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I thought when I grew up I might become a thought leader.

You know, put on some eu-de-thought and take folk’s eagerly following thought on leads in a bunch for nice little drag around the park, before returning them to the owners’ heads, all relieved, exercised, happy, tired and ready for din-dins.

The only flaw in my plan seems to be getting the leashes to stay on. People’s thoughts seem to go where they will, despite my best efforts to drag them off to poop on the grass outside Councilor Onswud’s office.

This particular bit of inane insanity was brought to you courtesy of a young writer, who I asked why they were doing this? (Having in a fit of gullibility agreed to read some of their magnum opus.)

They told me they wanted to be ‘A thought leader’.

I smiled, wished them the best of luck, waved and walked the other way as quickly as I possibly could, heaved a deep sigh of relief and wiped my furry brow once I was safe around the corner.

It was of course a question asked because the ‘story’ in question was… a rather tedious recital of all the obligatory politically correct points, parroted by suitably politically correct characters chosen from the checklist and absolutely nothing else to commend them. There is of course an audience who want thoughts ‘lead’ (It’s a heavy toxic metal) in this fashion. And absolutely, the author should publish, and should be free to. I encouraged the author to do just that. They will probably nominate it for Hugo.

But for me it’s like cabbage.

It needs to quite well disguised before I eat it, and preferably in small quantities. It is, for me, anyway, unlikely to be the hero of the dish.

Which brings me around to yet another one of my silly stories. It’s what I do best, and I like to keep in practice. (Yes, one of my other games is obscure references to sf. It pleases me, delights a few readers and isn’t noticed by most.)

Once upon a time, not that long ago or far away, lived a few cooks who believed to the innermost core in the benefits of cabbage (there are indeed, some benefits. Many of which do not include being downwind.) In their busy little seaside town, where folk came to take a holiday, there were many eateries of various types. Indeed the food was very much a part of why people came.

The cooks inserted themselves into some of the eateries, and of course into the local town council, and cooked… and counciled (which is often rather like the aftermath of serving cooking but without any of the intermediate phases. Go straight to toilet paper, do no digesting or enjoyment.)

Now of course, their dishes all had an element of cabbage. Not everyone liked the cabbage, and some steered away from those dishes. But nothing loath, our brave cabbagers soldiered on, some moving into running restaurants, and needless to say, hiring more cabbage cooks. Of course some people just love cabbage. And a skilled cook can use a small amount of it in any number of ways, inoffensive to almost all, but the most sensitive super-tasters.

The town council made things… gradually more difficult for those restaurants did not have cabbage-obsessed cooks. It gradually got to the stage that if you wanted a job, cooking, you needed to profess a love of cabbage, and of course add it into any dish you prepared. This worked well in some dishes like Caldo verde – green soup, but alas, cabbage melba was not a success.

And as time went on, the town council, now entirely run by cabbagers refused entry and put out of business non-cabbage eateries. And gradually the restaurants stopped bothering with small amounts or disguise. Cabbage soup, without other ingredients, Stuffed cabbage was stuffed with cabbage, and any criticism of the cabbage flan or cabbage with cabbage ice-cream became punishable with a fine.

Needless to say, eating out in the town became something only hardened cabbage lovers enjoyed.

Other visitors didn’t. They didn’t even like being in the same town. They took their holidays in a neighboring seaside town, which flourished, just as the re-named town of Cabbage-On-Sea, wilted.

It was a pretty place and some well-disposed visitors suggested that a return to a menu at restaurants that wasn’t just cabbage (boiled, fried, steamed, pickled and raw) might bring the tourists back, and make the place smell less.

They were driven forth with hard words and harder sticks and stones.

Instead the cabbagers settled on trying to destroy the neighboring town, and, if that failed, repeat their takeover of Cabbage-On-Sea.

Because they believe cabbage is good for everyone, especially them.

And they never seem to learn about all things being good in moderation, and not in dessert.

If the story sounds familiar, it’s because it keeps happening. Books, news, countries, awards – always the same story. Only rather than cabbage, it is thoughts (you remember –those things which are led. Or lead (if they are heavy enough).

Writers are not thought leaders. They’re not even good thought-sheepdogs.

Yes, yes, occasional books do and will have a huge impact on the world. But really most people don’t pay to have their thoughts led, any more than pay to eat un-requited cabbage. Yes, of course there are a handful of people who will say that any book led them to think about xyz in such a way, and love the author for this (And as often as not, that wasn’t what the author meant). But mostly books are like the seaside town. We go there for a good time, to be comforted or relieved of stress or boredom of our lives. Occasionally we may come across a new idea (at least new to us) that says ‘shiny’ and we embrace it. But seriously, if your reason for writing is to lead my thoughts to a ‘better’ place… Work out what you’re saying about me, and why I don’t like it.

Who the hell are you to think I can, or should be, led?

Why should I follow you or your philosophy, you vain little pimple on the backside of irrelevance?

The willingness of the reader to be led, to admit they want to be led has to be major factor in whether people buy your book. Of course there are people who fit into the lost and needing leading. Or into reassuring ‘we are going the right way’ bracket. But for the rest of us… you need to disguise that cabbage.

And stop repeating the same mistake.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, with somewhat less cabbage, and almost no rat CHANGELING’S ISLAND is available for pre-order (which pushes my sales ranking up). The picture is a link that makes me few more pence. Yes. It is ‘YA’. The day I write something for a younger audience that I think isn’t worth reading with older eyes, is the day I quit. (So you can spend $6.74 and tell me it’s time)

Markets, versus what we think they want

I was at a convention not very long ago, and listening to a conversation going on between a number of my peers — to include several aspirants I knew would be breaking in very soon. There was much excitement over a supposed subgenre of a subgenre within Science Fiction and Fantasy, to the point that every single author in that circle seemed convinced that this subgenre was going to go out and take over the world. Each of them had plans for stories and books to be written in that subgenre of the subgenre. All of it sounded very interesting to me. But I also knew that the market for this material was going to be fantastically narrow. Which is really saying something, considering the extant narrowness of SF/F as a form of literary entertainment.

But that particular circle was on fire about their subject, and I am not keen on throwing cold water across creative people when they’re hot about their work. That’s not my style.

Nevertheless, I’ve yet to see this subgenre of a subgenre go on to become the genre-dominant force many say it will be, even to this day. Not because it’s not a worthwhile flavor of SF/F — I think it’s deservedly intriguing, and there are a great many people investing a great deal of time and energy in it. But because I think this is a (common) case of authors becoming fixated on a thing because it pushes our love buttons, without the market following suit.

I think we are, as a class of creative professional, incredibly susceptible to this inverted fish-eye view of the marketplace. Once we latch onto a thing, we can latch onto it with almost fanatical energy.

Which is not always bad. Sometimes I think we look around and we say, “I am not seeing X or Y type books and stories,” and that becomes the spark that drives our prose. I know it’s certainly been true for me, and I think I’ve been fortunate to tap a genuine vein within the SF/F audience that has been — according to my reader mail — underserviced and neglected. It was a case of author perception (mine) roughly matching audience perception (theirs) and the marriage of supply and demand has been a happy one, which I hope to enjoy for a long time into the future.

But then there are moments where I think we, as writers, overly fetishize our own innovation, to the point that we’re talking way past the readers, and are instead writing books and stories strictly to ourselves, about ourselves, for ourselves, and concerned only with our own desire to see a given kind of book or story reach print — even if there is not really any consumer interest waiting on the other end.

A lot of this fetishization can be traced to SF/F’s hoary old expectation that no wheel be re-invented. Going all the way back to the pulp era, a common conceit arose, stipulating that once a given concept or idea had been “done” that concept was more or less used up, and it was expected that future authors — having dutifully studied and read all which had gone before — would not re-mow the same patch of grass. A kind of faddishness grew from this expectation, such that topics would rise, explode, and die, in almost supernova-like style. But once that supernova had reduced to dwarf status, it was time for everybody to move on. The thing had been seen and done and read enough. It was time for something new.

Except, after a century of feverish activity, SF/F really has been just about everywhere it can go, in some form. There aren’t any new ideas under the sun, as the saying goes. So, people resort to improbable mash-ups, or extremely deep, hair-crack dives on old ideas — drilling down, at fine-tooth-comb detail, in an attempt to extract mileage from the tiniest shreds of unexplored real estate.

None of which is bad, mind you. I do hate how this kind of analysis can turn into a bad/good false dichotomy. Rather, I want to suggest that such electron-microscope exploration — while fascinating to students of the field — risks leaving the larger audience behind. That larger audience probably hasn’t read even one one-hundredth of the field’s books and stories. They don’t know this decade’s evolving iteration of the “classics,” as defined by the cognoscenti. They’re blissfully unaware of the yellow and black-striped caution signs saying, THIS HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE, MOVE ON.

The public just wants to be entertained — and they’re prepared to take any book or story at face value. Just because it’s been done before, doesn’t mean this generation of readers knows, or cares.

I believe this is how a concept like Weir’s The Martian captures so much attention. There was absolutely nothing new about it. Men-go-to-Mars stories have been around from the very beginning of the field. Weir just happened to tell a particularly detailed, hard-science version of that story — one which this generation of consumers was ready to embrace. All else grew from there, and Weir reaped the fruit thereof. And good for him. As an admirer and practitioner of Hard SF, I found it hugely gratifying to see a genuine Hard SF story not just succeed with a broad audience, but succeed to an overwhelming degree; both in print, and on the big screen. After enduring a lot of backhanded scorn from the softer side of the genre — obsessed with sociological explorations of SF — I was heartened by the idea that the public still wanted and appreciated a genuine Hard SF “nuts and bolts” approach to a classic Jack London man-versus-the-elements story.

So, I temper my enthusiasm for the latest talk about sailpunk wereshark post-apocalypse antihero pirate-crossover transexual romances, being the thing that will now light the genre on fire. This is speculation driven almost entirely from within — from that place where we desperately want to forge the new, from the old. We may pick up a thing, and marvel at how it sparkles in the light of our mind’s eye — but to the wider audience, it’s just another beach rock. Nothing worth getting excited about. Expecting that the broader audience will become enamored with it, to the degree we ourselves may be enamored with it, can produce a lot of frustration, and even anger.

Now, an artiste won’t give a damn. “Real art” is never, ever supposed to be about the desire of the unwashed masses. “Real art” is about pouring salt water on the paper cuts of the soul. To hell with what the audience wants.

For my money, a professional walks a middle path. Not slavish to market forces, but not prone to belly-button infatuation with overly strange and esoteric ideas, either. The number of artistes surviving on subsidy, is legion. The number of pros who discover how to routinely provide a product that speaks to a lot of people in the commercial pel mel of the entertainment universe, is much smaller. Thus the task is (in my view) much harder. But it’s a challenge worth undertaking. Not only because of the financial incentive. But also for the sake of readers who will appreciate being given a resoundingly solid experience.

Predictable Behaviour

As we learn to write, one of the greatest tools, and conversely, the most crippling failing, can be the understanding that humans are predictable. It can be very easy to predict that a man and a woman pushed into close proximity with, say, one of them in the role of taking care of the other who has been injured: we all know that story ends with them being in love. But if we do this too often, we fall into stereotyping. There’s a thin line between developing a cardboard character who hits all the clichés for human behavior, and one who is richly alive but still human in their motivations and reactions.

Let’s take, for instance, a denizen of a blog we’ll dub vile 666 and make an assumption. We could write them as cowardly creatures who stay in their safe space ranting about things they have extrapolated from other blogs, and those things bear little to no resemblance to what the rest of humanity would call reality. But that would be a stereotype. Instead, we need to look deeper and see what motivates these characters and drives them to believe the way they do with the concomitant reactions that leave the rest of us wondering just how delusional they can get. Here, we see that the characters are confusing a tiny space of their close, er, friends with the big wide world. Here’s a human assumption: the reaction of the larger population of humans to small cliques is, by and large, apathy. But inside the clique, reality becomes constricted to the small pool of light cast by their news sources, and they can only see what is illuminated by that light. In other words, a phenomenon known as gaslighting.

In a story, we sometimes see characters and wonder why they are doing a certain thing “that’s stupid,” we think, “why can’t they see beyond their noses?” In real life, this can happen. Humans are predictably short-sighted, and once they have allowed their world to contract into the visible range of the gaslight, the rest of the world falls dark to them. Powerful stuff for the author, if done right, to show that world being expanded again by turning on other lights and revealing a broader realm to the character. The most recent example I can think of in fiction is the Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia, with the culminating episode being the man who cannot see beyond what he was taught all his life traveling for the first time outside his proscribed realm. A redemption story is one that humans, predictably, crave as it promises that mistakes can be mitigated, and we’ve all made mistakes.

It’s not an easy journey to undertake for your character. Keep that in mind. Simply snapping on all the lights at once to reveal a once-hidden universe will shock a human into a whimpering withdrawal even if they are made of stern stuff. They will reject that which is outside their perceived reality. A very good example is writing a story of a human suddenly discovering that magic is real. Have you ever read a story where the character who learns all about some paranormal phenomenon, takes it in stride, and you the reader had your suspension of disbelief shattered? People don’t react that way. This is also a tool used in writing fantasy, the people who simply don’t believe their own eyes and reject truth in order to maintain their comfortable existence.

It’s not stereotyping to know that people do react in certain ways. The man who rescues the woman will indeed be very attractive to her. The nurse who tenderly cares for a man who in time recovers his strength will be dear to him. But if we look deeper, we can add depth to the characters, using the predictability as a map of highways and knowing we need to add the secondary and tertiary roads to create a fully-developed character. People resist change, and will return to old habits if not pulled away for some reason, or given support as they change slowly. Humans are this way for a reason: it’s not safe for a human alone to careen off in every direction, abandoning the cave for sleeping in the tree and picking that new shiny red mushroom for dinner. We take things slowly almost by instinct, and it’s not a bad thing.

In a story, we can precipitate our heroes into trouble that forces change on them. We can, authorially, shatter worlds literal and metaphorical, to make the story happen. But we must remember that humans are always human. Some of the characters, just like some people, will refuse to admit light into their constrained world, and will run around pulling all the blinds tight, taping tinfoil to the windowpanes, and then retreating to a small closet to pretend the world not-as-they-know-it doesn’t exist.

It’s much better to write the flexible characters, the ones who face the storm afraid but undaunted. These people exist in real life, too. The curious ones, the seekers of knowledge, the ones willing to take a pratfall from time to time, get up, dust themselves off, laugh at how silly they looked, and learn from it. The ones who follow the light and help guide those who cannot see out into safety as the skies fall. They are the characters that, predictably! we like to read about, and hope, in our hearts, that we are like.

97% Of The Time: Works Every Time

It’s been a while. Been busy, and while I’m assured that normal people manage this stuff, I’m becoming more and more certain that most of the time they just get used to the new normal. Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave, aka Wiggles aka Moxie (she’s got attitude to spare, already) joined us on Groundhog Day (no, didn’t see her shadow, no, Mommy wouldn’t have taken her back even if she had. The appropriate jokes were made at the appropriate time) and I’ve been running since. The good news is that it turns out labor is an excellent time for me to plot novels. The bad news is that juggling a newborn, a toddler, and a recovering wife doesn’t leave one with much time to write. And it leaves my arms rather tired.

The other good news is that I’m writing again, though in fits and starts. And thinking about writing. I’m sure that’s in one of those pie-chart quasi-meme-fographics that flickered past my consciousness sometime recently. And I’m learning (re-learning?) that one of the things that’s key to me putting words on paper (or electrons on … other electrons) is getting out of the way of the story.

I am … prone to thinking. Partly this comes of being as extremely introverted as I am. Part of this comes of the way I was raised, and further training. It can be amazingly useful when it comes, say, to maintaining a relationship with someone. It can also be incredibly UNuseful when it comes to, say, not bollixing up a story by thinking too hard about it while you’re writing it. “Well, maybe he should turn right instead of left; maybe that’ll punch up the emotional impact.” (No, it won’t. Stop. Just write the story.) “He’s a scribe’s apprentice in an early industrial revolution where moveable type is a new but going thing. He needs to run afoul of the press gang. How did it work? Wait, did that even happen? *hours and hours later*” (Stop the research when you’ve got enough to write the next sentence. No, stop it. Just write the story.) And so forth.

Overthinking is a problem, and one my father will happily assure has always been with me. This post is not about overthinking, per se. It’s really about perspective. I firmly believe writers all to one degree or another suffer from this particular ailment. It might even be possible to judge a writer’s career based upon how they deal with it (somebody get on that, hmm?). Much like impostor syndrome, I’ve heard of perhaps one or two creative types who *don’t* deal with overthinking (and both of them, and one other will no doubt show up in the comments. Bring it!). Thinking about a thing is a comfortable place to be, as opposed to doing that thing, which is always hard work (I’m allergic, but I hear there are pills for that now) and often a distinctly uncomfortable place to be.

Sarah mentioned a notion at According To Hoyt yesterday that crystallizes what I’m after, here: Dance in the stream of chaos. For writers – certainly discovery writers, though I wager outliners deal with it to some degree, as well – this is bread and butter for doing art. It’s uncomfortable to be in the middle of the story with little-t0-no clue of what’s going to happen next. That’s a given.

Think of it like this: you have an ability to effect effects. Everyone does. Of the 100% of your ability, one percent is gone to the vagaries of the universe. Call it entropy, call it fate, karma, or kismet, one percent goes to reflect you doing everything right and still failing to make the effect you want. Of the remaining 99%, you’re going to be able to manage more or less depending on the myriad of circumstances at any given time. Some days will be more, some less. Days when you’ve gotten your eight hours the night previous, downed your Death Wish (naked plea for corporate sponsorship), knocked out your to-do list, and still plowed on to plot a novel, finish a short, and rock half a dozen new chapters in your WIP. A good day, no doubt. You were rocking that 99%.

Then there are other days. The days when you were up several times with the baby (I’m staring adoring daggers at you, Moxie), the coffee just barely drags you past death-warmed-over, and you haven’t even started your list. The days when the thought of writing actually makes your eyes glaze. The days when you’re barely topping 50%. There’s a thing you can do to regain some of your emotional distance; your perspective, and return your energy to a point where you can get things done, get words written.

When you hit the points where you start to – f0r lack of a better phrase and because this is just how I roll – freak out, you need to stop it (or I’ll bury you alive in a box, natch) short of directing that at anything external, and use it as a motive force. Have your moment of fight-flight-freeze reaction, but train yourself to step back from the brink before blasting that idiot on BaceFook or the dying leftward-spiral of Twitter, or yelling at your characters for making decisions you didn’t want them to make (unless that actually helps your process: seriously, do what works for you), and ask yourself if this is genuinely a priority for your energy. Is this whatever a real thing to deal with, or is this something you can actually use to further your real goals. Become a miser of your time and energy, and don’t spend them on anything that isn’t going to further your goals.

In my case, I could get bent out of shape over Wee Dave demanding ALL DADDY’S ATTENTION when I’m in the midst of preparing dinner so he, Mrs. Dave, and I can eat something besides a handful of nuts and maybe a twig or two tonight. In which case I’d be wasting a bunch of energy (and time), and I’d end up exhausted at dinner time, and have nothing left with which to write. Now, I can always then stagger down to the office and slaughter horrible monsters of one kind or another, but that doesn’t get words written. Or, I could mentally step back, recognize that I’m on the cusp of one of those moments, and choose to act more constructively. Then I don’t waste the energy I need for creative pursuits. In fact I experience a boost from redirecting that energy into something much more healthy than yelling in frustration, scaring my son, and making my wife wonder if, indeed, she has married a raving lunatic (she has; sorry, Babe). Then I can get the Boy-creature cleansed of his child-stench, the wife fed so she can get the Girl fed, and then I can finally escape downstairs (Dobby is free!) to write.

It’s that perspective that’s so vital. In the moment, it’s mighty difficult to step back and take the mental breath necessary to act better. Especially on the 50% days. I speak from no little experience. Without the training (and it does take training) you’re going to simply react, and end up exhausted, all the time. How do I train myself, Dave? I’m glad you asked! It begins with an act of will. You choose to take that breath, just like you chose to pick up the pen or lay hands to keyboard the first time. For me, I’m still in process (SWIDT? Oh, look: a lampshade! Where’d that come from?) and figuring out the other parts. I’m using visualization and analysis. What are the situations most likely to push my buttons? And then I run through scenarios in my head wherein my son spills something oily on the couch while Mrs. Dave is in the shower and Moxie is shrieking for a dry diaper. And I choose to act without freaking out (even in my head) and figure out some way to manage the situation to my advantage. Do that kind of thing.

The other piece of perspective is that you already have most of that 100% locked up. You got up, showered, adulted, and probably even did something constructive before you hit a cusp point. Recognize that. You’ve already got most of this. I repeat: you’ve already got most of this. Most of the writers I know keenly feel the chaos of existence, and this includes me. The part I most often miss in the moment is that I’m actually doing quite well, all told. It’s that last two or three percent that wants to elude me. I’m not going to let it. Are you?

Hugo Categories Highlight: The Big Two

Best Novel: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer : The John W. Campbell Award is given to the best new science fiction or fantasy writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy was published in a professional publication in the previous two years. For the 2016 award, which is presented at the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon), the qualifying work must have been published in 2014 or 2015.

I’m wrapping these two together because they’re the big hitters of the Hugos even though the Campbell isn’t a Hugo. They’re also, well… kind of obvious. The Campbell website even has a list of eligible authors.

It’s pretty clear what’s eligible and what isn’t in both cases – the Campbell site FAQ has a nice clear guide to what they consider professional and while you can disagree about whether it’s valid or not, it’s certainly clear what counts.

As for what to nominate, well, that’s up to you folks. I can guarantee that what shows up on my ballot will not be what bubbles to the top of the List, because I’m doing the List as a service to anyone who’s interested and trying to boost interest and involvement in the entire Hugos process. Also because I’m just weird.

Now the administrative stuff:

I will start closing comments on the Sad Puppies recommendation threads starting around 5pm US Eastern Time on Monday 29th February. This is so I don’t have new recommendations coming in while I’m trying to collate what’s there.

I expect to be done collating by mid-March: I will post the list here and on the site either the second or third Thursday in March (that’s the 10th and the 17th). Anyone who wants to should be able to get pretty close to the results I get by counting for themselves – I will not be removing any comments. I expect that mostly what I’ll be doing is checking whether or not this or that post is an accidental double that slipped through.

Here, the post will be the top 10 (or as close as I can get) for each category. I will link to the full list for anyone who wants to see it.

Obligatory warning message: It might be too late to sign up to nominate, but you can still sign up to vote!

Obligatory warning message 2: I wasn’t joking about the demon berserker kitten.

UPDATE: Yes, yes, I forgot to link the recommendation threads.

Best Novel

Campbell Award (this one needs a LOT more love. Please give the category more love.)

Ten Signs That You Might Be A Novel’s Character

1- Nothing is ever easy, nor simple.  Say you are walking across the street to get a gallon of milk.  A rare make of car will almost run you down.  The store that sells the milk will be out of milk. You’ll have to walk across the most dangerous area of town to get to the next store.

This means someone is making you terminally interesting.

2- You remember more near-death experiences than a character in iZombie.

This is probably just background infodumps.  The author is trying to show how resilient you are.

3- All or your friends are terminally interesting and can be counted on for either an explosion or comic relief when needed.

This is good for keeping the plot moving when you’re tired/recovering/ill.

4- You have one or more catch phrases.

This is very useful for delineating a character when the author doesn’t have particularly good character skills.

5- You consistently get interrupted when you try to tell people the most important part of any story.

This is an attempt to create suspense.  Not a very clever one.  BUT, you know, sooner or later your author might find a good writers’ group.

6- You have almost lost a friendship to a huge misunderstanding which would have been cleared up if you’d just paid attention.

7- People are insanely attracted to you, despite age/body type/lack of interest.

8- You have one or more unlikely abilities, which comes in handy in circumstances that should never strike.  Say you are a camel whisperer.  It will turn out the only way to escape a traffic jam is on camel back. If you’re this well foreshadowed, you might want to consider you only exist within pages of a novel.

9- You never cry.  You’ve tried to, but you just can’t cry.  You can REMEMBER crying, but that’s probably back history.  Main characters don’t cry, because then the reader will have to.

10 – You don’t remember some of the more exciting episodes in your life, or not in detail, particularly if they involve more than three people.  This is because crowd scenes are very hard to write, but easier to summarize.

BONUS: if you keep finding people who were murdered in bizarre ways, you’re not the main character of a novel.  You’re an amnesiac mass murderer.


Okay, it’s time to wake up

I’ve sat down several times to write today’s post and each time I find my fingers poised above the keyboard and I know what I want to write. Then it disappears and I find myself once again wondering at a comment I saw in a private group this morning. It was one of those messages that make you stop, reread, do a little research and still scratch your head and wonder what the heck happened to common sense during the night while you were sleeping.

The price of e-books is not a new topic here at MGC, or just about anywhere else where authors talk about the value of their work. Some of us have a higher threshold for what we are willing to pay than others. The one thing we have all agreed upon is that an e-book should not cost more than a paperback and most certainly shouldn’t cost almost as much as the hardcover. That’s not only common sense but basic accounting. It simply doesn’t cost as much to produce an e-book as it does the print version.

But this morning, the comment that had me wondering if I had fallen down some sort of warp hole into an alternate reality came from someone who was looking for recommendations for e-books to read. From the comments made by this person, it sounded as if they were like many of us. They had budgeted a certain amount for books and did not want to go above that amount. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many of us, myself included, do that.

So far, so good.

But where the person lost me was with their explanation for why they weren’t buying a certain book. The book, Conquistador (by S. M. Stirling) was first published in 2003 by Penguin. The Kindle version currently sells for $7.99. That seems a bit high to me for a book that has been out more than 10 years but it is pretty much in line with what traditional publishing charges for e-books. Oh, you will find some that sell for a bit less but that isn’t what the OP was complaining about.

It seems the OP looked at how much the other versions of the book were selling for. The mass market paperback version, apparently still in print, sells for $7.99. Okay, I have a problem with that. E-book and print versions should not be selling for the same amount. It is a slap in my face as a reader because it assumes I can’t figure out that it costs a publisher more to print, store, and ship the print version than it does to convert and transmit the digital version. But even that wasn’t what the OP was complaining about.

No, the OP’s reason for not buying the e-book came down to this: the hardcover version sells for as little as $0.40. Yes, this is for a used version of the book. Yes, tax and shipping and handling have to be added. The lowest price, after all that is done, would be approximately $4.40. But not even the fact that the total price would be less than the mmpb or e-book wasn’t what the OP objected to.

What was, you ask. Simple. The OP felt that if people valued the book so little that they were willing to sell it for $0.40 for the hardcover, then it most definitely couldn’t be worth the $7.99 they would be spending for the digital version.

Apparently it didn’t matter to the OP that there are 129 reviews of the book posted on Amazon and that the book has an average rating of 3.9 out of 5. Nope, they glommed onto the fact that approximately 8 folks were reselling a book that is more than 10 years old for approximately $0.40. They apparently didn’t look through all 9 pages of resell listings to see that the price for the book went into the $50.00 range. Nope, all the OP saw was the first page of listings for $0.40 and above.

So what does that mean to the rest of us as authors? I’m not sure, other than it is yet another instance showing that we need to educate ourselves and our readers on the economics of publishing. I would rather someone resell one of my print books than trash it, even though I will get no royalty from that second sale. Why would I prefer it? Because that person buying the used book might like what they read and then buy new versions of my other work for themselves. Even if they don’t wind up buying new copies, they might recommend my work to someone else and that can translate into sales.

That is all very good.

But we also have to take this as a cautionary tale. Readers are looking for the best bang for their buck. Not all of them will look through all the used book listings to see if that really low price is the norm or an abnormality, nor will they think to add in shipping and tax to see what the final version is. So, if our e-books are priced at or near what the mmpb cost is (for new), then we very well may be doing ourselves a disservice. (Or our publisher is.)

Just a little food for thought.

So, here’s a question for you. Do you look at the price of used print versions of a book before you decide whether you will buy the e-book version? If so, at what point do you choose the used book over the e-book?