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Posts by kilteDave

Sharkskin and Rhinohide

A while back, we (by which I mean somebody who actually does stuff ‘round here, like Amanda or Sarah) asked for suggestions for topics, and I’m swiping one from the compiled list.  One or more of you, our valued readers, asked how a newbie writer could become part of an established community when uncertain of the quality of their output, how to get feedback, and how to start feeling real. Well, be warned: perspective incoming.


The writing side of publishing may well be the least organized industry in existence. Do you write? Words, strung together into phrases, used to cast spells to vaporize the unworthy convey meaning from one thought-having thing to another? Congratulations: you’re one of us (one of us, one of us, one of us). Like most quasi-social organisms, we tend to agglomerate into loose communities.


Unlike more regimented industries (i.e. those with established lines of training and accreditation) and owing to our own, often peculiar natures, writers (as well as other artists) tend toward the odd, and often the Odd. Which is reflected in our communities.


All humans do this, but in writing, the strange little in-rules that govern human social group interactions are what organize (Hah. Hah.) how our industry works. For a given value of works. So what you’re asking is really, “how do I become good enough friends that a group of writers won’t ignore me?”


I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but we’re more or less cantankerous, and really only seek out social contact so we can abuse each other in print. *reads the preceding, looks at his half-full mug* Ok, that coffee was too dark. Gimme a minute.


–One dollop of cream later—


Much better. My apologies. What you’re looking for is how to become accepted by writers, when what you need to be doing is looking at befriending lonely, often curmudgeonly, and always strange individuals who happen to interact on a somewhat regular basis.


The secret, speaking from experience, is this isn’t actually very hard to do.


The biggest part is just showing up. Odds are good you already know a writer. Or several. If you’re here, you rub elbows with several, of varying degrees of success and notoriety (not the same thing), and frankly, the MGC is a good place to start. The method is the same as any community: find where your interests and the community intersect, and participate. A few years back, I decided (based on some interactions at a convention) that I wanted to expose myself (shaddap) to more of what a handful of writers did that wasn’t just their fiction. I started frequenting blogs, and (here’s the trick) commenting on a regular basis. This was more than a little emotionally risky. I don’t often have much of great wisdom or insight to offer. I’m not nearly as well read as a lot of our readers, let alone my fellow Mad Genii (can’t put that back in the bottle). I can, however, turn an amusing phrase now and again, and that kind of repeated presence establishes you as a regular. It led directly to me posting here at the MGC. In short, pay your dues. Become part of the community by becoming part of the community.


Now, as to quality of writing, I don’t have anything new. You may well not have anything “good” when you first become accepted by the rest of us crazies. On the other hand, you could be the next sliced bread of the publishing world. For most writers, success seems to come much later than quality of prose. We’re an industry founded upon preference (specifically, the taste of others), and as the ancients had it, in matters of taste there can be no dispute, though you wouldn’t know that from the state of, well, anything. At least on the internet.


Is your writing any good? Well, beyond a certain basic level of craft – past the rules of good grammar, can you put together a story in ways that don’t have readers putting your words through virtual walls – whether your writing is any “good” depends less and less on what you can control that the question becomes meaningless. Becoming a better businessman helps, I’m told. Though again, success seems to depend a great deal on luck. And from my industry contacts, luck looks – over time – more and more like hard work and persistence. So, keep at it. Keep writing, keep showing up, keep learning, keep pushing your personal limits. That’s how you get better at anything, and writing – being a skill – is no exception.


Now, on being real. Insert a math joke here. And another, because I’m pushing limits. This is where the title comes in. You have to consider yourself a real writer. Nobody is going to do it for you. At least until you have fans. Decide what Real Writerness is going to look like, and work toward that. Is it an author page on Amazon? Or a Real™ book that you wrote in your hot, little hands? What about a publishing contract with a Real Publisher™? Or a regular income from a handful of successful series?


I know authors with multiple novels by multiple publishers who aren’t considered real writers by some readers. Usually for obscure emotions linked to emotional issues. I freely admit that – at this point in my life – I’m more than a bit of a dilettante. It’s not that not a writer, but I don’t keep to a schedule, I don’t meet deadlines, and the whole endeavor looks more like a hobby than a business. In my own defense, I have toddlers, and looks can be deceiving.


And that’s the thing about being a writer: it’s complicated. On one level, you determine whether you’re a writer. Do you write? That counts. Do your peers accept you? That counts, too. Do you have readers? That also counts.


The best approach seems to be more or less what I’ve already described: join a community of writers, practice the present imperfect of the craft, and develop a hide thick enough to shrug off the proverbial slings, arrows, and fiery darts of the naysayers. External and internal.



*flailing and tantrums, divers alarums*

Amanda just reminded me today’s my day. Mrs. Dave is in the middle of a five week course in Virginia Beach, and I’m playing single dad, and we’re out of bananas. And apples. It’s that bad, ’round here. Not excusing, just summing up.


Referring to the title, we’ve been seeing a lot of unprofessional behavior from all quarters recently. What have you learned to do, or bot do, recently, about how to behave as a professional writer? I’ve been watching some authors do everything they can to drastically cut down their potential market. That just seems … ill-advised to me.

In the spirit of the thing…

I had one of those nights where I slept like the proverbial rock. Trouble is, I’m still scrambling to get a couple of brain cells to rub together. I’ll be back later with actual thoughts. In the meantime, what’s everybody working on? How’s that going?


UPDATE: The littles conspired to prevent writing time, tag-teaming naptime and requiring ALL of Daddy’s attention. So, no post, but I’m pleased everyone is doing well.

You Don’t Look So Good

You may have not noticed, but I’m not Jason Cordova. I know this comes as a shock. I mean, we’re both writers, both devastatingly handsome, and he’s almost as brilliant as I am, and while – much like Batman – he and I have rarely been witnessed in the same place at the same time, allow me to confirm that we are indeed separate entities. Also, this is not a plot – nefarious or otherwise – on my part to take over the Friday slot at MGC. I want that stated up front, in no uncertain terms. It’s not like I want more advertising. More articles under my byline. More books sold … bestsellerdom … film options … a burgeoning media empire …


Sorry: I kinda spaced out there, for a moment. The bare facts are Jason has a thing he’s going to do later this month that he wants to write on, so we’re trading slots. Simple as that. Seriously, nothing ulterior or underhanded about it. *cough* That said, he’s going to get into some nuts and bolts about writer-as-business stuff toward which I, for one, am eagerly looking forward.


Get to the point, Dave, I hear you say. That’s right, I heard you mumbling, you in the back. Well, let me fill you in on a little of the back alley RumInt (that’s Rumor Intelligence, for those not in the know: the gouge) that’s floating around my darkened corridors of the Interwebz. Word on the street is that attendance at Book Expo America this week is pretty thin on the ground. One notable attendee with an accounting background suggested an estimate of no more than ten thousand. I’d honestly be surprised if that included vendors, but still. That’s …


Look, nearly two decades ago, BEA had right at 30k attendees, all told, including industry professionals. By 2015, that had slipped to just a bit over 17k. I don’t care who you are, you can’t claim that your industry is healthy when the pre-eminent business gathering – the one where publishers make announcements about upcoming books, and where vendors make purchasing decisions for the year ahead, and where your special events include people of international profile (this year would be an Evening With Hillary Rodham Clinton. I’m crushed that my schedule wouldn’t allow) – has slipped in attendance by that much over not-quite a decade.


If these numbers are legitimate – and I’m taking them right off the pdf of the official BEA fliers they circulate – then tradpub is looking more than a little green around the gills. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the attendance at the major convention is a fair barometer for the general health of an industry. Sit down, tradpub. You aren’t looking so good.


The other half of this is the aggressive – I’d say extortionate – pricing of tradpub ebooks. There’s no reasonable excuse for pricing electrons at the same price as a mass market paperback. No inventory, no printing fees, no additional salaries paid. Everybody works with digital files, and it’s almost push-button simple to format for ebook. (And the too-aggressive pricing of the mmpb, for that matter. Why buy an inferior paper copy of a book when Amazon will sell you the hardcover for not much more? And if you need something for a flight, odds are you’re more interested in an e-copy, anyway.)


Indie is eating tradpub’s lunch, and that’s only going to become more apparent as time goes on. The concern is that while traditional publishers work overtime to prop up shrinking markets (and really, work to ensure those markets shrink even further. I’m looking at you litSF) their tumble into financial insolvency and eventual obscurity is going to make for a rather volatile time for those of us laboring in the word mines.


I don’t really have an answer. I suspect there will be opportunities aplenty for those with the drive to exploit them. Keep writing. Keep publishing. Keep a weather eye out.

Every Author for Branding

No, this isn’t about body-modification. That’s next month. This is, well, it’s less about writing, and more about the author-as-public-figure. Now, for those who aren’t aware, former NYC mayor and billionaire in his own right Michael Bloomberg formed a gun control advocacy group a number of years ago. They’ve lent weight – and money – to any number of state and national political campaigns and legislative efforts, as well as bankrolling other astroturf gun control groups.

Recently, Everytown has announced the formation of an Author Council. 130 authors have signed on to prevent gun violence. Notables include Jodi Picoult, Lev Grossman, and Tim Federle. (Truthfully, those were the only names I recognized. I don’t know whether that reflects the make-up of the group, or of my reading tastes. (I’d also like to note that I’ve never read a Jodi Picoult novel. Not my fandom.))

I’ve seen a middling amount of reaction from my online circles. Everything from shrugs to calls for informal boycott. Me, I don’t care. I’ve never let political leanings get in the way of enjoying (or writing) a good story, and I don’t look to start. That said, as so few names are even on my horizon, I’m unlikely to look to this list for my new favoritest author evar.

Regardless of your opinion on gun rights, Bloomberg’s opinions, or politics in general, the Author Council’s call to action is an important point for writers to consider.

Do you like money? Do you want people to commit egregious commerce with you, turning gobs and scads of their money into your money? I know that’s one of my major writing dreams (too far off to be a goal, at least until I get more writing time into the schedule). I’m really somewhat admiring of this council thingy. They’re rocking their market targeting by doing this. By simply publicly signing their names to a gun control group, they’re advertising what kind of people they want to buy their books. Jodi Picoult could probably drink puppy smoothies for breakfast and not lose her readership, and Lev Grossman has a successful television series based on his big work, so there’s less courage there.

But for anybody less well-known, or well-selling, this is a great way to tell whole swaths of readers that you do (or possibly more significantly, don’t) want them to give you money for your efforts. As an author, causes you come out in support of or opposition to are going to mark you to readers. Some readers. The ones who pay attention to that kind of thing, at least. And among certain genre (like ourn) this is a more fraught venture.

Witness the fallout of the Puppy campaigns.

Any number of writers were outted (rightly or wrongly) as one thing or another, and calls for boycotts were loud and shrill. “Friends” were shunned and writers lost readers. Which is a shame.

How does this matter to you? Simply put: be aware. Know your genre, know your industry, and know your readership. For example, I suspect most of the authors on the council aren’t writing milSF. Joining a gun control group and writing scifi gun porn would be almost as poor a choice as writing stereotypical high fantasy and publicly raging about the evils of western civilization.

Should you then not stand for principles in an effort to gain more readers? By no means. If you’re passionate about something, you should advocate for it. Just be aware that doing so will likely lose you some readers, though that may simply be in potentia. I doubt my eventual milfantasy will get me many leftist readers. Certainly my views on individual liberty and the proper role of government would lose me them.

And I’m fine with that. They wouldn’t have read me in the first place. I’m too publicly associated with the rest of this band of reprobates, and I don’t much care who knows it. I’m also the smallest fry among the MGC.

It likely doesn’t matter, anyway. Who we are as writers comes out in our writing, and people will love or hate that as they’re individually bent. I don’t read Larry Correia for the heart-wrenching scenarios (though I still haven’t forgiven him for Sam), just like I’m not pulling out my much-thumbed copies of David Eddings to read his exhortations about which firearms to choose and how to plan a military campaign (he rightly implies that the most exciting campaigns are often the ones where things go spectacularly wrong. At least for the heroes.)

Look at Sarah’s Darkship books. Written by a statist, they ain’t.

The message to you, the writer, is as I said above. Be aware of your market. Know what they want to get out of your writing. Do they want polemics? Do they want entertainment? And what kind? I read for fun, and tend to avoid certain things. Lev Grossman’s Magicians looks (admittedly, from the television spots) like a rich world with complex characters and a compelling plot. That doesn’t mean I’m going to like it. The way it was first described to me didn’t sound like something I would actually want to read. Which is fine. You can’t snag every reader, and he won’t miss my book budget.

And be wise about how you choose to advertise your causes. I suspect most of the authors on the council aren’t trumpeting their involvement. Certainly not where it’s impacted my life. Maybe a blog post. “Hey, all, I’m in a thing,” is probably the extent of most. I hope. Should your championing of something extend beyond that to, “and everyone must kowtow to my thing for reasons,” you might want to consider dialing back the intensity. Just a mite.

Penultimately, please accept my fulsome apologies for the timing of this missive. I’ve chosen to put family ahead of career, at this point in my life, and that means things like my MGC posts come after the kids are cared for. I’d like to be able to manage things concurrently, but I wasn’t given enough hands for that.

Finally, however you honor my fallen brothers and sisters in arms (or not), this weekend, please be courteous to those who do so differently than you do. Some awesome folks will be found in our national (and other) cemeteries, cleaning, tidying, and placing flags and flowers and suchlike. Y’all rock. Many, many more will be found hoisting beverages of varying levels of inebriability. Or applying heat to flesh, via grill, or outdoors at a beach or park. Or both. This is cool. Most of those who’ve died in service of our country would appreciate that, too. Be well, be safe, keep an eye on your buddy, and if you’ve had too much to drive (read: any) call Chief, or failing that, the Old Man. Both will be happy to make sure you get home alive.

Remain Calm

We’re Just Fine

Some news on the publishing front from the literary boffins at Al Grauniad. Apparently, ebook sales in the UK are down 17%. This, while print sales are up 6%, according to this article (corroborating, if drier information here, which I’ll revisit, as well).

There’s a mess of op-ed muck gumming up an otherwise useful article on interesting trends in the publishing industry. Of course, the relevant information would only take a paragraph. Two at the outside. I gave you the first half at the top, though the author of the Guardian’s shining example took to the bottom of the second paragraph to get to the point. The rest of that space was taken up with lauding the tactile joy of book destruction.

My father taught me to respect books after one of his that I lent out came back more or less destroyed. I think I replaced it. I sure hope I did, though it’s been a few decades. I should buy him a book. Well, I should write him a book. The chat we had certainly changed how I treated his. Dog-earing pages and breaking book spines are pleasures? Those are killing offenses where I come from, but apparently that’s what indicates bibliophilia for the author. YMMV, I suppose.

The author spends a great deal of space bashing the Kindle. She even recruits an ally from inside the publishing industry to help. “It was new and exciting … But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they?” It would seem new versions of the Kindle are so terribly difficult to find that the Guardian felt the urge to take a shot at a more-than-decade old piece of hardware.

The agent quoted above goes on to speculate that readers want “trendy tech” and that Amazon just doesn’t have that. MGC’s own Amanda Green is the proud owner of a Kindle Oasis, and spent a few minutes of her precious time talking it up to me this morning. It sounds mighty impressive. She’s charged hers twice in the month and more since she got it. The accompanying carry case contains a secondary battery that greatly extends its battery life, and at 5.6″ x 4.8″ x 0.13-0.33″, it’s more than small enough to fit into a pocket. I could probably load an entire family’s worth into one of my kilt pockets, and have room left over.

The second article linked suggests readers are giving up ebooks due to “screen fatigue.” Now, I get that. I stare at a screen for several hours each day, whether I want to or not (good, solid exercise) and it can get pretty tiring. But that’s a 28” monitor with fairly bright lighting. That’s not E-ink on a paperwhite screen. A screen with LEDs that illuminate just the surface of the screen, for those of you who read after bedtime.

The first article goes on to suggest that readers are buying fewer devices upon which to read, and apparently that translates to fewer ebooks bought. It’s not explicit, but they sure seem to want me to make that connection. I don’t really understand why. I mean, if I get the Oasis I’m now lusting over (don’t mind the drool) I’ll be working to make sure that lasts me at least a few more years than the cited trend from ’12-’14. It’s expensive, and I don’t want to have to buy another one terribly soon (no matter how shiny newer models might be). I expect most readers share my outlook. I’ve had the same phone for three years, and unless the OS leaves it useless, will likely use the same one for another three. It works, and I don’t want to pay for a new one.

The next several paragraphs are a paean to the magic of printed literature. Well, sort of. I guess books-as-objects are now being celebrated again. One thing I’ve learned in my adventures in publishing is my sense of taste isn’t mainstream. The thing now is apparently to use books as a sort of objet d’art, the centerpiece for temporary displays recorded (as everything these days) and uploaded to Teh Interwebs. There’s even a hashtag.

I tell the truth, this writer kinda boggles. I love attractive books as much as the next writer, but mostly what I love is the information. The story, the use thereof as a means to transport my psyche to somewhere I’ll never go physically. Also, I have a toddler, and a soon-to-be-toddler, and nothing pretty is safe unless it’s locked up. In a chest. In another state. And even then…

The author make the interesting observation that children’s books and cookbook sales haven’t transferred to digital as well as other genre. I, for one, am shocked. Wee Dave is astonishingly deft for a nearly-three-year-old, and he manages some of the strangest physical combobulations. Especially when it comes to objects. The notion of handing him a brand new Oasis to read on makes me outright twitchy.

Similarly, I’m not clear that trying to use an ereader while cooking is a good idea. Kitchens are notoriously liquid-prone environments. Also heat, direct and indirect. Knives, spices, meat tenderizers, oh my. Then again, I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. Suitably planned out. But there are plenty of reasons people wouldn’t get children’s books, especially, in eformat. Reasons that suggest there’s something at work besides “people don’t like ebooks as much as they used to. Back in the old days.”

I’m going to skip a bit. Honestly, you should go read the article. At least skim it. It’s an entertaining insight into the publishing industry, if nothing else.

Next, the author makes the staggering claim that digital publishing isn’t the enemy of print publishing. My jaw dropped. And then I read on. It seems augmented reality events and audiobooks are the evidence thereof. I can’t make this up.

But then, after a digression about a cheap ebook’s accidental success as a marketing tool for the print version, comes the most important paragraph in the entire article.

The figures from the Publishing Association should be treated with some caution. They exclude self-published books, a sizable market for ebooks. And, according to Dan Franklin, a digital publishing specialist, more than 50% of genre sales are on ebook. Digital book sales overall are up 6%.

That’s right. The data from the Publishing Association ignores self-published ebooks. In point of fact, digital sales are actually up.

It’s traditional publishing that’s seeing a slump in ebook sales. The trads, who price their ebooks in the trade paper to hardcover range, who include digital rights management code in their ebooks, who actively work to discourage readers from buying their wares in digital. The rest of us? Well, it would seem we’re doing fairly well. I’d like to see more data, honestly, though I wouldn’t likely have time to do anything with it.

Frankly, both articles linked feel a lot like a desperate Chip Diller, screaming that all is well. No, really, traditional publishing is doing Just Fine. Thanks for asking. I said We’re Fine.

Low Oxygen Environments and You

Here I am, again, and here you are, again. Welcome, welcome. I write to you, today, from the past. The not-to-distant past, but the past, nonetheless. From yesterday, as a matter of fact. And from somewhere above thirty thousand feet. (In the air, from the past, and on my hand brain? It’s practically a modern technological miracle!) Dave, dear readers, is getting a break. Mrs. Dave is taking some time off so I can go play, san pint-sized tyrants. I’m not hyperventilating, it’s just that the air up here is thinner than I’m used to, living at sea-level, more or less. It’s all right: soon I’ll have something slightly soporific at hand. It doesn’t matter that we went wheels up not long after noon. I’m time traveling, and that puts the usual rules in abeyance. And I’m not driving this thing.

I’m — honestly finding myself at a bit of a loss, up here, so high above the earth. I’m uncertain what to discuss with you all. My time this weekend is spoken for (hence the time-capsule-esque creationing), but without the pressure of a deadline, my mind isn’t ticking quite as quickly as I’d like (though that could be the reduced oxygen atmosphere in this tin can). In point of fact, all my usual fonts of inspiration are far, far below me, and I’m unwilling to cough up the exorbitant fee to access the wonders of the information superhighway from this far into the atmosphere. It’s practically Dave Unplugged, today. Untethered, wild, free! (Help me)

I’m doing a thing that (ahh, my beverage has arrived. The sheer genius behind putting ethanol in a caffeinated decoction is almost as blinding as the Sun with nearly seven fewer miles of atmosphere between us than usual) is significantly out of my ordinary. For the past almost three years, I’ve been The Guy for first Wee Dave, and somewhat later for Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave, as well. On a daily basis. And for the next two weeks, I’ll just be Dave. Daddy is taking a back seat. I dunno. I feel weird. After a gathering of a chunk of my generation of Clan Dave (said weekend plans) I’ll be couch surfing at Chez Beautiful-but-Evil and just writing. A thing which has not happened in years. I’m somewhat trepidatious, to be honest. I’m concerned that I’m so far out of my routine that my creative gears are just going to grind. We shall see.

But what about routines? I’ve talked about them before. Mostly about how it’s good to form them around your writing, and about how much I wish I could make that happen in my own life (some experiments still in progress. You’ll find out results when I publish), but what about the breaking of routine? When should you step outside of your ordinary and do something different? Well, let me ask you this: how do you know when your routine has become a rut? No, I’m really asking. I chafe at the necessities of my daily activities. I generally want to be doing differently (with the added assumption that said differently would also be better, natch). I want more time available for the things I want to do. My children demand otherwise, usually, and so I grit and bear it, and keep feeding and changing them, etc. I’m looking forward to gradually realizing I’ve developed a routine in which I produce fiction more than I lament my general lackafiction situation. I’m given to understand parents stop being tired after a decade or so.

As something of an aside, I’ve been finding the semi-conscious state engendered by a teething infant useful for solving the conundra my characters create. Add a dash of sleep deprivation, and a decided lack of caffeination, and I may have resolved some long-standing blocks. We shall see. I’ll let you know next time.