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Where are the howls of outrage?

UPDATE: This morning (Thursday), I had an email showing that Apple has changed it’s mind. They called Lisle and said, basically “oops, we made a mistake. Your original submission did not in any way violate our terms of service and if you resubmit it, we will make sure it goes up without any problem.” Congrats to Lisle for being brave enough and stubborn enough to take this matter public and kudos to Apple for admitting they screwed the pooch on this one.

The howls of outrage I’m referring to are from the professional writers organizations that are supposed to be representing our best interests. What I’m talking about are the howls of outrage over the latest from Apple’s iBookstore/iTunes. In case you haven’t heard, they made author Holly Lisle jump through hoops in an attempt to put one of her how-to workshops on sale through their store only to tell her after she’d done what they said that they still weren’t going to sell her e-book because — gasp — she mentions Amazon in it. Give me a frigging break.

Here’s basically what happened. Lisle was trying to put lesson 6 of her How to Think Sideways workshop up for sale through Apple. The title of the lesson is “How to discover (or create) your story’s market”. Part of the lesson deals with tools, including Amazon website software, to help place your e-books for better sales. When Lisle first submitted the lesson to Apple, it was rejected because it had active links to Amazon. So she removed the links. (Note, it isn’t unusual for e-book stores such as Apple, Amazon and Smashwords to require you not to have active links to other stores in e-books sold through them.) Then she resubmitted the corrected file and waited. Only to learn that it was still being rejected. Why? For mentioning Amazon.

Yes, you read that right. Apple will not let her publish a chapter or lesson on how to do all you can for better e-book sales because it mentions Amazon. That means, basically, anyone who is writing an e-book on how to publish or where to publish or the tricks of the trade has to leave out all mention of what has, for me at least, been the best selling market for e-books if you want to sell your e-book through Apple. It also means there is the chance of any piece of fiction mentioning buying something from Amazon will be refused. If their review process is done by computer, it also means any piece even mentioning the word Amazon could be flagged. What the hell?

Look, I can understand the requirement for no active links. That makes sense, sort of. But not allowing authors to mention Amazon? Not only no, but hell no. That’s asking authors like Lisle to basically be dishonest with their students/readers by omitting a major section of the course in question. How in the world are you supposed to address publishing or marketing your e-book if you can’t talk about Amazon? What’s next Apple? No more mention of any entity that you are in competition with, be it music, books, programs, etc.? Will we no longer be able to mention Microsoft? How about music stores or producers?

I applaud Lisle’s response to what has happened. She wanted to be in the Apple store so her students and fans would have more choice as to where to buy her work. However, after being made to jump through hoops only to learn her lesson was being rejected for content, she made a decision. She not only pulled the lesson from Apple but she pulled her other titles, fiction and non-fiction, as well. Now the only titles by her on sale through Apple are those that are traditionally published. As Lisle said, “This is not professional behavior from a professional market. . . It is simply an unbelievably stupid business decision, since the people buying the lesson would have to pay for it BEFORE they read the content, and would not abandon Apple because of the content.”

So, I ask you, where are the cries of outrage from the writers organizations that are supposed to look out for our best interests? Where are those oh-so-vocal authors who would have been damning Amazon from the highest mountain had it been Amazon forcing Lisle to remove all mention of Apple from her works? I’ll tell you where they are. They are trying to justify this sort of thing, in their own minds at least, by saying it is only right to strike at Amazon like this. Amazon is evil. Amazon is destroying publishing. Blah, blah, blah.

The only problem with this line of thinking is that this doesn’t hurt Amazon. In fact, it will drive sales to Amazon, sales that could have been made through Apple, especially if Lisle isn’t adding DRM to her e-books. Why? Because the knowledgeable e-book reader knows that it is a simple thing to install the plug-in to Calibre and then convert your DRM-free MOBI file to EPUB or vice versa. No, I’m not going to tell you how to do it. Use a little google-foo and you will find out where to find the plug-in and how to use it.

No, the ones being harmed by this short-sighted attitude are Lisle and her readers. And, ultimately, Apple. Bad on you, Apple. Bad on you.

But, frankly, Apple’s actions don’t surprise me. So many are so sure Amazon is the ultimate enemy of publishing that they don’t see the other problems, more immediate problems, that are facing the industry. Another example of this comes from Ewan Morrison who laments that there will soon be no more professional writers.

I’ll admit, when I started reading the article, my back immediately went up when I read Morrison’s comment about how he has been “making culture professionally for 20 years”. Yes, you guessed right. He is a “literary” writer. He also hates the new digital movement and the fact it has opened the market up to authors who haven’t been able to get past the traditional gatekeepers. He laments the lower prices and, gasp, leaving the choices to readers as to what to buy instead of these gatekeepers. Oh, and let’s not forget the author of the article managed to get in the old piracy argument as well. (Rolls eyes)

“It looks like a lot of fun for the consumer. You get all this stuff for very, very cheap,” he says. But the result will be the destruction of vital institutions that have supported “the highest achievements in culture in the past 60 years.”

Just like so many others, he overlooks the problems within these “vital institutions” — publishers — that brought them to the state they are in today. I’ll beat my head against the wall one more time and remind him, and those who think like him, that mismanagement, failure to adapt to new tech and new customer demand, poor buying choices, out of line advances to so-called best sellers who don’t sell through, etc., all had hands in creating the precarious state publishing finds itself in. Low e-book prices are only one factor.

What’s really behind his discontent? The fact that his advances are lowering. Poor baby. Instead of whining about how things are changing and adversely affecting him, why isn’t he out there looking to see how he can make the most of the new trends?

The article goes on to note that self-publishing isn’t profitable for most authors. I’ll agree. But those authors, for the most part, will drop out. We will see a culling of the field through attrition and through reader demand. But I will also point out that there was a large percentage of authors who were traditionally published and who never received a second contract. This isn’t “feudal economics” but supply and demand. It takes work to produce an e-book and most folks aren’t going to continue doing it if they aren’t getting adequate recompense. Readers won’t continue buying dreck. They are also learning to use the preview function of most e-book retailers and that cuts down on the amount of poorly written or poorly formatted e-books being sold. But then, I’m also betting that readers know a good book from a bad one, usually.

So, sorry if your advances aren’t as high as they used to be. But guess what. Publishing is in trouble and is reacting like many other employers facing financial problems. It is cutting back on salaries and, yes, an advance is an author salary. Get over yourself and, instead of whining about how things are changing and you don’t like it, get off your butt and see what you can do to excel in the new landscape of publishing. Publishing has faced major changes before and has survived. It will survive this time. But, to do so, it will have to give up some of the ways it worked in the past because THOSE WAYS DON’T WORK!. Authors have to do the same.

Get over it. Get over yourself. Adapt and survive.

Ambition and despair

I don’t think any of us start down this path without vaunting ambition. There are those who think the path will be easy, and indeed a tiny tiny number have found it so, there are those who know the reality and expect to work hard for years. But all of those who start writing that book think that they will succeed. Some of us dream of being read by millions, and some by enough people to pay the bills. And some of us run closet hopes of being read by millions and resultantly having fresh peeled grapes fed to us by the beefcake dancing boy, while we recline in our hammock overlooking the beach in Tahiti. Not me, to be fair, I’ve always thought dancing boys very useful when one is short of shark bait. But ambition, yeah (and not just to go shark fishing.)

Ambition requires some degree of self belief. You don’t get very far in this trade with a mere desire for peeled grapes (or shark bait) if you lack the trust in your own ability and skill to ever show it to anyone. Yeah, we know. Amanda kept hers under the bed for years… Kate in the bottom drawer under her copies of Physical Geography, which was a lot more disappointing than she’d thought it would be. The point is they didn’t throw them out. They just took a little nudging. The problem is we’re our own worst judges. I have seen so many authors (some published too) with nothing more than conceit in the way of skills, which wears a bit thin quite fast, but with enough ambition and enough self-faith to make up for their deficiencies. There’s a sort of inverse law here. If you’re new, and you think your work is perfect, it probably isn’t. If you’re new and you think your work sucks so badly that you keep polishing it and trying to learn… it probably isn’t as bad as you think it is.

The point I’m trying to make, is without some sort of hope, without some sort of dream, without that ambition, burning long and hot and prepared to put in a lot of effort and of yourself, this is not going to work. So if you have barely the energy to brush your hair, and don’t really think you are as good as… (insert author here), barring a ton of luck it’s not going to happen. And if you’re really that lucky buy lottery tickets. You can buy a publishing house with the proceeds.

Because to counter that ambition, that bright oriflamme, the forces of despair will ambush you at every step, will send out more minions than Sauron. And you’re going to have to step past them or walk over their limbless corpses to get on. Yes, now you can turn the tables on the idiotic system of gatekeepers… but even self-publishing you’ll find the idiocies of Amazon (and yes, there are not a few of these) instead. There will be the will-sapping fights to get the document to look right on .epub… and the same but worse again for .mobi. Expect to have to get up off the ground dozens of times. Expect to have to work relentlessly for an audience, who will vanishing every time you don’t post, don’t make them laugh. Expect to have your best efforts torpedoed by things which are still beyond your control. And if you do make it through the conventional publishing hurdles – unless you’re one of the darlings – expect them to want you to work relentlessly… while they forget to pay you or forget to put the book on the shelves.

At the end of the day, whether you succeed or fail will probably be more a matter of luck than effort or judgement. But by heaven, if you don’t put in the effort, give it your astute thought processes, get up off the floor again and again… you’re not going to be lucky. Your ambition will lose to despair.
Now go out and kick some serious kneecaps! (too bad for those of you are cursed with tallness, and have to kick higher spots. Those are the breaks. We can’t all be dwarves.)

Yes. I am nearly finished the next Bolg PI story. The dwarf and attitude rub off.

Timing Workshop IV: Focusing the mind wonderfully

by Sarah A. Hoyt

It is said that the prospect of hanging in the morning focuses the mind wonderfully.  What is not often said is that a lot of the effect of timing and pacing IS focus.  And a lot of this can be achieved by a series of tricks that have absolutely NOTHING to do with what actually happens in the novel.

I don’t know if I ever told you guys – more than a hundred times – but plotting used to be my bete noir, and a great part of this was timing.  You see, people kept coming back and saying my novels were too slow, or that they just didn’t flow, or…  A thousand other things that amounted to “dang it, your world and characters are interesting, but they aren’t holding OUR interest, and we don’t know why.”

Being me and congenitally inclined to go exactly the wrong way about anything at all, (I have scores of ancestors who staked their lives on the WRONG side of wars to prove it) I decided the problem is that I was putting TOO MUCH in.  Too much world building, too much character building, too much description, too much complication to the plot, too much.

This was, understand well before I was published.  I decided that, of course, what people needed was a clear cut line from beginning to end, where every action advanced the plot.

To be fair to my younger (and markedly stupid) self, part of this was justified by reading (rolls eyes) ENDLESS nonsense about just that from writers who clearly never took the time to analyze their own writing, much less anyone’s else’s.  Alternately it’s written by writers who think ONE school of writing – minimalist – is correct.  These are the same people who believe EVERY adjective must be excised ruthlessly and every word must be compacted to contain the most possible meaning.

Look, minimalism is all very well if you’re writing artistic statements, or if your goal in life is to write a certain type of bloodless thriller.  However for everything else, it sucks.  Why does it suck?  Because it lacks flavor.  It’s a highly stripped-down form of story-telling, which in no way resembles either our genetic predisposition to tell stories nor The Way Real People Talk TM.

I’ll freely admit part of my loathing for it is a matter of personality.  I once made myself what seemed, on paper, as an ideal office: walls and floor reflective white.  Desk, bookcases and file cabinets steel and glass.  Everything clean and stripped down.

And I couldn’t write in it.  I fled it for my current office: Roll top desk, oak bookcases cluttered with books, and just enough interesting objects to hold the eye.

It’s probably a personality thing.  In the next house, G-d willing, we’ll take the glass furniture (which is upstairs) and put it in the “publishing room.”  It seems ideal for that sort of methodical work.  Just not for a place where I relax and work.

I think with writing I feel the same way.  I love the minimalist style for non-fiction books.  I’m actually a great fan of bullet points.  (History books are a little different, and I do like the flavor of the times.)  But for my fiction, let me have the impression that the characters live and breathe and that the place they are in is not like a bad television set – the good ones are actually artfully made imperfect and lived in – where everything is brand spanking new and coordinates.

But again I was – and still am – stupid, so I followed the advice.  At the end of this, I was writing what should have been six book series compressed into 100 thousand words, and people were less interested than ever.  (This is when guy who would turn out to be agent #2 sent me a rejection saying the sense of timing couldn’t be taught and therefore I’d never be published.)

What I’d missed is that the reason we read fiction is not to absorb information, even if the information is a bloodless narration of an exciting chase, but to experience the emotion of the character(s) and, sometimes, to live in the world – or both.

What this means is that stripping it down, in order to improve pacing is exactly the wrong thing to do.  I started suspecting this when I heard people enthuse about Harry Potter.  It wasn’t what HAPPENED that made them fans, so much, but the exciting details about the world.  When my kids decided, unanimously, that I’d gone to Slytherin and dad to Hufflepuff, for instance.  (Okay, Sarah, you say, you only have two kids.  Unanimity cannot be hard.  Right.  Someday remind me to introduce you to my kids.)

Then I went to a local con and heard a relatively successful local author read a passage from her book.  She gave the readers a chance to pick the passage and they universally shouted “the one with the sausage.”

Okay, the scene was – had to be.  Couldn’t be anything else – completely irrelevant to the plot.  It was the characters in a tavern getting in trouble/confusion over purchasing/stealing a sausage.  Silly in the best Shakespeare comedic style.  It was “a bit with the dog.”  BUT it was clear it was part of what attached the readers to this series.

Being me, I went home and thought about it.  Clearly what made books work was having enough of this sort of thing (of course I didn’t know why yet.  Despite having been a reader for years, when I started writing I became stupid about “why people read.”) to give flavor to the plot.  And the thing was that I was writing these bits.  I was just ruthlessly excising them in revision.

So with fear and trepidation, I started allowing some uneeded scenes to fall in – the first one being “three guys in a car” in Draw One In The Dark, which stupid me thought was completely uneeded.  Until readers started writing about how they could see the characters grow up and bond in the scene.

Eventually I came to realize that actually most of a book will be things that don’t DIRECTLY affect the plot.  They do affect it, in a roundabout way.  They’re character development, and worldbuilding, which by themselves, and where you put them might not do much, but which will, later on make the climax more climaxy and the clinch more clinchy.  (EVEN if you’re not writing porn.)
So, what is the difference between that and having the character go shopping or have breakfast?  Well… Here’s the thing, you really shouldn’t have the character do things that couldn’t possibly interest anyone but the character’s mommy.  Other than that, putting in a bit of quotidian life might work to give the world solidity.

BUT how do you do it, and keep the novel flowing.

Txred in the comments mentioned having a character in a gun show.  Yeah.  completely dumb if all the character is doing is going, “um, ah.  I like that one.”  But have the character shopping for the one gun that can save her life, while expecting the bad guys to burst in at any minute?  Tada, tension.

This gets particularly important with later books in a series, because you have all this background to apprise the reader of.  I know the author school that just infodumps ten pages at the beginning, but unless you have fans who would walk through hell for you, no one is going to read those ten pages.  And hell, if they’re like me they won’t even remember them, even if they read them.

So, faced with writing a short story (well, 11k words) in the world of DST for Baen’s Christmas collection (coming out this November!) I had to subsume everything that the name Jarl Ingemar will mean to anyone who has read Darkship Thieves, or even more so, by then, the earc of Darkship Renegades, into the first few pages, so the reader gets the impact of this personality that will eventually bestride two worlds and a starving, freezing, ill-treated young man of 19.

Now, here I have to tell you you can’t trust your instincts.  I still can’t do it by feel.  I do it by “knowing how” then test it with first readers.  But here’s the trick:

The prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully…  So start with your character walking to the gallows (metaphorically.)  The reader is so riveted to seeing how he escapes, that he’ll tolerate any number of explanation on how he got there.  You can subsume entire pages of physical description, tactical details and past history, so long as every few paragraphs you remind the reader he is walking to his own hanging.

You can use the same – should use the same – in a longer work.  Amid your scenes of tavern revelry or bawdy house fun, always, always, always bring us back to three things: the objective, the timing device and the objective.

And make sure, always, that you remind us at the beginning or ending of the more frivolous chapters/scenes of at least one, and preferably all three of these things.  Of course, you should find ways to do it that aren’t repetitive, but you know that.

The other thing is to keep the goal in mind, and make the goal big enough to carry the novel.  Your character MUST have a goal, and the goal can be simple: to survive, for instance.  But it must be told in ways that can be visualized: for instance, your character has to be able to see himself back in his living room on earth, after his adventures in fairyland.
And he has to want it so badly he can taste it.  And you have to remind the reader how badly he wants it.

The goal can change.  In Darkship Thieves it changes from “I will survive and get back to my position of power” to “My husband will survive and we will go home” – but then it could be argued it’s still the same goal recast – but it has to be done in a logical manner and preferably over one or two memorable scenes.

Anyway – that’s the way to concentrate the mind: remember the hanging is coming in the morning.  Unless…

Now, go over a favorite book, again, and look at all the scenes that don’t directly affect the plot.  Then go through and mark down all the times you’re reminded of the objective, the timing or the danger – and the various means you are.

Open Floor

Chris is under the weather and asked me to post an open floor today. You guys know the rules.

Feel better, Chirs!

Living the edges

Blame Sarah. Her post yesterday started me thinking on this line, and anything that gets me thinking moderately philosophical thoughts is dangerous.

Anyway, as Sarah said yesterday, madness and creativity are pretty closely intertwined. Very few highly creative types don’t argue with some form of mental illness, and frankly, once the intelligence levels get high enough, the same kind of thing happens. Our species seems to be built to design specs with a caveat in big flaming letters “Extremes are Bad Things” (Yes, evolution will in fact do this. Extreme anything is bad. Moderation in all things, including moderation, appears to be the way to go). At any rate, moving too far from the averages, whether creativity-wise or in terms of intelligence, almost always introduces a bunch of negative effects.

There’s a “sweet spot” in the order of about 1 to 2 statistical deviations above the norm. In that range, whatever it is is good enough to help the fortunate possessor without introducing much in the way of nasty side effects. In the realm of intelligence, this is where the people ordinary joes consider bright are found. Beyond that a person gets to be in a realm where they can’t understand normal people, and no-one outside their very small group of mental peers can understand them. With creativity it tends to be even more marked – mildly more creative than usual often looks a lot more impressive than extremely more than usual because at the extreme there’s not much there an average person can recognize. This is why stunningly new things usually take a long time to get adopted. They’ve got to trickle down through the not-quite-so-extremely-creative to be translated into something that the not-particularly-creative can relate to.

When the ability is so strongly linked to insanity, well, that just makes it even more interesting.

My personal theory – I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned it here in the past (yeah, says the inner editor, like once or twice a week. The inner editor is a demon, and lies.) – is that the essence of creativity is in pattern recognition and generalization. The more someone can observe patterns across fields of thought or practice that rarely intersect, the more creative their observations are going to be. When the patterns and fields of thought pillage mythology, legend, and every work of fiction ever, that’s a heck of a lot of ground to cover. Take someone who doesn’t have the normal “this is socially acceptable” filters (I’m intimately familiar with this), and you’ll get high-octane nightmare fuel played for laughs (a.k.a. the con vampire books). Add that to a subconscious that actively collects all of this and then spits out the shiny “Ooh! Story!”, and you get what Sarah described with A Few Good Men (which is totally worth any amount of money you choose to spend on it. Just saying).

It’s fragile, to say the least. In my case the wrong choice of music can shut me down for days. Of course, if I get a nasty shock, I can tip straight back to suicidal, so I don’t count myself as particularly stable anyway. Of the several flavors of antidepressant I’ve taken, I’ve only found one that leaves the writing ability more or less intact. Not surprisingly, I’m not that keen to experiment any further. I’m not aware of antihistamines shutting me down, although any form of physical illness does a number on me, so it may simply be that the effect is masked by not being well enough to think.

Of course, being narcoleptic, I’ve got the advantage of very vivid dreams, including some that happen without me needing to actually be asleep. Those are usually the trippiest, probably because I experience them direct, without any kind of “remembering the dream” filters. The flip side is that the medication for that takes me from permanently functioning as if I’ve just come off a 48 hour shift to functioning as if I’ve just come off an all-nighter. I don’t actually remember what “awake” feels like. Curiously enough, I describe exhaustion rather well…

In my view, it’s all input towards whatever the next story happens to involve. Or the one after that. Whatever works.

I think that’s possibly where all the research on creativity, intelligence, and mental illness has gaps: the focus tends to be on the ones who can’t keep their grip on the world their body lives in. The ones who figure out what works for them and can keep hold of the physical world when the worlds of the mind are calling so seductively mostly manage to slide past under the social radar. Most of us prefer it that way.

Of course, most of us would also deny the hell out of any evidence we were losing our grip. And therein lies its own set of nightmare fuel.

Canst Thou Minister To A Mind Diseased?

by Sarah Hoyt

Over the weekend I had to explain several times how books come to me.  (I’ve decided, btw, that this is the reason I – at least for now – prefer to work out of contract.  Because it allows this to happen.)

The book I mostly had to explain was A Few Good Men, and what happened was this: I’d just started Darkship Renegades, and the local con was in town – January.  It has a bad habit of hitting just as I come off the holidays and my brain is engaging again.  (No, I don’t take the holidays off, but I’ll admit I probably should.  Precious little gets done, and that usually of the administrivia type “clean the drawers” or “organize outlines” or…  Because when the world presses that close about me, none of that isolation needed to immerse myself in the dream happens.)  So, I worked on DSR until the LAST possible minute, and then Dan started muttering about dragging me to the con still attached to my computer, and how we had panels, and we were LATE.

I ducked into the bathroom to put my makeup on.  And there, mascara wand in hand, the opening of A Few Good Men hit – with its own flavor and distinctive voice.

The world celebrates great prison breaks.  The French territories still commemorate the day in which the dreaded Bastille burst open before the righteous fury of the peasantry and disgorged into the light of day the innocent, the aggrieved, the tortured and the oppressed.
    They forget that every time a prison is opened, it also disgorges, amid the righteous and innocent, the con artists, the rapists, the murderers and the monsters.    
    Monsters like me.

That voice, and the story was so prevalent in my mind I actually read that paragraph – as well as a bit of A Fatal Stain – at my reading.  I think I bewildered the readers.  But to me, it mattered.  I already had the entire book in my head, you see.

Did I do something to bring that about?  Not consciously.  In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion the best way to explain how novels “hit” my mind is the old excuse of someone being caught drunk, disorderly and Southern, “I was sitting on my front porch, reading my Bible, when suddenly–”

What I mean by all this is that many writers – I don’t know if it’s most – experience most of the their books – even I have gone at them the rational way before – as stunning intrusions into their ordered daily life.  You might not be sitting on your front porch, reading your Bible, but you’ll be putting on makeup, or washing dishes or – last week – ironing up a storm.  And all of a sudden, out of nowhere there will be a “voice” or a “personality” or a full story in your head, loud as an Hallelujah chorus and twice as startling.

And when that happens you HAVE to write it.  There is no other choice.

Well, at least there is no other choice if you’re an inexperienced author.  If you are, over the years you’ve developed several methods of delaying, indefinitely filing or putting a stake through the d*mn things before they have time to take over.

This is especially needed because they have a tendency to “attack” when you’re midway through something else.  Depending on your school of thought – more on this later – this happens because you are already tuned to whatever it is that “broadcasts” these ideas OR because you don’t really want to finish the current novel (because you’re afraid it won’t be very good, or because you don’t actually like hard work, or because you feel unequal to it, or–) and the new idea is your subconscious giving you an out.  You take your pick, I’m not religious about either option.

EXCEPT that with 23 novels under my belt (that’s the SOLD ones, mind.  Another eight, perhaps nine – who keeps count? – before.) I don’t often feel like I can finish a novel and I’m familiar with the compromise of bringing the ideal platonic vision into the hard world outside the cave.  And yet, the things still attack – always – just as I hit stride on another novel.  Also, if I’m ill or out of it and AM struggling with the novel, slogging every half page as if I were breaking granite off a mountain side, the other ideas DON’T hit.  That would seem to be advantage side one.

In fact, I’ve just been reading a book on mental illness, focusing particularly on schizophrenics (it has some application to The Brave And The Free, though most of what is happening to Reehat is self-induced.)  Many writers – those of us who experience ideas as intrusive eruptions of the outside upon our thoughts – would, I suspect be classified as low-level schizophrenics: the point at which you experience part of your thoughts as an outside reality, but don’t confuse them with reality.

The difference is that we don’t seem to progress to the later stages which most schizophrenics who require outside intervention do.  (Well, most of us don’t progress to the later stages.  As in most other places in society the introduction of certain type of recreational drugs into the artistic society in the sixties and seventies broke some writers badly: mostly those who experience stories as coming from the outside.)  Also most of us can integrate more or less well into the everyday life around us.

Yes, it is often less well, as many of us have problems juggling the inner and the outer life.  But most of us are as sane as anyone else required to take fictional stories and people seriously for a large portion of their working time.  Still you find most of us living perfectly mundane-yawn-inducing lives.  When not pounding the keyboard till our fingers bleed, we are parents, housewives, computer programmers, students, and often, until we make enough to live from, manual laborers of some sort.  (I’ve often thought if all else fails I’ll go into house cleaning.  I can do it, and it has the huge advantage of my being able to day dream through it.  The problem of course would be how many ideas would attack while cleaning in the trance.)

We are perfectly normal until we can get together with our kind and explain this odd issue we all suffer from and which would have “normal” people wishing to commit us all.
Are we truly insane?  Who knows?  While I’m not one of those who believes mental illness is a society construct due to the strains of capitalism (and of course Marxists were NOT being hypocritical, when they said that while supporting a system that DID punish political dissent as mental illness – after all, you’d have to be insane to oppose the Marxian paradise.  See?  All explained.  Tails I win, Heads you lose.  If you run into a situation like this, you might be in the presence of the corrupt Marxist philosophy.)  Nor do I think “we’re crazy because of industrialization” nor any of it.

I think the brain is a complex biological mechanism that not only can be thrown off by defects of manufacture (genetic defects I mean) and dents acquired in use (environmental pressures) but also can be influenced by whatever is going on in the rest of the body.

The later is very hard for me to accept because I like to think I’m in control of what I think and what I think with.  However, having been caught in an off-kilter hormonal cycle from hell off and on for ten years (no, not menopause.  Menopause is relatively easy to understand by comparison) I’ve come to realize that in at least one part of this cycle (which will keep worsening if not interrupted) I get so profoundly depressed that the only reason not to commit suicide is that I can’t muster enough energy.

By definition any “genteel” sort of affliction that doesn’t interfere much with how others around you experience you and might even bring pleasure to others – via stories – does not require treatment.

The truth is most of us would fight you tooth and nail if you tried to treat us.  See, the dream-state we enter when writing can be experienced as pleasurable or not, but one thing it is: intense.  We experience more intensity when working than most people do in their daily lives.  And one thing human beings have proven they can’t stand is boredom.  All the junkies who prefer bad trips to humdrum are living (or sometimes dead) proof of this.

So if you have a mechanism in your mind that can take you elsewhere and elsewhen and make you – for a time – someone else, but which is mostly under control and doesn’t affect your daily life, has no physical bad effects and is free – would you give it up?  I don’t know about you, brother, but I wouldn’t.  In fact I don’t.  In fact, sharing with other writers the belief that most decongestants  “turn of the writer thing” I will go through winter honking like a goose and sounding like Darth Vader rather than take them.

Since we’ve learned there are adaptations – celibacy – that benefit a colony of organisms even while not benefitting the organism, it’s in fact entirely possible that writers are a positive adaptation.  I have this theory that they gave Indo-European culture the boost to become the dominant culture in the world.  Writers are, for lack of a better explanation, the thing in the human community that tells people what they are.

Or we could all be nuttier than good quality fruitcake, of course.  This is possible.  But as long as we keep track of which voices in our heads are really hours, and which reality is really reality, there is no reason for anyone to intervene.
Now, in the past the way to keep the “writer thing” in its place was business.  If you were a working professional, you had to deep six, delay or modify many ideas, so you could finish/run with the ones that would support you.  (I can’t tell you how to kill, delay or modify the strong-presenting dreams, because what works for me might not work for you.  Thought avoidance works for the kill, but for the delay often you have to write down a few pages and reassure yourself it will be there when you come back to it – which is what I did with AFGM.  For “modify” you might have to write it out first, then edit ruthlessly.)

With indie that’s more difficult.  It’s easier to jump from dream to dream, never fully interacting with reality.

Can I help you with that?  Well, so far I’ve been keeping track of which world my body is actually in.  Finishing something before moving on is another thing.  I’m currently writing four novels at once, which is the best compromise I’ve found.

Generally, to keep your balance, remember reality is the thing that bites you if you ignore it.  You can spend time with hands over ears going lalalalalala at your character, but you’re not going to get evicted for failure to pay the mortgage THERE – you will for failing to pay it here.  Remember that kids and pets are important in the REAL reality.  If you don’t feed and pet your cats, they’ll sit around your desk and not let you write.  And kids need to be fed, cleaned, and moderately paid attention to.

And always remember which voice in your head is truly yours.

If you do that, you’ll keep balanced between reality and dream, you might even make a living off the dream AND there will be no reason to give you anti-psychotics.  Which, friends tell me, interfere with the writing-thing like nobody’s business.

That’s the best I can do for you.  It’s a battle we each must fight alone.  The success in fighting it determines whether you become a professional writer or a common, garden-variety nut.

Good luck.

And now we wait

The Department of Justice has published the 868 comments in response to the proposed settlement with three of the five publishers named in the price fixing suit it filed earlier against the original Big Five publishers and Apple. I’m not surprised to find that the vast majority of responses were opposing the proposed settlement. After all, the average reader isn’t even aware of the lawsuit. Beyond that, most authors who will be impacted by the outcome of this and who are still under contract with the named publishers aren’t going to say anything for fear of having their contracts dropped by the publishers. To publicly come out and say your employer — and, yes, that’s exactly what publishers are to writers under the current set up — is full of crap is to commit what some (publishers and agents) might see as professional suicide.

What does surprise me, and pleasantly so, is that the DoJ is sticking to its guns. Without going into politics too much, this is an election year and, well, you get what I’m saying. I won’t say more because this isn’t a political blog and I’m not going to make it one.

Without rehashing — too much — what I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the agency model. However, I also admit that there is nothing inherently wrong with it. My issues come with how the agency model was put in place by the original Big 5 and Apple. Long before the DoJ filed its lawsuit, rumors had abounded about how Steve Jobs had required the publishers adopt the agency model if they wanted to be included in the new iBookstore. (Remember, all this came about at the same time the iPad hit the market). It was just all too coincidental to my mind. Five major publishers all demanding the same pricing model at the same time? And at a time when Amazon’s newest and potentially biggest competitor in the e-book market, comes online? Hmmmm.

But I had another issue with the agency pricing model as well. Publishing was already in trouble. Book sales had been declining for awhile. The economy wasn’t as strong as it could be and that meant there was less money available for people to spend on “extras”. So, in response to this, these publishers demanded a pricing model that would put less money in their pockets? A struggling industry shouldn’t be finding ways to cut their revenue. It should find ways to maximize revenue. But then, that’s just me. I like making money.

My biggest issue with agency pricing was that it was a knee-jerk reaction by the publishers not only to Steve Jobs’ demand for it (assuming he actually made that demand) but also to their fear of Amazon. Instead of realizing that the decline of brick and mortar bookstores began long before Amazon even existed, they saw Amazon as the big evil. They forgot about how the big box stores moved into the market in the 1980s and 1990s and drove most of the smaller, locally owned bookstores out of business. They forgot how these same big box stores then used their clout to demand changes in their purchasing contracts with the publishers, redoing things like return policies, etc. They didn’t look at how these same big box stores — and the publishers themselves — failed to embrace the e-book market from the beginning. In short, they let the market get away from them and now, panicked, are trying to stop the flood.

If you read the responses to the DoJ’s proposed settlement, you’ll find a number of them talking about how there might have been collusion and, okay, that’s not nice, but it was necessary. Something has to be done to stop Amazon before it monopolizes the e-book market. Amazon was undercutting the competition. It was killing the e-book industry and now, with agency pricing, we have competition.

Sorry, what we have isn’t competition. Competition would be giving us a market where we can shop around for the best price for our dollar. Under agency pricing publishers set the price for their titles and, guess what, it is the same price everywhere. Where is the competition?

Another argument put forth by those opposed to the proposed settlement is that the settlement will mean an increase in e-book prices. They postulate that the removal of agency pricing will give Amazon a monopoly and that Amazon will then implement its evil plan to raise prices.

The problem with these arguments, and all arguments saying Amazon might do something at some unspecified point in the future, is that it is speculation. There is no proof to support these arguments. The United States is based on laws and, fortunately, we don’t tend to punish people or businesses based on something they might do at some unspecified point in the future.

Another problem is that these arguments ignore the fact that Amazon is not by any means a monopoly yet. There are a number of different e-book outlets available to the public. It isn’t Amazon’s problem that Barnes & Noble and other booksellers didn’t climb onto the bandwagon as early as they could have when it comes to e-books and e0-book readers. I understand the fear these folks have. They are playing catch up now and grasping at straws to do so. However, instead of paying millions of dollars in legal fees to fight Amazon, they should be investing these dollars in finding ways to reach out to the public and win them over to their own e-book platform or e-book reader hardware.

Publishers Weekly has the right of it here: Observing that “there is no mistaking the fear that many of the commenters have of the prospect of competing with Amazon on price,” the DoJ noted that low prices and fierce rivalries are among the core ambitions of free markets and that contrary to many commenters views, “the goal of antitrust law is to use rivalry to keep prices low for consumers’ benefit. Employing antitrust law to drive prices up would turn the Sherman Act on its head.”

The consumers’ benefit. That is what the publishers and those opposed to the DoJ settlement have forgotten. Oh, they make lip service to it, but if you really look at what they are saying, they are worried about the publishers and big box stores. They want things to continue as they have for years. The problem is that things have been broken for years and no one was doing anything about it. No one in the industry wanted to change business models because this one worked — once. Now, instead of trying to put the genie back in the bottle — and that just isn’t going to happen — they should be looking to embrace this new tech and the new demands of it instead of playing Chicken Little.

From The Bookseller: Responding to Barnes & Noble’s comments, the DoJ asserted that Barnes & Noble was “worried that it will make less money after the conspiracy than it collected while the conspiracy was ongoing” and that that was not a matter for the court to consider. Many of the benefits B&N attributes to collusive pricing could be achieved in other ways, such as lowering costs, the DoJ said.

Like I said, change the business model and cut the fat from the budget and see what happens. But no, they’d rather break the law themselves in order to hamstring Amazon and not worry about anyone else (the consumer) who might be harmed in the process.

But I think the most ludicrous comment against the proposed settlement comes from the Authors Guild. Basically, it argues that price fixing should be allowed in publishing because of the “cultural role books play in society.” WTF?!?!?!

It is important to remember that the basis of the DoJ’s suit isn’t that agency model pricing is wrong. It is that colluding to force agency model pricing onto the market is. It is also important to remember that breaking the law because you are scared of what might happen sometime in the future isn’t justified, not in a case like this. Finally, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was written to protect the consumer, not to protect businesses from poor business practices.

And now we wait to see what the court says. While we do, you can read the DoJ’s response to the comments here.

 

 

A runaway best-seller…

This one of the nicest reviews I’ve ever got:

I have this mental image of CUTTLEFISH sprinting down the road shrieking ‘run away, RUN AWAY! we’re doomed!!’

Yes, well I have always had these crazy ideas, and compared to the wild dream where, you know, all I had to do was write a good book and somehow natural selection would do the rest, that one is quite sane. That is of course how it should work, but we’re a fair way from there. And even the very best of best-sellers, may sell 1 copy for every ten households. Still, on my little island, I was, I suspect, finally coming close… admittedly a runaway best-seller on a remote rural island with 350 families is… 35 copies. But the book has scene set on the island, with several ‘in’ jokes, Barbs and I are relatively well known and oddly popular residents, and, in a conservative rural community it’s still OK to buy fantasy or ‘syfy’ for kids (and then read it yourself of course. But you have an excuse) and as it is YA, they have reason. The local newsagent/draper/whitegoods/and book store as a sideline owner read it, showed that bit to several friends — and said she was going to put it in her little store. And told me the horrendous price they were going to charge her for the five copies she wanted. A pity, because even without a mark-up that was going to set her back… about $25 a copy.

And I, foolishly, said: “I get an author’s discount. I’ll get it at a better price. After all, it costs $9.97 on Amazon. I don’t want to make money out of it, but I’d love to see it sold here.”

And she said “Oh great, I’ll take twenty if you can get them at under $14, and sell them at $15. They should fly out.”

So I went to look at the little letter that came with my author’s copies. Look, 20 sales *4 readers per book (which is what the average is, I believe) is, besides administering to my vanity, probably a bunch of future sales. The biggest problem an author faces is getting into contact with readers in the first place. There isn’t a lot of spare money in the author kitty, and given publishers happy little habit of paying late, caution is a watchword, but I stood to get my money back… Lois would pay me straight up front, before taking the books.

Except, well, the publisher was offering me 35% off on the cover price of $16.95 for purchases of 1-24 copies. More or less $11 + shipping, which for 10 books they had spent $100. They saved 10% in royalty payments too, so de facto they were getting $12.71 + shipping.

So I e-mailed Author Author, a bookstore who apparently not only give your author discount, but also you get your royalty and the figure gets added onto the distributor figures, which helps you sell to the publisher if no one else. Well, they’re not keen on shipping to Australia, because of customs hassles affecting delivery – and while they can do it through Ingrams… they charge 6.95 per item.

So my option, in reality, is to order – or get an American friend to order – 20 copies from Amazon. It’s free US shipping for that value order. Cheapest shipping by US mail will be IIRC $61 for 20 pounds = 20 books. I still get the full 10% royalty. The figures will boost my Amazon rankings, and may even affect bookscan. In effect my publisher will be making… whatever discount they give Amazon, less my royalty.

In other words, had the publisher sold them to me at $8.28 and not paid me a royalty… I would have ordered from them. If they charged me $9.97 and paid me a royalty (probably absorbed by the advance) I probably would have too. At $8.28 they’d have made just as much money… and because psychology works like that I’d have taken 30 copies… And, as they’ve complained about dealing with the 800 pound gorilla… sending the traffic another route would have represented a win for them.

This is called ‘competition’. It’s what you have to do to win, or even be in the race. On the overall scale of things the $20.00 they would have got by me not checking the Amazon price… and then finding it later… is it worth it? Plainly not if you value the goodwill of your authors at more than $20. It’s either that, or not doing any thinking. Ah well. As O’Mike keeps saying “Shh. No logic!”

Still, it’s plain that Harlequin have been thinking. Thinking that dishonesty is the best policy in my opinion. Thinking that it’s worth stealing from their authors and that author goodwill is worthless and replaceable. My conclusion – either their CEO is woefully uninformed (in which case why are they paying her? Her board ought to dismiss her) or lying (as you cannot not know about a class-action suit. There is a requirement for notification and negotiation. Apparently both have happened. They thought they could stonewall and the authors would fail to find the money to sue.) Frankly, I hope they lose, and lose big. I hope their board finally sees sense at the close specter of bankruptcy, as that is what it would take to start the reform process that traditional publishing needs. I hope the authors cannot now be bought off and silenced, as this seems SOP for these lovely people. Rip off until you’re caught, pay hush money so all the other victims don’t find out, and continue to behave in the same way.

Anyway, I hope you all love Harlequin now.
Not.
Addendum. Since I checked it out – AMAZON have upped their price.

Convention Crazy Continued

Sarah is having a fun, if very busy, time at LibertyCon this weekend. She’d hoped to be able to post today but sent out an SOS yesterday because the internet at the hotel was so slow she’d be back to Colorado before her post could be uploaded. She will be doing her regular post Wednesday and will get back to the pacing workshop next weekend. So, for today, the floor is yours to talk about any and all things publishing.

Convention crazy

It’s Liberty Con weekend, and while I’m not there, I’m also off-routine in a big way, and brain-dead again (possibly still).So, here’s the deal…

It’s convention story time. Let’s have favorite incidents you witnessed, heard about, think might be legends and so forth…

They might or might not find their way in to a con vampire book at some time in the future, but in the meantime they’re always fun to know about.