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The Problem of Being Too Good

Having been up to my eyeballs in Sad Puppies things, and The Day Job (particularly The Code of Cthulhu), I pretty much missed my chance to comment on Sarah’s post about Literature (as opposed to literature which is quite a different beastie). Buried in that post is the comment: “It annoys me when I can see the writer sweat.”

Now here’s the thing. I was raised in a musical household. It was a given that I’d be learning to play something (it wound up being trombone, and I was at one point bordering on good enough for professional work. If I’d had a half-decent singing voice, I could have taken that to professional level) and joining whatever local bands, orchestras, or whatever happened to be around and at more or less my ability level.

One of the things I learned was that in pretty much any creative endeavor the really good ones don’t look like they’re making any effort. They’re so good they make it look easy. They make it feel easy, and they appear to effortlessly produce the effect they’re aiming for, be it a gem of a musical performance or a story that’s a perfect or near perfect example of its art – and it’s so apparently effortless and clear that those of lesser understanding can too easily fail to see the work the author or musician or artist has carefully concealed behind the appearance of easy. That is why seeing the writer sweat is annoying.

Of course, this leads to those of lesser understanding (many of whom think they’re the bees knees and – to paraphrase Douglas Adams – the every other assorted insectile erogenous zone in existence) thinking that a book (or performance or whatever) that looks effortless actually is effortless and therefore is easy. Simply put, they mistake sweat and visible exertion for skill.

In the field of literary endeavor, this often translates to such things as deriding Terry Pratchett’s prose as “basic”. After all, he doesn’t go in for verbal special effects… Instead, Pratchett’s prose fades into the background as the vehicle bearing his plot and characters and everything else in the perfect manner for the tale he’s telling. Had he indulged in his love of words (which mostly found its expression in the footnotes) in the body of his prose, his books would have been poorer for it.

Dave Freer’s prose suffers in a similar way: Dave layers so much meaning into something that looks simple and easy to follow that people who think they know Literature dismiss his work as plain and low-brow (and miss the devastating satires, the gentle affection, and all the other little goodies Dave buries in his works).

I will confess: I’ve tried to read some of the Literature set’s darlings. The third or fourth paragraph that didn’t parse to anything meaningful was enough to convince me I didn’t want to waste my time on that. Even Stephen Donaldson, for all his sins with his thesaurus (and they are legion), usually managed to say something as opposed to using the sounds of words as a kind of perverse aural art work.

Sarah in her literary mode is virtue personified beside that. So is John C Wright. Intricate, artful prose with enough polysyllabic words to sink a ship can work, provided said words fit the story and say something of value to the reader – who is, always, the ultimate judge.

Obligatory PSA: Don’t forget Hugo nominations close today. Make sure you’ve put yours in.

Going Indie For Dummies- 2 – The Long and Winding Road

So, here you are.  You decided to go with an author-owned, single author press.  (We’re going to use that because it’s easier to explain.  You might have a co-op of authors, but that’s harder to explain because some of the things I’ll say you should do are really the job of your friend Bob.)  You registered with your secretary of state, went to the bank and made an account just for your press.  You have business cards (heaven knows why, but I presume it makes you feel official.)

Last Saturday morning, you put on a suit and had a business meeting with yourself (and the cats) and decided on a publication schedule for the press.  After some heated argument (your spouse came and checked on you and went away muttering “thorazine, for the love of heaven, thorazine”and you have a month to get that first book out.

It’s going to be a tight schedule.

The first thing to do is to get an Amazon (and if you really must B & N and Smashwords and … what else is out there these days? At one time I had an account with Kobo and Draft to Digital I honestly don’t even know) account set up.

Put your suit back on.  The first thing you have to decide right now is “Amazon only, or the seven (I don’t know, there might be that many now) dwarves also?

And this is a decision only YOU can (save mankind) make.  I can’t decide for you.

There are pros and cons.

Pros to going with every possible retailer: Your tiny little press will look like it’s legitimate.  That’s sort of the whole point of having a press anyway, so as not to raise the indie flags. (Some people will still refuse to read Indie, but no one refuses to read Trad.)  And why would you not offer your stuff for sale wherever fans will look?

Cons: Some of these are beyond difficult to get a manuscript up on.  In fact, none of them are as intuitively obvious as Amazon.

Smashwords is probably the worst, and a good example on how you can fall from being the lead in this business and never recover.  Indie used to BE Smashwords.  But their “meatgrinder” engine is a pain in the *ss.  It catches formatting stuff that you need to almost be a programmer to find AND it does stupid stuff for no reason anyone can understand.  It once put the second half of one of my books all in small caps, a problem no one else had.

More importantly, I left Smashwords due to payment non-transparency.  What do I mean by that?  Smashwords made deals and more deals with people who will lend the book or other weird arrangements.  But there is no way for you to SEE how many times it’s been borrowed, and there’s no clear specification of how much you’ll get paid for these.  They might have changed that, but when I left they hadn’t.  So I left because while I know the books will get pirated, I see no reason to have it done officially.

So, whether this applies to Smashwords or not, anymore, keep a careful eye on how you get paid.  Ultimately that’s why you’re doing this.

For me it was the how you get paid and how much that made me take all my books Amazon only.  Look, I was getting $12 or so from B & N a month, less from the others.  In 11, B & N was half of Amazon’s pay out, but no more.  Amazon was giving me a paycheck, everyone else gave me a double pizza in aggregate.  Then I found out the payments through KULL are the same as for the sales, AND all I had to do was go Amazon only.

Mind you, I still have the accounts at the other places, and should Amazon play funny tricks, I’ll go wide dispersal again.  And that’s the other thing to remember.  You’re a business and your relationship is business.  Amazon is not your best friend, they’re just your retailer.  (It is useful, and difficult, to keep this in mind about your traditional publishers as well.)

However, it’s important to note here that I do have friends who make as much or more off Kobo or Draft to Digital or Barnes and Noble as they do with Amazon.  It seems to have to do with the GENRE and SUBGENRE of the book and how you present it.

This is why I can’t make a decision for you.  Go and argue with yourself.  I’ll wait.

So, you decided?  Good.  Next up: website.

Why have a website for your press?  I don’t know, and I’m very bad at keeping mine up to date.  I need to do that, because I’m told people google your press name to find more books.

Look, it costs almost nothing.  Get the domain name, trick up your site with wordpress or another easy engine, and don’t do as I do: make announcements and keep things up.  (I’m going to try okay?)  It’s the cheapest publicity.  Whether you want to invent press employees or not, it’s up to you.  Arguing with imaginary people is marginally less crazy than arguing with yourself, right?) Again, it makes the thing look more respectable and as Dean Wesley Smith told me: You’re a writer.  You should like making up people.  (Righty oh.)

Okay.  Now you have those things in place, we move to the serious stuff.

Cover.  This is where most indies either stop cold or forge ahead, in full confidence they can do it all with a cheap photograph and Times New Roman.

So, next week: Cover up.  How to make a cover that won’t break the bank and sends the right signals.




Real life inspiration

A quick reminder to start off this morning. Nominations for the Hugo Award close Thursday. If you are interested in checking out the recommendations that came in to SP4 this year, check out Kate’s post. She not only lists the titles that received the most recommendations but she has a link to a Google doc with the complete breakdown of recommendations. Now on to the post.

Except I still don’t know what to write about. Part of it is I am suffering an extreme case of “why the heck am I out of bed?” Part of it is the Death Wish Coffee hasn’t been able to cut through the mental fog this morning. Part is residual mental exhaustion after spending the better part of two days going through the process of figuring out why my current WIP kept telling the file — and all the backup copies — was corrupted and couldn’t be repaired/opened.

Worse, it happened to a couple of different files. Something I discovered yesterday when I was doing a final check after I thought I had figured it out and fixed the problem. I still don’t know why it happened or how. Most files opened without problem. Others, recent documents started over the last two weeks, were about 50/50 impacted. When you have a paying gig impacted as well as an upcoming release, you (or at least I) tend to get a bit frantic when each copy of the latest version suddenly decides not to work.

But it is fixed — finally. All files open without problem and have been backed up multiple times and in multiple ways. After watching me pulling my hair out over the issue, Mom promised to never again wonder if I have lost my mind because of all the different forms of tech I own. There is a reason this household has PC and Mac, iOS and Android. Not only do I want to see how my e-books look in each format, not only do I want the ability to upload to iTunes without having to give money to a 3rd party, I believe in redundancy when it comes to tech. I’ve been burned too much over the years when something has died without warning and I’ve been unable to finish a project without having to run out and spend money I usually don’t have just then to get an immediate replacement.

Anyway, it saved me this time because after some hours of tweaking and cursing and banging my head against everything hard I could find, the impacted documents would open on my MacBook Air. Prior to that, I had tried opening them using Word, Atlantis, LibreOffice, OpenOffice and more. Nothing worked. But, as I said, I was finally able to open it on the Mac using Word. I then tried “save as” with a new file name. No go. That was corrupted as well. Even on the Mac. More head banging and cursing.

Long story short, I was finally able to save the documents in question as DOCX files. Those opened without problem across the different laptops and tablets. They opened in all pertinent word processing programs. They were then saved — many times and in many places. Next came, yet again, scans of not only the documents in question but all my machines for any sort of virus, malware, etc.

The end result is that I lost basically two days of work — hiss.

The one bright spot was seeing my son, even if only for a few minutes, as he switched flights on his way to his next duty station. I needed that — hey, I’m a proud Mom. What can I say? — and even though it was not long, it was enough to remind me what is important.

Let’s face it, life often throws us curve balls. But it also serves up a lot of fodder for our plots. Mom has the news on as I sit here typing this and in the last few minutes, several stories have come on that I can see becoming a book or story. The pilot who is appearing in court this morning, accused of running a string of brothels out of his Hummer. He allegedly had a dozen or so “brothel apartments” in the Houston area. This high flying pimp, alleged, could easily become a character in a mystery/suspense novel.

Then there’s the guy who managed to get a pellet gun — although, at the time, the Capital guards did not know if it was a “real” gun or not — into the Capital’s visitor center security area. He pulled it and got himself shot. One woman was injured by shrapnel. The alleged gunman was known to the Capital police. He had disrupted Congress earlier, claiming (iirc) that God had sent him. Again, it could be the opening of a mystery or even SF story.

If that’s not enough, how about the co-pilot of the commercial flight that was escorted off the plane yesterday or the day before who was charged with being over the legal limit for pilots? Can you imagine how those passengers felt when they learned one of the two pilots in charge of their lives had been drinking? Think about the action and suspense you could write if you put that into a story — especially if the pilot wasn’t removed from the plane and did take the stick during the flight for whatever reason. Or, putting a twist on it, say he is a former pilot who is on the jet, and who has been drinking, and who then has to take the stick because something happened to the crew. How would he react and would he think about the consequences? What about the passengers who knew he had been drinking?

One last example of how real life can inspire plots or at least inklings of plots. There’s a group called Nextdoor. You can sign up to get notices about what is happening in your “neighborhood”, etc. One of the emails that came across my server yesterday was a post from someone warning everyone that her neighbor’s house had been broken into that day Apparently the perps knew the victim’s schedule. Once she left the house, they made entry to her backyard and then broke in through her French doors. After grabbing a couple of laptops, money and prescription drugs, they walked out the front door. Comments in response to the post talked about seeing strangers in the neighborhood the week before, usually men wearing orange vests and carrying a clipboard but no one really seeing them doing anything but walking the neighborhood. Paranoia fairly dripped from some of the comments. Me, I simply made sure certain precautions were in place and then talked to Mom about it this morning to make sure she knew to not drop her guard.

Again, I can see so many different plots growing out of that simple scenario. Everything from a cozy mystery to police procedural to SF/F to Horror. So many different variations.

None of which helps me finish the current WIP edits (which should be done today) nor the paid job. But at least thinking about them and writing this blog has helped get the brain functioning this morning. So I guess I ought to find myself some breakfast and get to work.

I’ll leave you with this: Make sure your work is backed up — always. Do regular maintenance on your work machine, including virus scans and malware scans. Back up your work (yes, do it again). Look at what is happening around you or in the news and see if you can see plotlines you might be able to pull into your own work. Oh, and pray to the coffee gods that they soon give us the ability to mainline coffee. It would make mornings much easier to tolerate. VBEG.

A Bumkin’s view

Now, as Mike Glyer informed me that moral people would accede to the writer’s request to publish the entire work, unfisked, I am putting him to the test. I would like anything I write that they quote, quoted in full by File 770 and any Puppy Kickers.

Firstly a little message for Easter: Hu’ta’ QISt! Hu’bejta’!

You can call me a country bumpkin if you like (call me anything you please. I don’t really care. I’d hardly call myself ‘monkey’ if I was worried). I can wear that one with pride, because you’d call a lot of men I look up to and try to emulate ‘country bumpkins’.

On Friday I was part of select group of such men, men where being accepted and liked means a huge amount to me – more than any award ever would or could. We were slaughtering pigs, processing eight of them for 4 different families. It’s totally un-commercial – these are pigs raised for home consumption, by people who farm sheep and beef for your consumption. It’s hard physical work, and for the record, probably the most humanely acquired meat, short of growing it in a vat. I’m the only one who isn’t a full-time farmer, and the age ranges from 17 to 70. We have a chiller, and shoot the pigs, but pretty much everything else is like stepping back a thousand years. Yes, even the jokes.

I’m the smoker, and do the bacon and hams. The old guy who used to do it for them died, then they tried to send them ‘away’ to get done, but I do it better, which is my contribution, along with my share of the pigs. Curing and smoking a craft bordering on art, and I’ve got thirty years of experience at it. One of the others does the brawn, sausages are Norm and I, and the slaughtering and butchering get divvied up. Honestly, you send Bernie along, he’ll learn more about real socialized effort and reward than you could outside of an Amish barn raising, and yet a less urban socialist set of people would be hard to find.

Couple of other things are, well, interesting, from writing world perspective. The first is, we’re all men. Not all white men – two of the five guys working would qualify as that. Like my mutton-birdin’ friends, this is real traditional life, which yes, has some degree of separation by sex, in quite a lot of cultures. The reasons are entirely pragmatic, and no-one gives a toss if you have balls or not. It’s just a case of can you lift a hundred and fifty pounds and carry it? The job is hard, hot, dirty and not without risks. You get there by being willing to do it, not by some mennist plot. It’s hard to find folk who will (same with the birdin’). A first invitation is easy. A second one, isn’t. And honestly those who don’t get a call ‘we need to kill some pigs. You in?’ probably don’t want to be there. It’s backbreaking and easier to go to the butcher. You don’t know how it dies, it’s not the same quality (our pigs all live well, mostly free-range, and die unstressed, content until the last), but it’s only money you have to put in. I’m through to my fifth now (and sixth birdin’).

I noticed (because noticing is what I do. Good writers notice and remember, and I want to be as good a writer as possible) that of the five men, I saw all bar one (and I’ve seen him do the same other occasions) take minor, un-necessary steps to make the animals they were going to kill more comfortable. Petting a pig (yes, pigs like being scratched. They’ll also cheerfully eat you. The two are not exclusive) giving it a food-treat, fetching water for it. They were able to put themselves in the pig’s trotters, if you like. Feel empathy, but divorce themselves from that enough to do the job that had to be done.

The other thing that is fascinating – particularly after Snowcrash’s comment last week on MGC — is just how the guys think. Now the youngster – one of the guy’s sons, is the only one there who hasn’t come up from hard-scrabble, who hasn’t looked farm-disaster, losing everything in the face (that’s me too. I was managing a fish-farm when our feed price, our major cost… trebled) and survived. Their timescales tend to be at least two years, to generational. These are supposed to be ‘slow’ country bumpkins, but in disaster (and in farming – and killing pigs, something always goes wrong. As sure as in combat) they sure do think fast and inventively. There’s no point in waiting for the fire-brigade, the plumber, or the snake handler, or even the ambulance.

With me rock-climbing and diving (and for both, being old, and still, last I looked, alive) these are easy and natural ways for me think. Risk and response to that go hand in hand, as does assessing the risk, thinking through the disasters when –and before they happen, working out the odds, that’s like breathing. I’m not even aware of doing it, just as my farmer friends are not. That certainly was true for a lot across the world back in human history. If you just did stuff because it seemed like a good idea, because you felt like it, for emotional reasons, without working out the consequences… well, think of it as evolution in action. On the other hand you have react fast, decisively and YOU have to do it, when you can see it needs doing.

Things have changed, and with a lot of our of our population being urban, fixing problems yourself and thinking long term about what effect your actions have are probably near Darwin Award stuff in many a city. The cops, and the plumbers, and politicians (really, there is a difference between them) take a dim view of you horning in on their jobs. In crowded environments it does make a degree of sense, because your bit of evolution in action can be hundreds of other people dying or being injured.

Of course you don’t select for long-term thinking, empathy, personal action and personal responsibility both in culture and genes for millennia to have that vanish overnight. It’s still common and I believe still useful in places where these things are no longer life-essential necessities. I do believe it’s frowned on by most politicians and ‘leaders’ (community, thought and otherwise) and those in positions of power and authority.

It does mark a growing divergence, though. There used to be a pretty solid continuum between grasshoppers and ants. If you’re one side of that, be aware the other side exists. This, I suspect, is particularly true if you want to write their characters, understand their motives. You might still wish or need to have whatever nasty fate they’re destined for – bacon or sausage, but it still helps you as a writer. And yes, I mess it up too. There are certain occupations – farming, diving, diving, rock-climbing, are obvious to me, but there are many more – running your own business — that NEED the ability to look at the viewpoints of others, and to think about consequences. But the one that needs this most is writing good fiction.

For me the most difficult phases of plotting a book are early ones, when actions – possibly small actions – can cascade, and change the direction of the book. Working through those possible scenes, working out how or what your character will do is like playing many games of somehow interlocking chess, many moves ahead. I plot first, but those plots change with the actual story and depth of the characters developing.

As a writer – looking at it as a story. There have been three telling things about ongoing Hugo debacle.

Firstly: the Puppy Kickers – even the brighter ones, not mere camp-followers, have entirely failed to grasp what the Sad Puppies were about. We’ve still got puppy kickers saying ‘Oh it’s about getting Larry Correia/Brad Torgersen or Vox Day a Hugo.’… because that is what would be the motive for them. I set out my position here. I think just about everyone in Sad Puppies has done so. And everyone who is in the obvious running for the Novel … have recused themselves. Yes. They have said – Not like John Scalzi ‘out for now’ — They’re OUT. (Yes, that includes me. I’m the most minor and irrelevant of the Sad Pup authors. Which makes resolving the situation… tricky, to near impossible.)

Then we get ‘Oh they only want manly men doing manly things and oh they’re all misogynist racist homophobes etc etc. Mind-numbing stupid slanders that don’t stand up to two seconds robust examination… but they still keep on bleating the same dumb. And those among the Puppy Kickers who know they’re wrong and easily debunked are silent and complicit.

At least the more intelligent Puppy Kickers do understand what we’re about and were trying to do. But they don’t WANT to believe it or accept the trouble their precious WorldCon, Hugo or the genre in general is. They don’t want to accept that to survive they need to move toward demographic representivity and the center. They hope it’ll just go away and they can continue just like they were… which was dying, but it was not as painful as trying to be revived. Of course some do know exactly what is going on, and how the pond is shrinking. But it is their personal short-term interest to encourage the wilder insanities instead. Some of them are very nasty pieces of work, who don’t care, as long as they’re all right, for now.

This is denial – which is a very important thing for an author to understand, and be able to write about.

Secondly: consequences, consequences, consequences. The grasshopper way of voting is not to think about those, or to only think of absolute immediate. It’s more about that immediate gratification than ‘will this help us get through winter. I suppose some Pansters write like that… The situation traditional publishing sf/fantasy finds itself in right now, is one where the author body (and, indeed the editorial staff) are just WAY off the demographics of the possible readers. If you take the Gallup poll of who consider themselves ‘liberal’ – 24 % of US population does. On the other hand if you did a count – especially among the newer authors in Trad Publishing, it probably runs 95%. That 95% can only survive by selling to the part of the audience who do not share their social and political views. The opposite is not true. 5% can do pretty well out only selling to 76%. Better with less competition, really, if they were going to be as mean as the Puppy Kickers. The 24% never bought their books before anyway. The Puppy Kickers have generated a lot of polarization (and before you say that was the Sad Puppies too – ask the hard question: who had everything to gain by NOT generating polarization? Who has nothing to lose? Work it out.) If – and this is an election year, when things are heated – this polarization spreads further among the readers, who loses? If Sad Puppy supporters decide in the light of last year and the Hugo committee’s decision to take sides and hand over the data to people from Making Light, to vote in the noms… and then unless they have candidates they REALLY want to support, to simply withdraw their interest, who loses?

Thirdly: We have the writer’s typical dilemma. We have characters on both sides of story with very different points of view. We have had (and will have) actions which have consequences. How do you resolve all this? Or is heading for further collapse with implacable certainty? That’s not a fun story to read, especially for those with most to lose. If I was writing the book I’d change at least some of the actions of those with most to lose. The Puppy Kickers face hard decisions, need forethought they have never displayed. They need to provide some large motive for the Sad Puppies not follow the most likely courses of action. I said last year after Sasquan that the price for that would be high. It’ll only get higher and harder.

I am glad I don’t have to write this novel. I’m only a country bumpkin, who needs to work out his bacon cure per weight.

Promotions – The Long Summary, Part 4

Previously, on Part 1: Forums, Groups, and Blogs, Guest Blogging, Blog Tours, and Endorsements.

Part 2: Mailing Lists, Giveaways, and GoodReads

Part 3: Free Promotions, Discount Promotions, Stacked Promotions, and Reviews


Several writers, having learned about book promotion Web sites and email lists, think that’s the sum total of any and all promotion they can or should do. It’s not; it’s a small slice of available advertising. But once you get past that extremely specific targeted market, you have a whole lot more learning to do. Advertising design and search engine optimization are entirely different fields from writing, with their own lingo and learning curves.

Search Engine Optimization & Display Ads

You’ve probably heard that term with reference to getting a high google page rank on a search return, but there’s a whole lot more to the field than that. This covers not only how to have your web site found by searching fans, but also how to target your market with google adwords advertisements, Project Wonderful banners, Facebook ads, and Amazon Sponsored Product ads, and how to come up when people are looking for something they’d like in Amazon’s internal search engine.

Two notes of caution before you jump in feet-first. One, this stuff is not the minor leagues. You are literally competing for the same eyeball space as Nike shoes, Red Bull energy drinks, Ford trucks, Coach purses, and NFL football. (Not kidding; I’ve checked ad space I was outbid on to see who won, and found Ford advertising its new truck model.) You’re competing for space and attention with people who have entire ad agencies designing their advertisements and targeting their audience, with lots of market feedback. This can get really expensive, really quickly – and I mean thousands of dollars, not hundreds.

Two, people are pretty good at tuning out spam and advertising. We DVR shows to avoid ads, install adblock to cut out the sidebar advertisements, popups, and popunders, and use news aggregators rather than go to ad-heavy sites. This means people are pretty good at tuning out your ads, too. While advertising on your mailing list hits an audience that is all engaged enough they sought you out and gave you their email address, internet advertising is one step above sticking flyers under windshield wipers. The average click-through rate (CTR) of display ads across all formats and placements is 0.06%

This means you’re fishing for, on average, 6 out of 10,000 people to click on your ad – not to buy, just to click on it. Click-through to buy ratio is a whole ‘nother filter. This is where you really need to focus on two fronts: correct targeting to try to only show your ads to people likely to be click on it, to drive the ratio higher than 0.06%; and simultaneously increasing the number of eyeballs on it. If you targeted enough to drive your CTR to 0.09%, but only 4,000 eyeballs saw it (impressions)… that’s only statistically 3-4 people.

Amazon essentially walks you through a crash course in search engine optimization when it has you pick keywords and categories while uploading your works. “How will the readers find you? They’re likely looking for colonization, or genetic engineering, or vampires, or regency romance, or legal thrillers, so pick from this listing of keywords (otherwise known as search terms), uploaded into your metadata, and it’ll help us put you in categories, and customers find you when searching.”

Google has its own manual, which I strongly recommend you pick up and study, before researching more on the topic – it’s pretty helpful to read what the actual company has to say about their search engine optimization before reading what other people say on what they interpret google as meaning.

This is where knowing your audience becomes extremely helpful – in order to target new readers for your story, you need a pretty clear, short understanding of your books, and a demographic understanding of your audience. If you’ve ever looked at the “how magazines/newspapers/websites sell themselves to advertisers”, it’s often something like “Metrosexual Hub has a circulation of 15,000 subscribers, and 6,000 average daily visits on its website. 85% of subscribers are 18-35 males, with an average income of 40,000 – 80,000, and an interest in fashion, lifestyle, grooming, and music.”

In fact, I strongly encourage you to go to Garden & Gun Magazine’s advertising page, and click on their media kit and digital media kit. If you don’t understand terms, now you have a place to start googling and learning. See how clearly they’ve laid out their audience, and segmented it? It’s in a site’s best interest to provide advertising that’s relevant, and in an advertiser’s (that’s you) best interest to only spend their money, time, and effort in places where they’re likely to net a good return. Figure out your audience, and you’ll have a much better chance of estimating whether a site is a good match or not.

Facebook Ads:
Facebook ads are an offshoot of SEO; they require both an image, and text. They also require not just good search terms, but narrowing down who your audience is likely to be based on things and communities they’ve liked on facebook, and interests they’ve indicated. This is best done by folks who use facebook, and understand its layout and terms (i.e. have already gone through the platform’s learning curve.

Facebook will push you to give up your mailing list “in order to find the fans already on facebook, and better target similar people.” This is an extremely BAD idea. Sure, it’ll help you target users. It’s also handing the email addresses entrusted to you by fans over to spammers, and to people who will sell them at a profit to other spammers. Don’t do it.

Also, facebook presents a distraction from your main goal (sell stories, make money) by providing alternate, illusory goals. You can pour hundreds of dollars into racking up facebook likes, and page visits, shares, or retweets. Those can be helpful in spreading word of mouth – but if you don’t actually sell more books and make more money, you’re wasting money. Don’t get focused on the false goals, and end up like the only-fanfic-published writer who snootily told NYT-bestselling-author Larry Correia that he was a nobody because she had more facebook likes than him.

Project Wonderful:
Project Wonderful does Banner, sidebar, and button ads on a wide variety of webcomics. They’re a relatively low-cost place to learn and play with designing and bidding for banner and display ads and graphics; compared to Amazon Sponsored Ads or Google Adwords, they cost an order of magnitude less. There’s a basic targeting mismatch in that you’re advertising a book to someone there to read a webcomic, but on the other hand, you can find folks who enjoy Libertarian Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, or Swords & Sorcery.

One unique drawback to Project Wonderful: because it’s webcomic-focused advertising, you may spend a fair bit of time reading webcomics to “see if they’re a good match.” Especially if the have deep archives.

Graphics: remember, most ads are just as much about the graphics as the keywords. Your audience has seen internet advertising for years, and they’re really sophisticated at detecting amateur efforts, even if they can’t explain why.

Here, don’t Just take my word for it: see this guy, who’s been really successful.


Next week, Press Releases and In-Person avertising.

Forensics for Writers: Blood Spatter and Ballistics

First thing, before the gory details: it’s blood spatter, no L. Not splatter, even if that is descriptive of how it got there, and there, and ew… there. The technical term is spatter, not splatter. Now that I have assuaged my inner editor…

As a writer the mystery of a crime scene can be worth revisiting, just as an investigator must do to try and recreate what happened there, from the evidence left behind. In the case of a violent crime, that evidence can speak volumes from the blood. The human body only contains 5-6 liters of blood (roughly) but it is under pressure as the heart beats. To an investigator, blood reveals much. It can reveal whether the bleeding person stood still – a passive droplet is completely round, but there are differences in the shape dependent on the surface it fell on, which can lead to ‘satellite’ splashes as the blood strikes a hard surface. The blood will show the direction a person was moving – you look at the ‘tail’ of a drop, and it is pointing in the same direction the drop was moving when it touched down, like a tiny accusatory arrow.

Blood that is coughed up, or expirated, will have tiny bubbles in it, a distinctive indicator of internal trauma that can remain long after the injured person moved on. From a deep wound, arterial spray shows gouts of blood, and if it was directed against a vertical surface (as I have seen a photo of someone trying to make it down a stairwell) you will see peaks in the wave-like pattern, from the beat of the heart, but the peaks get lower, and finally there is the last big smear as the injured person fell against the wall and too the floor…. You can prove death without a body in the case of spilling so much blood the body could not have sustained a heartbeat and would surely have been dead.

When an object strikes the body with sufficient force, blood leaves the body. The level of force, and roughly the size of the object, can be determined from this. A gunshot wound will show signs of high-velocity blood spatter, which is defined as less than 1 mm in diameter. This never travels very far, so you are most likely to find it on the victim, the suspect if they were within a half meter of the wound when it was made, or objects that were close. As the bullet strikes the body, the blood is projected outward in the opposite direction, but this isn’t blowback – that is the powder residue of that gun which will land on the shooter’s hand and clothing.

The size of an object makes a difference in the size of the blood spatter. An object with a smaller diameter, say, a length of rebar, will cause smaller droplets than a baseball bat. In class we speculated about what kind of spatter a cast-iron skillet would cause – I’m going to guess fairly large, low-velocity spatter, more than 4 mm in diameter. Messy… Medium-velocity spatter falls in between, from 2-4 mm in diameter. All those are rough numbers, but they allow the investigator to see patterns, like castoff from an attack where the victim was struck more than once, and the bloody implement slung droplets off as it was brought down again. Long, thin trails of castoff with small medium-velocity droplets indicates a sharp blade like a knife or a sword. These cast-off marks can show what hand the suspect preferred, useful if you need to know you are looking for a sinister rather than a dextral.

Currently, most crime scene analysts (ignoring the TV shows, please) carefully measure and plot the directionality of the droplets, to get an idea of where the victim was, where the assailant was, any movement during or after the attack – this can be told by altered marks, which can show smearing and retain prints of friction ridges, palm prints being as useful as finger prints. Movement after a certain time leads to what are called skeletonized droplets, which dry from the outside in. When touched, the still liquid interior smears, but the dry outline, or skeleton, remains. This drying begins at roughly (depending on atmospheric conditions) fifty seconds. This allows a timeline of the crime to be developed. There is a formula for determining the angle at which a droplet hit the surface, Sin (impact)=width/length.  And if something or someone was at the scene, and then removed, that absence causes missing blood, which is called a void.

Related to the determination of the angle at which blood struck a surface is the determination of what angle a bullet was traveling when it struck a person. Ballistics is only this – it is not marks on the bullet itself or the firearm, those are properly referred to as toolmarks. “Ballistics (from Greek βάλλειν ballein, “to throw”) is the science of mechanics that deals with the launching, flight, behavior, and effects of projectiles, especially bullets, gravity bombs, rockets, or the like; the science or art of designing and accelerating projectiles so as to achieve a desired performance.” You can find a cool calculator here.

Using ballistics, your investigator can discover where the projectile came from, how far it was likely to have traveled, based on what sort of bullet it was… pistols and shotguns don’t have a terribly long range, but that rifle bullet could have traveled hundreds of meters, and a sniper round even further. Determining the sort of bullet falls under next week’s post on toolmarks, fingerprints, and other ways criminals leave their signatures at a scene.

You can find week one here, the Introduction, then Crime Scene, and Evidence and Investigation. I am planning two more installments, one on marks and another on toxicology, and perhaps one last post wrapping it all up with a list of the links and resources for people. As always, ask questions in the comments and I’ll answer there, or in the posts where they fit. Hopefully this is being helpful to some!

Puppy Related Fatigue

I’ve alluded to on occasion over the past couple years, but never outright weighed in on the mess the Hugos have been for a while now. There are reasons for that. Prime among them, I’ve not really got the time or energy for it. I’ve got a toddler and an infant in the house, and between them (Wee Dave is Being Two a lot more these days, which isn’t great fun, and results in misapplied enthusiasm toward Miss Moxie. She is growing and developing as infants do, and finally sleeping more through the night, a Thing to which her mother and I have been greatly looking forward), the Necessary Evils that are my responsibility as the one at home most, and my hmm-hmm-mumble writing career, the field where I grow mine is pretty barren. On most subjects, really.

Close behind that, I’ve got friends on both sides of the divide. Friends I’d rather keep than be right one way or the other. Well, to push hard enough to be “right.” Much like religion and politics (but unlike philosophy, *sigh* no respect, I tell ya), the Hugos and the State of F/fandom have become tar-pit subjects best left at the curb when I spend time in certain friends living rooms, virtual or meatspace.

There’s plenty been written about the four years of Campaigns to End Puppy-Related Sadness, and only a tiny percentage has been written here at the MGC. A slightly larger portion has been accurate in presented details. Almost nowhere else have the writers actually addressed the deeper question the last two campaigns have been about: who is a fan?

There have been a truly mind-boggling amount of posts about how the Sad Puppies are bad people by virtue of being white, male, straight, whatever. It apparently hasn’t mattered that none of those are universally true, but even if they were accurate in every particular, these judgements would be based upon nothing more or less than factors over which the Puppies have no control.

Next came the usual attacks based upon supposed behaviors. You know, the ones taken up by international media outlets across the globe. The Puppies are homophobic, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, etc, ad nauseum. Only nobody ever demonstrates particulars. It’s always simply “known.” (Seriously, find the quotes, post them in the comments. Give context and analysis. The burden of proof is, as usual, on the accusers.)

Much more has been made of supposed alliances between campaigns, based more upon circumstance and wishful thinking than anything approaching reality. Denials haven’t mattered. Publicly available intelligence refuting the supposed alliance has likewise been ignored. Public disgust with the tactics employed has been deemed of no consequence.

And this year, Kate’s moved to a completely transparent system based on a public website. You can go count the votes yourself if you want. And still she, and the system, and the people who have made their opinions on last year’s collection of scifi are insulted and questioned. And some of the creators who’ve received the public acclaim of their fans are once again requesting that they be removed from consideration by others of their fans. None of which is surprising, especially given the horror show last year’s surprise nomination sweeps generated.

But it is disappointing.

In other industries, people are united under the umbrella of an organization. I have friends in the auto industry, and they describe similar kinds of infighting to what’s been going on in scifi recently. I have friends in the military, and while the mission still comes first, politics (in the philosophical sense of how groups of people interact together) still happen, much as we might wish they happened to someone else.

What we’re dealing with is human nature. I tend to agree with Sarah that it comes down to tribalism. We identify more closely with some groups than with others. Those others become the Other, and over time are identified as the enemy, to one degree or another. This is normal. It happens at all ages, and in all places. It’s still disappointing. Especially when we’re closer to each other than to most of those around us.

Let me tell you a little story. In 2009, I went to Renovation. My folks lived just north of there, and my wife was home from deployment, so we burned some cash and got there. I got to meet Larry Correia, Howard Tayler, Steve Jackson, and several other creators I’d theretofore only known as names on the Internet. I made some long term friends. It was pretty heady, and several folks have turned into genuine friends, whose friendship I treasure. I’ve since done similar things a couple times, most recently at LibertyCon in Chattanooga.

And yet.

Thing is, even then I noticed a lot of us/them dividing going on. A lot of that is natural, if unfortunate. It happens within families. Call it sibling-rivalry. I like this thing more than that thing. I like her more than I like him, etc. Or the converse: he said something I didn’t like. Or, what I consider more common, she did or said something that the people I want to like me don’t like. A lot of that going around these days.

Larry apparently experienced much the same thing. He’s detailed his experience over at Monster Hunter Nation. He pointed out the bias he experienced firsthand, and was told he was smoking something. He then demonstrated it in the most belligerent manner he could come up with, and it pissed off a lot of people. He did it again, and got even more people interested in what had been a declining con, and an award slipping in prestige.

Last year, Brad worked hard to get even more people involved in the process, and again, a lot of people got pissed. A lot of filth was spewed, and a lot of feelings got hurt. Some folks who should have known better allowed their inner twelve-year-olds to run rampant.

And now Kate has run a completely transparent campaign to gather people together to laud the works they find award-worthy. And that hasn’t stopped anybody from calling her names, calling us names, calling for removal of works from The List (seriously, look up slate in the dictionary, people). Or, at least, it hasn’t stopped everybody, though it should have.

And I have to ask: what’s so bad about being recommended for an award? You’re not responsible for who buys your work, who likes your work. You’re not responsible for who recommends you receive an award for your work. If someone else comes along and tries to fabricate a connection between you besides creator and consumer, they’ve got an agenda. And do not have your best interests at heart. And if someone is willing to torpedo your chance at recognition to serve their own ends, then they were unlikely to pay you for your work in the first place.

Will the Hugos survive this latest dust-up? Frankly, I’m experiencing no small amount of puppy-related fatigue: I really don’t care. I want to get paid for my art. Recognition is nice, but it doesn’t put food in my son’s mouth. Nor does it maintain friendships.

Why The Internets No Can Has Nice Things

I thought this week’s post would be about Lunacon – which I thoroughly enjoyed and will be writing an after-action-report for eventually if life doesn’t hit me first (it might. The job is going nuclear right now) – but no. It seems the usual suspects, the ones who like to point and shriek without any actual substance, decided I’m the ultimate in evil (or should that be Eville) for doing exactly what I said I was going to do from the start: report, to the best of my ability, what the top 10-ish items in each category were from the Sad Puppies 4 comments, and link to the full list.

From the outraged squeals and even, I’m told, Twitterized threats of lawsuits (for what? Not even the British libel laws are that insane – You want to sue someone for suggesting you be nominated for an award? Really? You do realize how ridiculous that sounds, I hope), you’d think I’d suggested something truly vile like… oh, I don’t know, putting the loo paper on the hanger the other way. You know, real villainy, not this fake stuff.

For the record: no, I did not choose who ended up on The List. The folks who contributed to the category pages on the Sad Puppies 4 site did that. All of them. I made a few suggestions, but mostly I kept my yap shut on my preferences. I won’t be posting those until after nominations close. When it’s too late for a statement of what I think deserves to be on the ballot to influence any voting.

As far as updates and corrections go, this is what is happening: the post I made last week will not be modified. Its counterpart on Sad Puppies 4 will be updated as I get corrections in and recheck some of the places where my army of slightly belated fact-checkers (Thank you judgeadd and the one or two others who commented on my typos and oopses) suggested I might have miscounted. I’m flagging the updates as I make them so it’s clear what’s happening.

Those who have asked to be removed are being asterisked instead to indicate that they asked to be taken off. My perspective is that this is a list of people’s recommendations. There is no need to ask for permission, any more than anyone needs to ask for permission to post a review or purchase the work. Frankly, I think asking to be taken off anyone’s list of award-worthy pieces is an insult to the people who genuinely believe the work is that good, so unless someone asking to be removed is prepared to institute a policy that requires prior approval before purchasing their work, reviewing it, and so forth, they stay on the list.

If someone wants their very own asterisk on the list, they need only ask me. I’m not that difficult to get hold of, and I am asterisking those who ask on the two list posts. I’ll asterisk someone who asks here, too. There may be a delay, since I do have a rather demanding full time job, but it will happen.

Finally, I’d ask those who are looking to everything that happens here to find fault to consider this: what is more important to you – fandom (and by this I mean small-f fandom, the one that lives under the really big tent and includes absolutely everyone who loves the genre whether in movie, book, game, or some other form) or winning? If you want to quibble about who fandom is, or you’d rather see it burn than fall into the hands of “those evil (insert epithet here)” I’d suggest that you really care more about winning.

Those who would rather see fandom die than lose are the problem. I want to see fandom thrive. I want to see more people involved, doing whatever they can to bring more people into the scene. If you don’t agree with my attempt at that, how about instead of pissing on what I’m doing you get out there and make your own attempt at making things better?

Hark, the mover van comethe

I’m sorry, I meant to continue indie for dummies, but we’ve been in a madness of packing, because two weeks (which is what we had after TVIW and other commitments already made, is not enough to pack a four bedroom house, not even with packers.

For more insight into what’s going on, see here: The State of The Writer

And after being selectively quoted by Jim Hines who pretended I was calling anyone not with the puppies worse than those who abetted the holocaust and the holodomor, by cutting out the part where I addressed those who destroy lives and reputations for a plastic rocket, we have at least established what Jim Hines is.  He’s not duped by those destroying reputations and lives.  He’s one of the principals.  I have only one question for him: But for Wales, Jim?

It’s good at least to start identifying the poisonous vipers.  It means we don’t unwittingly step into their nests.

I’m starting to feel like Heinlein’s description of the Crazy Years: a man (or woman) with all his/her gaskets tight is at least at risk of being jailed.  Or possibly sent to coventry by the howler monkeys.  I wonder if they realize the more they shriek the more the circle tightens around… them.

And now I go.  I have more important things to do.  I’ll resume the indie posts next week, hopefully.  Sorry for the delay.

Cranky Writer is, well, cranky

When I went to bed last night, I knew exactly (kind of, sort of) what I was going to write about this morning. It was a toss-up between a post on some comments about the cover of Black Tide Rising, an anthology based on John Ringo’s  series of books, and a response to an article The Passive Voice linked to about how real writers don’t go indie. As you can imagine, I had plenty to say about both topics. That doesn’t even begin to go into my thoughts about the condemnation and disrespect that has been flung Kate’s way because — gasp — she respects the wishes of readers more than the gentile feelings of some authors who are apparently worried that they have been recommended for a Hugo because — gasp again — the wrong sort of fans might have made the recommendation. But all of that seems minor in light of what has happened in Brussels this morning. That does not, however, mean it shouldn’t be said.

So, here goes.

Starting with the attacks on Kate and the desire to be removed from the recommended list Get over yourselves. Kate has run SP4 exactly the way she said she would. It has been in the open. The recommendations have been made on the SP4 blog. Kate herself spent more than a month here on MGC discussing each of the major — and some not so major — categories people could nominate works in. Those posts were not closed to comments. They were not hidden from view. They were, in fact, promoted on Facebook and elsewhere. No one was asked if they were Puppies, sad or otherwise. No one was told that only a certain kind of book could be recommended.

Did some people campaign to be included on the list? Sure. Not that it is anything new. Authors have, for years, reminded people what work they had that was eligible for the award. Funny how no one objected until folks outside of the “in club” started doing it. I guess it is a prime example of that old adage of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

As for those who don’t want to be associated with SP4, I suggest you go back and look at what Kate has done throughout the year. The list is not something she pulled out of thin air. This is a list that is based solely on recommendations made by anyone who wanted to take part. By telling Kate you don’t want to be associated with the list, you are basically telling your readers — your fans and the people who buy your work — that you don’t value their support. You are letting fear of what a few in the industry might think of you override what should be important: keeping your fans happy. Unless, of course, you don’t give a flip what your fans think and you like slapping them in the face for daring to support your work and recommend it for what has been one of the most prestigious prizes in the industry.

Which leads me into the article I saw listed on The Passive Voice. This oh-so-elite author doesn’t care if she starves. She will never, ever sully her writing by going indie. Serious authors shouldn’t even consider joining the unwashed masses, at least as far as she is concerned. She raises some of the same tired excuses we have seen for years. No gatekeepers to keep the dreck out. No editing. No good covers. Indie authors can be obnoxious with their constant promotion. You need to suffer for your art — oh, wait. That’s my take on what she has to say because she is the one who put a dollar figure on everything.

Look, I don’t care what course you take, be it indie or traditional. Both have strengths and weaknesses, although the line is thinning between the two. The reality is, if you go indie and you are serious about it, you will treat it as a business. That means you will get professional looking covers for your work. You will have it edited. You will develop a platform that will help get word out about your work. The hardest thing you will do is get your books into physical bookstores. That, too, is the one thing that traditional publishing makes easier. But, as I said, that is becoming less of an issue.

The second reality is that traditional publishing doesn’t always give you everything the article’s author seems to believe they do. The vast majority of traditionally published authors don’t get the type of promotion they expect. They, too, have to create their platform or “brand” to promote their work. Editing isn’t what it used to be for a number of houses. Yes, it can vary from editor to editor but it isn’t of the quality, on the whole, of what it once was. Ask Sarah about some of the copy edits she had from a non-Baen house where the copy editor apparently didn’t understand what a sword arm was and how it was suggested she “correct” the problem.

Read the article and let me know what you think.

Finally, the cover for Black Tide Rising. I hadn’t paid that much attention to it when the cover was first released. Then I started seeing the cries of outrage, first on Facebook when some of the usual crowd started crying over the fact that their hero, John Scalzi, would deign to allow his name to be associated with such a horribly sexist cover. The complaints continued across social media. Evil Baen! Bad John Ringo and Gary Poole! Evil, mean men using sexist covers. How dare they!

The problem is, the ones screaming and pointing fingers made one big mistake. They condemned the cover based on their own prejudices. They didn’t wait to see if it had anything to do with the anthology. All they saw were cheerleaders with guns and they made that weird, non-logical leap they have gotten so good at. Even when their mistake was pointed out, most of them continued to point fingers and scream “Misogyny!”

So here’s the deal. Black Tide Rising is, with one glaring exception, a great read — and this comes from someone who is not a fan of zombie books. (Ringo’s series is different from the other zombie books I’ve tried to read and a series I have very much enjoyed.) If I remember correctly, there are 12 stories in the anthology. One of them, Not in Vain, was written by Kacey Ezell and is the inspiration for the cover illustration. For those not familiar with Ezell, here is an excerpt from her bio: Kacey Ezell is an active duty USAF helicopter pilot. When not beating the air into submission, she writes military SF, SF, fantasy, and horror fiction.

Her story centers around a group of cheerleaders, their coach and what they have to do when the ZA happens. They are on their way home from a competition — hence the uniforms. They are, as most serious cheerleaders these days, true athletes and anything but the empty headed bimbos cheerleaders have been stereotyped as. Sure, they get scared because of what is happening but they adapt and cope. It is that or die. And yet, to those complaining about the cover, none of that matters. Cheerleaders, you know. Short skirts and bare midriffs and guns. Must be nothing but a bunch of old white men deciding on a cover that “excites” them.

Grow up and quit making yourself look bad by condemning something before you do your homework.

I guess what I’ve done is spend a little over 1,200 words proving that I’m cranky. I’m tired of people condemning things about my profession and about my friends without doing at least a minimum of research first. I’m tired of being called names and condemned because I don’t fall into lockstep with those who are trying to hold onto a professional business model that is outdated and that threatens the industry because the suits are too scared or too tied to their ways to adapt to changing times and demands. I’m tired of authors forgetting that they need to please their readers first and foremost or their books won’t sell. I’m tired of being told I’m doing it all wrong because I haven’t served my “apprenticeship” and bowed down to the gatekeepers.

Guess what, times change. The apprenticeship can be served in different ways now. Yes, it can be served by trying to break through the walls of the gatekeepers. Or it can be served by ignoring the gatekeepers and going straight to the customer. Please the customer and you make money. Don’t please them and you either have to learn your craft better or move on to something else. It is that simple.

So is the adage that the customer is always right — something certain authors have forgotten or have decided they don’t care about.

And, since I am one of the unwashed indie authors the blogger for the Guardian complained about, here is my bit of self-promotion:

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) will go live in less than a month. It is available for pre-order now.

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is part of the Honor and Duty (2 Book Series) series. Click either the link or the image to the left for more information on the series.

Thanks and now back to work for this writer who, for the record, does better as an indie than the blogger does as a traditional author. But then, I look at this as my business, as my profession and treat it as such.