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Q&A

Thanks to those of you who left blog post ideas. Some of you left ideas here and some on Facebook. There were a number of great suggestions and questions. I’ve decided to try to discuss some of then in a modified Q&A format. I probably won’t get to all the suggestions today, but I promise to file the rest away and deal with them in another post.

Q: How to handle multitasking and switching from writing to other types of writing or to editing or layout without getting tunnel vision on any one task?

A: I’ll admit, I rarely edit and write at the same time, at least not my own work. One thing Sarah told me long ago was not to edit my work until I finished the rough draft. The reason she told me this was because I was getting caught in an endless editing loop, something that happens to a number of new writers. Since then, I’ve learned that the only time editing my own work works before I finish the draft is if I have somehow written myself into a corner and can’t find a way out. Otherwise, I wait to edit until the story is done.

That isn’t the case when I am trying to edit someone else. The only caveat I have for that is I don’t edit the same genre I am writing in at the moment. The reasons are simple. I don’t want my “voice” to bleed over into my edits. As an editor, it isn’t my job to give a voice to the client’s work. Nor am I to try to change the voice. It is their story and not mine. In fact, if you have an editor — be it a content editor, copy editor or proofreader — trying to change the voice of your work, you need to look long and hard at what they are doing and why. Yes, there are times it might be appropriate to say a scene would be better from another person’s POV, but changing the voice of a character is completely different.

As for formatting, I tend to write in the format that will be converted to e-books. I’ve built a template that I will periodically tweak for genre and appearance but basically the format I write my rough draft in is exactly the same format you see in an e-book. Also, because I try to make sure my e-books look as close to the print versions as possible, it doesn’t take long to change page sizes and substitute section breaks for page breaks. Then it is just a matter of tweaking it to make sure everything is as it should be for print.

My biggest downtime any more is between projects, especially if I am changing genres. I’ve learned I have to take at least a week after I press the publish button to just recharge the batteries. Otherwise, I almost always have to go back and rewrite — majorly rewrite — what I tried to do before I made the mental switch from one book/genre to another.

Q: What is the importance of print versions of your work?

This is kind of a loaded question where there is no right answer. The truth of the matter is, most indie authors will never sell enough print books to really justify the time, effort and money needed to put them together. Before, when you could get an ISBN through Createspace for $10, it was worth it. But now, it is hard to justify it, to be honest. Yes, having a print book makes you look more “professional” when readers go to a book’s product page on Amazon, etc. However, with more and more readers going strictly digital, I’m not sure how important that is.

Then there is the belief that having your book printed and distributed through Ingram Spark will get you into the bookstores. No, it really won’t. Yes, you are listed in the catalog store buyers (think purchasing agents) see. But it is also, or at least it was, listed at the back in the section for indie authors. And, let’s be honest, most bookstore operators — ie, B&N — hate indies almost as much as they hate Amazon. As for the owners of locally owned bookstores, you have two things you have to do before you can worry about the stocking your book. The first is making sure you have a valid ISBN so you will be listed in Books in Print. The second, and more important, is you have to establish a close relationship with the person in that store who chooses what books they stock. That means spending time in the store — and spending money — as well as getting to know those who work there. Again, it is up to each indie author to determine if that is worth time.

There is one other thing to consider when it comes to print books. If you, the indie author, make the con circuit, having print books on hand to sell or even to just hand out may be a good thing. However, for every author who manages to actually make money selling books at a con, there are dozens more who don’t make the cost of the table rental back. Then you have to consider what the tax laws are in the city/state where the con is. You most definitely do NOT want to run afoul of those.

Frankly, right now, while I do still put out print books, it is more to make the product page look like a pro page. I work through Createspace and use the Amazon ISBN (free or relatively cheap. Haven’t done it in several months, so I’m not sure what it is right now). It will list Amazon as the distributor and will not be assigned to my imprint, Hunter’s Moon Press. But, it is listed in Books in Print and it is listed in such a way the local libraries can pick the book up and stock it if they want.

I am hearing rumblings that audio is really where we need to start focusing our attention. So I am in the process of trying that out.

Q: What is the difference between using beta readers and having your work edited?

This question came from Facebook and I’ve paraphrased it. But it is a good one and one that I see a lot of writers not understanding. A beta reader, for those not familiar with the term, is a lot like beta testers for software or computer games. It is someone who reads your work before the final edits. They tell you if the book works. They should let you know if something felt wrong to them. Some will focus on proofreading and you’ll get a manuscript back that looks like someone bled all over it — hint, I’ve discovered that most of the time when that happens, the person either isn’t as great at grammar and punctuation as they think or they don’t get that, in fiction, your characters don’t have to speak proper King’s English.

Anyway, your beta readers are there to see if there is anything broken in your book. Many times, they will catch consistency errors or science/engineering/weaponry/whatever errors. This is invaluable to a writer.

Where do you find beta readers? Here is where I may upset some folks. I recommend you not use family for beta readers, at least not unless you have several other non-relatives reading the same piece. Why? Because family will often try to cushion the criticism and that doesn’t help. You want someone who will be brutally honest with you. Someone who will tell you what didn’t work for them and why. If they are really good, they might even offer a way to fix the problem.

You can find beta readers from your critique group. You can ask on social media for volunteers. The caveat here is those who volunteer this way often will not get back to you. It really is sort of a trial and error until you find a few folks you can trust to give you solid feedback.

Another way I differ from some writers is I want one beta reader who isn’t a big reader in the genre of the current project. Why? Because I want to make sure I don’t rely so much on tropes that someone picking up the book because they liked something I wrote in another series or other genre will be able to be pulled into the story. If you rely too heavily on genre-specific tropes, you risk not being able to do that.

So what is the difference between a beta reader and an editor? A beta reader will usually only be looking at if the story grabbed them and kept their attention throughout the story. They will come back with suggestions or critiques but it is still based on their enjoyment or lack thereof. An editor has a different job based on what sort of editing they are doing.

As noted above, some beta readers will give you back a manuscript marked up for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. In other words, they will have acted as a proofreader. IF, and this is a big if, they are good at it, keep them. But take them out of the beta reading circle and give them the manuscript after it has been through the beta readers and editing cycle. They are the last eyes save yours you want to see your manuscript before publication. Believe me, you want to do this because, no matter how carefully you check your work, you will miss something and you will eventually get the review criticizing all the spelling errors or bad grammar etc.

Copy editing and content editing are two very different things. Copy edit is the step before proofreading. One of the most concise explanations of what a copy editor does comes from Wikipedia (which I normally hate but it fits here). A copy editor’s job is  “improving the formatting, style, and accuracy of the text. The goal of copy editing is to ensure that content is accurate, easy to follow, fit for its purpose, and free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition.” They are your fact-checkers, your person who makes sure you don’t repeat things unless such repetition is necessary, and who removes all those words that really don’t add to the story.

Unfortunately, too many writers and so-called editors think copy editing is content editing and it isn’t. A good content editor will take your book, read it, be able to increase the impact of a scene by rearranging the order of sentences in a paragraph, etc. They are the doctor instead of the technician. Not every author needs a content editor because they have a solid grasp of story structure, pacing, foreshadowing, etc. If you don’t, then you need to consider finding a solid content editor to work with.

Each of these, from beta readers to content editors play an important role in letting us put the most professional product out possible. The more you network, the more resources you will find for all of these. The key is, especially if you are going to pay for services like proofreading or editing, is to get recommendations, to ask to see finished work by the person you are considering hiring and to check to see what you can find out about them online.

Finally, I’d like to add one more note. If you decide you want to go with a “real” publisher — and I’m not talking one of the established traditional publishers but a small press — check them out. Don’t just look at the usual resources like Preditors and Editors. Do a google search to see what you can find out about them. Do they have a website and does it look professional? What is their payment history? Ask yourself what they can do for you that you aren’t doing for yourself already. Look at their covers. Does the artwork look professional? How about the lettering? Do all the covers look the same, even if the books are different series or genres? Finally, don’t sign anything without letting an IP attorney look over the contract. That is a given for any publishing contract you are considering.

More later. Keep posting your questions in the comments to the previous post. I’ll do my best to answer them later.

 

Ideas?

My brain is in edit mode. Worse, it is in edit mode while also trying to figure out the plots to the next couple of books on my schedule. Add to that the fact it is tax season and, well, I’ve spent an hour trying to write today’s post and have come up with nothing. At least nothing appropriate for this blog. So here’s the deal. Post your ideas for what I should write about in the comments below. I’ll come back in a couple of hours, hopefully fully caffeinated by then, and will choose one or two — maybe more — and do a post about them.

In the meantime, here are cover reveals for Dagger of Elanna and Victory from Ashes. Dagger will be released in February 21st. Victory is planned for a May/June release date.

elannacover2

victory-from-ashes

 

“No Irish need apply”

Well, we’ve been through that form of discrimination.

We’ve had ‘no blacks need apply’

We’ve had various other forms, especially in publishing.

The newest is no Indies or even genre need apply.

It always seems to work out SO well, that it was inevitable…

You know, it’s always a right royal pain in the butt to have to establish if your enthusiasm is being a trifle misplaced. Whether that really is Beluga Caviar at two thousand dollars an ounce or whether it is buckshot softened with fish-oil you’re being offered as a great treat. Without the label on the tin, it is possible to be confused.

Which comes down to how do you know you can trust the label? Well, here’s a clue, which I don’t just tell everyone, but as you are all willing initiates into the dark side (as writing is known among us aficionados) if you look in the small print on the side of the tin and it says (in Cyrillic script) : Prop. Dread Cthulhu and Assoc., product of the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, and it smells like that, it really is caviar. Trust me. The Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn brand is best.

Otherwise you can just as well make your own with buckshot and shark-liver oil.

Ahem. Having done my bit for the conservation of the sturgeon in Caspian and Black Sea, as well as having supported dentistry, I will now continue in a slightly more rational tone.

I said ‘slightly’ (just before any of you get pissy.). What I was talking about was the various ‘Imprimaturs’ giving official consent for people to like a book or a movie or piece of music. Before you tell me you don’ need no steekin’ imprimiwhatsit, keep in mind that a lot of people do. And yes, they are necessary (the lot of people, not the imprimatur) for authors to make a living.

Of course, there is word-of-mouth (the finest hallmark of quality) and advertising as well as marketing, by means fair, foul and financial. But you’re selling a brand – your name, and it helps if you can tie that to another brand the public know more widely than your name, and possibly trust for qualities that public is likely to enjoy.

Of course the ‘possibly trust’ is key. Imprimatur Brands like Hugo Awards are now regarded by the relatively few who know them as severely tainted, by quite a lot of the possible audience. But they still have their niche following, and if you sell into that niche, they may be useful. Any publicity is better than none, if you’re not going to lose readers by it. But brands – at all levels, from author to brand-of-brands — are rather like living things: It’s a race between growth and death. When they stop growing death starts catching up. It can take a while, because even if you’ve trashed your brand, not everyone has heard about it.

Of course the key with your brand – or brand-of-brands (Baen is an example of brand-of-brands that works as multiplier) is that it has to be in touch with its audience and their tastes. Which is great when you are, when the brand (and especially the brand-of-brand) keeps up with the changes and means you make better living. I was reading how Rotten Tomatoes has assumed a major role as a brand-of-brands in the movie world – with its aggregation of various publications and critics’ rankings.

The problem of course is a similar one to that that the New York Times bestseller list – which relies on sales from (supposedly) a secret list of booksellers. That’s a way of subsampling, and can be quite effective, so long as those booksellers are effective at targeting the entire spectrum of the US reading public. To put it broadly, if the bookshops sampled were all in one kind of area – say near liberal Arts college campuses – well, that’s going to mean books loved by… say serving military (a HUGE market. Certainly for me: A lot of being a soldier is long periods of boredom, followed by short period which made boredom really attractive. I read a lot of books in the boring bits) are under-sampled. Chances are the college kids are going to find the recommendations spot on, the Military way off. Rotten Tomatoes apparently skews heavily left in its sampling. Hollywood – which also skews the same way, respect it. Unfortunately that’s about a quarter of the US audience – Not a great ‘in touch’ recipe for a brand-of-brands. Movies like the new Ghostbusters did well on Rotten Tomatoes – and terribly at the box-office in the US. I see problems – and if ‘in country’ sales are going to remain relevant, either they’ll have to change their sampling – or the public will find another aggregator, with Rotten Tomatoes losing value.

Speaking of the NYT bestseller list and being out-of-touch – with the reading public always skewing to buying more of what is cheap – Mass Market Paperbacks, e-books… The NYT has decided to ‘improve’ its bestseller lists.

“Our major lists will remain, including: Top 15 Hardcover Fiction, Top 15 Hardcover Nonfiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Fiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Nonfiction, Top 10 Children’s Hardcover Picture Books, Top 10 Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover Chapter Books, Top 10 Children’s Young Adult Hardcover Chapter Books, and Top 10 Children’s Series. Several more including Paperback Trade Fiction, Paperback Nonfiction, Business, Sports, Science, and Advice Miscellaneous will remain online.”

Hmm. Pure genius. That’s DEFINITELY going to help their brand-of-brand value.

Traditional publishing, increasingly reliant on Hardcover sales will be pleased. I don’t think anyone else will be. Genre sales, and particularly Indies will have now never make the NYT list. No romance – but literary hardbacks…

Anyone want a bet we’re going to see the NYT Bestseller list decline as brand-of-brands?

I wonder what will replace it? That could be something of real value to help selling books, if it is actually in touch with the general readership.

Poor little rich girl


“Why won’t they love me?!”

It’s said that schadenfreude is an unworthy sentiment. But after reading this tearful piece, I must confess that my schadenboner is prodigious. Few things amuse me like watching a self-assigned moral and professional better slowly and painfully realizing that (s)he gets to be stuck in the marketplace just like the rest of us. There is no royal road to fame and fortune. No guaranteed path to glory. You dig it out of the mud like all of us, and if it doesn’t come with the first book or the tenth book, or it doesn’t come at all, that’s just the breaks of living and working in an era when more people are writing more quality prose — in the English language — than at any time in history. We also have more readers, too, thank goodness. But as Kevin J. Anderson once said, if publishing is now easier than it’s ever been before, success is still just as hard.

[my book got] more buzz than I’d seen for any book I’d ever written. People were telling me on Twitter that they’d bought three or four copies and were making all their friends read it. I heard from booksellers that the books were flying off the shelves. We went into a second printing almost immediately. I did a book signing in Chicago that sold a bunch of books. The reader response at BEA was surreal. It was magical.

Setting aside the fact that the author is talking about a non-fiction work of opinion, I feel like it’s worth pointing out that the advent of universal social media has also created universal concrete silos, into which many authors descend. These silos become perfect echo chambers: constantly reflecting praise and wonderment back to said author, until said author is sure in her heart that she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Get yourself a few hundred loyal sycophants, plus a cadre of like-minded peers — all sending you digital love notes every time you open your mouth — and it’s easy to perceive yourself as being on the crest of a wave.

This, I thought, is what it must feel like to have a book that’s about to hit it big. This was it. This was going to be the big one. It was going to take off. I gnawed on my nails and watched as big magazines picked up articles from it and it got reviewed favorably in The New York Times, and I waited for first week sales numbers.

Thing is, what does “big” look like? There are waves, and then there are waves. J.K. Rowling is probably the 21st century diamond standard, where Fantasy & Science Fiction literature is concerned. She’s second only to Tolkien, in terms of broad, deep impact. The whole planet knows Harry Potter just as the whole planet knows Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. If not through text, then certainly through movies — successful, big-money, silver-screen adaptations being the holy grail of all commercially engaged fiction authors.

But there are other waves, besides the 3,000-foot tsunami.

Not far south of me, there is a nice guy named Brandon Sanderson who is certainly enjoying his own wave. To my east and north is Larry Correia, who built his wave in just about the most difficult way I can imagine. Every time I visit a Utah authors’ conference of any sort, I bump into people who are riding different waves at different heights. I think you’d have to go to New York or the Pacific Northwest to find more bona fide successful authors crammed into the same geographical footprint.

Again, the era of social media has tended to create silos. Especially in New York publishing, which (as I noted in this space in an earlier article) tends to be a bukkake club of self-referencing, self-blurbing, self-praising, and self-promoting. It’s why so many authors — against all sanity — still make New York their home. Despite the crush of people, and the insane cost of living. It’s worth it to be “in the swim” as it were.

But even being in the swim, doesn’t necessarily translate to mass market traction.

I expected to see at least twice the number of first week sales for this book as I had for any previous book. The buzz alone was two or three times what I was used to. This had to be it . . .

But when the numbers came in, they weren’t twice what I usually did in week one. They were about the same as the first week numbers for The Mirror Empire. And… that was…. fine. I mean, it would keep me getting book contracts.

But . . . it wasn’t a breakout. It was a good book, but It wasn’t a book that would change my life, financially.

Reader, I cried.

Ohhhhhh, the heart bleeds! Her great political non-fic tome — which the whole world was squeeeeeeeeeeeing about, and lurving over, and Tweeting at light speed! — simply did average.

Again, I point to Larry Correia, who gets maybe a tenth as much New York press coverage as our plaintiff. He recently bought his family 50 acres on a mountainside. Over the next two years, he and his lovely wife will build themselves the dream home of dream homes, where they will finish raising a family, grow old together, and die.

I’d call that a wave worth celebrating. And Larry did it all by working his ass off, being entertaining, working his ass off, working his ass off, and oh yeah, working his ass off. 100 hours a week, or more; when he was still pulling down day job paychecks and writing full-time to boot.

Now, for somebody living on a New York City high-rise budget, Larry’s amount of “wave” may not go nearly as far as it goes out here in Deplorable Country. But that’s why I always encourage fledgling authors to use internal metrics and standards to create goalposts. If you’ve spent your adult life in the lower-middle class income bracket, a modestly successful series of books will change your financial situation forever. You will be rich! Or at least, you will feel rich. But if you’re from the silver spoon set, even a very nicely-performing book (or string of books) will seem like just so much chump change.

It’s been strange since then, because everywhere I go, people come up to me and congratulate me on the release of the book. It has the best reviews of any book I’ve ever written. People come up to me and burst into tears at the head of the signing line and thank me for writing it. It’s a transformative book for people. It’s a manifesto. It’s a book that’s even more relevant now after the election. It changes people’s lives. I’m very glad I wrote it, though it nearly broke me to do it.

Here again, the concrete silo. “How could my book not be a hit?! I don’t know anyone who didn’t buy it, and tell me it was pure awesome!”

Sort of like, “How could Hillary Clinton lose? I don’t know anybody who didn’t vote for her!”

The lesson — for those adult enough to discern it — is that you can do everything right, play the game precisely the way it’s supposed to be played, do the bukkake circle and bathe in the admiration flowing from the fonts of prestige — and still turn in a so-so performance. Not terrible, mind you. But not earth-shattering, either. Just kind of . . . midlist.

Gasp! That word! Midlist! Horrors! The giant graveyard of egotists with swollen heads!

Or, if you’re sensible, the wide, fertile field of robust commerce. Where even folk of modest ability can still make okay money. Enough to pay a few bills. Maybe a car payment? The rent? The mortgage? Or more? There is no shame in being a midlist author who handsomely supplements a “mundane” primary income, with writing dollars. In fact, if you don’t have a bloated ego — really, I can’t emphasize enough how important this is — the midlist can be your Shire. Replete with rolling hills covered in green crops, where the Party Tree is always alive with happy Hobbits raising a mug and putting their feet up. They still have to work during the week, sure. But it’s not misery. In fact, there are few finer places in Middle Earth — if you’re not obsessed with thrones and heraldry.

it’s not making money hand over fist, I’m not quitting my day job, and while yes, it’s selling steadily and well, this is not the breakout book I was tentatively expecting it to be (not this year, anyway). It will likely earn out by the end of this year, based on what I know (though we’ll see. I’ll get royalty statements soon). But it’s hard to say this out loud to people when they congratulate me about the book. Lots of people would love to have a book that’s sold as well as it has. But that’s the sixth book I’ve had in print, and you know, you get tired of the emotional rollercoaster in this business after so many years of it (only five years! But egads, I feel that I’ve lived a lifetime of publishing bullshit in that time).

My first novel earned out during its first six-month period of release. My royalties have only climbed in the period since. Granted, my publisher was smart enough not to freight a first-time novelist like me with a dead elephant contract — the kind many would-be novelists dream of bragging about, until they later realize that earning out a substantial five-figure or six-figure advance is tough even for established pros with an established audience. Once more I ask: how big does your “wave” have to be, before you’re satisfied? Each of us must ask ourselves this question, and determine what we can live with.

I always advise optimistic modesty. Don’t quit your day job. Moreover, don’t work a day job you hate so much, that you can do little else besides dream of quitting. Do a day job you can like, or at least tolerate. Work out a writing schedule you can tolerate too. Set sane, reasonable goals. And each time a book is released, have sane, reasonable expectations. The novel earns what it earns. You’ll be amazed how even a small royalty check seems kingly, if you’re not living an aesthete’s life where writing is the only thing keeping your tummy full.

I have two non-authorly jobs. When I am not deployed, the military income stream is my tertiary, writing is my secondary, while healthcare tech is my primary. My pie-in-the-sky objective — over the next ten years — is to try to make my authorly income the primary, then I can make military secondary, and perhaps won’t need a tertiary? This outcome is largely beyond my control, because it’s predicated on one or more books/series becoming over-abundantly successful, to the point that all my debt is cleared, my home is paid off and fixed up entirely, and I’m sitting on a Smaug-sized pile of cash in the bank.

Sounds like I’ve set myself up for failure, right?

Nope. I’ve ensured that I won’t jump too early.

I’ve seen what happens when authors jump too early. They’re so desperate to escape their day work — either because they detest punching a clock, or they are ego-infatuated with the idea of being a full-time author — that they put the cart before the horse. Which is fine, I guess, if you’re single and lack dependents of any sort. Living in a garret is the luxury of being unattached. But if you’ve got mouths to feed? Little ones to clothe and shelter? Set the escape velocity high, and keep it high. That way you’re never having to explain to either spouse or children why they live like urchins.

It’s difficult to say these things out loud to new writers, that most of the books you write will mean a lot to some people, but that they won’t make you rich. They won’t even pay enough for food and health insurance. You will have to work two jobs, novels and day job, until you retire. And maybe even still then. We want to talk about the six or seven figure book deals, the breakout hits, the fairytale stories. But the majority of writers face only this: writing the next book and the next book and the next book, building an audience from scratch, from the ground up, hustling out a living just like everyone else does, cobbling together novel contracts, Patreon money, day jobs, and freelancing gigs.

It’s not difficult at all. It’s necessary. Burst that bubble early, and often. Keep re-bursting it. Put their feet in the soil. Get their heads out of the clouds. Again, the Shire is a wonderful place to live. If you’re not obsessed with thrones and heraldry. There are authors in the midlist making anywhere from the cost of their electric bill each month, all the way up to buying a new house with cash. I’m friends with folk all up and down that spectrum, to include some full-timers of the seven-figure variety. And even the seven-figure folk will tell you: being happy with a supplemental writing income is not a sin. It’s normal. And there is zero shame in being normal. Zero.

Certainly, any of my backlist books could still breakout at any time, but I need to acknowledge the emotional cost of that rollercoaster of hope and despair. We are all of us just working to put food on the table and revolution in the mind, working, and working, until death or the apocalypse or both.

I’m going to gently suggest that replacing the word “revolution” with “entertainment” might be the key to putting more food on her table. She’s spent far too long in her concrete silo.

People are less interested in revolution — even the Pussyhatters — than they are in being shown a good time. Revolution may sell well with zealots, but really, unless you ply your trade exclusively as a pundit at the Bill O’Reilly level, revolution is going to get you lots of praise from like minds — but precious few dollars in your pocket, as originating from wallets beyond your concrete silo.

Madonna and Ashley Judd didn’t become famous (or wealthy) by making batshit insane tirades whilst standing on platforms at marches. They became famous and wealthy being entertainers first and foremost, and they will remain famous and wealthy if they keep (or go back?) to the correct order of priorities. I know authors — cough, especially Left-wing authors, cough — like to see themselves as grand harbingers of the coming transformation of humanity and society. But here again, beware the power of ego. Of all the truly “transformative” books in the West’s considerable archive of same, precious few were ever written with the author thinking, “Yes, this book is going to change everything.”

Of the few who did set out to write such books — Karl Marx? — the results are often historically horrendous. So no, please, skip the revolution. Just forget it.

Take people on a journey instead. Lead them into the mines of Moria. Show them the Balrog. Let them cheer as the Fellowship fights off goblins and orcs. Keep your soap box tucked under your desk, as a foot rest.

And yes, don’t get your heart stuck on the idea that you’re waiting for The Hit. I know it’s hard, because every time we see somebody else enjoying The Hit, we wonder what it would be like to ride that kind of wave. But if you’re so caught up in waiting for The Hit you’re unable to recognize the good things you already have, when they come, what’s the point? Then your career truly does feel like agony! Because you’re perpetually progressing toward your far-off destination, without ever reaching it.

Better — I say — to set yourself up with a model for success which is quietly abundant. No Hit required. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. did it, and he lives better than sooooooo many New York types do. Like Larry (and Brandon for that matter) Lee was very practical and pragmatic in his approach. He has never, by his own admission, had The Hit. But he owns a whole shelf at Barnes & Noble, filled with books which are seldom out of print. And he enjoys a princely existence of productive retirement.

You could do a hell of a lot worse than Lee. Especially if you let your ego do the driving.

Don’t. You will be saner. And happier.

Law and the Writer

Last week a young writer who is also a lawyer was on blog tour, and I have asked her if she wouldn’t mind stopping by the comments today to answer some questions. The usual disclaimers apply: although she is a lawyer, she is not your lawyer, and nothing you read in the post or comments should be taken as legal advice. If you think you need a lawyer, get one, internet lawyering may well be worse than useless. That being said, it’s great to get some insight into the sometimes murky world of Intellectual Property law.

I’m pleased to introduce Amie Gibbons, whose energy in real life translates into her books. She writes lighthearted stories with sweet Southern sass, belles who pack heat, and a dollop of romance on top of things that go bump in the night. Her latest is Psychic Undercover (With the Undead) and it’s a fun romp of a book.

Okay, if you’re a writer, you’ve heard the term copyright. It’s very important in the arts. So what is a copyright?

It is literally what it sounds like, the right to copy. It means you own that type of mental work and you are the only one who can make reproductions of it.

On some things, it’s easy to say what’s copyrightable and what isn’t. A book is copyrightable, but what about a title? Or a made up word? Or a general plot? There it gets a little more tricky. It gets grey. Lawyers love grey, it gets us lots of money.

This post is just going to touch on the basics of copyright.

1. For something like a book, the first question is usually along the lines of, “Do I have to register it to have protection?” Basic answer is no. You created it, it’s yours and legally no one can take it from you. You have copyright as soon as the art is put on a medium, as in, words are put on the page.

So no, you don’t have to register it with the copyright office, and you really do not have to do the “poor man’s copyright” (that’s where people would mail themselves their manuscripts in the mail and keeping the dated paperwork to prove they had the work on that date).

The tricky part if you get caught in a legal battle is proving it was yours first. This is where a registered copyright helps because it helps prove it was yours on the date registered (it also does other stuff for you like you can sue in federal court and get greater damages in court).Read the rest here… 

The post on copyright, fair use, and other common IP questions appeared at my blog, and then on James Young’s blog, Amie delved into the dank world of Contract Law.

Well, first up, most publishers have a form contract they expect you to sign and if you don’t want to, they’ll tell you it’s standard across the industry and you can take it or leave it. If you leave it, don’t worry, there are a hundred authors behind you who will have no problem with it.

That is one of the big things to look at in contract negotiations. Does one side have more bargaining power than the other? Usually the answer is yes. Unfortunately for writers who are set on going trad pub, the answer is extremely yes. The publisher has all the power because they don’t really need you. Unless you have already made it huge like that Fifty Shades woman and they want to get on board the train, you’re replaceable.

Does that mean you can’t try to negotiate? Of course not. Hire an IP lawyer who specializes in author contracts to look at the contract, to explain it to you if need be, and to go to the table to negotiate on your behalf.

First rule of negotiations, you never send the person with the power to say yes to the table.

Why? Because if you as the author are at the table, they can pressure you right there to agree to something. If your representative is there, there is nothing they can say to get the rep to say anything but, I’ll take it to my client, because the rep legally cannot say yes, no matter how good the deal sounds. Even if you tell them they can say yes if the deal has XYZ terms, they’ll still most likely say they’ll take it back to you because they know how to negotiate and that no legit deal requires you to say yes in the room.

Again, will this help if the publisher says this is the form contract that is standard across the industry so you will take it or leave it? Probably not. But you never know. There might be a few things that are just egregious to the author that publishers have in there because they know they can get away with it, but really don’t mind dropping if you ask. Read the rest here…

Amie has some very practical things to say, with a good dollop of commonsense. I know this is a lot of reading when you follow the links, but it’s all worth digesting. Then come on back here and ask questions in the comments, both Amie and I will be around to answer them! I am not a lawyer, at all, but I can usually come up with a link to an answer.

So There I Was

Or, Where Do you Write When You Can’t Write?

I have an office. It’s a nice office. It has a nearly bar-height computer desk that used to be a kitchen table, upon which rests my favoritest desktop that I’ve had recently. I can stand there, foot on a 16kg kettlebell (it’s a good idea to move around and shift position periodically when you’re working at a stand) and type away to my heart’s content.

Or, more commonly, play the electronic slot-machines that are modern MMORPGs. Look, it helps me maintain a more or less passable façade of sanity, and I can quit again anytime I want to. Shut up.

As I was saying before I was interrupted, I can stand at my desk, surrounded by things to improve creative flow, fingers trying to make the sound of sizzling bacon on the keys of my sweet, sweet mechanical keyboard, and rock the writing process. It’s glorious.

When it happens.

See, I’ve got littles. An acute case, with no end in sight. What? That’s wonderful, I hear you say. Offspring are a blessing from Deity-of-choice (despite being an abomination unto Nuggan, but what isn’t anymore?), and a comfort as cruel eld saps the strength from one’s limbs, turns bright eyes dim and rheumy, and forces an entire suite of annoyance upon the unwilling.

I’ve got the littles, and I’ve got them bad. Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave will be a whole year since nativity next week, and Wee Dave is not at all uncertain about letting Daddy know when he’s paying too much attention to junior partner. Wee Dave much mislikes Daddy’s explanation that while the Little Bit may be mobile (can ascend stairs by Bitself, Lord help me) younger sib still requires more assistance than Wee Dave does. Mostly, I just get hard stares and slightly betrayed expressions. *sigh*

So while I’ve got this great office (despite needing a very thorough going over) I don’t really spend much time in it. Especially since we’ve moved Wee-er Dave’s bed in there. For reasons of, “night-wean, you adorable but miserable little beast! Please?”

In point of fact, I’m writing this post, as I’ve written most things in recent weeks, on my not-as-smart-as-I-might-like phone (I’m still holding out for a cyberdeck, me), while ostensibly “playing” Lincoln Logs with Wee Dave. That is to say, the little tyrant directs me to construct edifices to his glory, and them smashes my puny offerings with his pudgy, godlike fist. Such is life.

Which brings me to my point. I’ve been grousing, at least in the relative quiet of the inside of my skull (only place I get any quiet, anymore) that I haven’t the time, energy, or opportunity to spend in anything resembling real writing. Well, I’m learning (slowly, but he can be taught!) that’s not precisely true.

Mostly, I’m adjusting what I think of as writing. I hate virtual keyboards with a passion. When it comes to crafting story, I think through my fingers, and if the haptic response is wonky, so is my process, and this makes for a grouchy Dave. For some time, I’ve wanted to get one of the laser projection keyboards from ThinkGeek or wherever sells them, but I’m nearly certain that whatever I’d gain in cool points, I’d lose in actual usefulness. Since writers are never cool, anyway, it would be a net loss.

So I’m sitting here, leaning against the corner of the couch, while Wee Dave inveigles me to knock off this bizarre tapping on your device, Daddy, and get me Second Breakfast. Naow! (My spawn are at least part feline on their Avo’s side.) and I’ve “written” (I’m concerned about repetitive use injury in my thumbs if this becomes a habit.)

The convenience factor, in this palmtop publishing is a bit of a thing. Seriously, I’m holding a powerful, little computer, the likes of which I can find in the pages of my favorite scifi. That’s not to be understated. And if I can use it to keep writing, so much the better. The downside is, well, mobile interfaces. This iThing is not ideal. I’m using Notes, which is simple and relatively intuitive. I’m fat-fingering like an ogre at high tea, though fortunately, the spell check isn’t terrible. I’m working at integrating the predictive text function into my writing for greater speed. And eventually, when I have the time (*sob*) I’d like to look into a better app for such things.

I’ve done fiction on the phone, and it’s a pain. Especially dialogue, with all the quotation marks and commas and punctuation that I have to flip virtual keyboards to even see.

Ultimately, it’s just different than how I like to work. I dislike running up learning curves. I do that often enough in parenting that I’d prefer to minimize it elsewhere. Stop laughing. The mobile notion certainly works for something like a blog post, however. I’ve heard of people putting togetherness entire nonfiction books on their phones. What about the rest of you? Have you tried writing on a personal mobile computing device (and camera, dictation tool (and don’t think I’m not debating that angle. It’s just the background noise of two littles (and the littlest is chatty!) that makes me wary) encyclopedia, NondiscriminatoryGameChild, map, GPS, and widget of undefined utility)? Does it help you write when you might not otherwise be able to? I’m thin I’m going to keep at this, and see how much of a tool-of-great-use I can forge it into. I’ll keep you all update, you beautiful, shiny writers, you

Responding to Change

As part of my day job, I make an effort to stay current with what’s going on in the world of software development and testing. I’m not going to say this is the kind of thing all the folk here would just adore, because it’s not, but every now and then I run into something that totally nails it.

This article is one of those. The author goes to a lot of effort (and quite a bit of formal logic) to work through and destroy “the fallacy that there is no truth in discourse (or anywhere else, for that matter), but for the multitude of subjectively held opinions that are all equally and to the same extent true and valuable”.

Let’s just say he’s not a fan of moral relativism.

The author is a consultant who is often brought in to help fix broken software development processes, but the problems he describes are the same ones that show up all over the place in publishing (and elsewhere, of course, but I’m focusing on publishing here), so he’s had plenty of opportunity to study the phenomenon.

His conclusion isn’t comfortable, but it fits. It’s a workable theory that can be used to predict how people who stand to lose (or think they stand to lose) from changes will likely respond.

It starts with change. Things change. Circumstances change, environments change. When a changing environment hits a stagnant (or stable) culture, the culture has to adapt or it dies. But when that culture is truly stagnant and the decisions of its various leaders have generated a serious distrust, even hatred, for innovation, the people who most need to change how they do things aren’t going to want to do it.

Think about the traditional publishers and what they think about ebooks. That’s one big fat heaping pile of change-averse before you even consider the antiquated accounting and management systems that decide how much the publishers owe their authors in royalties, the arcane contracts that make signing over your soul and your first-born look reasonable, and the miniscule return offered to the author. Among many other things.

So when it starts to look like change is necessary, they start fighting back with the moral relativism where everything is equally valuable.

That’s about the point where the article hits the formal logic, but my less-form version goes something like this:

You say “there is no absolute truth”. Is that also relative?

Now, if you’re thinking with the correct head and not letting emotions get in the way, that’s a nice little contradiction in terms: to say “there is no absolute truth” is in itself a statement of an absolute truth. So “there is no absolute truth” has to be a relative statement, and so, not completely true.

But if “there is no absolute truth” is not absolutely 100% true, then there must be some absolute truth out there somewhere if only we can find it. Which also means that not all things are relative, and some things may indeed be better than others. And yes, independent publishing and ebooks might just be here to stay.

Go read the article, even if you’re not up for the formal logic. The first half is describing what happens and how people react, so even the least technical among us can do that.