still have to find excuses to complain, we get things like this.

Uhhhhhh . . . okay.

Having pawed through the pouty entrails of this article, I’m forced to conclude that the author in question is unhappy with the fact that she can’t just be a dick, without consequences. And that publishing is — gasp! — an industry which runs on people perceiving you positively, even if your true self is a coffee-fueled hate machine.

I mean, I get it. I’m as drained by social interactivity as the next author. Probably, most of us are introverts. Social settings suck energy out of us. My wife is the opposite. Social settings put energy into her. Having observed my wife’s personality for a quarter of a century, I can inform Ms. Gould — with no small degree of surety — that even people who thrive heartily on social settings, get tired of the effort, too. So it’s not as if Ms. Gould’s “predicament” is somehow special.

It is instead — double gasp! — perfectly pedestrian.

Because dudes don’t get a free pass, either. Regardless of what Ms. Gould thinks. Very seldom is any employer looking for male prospects who are aloof, cold, rude, distant, socially clueless, or otherwise apart from (and above?) their peers. We still have to strap on that winning smile, and march forth into the cold snows of the workplace, trying to make our bosses and our coworkers love us. Or, at least, not actively despise us. Because we want paychecks too. And there’s nothing in Ms. Gould’s complaint that doesn’t precisely echo the experiences of thousands of men working in thousands of different professions and vocations. Almost all of which require a bare minimum of social ability. Yes, even the military. (Hint: past Basic Combat Training or the halls of Candidate School, there isn’t nearly as much yelling as the movies would have you believe.)

Yes, yes, I know, Ms. Gould is fed up with trying to make people who are not her friends, feel as if they are her friends. Or, at least, make them feel friendly toward her. Because this is how you schmooze in the traditional publishing capitol of the known universe. Which also happens to be one of the politically progressive capitols of the known universe. False comradeship? Passive-aggression? Never daring to let down your guard — or your facade — lest they shut you out into the cold? Golly, one could almost write a psychological thesis on how bastions of progressive thought often become social minefields, where one dare not breath the wrong way, lest one be marked off Santa’s “good” list, and placed onto the “bad” list.

But that’s a whole other Oprah.

For now, we’re discussing Ms. Gould’s soul-destroying adventures in trying to be nice, even when she doesn’t feel like it.

Madam, I am sorry to inform you: it ‘aint no different, no where, no how.

Granted, it is infuriating that so much of traditional publishing really does boil down to, “Who’s your latest BFF?” For well over two centuries, New York’s publishing Cosa Nostra has engaged in an intergenerational contest of blurb-bukkake, combined with rampant nepotism, and a tendency to let people linger on for far too long, in jobs they should never have been hired for in the first place — people who often were unfit for real work, so they turned to publishing because it was all they could get.

But if you’ve spent any time working other jobs in other arenas, you know damned well that it’s not terribly different anywhere else. Dreadful employees who can make the boss smile, survive. Hard-working employees who can’t make the boss smile, no matter how hard they try, move on. Or are booted out. Or (worst of all) suffer through a kind of workplace purgatory, neither living, nor dead. Can’t bring themselves to quit. Never fired, either. Just . . . existing. Day after day. As the clock on the wall gives you an up-to-the-minute account of how much you’re spending yourself to make other people rich, doing something you didn’t really want to do when you grew up.

I’ve worked a job or two which fit that final bill. I suspect many of the people reading this, have too.

So dab your eyes, Ms. Gould, with your personalized handkerchief; its corner embroidered with a Venus symbol — and a fashionable fist clenched in the middle of the circle.

Life sucks for bros, too.

But wait, oh wait. We knows, yes, Precious, we knows the hurtses that womenses endures because of the patriarchy! Smeagol has heard all about nasty patriarchy his whole life, and how poor Smeagol needs to check his privilege! GOLLUM (spit) GOLLUM!

Only, this time, no.

I can think of few desk industries in this nation which are more welcoming to the brainy, politically left-wing female, than traditional publishing.

Besides, is it so damned hard to be nice?

I mean, seriously.

Even someone who came from that notorious cesspool of journalistic and media malpractice — Gawker — should know that it’s good to check your jerkface at the door when you leave the house. Doesn’t matter how you self-identify. Male, female, or A-10 Warthog. Getting along with people, pays. And not just in publishing. In everything. And if you believe you’re getting strung out on social media and author events — if the schmooze is killing you — then by God put the fucking brakes on, and get some recharging time for yourself! It’s not the world’s fault that spending too much time “working” other human beings, makes you want to rip the skin off every face you see.

You also would not be the first author to watch the shine wear off the apple of her publishing dream, either. It happens to all of us, Ms. Gould. And while the advice, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” can sometimes be apt, I am going to gently suggest that hating the game doesn’t much help where trad pub is concerned. Not indie pub either, frankly.

You see, authoring is — at best — a service industry. You know, service industry? Hello, how may I take your order! Would you like to supersize that? Please pull around to the second window. I am sure those words have come out of your mouth at some point, have they not, Ms. Gould? Yes? No? Or did your parents pay for you all the way through college, without your hands having ever touched the handle of a mop, or a broom?

You are selling a product. Partially, it’s your stories and books. But also partially, it’s you yourself. To the editors. To the agents. And ultimately, to the audience as well. Nothing but salesmanship. Exhausting, tedious, draining salesmanship. You are Willy Loman. In a business already stuffed to the gills with millions of people — each scribbling furiously at his or her latest, greatest English-language tome — you’re not the exception. You’re the rule.

Relax, have a cigar, make yourself at home. Hell is full of high court
judges, failed saints. We’ve got Cardinals, Archbishops, barristers,
certified accountants, music critics, they’re all here. You’re not alone.
You’re never alone, not here you’re not. Okay, break’s over, ahahaHAHAHA!

You can either do the dirty chore of playing the game the way the good, proper, progressive, utterly “With her!” Manhattanites demand that it be played, or not.

But don’t pretend it’s got anything to do with things being easier for guys.

Nope.

Look, in the end, take some time out. Unplug from the endless swirl of schmooze. Gawker may have been a 90 MPH napalm-flaming train wreck of lies and deceit, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep up with that same insane pace, even if you’re afraid everybody else in good, proper, progressive Manhattan is going to climbs over your backses, then stab out your eyeses, Precious, because they sees you as competition, yes, yes, GOLLUM (spit) GOLLUM!

So effin’ what?

Figure out precisely how much schmoozing you can do — healthily — in a given week, or month, or year, and don’t let yourself exceed the limit. Learn to politely say “No thank you,” without being a beast about it. Don’t let yourself spend time with people you don’t feel like spending time with. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that glad-handing is a task we males are somehow excused from performing.

We’re not. We’re expected to clean up and put on our Sunday best, and go be mannered and chatty, just like the girls.

And it’s probably a good thing, too. Especially in the era of social media, where face-to-face interactivity is suddenly even more taxing than it was before. Because you can’t just stare zombie-like into a small screen, while the world is forced to maneuver round you.

And in the end, if New York trad pub proves intolerable, there is always indie.

Yes, indie. I know it’s a dirty word on many lips, even in 2017.

But it’s viable. It can be done sans schmooze. And you don’t even have to leave your house if you don’t want to. Some people are making millions at it. Scoring movie deals. Becoming famous beyond the internet.

Me? I’m a pretty easy-going guy. Niceness isn’t tough for me. I can usually get along with just about anybody. Even the dicks. But I also know when to go home, close my door, turn off my conduit to the rest of the human sphere, and heal. Because constantly being in the mix is like turning the screw on an olive press. Sooner or later, there isn’t any oil left. Not for editors, not for the industry, not even for the audience.

Knowing when, and how, and where, and with whom — to expend your finite personal resources — that’s the ticket!

Not blaming men.

85 Comments

Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: LIFE

Insulation destroys conductivity.

Or

The agony of hope and the tragedy of love, and why these must be.

(fair warning: long)

It’s fair to say my dogs have all loved me with a whole-hearted adoration that I really don’t deserve. With a devotion more fitting for a god than a very fallible man. In turn, well, I have done my fallible best for them, not to imply I haven’t been an asshole to them occasionally (which unlike cats, never seems to make the least difference). Humans are very inept at the god business and fail to appreciate the sheer joy that rolling in a nice decayed wallaby carcass will bring to a doggy life (and the study they share with their deity.).

It’s also fair to say my life is richer and fuller for having had them share that love and their all-too-short lives with me.

That doesn’t make the parting any less hard. As I get older…well, my Wednesday (the black lab), and 16 year old brother to the late Puggsley the golden lab, is snoring peacefully on the cushion next to my desk. I know 17 is unlikely and I will go through the tearing of my heart again.

A part of me says: enough. I cannot bear this again. No matter what joy, what companionship, what love… I’ve used up my cup of coping with the grieving. I will have no more dogs and not have to mourn their passing again. I will insulate myself from it. Give a little affection to dogs that do not own me as I own them.

I’m not ready to give in to that part, because I know that being Dave’s dog is not a bad billet for a dog, and there are dogs who need a decent home. But… well, looking back over the lives of my faithful hounds, it is harder every time. I understand, even if I think it’s the wrong answer (just like my never adopting a dog – almost all have been rescues – would be the wrong answer) how people hurt in relationship break can decide they’re never going to engage that deeply. They’re never going to let themselves hope or love that much again. Because it hurts like hell if and when it goes wrong. They insulate themselves, and form no deep attachments, never again allow themselves the chimaera of hope – or at least, not much. Distance lends insulation from the hurt.

This will make sense to some of those of who write, and very little to those who don’t, but this in way is true of the writer and their books. It was certainly true for me. I set out, a long time ago, back when fax machines roamed the earth, with hopes to write the books I loved, and with the proceeds buy a farm, or at least a small-holding, where I, Barbs and the kids and the dogs could have space, and I could raise our own food, in between writing. You laugh… and well you may.

I spent seven years working at selling that first book, writing a couple of million words, getting to the personal handwritten and quite lengthy rejections from two editors (both turned down at editorial board level –which meant nothing to me then, but I now know was rare) as well as the manuscript returned unread form rejections. I had a deep cup of hope and a belief both in myself and the fairness of the system, back then. Sending out a book manuscript, with its post-paid return envelope cost me around half a month’s income. It was hard to justify, as we were living on the bare bones of nothing. Eventually, I sold that first book out of the slush-pile. A pile about 3000 manuscripts a year deep – of which they bought… one.

Was I great? Had I written THE sf novel? As an older, wiser guy: no. It’s a good book, I had put a huge amount of effort into it, and, for what I knew then, it was best book I could write, in that sub-genre, and of that type. It, realistically, deserved to be in the top 300. Maybe even the top 30 of those slush subs. What differentiated it from the other 29 was more luck than anything else IMO.

That, at the time, was not something I was aware of – not that I’d climbed a massive cliff, or that there were probably a good few who passed the rest of the hurdles but lost on the luck at the last one. There were, I am sure a fair number of authors, like me, who had given everything they had to give to their book, which they believed in it, that, realistically, could have done well or at least as well as me. It had happened to me a lot of times along the way, even with that particular book.

Now: consider. I’m a guy living in a small foreign country. I only got the internet after selling that book. I was a prolific reader, but that was via second-hand books and the library system. There was no spare cash, and what there was, had three other places to go before books. I knew absolutely nothing about publishing, and just about the same about the US, my principle audience to sell to. I didn’t even know that was the case. Full of hope, I thought my book would get a fair shake. I knew it wasn’t DUNE or LORD OF LIGHT, but, doing my best to be dispassionate, it was more entertaining than a lot of the more recent offerings I’d seen. It was a fast-moving story and chock full of what I thought was clever stuff (Hey, I’m a monkey. Clever isn’t really our forte). I assumed all books got much the same and the market sorted ‘em out. And the right and honorable thing for an author to do was to stay out of the way, and let this happen. My heart was pure, and my love deep, and my hopes at their highest…

Um. I said I was pig-ignorant, didn’t I? Of course, in reality, my poor book got a cover that company had bought on spec (not a bad cover – but really nothing to do with the book, or selling it), and a title I hated, and exactly what most noob paperback authors bought for boilerplate minimum (the equivalent of a quarter in loose change in the ‘how much to we care about spending and recouping this’ stakes). The book got put onto the bottom of a list handed to Simon and Schuster to distribute. And that was it. No marketing, no incentives, no publicity. The equivalent of a punter finding a quarter in his pocket and tossing it into a slot machine and pulling the lever. If they got lucky, great. If not, shrug.

I was still luckier than the other 2999 authors trying for that slot. And despite me and my delusions about the marketplace and a fair crack of the whip… and doing everything wrong, THE FORLORN, tucked away in a scattering of bookshops, as near invisible as possible… did ALMOST well enough (it sold more than the ‘never-touch-again’ level but not enough for the ‘contact the author and buy’ – I was sorta-maybe class).

My hopes had taken a dent, but, as I lived out of touch with other authors, and had no idea that this wasn’t what the best outcome was or that Baen was considered the kiss of death by the hoity-toity new ‘literary’ sf in-group – i.e. most of sf publishing. I thought I at least had a sf publishing credit, which would get a chance at an agent or another publisher (from where I was, they all looked the same). Remember, at this time I was ONLY South African to EVER achieve this. I was vain enough to believe this meant something to the bookstores and libraries in my old country. It did. It meant ‘you’re a smelly local, eugh. We only buy imported. And only from the UK, or Europe, certainly not someone published in the US. And not (shudder) Baen EVER.’ (You have to say this with the sort of disdain a wino with holes in the butt of his trousers begging for change gets from a society lady to get the feel of it.)

I’m a battler, and a man with a lot of hope and love for what I was doing, so I kept writing and kept not selling, and did keep learning. In the process I’d made friends with the Bear – Eric Flint. He got a snotty rejection for a short about uplifted rats and bats – with the comment that the cranial capacity of rat was not large enough for uplift. He asked me my biologist’s opinion of this: Which was that I could think of at least three ways to get around that. He said ‘really cool, we should write the book’ (nothing to do with the short, barring having rats and bats) – and proposed it to Jim Baen – Who liked the idea and bought it for an advance $6500. This –split 2 ways was a step down for me, but 1) It was work, a chance and I’d take any chances. 2) I still believed merit would win out all on its own.

I wrote that book’s first draft in a month. I didn’t sleep much (I don’t, I’m a 5 hours a night guy, and I normally work around 14, I pushed it to 18+), and I did have some input from Eric when I got stuck. Baen had the finished product – from contract to book turned in — in less than two months. I put the ardent heat of a new lover into that book. Gave it everything I could, from layers of meanings and puns to plays on Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas – and mixed this into a fast moving tragi-comic story.

Writing that was to me what writing ought to be: exhausting, demanding, reluctant to stop in the evening, and eager to get up and get writing in the morning. Loved to the core. I honestly believed it was the best thing I ever had written, and I thought it was leagues ahead of any other sf/fantasy humor outside of Pratchett in sf at the time. I loved it passionately. My hopes were as high as possible.

It got a title I thought sounded like an anthology, and a cover I thought a very poor fit (the book called, hard, for a Josh Kirby type art work IMO) It got into hardcover… and did badly. Two unknowns (before 1632) and a mediocre cover… But given the level communications in publishing Eric and I didn’t know that. And Eric was much better at self-promotion than I ever will be… so the paperback sold around 20 000 copies – which was exceptional for the chuck-and-chance marketing it got (although I didn’t think so. I expected that book to go big.).


(pictures are links)

I think you can see where this is going, can’t you, without me throwing all of my many books and their story at you. But over the years I’ve repeated the pattern of throwing my heart, hope and intellect into books… which, to continue the dog-analogy didn’t live that long. Some of them certainly deserved far better. I kept slogging away, building an audience slowly. There were no short cuts, no easy breaks.

Slowly, slowly I also insulated myself a little more from the hopes… Hope is an anchor. It’s also something you build on. We managed to buy a pocket handkerchief farm (due to inheritance and a favorable exchange rate), 12 acres, most of which was dense forest and verging on cliff-steep. Good for kids, dogs, tranquility, and view, not much else.

Then I finally negotiated another solo (which means not dividing the income) book, got a great cover. And… We also got our visa to immigrate to Australia – something I had worked on three years (because much as I loved it, I was at anchor in what could be the path of a hurricane one day, and was getting rougher.) It was a break we were truly lucky to get considering my age. It came with a very short window, which meant packing ourselves, our beloved dogs, our cats, selling our home, and moving to a strange, far country, to a place where we knew no-one. It took all our resources, our farm, all our cash… and I had a book coming out in the middle of it. A very important book for my career. A book I had put all my heart and hopes into, yet again.

By now I’d realized I was a chuck-and-chance author, not important or successful enough to expect more, and while I would never be good at marketing, at least I was doing something. I checked the Amazon listings, wrote the blurbs, told readers when the book was coming out (which I found out by looking at Amazon), did my best. Still, I had made some money for the company, and there wasn’t a soul there I hadn’t helped out, done things extra or extra fast for. It wasn’t like I was a crying whiner who constantly demanded and never delivered. I was going through a hugely difficult move at a crucial time. I wouldn’t even have internet access, let alone a place to work from. I sent e-mails to everyone at my publisher, asking if anything they needed before I went and please, please to give the book that tiny extra shove because I couldn’t do it. I had a choice of losing my visa or not doing it all for them…

Well: that was too hard, and too much to ask. Too much for anyone to even send a reply to Dave wishing him bon voyage and the best of luck. And – in a complex system I’d kept having check on… maybe someone did make an effort. But others dropped the ball in just about every way possible.

That was insulation point. I learned finally to stop hoping that traditional publishing would, except by accident, look to my interests as I had tried to look after theirs. If I didn’t believe they’d do anything much to help me sell, if I stopped expecting timeous royalty statements and communication which they’d benefit most from… well, I wouldn’t be angered when it didn’t happen. But I still loved the writing itself, although I started experimenting with indy.

For me it hit ‘Almost break’ point a couple of years later. Out of the blue I got a frantic message from my agent – he had someone from Funimation wanting to buy the rights PYRAMID SCHEME to make an anime movie. NOW. TODAY!

PYRAMID SCHEME had been out for 13+ years, without a solitary right being bought. This was true of all my books (and yes, many less-well selling authors sold translation rights, and film options, audio etc. Baen insisted on having all of them and never sold any. Shrug. I couldn’t sell them either). The movie rights were, de facto, worthless, unsellable. Trust me on this: such offers are once in a lifetime things. Most authors never get an offer. Better ones than me don’t.

Things were at a particularly rough patch in this New Australian’s life, what with rent, the cost-of-living in Australia being a long way up on South Africa, and the exchange rate meaning my income got 15% taken off before banks stole their cut – about the same again. And we’d had medical expenses that had to be met (I was glad we could) and yeah, things were hard and tight. I spent money I didn’t have chasing my publisher down with several expensive calls to the US, until I succeeded.

I made a terrible, awful mistake.

I let my hope blossom, and left myself with no insulation at all. Why wouldn’t I? There was no reason on earth it wouldn’t go through. We had a willing buyer who wanted something no one else did, and a surely a seller who would be delighted to get rid of something that they couldn’t sell to anyone else.

I had a promise that the publisher’s Hollywood agent was right onto it.

Except of course, they weren’t.

Funimation is a relatively small, reputable Texas-based Anime company. PYRAMID SCHEME was a book by a minor pair of authors, bordering on being out of print. It was a colossal dreamed-of break for me. I’d have given it to them for free, just for the increased visibility. I had in fact had my agent offer them CUTTLEFISH – for which I had the rights, for exactly that sum. They said, no, they wanted PYRAMID SCHEME.

A lot to me…. was not enough for the Hollywood agent to bother.

I spent hour after hour waiting, full of hope and I admit full of glee and delight.

And then a week full of worry.

And then asking questions by e-mail that got no answers.

And then actually making more expensive phone calls… to be informed it was with the agent.

And… eventually repeating the process, and getting a promise of an answer.

To which, eventually -a nag later, I got the answer he’d given: No deal. Funimation were just buying up rights from all and sundry on the cheap. It wasn’t a real offer at all.

This was, bluntly, an outright lie. I have a lot of contacts among other authors: none of them got the approach. I’d also offered them a book for nothing.

But… my publisher accepted the agent’s statement as the truth… and as months had passed on a ‘hot’ deal… it was all over.

I was nearly all over too. Facing writing again – something I loved – was hard. Facing 14 hour days for my hopes… writing, blogging, working, well, yes. Not easy. I was burned. Getting up to write in the morning was not something to make me explode out of bed.

I’ve failed to get back to that hope. I’m a stubborn bastard, and I escaped by writing a book I felt was really important – CHANGELING’S ISLAND and then TOM – a book I thought enormous fun.

I got back to the contracts and wrote the next HEIRS book. I’m busy with a KARRES book now. But the ‘a book in 2-5 months’ (5 months for a goat-gagger) is avoiding me. It’s been bothering me.

It was only in the last week or so I finally figured out what was wrong. I’m once again in that tense waiting phase for something I desperately hope to make true: we’ve put in an offer on a little farm. For various reasons, a large part of which is even by growing own food and never buying anything new and being incredibly careful, there just isn’t much money, this is also a ‘once in a lifetime’ chance for us. It hangs on me being able to keep various balls in the air, some goodwill I have no control over, and some effort from our local council and no hurdles (there are no real reasons for hurdles – but there were no reasons for Baen not sell PYRAMID SCHEME’s rights.)

My stomach is a knot, and I’m a phlegmatic sort of guy who doesn’t flap under stress. I have, minimum, another ten days –max 26 to wait. Doing anything coherent is hard.

But… the old hyper-energy is back. I can’t wait to get up in the morning, to start building, planting – even writing. Without letting myself hope too much I wasn’t giving up, but the drive wasn’t there. I’m still afraid to hope unqualifiedly, to drop all the insulation, the distancing.

But that is what it needs. That’s what feeds the drive. That’s what makes us build. And that’s what my writing needs too. I need readers, I need people who love my books. I need make those connections and get the rewards from them. I must not insulate myself, I must hope with all I have, I must love the books with all I can give. This profession needs you to be driven, to get the best out of you.

Hope is anchor, but of course that anchorage can also be in worst place, where you get pounded by the storms, and can never reach harbor. Ask any abused spouse. What keeps them there is hope. And being without that anchor is really hard on most of us. But you cannot insulate yourself. This is not ‘just a job’, you can do and hate.

The key is finding a better anchorage. My readers are that. My first mail has now gone  out, with a free RBV story. You can sign up here

That is what I must do. That is what you must do, if you want to succeed.

36 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

How fast is slow?

…And other indie myths.

When talking to indies, one of the first pieces of advice you’ll hear is to have a lot of volume, putting out X stories per year. (I’ve heard anywhere from 4 to 12 on this one.) While this is good advice, it’s neither mandatory nor the only way to succeed, and “You have to write fast to succeed as indie” is fast on its way to becoming a myth masquerading as a bedrock belief in the indie universe.

Let’s break down the reasons why.

First, the indie market (in e-book) is very young. It’s still shaking out of the initial gold rush mentality and into a mature market, and isn’t there yet. (Despite being online, it doesn’t move at internet news cycle speed.) When the bad old days of trad-only were, ah, ten years ago? This is still a brand-new market. Therefore, the people who’ve come in indie-only are, at most, only on their tenth year of this. (Most haven’t been doing it for that long, either.)

Having a lot of books out there not only has more ways for readers to find you, it also lets them binge-read once they do find you – which creates fans, and plenty of royalties. However, ten years (or less) isn’t that long a time for writing a lot of books, so the indie-only authors who naturally write very quickly, and the ones who had a lot of backlog ready to put up, were able to get ahead of the trad authors whose houses didn’t upload ebooks / didn’t have rights back yet, and the newer indies who write more slowly.

However, let me show you two examples of people who don’t have to write quickly, both midlist. First, our own lovely Sarah Hoyt. Sarah has put years of effort into writing a blog, and built an audience there, as well as building fans between her mystery books, her scifi, and her fantasy. She only has one indie book out, while all the rest are trad… and when she didn’t get a book out for two years (three since the last one in that series), she still had fairly good sales, as many of her fans were happy to read anything she’d put out. (Others may be mystery-only or fantasy-only.) However, when she gets the next shifters book out, despite it being three? four? years since the last one, I guarantee you she won’t be starting from scratch on building a fanbase or selling the series.

Second, my darling husband, Peter Grant. Despite his body’s best attempts to sneak out of this marriage by hiding six feet under the soil, I’m not letting him go (and he certainly doesn’t want to go!) However, medical misadventures have seriously slowed his production schedule from the hoped-for four a year to two a year, and then only one. He’s better now (yay!) and writing again (yay!), but despite all the dire warnings of “you must do mass volume to make it as an indie…” we actually didn’t. Now, the sales do drop significantly when it’s been almost two years between books in a series (Feb 2014 to Dec 2015), but you’re not restarting from scratch. If you keep in contact with your fans, they’re excited to get the new book in the series when you help them find out it’s available.

(Caveat: if you define “making it” as “making a living”, well, yeah. Peter did not make enough off releasing one book in a brand new genre to pay the bills for all of 2016, until the December launch of Stoke the Flames Higher. I got a day job last year, and it’s both awesome and helping offset medical bills and mortgage. This is the freelance life: money does not come in steadily, and if the reserve drops too low, it’s time to supplement the income with a job until the reserve is built back up, and you want to leave. Personally, I like this job; I’ll be staying well after the reserve is rebuilt.)

When you think about it, it makes sense: back when trad pub limited us to one book a year per author, there were still plenty of people who became fans of Terry Prachett, Mercedes Lackey, Patricia Briggs and David Weber. They all started publishing well before the ebook revolution, and they still have plenty of fans even at a slow release rate today. (Heck, there are new Heinlein, Anne McCaffery, and Prachett fans being made all the time, even though those authors are no longer with us. All it takes is a body of work and visibility, or word of mouth, same as with the living.)

So if you’re a slow writer, don’t despair. Just keep writing! And if you’re a fast writer, don’t feel you have to kill yourself to keep up a schedule if your life (or health) falls apart. Just keep writing, as you can! It does help to have a place where your fans can gather and converse, so they remember they liked you and so you have an easy way to notify them that your newest book is out when it gets there. It may take a lot longer, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. (Quick math – if the average time for word of mouth to spread noticeably for an author is about three years, how many books do you have that have been out long enough to start to get word of mouth recommendations?)

37 Comments

Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, WRITING: PUBLISHING