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 email@example.com 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.
While my internet fast continues…
Massive spoilers behind the cut, but let me summarize things quickly up front in a spoiler-free fashion: Season one is even better than I remember, with a few small missteps. The arc-long mysteries (Who killed Lilly Kane? Who raped Veronica on the night she was drugged?) are complex enough for the TV format but not as in-depth as you’d find in a novel. They’re also handled with more sensitivity than I would have expected from TV. It works. The short, episode-long mysteries are well-handled, varied enough to stay interesting, and humane.
But the real strengths of the show are the performances, especially Bell’s and Colantoni’s, and the way the relationships between the characters are handled. If you haven’t watched the show yet, you really should. The discs are on Netflix and WB is hosting the episodes online (provided you live in the “correct” parts of the world”. The pilot is a little heavy on the flashbacks, but the complex setup is necessary. Stick with it.
Let’s do spoilers: more »
making books The outside world: comics publishing
by Harry Connolly
C.B. Cebulski explains how a noob can get hired to work at Marvel as a writer or an artist.
In fact, if you’re published traditionally, they make it super-easy. Super-duper easy. If I had the money to keep current on the Marvel U, I’d mail one of my Twenty Palaces books in.
Check it out.
Apparently there’s been a bit of controversy surrounding Neil Gaiman’s speech at the Digital Minds Conference at the 2013 London Book Fair. Instead of hearing about it second-hand, you can watch it here:
Actually, you can probably just listen while you do other things, since it’s Gaiman talking at a podium. There’s no RSAnimate stuff going on, and no flow charts.
There are a lot of interesting ideas in there but nothing revolutionary: Try new things, be generous, accept that sharing without payment is how people find new things they love, books are great, books might not last, maybe people won’t be able to make a living as a “novelist” in the near future.
However, the big thing I take away from it is his talk about about “dandelion seeds.” The idea is that you release your work into the world and some of it goes nowhere and some lands in a fertile place and leads to something great: Fans, more work, new opportunities to connect with people, and so on.
That’s all fine, but I should say that it works best once you already have the sort of much-deserved fame that Gaiman has. He can stick a drawing under a rock and fans will run for blocks to fetch it. I can publish a book in every store online and off and few people would ever know. So, his perspective is his, and it works for him, but I’m not sure if he understands how different things are for low-level mooks like me.
Why does it matter? Because it’s not just creators who are blowing dandelion fluff into a strong wind. It’s also publishing companies who do this. Some of those little seeds represents a year’s worth of work for authors trying to make a career for themselves, and damn, if it doesn’t give me a chill to know that my toil and hope is someone’s offhand experiment.
Let me link to this article in the NY Times: Richard Jewell, 44, Hero of Atlanta Attack, Dies
When the name of the person arrested has been released, do not rush to Facebook to harass people with the same name. Do not start digging into the personal lives of complete strangers to see what dirt you can find or what political prejudices you can confirm. Jewel was harassed for months simply because a newspaper said the FBI was investigating him. Police asked him to sign a confession they had written up as a “training exercise.” In truth, his life was ruined.
The modern news media may be in a headlong rush to share every rumor or minor development, but we don’t have to follow. We’d be better off spending time with people we love or writing to our members of Congress about pending legislation. The last thing this country needs is to crowd-source our criminal justice system.
No links here. I just want to send out good wishes to everyone affected by the double explosions at the end of the Boston Marathon.
Also, keep in mind that early news and social media reports are likely to be wildly inaccurate. It’s probably best to disconnect from things like Twitter at the moment and give first responders a chance to do a thorough investigation.
making books The outside world: people publishing
by Harry Connolly
I want to follow up on Friday’s Hugh Howey post without actually talking about Howey (much). I briefly mentioned the idea of “punching down” in that post but Tobias Buckell talked about it more extensively in his post on the subject.
It’s worth clicking through to read what he’s written, but for those that won’t: “Punching down” is attacking someone who is weaker, more vulnerable, or has less power than you. “Punching up” is attacking someone who is stronger, more powerful, and more influential than you. Mocking a rich guy who locked his keys in his Audi is punching up. Mocking a single mother who’s just been evicted because she was laid off is punching down.
Needless to say, punching down is what villains do and I’ve talked about it here on the blog more than once as a way to make sure the sympathetic characters are actually sympathetic. That’s the context of a fictional narrative, though. Most of the time, when people talk about punching up, they’re talking in terms of politics.
Leaving aside the question of whether the offending conversation Howey described actually happened (which I hadn’t considered at first, but Nick Mamatas brought it up and now the whole incident seems just too perfect), Howey is a best-selling author with a serious movie deal and six-figure print-only contracts. He’s doing well. The person he slams is, according to his story, a social climber trying to make herself seem important by offering to connect writers with agents. What’s more, he makes her sound desperate and a little delusional. Is his story, as he himself tells it, punching down?
Absolutely. And yet, I’d bet Howey himself would be surprised to see it this way. I imagine he still imagines himself as the upstart self-publisher, the guy who has to do it all himself, with no help from anyone. I’m sure he sees that scorn, whether it actually happened or not, as the “punching down” he endures every time he goes online or meets someone uninterested in his books.
I’m sure that, to him, this woman had aligned herself with the supposed gatekeepers of NY publishing, and he felt free to take a swing like any hard-pressed hero.
I can’t speak for Howey himself but in my experience putting out a book, either by yourself or through a publisher, feels nothing at all like becoming powerful. Just the opposite, really: We do a shitload of work and then, finally, this thing we made goes out into the world alone. All our hopes for success and praise are mixed with the expectation that everything could collapse, that people might be bored or dismissive or contemptuous. Worse, they might not even know we’re there.
And readers often treat writers as though we’re faceless corporations, like Bounty paper towels or something. They tweet insults directly at the author and act amazed that a real writer with a publishing deal would react angrily.
Readers need to have the freedom to say whatever they want about our books–they deserve it–and a book culture where everyone is nice all the time would be toxic. So when people are kind to my work I’m grateful. When they’re cruel to it, I shrug it off. I tell myself it’s not personal even when it’s clear from the review that it was meant to be. As Toby says in the blog post linked above, when people talk shit about your work, it stings.
So, writer as a position of power? It might be for some, I guess. Maybe if you’re Guest of Honor at a lot of conventions, or you teach writing to eager young folks, or getting a movie deal with a profile in the WSF, or something, that might feel like power.
But the publishing part of being a writer, when you send a book out into the world, whether it’s through a publisher or on your own? That feels like vulnerability.
It’s been more than a week since Hugh Howey posted his Bitch from Worldcon (now deleted) but I think it’s worth talking about anyway. Yes, it’s sexist rape culture bullshit for him to fantasize (even jokingly) about his big moment–which is apparently winning an award–standing in front of a crowd of people, and singling her out to say “Suck it, bitch” while grabbing his crotch.
Hello, small-minded fantasy of success. Hello, sexual threats to a woman he himself believes to be mentally ill. Hello, completely creepy behavior. I don’t care if he thinks it’s non-serious; it’s bullshit.
However, the real point of the post becomes clear right here:
Crazy girl asked who I was published with. “Self-published,” I said. No point in mentioning the Random House deal or the SFWA membership. Those weren’t what I was most proud of. The girl shook her head sadly and also knowingly. It was a complex bit of head shaking.
Bold added by me.
Who is Howey’s main audience? a) other self-publishers who have anointed him the next Amanda Hocking and b) readers who imagine themselves to be cutting-edge iconoclasts predicting the end of the old publishing paradigm. This is his “base,” and as much as he’d like to (and is) expanding beyond them, he’s still making the effort to hold them close.
On one hand, self-publishing is never going to have the legitimacy people want until they stop acting like they’re being assailed from all sides. I say this as a self-publisher myself. There is no revolution, only new opportunities. The people trying to get you to take one side or the other, whether that’s a “crazy girl” at a convention or a best-selling author featured in WSJ and Salon, are wasting your time and/or trying to sell you something.
What’s more, this post is a classic example of numbers #3 and #4 of my post about using social media to build a strong community of assholes. Howey isn’t sending his readers out to attack anyone–perhaps he understands that he shouldn’t punch that far down–but it’s still us-vs-them rah rah bullshit designed to instill loyalty more than inform.
It’s a shitty post. It’s not funny unless you’re looking to wave around pompoms with Howey’s name on one and Amazon’s on the other. It demonstrates that no amount of money or success will make you a better person. And it’s how a lot of authors create their brand.
Added later: Howey has apologized. Someone should explain that “I was just joking!” isn’t much of a defense.
According to the UPS tracking website, sometime today a person in a brown uniform will pitch a box at my front door and run off without seeing where it lands, and inside that box will be a copy of Race to Adventure.
That’s my Kickstarter reward arriving, but the good news is that you can order one for yourself if you like. If you don’t know what that is, it’s the board game based on the rpg that also spawned my next novel, KING KHAN which means that the protagonist of my book should be a playable character.
making books The outside world: internet publishing
by Harry Connolly
Many authors are taking a kick at Scott Turow’s NYTimes opinion piece called The Slow Death of the American Author. Yeah, it’s easy to roll your eyes at a guy who badmouths libraries and/or fantasizes about the ways libraries might damage authors and publishing. Turow seems to think that borrowing ebooks “to anybody with a reading device, a library card and an Internet connection” is somehow harmful. If only we forced people to physically go to their local branch!
Not all that long ago, I heard a rep for a publisher–Penguin, maybe?–complaining about library electronic lending by imagining a future with a single national library that would pay for a single copy of an ebook and begin lending it to the entire nation simultaneously.
Obviously, that’s a silly dystopian “If This Goes On!” style situation that would better suit the old ASFM issues I used to subscribe to, not anything like the situation we have now. I’ve always thought that people who argue against some terrible future outcome always did so because they didn’t have a sensible argument against what was happening right now.
However, that’s a digression I didn’t want to take. The problem with Turow’s argument here is that he’s lamenting the breaking of a system that can never be repaired and reinstated, even if we wanted to. The old paradigm that a reader had to go to a store or library to find a book available only through a publisher was a closed system. It was “safe” in the sense that, when a writer was getting screwed, they knew pretty much where the screwing was coming from and knew what kind of screwing to expect. Delayed royalty payments. Selling stripped books. Publishing in a market without the rights. They were bad things, but they were the sorts of bad things you could expect.
Now it’s different: selling used ebooks, piracy in easily-accessed international sites, and more are new (potential) dangers to authors’ careers and income, and the courts are too ponderously slow to keep up with internet era advances in information sharing. However misguided Turow is about libraries, he’s not wrong to worry about major corporations like Google and Amazon squeezing dollars out of writers’ work without compensation.
Yes, Google only shows parts of an “orphaned” work when you search for it, but they’re still selling ad space on works in copyright without sharing revenue. As for Amazon, everyone including their big boosters is waiting for them to start leaning on authors they way they are on other vendors they do business with, as I’ve written about on my blog many times.
The usual response to these sorts of concerns is to say that obscurity is a bigger danger than piracy, and that’s true, but the answer to that is not to close our eyes and think of England while Google earns revenue from our work while paying us in “exposure.”
Unfortunately, Turow is the wrong spokesman for these concerns: he’s afraid of everything new. He found too much success in the narrow waterslide track of Old Publishing and he sees every new development as a crack that might make the whole thing collapse into the pool below. Yeah, it’s a new world with new opportunity, but we need someone willing to fight back when creators’ rights are threatened.
making books The outside world: politics publishing
by Harry Connolly
One of the worst things about the Night Shade business is that a publisher going into bankruptcy takes all their books with them. Even if a writer’s contract specifies that the rights revert to the author upon bankruptcy, that clause can’t be enforced because the bankruptcy court seizes those rights as one of the few (if not only) asset the publisher has.
It’s a little more complicated than that, as stated in the link in my previous post on this subjects, but that’s the basics. If a publisher goes bankrupt, in all likelihood a writer’s publishing contracts will be sold off to a third party without any input from the writer.
That’s just a matter of the law, though, isn’t it? Couldn’t legislation change that?
This is something I’d like to see SFWA (and other writers groups, and writers in no group at all) take up. Surely there are legislators on the federal level who are sf/f fans. Does anyone know who they are? Who their favorite writers are? I would bet that a contact from a writer they admire might persuade them to introduce legislation protecting right of reversion contracts.