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Selecting and Breeding Chickens for Colonists

This is a guest post from Kathleen Sanderson, who just happens to be my mother. Since she taught me to read, I’m pretty sure she’s responsible for a lot of my contributions here! But last week in comments, chickens came up. Mom’s been raising chickens, goats, and various other livestock for longer than I can remember, and has become an acknowledged expert in some areas. You can find articles by her at Backwoods Home Magazine, and I’ll remind her to check in here and answer any questions. 

chicken

One of Kathleen’s chickens.

So, you are heading out for Planet Four of Alpha Centauri.  It’s going to take a long time to get there, maybe more than one human generation (depending on your mode of transportation) but certainly several generations of any livestock you want to take with you.  You’ll need these animals for a decent protein source on the trip, as well as in your new home.  (In my opinion, colonists should be responsible for feeding themselves en route, else they, and possibly their descendants on a multi-generational ship, could lose not only the skills but the work ethic which will be necessary when they arrive.  And, I don’t think it’s wise for a few people to grow all the food for the rest of the group – specialization is for ants, as someone said.  Probably Heinlein, LOL!  But just consider what would happen to the colony if something happened to the specialists, and there was no corner grocery store.  Maybe each family or group would tithe a portion of their crop for the crew?)

I’m not going to get into what the colony ship needs in order for you to raise all your food and feed and livestock.  Let’s just think about the animals themselves.  And we’ll start with chickens, since they are small, portable, useful, and even the poorest colonists should be able to manage to have some.  The same considerations will apply to the larger stock that they could take, anyway.

You would probably know quite a bit about your destination before you even applied to go – I know if it was me, I’d research it to death!  So you should have some idea of what conditions you, and your animals, will be facing.  But there will always be things come up that are unexpected.  So take as wide a range of genetics as you can manage.  It’s unlikely that one family could keep and care for more than a few lines of chickens, so this responsibility should be spread out over the entire community of colonists.  But even so, I would make sure that my family had as much genetic variation in their own stock as possible.

Here on Earth, it’s okay to breed ‘purebred’ livestock, because if you get into trouble, you can bring some animals in from another line, or even from another breed.  That has had to be done several times recently to save rare breeds.  But our colonists had better stick with ‘landrace’ breeds or mixed flocks, which have much more genetic variation.  Might even throw in a few birds from wild stock, just to have that genetic material available.

Many breeds commonly available here in North America have been interbred in the past, or have common ancestors.  So it would be wise to choose from less-related foundation breeds.  Leghorns, Dorkings, Cornish, Silkies, Brahmas, Dominiques, Games, Fayoumis, Polish, Sumatras, Orloffs, Easter Eggers (not really a breed, but a landrace in their own right), would all be on my list.  I would also take some of the common dual-purpose breeds – Rocks, Wyandottes, Buckeyes, Orpingtons, Sussex, Faverolles, Rhode Island Reds.  I would probably add a few more bantams, too, such as the Nankin and Pyncheon, D’Uccles, and so on.  They are small, don’t eat a lot, can be fairly good layers, and many of them are excellent broody hens.  (This is important if you want to reproduce your flock, and can’t count on having incubators and brooders.)

While in transit, your object is going to be to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible in your flock.  You don’t want to get rid of anything, even if it doesn’t seem terribly desirable or important at the moment (unless it’s an actual genetic defect, such as low fertility or low hatch rates).  One way to do this is to have several pens of hens – at least four, but more would be better.  Keep a good rooster in each pen.  When you need new blood in a pen, take a rooster from each pen and put it in the next pen to the right.

Conditions on the colony ship are unlikely to duplicate the conditions on the planet (although that would be a good idea, to prepare the colonists as well as their crops and animals), so you don’t want to throw anything away right now.  Just keep that diversity, so whatever you need on the planet will be there!

Once on the planet, keep as much diversity as you can, but start culling the animals that aren’t thrifty, that don’t produce well, that don’t survive well, that have fertility issues.  If your large-combed chickens freeze their combs in the harsh winters, cull them (or send them to more southerly colonists) and concentrate on chickens with pea and rose combs.  If your big, heavy birds start keeling over with heatstroke, select for bloodlines from the Mediterranean breeds such as the Leghorns.  If you have serious predator problems, you can go two ways – breed for very docile chickens and keep them tightly confined, or breed for very wild chickens and plan on having an egg hunt every time you need eggs.  And the kids better get good with a sling-shot if you expect to have chicken soup for dinner!

Breed only the chickens that do the best.  That means you’ll need to have some way to tell them apart – breeders usually use numbered or colored leg bands, and sometimes also put tags in the web of the wing.  Even if your flock has a wild variety of colors and body types, you will still need a means of identifying birds – they move so much that it’s hard to track one.  And you need to know how to tell which birds are laying, and keep track of meat production from the birds that are butchered.  Keep track of breedings, fertility and hatch rates, and so on.  If you always breed from the birds that do the best, you will be selecting for adaptation to local conditions, and in a few generations, you should have a flock that is thriving in their new environment.

There’s a website I enjoy reading – if you are breeding for specific conditions, I think you may also find it interesting.  He breeds vegetables and fruits, but the principles apply across the board.  http://garden.lofthouse.com/

 

 

 

 

Badthink; Wrongfun

In which Dave discovers that a vocal and entirely too influential minority of publishing are out to ruin his sales.

I don’t know what’s going on in the world anymore. I went away for most of a month. Mrs. Dave and I went to find winter in Colorado, and I ended up wearing short sleeves for most of our visit. There were Superstars (though I wonder whether that refers to those of us in the audience, or the well-selling folks up front) and then there was several hundred miles of road through gorgeous country, and a few dozen awesome people in a few too-short weeks.

Then I come home to find I’m now the wrong kind of fan, having the wrong kind of fun, writing the wrong kind of stories in the wrong way, and reading the wrong kinds and shapes and colors of authors.

Wait a sec. *reads that again*

Nope, same as when I left in January. The same people are freaking out over the same nothings. Larry’s still the bulwark of the Read and Write Fun Stories movement (a.k.a. the Evil League of Evil) and I still haven’t heard back on my junior membership application. (Though I’m nearly certain Wee Dave snuck one in ahead of me AND got it approved, given his recent behavior.) Her BBEvilness continues to skewer the pomposities of the Myrmidons for Cultural Domination (I’m terrified of their ill-fitting spandex and pink, pleather thongs whips. Absolutely horrified. Wait, which one was it, again?) as they stick their head above that selfsame bulwark. I just hope she doesn’t end up berserkrgang, as I have zero interest in cleaning up the mess. Brad continues to represent Sad Puppies to the world in his intelligent gentlemanly manner, and his enemies continue to heap filth and degradation on their own souls as they attempt to heap the same on his head.

In other news, it’s Lent (I hope you all celebrated Shrove Tuesday in the appropriate manner, and collected many beads) and I’ve given up social media. Being raised Presbyterian, I’m almost certainly doing it for the wrong reasons, but I’m hoping to improve my productivity in the time management and words written arenae, thereby increasing my ability to earn income via my chosen field. I’m certain St. Adam Smith would approve. A corollary is that I won’t be on the usual spaces to read the usual updates from the usual suspects. I’m highly susceptible to chat invitations and email, however. Be warned.

The bit of steaming … stuff that’s proving singularly irritating at the moment, is the tempest over the reading – or not, in this case – of specific stripes of author. A darling of the SJW set recently challenged all the readers everywhere to stop reading a specific kind of author. For a year. Now, this challenge wasn’t aimed at those adhering to a specific ideology, or those who write in one or another specific genre.

Nope: the author of the piece (which I’m not linking, as I have zero interest in driving further traffic, and I’m nearly certain everybody is already familiar with the basics. Instead, I’ll link to Larry’s masterful fisking of same.) challenges her readers – and by extension, all of us – to stop reading “white, straight, cis, male authors” for a year. (Now, as someone who can check all those boxes, I resent this. Refusing to read my writing – and pay this author – on the basis of accidents of birth is the rankest form of discrimination, and it’s wrong.)

One stated purpose of the challenge is to expand horizons, and that’s all well and good, but how are you expanding your reading horizons when you arbitrarily remove a subset of writing simply because the authors share a set of superficial characteristics? That would seem to me to be a narrowing of your horizons. Perhaps I’m wrong, though.

Implicit in this racist, sexist, misandrist challenge is the assertion that non-white, non-straight, non-male authors are getting little to no exposure. The line I particularly relish is, “if the majority of books being held up and pronounced Good and Worthy are by white, straight, cis men, it’s easy to slip into thinking that most good and worthy books are by authors that fit that description.” Except that’s just it: the vast majority of books pushed in media as Good and Worthy aren’t by people who are heterosexual, white male writers.

Beyond that, the notion that the only way for non-cis/straight/white male authors to gain readership is for people to chose their work preferentially over other writers (besides doing those same other writers (seriously, need a simple label for “everybody besides the one group Princess T hates enough to call for discrimination against.” seriously) a major disservice in giving them a hand-out instead of a hand up) is simply untrue. Those writers-who-don’t-resemble-me have exactly the same opportunity I do. Write a work, get it edited, put together a cover, and put it up on Amazon. Set up print-on-demand for those who want a hardcopy.

Publishing is at its most democratic ever. Literally anybody can publish today. You can write your opus on a Google document at a public library (the Bradbury method of Fahrenheit 451 fame, updated for the 21st century, and likely a good deal cheaper), find an editor online, find an artist via Deviant Art, pay them both through PayPal, have them upload the finished products to your DropBox, and upload your finished book to Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, and Nook, all without even owning a computer! The bar for entry to the market is so low as to be nonexistent (a different argument for another post, that).

Now, regarding push, pull and exposure (to hearken back to Kate’s post yesterday), again: I don’t care what you look like or who you want to do what with those are going to be subject to the usual array of market forces. And really, that’s what the aforementioned Myrmidons hate. They hate that certain authors who happen to be white, straight, manly males (some of whom aren’t any of those things) continue to earn comfortable livings writing science fiction, and all without their permission or approval. They hate that there are people having fun in unapproved ways, reading unapproved stories by unapproved writers, and generally going on about their unapproved lives, all the while ignoring the shrill screeches from certain quarters.

And somehow, in order to appease their wrath, we as readers are to ignore an entire segment of the market (and an opaque segment, at that. Between pen names and the lack of author photos, it’s impossible to know just what an author looks like, let alone who or what they prefer to sleep with) simply because of an arbitrary set of accidents? I don’t have time or energy for limiting my pool of potential reads, and judging by previous comments from you, gentle readers, neither do you.

Note: I’ll have some new cis, white, straight, kilted, bearded writer’s writin’ for y’all in the near future. Stay tuned for specifics to come.

The Art of Enticing the Reader

So while I was discussing (read harassing my friends) what to write for today’s post, and the topic of push vs pull came up. My response was, “It’s pull all the way. Our books need to hawk themselves behind the loo block in their stiletto heels and showing way too much leg while saying in a breathy voice “Looking for a good time?””

Then I realized this was much more accurate than I’d originally thought. People tend to prefer to have a good time when they’re not involved with the things they have to do. We’re competing (and also cross-fertilizing – it’s best not to go too far with the extended metaphors and analogy pretzels there) with all the leisure things: futzing around on social media, watching TV, going to movies, playing games, cute cat videos, you name it.

Of course, what any given person considers a good time isn’t going to be quite the same as what the person standing next to them thinks is a good time (slight digression – this can be a handy means of telling whether you’re facing your best friend or their evil double, assuming said double has the smarts to remove the obligatory Evil Double Goatee. Ask them their definition of fun. The real one will give an answer that’s pretty close to what you’d expect your best friend to say – flaws and all. The evil double will either tell the truth and you know they’re the evil double, or they’ll say what they think the right thing to say would be, and you’ll still know they’re the evil double. Anyway…). We’re a remarkably diverse lot, for a species so incredibly genetically uniform that (if I remember right – the stainless steel lint trap of a mind isn’t the world’s most reliable instrument) any two random humans from any two parts of the world are likely to have less difference in their DNA than two kittens from the same litter would have difference in theirs.

This, I think, is the real origin of Rule 34. And the reason writers need to stop thinking push and start thinking pull (and not, unless you’re writing porn, the “push it in and pull it out and wipe it” type of push and pull).

You see, if our species is this diverse in preferences, then damn near anything can find an audience, and a big enough audience to keep the writer fed, clothed, and housed. But the way to find that audience isn’t to go pushing oneself at anyone who looks like they might be a potential reader. That way lies performance anxiety, as it were.

No, the way to find one’s audience is to entice the readers, to seduce them and convince them via a bit of tantalizing display of leg that there’s more goodies over this way, and they really, really want to come and look a little closer.

Now, there are a whole lot of other stories out there, showing their fishnet-encased legs and whispering sweet promises to potential readers, so it’s important that our stories are properly dressed. By which I do not mean corseted and whatnot (unless it’s that type of book, of course). I mean making sure the cover and title signal the type of book it is so the reader who’s looking for big fat fantasy with nancing elves and gruff dwarfs doesn’t chase your space opera and then get horribly disappointed.

Teasing helps, too. I’m sure the more discerning among our readers have noticed that if you conceal the right things it’s much more attractive and intriguing than if you show it all or hide it all. The tease, the little bit of leg seen through a slit skirt (metaphorically speaking), the suggestion of the greater delights to be found within… All of these help to convince a potential reader that your book is the one to open.

Then, of course, you have to hook them fast and keep them reading. Which is a topic for a different post.

Be the Clapper

So I woke up this morning feeling tired.  Partly this is because I spent yesterday painting walls and waxing floors and things hurt.  Partly it is that I had a rousing battle with my bedclothes.  I don’t even know why.  I just now they were all tangled at my feet, and I had the feeling of having run miles in my sleep.

While I was getting the holy caffeine needed to even read let alone write blog posts, I found myself thinking about why I write.

There are reasons for this.

Recently I had an interview with the Baen podcast people.  It was about the anthology Time and Again As Time Goes By {I mangle titles, even my own or those my own work is in} in which I have a short story “So Little and So Light” which if Prometheus were given for short stories would definitely be in the running.

One of the questions, which I never answered, because the question about how I write sort of answered it, was “did I put a libertarian message in on purpose?”

Well, no, I didn’t.  I was halfway through the story when I realized what the message was.  I was pleased with it, but it hadn’t been my intention to make it libertarian.  It had been my intention to make it a time-travel romance which is what was requested.

This is because my writing is like being chained to a mad man who mutters things I try to translate into making sense.

The other reason is that we — Larry and I, particularly, over the Sad Puppies thing, have talked a lot about message fiction as opposed to fun fiction.

This might give someone the impression that I oppose messages in fiction.  For someone who is a massive Heinlein fan and who wrote A Few Good Men this would seem the height of hypocrisy.

What I oppose is thinking that the message justifies the book, and you need to do nothing else to make the book good.  I oppose the sort of lazy thinking that dictates that if the writer is on “the right side” and saying the “right things” he/she doesn’t need to bother with drawing the reader in or making the experience worthwhile for the reader.

That is a fine accomplishment for the writer of short political pamphlets, but novels and shorts require more.  They require …

They require that the writer be good enough to establish a sort of resonance between himself and the reader.

This can’t be achieved by shouting slogans at the reader, or even by creating people so cliched that the reader can see the wires moving them.  It can’t be achieved by being a good boy and/or girl and putting in what you were taught as “right” in school.

Which brings me to “why I write.”

Even when I was a clumsy writing sprog, when I sent stories out, I often got acceptances after rejections.  I.e. I’d get a rejection and then a week later or a month or once a year, I’d get a note from the editor saying “I thought your story was trite, but I keep thinking about it.  Can I have it?”

And that is why I write.  This effect, which I consciously struggle for, is to make my world so realistic, my characters so alive, that they stay with you as something you lived through, the emotions resonating in you, the thoughts coming back again and again.

It’s not as simple as sloganeering.  The feelings you get from the experience will often not be mine (judging by GOOD reviews that say things I wasn’t aware of putting in.)

But it is the only reason to write: for a moment, my mind becomes a bell that, in resonating, makes yours vibrate.  It’s the closest we people of flesh can come to being in someone else’s mind, in that lonely space behind the eyes.

And that’s why I write and what I struggle towards: to be the clapper on that bell that strikes a note so pure and so brilliant that other minds will pick it up and carry it on.

I’m nowhere near there, but that’s what I work towards — to be the clapper.

A word of warning

It has been awhile since we’ve had to do a post about what to be on the lookout for when it comes to publishers. But I came across a link to a publisher — and I use that term loosely — last night that made me think it might be time to do just such a post once again. The reason? This particular publisher isn’t new to the game. Even though it is a small house, it has been around for seven years or so and has actually put out some pretty good titles. It had a pretty good reputation, from what I can tell. But in September it sold and it appears that things have changed.

So, what is this press you ask? New Pulp Press. I’ll concede right here that there may be no intent to act as a vanity press by New Pulp Press and its principals. However, there are things about its site that raise red flags for me and I want to discuss them.

We’ll start simply with their page menu. As an author, one of the first things I do when going to a publisher’s site is check out their menu. So seeing a full page dedicated to privacy policy/terms of use had me scratching my head. But that alone isn’t enough to raise red flags. That came when I continued on and saw the pop-outs under the submissions tab. Possible Surcharges. Wait? What? Possible surcharges under submissions. What about the old adage that money flows to the author, especially if you are going through a publisher?

So, I clicked and started reading and the red flags started multiplying.

To start, they tell you that your work should be fully edited before being submitted.

If you’re anal retentive by nature, this may mean you can do this yourself. Otherwise, before you submit your manuscript it should be edited by a professional. We are a small press and do not have the resources to provide any material amount of editing of your work. So if your submission does not arrive carefully edited, chances are it will get rejected out of hand.

So, you pay for editorial services before you submit to New Pulp Press to be “published”. Hmmm. Red flag.

They are a “small press and do not have the resources to provide any material amount of editing”. Red flag again. If you are a small press and your resources are so limited, you either sharply limit the number of books you bring out so you can offer your authors the services they deserve as members of your “publishing house”.

But let’s continue looking. Maybe there is something on other pages to ease my concerns.

There is a full page on manuscript preparation. Okay, after having seen submissions come in in different fonts, line spacing, etc., I can see that. So maybe things aren’t as bad as I first thought. I’ll keep reading.

For the most part, the requirements are industry standard. One thing that had me scratching my head was the requirement that there not be headers and footers or page numbers on submissions. If there was a requirement for a cover sheet, I missed it. So not having a header with the title and author name in it could become problematical if the attachment is separated from the accompanying email. But maybe these guys are more organized that I am from time to time. The flag is pink, not quite red.

Then we get to the how to prepare your manuscript subsection and my head starts to spin. First off, we are told to know the mechanics of our craft and that is defined as knowing “how to prepare a document on your computer.” Uh, no. That is not the mechanics of my craft as a writer. I can be a writer without knowing how to format a manuscript. Not to mention how that one statement marginalizes so much of what we do as writers and is more than a bit condescending. Red flag.

Then we get to the real reason for this requirement:

In order to publish your ebook, the manuscript will be converted into various ebook formats (mobi and epub). So it’s important how you prepare your document for submission to New Pulp Press.

Reading this between the lines and with what was said about editorial services in mind, my guess is these folks don’t want to do anything more than they have to in order to convert an accepted manuscript into digital formats. Let’s throw another red flag for not wanting to do what legitimate presses, large and small do.

The rest of their formatting requirements are pretty generic. I might not agree with all of them, but there is nothing glaring. Still, I’m starting to wonder if New Pulp Press is a publisher or more of an aggregator or clearing house in the way of Smashwords or Draft 2 Digital.

So let’s keep looking. There is still that troubling tab about possible surcharges to look at.

Ookay, now we are finally getting to the meat of some of my concerns. According to the first paragraph of the Possible Surcharges page, New Pulp Press is a traditional third-party publisher. Of course, it doesn’t give a definition for what that means. So we could be looking at the definition the gaming industry uses or something else.

The very next paragraph starts out by saying New Pulp Press is not a vanity press and authors don’t pay to get published. Well, that’s a good thing — if the rest of the page holds true to that statement. So let’s see.

It will do simultaneous publishing of ebooks and print books. Standard. It will provide, free of charge, ISBNs for the print books but not for ebooks. (waggles hand). That could possibly limit the venues in which it publishes its ebooks. But maybe not. We don’t know because we haven’t seen — yet — where they publish their e-books. Of course, now that I think about it, I haven’t seen anything about what royalty rates they follow either. Hmmm. Possible red flag.

There are no charges for reading, light editing, formatting, publishing, marketing, promoting, fulfilling, etc. However, there can be charges for certain additional services or fixes.

Okay, here is where my blood starts to boil. How generous that they don’t charge for “light editing” or formatting. You are required to submit an “error-free” manuscript and it is recommended you hire an editor before you submit. As for formatting, you have already done basically everything for them. Yeah, I can see where they are really helping me as an author — not. But let’s keep looking

Oh goody, there are no charges for publishing my book. How kind of them. Isn’t publishing the book what they are supposed to do? Or is that clause how they are justifying their claim not to be a vanity press?

I won’t even talk about not charging for marketing, promoting, fulfilling, etc., because we don’t know anything about what they do in any of those activities beyond having a website and Facebook page.

If your manuscript needs major editing, something New Pulp Press doesn’t do, they will be happy to recommend outside editors who will do so for a fee. Hmm. Red flag and my suspicious mind wonders what sort of arrangement they have with these outside editors.

Manuscripts are both Spellchecked and carefully proofread by New Pulp Press editors, however the Publisher is not responsible for any errors not caught.

Thanks, but if that is all I want, I can do it myself. By the way, what is the publisher responsible for?

In most (not all) cases the Author will get an opportunity to proof/approve the formatted manuscript.

What this means is that if you don’t get a chance to proof/approve your formatted manuscript and you find errors after publication, you will be charged for the changes, something they tell you in the next paragraphs.

Corrections after publication (either as an ebook or as a paperback) will be made at no charge if a significant PE. Changes that are the fault or a revision of the Author will be made at a cost listed below.

Now you tell me, what are significant Publisher Errors if the publisher doesn’t do edits? (At best they do minor copy edits but only commit to doing proofreading.) If an author doesn’t get to see the formatted manuscript, how do you know if previous revisions were made? How do you know if there were any issues in formatting? If you are still continuing to consider New Pulp Press as your “publisher”, you’d better be sure these questions are addressed in the contract and that they are answered in your favor.

The next thing that bothers is me, in the list of possible charges, is an entry for paperback cover.

Paperback cover (front cover from ebooks plus back cover and spine to fit format).  $200

To me, that means they are going to charge for the creation of a cover for a format they say is a standard publication stream for them. So my question is simple: do they only publish a title as an e-book unless the author pays to create the paperback cover? Red flag!

There are a lot of other questions I have but the one at the forefront of my mind is about their royalty rate. I don’t see that addressed anywhere on their site and that is worrisome, especially in light of the fact they list possible charges back against authors. So, why not tell us what you will be paying for our work? In fact, the only time I found royalties mentioned was on their privacy policy/terms of use page where they let everyone know that if you post a review of on Amazon “or elsewhere on the Internet or in any other media, you grant New Pulp Press a nonexclusive, royalty-free and perpetual license to publish, reproduce and sublicense the review in any media.”

So I have a lot of concerns about New Pulp Press and it all stems from the fact that they are making it all too easy to charge the author for the right to publish with them. There is no reason for that to happen, not if you are calling yourself a publisher. If you are simply a packager, say so and then list your schedule of fees. Be upfront and it will avoid a lot of misconceptions and ill-will. Writers, if you are considering these guys, make sure you have your contract vetted by an IP attorney before signing it. Money is supposed to run to the author, not away from him.

 

To serve one master – the reader

Lest we forget… there is one single cardinal rule in writing.

The reader is all that counts.

Your book cannot serve two masters (therefore you as the author, cannot serve two masters). It’s not a case of wanting to, or not wanting to. Or – if you’re going to be loved and successful, choosing that master. It is always the reader that the story must serve. Not the publisher, not society, not your own desires, or even intentions. Once the book leaves you, the author, for the final time, what you wanted it to be and do…

Is out of your hands.

If you’re a great author, and your communication skills are fantastic, you may carry your thoughts and intents to the reader. And of course, if they’re appealing, inspiring, comforting: he or she may love them forever.

Most of us are not great authors (nowhere is this more true than those who think they are, it seems). Mostly the reader gets out of your book what they get out of your book, which may very well not be what you, the author, were trying to convey. Sometimes it’ll just be one reader who gets that version of what the book is, sometimes a few, sometimes, darn near everyone.

As the author you can stamp your heels and get hysterical and shriek “That’s not what I wanted you to think. That’s not what I meant. Not what I intended.”

Yes, I have seen a few authors reply to critics like that. Not clever.

You might as well yell at the sea, even if you do it the minute it gets back to you. All you can do is kill their love for the book they received, or be ignored.

The book only serves one master, its reader. Many authors and indeed many film-makers fail to get this. They write a tale to highlight the plight of the rather unpopular and relatively unknown P’ting people of Mondoland who are being murdered by settlers. The resultant book or movie casts the P’ting very sympathetically. It’s also got the coolest laser battle. And somehow its new master only sees the laser battle. If you’re lucky a bit of P’ting culture is remembered, but possibly not.

That’s not the reader’s fault.

What brought this to mind was yet another snide attack by David Gerrold on the Sad Puppies/ Rabid puppies as mentioned an opinion piece in Otherwhere Gazette. As he informed us he wasn’t going to post the link but was going to comment, I assume that’s acceptable him, so I’ll just quote the relevant bits of his screed.

“Lehman has completely missed the point is that he uses Star Trek to justify his own beliefs while overlooking the much more important fact that Star Trek, The Original Series wasn’t about the engineering as much as it was about the “Social Justice Warriors Glittery hoo ha” stuff.
I was there. I know what Gene Roddenberry envisioned.”

I think it’s Gerrold that has missed the point, if he’s saying that the reader didn’t get what the writer (or creator) envisaged…

That’s not the reader’s /viewer’s fault. Readers/viewers take what they will out of a piece. Maybe most took ‘social justice.’ Or split infinitives. But a reader takes what a reader takes. The book – or the movie, or the TV series serves their mind, not the creator idea. And as they are the customer, it’s never their fault. If they like it, they’ll come back for more, even if what they got wasn’t your vision. If they don’t like it, they won’t come back. But you cannot tell them they were wrong. The most you can do is say you weren’t a good enough communicator for that person to get your vision. If it is a lot of people who don’t get your vision, then your book (or movie or whatever) might be a success, but you didn’t communicate, at least with those people. That certainly happens to me. Maybe you’re lucky and you carry a bit of your intent to them. Every now and again I get it right for a specific reader. It’s a great feeling. They get it. I did it right. But mostly, well, I do my best and know I’m not the best. Enough people get it, or enjoy it enough to buy my books, and that, actually, is the bottom line with writing. If the author is writing about social justice… or how to build a fascist utopia, and what the reader gets is cool engineering ideas… so long as they enjoyed it. They’ll be back and maybe you might be lucky next time.

Of course you can just hope they like your stuff. Or you can try and write what they want. Maybe slant it a bit in the direction that you want to communicate about. Of course if that slant fails to gain traction and overwhelms what they did want… you’ve lost. And, if they’re not a captive audience, they’ll find something they do like.

William Lehman thinks that he, and people like him, want engineering and not the glittery hoo ha stuff. You don’t have to listen, or like it. But he’s the customer, that’s what he wants, and that’s what he’ll buy.

What I, or David Gerrold, or Gene Roddenberry, envisaged when we created it, or what we want, he really doesn’t give a toss about. It will serve him now, not us. And it is the future we’re looking to, not the past. I can’t sell books in the past. My time machine is on the fritz again.

It’s really important to find out what customers want, and give it to them. To listen, to try and get how well supported a viewpoint it is. And if you blow them off, even if they say things you don’t like to hear… well, if it’s a few, you’ll live. But if you’re losing ground in sales (as trad sf/f is – PW has them down 11% last year.) listening to their vision… and maybe fitting yours in around it seems a lot cleverer than telling them take yours, or pee off. YMMV.

Personally, hard though it may be to take at times, when they tell me I stuffed up, the greatest gift a reader can give back to me, is telling me what they wanted from my work. If they tell me they got it and loved it I’m a happy man. If they got something else entirely – after all a book interacts with each person differently – and still loved it, I’m still a happy man – but one who takes notes, learns, and adapts. If they tell I disappointed them… I bite my lips and take notes.

I sell to them. I give them what they want. I don’t lecture them.

***
It was interesting to hear John Scalzi telling us we were never excluded. No really. We’re all just one big happy family. And real fans, all of us, not just ones Mike Glyer thought could be allowed to be. I’m not one of Scalzi’s fans, but he’s a weathercock if there ever was one. Repositioning. Thanks John. But the guests who left by the rooftop are… just a little skeptical. We remember your comments about Toni. And your examples of ‘really the publishers only track the money’ doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny. Bestsellers can move. Sometimes. But ask John Norman, not always (yeah Gor was not really my cup of tea, but he was a bestseller). It’s who the publishers take in at the bottom that’s interesting. Baen actually have a provable track record of being a broad church. No one else cuts it as far as I can see. John Wright – an excellent writer, didn’t start with his present publisher with his present views, and is now selling very well –which means he stays.

I’ll be delighted of course if John Scalzi gets a contract with Baen. Maybe to write ‘Ghost’ fanfic? With lots of zeros on the contract to accurately reflect his worth.

Things have changed now, because authors can be independent.

***
To return to Gerrold (who is the co-MC of the Hugo ceremony this year and therefore of course strictly neutral this year. You could hardly be taking sides in the nominations process, and then awarding them, could you? Why, that would tarnish the reputation of the award, and its guardian would surely chastise you.) he made a last comment is also worth mentioning.

“If you’re against “the Social Justice Warrior Glittery Hoo Ha crowd” then we to wonder if you’re in favor of the denial of civil rights to women, blacks, LGBT, immigrants, and other minorities?
Because if that’s what you stand for — a return to the days of sexism, racism, misogyny, and discrimination….”

Relax, Mr. Gerrold. The only people who have come out against civil rights — you do know what we mean by civil rights? You know: Desegregation, equality of all before the law, and freedom of speech… Are your friends the SJWGHH… seeing as you guys seem to like acronyms so much. They’re the ones calling for a neo-apartheid, special rules and perks in their favor, segregation (special places and publications for them, but not of course, for anyone else. They can go anywhere, publish anywhere), and to limit free speech to themselves, with anyone who says anything that they don’t like, attacked – you know, demonized with insinuations that they’re racists and stuff, if they can’t be silenced. The Human Wave writers I’ve read seem to do a remarkably good job of not being preachy, or PC, but are a lot more plausibly inclusive, treating humans as… humans. Some good, some bad, but not bad because of skin color or sex or anything else. I can come up with plenty of examples from Hoyt, Correia, even Moi. Gay, Black, Disabled, Religious, White – you name it. And they’re not tokens, but there because, you know, that’s where they plausibly would be, and they do what they plausibly could do. Some are lead characters, and so oddly are all the folk your friends leave out, or turn into automatic designated villains. Generally speaking they’re much more inclusive, accurate and fairly representative than in your SJWGHH novels. It’s a lot easier to find sexism, racism and misandry and discrimination in among the SJWGHH, so you’re relatively safe from us. Talk to them. Honest. We’ve experienced them. They role model themselves on an individual called ‘Requires Hate’.

Velocity and Trajectory

This is a guest post by Dorothy Grant, Peter’s wife.

___________

Sarah just informed me that the Giant Obvious Change to Amazon’s algorithms wasn’t so obvious – not to authors who are busy writing and moving. So, let’s talk about organizing book promotions in the current market.

About the time Amazon shook up the writing world by releasing a competitor to Scribd and Oyster (namely Kindle Unlimited, or KU), it also implemented a major revision to its sales ranking algorithm. The obvious impact was that KU borrows have the same impact on sales rank as an immediate sale, but no payment is made until 10% of the text is read. This had the effect of decoupling the strict cause and effect relationship between a book’s actual sales and its sales rank.

However, Amazon also implemented a more subtle but much more massive change to the algorithm. The name of the game for promotional visibility is no longer velocity (i.e. the number of sales over a shorter time period like an hour or a day), but trajectory (i.e. the number of sustained sales over a longer period, like a week or a month). The old way to get visibility on Amazon was to promote something by stacking all of your release announcements, advertisements, tweets, and parties on the same day. Now, Amazon keeps track of your trajectory – and the more sudden and sharp your sales spike, the more sudden, sharp, and swift the subsequent decline in rankings. The new way to get visibility is to grow your sales over a period of several days by promoting them across many places and outlets, spreading out the impact of high traffic and large sales.

The objective remains the same: getting your book into the top-100-for-genre, hot new releases, movers and shakers, or top rated lists. The first two are the most important lists for a new release. They’re where people tend to look for new things to read in a given genre. Getting on those lists also gets your story onto the ‘also-bought’ pages of other high-ranked stories in that genre, which will be the major driver of long-term sales.

Why did this change? In a word, Bookbub. Bookbub became so successful at helping the authors who bought a place on its promotional mailing list, boosting their rank higher in the Kindle Store, that it was essentially becoming a new gatekeeper, charging for access to the top-100-in-genre lists. Amazon is customer-centric. It built those lists to be populated by the customers, for the customers. Having a company essentially start taking them over, with entries that were curated by a handful of editors who charged several hundred dollars apiece, was contrary to the very spirit in which the list was built.

This isn’t a new thing: in fact, the same manipulation of lists and ranks was why Amazon changed its associate program to require that no more than X% a month be free downloads, and why it no longer carries your free store rankings over to the paid store when you start charging for a story. (Pixel of Ink was the reigning king in the market during the heyday of free price pulsing as the major promotional tool. However, PoI’s assistance in boosting a free book’s rank no longer carries over to its paid ranking, so it’s affected in the same way as BookBub by Amazon’s new approach.)

So, how has the promotional market responded? It’s learned that a large percentage of promo list subscribers aren’t there for the deal as much as they are looking for an email a day that gives them something they haven’t seen before, guaranteed to be a minimum level of readable. Promo lists have flourished, with lots of small competitors trying to find a better niche and become the next Bookbub. (Personally, I’m rather partial to The Fussy Librarian and Ebooksoda – they have a higher proportion of books that look interesting enough for me to click through and buy them.)

Authors are using stacked promotions across lots of smaller promotional companies, staggering the heavy-hitters on sales to give a better growth curve. When they can’t get into Bookbub (50% of the slots are sold to the Big 5 traditional publishers, so it’s a pretty fierce competition), we stack and stagger the second-tier promo sites like E-Reader News Today (ENT), One Hundred Free Books (OHFB), The Midlist and Free Kindle Books and Tips (FKBT).

A typical savvy non-release promotion, these days, looks like this.

Day 1
Ebookhounds
Book Barbarian
Free Book Feed

Day 2
Indie Book Bargains
Choosy Bookworm
The Fussy Librarian
GoodKindles
Awesome Gang
OHFB

Day 3
Booktastik
Bknights on Fiverr
Just Kindle Books
Read Cheaply
Mailing List Announcement (that is, sending out a mailing list announcement of the sale.)

Day 4
Genre Pulse
Ebooksoda
PeopleReads
ENT

Day 5
Bookbub

In fact, the new bleeding edge of promotions is to keep a spreadsheet of which sites release in which timezone, and arrange the smaller players so they stagger promotions throughout the day. I know people are doing this to great effect, but I can’t guide you there yet, because I’ve been too darned tired with my day job lately to sit down and start playing with the nuts and bolts of that.

For release promotions, authors are staggering the release announcement – first to their mailing list and then to social media (or vice versa). Where they used to try to get all their friends to shout about its release on the same day, and chew fingernails when announcements often came in a day late or as other people had time; now that’s a feature, not a bug.

How long will it stay this way? Until someone else figures out a way to game Amazon, and Amazon responds. But for right now, that’s the word from the marketing trenches.

As for release launches – Peter has just published Stand Against the Storm, Book 4 in the Maxwell Saga!

An emergency recall to his ship short-circuits Senior Lieutenant Steve Maxwell’s plan to get rid of a long-standing personal burden. Instead, he finds himself dumped into a war zone on a peacekeeping mission hundreds of light years away. He doesn’t have enough people, equipment or information. Left in the dark, he has to rely on uncertain allies with their own agenda.

Even worse, it’s not the Fleet’s war, so he’s not allowed to shoot back – much less shoot first. Neither side is observing civilized rules of engagement. The bodies are piling up.

Steve’s been ordered not to act… but there are times when cold, hard reality trumps orders.

So far the reviews are great. Take a look for yourself!