Folks who follow me on Twitter might have heard this already, but sales for TWENTY PALACES, the self-published prequel to CHILD OF FIRE, have dropped to the point that they are genuinely disappointing, so I’ve dropped the price to $2.99.
That price is already live at Amazon and B&N, but I’m still waiting on places like iBooks to update. I publish there (and to Kobo along with others) through Smashwords, and it can take a while for the prices to propagate.
The old $5 price point made sense when CHILD OF FIRE was still being offered at the promotional price of 99 cents, but that ended a while ago and I haven’t made the time to change it.
I also have short fiction for sale on those sites, but come June I’m planning to wrap them all up (along with a few new stories) in a single collection. You can buy those short stories and novelettes individually for now or get them all at once later. Your choice.
One other thing: the prequel has “lending” enabled and it makes a cheap three dollar gift. If you read and liked the books, would you mind sharing them, in some fashion, with others who might like them?
In response to the Strange Horizons analysis of male/female review statistics (spoiler: books my men get more reviews than books by women) a number of folks on Twitter have been contributing to a #WomenToRead hashtag. It’s meant to be a way to get female authors’ names in front of readers who have a habit of only buying books written by dudes, but I’m not sure how effective it is.
Reading through, it seems more like an exercise in frustration than genuine recommendations. In the better tweets, someone will say, “If you like [male author x], try:” followed by a number of names, or else writers will be listed by genre.
Unfortunately, while it’s great to point out what sort of books these women have written, they don’t really tell readers why they would fall in love with any particular writer’s work. When I see a laundry list of authors’ names scroll past, my eyes glaze over very quickly, especially when so many of them are Twitter handles.
Still, I understand the frustration: I personally feel invisible within the genre; I continue to get very nice emails from people who love my books but only discovered them well after the series was cancelled. My sales were so shitty that I don’t deserve to call myself “midlist.” To most people, I’m barely a hanger-on.
And yet I still got reviews in a number of places, and nice critical attention, too. Imagine how it must feel to not even get that much. Imagine how it must feel to work like crazy on a book for a year knowing that no magazine anywhere is going to bother reading it, let alone devote column inches to it.
There’s also this (please imagine replacing the word “math” with “writing.”)
People (mostly guys) have this weird idea that fiction written by women are all one sort of thing, as if it can all be lumped in as one type. There’s also the idea that, if a subgenre has a lot of women writers and readers, it has a yellow “Caution” tape around it to warn guys away.
For instance, two years after it was posted I still get traffic from this Tor.com article: Urban Fantasy and the Elusive Male Protagonist (let us turn away from the issues around the blog post itself, which I tried to address in the comments) and the comment section can be instructive/cringe-inducing/hope-for-humanity-destroying. To quote (copy & paste, so sic):
its come to the point where i wont touch a book with a female on the cover unless its been recommended by some friends or an author i respect.
it seems as if its all about alpha werewolves and master vampires in a three way relationship with an independant ass kicking woman, the majority of it could also be classified as soft-core porn.
For a lot of people, men write books in a genre (or in a tradition) while women all write the same book over and over with a few proper nouns switched out. What’s more, That Same Book is usually considered Someone Else’s Thing.
Anyway, I’ve been pretty up-front in the past that I don’t think reviews have much of an effect on sales figures, but it’s not just sales we’re talking about here. We’re also talking about the critical conversation within the genre (such as it is): how it changes, what’s becoming old hat, what’s offensive or wrong-headed. When women are left out of that conversation, their contributions become ignored.
So, to wrap up I want to make two points: First, if you’re recommending female authors, a long list of names, even if you break them down to five or six in a genre, are just going to make people skim. Pick one or two, give a good reason why for each. Make a specific pitch. Yes, that means people you know will be left out, but this isn’t a one-time thing, right?
(To that end, I’ll recommend Sarah Monette’s The Bone Key. I bounced off Monette’s epic fantasy series, but this story collection blew my mind. Kyle Murchison Booth is nothing like Ray Lilly, but the setting and tone of these tales are a fantastic antidote to the tentacle monster stories that dominate so much of the dark fantasy genre. And this shows why I’m crap at giving recommendations, because I’m always reading years–or decades–behind, so I’m never up on the current stuff.)
Second, if you’re one of those readers who glances at their bookshelves, sees nothing but books by dudes, then shrugs it off, it’s time to break a bad habit. There’s a wide world of great books out there to be enjoyed and no reason to hide from it. If you like awards, start checking out books written by women that win or get nominated for them. If most of your reading is off the bestseller list, start trying some of the female writers there.
The truth is, your results will be mixed just as with anything. Some writers you’ll hate, some will be meh, some will be new gotta-read favorites. Of those books by “gotta-read” authors, some will also have “a female on the cover.” Take chances. Grab things from the library or try the sample chapters on your ereader. It may take a while before you start finding new favorites, but if you’re like me, the favorites you have now took a lifetime to collect. Don’t give up quickly. Keep stretching.
Added later: As pointed out on LJ by user martianmooncrab, RT has a review section for SF/F but their numbers are rarely included in these surveys.
Added later: The Revenge: The author who started the hashtag explains her reasons.
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.
Yeah, I spent an inordinate amount of time this morning putting Comixology on my wife’s iPad and downloading as many of the free Marvel comics as I could snag. I tried for all 700-some, but there were issues with server overload, obviously, so I’m going to try again later.
The free comics (first issues of new and old books) are only available for a short time, so snap them up if you want them.
I have to say that I enjoy reading comics on the iPad. For novels I think paper is better, but the electronic format works nicely with panels and art. I just wish I could afford them.
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.
Something that’s been bugging me lately:
I have a trick for picking the killer in an Agatha Christie whodunnit: The first character who absolutely couldn’t have done it, having been cleared by an iron-clad alibi after being arrested or even confessing to the crime… that’s the killer. The narrative presents the question: Who is the killer? Then it presents the likely and unlikely suspects, giving you reason to favor some but not others.
This is something people miss sometimes. It’s not enough to present a mystery. You have to throw in red herrings. You have to give the reader a reason to think the correct answer is not.
Partly because there’s a story sense that we develop as we read and watch movies that let us predict too many plots. A buddy of mine had this annoying habit (we haven’t watch TV together in a few years so I’m hoping he grew out of it) of guessing what would happen next in any TV show we’d be watching. The protagonist’s doorbell would ring and he’d say “It’s the psychologist.” And it would be.
It wasn’t because he’d seen the show before. It was because the psychologist hadn’t turned up in the story for a while and it was time for him to reappear.
For most movies, in face, events are utterly predictable. You know when the villains will burst into the hero’s hideout. You know when the new love interest will turn the corner and see something misleading. You know when the corrupt cop will reveal himself, and usually you know who it is.
So it’s not enough to have a mystery, even a minor one, without red herrings. Who is the mole in the spy agency? It’s not good to just leave the question up in the air, without focus. Give us a reason to think it’s character A and a reason to think it couldn’t be character B. When B is revealed as the real thing, that makes the surprise all the better (assuming the clues and red herrings are well laid).
Mystery: not enough. There has to be trickery, too.
Just came back (actually, I’m writing this at night and it’ll post in the morning) from the reading described above (author Marie Brennan can be found on LJ and Twitter as swan_lake) and you know what I came away with?
Voice. Voice, people. That was the big lesson I learned from reading all debut novels for a year. The one thing they all had in common was a strong voice.
The reading itself was fun. I actually talked to people. My wife was so happy when I told her about it later that she cheered and clapped me on the shoulder.
making books personal The outside world: i look bad internet publishing words
by Harry Connolly
First, as per James Nicoll and Making Light, Games Workshop, the game company that makes Warhammer 40K, is asserting a trademark claim to the term “Space Marines.” They have the trademark on the term in the gaming world, supposedly, but now that they’ve started publishing ebook tie-ins they’re claiming a common law trademark over the term and filing DMCA notices to make Amazon pull books from the shelves.
Of course, the writer they’re doing this to doesn’t have the money to fight back because deep pockets uber alles. If you’re a fan and customer of the company’s games, maybe you should stop buying from them until they clean up their act, and let them know about it.
Second, yet another article about the slow-motion collapse of Barnes & Noble written for The Atlantic this time. Is there any surprise, really, that our slow-motion recovery from a nasty economic collapse is still taking a toll on out-sized companies? Or that the agency-price collusion lawsuit filed in Amazon’s favor would be another cinderblock in B&N’s rowboat?
I’m not what you’d call a fan of B&N, although I will say that I’m less-likely to be given the side-eye when I shop for SF/F in a big chain than in an indie store. Also, I love seeing huge sections of a store devoted to genres, something you rarely see in indie corner shops.
What would be lost if the last of the big chains go under? We would lose a physical space designed to sell according to readers’ tastes rather than the tastes of the bookstore owner.
Third, Chuck Wendig wants to make today International Don’t Pirate My Book Day. His thoughts about treating art as a thing of value are worthwhile, but here’s where he and I differ: when you read my work without paying for it, it doesn’t hurt my feelings.
It’s pernicious, yes. It’s harmful in the long term. If I am giving something away for free, read for free. Enjoy. If not, I would prefer you pay. However, it doesn’t hurt my feelings because my feelings don’t enter into it.
I’ve talked about this before: In the digital world, price is not constrained by supply and demand. Supply is/can be effectively infinite, so there’s no reason for people to pay extra to procure scarce goods. However, the constraint on price is actually “theft;” the balancing act has to be “How much will users pay for this?” vs “At what price point will people just steal it instead?”
Really this is an inevitable consequence of our advertising/consumer culture, in which you the consumer deserve whatever you want when you want and it ought to be cheap as possible. That’s the culture that vendors of every size, from mom and pop stores to massive corporations, have been pushing for generations. It’s thoroughly internalized in our outlook on the world, and now that machines in our homes allow us to cut the actual producers out of the equation, people do so with gusto.
It’s pernicious, yes. Also, I know people will respond with “Customers are willing to pay if you make it easy for them to do so and keep the price low enough.” Yes, that’s true. It’s also a calculation that occurs solely within the head of the consumer. What’s a fair price? How long should I have to wait for it?
There will always be people who think the smart thing to do is to take what they want and give nothing back, if you get my reference. The real issue becomes the size of that group of consumers and how the culture at large talks about them. In my opinion, the battle against book piracy will not be won in courts or legislative chambers, but in the culture at large; what behavior is normalized? That’s the question.
Fourth and last, I’m going to a reading tonight and my body is in full allergic freak-out mode. I don’t have anything life-threatening going on, but the patchy red marks on my face and (fading now, thankfully) hives on my arms turn me from ugly guy to full AVERT! AVERT! status. Oh well.
Todd Lockwood, who illustrated the book, will also be there. If you follow science fiction and fantasy art, you’ve almost certainly seen his work, and if you bought the Tales of the Emerald Serpent anthology, which contained my story “The One Think You Can Never Trust,” then you definitely have, along with one of his short stories.
Anyway, I’m not exactly a raconteur, but if anyone wants to come out and say hello I’d be happy to shake your hand.
making books: beautiful internet King Khan people words
by Harry Connolly
Hey you guys, it’s the artist’s web site. Check out the other work he’s done. Every link in the page opens in a new tab, which is a little bit something but check it out.
On my Facebook page, there are currently 140 people who “like” me. Basically, they’re there to keep up with what I’m doing.
Unfortunately, the link to the post about that cover art was only seen by 62 of those people. Less than half. If these folks who are interested in hearing about my books want to actually hear about them, I’m gonna have to pay.
I’m not the first to say this, but this is stupid. If you want to put in a “promote” button, promote beyond the people who are already on my “like” list. Not to the people who have already signed up.
More and more I’m thinking that I should disconnect from FB (as a writer, at least) so that people won’t think they’re getting the latest news when they’re not. I’m becoming increasing convinced that it’s better to have nothing to do with a social media company than to make do with defective service.
I mentioned in the blog post that KING KHAN will be “upbeat and family-friendly,” and right away someone asked me if that meant they could hand it to their seven-year-old.
That was a bit of a stumper. There’s nothing in the book I wouldn’t show to my 11yo, but seven? There are hopping vampires, dirty cops, and period-appropriate (I hope) racism. At one point the action goes to a Sunset Strip nightclub taking part in the Pansy Craze. There are a handful of lechers, an island populated with beautiful women where men are kept in cages, and one mostly-elided sex scene. There is punching. There is shooting. There is stabbing.
I don’t think there’s anything in the book a kid can’t read, but a seven-year-old kid? The only way to know would be for a parent or guardian to read the book first to judge for themselves. Maybe I’ll do what my friends at Jet City Improv do, and change “family-friendly” to “TV-clean.”