Category Archives: BY THE MAD GENII

A list of our perpetrators.

Working in Another Author’s World

What’s the difference between fan fiction and anthologies or collaboration? Well, one is for free without the author’s express permission, and the other is for pay, with the author’s express permission or active help.

Seems simple, right up until John Ringo starts writing MHI fanfic, and turns it into a 3-book deal. Well, by the time they are officially, formally published, they’ve undergone a thorough edit by Larry to make sure all events stay true to canon, and some extra background checking to make sure all details are correct. So things get a little blurry, right?

(Fun fact: when you are friends with authors and they think you’re an expert on a subject, you’re likely to get random emails out of the blue about completely wild and wacky improbabilities. The best response is: “What is your character trying to accomplish in this scene?” Then you can figure out something slightly more connected to reality. Random questions include, but are not limited to, mass production of holy water, mass evacuation on a primitive planet by helicopter, skydiving from a Cessna 172…)

Then there are anthologies. They’re a chance to play in another author’s world, with permission, and for pay! But they’re also a lot harder than they look, for the following reasons.

1.Worldbuilding: You can’t necessarily invent your way out of a pinch. If your character is going off the map that prior journeys walked, or interacting with the plants and wildlife in depth when the series author at most gave a brief paragraph to describe the entire forest… That requires double-checking to make sure you’re not constraining the original author with your worldbuilding, or that they didn’t stick conflicting description in some other episode, novella, or book you didn’t notice.

2. Characters: Much as you love the main story’s hero and heroine, the author probably has a planned character arc for them. While it seems obvious that you can’t make major changes (marrying them, burying them, or other major life events), there may be other things coming up in future books you didn’t even know you’d have to work around.

3: Timeline: Sometimes, they can’t be in Tiajuana fighting zombie college coeds because they’re going to be in Paris fighting demon-infested anarchists. Or because the zombie plague is cured by then. Or the planet wasn’t founded yet. Or it was blown up by the last emperor.

So, how do you do this? Well, the easiest way is to set a story in another part of the world, with new characters, especially at a different time period. Or to take minor side characters, or barely-mentioned background characters, and tell their story. If you set it in the past, somewhere completely different in the present, or the far future, then it’s not likely to change the current main-series plotline.

The Black Tide Rising anthology contained a lot of stories elsewhere, like Kacey Ezell’s story of cheerleaders and the team moms coming back from a competition when the outbreak hit. The Rogue One movie was spun out of the line “Many Bothans died to give us these plans.”

And then there’s Freehold: Forged in Blood.

Mad Mike opened up his world with the instructions that the story had to be tied to the sword that Kendra receives and uses in the original Freehold novel. This meant people could pick stories from the far distant past in Japan all the way to the far future, well beyond Kendra’s current timeline. He also picked the general time that he wanted each author to write – picking a guy who’s good at Japanese history for the sword’s origin story, picking my husband, who knows vicious predators and wild places to write one set in Grainne’s founding, and so on.

(To paraphrase Mad Mike, “Who do I know that’s dealt with combat vets, guns, and extremely vicious predators with no fear of men? Peter!”)

This was an interesting story for Peter to write, because it was set prior to any of Mike’s Current books in the series… but at the same time, he still had to read the series again on order to pick up the geography, geology, flora and fauna of the world, the arrangement of the solar system, the hints of what was founded where, when, and by whom.

Once he’d written the basic story, he sent it in to Mad Mike for a continuity & editing pass, and started in on typo-hunting as well as line-editing. Given he’s used to working with alpha & beta readers who come back with “your orbital math isn’t quite right here” and “this squad should be able to ambush that one at this point” and so on, it wasn’t that different to get back “this region actually has this and that as major predators and the biome is a little more like this…”, but it was new and amusing to get “and you’ll have to change this due to a book I haven’t written yet actually introducing this other thing instead.”

Still, after a couple passes, both authors were happy, and the story fit in very well with the rest of the anthology. Mad Mike has a good hand with the editing – in fact, one of the refrains in the reviews is that the stories work together so well that it reads like a novel, instead of an anthology. (This is a good thing!)

Here’s a snippet of Peter’s story:

After supper they watched with interest as Tom cleaned his sword, the first opportunity he’d had to do so since his field gear had been released from the secure baggage compartment before they disembarked. He drew a small wooden box from his pack and from it took three squares of paper, a little cloth ball on a short stick, and a bottle of oil. He wiped the sword with a sheet of paper, then dabbed it with the cloth ball up and down both sides of the patterned blade, leaving a faint trace of powder at each spot. This he spread carefully across the blade using a second sheet of paper.

“What’s that?” David asked.

“The paper’s called nuguigami. It’s soft, made of rice pulp for cleaning traditional Japanese swords with their folded-steel blades. In the old days, the powder in the silk ball would have been the residue from sharpening stones. Nowadays it’s a synthetic equivalent. It cleans and polishes the blade. This”—he nodded to the small bottle—“is choji oil—also synthetic; you can’t get the real stuff anymore. It keeps the steel in perfect condition.”

“Seems like you have to go to an awful lot of trouble. Wouldn’t a modern battle steel blade like Mika’s be easier to maintain?”

“Yes, but it wouldn’t have the history this one has.” Tom brushed off the last of the powder, placed a few drops of oil up and down the blade, then took the third sheet of paper and began to spread them. “My father asked an expert about it. He said it’s similar to museum specimens that are over five hundred years old. My grandfather came by it back on Sulawan.”

“I guess that makes it pretty special,” David said wistfully.

“It does to me. I hope I have a kid one day who’ll join the Army and inherit it from me.”

“And if none of your kids do?”

Tom shrugged. “Then I guess I’ll have to find a soldier worthy of it, who’ll agree to carry on the tradition in his own family when the time comes. This is a piece of history. It’s too important to be given to just anybody.”

At 0320 the next morning, Tom was jolted out of a sound sleep by a yell of alarm and a coughing, rasping snarl, seeming to come from right next to his shelter. Three shots sounded, rapid fire, and the snarl changed to a scream as something big and heavy slammed into the thin plasfiber wall, buckling it. As Tom and Mika frantically tried to get out of their sleeping bags, four razor-sharp claws slashed at the wall, tearing it open. A brindled head thrust through the gap.

Only halfway out of his sleeping bag, adrenaline coursing through his body, Tom grabbed the sword from next to his field cot. His left hand pulled the scabbard as his right tugged at the hilt. Flinging the scabbard away, he slashed one-handed at the head as it lunged toward him, jaws open to display a vicious set of teeth, its rank breath like a slap in the face. His blade cut right into the open mouth, severing part of the tongue and carving into the back of the jaw as he sliced across. The creature yowled in pain and tried to bite down on the blade as its mouth spouted blood, but the muscles and tendons that opened and closed its jaws were no longer working properly. More shots sounded from outside. Its body jerked and twitched as they struck home. It tried to back out through the tear in the wall, but Tom rolled onto his knees and thrust his sword two-handed up through the roof of its still-open mouth. With a final shudder, the beast collapsed.

Releasing his sword, Tom kicked off the sleeping bag and grabbed his carbine, lining it as he flicked off the safety; but the weapon wasn’t needed. The animal lay unmoving.

A shout came from outside. “Boss! You okay?” The voice was shrill, almost fearful.

Still shaken, Tom had to concentrate to keep his voice controlled and steady. “I’m all right. I’m coming out.”

He emerged to find his entire security detachment converging on the scene, carrying their weapons. One of the sentries on duty was waiting for him.

“I didn’t see it at all until it peered out from between your shelter and the next one, Boss. I reckon it musta snuck into camp behind the charging station, moving real quiet.” The guard nodded toward the serried ranks of capacitors from the construction vehicles’ power packs, being charged overnight by the camp’s mobile fusion microreactor. “I fired at it, but instead of running it turned and attacked your shelter.”

Tom nodded slowly, looking down at the dead animal in the beams of his team’s flashlights. He could see it was the same breed as the one that had snatched the body of the smaller predator that morning. “It nearly got me. Good shooting. I finished it with my sword.”

Read the rest, and stories by fellow MGC Jason Cordova, as well as Larry Correia, Tom Kratman, Michael Z Williamson, Kacey Ezell, and more by picking it up here on Amazon!



But it’s Been Done

I came across a discussion on social media recently, where a friend and promising young author was talking about a story idea he was working on. In the conversation, another person came along and said “oh, that’s been done already.” My friend was deflated and discouraged, but immediately fired back up, angry for this human raincloud having come along to drip on his parade. Which was good, because Joseph Capdepon is a name you’ll see on book covers soon and they will be worth reading (I have had the privilege of beta reading some of his work).

Here’s what Joe said about it (the man has a gift with words):

 trying his best to push someone away from writing a story because someone already used the tropes I will be using.

Reading his comment still pisses me off, especially coming from him.

You want to piss off, or at times, seriously crush the will of a writer? Tell them someone else wrote what they are writing. Because when I am brain storming an idea, what I really want to hear is how another author has already written my story, thus inferring that I shouldn’t write it.

Well, you can go fuck yourself, because I’m still writing it.

But my comment on the thread, and then the genesis of this post, was:

Write it. Write it better. 

It doesn’t matter if ‘it’s been done’ because there is nothing new under the sun, and that isn’t intended to be a depressing blanket statement of ‘why should I try, anyway?’ Every author brings their own voice to a story, weaves their own elements in that make that story new and unique and good to read. Yes, even if it has been done before. If you ever take part in a conversation like that and are seized with the impulse to say something like ‘it’s been done’ bite your tongue! Young writers need encouragement, not to be discouraged from writing out the stories in their heads. My daughters talk to me sometimes about fanfiction, and that’s sort of the epitome of ‘it’s been done’ but still I don’t tell them to stop reading it, or the one that attempts to write it – heck, I encourage her to write. She’s got fans of her bits of tale, and it’s not nice to leave fans hanging for the next chapter forever.

I digress. I see this a lot in reviews – or just in casual comments about my books (and others, but my own carry that personal little sting) that ‘oh, this is just like…’ and you’re sitting there thinking ‘but I’ve never even read/watched/played that!’ And that happens because there are common tropes and themes to any fiction that parallel human character and history and other influences. But the reviewers and discussions are not (usually) meant to disparage the book, it’s just that being human, they look for patterns and points of comparison. Humans aren’t always the fans of originality they say they are. The readers like (I know I do!) what they like, and they enjoy seeing certain themes in books. Like the bad guys losing, and the hero getting the girl, and… you catch my drift.

While I was looking up something for the Arthur Clarke article I wrote yesterday, I ran across an WH Auden quote that suited this topic beautifully. I memed (meemed? Memify’d? mememememe…. ok. enough of that) it so it could be shared. Because this is something I want all writers to keep in mind.

In short (and it is short, sorry. I’m dealing with something that feels like the flu, although hopefully isn’t. It’s just annoying) write what you want to write. Infuse it with your own voice, bring it to life, and remember – plots are like empty suits of clothing. They may delineate the form, but it’s what’s inside that brings the full thing into the world.

Or maybe that’s just the fever talking. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Your authorial voice is yours, and you shouldn’t change it for anyone. If you want to tell a story, write it. Make it your own. It will be better for that.




Realizing when you’ve gone down the wrong path

The last month, I’ve been fighting the work-in-progress. I found all sorts of excuses about why I was having issues with it. There’s the knee injury that’s made it difficult to sit for long at the desk — or just about anywhere else — and write. Then there was Thanksgiving (which dragged out for three days with three large meals to plan and cook because of the different waves of company we had). There were other real life issues as well. All reasonable excuses for work not happening.

But they were excuses and I finally had to not only admit it but figure out what was going on.

This book, from the very beginning, has given me fits. I started it almost six months ago. The plotting went well. When it came to sitting down and writing it, the brakes slammed on and everything came to a standstill. So I did what I usually do when that happens and started asking myself questions about the plot, the characters, etc. I thought I found the answer. I needed to change the main character a bit and needed to do major changes to the plot. I did so and then the writing began again.

Then it stopped.

I finally threw my hands up in the air night before last and saved out the file on all the various back up media I use and closed down the laptop. Something was wrong and I needed to figure out what. Otherwise, the book wasn’t going to get written or, worse, I’d force it and be left with a sub-par product.

So I slept on it. Morning didn’t bring any answers. I pulled out my notes for the novel, going back to the very first handwritten notes and started reviewing them. As I did, an inkling of an idea came to me and I started searching my office for my series notes. There was something there, if I could just put my finger on it.

This particular series, Eerie Side of the Tracks, has been different from my other books and series from the onset. The stories are a mix of romantic suspense and urban/contemporary fantasy. The fantastical aspect isn’t in every story but it plays a huge part in others. Each title has a different main character from the one before. Even so, there is a core group of characters who appear in each of the stories.

Another way this series has differed from my other books is that I tend to plot them out in a bit more detail than the others. I am, at best, a mix of plotter and pantser but, in this case, I am a plotter. Each chapter has a paragraph or so of notes and there are overall story arc notes. Even so, once I start writing a book or novella in the series, I tend to simply review my notes and then sit down and write. It almost always leads to detours and changes but I at least have a general idea where the story is supposed to go.

So what was going on with the current book? Why had it ground to a screeching halt?

I couldn’t figure it out — until I got to the last sentence I’d written in my original notes for this particular volume in the series. Somehow, I hadn’t transferred that one sentence to the working file. And, reading it, the light went off. The book I’d been writing was just fine. Except it was the wrong book and in several ways.

Oh, goody.

Somehow, between real life and injured knee, I’d done two things. The first? I’d tried forcing the characters to do things they didn’t want to do. I know it sounds crazy, but the characters knew better than I did that I’d screwed up and had them doing things they wouldn’t do in the situations I’d set up. Yes, I know it wasn’t really the characters. It was my subconscious.

The second, and more important, issue with the book was even more fundamental. The book was not the next one in the series. It was, in fact, the book that will follow. So, in one way, I’m a step ahead in the creative process, I’m also behind the eight ball in going back and getting the right book written. However, for the first time in more than a month, I want to write. I’m excited to write.

I know what to write.

But it wasn’t easy getting to this point. I fought admitting there was something wrong with the project for weeks. Why? Because I let myself fall into the same trap so many writers do. I blamed writer’s block. I blamed real life interference. It was easier to find excuses than to sit down and take a hard look at what was happening and why.

And that is something we, as writers and especially as indie writers, have to do. We have to remember to turn a critical eye not only to our finished product but to our writing process as well. The latter isn’t easy, especially if your process changes project to project, (Please tell me I’m not the only one this happens to.) It’s also not easy because it means we have to learn the difference between a real problem in the process vs our craft has improved and so writing doesn’t feel the same as it did before. When that happens, it can be scary. But it’s a good scary. It also shouldn’t bring the writing to a stop. It will, often times, push the writing into overdrive.

So now that I know what the problem is, I found myself not sleeping last night. Instead, I reviewed all my original notes and then what I’d written. Some of it can be salvaged and made part of the book that needs to be written. Most of it will be put aside until time to really write Book 4 in the series. Better yet, the opening I wrote for it originally can be used with a little modification.

Fingers crossed.

(You can see the opening on my blog.)




Amazon Review Policy Change & More

Since Amazon first opened its virtual doors, there have been concerns about reviews. Not just for books but for all the products sold through its site. It is no secret that authors have paid for reviews — and some still do. Or that there have been fake accounts set up to give sock puppet reviews. There have been stories about sellers and manufacturers planting fake reviews as well, all in the hopes of bolstering their product rankings and ratings. From time to time, Amazon has taken steps to combat this trend. One of the last times they did it, they brought in a weighted review system. This one differentiates between “verified purchasers” and those who did not buy the product viz Amazon. Now there is a new policy in place, once that should help — at least until a new way around it is found.

Simply put, Amazon now requires you to purchase a minimum of $50 worth of books or other products before you can leave a review or answer questions about a product. These purchases, and it looks like it is a cumulative amount, must be purchased via credit card or debit card — gift cards won’t count. This means someone can’t set up a fake account, buy themselves a gift card and use it to get around the policy.


To contribute to Customer Reviews or Customer Answers, Spark, or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on using a valid credit or debit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50 minimum. In addition, to contribute to Spark you must also have a paid Prime subscription (free trials do no qualify). You do not need to meet this requirement to read content posted by other contributors or post Customer Questions, create or modify Profile pages, Lists, or Registries

Whether this change will work in the long run, I don’t know. But, for now, I welcome it.

There is, however, one change I wish they would make. There are a number of readers who are active reviewers but whose reviews aren’t weighted as “verified purchases” because they get their books through the Kindle Unlimited Program. Those downloads are as easy to track as “verified purchases”. So why aren’t they given more weight than those reviews from people who have not gotten a particular book from Amazon?

On a totally different topic, I came across this article earlier this morning and it left me not only shaking my head but wanting to rip someone a new one.

Landing a traditional publisher can be a frustrating, convoluted process. Yet, most speakers, professionals and fiction writers want to publish a book. The main reasons being: credibility and retail distribution, followed by logistical help producing and fulfilling sales.

Self-publishing lacks legitimacy, especially now that anyone with internet access can publish on amazon and call themselves an expert on whatever topic they choose. It’s lowering the legitimacy of Amazon bestsellers every single day, while traditional publishing remains an elusive endeavor.

That’s what Loren Kleinman had to say at the beginning of the “interview”. Yeah, way to alienate a lot of authors right off the boat. But I kept reading and I kept wanting to reach through the screen and shake someone. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions, but here are some of my concerns about what Publishizer does.

The first thing that stood out to me as I looked at their site (which did not inspire a great deal of confidence) is the second step in their process. You “raise funds by selling preorders for 30 days, using our book marketing tools.” This is before you submit your book to publishers. So, how are you going to follow through with these sales after you have signed a contract with a publisher? More importantly, if Publishizer uses these “preorders” as part of their sales package when they market your proposal, I have several more questions: 1) what if you don’t have a large enough number of preorders to show your book has serious traction?  2) Who determines what that number is? and 3) How doe the publishers know these are legitimate sales?

Then there is the fact their “software” determines where to pitch your book. The questions about this are numerous but they boil down to one or two. First, how do they gather their information to make this determination? Second, what publishers are in their main database and how many of those publishers have they actually submitted to? There’s a third question that goes hand-in-hand with all this: how often do they update their database and submission parameters?

If you scroll down, you see they have no cost to “set up” your campaign and you get to keep 70% of your preorders. Oh-oh. That rings more alarm bells. That means they keep 30%. What do the publishers you are trying to sell to think about this?

In the fine print down below, they have some questions and answers. It seems they will pitch at least 30 publishers. This is where it gets interesting. They say they will pitch traditional, advance-paying publishers but also  “independent publishers and high-quality hybrid publishers”. Anyone want to take a bet one which type they sign with more often? In the links at the bottom of the page, they have a list of publishers. Another knock because that list is not alphabetical.

Now, this site might be completely legit and it might have successfully helped authors get viable contracts. I don’t know. What I’m saying is if you are contemplating using it, be sure to read all the fine print first and do an in-depth search on it before “signing” anything.

Until later!



Science Fiction in our Genes

I wrote earlier this week about science fiction, adaptation, and the human species over on my blog. in a nutshell, I’d written earlier about genes and how animals raised in captivity adapt to being in close quarters so quickly that it’s not really a viable option to raise an endangered population up to replace wild populations that are in danger of extinction. So what does this have to do with humans? Well, the conversation went something like ‘people who like to live in cities are weird’ (I’m shortening and paraphrasing) during a discussion about the coasts of the US, and how they have a tendency to vote a certain way. But, if you think about it, and I do, urbaniztion of a population does indeed do things to it. Similar things, I think, to the effects felt on a captive population of, say, butterflies. The butterflies get smaller wings, heavier bodies, and the ability to lay more eggs. So in effect they are going to do well in a cage where they can’t fly far, and would be easy prey for predators if they were put out of their nice safe cage.

Scientists are studying the effect that urban areas (generally defined as >300,000 people) have on plant and animal species. It’s no real stretch to imagine that living in a metroplex would affect humans as well, especially the poorer, less mobile parts of the population. And this is without even moving into the realm of science fiction. These studies have seen the effects of adaptation in as little as two generations – in my original article I was working off the premise that large effects of  captivity were seen in Drosophila in eight generations: in human terms, 150 years. But two? A mere 30-40 years? (yes, thirty. Look at average primapara age for the inner-city populations).

All this is native to our design for adaptation and evolution of the genome, the in-built system to keep a species thriving in changing environments. If you don’t adapt quickly, you die – which was a larger part of what led to the passenger pigeon extinction than human predation on that species. Now, how about human tinkering with our own genes? We can do it – we’ve known that for a while, gentle readers. But a new paper on Crispr tells the tale of genes switched on inside an adult allowing that model organism (a mouse, in this case) to express genes they had been unable to do before, which led to the self-treatment of diabetes, kidney disease, and muscular dystrophy. This is exciting on so many levels, one of which is that this was done without having to completely break the DNA (a double-strand break) which means that the inadvertent introduction of mutations is not a concern.

Now, leap off this mudball and into the realm of science fiction. We see that if we do not maintain genetic diversity and gene flow between populations, we risk extinction. The ability to quickly adapt and overcome has long been a human realm. But what, as our populations grow larger and our urban areas soak up the majority of the humans on this planet, will happen to that diversity? What if we became like the passenger pigeon, and when sudden catastrophe came (a pandemic, an alien invasion, what-have-you) we were unable to adapt? The answer lies in the stars. But to get there, we’re going to have to adapt again and again, and our populations, like the urban rats of New York, will evolve and differentiate. Not enough to become separate species, unless we really start tinkering with Crispr… although as writers and speculators, we know that’s going to happen, don’t we? Humans will experiment, and they will experiment on themselves. I mean, it’s only a matter of a few years since the theorist about Heliobacter pylori decided to prove his hypothesis by drinking a beaker of that pathogen and giving himself ulcers. And another one ingested internal parasites on purpose to prove that they would put his autoimmune disease into remission. We’re crazy, we humans.

Which means that to write science fiction we have to think crazy, like a fox. To imagine the weirdest thing we can, and then take it a step weirder. There’s a whole field of stories that suddenly seems prophetic as we begin to truly understand the tools we have now, and the reality of epigenetics. Lamarck, who proposed the giraffe’s neck had become so long because it was necessary to reach the higher leaves (the ones out of reach of the eland and the gnu, which makes me think of Kipling’s stories), was laughed out of science when Darwin’s theory was all the rage, but in the long run it turns out that he was more right – and our genes more complex – than scientists at the time could possibly have imagined. Now, keep in mind that although we are now able to manipulate our own genome, and we have begun to grasp that natural selection is not always the random pattern once theorized with the epigenetic understanding that we are shaped by our ancestral diet and environment, we still do not fully understand what genes do.  there are a few genes we can point out and say x does y. However, the vast number of them interact in complex and mysterious ways. We can’t just say, snip that gene out and cure cancer! because that’s not how it works.

Which means that in terms of story and speculation, we have worlds of room to draw conclusions and create plots that could be possible, or utterly wrong, but it’s so much fun to take the bleeding edge of science and play it out into what might be. What’s next?



It is No Longer the “Normal World” of Publishing

Anyone who has been reading this blog for long knows publishing isn’t what it used to be. No matter how hard traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, try to hold out, things have changed. One of the most obvious indications of that change is that it is now the Big 5 instead of the Big 6. Then, whether traditional publishing likes it or not, indie publishing is a major player in the field. The main reason for that is Amazon. However, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been pitfalls, because there have and Amazon has been forced to put in place systems to help navigate those problems — systems meant to benefit its customers and indie authors alike.

One of the most infamous instances of Amazon acting to protect an author’s copyright happened back in 2009. It hit the news in a big way because Amazon didn’t necessarily do it in the best way possible, at least from a PR standpoint. The short version is simple. Amazon discovered someone was selling an e-book version of the George Orwell classic, 1984. Instead of contacting those who had purchased the book, Amazon simply removed it from their devices. Refunds were eventually issued and Amazon explained why it had done what it did. Simply put, by continuing to allow the unauthorized version of the novel to be sold, it was open to liability. By removing the e-book from devices, it limited any liability it might have and it protected the copyright of the book.

Oh, but the cries of foul.

Since then, Amazon has been condemned by a number of people — authors and publishers alike — for not doing enough to protect the copyright of authors. There have been allegations of “authors” plagiarizing books wholesale, changing only names and locations (if that). Everything else about the books are verbatim. (Check out this article detailing Elis O’Hanlon’s story of being plagiarized.)

Amid all these concerns, and there are others who have alleged plagiarism, calls for Amazon to tighten their systems to prevent people from ripping off another author’s work have sounded. As an indie author, I’m all in favor of Amazon doing just that. Our copyright in a work is like our deed for our house. We no more want squatters in our homes than we want someone ripping off our work and profiting from it at our expense.

I’ll even admit that I’ve been asked by Amazon on a couple of instances to prove that I have copyright in two or three titles I have indie published. Each time, the work had been previously published by a small press. The contract I had with the press expired and rights reverted. I received an email from Amazon in each instance and all it took was a quick response, letting them know the terms of the contract, the fact rights had reverted and a copy of the reversion letter. No big deal. The way I looked at it was simple. This might have delayed the release of the titles by a couple of days, but I’d rather that than have someone who shouldn’t be releasing the work doing so.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I was looking at The Passive Voice and found reference to a situation involving the husband and wife writing team of Lee and Miller. They attempted to self-publish a couple of short stories as chapter e-books and Amazon flagged the new publication because the stories had been published before in a collection of their work from Baen. Amazon wanted proof rights had reverted back to Lee and Miller.

As you’d expect, communication went both ways and Lee and Miller informed Amazon they had granted Baen non-exclusive rights for the short stories. That meant they had the right to publish them in the chapter e-book format. Amazon responded that it needed to see the contract. And that’s where Lee and Miller had an issue. Why? Because that’s not how things are done in the “normal world” of publishing.

I’m not faulting them for being frustrated. I was as well when Amazon wanted me to prove my rights and reverted. What did get me was that they were applauding the fact iTunes, B&N, etc., hadn’t given them any problem where Amazon was. Call it a difference in view but I feel good knowing Amazon is trying to combat the plagiarism and copyright problems authors have been complaining about for ages, problems that aren’t exclusive to Amazon.

I do wish Amazon’s communication options for authors were better. Unlike “customers” who can simply go to the Contact Us section and choose whether to have a live chat, a phone call or email their problem to customer support, authors are limited to basically emailing their issue and waiting anywhere fro 24 to 48 hours for a response. There are ways around this but only after that initial email has been sent. It is frustrating, especially when you consider that each day a book isn’t on sale, you are losing money.

Of course, I’ve also had better response from Amazon than I have from any of the other “stores” when I’ve tried to contact them. The few times I had to contact B&N, I never heard back. That’s part of the reason why I pulled all my books out of there for several years. I have one book back there right now and will be adding several others, just to test the water. However, my expectations for responsiveness of the store is far lower than my expectations for Amazon.

Here’s the thing, however. It is time for folks to realize that things have changed in publishing — whether you are talking the indie side or traditional publishing. Advances are down. Market shares are changing. Readers have more power than ever before because of the availability of indie and small press books. As an author, we have to not only recognize that things have change but that they are continuing to change. That means, like it or not, if we are going to do business with any of the e-tailers, we have to be prepared to jump through any hoops they throw our way.

Do I wish it were different? Hell yes. I hate the fact Amazon is basically the gorilla in the china shop and there is no real competitor on the horizon. Having any one outlet with that much power is troublesome. But it is the game we choose to play as indies. We either sell through them and jump through their hoops or we go with a smaller market share.

But the first thing we have to do is recognize that things aren’t “normal” any longer. The publishing landscape has changed and if you aren’t playing ball with the Big 5 or other major traditional publishers, their rules don’t apply. For the most part, that benefits the indie author. However, it also means we have to figure out what the rules are and be prepared to respond to them.

Like how they do it or not, at least it appears Amazon is getting better at sniffing out possible copyright infringement issues. That should be something we applaud because it will, ultimately, protect all of us.



Reader Demographics via Emotional Beats

**This was posted in April, 2016 – I was going to do a piece on burnout, and preventing same, but the flu is sweeping through Day Job and we’re swamped. Unlike a lot of marketing advice, this is just as relevant as when it was first posted, and worth revisiting.**

If I were selling jewelry at a gaming con or ren faire, the easiest way to figure out my target audience is to note who’s attracted to the displays, and who of that segment has enough money to buy the merchandise. (There’s a secondary market of “attracted to the display, but can’t afford; clearly I need to find a piece that it’s their price range yet still profitable to sell!” But that’s a digression, not quite so applicable to ebooks.) For silver and semiprecious stones, that’s the $20-$80 price range for a good-sized gaming con, with a few pieces/sets up to $250 that may or may not move, but attract the customers to the booth.

The demographic is primarily women and gay men, though if a man walks by with a lady who glances at our booth, he’s the best kind of fair game. “Sir! I have a necklace for your lady that would go perfectly with… your credit card!” Generally, for silver and garnet, you’re looking at the college age, though any older gothy types are even better – they have more money, know what they like, and won’t hesitate to purchase it. We’re especially looking for the people who have similar tastes in jewelry on them. “Shiny things! We have sparkly, shiny things!”

(Okay, maybe that’s more “when I used to” than “if.”) Anyway, it’s pretty easy to suss out your demographic – if they’re not interested, they saunter off. If they are, they stick around for the pitch, or browse and buy. Selling ebooks blind through a vendor makes it a lot harder to figure out who your target market is, especially when you didn’t have one in mind when you started.

Who likes science fiction? Who likes entertaining stories? Who’s willing to put in time and money to getting good stories? Don’t limit yourself artificially here. If you check the demographics of Star Wars fans on Tumblr, you’re going to find demographics… that reflect Tumblr. If you check the demographics of science fiction fans at WorldCon, you’re going to skew old, literary, and heavily social justice compared to DragonCon… neither of which are the same as a ComicCon, and even that won’t reflect the general population that liked The Martian enough to go see it in the movie theater. Most statistics of reader populations are small and self-selecting, reflecting the pool from which they’re drawn. They tend to miss the vast majority of the buying public.

The Martian’s opening-week audience, who went to go see it based on trailers alone, was 54% male, 59% of whom were over 35 years old. Week 2 was 52% male, 72% over 25 years old. The preordered tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were “primarily” male, between 18 and 49, with an average age of 34. Given the Martian’s domestic gross from film run was $228 Million, even if you assumed $20/ticket (it’s $9.50 locally), that’s still a heck of a lot of eyeballs. Neilsen Bookscan, which we know misses a lot of sales, was reporting 62,000 sales per week of The Martian (print format, ebook not included) after the film was released.

Granted, you don’t have a film directed by Ridley Scott backing your book. Nonetheless, you can see there’s a heck of an audience out there the publishers don’t tend to reach. Dream big!

So, you’re now nodding, and saying “Okay, so you’ve proven that men in the 18-49 range like science fiction if it promises to have a good story. And lots of women; 52-54 percent is barely a majority. How do I get any clearer than that?”

Well, now you get to do some research on your particular book. Go to your biggest market (probably Amazon), and start pulling up the first books in your also-boughts for one of your books. (Skip the other ones by you. That just proves that the readers like you, and buy more after one try.) Now, you’re going to break out for each of these some basic dissection.

As you go through the book, which emotional beats does the book contain, and in what proportion? Beats are: wonder, humor, adventure, horror, romance, mystery, and drama.

1. Is your protagonist Male or female? How old are they?
2. Is there romance or romantic subplot in the book? What rough percentage of the book is dedicated to the romance?
2a. Are there explicit sex scenes? (female audience!)
3. On the action to introspection scale, what rough percentage of the book is action, and what percentage internal monologue and introspection?
3a. Is the protagonist whiny? (female audience!)
4. Is there a sidekick? Are they humorous? (kids and male audience!)
5. Is your antagonist nature itself, some faceless group entity / race / corporation, or a villain?
5b. If your antagonist is a villain, What is their age, sex, and occupation?
5c. Is it the cartoon standard of rich old white man or corporate man for evil corporation?
6. Is your scifi hard, cyberpunk, military, space opera, or steampunk? Is your fantasy urban fantasy?
6b. Does your urban fantasy have sexy monsters or ugly monsters that get killed?

People find it easiest to identify with someone like them.** Kids can identify with a protagonist up to about 27 years old, as long as they don’t become parents, but respond best to someone their age or slightly older. (A 14-year-old has been 10. She doesn’t want to be 10 again, but she may want to be 16, or 18.)

In general, statistical strokes:

Kids and Teens respond strongly to wonder, adventure, and humor. Teen girls to romance, teen boys to horror.

Women from Age 20-40 respond strongly to romance, humor, horror, mystery, and drama. (As they approach 40 and the hormone levels drop, mystery and drama statistically become stronger draws, and romance less.)

Men from 20-50 respond strongly to adventure, primarily, followed by wonder, drama, and mystery.

Military, active and vet, like military science fiction, and action/adventure, especially if it doesn’t have navel gazing or anti-military messages. They also tend to like hard(er) scifi, where the challenges against environment and entropy are clear.

Kids, even the ones still in college, respond strongly to coming-of-age, exploration of strange worlds and cultures, fitting in, etc. Parents are often absent or dead in stories, sometimes the restrictions that must be overcome.

Over time, the response shifts strongly and naturally to caring for loved ones, providing for a family, raising children, and makng a relationship stable and lasting. Now the fears are threats to children / family, to relationships / marriages, to jobs.

So look at your story, and the other stories your audience likes. Peter’s Laredo Trilogy books often lack romantic subplot, and by the other books his audience buys, that’s pretty normal for the target audience. This means they’re going to skew military and skew male, looking for adventure, wonder (cool new worlds! Starship battles!), drama (the ship is at stake! So is the empire!), and mystery.

Sabrina Chase’s The Scent of Metal, on the other hand, has adventure, wonder, and romance as its primary emotional beats. And it has kissing (sparks fly!) So her audience demographics is likely to skew much more heavily female than Peter’s books, though the military aspects will draw military of both sexes.

Dave Freer’s Changeling’s Island is a wide-audience-draw marketed as YA. The protagonist is a teen boy of unmentioned age, but there’s a girl sidekick that can provide somebody for preteen and early teen girls to empathize with. The parents are absent, but there’s the boy’s grandmother, and the girl’s parents, to provide adult points of view, with their own challenges and struggles when it comes to taking care of family, of neighbors, fitting in as an adult newcomer, remaining independent as your body fails you and the place you know changes (that’s a post-50 draw for men, post-40 draw for women). The kids’ POVs are heavy on wonder, adventure, mystery, and humor. The parental storylines have horror and drama interleaved in.

If you want more in-depth on this, check out Dave Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines. He has some pretty nifty demographics breakdown that can be applied to marketing, not just outlining.

One final note: all this analysis can be done in outlining, or post-writing, but it’s not prescriptive for how to write any single book, much less your book. Write the book that thrills you, that inspires you, that you love. If you write to a marketing formula, it’s at best formulaic, where if you write to emotion, it’ll have an emotional depth to attract and hold readers.

Wrapping this up now, as I’m crashing for the night. What beats and demographics do you find from one of your stories and its also-boughts?

** “Identify” is greatly abused by identity politics idiots. This does not means Honor Harrington’s audience is limited to heavyworlder-genetically modified female captains with treecats, for goodness’ sakes, nor do you have to be a dragon to enjoy Dog and Dragon. Common sense, please! This means that men tend to like reading stories about men, women about women. People in their 30’s will find more in common with protagonists in their 30’s, cat people with cats and cat-owning protagonists, dog owners with loyal dogs and their owners in the story. And children have a really, really tough time connecting with a character that’s a parent, as opposed to a character that’s a child. (Whod’a thunk most kids don’t see things from a parental point of view!) This is a broad statistical truth, not an ironclad always-in-every-case. (See: demographics of Harry Potter fans.) But that’s just the very start, and it’s far more important to keep reading the rest of this article about emotional beats than to skim until offended!