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Just how far is Down?

And is it out?

As we head off for Zimbabwe for my younger son doing his re-affirmation of vows thing (basically, they got married here, and now are doing it all over again, with the whole 9 yards for all the people who couldn’t be here.) Heaven help me, I’ll attempt to post the next two Mondays, but their internet access is intermittent. So is electricity. Water relies on boreholes. Sewage and many of the things we regard as normal are… different. Security… varied.

But, at least on the surface, despite indicators suggesting life should be worse than First World survivalists imagine it could be, if things in the First World get a fraction more unstable, life appears… quite normal there. Yes, it obviously isn’t, but really Somalia proved one thing to those predicting the collapse of civilization: We are a long way up the ladder, and before things go so far that the few are supposed to be forced to rebuild, drawing the good and great, purging away the dross in the furnace of that change… well, it’s a long long way. Further than most First World people realize possible to go and still function. Before ‘down’ is out, the real bottom has to be reached. And it never got there in Somalia. Yes, as some of the really nasties are finding out once the fighting gets there, the ordinary people will quietly inform on them, and will welcome a change. But the top hyenas are still surviving, still continuing to wreak havoc, still impeding rebuilding.

Apocalypse is the stuff of sf (and fantasy) and it’s also something traditional publishing is supposed to be facing. If I have a message for the new year from the old year… Down is a long way. And the old order is not out until it’s buried, and you have hammered a stake through its heart. That’s as much true for apocalypse tales, as it is for politics, nations, or publishing (and all of those may be good or bad… depending on your point of view!).

Anyway, here is wishing you all the very best of writing and reading for the New year. May 2013, somehow, see turning points in all that is bad.

And I can’t wait to be back, posting from my Island again.


On Holidays

Hi, everyone. I’m off on Christmas vacation. My first post of the new year will be on 11th  January.

Feel free to post to an Open Floor.

For a bit of entertainment, here’s a great link to a list of the Top Ten private space vehicles.

In the mean time, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope Santa brings you all a flying car.

All the best,

Chris Mc

Losing what you get free

Hello. My name is Kate, and I am a pantser. I’m also – or so I’ve been told – ridiculously talented, in the sense that I get rather a lot of things ‘free’.

This is not the advantage it seems, so please put down those knives and let the grudges lie for a while. Sarah’s said before she rather pities the industry Dahlings because they’ve been told how wonderful they are and been isolated from any real critique or comparison, so they usually end up believing what they’re told. That means when things don’t work for them, they have no idea how to fix it.

The talented have much the same issue: if you get it free, you understand it at a level where it’s not in your conscious awareness. The issue here is that it may never have entered your conscious mind in the first place.

This is not at all unusual. Think of the last time you drove anywhere with more than your vehicle on the road. You know which of the other drivers aren’t at their best and could be a risk. You make multiple snap judgements every second based on the movement of the other cars around you, the way your car moves, and everything else you’re aware of. As often as not, not one of these hits your conscious mind. That is usually worrying about something totally different. Or carrying on a conversation with the other people in the car. Or looking forward to getting home.

If someone asked you, you’d say you didn’t do anything special during the drive, and you didn’t. But if something odd happens, and you’re thrown back into concentrating on driving, it gets much harder until you relax again and your subconscious routines take over.

Now, the learning to aim the car and use the pedals smoothly took practice, but the rest? You’ve been doing that all your life, as a pedestrian, as a passenger, so shifting context to do it as a driver is easy (have you ever noticed how rarely people bump into each other even in really crowded areas?) But what is it you’re actually doing?

You’re interpreting the movement of each of the sometimes more than a dozen cars in your field of vision as though they were an extension of the body of the driver, and running that through your personal body language interpreter, with input from and reference to your standard of “good enough” driving. Based on the results you’re making small adjustments to the pressure of your foot on the gas pedal, whether you need to use the brakes, how much distance between you and the vehicle in front, how fast you’re going and the exact direction you’re going in. Try doing that through your conscious mind in less than one second.

Moving back to writing, much the same thing happens when you don’t have to think about something – if you can sit down and have publishable or near-publishable first draft emerge, most of the grunt work is happening at the subconscious level. More than that, you may not know how to make it work, consciously. I certainly don’t.

To wit: the most recent chapter of my current WIP is horribly infodumpus with faceless heads expounding in an empty room. Why? There was a crapload of information that needed to happen, the “right” version of the chapter didn’t want to happen, so what emerged was very bland and dull. I didn’t see what I needed to do to fix it until Sarah’s post yesterday – because I usually get this stuff free. My characters pace, or they fiddle with stuff, or they’re doing something else while they’re talking. They’re not just sitting somewhere earnestly discussing. Maybe the fact that one of the characters is actually a ghost had something to do with it. I don’t know. But because I usually get it free, I had trouble seeing how I’d screwed up and what I needed to do to fix it.

This is why beta readers matter. You do have beta readers, right?

It’s also why technique books written for and by plotters are good. Sometimes if you – like I do far more often than I like to admit – get yourself tangled up in a corner somewhere, consciously using the techniques the way (I suppose) a plotter would can get you out of the mess. Or if things flat out aren’t working, you can brute force them by “being a plotter” for a while. Trust me, after you’ve been through and cleaned up your work, and had someone you trust help you edit it, you won’t know which bits were done which way any more than your readers will. Like with anything else, you use the tool that’s best for the job at hand (which is also why the toolbox needs more than a rusty old hammer in it).

Of course, with the things you get free, you actually have to work harder to do them well by numbers as it were. This is because when it’s working for you, you’re doing the writer-equivalent of driving on autopilot with your subconscious running the show. When you’re doing it the plotter way, all of that processing has to be done by your conscious mind, which is slower and tends to have trouble keeping track of a dozen or more threads that need to be juggled just so.

So envy not the pantser for being able to pull fully formed plots with interesting characters and descriptions from her nether regions. When that ability fails her, she has more trouble than you’d think.

Describing The World

*Sorry to be so horribly late.  Today there are some health things we’re dealing with, and I guess I was really tired yesterday, because I slept very late.*

It was a blue night, stretching, velvet smooth above the Earth.  Silence swathed the garden like a cloud.  Here and there, now and then the shrill chirping of crickets rose.  Fragrance of roses surrounded Guinevere, and made him wish it were less pronounced…

You see, Guinevere was a cat and rather more interested in the smell of tuna.  (Apologies to my son for borrowing Guinevere, the oddly named Siamese from Cat’s Paw.)

Right.  (Picks up glasses from lectern.)  I’ve been asked to do a post on how much description is enough.

This is sort of being asked how much water it takes to make you wet.  Depends on what you’re wearing, how the water is applied and what you mean by “wet” – wet all over or just your head?  Your feet?  What?

Description is hard, but then everything about writing is hard.

I started out, I think, like most people – putting no description in at all.  This was a problem since I was dealing with what was essentially an alien civilization (it was modified humans, in the far future, but it comes to the same.)  That meant when I said “table” the reader would fill in the usual table and then when my characters sit or kneel on the floor to use the table, the reader would be scrambling like mad to change the mental picture.  (This is why even if I find/get those files, rewriting will happen, at least of the older ones.)

EVERYONE kept telling me that I needed more description.  So I started putting it in with a trowel.  (Read my Shakespeare series sometime, though arguably there I already a glimmer of what I’ll call “the secret to description.)

Like with every writing defect I try to correct, I way over corrected, and then had to walk my way back to a reasonable use of description by rough road and slowly as such things must be done.

So, what can I share form my journey.  Look at my example abroad, does it cue anything, until I mention Guinevere is a “he?”  Of course it does.  You think Romance of the more traditional form of fantasy, or at least a fantasy with a poetic streak. Of course it can also be used the way I did, to bring a sudden and startled laugh when you hit the end.


Rule one: Description is a tool.  There is no correct way of doing description, do it in the way that will carry your story forward and bring the reaction you want in the reader.


But what if you just don’t have any description?  Well, I can’t imagine that being appropriate to any but some of the more post-modern of experiments in story telling (Yes, I suffered through some of those in school.)  Before you do that be very aware that the reader will fill in everything you don’t describe with whatever is standard for HIM for that particular place/person/object.  Say you mention Winston Churchill, we’re going to see the iconic picture of him addressing the nation, not Winston Churchill as a young war correspondent.  If you mean the latter, make sure you describe him.


Rule Two: Not describing is also describing.  Your reader will “see” something when you say nothing.  Be aware what that something will be.  (Sometimes you need beta readers for this.)  If they’re not seeing what you want, use more description, targeted at the important points.


When is description too much description?  Well, if you are describing every detail of, say, the sand on the beach, unless one of those grains of sand is poisoned, you’ve gone too far.  Everything you give that much attention to will be illuminated and made central.  So unless it is essential to you that your reader sees EXACTLY what you want – leave well enough alone.


Rule Three: if you are going on and on with description, make sure it is about something that matters to the plot.  Because the reader will assume it does.


What if you just have the wrong description?  By which I don’t mean you’re not describing what you see in your head, but what you’re describing is causing the wrong reactions.  Well, it helps again to remember that not every reader is you.  People have certain built in reactions.

If your characters are going to make sweet, sweet love in the morgue, you might want to soft pedal the smell of formaldehyde and all the toes with tags.  Mention them some distance from the arousal (But what if it’s a really BIG arousal?  Well then you’re bragging.  Shuddup now.) and when you’re leading us to the love making, concentrate on describing his/her soft skin, beauty, etc. and perhaps the chill as pertains to the other/s partner/s in this folly warming him/her up, etc.  Sensations and all, but very little about the corpses.  Most people don’t think “dead bodies make me hot” and those who do are likely to be locked up.  You aren’t angling for fan letters from Levenworth.


Say you want the reader to realize how hungry the character is, describing the taste and smell of things is good.  But if you want the reader to be charmed, don’t describe the taste and smell of a charnel house.  It’s not rocket science.  You’re presumably human or you can at least pretend to be.  Other humans react similarly.  Usually.  (Unless you’re in Levenworth for killing people and engaging in necrophilia.  Then assume other humans react DIFFERENTLY.)


Rule Four: Suit the description to the reaction you want from the reader.


Sometimes description that is not strictly needed can be used to “anchor” a scene.  Most of us have seen cups of coffee.  You could just tell us that Joe and Mike are drinking coffee, and then go on for pages of dialogue.  Two problems with that.  A) the pingpong of he said, and he said gets really boring (besides getting confusing.)  B) it’s easy to slip into almost non fiction reading mode, and following the argument in the discussion while forgetting that it’s two characters having this discussion and that we care about these characters (presumably) and that they’re “real” human beings with feelings, etc.

Anchoring the dialogue with actions helps.  Joe pours coffee.  It is hot and scalds his tongue.  Mike passes him the sugar.  Etc.  Just every few lines of dialogue, it allows us to know who is talking.  And it gives us a sense it’s a real scene, not just a dialogue taking place in someone’s head.


Rule Five: Little seemingly irrelevant bits of description can act like anchors, and remind us the character “exists” in the middle of long stretches of dialogue or exposition.


Which brings us to the end – this is for advanced describers only, so you want to start practicing now, for when, you know, you get there – using little bits of otherwise irrelevant description as a way to convey information and advance the story.  If Joe loves his coffee black and slightly burnt, that tells us something about his personality – or at least most people will assume so.  If Mike spills coffee all over the table and then tries to mop it with his coat sleeve, it tells us something more.  If Mike comes to the meeting with egg on his tie, it tells us yet more.  If Joe’s hair is perfect, not a strand out of place, it also tells us something.


Rule Six: Feel free to put in what might sound like irrelevant description if, at a crucial point in the story it gives us a clue about what the character is thinking, how nervous he is or simply who he is.


That’s about all I can tell you.  As with everything in writing, all I can promise you is that practice makes perfect.  I’m one of those people who has trouble with this, trouble believing the simple act of doing something over and over makes you better.


But having gone to the Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Museum of Art and reading about his method (which was basically exactly that, doing things over and over again, trying to get better and experimenting to see what works) I can tell you it works.


Go and do.





Romantic men, part II

The title of my last piece got me thinking. Yes, I know, you could smell the wood burning so you knew the grate brain was turning over. I am sure other people still have wood-fired boilers powering their steam-driven brains too.

It struck me, that, based on the popularity Downton Abbey, what women really wanted in a man was someone else to do the cooking dusting and washing-up for them. Oh and a toffee-nose accent. I can do that at a push, but real life confirms that most women choose to marry — and stay married to — ordinary men, who excel at flatulence and beer rather than hot potato accents and Champagne, and who are not precisely the acme of gentility. In fact, observation suggests that women often crowd around the sort Downton antithesis, which may may explain why genetic selection has not evolved men of us into weak-chinned but ever so noble chaps with spiffing accents.

Now as someone of the heterosexual and male ilk, I honestly don’t really know (any more than heterosexual women would know precisely what pushes male buttons. Males are generally less subtle than women and easier to watch, but they too play to the audience.) just what makes some men the romantic daydream, and some really nice-seeming, keen-on-relationship guys seem to have a kind of really nice-seeming girl repelling fields. The converse seems as true – I’ve met -as a happily married guy a lot of single women where I wonder if the males on the planet have lost their minds – and a lot ‘orrible baggages with some poor guy, where I _know_ at that particular guy lost his mind (and probably his money, and self-confidence). It’s rather like books: there is a perfect match for each person out there somewhere but so often it gets missed. So I was curious: just what is the dreamboat? It does seem to change with every age – I look at the idols of men in paintings from the 16th century and wonder whether it’s just tastes or if women were uglier then? Look at the film stars of half a century ago… not all of them wear it well… and some do. Look at tastes in traditional African society, and Naomi Campbell would have been the girl on the shelf, desperately trying to fatten up. Apparently this was true in Scotland, or at least in the Hebrides too, which has its own genetic possibilities.

And is the dreamboat romantic hero something in real life and something else entirely in print? So: opinions please. I want to write them right. Is appearances or is all in our heads? I’ve tried –

should be a link to one of my romances (I cut it to 99 cents. I’d make it free but I would have to take it down from Smashwords) and I’d be curious to know from anyone who read whether he was romantic hero or not? The physical description is sparse. And before you ask, there is no sex.

And a Merry Christmas to you and all of yours!

Weird Planets

exoplanetThis year has produced some amazing discoveries in the planet-hunting arena.

Notable among these is the announcements of more ‘super-Earths’.

The planet HD 40307g is the most distant from its sun of six planets found in its system, and takes 200 days to orbits its star. At seven times Earth-mass, bets are on as to whether this planet is rocky or a Neptune-like world. Astronomers put it at about 50:50. The system is around 42 lightyears away. Not only does it orbit in a habitable zone, the target system is also close enough to potentially image directly in the future using the next generation of space-based telescopes. Bring it on!

Gilese 163c is another planet in its stars habitable zone, also estimated at seven times the mass of the Earth. The planet orbits a red dwarf slightly dimmer than old Sol and zips around it in 26 days [red dwarfs are the most common star type in the Milky Way].

Other discoveries showed planets where you least expect to find them – in multiple star systems. Solving multiple-body problems like that give even the most brilliant mathematicians a severe headache. But that does not stop us from seeing what’s out there.

The gas giant PH1orbits a pair of stars that are part of a four-star system [in this case it would orbit the centre of mass of the two stars]. The first planet found in a four-star system. It is bigger than Neptune, and easily big enough to host rocky moons approaching Earth-size. Unfortunately its location makes it too hot for liquid water – its temperature is estimated to range between 251C to 340C (484-644F).

The best thing about PH1 is that it was discovered by two amateur astronomers as part of the Planet Hunters program. So non-professionals get to play too!

A number of binary systems with planets have now been found, some with planets near the habitable zone, such as Kepler-34b and Kepler 35b. Each would get that double-star sunrise, just like Tatooine. Both planets are big, and around 5000 lightyears from Earth. So no exploring just yet.

As for the closest planet, that is a rocky planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, 4.2 lightyears from Earth. No need to pack the swimsuit – unless you like doing laps in lava. It orbits its sun in a little over 3 days at a distance one tenth of Mercury’s orbit. Ouch.

What were your favourite discoveries of the year?

Cross-posted at chrismcmahons blog.

How Dark is Too Dark?

This week’s events don’t help with this post, not because I feel any great need to add my opinion to the uncounted other ignorant opinions floating around (they’re mostly ignorant because most of those commenting don’t possess enough of the facts to be anything else, and that would include anything I chose to say). Rather, I’m in the middle of a very dark sequence in the current work in progress, and find myself wondering how far I should go.

I snippeted the opening of this piece a few weeks ago, and it’s grown to some 35k words in the intervening time, so it’s definitely one that insists on being written. The thing is, I have a lasting fascination with evil, particularly the borderline when dark becomes evil and vice versa. The question of when ruthlessness or even cruelty is necessary and when it moves from that to evil is a question I somehow always end up exploring no matter what I write, alongside the ability of evil to act in service of good. Big surprise, a lot of what I write shades very dark indeed, so much so that friends tell me if I think something is “creepy” chances are it’s frigging terrifying.

Because of that I tend to flinch when I write the darkest places. Not because it scares me, but because I don’t want to send my readers running screaming into the night. It’s counterproductive. I want them reading my book and wanting more, not cowering somewhere vowing to flee the moment I should appear.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. A little bit.

Between that and my tendency to get frustrated with the “evil for the sake of being evil, let me kick that puppy to show you how evil I am” cartoon evil that infests so many books (largely I suspect because their writers don’t really understand evil), my villains tend to be… realistic. Sometimes too much so. They have motives that humans can understand and those motives get shown. Sometimes those motives are things that leave normal people wanting to scrub inside and out (that piece hasn’t been published for complicated reasons), but they are right for that character for reasons that are usually fairly complicated.

Fortunately this piece is first person. I don’t have to get inside the POV of the villain. Except that I do, for reasons involving a magical gestalt and my main character being in the kind of horrible situation where dying is unquestionably the better option. My friends know that when I write this kind of thing they’re likely to get angsty messages, not because I’m scaring myself but because I’m worried by not being scared. By how easily I can slide into the mind of a character who has lost his humanity so profoundly he sees nothing wrong with courting someone while he’s torturing them.

So how much is too much? I’ve never been one for loving descriptions of every drop of blood, but the psychological dynamic keeps pulling me back. The emotions that go with the pain are something I dance around in damn near everything I write, one way or another, and I don’t know where the line between enough and “oh god no” is. Or even if it is.

Thoughts? Suggestions? “Keep away from me you crazy psycho woman?”

I’ve Got You Covered!


(I haven’t forgotten about being tagged in The Next Big Thing.  Stuff has been crazier than normal around here lately – and y’all know how crazy things NORMALLY get.  So, I haven’t been able to even ask people if I can tag them.  At this rate, when I do tag them they’ll all have done it.  Eh.)

A recent discussion on my blog reminded me – again – of the importance of covers, particularly for ebooks.

The background is that I have … mumble (more than I want to admit to) fragments of novels lying about.  Some of them I know why they were rejected, I think they have potential if fixed, and I’m scheduling them to get finished/fixed as soon as possible, starting from the ones that are finished/almost finished, of course.  Some of them though, I never understood WHY they got rejected.

One of these was Hell Bound, a more standard urban fantasy than my usual fare.  I have, I think, fifty pages double spaced, so I threw it up on my blog to figure out why I’d got a very odd rejection (I think only ONE rejection told me why or perhaps it only went out once, who knows) and to see if it’s worth putting on my schedule to finish.  (As soon as Noah’s Boy is delivered, I’m going to take  a week to rewrite what will now be called Shadow Gods – a YA fantasy – and then I’ll try to do that type of work in the intervals, while doing work for Baen, of course – hopefully at least two books, more like 3 if I don’t get sick all the time.  Anyway, it can be done, I think, except that I need to plan it, to have that full a schedule, or nothing will happen.)

Anyway, I’ve figured out why the weird rejection.  This is a side excursion, and I’ll return to covers in a moment.  The thing with publishers – traditional New York publishers – is that they don’t actually read the materials you send in the order you send – or at all.  This is something that’s very hard for us to understand, but I’ve found to be true.  For instance, my musketeer mysteries kept getting rejected because “it’s not one of the musketeers telling it.  That is as if Sherlock Holmes’ mysteries were told by his maid.” These rejections were occasioned by the fact that the very first chapter of the very first book was in D’Artagnan’s voice.  Forget the stunning lack of understanding of who told Sherlock Holmes’ mysteries, or the fact that The Three Musketeers is in fact narrated by following D’Artagnan – what bowled me over was the fact that they’d never even GLANCED at the proposal which explained that the mysteries were told (a chapter at a time) from the pov of all four musketeers (well, D’Artagnan is a musketeer by book ten or so – if we ever get there.)  Since this was being sent through my agent, I have no clue what she put in the cover letter – or if that got read – but CLEARLY publishers were looking at the first page and going “Oh, D’Artagnan.  He’s not one of the musketeers.  Reject.”

In Hell Bound my protagonist is mourning the death of a fiance who died in mysterious circumstances six months before the beginning of the book.  And an angel with a black leather jacket is involved in it somehow.  (I’m not weaseling.  It’s been years since I wrote that proposal.  The involvement will probably change when I go into it.)  The angel uses sex and sex appeal as a weapon to survive in the human world.  (There is some stuff about the spirit being uneasy in a physical body… I’m also not sure how it plays out in the end.)

The one thing I meant though was for the angel to be eye candy and a somewhat ambiguous and scary figure – not a love interest.  I might have fobbed that (won’t know till I go back and re-read.  Again, it’s been a LONG time and my perception/feel has, I’m sure, changed.)

I THINK the publishers read the angel as THE love interest (they’re not hampered by theological scruples, as I am.)  This explains why they kept rejecting it because the MC was “too broken up” about her fiance’s death.  Because, you know, she should be moving on to the hot new thang.  Before that I was totally puzzled because… six months.  Serious relationship.  She’s not paralyzed, but of course she misses him, and when she starts getting messages and emails from him, it will bring the grief back.

Anyway – other than that, I got a lot of confusion about which of them (or either) the MC would be interested in and what type of story it IS.

And I started understanding the importance of covers…

Not that I’ve ever not understood the importance of covers – I mean, once you got the cover I got for my first Shifter’s book, the importance of covers is forever engraved in your mind.

That book made it clear to me that covers are supposed to signal the contents of the book, in the sense that having a castle, a three headed dragon and a zombie with an udder fixation and a very fetching seashell pendant on the cover in no way prepares you for a fun adventure fantasy (uh, maybe.  Might be SF) about a dragon shifter and a panther shifter trying to survive while working for a diner in a college town.

BUT beyond that…  I realized through that blog post, that people look to the cover for clues about how the story will go.  Even if the cover is symbolic and not a scene in the novel.

Take my story that I put up: put on it a cover with a sexy girl from behind, and an angel in a leather jacket looking at her with smoldering eyes, and you’re signaling it’s paranormal romance, and that the love interest in the angel (more so if she’s clasped in his arms.)  Put her in leather/denim with a sword, and the angel by her side, and you’re still signaling the angel is the love interest, but it’s probably not a romance, and the action still matters.  Have her alone, facing the horrors sent by Isthar,  with sword up-lifted, and you know this is about her, and the action, and any romance is a secondary distraction, so you won’t read the book as signaling a HEA with the angel.  Reverse all of those to have the ghost of her fiancé, and you’re signaling the same things, but with her fiancé as the love interest.

Covers affect how we read things and in the new world of publishing, where we’re not looking in a specific shelf for the book which also influences how you read it.  (Trust me.  My Shakespeare fantasies OFTEN got shelved as biography and I got indignant letters from people chiding me for my “dangerous” idea of bringing in elves into Shakespeare’s bio.)

Dean W. Smith says we don’t have the slightest idea what the genre of our book is, and he might be right, but if we’re also the publisher, we still have to manage the reader’s expectations – and finding of things – with tags.  So we have to make a stab at figuring it out.  And then we have to make sure the cover signals right, too.

So – how does that mesh with the iconic, minimalist covers?

I don’t know.  I know they get away with them for books with big publicity campaigns, and maybe in the future that’s how you’ll know which books have big publicity campaigns – because you can afford the stripped down, not-clearly-signaling iconography, like the hands with the apple.

For us, the only thing I could say is if you’re going to get away with a stripped down cover – say for this one, probably a bull of Ishtar (though if Uri were the focus it could be disembodied wings) – you have to signal it in some other way.  Perhaps with a tag line on the cover that says something about love, or something about fighting or…  You see what I mean?  Something more than JUST the tags on Amazon, which don’t make as much of an impression as going to a physical shelf.

To begin with, I encourage familiarizing yourself with not just your genre covers, but the covers of genres yours could get confused with – space opera/futuristic thriller; urban fantasy/paranormal romance; Woman in Peril/cozy; Police procedural/thriller. – and learn the signaling, because your readers have.  Not consciously, of course, but having seen the covers of both, they’ll interpret yours as one or the other.  And then I encourage some thought beyond “Oh, that’s pretty.”  The same applies for the more… complex works, when you’re actually commissioning a cover.  This will allow you to give more detailed instructions to the artist.

Because the cover is not just a sales tool.  It’s  a framing device for how the reader interprets the clues in the book.

This of course is an advantage if you’re the one doing it.  You can make sure that the house doesn’t do it wrong.

But then you have to make sure YOU do it right.


Baen E-Books Now Available Through Amazon

Last week, Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books announced that she’d inked a deal to bring Baen e-books to Amazon. This has been a deal long in the works and one that will broaden Baen’s digital exposure. In my opinion, this is a necessary move for Baen, the pioneer in e-books, if it wants to continue leading the digital revolution. Most of all, I applaud Toni for not only inking this deal but for increasing author royalties for e-book sales, something she couldn’t have done had she kept their digital sales limited to just the Baen e-books site.

As a bit of background, Jim Baen, founder of Baen Books, began selling e-books more than a decade ago. When he did, there was no Kindle or Nook or iPad. E-books were in their infancy and most everyone in the publishing industry not only thought Jim was more than a bit crazy to be embracing the technology so early on but condemned him for doing so at low cost per title and for refusing to infuse the books with DRM. After Jim’s death, Toni continued expanding Baen’s digital library. Not only are new titles being offered each month but so are backlist titles, including books by such “masters” of science fiction as Heinlein.

Fast forward to the age of the Kindle, Nook and tablets. Amazon opened the Kindle store and others followed suit. Most publishers, as they began realizing e-books were selling and were not going to disappear in a sudden flash, signed deals with Amazon and Barnes & Noble (and later Apple) to sell their e-books. Without going through the entire agency pricing ongoing debate and debacle, these e-books were initially offered at prices that rarely exceeded $9.99. That price was for the so-called “best sellers” and new releases. As a book went from hard cover to soft cover, the prices dropped and all were basically happy. $9.99 became the price point most e-book purchases were willing to pay for new releases, especially of their favorite authors.

Add to that the ease and convenience of simply turning on your e-reading device or smart phone with its app, going to the Kindle store (or Nook, etc) and finding a book, buying it and having it delivered almost instantaneously to your device and you had some very happy readers. Then the ability to preview a book was added so you could download a sample before having to commit any funds to buying a book. It was just about perfect.

For various reasons, and I am not privy to them, Baen Books was not able to get into the Kindle Store until now. That meant it was missing out on a resource that cut deeply into potential sales. People would go to Amazon or BN and look up their favorite Baen author and find physical copies of the books available but no e-books. Nothing on the product page pointed them to the Baen e-book store. Threads would occasionally pop up asking why Baen wasn’t selling digital copies of their books and, occasionally, someone would point the person asking the question to the Baen site where e-books could be bought.

Folks started asking Toni on Baen’s Bar when Baen would start selling e-books through other sites. For more than a year she’s been telling folks to be patient. She was working on it.

Then, several weeks ago, she warned everyone to download and back up anything they might want that was currently offered through Baen’s Free Library. Speculation started flying then about what might be about to happen. More warnings were issued, including cryptic ones alluding to a big announcement about to come. Even with all this, there were cries of “foul” when the Free Library was gutted and most of the books disappeared.

Those cries turned into roars when Toni made the announcement last week that Baen had entered into an agreement to start selling its e-books through the Kindle store. I’ll be the first to admit that the initial announcement wasn’t worded as well as it could have been. There were some points of confusion, especially about the monthly bundles. But Toni responded quickly, doing her best to answer the questions. And still the uproar continues. Why? Because Baen is dealing with “the Evil Amazon” and because prices are going up.

I thought long and hard about whether to address what folks have been saying about this latest development. After all, as I said earlier, I haven’t been privy to the negotiations. Nor do I particularly want to pick a fight with fellow barflies. However, some of the attacks on this move have been so asinine that I decided something had to be said. So, let’s start with the “sin” of working with Amazon.

Toni has an obligation to the people with a financial stake in Baen to make the most money possible for the company. That means making sure Baen books are available in as many outlets as possible. No one argues with the fact that Baen’s hard copy books are in the Amazon store. In fact, if you log onto Baen’s Bar and read through the various threads, you’ll see that some of those complaining about selling e-books through Amazon are more than happy to buy the hard copy versions of the books there because they can buy them at lower than cover cost. But Amazon is evil.

The truth of the matter is, Baen needs to be in the Kindle store — just as it needs to be in the Nook store and iTunes, etc — to expand its digital footprint. Most potential customers looking for a book in one of these venues will simply look for another book and not leave the app they are using to go to the Baen e-bookstore. It’s foolish in this day and age not to have your e-books available in the same outlets where your hard copy books are being sold.

Oh, and before anyone starts screaming about DRM, there will be no DRM attached to e-books sold through Amazon. So there is no change there.

Folks are upset because this means there will be an increase in the cost of Baen e-books. Okay, I’d like to see the e-books stay at the same price, but the fact remains there hasn’t been a jump in cost in something like 10 years. It’s past time for Baen to increase the price of their e-books. The argument that the new price of $9.99 is the same, or less, than would be paid for a paperback doesn’t fly. For one thing, that $9.99 price is for new releases — exactly what the pricing used to be on Amazon before agency pricing. Toni has also assured the ‘flies that the pricing will decrease as mmpb versions of books are released. So, if you don’t want to pay that much for your e-book, don’t. Wait six months and pay the lower price. No one is saying you have to pay that price. It is up to you if you want to buy a single title when it first comes out.

Then there’s the upset about what this does to the monthly bundles. Because of the rule Amazon — and every other major e-book outlet — has about not selling e-books at a lower price elsewhere, the monthly bundles are having to evolve. Basically what is happening is you can still buy the bundles for the very good price of $18. However, those bundles disappear around the 15th of the month before the e-books become available for sale on Amazon or elsewhere (I may be slightly off on when they disappear, but this is my understanding). The impact of this is that you can no longer go back and buy a bundle for a previous month nor can you wait for the entire e-book to be available before buying the bundle.

Oh the cries of “foul” this has caused.

Look, folks, get a grip. Toni and the rest of the folks at Baen have to worry about how to expand their sales. Publishing is in a time of transition. Every publisher is fighting to find more customers. No longer is it enough to simply work to keep the customers you have. This move to Amazon, while it does mean a modest increase in prices — especially if you wait for the initial price to go down — is well worth it if it means Baen not only continues to thrive in the future but can continue to bring us quality science fiction and fantasy titles.

I guess what really got to me in the various threads attacking this move was the accusation that Toni had basically betrayed everything Jim stood for. Here is where I call bullshit. What is she doing? Expanding Baen’s digital presence. Insuring her authors have a wider platform to sell their books — which means more money for them and for Baen.

Look, you don’t want to pay $9.99 for a single title? Then find the bundle that new title will be offered in and buy it. For $18 you will get that book and at least one other new title as well as at least three reprints. That’s a pretty damned good deal in my opinion.

Before someone starts saying that I’ve changed my stance on e-book pricing, I haven’t. $9.99 has always been the price point I’ve been willing to pay for new release books by certain authors. It’s when an e-book is more than that where I have problems.

And don’t give me the “it doesn’t cost as much to make an e-book” argument. And, yes, that has been tossed out there in response to the announcement as well. No, it doesn’t. But I trust Toni to have gotten the best deal possible for Baen, for her authors and for her readers. No one likes a price increase. However, if this is what it took to get into Amazon, to increase Baen’s e-book presence and make it easier for more readers to find them, I can live with it.

As for the Baen Free Library, that’s been explained as well. Since most of the titles in the free library will be made available for sale through Amazon, they could no longer be offered for free through the Baen site. The solution is a good one: new editions of these books will be put together, something that will make them different from the “for sale” editions. Once these editions are available, they will be uploaded to the Free Library site and made available. It will take some time but, let’s face it, there was nothing mandating Baen offer these titles for free in the first place. It was a good marketing tool for them and Jim — as well as Toni — knew it. So chill and read what you already have on your reader or computer and relax. The free library will be back.

For those of you upset because the Baen CDs “disappeared”, chill out. They aren’t gone. At least not yet. You can still find the iso versions of them through Joe Buckley’s site. The only real difference I’ve seen there is that you can’t browse the books individually nor can you read them online. You can still see what each CD includes and you can download an iso or zip file. So they aren’t gone. At least not yet.

I guess what has really bothered me about all the uproar is the sense of entitlement I’ve seen in so many of the comments. There have been the Amazon haters who have said they will not be buying anything else from Baen because of the new agreement. Others who are upset at the increase on price for new releases so they won’t be buying as many, or any, more e-books. There was even one who said this price increase would lead to more piracy of Baen e-books.

Look, no one is saying you have to buy from Amazon. The Baen e-bookstore isn’t going away. That’s still where I’ll be buying my Baen e-books. You don’t like the increased prices, then wait for the prices to come down. But get the hell off your high horse and give the new agreement a chance.

Most of all, remember that this change helps the authors we have all come to love, including our own Sarah and Dave. By getting Baen e-books into the Kindle store, the potential audience is increased not slightly but greatly. So are their potential royalties.

No one likes change and I’ve never seen anyone who likes price increases. But costs do increase. Prices do raise. At least with these you know they will come down and you can plan accordingly. Sure, it would have been nice if there had been more notice so we could have grabbed past monthly bundles before they became unavailable. Yeah, there should have been a way for PT to have sent out notice to all prior e-book purchasers of the upcoming change and there could have been a warning put up on the Baen site. But, for whatever reason, this wasn’t done. It still shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for those of us who buy Baen e-books.

So, for everyone slinging condemnations at Toni and Baen, get over yourselves. This is something that needed to be done. If it means not putting off buying a bundle, then mark your calendars so you don’t forget. Don’t want to pay $9.99, wait for the price to come down. It will. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to pay a bit more if it means the authors I enjoy have the chance of selling more books because more books means that author has a better chance of getting another contract with Baen.

Romantic men

Ooh look. Dave said a dirty word.
Maybe there’ll be some man-titties in the next frame. Actually I don’t have any problem with man-titties on covers, but do feel it’s rather discriminatory not have equal numbers of females versions of the same on covers, without the fuss.

It’s interesting how the word has become a catch-all for what is de facto soft porn, as well as some books which are anything but. It isn’t of course much to sex alone, but you could be fooled at times. A chaste kiss at the end of a story of mutual attraction and the path to that kiss is rare, these days.

Still: It does seem to have become synonymous with books where the action is principally between the emotionally or physically attracted protagonists. And it’s a female-dominated genre in its own right, with both readers and writers. The logic applied to this is men are not romantic, only interested in sex, and therefore this is right and normal.

It’s also about as logical as an emu on acid. There is very little genetic material not shared between men and women. The hormonal cocktail is a different mixture and it does have physiological and sex-drive effects, but it’s mostly the same hormones. Nurture is, increasingly, much the same. Yes, there are differences in median male psychology and median female psychology. There are also a large proportion – probably nearing half, who don’t fit neatly into one or the other. The male group psychology and female group psychology dynamics are quite different, basically due to testosterone and its effects on behavior.

But honey, before you go off to la-la land and say well, it’s all testosterone and group pressure then… consider this. Testosterone also makes men bigger and stronger than women. Yes, Natasha the Russian Lady weightlifter could crush Joe Average, but if Joe Average wished by physical means to force his will on Jane Average, he could (which is why if I have grand-daughters, they’ll learn to shoot, but that’s another subject) and if all Joes felt the same way about all Janes by sheer physical force… they could have their way. So: if romance exists it must be by some degree of willing collusion by men. That’s merely by logic. Speaking from history and personal experience, men are if anything, less pragmatic and more idealistic and therefore more illogically romantic than women, they just don’t deal with it quite the same way. Part of this is the different group psychology. Letting your male peer group know you’re just big soppy puppy wanting to strew rose petals is not going to help your social status there.

And yes there is sex involved, but seriously, hookers are a lot cheaper than flower, dinners and chocolates and much easier than bad love poems, for a far more certain outcome. Emotional attachment must be important to both genders. The big difference, I think, is males 1) don’t talk about it among themselves much 2)in evolutionary terms surviving fights or catching dinner was more important to men, and getting the right hunter and looking after babies more important to women. Very unfashionable now to think of it that way, but it is still something in the way the genders and their peer groups see the world and deal with it. And yep, some guys are good with babies and do the interpersonal relationship gossip well, and some girls can hunt and can’t do chit-chat. We’re not that different, and we share a lot of genes and nurture. This blog is about writing, so on that subject… anyone who says men are not interested in books with romance in them is missing a good 70% or more of men. However -and this is a generalization: 1)I’d guess they like less dissection of it (AKA less angst, less Chamomile tea) 2)and more OTHER (action, setting, non-relationship drama) to a book. And yeah, they really don’t want their peers looking at them reading slushy romance.
That’s how I try to put it in my books 🙂
So: what’s your take?