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How We’ve Come So Far So Fast

I’m not a great mountain climber, mostly because my feet are too big, my joints are too old, and I don’t have anyone to do it with.  But when I was young and stupid, I used to go climbing seaside cliffs with dad.  Because this was Portugal, we did it without safety ropes (natch) or really any equipment.  Just hands and bare feet on rocks that were often studded with razor-sharp mussels.  Also, because this was Portugal, the printed tide tables were often out of whack, as we spent more than a few days perched on a spire of rock, waiting for the tide to uncover our path back to the beach.  I also once fell down and, having managed to turn on my back on the slide down, skinned my back pretty completely.

The thing is that I enjoyed the climb. It always seemed to simultaneously take forever and be very, very fast.  You were going up hand hold and foot placement at a time, maybe a foot up at a time, and it sounds slow (and often was) but as you got up there, it seemed to have happened in a blink.

It was good, particularly if you weren’t sure of the tides, to keep looking down and make sure you weren’t so far you couldn’t return before the tide filled in.

Life and particularly your profession is very much the same.  You are immersed in what you are doing, and the repetitive nature of most of our occupations make them both excruciatingly slow and very fast.

When I’m writing steadily (an habit I need to get back into, and yes, it’s an habit as well as everything else) I get what I’ve heard other people call “telescoped time”.  Time itself seems to go very fast, because I pretty much get up and write, and I think that a month is more like three because “look at everything I’ve written.”

There are other situations in which time seems not to pass at all and to rush by.  I think this is why we tend not to see how much our lives have changed over time, until we realize they’ve really, really changed.

This being one of those years where, by necessity, I’m stuck with facing how much life changes — between trying to sell a house, trying to buy another in a different city, dealing with a kid leaving home and another getting ready to do it — the past is biting me in the nose every minute, both with things I did and pastimes/hobbies I once had that are all but forgotten now, and with how different life is now, not just for me but for most of us.

For instance, when I got married, 30 years ago, our most expensive item every month was calling my parents.  Now?  Bah.  Mom has free calls to the US, but even if she didn’t, I use my el-cheapo cell phone when the mood strikes.  An hour costs about $3, which is oh… at least ten and probably twenty times cheaper than what twenty minute calls used to cost.  And this is only because I’m lazy and mom hates computers, so I can’t use Skype.

Which brings us to the day about eighteen years ago when Dan told me, “I need to change jobs.”  Since he was in a job that might not have been (by content) his dream job, but where he worked with a group of people he loved, I was shocked.  AND I was outright skeptical when he told me “long distance” (he worked in computers, with MCI) “is a devaluating commodity.  In ten years it will be worth nothing.”

I thought he was crazy because well… MCI.  Possibly the largest employer in our town, with a huge edifice and still continuously hiring, dealt with long distance, by definition.

Sure, I thought, sure, voice over IP and cell phones.  But cell phones were expensive and had lousy reception.  And voice over IP?  We were on dial up.

And yet here we are, and I look back and I say “How have we come so far so fast?”

Oh, sure, it’s eighteen years, but think back.  If you had a time machine and told yourself then that these days many people don’t even HAVE a landline, that cell calls are so cheap that it’s mostly what everyone uses, yourself at the time, unless he was someone like Dan who was working and immersed in forecasting the future of his profession, would have told you-now you were out of your ever-loving mind.

This is similar to ebooks — you know we were coming to it, right?  Well, it’s my job — where  about six years ago, we started seeing people put things up, and there were a few cases of instant millionaires.

And yet, I, who was working in the field and back then for three publishers, had no clue.  I took the occasional “hit it big” as a fluke, as one does.  Because that’s not how life worked.  There was this entire edifice of traditional publishing, and there was the proper ladder to climb.

A friend of mine (much more successful than I) and now a happily hybrid author, at the time told me he would discourage all newbies from publishing first in e, because then no one would invest in them.  I agreed.

Even then there were disturbing intrusions of a new reality into my ordered existence.  I started meeting these authors at cons who had come out first self-published, and done well, and were now getting in with all the support of a traditional publisher.  But I thought “Flukes.”

And then a book into which I’d poured a lot more than in what I was writing at the time (Sword and Blood, reverted, soon coming as a complete trilogy to an Amazon near you!) fetched a minuscule advance, and my agent said that was the best she/we could do.

I was for other reasons (mostly health) incredibly stressed, and I told my husband “I’m walking.  I’m walking out of this field and not coming back.”

And he said “give it another year.  If nothing shakes loose, then you can.”

Well, I found myself in an email conversation with Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who said “come to our workshop this October.  We’re teaching how to go indie.”

By the time I went to the workshop (five?) months later, I had researched, and I knew what indie was and its potential.  BUT when we got there, Dean Wesley Smith told us we were pioneers.  We were breaking a new frontier.  I didn’t believe him.  I knew all the people who’d gone there before me.

Well, I attended that workshop in 2011.

And now I’m looking down that cliff and going “how we’ve come so far so fast.”  I’ve been slower because I’ve been sick and getting sicker all those years (I’m now making the inverse journey hand over hand.)  BUT even so, last year when I was too sick to deliver a book and all I managed was an edit of the book I’d written in installments on this blog, I made close to 30k dollars mostly from Amazon. There were years where I was “employed” in traditional publishing and delivering, and I made less than 10k.  (My mystery advances were tiny, and also any payment over 3k is in three parts, so I’d receive the signing, or the delivery, or the publishing payment one year, the rest the other.)

There are other changes: I don’t need to be under contract, something that always made me feel like I owed my soul to the company store.  I used to be unable to write anything that wasn’t under contract, because there was a 50/50 chance it wouldn’t sell. Now I can write whatever, and if Baen doesn’t want it, it goes up indie, which is fine.

Those 17 or so novels in the drawer?  Yeah.  They’re getting finished/polished and put out.  And I’m writing — right now a bit impatient at not being able to do it as fast as I’d like, yet — as much as I can.

Because it’s been four years since that workshop, and I know people MAKING A LIVING from indie.  Not millionaires, not the headliners.  Just regular everyday writers.

I look down and I think “how we’ve come so far so fast.”

And you know, I can see it from the other side too.  My kindle paperwhite offers me a selection of whatever I want to read that particular night.  I’m limited only by time and money.  Distance?  What’s that?  What’s in stock?  Everything is pretty much in stock.

Those who think this will all vanish overnight are deluded.  Those who think we’re not on track to change as much as phones have in the last 18 years — or faster — are delusional.

Look down from the cliff.  See how far we’ve come.  Then look up and see the summit ahead.

It’s important to keep both ends in sight.

Yeah, the tide tables are important too: keep an eye on how covers are changing, and on how editing is changing, and on what is selling.

It’s really no more work, though different, from keeping track of what publishers want and the different fads and personalities in traditional houses used to be.

The difference now is that though you’re still — of course — at the mercy of fate, you have more control than you ever had, and a better chance of making it as far as you’re willing to push yourself.

And that is a massive change.  Don’t lose sight of it.  I’m telling you now what Dean told me four years ago “it might seem to you all the big innovations are done, all the big sellers have become big sellers, indie is now a limited market.  You are wrong.  You are pioneers.  This market is wide open.  This path is just beginning. Technology ahead will open new vistas, and the public will realize there are people writing to its tastes now.  There is gold in them there hills.”

Now, kick off your shoes and climb that cliff.

Random thoughts

I do have a post half-written. I really do. The problem this morning is that my attention is fragmented. I’m waiting for the repairman to get here to figure out what is wrong with the dishwasher that is less than a year old and, fortunately, still under warranty. My brain is busy trying to work out two different novels. That’s usually not enough to bring me to a complete stop but these two novels are very different in both genre, plot and writing. One is finished but needs major edits and the other is one-quarter written. The result of all this is that my head feels like that old cartoon of the human head with the Xs over the eyes and the cuckoo popping in and out of the top.

So let me touch on a couple of things. First of all, I had someone (and I will let you guys guess where they came from) basically accuse me of not having read Scalzi’s post that I referred to in my Saturday blog. The entire basis for this person — as well as the condemnation from the referring blog — seems to be because I didn’t link to the Scalzi post. Instead, I linked to Teleread. Well, let me set the record straight. I did read the original post. I didn’t link to it because I know the readers here on MGC have the ability to google and find the original source if they want to read it. Teleread had excerpted the parts I wanted and I happened to also agree, for the most part, with what Chris Meadows had to say. So, that is what I linked to.

There are basically two reasons why I don’t link to a post. The first is as I stated above. I know our readers here can go find the original if they want to. The second is when I don’t want to send additional traffic their way. This isn’t unique unto me or MGC. It is something many bloggers use. But now it appears that it is a reason for those who don’t agree with what someone says to accuse that person of not having read the piece. I so love that sort of “logic”.

Something else has come up of late in several of the groups I belong to: authors, all too often indie authors, buying ads and comparing their work to either the masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy or to whatever the the current best seller happens to be. I saw one yesterday where an author was trying to give away copies of their books by comparing their work to that of David Weber and the Honor Harrington series. No attribution for the quote saying it was as good as or in the same vein as, which left me to assume that the author was making the comparison. Worse, when following the clickbait link, it went to the author’s website and you had to give your email to get the book. The problems I have with this are multi-fold.

First, if you want readers to take such claims like “this book will remind you of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series” or “this is the next Twilight” or whatever, have the quote be by someone who the reader will recognize. Don’t just say it because you believe it. More often than not, when I see claims like this without attribution being made, it is an indie author doing it. That smacks of being a rank amateur. It can also be seen as misleading the reading public if your book doesn’t live up to the claim.

Second, if you want to give away books and want to do it from your own mailing list, be upfront about it. Don’t use a clickbait ad that you mirror on your Facebook or Twitter feed to direct people to your website and then spring it on them. For one, a lot of people will stop and leave the page the moment the email sign-up requirement becomes clear. The last thing most of us want is more email, especially unsolicited email, coming in. For another, I am always hesitant to download anything from a site I’m not familiar with and there are a lot of folks like me. We have been warned time and again to be careful of viruses and worms coming through email links.

If you want to give copies of your work away,either set it up through your publisher or, if you are an indie author, through the outlets your books are available from. There are ways to do it. If you aren’t sure what they are for any given e-store, either check the FAQs for that site or ask online. Someone will know the answer.

Finally, I saw a thread in one of my online communities today that blew my mind. The posters were commenting on e-books they had gotten that had no covers. What? If you are an indie author and you haven’t yet figured out how to embed your cover into your file, ask. The last thing you want is for your readers to open your e-book on their phone or tablet or ereader and not have a cover there to entice them into continuing on. It could be you simply don’t have it tagged right. It could be you had an issue uploading that you aren’t aware of. Please, please, please download your e-book after it has been uploaded and make sure everything went as you expected. Indies are gaining respectability — despite what some would have you believe — but that will only continue as long as we continue to push for better quality for what we put out.

Okay, the repairman is here. More coffee is still needed and my brain is still scattered. Until later.

Post will be late but it will come

Sorry, everyone. I overslept this morning and the brain is slow to come online. I have a post half-written and will finish it as soon as the coffee kicks in. Until then, someone please tell me who had the temerity to put half caf coffee pods in the holder under the coffee maker. They must be taught the error of their way. Such a thing is just not allowed on any morning, much less one when I have to deal with a warranty service calls.

(Wanders off in search of real coffee so the brain will finally wake up.)

“Like you would do for one that you love…”

“Untie for me your hired blue gown
Like you would do for one that you love”

Leonard Cohen – take this longing

This came out of talking to one of newer authors that I try to help as much as I can. Yes, even an idiot can teach, can support, can sometimes say the right things.

And the wrong things of course. I’m actually exceptionally talented at that. Beyond the ability of most mere mortal men. Anyway the author’s book is coming out from Baen and she was having a sudden not-used-to-Baen but the establishment traditional publishing/sycophant-of-the-same-world moment.

You know. Panic. Because it’s not quite… well, not at all like the way you thought it was supposed to be. Your book is about to be snippetted. Why, near half of it is going to be there for readers to sample… free. To the public. Those guys who just… show up. I mean not reviewers or anything. Just people.

And there are two things here. Firstly: “My book is not protected! It’s… it’s a public site.”

Our customers are not thieves – Jim Baen said. This fear by Trad Pub is projection, not reality.

Anyway: snippets.
No one steals half an egg. And secondly, the fear of theft is overblown one, trust me. If your product is a reasonable price (and from Baen it will be) the hassle factor of assembling a half-book from snippets is just ridiculous. Even downloading a possible-source-of-viruses for free is not something that the average Joe is going to do to save the cost of a couple of cups of coffee. Besides… in my experience the reader who enjoys your work… LIKES to reward you. If they feel it is worthwhile it makes them feel like they gave you a token of appreciation. Well, that’s true for me, anyway. Most readers when they discover that the author is getting 64 cents on that paperback are horrified. I’ve had not a few hit my tip jar saying the book gave them more pleasure than they paid for, will I get off my dead butt and write the next. Yesterday.

But what she was finding hard – after working long and hard on her book, giving it every ounce of her ability and all of her love – it’s a piece of her, and now she’s putting it out there for the public. Not an editor or a reviewer… just for anyone.

And this is the important part of writing, probably the most important part, which so many authors forget. A book that you offer for publication, or put up on Amazon is NOT to please you. Not unless you’re the only customer you ever hope to have. It’s NOT to please your editor, or the staff at the publishing house. They, bluntly, are yesterday’s men. Once they were the center of any writer’s universe. Peeve them and you were dead. If they belonged to a certain ‘tribe’ and kowtowing to that tribe was important to them, you kissed up or became a non-author. Not any more, although this hasn’t penetrated yet. New technology has made that an obsolete feature.

Pleasing a publisher and their hangers on, is now as useful as a buggy whip in a Mercedes Benz… if you fail to please the public. I have seen many a ‘I got wonderful reviews – but my series has been dropped – and it’s all coming from people who have been very loyal to their publisher and publisher’s tribal ideology.

They failed to engage with ‘just anyone’. With the PUBLIC. With the readers who could buy their book. That’s who you’re writing FOR. They give you money. They will buy your work – and these days, with, or without, your publisher getting a cut.

That is something that many authors fail to grasp – and not just new ones. I recently read a diatribe by Adam Troy Castro – who missed this completely (He was attacking John Wright, who seems to be engaging his readers… who aren’t part of his publisher’s tribe). I quote: “has been abusing his publisher in public and attacking his editors as people” which is a bad thing, according to Castro “being an asshole to the people who give you money is not a good career move.”

The latter part of that is certainly true. What Castro seems to have failed to figure out is that the money doesn’t actually come from the publisher. It comes from readers – the subset of the public who love your work. If you abuse them, you’re dead. If your publisher abuses them (which is a fair assessment)… lose your publisher. Reassure your readers that this is not your attitude. Your publisher being an asshole to the people who give you money. He takes quite a lot of that money for not being an asshole – and doing a good job (at least in theory, making sure the reader gets the best book possible. This is, sadly, is not always reality, as much as authors like to believe it.). Not being an asshole to people who give you money is good advice. But it is important to work out just who is giving money (the author is giving part of his income to the publisher and retailer. The reader is giving money TO THE AUTHOR that gets divvied up between the retailer, the publisher, and author), and who is taking it (the author, the publisher and the retailer. All need not to be an asshole to the reader. And the retailer and publisher need to be sure they provide value and manage not to be an asshole to author who actually produces the product. Parts of this are dispensable, and lousy value or bad behavior will mean the author who has loyal readers can do so). Traditional Publishing doesn’t seem to have grasped this nettle yet.

To move on:

As a writer – even an old hack like me, you are putting huge amount of yourself into your book. You are, like it or not, exposing yourself in a way that makes nudity look prudish. If you’re putting that book up there for the public, you can expect some of that public to read it. If you’re doing that, being that ‘naked’ about your innermost self… well if you’re doing for people you hate… you sure as hell don’t have much respect for yourself, do you?

When I write I do it as I would do for one that I love. For each and every reader who is, in a way, alone with me in their head. The reader who rewards me with the sincerest form of flattery for that. I do not write for people who are paid to edit it, or proof it, or even write reviews of it.

Write for readers. Love them, and you will succeed (and that’s not just about money, or numbers)

Talking of changing times, of obsolescence and the response to it… We’ve had an excellent post from Amanda Green , and Dorothy Grant about the change in e-book earnings. We’ve had the establishment lackeys pooh-poohing it, as they have to, because they write to please their publisher, to whom this news is anathema of the worst kind. However, perhaps it takes an engineer to see what is going on best. John Carlton does a great overview here – and brings up a fascinating reaction to these changing times, and the traditional publisher response to it.

You want to guess what a rational response would be?

Getting the right book to the right reader – matching product with customer?

Nope. A silly idea. The author has pleased the editor, that’s all that’s important.

Making e-books affordable and popular to save on the distribution and printing costs of paper?

Goodness NO! Their strategy is to PROTECT the print market by putting up the prices of their e-books.

Setting up a POD system in the remaining brick mortar stores so that people can have expert staff to help them find books?

Daft idea! Bookstore retail staff are not required to love or enjoy reading anymore. They must love retail.

Making sure that editorial, proofing, and marketing have a substantial edge on the services a self-publisher has, to make it worth Authors sticking to the Tradpub model, because their products sell enough units to make them more profitable at 17.5% of cover they get on those e-books as opposed to the 70% they get from Amazon?

Well. No. Editorial numbers are dropping. Proof quality is down. Publicity is mostly outsourced to… the Author, who is supposed to do it for free.

Moving from Manhattan to cheaper places for office space and livable staff salaries?

Wash your mouth out with soap!

No, they’re increasing their warehouse space – at huge expense, for paper books, by thousands and thousands of square feet.

Makes perfect sense… to someone. I am sure. Somewhere, someone MUST think it is a good idea.

Here’s my prediction: within the next five years, someone –probably Amazon – will drop the price of Print On Demand paper books to BELOW current paperback prices. They’ll probably offer you a choice of binding too (so you can have a hardcover if you want one) for considerably less than trade or hardback.

That will eat the remaining traditional publishers and chain bookstores AND all the warehouse space, just as the Indies are eating their e-book sales.

But don’t worry. They’ll keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market.

BTW. My thanks to the people who gave me such good advice about photographing the dolphins. I listened.dolphinJamie1

A matter of canon

One thing I think nobody in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s could have anticipated, was the extent to which the popular science fiction and fantasy products of that era would continue to be dominant well past the turn of the new century. Certainly there was no indication, when the original Star Trek limped through the end of its third season, that the franchise — there was no franchise at that stage — would spawn numerous successful spinoff TV series, over a dozen full-length motion pictures, any number of comic book adaptations, and well over one hundred novels; both original stories, and novelizations of films and TV episodes. Roughly one decade later, Star Wars revolutionized movie-making, and turned science fiction into a common household commodity. Battlestar Galactica — derided by critics as a Star Wars ripoff — earned so much fan loyalty in syndication, that one generation later it was revived in the form of an entirely new series, with an all new cast, and a plot that had been reworked according to 21st century sensibilities. Now we’ve got new Star Wars movies afoot, picking up where Return of the Jedi left off. Given the lackluster experience of the SW prequels, my sense is that people are expecting great things from the new movies; to make up for what the prequels never got right.

But wait, Lucas himself — the father of Star Wars — was behind the prequels. How could the man who gave birth to a thing, do so wrong by that very same thing? And why do we look to people other than Lucas to set the Star Wars universe to rights?

The same was true for Star Trek, you know. Gene Roddenberry gave us the series, sure, but he was also (in many ways) his own franchise’s worst enemy. For Gene, Star Trek served as an outlet for his quasi-hedonistic, utopian idealism. Thus the first full-length Star Trek film almost ensured that there would be no more. They had to sideline Roddenberry in order to put things back on track, with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He was again sidelined after the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a series that went on to greatness — but only when people other than Roddenberry were in charge.

Now, all of this may be a harsh indictment of Lucas and Roddenberry both, but the point I want to make is: when you (as creator/producer) don’t understand what it is your own fans see in your product, you’re liable to wind up creating (for yourself and your fans) a tremendous amount of heartache.

See, respecting the canon isn’t just a matter of preserving timelines or sequences of events; though this is a huge part of it. Respecting the canon also means respecting what it is that fuels the enthusiasm of the people who watch your TV show, go to see your movies, or pick up and read your books.

I remember in the mid-1990s when it was revealed that neither Paramount Pictures, nor Viacom (the parent of Paramount) considered any of the many Pocketbooks Star Trek novels to be canonical, in terms of the movies and TV shows. That was a rather serious blow to me, as a fan. I’d read several dozen of those very same Pocketbooks novels, and considered some of them to be among the finest works of science fiction I’d ever encountered — they were that good. Written by top-notch SF/F authors who were doing terrific storytelling within the Star Trek framework. Then, ruh-roh, the corporate powers behind the franchise revealed that the Pocketbooks novels didn’t count. I was rather upset by this, as a fan. Both because of the time and money I’d invested, and because of the fact some of those Pocketbooks Star Trek novels were every bit as good as, if not better than, the movies and TV episodes of the time. Who were Paramount and Viacom to tell me, the fan, what was legit, or not?

That sense (on my part) increased, as the underwhelming Next Generation films let me down, and then it was revealed (post-Nemesis) that they were “rebooting” the entire franchise with a fresh cast of actors who would recapture and remold the original series years. I saw and liked 2009’s Star Trek and thought Abrams brought a lot to the table — as a man who clearly knew how to meld SF elements with those of comedy, thriller, and so forth. But by the time Into Darkness debuted, I was in this weird place in my fannish brain where I was having to pick and choose what it was I personally considered to be “Star Trek” and what was not. Because, clearly, with the new incarnation re-writing events and forging a new path, what had gone before . . . was being called into question. Especially the feel of the show — its creative thrust and purpose. The Star Trek I thought I knew and loved in 1986-1989, was not necessarily the Star Trek boldly going in 2013.

I suspect Star Wars fans are now at a similar crossroads. I saw people doggedly fight their way through the prequels — for the sake of canon — only to emerge on the other side in a state of unique unhappiness. Star Wars had let them down. Badly. Lots of people said, “At least the Expanded Universe is there for us.” But aha, Disney is abandoning the Expanded Universe. The EU — like the Pocketbooks’ Star Trek novels — is being written out of the bigger picture. How many books does this cut from the main story? How many events? How many characters? More than that, how much fan investment is being scuttled? Emotional, and otherwise? I don’t necessarily blame Disney. You knew this was going to happen the moment Lucas sold off to a third party. And it’s way easier to start “fresh” than to try to build new films which coherently fit with all the many, many different continuing stories that the Expanded Universe contains. But that’s a massive amount of fan loyalty being tested — especially when the first “new canon” Star Wars book to hit print, chalks up a 40% one-star rating among readers — more than all the five and four-star ratings combined. Ouch!

Star Wars VII is, therefore, going to have to not only rock the house, it’s going to have to rock the house so completely that Star Wars fans who’ve invested in the EU are willing to quietly let go of almost 30 years of books, toys, series, and stories, none of which will be allowed to factor into the new canon that Abrams and Co. are forging with the new movies.

Is any movie sufficient to the task?

Or are Star Wars fans going to simply sigh, and begin drawing up their own personal left and right limits on what Star Wars is for them on a fan-by-fan basis? Has this already been happening anyway? I know for me, my unhappiness with the SW prequels is so great, I’ve pretty much disavowed them. To me, Star Wars literally begins with the shot of Princess Leia’s ship fleeing the Star Destroyer (over the skies of Tatooine) and I consider the events beforehand to be just as murky as they were when I was seeing Star Wars fresh in the theater the first time, way back when. I am prepared to walk into Star Wars VII and be so wowed by it, that I happily sign on — in my imagination — to the new direction Abrams is taking. After all, having had the rug yanked out from under me once (Paramount, Viacom) I did not — in the the 1990s — invest much time or effort in EU product. I read and enjoyed a few of the books, yes. But I had this little voice in the back of my head saying, “Don’t take any of it as gospel, because they’re going to disavow it all eventually anyway.”

Which they’ve now more or less done — talk of “legends” notwithstanding.

All of which makes me think: is every story that gets big and famous enough, guaranteed to begin warping in on itself, as time — and interested parties, with money, and a desire to make more — begin to meddle? It takes a singular, iron hand to keep a thing pristine in the face of this kind of artistic and economic entropy. But people die. They get tired. They decide to make money while the money is good. Inheritors, too, decide to make money while the money is good. They’d be stupid not to. So, Star Wars is becoming something different from what it once was, just as Star Trek also became different, and both of these franchises may become more different still, given a further generation of “adaptation” for new markets and marketing.

Most of us won’t see anything we create reach the point of massive world-wide popularity, that corporations are willing to invest billions of dollars for the chance to “revive” our imagined worlds — for a new line of books, TV shows, movies, et cetera. As freelancers trying to tell stories, in a storytelling market that is more competitive than it’s ever been before — because we now have more people with talent and skill telling more stories than ever before — there is a certain freedom that comes with not being “big” to the extent that big has come to be defined in our present age. But every book we publish is the kernel of what could eventually become huge, given time and word of mouth. That’s how a novel like Andy Weir’s The Martian soars out of the indie publishing scene, to become a phenomenon. Did Weir plan it that way? Hardly. He sat down and wrote a book to the best of his ability, telling the kind of story he wanted to tell, and now it’s a Ridley Scott movie, capitalizing on bestseller status. Andy got the lightning strike. And I would bet you Andy’s got a lot of people putting a lot of money in front of him, if only he’ll “continue on” with that same story. Even if Andy’s told all the story he cared to tell, with The Martian. If the movie is a hit — and it’s probable that it will be — the financial incentive for sequels will be massive. Whether or not Andy feels there is a logical storytelling reason for those sequels, or not. Heck, Andy may just sell the rights, and somebody else will be brought in to tell more stories in that same universe. And if those stories do well . . . anyway, can you see how this works?

Ditto Harry Potter. Anyone want to wager on if/when J.K. Rowling will begin telling new stories — about the generation of wizard students following Harry’s — before 2030?

Will the Harry Potter films be made again, in twenty years? New cast? New take on the whole Hogwarts thing?

Look at the world of comic books and comic book heroes — I still remember very clearly, the Christopher Reeve Superman of 1978. Yup. It’s been re-made, and the Superman story rebooted. Which, of course, was not the first time, either — since any number of serials and movies have been made during this comic book character’s existence in the popular imagination.

Batman too, from the 1989 version. Which merely came on the heels of still earlier incarnations.

And so on and so forth, back through the creative ages.

Maybe the best thing that can be said is: once we (as a culture) latch onto a thing, we love it so much, we simply refuse to let it go. We keep re-doing it and re-making it and trying to keep it fresh and up-to-the-minute. Sometimes the results are good. Sometimes the results are not-so-good. In the case of the comic book lines especially, their canon have been so twisted, warped, re-shuffled, and re-worked, that there are potentially dozens of different parallel universes — all running side-by-side with each other, depending on which iteration(s) people choose to like.

As creators ourselves, we have to look in the mirror every day and ask ourselves how married we are to our things we make, and how willing are we to allow these things to become their own entities, out in the wider world? Are we flexible enough to allow audiences to see things in our work, which we ourselves may not see? To fixate on aspects of our stories that we either consider trivial, or which interest us not at all?

Case in point: Gene Roddenberry was far more interested in the “free love” aspect of his 23rd century star navy — a navy Gene denied was a navy at all — than most of the fans, many of whom were interested in the star navy; as an extrapolated future military. In fact, Star Trek and its Starfleet became the personification of military SF storytelling for millions of fans. I am pretty sure Gene never intended it to be that way. But that’s how it worked out. Gene’s been gone for almost 25 years now, so we can’t ask him how he feels about this legacy. Frankly, I think I’d be damned proud to have a fictional footprint the size of Starfleet on my storytelling resume. Starfleet is the idealized service many actual, current servicemembers wish they could join — myself included.

Starfleet will live forever.

That’s canon. That’s the fans finding meaning in the work.

I noticed recently — when examining Amazon.com reviews — that fans of David Weber’s Honor Harrington books, weren’t terribly pleased with the comic book adaptation that’s come out. From a purely visual standpoint, the comics look great. But fans of the books seem to feel that the comics are taking too many liberties. The authenticity isn’t what the fans expected it to be. The Honor Harrington they know and love in the novels, is not faithfully replicated in comics form.

This, too, is canon. Or, at least, an example of fan reaction when canon has not been sufficiently adhered to.

Maybe another generation of readers, sufficiently removed from the source, could read and enjoy the Honor Harrington comics with fresh eyes?

That’s what almost anyone treading familiar ground has to hope for — that there will be enough fresh people who like the new material, to offset old-guard fans who are married to the old material. Star Trek survived this, when The Next Generation came on strong. Of course, The Next Generation did not disavow anything which had gone before, and was sufficiently visually and thematically Star Trek that it was relatively easy for most fans to adapt to the new ship, the new crew, the new stories, and the evolved world put forth in Jean-Luc Picard’s 24th century Federation, versus James Kirk’s 23rd century.

Abrams’s “Nu Trek” is a very different approach — it overturns everything, going all the way back to square one. Same characters, but events are scrambled up, and everything we saw and knew before has been placed into a “plot bottle” and set on the shelf. We may never see any more movies or TV series told in that timeline.

Are fans going to hold with it? How much overlap is there between the fans of the older series and movies, and fans of Nu Trek?

I ponder all of this as I work on my own books. These future histories I lay down, in story form, they are “real” in my mind. But I have to always remind myself that they will be double “real” in the minds of readers — and those readers are going to expect me to take my job seriously; as the teller of the future history. I have to be faithful to the eyes and ears who will receive that future history. I have to strive for consistency. And, over time, I have to be respectful of the fact that what my readers see in my work, may not necessarily be what I see in my work. (again: Roddenberry.) For them, the books will become a unique experience. Apart from me or what I intended. Created anew in the minds and hearts of people who know little or nothing about me, or who I am; they are simply coming to the story fresh. When they are done, the story will have attained something of permanence in their minds. Hopefully, if I’ve done my work right, it will be a pleasant permanence. Something they can take with them into the future, as a memorable, worthwhile experience. And it will be their experience. Make no mistake.

I think that’s where Lucas goofed. He said to himself, “I made Star Wars so I can do whatever I want with it, and people will love it.” Only, no. The “fixes” to the first three films, have not aged well since they were adopted. Look at how many fans are begging Disney to make good on its promise to offer us unadulterated, pure versions of Episodes IV, V, and VI — sans the CGI and other 1990s meddling that may have seemed like a nifty idea at the time, but which have ultimately proven to be a distraction. Or have even angered some fans, who walked away feeling like Lucas didn’t respect them sufficiently to leave well enough alone.

And that’s the bottom line: respect for the audience. The moment your book or story is out in the world, that audience “owns” the experience as much as you own the story. Go easy, folks. Be gentle in your desire to re-work a thing, or tell that audience how they ought to see your creation. Maybe what they get out of it, is totally different from what you’d like, or what you intended. But that’s okay. Storytelling is a two-part creative enterprise. The first part is complete when the story leaves your fingertips. The rest happens between the ears of the receivers on the other end — their imaginations, their time, their investment. Honor that. Cherish it, in fact.

Because we’ve seen what can go wrong, when any creator(s) decide to do otherwise.

Turning a blind eye

I want to start by thanking Cedar for stepping in and handling MGC last Tuesday. This past week has been more than a bit trying and there was simply no way I could have blogged then. Life is slowly returning to normal and I will try to do Cedar proud today but I warn everyone that the brain is still a little battered around the edges after everything that’s happened this week. Anyway. . . .

There has been a lot of talk over the last week or so about the latest Author Earnings report. AAP report and now John Scalzi’s take on it all. If you want to read more about what Scalzi had to say about the two reports, you can check out this article on Teleread or check out what the Passive Voice has to say. I guess no one should be surprised to know that Scalzi puts more credence into the AAP report — the one put together by supporters of traditional publishing — than he does the AE report (indie publishing). After all, look at what camp he happens to be in and where his paycheck comes from.

From Teleread: He [Scalzi] scoffs at the latest Author Earnings figures on the basis of “the source [being] unabashedly pro-indie (and less-than-subtly in my opinion anti-publishing)” and thence opines that publishers know exactly what they’re doing in raising the price of e-books. They’re intentionally protecting the print market, Scalzi believes, at least insofar as the strategy touches on novels.

Of course publishers are protecting the print market. With Author’s Guild finally demanding traditional publishing amend their contracts so that authors receive a larger percentage of royalties for e-books, it makes sense for publishers to try to protect the remaining portion of their business where they get the lion’s share of royalties. For the last how many years have we heard from traditional publishing (and again I have to say Baen is the exception) that they have basically the same expense in making an e-book that they do a print book. They have even tried to make that argument fly when the print — and possibly two to three print versions — of the book already exist. We’ve been told e-books have to be edited and set (as in print set) and new covers, etc. That argument has finally gone the way of the dodo because there are too many of us out there in the trenches who know just how wrong that argument is and we’ve been letting others know.

So now, with the print market continuing to shrink, publishers are doing what they can to protect that market at the expense of the digital market. They continue to fail to recognize that their business model is outmoded and out-dated. Instead, they blame Amazon for their problems. After all, it is so much easier to blame someone else for your failings than to take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize that the problem rests with you.

But let’s continue with what Scalzi has to say.

Investing time in strengthening alternate retail paths makes sense in that case, especially if, as the article suggests, consumers are happy to receive the book in different formats for an advantageous price. If people fundamentally don’t care if they read something in print or electronic format, as long as they get a price they like, that leaves publishers a lot of room to maneuver.

As Teleread noted, this is part of Scalzi’s point that what publishers are doing is an anti-Amazon strategy. Hmm. So, before we get into the economics of what he says, let’s look at the alternatives to Amazon. I live in a large metropolitan area. There was a time when there were, by a quick mental count, half a dozen or so bookstores within a ten mile radius of where I live. Two were chains and the rest were locally owned bookstores. Then came the big box stores like Bookstop which was followed by Borders and then Barnes & Noble. The two chains were bought up by the big box stores and the mom and pop stores were run out of business. Flush with their success, Borders and Barnes & Noble, as well as one or two other national chains, expanded and expanded and expanded and then started to go bust. Now Barnes & Noble is the only major chain store still standing, at least in this part of the country, and a number of their stores down here have closed. In that same ten mile radius, there is one B&N and it is more than a bit difficult to get to because of its location. Lousy parking, worse traffic and an indifferent staff. Yeah, right, that is where I’m going to go to buy my books. Not.

But let’s look at the economics of what Scalzi claims. Without taking into account the time and cost to drive somewhere, if I go to my local B&N, I will pay full-price for a book unless it happens to be on sale. But, Amanda, you can get their membership card. Yes, but I won’t. You see, I remember when those loyalty cards were free. All you had to do was fill out the information and give them an email address. Now, you pay $25 a year for the same thing. For that, I would get 40% off of their hard cover best sellers (and note when you look at their membership page, it doesn’t say if that is NYT best sellers, B&N best sellers or what) and 10% off almost everything else (of course there are exceptions). Oh, and I would get free express shipping on orders from BN.com (again with exceptions). Hmm. Nope.

Let’s look a bit deeper. Say I want to get J. D. Robb’s latest book. Devoted in Death is now available in hard cover and e-book. The price set by the publisher is $27.95. I can order it right now from B&N for $19.16 for hard cover or $13.99 for e-book. I can get it from Amazon for $18.88 or the same $13.99 for e-book.  I wouldn’t buy either of them from either store. Why? I don’t buy hard covers except for a very few authors any longer. Between declining quality of the actual book itself — not the writing or editing — and the lack of space, I have become a lot more picky about what I buy. As for the e-book, I refuse to pay that much for an e-book novel. I might pay it for a “boxed set” but not for a single e-book that is less than 400 pages.

But that’s me. Let’s go back and look at Scalzi’s assertion above. First, the sort of pricing we are seeing from publishers is not advantageous to anyone but the publishers. People aren’t as dumb as they seem to think. We know that an e-book doesn’t have the same amount of expense associated with it that a print book does. There are no physical resources necessary for an e-book such as paper, ink, press, physical storage and transportation — both to and from the distributor. Yet, they seem to think we are happy paying print prices for an e-book. They are not looking at the way indie and small press digital sales continue to climb while that trend for traditional publishers has slowed, especially after going back to an agency-like pricing.

There is something else folks like Scalzi forget — the generation that grew up loving physical books is aging. Our kids and grandkids are the tech generation. They live with their smartphones or tablets attached at one hand. They want and expect to be able to find a “book” quickly and have it instantly delivered to their phone or tablet or laptop. But they are also smart — hopefully — about their money. My son looks at the price differences between hard cover, soft cover and digital and will walk away from an e-book priced over $10. His basic response is why should he pay that much for a single book when he can go to Baen and get a month’s worth of releases for less than $20? He gets seven e-books for $18. That is a much better deal for him than buying a single e-book for $13.99 or more. Even if he doesn’t like a book or two from the bundle, he still has more than a few books that will entertain and engage him.

But, according to Scalzi and others, it is all about Amazon being bad.

I could go on. After all, Scalzi calls into question the methodology for gathering and reporting the AE data. I find that more than a little humorous (and possibly duplicitous) considering he is championing the AAP numbers which are reported by publishers that rely upon Bookscan numbers (see Cedar’s post on Tuesday, linked above, for more on just how “reliable” Bookscan is not). Oh, and there is the allegation that the AE findings are suspect because of the pro-indie and anti-traditional publishing stance of AE. Isn’t that sort of the pot calling the kettle black since Scalzi is pro-traditional publishing?

I guess this is all a case of which side do you fall on and how do you read the data. For me, I know what my sales have been over the last five years or so. I’ve seen them go up each year, not only as indie publishing has gained more and more traction but as I’ve put out more work. I know that I know make more in a year on my science fiction and fantasy than I would in a traditional advance for a new author (which I would be seen as by most publishers) from most traditional publishers. So tell me again why the AE report is bad and the AAP report is good.

The truth is, traditional publishing is going to hang on, at least for some time. It will eventually morph into something smaller that will survive. Indie publishing will continue as well. Tech has given us that. Readers will, given the chance, set the prices they are willing to pay. Unless and until traditional publishing finds a way to get the courts or the legislature to set a minimum price, indie publishing will continue to undercut them there and that will help expand the indie market. (And don’t think traditional publishing and its supporters aren’t already trying to undermine the indie market. Authors United is trying to convince the Justice Department to investigate Amazon. Funny, I don’t remember anyone having any problems with Amazon until they opened up to indie publishing and it started taking off. Hmmm. Could there be a correlation?)

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough. What are your thoughts on the issue?

Taking Off the Writer Hat

I’d like to apologize in advance, in retrospect. Looking back, a lot of my posts have been far more in the way of “life of the writer,” than they have been about writing as a craft. Becoming a father has dramatically narrowed my existence, and I’m still coming to terms with the machine-gun changes (don’t tell me that lasts for decades. I really don’t need to hear that.) If this is a problem, please, let me know in the comments.

I’m not quitting writing (I can quit anytime I want *sob*), though you’ll be forgiven if you don’t really notice the difference. Times come when you have to switch jobs, at least temporarily. For those of us in the real world, this is a daily event. For example, I’m a short order cook at least a couple of times a day. Then I’m a nanny. Then back to cook. Barista. Write- nope: back to nanny, as that stench is more potent than simple boy-farts. Housekeeper. Etc. For anybody who has had the unutterable pleasure (un-utterable, I say!) of parenting a toddler, this should come as no surprise.

Wee Dave’s doing well. He calls everything “dada,” so I can’t tell if he’s talking to me, or making surprisingly astute comments about early 20th C. avant-garde art. He’s showing a tendency to test the structural integrity of thing with his head, which is a bit distressing, to judge from his subsequent behavior. But, c’mon, kid, the thing’s proportionally huge (not to mention just large) so the odds are good you’ll whang it into something during the day. He’s walking almost everywhere, and seems to be losing his suspicion of nature.

Mrs. Dave is likewise doing well, as is Working Title #2, to the best of our knowledge. The tiny creature seems just as active as Older Sibling was at that stage of development. Dave, on the other hand, is quietly dreading WT2’s appearance in a few months. Dave, you see – the writerly Dave, rather than the wee one – already doesn’t really get much done on the creative front. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen when there are two of them. Hopefully, I’ll spend less time mucking about on the Internet. That can’t be healthy.

Of course, it may not matter. This whole writer thing doesn’t seem to be panning out for me. I mean, sure, I’ve gotten some good reviews of the few things out there. I’ve got reams and reams of- wait, that doesn’t work in this new, digital age. I’ll come in again, shall I? I’ve got files and files of words in all manner of worlds. I’ve got people who actually want me to write.

It’d sure be nice if some of that happened, y’know?

I’ve been re-reading Larry’s Ask Correia essays (link to the first one), in which he imparts, with blunt force trauma, his understanding of what it is to be a writer. I enjoy Larry’s take-no-prisoners style of explication. I’ve love to see him revamp or expand the list (in his so-copious free time) but I’m not holding my breath. He’s got more important things to do. Like write.

In Number 14, the Big C lays out what it takes to be a professional author: work. And lots of it. Dedicated effort in the pursuit of goals. He also takes time to blast the notion of writer’s block, which I’m a little ambivalent about. I haven’t written much fiction recently. As Mrs. Dave pointed out to me (not so gently) “writer” is a secondary occupation right now. About to get more secondary (see above). “Daddy” is much higher on the list of priorities, most of the time. (Again, see above.)

Enough so that writing falls a bit by the wayside, as well as things like keeping the house neat. Which brings me – finally – to the point of the post. Life is complex, and often complicated. Adulting is hard. There are bills to pay, work to be done so one can get paid sufficiently to pay said bills (and keep one in internets, scotch, and ammo). Domiciles need to be kept to a minimum of filth. The usual.

As we do all the things to keep body and (probably) soul together, the grind eats away at the energy we can direct toward other, more fulfilling purposes. This is just basic stuff: spend all day cleaning, and you don’t feel much like writing. At least, I don’t. And then there are the habits. The patterns we get into as humans that simply become background for the day-to-day. Our house was … cluttered. Not filthy, and by no means unlivable. But … there was far too much stuff, just kind of out. Stacks of books, papers, himself’s toys. The detritus of life. And then Mom and Pop Dave (we’re a Dave kind of family) visited and we ransacked the place, and now things are open, and clean (and more importantly, cleanable), and the reduces visual noise is an enormous reduction in my day-to-day stress. One that I hadn’t realized was actually there.

In a similar manner, this weekend we’ll be tackling the office, which became a transshipment depot in the Cleanening, and requires … attention. It’s entirely possible that’ll bust open the floodgates, and I’ll be cranking out wordcount in short order. I don’t really believe it, but it could happen (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease).

We as writers often spend so much time inside our own skulls that our behavioral patterns don’t get examined in depth. Take off the writer hat once in a while, and go through your life to see if something can be changed to increase your creative drive. The goal, here, is to get paid for your work. If you aren’t producing sufficient to meet your needs, something needs to change.