When people are calling me an asshole or a “tradpub defender” who’s simultaneously terrified of the future and incredibly lucky because I’m inside, I can’t help but laugh aloud. Seriously, I bust out laughing at my computer.
Why? Because writers are not on the inside. You write a book –> Someone likes it enough to offer you a contract –> You fill the contract –> If both parties want to, you get another offer.
That’s it. Writers aren’t insiders, they’re visitors. They’re free agents. Some are in great demand. Most are not. From the outside it might look like they’re insiders, but I’ve learned that ain’t so.
The point is (and we’re ignoring the odd stuff like celebrity books and such), the only difference between a writer who gets that pseudo-inside status and the one that did not is that the former wrote a book a publisher wanted to publish. That’s it. The so-called gatekeepers aren’t there to keep you out. They’re there to let you in once you have a book that meets their needs. They’re searching for your work.
But that doesn’t make you an insider. You’re still on the outside, proving your worth over and over again, every time you write a book. #SFWApro
Taken by my wife, yesterday.
making books The outside world: a blessing of monsters people publishing words
by Harry Connolly
Author Kameron Hurley
is procrastinating on her novel has written another interesting blog post, this one called UNPACKING THE “REAL WRITERS HAVE TALENT” MYTH. She makes a few points that are similar to ones I made in a previous post about talent and hard work, Teaching Writers To Be Talented, but she comes at it from a different perspective.
I especially like the way she emphasizes study as much as hard work. Sure, a writer can create page after page of prose, but unless there’s a continuous struggle to separate what works from what doesn’t, and unless there’s an open-minded willingness to study the form in depth, all that hard work may not mean actual improvement.
Yeah, it’s nice to have “talent”, whatever that is. I mean, I talk about talent in that old post I just linked to, but I’m surprised to see that I never used the term black box to describe it.
People call others “talented” based on what they create, but you can never really know the process that lead to that final creation. Was it a “natural gift”? Did they study the craft for years? Were they working in a parallel field then carried a few lessons over? Did they grow up in a home rich with language?
Even if you were to ask the author directly, you could never be sure their answer is accurate, not when writers say things like “I didn’t have talent. I had hard work.” and “I just sat down to write a book and a publisher picked it up!” People have a tendency to overlook important factors like years of fanfic/journal writing, or even something as simple as a house full of books.
Hurley’s post is worth reading, not least because she gives hard concrete examples of the way she learned. “Blindly groping along” I think is the way she put it, which covers so many of us.
To take this even further, consider artist Molly Crabapple’s post Filthy Lucre:
Meritocracy is America’s foundational myth. If you work hard, society tells us, you’ll earn your place in the middle class. But any strawberry picker knows hard work alone is a fast road to nowhere. Similarly, we place our faith in education. Study, and the upper-middle class will be yours. Except the average student graduates $35,000 in debt.
Artists too have their myths. The lies told to artists mirror the lies told to women. Be good enough, be pretty enough, and that guy or gallery will sweep you off your feet, to the picket-fenced land of generous collectors and two and a half kids. But, make the first move, seize your destiny, and you’re a whore.
But neither hard work nor talent nor education are passports to success. At best, they’re small bits of the puzzle.
It’s easy to ignore luck, privilege, and bloody social climbing when you stand onstage in a pair of combat boots. It’s easy to say that if people are just good enough, work hard enough, ask enough, believe enough, they will be [successful].
She’s coming at things from the fine arts, so her concerns are somewhat different. She needs funds to create her artwork, while for writers the main constraint is time. Time to read, research, write, and revise. Time to make the work and do it without interruption. For me and most writers I know, the major limitations on our time come from the paying work we must do to support ourselves and our families, and the time we have to spend caring for our loved ones (addendum: we need loved ones; being lonely can kill you).
Even with talent and hard work, there’s always a chance of failure. Money helps. Luck helps. Lots of free time helps. Supportive people help. Success comes from a mix of some or all of those things, and the more of them you have the better.
However, just to re-emphasize the point:
Hard work + self-awareness + perseverance = MAYBE
That’s a quote from Scott Lynch’s post from today. It’s another long one, but again worth reading.
The big takeaway is that, you have to work hard, you have to be lucky, you have to stick it out, but even if you do everything “right” there are still no guarantees.
Speaking of which, if you’ve read this far you’re entitled to a little news. Here it is:
THE WAY INTO CHAOS, aka A Blessing of Monsters, aka Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts, has gone the rounds of New York publishes and found no takers. The very last rejection came this morning, which is why I dredged up this post from the pile of unfinished ones in my dashboard.
The reasons giving in those rejections are interesting if not instructive. Today’s pointed out that the current market favors fantasy that’s very dark, while TWIC is not. (So much for being ahead of the curve).
In any event, yes, I will have to finish the book, then self-publish it (with some crowd-sourced help to pay for editing and cover art). That’s some weeks away still, but damn.
There are no guarantees.
Most of us have favorite holiday specials from when we were kids (and after!) so I thought I’d take a moment to list my favorite holiday-themed movies, specials, and TV episodes about everyone’s favorite holiday, The Purge.
It’s The Purge, Charlie Brown! Sent to buy supplies for all of his friends just before the big night, Charlie Brown returns with only a single, undersized firebomb. The other kids mock him and drive him away until the realize that, with a little laundry soap and a bag of fertilizer, the tiny firebomb isn’t so bad after all, driving home the true meaning of Purge night.
The Grinch Who Stole Purge Living a lonely hermit’s life, The Grinch hates that the Purge disturbs his solitude every year with the sounds of gunfire and screaming. One year, he sneaks into the local village to steal every gun, bladed weapon, and explosive they have only to discover the true meaning of Purge night when the villagers begin to murder each other with their finger nails and teeth.
Purgetown Starring Debbie Reynolds. Three kids find themselves transported to a magical town where every night is Purge night.
It’s a Wonderful Riot Facing scandal, prison, and bankruptcy, George Bailey wishes he had never been born. An angel appears and grants his wish, taking him on a tour of the smoking crater his gated community would be without him.
Miracle on 35th Street The skeptical young daughter of a psychoanalyst experiences the true joy of The Purge when, against all logic and reason, a NY court rules that cathartic rage for therapeutic purposes is totally a real thing.
(This post inspired by @timcarvell’s tweet.)
The outside world: internet people politics publishing
by Harry Connolly
I’ve been following the fight over sexist content in The Bulletin and sexist content in the genre in general, but I hadn’t planned to comment on it any more than I already have.
However! I want to drop a couple of relevant links and make a point I haven’t seen elsewhere. First, the links:
My very complicated reaction to issue 202 of the Bulletin by Mary Robinette Kowal encapsulates a lot of what I’ve been thinking about the whole shit smear. SFWA is not required to put out sexist commentary and the fact that it does (or simply lets it slip through the editorial sieve) is a major distraction from the good work it does. Her whole post is worth reading.
Ann Aguirre came into the professional part of the field only a few years before I did, but the sexism she details is ridiculous. Worse, if you read down to the ETA on that post, you see that she’s still getting vicious emails that include rape threats. I can’t stand that this bullshit is still going on.
Finally, I just want to comment on this quote from Mike Resnick in his most recent column:
The next question is: is this an overreaction to attempted censorship? The answer is simple and straightforward: I don’t think it’s possible to overreact to thought control, whether Politically Inept of Politically Motivated or merely displaying the would-be controller’s personal tastes and biases
For the record, the “attempted censorship” is the online criticism he and the magazine that published him has received. Never mind that criticism is not censorship; the point here is that Resnick thinks that only his speech should have power. He seems to think the people who criticism are welcome to do so as long as nothing comes of their speech: no one can be swayed by the points they make, no one can have their minds changed. If Resnick’s editor sees the criticism, thinks they have merit, and ends the column, that’s “censorship” and must be fought.
Which is bullshit, obviously. Speech has consequences. Speech sways the opinion of others, and maybe–just maybe–that might have an effect on your life. Resnick has that power; he’s going to have to get used to the idea that others have it, too.
making books personal: a blessing of monsters moi? progress
by Harry Connolly
My agent just confirmed that she received the new version of THE WAY INTO CHAOS. That’s just the first part of a long-ass story that’s not even finished, but I have post-project blues anyway. Christ.
making books: a blessing of monsters progress publishing
by Harry Connolly
I’m a few hours from sending my much-revised book off to my agent. I’m writing this Thursday night but scheduling it for Friday morning. By the time this posts, I’ll already be sitting in a Starbucks, hunched over my laptop, taking contractions out of the dialog of two characters who appear spread out over 148K words. Fun! Okay, actually, I’m filled with misery over this, but this is the job and it isn’t always fun.
So: N things make a post.
1) Kameron Hurley takes up the subject of survivorship bias and the marketing of books. I really liked this post, long as it is, because marketing is something I know squat about and she covers a lot of useful ground for a noob like me. Also: pulp covers not as attractive to readers, apparently. Give that a read.
2) C.E. Murphy hosts a guest blog post by Judith Tarr on how publishing used to work and how everything now is so much better. Yes, there was more money when she started, but now authors no longer have to worry about vanishing if their publisher drops them. You can read the whole thing in one post here, or in part one, two, and three.
Why link to the same material four times? In this case, the comments. They’re worth reading. For example.
Anyway, it’s a concise summary of where we are now contrasted with a description of where publishing was back in the day from someone who was there. I’m a little annoyed at the “Mommy and Daddy” stuff, but people have to make their point.
3) Hugo-winner Lawrence Watt-Evans responds by talking about his plans for his upcoming books and how he intends to keep putting his work on the market. He was an early adopter of the model of posting a book a chapter at a time as donations came in from his readers.
4) Speaking of where we are now, Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt are trying to revive their zine FLYTRAP, and how are they doing it? Crowdfunding, of course. This is the way the future will work, guys. Check it out.
As a followup to yesterday’s post about our bias toward survivors, skill, luck, and the creating of luck, I wanted to make one little note here about how wrong I’ve been on one aspect of book marketing.
It’s often said that publicists and marketers will do all sorts of things to get the word out about a particular book, but they know that 90% of it will be wasted effort–they just don’t know which will be in the 90%, so they do it all.
For me and a lot of other people, I suspect, this sounds like a poorly-researched, poorly-planned activity. How can you not know what works and what doesn’t? Why not just find out what’s effective? Do polling/market research/whatever to answer questions like: Do book reviews in Locus sell copies? Do convention appearances? Do radio interviews?
Obviously, this wouldn’t be easy but it sounds doable. What’s more, there’s money on the line and if there’s one thing that begs for careful research into the acquiring of it, it’s money.
But that’s because I hadn’t really thought about it correctly. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, people who are lucky tend to put themselves into new situations often. They’re flexible. They don’t try to control situations. They try new things.
Yesterday, while I was mulling over the prospect that it was my own damn choices that made the Twenty Palaces books so unlucky, it dawned on me that the whole point of “90% is wasted effort” is that it’s luck-seeking behavior. It’s putting information out into the world hoping that it starts catching people’s attention in a big way. People will say things like “I took out an ad on Reddit Fantasy” or “I did a guest post for [Name Author]” or “I got a nice review on [Non-Book Site]” but that’s a kind of suvivorship bias, too. The book was marketed and publicized in a lot of ways, but those were the times that luck hit.
Maybe that’s obvious to everyone in the world but me, but this is my blog, so…
Here I’ve been thinking that most marketing is Not Useful. Maybe I should rethink.
If you publish your own work (and I do) or you’re thinking of publishing your own work, I recommend reading this post by Toby Buckell on Survivor Bias in the self-publishing world.
Seriously, I recommend taking a look at those posts. He has graphs! Everyone loves graphs nowadays.
There are a lot of comments I wanted to make on this, but this will be the main one: It’s not a lottery, but luck is involved.
The people who are in the far left of those graphs, selling a ton of books? They’re in that place in part because the books they wrote appeal to lots of people. However, that’s not enough. It’s also not enough for them to be marketed in all the right places and the right ways, to get a cover from a specific designer, or for the author to be online drumming up interest in their work.
There’s luck involved, too. You can do everything right and still not win. But since you can’t control luck, you have to simply create the circumstances where luck will flourish, and keep rolling dice.
Added: Wiseman speculated that what we call luck is actually a pattern of behaviors that coincide with a style of understanding and interacting with the events and people you encounter throughout life. Unlucky people are narrowly focused, he observed. They crave security and tend to be more anxious, and instead of wading into the sea of random chance open to what may come, they remain fixated on controlling the situation, on seeking a specific goal. As a result, they miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by. Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences. Wiseman saw that the people who considered themselves lucky, and who then did actually demonstrate luck was on their side over the course of a decade, tended to place themselves into situations where anything could happen more often and thus exposed themselves to more random chance than did unlucky people. The lucky try more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out.
making books The outside world: internet publishing TV words
by Harry Connolly
Check this out: Amazon is setting up Kindle Worlds, which is a way for people to write fanfic and sell it with the IP creator’s consent. So far they’re only going public with three of the shows (and all three are TV shows) they’ve licensed–GOSSIP GIRL, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, VAMPIRE DIARIES (yeah, I know the last was a book first)–but obviously there are going to be more.
Some thoughts: First, they’re going with their onerous 65% sales commission, which is understandable, I guess, since they’re paying the owner of the IP as well as themselves. Don’t forget that’s based on the net revenue. Quote: As with all titles from Amazon Publishing, Kindle Worlds will base net revenue off of customer sales price
Still, it’s good to see that they’re going to be paying monthly, which is the first of the five big changes Tobias Buckell hopes to see in publishing as a whole.
Second, the books will not be commissioned by Amazon. It’s all spec submissions. You can check out their rough guidelines for the program as a whole and see that they will not be accepting anything with graphic sex or offensive language.
They also won’t accept crossover works, or works that contain a whole bunch of brand names (presumably because they think the writer is getting paid to do so)
Third, they reserve the right to reject work for things like bad ebook formatting and shitty covers.
Yeah, that’s right. The authors are expected to create their own covers for work being published with the consent of Warner Bros. I can’t help but wonder if they’ll turn a blind eye to using actors’ publicity shots.
Fourth, I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.
So… okay. The way it works is simple: You write (or more likely “have written”) fanfic within a licensed setting out of love for the show. Amazon opens its doors to Kindle Worlds. You create a cover and format an ebook file, then submit it.
At that point, someone at Amazon actually reads it–when they’re explaining that poor customer experience will get a book rejected, they say: “We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.” I’m going to assume that means they have a reader on staff vetting projects before they’re published, not that they publish everything and take it down later based on reader complaints. Frankly, it’s what I would expect if I were Warner Bros.
If it’s approved, it goes on sale and you start getting the ka-ching (they set the price).
One thing I’m not clear about is whether they acquire all rights to your work on publication or submission. It’s not as though you can sell your GOSSIP GIRL novella somewhere else, but you could certainly change the names around once it’s been rejected for the sexy, and Amazon could make trouble for you if they have your submission in a database somewhere.
As for how I feel about it, honestly I’m conflicted. Some years ago before I was published, I wrote and submitted a story for an open Star Trek anthology. It was a prison story starring that transporter-accident clone of Riker, after he’d been captured by the Dominion and, while I was proud of it at the time and while my rejection was personalized (and quite nice) the damn thing was much too specific to file the serial numbers off.
I think it’s great to open up settings in this way for the fans, and I hope they take advantage. At the same time, writing tie-in novels used to be a way for writers to make a bit of money (and have a bit of fun) between their own projects. With luck, a successful HALO or Star Wars novel would draw in new fans to their original work.
So, does this signal the end of the pro tie-in novel? Probably not entirely, but there is going to be pressure on the market by people willing to write the books (and make their own covers!) on spec.
And for the people publishing their fanfic, it seems like playing small ball. Yes, there will undoubtedly be people who make good money through this program, but I can’t help but think they’d be better off in the long term by filing the serial numbers off and striking out on their own, as in 50 SHADES…
Personally, I don’t have any fanfiction I could even submit. (There was the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN thing I did in 4th grade) because I’m not part of that community, but it does open up other ideas: will authors be allowed to list their own IP with Kindle Worlds, allowing fanfic in their settings be sold online? Personally, I think that would be cool.
So we’re turning fanfic into media tie-in novels.
It’s an exciting time, isn’t it?
 Big surprise, right? Don’t bother pasting that mpreg into Caliber just yet.
 As my theater improv friends put it, the work will have to be “TV clean.”
 “I am Jack’s attempt to publish fanfic with an anti-consumerist message.”
 No way am I looking at it again.
 At the moment, the only IP I have available are my Twenty Palaces series. The first book is only $2.99.
My wife is on the steering committee for the 2013 Seattle Science Festival, which starts on June 6th. This is only the second year they’ve run one, and last year was pretty cool. I took my son to a physics demonstration at the UW (I thought I’d blogged about it but now I can’t find the link) and he loved it.
This year will be even bigger. On June 8th there’s going to be a huge expo at the Seattle Center, and from the 6th to the 11th there will be events happening all over the Puget Sound area, from presentations on becoming a game creator at the Microsoft store to
Anyway, I’ve copy and pasted a note the festival organizers have asked me to share letting folks know briefly about what’s on the schedule and how you can get involved, if you feel so moved.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite you and your organization to the second annual Seattle Science Festival. This year, the region’s largest celebration of science will take place June 6-16, 2013 to celebrate the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to our community’s culture and to its continued growth and prosperity. The Seattle Science Festival will consist of the following components:
- Science EXPO Day, Saturday, June 8, will feature exciting, engaging events all day long throughout the grounds of Seattle Center. Over 15,000 students, parents, scientists, educators and other community members are anticipated to take part in this FREE event. Science EXPO Day will showcase over 150 hands-on activities and demonstrations; it will also feature live science performances on the EXPO Day Stage. FREE BUS PARKING IS AVAILABLE ON SCIENCE EXPO DAY! Contact Jordan Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
- Signature Programs, June 6-16, will provide events developed by our program collaborators specifically for the Seattle Science Festival. Signature Programs include behind-the-scenes tours, science adventures, field trip opportunities for classrooms, workshops, screenings of science-themed films, a Cool Jobs Series at the Seattle Public Library on June 9-Computer Science, June 12-Green & Clean Technology, and June 13-Biomedical Science, plus many other events held at venues all over the Puget Sound region.
- Opening Night at the Paramount Theatre, June 6, 8 – 10 PM Beyond Infinity? The Search for Understanding at the Limits of Space and Time. Featuring Brian Greene, Sean Carroll, Adam Frank and the West Coast premiere of Icarus at the Edge of Time, and music by Philip Glass, conducted by Marcus Tsutakawa and performed by the Garfield High School Orchestra. Avoid service charges by purchasing tickets IN PERSON at the Paramount Theatre Box Office at 911 Pine Street, Seattle, or for 10 or more tickets, contact their Group Sales Manager at (206) 315-8054.
- Closing Night at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, June 15, 7:30 – 9:30 PM Our 11th Hour: Straight Talk on Climate Change from People Who Know. Featuring Kevin E. Trenberth, Richard Alley, Andrew Revkin and a performance of Seattle Opera’s Heron and the Salmon Girl. Buy tickets at www.seattlesciencefestival.org.
These high profile events will present some of the greatest scientific and creative minds of our time and weave together science, music, art and philosophy for two inspiring, thought-provoking and engaging evenings.
How can you get involved?
- Sign up for the Seattle Science Festival E-Newsletter
- Coordinate a group of students to bring to a Seattle Science Festival event
- Become a Seattle Science Festival Ambassador and help spread the word
- Sign up to be a Seattle Science Festival volunteer by May 22
Visit www.seattlesciencefestival.org to learn more about how you can get involved and I hope to see you there!
Guess what turned up on Netflix Streaming recently? (The subject header above is a subtle hint.) Yep, it’s the 1985 non-classic REMO WILLIAMS, starring Fred Ward. Apparently, the film is based on a series of men’s adventure novels that I haven’t read and never will, so whatever. It’s the movie I want to talk about. Remo’s adventure might have begun with that picture, but it didn’t go any farther. (I live in the happy world where the TV pilot doesn’t exist.)
Anyway, I saw this movie a great many times in the bong-fueled haze of post-college daytime cable and I loved it. Watching it again last week with my family reminded me how charming and fun it is.
It also brought back how completely fucked up this movie it. Seriously.
First, have this: How to be a fan of problematic things. It’s a good article written from the perspective of a person fighting for social justice who’s following GAME OF THRONES. Even if you’re not such a person, it’s worth reading.
And it applies to REMO in spades.
Let’s talk briefly about the setup: Fred Ward is a tough NYC street cop who is “killed” in the first few minutes of the movie. He wakes up in a hospital bed with a new face and identity; he’s been recruited by a secret government organization headed by Wilford Brimley. Why?
Brimley’s character sums it up like this: “This is a great country, my boy, but the justice system doesn’t work the way it should.” I know what you’re thinking, right? They’re going to reform the justice system!
Actually, no. They’re an assassination squad operating domestically under the direct control of the president. The only limits to their power is that they must never “embarrass the president.” That’s it. They investigate people and, if they have too much money/power to be prosecuted, they arrange a convincing “accident.”
To effect this plan, Ward is to be trained in the ancient and mysterious martial art of sinanju, which will allow him to dodge bullets, run without touching the ground, and other goofiness.
If that were the end of it, REMO would be little different from other odd 80′s action movies about heroic vigilantes. Unfortunately, the elderly Korean master who teaches Ward is played by… Joel Gray.
Yeah. It’s a white guy in yellowface.
Here’s the thing. The yellowface makeup was nominated for an Oscar. Gray’s performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination. If he’d done a shitty job in the role this would be an utterly forgettable movie. Actually, until Gray appears onscreen, it IS a forgettable movie. Ward is charismatic. Kate Mulgrew is terrific as a major in the army trying to prove that the bad guys are breaking the law. But until Gray appears as Chiun, the movie feels rote. I watched this with my kid and I had to beg him to stick with it. By the end, he was laughing and giving it a thumbs up.
Gray and Ward have fantastic chemistry together; their scenes (which are mostly amusing training sequences of one kind or another) are pretty much the only heart the movie has.
So, you know, it’s complicated. It’s a terrible idea to cast a white dude in yellowface to play the part of a Korean man. It’s certainly possible that an Asian actor could have done just as good as job as the prickly, obnoxious, condescending Chiun. But we don’t live in that world; we live in the world where Joel Gray got the part and did a fantastic job with it.
Anyway, the movie’s on Netflix Streaming. It’s problemmatic, but I’m a fan of it anyway.
I published TWENTY PALACES (now only $2.99!) through Smashwords so it would also go to other stores through Smashwords’s distribution system. However, a week and a half ago I realized that, for whatever reason, Kobo wasn’t selling the book. They have my others, but not the one I published myself.
I emailed Smashwords about it the week before last and received a chirpy response that there was nothing they could do about it, and had forwarded the issue to Kobo. A followup email brought the same response. Cheerful nothing.
I know Kobo will let you set up your own account, so I assume they’re rejecting or delaying books submitted through Smashwords to drive people to them directly.
Because I don’t have enough to do.
When I finish this book and revise KEY/EGG, I may need to take a week off just for business stuff: find a new WP theme I like that’s similar to what I have, set up a functional store on my site, create accounts on all the book vendor sites to sell my stuff directly, and so on. Very annoying.
Added later: Fixed. I should learn to skip customer service and take my problems straight to Twitter through my blog. Timeline: Complain (late) on a Friday. Hear back from Smashwords on Wednesday. Still nothing by the Tuesday after that. Complain on my blog so company name is right in the automatic tweet. Fixed by the end of the day.