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.
Charlie Jane Anders over at io9.com has an update on the proposed plan for Skyhorse and Start Publishing to buy Night Shade’s author contracts. Short version: they’ve improved the terms of their offer.
It’s still not great, but it’s better. It’s much better, and the reason it became better was that writers talked to each other about the problems and they shared their concerns publicly. Just like with Hydra.
This should happen more often. What’s more, there ought to be a formalized way that, say, a writers organization could tackle it.
The Hugos are fine. It’s a popularity contest with a small, self-selected sample, and frankly I ignore most everything everyone says about it (except for the juicy melodrama, naturally). They’re not a bad thing at all; it’s nice that people win them and I’m glad they make people happy.
But they have an outsized profile, as argued here. Frankly, I think the guy argues his point too forcefully (“Twaddle”? Please.) but then I stopped trying to drive traffic to my blog a long time ago. He’s right about the awards having a greater significance than they can really support. They’re small groups of people getting together to vote for things they like, which is 100% legit, but should that really be the basis for the most well-known spec fic award in this part of the world? 
Anyway, it’s worth reading down to the comments, because one of the authors the OP criticizes, Larry Correia, pops up to justify his behavior (“The smof cabal is against me!” “It’s all just self-promotion!”) and I made the mistake of following a link back to his blog.
Because as disinterested as I am in the usual award stuff, bullshit like this quote below, about Saladin Ahmed, nominated for his debut novel, is toxic:
Saladin’s a nice guy, and beloved by SMOF (we were up for the Campbell at the same time), but I’m predicting he’ll come in last, becasue this is his only book and he’s not built up a huge SMOF backer faction yet, but just having nominated a guy with an ethnic name will make the SMOFers feel all warm and tingly inside and good about themselves, so that’ll be enough for them.
(Tyops in the original)
That’s grade-A horseshit right there. However small the nominating pool was, whatever value should be placed on the Hugo itself, they nominated the man’s book because they liked the man’s book. Attributing it to “an ethnic name” is racist bullshit.
Awards! They bring out the whacky in people. Now I’ll go back to my previous policy of not talking about them.
 An awful lot of people hesitate to say a book is awful unless it has won/been nominated for an award.
 It’s obligatory for Certain People to respond to any awards criticism by saying “Oh, so the stuff YOU like didn’t make the ballot and that’s why you think everything SUCKS!” It’s an easy response. It’s the knee-jerk response. It doesn’t fit me. To be honest, I don’t think I read a single new book or story last year. Actually, scratch that: I picked up the latest Dresden Files from the library, but I wouldn’t want to give it an award. I don’t really like reading short fiction on my computer, and most of the books I read are a few years old (or more than a few). I’m not what you’d call “up to date” and I don’t worry about it. 
So no, this isn’t a complaint about What I Thought Should Be On The Ballot, because I have no idea what should be on there and have higher priorities when I’m reading new stuff.
 Also: No, I didn’t release any new work in 2012 that could have been nominated, since that typically has to be said, too.
I see a lot of people calling out coverage of the Steubenville rape trial for being ridiculously concerned about the effects of a rape conviction on rapists, and they’re right to be angry.
However, there’s one thing I don’t see people talking about:
How incredibly common it is.
I know more than a few guys who lost their virginity by bringing a girl who was black-out drunk back to their room. It was a common enough thing in college.
To be clear, I never did this–I have never even found myself in that position–but a lot of guys have. When you see news people online talking about the awful consequences for those teenage boys, understand that they’re thinking That could be me/my husband/my brother/my best friend from college.
It’s hard for people to accept the idea that they or people they care about have done evil.
I wanted to do a little followup on the Veronica Mars Kickstarter. Yeah, they made goal. You can see the current numbers below.
Hey, you could even click on it to toss in a few bucks. I did.
But that isn’t to say that I think the setup is problem-free. I mean, there are issues and it does no one any good to gloss over them.
For example, at the time I’m writing this, Rob Thomas et al are going to have to make and ship over 40,000 “limited edition” T-shirts. That has to happen even if not one more person makes a pledge. They’re also looking at 4500 signed (by the cast) movie posters so far. You want to talk about signing your name seven thousand times (which is the limit for that reward)? I sure wouldn’t want to do it.
So… yeah. That sort of order fulfillment could be a huge drain on time and resources, even if you bring in a couple of out-of-work people (or actors, even) to handle it for you. He’s going to need his own clothing unit. And assuming they max out the poster reward (which looks pretty likely) and that it takes five seconds to sign one poster and move to the next, each actor is looking at over nine and a half hours to sign them all.
No writing hand was made to handle all of that. Just one hour would bring on cramps.
But that’s minor stuff. A great many people have been complaining that this project is just a way for a major corporation (in this case, Warner Brothers) to crowdsource production costs for their new movie. Is this the wave of the future? Will studios “hold their properties hostage” until the fans pony up?
It’s doubtful. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter is doing very well because it has a solid fan base. Also, it’s first. There’s a power in novelty when you’re asking people to give you money, and if it keeps happening again and again, there just won’t be much buzz around it.
Unless it’s THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN. Thundarr will always get buzz.
I can certainly see studios and production companies turning to crowdsourcing to decide if they want to re-up for another season, or bring the old gang back for a movie. Loved VR-5 and want to bring it back? Throw money at the Kickstater! and if it doesn’t happen the studio doesn’t have to be bad guy any more. They can just say: “The fan base wasn’t there. We only made 48% of goal.”
As for turning to fans for money that studios could put up themselves, the studios already do this in spades. They make foreign rights deals, they bring in outside investors, etc. It’s always been a part of doing business.
The big difference is that those investors get actual cash money once the film makes a profit. Fans, not so much.
Would I like to see that changed? Yeah, absolutely, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
About ten years ago, my buddy and I were planning to make a movie. It was going to be a solid horror film–scary but not stupid–and we hoped it would open some doors for us. (Spoiler! It didn’t). As we were planning it, I did some research on how producers raise funds.
It turned out that there were all these restrictions on where the money could come from and who could donate. As I recall (a decade later) the budget would have to be split into X number of even pieces and each donor would be limited to that amount. There were more rules, too, and they were complicated and annoying. That’s when I realized I was a novelist.
(Digression: How it came out: The director sort of pushed me, the writer, out. He got the money from somewhere. The movie was seriously flawed and went nowhere. The script wasn’t my best but it is online: pdf or shitty html. It’s not my best work)
The point being, there are very strict rules around asking people to invest in your project for a cut of the profits.
However! The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (aka the JOBS Act) which was signed into law last year, contains provisions for crowdsourcing an investment in a company, not just in a particular project/product. You can read a description of the law here but just to touch on a few issues, investors are limited to 5% or 10% of their annual income, companies must use an established third party to run things, a great many disclosures are required, and the goal is $1million or less, so it’s not going to work for television anyway. While the law was passed last year, the crowdfunding part is not yet active because the SEC hasn’t finished drawing up a set of rules yet.
So, yes, a corporation is offloading a sizable part of their costs on this project to the fans, but they offload costs as a part of their every day business, and there’s no legal framework in place to allow the fans to invest directly. They only have the option to pledge for rewards, which is essentially preordering the end product, plus swag.
Will this become the model of the future? I doubt it, but even if it did it would be a terrific hedge against piracy and a fine reason to ditch DRM (not that there aren’t already many, many reasons to ditch DRM). Companies wouldn’t have to worry so much about their product being torrented if the true fans had already chipped in.
Over on Facebook, The Onion apologized for their nasty tweet last night where they called a little girl a cunt.
Feb. 25, 2013
On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.
No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.
The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.
In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.
Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.
That’s the way an apology ought to be done, with none of this “We’re sorry if people were offended” bullshit. Still, it would have been better not to make the mistake in the first place.
Always punch up. That’s the point of satire and mockery. I’m not sure who said it first, but you don’t make fun of the people who are weaker or more vulnerable than you; you go after the powerful and the comfortable.
That’s not just a good rule for life, it’s a good rule for fiction, too. If your protagonist gets snarky and mean to people less powerful than they are, they are a shitty person. Always punch up.
According to Twitter and other sources, there was some ugly, obnoxious shit aimed at the little girl who was nominated (weirdly, getting an “account suspended” page on that link), plus general awfulness. Apparently, it’s still going on, if you’re willing read the comments. Yeah, comments are ugly but it’s also a sign of who we are.
I’m not sure what’s supposed to be the point of making nasty remarks about the actors and directors whose work has been nominated. Puncturing the pretensions of people who make art? Please. It’s art, it’s supposedly the pinnacle achievement to win this sort of recognition, and generally-speaking people have to do great work for years to get to this point.
There’s this idea that the Oscars need to be entertaining for the masses, which I guess means taking digs at people.
Whatever. It’s just another set of awards, which means it’s pretty much meaningless except to those who are deeply invested in it. I just wish they didn’t judge the value of the ceremony by the ratings, and try to drive ratings with shitty behavior.
In other news, I was unusually active on my blog this weekend. To link back:
Why Libraries Still Matter: I respond to That Article.
EMP Followup I heard back from the Experience Music Project about PanelFail.
In which I deny my son an Xbox . My kid wants to play All The Games, but I expect something more from him.
Okay. Writing to do.