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There Is No Safety Net

by Sarah A. Hoyt

So, we’ve been talking about writers going solo and working without a net.  So far so good.  Writers can subcontract editing.  They can subcontract proofing. They can subcontract art and even document conversion.

Can they subcontract confidence?

What am I talking about, you say?  Well, I’ll be blunt.  First let me start with the fact that writers’ belief in their abilities and their abilities are often totally at odds with each other.  And rarely the way you’d expect.

Very few writers who suck on ice will believe they are the world’s gift to writing.  Oh, sure, there are a few, but those have usually got that way because of “critical acclaim” – also, they’re not usually bad as such.  They might not be to my – or your taste – but they are decent of their kind.

No, writers – absent a few strange wanna bes – after their earliest steps when everyone thinks their stuff is great because they don’t know enough to know it sucks, are alone among the creative professions by thinking, most of the time, that their stuff sucks.

I don’t know why.  Perhaps it is that we use words, which is what everyone uses to speak, normally.  So… how do you judge “good”.

Well, good is what holds your attention.  But you find out early on what holds your attention is not necessarily what holds other’s.  Besides, you have a vested interest in this world.  Otherwise you’d never have written it, right?

And then by the time you’re minimally published, you will know that people can find stuff in your books you never meant to put in.  I’ve been accused of everything and WORSE praised for things that I not only can’t see in my books but hope to heaven aren’t there.

So you get odd.  You start wondering what is there, and … is it any good?

For years, while I was unpublished, I used my writers’ group as my touchstone.  “Is it good, guys?  Is it good?”  Yeah, they were newbies too, but they lived outside my head.  And if they liked it… well… maybe other people would.

I confess for the last… five? Years I’ve used my agent mostly as a touch stone.  If the agent approved of it, well, she must know what’s marketable, right?  Even if it wasn’t true, it was encouragement…

So, now I’m agentless.  I’m putting a lot of my stuff up myself.  What sells is flabbergasting me, as it’s often my earliest, clumsiest work, or that with a really weird bend (Think back to the Muppets and HEAR this with the right voice “Nuuuuuns in SPACE!) Mind you I haven’t put up the juvenalia and won’t put that under my own name BUT well…  When you finish something… how do you know it’s good?

This has come home to me today because having finished A Few Good Men I’m trying not to rush the betas and ask how it reads and… do they think it will find an audience?  I really have no clue.  I see all the clumsy spots under a magnifying glass and I worry it sucks.

At the same time my older son and a friend who also finished work are convinced THEIRS sucks.  So… It’s like this – my husband has read son’s and says it’s quite good (And no, he’s not easy on us.  So likely he’s right.)

How do you know it’s good?

Well… first, accept you’re the worst judge of your own work.  It’s possible to gain perspective on it, sure.  First, forget you wrote it.  Then let it sit for ten years.

Oh, you don’t HAVE ten years?  Then accept.  You don’t KNOW if it’s good.  You just don’t.

Second – find ten friends.  Give manuscript to ten friends.  IF more than three find the same problem, you have an issue.  If not, ignore it.  And pay attention to the “general” feel.  Like “I couldn’t put it down.”  Or “You sent me that?  Are you sure?”  Or “Uh, it was great till chapter twenty.”  Or… if everyone is saying that (you’ll ALWAYS get a couple of those, but) or if eight people are saying one of those, then that gives you an idea where the book stands.

Third – Kris Rusch tells me after a certain level a writer is at a certain level.  Yes, I know “Oh, thank you, oh, great Sybil.  We bow before your knowledge.”  I find – though I had trouble believing it – it’s by and large true.  If you’ve written more than one “decent” story, by whatever means, chances are all of your stories are decent to an extent.  I.e. you’re not pulling beginning idiocy.  BUT… is it good?

Well, this defaults to:

Fourth – Alma Alexander told me at a con that everything you write will be someone’s favorite and someone’s most hated of your works.  This is very freeing.  Let it out.

Fifth – will it sell?  Oh, who knows?  I don’t know.  So, put it out and see.  It might shock you.  (nuuuuns.  In space!)

Sixth – You’re working without a net.  You can learn what sells, given time.  You can learn what’s good – to you at least – by reading your favorite writers and analyzing what they do.  You can have sense of where you stand – ask ten friends you trust – but in the end, you’re working without a net.

Are you going to do it?  Or are you going to go back and hide in the shadows, your words unread, your worlds unshared?

Which is it going to be?

You want to be a writer, do you?  There’s the tightrope.  Get up there and DANCE.

From a reader’s point of view

by Amanda S. Green

Yeah, yeah, I know this is supposed to be a blog about writing, but this is something that hit me yesterday as I was trying to slog my way through a book and it just won’t let go. In a way, it is about writing. It’s just from a reader’s point of view. So, a little background.

I’ve spent much of the last month finishing a novel that was late. Add into that trying to keep up — and not real well unfortunately — with my duties for Naked Reader Press and, well, I’m now braindead. Or at least I feel that way. The book is turned in. I have a short story I need to write and another novel to finish. But I learned long ago that I need to give myself a couple of days to recharge before hitting the writing again.

One of the ways I do that is by reading. I know there are some writers who don’t read for fear of tainting their voice. Bollocks! Writers need to read. We need to read for research and we need to read just to see what is out there now. I read for entertainment, for research and to spot things I hope I am not doing in my books.

And this brings me to the book I’ve been slogging through the last few days. Yes, slogging. Usually I will stop reading a book if it doesn’t grab me pretty quickly. This one I kept at. For one thing, I like the author’s other works. Yes, this was in a different genre than what I usually read by the author. But I’m not so naive as to think just because someone writes mystery they can’t write sf/f or vice versa. If that were the case, I’d never have read Sarah’s Darkship Thieves after reading her Musketeers Mysteries.

There was another reason I kept reading. The premise of the story was enough to keep me at it. This was the first book in a series by the author and the premise was great. Unfortunately, the book itself never lived up to the premise and there is one main reason why. The entire book was nothing more than one huge info dump.

Now, before someone jumps in and says that first books in a series often are rife with info dumps because you have to establish the world and the characters, I realize that. It’s one of the things I had to deal with when writing Nocturnal Origins. No, what I am talking about is a book-length info dump interrupted briefly from time to time with a bit of plot. Add in a none-too-subtle sampling of the author’s politics and, well, I think you get the picture.

Info dumps are a necessary evil, especially in science fiction and especially if an author is concerned about keeping the techies out there satisfied with the science in the fiction. Some authors handle the issue quite well. Others handle it in ways that allow the reader to skip the several paragraphs or pages of dump to get back to the story. But, with these authors, the story is still the driving force of the novel. With this particular novel, I didn’t have that feeling with the author. Instead, I felt like the author was more worried with showing how well they understood the science and how well they could beat the reader over the head with their politics.

Action scenes that should have taken pages, perhaps even an entire chapter were reduced to a few paragraphs. Character motivation was obscured or left out completely in order to detail that character’s job or place in the community. This often took pages instead of just a paragraph or two. When two main supporting characters suffer a loss that should have devastated not only them but the main character as well, the supporting characters are turned into one-dimensional cut-outs and the main character simply shrugs it off. And then the author goes back to the info dumping.

I’m a fast reader. I know enough science to know when I’m being bs’d — which I was with this book — and I love strong characters and plot. What I don’t love is a book without a plot — and no, this wasn’t even trying for literary — and that has useless info dumps that are rife with bad science and worse politics.

So, to every writer out there — and this includes me — keep the story in the forefront. Remember to have believable characters and develop those characters. Let them grow. If you have to have info dumps, be careful with them. Don’t let them detract from the story. Don’t let them be longer than the plot. And, for the love of little green fishies, don’t make them the entire book. I can’t afford to replace my kindle by throwing it against the wall.

Now, did I finish the book? No. After more than two days trying to slog through it, I skipped to the page before the last chapter. That page ended on a cliffhanger. Cool. Maybe the author finally figured out action. I clicked over to the next page. Nope. Back to the info dump. Cliffhanger forgotten. Four pages later, still in info dump. An info dump that had nothing to do with the cliffhanger. Finally, almost six pages in (and these are page, not clicks), we were back to the plot. Only the cliffhanger has been forgotten. Characters are now back to paper cut-outs and, gag, a Mary Sue ending for the main character who should have been devastated by what happened in the previous chapter. No, the badness is forgotten and MC gets to move on to a new challenge and, one presumes, even more info dumping.

Can you tell I really, really didn’t like the book? Actually, it’s more than that. I’m angry because I wanted to like it and the author, an author who I really do enjoy reading in a different genre, let me down. It was as though someone else wrote the book and just tagged on the author’s name. Worse, showing how screwed up mainstream publishing is, this book was just the first in a series.  There are others out there and, judging from the previews, they are just as bad info dump wise as this one was.

Info dump if you must. But always remember to entertain the reader in the process. Otherwise, we won’t be back to buy the next book in the series. Worse, it might make us think twice about buying books in other series we’ve enjoyed prior to the book that was an info dump.

(Just an after thought, before any ‘flies start worrying, no, this wasn’t a book from Baen. Nor was it by any author who writes for Baen.)

So which box do you fit into grandad?

It struck me today, as I finished writing a story which is somewhere between a historical horror story and a romance, before moving onto the next in my list – which is Irish fantasy and humor, straight and simple, and getting some edits on the piece before that which was Urban fantasy/humor, and considering that I’ve recently done the edits on a steam-punk/alternate history, and a High Fantasy, and I’m sitting with proposals (which if the publishers don’t jump very smartly, will head their way into being e-books) of everything from 17th century Historical Romance/fantasy,  to humorous Space Opera.  And, yes, almost everything in between.  I’ve written hard sf, sociological sf, fantasy, alternate history, even something that probably qualifies as paranormal romance. You name it… I’ve had a go at it. Okay, I take that back. Modern Literary Fiction I leave to Margret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson. They’re welcome to all of it. Wouldn’t dream of depriving them.  But something us lowbrow types might enjoy… I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Now, this is, according to conventional wisdom, and most agents and all publishers, not a good thing. And maybe it is not. After all, readers wanting 1632 Alternate History and getting Eric’s Joe’s world books might be a bit peeved if they got what they didn’t want. I’m obviously not such a good writer of any one of these sub-genres that it’s made much difference to my numbers… of course, that’s a hard one to judge, because the distribution hasn’t exactly provided what any statistician would call directly comparable numbers.  A MANKIND WITCH  for example beat the rest as hardcover, and was simply out of print before it had a fighting chance. Obviously I’ve had some readers say “I love the Heirs books, but can’t bear Rats Bats and Vats,” and vice versa.  And yet… I’ve got other readers who have inflated my ego to the point where B has to puncture it, by telling me they buy it if I write it. Dean Koontz certainly proved this concept wrong and took his readers with him.  I’d buy a telephone directory if Sir Terry Pratchett wrote it.

It is something I often wonder about: I seriously don’t believe that endless books on one ‘narrow’ canvas are good for the quality of anyone’s output (no matter how the readers want yet another of those beloved characters in the same setting yet again. As a writer you spend a very long intense time in those universes. Maybe where there are spin-offs and alternate characters, this can work. But as a straight sequence… well, I’m actually vaguely glad that I’ve never been that successful early on that I was stuck writing one because that and only that was what publishing would buy.

So what think all of you? Should authors fit in boxes? Should we pen-name our different styles?

Oh BTW – after much HTML heartache… I got my first e-book short story up on Amazon and onto Smashwords (as Barnes and Ig do not deal with us dodgy furrin types, that is my option. Amazon and Smashwords.)
I’ve felt like a poor luddite doing all of this stuff.

Open Floor Sunday

The floor is yours.  Ask your questions.  Make your comments. You know the rules. If it has to do with publishing, it’s fair game. But no politics – not unless it is essential to the topic. Also, if there’s a particular topic you’d like one of us to blog about, let us know. We’ll be dropping by during the day to comment and answer your questions.

The floor is now yours!


Out, To Be Out And Upcoming

By Sarah Hoyt

Update: PLEASE go to yesterday’s post and wish Chris McMahon a happy birthday. 😉   He’s the baby of this blog, so we can happily celebrate his birthdays…


While I appreciate that each of us gets a day to promote and while I realize that they had to give me a day, this is roughly equivalent of giving a pair of really nice galoshes to a colony of snakes.  They will be used, but not the way you expect.

Considering the queries hitting my site every other Monday and twice on Sunday, I’m guessing people are getting impatient for my stuff.  I’m getting impatient for my stuff.  This was the first year in… five? that nothing came out.  No, it’s nothing serious just the unfortunate conjunction of the fact that two years ago I hit a wall, after years of pushing to deliver three to four books on schedule, and wrote only one book and that on spec, and that all the publishing houses seem to run slower than normal.  So, for those of you who would like to know what the state of the State (or the state of the Sarah) is, and given the way that I haven’t got around to fixing my stoopid website, here goes nothing:

First, I’ve started putting my back log short stories out with Goldport Press (you, at the back stop giggling.  Yes, Goldport is my made up Colorado Town.  Live with it.  I figure the press owns the Weekly Enquirer which is, in fact, the daily newspaper.)  There are 16 of them for 99 cents a piece on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smash Words.   I know that 99c is nowadays the established price for a short story or a single song, but it still seems weird to me, so if you can stand to take some stories you might have seen or don’t like as much, I’m putting these out in collections.  Look for Five From Far And Weird and Five Far Futures.  Today I hope to put up Five Unlikely Foretellings, but it might be tomorrow because… well, see at bottom.  Anyway, these are 2.99, so it’s like getting two shorts for free.  Needless to say none of these are DRMed.  The links above go to Amazon, but you can find the same thing in Smashwords and Pubit.

I also have some short stories out with Naked Reader Press and I am way overdue doing the final edit on a short story set in the world of the Vampire Musketeers called First Blood.  It will go in a collection with Kate Paulk and Amanda Green called Sisters In Blood, which will be out next month, just in time for… Christmas?  Whatevers.  The collection will also contain a short story with Kate’s SF-addicted vampire and one with Amanda’s shifter-cop from Nocturnal Origins.  I’ve tried to convince the editorial board that really, really, really, we need three pictures of us aged about ten and photoshoped onto some Victorian scene, but it’s been born upon me that I’m the only one who looked like a vampire child.  (Eh.)

Also out with Naked Reader is A Touch of Night with Sofie Skapski.  Among the things I’m really late editing is A Flaw In Her Magic, not a sequel, but also set in the world of Magical British Empire, if Jane Austen had written in it.  A Touch of Night is Pride, Prejudice, Dragons and werewolves, and A Flaw In Her Magic is Mansfield Park, foretelling, magic, weredragons and werewolves.  I’m hoping to get to it (more explanation at the bottom) so it can also come out in time for Christmas.

Okay, now more traditional publishers.  As most of you know, I’ve delivered A Fatal Stain, the sequel to A French Polished Murder in February.  I’ve been informed it’s scheduled for October 12 — this is what I mean about elongated publishing schedules.  Normally this would have been out this fall, but never mind.  Meanwhile, because I know there are people out there dying for it, but  unfortunately, I can’t do an end run around the house and bring out the fourth before they bring out the third (publishing houses have this nasty habit of putting an option clause for the next book in the series in the contract.  Until they reject the fourth book, or I reject their offer for it — and I haven’t submitted the proposal yet, though it’s in the works) I can’t work in that series.

So, Naked Reader Press will be bringing out, around February/March, depending on my schedule, the first Orphan Kitten mystery by Elise Hyatt.  A math Professor at Colorado University Goldport (the infamous Cug) will move next door to Ben and Nick’s new house (chill),  two doors up from Dyce, Cas and E (chill again!) with his wife and two teen kids, of which the younger is a mathematical genius.  Let’s just say my kids might kill me for this book…  Anyway, the wife wants to be a mystery writer, but gets involved in kitten rescue, when someone drops a bag full of newborn kittens in her yard.  This will be called Deadly Paws

Next in order of how many fan mails I get a week is Darkship Thieves.  Here, the problem is entirely mine.  I let the house publishing my mysteries get so under my skin that I delivered Darkship Renegade shamefully late.  I’m hoping Toni can still schedule it for next year, but we’ll see, since I’m about to change the ending a bit.  Hopefully she hasn’t got to it yet.  To compensate, because I wuv you guys (okay, fine, because that’s how it came out) I’m doing A Few Good Men, book one of the Earth Revolution which will go to betas today and to Toni, G-d willing, early December.

Baen has also bought book three of the Shifter series.  For those non initiated book one and two are here  Look for my name or for Draw One In The Dark or Gentleman Takes A Chance.  The third book will be Noah’s Boy and it is the book currently between hands, save for explanation at end of this page.

Also coming out next year, also in October, (wait till you see that Darkship Renegades is scheduled for October.  I hope you guys save your money for that fatal month) from Prime Books  is the first book of the Vampire Musketeers, Sword And Blood.  It’s coming out under Sarah Marques, and it now has a cover:

If you want to read sample chapters, they’re here, but be aware they’re strong meat in the realm of sex and violence, compared to most of my stuff.  (Though A Few Good Men has the highest bodycount of named characters of a book of mine so far.  Eh.)

So, Sarah, a few of you, the brave, the insane, the ones who email me every other day, are asking “What about the Musketeer Mysteries?  Didn’t you promise us Musketeer’s Confessor?”  Indeed I did, but here’s the thing: the house is doing its best to ignore the fact that books two through five are out of contract.  I’m going to try to get a cease and desist letter from an IP atorney before Christmas and hopefully get the rights to those back by the beginning of the year.  I’ve already talked to Naked Reader Press, and they want them.  So, the plan is to get the rights back and then publish these one a month starting June next year, then publish The Musketeer’s Confessor at the end of the sequence and then continue from there.  The reason for the delay in publishing is that I’m unlikely to get all the rights back instantly.  Often takes months.  Even if it doesn’t, I need time to revise and edit, because these books suffered badly from my stress in working with the house.  Also, we’re going to restore the title, so A Death In Gascony will be The Musketeer’s Inheritance and Dying By The Sword will be The Musketeer’s Servant (with subtitles saying “formerly published as”.)  So, wish me luck with that fight.

Other parked stuff…  The Magical British Empire is not likely to revert any time soon.  Since it’s a self-contained trilogy, anyway, it’s not bugging me too much.  I am going to continue writing in the universe, and Witchfinder, the book I’m posting for free on my blog every Friday is in that universe, though a different world.

And for the die hards that want more Shakespeare series — we might get to that in the fullness of time.  I have two more books planned in the series, but it would require a space of time to do it, like, six months, to get into the lingo.

OTOH since I’ll be finishing and bringing out the (Christopher) Marlowe Mysteries with Goldport Press, perhaps they can piggy back one on the other.

Anyway, as you see, I have a full schedule ahead for the coming year and if you feel a TERRIBLE need to know what I was talking about when I said “more on that later” — there’s this horrible habit I used to have as a young writer of hitting the chapter before last and just wanting to make it ALL right for the characters.  I think it takes loving characters very much for this to happen.  Dan used to read my books and go “Right, now take that outline you used for a last chapter, and write the hundred pages.”  I seem to love the characters for the space operas very much.  I did this with both Darkship Renegades and A Few Good Men, so today is devoted to finishing fixing that (rolls eyes.)  AND THEN I can move on with Noah’s boy.

This, ladies, gentlemen and dragons has been a relatively short and hopefully clear summation of the state of the Sarah.  Feel Free to ask about anything I didn’t mention!

Carbon Dioxide in Spaaaaaaaaaaaace!!!!

by Chris McMahon

OK, this post is slightly silly.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that CO – carbon monoxide – can be used as a rocket fuel. Oxidised with Oxygen, it makes CO2. It’s not a very good rocket fuel – its specific impulse is around 259 seconds, which compares to the all-time-favourite of Hydrogen/Oxygen at 459s and the dreamy-eyed SF fan’s dream of a Nuclear Thermal Rocket using a hydrogen monopropellant at 847s.

The lower the impulse, the less percentage of your original rocket mass will be lifted into orbit.

To get from the Earth’s surface to LEO (low Earth orbit), you need a DeltaV of between 9-10,000 m/s.

Using Hydrogen/Oxygen that might mean you can deliver 10-13% of the original rocket mass into orbit (staging helps as you drop away unwanted ‘tankage’ mass).

For the dreamy NTR, this is over 30% of the original rocket mass!

Now for my concept CO rocket (reacting with O2). Only 2% of the original mass makes it into orbit. That probably means a messy and expensive craft with multiple staging. A lot of dough for no-show.

Still . . . it does mean you get to use CO.

Now if you could just put nuclear reactors close to the sources of large amounts of CO2 – then you could use high temperature processes to split the CO2 to CO and O2 and makes tonnes and tonnes of crappy CO/O2 rocket fuel.

Of course, if you had that sort of power, why not make Hydrogen and Oxygen from water. And of course – if people let you just put nuclear reactors everywhere, then why not let us use NTRs to get into orbit!

Most of the CO2 produced from recombining the CO and O2 would end up back in the atmosphere, so it’s probably not going to help the greenhouse effect much. However – if you could manage to take large quantities of CO and O2 into space, it would probably make a serviceable rocket fuel for orbit to orbit transfers and Moon visits. And then you get the CO2 in spaaaaaaace:)

Practical? Not in the least.

But then again, I did say this post was slightly silly 🙂

PS: If you want to play with the Delta-V calculator check here.

You Are Not A Machine

I suppose to most people this is not news.  In fact, it might seem odd that, having lived just a year short of half a century in the world, this is just starting to dawn on me.  (Though to be honest, it took me six years to realize I wasn’t a kitten, so allowances must be made for teh issues, which I clearly do have and in spades.)

It is tempting to blame the publishers and, if you read Amanda’s article yesterday, it’s hard to believe I shouldn’t, just because, in principle, one at times feels like blaming them for pretty much everything: stock market crashes, pestilence, rain of fish, teenage boys sulking, rainy days.

However, to give the publishers their due, it is not their fault.  To the extent they’ve treated me as a machine, I might have forced them into it.

It started long before the zombie career, before I was fully an adult.  You see, I was in one of those “advanced” high school programs, one of those in which each of the teachers thinks he’s your only teacher and gives you two hours of homework a night.

No, maybe it started before that, because when I came at that program I was already badly broken.  Broken in a “I’d rather break than bend” way.  Broken in a “I’ll be d*mned if I cry uncle” way.  So, faced with eight, or ten, or twelve (don’t ask) hours of homework a day, I’d give up sleep and sleep for two of three hours a night, then save the rest of the sleep for the weekend.  But the work got done.  (Which btw, was enabling behavior for those teachers, and probably the reason that I wasn’t too liked around the school.)

This, you can see, was perfect setup for the publishing age at the time I entered, when most writers got two books and out as a chance.  Part of the issue, of course, is that most writers aren’t insane.  Well, not insane enough.  Most of them don’t write because they have to.  Most of them don’t write to relax, when they run out of work.  I figured “Ah.  They’re weak.  I will not cry uncle.  I’ll stay in the field.”  And I figured three or four series are better than one, right, because then – ah, then, when one tanks the other one will keep you going.

Only I’m not a machine.  (I’m only coming to this conclusion now, yes.)

It’s not the volume of writing, I’m realizing, as I face the fact that my writing has SUDDENLY exploded.  It’s the scheduling.

Writing is not like school work.  It’s not learning, or reading, or even memorizing.  Yeah, there were times I wasn’t in the mood for math, but since all I was required to do was solve problems, my mood didn’t matter.

Writing is creating.  And to create you need several conditions.  Being in the mood is just the least of them.  Which means…  Which means that over the last few years I’ve a few times hit the wall of “I just can’t do this now” and let a book wait six months or a year.  While I forced myself to write another book I didn’t want to do.
So, what’s changing with being able to indie publish?  I’d think just about everything.

The first and most obvious change is that I can write things on spec – i.e. when I want to – and if someone won’t take them (or if the publishers in that particular area have failed to impress me, like, say, mystery) I put them up myself.  I told Toni years ago I hated having contracts, because I hated having stuff due.  At the same time, I hated not having contracts because stuff might never sell, and this meant I’d shut myself down mid writing it, out of sheer doubt.  Well, now I can do it.  I can write on spec.  I don’t need the contract and the arbitrary deadline hanging over me.  Mind you, my production might become very odd.  “This year I did five space operas, two shifters and two mysteries.”  BUT yeah, I expect it to become that prolific, so… who cares?  I’ll feed the fans more often than I have.

But there are other things, some which seem to me like they’d work, but I haven’t tried yet, so I’m going to put them here and let you tell me what you think:

1- Write what is pounding on the door.  But once started, whether novel, novella or short, finish it before moving to the next.  (Avoid popcorn kittens.)

2- the corollary is, “don’t force it” – I’ve written a couple of novels because they were grossly overdue, which frankly could have done with a bit more cooking in the back brain.  If you’re like me forcing it robs you of entire dimensions of subplots and links.  So, don’t force it, but also don’t sit idle.  Play with what’s ready to go.

3- Separate your writing and your editing time.  Like, one in the morning and one in the afternoon or perhaps “On Fridays, I edit.”  I used to do something similar with “secretary” work – i.e. proofing and mailing out of mysteries, say.

4- Feed the beast. This will vary for different writers.  This varies for me.  Though mostly my beast runs to dinosaurs and long walks.  If I’m not on drop-dead deadlines, with the consciousness of it hanging over me, and if I am, in fact, writing more than I ever have, I can afford to take a long walk a day.  And maybe a weekend a month to go look at something dino related.  Or just walk in a nice place.  Or cook an elaborate meal, or… whatever.

4a – Read.  This is the need of every beast that writes.  Read.  Read everything.  Remember when you were a kid, and you read because it had printed words on it?  Like that.  Read.  Read in your free time, and in between writing times, but most of all – I’m going to try this – take a day a week and just read.  Just immerse yourself in it and enjoy it.

4b – Sleep.  Yeah, this works much better if you’re not wondering what those zany editors are going to do with your book, but it’s necessary, so… sleep.  Every night.  Or every morning, if you write at night.  Go to bed, turn off the brain and sleep.

4c – Do something non-writing related at least a few hours a week.  For me that’s usually playing with art.  Your mileage may vary.

5 – If you can’t pivot between works – always a big issue for me – take a couple of days off and do non-verbal stuff.  Paint walls.  Garden.  Whatever.  Then come back to it.

6 – Enjoy the journey.

7 – Stop berating yourself for not being a machine.


Crossposted at According to Hoyt

RIP Anne McCaffrey

This afternoon has been a sad one for many of us who love sf/fantasy. One of the best, Anne McCaffrey, has died. You can find more here.

I’m not going to say much. Just that I had the pleasure to meet here several times at book signings. She was the first author I’d ever waited in line to get her signature. The first time was when White Dragon came out. What made it so wonderful was the fact the signing took place in a small bookstore and McCaffrey was gracious and funny and took time to talk to everyone there. She brought me back into sf/fantasy with her Pern series.

So, to a grand lady who gave me many, many hours of escape through her books, you’ll be missed. But now you can fly with your dragons.


Do they really think we’re that stupid?

by Amanda s. Green

I’ve tried writing this blog several times and have deleted it each time.  Why? Because I’m having a difficult time keeping it in the “everyone can read it” area. This past week or so, legacy publishers have stepped up their campaign to show just how little they care for their readers and how little respect they have for writers, or at least for writers’ intelligence. Because I’m also stressed from trying to finish a couple of writing projects of my own, as well as do my work for Naked Reader Press, my threshold for publisher stupidity is low indeed.

Let’s start with the latest slap in the face by publishers aimed at their readers. Penguin has pulled its new e-books from Overdrive, the company that provides e-books and audio book downloads for libraries. In a letter sent to Overdrive, the waddling publisher cites “security concerns” for doing so. Of course, it also states that it is “reviewing terms for library lending of their e-books”. In the meantime, no new titles will be available. Oh, and if you have a kindle, they’ve instructed Overdrive to completely disable your ability to download ANY of their titles. Gee, why am I wondering if their contract with Amazon is about to enter the renegotiation phase?

Or maybe, as Overdrive speculates, Penguin is upset with the new Amazon Prime lending program. After all, being able to borrow ONE book a month is really going to hurt Penguin’s sales. Especially since the publisher has to opt into the program. Something Penguin has chosen not to do, as far as I know. In fact, most major publishers have chosen not to opt into the program so far.

Or maybe there have been a number of instances where security has been breached by the library lending program. But no, that doesn’t work either. In the same PW article, David Burleigh from Overdrive said he isn’t aware of any security breach. So that can’t be it.

Obviously, someone at Penguin has put on their costume from the old Batman TV series and is doing their best Burgess Meridith impression as they try to find ways to force sales to occur. What they don’t realize is that all they are doing is ticking off the reading public, people who might have bought books — hard copy and digital — based on the e-books they’d been able to check out from their local library via Overdrive. Well done, Penguin, you have now become the newest Grinch on the block.

Now, before you think all Penguin is doing is trying to play like its fellow Big Six publishers “(Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not distribute any e-books (new or old) to libraries. Hachette Book Group does not allow new titles to be lent as e-books, and HarperCollins allows new e-books to be borrowed only 26 times before the library has to buy a new copy)”, it gets better.  They take a slap — yes, it is getting hard for authors to turn the other cheek, especially since they ran out of cheeks long ago where publishers are concerned — at authors. Enter Book Country.

When Penguin first announced its new “writers community”, I had concerns. But Book Country assured everyone it was a community for writers to hone their craft. It even promoted the fact that some editors and agents frequented its site and that there had been relationships made that were beneficial to writers. All very cool, right?

Well, imagine my reaction when Book Country announced its “self-publishing initiative”. If you are a Book Country member, you too can self-publish your book for a price, ranging from $99 to $549. What a deal (yes, sarcasm meter is currently off the scope).

From Publisher’s Weekly:

A member choosing the professionally formatted option will see a checklist to guide them through the process, a download kit with details about laying out the books interior, using sales information, cover design and marketing. As members move through the automated service they are prompted to upload their text file; pick a template for the interior (Penguin designers were used to design templates and pick a range of fonts for the service), and provide metadata for the forthcoming book. Members receive royalties based on how they price their books (authors receive 70% of books priced $2.99 and up; 30% for titles priced under $2.99). Prices can be changed every 60 days. While the service offers members a range of easy options at every step, members are also free to disregard BC’s suggestions. Members can even bypass the cover design template and upload freelance-designed cover art if they choose.

Wow, what a deal.  Oh, wait, I already said that.

Let’s look at this a little closer. Templates for the interior — already out there. No need to pay. Simple google e-book templates or go to Createspace or Lulu or other similar sites and download them for e-books and print books. Provide metadata. Wow, that’s one of the questions you fill in when you upload a title to Amazon’s KDP site or PubIt by B&N or Smashwords. Royalties? Look pretty much like what you get from KDP. Prices can be changed every 60 days? Doesn’t that mean I don’t have full pricing control over my books? What if I want to do a short term discount as a promotion? Nope, can’t do it.

Oh, wait, they say they will provide the ISBN. But wait a minute. You don’t need an isbn for an e-book on Amazon or BN. They have their own identifiers. IF you want one, you can either buy one yourself or get one for $10 through Smashwords.

If you choose the “professional” package, your manuscript is turned into an EPUB file. It is done by a person from your DOC, DOCX, RTF or TXT file. Gee, I can do that with Sigil, a free open-source program. Or, if I want to set up for print, I can do that directly from my word processing program or using such premium programs as QuarkXpress or InDesign.

For $299, you get the publishing kit: the special Book Country interior template designed to work for both print and eBook, instructions for preparing your manuscript and front matter for production, a checklist to keep you on track, cover design tips and recommendations, and ideas for marketing your book.

Again, nothing you can’t get from other sources for free. As for the marketing ideas, considering the sad state of marketing publishers are currently doing, I’m not sure I’d want to take their advice.

Finally, for $99, you get exactly the same thing as above, with the exception of no formatted hard copy book.

As for distribution, again from Book Country, their “wide distribution” option includes: Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Google, Kobo, Sony, and many more. Oh, just to show how generous they are, Book Country will discount their services if you choose to only distribute through their community. You still pay, just not as much.

Guys, guess what. With the exception of the Book Country community, when you have the expanded distribution channels for Smashwords, you have the same basic distribution channels as B.C. offers in their “wide distribution” option and it doesn’t cost anything.

One last word of warning here. If you are considering using Book Country — or any other “self-publishing” option like it — read the fine print when it comes to what you, the author, will make. Just because they say on the front page that you will earn 70% for titles over $2.99, there’s the fine print. Look at what it means for “channels” such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Then compare it to what you would make if you put the book or short story up on your own. Look at cover art.  Is what they are offering basic templates, so that there will be who know how many other covers from other authors looking just like yours? Or are they charging extra for cover art design? If you have to provide your own specialized cover art, are their guidelines well-defined enough to make it easy for you?

I’m sorry, do they really think writers are that crazy — or that desperate? Okay, some are. I’ll grant you that. But they aren’t offering anything you can’t find out there for free.

I’m not saying don’t go with Book Country. I know not everyone has the time or desire to format, etc., their own books. Nor am I saying not to go with a publisher — heck, I’d be cutting my own throat if I did that. I believe there is still a place for publishers, especially those that are trying to adapt to the changing times and demands of the market place and who pay their authors a reasonable — which means more than legacy publishers — royalty. All I’m saying is that you need to be aware of what is out there and not pay for services you don’t need or necessarily want.

Writers, beware and be aware.  That is your best defense.

Everyone’s on the stage

And you’re the only one sitting in the stalls, watching?

Welcome to the author’s life. It’s only downhill from here. Serously, authors are by nature, observers — at least the good ones are. The ones who if they ain’t talking, they’re not listening, obviously aren’t, because we get tired of reading a monologue. However the stage seems to filling up. The question lurking at the back of all writers minds – particularly about e-books – is ‘is prose about to follow poetry?’, with more poets, it seems, than readers.

Certainly, I think, the e-book will see the un-naturally asymmetrical sales distribution flatten out. Yes, there will still be the outliers – the Pratchett, the Rowling, the Meyer, but the gap between newbie-midlist and ‘bestseller’ – which was largely an artifact created by publishers and distribution, will flatten out. So-called ‘best-sellers’– indistinguishable from noob or midlist work, barring having found favor, will sell much the same as the books they’re indistinguishable from.  Which will be a lot less than they’re used to. At the bottom… well the sales may be hard to find too. It’s likely that almost ALL authors will sell a little less, although firstly they should earn quite a bit more, and secondly, some authors hitherto ignored will do very well.

Why do I say this?: on an author’s list I follow this article about Hunger Games vs Sparkly Vampires was posted and elicited a range of we hate sparkly-vampire-it’s-so-sexist-and-gets-her-bishop-to-read-it-first reactions.

As usual, I saw things playing slightly differently on my stage. I tried reading the sparkly vamps, as homework. Didn’t like it much. But I was not reading to like it. I was reading to see why a zillion readers did like it, AGAINST the support and buy-in of the publishing establishment. And THAT is truly relevant thing about the Twilight books. Not that you hate them, or that that they have a passive heroine who is therefore a bad female role model etc etc etc etc… The important thing is that this was a book that is surprising, principally because it elicited that response from the writing establishment, and the critics (all of whom tend to parrot what their publishers and editors believe) and STILL succeeded. Now I assume it had a captive audience in Meyer’s community, eager to support it, and this gave it that initial boost that made it impossible for NY publishing and the distributors and book chains to give it the ‘support’ they normally give things they don’t like.  That, however, cannot have been more than seed capital. It was something (despite the virulence poured out onto it) that found a large audience, principally female and young.

Have they joined the LDS, rejected the principles that first wave feminists fought for?  Well, um. No. And the ones who read Hunger Games haven’t become archers either.  Nor, oddly, do the millions of 35+ year old women reading Romances abandon their partners to go and look for the dark handsome troubled Doctor…

This is one of those insane control-freak fears that has lead to nothing but the diminishing of the influence of publishing industry.  It’s escapism. Not role modelling! Not ‘educating the reader’. It usually has a character that the reader can identify with in some respect, either in their daydreams (ergo the beautiful young woman who is hyper-capable) or the person who is just like them (nothing very special).

And actually, the point is Twilight appealed not only as romantic (take it whatever way you like) wish-fulfillment escapism but also as a character many readers felt they could identify with.

And here lies my point: the authors who reflected NY worldview are probably going to see their market share shrink.  It’s why for example most genre sales have shrunk, but the ‘Christian and inspirational’ has grown. I’ve read some of these as homework too. Actually, quite a lot of it is fiction, and would pass for 1950’s romance, with a bit of religion. It’s comfortable, escapist, easy for a large audience of non NY publishing people to identify with.  It’s more or less what that audience wanted to read (with or without the religion) and couldn’t find elsewhere. (I see NY publishing has just bought into one of the big ‘Christian’ publishers – expect a rash of the same ‘educating the readership’ to come out and fail.)

But for those offering something that readers with different worldviews (and there are a number of them) can identify with, who have been badly UNDER-SERVED, may now find their audiences grow. If there is a message in this for writers (and indeed publishers and editors), it’s that you need to get off the stage and find who IS in the audience and what they want to read. There are gaps for everyone from Neo-Pagan Communists to Neo-Nazi Fascists, and everything between (although I suspect the former niche has been quite well served and may have to lose some writers).

But escapism is no longer a dirty word.

play on…