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>Public Library Online — a very worrying thing.

>”Attention! Attention! The revolution has been made aware of a reactionary incursion into the public library.”

The public library — the place where so many readers gained their first taste of the books they now spend money on. The public library — an institution, which, for all its flaws in places, remains one of the keystones to literary access for anyone — including those from a disadvantaged background, and those of us with book-habits too big for our incomes.
The public library — a pet hate they dared not name — of Big Publishing because, if they paid anything to anyone (besides the initial cover price) it was to those irrelevancies, authors, via PLR (in the UK, Australia, Canada and another 25 countries, not including the US). On the other hand everyone was supposed to support libraries, and paying authors is the publishers’ rationalisation for the cover price (yes authors get… well 6% for newbies. But really we publishers exist merely so we can act as a conduit to them. We make a small nett profit (which, like retail, we compare to the authors gross when questioned). And we do such valuable things for our large gross. Buy paper. Pay for printing. Arrange shipping and distribution. Do the accounting… sometimes editing and proofreading also happen! We keep you readers from being drowned dross, because we know what you really ought to want to read. Authors are lucky to have us and we nurture and look after them out of a love for literature, and pure, well, mostly pure, altruism.).

And then along came the e-book. And many of the stated reasons for the cover price being what it is… evaporated. The monopoly on retail access — at least for the electronic bookshelf — disappeared. Many authors and wannabe authors saw that the gatekeepers — who also kept the bulk of the income — were being disintermediated. Not many private tears were shed for the behemoths who said the e-book price really had to be almost the same as hardcovers to make ends meet and support their noble efforts (including paying for the office in NY and the advances for the various agenda driven publishers pets) although the beast is not dead, (and won’t IMO die, and will remain in new forms) so they got some sympathy in the public eye.

But there is more than one way to skin a cat. And while I expect publicity, money-clout, big-business dirty deals and possibly getting government legislation to get used to keep control of retail display access – or at least most of it, this one I did not expect. It amounts, de facto, if not de jure, to false advertising — like calling your ten fellow power seizing coup d’etat plotters and wannabe dictators “The Peoples Democratic Liberation Army” and the snatching of the moral high ground by means of terminology.

Enter left, with fanfare, “Public Library Online ” — which is neither a library in the normal understanding of the word, nor does it fulfil the intent behind the word ‘public’ as I see it – it’s a private company with access by subscription only. In fairness, it is ‘online’. One out of three…

Set up by Bloomsbury, but now allowing access to other publishers (one imagines, for a fee/royalty payment) – not the hoi polloi, however, it is a ‘service’ offered to those overextended, underfunded and incredibly valuable national treasures, REAL libraries, of – for a fee – online access to a virtual ‘shelf’ of e-books (which can only be read online).

For the library that signs up, well, the admin is dealt with, there is no hassle, with a library card number your library members can read (so long as they’re online) any of the books on that ‘shelf’. There are new shelves offered every year (or more often?) all for a ‘minimal fee’ and there is no need to pay the author a PLR (another bit of admin done away with) as they get 40 Pounds for every participating author, for every 1/4 million people that library authority serves. Why, as this article points out authors who the publishers decided to include would earn 1000 pounds per book per shelf a year – the equivalent of selling (according to them) 2000 paperbacks. And many library readers then go on to buy the book… It’s a win-win-win… isn’t it?

Hmm. I doubt it. I think it’s more like asking the fox to guard your hen-roost. And opening the cage so the fox can do the job better!

For starters 1) while libraries will apparently be able to choose their shelf — they will not be able to choose their books. So we hand choice to the publishers… who have done such a good job of broadening reading and getting more people to buy books haven’t they?

2)PLR generally pays according to the number of times your book is taken out. It is, at the moment, possible to donate your author copies to libraries (I do), and thus at least get them into the system, letting people try them, and to get some feedback not related to retail access. It won’t be under this system.

3)PLR pays the author. Not the publisher… to hand on a smidgen (no doubt adjustable at the publisher will), and, if you want to be on a ‘shelf’ you’d better suck it up, and take whatever terms you are offered. In other words – less books for more money in PLR expenditure terms.

4) We return to the gatekeeper model – where the publisher decides exactly who will crack the nod. And Bloomsbury decides which publishers will crack the nod. So from bad we go to twice as bad, as far as allowing the public to choose what they would like to read. So much for ‘Public’.

5) Being on a ‘shelf’ with a popular best-seller will mean a great deal to an author, especially a new one, or midlister. It’s almost zero cost to the publisher, but can be used as a powerful inducement/threat to keep writers in line. ‘You self-publish on Kindle, you’ll never be on our bookshelf again.’

6) A book once paid for, is paid for. It remains there even if your library has no money spare for new books. Not so with this system. You’ve _leased_ the books for a year. If you have no money: you have no books. If you have less money… you’ll have less books. Not exactly a gift to the public in straitened times.

7) In normal parlance – and in the new e-book retail – a book remains on the shelf many more years – far longer than brick-and-mortar retail access. This allows the book to gradually build a following by word of mouth, removing the ability of publishers to control sales by publicity and distribution. Not with this system. You have a year. When you have no large publicity spend, a year is not enough. When you do, it’s plenty.

8) This is nice and easy, we do it all for you…. ergo this a proprietary system we control. You, Joe Author, cannot merely donate your work to it, and once your library is dependent on it, we can do whatever we like to the costs etc.

9) Counting the book numbers on a ‘shelf’ – if I have this right – 9-10 – means authors get 35-40% of the income – and the library is spending more or less 100 pounds per book. That’s NOT a bargain. 60-65% of that is being absorbed by the publisher, who has no returns, no paper costs, trivial distribution and storage costs, and no retail cost, and thus are taking this share (way above what they had for ordinary books) for admin and proof-reading and editing. -talk about gouging ‘the public’ – getting your money whether you like the author or book or not by means of your taxes.

10) The effect of this on the value and role of librarians does not seem to be considered. I’m all for libraries doing away with/making simple the stupid donkey work of people who should be there because they know and love books — replacing books in alphabetical order, and clocking books in and out. But this removes the librarian one step further from the ESSENTIAL functions of good librarianship — choosing the right books (not ‘shelves’) for their readers interest, and directing specific readers to those books. Next thing we know it’ll imitate the ‘brilliant’ success of taking away local control over these functions in book shops. That worked SO well there, I am not surprised that publishers want to repeat it in Libraries.

I could go on… but I really do not see this as a good thing for readers or authors.

I love and support libraries. This I see as a very bad thing for them, and for readers, and for writers. Publishing has, with some exceptions (and help from Chain retail and education authorities), been in the driving seat for the decline of literate people reading (the absolute numbers of literate people has increased, the numbers of readers in this group has dropped dramatically – the market has increased a hundredfold, the number of books sold… 10 fold.). Are they the right people to hand the exclusive keys to the library system to?

I’m not sure how to counter it. The Baen Free Library is one possible model.
About the only good thing I can say about it is that it is only online – at this stage.
Anyway: your thoughts?
Am I entirely wrong? Are they saints being vilified by bad me?

>Knowing the Rules

>Apologies for the late post. This past week has been an adventure — not — in trying to get online. I’m about to make another call to tech support once I manage to publish this post.

Today’s post is going to be a bit different from what I usually post on Sundays. It stems from something I’ve noticed with a few of the submissions we’ve received during this submission period at the last at NRP. So, with my editor’s hat on, here goes. . . .

Many years ago, back when we wrote with arcane machines called IBM Selectric typewriters — no, I don’t remember stone tablets. I’m not THAT old, although I swear we used ink and quills in grade school ;-p — and long before computers were something every family had multiples of, I took freshmen English at Baylor University in Waco, TX. Like many freshmen, I hadn’t realized how different college was going to be when I walked into that first English class. After all, it looked pretty much like my honors high school English classes. There were about 30 of us, all sitting at our desks, waiting for the professor.

So we sat there and waited, looking around, taking stock of those in class with us. Then, as the bell rang, a woman we’d assumed was simply another student stood and walked to the front of the class. The moment she opened her mouth, we realized things were about to be very different from high school. Long story short, after introducing herself and finding out who had come to class without the assigned textbook, she passed out a single sheet of paper listing what to do to flunk a paper and, therefore, the class.

Two comma faults, you flunk the paper. Two split infinitives, you flunk. Two dangling modifiers, you flunk. Three misspelled words, you flunk. There were more. Remember, it was a page of this, all single spaced. To add insult to injury, any combination of the list meant you flunked the paper. Then, just to make sure we were a bundle of nerves for the rest of the term, if you didn’t have a “C” average on the last three papers of the term, you flunked the class.

Remember, this was back before the days of being able to “save” a document and go back in and make simple corrections. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention she didn’t want to see white-out or erasures either.

What does that have to do with publishing today? A couple of things — and yes, that violated another of her rules. I just committed one of her biggest “no-nos”. I wrote a sentence fragment. — The first is that, as writers, we need a working knowledge of the rules of writing. It doesn’t matter how good your story is if you turn off an agent or editor because your grammar and punctuation becomes a distraction because it is so bad.

The problem is that our schools, on the whole, aren’t teaching grammar any more. Then there’s the reality that the rules have changed. Do you put a comma before the “and” in a list of three of more objects (Mary, Fred and Tom went to school.). Do you set off “too” with commas when using it as you would “also”? (That, too, is a good question. I want to go too.)

But it goes beyond the simple rules of grammar. Back in the days before personal computers of every size, shape and flavor, we were told to do a single underline of words we wanted to be italicized and to double underline words that were to be put in bold. Internal dialogue was underlined. Telepathic conversations were set off by either single quotes (or apostrophes) or by colons. It worked because that’s what the typesetters were used to.

Today, if you use those methods, you date yourself. The problem comes in that very few style guides put out by agents or publishers tell you not to underline. It’s just something you’re supposed to know. Making matters worse, not all agents and publishers have made the move from old-style to new.

Then there’s the latest debate. Do you put one or two spaces after a period. Based on some of the posts I’ve seen about this, you’d think it was an earth-shattering issue. It’s not. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a non-issue. Why? Because in this day and age of e-books and some authors or publishers using non-standard fonts, sometimes you need the extra spacing. As an author just submitting a manuscript for consideration, the number of spaces you put at the end of the sentence is the one thing most editors could care less about — as long as you aren’t putting in more than a couple.

So, where is all this going? Simply put, know the rules. Know that plural nouns need plural verbs. Know the tenses. Know how to decline verbs. Know basic sentence structure. It also means you need to know the rules of each individual agent or publisher you are submitting to. Check to see if they have a style guide posted somewhere. If not, check their blogs to see what books they refer to most often. Do they like Strunk & White? The Chicago Manual of Style? Or is there something else they keep on their desk for reference? If there is, get a copy and keep it right there with your dictionary and thesaurus. It will come in handy. Trust me on this.

Most of all, you need to know when it’s okay to break the rules.

Just as it’s okay to use accents and local vernacular to give your reader insights into your characters — as long as they don’t become a distraction — it’s okay to break the rules. Again, as long as it doesn’t become a distraction. When the mechanics of the writing detract from the story, there’s a problem. Like it or not, fair or not, when that happens, most editors and agents will pass on the manuscript.

>Nocturnal Origins

>That thud you heard the other day was the sound of my jaw dropping to the ground when my bosses at Naked Reader Press informed me that they’d just done something and really didn’t care if I liked it or not. I don’t know about you, but when the bosses tell me something like that, I tend to get a little paranoid. Had they just decided to fire me? Reassign me? With my heart pounding, I waited, never expecting what they were about to tell me. It seems that they’d made an editorial decision without consulting me and had added a book to the NRP catalog. It seems they decided, without me actually submitting my novel to them, to publish my urban fantasy novel, Nocturnal Origins. That is when my jaw dropped. So, I’m here to announce that it will be coming out in March — GULP. I’ve snippeted the first two scenes below. I hope you enjoy it. Now I’m going to go hide under the bed.

One

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try. The memory remains, forever imprinted on your soul. It colors your perceptions and expectations. It affects everything you say and do. It doesn’t matter if the memory is good or bad, full of life and love or pain and death. That memory remains until the day you die – if you’re lucky.

If not, the memory haunts you for all eternity.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knew that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died had changed her life and her perception of the world forever.

It didn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believed a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. She knew better. She knew she had died.

It hadn’t been a miracle. At least not a holy one. Ask the poor attendant who’d run screaming from that cold, desolate room in the hospital basement, when Mac had suddenly sat up, gasping for breath and still covered with too much blood. He’d been convinced a demon from Hell had risen to come for him.

Mac couldn’t blame him. As far as she was concerned, that was the day the dogs of Hell had come for her.

Now, standing in the alley behind Gunn’s, one of the most fashionable restaurants in Dallas, Mac closed her eyes and prayed . She suspected what lay ahead. She could almost smell it – not quite, but enough to know what was there. Sweat trickled down her spine and plastered her thin cotton shirt to her back. Her stomach lurched rebelliously and she swallowed hard against the rising gorge. She had to keep control. At least for the next few hours.

Easy, Mackenzie. Just take it slow and easy.

She opened her eyes and drew a deep breath. She knew it was bad. Two uniformed officers, hands on knees, vomited into the gutter. There were no black humor jokes, no conversation, nothing. In fact, other than the sounds of retching, the scene was eerily quiet, so it felt almost like a dream. A nightmare.

She took a few more steps. The harsh, unmistakable stench assailed her nose, warning her what she’d find.

Unless the restaurant had dumped several hundred pounds of raw hamburger out to spoil in the summer heat, a dead body lay at the far end of the alley. That was bad enough. Then she felt as though she were enveloped in blood and her stomach rolled over once again.

Oh, God.

Jaw clenched, she stepped forward. Never before had it been so hard to approach a crime scene. Not even when she’d responded to her first dead body call a lifetime ago. She hadn’t hesitated then, not like this.

But she was different now. She knew what sort of horror awaited her. She’d seen it before and it haunted her. Haunted her because it touched something in her very few suspected even existed, something she tried so desperately to hide. The beast within fought for dominance, called by the smell of blood, the sight of raw flesh.

She mustn’t lose control. Not here and certainly not now. She blew out a long breath and slammed her mind shut to the horribly enticing sights and smells. Even as she did, the nightmare that had become the core of her existence clawed against her all too fragile self-control as it fought for release.

Focus on the job, Mac. Just focus on the job.

Finally, satisfied she wouldn’t lose control – yet – she nodded once. It was time to get to work.

###

Hidden deep in the shadows across the street, he watched and waited. Anger and frustration seethed just below the surface, held at bay only by sheer will power. He still couldn’t believe it. All his careful plans ruined. Now he was forced to lurk in the dark as he watched events unfold across the street.

Damn them!

When he’d first scented the men approaching, he had cursed his foul luck. He wasn’t finished. His prey still lived. There had been so much fight in her, so much fear. How that thrilled him. Too much time had passed since he’d been able to play with his quarry as he had with this one. She’d fought desperately. Then she’d done everything she could to escape. Finally, she’d huddled in fear and begged for her life even as he continued to play with her much like a cat plays with a mouse just before making that last pounce followed by the kill.

But it wasn’t to be. He had scented the men long before they reached the alley entrance. Their conversation warned him they were police. For one brief moment he’d actually toyed with the idea of killing them. Then memory of his last encounter with one of their kind intruded and forced him to admit the folly of the thought.

Damn them all to Hell!

He’d been forced to kill his prey before he finished with her. Worse, he hadn’t been able to feed off her. Instead, he’d slunk away like a carrion eater in the face of a stronger, meaner predator. How he hated that. He was no coward, no bottom feeder. He was the predator and yet here he stood, hiding in the shadows as they swarmed over his kill. That flew in the face of the natural order. He was stronger, more cunning. They should tremble in fear before him. Instead, he played the coward, unwilling to face their greater numbers or their guns.

But they would pay. Sooner or later they would pay for being foolish enough, unfortunate enough to interrupt him. They’d pay the ultimate price and forfeit their lives. However, that had to wait, at least for a little while.

Still, the night might not be a total loss. The circus across the street offered a potential show he’d not hoped to see. At least not yet. An almost feral smile touched his lips and he chuckled softly. He might get lucky after all.

And all because of one woman, one tall, beautiful woman with a shock of dark hair and penetrating green eyes.

His smile widened to a grin and his right hand fisted at his side as his heart gave an excited leap. That one woman had brought him such anticipation and then so much frustration. He could hardly wait until they met once more. It would be a meeting he planned to make their last.

Two months had passed since he first laid eyes on her. Something about her had called to him, demanding he master her. So he’d set out to stalk her, confident in his ability not only to find her but also to make her his for as long as he wanted. What a wonderful plan it had been.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t worked out quite the way he’d expected. She wasn’t like the others – men and women both – who’d fallen to him in the past. She’d proven to be as tough and determined as she was beautiful. When he thought he had her cornered and ready for the taking, she’d done the unexpected, the unforgivable. She’d fought back, leaving him wounded and forced to flee before she could summon help.

She drew his attention once more. He could hardly wait to see how she reacted to his handiwork. Maybe, just maybe, the evening wouldn’t be a complete loss after all.

###

>The Fantasy Foliage Dilemma

> I have been plotting a new fantasy novel lately, and have run into a familiar dilemma. In describing the natural environment, do I fall back on the typical earthly descriptions i.e. elms, oaks, willows etc or do I create a completely new ecology?

This is a kind of a double dilemma for me because I grew up in the southern hemisphere with wattles, wallum heath, eucalypt forest and saltbush. If I described all these in my fantasy book it would look weird to people who recognised them and would probably just be bizarre to readers from other climates.

The other problem I have is that although I am more than comfortable using my own native flora and fauna in urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy, it does not have a classic fantasy feel to me. All the fantasy and heroic fantasy fiction that I have really enjoyed has drawn the setting from Europe and the northern hemisphere, with oak groves, willows and aspens etc.

Yet as I writer I do not want to just recreate this northern setting, despite how familiar it feels. So am I stuck. If I go the route of creating a completely new ecology, I may have to sacrifice some of the evocative natural descriptions I love simply because I did not have the extra few months of free time needed to create all the name lists and really dream it all up properly.

As it is, I will probably go for an invented ecology, probably sprinkled with a few familiar terms.

How do you handle the Fantasy Foliage Dilemma?

>Let’s Talk About the Weather

>I’m sitting here writing this (Wednesday night) and wondering if my husband will make it home. It’s been mixed snow, rain, and every possible combination of the two all day, so the roads are… interesting, and conditions are deteriorating.

Where this gets interesting, and ties into writing, is that a little over five years ago this would have been utterly alien to me. I’d encountered snow maybe twice in my entire life up until then. Now, well… I got home from work this evening, and the first thing I did was get the snow shovel and clear the front path. Now, if you’ve never shoveled snow before, the stuff is fricking heavy. Shoveling it is hard work, no matter what those damn postcards say. And snow does come in multiple types. There’s the soft fine white powdery crap that feels kind of like cold sand, the heavy wet crap which is kind of warmer and tends to happen more when the temperatures are hovering somewhere close to freezing as opposed to below freezing. There’s re-snow, which happens on a windy day after heavy snowfalls. Whiteout, where the stuff is coming down so thick and fast you really can’t see where the heck you’re going. And it’s all, every last bloody kind of it, miserable.

It’s also unearthly quiet. It’s silent coming down unless there’s wind, and then what you hear is the wind, not the snow. You hear sleet and rain, but not snow. The wretched stuff also muffles everything else.

As for snow-blindness, well, I knew about that intellectually, but I didn’t understand it until the day I saw snow-covered fields glistening silver in bright sunlight.

All of that, including struggling through hip deep snow, is writing experience. Without it, the long march to Constantinople in Impaler wouldn’t have been anywhere near as vivid.

One day I’ll get to write something that uses some of my tropical weather experiences too, like the warm rain (aka ‘liquid sunshine’ or ‘pineapple juice’), or days where it’s gotten so hot that when a storm comes through and the rain starts you get curlicues of mist rising off every surface, or humidity so thick you wiggle your little finger and break out in a sweat. Or the storms sweeping through and people going out into them to get wet and cool down.

In the meantime, of course, the inner writer keeps watching what’s going on and taking lots of notes. It’s all useful someday.

So what are some of the times where you thought you understood something and then experienced it – and really understood it?

Oh, and a bonus for the Brisbaneites – Before and After pictures of the floods: http://www.abc.net.au/news/infographics/qld-floods/beforeafter.htm

>Names, I’ve Had a Few

>*but then again too few NOT to mention*
I’ve been aware for some time that I don’t have a fandom as such – I have multiple fandoms. Some number of fans read everything I write that they can locate, no matter under which name, no matter what the subject matter. They will as cheerfully tuck into Darkship Thieves as into Plain Jane. This is the type of fan I am for say… Heinlein or Pratchett. A variant on these fans are the ones who buy everything I write, because they’re fans of the sf, their kids read the fantasy, their sister reads the mystery and their spouse likes the historicals.

These fans are not a problem, of course, except perhaps for their scarcity. (Well, that and I live in fear of writing certain things, like erotica because some of you – you know who you are – would read it, enjoy it, and send me witty comments. And helpful pictures drawn on the back of napkins.)

But then I have fans – rabid, vocal fans – who read only my mystery, or my science fiction. I don’t know any who read only my fantasy, though there might be some. For all I know I might have fans who read ONLY my vampires, which would be sad, because I have only published short stories with vampires.

The publishing industry’s view of this is that this means I should write/market/brand only one thing – I should make sure I’m known only for science fiction. Or mystery. Or…

I’ve never subscribed to this. (Oh, I could be dramatically wrong, I guess.) First, because as a reader I read everything, down to and including, in a pinch, the classifieds or the instructions to assemble a machine I don’t even own. I enjoy almost all fiction and a vast array of non fiction. If you ask me which of those is my passion, I’d have to say “all of them!”

I mean, I’ll confess and openly too that I’m a LITTLE more prone to enjoying science fiction than the other genres, but you wouldn’t know it from my buying decisions. A riveting mystery beats a hum-drum science fiction every time.

So I fail to see why, as a writer, I shouldn’t write everything I have riveting ideas for.

Second because as a writer I find that writing something different is often as good as a holiday. In fact, if you try to make me write only one thing, I probably would stop writing after two books. (I had a heck of a time finishing my third Shakespearean fantasy because at the time it looked like I was locked into “literary fantasy” the rest of my life. And my mind doesn’t like a mono-diet.)

Third because I don’t understand how my writing several different things – at least in the business model quase ante, where most of what you bought came from bookstore shelves – can “dilute” my market. Sure, some people will know me for science fiction, some for fantasy and some for mystery, but absent some sort of prejudice among readers (which I, at least, don’t have) I fail to see what difference this makes. For one, books will be shelved in different areas. So, for instance, my mystery readers will never even see the science fiction.

That was the idea at least. now with the turmoil brought on by ebook publishing I’ve made slight revisions.

I still want to write everything, except maybe men’s adventure, erotica and children’s books. (No, not together. EW. You’re sick.)

However if the market is going to be even fifty percent electronic and split among several distribution centers, one has to take in account that some of the sellers are spectacularly bad at giving descriptions and/or samples of the book.

I would hate for someone who loved Darkship Thieves to download No Will But His expecting science fiction. (Okay, this is a very naive reader. And for the gentleman in the back leering at me, NWBH is the fictionalized biography of Kathryn Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII. That was her chosen motto.)

So, this late in the game, I’m thinking I REALLY need to brand, so people addicted to one form of my fiction don’t accidentally stumble into another. At the same time, I’ll have to remain absolutely open about my misdeeds under various pen names – I already have them on my first page, but maybe I’ll add them here – so those rare, eclectic readers will find all of them. (Sarah’s names! Collect all four![Sarah A. Hoyt; Sarah D’Almeida; Elise Hyatt AND a one-off under the house name Laurien Gardner, though I’m right now negotiating to sell books under Sarah Marques – you decide which one is the fourth.)

(Of course, I’ll always keep in mind you people need your fix of already-started series, natch. In fact, I don’t think I’d have more than four series going at once because of how long I’d have to make the fans wait. And I swear I’ll try to continue the musketeers mysteries despite publishers – I’m negotiating to sell Death Of A Musketeer to NRP and if it sells well there will be more. PLEASE stop threatening to come over and make me write it.)

What do you think? Should I brand more specifically? Limit my wild flights of fancy that make me want to write stuff I never wrote before? Or – now that we’re less likely to be limited by what the gatekeepers will buy – just continue writing as much as I can and in what is pressing at the time? What is your opinion on this whole branding issue? Can a writer write too much for you? (I’d buy a Pratchett daily, if he could write them, but I might be weird.)

>Running on the spot or Why did I agree to (insert extra obligation here)?

>I’ve joined Twitter. At first I wasn’t sure. I didn’t see how I could say anything worthwhile in 140 characters. (Not when I write books that are 140,000 words long!).

This is my address on twitter if you’re interested. @rcdaniells

But, oddly enough, I’m finding Twitter interesting. It’s all the other minds out there, nattering on. It’s the pictures that people share. Some funny, some poignant. eg. I shared this one. My daughter photobombing her year 12 students. (she’s a great kid).

As well as the funny insights into human nature, there are heaps of links to interesting sites.

I came across this one. It’s Robert Sawyer’s Letter to Aspiring Writers.
Basically, he tells it like it is, no warm and fuzzies. Towards the end of his post, he has some insights specific to being Canadian

And along the same lines, here is Ian Irvine’s truth About Publishing. This is Ian’s insight into publishing from an Australian perspective.

What you’ll see from these two author pages is that the info you get from us here at the MGC blog is frank and open. Nothing up our sleeves here. No hidden agendas. We’d like you to buy our books, but we’re up front about this.

I don’t know about you, but I’m scrambling. I feel like I’m running on the spot to:

Renovate the house -We have our bathrooms back. Yay! Next it’s the kitchen. Who needs to cook? Not me. I could happily dine out every night. Why is it that my 3 teenage sons’ most regular question to me is ‘What’s for dinner?.

Get on top of the yard – floods, heat, humidity and waist high weeds, trenches and gravel pits, arghh.

Keep up with all my blog posts on three sites, MGC, ROR and my own KRK blog, plus Twitter, plus Facebook, plus guest posts here and there.

Work – I go back to lecturing on the 14th of Feb. Then it will be nose to the grind stone with the accelerated course until a two week break in May and another in September.

Short stories and workshops promised – I promised a story for an anthology and it’s brewing. Hope it’s cooked in time. Meantime I’ve been asked to do a couple of workshops, but haven’t heard back to have them confirmed.

Oh… and I have to deliver 3 books to my publisher by May. The Outcast Chronicles.

Did I mention that 5 of my 6 children are living at home with various partners staying over?

So, I’m scrambling to keep up with everything I must do, need to do, and want to do, without trying to keep up with what’s happening in the publishing world.

This is why I find posts like Dave’s one yesterday about E-books and the tipping point so informative. Just like to say thanks to the rest of the Mad Genius Club team for their generosity sharing their knowledge of writing craft and the publishing business and for inviting me along to play in their sand pit.

Is everyone else running on the spot to stop from going backwards?

>Comes the e-book Avalanche?

>You know with your average avalanche, just before it happens, nothing much seems to be amiss. Maybe a little slip here or there, but generally those tens or hundreds of thousands of tons of snow or rock or mud that will move in a chaos of destruction look as mobile as the mountains themselves (yes I know, they move. All things are relative, including my relations).

There are, of course, signs that it is possible, and others that it is probable and immenent. People make judgement calls on these little signs… sometimes they get wrong and nothing happens, and sometimes they get it wrong and lives and property are destroyed forever.

And in the world of publishing, I am seeing little landslips, hints of a possible chaos under that appearance of stability with the advent of e-books. Of course some of them we’ve been seeing for years, and some of them we’ve been calling for years. There has been a fair amount of mockery from the senior figures in publishing and their well-established authors (one of whom I found was actually mocking in public and readying his backlist in private). Still… there have been a few temblors which say to me the face of the publishing mountainside is about to change fast. I have a feeling a few vast edifices will survive, but I think the medium-small – authors, publishers, booksellers, agents – who stay on the slope will be swept away. Of course the prime culprits who have made the slope so unstable with their activities are the megaliths who will — at least some of them, in some form — survive — but that’s the way of things. The best we can do is to behave wisely ourselves.

So: what are these temblors?:
Well, the Bookscan data which Amazon made available to all authors is one such. This may of course be pure generosity from Amazon, and kind support to authors to refine their efforts at self-promotion. Or it could be a serious shot across the bows of publishing. I don’t, honestly, think there is an author alive who does not at least HOPE is publisher has been cooking the books – and that they are selling a lot better than the publisher claims. Many are quietly certain they’ve been screwed, but too afraid of losing the work they do have to say a public word. If I’ve heard one story about authors signing (or getting fan letters from), more readers than they have apparently sold copies to… I’ve heard twenty. Maybe all of them are wrong. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Self deception. In which case Amazon will have done us all a vast favor, which, logic then states, publishers ought to have done years ago. Otherwise the department of creative sales accounting – shifting sales from one book into another, to justify the advance / promotional spend has just been changed into the department of re-alignment and great care… Anyway, whether this paranoia turns out justified or not (and I suspect a few true and some false, and some just plain sloppy accounting involved) the Bookscan data exposes one thing: It has always been that Publishers control access to retail space and without them, we authors are helpless. That – and the physical cost of the product and distributing it, justifies the fact that publishing, distribution and retail get 92% of a midlist paperback’s cover price and the author 8%. What I am seeing is just what I get for that. Sales of DRAGON’S RING in Florida (to pick on one example)… zero, zero, zero week after week. The book is selling elsewhere – although there is no direct relationship with population or any other factor that I can discern. Some lower population areas are outselling New York… where I see what is hard to interpret as anything but, ‘stocked very few, mostly sold out and not restocked’. Florida – to pick on Florida again – is a market of 18 million — just a little smaller than Australia (where I personally know I’ve sold at least eleven copies -without it being in a single shop). Let’s run some wild guesses here. Assuming that 5000 copies is more-or-less what one might expect to sell (I’m being conservative here, my worst figures have run at well more than that- but for a noob that’s quite good, these days) — and as my distribution is widely distributed (I don’t just sell in NY, or the Deep South or to Hawaii) then, at about 1 copy for every 60 000 people (A bit ridiculous, but that’s what the publishers would rate a newbies appeal at, it appears), Florida should reflect around 300 sales… not zero. Even leaving out the non-restocking problem in NY… it’s pretty obvious that the distribution to retail (handled by one of the US’s largest publishers and their distributors) is shall we say, underwhelming.

I can turn around and say that even if those figures reflects my real popularity, then I’m losing at least 30% to non-distribution and more to non-restocking. A lot of authors are going to be looking at their figures and getting quite angry, I think. Historically, they would have had Hobson’s choice. Now… I think a lot are going to be saying ‘just what do we lose not having a publisher and just going straight to e-book sales online?’ Of course one does lose(sometimes with editing and proofing and even marketing), but it is not, as was historically thought, everything. Actually, you might do better in Florida. You could hardly do worse. And you won’t be getting 8%, but as much as 70%. So I think we can say authors are unstable ground.

Secondly: signs of it are everywhere: retail is taking a pounding. In recessionary conditions cheap entertainment flourishes… except it is NOT for bookstores. We could talk about why, but the point is, they aren’t. Borders we know about, and that has knock ons throughout the industry. They must owe many medium-small publishers a fortune, which they in turn owe their suppliers. One has to wonder if they can survive that level of non/late payment. And that’s just one large group. Many independents and even the Gargantuas are not booming. What publishing has a stranglehold on is access to this retail space. It’s a stranglehold on a shrinking resource. So I think we can say brick-and-mortar are unstable ground too.

Finally there is the sudden desire by publishing houses who have sneered for 10 years at the Baen business model — which was to create a brand identity for the publisher — to abruptly start to imitate Baen. Historically publishers ‘farmed’ the marque of the author, and no reader had any idea who the publisher was. As the author -at least at the bottom and midlist – had little or no choice but to be loyal to their master, there was no need for the expense and effort of a company run chat-forum (like Baen’s Bar) and as for e-book sales to the public (shudder) who did they think they were? Suddenly, the publishers are attempting to do Baen’s Bars — because in the electronic marketplace readers search by author name, not publisher. Expect direct e-book sales next. More little landslips…

Three months ago, when I had once again been paid (late) by check, and not as agreed by electronic transfer – meaning a further 6 week delay, I spoke to Eric Flint – my co-author – about other ways of raising money, such as Kindle books. He was, as always, supportive and said why didn’t I give it a try? Suggested I talk to Mike Resnick about his experience. Now, Eric is far more successful than I am, and a canny fellow. He is also far more involved in the regular machinery and politics of publishing than I am. Back then (quite recently really) he was not really thinking about doing it himself. Three days ago he contacted me and suggested we put our joint shorts into a collection, and he’s doing his own too. Now this joint collection includes the RATS BATS & VATS prequel – A 30K Novella GENIE OUT OF THE VAT and a Novelette set the sequel to that universe CRAWLSPACE. RATS BATS & VATS sold fairly well and has a sold fan base. The prequel just hasn’t been available to most people, as it came out in a rather obscure collection. CRAWLSPACE – in JBU 6 – even less so. So I think they have a market. I expected to try to expand them and sell them as books, and Eric and I had talked about it (and it could still happen). But it shows changing perceptions.

So I think things are heading for interesting times soon. I’m thinking of myself and my writing career. These are my list of what I think of as precautionary: 1)I am not signing any long term deals. 2)I am readying e-copies of all my work. 3) Any new contracts will be as much as possible upfront -because that is good practice anyway, but also that’s good in uncertain times. 4) I am trying to build my own web presence up. 5) I want to get my website selling – or at least linking to selling my own work.

Any more ideas? Or am I being chicken little?

>What do you mean I have to blog today?

>Wow, this is new. For once, I don’t have anything to say. Blame it on a day spent building databases on Excel. (Hint: if you ever want to see me run for the hills, screaming like a mad woman, tell me I have to work on excel. Worse, tell me I have to set up the template for new databases.) So, I’ve got nothing for today. There’s been no real ground-shaking news in the industry. Sorry, but the continuing drama of Borders and B&N is important, but it’s getting boring as well. So, what to do today?

I think I’ll do a riff on yesterday’s open thread. But, instead of just throwing the blog open for any question or comment, I’m going to change things up a bit. If you have a query you are about to send out but would like some input on before it goes, post it (remember, queries should be one page. Some agents give the general guideline of 250 words). If you want to post the first page of your current project, do so and we’ll critique it.

Why am I limiting it to one page? The first is that blogger does have a word limit. Second, anyone who has read slush will tell you that if the first page doesn’t grab them, they usually won’t read any further. This is especially true with short stories.

If you want to practice your elevator pitch, here’s your chance. Don’t know what an elevator pitch is? Well, it’s that 30 seconds you get to tell an agent or editor what your book or story is about. You have to let them know genre, that the work is finished or not, what it’s about and what makes it unique. And you have to do it all in the amount of time it takes to wait for the elevator to get there.

So, that’s the blog for today. I promise to have a working brain — or at least a reasonable facsimile of one — next week.

>Open Thread

>Good morning, everyone. Apologies for being late getting this up but I’m moving slowly this morning. In case you haven’t noticed over the last couple of Saturdays, we’re trying something different. We’re going to use our Saturday Morning Posts to help promote our work. What that means is you’ll be seeing snippets, con schedules and pictures, giveaways, etc. It also means there will be one open thread every seven weeks. Today is that day.

So, this is your chance to ask any questions you have, to comment on the state of the industry, to make predictions about what’s going to happen in publishing, etc.

So the floor is yours!