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Farewell to MGC

Hi, everyone. It’s sad to say this will be my last post as a MGC member.

Thanks to everyone who read my posts over the last few years and especially those who took the time to comment. It’s been a lot of fun and I will miss the regular responders I have come to know. Being in Australia, my Friday post was really a Saturday morning one – which might explain why my weary brain sometimes wondered a little in my responses.

I hope you have found my posts entertaining and informative. I have certainly enjoyed swapping comments with everyone, and have learn more from all of you than you did from me, I’m sure.

I’ll be continuing to blog weekly over at my website – www.chrismcmahon.net – but now on Tuesdays. As usual I will be alternating between space news and writing topics, with maybe the occasional guest blogger and review thrown in.

Thanks to all the wonderful and talented MGC members who have been so welcoming and supportive over the years, I wish them all the very best for continued success.

For those of you who have been following my Jakirian Cycle (and who happen to be in Australia at the time) you are all invited to the official launch of the three-book Heroic Fantasy series at Avid Reader in Brisbane on the 13th March 2014. Drop in for a glass of wine and help me send the series off into the big wide world.

For a last discussion, I thought it might be interesting to get you all to tell me what sort of posts you like? Are there any topics in particular that you like to read about? What sort of post length do you prefer? I prefer to read short, snappy posts that are either informative or get me thinking – the more upbeat the better. How about you?

For those who missed it the first dozen times, here is a run-down on the Jakirian Cycle. . .

The series comprises three books, The Calvanni, Scytheman, and Sorcerer. All three feature great covers by Daryl Lindquist.

Both Calvanni and Scytheman have been released as ebooks, with Sorcerer to follow in early February (I will make an announcement on my website). All are available here on Amazon.

Think Kill Bill meets Dune . . . Heroic Fantasy in world of ceramic weapons where all metal is magical . . .

In The Calvanni, the cavern-dwelling Eathal have emerged to wreak their vengeance on mankind. The fate of innocent thousands rests on finding the Scion – lost heir to the fallen Empire. The Temple has outlawed the ancient practice of Sorcery. Its Druids dominate religious and secular power, but are ill-equipped to resist an unknown evil once contained by the Emperors.

Scytheman follows on from events in The Calvanni. The city of Raynor is now in turmoil. False-Scion Osterac has declared himself heir to the fallen Empire and his supporters riot on the streets. Legions of non-human Eathal advance across the continent, destroying all in their path. The future of Yos lies in the balance and only the Scion can unite the shattered fragments of the fallen Empire. Pursued by the renegade Sorcerer Raziin, Cedrin and Ellen struggle to stay alive on a lawless continent torn by war. They are drawn toward a lethal contest for the awesome power of the Spear of Carris, where the identity of the true Scion will be revealed.

The three books follow Cedrin and Ellen as they face deeper and more hidden threats. Eventually they must face a final challenge as the most ancient secrets that bind their bloodlines are revealed.

I can’t tell you too much more about Sorcerer without spoilers.

In my fantasy world Yos, all metal is present as a magical crystal called a glowmetal. These glowmetals are a naturally occurring blend of light and metal that cannot be created or destroyed. So in the development of weapons, swords and metal armour were out. Instead I developed various classes of composite ceramic.

Lanedd – which can be used for blades. This holds a razor-sharp edge, yet avoids the brittleness of pure ceramics.

Mought – incredibly tough material that can be cast into shape as armour or used for the haft of various weapons.

The longest practical lanedd blade that can be cast using the techniques available to Glassmiths in Yos is the ‘calv’ or long-knife. This is where the world ‘calvanni’ or knife-fighter derives.

On Yos the dualist’s weapon of choice is the greatscythe. This is a staff-like weapon with twin concealed blades, one at either end. The blades shoot out and lock into place. It is operated by a mechanism central to the haft . It is also the weapon of the Suul nobility.

I had a lot of fun trying to figure out how the greatscythe worked. After all – with no forged metal – I could not very well have conventional coiled springs.

Here’s what I came up with:

The greatscythe has a central fighting grip and a release grip slightly wider than this which is operated by twisting two rings. These have a thread on the inside that operates a rod moving parallel with the axis of the greatscythe. This movement switches what is known in knife-talk as an Out-The-Front or OTF mechanism.

To make this work I needed two separate types of springs in the internal mechanism, both which had to be some sort of natural material. The first I solved with small bone ‘leaf’ springs for the catches that lock the blade into position. For the main spring that drives the blade back and forward I used a rubber strap-spring.

The greatscythe itself tapers to the ends. Two cover plates attach to a hollow cast core and cover the dual mechanisms – sealed in place with a special mought (ceramic) that melts at a much lower temperature than the mought of the haft. So if the mechanism needs to be fixed the sealing mought can be melted away to free the plate.

Anyway – that’s all from me at MGC. All the best to everyone. Stay safe and happy writing!

Just when you thought it was safe…

…to go back to the Internets, along comes some new extreme of crazy to throw you off what you’re supposed to be doing (in my case writing and whatever research I need for said writing).

(Gratuitious Princess Bride Reference) Let me explain… no. There is too much. Let me sum up… (end GPBR)

A bit over a week ago, post showed up on Tor.com about “Post-Binary Gender in SF” . This is not merely multiple levels of fail, it’s multiple levels of badly written fail – and that’s just the blog title. Maybe it’s just my inner math geek showing up – or possibly my inner computer geek – but my first reaction was “why would anyone want to count gender in ternary? Isn’t binary, octal, decimal or hex good enough?” Then I wondered who wanted to snail-mail binary genders. Or did they want to nail them to pieces of wood? This was about when I realized I was a bit too tired and walked away before my mind generated something I’d really regret.

Still. Leaving aside the little matter that “Gender” ain’t “binary” in the first place – it’s ternary: male, female, and neuter (and that goes whether you’re talking grammar or sex). It’s also a multimodal distribution (for the math-challenged that means that in any population you’re going to get more than one big cluster) with a big somewhere close to the female end of the triangle, another big peak somewhere close to the male end of the triangle, and a much smaller one at the neuter end. You know, a bit like this (yeah, it’s crude. About 30 seconds with Google Draw crude):
GenderSpectrum
How is that “binary”? Or discriminatory? Or did the author of this piece have some kind of grudge against biology for not making the triangle nice and even and pink?

Naturally it got fisked. Thoroughly.

One of the more entertaining fiskifications (shut up, it totally is a word) was authored by the redoubtable Larry Correia (you don’t think he’s redoubtable? Just look at the man. Plug him into a gap in your fortificatons and nothing gets through – and that’s before he takes out the hardware and starts shooting. Oh, yeah, and he’s scary smart, too). Go read it. Just try to come back here for the next installment in the fisky-fisk-fest.

Then the fun started. The Most PC Author In The Universe (otherwise known as Jim C. Hines) attempted to fisk Correia. As one might expect the fisk was more of a fizzle, since Hines as a writer has the hitting power of a wet paper bag. No, wait, I mis-spoke. He doesn‘t have the hitting power of a wet paper bag. Feel free to go read that, too, complete with the warning against reading the scary scary comments on Correia’s post.

Naturally, Correia was more than a bit amused by this and decided to fisk the fizzle of his first fisk , complete with the observation that Hines’s followers (does that make them Hineys? Sorry… couldn’t resist) are “petitioning” Correia’s publisher (Baen, of course. Like anyone else would touch him even though he sells mega copies) to distance themselves from the terrible things Correia is saying.

Okay. Aside from hoping someone warned Toni Weisskopf so she didn’t bust something laughing, here we have a lovely example of wet paper bag bullying. The Hineys can’t win the argument (hell, they’re not on the same planet as the argument) so they try to push the other party’s “boss” (for publisher values of boss) into squashing the terrible threat they make such agonized noises about.

Yay them. They can petition someone for a boycott. Gosh, Correia might have non-PC cooties. He has to be stopped!

And all because some idiot thinks that the default option for a character shouldn’t be male or female?

Let’s go back to biology shall we? Not even Biology 101, more rudimentary than that. Male and female are the default values for human or human-based (elves, dwarves, humanoid aliens, cats, dogs, etc) because biologically male or female are the default values in any population of chordates (also most of the arthropods, and a fair chunk of the rest of the animal kingdom. As well as a goodly number of plants). If they weren’t it wouldn’t stay a population for long. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a character who fits elsewhere in that triangle of physical sex. Of course you can. But if you do it to buck the “binary gender” norm, well, yawn. Here’s a clue: if you could do a search replace of every reference to your character from “him” to “her” or “it” and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to the story, you didn’t write a character, you wrote something that would be flattered to be called cardboard. And yes, it almost for sure sucks more than a black hole on steroids.

I’m almost afraid to find out what the next chapter in the sorry saga of the Binary Gender Fisk-Fest is going to be.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Back when I was submitting work traditionally (something I’ll have to do again soon with short stories, because it seems to be a worthy loss-leader) there was a category that didn’t make me seethe only because I didn’t know enough – wasn’t smart enough – for it to make me seethe.  The category was “For the Love.”

Now, I’m not saying that people running this category were dishonest, or actually doing anything wrong, other than being spectacularly inept business men and women.

We tried to do it with the category just above it, the “pays a ridiculously low amount” and we too were spectacularly bad at business, as well as trying to do it, as with just about everything we do, to be honest, in the spare time we don’t have.

The result was a one issue-magazine that crashed and burned.

In that we were only marginally worse than most of the “for the love”, “pays in copies” and “pays nominal amount” magazines.

They usually limp along for a year or three, being a financial drain on the editor’s resources and a wearing drain on his psyche, until the editor quits or dies.  Judging from what I went through in selling my very first story to sell – Thirst – this seems to happen in about equal amounts.  That story sold eight times before it saw the light of day in what was then a semi-prozine – Dreams of Decadence.  My joke was that it had killed four editors and four magazines.  I considered submitting it with “Stop me before I kill again”

But the truth is that it was neither an unusual nor a particularly strange history for a short story submitted at that level, which tells you how bad the chances are at that level.

I don’t know if they’re as bad now.  It’s almost free to put out a fanzine or even the next level.  You don’t really have to print it, unless you do it through Create Space.  You also don’t have to try to figure out distribution and find someone to carry your mag.  That’s now how it works – “I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh, Lord” – in the age of Amazon.

Not that I intend to submit to them when I start writing on-spec short stories again.  Why not?  Because I don’t need to.  I’ll send them to the pros, and if they don’t sell there, I’ll take my ball home and put them up with Goldport Press, individually or as a collection.  They’re not going to make me rich, but over time and by volume, I’ll end up making what I would have made out of selling it to the pros – or more.

So I’m not accusing the editors and publishers of the “For the Love” category of chicanery.  I was almost one of them except that I thought a sci fi magazine as unapologetically devoted to libertarian ideals as the old Campbell mags were could not, in good honest faith, pay our suppliers nothing.

I’m still not saying we were wonderful.  We had no business being in business knowing as little about the business as we did.  (Except of course, particularly in the old days, when research involved far more than google-foo, in these arcane fields, you often learned by doing.  Certainly I learned a lot as a writer from reading endless submissions.)

But we had no malice, and neither do – most.  You should see some of the rejections I got for stuff that went on to sell professionally later – “for the love” publishers.

And yet, they were/are a very bad thing.

Why?  Because they get you used to the idea that you’re doing this for the love; that love is its own reward for this kind of work; that there is no money in writing and you shouldn’t expect any.

Years later, in the annus horriblis of 2003, when not only did my career take a dive, but the real estate market seemed to take one along with it just as we were trying to sell a house, and paying on two mortgages, I was told just as much by two old writing friends, one of whom is a professional in the sense he lives from it and the other who used to: “There is no money in writing.  If you need the money find a real job, no matter how menial.”

I would have done it too, except at the time, I couldn’t.  We were barely making ends meet by having me do the heavy lifting on the home front, which at the time involved cooking from “extreme scratch” (mostly vegies and starches because they’re cheap,) refinishing/refurbishing all the furniture we needed, and do the “after school teaching of the boys.”  Also, because the boys were still in two widely apart schools, I spent a considerable portion of my time driving.  Unless I found a highly flexible employer – not normally a thing at any job I’m qualified for, from the menial to the academic – who’d let me work two hours a day whenever I had the time, I couldn’t find a job.

So I wrote.  Oh, look, I’m not going to brag of having made a ton of money, but my friend who did get a minimum wage part time job at the time (her obligations were a lot like mine) made about the same that year.  Ten thousand dollars.  Half of that was in short stories.  (Question, how many short stories do you need to write on spec to sell 5k of short stories on 300 or so a story?  Answer: don’t ask stupid questions.)  The other was in found money, as I sold audio rights to the first Shakespeare book.

And there was money in writing – albeit if I’d been paid by the hour, my payment would have made the angels cry.  But hey, because it was at home and done whenever, I could work a lot more hours than I would have at a “real job.”

Never mind that – I’m just indicating how pervasive that attitude was and is.  “There is no money in publishing.”

And then – if you’re traditionally published – you go to Manhattan (in my case because my husband went for a couple of weeks on business, and I used miles for a plane ticket and crashed in his hotel room.  I might be the only human being ever to go to NYC so I could isolate myself and write ten hours a day) and you visit your publisher’s office.

Look, Bub, I said above I’m not the world’s most keen businesswoman – or I wasn’t at the time.  As with other things that don’t come naturally, I’m learning – but I’m ninety nine percent sure that real estate in downtown Manhattan don’t come cheap, and neither – for that matter – do salaries for a bevy of employees, all of whom have not only salaries, but pensions.

And at some point, through the back of your mind, the words run “If there’s no money in publishing, how come…?”

I’m not going into funny statements (The ones I get on the not-Baen books are downright hilarious and we’re only waiting for my husband to get a week or so, to crunch the numbers and write a post for my blog telling you where the jokes are.  For instance, did you know that the house has developed quantum print runs?  No?  Ah!  Also, did you know that it’s possible to release the reserves against returns, then capture them again, after they’ve sold, [I have this image of representatives for the publishing house running after people who’ve bought the book and forcing them to return it, so they can reserve it.  Seems odd, but they must, right.  I mean, they wouldn’t lie to me, right?] so you don’t owe royalties?  True, that.) or into chicanery at that level.  I just want to analyze, at a straight forward, in your face level, the whole “There is no money in publishing, except for us!” statement – the same statement that the Writers’ Digest Poll that Amanda has been dissecting (sharper knives Amanda!  More microscopes) so successfully here.

I’m one of those awful believers in the free market, even when I’d much rather not be.  For instance, I throw my used underwear away, instead of donating it to a thrift store, unless I bought it in the wrong size and never wore it.  Why?  Because, ew, it has no monetary resale value, and donating it for them to sell would be a cruel joke.

Or take my advice to my kids when they were choosing their degrees (I could have sat on my hands, they both have true vocations, from which they won’t deviate with sledge hammers.  One of them, at least bids fair to make him a living) “Choose a course that will support you, because you and we will be paying for it.  And no, Classics is not likely to support you, even as a professor, because there’s more supply than demand.”  (What does it say about my kids that both of them would like to take Classics, at some point “for the love” – or at least audit the classes?)

So, if the big publishers are making money, enough to guarantee the largess of Manhattan salaries and the pensions that go with them, but there is no money in publishing, there must be a lot of “supply” in “can write a book professionally” right?

Right.  More supply than demand.

(And if you’re going to say they make it up in volume – waggles hand.  They’re TRYING to, mind you.  Mostly with books to which they have no rights, or by shennenigans like those in my statements which allow them to pay the very minimum so rights don’t revert.  This is in the age of ebooks, though.  Before that?  Not so much.)

This was true to an extent in the bad old days, simply because demand was kept artificially low.  All of us heard about the thousands upon thousands of manuscripts that came in for every one that was accepted.  In fact, getting in over the transom was so rare most of the houses closed down their slush piles, and went through agents, offloading that expense which brought little return.

This is because the houses could only accept x number of manuscripts a month.  Fewer if they were relatively small like Baen (this is not chicanery, again, but – as I found as a small press publisher – the brutal realities of having to absorb the up front costs when you need to print everything, store it somewhere, etc.)  But since Baen did not close the slush pile, and since friends and trusted confidants waded through it on a regular basis, I can tell you right now that most of the stuff “slushing” into the submissions was… Not just bad, but eye-searingly bad.

There were gems though – usually more than the publisher had room for, so that it became not just “am I good enough” but “do I fit with what the publisher is attuned to right now.”

The process seems to have given the really big publishers the idea that writers were widgets.  Heck, they said just as much.  Widgets.  Interchangeable units.  There was so much supply of good, competent, reasonable, literate writers, that the houses could afford to burn them out.  Two books, and if you’re not, by miracle, a bestseller, you’re out bucko, and don’t you come back no more.

Strangely, they might have been wrong, even with the artificially lowered space for publication in the old system.  The quality of their “finds” was getting increasingly lower – and they also started allowing “burned” writers to come back under closed pen names (so that you didn’t build a following at a guess, and they could keep paying you beginner advances – yeah, okay, so that’s my guess, but you give me one!) It’s possible they were burning through competent writers faster than they could be grown.

Then came indie…

This means the possibility for publishing yourself is… endless.  And for making money from it.

Which necessitates a whole lot of spinning on the part of the publishers and their allied industries, to justify “there is no money in writing.”  (Yes, you might sell fewer units indie, but when you get the biggest slice of the profit, you can also live from that.  Say you have a thousand true fans, and you make $4 of profit – you just got a standard advance these days.)

The first prediction was that the reading public would be turned off by a “tsunami of crap.”

We’re not 3? Years into widespread indie publishing and … I fail to see it.  Oh, there is more crap in certain fields – romance – than in others, because so many more people write it.  But, you know what?  My husband has been on a romance kick (yes, there’s a reason.  Yes, it’s research) and he has – whatever he’s reading at the time – the charming habit of waking me up in the middle of the night to read me the more ridiculous portions of whatever he’s reading, or of detailing to me in the shower just how stupid a plot is.

The indie part of romance is not in fact the worst offender in this – except in the typos and grammar-throttling categories.  And frankly, it’s not the worst offender in fantasy or science fiction or mystery either.

So, where did the tsunami of crap go?  Those piles and piles of manuscripts that infested the slush pile of every publisher?  Publishers didn’t make those up.  They were there.  I saw them with my own two eyes.  (Contrary to rumor, SF writers don’t have multiple eyes, nor are they faceted.)

I think they went two places: first, a lot of them were the same manuscripts.  They just got submitted everywhere.  (And don’t say “no one would send a children’s picture book about cats to Baen, say” – I will just ask my friends who read slush to testify.  Let’s say, yes, they did.  Written in crayon.  On butcher paper.)

Second, a lot of them got put up in the first rush of indie (those written by authors competent enough to actually navigate a computer, at least) and sold nothing, and the authors have either finally gone off to look for easier game, or are still waiting for the world to realize their genius.  A lot of those “slush books” are/were first and sole efforts by people who couldn’t/can’t understand it’s a craft, and expect to be great without any effort of learning how to do this.

So much for the tsunami of crap.  What was the publishers’ other prediction?

Well, remember the way they justified their big pay and the writers’ nominal one was that the writers were “interchangeable widgets.”  Pick a guy off the street and he might not write as well as Dan Brown (ah!) but he will write well enough to replace any midlister you’d care to name.

Leave aside the fact this is patently untrue (including the Dan Brown thing, where they might very well be able to.  At least if the street was full of pompous graduate students.)

How do the publishers reconcile the “writing is so easy anyone can do it, and there’s a line of people ready to replace you, so I won’t pay you anymore, bucko” with “writing is so difficult you need us to find the good stuff for you to read?”

Easy.  It’s those intangibles they give the writer, see?

It used to be true.  It did.  There used to be intangibles.  Like printing ahead and distribution.

But now?  Now they’re still shrilling, up there in their Manhattan towers, about distribution and dissemination (it’s not true, you know?  I mean, if you’re a newby, be aware it’s not true.  One year I had six books come out with two major NYC publishers.  They never made it to the shelves of any book store my friends and I could trace) and publicity (also not true.  They expect you to do it) and editing, and their “expert formatting.”

Brother!  If you believe all of that, you either don’t read traditionally published books, or you are the rawest Johnny raw to hit the publishing scene.  (I know a couple.  A very sad part of the indie thing is realizing some of my fledglings are stone-cold-dumb.)  And if you’ve been published before and you still believe that – not just say it.  BELIEVE it – you should consider treatment for brain-washing.

Look – most of my traditionally published books I got no editorial input whatsoever, and I wished I hadn’t got copy-editor input.  (Baen does give you editorial input.  I don’t always agree with it, and they don’t always catch everything, but someone reads and edits your book.  This is more than what happened for most of my non-Baen books.) And three of them I got input that wasn’t “refusable” and that I’m now having to clean up before I put them up.

Which brings us to – yeah, they’re not adding anything.

When reading indie books I come across stupid plotting mistakes (we’ll leave aside typos, which are just as thick in traditional) yeah.  But they’re the same mistakes I come across in newbies work in traditional.  They’re kinks you’ll grow out of the more you write.

And there is money in indie.  I have yet to hit that sort of jackpot – but then I’ve only “reprinted” stuff and the covers… we’re coming along, right? – but I have friends who have made thousands per book per year.  Yeah, it’s a lot less people reading it, but you make more money from it.  The money that used to go to pay for those Manhattan offices.

Which is why we’re getting furious spinning from the traditional establishment and its associated shills (yes, Writers’ Digest.  If they’re smart they’ll change to cater to indies.  There’s a lot of need.  But my bet is they’re not smart.)  And why “there is no money in writing” and “You need us to make anything” are getting claimed in increasingly louder and more insane tones, through campaigns of disinformation.

You see, that corner office is at risk.  And the pension is in doubt.  Writers, you see, are starting to doubt that they should do this “for the love.”  They’re starting to think that they – more than office-fillers and paper pushers in some giant edifice in Manhattan – are the skilled workers and that a worker is worthy of his hire.

That way lies ruin – for the massively top-heavy publishing houses in NYC.  And so they’re doing what they can to convince you that they’re absolutely necessary to you, even though, you know, there is no money in publishing.

That moisture down your neck?  It ain’t rain.

Who are you going to believe?  Their polls or your lying bank account?

 

Where’s the Money, Pt. 2

Yesterday over at According to Hoyt, Sarah kindly posted a guest blog by yours truly asking “Where’s the Money?”. The post came out of reading Jim Hines’ annual reporting of what he made as an author and the results of he 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Survey. I won’t rehash that blog other than to say I had some serious issues with the survey — or at least with the results of it tat have been reported. I won’t pay the almost $300 required to get full access to the survey questions and responses. However, doing some more research into the survey has led me to suspect that some of my suspicions about the reasons behind the survey were correct.

According to an article over at the DBW (Digital Book World) site, the survey “asked authors whether particular outcomes were more likely with self-publishing or traditional publishing.” Authors were asked about distribution, cover and interior design, marketing, etc. Note, too, that the author of this article links to “What Advantages do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors”,  which for a mere $295 will let you see the survey results and, presumably, other information.

Take a few moments to look over the DBW article and then tell me that there isn’t a bias, at least in the way the information is presented, toward traditional publishing. It also becomes more clear in this article that the “aspiring authors” who took part in the survey, and accounted for approximately 65% of the respondents, were just that – “aspiring” authors. People who have never sold anything. I came to that conclusion when reading the last paragraph of the article. The problem with this is that when you are surveying authors about things like income and publication numbers, especially when you are trying to point out the differences between traditionally published and self-published authors, why in the world are you skewing the results by including authors who have never published?

If that isn’t proof enough that there was bias built into the survey, the next DBW article is further evidence of it. In “2014 Author Survey: Indie Authors and Others Prefer Traditional Publishing . . . Slightly“, the author of the article comments that most authors would prefer to traditionally publish their work. They didn’t share his enthusiasm for indie publishing. He points out that the majority of those answering the survey “were aspiring authors who had not yet published a manuscript.” Of these aspiring authors, approximately only a third had a finished manuscript. The rest of the respondents break down thusly: The numbers of self-published (n=1,636), traditionally published (n=774), and hybrid (n=598) authors are relatively small by comparison (and the remaining authors could not be classified due to missing information).

Oookay, now my suspicions about the survey have been confirmed. The “aspiring authors” are just that, folks who have not yet published anything. So, my question continues. Why were their responses given any weight in the survey about our industry, especially when it comes to income and units sold? Also, why was data from those unclassified authors considered?

But to continue. . .

My next suspicion is also confirmed. The survey was, indeed, non-scientific. It was done by folks volunteering to answer the survey questions instead of the survey developers going out and taking a random sampling of the writer pool. Most of those who responded did so after receiving notice from Writer’s Digest about the survey. You know Writer’s Digest. That’s the company and magazine that has so much of its survival tied to the continuing survival of traditional publishing. Hmmmm. . .

The greatest preference for traditionally publishing was reported by traditionally published authors (87.2%) followed by not-yet-published authors (76.8%). Among authors who have self-published, more than half hoped to publish with traditional publishers—53.5% of self-published authors and 57.8% of hybrid authors.

Considering how the survey was conducted, this doesn’t surprise me. Heck, I would like to traditionally publish — but only with one publisher and that publisher isn’t actually all that “traditional” when you look at the greater scheme of things. I’d love t sign a contract with Baen. It is the one publisher where I know I wouldn’t have to skew my politics and beliefs in a book I wrote so that it followed whatever the politically correct/socially desirable cause du jour might be. Baen, under the leadership of Jim Baen, expanded into e-books long before there was a Kindle or a Nook. He saw that technology and customer demands were changing and he led the field — with the field kicking and screaming and condemning him — into the digital age. He refused to put DRM on his e-books, something that has continued under the leadership of Toni Weisskopff. So, yes, I’d sign a contract with Baen any day of the week. I can’t say that about any other traditional publisher.

To add another layer to the misinformation that has been coming from this survey, take a look at what Publishers Weekly has to say about it. “Just over 9,200 authors responded to the survey. . . .” Now, PW does go on to note that these “authors” fall into four categories: aspiring, self-published, traditionally published and hybrid-published. Still, the skewing is done. It goes on to reinforce the “findings” that most authors would prefer the traditional route because they feel they will get more marketing, distribution and editorial support. (Sarah, quit laughing. They did survey mostly unpublished authors who don’t know better.)

Look, the truth of the matter is simple. Those behind the survey may have had the best of intentions but the survey is flawed. Yes, some authors may have wonderful editors who work closely with them. They may actually get good marketing and distribution from their publishers. But they are the exception and not the rule. You can find story after story about authors who have had books published that their so-called editor never even looked at. It was relegated to an intern or someone similar to make sure there weren’t too many misspelled words and then sent to the printer. You’ll find other writers, some of them bona fide best sellers, who hire private editors to go over their work because they know the editors at their publishing house either won’t or can’t do a decent editing job on it.

As for marketing, that usually consists of making sure your book is listed in the publication catalog sent to bookstores. Rare is the project where actual publisher dollars are spent on commercials or internet ads or, gasp, book tours. Now, your publisher will be more than glad for you to spend your own money to do so — in fact, a lot of them will encourage you to spend your money to promote your work. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.

To close, the survey concludes that vast number of non-traditionally published authors made less than $500. That might be true but we can’t take that at face value because of the problems with the survey. What I can tell you is that I made substantially more than that this past year. I know a number of other self-published or micro-press published authors who did as well. I also know that I have seen as many poorly formatted e-books from traditional publishers as I have from indies. Are there advantages to being traditionally published? Sure. But the question becomes do those advantages outweigh the disadvantages? That’s something each of us has to weigh.

And for the love of Pete, if you get a contract offer from a legacy publisher, have an IP attorney look it over before signing it.

For me, I will continue along the path I’ve been on these last few years. If, by any chance, I do get an offer from Baen, I’ll be thrilled. But I won’t hold my breath until I do. Instead, I will continue writing, both under my own name and under the pen name of Ellie Ferguson, and smiling as I collect my royalty payments. And I most definitely will not let the results of some survey convince me that I’m doing it wrong — at least not if they want me to pay almost $300 just to see the survey and the results and when it is clear from the data that has been reported that the survey has some very serious problems with the survey sample and with possible bias.

‘Of making of many books there is no end’

Or only when you die or give up.

“It’s a long, long road you drove us down” (The Cutter and Clan – about a son coming back to Scotland to cut peats for his mother.)

I’ve been on the ragged the edge of exhaustion and despair with this profession for the last while. Pushing myself, giving just that bit more.

It’s a profession in which you are the well. Sometimes good folk will throw extra buckets of water into you, and sometimes the cracks of real life will leach it away faster than you can fill the bucket to make the words. They’re drawn out of your hopes, dreams and experiences, direct and observed, and you invest everything you think you can in them. Sometimes that is not enough. But they are you, and that failure… well, some give up and run, and others get up and fight again, again, and again and again. But you carry those injuries.

I had old friends and fans coming to visit us on the island in the last few weeks, and family straight after/during the same time. Barbs works – she has to, emigration knocks you back 30 years, and while we’re frugal, grow/catch our own food and are good at it, there are still costs, in time, money and labor, and we dream to own a home again one day. She’s out from 8 AM – 6 PM, her payment per hour is 5 times my earnings per hour (and hers is not ever an hour late, let alone months), which is why, to try and compensate, I have been living on five hours sleep for years. I drove myself even harder, to try and finish a complex book in time, so I could take time to spend with people who are important to me.

I reached (over-reached) the word target, despite nearly cutting my finger off, which hampered my typing a lot. I still didn’t quite manage to finish. A book is as long as it needs to be, and this one needs to be longer.

And so: for the first time in many years I just put it aside, and wrote not one more word. Did almost none of the normal blog/tweet etc. which is as natural and easy for me as ballet is for a lump of rock or honesty is for a politician. The only thing I covered was MGC (and to my shame, not well) because this is a group effort, in which I support my comrades-in-arms in this war, and some of my fellows make huge effort and sacrifice to keep their side up. If we don’t try, our readership drops. There’s not a lot flattering stuff they can say about me when I am dead, but keep I up my end for my fellows… that’s what honorable men do, and I try to be that, so my kids can have ‘He was solid bloke you could rely on, a real battler’ said to them when I am worm-food, as I had said to me, about my father. It meant a lot to me, and I decided it was worth aspiring to.

I fed people, showed them places, took them diving, hunting, gathering. Took joy in the land and sea, in friends and in being a man.

And now I stand at picking up my shovel (or nail-file), and facing the Augean Stables again. Looking back at that long, long road, a road that I started down twenty-one years ago. As with all of us, there were forks, roads not traveled. Mistakes I made. Mistakes others made that I could do sod all about.

I started in this profession in the mistaken delusion that, while publishers might be people you do business with, they would comprehend enlightened self-interest. That the concept of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’ was merely common sense, as well as the conduct of honorable folk. I always tried to do more than my share, be more helpful and not to ever whinge. Eventually, I learned that merely means they think you’re a sucker, and there is always another meathead to do the hard work. Gradually you start writing the cover copy, getting the quotes, doing most of editing and the proofing through others, and always doing the promotion, and follow up on any issue of supply – not because you expect a return on that from the people who should do it, who have the skills and get paid to do it, but because that way it gets done. And squeaky wheels get grease. And self-promotion is all that is available. Reject it at your peril, but use it with care.

Still, I put in lot. A lot and more, and much of it not for my direct benefit, but theirs. That is what I am.

I finally called the favors due – after 10 years, having sold a lot of books, when our emigration came through and we had to pack up our lives, dogs, cats, and move not just to a new state or town, but to a very different country. I am very glad we did emigrate, glad we could do it, and grateful to Australia for having us. But the older and more settled you are, the harder this is. It was damned hard for us, we had deep roots.

I had my first solo, non-part of a series book coming out – DRAGON’S RING, since the THE FORLORN, smack in the middle of all of this. A MANKIND WITCH had done relatively well in hardcover – 3.5K, which had in theory meant it should have sold an absolute minimum of 4 times as many (and as Eric and I had established we were selling 7.5 times the HC sales for Rat Bats & Vats and over 6 for Pyramid Scheme, I had had reasonable hopes for more) but in one of those ball-drops that no author can do anything about, the book got a minuscule paperback print and no reprint – which means I now have the rights back and it is being a nice little earner for me as an e-book (the picture is a link), having already comfortably earned more in a year than all the royalties I had been paid over many. On the other hand it did my figures no good, and should have.

But A MANKIND WITCH was part of a series with other authors, DRAGON’S RING was my own. I wrote to everyone I had addresses for at my publisher, reminded them of my support for the publisher and promotion of other and the various help and hassle free times I’d given them. I explained I’d be without home, internet and between countries and drowning in bureaucracy of changeover, I’d not be available to fix last minute hassles, to get cover copy, to endlessly promote… could they please please please let me know now if there was anything that needed doing while I could, and not drop the ball while I could not even try to catch it, as I desperately needed this to go not just well, but very well.

I don’t need to tell you that was like filling in an army form about where you want to be posted. Maybe I should have tried reverse psychology and said ‘see how few copies you can get into stores to sell’. Never had any book of mine done as badly.

When, eventually (9 months too late, like many other 9 month late things, when it was too late to unscrew the screw-up) I got the horror surprise of seeing the figures… I, and various fans, and fellow writers, tried to salvage the wreck that that bit of trust had made of my career. The paperback sales were at least respectable as a result. And I’d got up and fought from being knocked down before – but that was down for the count of 9, and barely staggering around the ring when I stood. I got saved by the bell in the shape of two books sold to Pyr – not that that was a vastly different experience, but it lifted my spirits, just as the occasional fan letter does, or a sale of one the books whose rights reverted does. Every sale is drop of water in that well.

Then out of nowhere, the one in 100 000 chance you get once a lifetime… I got an approach for the film rights for PYRAMID SCHEME, which like all the other rights, the publishers had demanded, but never sold, or as far as I know made any attempt to. A respectable Texas-based Anime company, not wanting an option, but the rights. Now this is on a 12 year old book, still selling a trickle, but on the edge of reversion. From an author where the total sum of other rights sold is zero. Where active selling is required to sell rights and thus barring a miracle the prospects of selling these rights is very close to zero. Where zero percent of zero is what you will earn otherwise, and 1 cent is a 100% increase. Where the upside potential exists and possibly is very large, and the downside is non-existent. I rushed and frantically jumped through every hoop, phoned the US several times which I really can’t afford… finally got some action, with the matter being referred to the ‘Hollywood Agent’. I was full of hope, the well of inspiration getting a good inrush. I could finally see, if not much money, a decent amount of publicity and exposure, meaning book sales, and as a rising tide floats all boats – I could help a fair number of friends too.

All the ‘Hollywood Agent’ had to do was make sure there were no – or minimal, restrictive clauses. A ten minute job with a willing buyer, willing seller. I wasn’t greedy and my publisher was getting money for nothing. Any money would surely be better than the nothing they had, and they would get years of extension on something they were about to lose. A shoo in, really.

And that is where that died.

Eventually, I got desperate enough to demand answers. My own agent had sent the Anime crowd CUTTLEFISH after their query (to which I have the movie rights, if you’re interested) and they had plainly read it, but said they were looking for adult books with humor (which described PYRAMID SCHEME). None of my peers on the very extensive list I belong to had had similar approaches. None of my friends off that list had. But the ‘Hollywood Agent’ informed my publisher the Anime Company were just trying to do a mass rights grab, buying everything in sight for cheap. Which was pure, unadulterated BS, on the basis of the evidence, and anyway, sold cheap and never used would still have been vast improvement on never sold at all.

I tried to point this out, but got nowhere. And at this point I wasn’t just bleak, I was down on the canvas, bleeding depression from both ears. In the fullness of time we may get the rights back, but these are not opportunities that remain open forever.

Because I’m a battler, and because I have friends like the other ‘Geniuses’ and because I have responsibilities to those, I got back up, trying to swing the next blow. But I have learned something (yeah, I’m slow but even I learn eventually) which I hope will save you same knockdowns:

Firstly: The person who will work hardest for your book is you. The next is your friends and comrades-in-arms, fellow writers, especially if you do likewise for them, and, in far, far distant third place your publisher. Your retailer comes in fourth, a long way below the publisher, mostly (barring the occasional independent who happens to love your work) at the ‘if we did any less we’d actually be doing you active harm’ level. As for the distributors, I have yet to see any evidence that says they don’t they come under the ‘active harm’ level. Once – when there many of them, they had a function, now they’re more like an appendix. You can manage perfectly well without one, and the only other time you notice them is when they nearly kill you by having a problem. I would rate the ‘Hollywood Agent’ as something to look out for when you need a good dump. So – when it comes to support, doing your part in any project, it’s yourself and friends you don’t let down, and not ever for the benefit of those lower on the ‘do unto’ chain. Do favors for a retailer if it’ll help friends and fans. Do what is required or what they neglect for your publisher, but do not hope for a return, beyond the minimum to recover their advance, and even that can be messed up, as a friend who got a 2 book 80K a book advance and thought he was on the gravy train for life, found out. If you have Delhi-Belly, do look for the ‘Hollywood Agent’. They’re soft and soothing if used for that purpose. This is roughly inverse order of their power to help, so while you and friends deserve loyalty, they can only do a little, not for want of trying.

Secondly: some people win the lotto. They are rare, but it happens enough to encourage suckers. Good luck to you if you think you’re the one. Some people kiss up or do the echo chamber so well that their publisher may give the water of several wells to them. If you’re not one of these, brace yourself for a very very very long and relatively unrewarding fight.
Updatehere is a better view of the same
Yes, some people are naturals at self-promotion or get lucky with an internet meme that brings them fame. Generally, though, you won’t win by direct self-promotion of your books, but you may by networking and promoting the work of others, and by providing entertainment so people want to support you.

Thirdly the joy of being independent is at least these are your mistakes, and you don’t feel so helpless. Trust me: like friends, that is priceless.

Fourthly the game is rigged. But you can’t win if you don’t play. And the only way to play is keep writing until you die in harness.

Ach. Bugger looking back. So where is that nail-file and the stable? I’ve got a river to divert through it, and when all you have is a nail-file, you need to put in a lot of hours.

Elf Blood, Free Novel, Chapter 16

*So frankly someone should have posted by now — I’m so late with this — but I think my colleagues are equally busy.  Sorry.  I have a chapter, I do.  I even had it up and ready to go, but WordPress decided that Mad Genius Club didn’t want new posts.  I’ve been fighting it for a while.  Also, there were “family stuffs” TM.  So, forgive me.  As you see below the plot thickens, or at least Dickens.*

elfbloodfinalcover

*You guys know we talked about doing a shared world.  We went with a whole continent so that Dave can have his jungle and I can have my big city with diners.  We’re working on a contract which we should have in a week or two (and yes, we’ll post it for your enlightenment although we haven’t decided yet if anyone not in the group can play.  OTOH if it’s very successful, we’ll inevitably enlarge it.  For now, here’s the eighth chapter of Elf Blood, book one of Risen Atlantis. And for now it is ©Sarah A. Hoyt 2014.  All rights reserved.  Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page.  You do not have the right to alter it.  You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email Goldportpress@gmail.com. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.*

For previous chapters, see here.

 

It took me some little while to get rid of the fairy princess.  When she left, still without my committing to help her or her brother, and I regained the full possession of my apartment, I went over to the window and looked down.

Early morning in Pomae, and in the street below, isolated from light by the looming buildings on either side, people were hurrying along to their jobs.

It made me feel a great desire to go to one of those boring jobs, myself.

That was my first thought, but it was followed quickly by another.

Looking at those people, down there, hurrying to work…  There were so many of them.

It’s not that I didn’t care whether or nor Ardghal Parthalan had ever consummated his marriage with his wife.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care who might have killed her.  I could even entertain a passing thought that if he hadn’t liked the pure-blood elf princess, perhaps he was angling for a half blood.  Ardghal was beautiful.  I wasn’t intending to get emotionally involved – with anyone.  All I needed right now was another encumbrance in my life.  Keeping myself alive was hard enough.  Besides, look at what love with an elf-king had done to my mother.

No.

But there was the secret gloating feeling that perhaps he’d prefer me, nonetheless.  Perhaps it’s human.  Or elf.  They’re not all golden and devoid of jealousy.  Whatever they’d have you think.

The matter interested me, in that sense, and in the sense that it was a puzzle.  As it was a puzzle why there were pictures of myself and Ardghal in… intimate congress.

But suddenly, looking at all those people, down there, I was sure as I could be that there was a much bigger puzzle behind this whole thing.

Look, I don’t know how many million people there are in Pomae.  Someone once said that half the population of Atlantis was there.  I know the numbers change daily, usually upwards.

What I knew, with absolute certainty, is that there were many many millions of people in Pomae.

Some of them, of necessity, sane and not, well disposed and not, must be half elves.  I couldn’t be the only one.

And I couldn’t be the most competent one.  So, I was a private eye.  Supposedly.  But the Parthalans didn’t want a ring found or a cat brought down from the tree.  They wanted a murder solved.  My experience and competency in that area was exactly none.

So—

So, why me.  Not just Ardghal, who struck me as rather hapless in some ways, but his wife too had had me followed.  The police were sure I was involved in it, and not just as Ardghal’s bit of fluff – which rationally was the most they should think.  Then there was Treasa.

No.  No, none of this was a coincidence.  There was some reason why Chara’s murder, and whatever the trouble might be in the Parthalan household – and what MIGHT it be? Exactly – revolved around me.

The hair rose at the back of my head as I thought the time for the great sacrifice drew near.  But why would they fix on me even for that?  Being the great sacrifice was not hereditary.  Considering they preferred virgins for that, it couldn’t be.  Not even in the cases like me, where the sacrifice left a child behind.

So – what?

After a while of looking out the window, I realized I couldn’t go to bed, which had been my original intention.  I also realized something else.  I had to get out of this place.  If I sold the dress I’d bought for the Parthalan party, I could get a ticket somewhere.  Not Mud Hole.  That would be no more safe than Pomae.  I was known.  Somewhere, it didn’t much matter where.

I’d heard of wealthy half-elf families who required half elf nannies.  I wondered if anyone would be stupid enough to hire me.

Moving rapidly, I bagged the dress to take the cleaners.  The consignment shop would not take it in this state.  Then I trotted down the stairs to the road, and walked the two blocks to the cleaners.  They were in a little alley off the main street.

Before I entered the alley, I noted there was a car parked at the entrance to the cleaners, but I paid no attention.  Chauffeurs often parked there to pick up laundry for their masters.

But as I tried to edge past the car, a hand grabbed my arm.  I yelped, involuntarily, as the dress went flying.

Something pressed in the middle of my back and a voice I didn’t know said “You.  Get in the car.”

 

Fantasy is Tough

I don’t like fantasy.

You heard me. I grew up reading Tolkein, CS Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, and loving them. I remember absorbing the Pern books all out of order and visiting different libraries to try and track them down (yes, I know technically Pern isn’t magic, bear with me). I read all fourteen Oz books and many of the series by other authors after Baum was gone. I adored Robin McKinley’s books, especially Beauty, which has to be my favorite fairy-tale retelling to this day. As a older verging-on-adult reader I found Xanth, and the Princess Bride (the movie, the book is… odd), and someone insisted I read a copy of Magic Kingdom, For Sale.

And then after a long gap, I started to read fantasy again, at an age where I was aware of the underlying costs in life. As a kid, you’re used to things being handed to you. Food, shelter, clothing… by and large your parents give you those things. As an adult, you become aware of the sacrifices and trade-offs necessary to make those things happen. You might work at a job you hate, but it pays the bills. You might give up dreams, in order to make others happen. Fantasy, in this context, stopped working for me. I still wanted to read for escapism (actually, I really needed it those first few years of adulthood) but I needed that grit of reality to be in the story to swallow it.

Fantasy worlds where saying the right words and poof, magic happens! just didn’t sit well with me. If repeating bibbidy-bobbidy-boo can shoot fire from your fingertips, the human race would have been extinct with the first babblings of a baby.  Worlds where all you need is a handy ley line, or a handful of pixie dust, or whatever the magical contrivance the author was using, left me cold. Worlds where everything was handily available, because magic! annoyed the heck out of me. And I read slush for a while, and there is only so much Tolkein pastiche one person can endure before drowning in it. I stopped reading anything that said fantasy on the cover.

I slowly came to a realization: that a lot of science fiction, purportedly, is fantasy. Pern, as above, and Star Wars, and Dune… there’s not enough science in them to make them anything but fantasy. They follow the fantasy tropes of being worlds caught in some medieval time-warp. I just got my copy of Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to FantasyLand, and am delightedly chuckling over it, and remembering why I don’t like fantasy.

Except when I do. I’m capricious… But I love Terry Pratchett, and Jim Butcher, and having just finished Larry Corriea’s Hard Magic trilogy I am sad to know there is no more of it. I was introduced to Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn with pleasure (and it’s not on my shelf, I think my eldest has it…). I just bought Zelazny’s Prince of Amber, and the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett, although I haven’t had time to read them yet. I’ll fight anyone who says Glory Road by RAH isn’t about the best fantasy novel out there…

And I write fantasy. Pixie Noir is unadulterated fairy-tale stuff, as is Trickster Noir, which I finished (rough draft) earlier this week. I pulled Sasquatch, and ogres, and the Firebird, and Raven, all into this world I’m weaving. Vulcan’s Kittens, my first novel, is partly fantasy and partly science, with an explanation of Clarke’s Law for the younger generation who live with gadgets my great-grandparents were astonished by.

Magic done right can be marvelous. Sometimes, like with Sarah Hoyt’s or Amanda Green’s shifters, you never get an explanation of where it comes from. Shifters just are. With Terry Pratchett, the Tiffany Aching stories, beginning with the delightfully funny Wee Free Men, tell where the magic comes from, but in others of his books it is just there, part of the landscape. Im Pam Uphoff’s Outcasts and Gods series, it starts off science and becomes magical, but with a carefully explained system that does have costs, and limits, and I’ve been enjoying the books very much.

But flipping through the Tough Guide, I am reminded of why I don’t like fantasy. She says “The economy of Fantasyland is as full of holes as its Ecology,” and I am reminded of why I wrote my Pixie as having a job, and needing one. And part of his job is making sure predators don’t get out of hand. “Missing Heirs occur with great frequency.” Enough that if I see those two words in a blurb, I set the book gently down, and back away… I have a book on my desk that, in the back cover blurb, cheerfully and innocently includes (capitalization and all) ‘Dark Power,’ ‘Chosen One of Providence,’ and ‘Days of Judgement.’ I’m not looking forward to reading it. This list of top 100 Fantasy novels? I’ve read maybe 15-20 titles on it, and some of them remember with no pleasure at all.

There’s a line, somewhere, scratched faintly on a dungeon wall, no doubt, with the rats, and straw, and ‘scutterings’ in the dark to keep it company, between cliche and trope. Between ‘reader cookie’ and ‘oh, gawd, not again…’ Oh yeah… and if your story goes on, and on, and on… with no signs of ever ending, that’s another moment of backing away slowly trying not to make eye contact (I’m looking at you, wheel of time). How do you find that line? Well, I’m afraid it’s by paying attention, and reading rather a lot of fantasy, good and bad. You’ve only got a guttering candle stub in that dungeon to use to look, you know, and heaven help you if you drop it in the straw.