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I’ve Been Working on The Writing

So it occurs to me we’re always giving you people advise like: if you work at it and keep improving, you’ll be fine.  Or “as long as you keep growing as a writer.”  Or a hundred other such helpful tasks.

And if you’re like me, you sit there and go “How do I know I’m working?”  And “How do I know if it’s improving?” and “how do I work on what I know to be week?”

When I went through the Kris and Dean workshop by kept baffling me by saying things like “trust the process” and “in two years you’ll be able to do this.”

I don’t know about you guys, but my process, mostly, is I write, and if I’m writing mostly to myself, I am pretty comfortable with how I write and I WILL NEVER CHANGE.  You only think I’m joking.

What’s worse, what I like and work at in writing is not necessarily what anyone else likes or even notices. I spent years studying how to drop info in the Heinlein way, and not only do people not notice it, but the master himself had some big honking infodumps.

The kicker is that Kris and Dean are largely right.  If you keep writing, and listening to critique, or trying to improve, you’ll eventually get there.  Sometimes sideways and upside down, if you’re me, but you’ll get there.

But it’s not DIRECTED writing, and if you’re like me, you will have a never ending talent for experiencing all the byways and sideways of how not to do it, before you figure out how to do it.  Let’s suppose you’re also like me and don’t want to spend the next 20 years improving.  Here are a few tricks to work on your writing in a more directed manner that will get you there faster.

1- Read.  Yeah, this seems easy, but it really is not.  Tons of people think they can’t read while they’re writing because it will “taint” them.

Does it?  A little.  If you’re reading something really out of the ordinary, it will come back in your writing.  I remember when I spent two weeks reading the musketeers back to back and all the papers I turned in at school had this… picaresque feel to them.

So? Use it.  You know different books call for a different voice.  While you’re writing, read the voice you’d like.  It’s not even always in the same genre but it helps.

But also, the effect gets less and less as you get older as a writer.  You start mostly writing like yourself.

And reading stocks your subconscious not just with what can be done, but with the current voice (if you’re reading at least some contemporary books.)  What we read now is not what would have made you rich in the 19th century. You need to know what people want now.  (And for this Indie is great, btw.)

 

2- Diagram what you read.  I have before given an explanation of how to diagram a novel, it’s around here somewhere.  But it’s not just a novel.  You can also diagram a short story or even a scene to see how an effect was achieved.

All of these are better done after you read the piece a couple of times.

To diagram a novel, you go by chapter and strip it of all ornament.  Chapter by chapter, you take out all the incidentals, the description, the fun stuff and look at “What happened in this chapter to advance the plot?”  You write that down with the chapter number.  After you’re done you look at it again and draw the lines that connect it.  Say chapter 2, they got a lead about the missing parrot, chapter fourteen they found colorful feathers, chapter 20 they heard a parrot behind closed doors, etc. till that thread ends.  If you’re visual use different color markers.

This will allow you to see when subplots are developed, and what the rhythm is.

You can do it with a short story or even with a scene, by just stripping the extraneous and putting in the “movements” then doing the same.

3- Read how to write books.

Most writing books are hokum.  They’re not really designed to write GOOD stuff, they’re designed to write stuff that sells to the publishers.  Beware when they talk of “big” books, etc, because if you’re a political/social naif you might not spot that they’re saying “these are pet causes that will stand you in big with publishers.”

There are exceptions.  Of course there are. I always recommend Dwight Swain.  He teach you HOW TO WRITE.  There are others.  Every course I’ve taken from Kris and Dean (WMG Publishing) has been a great course.  There are otehrs that are horrendous for everything but little bits of info.  Used judiciously, they can get you a ways towards your goal.  Just remember at first at least these bits you acquire are to be used in the REVISION phase.  It takes a while to integrate them in the writing phase.

If it strikes your fancy and you think you can learn from it, buy it (or borrow it) and take the parts you can use and ignore the rest.

4- Do exercises.  These are things you write with no expectation of their becoming novels or shorts (but save them, because you never know.)

Even if you’re a gateway writer, and things pour into your head fully formed, unless you’re John Ringo, there will be gaps in the transmission, and places where the static overwhelms the signal, so you need to have the chops to make do in between.

What are writing exercises?

Well, there are books of writing prompts, but you can make them yourself too.  Open the dictionary in three places, and pick three words, then write something involving three words.

Open whatever you use for news, take an article.  Now project that same issue into the future or another world.

Take something you do every day and apply “what if” to it.

Set yourself at least 1000 words.  If it ends up being a short story, great, but even if it’s just an opening, or a scene, if it gives you that practice is worth it.

Do something like this every week for a couple of hours.  Professional artists and pianists practice.  We’re the only art where practice is not supposed to be needed.

I’m here to tell you that’s wrong.  The more you practice, the better you get.

Now stop reading this and go practice.

 

Give me my advance back!

The other day, someone asked me if publishers ever ask for their advances back. After all, there have to have been times when a publisher has signed a contract with an author and that author failed to deliver. I told the person asking that yes, publishers do sometimes ask for their money back. But the instances that came to mind weren’t where an author failed to deliver a book. No, the examples I remembered were where the publishers determined, usually after a public outcry, that the book delivered wasn’t what they thought it was. There have been situations where plagiarism has torpedoed a deal or where a newly signed author wound up having her contract canceled because she dared self-publishing something totally unrelated to the contracted book. Despite all that, I simply could not remember a situation where a publisher had demanded an advance back from an author for not delivering a book and certainly not from a best selling author.

Now, that’s not to say it hasn’t happened before. I simply couldn’t remember an example.

So imagine my surprise when I went over to The Passive Voice this morning and found reference to a law suit filed by Hachette against Seth Grahame-Smith (SGS for future reference). SGS, in case you aren’t familiar with the name, is the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. We have him to thank for other re-imaginings of classics like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I think you get my drift. PP&Z was a fun romp but the originality quickly wore thin as SGS and others took public domain books and reframed them with one sort of monster or another.

So let’s fast-forward to Hachette’s lawsuit. I urge you to click on the link and read it for yourself. It isn’t all that long and it does illustrate some of the issues both publishers and authors have to work with when entering into a contract. From here on out, remember that what I say is just me talking as a reader and a writer, not as a lawyer.

Since I haven’t yet seen a response fro SGS, for the purposes of this post, I will assume that the basic facts — dates, etc — alleged in Hachette’s filing are correct.

  • December 2010 the contract was executed.
  • The contract was for two books.
  • $500,ooo advance per book paid upfront with the remainder of $2,000,000 per book to be paid.
  • Book 1 was to be a sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
  • Book 2 was to be “a novel on a subject to be determined by” SGS and agreed upon in writing by Hachette. It was to be “comparable in style, quality and broad appeal to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”
  • Both books were to be “original with Author [Smith] in all respects”
  • 60 day grace period after the expiration of contracted deadline or agreed upon extensions during which SGS could deliver the books. After which, the contract could be canceled.
  • Book 2 received several extensions, the last date for delivery being April 1, 2016
  • June 6, 2016, SGS delivered Book 2 but Hachette claims it was not the agreed upon Book 2 and that it was not “original” work but derivative ala PP&Z.
  • Hachette wants its $500,000 back as well as all other reasonable fees as laid out by the contract.

O0kay, with me so far?

According to the filing, SGS has basically told Hachette, “Nope. That’s not going to happen.”

Now, from a business standpoint, you want folks to deliver what they have said they will and you want it in a timely manner. After all, you have customers who want the product and you can’t deliver it to them if you don’t have it. That seems simple enough.

But this is where I have to look at publishers and scratch my head. Can you imagine your local grocer or Wally World contracting with a supplier to deliver something but they don’t know what? Oh, sure, the contract says you have the right to say no when they finally come to you and you decide it isn’t want you want. But de-amn. Think about the inventory headaches that would cause. Here’s a publisher happily writing a check for half a mil without knowing what the book is going to be about. Nope and nope and nope again.

From a writer’s point of view, this sort of contract gives me the willies. Sure, being able to put that much money at one time into my bank account is intoxicating. But then the practical side of the brain takes control. That money isn’t really mine, even if it is resting in my bank account, until the publisher has agreed first to the idea of the book and then accepted the book. Anywhere along the line, said publisher can change its mind and say “nope, it doesn’t meet the terms of our contract.”

But how, you say?

One line in the pleadings stood out and this is where my writer’s back went up. Book 2 was to be “comparable in style, quality and broad appeal to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” How do you define that? It is such an objective requirement that it would be easy for a publisher to use it as reason for rejecting a book.

But then, as one of the comments at TPV pointed out, this is SGS we’re talking about. He made his reputation by taking public domain works and re-inventing them. I’ve read both PP&Z as well as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. PP&Z is very much taking Austen’s original work and simply adding zombies to it. You can lay the two books side by side and see how he did it. While entertaining, ALVH is, in its own way, derivative, more as an idea than by taking another book and simply re-purposing it. So why Hachette would expect anything else from him is beyond me.

But, going back to the original question, yes, there are times when publishers ask for their advance back. With traditional publishing facing the challenges it does right now, I have a feeling we are going to see more and more suits like this. Traditional publishing simply isn’t in the financial position to allow authors to sit on money and not deliver manuscripts, at least not when the advances are six-figure or higher.

On a closing note, I once more recommend you read not only the filing but the attached contract. I haven’t had a chance to study it as closely as I want but I will before next week. From what TPV noted, it is a good example of some of the things he, as well as Kris Rusch, have been warning writers about for some time.

So, what do you think, based on the filings, etc., is Hachette right to ask for its money back?

 

The Balkan Pie

(Dave wasn’t able to get WordPress to cooperate this morning. So he sent this to me and asked me to post it for him — Amanda)

I’ve always said that unity and broadness in sf/fantasy were a net positive for the very people doing their best to narrow and Balkanize it.

This post comes out of a couple of statements I’ve read over the past week. It occurred to me that people just don’t grasp what is going on and just what effect that’ll have on the writer (and wider world).  I paraphrase:

“SF is getting Balkanized.”

“It’s always been Balkanized. This just the latest dose. And anyway, it doesn’t affect anyone outside the few fans who go to cons. That’s all an author sees, but they’re not typical of readers.”

And

“And so what if it is getting divided? It makes no difference at all. People always choose what to read.”

Well, yes.

And… NO.

Publishing, and the whole writing world is reflective and reactive to the wider world. Its battles are small but they are the echoes of a conflict outside, particularly in the US.

And, in my dispassionate outsider’s view, as a fairly moderate sort of guy who fits no political party well, but finds the modern Left worryingly authoritarian and totalitarian…  The US is more divided than I’ve ever seen in my twenty odd years of watching. Yes, it has been divided before, but this time there are disruption factors that just weren’t there before.

And the same is true in publishing, and in sf/fantasy. Before, there were a few large publishers to push things back in line, and basically to ensure that it was unity or… exile and death (at least as published author). So while there were little Balkans in the closed circles of the cons and fans, not a lot of that seeped beyond. That began to change when the Publishing Industry became predominantly left wing, along with the media, with whom it enjoyed close links. With distribution and bookshops generally in thrall, it stopped being an in-house game – at least for the dominant group. You had a plethora of bloggers and media stables (the Gawker group was a frequent player), as well as reviewers from Locus to Radish reviews all pushing doctrinaire books, and either trashing or not covering the ones that didn’t live up to their narrative, either in the author’s public stance (Orson Scott Card) or content. Aggregator sites – File 770 — skewed coverage further, elevating their ‘side’ and either ignoring the other or deliberately spinning it as negative. Now, I am sure they didn’t plan this: they were just in control, and promoting their own.  We’re not talking of deep thinkers or clever conspirators. If the bias got pointed out to them, they are experts at rationalizing it away, and claiming the end justified the means, and that they were doing it for everyone’s good. The non-dominant group went on being polite about the Left’s books, buying them and reading them – they had no real alternative.  Basically access and sales to the left were closed to them. The center and right were painted as inferior, bad and awful (to quote some actual words used).

The right and center had little choice but to put up with this.  Traditional publishing in the US (and I believe the same in UK and Australia) skews hard Left.  I know, Camestros will go into denial loops, but the industry is essentially Left wing,  Historically they controlled access, sales outlets, and distribution, media, critical assessment. The result of that politically dominant position has been mirrored in buying choices – which authors were bought, which authors were heavily promoted, which authors got book-tours etc.  Of course they tended to buy books whose world view and therefore politics tended to reflect their own. At a conservative estimate I’d say that 9 out of 10 authors published by traditional publishing in the last 10 years are left wing, and often overtly so. It’s slowly been drifting that way for at least 50 years.

At the same time Traditional Publisher fiction book sales in general

slide 1

http://www.slideshare.net/PublishersLaunch/the-changing-mix-of-what-sells-in-print-jonathan-nowell-nielsen-book

 

and sf/fantasy in specific have been on a rapid decline. Looking at the last three years – data from Nielsen via PW.

slide 2

‘Oh but it recovered in 2015’ you say. Not if you take out The Martian – a single book selling about 1200 000 – a once off and not a trend indicator:

slide 3

 

At the same time serious disruption factor – in the shape of e-books and Amazon as a distributor changed everything.

slide 4

 

Graph from https://janefriedman.com/myth-print-coming-back-bookstores-rise/

As a result of that disruption factor the historically non-dominant sector – the moderate and conservative authors started getting real traction with audiences OUTSIDE the cons for the first time. Not of course through the left-controlled media, but through increasingly popular blogs, twitter, Facebook.  This has been a massive disruptor too. The big 5 no longer can prevent balkanization on their side too.

That’s history and background.  The result of that politically dominant position has been mirrored in editors buying choices – which authors were bought, which authors were heavily promoted, which authors got book-tours etc.  The left owned 90 of the authors, 99.4% of publishing, and sold to 100% of the audience.  Anyone who wasn’t left, sold only to what of the well wasn’t poisoned, and could not counter it.

Now the proportion of the demographic of the US that self-identifies as left wing has reached… 24%. [http://www.gallup.com/poll/188129/conservatives-hang-ideology-lead-thread.aspx] For ease of calculation I’ll be generous and call that 25% or one quarter or one in four readers.

I know it is really fashionable and ‘cool’ in NY publishing circles and among their camp followers to say “well the other ¾ don’t read and certainly can’t write. They’re stupid, need our leadership and to be told what is good for them.” It’s also really, really suicidal for the industry to say this, and not supported by any empirical evidence. And believe me – they’ve tried to find or manufacture it.

When one establishes this point, if the NYC publisher hasn’t put her fingers in her ears and run off screaming “la la la! I can’t hear you.” They then say “Yes, but that’s history. It’s no use fighting it. You’re on the wrong side of it. They are the young and that’s the future. Look at the young (thirty-something) movers and shakers in the field. Hard Left, invested in PC. Worrying about micro-aggressions in their tofu-shake.”

Really? Reading isn’t evenly distributed, I would agree. But then neither are political affiliations. And neither is having children.  And neither – most importantly — is buying books. Welfare mums may well read, and so may their kids, but they don’t have a lot of disposable income. Those rainbow-haired loud movers and shakers of literary scene… how many kids have they got?  If they have one, that’s a lot. More likely they have a hamster, and hamsters don’t read much.  And yes, if they have a child they will buy books for him/her/it.  But ‘fertile’ and ‘future’ are not words that go together for this group.  Meanwhile, the moderates and conservatives working/middle class tend to have kids, and especially in flyover America, read, and have the money to buy books. That’s who will turn up for the future. It belongs to them.

Anyway, that aside: it’s the medium term that really is the issue.  Let’s talk about the finite pie.  There is the assumption that there’s a specific size pie of money from people buying books, which is divided between producers (authors), publishers and retailers. As all of them have expenses, let’s keep it at gross income.

Let’s assume – for the purpose of this discussion that the finite pie of book consumers is correct. (it is finite, but its size is quite a lot more flexible than generally accepted by Traditional Publishing). For this exercise lets it is in a steady state (it’s not, but let’s try and keep it simple.)

Now authors’ incomes (and their earning power for their publisher) are not the same. It is best described by a classic Poisson distribution, with a few authors earning a lot – but there is still an average and a median. So let’s talk about (for ease of explanation) a representative sample of 10 median authors, earning a pie of $100 000 per book split between all 10. That’s not a lot, but sadly, that’s quite plausible. http://archive.is/epAM8. That would imply between them they made roughly another $400K for their publishers, and 500K for the retailers. Given that 9 out of ten are left wing authors, that leaves 1 moderate/right wing author.  So the ‘pie’ would divided $10K each because they each sell to 100% of the spectrum…

Except they don’t. The moderates and right wing authors suffer much the same discrimination as at the Hugos.  The left 25% of the readers don’t buy many, if any, books that don’t come from the 9 left wing authors.  People like Irene Gallo of Tor Books and Damian Water of the Guardian have openly denigrated non-left wing authors as ‘bad writers’ and ‘awful writers’.  Their ideological friends believe them absolutely and won’t touch anything that doesn’t bear the imprimatur of Left Approval, and even some outsiders are affected by this torrent of abuse. So the one moderate/right author has the table further skewed against him, in that only the 75% he comes from will buy his books – and with buyers faced with 10 books, he would sell to 1/10 of 75%…  but the 9 sell 1/10 each to 100% of the audience.

So you might express the division of the $100K as $7500 for him (call him Red), and the others (call them Blue) getting $10 000 each + (1/9 of $2500) = $10278.

slide 5

 

That was the status quo 10 years back. Like-for-like authors any moderate/conservative author earned less, as well as having less support, less markets, less publicity, less awards, less reviews… just less.  It was like racing with handicap weights – you had to work a lot harder to get the same result. No I don’t think any of us went to patreon to bleg.

In the last few years that has slowly begun to turn. Firstly, Amazon provided an outlet that wasn’t dependent on traditional publishing. And, secondly, ever so slowly, readers started to apply the same discrimination – but in reverse. “I only buyBaen books” – I’ve heard that a lot. (I am starting to hear ‘I only buy Castilia or Indy’ too).

Now let’s work out what dividing Traditional Publishing by this bi-partisan discrimination (instead of one-sided partisanship) actually does to that pie.  After all, 25% exclusivity! That’s a big deal! I mean giving a micron would mean giving up 25% of exclusive advantage right?  Stay the course and damn the torpedoes, right? Because we’ve got a 25% edge. And this… believe it not, is how most File 770’s true believers think (if you can call it that.) This, it appears, is how most New York Editors think.  This it appears is how most left-wing authors think. This is certainly how most of WorldCon’s TruFen think. “We’ll kick out Vox Day and anyone doesn’t that go along with us. We don’t need them! We’ll teach them a lesson! Let them go off and die without our support!”

Yeah. Right.

Not exactly.

The financial reality is harshly the opposite.

Let’s start with the assumption that a mere 5% of customers decide that they are not going to buy books from the 9 left wing authors. The pie is still all spent.  So… instead of Blues getting 10K each + (1/9 of 2500) they get $9500 + (1/9 of $2500) =$9778.

But… Red still got his $7500 – but he ALSO got sales from 9 Blues 5%, who had each given up $500 (Yes, Some of them had been his customers all along. Some had not. We’re using these numbers as proxies and simplifications.) So his income is up nicely, to $12000. That’s a nice 60% for Red… and for Red’s publisher.

slide 6

So…  How many people in that pie CAN the Publishing Establishment and their friends and camp followers afford to alienate?  What is break-even point? The point at which in this scenario, it would have been better for the left wing author and his or her publisher to aggressively pursue unity in the field, to encourage full access to their 25% for the moderate and right wing than to have encouraged a split?  I know – those of you think numerically got there LONG ago, but for File 770, NYC Publishing, Left-wing authors who have been silent about the situation, or like Jemisin or Scalzi or Hines actively attacked and belittled and tried to damage and exile, and TruFen and ‘Baldrick’ Quinn…  around 2.78%. That’s all. 2.78%

Blues get 9722+(1/9 of $2500) = $99 999.78 each. Red gets 7500+(278*9) = $10 002.

Of course you have given Red 30% increase in salary by attacking him. And you have NO counter move. No redress, no lever, because you’ve already applied the full force of that. What are you going to counter it with? A threat not to buy Red’s books? Too late. False media slurs against Red? Too late. Trash talking his novels? Too late for all of it, you’ve done all that.

And at 2.78% he hasn’t even STARTED punishing you for it. He still has another 72% for total separation to go.

And it only gets worse, fast (or rather, better for Red, worse for Blue). Of course in the real world, publishers stop selling Blue books or go out of business. And Blue authors find it not worth it and quit.  Either way, if they were one of your favorite authors, you lose, thanks to the brilliant leadership of the puppy-kicker faction.  Most of the authors whose lives are trashed – will be the rank and file. The leadership who got them into this mess, will not be affected, and knew that. If you were on the other side of the equation – a Red author or reader – well, more Red authors will soon join in, so comfort yourself with the loss of your Blue colleagues, with a better paycheck. I’ll personally miss some of them, but… they didn’t step up to help me. I know: their ‘friends’ would have turned on them instead.

Here is the progression.

slide 7

And there are still people out there who say Vox Day is stupid, and PNH, Scalzi, Jemisin, Hines GRRM, Glyer, Gerrold, Gallo etc are clever and ‘helping’ the left by dividing the field, by driving people out so they will not buy sf or fantasy from certain sources?  And this is a good thing, getting rid of anyone but the left?

You can quibble trivial details about the numbers – and I’m sure Camestros will, despite the fact that I’ve said that they are indicative examples not actual numbers, but no matter how you fiddle about – the five key drivers remain the same. 1) The left wing have largely reserved the left wing market for themselves while selling to everyone. 2) While this part of the demographic remains smaller than the center and right, it will always be worse hurt by a response in kind. They only survive by NOT eliciting this response. 3) As Left wing NYC editors have disproportionately bought authors with whom they sympathize and identify, even only a small counter-response (the effect spread through a few authors) – will be very lucrative for right-wing and centrist authors AND their publishers. 4 ) The Left-wing authors and their publishers and camp followers have no counter-boycott to threaten in response, because they’ve used it already. 5) Independents and new small publishers are going to take any gaps that this creates, exacerbating their problem.

Cure, and bringing the field back together, was always going to be hard.  Given the ‘Bad Actors’ (a new SJW term for people you don’t like – or in my case, trust) in the upper echelons of the Trad Publishing establishment, who basically have everything to lose if the ship changes direction, I would say impossible. There is nothing tangible in it for the right or center to give ground without the left abandoning all 25% exclusivity – and even then, that window to do that in is small. Yet… If the ship doesn’t change direction soon it is going to hit the iceberg. But at least they’ll be at the helm.  I’m glad I don’t own shares in traditional publishing. And if I was a Blue author, I’d start quietly moving towards the lifeboats and just happen to have my lifejacket (friends on the Red Ship and lots of scurrilous stories about Blue editors to tell them) handy.

I foresee, very clearly, very soon, where authors will get punished for the public political stance of their publisher or editor. I think this particularly likely if the left wins the next election in the US. As I’ve said before – losers are bitter losers, without vast grace in victory, and I can’t see that grace. I expect the losers (either way) to widen the gap.

One thing that is for certain: there is no further compromise nor help coming from me, anyway. Unity would do the field good – but it has to be across the board – with them dealing entirely with their exclusion FIRST.

So, to those on the left of the equation: If you suddenly don’t want to Balkanize the field after all, seeing as it is a death-wish – don’t mouth pieties about unity. We’re not interested.  Show us by real measurable actions.  Deal with those we think are extremists and unacceptable. Show us how it is done. When the apartheid state in publishing, cons, awards, critical acclaim, change… we may believe you.

Interesting times.

Oh, in the nature of an experiment I have put A MANKIND WITCH on Kindle Unlimited. I am curious to see how many pages get read. The picture is a link.

Crowdfunding

Or, sources of revenue other than selling books.

1.) The tip jar, or, the paypal button.

This is a common feature for bloggers, or authors with an extensive blog. It provides a way for fans to provide compensation for the blog posts, extra information, or as a tip because they already bought the books used.

This doesn’t have to be paypal, but should take all major credit cards and be pretty painless to use: your fan’s likelihood of giving you money drops drastically with every extra hoop they have to jump through.

2.) Related merchandise, or the cafepress / zazzle / etc. store.

Have a catchy phrase that your fans like to use? Have some art of the characters or cover? Have a nifty logo or slogan for your fanbase? (Note: if you didn’t draw the art or design, make SURE you have licensed the right to resell on merchandise. It’s not automatic, especially with royalty-free sites.)

Then check the terms, conditions, quality, and reliability of various POD merchandise sites. Because they handle the printing and shipping, your input is limited to image uploading, descriptions, site headers or art, etc. This means a fair amount of work up front, and then the need to periodically publicize it / make the link obvious…. but other than time, the investment is fairly minimal unless you are specifically acquiring art for resale.

3.) I made this myself, or the etsy store

For those of you who are artists in mediums other than words, you may end up with sketches, paintings, pendants, necklaces, costumes, knives, etc. related to your worlds. In which case you may want to put those up for sale, before they overrun your studio. It’ll let you buy more art supplies to start the cycle over…

This seems to work best when released in small batches – as in, upload a few things, announce to fans that those things are up. A while later, release more things, announce that the new things are up.

Again, does not have to be etsy specifically. Research what’s best for you in terms of setup time and cost, fees, and other details.

4.) Patreon

Patreon was created to provide a way for fans to regularly fund their favorite content creators in small amounts, in return for extra content. This does great things for the content creators, by providing a much more stable income than the tip jar, but also increases their workload by the need to regularly put out extra content to their patrons, and to interact with that community separately from their regular community.

This is great for webcomic artists: they can provide extra sketches, or background information, or let their patreon community pick the names & descriptions of upcoming characters / be tuckerized. For novelists, this is much trickier; John C. Wright is releasing a serial, and I believe snippets of upcoming novels, to his patrons.

5.) Kickstarter / GoFundMe

Kickstarter is useful for discrete project funding; the basic premise is that a creator proposed a project, a budget, and rewards to each person by donation level/package if the project is fully funded. If it’s not, then no money is paid.

Marian Call (who is an awesome singer, too) wrote an excellent primer on the usefulness, and on the true costs for each project here:
http://mariancall.com/kickstarter-math-is-weird/

Now for an unusual link: I’m going to recommend a resource that’ll cost money, but if you’re serious about Kickstarter, is very worth it. MCA Hogarth is a great author, artist, and entrepreneur. She runs kickstarters as needed for projects, and they range from very successful to wildly so. She wrote a book on running them successfully, with realistic budgets, numbers, and checklists. Oh, and cartoon jaguars.

https://www.amazon.com/Spark-Finish-Running-Kickstarter-Campaign-ebook/dp/B009NNXQFQ/

(If you’re curious about her track record, check out her Kickstarter page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/profile/mcahogarth )

So, there you have it. What, if any, of these do you use? What else do you use? What do you recommend for or against? What pitfalls or awesomeness have you found along the way?

Diversity in Fiction

We hear a lot about the need for diversity in fiction these days, which sort of makes me cock my head to one side, make puppy eyes, and ask ‘baroo?’

You see, I grew up reading diverse fiction. Fiction about all sorts of people, and places, and it made my imagination go wild enough that when I grew up, I became a writer. Now, that was diverse fiction. But evidently that’s nto what they mean, when they demand diversity. No, what they are asking for is the checking-off of ticky boxes to be sure that the right agendas are represented in their fiction, or they will turn up their nose and whiskers and scrape imaginary dirt over it. (I used to have a cat that did that. Funniest thing to watch.) The resulting stories are, of course, dull as ditchwater, and far less diverse. I mean, have you ever really looked at ditchwater? Dang, there are some prolific lifeforms in there, at the microscopic level. So… the ‘diverse’ lauded works are anything but diverse, as they all perforce align with the approved thoughts  and agendas of the day.

And it leaves readers cold. If I had a book sale for every reader who I have heard or seen talking about why they stopped reading – science fiction, usually, but sometimes altogether – I’d be a higher-ranked author than I am today. I know that my First Reader often brings it up while attempting to read books I’d put into our mutual Kindle, and failing to enjoy them. He wrote about it in his Curmudgeon’s Corner today:

“So many books get recommended these days that I start and cannot stand by the end of the first chapter, if not before. If your lesbian heroine has made a name for herself without the inheritance stolen by her brother by virtue of his maleness, and now must save her patriarchal family from the mistakes of the males I am done. If your soldier is fighting the evil corporations because all business is evil, I am done. If your station manager must save the station from attacks by the evil white male mercenaries while her ineffectual male co-workers piss themselves, I am done.

I have no problem with white villains. I have no problem with female heroes. What I do have a problem with is that our society has recently decided that the villain must always be a white male, even in black Haarlem, South Africa, or Japan. I have a problem with the fact that someone with an “alternative sexuality” must always be in the story and cannot be anything but a shining example of what a human can be. Oh yeah, the woman must always be right.

Funny, the number of TV shows where the wife is uber competent and beautiful, and the husband is a fat buffoon all seem to be taken by the left as reality TV, just try to show a competent father and a goofy wife, they would nail you to the wall. People say that you could not make Blazing Saddles today. What is sadder is that you could not make I Love Lucy or The Andy Griffith Show today.” 

Sarah Hoyt has often addressed the issue, as both a reader and a writer. She touched on it again today, in one of her blog posts (which are always worth the read, for her writing style and content, as she’s fun to read when she wanders off onto rabbit trails of fascinating thoughts).

“They honestly either believe that the mark of quality science fiction is its mock appeal to some “class” or “minority” or they view it as a way to signal how much better than others they are at selecting rarefied “literature”.  Actually the second would explain why the appeal they select for keeps getting more exclusive.  They have long ago accepted this cr*p doesn’t sell, and are now on a mission to “appeal to minorities by having someone like them in the story.”  (As a double — triple? — minority, I object.  I can identify with green tentacled aliens as well as the pale skinned mostly Caucasian guy now working the office beneath mine. I can identify with him too at least enough to empathize.  Otherwise, why marry him?)

Will this “literature” survive fifty years?  Oh, for crying in bed.  How can it?  It’s not even particularly popular now.  Hell, unless a nuking leaves some of these books as the only testimony of what our time and place was like, I doubt anyone even will remember their names any more than we remember the names of “praised” literature from the Victorian period.

Meanwhile Agatha Christie, a favorite “intellectual” punching bag is doing QUITE well fifty years on, despite lacking all those markers college professors think so important.

People like the village idiot of the Guardian are emotionally stunted morons who think “good” must be what his professors held up as such.

The rest of humanity finds it predictable and too boring for words.  Except for those who are counting coup “Ah, one eyed, one legged Hatian Lesbian.  This book is quality!” and those who want to be seen as reading “intellectual” stuff.  Both of which are an ever-decreasing minority in an era of overworked, overstressed people with a lot of other books to read and a lot of other forms of entertainment at their fingertips.”

True diversity is not some pro-forma compliance to whatever flavor of political correctness is prevalent today. No, it’s writing a story that can dig deeper than skin color, orientation, or *insert buzzword here* and entertain it’s readers. Really entertain them – lift them out of their humdrum everyday existence and make them forget what color, shape, or quark spin they were in. Now, that’s real diversity.

That Which Is Writing…

But is not putting words on page. Hear me out.

This is the first thing I’ve actually written since I returned from The Trip (caps very much required, more shortly) and I’m not certain my thoughts are even gelling. More like gelatinous: we’ll see.

As a father and a writer, I keep looking for some way to balance those necessities. I can’t let the kids starve (I also can’t make jokes about that until they’re old enough to feed themselves) or go without diaper changes while I lock myself in the office and pound out pages. Nor is it wise for me to indefinitely suspend wordsmithing while I give the littles all the attention their avaricious, little hearts desire. Or the resulting imagination pressure build-up (it’s like steam in a boiler, kinda) could well precipitate an explosion such that said avaricious little hearts would end up- but that’s a subject best saved for fiction.

I’m looking for that balance, and not really finding it. Mrs. Dave and I are looking into a long-term solution for childcare that frees me up from forced social interaction with creatures who aren’t sufficiently mentally stimulating to make up for not writing.

But there’s other parts to writing that aren’t physically typing words, lining them up in sentences, and connecting those in paragraphs, etc. There’s the skull sweat aspect. The thinking, which I’ve historically been pretty good at – though feels downright lugubrious when sleep deprived and starved of alone time – is quite possibly going to be key to at least maintaining the mindset of being a writer (possibly, [epithet of choice]. Is going to be key).

The trick, though, is organization, and that is a thing I have never been particularly good about. I’ve always been able to keep a sufficiency for keeping-on in my head. The bank account has about this much, less recent expenses. The bills are due about now, so pay prior. That kind of thing. But to manage this, I don’t think that method is going to be sufficient. And so I’m looking for a solution, there, as well.

In the very informal online writers’ water-cooler of which I’m a very minor part, we’ve been looking at the option of something to put on a hand-brain. I’ve got a mind-map app, but it’s something that hasn’t really fit the way my mental processes work, and I haven’t yet found something better.

Aside from that possible problem which may or may not need a genuine solution, this writer is doing much parenting. The daddy hat is the one most on my head, these days. After that, it’s the husband hat, as Mrs. Dave’s active duty-ness often requires flexibility on my part to make work.

The Trip was a Big Deal, and it’s likely better we labored under the assumption that it wouldn’t be, else it wouldn’t have happened. LibertyCon was excellent, as usual. I read an unreleased portion of a weird western upon which I’m working, and it was well-accepted. I was honored to sit upon a panel with the author GoH, Jonathan Maberry, and found him to be a delightful panelist, and had great fun kibitzing with him away from the mic.

The Baen dinner was a fraught affair, not because of the setting or food (both of which were excellent), but because Wee Dave attempted to give himself a two hundred degree facial bare moments before we were supposed to show up. The hat shed most of it, though he did end up with a blister that went especially well with the scrapes he gave himself the next week when he pitched out of a van onto a curb. I am reliably informed that he’s showing Mrs. Dave’s self-preservation instinct when she was his age, which bodes ill.

After LC, we spent time in Colorado with my family, with her family, with family of choice, with my family again, and then drove home. Thousands of miles, with a two-year-old, and a six-month-old. It was good, but it often wasn’t a lot of fun. It sure made me appreciate not leaving the house, which I’ve done a lot of since we got home. Not leaving the house, I mean.

Ramble over.

When life eats your time to put down words, it remains possible to do much of the work. I recommend *some* time to write. I’ve seen 250 words per day, or 500 for the ambitious, but getting some fiction written every day. My own key is not treating that work as something vital to accomplish. Make it fun, allow it to be weird, but do the writing. Heck, at 250/day, you still end up with a novel in a year. Not great, perhaps, but when – oh, for example – small children demand 90% of your time and energy, you’re still writing. And that truly is important.

A Puppy Returns From WorldCon – Not an After Action Report

The actual after action report will happen when I’ve had time to recover a bit and process everything that happened. I spent most of my time at the con either attending the business meetings, or presiding over Puppy Central (which was relatively relaxed and enjoyable – thank you to everyone who helped).

The business meetings were particularly enlightening: on average about 150 people attended each day for the 3 hour meetings (4 of them). Very few of the attendees were what might be considered hard-SJW – what I saw (and yes, this is just my opinion and you might think differently) was a group of rather confused fans who want to do what they believe is the right thing.

Think of it this way – if you have been told all your life that X is good and Y has to be given an easier ride to make up for past injustice and so forth, and you’ve never actually run into anything that shows you the problems this causes, you’re going to believe it. When you’re trying to do what you think is right, and a small cadre of powerful and loud people insist that nothing you do is good enough, you’re going to accept the gaslighting and verbal abuse, and try harder to make them happy. It’s a classic abuse pattern, and it works particularly well on the not terribly socially ept (aka almost all of fandom) because we socially awkward types find it more difficult to pick up on subtle abuse.

Add to this unpleasantness a generation or so raised on “self-esteem” policies that don’t allow them to fail in any way so many of today’s young adults are incapable of distinguishing between disagreement and abuse, and you have a perfect storm waiting for somewhere to happen. (For those readers of a social justice-y persuasion, remember the feeling of working hard for something and overcoming difficulties to get there? If you don’t, then I pity you, because that’s where strength of personality and genuine self-worth come from – and there are any number of studies out there demonstrating this, but our education system denies children that feeling and that strength).

Okay. That’s enough of the political-ish digression.

There will be a Sad Puppies 5. It will have more or less the same format as Sad Puppies 4, but I won’t be leading it. That dubious honor goes to Sarah or Amanda (whichever one of them runs slower, I suspect). I’ll be helping behind the scenes, and working with the WSFS committee behind the scenes to help mitigate the damage the motions passed at the business meeting are likely to do to the Hugo brand (Why? Because I don’t want to see an award won by so many greats of the field turn into an irrelevant circle jerk and rather than bitch about its decline I’m going to do what I can to help).

Sad Puppies 5 probably won’t focus on the Hugos – at this stage it’s looking more like being simply a recommended reading list with categories more or less along the lines of the Dragon categories (which, frankly, will be a damn sight easier to manage). More details will happen when Sarah or Amanda get to them. In the meantime, no the Sad Puppies are not defeated. We might seem like a collection of bumbling clumsy… well, puppies, but we love the genre and we’re not into widdling on things or burning them down.

PS: Yes, this is rather rambly and incoherent. I’m freaking exhausted, and if there’s a greater torment for an extreme introvert than having to be social every waking hour for the best part of a week, I don’t want to know about it. You want sensible, talk to someone who can brain. That someone isn’t me right now.

Finding The Story

We’ve all heard the old chestnut about the guy who finds a pile of manure and starts digging through it frantically to find a pony. Because with that much manure, there must be a pony in there.

This is kind of like what writers do, only our work is inside our heads and somewhat less odoriferous.

It’s been a long time since I talked about this, but I remembered the day before yesterday when someone left a comment on my blog saying “I have this splendid idea, but I can’t write it.”  And what he/she (I honestly don’t remember, because I suck with names) related was not a story, but a concept.

You can’t write a story from a concept any more than you can ride a pile of manure.  A good story has a concept.  It might or might not have a message.  Mind you it can have a message too, and still be a punch in the gut.  In fact, short stories are more capable of carrying message and still being a good story than novels.  The medium is more suited to the enforcement of simple ideas.  It’s amazing how many people manage to overwhelm short stories with messages considering that that length is almost MEANT to carry a message.

I think this happens because they never fully come out of the concept stage of the idea, and also because they forgot — or never knew — that the primary function of fiction is to be a vehicle not for idea but for emotion.  Unless that message is well wrapped up in “why this matters” and emotion and a character people can root for, all we’ll taste is the message, which is like tasting what went in to making the sausage.

Many beginning writers get stuck between concept and story.  There is no shame in that.  I have my share of stories that are something like “It was a beautiful planet but they practiced human sacrifice.”  And then the story stops.  Dead.  Because.

I’m talking mostly of short stories here, because they are more concept intensive, but some of these concepts can lead to novels.  In fact, many of the concepts, as you start digging prove not to be a pony but a wild tiger.  You have to be prepared for that and not try to cram everything into a short story.  For instance, Darkship Thieves started as “forbidding cloning is stupid, because people will just do it illegally and it will lead to all sorts of truly spectacularly awful things, done under the cover of ‘there is no cloning’ and—  Oooooooooooh”  Could I do a short story for it?  Sure.  But then I started figuring out what kind of regime/people would do that and if they have cloning and surgery that advanced, what else can they do, and… well… novel.

I’m going to use some simple concepts here, some of which I used before, because I don’t actually want to be forced to write these stories, but I hope it illustrates the principle.

So, say your concept is: flying cars that are easily controllable/avoid accidents are invented, and the roads turn back to nature, and people can leave much further away and isn’t it great?

A beginner will start by showing us the roads going back to nature or something.

The story, if you can call it that will die.

So.

Start with the person this hurts most.  No, seriously, nine times out of ten going “to the pain” will find you the story.

So flying cars are all the thing.  Whom does this hurt most?  I assume the car plants are now turning out flyers.  The long distance truckers have retrained.  Oooh.  Road workers.  Sure there’s other stuff they can do, like maybe gardeners and stuff.  But this guy is a romantic, who loves the smell of freshly poured asphalt.  Most of his friends were in the road crew and they’re now dispersed.  He really loved his job, and it’s now gone.

Open with him getting a call from a friend who wants him to come and work in some public garden thing where a major interstate used to be.  He doesn’t want to.  He hates the idea of never again doing road work and they’re breaking up HIS road to make it a garden.  Meanwhile it’s snowing softly, so he wouldn’t be able to start till next month, anyway.  And his wife is pregnant.

His wife goes into labor.  He can’t take her to the hospital, even though his road is still okay, because his car spins out.  He can’t do anything, it’s all going wrong.  A Flying ambulance arrives, with a doctor, etc.

He sits there, in the hospital afterwards shaking and thinks yeah, maybe there’s something good to this new world.  Maybe he’ll go work that garden project.

Or take a concept I DID make into a short story (published in Year 3000 antho from DAW.)

We have managed to go to space,some sort of portal thing, so we can go to distant planets.  But women can’t go.  Or at least not women who want to have children.  (Yes, I know, biology might or might not be with me.  At the time it seemed to be.)  The cumulative damage to the eggs means that women who stay in space can’t have healthy children.

I confess I made it women, not men, not to piss off feminists (I was much nicer pre-menopause and the sheer mess of the last four or five years) but because the opposite has been done so often: all women societies as a sort of golden future.

So, I went to whom this hurts most.  A woman, of course.  You see, women on Earth are baby-farms and … and the sterile ones can make a good living touring planets and doing sexy shows.

So this woman goes out and isn’t getting the reaction she expects, and she thinks it’s because she’s getting old.  But little hints seem wrong.  There are too many kids in this world.  Sure this world is rich off some found alien biological tech, but seriously, how can they afford these many kids.  And sure, guys pair up, we know this from prisons and other all male environments, but… something is subtly off.

And then she realizes that guys have figured out a way to use that biological tech to have kids without women (I presume artificial wombs, but I don’t go into it.)  She’s obsolete.  Womanhood is obsolete.

I called the story Go Tell The Spartans.  It’s one of my most depressing stories, and I had a hell of a time selling it, bu that was the pony under the pile.

As should be obvious from the above, there isn’t necessarily only one pony under the pile.  My particular quirks and mood at the time led me to one.  I’m sure you’d get others from the same concept.

However, remember: Whom does it hurt?  Go to that person.  And then from there follow “how does their personal arc work?”  “How is the pain resolved, or becomes crushing?”  “How can this person solve his/her/its/dragon problem?”

Follow those threads, and you’ll find the pony in the pile.  You can’t fail.

Good digging.

What is a good book?

That seems to be the question everyone thinks they have the answer to. The truth, however, is that there is no one “correct” definition. A good book truly is in the eye of the beholder. Just as there is no one correct way to write (the process of writing), there is no one correct definition for what a good book happens to be. Most of us understand that. Unfortunately, there are those (representing multiple sides of the spectrum) who believe they have the one true answer. The trouble with this is it leaves readers out of the equation and that is something we, as writers, cannot do.

Let me start by saying this is not going to turn into a debate about the Hugos. As far as I’m concerned, that is a moot point. Even though the Hugos are supposed to be a fan award, it has been made clear by some that they don’t want the every day fan included. They are trying their best to exclude anyone whose work — and maybe whose vote — doesn’t meet some arbitrary criteria of “good”. The fact there was even a proposal before the business meeting to allow the Hugo Committee to add nominees to the list if they felt there weren’t enough quality nominations proves that. Such an act smacks of telling fans they aren’t good enough or sophisticated enough to know what a good book is. My only question to the Hugo Committee and those who have continued to try to keep voters away from the process is why they don’t just amend the rules and make the Hugo a juried award? That way they can do whatever they want with the award without having to deal with the unwashed masses of readers who still foolishly think their opinion might matter.

Okay, I had to go there. Sorry. But that is all I’m going to say about the Hugos.

So what does make a good book? As I said in the first paragraph, there is no absolutely correct answer. Some readers want character driven stories. Others want plot driven. Some want literary works while others want pulp. Some want lots of sex and others want no sex, no matter what the genre. Once, all these diverse likes and dislikes meant all an author could do was trust his agent and publisher to accurately predict what the reading public would buy.

But now, with indie going strong (despite what a certain person who has received a government grant to write a book and has yet to do so), we aren’t as limited as we once were. We can write what we believe is a good book and leave it to the public to let us know if they liked it or not. What a lot of us are finding is that the books we couldn’t get past the front door of an agency now sell quite well as an indie publication. We can write the stories we want to and, as long as we pay attention to our reviews and what our fans say on social media and via email, we can build a career. Yes, there are benefits to traditional publishing but those benefits are lessening with the passage of time.

So, what is a good book?

It is a book that readers want to read. As a writer, it means knowing your target audience and hitting the cues they want. It means hooking the reader quickly and keeping them interested. It means giving them a story they want to talk about to their friends and family. It means entertaining and if you happen to educate a little along the way, more power to you.

What it doesn’t mean is preaching to your audience to the point they lose interest in the story. A skilled storyteller is a craftsman who can intertwine story and character and lesson all in one without beating the reader over the head with the message. I don’t know about you, but I will think about the message a lot more if it is subtle than I will if it is in my face.

I’ve done a great deal of reading the last few weeks. Between being ill and having to deal with repairmen, etc., around the house, I’ve not had the quiet I needed to write. So I read. I read traditionally published books and indie books. What I discovered was I enjoyed more indie books than I did the traditionally published books. Why? I could feel the passion of the indie writers in their work, a passion I did not feel in the traditionally published books. It was as if the indie authors liked what they were writing where the traditionally published authors — and these were best sellers in multiple genres — were just going through the motions. The best sellers had found a formula that worked to make them best sellers and they weren’t about to step away from the formula while the indies weren’t afraid to take chances and try new things.

Something else that struck me as I read was the lie we see so often that indie published books have more errors and need more editing than traditionally published books. I went back last night and looked at several examples of both just to make sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me. The proofreading errors between the two sets was just about even. So no, indie books did not seem to need more proofing than traditionally published books.

Something that did strike me was something I had noticed much earlier. More traditionally published books had many more formatting errors than the indie published books did. Weird paragraph breaks. No paragraph indents. Blank screens. Lack of spacing between the chapter title and the first line of text. I saw many more of those sorts of errors with traditionally published e-books than I did with indie books. Why? My only guess is that the trads don’t use the proper programs to convert to digital and then they don’t do quality checks.

And, while formatting isn’t exactly what most of us think about when we think about what makes up a good book, for an e-book reader, it is something writers and publishers should always keep in mind. If the e-book doesn’t look like a printed book, we register it. If we see an e-book where a publisher or author hasn’t taken time to make sure it “looks” right, we wonder why. That is especially true in the case of traditionally published e-books that cost as much, if not more, than their print equivalents.

So, what makes a good book in my opinion? One that keeps my attention. Fiction needs to entertain me and make me want to flip the page. I like learning something when I read but I don’t want to be preached to. Be subtle when you weave the message in. Make your characters believable. Don’t break your characters or change their personalities without having a darned good reason for it and be sure to foreshadow it. Don’t throw something in just because you think you have to — no matter what that something is. If you think it needs to be there, make sure the plot or character development require it.

There are times I want to read something that is literary. I want to see a world painted with words. There are other times I want to fly to the furthest reaches of the universe. Thrill me. Scare me. Give me warm fuzzies. Fiction for me, like it is for most readers, entertainment. Never forget that. As I said early on, remember your target audience and remember what they expect from the genre. Push the boundaries, yes, but not to the point you break them without explanation.

So, what makes a good book for you?

A Wally for me!

roydon - dive boat

A picture of a good day, just because I am feeling cheerful and it’s not London, but Flinders Island on a good day. This is our dive boat, and the model for the dive boat in Changeling’s Island.

And what happens after the war….

Because there always is after the war.

This post will be all over the place, and quite possibly fairly silly. Yes, I know, that is SO unusual for me. It’s almost as if I said there was gambling in Rick’s Casino.

I’ve been, shall we say, a little tense. My wife had her follow-up colonoscopy a few hours ago (some of you may know that she had bowel cancer a while back, picked up (Thank God for the Australian screening system) early and treated.) Of course one never knows how successful or final this is, so there are regular follow-ups. A colonoscopy involves prep, and trust me that’s pretty terrible. The waiting is not much fun either.

We have an all clear for now, so I am relieved even more effectively than the prep would do. Filled with a great lightness, and reminder of knowing how it felt the first time, and sympathy and understanding all over again for those who have to deal with a bad result.

Why I brought this up is that… well, authors are human. Not all the same, not all likable, not all decent. But as human as the next man or woman, paying bills, making a career, farting in the bath. Well, I will grant you can make an exception for me. A lowly simian I, a thing of rags and tatters… but I do imitations. I can fool people that I’m human at about thirty paces and for as much thirty seconds so long as they’re upwind.

Which brings me around to ‘what happens after the war.’ (Don’t ask me, “Where is Wally” you’ve got to look for yourself.) An author I am acquainted with posted words to this sort of effect: “I can’t wait for the elections to be over and life to go back to normal.”

Now, the author in question had just posted an ‘All Trump supporters are complete morons’ type facebook post. She had deleted posts and unfriended a dozen people and had a complete melt-down over a pro-gun individual of her own political faction. Most of those who follow her… are her readers. Those of similar mindset had cheered and gleefully joined in the pile-ons.

In a few months, whoever wins or loses… it will be over. Please, my point is not to discuss who you or I think will win or lose. It’s that there will be winners and losers, and what happens after that.

I know, that’s the dreaded long-term thinking thing again. If you think you find it hard, what about me? We monkeys seldom think beyond this banana – but it is actually the center of writing. Writing is always a window into before, and after… or at least it is if you’re doing it right (right defined as people want to buy and read your work, not right as in Dave, or Wally (no this is not Wally), or IgNora think I am doing it right.) Short-time preferences are for fools and monkeys, certainly not for writers.

So: take the author above. The war she so wanted to end is over. Let’s imagine she (or her side) ‘won’. Happily ever after, and her life goes back to normal, right?

Well, no. Firstly, just from her point of view, she may have gained some readers who loved her overt stance. There are thousands of openly left wing editors and authors on facebook, and very few of the opposite, and relatively few centrists or those who keep their views to themselves. So: lots of competition, thin pickings, but she may have gained a few. Given that we know the proportions of Americans that self-identify as ‘liberal’ (26%) and the proportion of publishing professionals that donate to the Democrats (At least 99.4%) – that means she pleased her editor, if she noticed (but it’s not unusual)… and lost readers who were once happy to find and follow her from the other 74%.

And here is the thing: in real life, unless you’re really smart about it, losers are sore losers. And they don’t just go away. If they can hurt the victors, they will. If they can strike back and try again, they will. Avoiding that pendulum – WW1 and the treaty of Versailles…. And then WW2 (and the Marshall Plan, designed to avoid a backswing) is hard. Jerry Pournelle had a final scene in one of his stories that I read long ago that has stuck with me long after most of the story has blurred. I paraphrase and obviously emphasize what I found important: The mercenaries have effected a brutal but effective suppression of an uprising. The president thanks them profusely for winning. And the commander says brutally and bitterly that they have not won. The military can’t win. It can only buy time for politics. (and in my opinion, economics). You could in my opinion extend that to Law or even politics. You’re usually fighting for time for people for people to come to terms, adjust… or fail and set up the next conflict. It’s that or total genocide.

The point here is that it is not fast, not easy, and that a ‘win’ does not make the other side disappear or suddenly love you. You might say the SJW or CHORFs or puppy-kickers have ‘won’ every time. And every time they’ve ended up far worse off than before. Because they have had to fight harder, they’ve fought nastier and with more collateral damage each time. They forgot that their foes were human, (cycling back to my start) people with partners, people with illnesses, people with children. More importantly they decided that anyone who was not 110% for them… was against them. They could slander them, attack their reputations, families, livelihood. Anything, as long as they ‘won’. Language like ‘morons, Nazis, put them down, worthless, bad writers, bad actors’ were commonplace. And somehow, ‘miraculously’, they got their chosen tokens their awards, shut out anyone else, and wrote their new Versailles treaty.

Only the ‘defeated’ wouldn’t sign. Would not buy into it at all. There is not even Weimar, trying to abide. And the ‘reparations’ they need to repair the costs of that war, the recognition, the social kudos, and the sales – especially the sales… well, they have the same problem the author who was desperately wanting the election over.

They have a problem of no levers left. They did their worst, and failed to destroy the hard core of their foes, and ended up generating thousands more who didn’t used to hate their guts.  But they do now. Another Pyrrhic ‘victory’ won.

The gulf between the sides widened, And there is almost no-one left on the non-left wing side of the equation who doesn’t put WorldCon and Hugo’s Admins firmly in the camp of the foes, cooking the books, helping the puppy kickers, acting as SJW enforcers. I know there are some folk among them who desperately wanted no part in the fight, to bridge the gap. But they failed to grasp the nettle and show aggressively that they were neutral and trustable. They never understood the teacher’s kid syndrome: When Dave Truesdale possibly steps over the line and the SJW’s squall – you cut slack because you don’t want to be seen as siding with ‘your kid’ and acting as their enforcer. When Mary Three-Names breaks the rules (open-and-shut case, broken) you don’t give her token pat on the wrist because she’s a SJW Darling and therefore ‘your kid’. If you want to be seen as neutral by people who think you’re on the other side… Mary is out on her ear and Dave gets a pat on the wrist. That piece of Con Admin stupidity is barely topped by Dave McCarty’s handing voters data to ‘researchers’ straight out of a Tor Books site.

The 74% have mostly written WorldCon off. Barring major change, It’ll drift into being a WisCon with a few older people going for nostalgia. The Hugo brand is on life-support and will probably soon have a very limited value to a shrinking set of PC virtue-signallers. I know this may not have dawned on the core of 26% but we’ve passed the peak PC. Not that long ago – 10 years – it intimidated everyone, and had no apparent substantive opposition. In the circles they don’t move in… that is no longer true. It is massively and increasingly openly unpopular, and the media are as usual are way behind the curve. In 15 years’ time it’ll be dead except in tiny corners.

So – how does all of this loop into writing, or indeed into preventing another war? Well, as I said: a book is a brief window into a whole world – it inevitably has its roots in the last ‘war’ (whether that is a family fight or the last actual war on a planet, a story does not spring from nowhere. In your set-up you need that, and you need it quickly. Secondly if you’re setting up to write an all out war… you have two choices as an author. Either you destroy your foes completely, neatly finishing the book, or they will recur, stronger and nastier. A few – very talented – authors have actually handled winning the peace well. Frank Herbert used the concept of bravura. Diana Wynne Jones wrote about the losers in the war between Strangia and Ingary (Castle in the Air). If the foe cannot be destroyed, well, it’s a long term thinking task, and basically requires bridging the gap and the victors (not the losers) paying a price and accommodating the losers – making them happy enough, having levers enough, to avoid another war.

So where is Wally?

Well he’s been Haydn (and Haydn’s been dead for years) but here is his last movement. A wally – which is Australian for an incompetent idiot who can’t manage to do anything right – a wally is the sort of guy that, if you put him in a brothel with ten thousand dollars, would not only fail to get himself laid but would have every hooker in the place queuing up at the nearest nunnery to sign up, and would go to the bathroom, wipe his butt, put the money in the toilet and put the used toilet paper in his pocket. In this case our Wally comes from The Guardian, well known as ‘The Grauniad’ (because its spelling and grammar are… legendary) writer Damian Walter. Doing his best to be a little puppy kicker, and hurt careers of writers as best as possible, for political gain – just as I referred to above. Unfortunately for him… and fortunately for us, he’s a wally…

So I’m very proud to be given a Wally. It’s not quite the imprimatur of brilliance of a ‘Clamps’, but there seems to be a bit more money in a Wally. And I’m in grand – indeed awe-inspiring company. Now that I have my own Wally, I look forward to buying my own mountain.

You see Damian is the archetype wally. If he hates you – most folk will love you. If he predicts you will fail – you may buy your own mountain. If he says your prose is awful – he writes for The Grauniad – a financial disaster with a readership going down faster than drawers in the brothel wally would fail in. Oh he’s also a failed writer, who got a grant to write a novel I believe – and still failed. Oh, and he never met a fact he couldn’t get backward.

my comments in Bold

For the last few years, the Hugo awards for science fiction have been campaigned against by a group of writers and fans calling themselves the Sad Puppies – mostly male, very white, and overwhelmingly conservative.

You mean like the ‘mostly male’ very white officially Latina Sarah Hoyt? Or Amanda Green, or Kate Paulk – who headed Sad Puppies this year. Ah Wally.

Unhappy with sci-fi’s growing diversity, the Puppies have deliberately block-voted for certain titles to get them nominated for Hugos at the expense of a wider field.

Which is naturally why, when you count the numbers and actually don’t have Wally’s gender (explains his luck in the brothel) and skin color confusion they were MORE ‘diverse’ and they encouraged voters to both read and to vote for what they wished to. We can give you hundreds of links. Wally’s problem was that they weren’t M&Ms – different colors on the outside but all exactly the same inside.

They say it is their goal to “poke the establishment in the eye” by nominating “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy-handed message fic”.

Really? I thought I said it was because I was concerned at the drop in sf sales (well documented) meant that the direction was selling badly and that was threatening authors (including his darlings) ability to make a living and write. Some might turn to Patreon but surely the measure of popular (and therefore successful) is selling enough to live on. But yes, heavy handed message fic doesn’t sell well. Look at Kameron Hurley’s figures. She’s published them.

I say it is to sponsor awful writers.

“Sponsor” – you mean like Nora Jemisin getting herself funded by Patreon? No, Wally. We actually SELL books for a living. I know you failed at that, as do most of your darlings, but it is possible. And – based on his track record if Wally thinks we’re awful… I am SO proud to be one of his ‘awful’.

The Puppies have two criteria for what they deem excellence: does it turn a buck?

Well, Wally accidentally got one thing right. The most honest measure of popularity is that people are prepared to pay for your work. That you’re not so useless that you have bleg or get grants or ‘teach’ writing. Yep. Lots of paying readers suggest popular to me. And the Hugo’s in theory were not ‘excellence’ but ‘popular’.

And has the author dared to say anything, ever, that they disagree with?

Yes, well as they lean libertarian they kinda expect you to be contrary… oh wait. Dumb Wally is confused again. No, PC-doctrinaire books are your left wing specialty. You know: the kind that don’t sell, that you rate as ‘excellent’.

This, paired with their conspiracy theories about some big sci-fi publishers, means that they tend to champion mostly self-published authors. Nothing about quality – though you don’t need an in-depth knowledge of sci-fi to understand that a short story called Space Raptor Butt Invasion (yes, really) has not arrived on the Hugo lists because of its calibre.

Actually it was voted in to mock the crap that SJW’s were putting up. But that’s too hard for Wally.

Oh yes, Wally, I get my conspiracy theories from that well known Cooky-looky journal of the paranormal – Publisher’s Weekly. And the US employment stats. That’s why I believe weird stuff like that your excellence is selling like pork chops in Mecca – and the Traditional publishers are cutting their mostly female staff. Oh and Independent Authors are making more money than them. And of course if Wally ACTUALLY knew how to fact check, he’d find out to his shock that no… Jim Butcher isn’t self-published. Neither am I. Or Larry, or Brad or Sarah… I’m moving that way because I like the money.

With this year’s Hugo awards coming on Saturday night in the US, I thought I’d read some of the authors championed by the Puppies. (Don’t ever say I don’t do anything for you.)

Oh no Wally, I would never say you’d never done anything for us. Being slated by you is worth a lot of sales. Please, dear God, don’t praise me, Wally. Anyway- as best anyone can work out you read one paragraph of mine, and less than one chapter of Larry Correia. That’s not a huge sacrifice for most people, but I do appreciate it must have been the hardest thing a Wally like you ever did.

If you find meaning in straight-to-video Dolph Lundgren films, then Larry Correia’s novels will be your kind of read. Correia, accountant-turned-author-turned-Sad-Puppies-creator, kicked off his Monster Hunter series with Monster Hunter International, about an accountant whose boss turns into a monster. So he shoots him. In fact, much of the Monster Hunter series relies rather heavily on people the hero doesn’t like turning into monsters … so he can shoot them.

I am envious. I’d love to be compared to Dolph Lundgren. The idea that a super bright guy, and a commercial success – who is apparently really nice bloke is an undesirable comparison… well… Wally. And as for shooting, as the bullets had no effect on werewolves… shows Wally once again got things got things completely backwards. But never mind, Wally. I’m sure your reading comprehension is good enough for your ‘excellence’.

Sadly, Correia’s books are not quite awful enough to be good. They’re just mediocre. That’s fine – Dolph Lundgren movies are also often mediocre, but plenty of people like them. But did Lundgren’s Masters of the Universe deserve to take the 1987 Oscar over Oliver Stone’s Platoon? I don’t think so – and in that same way, Correia’s novels in no way merit consideration for the Hugos (thankfully, he only made the 2014 longlist).

A measure of popularity or Wally defined ‘excellence’? The Hugos were supposed to be a measure of fan popularity Wally.

Dave Freer’s Changeling Island, shortlisted for this year’s inaugural Dragon awards, is all about story

Actually, Wally, if you’d read more than the first paragraph… you might have figured out that this particular book, which is YA and targeted at 12-14 year old boys, is by almost any accounting ‘message’ fiction. Admittedly, you’d hate that message, and I tried very hard to keep it from being heavy handed. But then to get through to Wally you need a sledge-hammer. It was intended to be a story about which I knew a great deal of the background, as Fisheries Scientist and a diver to keep the action fast moving. I was writing a book for one of the most neglected, belittled and undervalued sectors of the population: the rural boy. In this case an Aboriginal boy who, first and foremost, is just a boy. He finds his roots in his ancestral home and traditional way of life – hunting and fishing, living off the land, learning responsibility, and the love of his heritage. Awful, Wally, just awful. The picture is a link – you can look inside and read a little more than Damian.

– which is fortunate, because sentences as thoroughly mangled and amateurish as Freer’s won’t be winning any prizes (at least I hope not).

Oh I hope this is as good Wally’s other predictions. I’m proud just to be there. But if you’d like to spoil his day you can go and vote for Larry Correia in Fantasy and me in YA. Wally would have to change his underwear if either of us won. He be pretty miserable if it eclipsed the Hugos too

Open with a strong start, they say; now read Changeling Island’s opening:

It had been the most terrifying, miserable day of Tim Ryan’s whole miserable life. He’d just done it to show Hailey. Because … because she said he was too scared. He was. Every time he tried anything it always went wrong. Horribly wrong. And he wasn’t a thief. Well, he didn’t want to be. It was one of the few thing things his dad ever really got angry with him about. And then he’d only been a little five-year-old kid helping himself to a chocolate bar in a store. But Hailey … she said … and he’d do anything to get her.”

In fairness … to Freer … pick any passage, from. Any Puppy author like Brad Torgersen or Sarah Hoyt and you will find … sentences … as mangled as these.

Well, I am in great company then! And John Wright a little later, too. Wally, I must explain this to you: why you’re such a failure and have sold almost nothing ever and I – at last count and not considering myself a success was closing on half a million sales – the purpose of English in a novel is to communicate successfully. To set the scene, to adequately foreshadow the previous ‘wars’ and get the reader rapidly into the mental space of the protagonist is hard. This is the viewpoint of a badly upset, slightly immature 14 year old. Sentence fragments are how he is thinking. It’s more logical and clear than Wally thought, so no wonder you were confused. The book was bought by an editor from a traditional publisher. The editor used to be an academic, teaching English Lit. I believe. It was copy edited by a retired English Prof, who sent me a lovely letter about it, Wally, asking if she could edit any others I wrote. Oddly, she never mentioned sentence fragments.

I’ve run out of time, to say nothing about nausea tablets – so I’ll leave Wally getting confused by John Wright out. As Wally found my writing aimed at a minimum 12 year old too hard, you understand why he’d wipe himself with 100 dollar notes and stick toilet paper in his pocket, when dealing with Wright.

I’ll leave with a last precious Wallyism from Damian Walter.

But the Sad Puppies don’t want any of their books to end up on bestseller lists or TV screens.

Oh. Dearie dearie me! If only I’d known I didn’t want that. I need a time machine. Larry probably needs two. Wally, you prat. I’ve been on several bestseller lists. I’ve even had that option offered. And yes, I still hope for more.

It’s the same frustrating paradigm that British MP Michael Gove hit upon when he said that people were sick of experts, or what Donald Trump plays upon when he rails against “professional politicians”. We’re seeing the Dunning-Kruger effect played out on a mass scale, and the Sad Puppies are just a speck in that wider problem.

A classic example of Wally. The diagnostic for Dunning-Kruger is that the Wally always claims everyone else is bad and thick and… oh a hack. And he is, of course, brilliant. The evidence – when you look at exam results, or actual measurable success, the Dunning-Kruger syndrome Wally comes last. He hasn’t sold any books. He is a failure. He doesn’t grasp the use of sentence fragments.

Now:You’ve read Damian Walter’s high opinion of his own genius. His results: well, he’s a total failure who can’t sell anything. Here is my bio. And I have sold around half a million books. I don’t think that’s particularly good.