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In one of my rare breaks from the keyboard yesterday, I went wandering around the internet in search of inspiration for today’s post. I’ll be honest. I thought the search would be fruitless. Why? Because so much digital space was being wasted on conspiracy theories about Envelope-gate from the Oscars or more screaming about politics. Then, there it was. A story that had me looking at my screen, looking away and then looking back, sure I wasn’t reading what I thought I did.

Nope. I read it right. After beating my head, figuratively at least, against my desk, I put the link in a private writer’s group I belong to and waited to see if they had the same reaction I did. It didn’t take long for the responses to roll in and they were all about the same as my own. Imagine a group cry of “WTF?!?” going up, followed by shaking of heads and chuckling and then each of us shuffling back to our keyboards to get back to work.

What, pray tell, caused such a reaction, you ask. The answer is simple. This article chastises indie authors for writing too much, too fast. The author of the article is Michael Cristiano who works in editing and acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press.

As I started reading his post, I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. After all, when someone begins with “I’ve been a little wary of the potential backlash I might face,” you get the impression that he is either going to strike right at the heart of some sacred screed of writing or he’s about to go political. When that is followed by admitting there is no one right way to write, that everyone’s process is different but. . . well, he just foreshadowed how he is going to begin telling us that there is a rule we must all follow and it is his rule.

Guess what that rule is?

We, as indies, are to slow down.

Wait, let me do that the way he had it in the post. We are to SLOW DOWN!

Today in the publishing industry, especially in the indie-author market, quantity is king. I’m not saying that quality isn’t being taken into account, because to some extent it probably is, but there is a new mantra for indie authors like myself: write a lot and publish as often as possible. That means that some authors are publishing three or more novels a year, sometimes as many as ten novels a year.

That one statement is enough to justify the author’s concern that he would take flak for the post. As he should. The chutzpah of assuming to know what drives the indie movement is mind-boggling. I don’t know any indie author who takes their work seriously, who has pride in what they do, who is more concerned with how often they click the publish button more than they are about putting out the best product possible.

Are there exceptions? Of course there are. But they are, pardon the pun, the exceptions and not the rule. But let’s continue.

Apparently, according to the OP, publishing three or more novels a year is a bad thing. Hmmm. Wanders over to Amazon to check my author page. I published three novels, a short novel of approximately 40k words and two short stories, both of which were between 10k -20k words. I guess that makes me a bad author because I write too fast. Funny thing, I have folks who are constantly asking me why I don’t write faster because they want to read the next entry in of series or another. Does that make them bad readers?

Okay, second amendment (and I’ll be generous): I judge authors who release three or more books within a year ESPECIALLY if the three books are not part of the same series.

Wait, what?

So, here is an author who begins his post by telling us there is no one correct way to right who is now telling us there is? Bad Amanda, you have now broken two of his rules. You put out three or more books in a single year and — gasp — they weren’t part of the same series. Oh woe is me. What am I ever to do? I know. I’ll tell the readers of the Honor and Ashes series, as well as the Nocturnal Lives series and Eerie Side of the Tracks series that they are going to have to wait at least another year or three for the next book in their favorite series while I finish the Sword of the Gods series. I’m sure they’ll understand and wait patiently for me to get around to writing the books they like. Oh, and I’m sure they won’t forget about the series at all as they wait years and years for the next book to come out.

NOT!

I don’t know the OP’s writing process any more than I know that of any other writer except, perhaps Sarah’s and Kate’s because we tend to bounce ideas off one another. For me, I need to step away from a series after writing a novel and, perhaps, a short story, for a while. By doing so, it lets me get a clearer perspective on what the plot for the next entry in the series should be. Yes, I could do that by simply not writing anything else for several months after publishing the latest book in the series but I’m a writer. I make my living writing. If I spend months not writing, I am not doing anything tangible to increase my income. So, instead of sitting around, twiddling my thumbs until my head is ready to wrap itself back around the next book in a particular series, I move on to something else, something different form what I just spent the last few months researching, writing, editing, formatting and then publishing.

I’m sorry: a writing career shouldn’t be a puppy mill of stream-of-consciousness vanity projects.

Wow. Condescending much? Even giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that by “stream-of-consciousness” he means pantsing — and I don’t think he does — the “vanity projects” kills me. But it gets better.

I just don’t see how anyone has the time to publish more than three novels a year AND maintain consistent literary quality.

So, because Mr. Expert here can’t figure out how to do it, none of the rest of us can either. And remember, he started out by saying there are no two processes that are the same and no one “right” way to write. I guess that’s right, as long as you also accept his exceptions to those two rules.

He has a series of questions about how long you spend writing, how many drafts you write, how long you edit, etc. Then he comes up with this little gem.

Sure, if you’re a full-time writer and you have a really quick team of beta-reader/editor-robots, you could have a really good, polished manuscript in a year. Eight months if you’re lucky.

Now, show of hands. How many of you are laughing hysterically at this point? For one, I have this vision of robots sitting at desks, red pencils in hand, editing.

What the OP is forgetting is — gee, I think I mentioned this earlier — that no writer has the same process as the next writer. We write at different speeds and in different manners. Some of us are pantsers — hi, Kate! — and others are plotters. Some do a bit of both. Some authors put out a rough draft that is publishable with very little content editing needed — hi, Sarah! — and just a bit of proofing. Not every author needs to do three or four or six rough drafts.

Also, the more you write, the more you study the craft, the better you get. When I started out, I was lucky to get a book out a year. Why? Part of it was confidence. Part was that I needed heavier structural editing than I do now. Part was I couldn’t let go of a manuscript and wound up editing the life out of it. Ask Sarah. She got to the point of threatening to publish my work and then tell me about it because I was doing so many editorial passes.

So, where’s the sweet spot? How many novels should you release a year in order to ensure highest quality? I don’t know, frankly.

Wow, after telling us for how many hundreds of words that he knew and if we were releasing more than two or, at most, three books a year we were doing it wrong, he now says he doesn’t know? Surely there’s a catch. Ah, there is. You see, according to him, a book is like good wine or cheese. It has to age. So, if you haven’t taken enough time — whatever that means — you aren’t putting out the quality of work he wants.

Too bad he judges by the number of books an author releases and not by, gosh, actually reading the book. But I guess he’s afraid he might get the equivalent of moldy cheese and he doesn’t want to ruin his literary palate.

I will admit he is right on one thing. You shouldn’t release novel after novel just to inflate the number of titles you have out there. But to say it is nigh on impossible to produce quality work more than once or twice a year is to insult every indie author — and traditionally published author — out there who does just that.

I assure you, I will continue putting out more than one or two books a year, real life willing, as long as I am satisfied with the quality of the work. I will work on more than one series at a time because that helps keep it all fresh for me. Unlike the OP, I am a working writer, like so many of you. This is how I make my living. I don’t have the time to go backpacking around the world — or the spare cash to do it. So I write. As long as I have people out there wanting to read my work, I will continue doing so.

And so should you. Write at your own speed. Use your own process, as long as it works for you. And ignore everyone who tells you you are doing it wrong just because it isn’t the way they do things.

***

And, just to show I am doing it my own way, linked below is the pre-order page for the second book in the Sword of the Gods series. The first book, Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), is currently available for purchase.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Publication date – March 15.

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

The illusion of reality.

That’s kind of what fiction is, isn’t it? Only the author gets to say ‘My reality came in a bigger glass! And it was brim-full!’

And if he or she is any good, they make it so, at least for the duration of the book, and, just every now and again, with knock-ons through life. I have to wonder how much Jack Vance’s BLUE WORLD (the first sf book I read) shaped me, let alone my fiction. I mean, it’s a book about living on what essentially are islands (made of floating weed), where an obstinate (and sometimes not too bright) hero solves problems and builds things.

No similarities there at all, right?

And there’s nothing in the fact that it’s good satire about perspective: The people living on the floats consider themselves upright, moral and good, and are organised into guilds (with great pride in membership) named after the professions of the original survivors of the star-ship crash that marooned them there…

The reader gradually realizes it was a prison ship. And yes, ALL of the guilds’ founders claimed obsessively to be fine, upright and innocent people – which might indeed describe some of their descendants, trying to live up to that ‘saintliness’.

Generating that illusion is of course the skill that sets the popular author apart from the Chavez award winners. It’s a skill, part of the craft of writing, which one can have innately – or learn to do. The good news is learning does improve anyone’s writing. The bad news is some people will still probably be better at it than you.

A big part of this is writing believable characters – people who behave like real people, fill the roles of real people within the setting you create. This is difficult if you’re playing ‘insert the correct PC tokens’ because most readers who live in the real world struggle to accept an illusion that in no way mirrors their reality.

I have found two things make or break character. Firstly, motivation. If a character responds consistently to circumstances in the way the character you have built plausibly would – that is natural and so un-noticed that it is right. If your gung ho action man hero suddenly has a three page fit of angst about whether he’s offended someone, or your fainting violet who spends hours in angst about whether to have Chamomile tea or Earl Grey suddenly displays the capacity for unthinking action… well, you better foreshadow a split personality.

Secondly, consistent and recognizable patterns of dialogue. I’d hold Mary Ryan – Tim’s Grandmother, in CHANGELING’S ISLAND as one of my better efforts at that.

(the picture is a link) BTW the paperback of CHANGELING’S ISLAND is being released on the 28th. I’m sure you saw the publicity guys at Baen letting all of you and the world know. Read the many pieces in the blog tour they organized and took advantage of the pre-order bookbub specials etc… which would be a surprise to me. (Sigh). One day publishers may learn, but the above is an example of ‘out of character’ behavior, which would break the illusion for the reader (at least the reader who is a writer).

Another useful technique used by such masters as Tim Powers and Neil Gaiman (Gaiman is not one of my favorites but he’s good at this) is the foundation – in fiction – of successfully writing ‘secret histories’ is using part of the real truth. A selective part which gives veracity. In my opinion no-one does better than Tim Powers in ‘The Anubis Gates’. You KNOW you’re being swept along for the ride, but he’s good at it.

It’s a common feature of modern journalism: take elements that are obviously plainly true, leave out the bits that would spoil the spin you want to put on the individuals, and apply bias particularly in ways at least some of your audience are likely to want to believe. The attack on Milo Yanniopolous was a masterclass in this. It is long-term destructive if you’re supposedly writing fact, not fiction, but it is very useful for suspending disbelief in fiction. If you’re writing fiction and want to suspend disbelief it’s particularly instructive to see how the background was crafted.

It was no use having its source as a left wing website: the left has been trying to ‘normalize’ pre-pubescent paedophilia for generations, let alone post-pubescent sex. In sf – Delany has been a darling of theirs, the activities of Breen were well-known, and they tried to whitewash Marion Zimmer Bradley back into favor. They love Polanski and adore Dunham. It’s the right and center who regard it with disgust. A left-source of the carefully selectively edited material would have been treated with the disdain that the left wing would have treated right wing evidence of Hillary Clinton breaking security regulations or laughing at getting a rapist to walk free. So: they faked a right wing site… And of course there are parts of the US right (I believe that neo-Nazi fellow was delighted by it) eager to believe the worst of a flamboyant homosexual, from that sort of source.

I’m mostly dis-interested, except in the ‘when they came for the Jews I said nothing, because I was not a Jew’ sense. I’ve got a short called ‘BOYS’ (which is actually about topology, but I daresay it could be selectively edited from maths to under-age sex by cutting and re-arranging the words or the letters.) I suspect it’ll all work out just as well as their attempts to de-platform Vox Day or President Donald Trump.

Which leads back to using this in writing fiction – when working on building that framework of pseudo-reality, you have to consider what your audience could believe, AND who they could believe it from. Fortunately, people do accept our work to be fiction, and are usually willing to help us along.

Talking of fiction – I had a free giveaway with my newsletter, which is now up for sale (broad hint, I will be doing this sort of thing again. Signing up has advantages for people who like my writing). As usual the picture is a link.

What do you do when things are going well?

Do you have a plan for extra money coming in above monthly budgeted expenses?

…wait, what?…

Yes, you need a plan for that. You see, freelancers don’t have a steady paycheck. There will likely be months without income. There will definitely be months with less income than your expenses. If they go on for three, four months – the infamous summer slump – or even longer, like when the nation is dealing with election drama and the fall rebound never comes – can you cope?

Part of coping is having a plan for the good times, before they arrive. Note that even in one of our oldest stories, Joseph had to start building granaries for the seven good years before the first harvest came in, so he had enough storage when the land was producing to set aside food for the seven famine years.

What should your plan look like? Well, first, do treat yourself to something nice – otherwise you’re going to feel deprived. So a nice dinner to celebrate Royalty Check Day, or that pair of boots you’ve been wanting. But after that, rebuild your cash cushion and reduce your expenses. What do I mean by that?

Fill your gas tank.

Pay your quarterly taxes.

Pay off your car.

Pay off your credit cards.

Pay off your house.

When a friend quit smoking, she was living on a ramen & rice budget – and every time she found she had enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes, she went to the gas station and put that money into the gas tank instead. Pretty soon, she was no longer permanently worried about running out of gas on the way to and from work, because it was always at a half tank or above. Then she started paying off the overdue bills – and the lack of worry, the knowing she could make it to work, and that she wasn’t going to get the power shut off again, was enough to practically make her into a zen master compared to where she was before. You ever meet someone who was calmer and happier when they were going through withdrawal?

As a freelancer, you need to have the same mindset. If you have extra money, put it somewhere that will cause you less worry in the long run. Paying your quarterly taxes is pretty high on that list, because if you don’t do it when you’re flush with cash, how are you going to manage later? Second, pay your bills. Third, pay off the things that demand money every month – because those are the things that will hurt the most on months when you don’t have enough money coming in. If your car is paid for, then you don’t have to worry about repo; if your house is paid for, then you don’t have to worry about eviction or foreclosure.

(One caveat: if you’re planning to move within 3 years, don’t sink it into the house. Rule of thumb: you’ll lose 1% of the value of the house when you sell, and another 1% of the value of the house when you buy. Because fixing a place to sell, and fixing the little things on the house after you buy one, costs money. Keep that cash in a separate account that you call “New House”, so it’s available to make buying and moving easier.)

Now, obviously this can’t cover every person’s life. If you were forced freelance before you had 6 months cash cushion, “remove worry” may be much more immediate. Have you been limping by on tires so bare that you can’t see any tread left? Is your spouse putting up with near-blinding pain because you can’t afford a root canal? Are any of your bills coming with an “overdue” stamp on them? Set aside enough to cover the quarterly taxes (so you don’t get hit with the freight train labeled IRS) and take care of your most immediate pain and worry. Use the breathing space to get a couple good nights of sleep, and then tackle the world.

And if you want more good advice, Kris Rusch tackled the same subject Thursday: http://kriswrites.com/2017/02/22/business-musings-writer-finances-versus-the-paycheck-world/

And if you want a bit of an escape from reality, where the good guys triumph and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, try Scaling the Rim. It has action, adventure, romance, and plausible science fiction! What’s not to like?

Cultivating words

Spring is springing, and my thoughts inevitably turn to gardens. I’m not planning on putting one in this year, instead I have assigned the design and creation of a garden to my daughter as a school project. I’ll give her guidance of course. But most of it is going to be up to her.  I’ll give her the information she needs, but the execution of knowledge is more important than simply knowing something. It’s not possible in this era of information overload for her to know everything starting out. She has to learn by doing, making mistakes, and correcting course.

It has gotten me thinking, along with having written a garden onto a spaceship in my latest book, about gardening in general. But that’s not what I came here to talk about today. Rather, it’s a comment one of my alpha readers made while I was working on Tanager’s Fledglings and she was reading along.

I wrote a scene with the main character lamenting his limited potable water supply and how he’d have to wait on a long shower until he reached a station or planet. My alpha reader inserted a comment that it would be very simple to turn his shipboard garden into a giant water filter. I replied that “I know that, and you know that, and he doesn’t know that… Yet.”

It’s hard, as an author, to know all the things, but withhold that from the story until the time is right. In this case, my character has access to the information on how to build what he needs, but it’s never occurred to him to do it that way. It will take an outside influence in the form of another character for him to have that forehead slapping d’uh! Moment.

Because life is like that. To create a believable character, you can’t have them knowing everything. We all have those sudden eureka moments as we figure something out, usually something that should have been blindingly obvious to us in the first place. Now, you don’t want your character to be an idiot about it, either. As I said, it’s hard.

Sometimes we just have to figure things out the hard way. For instance, every writer is different. Some need a secluded room in the house, no interruptions, just a blank desk, a pencil, and a piece of paper. That would drive me nuts, and I know it. So when we moved, a few months back, I set up my big desk and main computer in the common household area. I thought the background noise of kids and the dog playing, easy access to the kitchen while I was cooking, that would help me work.

It turned out I was wrong. I’ve done my best, most prolific days at a table in my bedroom, typing on my laptop, with the door firmly closed between me and my family. I can still hear them, but they aren’t tapping me on the shoulder, wanting to play on my computer, and so forth. This does have some serious drawbacks. It means that I can’t hear the oven timer, and the kids can’t access me instantly which makes them pout.

On the other hand, it’s possible the next book will insist on a different layout. But I don’t think so. I just need to get into the groove. I’ve been cultivating words, researching, thinking about character motivation, trying to decide what’s the overall arc of this book, within the series it is set in… Just like a garden, it’s all about the soil. Build up a great soil, full of rich humus and a bit of sand for drainage…

Which brings me back to the gardens on a ship. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a ripe tomato warm from the sun, or the first strawberry of spring, will wonder about the quality of such raised in space, with no sun, and possibly no soil. Does that gardener know what they are missing? They may know in theory that microbes in the soil contribute far more to successfully gardening than we realize, now (but are starting to learn). They might even have the technology to inoculate their soil with a suite of beneficial microbes, fungus, and invertebrates. But just like in the human body, under the right circumstances those benefits can become opportunistic pathogens, and wreak havoc.

Why yes, I am planning a story where gardening gone awry threatens life itself…

Now, With Added Children!

It’s not my fault. I have littles, and the littlest little (that’d be Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave, for those keeping track at home) woke up. That wouldn’t sound like an issue, but it’s a delay of at least half of a clock rotation. If you dig on analogue. Which I do. And them there’s the fact that Senior Plague Rat brought something home from Sunday School (I think, coulda been the winter market at which Mrs. Dave hawks the jewelry she makes for fun. Regardless, Wee Dave brought the crud, the crud has been broughten, shared with Junior Plague Rat, and passed on to yours truly. So no Daves slept well last e’en.

Second Coffee come early, and be ‘lert to me.

I love my littles, despite their habit of preventing paying work. They’re adorable, which is a survival mechanism for the small and vexing. And that’s more pleasant than it could be. Also, they generally smell good, which I’m given to understand is some kind of spiffy evolutionary marker. BZ, evolution. Well played, that mechanism.

They’re also helpless, which is useful to you, the writer.

I’m reading through several of Dave Freer’s offerings (I highly recommend Changeling’s Island. Point of fact, I have recommended it, and I’ll be pushing it at pretty much anybody with any interest in reading, young or less young) and a recent scene had a pair of sometime allies worked together to prevent a rather hard-to-kill magical hybrid from re-kidnapping one’s toddler daughter. Two highly skilled swordsmen should have been more than equal to the creature. Would have been. If they hadn’t had a small child to worry about.

Kids are physical complications. They just get in the way. They’re always underfoot, and, especially at certain ages, innocently suicidal. Almost *anything* can hurt or kill an infant. Or a toddler. Really, humans are just fragile. It’s a good thing we heal well, though both of those are subjects for future posts. But the physically immature are worst off. Lousy mobility, terrible coordination, and they all use everything as a dump stat. No strength or dexterity, no constitution worth mentioning, and let us not even speak about their wisdom scores! Kids just get in the way of doing. The littlest one is doing her darnedest to prevent me finishing this post, for example.

They’re always under foot and demanding attention. “Watch this!” “I’m cooking the food you were in tears for not having two seconds ago, Child.” “Yeah, but stop that and watch what I’m doing now! And then play with me!” And Dave’s veins start to throb. Or playing with suburban expedient caltrops in the kitchen. That’s a favorite. A Duplo took a nickel-sized chunk out of a buddy’s foot not that long ago. And then there are the miniature wheeled conveyances.

And they have needs. Changing, feeding, playing. Lots and lots of cuddles. And where does all of that come from? Yes, I hear that voice in the back! It comes out of Dave’s writing time!

And this is just in the mundane setting of the contemporary home. In a less advanced milieu, you have the added adventure of medical danger. Any cough or cold can become a raging fever, which can easily kill in a pre-industrial society. Or in many industrial ones for that matter. A nice stressor to heap on your characters. Good for relational stability, that.

Or suppose your characters are fugitives. Maybe the authorities view them as kidnappers, whatever they or the reader believes. They have a vested interest in staying undiscovered. Well, and has anybody let the child know that? And would a toddler even care? What about a babe-in-arms? How do you convince the tired, cold, angry, hungry, and now damp and souled infant to stop squalling before so the magically equipped tracker doesn’t discover them? Asking for a friend.

On the upside, children can make excellent comic relief. Wee Dave makes some pronouncements that have Mrs. Dave and I rolling. I’m given to understand this is normal. So pit that in your story, too. Is the plot getting a little too thick, with the darkness that makes your reader wonder if the kid is going to make it? Toss in a kids-say-the-darnedest. Maybe a mouthing off to a minor villain moment.

And then there’s the demideus ex machina moments. Characters – and more importantly, author – wracking brains trying to come up with a solution to one problem or the other? Out of the mouths of babes… Seriously, have the kid toss off a line that shines a light in your hero’s foggy thoughts. Great fun, especially if you can then twist it into a plot-advancing failure.

Everything always costs more and takes longer, and such is especially the nature of reality when dealing with children. So complicate your story, and your characters’ lives, and make them responsible for a child. Best way I know of to force them to grow.

The Inadequacy of Silence

I am an author. I’m not a warrior. Sarah has described me as possibly the most conflict-averse person she knows – and she’s not wrong. I do not like fighting and I do not like starting arguments for the sake of it.

There are, however, limits.

You see, as someone who knows what it is to have people lie about you to not only take away any support you might currently have but eliminate any chance that anyone will ever support you, I decided some time back that I will not stand back and allow that to happen to anyone else. Ever.

So when a controversial figure’s book deal is suddenly canceled because of a manufactured furor (not even over the content of the lies used to create that furor because the publisher has printed and supported far worse from those who happen to have not had the howling mobs roused against them) it impacts all of us readers and authors.

For the record, I don’t give a flying fuck what that – or any other author – does in privacy with consenting partners. Even if I would be squicked to high heaven by the details if anyone was crass enough to tell the world. I don’t care what he – or anyone else – believes as long as it’s not being shoved down my throat and nobody is being damaged by it. If I don’t like the author’s behavior or politics I don’t have to buy their books and I certainly don’t have to read them. I am sufficiently mature that I do not see the need for a legion of sensitivity readers to take their works and massage them into bland, tasteless pap.

What I care about is that someone who has – objectively – done not one damn thing wrong is the subject of a coordinated effort to not merely silence him, but disappear him. I’ve seen this happen in the past. It happened to Larry Correia. To Brad Torgersen. I didn’t get the full force of it last year, but instead got the cold shoulder of people doing their best to pretend I’d already been disappeared.

Just because some degenerate prick who wouldn’t know a moral if he trod in one edits over an hour’s video to make it look like an author is endorsing one of the few reliable hot-buttons remaining (mainly because that prick’s fellow army of degenerate pricks have abused the other ones to such an extent people yawn when the old standbys of ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, or anythingelsist get aired) does not mean that a) the degenerate prick in question actually disapproves of said hot-button the way most folk with some notion of morality do; or b) that it is true.

It isn’t.

When people listen to lies like this and swallow them, they become the useful idiots who allow evil to happen.

Consider this: think of the most vile, disgusting book you have ever read. Would you ban it?

I wouldn’t. Let it find its audience and be judged on its merits – or lack thereof. The only time I would argue for something to be taken down is if it is a lie masquerading as truth, and in that scenario I would replace the lie with the truth and let the light of truth show the lie for what it is.

Because if we do not stand up for authors – or anyone else for that matter – when some excrement-laden offal tries to destroy them with lies, sooner or later our silence will be taken for disagreement, and we will be targeted.

Do not blame those who speak out when that day comes. The fault is in those who were silent in the face of evil.

Fractured Mirrors and the Point of Pain

There are many theories of what makes a good book.  The most prevalent/strongest one in our day is the social justice theory.  No, I don’t mean the one propagated by social justice advocates, though they’re linked.

What I mean is that for a long time, what made a book “good” and gave serious people permission to like it was that it had classical references.  That’s how you knew the writer was properly educated and thought deep thoughts.  I think that started in the renaissance and before that it was “books that were good for something” the something being propagating the faith.  Well, things go in cycles.

After WWI put vast cracks in the civilizational confidence of the west and we started doubting our roots, classicism because a mark of being “high class” and high class was, aesthetically and politically right out in the early 20th century.  The trusted men from the best families were responsible for making Europe into a vast abattoir.  Which made literary criticism ripe to fall for the then new and exciting Marxist theory of everything.  (Well, it was actually a theory of economics, one that was disproven by the time it was written, but Marx wasn’t an economist.  However people tend to take one lens and view everything through it, even things it makes no sense to do that with.)

So once again, literature became “good” when it did something “good” in the world, in this case advance change towards the perfect socialist state, just like medieval literature advanced our way to heaven.

I’m not sure this was ever okay, not from a ludic perspective.  Most books informed by this perspective are tiresome, even going back to when they were a new and exciting thing, back in the early to middle last century.  I do understand they were “new” and “exciting” to people who had never read the like, but now, almost a hundred years later, the nostalgie de la boue and the obsessive violating of taboos we no longer hold grows tedious.

And that’s part of the problem, you know? It’s that the only way to keep that kind of preachiness new and fresh is to continuously violate taboos, until you get to the point no sane human being would read these books for pleasure.  And then we get a lot of crap about how we should read them because they’re somehow “good for us.”  I’m sure you can find examples.  Seems like there’s a new one every week.

I know that if you don’t agree with the moral aims of the books they sound beyond tedious, and into the lunatic range.  And then the rate of reading and readers falls.  And then everyone laments.

So, what is a good book?

I don’t know.  I’m a libertarian.  I’ve made a whole career out of telling people I’m staying out of their business.  All I can tell you is what makes a good book to ME.

A serviceable book keeps me entertained for two hours or so while I’m cleaning the house or cooking dinner.  (Sometimes audio books, sometimes “disposable paperbacks” bought for $1 at the thrift store.  Why?)  I call these popcorn books.  I read them in chain, because that’s ALL I do for fun.  That’s my escapism.

These books are fungible, but not … uneeded.  If most of what you do is read for fun, you need a supply of these.  I’ve written books like this (Dipped Stripped and Dead under pen name Elise Hyatt is up on Amazon.)  Some would argue that most books I’ve written are like this, but I’d say that my science fiction, and the shifter fantasy, and maybe even Witchfinder rise above that.  Though I’m not going to break your head if you say they don’t.  I just know what I was aiming for.  Like being unable to watch yourself walk down the street, it’s d*mn hard to evaluate your own books, your own heart’s blood.  For instance, Jane Austen’s own favorite book was Emma, a book that makes me want to sleep and kill things AT THE SAME TIME.

It was brought home to me recently the importance of “writing things that matter”, things that rise above popcorn.  Let’s say that finding out you have a brain tumor (non malignant or at least isolated by virtue of position.  The one thing it affects is my vision, and it might be reason enough to remove it, eventually.  We’re monitoring) and that one of your acquaintances/colleagues has cancer, watching one of the first bloggers you liked die, and watching one of your first mentors (Ed Bryant) die too, all bring home to you the fact that this is passing, and you want to make sure amid the “must dos” and “I’ll write that for money” you want to write something that remains.  Something that is heart’s blood, and will make your voice heard throughout the years, if not centuries.

So, how do you know what that is?

You don’t.  It’s how it hits readers.  Some books I consider popcorn; some books I WROTE as popcorn got me emails from people who said the book had been an anchor and comfort to their dying relative.  Plain Jane, written as a work for hire under a house name, for crying outloud.

You CAN’T tell.  All you can tell is what you feel is a GOOD book TO YOU.  And if it does survive centuries, we will know (though if you will know depends on what you think of life after death, likely.)

Books rise above the average to me when I remember them, think about them, or a phrase comes back to me.  Yesterday it was a sentence from Jim Butcher “You know, lying is not a superpower.”

That’s the first cut.  The book wasn’t FORGETTABLE.

But how do you make it something else, something that resonates and vibrates within you and others?  I don’t know.  I only know me.  I gravitate towards mirrors and the point of pain.

What does that mean?

I was a freakishly big-headed kid (literally, not metaphorically) who spent most of her time with raw sores all over her face, particularly around eyes and mouth, making me look rather like the joker or something out of a horror movie.  I’m forever grateful they went away with the onset of puberty and that they’ve been only on my arms for the great part of twenty years.

I was also a cherished and loved child, and frankly spoiled by dad and his mom.

Going to elementary school was like a betrayal.  I couldn’t figure out why people recoiled from me, and when I figured it out my world shattered, and was never put together again the same.  My perception of self was destroyed, but also my perception of what mattered about me/what the rest of the world saw.

Some would argue that most of my life is informed by that moment.

I hate sucker punches.  I hate it when people are attacked by people they trusted or had reason not to fear, in their place of safety.

I write people whose world has shattered repeatedly.  I write situations that make me question my own principles, and rebuild, over and over again.

Why?  Because in books that’s what stays with me.  Either books that shatter me and put me back together again, or books in which I get the sense the writer did that to himself/herself.

Your mileage may vary.  And I’m not one to tell you what you should do.  Again, made an entire career of not telling people what they should do.

If you’re writing popcorn books, getting paid, and people like them: well done.  You’re making an honest living.  And some of those books you consider fungible might be the lifeline to someone else’s sanity.  You never know.

But for me, when I reach beyond, I reach for the shattered mirror and the pain.  In real life as in fiction, I fight for the person who was suckerpunched by either people or reality, whose world was shattered and who can never fit the shards together quite the same way again.

Maybe that will resonate through the centuries.  Maybe it won’t.  It resonates with me.

 

What to do? What to do?

As Dave alluded to yesterday, Sarah threw down the challenge gauntlet over the weekend. She tagged Dave, Kate and myself and “asked” which of us would be the first to fisk the article Dave linked to about publishers hiring “sensitivity readers”. Fortunately, Dave beat me to it. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few things to say about it — hey, you knew I couldn’t let him have all the fun — as well as a couple of other things happening in the industry. So grab your morning coffee, sit back and hold on because it’s been a somewhat bumpy ride in the industry news of late.

First up, the ongoing tug-of-war indie authors face when it comes to publishing. No, not where to list their books. There are any number of outlets where we can post our books for sale. For those of us in the US, we have four major outlets: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. If you have the right equipment — thanks, Apple — you can upload your books to these outlets yourself or you can go through a third-party like Draft2Digital. No, the real issue facing indies comes to what format(s) you are going to release. Despite what so many articles and “polls” would have us believe, the e-book market is still going strong. There are many indie authors who make more than their traditionally published counterparts.

The question we face is actually two-fold. First, do we release print versions of our books? Second, what about audio books?

The first question should probably be rephrased to “why should we re. lease print books?”. The truth is the vast majority of indie authors who release print books see no real sales from those books. We offer print copies not because we expect to make money from them but because it makes our product pages look more “professional”. Having print books also means we have copies to take with us to conventions or when we do speaking engagements. It’s an ego thing as well. So many of us still have that niggling voice of doubt in the back of our minds that tells us we aren’t real authors unless our books are in print.

But, can we really justify the time and, yes, money involved in putting out a book in print? The time isn’t that much, not once you have a good template in place and know how to use it. Then you only lose a couple of hours in transitioning from the final version of your manuscript to your interior file. Add another couple of hours to pull together your cover flat, assuming you do that yourself. After all, you need a different sized cover image from what you used for your e-book cover. You need to design the spine and back cover as well. Then you have to fit it to the template and submit it. Then you wait to see if it passes inspection wherever you are creating your print books.

But that isn’t all. To have a print book, you need an ISBN. Sure, you can go with the free ISBN from Amazon/Createspace if you want but there are downsides to that. Your imprint will not be listed as the distributor. You have just slit your metaphorical throat when it comes the very slim chance of seeing your book in a brick and mortar bookstore. So, if you think you might be able to convince a bookstore to stock your title, you have to pay for an ISBN and then hope that happens and, to be honest, it will be a cold day in Hell for most of us. Why? Because the large brick and mortar stores are told from their home offices what books to stock and there is little leeway left for them. As for the locally owned indie stores, you have to be able to show them that there will be a demand for your book. It’s one of those situations where they have to see a demand but if the book isn’t in the stores, how can there be a demand?

There is another form of “book” more and more indies are turning to and making good money from — the audio book. But it, too, has pitfalls. You have to have a file that Amazon and the other outlets will accept. You have to find a narrator who can and will do justice to your prose. That narrator has to be paid. Do you pay them a set fee up front, praying you make that money back? Or do you ask them to take a percentage of whatever you make on audio sales? Then there is, again, the time involved for the author to review the audio file, making sure the narrator didn’t go off the deep end somewhere along the way and start reading another book in the middle of yours or that the audio quality didn’t suddenly go down the metaphorical drain. I’ll be honest. I’m hoping to do audio books — I’m looking at you, D. — but won’t know for sure for a few months.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that authors need to look at their sales, their plans and what sort of impression they want their product page to make before determining what formats they release and why.

Okay, next up is a warning from Writer Beware. There was a time when you had to have an agent if you wanted to be published. Even now, if you want to be traditionally published, most major publishers require you to submit your work through an agent. However, that is often not the case if you are looking at mid-sized or small press publishers. When indie publishing really took off, a number of literary agencies opened publishing arms to “assist” their authors in their indie endeavors. Several of us here at MGC raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest then.

Writers Beware, in this latest warning, reminds authors looking for agents that there are certain things we should do before submitting to an agent, much less signing with them.

  1. Check sales from the agency. In other words, look at who they say their clients are and what titles they have sold for those clients. See who the publishers are. If the agency seems to have sold more titles to mid and small-sized publishers, check the publisher pages to see if they require submissions to come through an agent. Heck, check the major houses as well because some do have imprints that allow for direct submission. In other words, if the agency is mainly selling to publishers that do NOT require agented submissions, thing twice before going with that agency. Ask yourself if you would be happy selling to these same publishers and, if so, ask why you would want to pay someone to do something you can do yourself. (that someone being the agent)
  2. If an agent offers to represent you but says your manuscript needs editing and says they know a freelance editor you can hire, check to see what sort of relationship might exist between the agent and editor. In the situation presented by Writer Beware, the agent in question and the recommended editor apparently have some sort of personal relationship. This relationship wasn’t revealed to the potential client. That is a huge red flag for me. Always remember that the agent is supposed to work for the author and put the author’s interests ahead of everyone else.
  3. Look at how long the agency has been in business and how many books they have sold to publishers — and look at who those publishers are. You want an agent with a track record that shows not only sales but sales to reputable publishers.
  4. Probably most important in the long run, if the agency contract includes the “interminable agency clause”, run away. Run far and run fast. This is the clause that grants the agent representation of the book for the life of the copyright. In other words, basically they hold the book — and get to collect on royalties, etc — for as long as the book is in copyright. You do NOT want this.

Finally, on sensitivity readers, let’s be honest. Most writers aren’t out there trying to appropriate anyone else’s culture. Nor are they out there trying to insult their readers. What has happened is publishers are now so worried they might put out a book that will upset a single reader that they are bending over backwards to make sure no one gets their feelings hurt. The result is that they are instead putting out books that are turning away readers. Why? Because these publishers are trying to be so “diverse” that they are sacrificing plot to make sure no one is upset.

As writers, we are told we can’t write what we don’t know. For example, if you weren’t raised in a certain certain economic condition, you can’t write about it. If you aren’t the same race or sex or gender of your main character, you shouldn’t write about it. Yet, on the other hand, we are told we need to diversify our characters and plots. It is a catch-22, one that is currently bringing many writers to a screeching halt because they don’t know what to do.

My advice is to quit worrying about what these folks are saying. Write your book. Write it the best way you can, using the characters and settings you feel best suit the plot. Do your research. Talk to people. But put your butt in your chair and write. Then send your book out to your beta readers. Workshop it in your local writers group. Listen to what they have to say. Then decide if the book is good enough to send to traditional publishers, if that is the route you want to go, or to release as an indie.

What publishers forget is that there is a market for everything, good and bad, offensive and inoffensive. That is the great thing about the reading world. The only difference is the size of the audience. So write the book you want to write and then , once you have released it into the wild, sit down and write the next book. That is what writers do. Write the story you feel needs to be written. No one else will, at least not in the same way you will.
***

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Now available for pre-order.

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

Sense and Sensitivity

Blame Sarah. She suggested I fisk this

As everyone*knows I am a sensitive soul. A virtual princess of sensitivity among the hairy simian kind – yes, I can pee through seven mattresses, that’s how know I’m a sensitive bleedin’ princess, you gormless pile of rancid cormorant fewmets. Look there has to be some measurable test of sensitivity or you’d have every moron and faintin’ blooming vi’let claiming their poor widdle sensitivities offended 24/7. And if you fixed every one of those sensitivities, reducing everything to bland pablum… they’d invent new things. Because being offended is better than being ignored…

No, we need a hard and fast standard of sensitivity! And being able to pee through seven mattress and not get a wink of sleep as a result is the proven test. It has historical President… precedent, and the hallmark of royalty. That’s where the term ‘disdain’ comes from. It should be written ‘dis stain’. Don’t you believe me? My sensitive-ititties are rubbed raw by your disbelief, and can only be soothed by that universal panacea, money. $250. Or I’ll howl and growl and squeal for a boycott…

Ah, money. Amazing how a little (relatively) of this unguent can soothe the most sensitive troubled breast. Sadly, like all forms of danegeld it is addictive to its recipients. You can be sure the Dane (or the monkey) will be back in short order, demanding more, and bringing 30 of his mates along, all wanting their $250.

I’m not going to write about censorship, and the devastating effect that can have on writing, quality and originality. I’m not even going to bring up the fact that in the end, we are all a minority of one. What offends one, may well delight his identical twin brother. I’m going to write about something else about this that probably doesn’t occur to the most well-meaning of sensitivity seekers: just who benefits?

The problem, in a way, comes down to perspective, and is not dissimilar to the issue of migration and the way we tend to see that. The best way I can explain that is to paraphrase a New Zealand Prime Minister, who talking of the flow from his country to the larger Australia was that it was a good thing, because it increased the IQ of both countries. (that flow has been reversed, lately. I leave you to draw your own conclusions). Now why this is apropos is because when we talk of migrants, we inevitably think of the issues of migrants themselves (their welfare, their well-being etc) and of the country receiving them.

It’s a rarity for anyone to comment on the effect of migration on the country of origin. When Bob Mugabe started going off the wall in his desire to cling to power, and his actions effectively destroyed the economic infrastructure of his country, migrants in their millions flooded out. Not all those who left sneaked across the border to South Africa, or were landless peasants. Many were also those who could go, legally, and could do well, elsewhere. I became very good friends with a young pharmacist from Zimbabwe. He was a bright Ndebele man, who spoke flawless English (it was his home language) who didn’t want to leave – but could and could do well. Zimbabwe’s loss was South Africa’s gain. When things recovered, he’d married, settled and did not go back. He sent some money to his family – which helped them, but not Zimbabwe as much as he would have. On the other hand there were plenty of poor, uneducated migrants who undercut local labor, and were a net gain for the rich and a loss for poor of South Africa – and put bluntly because they also sent money back, a gain for Zimbabwe, but a loss for South Africa.

It’s always complicated. And there are several sides and points of view. And inevitably there is a strong economic component.

It’s a similar situation with ‘sensitivity’. We’re talking about authors (and publishers, who transfer the cost and blame to authors – every crash in publishing is author-error) and whatever the currently fashionable group-of-offendee de jour is. What we’re not seeing considered… is the benefit to the minor group, and of course the effect on the readership. And we need the economic effects of this weighed sensibly instead of sensitively.

The first question should always be: who are the customers for this book? Who will pay to read it? Will said sensitivity make a positive… or negative difference? And yes, negative is possible. Your STEAK BARBEQUE BIBLE is insensitive to vegans, vegetarians, Hindus, global warming fanatics, atheists, fundamentalist Christians – and that’s just the title. By the time you’ve finished being sensitive to that lot… your target audience has nothing to read. And the offendees were never going to be customers in any substantial numbers anyway.

Let’s be real: most of the vocal angry perpetually ‘triggered’ and ‘micro-aggressed’ are impossible not to ‘offend’: ergo the bribe, to get them to go away – which means the next ten will arrive the next shakedown, before the words are cold. Secondly: in real demographic terms most of the perpetually offended make up a tiny proportion of the population, and in many cases an even smaller proportion of target readership. My wilderness survival novel is of no likely interest to urban Wiccan vegans. If I mention them in an insensitive way, most of the target audience wouldn’t give a shit. In fact they might like the book more. That’s reality, not PC.

It’s a different kettle of tea of course, if the target are pearl clutchers who never found a fashionable offendee-de-jour they didn’t want to signal their virtue by adoring. Paying danegeld is a requisite for that audience. It still won’t stop them turning on you and casting you out, to the shrieked traditional ululations of ‘Racist, sexist, …ist, …ist”. It’s a question of timing there. If you’re writing for that audience, knowing when fold ‘em is a survival essential.

But once again we come back to both sides of the equation – a migrant is loss to their own country as well as a gain to the other country – or vice versa. Because there is no doubt that for many a small group or minority, a sympathetic (not necessarily sensitive or accurate – but I think you will find ‘sensitive’ always means sympathetic not accurate) portrayal in a novel that has entrée to a wider world… is very good for them, doing far, far more for their image, than their image does for the author. In short… the ‘sensitivity’ readers who want their little group portrayed favorably (it’s seldom about accuracy – they may remove un-favorable inaccuracies but I bet never say a word about the favorable inaccuracies) should be paying the author – not the other way around. If an author does it for free – and most of us do, despite most authors being poor… it is gratitude and help that common sense would commend, not shakedowns. And, in point of fact, that really is the case for even merely moderately popular authors like myself. I’ve never had the slightest difficulty in getting volunteer readers in a field of expertise or in a group where I needed to make sure I got it right. They are delighted to have their interest or group portrayed to a wider audience, and want it done right.

I am grateful to them, and from what I can gather, they are grateful to me.

Everyone who is important ** anyway.

**Importance is a question of relativity, rather like the speed of light.

Icebergs

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of dining with several other local Baen authors, as well as Baen editor Jim Minz. It wasn’t a business dinner, really. More like, get the gang together (spouses included) to have a good time, with occasional shop talk. At one point during the evening I was struck by the notion that we had probably a century’s worth of cumulative authorial experience in the room. And by that I mean, the aggregate total of everything each of us had individually accrued over our lifetimes: the stories which had sold, the stories which had not sold, the stories we had read, the stories we’d listened to, watched on television, or in movie form, plus the many different proto-stories each of us constantly has swirling in our semi-consciousness. Along with personal habits — both good and bad — and work ethic. Followed by achievements unlocked, dreams yet to be realized, opportunities wasted, lessons learned, and so forth.

The landscape of our writerly souls.

When one is a newbie sitting in the audience at a convention panel, it’s easy to look at those behind the mics, and see only the tops of their professional icebergs. The more stellar or accomplished the career, the taller the spire rising above the waterline. What we don’t see — the thing we can’t often grasp, until we’re in the thick of the vocation ourselves — is what lies beneath. The giant bulk of a person’s history, which keeps that visible portion afloat.

The majority of an author’s life is invisible in this way. Not immaterial, obviously. Just . . . out of sight. The learning. The toil. The joyless hours spent staring into a screen at odd moments of the day or night, when our brains would much rather be focused elsewhere. On anything. Just not the project that’s due. Held back by the heartache of failed expectations. Pulled forward by the glimmering light of possibilities still on the horizon. Wondering if we’ve got what it takes. Pushing ahead, regardless. Because we’ve decided that we simply must do this thing.

All of that — everything that goes into making us who we are — is submerged.

Just the exposed piece of us that’s public, gets any sunlight.

Which — of course — merely reinforces our false perceptions of ourselves. That we’re sinking, while everyone else is rising. We look across the sea and we marvel at all the many, many successful people all enjoying their moment in the sun. We don’t see their fullness. We don’t realize that they too have a massive, invisible piece of themselves underneath the blue waves. Their own history of learning, toil, missed chances, failed manuscripts, the endless repetition of picking themselves up by the scruffs of their own necks, again, and again, and again. That aspect of their history is opaque to us. We know all about our own history. All the baggage and warts. But unless we know someone else at a fairly intimate level, it’s easy to believe that having baggage and warts is unique to us, and us alone.

‘Taint so.

Many are the professional athletes who have remarked that it’s the losses which teach them, more than the wins. That behind every Olympic-class performance, there are thousands of hours of effort. Painful. Protracted. Unrewarded. Probably there is no endeavor worth doing, on God’s green Earth, which doesn’t tell a similar tale. Work is who and what we are, as human beings. The dividends of that work come from a combination of intelligence, talent, and persistence. With persistence being the major part of it.

Which is not to say there’s no value in working smarter, versus harder. Sometimes the efficacy of your method is the issue, not the zeal of your application.

But there comes a point when even smart guys have to roll up their sleeves. The world is filled with people who dwell in failure, because for all their wit and knowledge, they lack the oomph necessary to turn spectacular plans into spectacular action. Too much talk. Not enough walk.

Your iceberg — the huge hunk drifting beneath — is largely made up of that very same oomph.

Sitting at the table the other night, I was surrounded by a hell of a lot of oomph. It was almost intimidating.

But also instructive.

Because unlike intelligence or talent, oomph is a self-made commodity. Even if you don’t have any today, you can most definitely have some tomorrow.

Just about every person you’ve ever met, who has achieved success in any specific field — of athletics, art, science, or industry — decided to make a commitment. Which manifested as applied energy. Over days, weeks, months, and years. Almost none of it yielding immediate results. No. The goal was far off, for most of the journey. (S)he simply had faith that (s)he would get there eventually. Despite hardships, setbacks, and disappointments galore.

So, when you catch yourself feeling discouraged, or lamenting your lack of relative forward movement, keep in mind that there is somebody else out there who is looking at you and marveling over how well you’re doing. (S)he is seeing the top of your iceberg, just as you see the tops of all the rest. You are somebody else’s picture of success, just as others have been your pictures for success, too.

You may feel reassured as a result. As well as inspired.

After dinner was over, I went back to my home office and stared at my authorial goals for the rest of the month, and the rest of the year. Then I looked at my goals for the next five years. And the five years after that. I asked myself if I was being too ambitious, or not ambitious enough? I thought about the writers I’ve known — some of whom have become my friends — and who’ve done what I’d like to do. I reminded myself that their money and their books are merely the part I can see. What I can’t see, is the rest of the iceberg. The countless daily sacrifices. Frustration, tempered with patience. Early mornings and late nights dedicated to projects which won’t pay off for years. And a stubborn refusal to allow backward steps to turn into full retreat.