Skip to content

Archive for

>Greed, Stupidity and Replication.

Medieval Printing Press – taken from – and replicated on your computer without permission.

I would like to pick up on the issues raised by Amanda, yesterday. We have raised these before on this blog and we will undoubtedly raise them again.

For most of the human experience one needed a bard to hear music or a story. Everything was created afresh because there was no way of replication. All this changed in the 15th Century with the invention of the printing press. The impact on human society was massive acceleration by orders of magnitude of any intellectual activity.

The Protestant reformation could not have happened without the replication of the bible. Science and art leapt forward. However, there were doormen. Replication required specialist skills, equipment and capital.

Fast forward to the 20th Century and we have new forms of replication for sound and vision. Some are transient, like the radio and television, but others are permanent, notably musical records. However, the same economic rules applied as for publishing. A lucrative industry grew up around the replication business.

Music is an interesting example because a massive industry grew up selling records. Note that they did not sell ‘music’ but replications of music and the major beneficiaries were suits rather than artists. Indeed, the music business damn near killed live music.

The first cloud on the suit’s horizon came in the form of the cassette recorder. Anyone could make a replicate but it was a slow business and, in practice, easily controlled by the industry.

The digital world of the last two decades has changed everything. We thought of computers as symbolic logic processing machines when I started using them in the early 1970s. However, modern systems can just as easily be described as replication machines. They make replicates, quickly and cheaply. Replication is central to their very function. They can create infinite replications and distribute them anywhere.

The impact for the music industry has been devastating. How do you control the price of replicates when they can be produced in infinite numbers, free at the point of use, anywhere in the world? Well, you can’t.

Lord Mandy of Rio, who actually runs Britain while Gordy sulks in his cage at No 10, has been persuaded by the industry to switch off the internet connections to those who download ‘pirate’ software. Well guess what? It turns out that the people who download ‘pirate’ software are the same people who are the customers who pay for music online. Duh! Well done the music industry!

All together guys, put the shotgun barrels in your mouth and pull the trigger. That’ll show them that you are not to be trifled with.

None of this affects musicians all that much. The trend is to give away recorded music and then charge for live performances. Live music is back. It’s the music industry that is in trouble.

The publishing industry has mostly adopted a firm policy of pretending nothing is happening, with the exception of some far sighted individuals like Jim Baen. This has worked up to a point because paperback books are cheap and convenient while reading fiction on an electronic machine has been an unpleasing experience. This is all set to change with the development of ebook readers.

The industry has no plan and no clue. Currently it is trying to pretend that an ebook is just a book in a different format. Hence, DRM, overpricing and the current skirmish between the suits at Amazon and Macmillan. That is a turf war between threatened clans over the last waterhole in a drought.

It is not clear how this is going to pan out. Ebook readers are still not as convenient as a paperback but they will only get better. There are still big differences between the publishing and music industry. For example, authors do not perform in the same way as musicians. However, one has to wonder how much of the infrastructure designed to convey a manuscript from an author to a buyer (the publisher, the distributor, the wholesaler, the bookshop) can survive when the consumer can click on a website and make a replicate on their computer that had a zero manufacturing cost?

>Who Left the Door Open?

>Latest update (Jan 31) — See Below

Updated @ 4:35 CST — See Below

Maybe it’s the phase of the Moon. Maybe it’s an alien virus that’s caused it. But, whatever the case, the lunatics have escaped their rooms and are now running loose. Worse, one started the shouting and hysteria followed and I’m tired of it.

What, dear reader, am I talking about? I’m talking about the Amazon – Macmillan situation. In case you haven’t heard, last night Macmillan books (from, as far as I can tell, all their imprints) disappeared from This includes e-books as well as hard copy books. Not included are those hard copy books sold by Amazon associates or and other non-US versions of Amazon. Almost at once, twitter was a-flitter with conspiracy theories and accusations being flung at the evil that is Amazon.

Now, I’m not saying Amazon isn’t at fault. It may be. But, as far as I can tell, there is nothing to support that supposition except for one line in a NYT article, to-wit: Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter. This unnamed person is supposedly someone “in the industry with knowledge of the dispute”.

Okay, call me a skeptic, but I have problems putting a whole lot of weight behind an unnamed source. I have further problems accepting as true an assertion from the media where they don’t have a secondary source to back up what their unnamed source claims. There used to be journalistic standards in this country but that’s a different issue and gets too close to politics — something I’ve promised my fellow MGCers I’d try to avoid.

Let’s look at the issue without the histrionics that have filled Twitter and Facebook and other online networks. Did Amazon delete the books? Yes. That’s undeniable because they aren’t there. But that’s not the real question. The real question is why did Amazon delete them? Is this a ploy by Jeff Bezos and Amazon to keep Macmillan in line, perhaps even to punish it for signing with Apple’s iPad? Or is it an attempt by Macmillan to force Amazon to increase e-book prices from $9.99 for best sellers to the $15.oo mark it prefers? Or perhaps it’s a bit of both. That’s more likely the truth.

Don’t be fooled by the blogs saying Amazon refused comment or couldn’t be reached for comment, etc. Guess what, the news broke well after business hours Friday night. There was no one in the office to comment, in my guess. But that doesn’t play nearly as well in print as saying Amazon refused comment or couldn’t be reached for comment, etc. And, gee, no one from Macmillan has commented either but you don’t see anything being made of that.

So who are the ones being hurt by the removal of these books from Amazon? Readers and authors. Readers because they can’t get their e-books in Kindle format and at a reasonable price. Sure they can go to Barnes and Noble or Sony or Fictionwise and buy the book but, guess what, those sites have DRM as well. Which means they won’t work on a kindle unless you break DRM. So, those folks out there yelling about Amazon having DRM and that’s evil and they need to do what other e-book sellers are doing need to look at the facts again. Beyond the DRM issue, price becomes an issue. I checked several titles last night and even if I could have bought the books in a Kindle-friendly format, I wouldn’t have. Why pay more than $20.00 for an e-book when I can go out and buy it for half that price at the local used bookstore? Oh wait, that’s what Macmillan wants me to do. They want me to buy the hard cover of the book and not the e-book. But, if I buy the discounted book at the resale shop, the authors don’t get anything for it.

I’ve just demonstrated one way authors are being hurt by this current situation. Another way is that, with their books gone from, they are losing potential sales. That’s reality. Another reality is that some of these same authors are pissing off potential buyers by blaming Amazon without any real proof that they are the ones at fault and by removing their Amazon author pages as well as removing their Amazon client buttons from their websites. Come on, guys, take a step back. Take a deep breath and think for a moment. And quit acting like a bunch of lemmings following the crowd over the edge of the cliff just because someone said to jump.

What does all this mean? It means that, as I’ve said before, publishing is changing and the major houses hate it. They hate the fact they no longer have the control of the buying public like they used to. They hate the fact they don’t control sellers as they once did. In short, they hate change. The sad thing is, because most publishers — and all too many authors — have no grasp of the economics at play right now, there are going to be many more losers in this battle then there has to be. We’ve already lost most of the mom and pop bookstores because the publishers liked the way the big box stores could order more books and potentially sell them. So what happened, the big box stores cornered the market and could dictate terms to the publishers, hitting the publishers in the pocketbook, hard. Then, with the advent of the internet and e-commerce, they failed to adapt and develop their own on-line sales presence, leading to Amazon.

Now, the furor is over e-books and their pricing. Publishers refuse to realize they can sell more e-books at $10.00 than they can hard cover books at almost $30.oo. What will their next battle be? Will they pull their books from the shelves of stores like Walmart and Target because they sell the “best sellers” for $10.oo and discount paperbacks? How does any of that help the reading public and the authors?

Okay, I can hear some of the authors out there grinding their teeth and sharpening their pencils to stab me through the heart because I’m advocating lower prices for e-books and taking money out of their pockets. No, I’m not. Okay, most have their royalties based on sales price instead of cover price. However, they have continued to sign contracts that give them the same, and in some cases lower, royalty payments for e-books as they get for dead tree versions of the books. They are listening to the pabulum their publishers feed them instead of looking at the economics of the situation. And it is to their detriment as well as the detriment of their fans.

The times, they are a-changing and instead of yelling about what’s wrong and pointing the finger of blame, everyone — publishers, authors and readers — need to understand that publishing will never be what it once was. It can become better, but only if it doesn’t shoot itself in the head. Right now, I’m afraid too many publishers are caressing the gun, looking down the shiny barrel and wondering what would happen if they pulled the trigger. Whether Macmillan pulled the books from Amazon in an attempt to retake pricing control or Amazon pulled the books to maintain that control, it really doesn’t matter. All that does is that no one is the winner here, at least not in the short term. What happens in the long run remains to be seen.

In the meantime, let’s check our facts, verify our sources and let sanity return.


The NYT article cited above has been updated. The interesting points, imo, are as follows:

Motoko Rich, my colleague, spoke with a person who had a direct conversation with a person at Macmillan familiar with the conversations with Amazon. Macmillan offered Amazon the opportunity to buy Kindle editions on the same “agency” model as it will sell e-books to Apple for the iPad. Under this model, the publisher sets the consumer book price and takes 70 percent of each sale, leaving 30 percent to the retailer. Macmillan said Amazon could continue to buy e-books under its current wholesale model, paying the publisher 50 percent of the hardcover list price while pricing the e-book at any level Amazon chooses, but that Macmillan would delay those e-book editions by seven months after hardcover release. Amazon’s removal of Macmillan titles on Friday appears to be a direct reaction to that.

If this is true, I don’t blame Amazon one bit for taking the stance it has. To start, for Amazon to maintain the pricing as it currently is — something the majority of those posting on the kindle boards seem to want — they would have to agree to wait 7 months for the e-book. Now, paperback editions of most hardcovers come out before then. E-book readers will either not buy the book at all, wait and buy the paperback book or buy an e-book from another seller and break the DRM. None of which will help the author, the publisher or Amazon. If Macmillan believes this tact will increase the sales of hardcover books, they are mistaken. Worse, the ill-will they are creating may have long reaching consequences for them and for their authors. Will they — and the other publishing houses who believe as Macmillan does — please hire someone who understands the technology, the market trends AND the economics of the situation?


At 2:22 PST, the following post was put up on the Kindle boards by the Kindle Team:

Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thank you for being a customer.

I’m not, personally, happy with this resolution and if I were Barnes & Noble and other e-book retailers, I’d be wondering how long before Macmillan and the other major publishers try this same tactic on me. I’m hoping that, as one commenter suggested, this is not so much a capitulation on Amazon’s part but a warning to Macmillan that they are looking at possible SEC violations. You have to wonder since they did use the “M” word. — Amanda

>What is Writing?

>This might sound like a rather obvious question, but for someone who tortures themselves trying to squeeze some writing time out of life between all the various other fires that need putting out, it’s a pretty important question.

Is staring into space while musing over the plot of your latest bestseller writing? Is editing writing? Is proof-reading writing?

Australian author Louise Cusack describes editing as ‘creative bookkeeping’, and views it separately to ‘writing’ – at least in so far as the personal resources required to achieve it.

If you give yourself a daily word target of say – 500 or 1000 words – what happens to that target when you have to spend your precious writing time editing your latest piece to send out?

Personally I think its all valid. Everything from daydreaming a weird characteristic of you latest pet character to scribbling notes about a key plot point on the back of the nearest piece of cardboard. There is a famous story about Red Dwarf; how the original writers came up with the idea in a pub. They kept the original beer-coaster that they scribbled their ideas on and there was actually a picture of it in the back of one of the Red Dwarf books I read.

I think its dangerous to rate the creative process. Who knows when that five minutes of daydreaming will actually provide the core of the next best thing since Stephanie Meyer/JK Rowling?

Having said that, I think new writing – where its just you and the blank page and you are dragging words out of nowhere to create something new – uses a unique psychic muscle. Editing, where you are not just proof reading but actually concentrating on the writing craft and structure, also uses something close, but its like a light warm up Vs bench training. If you really want to build that writing muscle, you have to spend time first drafting.

So what you think? What is writing? Do you change your goals and targets when you switch from first drafting to editing?

>The box and the line in the sand

You have – again – Sarah to thank for this. She mentioned not long ago that I don’t just think outside the box, I’m still looking for the box and may not be in the same universe. I am still in contact with the general reality, just at a rather obtuse and possibly abolished angle.

So far so good. The fun comes when I reach the line in the sand, that not exactly physical demarcation of “thus far and no further”. I’ve hit it, or it’s hit me, and it’s proven wonderfully freeing. I’ve shut up and put up with all sorts of things I disagree with for long enough, but not any more.

What got me there? I finally realized that for all the “being good” and “doing the right thing” didn’t work (the “right thing” being defined here as what the usual consensus says I should be doing, not what I believe I should be doing. Not only are they usually not the same thing, they’re often rather interestingly opposed).

I’ve effectively given up any hope of mainstream publication for my novels. When Amazon moves to the 70% royalty level, I’ll do what I need to to sell them there. The day job is going to take up so much time I’m not likely to be ready for it until then anyway, so no loss there. If by some miracle a mainstream offer does show up, fine, that’s gravy. But I’ve taken enough shit at work and elsewhere that I’m not prepared to put up with it and make nicey-nice anymore.

Common courtesy, sure. Other than that, you get me as I am, warts and all (actually, there aren’t any warts right now, but you get the idea), and if you don’t like it, stiff. There’s nothing anywhere that says you have to like me – and conversely, there’s nothing anywhere that says I have to like you. I no longer care what you (in the generic sense) think about me. If you think I’m crazy because that box is nice and comfy, well, good for you. I like it out here, although I’d still like to find that blasted box so I can maybe get some idea why it’s so flipping popular.

So there you have it: the pissed Kate manifesto. Who else has had a gutful and doesn’t care what saying so brings?

>You Might Be a Writer IF


*I think I’ve done this here before, but I am still busilly being nepharious on the blog tour, so forgive me if I repeat myself. Fresh blather next week. Recycled blather this week!*

*This was the work of a post meeting party for my writers’ group round about 2000. Because people came and went from the group I don’t remember the quorum that afternoon, though I can swear to my husband, Dan Hoyt and to Rebecca and Alan Lickiss, as well as Jennifer Roberts and Barbara Nickless. I’d forgotten all about this till I found it in my hard drive while looking for something else.*

You Might Be A Writer If…

…you have knock-down, drag-out arguments with your significant other over verb tenses.

…you pay big bucks for a babysitter so you can go out on a date … in order to have some time to plot a story.

…revelatory conversations that start with “That’s it; I know exactly what to do with Lord Raven!” don’t mean you’re having an affair.

…you find nothing wrong with foregoing food, sleep and sanitary facilities for three days running in order to get those last three chapters done.

…you talk to walls on a regular basis, but only because your characters refuse to come out into the middle of the big, unprotected room where their enemies might make an attempt on their lives.

…you talk to yourself. Do not! Do too! Do not! Don’t listen to him; he doesn’t even know how to hold a sword properly!

… conversations that start, “Have you decided how to kill him yet?” don’t indicate that you are about to become a felon.

… hearing that you have no clue isn’t necessarily a personal remark.

… if a story isn’t accepted, happiness is a detailed personal rejection.

… and then you brag to all your friends about being rejected.

… your computer is three generations old, but your printer is a top of the line, fifty pages per minute model.

… you have to think to remember which of your friends are real, and which are characters in your stories.

… your characters have definite opinions about your friends, hairdos and sex life.

… while plotting a novel you drive your car across a median, barely avoid a stream of oncoming traffic, climb the berm, cross a parking lot, stop against a small tree, and don’t realize you’ve done anything out of the ordinary.

… You ever pumped a total stranger for details of his last illness, so you could use it in a book.

… Often have trouble remembering what day, week, month, year or century you live in.

… Are afraid to park a large car but routinely discuss the mechanics of space travel.

… you have definite opinions about the merits of historical personages so obscure no one else ever heard of them.

… Read Machiavelli’s The Prince on an interstate flight.

… Your four-year-old thinks “editor” is a bad swear word.

… in highschool you used to wander off from parties to research a plot point in the nearest library.

… your writing has ruined more than two serious relationships.

… Your prayers often involve a critique of the divine plot.

… Cleaning is what you do while suffering from the block. And only then.

… Some of the leftovers in your refrigerator have acquired life and are on the verge of sentience. You can’t wait to write about it.

… you have to be a writer, otherwise someone would realize you’re insane.

… you think coffee, donuts and pizza are a complete diet.

… when you were little, your main contribution to the playgroup was making up the “scripts” for playtime.

… your kids talk in hushed tones about your “coming down with a novel.”

… Don’t know what the nearest crossroad to your house is, but can tell with certainty what type of carriage was used in 1456 in Wales.

… When a friend asks “what’s new” you give him a synopsis of your latest book.

… Have one or more times scared a late-night diner waitress with a conversation that started with: “now I need to figure out where to hide the body.”

… A social life is another name for getting together with other writers and discussing plots.

… While being administered the last rites you think, “dang, I’m too woozy to remember this, and I need it for my mystery novel.”

… You quit writing and became so obsessive about so many other things that your family begged you to start again.

… Love to write, but hate every minute of the writing business.

What are your favorite personal You Might Be A Writer If….?

>Algebra and Accounting …

>Okay, I know there are forums out there, where people write about mathematics, sometimes using mathematics to make a point simply because they love it.

I have to state here, that I do not love maths.

Over these holidays:

I’ve had to set up the chart of accounts and do the entries for 2 Super Funds (Self managed Superannuation Funds).

I’ve had to do my BAS (Business Activity Statement) entering all income and expenditure and allocating a percentage to GST (Goods and Services Tax) and working out my GST for the quarter.

AND, (if this is not bad enough), I’ve had to do 14 pages of year 9 algebra with my 15 year old son so he could catch up with what he missed last school year. I did General Maths in high school (not algebra) and that was almost forty years ago.

Hence the soothing picture of the beach and ocean!

But, as I was working on these maths related things, it occurred to me that with numbers it is philosophically simple. (I’m not discussing String Theory here). You do a bank reconciliation, you account for everything. You are either right or you are wrong. You do an algebra equation and there is a right answer.

After writing books where every word carries nuances that vary depending on your cultural background (US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia), where you build characters with those words, where you build worlds with those words and then you try to tell a story on the shifting sands of these foundations … maths was strangely satisfying.

I know I can write a good story. (Sometimes I get too close and get something wrong, but I can see this when critique partners point it out). I have written children’s books that went out to 5 publishers before they were sold, not because there was anything wrong with the books, but because they weren’t what the first 4 publishers wanted. I have Book One of four different fantasy series sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the right publisher/s to come along.

I have the three books of the King Rolen’s Kin series coming out this year. I know I can write an entertaining book, but I don’t know if the books I write will automatically sell. This was a big revelation after I sold my first children’s book. I assumed that once I achieved publication, my next book would automatically sell. I looked on that first professional sale a bit like the Master Plumber giving his apprentice his papers and making him a professional.

Not knowing if a perfectly good book will sell is really frustrating.

If I was an accountant, I could ‘write as many books as I could manage’ and people would pay me because a bank reconciliation is either right or wrong. No one sits there and says, I liked it, but it isn’t the reconciliation I’m looking for right now.

Creative people like writers, musicians and artists get up everyday, pour their hearts into their work and do it, knowing there is a strong chance it will be rejected even if it is good.

Why do we do it?

That’s an easy one. We can’t stop ourselves being creative.

But how do we keep doing it? How do you shore up our confidence despite the vagaries and indignities of our chosen profession?

Now that is a much harder question.

How do you keep going?

>A treacherous land

>Tomorrow is Australia Day, and very new Australian I find myself going to my very first Australia Day barbie on the beach up at Killiekrankie. I’m quite looking forward to it. It’s a strange feeling as I have been withdrawing from the concept of patriotism to South Africa for the last few years – which was hard as I come from a long line of people who fought either against oppressors for _their_ country or who volunteered to serve in the wars of their country. You can argue the logic and wax on about territorial imperitives etc. but there is a strong (and often illogical) tendency in many of us to find a group to ID with and to stand with them. This is a powerful arena to write in. Anything that stirs strong, primal emotions is. It’s also of course a potentially treacherous land as the beloved of one group is often the bete noir (beyond logic sometimes in both cases) of another large section of the potential audience. So – a strong emotional driver – but a dangerous area where the allegience of the writer – and the reader – can over-run the bounds of common sense. It’s a great story – but say the author is so anti/pro American as to alienate a large part of his/her audience (thereby not only losing sales, but the opportunity to show the positive aspects of his ‘group’). Yes, the chorus of faithful will enjoy it. And that can be a substantial audience if that’s a big group. But it is dangerous country for writers. No, I am not suggesting that you have to avoid it, the opposite – it is powerful stuff and dangerous territory is what makes books exciting and makes enthusiasts out of what might be tepid readers. What I am saying is it is not the country for blind assumptions that everyone (or everyone worth writing for)shares your viewpoint. I wrote extensively about it in MUCH FALL OF BLOOD (because I was very much in flux myself about issues of national identity) and the need of refugees (not economic migrants) to find certain things in order to integrate. I was very much writing about modern migration – with the strong feelings this raises, but I was able to put into an apparently neutral context, and to let the readers into the heads of the protagonists. I think it worked and makes it very strong book. But what do the rest of you think? does patriotism have any place in modern fiction? is it there whether we like it or not? (I’ve yet to read a single fantasy without some of it). How should it be handled?

>Weekly Round-up

>As most of you know, I’m a proud owner of a Kindle and have been an advocate for e-books for years. I believe they are a major component in the future of publishing. I also believe that e-books, combined with the new opportunities presented by the internet, are a way more mid-list and new authors will find readers and, hopefully, make more money. And that brings me to a couple of links I ran across this week as well as some observations I’ve made after spending time reading various on-line fora about e-books.

The links first. For those of you who might be impacted by the Google settlement, if you still have questions about it, there are several phone conferences taking place this week to help explain it and answer any questions you might have. These are open to all authors and agents. You don’t have to be a member of Authors Guild to take part. For more information, check out this link.

The second link is one that is much more telling, from my point of view, when it comes to the future of publishing. The New York Times published an article titled “With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don’t Need to Sell”. The basic import of the story is that authors and publishers have seen an increase in sales after posting a book for free for the Kindle. One example given is Lauren Dane’s romance novel Giving Chase. Kindle users downloaded more than 26,000 copies of the book.

This is what’s really impressive: But paid purchases of some of Ms. Dane’s other novels jumped exponentially. Her earlier novel “Chased,” which sold 97 copies in September, sold 2,666 digital units in October, and another of her previous books, “Taking Chase,” which sold 119 copies in September, sold 3,279 in the month in which a free download was available.

That’s a huge increase in sales and it comes because the publisher was willing to give away, for one month only, downloads of Giving Chase. This form of marketing is one factor that will help pull publishing out of the doldrums it’s in now. More importantly, it will help pull new authors and mid-list authors out of the shadows and bring them to the public’s attention.
Unfortunately, there are still publishers who are digging their heels in and refusing to recognize that e-books represent a growing portion of the market and that the sales of them will not destroy the sales of hard copy versions of the same book. Executives at some houses said that given such actions, offering free content amounts to industry hypocrisy.

“At a time when we are resisting the $9.99 price of e-books,” said David Young, chief executive of Hachette Book Group, the publisher of James Patterson and Stephenie Meyer, “it is illogical to give books away for free.”

Similarly, a spokesman for Penguin Group USA said: “Penguin has not and does not give away books for free. We feel that the value of the book is too important to do that.”

These publishers, and all those like them, don’t seem to grasp the fact that giving away an e-book for a limited amount of time is nothing more than promotion. It’s a way to get the author’s name out there and recognized by the reading public. It is also a heck of a lot less expensive, for everyone involved, than sending an author on a publicity tour, sending out ARCs, etc., and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it doesn’t hit a lot more potential readers. Readers who will buy books in one form or another.

Even if only a small percentage of those who download a free book end up buying another one, “that’s all found money,” said Steve Oates, vice president for marketing at Bethany House Publishers, a unit of Baker Publishing Group . . . .

I wish more publishers took Mr. Oates’s view. I do not believe e-books will kill the printed book — at least not for a very long while. But there is a market for e-books, a market that will continue to grow as more and more e-book readers are developed. Are there still issues to be dealt with regarding e-books? Hell, yeah. DRM for one. A common format for another. But these are also issues that can be dealt with, if the publishing industry will just learn from what the music industry went through and if it starts listening to the purchasing public.

There is something we, as authors, need to keep in mind. The e-book reading public really doesn’t understand why some books make it into electronic form and others don’t, much less why the e-book version may not be published at the same time as the first release of the dead tree version of the book. They blame the retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They blame the authors — sometimes rightfully so. But they don’t, in many cases, understand that it is the publisher making the decision on when an e-book comes out. There is growing discontent on the boards frequented by those who purchase e-books about the delay in the electronic versions. If you’re an author whose e-book has been delayed for months after the first release of the DTB and you’re getting angry emails about it, that’s why. If you’re a reader angry because that e-book you’ve been waiting for has been delayed, let the publisher know as well as the author. E-books are here to stay, barring some form of catastrophe that kills computers, e-book readers, etc.

As readers, what would entice you to buy an e-book by an author you’d never heard of before? Would being able to download a book by them for free help? How about as an author? Would you be willing to put up a book for free for a limited time in order to boost your sales? What approach should publishers be taking with regard to e-books now, in face of the facts presented in the NYT’s article?

(Image found at

>Where to get ideas

This is a map of the galaxy by Samuel Arbesman which is repeated here without permission for review purposes.

As you can see, it is drawn in the style of the London tube map. The current tube map style was devised by Beck in 1933 and was a graphic design breakthrough in the Beck used schematics to convey the sense of the system rather than a confusing literal map of London. Arbesman has done the same thing for the Milky Way, or Mutter’s Spiral as it appears on Time Lord four dimensional maps.

This is a rather laboured instroduction to the main theme of today’s blog – What should and SF&F writer read?

They read SF&F fiction, obviously, to keep a weather eye on the opposition and sneer at clearly inferior works that have somehow been published when their own works of genius have been rejected – again.

They read other fiction, as Tom Lehrer so cogently argued ‘Don’t just use your eyes, plagiarise’ – or as I prefer to put it – artists borrow.

But most of all, they should read non-fiction. In particular, read narrative histories and biographies.

Narrative histories are a superb source of events to set a background for a story and to inspire a cast of characters. I have just finished ‘Empire of the Seas’, a narrative history of the struggles between Turkey and Spain, or more properly the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs, in the Mediterranean in the 16th Century from the battle for Rhodes in 1521 to Lepanto in 1571. I will not review this excellent work, you can find reviews elsewhere, except to say that it is not a simple military history but puts matters into their political context.

The only fault that I would find with it is a final section portraying Lepanto as the decisive battle to save Christian civilisation. Lepanto was no such thing. Like most ‘decisive’ battles it had very little little long term effect. It did not represent the high water of Turkish naval arms, that was at Malta in 1565. At the end of the battle, Spain, France, England and some smaller Christian states held the Western Roman Empire and Turkey held the Eastern Roman Empire.

Plus ca change, geopolitics overuled religion. Valois France had been a Turkish ally, even letting the Ottoman fleet base in Toulon in 1543, and the merchants of Venice had changed sides more frequently than Italy in the modern world. North Africa was a pirate stronghold who lived mainly by enslaving Europeans on an industrial scale. Millions of Europeans were kidnapped in slave raids that went on into the 19th Century and reached as far north as England. Maybe we should demand apologies and reperations.

But I digress, something my wife is often forced to reprove me for. This superb book is a mine for anyone wanting to write a story set in an SF universe with spacefleets battling it out for an arm of the galaxy (see above).

The other works that are immensely valuable for inspiration are biographies. David Drake has pointed out to me that autobiographies are even more valuable as they show what people were trying to achieve, not just what actually happened.

I am currently reading ‘Lord Byron’s Jackal’ by David Crane. This is the biography of Edward John Trelawny who, as you can tell by the name, is a Cornishman – like me. It contains the immortal line about Trelawny – ‘It is given to few men to kill two major poets..’

Trelawny was an uneducated failed naval officer, he reached the dizzy rank of midshipman, who reinvented himself as a dashing corsair and lover, became a friend to both Shelley and Byron, managing to assist both in getting killed, hid in a Greek cave while fighting in the Greek War of Independence alongside a bandit leader called Odysseus, married a thirteen year old bride and was shot in the back twice by English assassins to be eventually rescued by another Englishman by the name of Francis D’Ancy Bacon. Those are only the bare facts that he failed to embellish.

He died in bed at the age of 89 after becoming one of the great prose writers of his day. His last known words were ‘lies, lies, lies’.

Try inventing an anti-hero like that!

So to help you write fiction, read non-fiction.

Anyone know any other real larger than life antiheroes?

>Split Personalities

>It seems that being a writer requires that you split yourself into all these multiple personalities, most of which have opposite characteristics.

You need to be introspective, happy with your own company (and happy being in your own head) most of the time. How else would you do the necessary hours to get the output you need or increase your skills? This is essential for what is elegantly called the ‘bums on seats’ factor.

Yet at the same time you need to be an extrovert that thrives on personal interactions – getting out to conventions, networking effortlessly, confident at public speaking – enabling you to find those leads you need, and convince key people that you really do have something to sell, and to differentiate yourself from all the other writers that are only names on a submission.

When it comes to your own work, you have to be passionate and sensitive. You have to be so secure that you can let yourself free, let your creative energies boil in whatever direction you want.

Yet at the same time, you need to be able to approach feedback and critique on your work with a professional emotional distance that enables you to be ruthless, otherwise you will never be able to ‘kill all your babies’.

Its like those personality wheels – where the average person has ‘dips’ in some areas and ‘peaks’ in others. Well it seems the writer needs to be a superhuman self-developer, taking all those dips and pushing them up into peaks.

So – how do you handle all these split personalities? Do you get them to take it in turns? Did you have to turn yourself inside out to develop all these? Or did you have all these split personalities to begin with?