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Hugo Category Highlights – The Finalists – Best Professional Artist and Best Related Work

A few weeks back, I mentioned that it’s awkward for any award group to find the right balance between humongous categories that cover so much space it becomes next to impossible to judge the contenders on their merits and categories that become so specific they’re meaningless. This week we have two seriously impressive examples of the former dilemma.

Best Professional Artist

There’s a huge variety of styles and content on offer from the five finalists in this category. With 1481 nomination ballots this year compared to last year’s 753, it’s yet another near-doubling of nomination ballots. Which means that the massive increase in total ballots cast hasn’t been focused on any particular category: it’s pretty much across the board.

Lars Braad Andersen (http://www.3dartistonline.com/user/Lars%20Braad for a sample of his style) – His covers for some of the There Will Be War anthologies appear to be representative of his style, with a mix of realistic landscape rendering and atmospheric Sfnal elements. Do look up his covers: they are perfect for the kind of books.

Larry Elmore (http://www.larryelmore.com/store/) is of course very well known for his lush traditional fantasy art. And yes, by traditional I do mean the hot babes in metal bikinis – who are utterly gorgeous as rendered by Mr Elmore. His dragons are also gorgeous although not quite in the same way.

Abigail Larson (http://www.abigaillarson.com/) is one of the reasons this category is going to be damned hard to decide on. Her style is utterly different, being somewhere between gothic line art, cute cartoony, monochromatic or sepia toned with splashes of bright color. She’s one of those artists whose work you can recognize instantly because her style is so distinct, but it’s also so different from what could be described as ‘SF/Fantasy cover standard’ that it’s going to be really hard to compare her work against her fellow finalists.

Michal Karcz (https://500px.com/karezoid) Michal’s work often mixes landscapes with Sfnal elements to create haunting imagery that tends to leave a mood behind, as it were. He’s haunting, evocative, and even his post-apocalyptic images are beautiful. How the hell do you compare this with an Abigail Larson (answer: you don’t. I may be drawing all the names out of a hat to decide who gets which vote in this category. They’re all that good).

Larry Rostant (http://rostant.com/) A lot of Larry’s sample pieces are covers that appear to be manipulated photos or possibly actual photos with some touch up and editing. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t do other styles: one of his covers in the sample is a GRRM novel complete with the total absence of human anything. He does a lot of covers of the form “iconic human with appropriate background”, all of which are eye-catching, stand on their own as works of art, and do a good job of signaling the kind of book they’re for.

This is going to be a bloody difficult category to vote because all of them are worthy contenders many times over.

Best Related Work

This is another hugely diverse category, and one that I’m going to have trouble choosing. From last year’s 1150 ballots to this year’s 2080 there was a big increase in interest, and to judge by the quality of the five finalists, the category has benefited accordingly.

Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini (Castalia House) – I’ll admit, I haven’t read more than a tiny fraction of this work (provided in full in the voter packet), but what I have read is very well written and as densely layered and rich as Wolfe’s fiction. I may not have time to read it all before voting closes, but I’m certainly going to read it.

“The First Draft of My Appendix N Book” by Jeffro Johnson (http://jeffro.wordpress.com) – This is why we can’t have nice things, folks. Madmen like Jeffro go and do insane things like reading and reviewing every novel Gary Gygax ever mentioned to fit them all in to a massive reference of influences on Dungeons and Dragons (which of course proceeded to influence the living daylights out of every role playing game ever since).

“Safe Space as Rape Room” by Daniel Eness (castaliahouse.com) – This series is a wrenching expose of what is possibly the biggest failing of fandom: the tendency to accept and even celebrate the worst of predators in a misguided belief that all forms of outcasting are equal, or possibly that we outcasts all need to stand together. It’s likely to be heavily downvoted by the “you can’t be a fan if you haven’t been to all the right places and supported all the right people” crowd because very few of the genre’s major figures emerge unscathed – but read and form your own judgments, and remember that it’s possible to detest a person and admire their art. Remember also that rumor is not always truth, and those who preferred to withhold judgment until they had evidence may not have seen evidence in time to speak out.

SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day (Castalia House) – This is honestly the weakest of the works in this category. It’s an illuminating read, but the real focus is on dealing with the trial-by-social-media and shaming tactics used by certain parties to shut down those they wish silenced. Really the involvement with SF and Fantasy is kind of a side note: it’s definitely a book that’s worth having and reading, but it’s not exactly a related work. At least in my opinion. The whole “battle for the soul of Science Fiction and Fantasy” thing may well mean it counts more to some.

“The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland (askthebigot.com) – Like “Safe Space as Rape Room”, Moira Greyland’s life is a horrifying expose of one of the genre’s biggest names – and a good chunk of it is backed up by court transcripts. For that reason alone, my vote will probably go to this or Safe Space, because both are well-written, both expose terrible crimes on the part of genre names, and both blow open the genteel concealing of the horrors that’s been going on for years.

That doesn’t mean that the other works are unworthy: they’re all good. It’s sad that Johnson and Aramini’s works have to compete against something as horrible as this, simply because they’ll likely be overlooked by the controversy over Safe Space and Moira’s story (as well as the controversy that erupts whenever the name “Vox Day” is used).

As always, read, review, and vote for the finalists that you genuinely believe are the best. And spare a moment of pity for your sad correspondent, because the time draws near when I will take one for the team, as it were, and review the short story offerings.

First Person, Singular

Me that ‘ave been what I’ve been–
Me that ‘ave gone where I’ve gone —
Me that ‘ave seen what I’ve seen —

There are many reasons I prefer to read and write in first person, singular (past tense, if anyone is keeping track.)

It is not true that the first and most important of these is that by the time I came into science fiction and fantasy I was told no one — certainly no one with any professionalism — SHOULD write in first person singular.

It might count towards it that while I was in college I was told the impersonal or “camera eye” third person was the highest form of art.

Something there is in me — as mom used to say — that can’t see a well-painted wall wall without going up to scratch it and see what’s underneath.

I don’t listen well.  I don’t obey well.  And I love the shrieks of outrage at first person by people who, frankly couldn’t do it.

But the reasons I LIKE first person are cogent and rational.  Some of them are anchored to the times we live in, and some of them are universal.  There are also disadvantages of course, and some of them can be overcome with a “sufficient amount of craft.”  And I’m working on that.  I have overcome enough of them that my work is acceptable and even enjoyable (I presume, since books earn out) but I’m not perfect at it yet.  I’m working on it, okay?  Probably will be till the end of my life.

1- The main reason I like first person singular is that for a moment it tricks you into that space behind the eyes of another person, relieving the loneliness of that narrative voice that can only ever describe your own life.

This is a universal and enduring quality.  I’ve had teachers tell me — and to an extent they’re right — that first person is “less believable” because you KNOW you haven’t done those things.

To which I counter that WELL done, with the right balance of external activity and internal dialogue, with just enough of a “touch of nature makes the whole world kin” i.e. of physical sensation that the readers, too, have experienced, it can make you feel it is happening/happened to you.  What you’re doing, with less fraudulent (but, if you’re even worth half your salt, just as mercenary) intent than certain psychologists is creating false memories in your readers.  Memories that form almost instantly, of having been someone else, in QUITE different circumstances.

There is something about hearing someone tell you their up close and personal first person story that makes it more believable.  This is how we heard our first stories.  “When I was young…”  “When I was in a ship boarded by a German sub, during World War II…”

Me that ‘ave watched ‘arf a world
‘Eave up all shiny with dew,
Kopje on kop to the sun,
An’ as soon as the mist let ’em through
Our ‘elios winkin’ like fun —
Three sides of a ninety-mile square,
Over valleys as big as a shire —
“Are ye there? Are ye there? Are ye there?”
An’ then the blind drum of our fire . . .

And then we integrate it.  We are there, with that person we can’t avoid believing, because, well, it’s first person and they should know.

2- The timely function of that effect of first person, in our time and place, is that reading and writing are really the ONLY thing that can cause that effect.

When you’re watching a movie, you’re very much from the outside, looking in.  You’re seeing interesting things happen.  Sure, it still messes with your memories, but mostly your memories of “I’ve seen things happen.”  Like, you find that movies have corrupted your idea of how things work.  You find that you end up describing bars, not as they are, but as you’ve seen them in a dozen movies.  You find you end up describing Paris the way Paris has been shown to you in movies, instead of how you saw it, crossing it early morning in the dim light of autumn in a bus full of bakers and cleaning ladies heading out to their work.

But that’s “have seen” memory, not “have experienced” memory.  You don’t BECOME movie heroes, even if you want to.  Part of the reason Hollywood is obsessed with “What character can the reader identify with” is because movies NEED it.  Otherwise they’re just impersonal reality passing before your eyes.

The same applies to camera eye third person, but NOT to close in, directed third person (more on that later.)

3- Because it allows you to lie to the reader without infuriating him.  Take Athena, please (my Lord, she’s loud.)  Because she is herself and she has her own blind spots due to having grown up in her culture, she can lie to the reader without playing silly buggers.

She’s not lying, you see, and by implication neither am I, even though she is an unreliable narrator who sees her world upside down and sideways, from assuming her father was attacked, to a lot of other things.

Had the book been third person, the reader would have the feeling of being lied to, because I would have had to lie to them.  It would be my voice telling the story, and SURELY I knew I was telling lies.  (Actually I didn’t, but that’s a natural assumption.)

Again, third person close in can overcome some of that, but it’s still difficult.

There is a reason first person close in is the preferred view point for cozy mysteries and that Agatha Christie used it so much.

Now the disadvantages of first person, singular:

1- You’re locked in a one-person viewpoint.  This means if your character is not in the center of the action, you can’t be.

I experienced this in writing a book from the perspective of Zen, Kit’s sister, (Through Fire) who is a stranger on Earth.  She can’t lead a revolution.  She can’t even — really — live everyday life on Earth, unattended.  Because she doesn’t KNOW much about Earth or its systems.  The best she can do is fight for herself and those she loves.

2- First person lacks perspective.  Particularly in an historical, you can’t show the macro movements of history through one, first person character.  If your character gets stuck in traffic on the way to overthrowing the government, that’s what you have.  And it’s frustrating and might be explody, but it’s not the macro movements of history.  (Even though it’s more accurate to how most people experience revolutions.

3- If you’re a novice at plotting, you might have trouble showing the danger or the tic-toc of the plotting clock winding down, or the urgency of finding the girl/dog/bomb RIGHT now.

Note in the above I don’t include “you Mary Sue the main character.”  That is a vice of all novice writers, and I haven’t found that writing first person makes you more or less prone to it.

There are ways to get around some of these, including for first, little insertions in third person.  You find this in some Women In Peril work. for second and third, you can have quotes, newspapers, and friends who arrive bearing bad tidings.  Not perfect, but there it is.  Also, you can always have your main character caught in traffic IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ACTION.

Note that third person close in — i.e. when each section you are in the mind of a character to such an extent you ARE that character (see, for instance, what I did in Witchfinder which, weirdly, many of the reviewers thought was first person), can overcome the issues of third-person-camera-eye and the issues of first person singular.  One of the great freedoms is the ability to “jump heads.”  (Though if you’re in SF/F you shouldn’t jump heads except at the end of a chapter or section, and you should indicate the jump with asterisks or ash marks separating the sections.  In Romance, head jumping is expected and almost demanded by the fans.)

Third person close in is inferior to first person in ONLY one thing. It’s not as immediate and convincing.  The head jumping allows for stronger plotting, but you didn’t endure the emotional arc of events with ONE person, so it’s not as much a part of you.

Writing is all about trades.  And yes, there are right and wrong ways to do both first person singular and third person close in, and… — and I’ll be glad to let you partake the meager knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated so far.

But you shouldn’t write third person camera eye, unless what you’re writing is supposed to be experienced as a script.  And not as lived, experienced reality.

Me that saw Barberton took
When we dropped through the clouds on their ‘ead,
An’ they ‘ove the guns over and fled —
Me that was through Di’mond ‘Ill,
An’ Pieters an’ Springs an’ Belfast —
From Dundee to Vereeniging all —
Me that stuck out to the last
(An’ five bloomin’ bars on my chest) —

Unless, of course, you are an AI camera.

Think first

Oh my. I’m not sure I dare even try to do a post today. How can I follow Dave’s post yesterday? I don’t know whether to smack his sad puppy nose with a rolled up newspaper or just give in to the laughter. Maybe both. VBEG. Add to that a laptop that has decided it really, really likes give off-the-wall error messages (usually at the most inopportune times) and I find myself wishing I followed my own advice and had a backup post ready to go. I don’t, so I will try to push through before the laptop goes wonky yet again.

Over the last week or so, I’ve had occasion to talk with several authors who are looking at dipping their toe in the indie market. Each of them had one common concern — promotion. They recognized that their publishers weren’t giving the sort of promotion they had hoped for but feared it was better than what they could do for themselves. Even when I pointed out that they are already doing most of their own promo now, it took a while for the lightbulb to go on. They weren’t tying their FB posts, their tweets, their blogs, etc., as promotion. One of them actually talked about it as their author platform because that was the terminology the publisher had used. When he finally realized it was promotion, it was almost a V-8 forehead smacking moment. The look on his face was priceless. I have a feeling if we hadn’t been sitting in a public place, he might have banged his head against the desk.

Even once he — and the others — realized they are already doing most of their own promo now, they worried about how they would be able to do more. Did I know a good PR firm to promote their book? Who could they hire to make sure word of their book got out? That is when I wanted to pound my head against the desk. Why? Because I have yet to talk to any author who has been successful hiring someone to do the PR for them. (By success, I mean something that results in more than a temporary bounce in sales.)

The first rule you have to remember when you go indie is that it is a business, your business. That means you have to make informed decisions about what you are considering doing and you have to look at what the potential return on investment happens to be. Whether you are talking about editorial services, cover creation or promotion, you have to ask yourself one very important question: will you be able to not only make back the money you spend but then make a profit? The next question you have to ask is equally important: how long will it take for you to make back that money?

So, when I saw this post over at The Passive Voice yesterday, I quickly emailed the link to the authors I had been talking with. It is the tale of an author who learned the lesson of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” the hard way.

Let me start by saying that I almost passed out when I saw that the author in question spent $10,000 to launch a book. Of that, $3,500 was for cover design, interior design layout and proofreading. That, alone, was enough for me to bang my head against the table. I can’t speak about the interior design because I haven’t looked beyond the first couple of pages of the sample. However, the cover design is nothing innovative and nothing to stand out from all the other books like it. Then I noted — and did pound my head against the desk — that she paid for proofreading but not editing. What? If she has a publisher, and it sort of sounds like she does, then they should have done the editing AND proofing. If she doesn’t have one, then why pay for proofing and not editing?

The rest of the money, by far the bulk of it, was given over for promotion. Promotion that did not come through. You can read the post at TPV. Then follow the link to the original post. There were so many warning signs that the author ignored or let pass. I get wanting to avoid conflict. I get that she wanted to believe the promo folks would actually come through at the end. But there comes a point wher eyou have to remind yourself that this is YOUR business and you have to act in a businesslike manner. That means demanding accountings before the proverbial excrement hits the fan. That means doing the hard thing, even when you would prefer to keep your head down and avoid making the hard decisions.

I’m not saying that all those who promise to promote your book are con artists. I’m sure there are some out there who give a good value for your dollar. But, before you agree to go with one of them — and certainly before you give them any money — read every word of the contract. If you don’t understand it, have an attorney look at it. Ask for references and google the names of not only the company but any employee you might be working with. If you start working with someone and that person quits answering your emails or calls, escalate the matter to their supervisor asap. Don’t wait until it is almost time for your book to come out. Most of all, make sure there is an out clause in the contract, something that will allow you to vacate the contract for cause — and without accruing a penalty. There is one other bit of advice I’d give. Make sure they are willing to give regular accountings of not only what they have done but the time spent doing it, monies spent, etc. You are their client. That means they work for you and should answer to you and not the other way around.

Finally, remember that for all the money you spend before a book is published, you have to make that money back before you can say you have made any sort of a profit. So do the math and try to figure out how many books you would have to sell in order to become profitable. This brings up one last “don’t do this” warning. Don’t sign away a percentage of your roylaties. That leaves you with the onus of having to keep the books in such a way that you are giving regular accountings to someone else. It means you might be paying someone years after they last did anything for you. It also means you leave yourself open to a call for an accounting and that will put the burden on you to prove you only sold so many books. You pay for a service at the time the service is rendered, not in perpetuity.

Since we’re talking promotion, I guess I ought to do a bit myself.

Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1)

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Brexit: it is our fault.

To save the Puppy Kickers over at file 770 effort and time I would like to accept responsibility on behalf of the Sad Puppies (for whom I neither speak, nor represent, but these details have always been mere trivia to the Puppy Kickers) for Brexit. I figure as it is all going to be our fault anyway, regardless, I may as well accept responsibility now and save us all from the smell of burning of brain-sawdust that they’d have to fill the air with, coming up with convoluted bizarre theories as to why this particular thing is also our fault. You know, we white Mormon men (especially female ones and those who would have to pour on whitewash by the bucket every morning, let alone those poor blokes trying to fake special underwear) plan on world domination, or just untrammeled eeeeevil, and the entire grab-bag of …isms.

For the record we also caused Global Warming, Global Weirding, Oceans rising, Rains of Frogs, Reigns of Frogs, Mondays (my personal contribution), bad hair days and of course George Bush. So everything they used to blame on him is really our fault. And as that took inventing time travel, we’re also responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs (we introduced them to the AR15 and techno music and tobacco, oversized sodas, and those that didn’t die from smoking went mad and shot each other, barring those who exploded because there were no regulations to stop them drinking too much soda – except for the ancestors of the chicken who were too chicken) and everything else, including the heat death of the universe. That happened because I personally forgot to turn the lights off, when the dolphins finally left.

***Wicked me. Chris points out that I forgot we are responsible for Gamerate and fall of the Soviet Union. Hereby inserted***

Oh and we caused elevenxit, lunchxit and highteaxit and supperxit too, in case you wondered. Food is important to puppies.

Our real evil reason for causing Brexit was to liberate Scotland. I long to see the coat of arms of the newly independent Scotland, the estucheon bearing the noble charge of the deep-fried Mars bar, rampant, over a lion tremblant, supported by the two haggii (dexter and sinister hill-walking) bearing the crest of the Bagpipe (the national bird of Scotland) shriekant arising from a helm bearing either a tartan crown or a wind-blown kilt, revealant. (of course that is true. We have a time machine. Otherwise there would have been no Bush to blame, or at least beat around.)

I do hope those who lost a fortune on banking stocks had suitably laid off the bets against the sales of fainting-couches. The demand for those has been at an all-time high among politicians, bankers and various SJW activists. Honestly I do think the Sad Puppies have done remarkably well, heralding in a new dark age, not to mention the fortune I’ve made from my Essential Victorian Ladies Furnishing Company as a result. We have a special on smelling salts next week.

Actually there are a few entertaining and logical writing and publishing related things to be derived from the Brexit circus. The first and obvious one is it could all have been avoided (no matter how you see this as good or ill), if those running the EU (or publishing, for that matter) had not been so busy with their own agendas and feathering their own nests to be aware of the growing discontent. Publishing has seen a steady fall off in sales… but you’d never guess if you looked around a NY Publisher’s office. The same is true in the EU – the bureaucrats, and bankers, and various little elites did very well. In Britain the losers in the equation voted in the referendum. In publishing the losers – writers and readers voted with their wallets. The outcome, in the end, is about the same: the unthinkable (if you were at the top the benefit pyramid –where no one you knew would support such a ridiculous thing) has happened. If either group had taken action, given up a few of their perks, spread the benefits, seen the people paying their wages felt they too were winning from this it could have been different. In publishing if they’d worried more (or even at all) about providing books that were directed at pleasing the demos, instead of just themselves. If they’d listened to the concerns of people nearer to the middle – and more representative of it, they’d sell more books and not be losing hand over fist to Indy sales and other media. Instead they just said the magic words “Racism, sexism etc.”. Likewise if the EU elite had given David Cameron real concessions on the main concern of the people who voted leave – immigration, instead of ignoring those concerns, dismissing them as racism etc…
The magic is all used up. It doesn’t work any more.

Fascinatingly, in the rage about the stupid people who dared vote for leaving the EU, the modern liberal left has turned viciously on older people, and the other group who voted strongly for Brexit – the poor, blue-collar solid working class artisans whose jobs have ‘globalized’ – saving their ‘betters’ money, but making them poorer. They’ve sneered at them as stupid, racist etc. wanting to go back to the past…

Hmm. You know, the past began a microsecond ago. It seems to me that one group wants to go on with the certainty of that past, wanted that status quo, even if it certainly isn’t working for many people. It was working for them. And the same was true in publishing and in the Hugo Awards. The people voting to leave know you can’t turn the clock back, even if they might like to. But they want a different direction. For them the status quo wasn’t good, and the direction was worse, and the elite who were winning were not in the least interested in their plight. The boot is on the other foot now. Do they seriously expect those folk to be sympathetic if their foes cosy job in London and cheap plumber and easy ski-ing trip are endangered? The time to have built that goodwill, to have made sure the average bloke in rural England liked the EU, that the plumber from a small town didn’t hate the EU are past. The same is true in publishing. Treat readers who don’t match your tastes as scum… and they’ll treat you like that. That’s all very well… if you can afford it. But can they?

Well, according to people bearing the brunt of this – the blue-collar working class of the writing world – you know, those strange fellows who write, the midlist, who publishing thinks of and treats like instantly replaceable assembly-line workers: no.

I find it strange, as an old fart who still remembers when ‘socialism’ was actually about those poor workers, and treating the blue-collar workers as if they weren’t thick, second class citizens. I’ve worked among them, am friends with a lot of them, just as I am friends with a lot graduates. Here’s the thing: there are some bright people there, and many able, hard-working ones. And graduates… well there are a LOT of mediocre-follow-the-pack thinkers there (questioning established wisdom was a requirement when I was at University. Going along with it, is now). A lot of graduates work less hard and are less ingenious than a good few self-taught artisans I know. There’s also a good stock of dumb graduates, indistinguishable from the non-academic of yesteryear, except they owe a college a lot more money. Oh and they can elevate their (non)importance with sneering. The blue collar worker has been dumped for the unemployed, and minority de jour by the modern left. Oddly both in writing and in the wider field of employment, the blue collar are not supportive of either publishing or EU.

As for the elderly: the young who voted did favor the EU. Only… many less of them voted. And they all thought for themselves and not one single one followed fashion or were influenced by their peers. Hadn’t you noticed? Only old experienced people do those things.

Not.

Everyone who doesn’t die young gets older and hopefully wiser. Well, some people manage to die young at 90. Others just die immature at 90.

For me, what typified the Remain campaign… was that they had nothing to sell but the status quo (which even they knew a lot of people thought lousy), so instead they turned to fear-mongering. Much the same as the puppy-kickers in Hugos last year, with declining sales, and the same narrow little clique winning year after year, they turned to shrieking how bad the Puppies were and what evil they would bring and what (fill-in-the blank) ists they were. And we would suffer dire financial consequences, and our careers were dead… none of which happened, but Traditional Publishing continues in financial strife. I wonder if this will happen to the EU too.

The truth is, once the panic at the status quo and predictable if dismal future of the EU being disturbed, no one really knows what the future holds. Myself I’d hold up hope of reviving good things, of finding new good things, not fear of change from a dismal status quo – both in publishing and the EU. The reaction to rebellion by the former masters of the status quo –punishment and threats (partly to try and keep what they’ve got, and partly just frustrated rage at their loss) will almost certainly backfire in the worst possible way. If the EU – or publishing, or the Hugo wish to remain relevant they need to spread the rewards to those who feel excluded – even if it means less for those who had it all, up to recently. Less is better than none. Hope and rewards sell better than threats and misery – and that’s true in books too.

The other marked similarity between the EU and remain supporters and traditional publishing and their Puppy kicker supporters is… It’s ALWAYS someone else’s fault. Which is why I saved time and effort by accepting the blame for Brexit on behalf of the Puppies. The truth is the EU has failed the expectations and desires of a lot of people. Traditional publishing has done the same. Midlist traditionally published authors 30 years back made a respectable living. That is down by an order of magnitude – without correcting for inflation. When one of my self-published books doesn’t sell or is unpopular… it’s not the reader’s fault. TOM – the picture’s a link, is actually doing quite well – perhaps because it is funny and light in grim-ish times. Perhaps because the characters don’t actually blame everyone else for their problems, but resolve them. Maybe because it’s a cute cat. But _I_ am responsible for its success or failure.

The right place for the EU, publishing, the Hugo Awards to place blame and to try to fix… is with themselves.

Never seen one admit they might need to fix that.
But they surely tell other people what to fix.
Maybe they need to try fixit, instead of brexit.

Breaking out the data

This post is the compiled quotes and graphs from Data Guy in the comments to the May Author Earnings report – tidbits and addendums that he broke out to answer specific questions. If you didn’t read through the comments before, this will explain why you should!

First, for those who wonder about the split between science fiction and fantasy, or want to see how nonfiction is doing:

http://authorearnings.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/genre-units-w-sf-f-split.pngGenre Split by Units

http://authorearnings.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/genre-author-earnings-w-sf-f-split.pngGrenre split by Author Earnings

And for how well books are doing on KU by page length:

http://authorearnings.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/ku-bestsellers-by-page-count.pngKU Bestsellers by Page Count

Speaking of KU, there’s no straightforward answer on whether it’s the best choice overall. Specifically:

It looks like 57% of the 311,000 indie-published titles in our million-title dataset were in KDP Select (and KU).
Those Select titles accounted for 71% of the total indie sales (roughly half of that 71% were direct retail sales & half were KU full-pagecount-read sale-equivalents).

All my best,
Data Guy

A breakdown on why there aren’t more indie authors making a living:

Americans spend about $15 billion a year on trade books of all formats. After retailers and publishers take their cut, at most $3 billion actually lands in author pockets. Divided up perfectly evenly, that $3 billion could theoretically support 60,000 authors at the $50,000 level…

But instead, it’s getting divided up among at least 1,000,000 authors, if not more… including the estates and heirs of deceased authors. (I can see at least a million author names in our Amazon ebook data and top-selling Amazon print-book data, and that doesn’t even start to include the 32 million(!) lower-selling print book titles listed on Amazon right now, whose sales are too low to be captured in one of our scrapings.).

But lets imagine that there were only a million authors sharing the $3 billion right now. Which is an average of $3,000 each, if it were evenly distributed — but of course, it isn’t evenly distributed. Not even close.

It’s a Pareto distribution. And it’s one where the top 1% of authors — the top 10,000 — take home 50% of that $3 billion, making the average income among those top 10,000 authors around $150,000 a year. Here’s the thing, though: averages are pretty meaningless in a Pareto distribution. Because the top 1% of that top 1%, or just the top 100 authors — folks like James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, and the like — take half of the half. (Those 4 names alone account for 10% of it, if you believe Forbes magazine’s estimates.)

So the remaining 9,900 authors in the top 1% have to split what’s left: $750 million. And the next 10% down — or 1,000 of them — take nearly 50% of that, leaving only $375 million to be split among the remaining 8,900 top-1%-ers, bringing their average income to $43,000 or so. Which means that every single author below that top 10,000 — and the majority of those in it — are actually earning less than $50,000 a year from their writing.

All of which is a painfully longwinded way of saying that there just aren’t enough dollars being spent on books in the US to make “tens of thousands” of $50K-earning authors even a remote possibility.

Throw in foreign sales (again, concentrated in the top few thousand traditionally-published authors) and movie rights (which, again, are mostly going to the top 1% of 1% of traditionally-published authors) and we could maybe talk ourselves up to high single-digit thousands of authors earning $50K.

Which, interestingly enough, ends up being not that far from the number of $50K earners the AE graphs show.

Anyone who sets out with an expectation of earning a living from their writing is setting themselves up for almost certain disappointment. At best a low single-digit percentage of writers are ever able to. But that’s actually good news: before indie publishing became viable, the odds of doing so as an traditionally-published author were far worse — and for unpublished-but-querying traditional aspirants, basically infinitesimal.

The breakdowns in Audio:

http://authorearnings.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/audiobook-units.pngAudible Unit Sales

http://authorearnings.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/audiobook-earnings.pngAudible Author Earnings

the methodology:

For ACX sales, we calculated earnings based on 54% AL units (where AudibleListener subscribers spend credits) and 46% ALC/ALOP (A La Carte retail purchases & AudibleListener Off-Plan retail purchases) That’s the average percentage split we measured across a wide swath of titles by different authors. We used $14.95 for the AL retail allocation factor (again, the average we measured across a bunch of titles).

And then to compute AuthorEarnings we applied ACX’s 40% rate to that total.

I can’t recall if we factored in a $50 bounty for every 100 sales, although that was about the average. We might have left it out to be extra conservative. I can check.

If I recall, net author earnings ended up averaging around $5-6 a unit, but that’s off the top of my head.

All my best,
Data Guy

And now, for something completely different:

Publishing insiders seem to go out of their way to avoid mentioning that fact in the media. Publishers Weekly is particularly circumspect about it: they frequently publish Nielsen industry stats on the “Retail & club” sector, which lumps Amazon’s online sales in with bookstore sales at B&N, BAM, and the independents; but they NEVER show how sales in that sector actually break down between brick and mortar & online. 🙂

The only open reference I’ve ever seen was by Mike Shatzkin, in the comments on a recent idealog.com post, where he says:

“Amazon has something more than half the retail trade in books in the United States.”

I’ve privately seen official industry numbers that confirm exactly that, but I can’t share them here publicly without violating trusts and subscription terms-of-service. What I can do, instead, is point you at a few public indicators which you’ll find by googling.

1) “Bookstores are back!” articles typically cite stats from the ABA, whose member indie bookstores grew 10% in 2015, adding $50 million in print sales. Add in non-ABA independent bookstores, and that’s about $100 million total. Great news for the smallest booksellers, which make up 8% of all print sales.

2) But during 2015, Barnes & Noble lost over $300 million in print sales, more than three times what the small independents gained. The second-largest US bookstore chain, Books-A-Million, stayed flat, while book sales at Walmart, Target, and Costco — the core of Nielsen’s “Mass merchandisers” print sector — fell 9%, decreasing somewhere between $120 million – $150 million.

3) Despite all those publicly documented retail brick and mortar print-sales losses, industry stats show overall US print sales up almost 7%. There’s a reason for that…

Our own unpublished AuthorEarnings data on Amazon print sales in mid-2015, compared to what we measured in January and May of 2016, shows Amazon print sales up at least 20% year-on-year for the first five months of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015. As Amazon publicly announced, their ebook sales did grow in both dollar terms and unit terms in 2015. But what they didn’t say publicly is that their online print sales grew even faster.

Bottom line: Mike Shatzkin’s absolutely right. While the media is focused on ebook-vs-print, the really dramatic shift happening now is the migration of print-book sales from physical bookstores to online (especially Amazon).

Isn’t that interesting, now?

Here’s to Data Guy, who provides the most unexpected and awesome insights into the true state of the publishing industry!

The Good in Scary Stories

This is a guest post written for me by the lovely Amanda Fuesting. I’m at the Fanboy Expo in Knoxville this weekend, but I’ll try to look in at the comments. Maybe. It’s going to be busy (fingers crossed). We’d been talking about the book series she discusses in depth here, and I asked her if she wouldn’t mind elaborating on it. I blogged about it over at my blog, too, talking about the changes publishers are making to classic children’s books, and why. Amanda picks up with why scary stories can be good stories, and shielding kids from them isn’t a good thing. 

When I was a kid, Scary Stories to Read in the Dark were already classics of childhood horror, despite being fairly young books in the market. Older kids passed them to younger kids in an attempt to scare them silly. I was an eclectic reader, like most of the odds who will actually end up reading this blog. By the time these books came to me, I was already reading books above my maturity level by quite a bit. I thought that these would be kid’s books, and not all that scary. The pictures on the front covers were deliciously creepy though, so I gave them a shot. I was honestly terrified. So much so that I went and bought my own copies later on when I had some spending money. I read them until they were worn to bits.

There’s something about fear that makes a person feel alive, but what made these books truly scary wasn’t the stories. They were a collection of urban legends, campfire stories, occasionally dramatic retellings of real creepy events and the like. The author even put references as to where he found the stories in the back of the book, and occasionally included notes as to how make your telling of the tale as frightening as possible. What truly made the books frightening on a soul-deep level were the illustrations. Seriously, look at this picture:

illustration by Stephen Gammell

illustration by Stephen Gammell

That illustration (from the story The Haunted House) is so iconic that it is immediately recognizable by anyone who has ever read the book. She’s staring directly at you. You are in that house, and you cannot escape her pain and anguish. Coupled with the story, it’s terrifying. Stephen Gammell, the artist, reached directly into my soul and implanted the horror deep into my young mind. At 32, I still get a little tingle of fear when I see some of his images. I recently found out that the publisher had replaced the illustrations in the book several years ago, starting with the 30th anniversary edition. I was livid, and I’m still angry. This is the new illustration for that story:frightener

It’s just not frightening in the same way. Brett Helquist is a fine artist. I adored his work in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. However, his style of art is not right for Scary Stories. They’re more silly than scary. They don’t really add anything, and that’s the rub. Gammell’s illustrations worked with the stories. They added to it. Sometimes subtly, sometimes not. Sometimes they had nothing to do with the story, but they got you in the right frame of mind for a good scare. Take, for example, this illustration:skull balloon

The story here (Is Something Wrong?) isn’t really scary at all. It ends with the character being tapped on the shoulder by the horrible monster, which politely asks, “Is something wrong?” And then there’s the illustration from T-H-U-P-P-P-P-P-P-P!, a funny story that ends with the ghost blowing a raspberry.scary lamp

The illustrations at the start of the stories are frightening; the endings to the stories are funny, producing a sense of catharsis. The two work hand in hand, and they’re effective. Now, one could ask what the point of terrifying children so badly that over 20 years later they still shudder a little bit when they think back on the stories. All the really horrifying things that happened in the stories are the product of humans doing bad things. In Just Delicious, the ghost of a woman who had the liver cut out of her dead body returns and kills the man who ate it. The man in question was an abusive husband, and his timid wife cut out the dead woman’s liver in order to avoid his wrath. Bad things happened to him because he was a bad person. In Harold, the much abused scarecrow came to life and skinned one of its tormenters while the other fled. The actual “monsters” were mostly harmless, and occasionally just funny.

We can all think back to things we read as a child that stuck with us. I bet more than half of the people reading this can still recall vivid details about books that we haven’t read in 20 years. Those stories spoke to us, and we cried at the death of a favored character or cheered when the hero triumphed. We also thought about the stories, and we learned lessons that we carried with us into adulthood. They shaped us into new and hopefully better people.

Like all good stories, scary stories also teach. That’s the real point here, and it’s one that all story tellers can use. A story has to slip past the reader’s conscious mind and speak to their imaginations in order to really be memorable. Readers of Lord of the Rings learned about honor, sacrifice, not giving up in the face of hardship, and how even the most unlikely person can still be a hero. The lessons are gentle, slipping into children while they read their adventure. In Harold, we learn that the universe exacts justice from cruel people. The lesson slips in with the fear, and it sticks there in the child’s subconscious. The change in illustrations means that those terrifying lessons won’t stick as well, because the reader isn’t scared to their cores.             Frankly, I think that’s sad, and I have already bought a copy of these books with the old illustrations and directed a good friend to where she could find copies for her daughters. If I have a child one day, I want them to keep the lights on for a little while longer while they enjoy their good scare, and I want those stories to stick with them so that they shiver a little bit when they are 30 years old and remember that story.  I want them to remember that the truly scary things in this world don’t lurk in the dark, but hide in the depths of the human heart.

Kilted Dave has been kidnapped

. . . by a toddler and a very cute infant, both of whom think they need their Daddy’s undivided attention. So, here goes a repeat of our last promotion post. It is also your chance to add a comment about topics you would like the Mad Ones to discuss.

Changeling’s Island (Baen)

Dave Freer

Tim Ryan can’t shake the feeling that he is different from other teens, and not in a good way. For one thing, he seems to have his own personal poltergeist that causes fires and sets him up to be arrested for shoplifting.

As a result Tim has been sent to live on a rundown farm on a remote island off the coast of Australia with his crazy grandmother, a woman who seems to talk to the local spirits, and who refuses to cushion Tim from facing his difficulties. To make matters worse, Tim is expected to milk cows, chase sheep, and hunt fish with a spear.

But he’s been exiled to an island alive with ancient magic—land magic that Tim can feel in his bones, and sea magic that runs in his blood. If Tim can face down the danger from drug runners, sea storms, and the deadly threat of a seal woman who wishes to steal him away for a lingering death in the land of Faery, he may be able to claim the mysterious changeling heritage that is his birthright, and take hold of a legacy of power beyond any he has ever imagined.

***

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

Sam Schall / Amanda S. Green

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.

***

Sword And Blood (Vampire Musketeer Book 1)

Sarah A. Hoyt

The France of the Musketeers has changed. Decades ago, someone opened a tomb in Eastern Europe, and from that tomb crawled an ancient horror, who in turn woke others of its kind.

Now Paris is beset by vampires, the countryside barren and abandoned. The Cardinal has become a vampire, the church is banned, the king too cowed to fight.

Until now, the three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis have stood as a bulwark against the encroaching evil, their swords defending the innocent and helpless.

But last night, in a blood mass, Athos was turned into a Vampire. And a young vampire orphan has just arrived from Gascony: Monsieur D’Artagnan.

Things are about to get… complicated.

***

ConVent (The Vampire Con Series Book 1)

Kate Paulk

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.

***

Inktail & Friends: A Coloring Book

Cedar Sanderson

Inktail is a coloring book for all ages, with designs that encourage the user to add their own creativity to the existing art. There is also a section on learning to draw your own dragon.

 

***

The Chaplain’s War

Brad Torgersen

The mantis cyborgs: insectlike, cruel, and determined to wipe humanity from the face of the galaxy.

The Fleet is humanity’s last chance: a multi-world, multi-national task force assembled to hold the line against the aliens’ overwhelming technology and firepower. Enter Harrison Barlow, who like so many young men of wars past, simply wants to serve his people and partake of the grand adventure of military life. Only, Harrison is not a hot pilot, nor a crack shot with a rifle. What good is a Chaplain’s Assistant in the interstellar battles which will decide the fate of all?

More than he thinks. Because while the mantis insectoids are determined to eliminate the human threat to mantis supremacy, they remember the errors of their past. Is there the slightest chance that humans might have value? Especially since humans seem to have the one thing the mantes explicitly do not: an innate ability to believe in what cannot be proven nor seen God. Captured and stranded behind enemy lines, Barlow must come to grips with the fact that he is not only bargaining for his own life, but the lives of everyone he knows and loves. And so he embarks upon an improbable gambit, determined to alter the course of the entire war.

***

Cascades (Wine of the Gods Book 24)

Pam Uphoff

Three stories and some out takes.

A collection of magic potions cascades through the lives of a desperate divorcee, the wannabe God of Thieves, a family of poor country trash, and an up-and-coming young officer.

***

Kraken Mare

Jason Cordova

Sergeant John Manning was a simple Marine who liked spicy foods, big guns, and even bigger explosions- so long as those guns and explosions weren’t pointed in his direction.

When offered a well-paying job after being unceremoniously drummed out of his beloved Corps on a medical discharge, he jumped at the opportunity for good money and the prospects of a bright future. For the first time in recent memory, John had a chance at life.

Then his life turned into a horror movie.

The secret research station hidden on the moon of Titan was not just any government facility. It harbored dark secrets and frightening realities. The scientists here have not only studied more than just the local fauna, but have discovered something far more important. A discovery which would shock the very foundations of the universe. Something out of a nightmare.

The depths of Kraken Mare hid a horrifying truth, and the unwitting Marine stumbled right into it.

***

Baptism By Fire (Edge of Faith Book 1)

David Pascoe

When a madman and a giant flaming thing attack James Lawrie’s Marine outpost, the medic and an explosively talented sergeant aren’t supposed to save the day. Life becomes no simpler when Petty Officer Lawrie returns home on leave to find federal agents investigating the disappearance of a young woman from his past. A young woman whose body turns up marked with eerily familiar symbols.

***

Stand Against The Storm (The Maxwell Saga Book 4)

Peter Grant

When duty and honor collide…

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

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

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

Hugo Awards – The Nominee Highlights – Best Semiprozine and Best Graphic Novel

Since voting closes at the end of July and there are more categories than there are weeks, I’m going to start doubling up and possibly even tripling in some cases. As always, finalists are listed on the Hugo site.

Best Semiprozine

As seems to be the trend, nominating ballot counts in this category more than doubled from 660 last year to this year’s 1457 nominating ballots. All my short-short reviews are based on the sample content provided in the Hugo packet – I’m presuming it’s the best of the eligible material as decided by the editors (I certainly hope so – why would anyone send less than their best?). Regardless, opinions here are very much mine.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews – The sample was a nice, cleanly edited file of stories that were well-written but honestly left me cold. There didn’t seem to be anything beyond beautifully presented emptiness – something I found depressingly common to most of the finalists, to be honest. Maybe my standards here are too high, but I would like to actually care how a story ends even if I don’t particularly like it. Others are welcome to disagree with great vehemence if they wish.

Daily Science Fiction edited by Michele-Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden – The content here is rather more on the quirky side, but still fundamentally did nothing for me. Once again, I can appreciate the technical skill without seeing any of that extra that makes for true artistry. Or I’m asking for too much.

Sci Phi Journal edited by Jason Rennie – Sci Phi was the only finalist with any content that drew me in, and honestly, not all of it. I could have done without the philosophical questions at the end of each fiction piece, although that is the journal’s signature, so I guess it’s required. I’d rather ponder the questions the stories in questions raised without the explicit pointers – although I will say they weren’t as heavy-handed as they could have been, and they did highlight the issues quite well. I’m just fussy, I guess.

Strange Horizons edited by Catherine Krahe, Julia Rios, A. J. Odasso, Vanessa Rose Phin, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and the Strange Horizons staff – Again, a zine of beautifully written, exquisite prose gems that left me either vaguely unsatisfied or vaguely repelled. Neither of which is a particularly good reaction, because I can’t remember a single individual piece.

Uncanny Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky – Okay, it’s a bit unfair that Uncanny being the last in the list should get a mere “ditto”, but seriously, that’s what it feels like.

Of the five finalists, four were so indistinguishable in terms of the kind of content they presented that I don’t remember enough of any of them to say if any were in any way better or more memorable.

Of course, you may utterly disagree and think I’m a raving looney, so go check out their content for yourself and make your own decisions before you cast your votes. I’m not here to tell anyone what to vote for – I’m just giving my honest and slightly toned down opinions of everything I’ve looked at as a kind of perverse public service cum masochistic impulse.

Best Graphic Story

This category is another one with more than double the nomination ballots than last year: from 785 to 1838. It’s also a challenging one to comment on, with two episodic webcomics and three paper graphic stories written long-form (that is, they aren’t a strip at a time or several strips at a time).

The Divine written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka (First Second) – I couldn’t find a website for this work, so the wikipedia entry will have to do. This is a disturbing and evocative piece with extremely well-drawn art, characters who I could follow and care about, and a plot that packs a solid punch. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it, but I’m still thinking about it which suggests there’s a lot more there to unpack.

Erin Dies Alone written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell  – This finalist is a webcomic filled with game geekery as well as an interesting mix of wry humor overlying rather deeper questions of identity and pathology (which are not directly addressed in the strips I looked at, but they’re unquestionably there). You’ll have to go to the site and find the qualifying strips yourself (try not to get caught up in it if, like me, you have limited time and too many webcomics already).

Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams. This is another humor and game geeky webcomic, less serious than Erin Dies Alone but with some pointed humor in places. Once again, you’ll need to browse the qualifying strips yourself and risk being sucked in.

Invisible Republic Vol 1 written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman (Image Comics)  – This is the first part of an intriguing science fiction mystery/thriller series that raises more questions than it answers (as it should). The art can be a bit dark and it’s not always easy to see which characters are who in the busier scenes, but it’s certainly a worthy contender.

The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo) – I have to admit that without any background in the character or the Gaiman Sandman ‘verse I found the sample beautifully drawn and so completely bewildering I had no idea what was going on or why I should care. This may be one of those pieces where you need to have followed from the beginning to be able to follow now (I hope so, because otherwise it’s more like an avant garde art piece where it needs lengthy explanations of what the artist is trying to represent because everyone looks at it and has no idea).

Read the works in the voters packet, read the archives for the other two works, and cast your vote where you believe it should go.

P.S. For those who want the numbers, the detailed data for last year’s awards is available here .

A Victim of Circumstance

Yep, you know it, right?  Once more I came across a promising book by a newcomer, and started reading with some enjoyment, only to hit the wall when I realized this young writer had fallen into one of the pitfalls very common to any new writer, but worse now, it seems, by the prevailing mood of the times and the great nonsense kids are taught in school these days.  Also the nonsense in the media, too.

Look, let me make it clear now in bold print: VICTIMS ARE NOT HEROES.

Victims CAN be heroes, but as a role in society, in literature, in life in general, those are quite different.

Take those young women kidnapped and kept confined for years by the madman in Ohio.  ALL of them were victims.  The one who risked everything, including possibly her life (he had threatened to kill them if they escaped) to tell the guy on the street of her plight and ask for help is a hero.  Similarly, the man who rescued them kept repeating he was no hero.  And he was right.  He didn’t confront dragons or even disgrace to free them.  He was a good Samaritan and in our day and age admirable for rescuing perfect strangers, but he was not a hero.

So, what is a hero?  And does a book need a hero?

A hero is someone who risks something that matters to him/her to achieve his/her goals.  The more important the reason, the greater the heroism.  An admirable hero is someone who risks everything to save a perfect stranger.

We all — well, me all — have heard the story of the tramp, which Heinlein considered the ultimate hero.  Like this: When a child Heinlein used to frequent a public park where there was a train line.  A young couple were walking along the tracks, when the woman’s heel became caught in the tracks.  The husband struggled to pull her off, but couldn’t.  A train approached.  A tramp, a perfect stranger, came to the rescue.  He too couldn’t free her.  All three were hit, and the woman and the tramp were killed.  (I’ve often wondered about the design of her shoe, and also if all of them weren’t caught in one of those foolish panics one gets into when the obvious doesn’t occur to one.  In that, perhaps because I’d heard the story and thought about it, when while crossing the street in Portugal one of my rather expensive stilettos caught in the tram line, I bent down, unbuckled it and abandoned it, returning home with one shoe, but rather the better for the wear.  Which is neither here nor there when it comes to heroism.)

The tramp was a hero because he was willing to risk his life for a stranger.

It’s not heroism to risk something you don’t care about for someone you love.  It’s generous and kind, but not heroism.  Say I sacrificed one of my many rings for one of my sons.  No applause.  I never wear rings, since I’m one of those persons who does things, and my hands are always at risk of getting caught, wet, etc.  So the only rings are wedding and engagement.  All others are safely in the drawer and I’d guess half of them no longer fit me.

Further there is the “risk” part.  The hero risks everything, but THERE MUST be a chance of winning.  Otherwise your hero is just a fool and a masochist.

Which brings us to “Do you need a hero?” in your book.  I don’t know.  I find I often need a bit of everything, heroes and victims, fools and sages.

But here’s the thing: your protagonist need not be a hero, but he needs to PROTAG.  That is, faced with something that needs doing, a situation that needs changing, an intolerable condition or a challenge, he should be active in resolving it.

Beyond which, you should NOT treat a victim, a martyr or a damnfool masochist like a hero.  People shouldn’t tell the poor little thing “You’re such a hero” just because she’s been kicked around by everyone her entire life.  Yes, there is a degree of heroism in merely surviving extremely difficult circumstances, but it is rarely (though not never) the kind of heroism that inspires others.

“But Sarah,” Say you.  “What about the stories of prisoners of war or abused children who grew up in closets and went on to be doctors, or that book you actually liked about the three sisters escaping the Cultural revolution?

Nota bene what you just said.  The prisoner of war who survives with mind and courage intact is a hero because he’s suffering for a reason.  He’s suffering for the sake of a cause he serves, which is greater than himself.  If he survives without cracking, more people stand to benefit than himself, at least from his example.  The same thing with the child who survives and eventually thrives under unimaginable abuse. He came through the horrors and made something out of it.  He might not have done it for others, but in telling his story he’s showing others escape is possible.  Same with the three sisters escaping the Cultural Revolution.  They did something about it.

It’s like this: I’ve heard everyone who died on 9/11 being called a “hero” and cringed.  The people of flight 93 were heroes.  Their attempt to save themselves was futile, but they managed to spare a target and many other lives.  (And they knew they were risking their lives.)  The people who went back into the towers to rescue strangers and co-workers, particularly those who went back over and over again till fate caught up with them were heroes, as great as any sang in myth and history.

The people who died were victims.  This is not a disparagement of them.  Some of them might even have been brave, and under different circumstances, might have saved others.  But if they were caught about the impact line, they died.  There was nothing else to do or be done.  Nothing they could try.  They were victims.

All of us are victims sometimes, through circumstances that can’t be fought.  We all have friends who were victims of cancer.  And at some time or another, all of us are victims of circumstance.  We arrive too late to get the prize, get stuck in traffic when we head out to meet someone who could help us, have a job interview on a day when the boss is ill.

There is even a role for victims in books, to provide a foil for the heroes.

Now victims should not — preferably — be sopping wet.  By which I mean they shouldn’t behave like wet cloth, unwieldy, heavy and impossible to do anything with.  The ideal victim is plucky but defeated by circumstances.  An even better victim is a would-be hero who fails against insurmountable circumstances.

I realized yesterday re-reading Dresden, the only fair use of a helpless victim (who is neither a child nor handicapped) is a brief appearance and then offing, so as to let the protagonist know just how BAD the bad guy is.  It is important to evoke both pitty and horror.  It is also important not to have the poor sap on screen for very long, because he’s not interesting.

And here we come to what bothers me about confusing victims and heroes.  People who are heroes DO something and as such are ideal for protagonists.

So when people who have been taught that SOMEHOW there’s heroism in being sh*t upon by everyone decide to write a book, they choose the victimgest (totally a word.  Also shut up) of victims.  This is fine if that victim is at some point going to rebell against the slings and arrows of stupid writer.  But if they just lay there, being a pin cushion for the arrows, and moaning about their fate and how everyone hates them for being purple, it grows tedious very rapidly.  What they’re being is martyrs and martyrs for no better reason that that the author unfairly ablated their spine at literary birth.

Perhaps there are people out there who like reading about people who are soggy wet, and drag through the pages, leaving a trail of snot and tears in their wake.  I don’t.

And I find the author never allowing the character to fight back, as though the lack of rum-gumption made them somehow admirable, a despicable trait, that makes me want to make the author the victim of several well chosen catastrophes.

Let your protagonist protag. If he or she starts out as a victim, let him/her turn the tables and achieve something, even if it’s “just” resisting.

And if by chance your protag is a hero, you just might inspire someone in a very difficult situation who desperately needs the courage to do what must be done.  It’s been known to happen.  And it’s a goal worth fighting for.

 

 

I can only shake my head

With coffee in hand, I sat down to write today’s post. The laptop booted up, the cats settled into their morning routine of annoying one another instead of me and I realized I didn’t have clue one for the blog. I stared at the laptop screen, fingers poised above the keyboard and nothing came. Then I realized what the problem was. My muse, evil muse that she is, woke me in the middle of the night. The only good thing about that was it was one of those “OMG! That’s why the story wasn’t gelling” moments. The downside was, I spent the rest of the night thinking about how to fix the problem. So the brain did not rest overnight even though the body did.

Of course, it didn’t help when I stood at the kitchen sink and looked outside and saw water running across the backyard. Water that shouldn’t be there. Not wanting to really know why there was water flowing and pooling enough for my still sleep-addled brain to register, I stepped outside and discovered it wasn’t the neighbors backwashing their pool but the result of my mother not completely turning off the water yesterday morning when she filled the birdbath.

And I still hadn’t had any coffee.

So, finally I was able to sit down to try to find a topic for today’s post. Yesterday, I blogged about an article in Publisher’s Weekly that put the blame for the decline in e-book sales for traditional publishers on the need for better dedicated e-book readers and something they call “digital fatigue”. There was no discussion about the high price of e-books from traditional publishers like the Big 5. There was no discussion about the application of DRM. Instead, they tried saying we needed better dedicated e-book readers like there are better dedicated MP3 players. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t carried an MP3 player for years. I have a smartphone, one that allows me to use a micro-SD card that I can put all the music I want on it. That means I don’t have to carry two or more devices with me when I leave the house. It is the same with e-books. I can read e-books on my smartphone or one the tablet I usually carry with me. I don’t need or want another device to haul around.

Anyway, I asked some questions in the blog post that I wondered if the survey the PW piece mentioned had bothered to ask:

1) Do you own a dedicated e-book reader?

2) Do you own a smartphone?

3) Do you own a tablet?

4) If you own a dedicated e-book reader as well as another device capable of allowing you to read e-books, what percentage of your e-books do you read on each device?

5) What percentage of your e-books do you purchase from each device?

There should probably have been another couple of questions asked as well:

6) Do you buy print books and, if so, what percertage of your book purchases are digital and what percentage is print?

7) What is the maximum price you are willing to pay for a print book (mmpb, trp or hc) and what is the maximum price you are willing to pay for an e-book? (and why the difference?)

Those are basic business questions that the publishers should be asking of their customers and aren’t.

A couple of other things to think about. If you haven’t changed your password for your Amazon account recently, do so. I’ve been hearing some rumblings that there might have been a security breach. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the rumblings but there has been at least one author claiming her account was hacked. Also, Amazon is cracking down on some of the third party promotion sites that authors have been using. So you might want to hold back on paying for that sort of promotion for a little bit until the dust clears.

One mug of coffee drunk — all hail, Deathwish Coffee! — and still the brain is refusing to work. No, that isn’t quite right. It wants to work but only on fixing the story. So, I shall sign off here and let the Muse have her way. If she releases her talon-hold on me in time, I will come back with a more coherent post later today. Until then, have a great day!