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Contract crib notes & free videos

So, you found an artist, and want to use some of their art or commission a new piece for a cover. Great! What contract are you going to use? What rights are you going to license?

Yes, the shoe is now on the other foot – you, as the publishing house, are now licensing Intellectual Property from another individual instead of working on licensing your own IP! But don’t worry, you don’t have to come up with a contract out of thin air, or crib a bad one that demands things you don’t want to the detriment of the artist!

Instead, head to and take a look at their contracts tab! Here are some model contracts, designed to be a win-win for both parties, to make you and your artist walk away happy with the deal! While you and your artist will want to negotiate on a point or two – I do not recommend just copying the contract blindly – this will allow them to keep and license rights you’re not interested in, helping them make a living. (Also, in practical self-interest, let me point out that the more ways you leave for the professional artist to make other money by licensing the IP, the more you can negotiate the price. If you want all rights for life of copyright and the original piece too, the price they ask will reflect the loss of any potential future revenue!)

Hat tip to: Melissa Gay (who is an awesome person as well as an awesome professional artist)

Writing about Dragons:

Brandon Sanderson teaches a master class at BYU on writing. Unlike some people who are brilliant at their profession but not at teaching, Brandon is actually a pretty great prof. There are multiple years of this course online, but I’ll give you the best one for watching by topic instead of all the way through.

Here’s 2012 broken into a syllabus, so you can watch it by topic.

Or, if you want to watch it straight through, by 2016 he’s gotten more polished at teaching the material. First one here.

Dean Wesley Smith.

Dean is a career writer, who also offers advice, workshops, and lectures on writing. Well over a year ago, he decided he was going to prove that if you write every day, you can really rack up your output. Since then, he’s been writing and blogging about it every day, including a month where he had a challenge to write a short story every day, and another to write a novel in a week. There are a lot of motivation bits stuck inbetween the daily updates on his general routine and output.

However, I’m going to point you at youtube, where he’s been putting up some of the oldest lectures. The one on originality is complete, the one on essentials of writing is still being uploaded.

Two caveats: First, these are lectures that are old enough that they were phased out of paying. Therefore, especially on the “essentials of writing” video when he’s talking about the current state of the market in 2012, remember it’s been a turbulent 4 years and many things have changed.

Second, Dean and Kris have been in publishing for 39 years. They have a lot of very valuable experience from all that time, and a perspective of writing as a career that’s decades older than indie. They also have some views on the market and marketing that I don’t agree with at all, because I’ve seen going directly against their views leading to indie success. So listen to what they have to say, but don’t swallow opinions down whole without chewing over them.

That ought to be enough to keep you busy for a week, eh? Let me know if you found anything especially interesting in here!

Typing in the Dark

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

— Robbie Burns, To a Mouse

I had a very busy day yesterday, little of it related to writing, and something happened in the morning that got me thinking about plotting. So this morning I’m trying to compile my thoughts into a useful form, typoing in the dark (not an actual typo) and taking a page from Dave Freer’s book by using a bit of poetry. It’s a well-known bit there in the middle of the first stanza I’ve quoted. (That’s by no means all of the poem, and if you can read dialect you should enjoy the whole thing.)

What happened in the morning, you’re wondering, and am I ever coming back to it? Yes, I am! The strange thing that happened started in the bathroom, where my First Reader gave the dog a bath. Now, the door to the backyard where the Beast hangs out is reachable through the kitchen, so the first I knew of it, was a wet dog running into the kitchen where I was making lists for the day of cooking and canning.

Now you’re wondering what this can possibly have to do with plotting. Is it the surprise element? The sudden violent death of a community of fleas happily living on their doggy planet?

No, this is about cascades and consequences. You see, I try to keep the kitchen floor reasonably clean, but between Miss MuddyPaws (yes, the dog has a lot of names. Officially, she only has one, Tricksy. It’s descriptive of her) coming in and out the back door, and three child-things who are using the same door, the kitchen floor suffers. This is, sort of, like your protagonist’s life. It’s not perfect, It’s old, beat-up linoleum, but he’s content with it the way he has it, and he’ll straighten it out when he has the time.

Now, along comes the author like a wet dog shaking out her (fortunately short) fur all over the place and leaving pawprints. Your protagonist is suddenly in trouble. Not a lot of trouble, just enough to have him reaching for a kitchen rag with a slight feeling of dismay. Wiping down the fridge, our hero looks at his life (the floor) and realizes that the wet pawprints are a little muddy. Good Heavens, that did more damage than he thought. Time to pull out the mop and do a bit more damage control…

As an author, it’s tempting to let the characters we’ve created rest on their laurels. This can lead to what my First Reader calls the Golden Boy syndrome, where no matter what happens in the book, you just know it’s going to be all right. There’s no tension in any crisis, we know the hero will win. In this case, the mop will rub out the pawprints, and the kitchen work can begin anew and…

Nope. You know what’s coming next. Or you think you do. You might not expect that the brand-new sponge mop, still with the sponge wrapped in plastic, would snap in half when the plastic was pulled off. Our hero has completed his first try-fail sequence, and is now standing there with a perfectly good mop-handle, an effective weapon… but not the right tool for the job at hand. Here, we could cast him into despair. He could collapse in tears on the muddy floor, flailing with his rag and making it all worse. But you and I, we like Human Wave stories, so instead he just pulls the sponge off and tosses it, puts the mop handle where it could be used if needed, and pulls another mop out. Our hero is resourceful. He’s got no less than three mops in there with the broom.

At this point in the story it’s time to talk about escalation. That first crisis point wasn’t too bad, really. A quick swipe, and you’d have it all cleaned up, you think. The broken mop, well, that was a minor obstacle. But what you, my dear author, are going to throw at Heroic Mopper next is bigger, more time-consuming, and will take a lot more effort to cope with. He’s got his mop-bucket, a rag mop (not ideal for the job, but less fragile than the sponge) and he’s all ready to go… until he realizes that the floor a lot dirtier than he thought. He stares in dismay at the very muddy water now in the mop bucket, and takes a deep breath. Mentally rolling up his sleeves, he pours some vinegar in the water (because for some reason there is no floor cleaner in the house) and starts to get the whole floor wet, not just where the pawprints were.

Our hero is now stuck into the job, he has to go on, and get it done, there’s no going back. And we’re not going to make it easy on him, as authors. We’re going to force him to adapt, improvise (the vinegar) and overcome. In writing, this will appeal a lot more to readers than the guy who has all his sh*t together, can instantly lay his hands on the right tool, and probably didn’t have a dirty kitchen floor to begin with. However, even with our man making progress, we’re not going to stop throwing things at him. He’s going to get the whole floor damp, and then dump the (dear god where did all that dirt come from?) bucket to start a fresh batch of mop water, because this mess is too much to get in one bucket.

Now here we have a damp floor, the third sponge mop (with a self-wringer, which the rope mop did not have. We’re upgrading our hero’s weapons, since he’s having to fight and earn them), and a bucket full of clean, warm water with some vinegar in it. Our hero is going to triumph, surely! Victory is in sight! Plunge the mop in the bucket, wring it out, and….

Catch the bucket with the corner of the sponge, spilling it over most of the floor. Our hero, so elated a moment ago, stands there jaw dropping as a flood of water rushes across the floor, under the fridge, almost out the door to the front entry. As Authors, this is where we bring our hero to the breaking point. This is the lowest moment. The moment where the hidden dogbunny of dust and dog hair pops out from under the fridge to float defiantly on the cresting wave of defeat that is threatening the rest of his life… He springs into action. This time, he not only wields the mop, herding the water away from the fridge and entryway, he calls for help. With friends (coffkidscoff) at his side, he beats back the enemy, using everything in his armory against them. Mops, dirty towels from the laundry basket (damning that he’d done the laundry and there were only two he could call on), even pushing water out the back door and into the yard, he’s finally got the enemy licked.

And then, the crisis over, our hero can pack up the tools, put the bucket away, hang the towels to dry a bit before returning to the laundry, and look contentedly at his kitchen floor. It’s cleaner than it was, for sure. There’s still some damp patches, but those will dry. You, the author, can foreshadow a lead-in to a new book by inserting a little about the dogbunny cowering under the bed, shaking his wee fist and vowing revenge on his drowned and trashed cousin. But the Heroic Mopper stands triumphant, and then you give the readers their cigarette moment.

What’s that? Well, Dan Hoyt is the man who explained it to me as the moment of satisfaction following the final climax of the book. The hero had triumphed, and now you give him – and your readers – a moment of peace, a glimpse of the rewards he’d fought so hard for. In the Heroic Mopper’s case, that would be making Lego gummy candies, processing twenty pounds of peaches, making peach skin jelly from the peels, making a chocolate mayonnaise cake, and a batch of Old-Fashioned Ice Cream. Then he can stand there smiling while his family feasts, with a clean floor under his feet.

It is a business. . .

So treat it as one. Yesterday, as I was looking at FB, I came across a post from someone I respect a great deal. He also has one of the most unverifiable jobs there is in publishing. No, not reading the slush pile, although that is part of his job. He has taken it upon himself to do what so many publishers don’t do. He responds to those who send something in, letting them know whether or not their work has met the minimum threshold to be passed up the line for further consideration. Believe me, that is definitely more than a number of publishers do. Too many simply never get back to you unless they are interested.

What caught my eye with his post was how unprofessional someone had been in response to his email letting them know their story had not been passed up the line. Now, I know how it stings when you get a rejection. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly. But it happens and we have to accept it with grace and move on. Yes, we can kick and scream and curse in public but you do not send a note back telling the editor how wrong they were. Nor do you tell them that the title has been published during the time the editor was considering it, especially if the editor has gotten back to you in less than half the time they say it normally takes.

And that is where this particular author screwed up. Not only did they send back an unprofessional note to the editor, insuring he will remember the author and not in a good way, but he went ahead and self-published the book without removing it first from consideration by the publishing house. That is two very big strikes and, in this case, the author doesn’t get a third strike before he’s out.

There there is this post from over at The Passive Voice. Yet another author powering up his computer when he should have been walking away from it. In this case, he submitted his work for consideration to an agent, said agent rejected it and then made the mistake of not remembering the work when she and the author met for a face-to-face pitch session. Never mind that the agent probably receives thousands of submissions each year. Never mind the agent had been seeing other authors with other pitches that particular day. She obviously hadn’t read his earlier submission or she would have remembered it. How dare she!

So, instead of asking himself why he had just received rejection #319, this author decided it was a good idea to go onto his blog, name the agent and then proceed to try to shame her for her actions — or should I say inaction?

As I read his post, all I could think of was a situation five or so years ago where an author went on a tirade on his blog against his editor who had sent back edits he didn’t agree with. By the time his agent saw, or heard about, the post, it had gone viral. Yes, he finally took it down, but the damage had been done. I have a feeling that author is still trying to climb out of the hole he dug for himself.

In this instance, the author was so tied up with his own ego, he didn’t realize that he was shooting himself in the foot when it came to doing what he wanted — getting an agent. This time, the agent he was attacking took screen caps of his blog and then did her own post about what happened. That post has been picked up and is making the rounds of social media. The author now has the reputation of being, at worst, an online bully and, at best, someone who can’t control himself.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. If you are a writer, you have to treat your writing as your business. That means you have to be businesslike in your dealings with others in the industry, especially if you are trying to get them to buy your work or act as your agent. Ask yourself before writing that scathing blog or tweet or FB post if you would be doing this if the person in question was someone you had interviewed with for a mundane job (something not related to writing). Is it something you would want a perspective employer reading before your interview with them?

Remember, the internet is forever. Just because you take a post down, it doesn’t follow that the post hasn’t been memorialized elsewhere. So pull your head out of your ass and think before hitting the send button. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you find you have just killed your chances for a traditional publishing career.

Hugo Finalist Highlights – The Retros and the Campbell Award Finalists

This is going to be a bit rough, since I’ve been reading and taking notes like a mad thing to get through all of the categories. Silly me, forgetting to include the retros when I figured out how many weeks I’d need to review them all.

So. After going cross-eyed trying to read scans of 1940s publications that alas haven’t held up all that well (faded print is very much a thing), here’s the final batch of quick and dirty reviews. I didn’t compare numbers for the retros, since they don’t happen every year.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (1922 nominating ballots 2016, 851 in 2015) (Remember, this is not a Hugo, but it’s awarded and managed more or less at the same time by the same people).

  • Pierce Brown  – There wasn’t anything in the voter packet, so I trotted over to Amazon and used the Look Inside feature. I didn’t see anything that appealed to me, so that’s as far as things went.
  • Sebastien de Castell  – Traitor’s Blade – This work is competent, and starts with a decent sort of a problem for the main character to deal with, but I honestly didn’t find anything appealing. The characters didn’t gel enough to make this book something I’d look for. As always, of course, your mileage may vary, so if you haven’t read it yet, read, then make your decision.
  • Brian Niemeier – DAMN YOU BRIAN NIEMEIER! Okay. Now I’ve got that out of my system. I couldn’t stop reading Nethereal. The combination of fantasy styling over science fiction with an intricate layered plot and remarkably human characters sucked me in and refused to let go. Of note: Niemeier is the only finalist in his first year of Campbell eligibility.
  • Andy Weir  – Based on the Look Inside sample on Amazon of The Martian – It’s been a while since Man vs Nature (or Mars) showed up anywhere, that I recall. What I read was very well done hard science fiction of a man trying to survive in something close to the ultimate in hostile environments. It’s very well done, with an engaging narrator who doesn’t lecture or over-explain.
  • Alyssa Wong  – None of the stories in the sample worked for me. They were all well-done, but I found them dull with a kind of a nasty aftertaste.


Best Novel (352 nominating ballots)

  • Gray Lensman by E.E. “Doc” Smith (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Jan 1940) – Of all the Retro finalists I read over the last week, this is the only one whose language felt dated. The Lensman tales are good old-fashioned adventures in the traditional style, and Gray Lensman is a solid example of the type.
  • The Ill‐Made Knight by T.H. White (Collins) – Not in the packet
  • Kallocain by Karin Boye (Bonnier) – Not in the packet
  • The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson (Unknown, Mar 1940) – This is an old-school fantasy based on mythology, using figures from legend as its main characters. It’s a well done piece without doing anything exceptional.
  • Slan by A.E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Dec 1940) – For all that this work is regarded as a classic, I’ve got to say it left me cold.

Best Novella (318 nominating ballots)

  • “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, July 1940) – This is not one of Heinlein’s best works. It’s too heavy-handed to work well, and the lecturing sticks in my craw. Yes, I actually do dislike politics overwhelming my stories. It has nothing to do with whether I agree with the politics or not.
  • “If This Goes On…” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Feb 1940) – THIS is the Heinlein the world needs. Frankly, this is the stand-out work of all the retro finalists across all the categories. It should be required reading for everyone – there’s a brilliant discussion of the mechanisms of tyranny wrapped in a tale of awakening that’s simple on the surface and layered many levels deep.
  • “Magic, Inc.” by Robert A. Heinlein (Unknown, Sept 1940) – Compared to If This Goes On, Magic, Inc. is really nothing more than a cute piece with magic as an industrial product. It’s a very well done cute piece, but it just doesn’t compare.
  • “The Mathematics of Magic” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Unknown, Aug 1940) – Pretty much everything I say for The Mathematics of Magic also applies to The Roaring Trumpet. The two works are in the same universe, have the same basic conceits, and are clever-funny, rather cute, and can be a bit difficult to get into because of the framing device.
  • “The Roaring Trumpet” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Unknown, May 1940) – As I said, ditto.

Best Novelette (310 nominating ballots)

  • “Blowups Happen” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Sept 1940) – Not in packet
  • “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Oct 1940) – Not in packet
  • “It!” by Theodore Sturgeon (Unknown, Aug 1940) – This is an intriguing horror that successfully conveys a completely alien perspective.
  • “The Roads Must Roll” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, June 1940) – This one is a sparsely-written piece that hides some keen perspectives about how people work. The actual plot is rather heavily political (it being a bit challenging to keep politics out of an attempted revolution). Some of the themes here are also explored in Coventry, but done with a little less of a heavy hammer.
  • “Vault of the Beast” by A.E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science‐Fiction, August 1940) – Not in packet

Best Short Story (324 nominating ballots)

  • “Martian Quest” by Leigh Brackett (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Feb 1940) – This story was intriguing and very readable, but the end was a bit of a letdown.
  • “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Jan 1940) – Well done, but not really one of his best – I honestly found it rather forgettable.
  • “Robbie” by Isaac Asimov (Super Science Stories, Sept 1940) – Normally Asimov’s characterization leaves me cold, but not in this work. It could have done without the pseudo-epilog, but it’s still a good piece.
  • “The Stellar Legion” by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, Winter 1940) – This work started as though it would be a reasonably standard military-focused piece, but then it built into a rather powerful story about redemption
  • “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges (Sur, 1940) – not in the packet

Best Professional Artist (117 nominating ballots)

  • Hannes Bok – Interesting style – but since the only samples I found were from the Best Fanzine entry, I couldn’t say if they’re remotely representative of his professional output.
  • Margaret Brundage – Not in packet
  • Edd Cartier – Not in packet
  • Virgil Finlay – Not in packet
  • Frank R. Paul – Classic pulp with a sense of humor
  • Hubert Rogers – Also classic pulp

Best Fanzine (63 nominating ballots) Most of the samples are from the Fanac site.

  • Futuria Fantasia by Ray Bradbury – This zine has interesting mix of material and decent production values for hand-produced material
  • Le Zombie by Arthur Wilson “Bob” Tucker – This zine is rather newslettery, while being well done for its type.
  • Novacious by Forrest J Ackerman and Morojo – no sample available
  • Spaceways by Harry Warner, Jr. – It didn’t appeal to me, and the scans of hand-typed material which has aged rather poorly didn’t help much.
  • Voice of the Imagi‐Nation by Forrest J Ackerman and Morojo –Sadly, readability has suffered from time. Collected letters of fans.

Best Fan Writer (70 nominating ballots) Again, most of the samples are from the Fanac site.

  • Forrest J Ackerman – The examples I saw are well-written. I liked the sense of humor – which means that there are likely to be as many people who hate it.
  • Ray Bradbury – Quirky and kind of cute as editorials go – Bradbury’s editorial style bears very little resemblance to his novel style.
  • H. P. Lovecraft – This was a short story of classic Lovecraftian horror (yes, written by Lovecraft, so not exactly unexpected), with a little less verbal flailing than I’ve seen in the more well-known works.
  • Bob Tucker – The pieces I read were interesting and fun.
  • Harry Warner – The puns. Oh god, the puns. Hitting these an hour after I should have been asleep fried something.

And that’s the last of the finalist highlights. Voting ends in (counts) 5 days, so finish reading and then vote for the works that you believe are the best of the year in each category.

I personally will not be using No Award – I’d rather leave a category blank than deploy the category nuke effect of No Award – but for those who do use that option, please use it only if you’ve read all the finalists in that category and don’t believe that any of them are worthy of recognition.

My opinion is that even though some of the categories this year are a bit thin, all of them have at least one worthy entry.

The Past Is Another Country

Sorry, I came in late yesterday from an international flight, and I got up early today, but have been chasing things dropped 3 weeks ago, and so…

And so, not even at home.  I am just back home, and sitting down to write something.  It seems pointless to do a serious post at this point.

So — I found the remnants of my brother’s and my SF collection from when I was single.  It has since dispersed to cousins and nephews, to my dad’s reading shelf (Heinlein) and my brother’s collection at his house.
What remains is the following, and I thought the pictures (and titles) would amuse you.


Too little, too late

I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t make up stories. When I learned how to write, I started putting my stories down on paper. When my cousin Clarice discovered I loved writing, she told me about her father. Uncle Herb had been a playwright but, raising a family during the Depression, he had given it up to make sure there was a roof over their head and food on the table. Uncle Jack had been a newspaper man like his father before him. Others in the family he written for enjoyment. It was Clarice’s first step toward encouraging me to follow my dream to be a writer.

For years, I dreamed of seeing my books in bookstores, of being able to sign my books at author events and of making my cousin proud. What I didn’t realize was that between those first few days of encouragement from Clarice to when I finally got serious about writing — yes, Sarah has very pointy boots — the publishing industry would change dramatically. Now, I can hold my books in print. Yes, there is a little thrill of excitement when a new proof copy comes in and I finally pull the button to put the print book on sale. But the reality is that the vast majority of my sales — just as the vast majority of my purchases — are e-books.


I have long accepted that my books would never grace the shelves of Barnes and Noble. After all, their feud with Amazon is well-known. B&N had made it clear it won’t stock books published by Amazon or made available through Createspace. So when I saw news that B&N was finally going to stock indie print books, I sat up and took notice. Could the bookseller finally be admitting that the indie market was large enough to take it seriously? If so, what did I have to do to get my books into its 640 stores?

The initial press release filled me with hope. Nook Press, B&N’s alternative to KDP, was going to offer a print side. Better yet, it would allow for hardcover as well as soft cover print books. Cool. I kept reading and that is when I started realizing there was a big “if” to it all.

Through the new print platform, eligible* NOOK Press authors have the opportunity to sell their print books at Barnes & Noble stores across the country on a local, regional or national level, and online at Authors can also qualify** for the opportunity to participate at in-store events including booksignings and discussions, where they will be able to sell their print books and meet fans.

Oops. I’m not out of the first paragraph of the press release and there are already two asterisks that tell me the fine print is going to be anything but warm and welcoming.

The rest of the release talks about how wonderful the Nook Press platform is and what an opportunity this presents to those who take part. But those damned asterisks to look at.

Let’s look at what you have to do to be eligible. “Opportunity available for those print book authors whose eBook sales [of a single title] have reached 1,000 units in the past year.” Okay, does that mean you have to sell 1,000 units of a title before that title is eligible for the print program? (That is my take) Or is it if you sell 1,000 units of any title and all your titles can be eligible for the print program? I doubt the latter, figure the former.

I also have a sneaky suspicion that those 1,000 units of sales have to be on the Nook platform. So that is a big hurdle right there. I know there are some authors who have had success on the Nook platform selling e-books. But from personal experience, as well as talking with other authors I know, those who have sold 1,000 units of a single title in a year on B&N are few and far between. The reason I left B&N in the first place was because I was making very few sales there. My Amazon sales ran more than 10 to 1 and, with the start of KDP Select and then KU, well, there was no reason to go anywhere else. Not when I compared the numbers.

But, maybe it is time to reconsider if I can get my books onto BN shelves. So, I tried to keep an open mind and kept reading down to the second asterisk. Again, it leaves more questions than it gives answers. An author can qualify for in-store events if they sell fewer e-books (single title) in a one year period than is required to be eligible to be placed on the shelves. Does this mean the author or store will order print versions of the book and have them on hand to sell at these events? If so, what sort of hit will the author take for returns? Does the author have to buy the books outright or what?

All in all, it is something that looks good on the surface but that really isn’t doing anything to help win the average indie author over to BN. First of all, unless I keep my prices und9er $2.99, my royalties will be less from BN than they are from Amazon. With Amazon, I get 70% for my books, all priced between $2.99 to $4.99. With BN, I would receive only 65%. That isn’t much per unit but when you consider I would be giving up my Kindle Unlimited reads, which make up at least 1/3 of my income each month and is always in a minimum of the 3 digit range, it turns into a very big hit.

More importantly, I don’t see a guarantee that my print book would be stocked — or for long — in stores if I did have the magic 1,000 units sold in a year.

Oh, one more little thing I guess BN thought we would miss. To be eligible for this, it means your book has been out as an e-book for months, or years, before it will make it onto the shelves. Remember, you have to have sold 1,000 units in a year before it is eligible. We don’t know what the steps are from there (Full disclosure. I did a quick search of their site and didn’t find more information. It might be there but it shows another of my complaints with BN. Their sites are not well designed.) So, by the time the print comes out the initial push for the book is done and the author is on to writing another book and pushing it.

Timing, they say, is everything and in this instance BN is badly out of sync.

It will be interesting to see how this falls out over the next few months. I wish those taking part luck but I will not be moving away from KDP Select and KU anytime soon. Not on something that I have so many questions about. It really is, in my mind, too little, too late. And that is too bad.




Villainy, the root of all heroism

Hur! Hur! Hur! (grunt, grunt ugh!)
Pillage, rape and then ahr…son,
Yer gotta do ‘em right, son!
Hur! Hur! Hur! (grunt, grunt ugh!)
Afore yer do yer worst,
Always remember which comes first.
Hur! Hur! Hur! (grunt, grunt ugh!)

Marching song from Fort Pha-harrish, Fighting Orc boot-camp.

I believe it’s a pretty soft boot camp these days. Luxury. I mean they get boots to eat. In my day we had demon toenail-clippings if we was lucky, and had to polish Mount Doom with our tongues…
Ah good ole days! But you tells the young orc o’ today…

Heroes. We all talk about heroes.

But a hero, it seems, is a plant that can only grow in a bed of villainy. To craft a great story takes more than just building a hero. It takes building that environment in which that heroism becomes visible, becomes a story.

It’s a structural issue from the writing craftsman’s point of view. It’s far more difficult than the character we identify with and hope our reader identify with. It’s something that requires getting into the head of a character/s the writer hopes will be disliked, or hated and feared. And doing that well means stepping a long way past stereotype villains, understanding what makes them tick, understanding how they would terrify people, and understanding the position they need to be in to make most stories work.

It’s a lot harder than the current standard trope which is a cross between dogwhistles and PC designated villains.

The first and most important thing to remember is very few readers have any real interest in your tale of how the hero shot fish in a barrel. The villain must, seemingly, have the upper hand –right until the last. The structural task the writer faces is to subtly prepare the ground for their defeat to seem plausible. That defeat will rarely if ever seem plausible to the villain or their henchmen or camp-followers. If it does – well the author has to use what is sure under these circumstances – the increase viciousness and brutality of those who fear losing their grip (we can see examples right through history both at a nation and proximal level. You’ve got everything from the accelerated murders in Nazi death camps to lawfare on so-called ‘hatespeech’ on facebook and twitter.) At which point the author is racing not against the odds – but against time.

The second key to structuring great villains is to remember that the villain rarely, if ever, considers themselves a villain. A dispassionate view may conclude: yes so-and-so is a villain. But the villain remains deeply rooted in the belief (or delusion) that they are right (and probably good), and despite the evidence, the other side are wrong. This need have nothing to do facts and this is a tool the writer uses to clarify in the reader’s mind, while maintaining the illusion of invincibility of the foe. To take a practical real-life case – We had Irene Gallo of Tor Books informing the world that the Sad Puppies were Far Right Wing Neo-Nazi, bad writers, homophobes, etc. etc. – the usual grab-bag of buzzwords for demonizing anyone not of her narrow little clique. (and this is merely one of a sequence of these libels from the Puppy-kickers. We’ve all been male, homophobes, misogynists etc. etc. so often that if repetition was all it took Sarah and Kate would have testicles, and drag-ons, and very puzzled, unhappy husbands.) Now, she knew from the moment she typed it, that it was a lie, an attempt to denigrate and belittle… but I am sure she – and her supporters rationalized her behavior as ‘for the greater good.’ Isn’t always? Had the boot been on the other foot – she’d have been outraged and demanding severe penalties for hate-speech. But hey, she was just doing it for greater diversity, more feminism etc. Completely OK. As the writer using someone like this as villain would then point out – by example, not by telling – that the same inner circle isn’t diversity etc. It’s an excuse.

It’s worth noticing that really, that besides point of view, the difference between heroes and villains in a good story seems to come down to this: They can both be wrong, misled, right royal assholes to an outside observer. Heroes, however, grow, learn, own responsibility, change. That’s really how so many much loved story-plots work, that it’s worth noting. In fiction at least, villains don’t. They won’t ever own their mistakes or grow- any change is for the negative. Even after the villains lost and the new order is vastly better for everyone – they still remain rooted in their belief. This seems true of real world – one merely has to look at unreconstructed Nazis and former East German apparachniks (and their kids – we have had to deal with one East German (adult) brat who still plainly yearns for the power daddy used to wield. Fiction imitates life.

Personally I have found the concept of cause (or government) being used as a justification, to what often boils down a purely self-centered desire for power – King Emeric, Elizabeth Bartholdy in the Heirs books, very effective.

On the other side of the coin: what doesn’t work? Besides the stereotype villain in scenes where we’re not supposed to know who the villain is. Scene from a typical Trad Publishing PC novel: with a black character, a gay male, a woman and white conservative Christian man, heterosexual…. You’ll NEVER guess who the traitor will be, would you?

One of the other problems I see so often with the stereotypical villain is what I call Bush cognitive dissonance. Remember it? ‘Bush is stupid’ AND ‘Bush orchestrated xyz fiendish byzantine plot’ that would have taken Macchiavelli crossed with Einstein, on brain-steroids to evolve and execute. I am so sick of stupid fiendish villains. Now, it is possible to have a villain with blind spots – but as a writer you need to prime the reader about this. It is possible for a villain to be both stupid and powerful (we see enough of that in modern politics). Large Empires – especially hereditary ones — tend to this all by themselves, even without author intervention. It is also likely that there will be corruption: corruption seeks power like a shark seeks blood in the water. Whether you talk of the cozy clique that evolved around the acquiring editors in publishing, or the camp-followers of Kim il Jung – that’s as certain as smelly baby having a ‘gift’ for you in its diaper, and possibly less pleasant.

Talking of villainy and just plain untrammeled evil (wot I learned back Orc boot-camp, between toe-nails and Mount Doom licking) let me put in a last encouragement to go and nominate for the Dragon Awards. You could – if you were short of YA suggestion – put up CHANGELING’S ISLAND.
It’s the last day to nominate, and no fees or memberships are required – just be a reader.

New Author Earnings Presentation!

Author Earnings just did an in-depth analysis of the romance genre, and presented it at the RWA (Romance Writers of America).

Those of you who are not romance writers, you should really, really go read it! Why?

1.) Romance is the biggest, and most competitive genre in fiction. If you want to see a marketing trend coming, it’ll hit romance 6-12 months before it shows up in Science Fiction & Fantasy. So pay attention to the cutting edge of the market!

For example, just as the post Tuesday asked about KU vs. Non-KU, vs. authors with some books in and others out… the report broke that down for romance. Other questions include breaking out how many books have to be in a series before a permafree first in series makes money instead of losing it, what price points are selling (inside & outside of KU), and how many books an author has to publish before they “break out.”

2.) Down in the comments at the bottom, both of the report itself and in the comments at Passive Voice, Data Guy provides breakouts for SF&F, and for Mystery/Thriller/Suspense, too!

for example…

You might be surprised… 🙂

US trad print SF&F sales (hardcover & paperback) = roughly 47M units a year:
– 34M of that is categorized as Children’s Science Fiction/Fantasy/Magic;
– 13M of it is categorized as Adult Science Fiction or Adult Fantasy.
Add the 15% or so non-Bookscan sales, and you get to 52M.

When it comes to ebooks, trad SF&F sales on are running at around 23M units for Kindle. Add in iBooks, Kobo, Nook, etc. and we’re talking about 33M or so total SF&F ebooks for trad.

So that’s 85M US trad SF&F sales annually for adult+children’s print+ebook combined.

OTOH, indie SF&F ebook sales on are at 32M units for Kindle, which, when you add in iBooks, Kobo, Nook, etc. will total out somewhere between 38M and 40M. Almost all of that is adult SF&F, not children’s (although Teen/YA makes the distinction murky).

Which means that more than half of all SF&F ebooks sold in the US — and nearly a third of all SF&F books *of any format* sold in the US, including children’s books — are indie.

Pantsing the Research

I am a pantser. This is not to say that I gleefully jerk the shorts off my story leaving it standing there confused and vulnerable to the giggles of the crowd. No, instead that refers to flying by the seat of one’s pants, the point of contact between pilot and plane, the fundamental sensation of vibrations that will mean life and death to correct interpretation and translation to movement of the plane of travel. Over a mountain rather than into it, shall we say.

When writing, the corrections are not nearly as vital to me, but if I play them wrong, they can kill the story. So I have to constantly be aware of where I’ve been, and trying to figure out where I’m going. With the current work in progress this has been a slow journey, and the result is going to be a work that needs a LOT of editing. For instance, when I started it, I had a nebulous idea, which evolved into another idea, which in turn became… what it is now. I’m hoping, that at half-through the book, it doesn’t morph on me again. I have a pretty good idea of the plot from here to an end, which isn’t the originally planned end.

Last night, as I started writing again after a vacation break (4 days, 1800 miles, no real internet while driving), I asked my First Reader to take a look at the last chapter or two I’d done, because he’s often helpful in catching my ‘mental shorthand’ where I haven’t fully unpacked an idea onto the page. I took the laptop into the backyard to write, and he came wandering out soon after, to sit down and tell me that I was going to have to go back a chapter and make some major edits.

The gist of the story that I’m working on is a young man (age unknown) on a trading ship, sailing through the stars from planets or stations, and selling goods to them. His ship is large enough he can actually transport livestock, and one cargo hold has been permanently transformed into a garden. Last night, the First Reader pointed out that it’s like a South Sea schooner, in that he’s locked into this route, and to deviate from it would be essentially to sail against the wind. I looked up at him and said ‘I’m going to need to read more about that…”

So here I am, looking at researching while pantsing. I’d done some as I was working on the beginning of the book, but as I didn’t really know what was coming, I couldn’t do a lot… and I’m going to have to stop and do some reading now. Or keep writing ahead on what I know about the story, while reading so I can go back and fix the mess I made of the last bit. See, I have the young captain – who has been sailing alone, except for his dog – mildly incapacitated and in a gesture of thankfulness for his services in a search and rescue, the station he was on came aboard and cleaned and refurbished his ship. The First Reader pointed out that not only was that like his private home and place of business being invaded, but it could have legal repercussions, too. We discussed what I need to do to fix it (and I was writing in mental shorthand, so I didn’t put enough of the young captain’s outrage of feelings on paper to begin with).

Would having left this miscalculation in have killed the story? I’m not sure. I suspect many readers would simply have thought ‘how nice’ when they read the scene. But some would have winced over the invasion of the ship by even well-meaning helpful sorts. Now that I’m aware of it, I cannot simply leave it in place. I try to be a better writer than that. Actually, going back and fixing it will foreshadow the next development in my captain’s life: the need for a crew. The mental shorthand I have the (very bad) habit of doing tends to get in the way of foreshadowing properly, so this is a good thing. Even though I find myself annoyed at the need to go back and edit, it will make it a better story in the long run.

I’m very conscious of hard deadlines with this book. Since I depend on my writing income, I must finish, send to editors, and publish this novel as soon as humanly possible. Which means that I’m going to research, keep writing, and resign myself to backtracking and inserting when needed.  I’ve always written clean manuscripts that needed relatively little to make them ready for public consumption, and this one being so messy feels like a step backward. I’m trying to persuade myself it’s part of my learning curve as an author. I have a long way to go yet, and I’ll probably always be learning as I do so. But I can’t let it stop me from writing!

If you’re curious and want to read snippets, you can find Tanager’s Fledglings on my site, here. It is my first real attempt to write science fiction at novel length since The Eternity Symbiote, which was my first written novel (Vulcan’s Kittens was the first published). I am hopeful that I’ve become a better writer since that. My first love for writing was science fiction, the fantasy was sort of an accident, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the reactions are to this series.

Anyone know any good books on South Sea Traders?


Open Season

I’m not sure who’s supposed to post today. But we’re all on vacation, so talk about anything, ask anything, advertise a story or book.