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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Category Archives: The Writing Life
I’ve uploaded another of my stories from back when I was writing fiction. This is my first sale and first published piece, Death Do Us Part from Alternate Kennedys, Tor, July 1992. Mike Resnick was the Editor. It was a science fiction anthology, so of course I wrote a horror story about President Jack Kennedy and a certain demon that made his life interesting. Sold in 1991 this story’s now over 20 years old, but I think it holds up well. The references are all ancient history for a huge chunk of the population, but it connects with a really interesting part of history in a different and I think funny way. Excerpt: “Bobby, if you ever, ever say ‘What could go wrong?’ to me again, remind me to have you killed. Now, what happened? This was supposed to be a nice, quiet, uneventful vacation and re-union with my wonderful, caring wife?” The President grimaced. “At least she’s home again. Hope you like puce. That’s the color of the wallpaper going in the Lincoln room.” “Forget the wallpaper, Jack. Remember that war you told me to start when we were looking for a distraction on Monroe?” “Now that you mention it, I do.” “We forgot to call it off. Congratulations, Jack. We’re the parents of a major nuclear crisis. You, me and Khrushchev.” “You set this up with the Russians?” “No. He’s doing it on his own. We’re just blowing it up onto the front page where everyone will see it.” “Oh, Jesus, Bobby. He’s a hard-nosed bastard. It’s not going to be easy to get him to back down. Nukes in Cuba.” The President rubbed his eyes. “You don’t suppose I could get Adlai to impeach me now, could I?” “Not a chance, Jack. You’ll have to deal with this one.” “Damn. You know what’s worse?” “What could be worse than nukes in Cuba?” “Jackie insisted on separate bedrooms.” Read the entire story over in my writing area. enjoy!
My stance on this hasn’t changed. As far as I’m concerned, the tech blogosphere has collapsed into a largely worthless echo-chamber filled with idiotic babble about Apple’s share price and moronic product rumors. As a result I’m officially re-launching The Angry Drunk in the way I first intended to run it almost six years ago. I’ll expand on my intended content changes below and the technical changes in a later post. I suppose the easiest way to explain my intended vision for the content here is to start by explaining what The Angry Drunk will not be. The Angry Drunk is not:
If you want to know why I’ve lost most of my interest in writing about tech and Apple, Angry Drunk pretty much nails it.
There are just too damn many people chasing too few really interesting stories, and what’s become important is to be fast and first, not insightful — or even correct. I could build a pretty successful career around making up rumors and pushing affiliate advertising, but I need to sleep at night, and I’m not interested in turning into yet another rumor site. It’s sad that I don’t even have to be right, I just have to tell people that I have sources, and they’re never held accountable for vein wrong; everyone just rolls off to the next damn rumor and starts drooling again.
Apple, of course, is held accountable for not living up to the rumors. But the rumor inventors keep getting pageviews. even the big name rumor mongers — the ones who write for “legitimate” sites (like forbes, or the financial industry) don’t get held accountable for being wrong. They just get press for their next round of ‘analysis’. Frankly, I got pretty sick of the whole mess, and I found that my entire set of tech-oriented postings were turning into “that’s bullshit… He’s full of crap… it’s all bogus….”
you know what? I don’t enjoy being a negative suck.
But I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I want this place to be about, and the kind of stuff that rolls through the geek blogosphere these days isn’t it. I’m not trying to drive pageviews. I’m not interested in doing the Gizmodo troll thing and posting 30 articles a day, each 100 words of original content or less. My interest is in studying a topic, understanding what I want to say about it, and then writing about it, and writing about it in some detail. In other words, something diametrically opposite to what seems to be the trend in tech blogging.
Although I’m starting to see a reaction to the short-fast-first, and I think it’s going to grow, and if it hits critical mass, it’s going to make some blogging sites rather unhappy. There’s a growing interest not in quick hits and fast reactions, but in actual thought and analysis, and I see the long-form content becoming fashionable again.
Fashionable or not, I don’t care. It’s what I want to write, and it’s where I’m pointing this blog. Not posting every day? Horrors. I guess I’ll survive — but I’d rather post less often, but when I post, it actually says something interesting and informative. That’s what I’m trying to do now.
And if you prefer “first post!” stuff, well, plenty of places to get that. Just not here.
Thank you for your letter regarding Random House and Hydra, and your interest in speaking with us.
Unfortunately, there is very little to discuss. SFWA has determined to its own satisfaction that Hydra does not meet our minimum standards for a qualifying market, as its contract does not offer an advance. Additionally, your attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher is, simply, outrageous and egregious. The first of these things alone would disqualify Hydra as a qualifying market. It is the second of these things, however, that causes us to believe that Hydra intends to act in a predatory manner towards authors, and in particular toward newer authors who may not have the experience to recognize the extent to which your contract is beyond the pale of standard publishing practices.
You extol your business model as “different”; the more accurate description, we believe, is “exploitative.” We are particularly disappointed to see it arising out of Random House, a well-regarded, long-standing publishing firm. Bluntly put, Random House should know better.
I want to thank SFWA for taking this stand. They’re completely right on the problems with this contract. It’s sad (but unsurprising) to see Random House moving into what can only be seen as a new-era vanity press publishing model.
As someone who was a member of SFWA (disclaimer: Laurie is still a member) for many years and put a lot of time and effort into the organization, it’s great to see how it’s grown up and gotten involved in issues that are significant to people who are trying to make a living at writing.If I were at all involved in fiction right now, I’d be thrilled to rejoin SFWA and put my money into helping them in these fights again (and people who know me know that wasn’t always true).
The sad thing is that it’s been almost 20 years (sigh) since I published my last piece of fiction — and while ebooks have created some interesting opportunities and new revenue opportunities for writers, it’s actually harder now for the journeyman writer to make a living at it, not easier.
I’ve been spending the last year investigating whether I want to reboot my fiction writing (okay, I want to. I’ve been investigating whether it makes sense in my situation. Right now, the answer is “no” but the argument with myself continues) and it’s been a fascinating thing to research.
We saw Borders implode, and Barnes and Noble isn’t looking much better — but between them, they did a good job of imploding the diversity of the industry around them. That’s nothing new, they’re following the same path that the music, stock photography, and newspaper industries have followed. This Random House imprint seems to have built its contracts around music industry traditions, which frankly isn’t encouraging if the corporation sees that at the path forward.
If you’re someone who’s thinking about doing this for a living, you really should be watching what SFWA is saying. I also strongly suggest that the only viable path for an author starting out today is through independent publishing, where you control your own destiny (but you don’t have a publication house supporting you on administration and distribution and marketing). That means you need to learn those other pieces of the business, but if there was ever any question that the existing publishing houses are no longer your friend, look at these contracts. And frankly, despite what SFWA is doing, I expect these contracts to stick, and their language to migrate into the other lines at Random House over time — these contracts are en experiment, and I expect it to work for them. And you can bet the other houses are watching…
So if you do want to try your hand publishing, I suggest you start reading a few blogs and get yourself some education (you’ll need it): John Scalzi‘s blog is a perfect example of what an author blog can be and how to engage your readers and make them a part of your career; Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have done a huge amount of work figuring out how to make the indie career path work and making that information available to all of us, and the Passive Voice blog is a great collector of information about what’s going on and what is working in the writing/publishing world today.
And for me, for various reasons, I’m going to continue to sit this one out, but it’s a fascinating time for writers. Not always a fun one, but as old standard career options are being destroyed, new opportunities are being created. If I were 25 again, I’d certainly be making different decisions than I did when I chose to retire from writing 20 years ago…
Update: Judy Tarr diggs in on this topic as well, over on Book View Cafe (which, if you aren’t following their blog, you should. Great group of authors over there doing interesting things in the cooperative self-publishing world and who also happen to be quite entertaining to read). If it wasn’t painfully clear my view on this, here it is: if you sign a contract like this, you are an idiot. Or at least, hopelessly naive. Unfortuantely, idiots and the hopelessly naive kept the vanity press industry alive for a long, long time.
This is the fiction industry’s equivalent first step into photography’s Microstock, which devastated stock photography for many photographers. And yes, some photographers earn good money in microstock, but a lot of photographers earn a lot less because of it. Whether fiction writing can avoid the same kind of disruption I don’t know (I doubt it), but that doesn’t mean you have to sign contracts with them. Learn about doing your own publishing; the day when you have to sign with a “real” publisher is long, long gone. To me, the sign that Random House is investigating moving down this path in their contracts indicates to me they see the end to traditional publishing, as more and more authors will either start out on their own, or use traditional publishing to get started and then break off indie as soon as their career is moving. So watch out for publishers who’s response is to try to tie you up or take from you without investing in you…
I realize I should also have linked to one more site: Writer’s Beware, which is managed by SFWA, and which is there to educate writers about all of the cheats and scams and bad contracts that are out there, so you don’t find out about them on your own, the hard way.
When I was about fifteen, a group of my friends and I went up to Ray Bradbury’s office to interview him for a fanzine. This was the office in a big building at the corner of Wilshire and Beverly in Beverly Hills. Ray famously did not drive a car and he could often be seen walking to and from that office, often in tennis shorts, waving to people and chatting with them on the street. As I would later understand, he was well aware of the power of his celebrity and name, and had consciously decided to apply that power for the greater good. He knew the value of a word from Ray Bradbury and would dispense them generously and with a certain glee on those he encountered, be they longtime friend or passing stranger.
He made time to talk to a bunch of us teenagers that day and the interview went way longer than necessary. He kept saying things like, “Your youth…your enthusiasm…you remind me so much of myself at your age.” When he found out that I had set my life’s goal on the mantle of Professional Writer, he took a special interest in me, especially when I made clear that I could conceive of no alternate life and that I saw it as a life, not a job. Before we left, he quietly took me aside and invited me to come back without my friends. They were nice kids and all but they didn’t have my commitment to writing so he had “a couple of things” he wanted to say to me and me alone.
Me and me alone went back a week later and he must have spent three hours slathering me with advice. Absolutely none of it was about story content. He didn’t talk about plot or character motivation or plot structure. He talked about being a writer…about living like one, working like one, thinking like one. A lot of it was very pragmatic, about how to not fantasize the profession into something it was not. It was not, for example, a profession where visions pop into your genius brain and you just type them up, send them in and get hailed as brilliant. He had worked damn hard to become Ray Bradbury and every day, he worked damn harder to stay Ray Bradbury.
It was sad to hear we lost Ray Bradbury. It’s amazing how many people’s lives he touched, and you can see that by how many remembrances are being published about him. I’m pointing at Mark Evanier’s, because it really syncs up with how Bradbury impacted my life.
I grew up down in SoCal, and I met Bradbury once. (well, ‘met’). I was eight(ish), and Bradbury came and was the honored guest and speaker at the opening of my town’s new library. His speech touched on many of the same concepts Evanier puts forward. After I got to go up and meet the man and get him to autograph a book (A raggedy paperback of “October Country”). 2 or 3 minutes of face time max, but the impression he left has stayed with me to this day. How many speeches do you remember from when you were eight?
Bradbury is the first author I remember reading by name, and he was one of the first authors I sat down and read almost obsessively, and by the time he came and opened our new library, I’d pretty much finished off his entire canon, including the stuff not available in the children’s section (the librarians gave up on keeping me in the kiddie room fairly quickly). if there is a single author that helped form my idea of great fiction, if there’s a single author that influenced what kind of writer I wanted to be, it was Ray Bradbury.
My favorite works by him are probably not the ones you’d first think of; in short fiction, it’s “There will come soft rain”, and for his longer work, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Some of his works were things that a 6-8 year old really couldn’t grok, but coming back to them when I was older brought out nuances and themes someone that young really couldn’t pick up.
So today is a bit of a sad day, but it’s really heartening to see so many people honoring his memory, and I wanted to quickly drop in my own memories and honor him as well. If you’ve ever read any of my fiction and liked it, Ray Bradbury is part of the reason it happened and didn’t suck.
I’ve been working with a lawyer a bit on some things (good things, not bad things), so when I read this, it really struck me as a great example of why you really do want a lawyer on your side when legal things like contracts are involved. At first glance, Passive Voice talks about some contract language that seems simple and straightforward, but see both how he detangles the implications behind it, and how he finds ways to turn it back on the company that wrote it, assuming, of course, the company really had nefarious intent in the first place. Which it of course never would. Never.
This isn’t just true of book contracts, either. There’s a reason those EULAs look as funky and complicated as they do; and screwing you over is (mostly) not the root cause. It’s trying to make sure that little is left to interpretation, because it’s that interpretation that ends up in court some day…
The second paragraph is where serious gnarliness appears. Since the paragraph begins with a run-on sentence, we’ll break that down and shorten it for comprehension.
As a condition precedent to the exercise by Author of his/her right to examine the books and records of Publisher,[the auditor] shall execute an agreement to the effect that
“As a condition precedent to the exercise” means if the auditor doesn’t sign an agreement for any reason, Author has no audit rights whatsoever.
What’s going to be in that agreement the auditor has to sign? The agreement isn’t set forth in the Publishing Contract and it’s a “to the effect” agreement which could mean almost anything. Is the agreement one page long or is it twenty pages long?
If the auditor finds the agreement objectionable and says, “No accountant in her right mind would sign something like this,” Author has no right to audit under the Publishing Contract.
Lawyers call something like this, an agreement to agree. It’s a classic unenforceable contract provision, but it’s also a “condition precedent” to any audit rights.
Who prepares this agreement for the auditor to sign? If PG were the Author, he would write up a very short agreement, have the auditor sign it, and hand it to the Publisher. As the audit clause is written, that agreement would satisfy the requirement. There’s nothing that says Publisher prepares the confidentiality agreement. (Look for the publisher who uses this clause to change it as soon as someone there reads PG’s analysis.)
It’s rather less legitimate to label Mr. Cameron a “pestilent toad,” because, well. He seems pretty clean. But more to the point, calling him a pestilent toad doesn’t really do much other than call him a name. One may argue that he spreads the pestilence of intolerance and that his antipathy toward gays is positively amphibian, but you have to explain it and it seems the long way around, sort of like suggesting how “unnatural” really refers to philosophical concepts pioneered by Aquinas. It might be better to keep things simple, or if not simple, then immediately relatable to the subject on hand.
Now, ironically, should Mr. Cameron ever attempt to sue me for libel, my defense would be marginally better if I did refer to him as a pestilent toad than an ignorant bigot, because I could claim “pestilent toad” as an example of hyperbole, since I don’t really believe he’s an actual pestilent toad, whereas I suspect he may be an actual ignorant bigot. But this goes back to the whole “public figure” thing.
I’ve written before that I like John Scalzi as an author. Every book of his I’ve read I’ve loved. He’s not just an author, he’s a thinker. And he’s got a rather unique sense of humor.
But it’s stuff like this that makes his blog a gem, too. If you aren’t reading Whatever, you should be.
I have a confession to make, it’s been three weeks since I did any serious writing. I’m supposed to be finished with my next book right now. Fact is I’m a little less than halfway through. I’d like to blame it on the holidays or the fact that I’m juggling writing, being Mr. Mom, and taking a class in programing. Heck I’d settle for blaming it on my rampant ADD, I’m easy that way.
Truth is, however, that I’m not writing because I’m just not seeing any future in it. The writing industry is changing rapidly right now and even if I got a contract on my last book, who knows if the market will be there when it comes out? Then there’s the whole e-self-publishing route where no one really knows what’s going on but we know that some people are selling millions of books. Quite frankly it sounds like there are better odds playing the lottery. (For the mathematically challenged, playing the lottery is only slightly less risky than throwing your money down the garbage disposer.)
So, for the last three weeks or so, I’ve been kicking an idea around in the back of my head.
What if I just quit?
I mean lets face it, while I have been published four times, I haven’t cracked the level of success where I can actually make a living. I used to be a hotshot computer programmer and, while my skills are very rusty, I can whip them back into shape. Programmers make good money (provided you move out of Utah, which I could do). Heck, I’ve worked in the game industry and have contacts there, maybe it’s time to resurrect that dream.
So what if I quit?
If we can set the wayback machine back to about 1995 for a minute….
I had hit that point where I had published enough stories to qualify for active membership in SFWA. I was starting to get solicited for stories for anthologies, and was right at that cusp where I seemed to be getting the acceptance knod on a regular basis. I had a novel in progress, a second in planning.
And I had to make a decision. Geeking computers paid well, and I enjoyed it. Writing SF/F didn’t pay well and I enjoyed it. I was convinced I couldn’t do both well at the same time and have a real life, too. I chose computers, and retired from writing. Why?
Because I looked at what I wrote, and where I slotted into the industry, and I saw the squeeze coming. I was a midlist novelist; I read for entertainment, my favorite books were the kind of things you picked up when you were tired after a long day at work to relax and enjoy. That was the kind of fiction I wrote, and wanted to write. If I were to name a single name, I’d say I wanted to be James White when I grew up. (those of you now going “what? who?”, well, my point. but click through and grab that volume and have a fun evening or three).
The problem was that even back then, almost 20 years ago, you could see the midlist part of the publishing world shrinking and the collapse starting. Chain bookstore buying practices was increasingly pushing the buttons on who got published; chain bookstore return practices was continuing to shred the time a published paperback was actually on a shelf where it could be bought. The first author I knew had found out their first novel sales were weak enough that the chains wouldn’t buy their next book, even though the editors loved it (he ended up going behind a pseudonym and breaking out pretty well — the pseudonym is now a pretty successful author). Advances were flat to down. The short fiction market was already shrinking. Sharecrop universes (star wars, star trek, etc) were growing and taking shelf space from the midlist, too. In talking to other authors, the midlist grind was getting tougher and tougher.
So that was the publishing universe I was contemplating. It’s possible I could have written something that broke out, but if I didn’t, I might be a book or three into it, and without a publisher because some algorithm at Barnes and Noble didn’t like my trend line. I was never a fast writer like Dean or Kris or Mike, so the multi-genre, multi-name publishing empire wasn’t an option, and I didn’t have the many years of backlist to fall back on Mike has. I had sharecrop opportunities — but I wanted to write my stories, not someone else’s.
So I shut it down and walked away from my fiction, knowing some day I’d probably fire it up again. As it turns out, my worries about the midlist getting squeezed came true, and the market got increasingly tough. And I haven’t done badly in the computer industry, so I made the right choices.
I was at Apple when they shipped iTunes, and I watched as it transformed and disrupted the music industry, I’ve watched the video side of entertainment slowly disrupt (primarily because the studios were determined not to let Apple do to them what happened to the music industry, even if it killed them. Which it still might). I’ve seen the online universe disrupt my dad’s world, newspapers, and seen this tsunami washing through all of the traditional media universes.
Smartphones came along, and with them, apps, and I saw in that the path to the book reader. When I got the opportunity to go to Palm, I grabbed it, because I wanted a chance to influence this if I could. Then came the the iPad and the Kindle, and my muse rang the servants bell from her tower, and when I unlocked the door, she looked at me and said “it’s time”.
And it is. And one reason I didn’t go to work for Nokia (or Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or… — all of which I talked to in some way, shape or form along the way) was I didn’t want my “real” job to create conflicts with my ability to figure out how I and my writing fit into all of this, the way the rules at HP did. Even if I end up never doing anything significant down this path, it was a path I wanted the freedom to explore.)
That’s why Dan’s blog post struck me as it did. He published into the market I walked away from, because I saw it as — on balance — a success path with too many risks given the benefits and effort. Especially compared to geeking computers. He’s now seeing what I see as that chance I’ve been waiting to happen for almost 20 years as the end of his opportunity. And if you only see traditional publishing as your future, you’re correct.
But what is happening here is the rebirth of the midlist, which since that seems to be where Dan’s work lives, should be cause for celebration. No more “that book you spent a year writing has three weeks on the shelf to find an audience”. Instead, the shelfs are now almost literally infinitely large, and your work has an almost infinite time to find its audience. It’s ability to find an audience is now very much up to the author; that may be scary, but if you’re a midlist writer, the push you got from your publisher was little more than “here’s a pretty cover and we’ll pray” anyway, and heck, find a good artist to do covers for you…
So my advice to Dan is this — you beat the odds in a big way by getting published in the old markets; this isn’t the end of times, but the beginning of a better time where you can succeed, and better yet, have a big say in that success. Read Dean and Kris. Read Mike Stackpole. Read Passive Voice, and start understanding how you can take advantage of these new opportunities. Go see what Lawrence Block is doing.
There are a lot of unknowns in this, but out of that, a lot of opportunity. A much better opportunity than existed back when I walked away. And 2012 is where it looks like it’s all going to come together.
(via Passive Voice)
I’ve been buying and reading a number of self published books of late, primarily because of the price point of $.99. I find that the $.99 price point overcomes a lot of reservations I might have about a book. One thing I did notice, as I was going through my purchases, is that I don’t have a lot of repetitive authors I’ve purchased at $.99.
I wondered what other readers were doing and what kind of stickiness these self published authors were having for readers. The $.99 price point is a “try me” price point and because none of the $.99 self published books I’ve read, except from established writers, have encouraged me to go back and buy more of their books. I find myself more curious about other books at $.99.
Over in my “other life”, I find myself talking to developers about pricing on a regular basis. Apps on a device and ebooks share a lot of common aspects, and one of them is that pricing is still very much a black art being guessed at by people more skilled at the craft of creating the product than marketing it. I said about this time last year that app developers and authors have a lot in common and can learn from each other, if only we could figure out how to make the right connections. I still think so, and I’m still looking for those connections. As I’ve been exploring getting back into writing and what it means to self-publish my writing, I really see those similarities with what the app developers I support are going through.
I still have more questions than answers, though.
But one thing I continue to be convinced of is that the $.99 price point is poison. Here are some of the reasons why:
Right off the bat, you remove any opportunity to use pricing for promotion. Since you can’t go below $.99 without going free (if your platform lets you do that at all), you can’t do any kind of reduced price promotion. Even if you price at $1.99, you leave yourself an option do to a temporary price cut and use that in some marketing. If you start priced at the bottom, you lose any opportunity for pricing flexibility or “half price, this weekend only!” promotions.
I think the $.99 price point sets an initial expectation that the value proposition of your product is that it’s cheap. It’s very hard to convince customers to value something you don’t value. Again, even a small price bump to $1.99 is an indication you think it is worth something more than the generic stuff being schlepped out of the bargain bin.
One of the long term promotional keys here is cross promotion; your new works promote your older works and drive fresh sales of your backlist. I’m a believer that the backlist should be priced at some discount to your current work. Look at the video game console market. Hot apps come out at $50, five months later are re-released at $20. It gives you a chance to remarket at the new price point and create new promotions, and attract a new audience with fresh marketing. It also helps differentiate the new work from the older. You can’t do any of this if you start pricing at the discount price.
So my recommendation is to always avoid bottom fishing. Give yourself some flexibility on pricing. It’s effectively impossible to raise prices, so if you start at the lowest possible price, you’ve killed any flexibility. You give birth to it in the bargain bin, you’ll die in it.
That MAY be an effective technique in some cases; if you are, for instance, writing “generic” genre fiction in a field like romance where you’re trying for the “just looking for the next story” crowd, that may be the only way to get noticed. In that case, though, I’d wonder if you could ever create a name recognition or brand that would make any of that audience look for your next book, unless it happens to be the next book when they happen to be looking for something. It might be worth experimenting with a bargain bin piece to see if you can cross promote them onto a more expensive work, but my gut says that’s unlikely.
But I’m not sure I want to play in that mosh pit. If you look at what happened to the photo stock industry when microstock hit it, it seems to me that playing that game is living on the razor edge of the margin waiting for someone to change the game out from under you. Not how I’d want to build my career (and one reason why I’m not interested in the microstock market for photos, either).
I have trouble believing that the $.99 price point ever lends itself to being the place where you maximize revenue; unit sales, maybe, but not revenue. and unit sales doesn’t pay the rent.
So that’s what I tell my developers. Start at a higher price point, and work on the marketing to help customers understand the value. it gives you pricing flexibility for promotion, and it gives a perception that you see value in your work. If the primary reason someone buys your work is because it’s cheap, I find it hard to believe you’ll ever find an audience that values your work enough to turn into a repeating customer, or that you’ll ever build enough of a backlist sale to make a revenue stream that’s viable to support your time investment in creating your works.
I got a call from a writer friend last evening. We spoke about digital books and I answered some questions about why I had chosen which formats to sell through my store. We discussed sales strategies and how I’d seen things evolving.
He’s not the only author I’ve heard express this sort of reservation. Every time I’ve heard it, I’ve been struck that somewhere, sometime, some one standing on the top of a burning building has looked down at the airbag below, and just before jumping has said, “You know, I think there might be a better spot to land, and I’m sure I’ll see it very shortly.” (Note: these folks are different from the ones who perished two floor below because they were pretty sure that the sprinklers that had failed up to this point, would kick in at any moment and save them.)
When he made that comment, I said, “Here’s the problem with that: to affect such a change would take a lot of money and the investment of a lot of time. I just don’t see anyone out there doing that.”
All the above cases leave us with one more suspect: The Unknown Player. This is the ubiquitous “someone” who will do “something” to somehow “change” everything. Right now, inside track is on Santa, since he delivers all the cool devices for free, and that’s the sort of universal cost and delivery system we’d need to make such a change. The digital book market has built up a lot of momentum and is making a lot of money for a lot of folks who are now invested in seeing this expansion continue so they can profit without having to invest a boatload more money in research, development and advertising.
I think one of the issues here is that we talk in terms of these new tools and technologies replacing traditional publishers, when in fact they really only replace one piece, the distribution part. This is dumping other functions back on the authors, who typically aren’t as skilled or experienced in it as the publishers are. Ebook publishing handles the distribution piece, but marketing and packaging are two big pieces still being figured out.
Some authors like Amanda Hocking have this figured out, have taken on the marketing aspects themselves, and are thriving. But the best practices don’t exist — heck, no practices exist, so everyone’s kind of feeling their way around in the dark. What works and what doesn’t is still being learned.
Packaging is still a big “I dunno”, too. The ebook market is a lot like the foreign markets, only maybe even more complex. PDF? MOBI? ePub? do you tie onto Kindle, or build a custom app? What platforms? What are the logistics for packaging these? and doing QA? And which geos do you distribute and in which flavors?
Before, you had to work out a deal to sell to the US, and the UK, and Germany, and.. and…
Now? You have to publish on Kindle via Amazon, but what after that? iBooks on IOS? Do you roll your own? If so, on what platforms? IOS? Android? What about web apps? webOS? (disclaimer: guess who I work for? and I’m not speaking for them) Nokia? RIM?
How do you package for each of those? How do you QA those distributions? And — seriously — once you do get your work out into all of those little details, how do you freaking market your work so people know to go and buy it?
This is where this “unknown player” is going to appear. There’s a big need for tools that help get material published onto these platforms without massive undertakings and a lot of custom work. I keep thinking building some tools using something like the phonegap frameworks could create tools that would help the cross-platform issue. Ultimately, there’s a need here for some kind of “Pagemaker” for ebooks (or perhaps more correctly, Framemaker) with good templates that authors could use without having to do a lot of custom, one-off work. Create an after-market such as WordPress has that allows designers to create custom themes, and a tool that’ll take a theme and a book formatted in a standardized way, and spit out your Kindle and Nook editions, something you can sell off your web site, IOS and Android and webOS versions (and wahtever other platforms need support) and in a way that doesn’t require the author to read each page of each edition to find issues. After all, what makes authors money is writing, not proofreading.
Although in honesty, as traditional publishers continue to fade as we move to this new publishing paradigm, the needs for things the publishers do won’t go away. it’ll just shift. So I expect to see service bureaus (much like certain specialty houses produce CDs for indy musicians) and book designers and copy editors and proof readers will all come in to the market, only now, authors will be hiring them instead of publishers.
And people who help authors figure out how to market. Agents and agencies will probably step in here to some degree; whether that’s what authors should use — is another question. Independent groups and people will, also.
The point is, publishing the ebook isn’t the entire process, it’s only a piece; those pieces are now migrating out to the authors where they used to be the domain of the publisher and editor. And there are problems associated with authors having to take these pieces on, but also opportunities. And one of the big opportunities for the “Unknown player” in this emerging industry as traditional publishing is disrupted is that people who step into these roles and take a lead and help authors figure it out are going to make decent money and create opportunities for themselves.
I like how he reacted to it and turned a potentially negative bit of kneecapping into a more positive situation. His discussion on how to do these things more — tactfully — is right on.
But it also doesn’t deal with the reality that some people are interested in being nice. And that some people get off on destroying what others are building. And one thing you need to do if you’re going to play in public — especially here on the internet — is learn to step back from the trolls and not let them get under your skin.
Way back in the day when I was writing fiction, I was a member of a writer’s group called the Over the Hill Gang. it was somewhat legendary in some circles and I was thrilled when given a chance to join. The attitude matched up well to my view of workshops and critiques, which is, basically, “if you want to hear nice things, send a copy to your mother”.
The group was full of characters; She Who Must be Obeyed was the grammar queen, we had a guy who could worldbuild in his head (imagine having someone read your story cold and tell you that your orbital mechanics are wrong — on the fly — and be right. consistently); we had someone strong at characterization, another who’s strength was dialog; a couple of walking trivia machines, and my specialty ended up being consistency checking and general nit picking on details (um, wasn’t he left-handed five pages ago? If so, when he goes this this door in this way, doesn’t that block his ability to aim?)
Sessions could be spirited. A number of people who wanted to join never returned for a second session. Occasionally one didn’t survive the first. But the goal was simple — make the story better. And the one rule nobody could violate was that it couldn’t be personal. You never, ever spoke about the writer, only the work. It was then up to the writer not to internalize what was being said into their ego.
Easier said than done. But good training for the internet. And to this day, I still feel that group did more to improve my writing than anything else. But that group had something that doesn’t exist out here in internet comments much: we all knew each other, and we all respected each other’s opinions.
And that’s the key to dealing with this kind of negative commentary, I think. Respect.
If some random stranger walks up to you on the street and insults your shirt, you’ll probably get that puff of adrenalin, and then let it drop and write them off as a jerk and move on. But on the internet, that kind of drive-by insult happens all of the time, and i see it again and again that folks react to it and let it dig in and affect them.
Here’s the secret truth about trolls: they only have power over you if you let them. Trolls can’t hurt you. Trolls can only convince you to hurt yourself.
And that’s a lesson I learned late in life, and the hard way. And as I did, I came up with a set of ideals on this that I think can help others deal with this kind of attack. They are:
- Only pay attention to criticism from people you know, to the degree you respect them.
- Unless the criticism is right.
- Do not take it personally, and do not internalize it or dwell on it.
- Because if you do, you give them a little piece of your soul to own. And they will.
- It may be their advice to give; it is your advice to accept or ignore. Nobody else gets a vote. It’s your work. Only change it if you agree.
Learning to leave the criticism within the work, and to let slide off criticism aimed at the wrong thing (i.e. the person instead of the act or object) isn’t necessarily easy, but doing so will keep you from wasting energy on the trolls and stress on the comments — but still leave you open to when someone says something useful. I think Mark did this to some degree, choosing to see how to take constructive work out of something not designed to be constructive. I think ultimately he gave the guy too much credit and time, given the circumstances.
I mean, just in general, if you don’t know a person, why are you paying attention to what they say and letting them piss you off? (easier said than done, but definitely worth learning to do)
I really had no plans to get back into writing. Well, I always felt that “someday” I’d start writing again, but I certainly didn’t see it happening any time soon.
But I was off doing some research on app stores and economic realities because I wanted to be able to talk to developers coming into webOS understand what the realistic expectations would be for sales and income, and to see what insights I could come up with as far as marketing that might be useful.
The more I looked around, the more I became intrigued with what I saw as the early stages of a massive disruption and the creation of a new independent publishing channel — ebooks and the ability to push written content out through multiple channels in multiple formats relatively easily, with the ability to charge for the content without having to build a full e-commerce engine. For the small/independent author and for authors with midlist material, this creates new opportunities, and the market is just starting to happen. In reality, the worlds of app development (what I do in my other life) and that of authors and photographers and other visually-oriented content creation are crashing together, and it’s going to create a massive publishing disruption and many new opportunities. I discussed this a bit back in October, and I’ll nudge you at the blog of Dean Wesley Smith (author and former publisher at Pulphouse Press) if you want to see more about that.
What I didn’t expect was that this was going to get me thinking about writing again — but it did, because I started to think about the opportunities here, and then my novel started whispering at me. My initial thoughts were oriented more towards photography and ebook publication of image-centric books (the most interesting and innovative group figuring this out is David du Chemin and his Craft and Vision, and it’s something I want to return to and talk about in more depth later, but I think he’s got a really interesting handle on how to make this work — and why it’s very different than traditional photo book publishing).
But for some reason, after almost 20 years of having no motivation to write, I kept coming back to thinking about getting back on the novel, and how to use the new publishing realities to move back into fiction writing. I’ve more or less ignored this idea for a couple of months while trying to figure out what my 2011 priorities are going to be, and the more I think about this, the more I realize now is a pretty good time to do try.
So I will.
I’m not entirely sure what this means yet. I don’t have any concrete goals, other than “dust off the novel and start typing”. but it just feels like the right time to pull this out of retirement and see what happens while I continue to try to figure out publishing and ditribution strategies and see how this market forms and how I can be a part of it. There’s something really interesting happening here, and the more I poke at it, the more I want to be part of it and try to make it flourish. Back in the 80′s when I was experimenting with e-publishing with OtherRealms the technology was unbelievably primative and we were feeling our way in the dark. I’ve always wanted to return to that kind of experimentation — and so it’s time to try.
But that doesn’t solve a larger issue, which is also getting that content onto the Kindle and Nook and into the MOBI and EPUB formats. It shouldn’t be too hard (famous last words) to create an environment that you could do some kind of structured set of HTML docs and have it create the navigation for you, and then shove it into phonegap to create apps, and then format it up into MOBI and EPUB, all in an automated or mostly-automated way.
Ultimately, I’d like to be able to build a set of HTML pages that define the content of a publication, push a few buttons, and have it turn into iPhone, Android, webOS, Kindle and Nook packages, all automated and all pretty and worth your $1.99, iwthout a lot of hacking or geeking to get it there.
It seems to be (ahem) there’s a developer opportunity to create a tool suite that (ahem) other content creators would love to take advantage of, and perhaps toss a few shekels at. So that’s a sub-task of this new writing initiative, look into the possibility of creating a tool environment that a writer could use to take their content and push it into the various stores and environments in a graphically pleasant way without needing to be or hire a geek. As someone who more or less lives in both places, I think I have at least a base of information to start exploring this as a possible opportunity…
So I will.
And we’ll see how it goes. But it’s one of the things I’m really looking forward to digging into in 2011.
I seriously doubt these words will survive 100 years. What about you?
I seriously doubt that any words I write will deserve to survive 100 years.
Why should they? Just because they exist now?
Isn’t it a modern arrogance to presume that things will exist when you’re no longer around to care to make them exist?
Fact is, in the past, things in the past continued into the present because someone cared enough to preserve, present and promote. Stuff that didn’t meet that standard disappeared. Sometimes, of course, “preserve” meant taking extraordinary steps at the risk of life and limb, too.
Sometimes valuable stuff has disappeared, too — but the reality is that if something was valuable enough, redundant copies tended to be made, even if it was made by monks on parchments with ink and pen.
Me, I’d be thrilled to find out people considered stuff I did worthy of being preserved. Most of my stuff, especially my blogging? it’s prattle, the modern equivalent of laundry and shopping lists. why should that stuff be preserved? Specifically, why should MY versions of those be preserved? Who in future history department’s are going to care? And why?
Frankly, most of this stuff deserves to turn back into randomized electrons, folks. Don’t put yourself up with the folio’s of Shakespeare quite that easily…
Dori says that she thinks the Amazon Kindle is a bomb, and she thinks that it will flop. Her argument is based mainly on its DRM. I think that it will succeed, become a big business segment for them, and will be the first of a new line. Neither of us has seen or touched one yet.
I straddle the middle line.
First, DRM only matters to the general consumer when it gets in the way of what they want to do. You’ll notice that the DRM on DVD discs or the iPod/iTunes simply doesn’t register with consumers as a problem, because the restrictions aren’t things that affect them in a day to day, practical way; the people bitching about DRM on those platforms tend to be the uber-geeks and the anti-DRM extremists who are off on the edge of the bell curve. 39 trillions songs downloaded from iTunes tells you what “real people” think about iTunes DRM, once you get outside the uber-geek echo chambers.
On the other hand, look at all of those places where DRM has been used to try to force consumers into behaviors they don’t like — like, oh, the old DIVX platform, or music subscription services that don’t let you put your music on MP3 players and carry it around, or when MLB changed its DRM vendor and tried to tell everyone with video under the old DRM “well, sorry. buy it again”. oops.
DRM on the Kindle? We’ll see. If it stays in the background and lets typical users do what they want? It won’t be an issue. My initial thought is that Amazon isn’t stupid, and they understand the consumer, and their DRM restrictions seem to be pretty well thought out for the most part. We’ll see what consumers think.
But does that mean the Kindle will succeed? I’m still unconvinced that people are all that interested in spending that kind of money to carry books around; it’s at best a niche market — me, personally, I have Google Reader on my phone, and while it’s nice owning a hundred books I can carry in my backpack, in practice, I’m only reading one at a time, and a paperback is even more convenient, and I can buy a lot of paperbacks for the cost of the Kindle.
So I don’t think this product is “it”. the streaming content and EVDO make it an interesting device, but I think it’ll fall into a few niches: early adopter geeks who love new gadgets, and people who need to carry a reference library around with them (think O’Reilly safari in a neat little package). that presumes those libraries and books become available for the Kindle, not a guarantee.
But I still think it’s going to miss the mark; it’s not going to convince people like me to replace carrying a paperback, I’m not convinced the online stuff is “enough better” — but I am convinced this kind of product will succeed at some point, and I think Kindle is the first ebook device in years to move this product design forwards towards the product that will ultimately succeed.
Kindle is, for me, the product that for the first time shows how this kind of product WILL succeed. Kindle isn’t, I think, the breakthrough product, though, just the first one that shows some potential on how to build something like this that will break through. They’ve done many things right, including aggressive pricing of books (but not quite down to paperback price) — but I just don’t think we’re ready for this, yet.
But we finally have a serious contender for a “good, commercial, practical” ebook reader. Congrats to Amazon for figuring it out — and frankly, I’m not suprised it was them, but notice it’s not coming from a “high tech” company? Because this is a product driven by consumers, not technology, for however much it depends on technology to be viable. Something high tech companies ought to be thinking about, because they need to get out of their echo chambers — if Apple didn’t prove that, this should.
But I expect Kindle to be at best a moderate success. But I also think that Kindle will be remembered as the product that led to the succcess of this market, where frankly, no previous ebook reader attempt came close. So at that level, it’s already succeeded.
Frank Catalano went to the Nebula Awards in Seattle, and talks about some of the things that happened.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about decisions past, present and future recently. A couple of those major decisions were quitting my writing not-quite-a-career, and later, deciding to resign from SFWA after years of involvement. Between Frank and Teresa’s post on Avenue Victor Hugoand the closing of Other Change of Hobbit, it’s really stirred up a bunch of memories.
The decision to stop writing was really pretty simple, actually — I felt I was a mid-list type of writer, working in a field where the mid-list was starting to be decimated, both by centralized chain buying that didn’t have room for the non-blockbuster writer, and by the encroachment of the sharecrop
environments such as Star Trek and Star Wars. Both of those worries have come true to a good degree, I think, and I don’t think the kind of writing I was interested in doing matches well with the market as it stands today, and I just wasn’t interested writing other people’s stories. What made the decision really easy were two other factors: first, I had another option (computers) that I enjoyed at least as much as writing, and which paid a hell of a lot better, and I’m all for having fun AND making money; second, it turns out that I wasn’t nearly as interested in being a writer as proving I could be a writer, so once I got the full SFWA membership, I lost a lot of motivation (object lesson: set your goals appropriately, just in case you reach them…).
I honestly don’t miss writing; I was always someone who enjoyed having written more than the act of writing, and my other things in my life keep me happy. Deciding to simplify and focus was easy.
Leaving SFWA was more problematic, even having decided to stop writing. It’s not something I’ve talked about to many folks, but I guess it’s time. I managed the Nebula Awards for a good number of years for SFWA, and it’s something I take pride in how well it ran — when I picked it up, the awards were in the latest in an continuing series of crises and political fights, and interest within the organization was low. My main goal was stability, to simply make the damned things work and work in a way that people would be willing to get back involved in the process — what I think I’m most proud of is that every year I managed the awards, membership participation went up. To me, that means I was doing something right.
Even when I gave up the awards, and I’d cut back on my writing, i still felt that I wanted to be a part of the organization, to find ways to pay forward into the author community that’d given me so much. But SFWA has had problems trying to decide what it wanted to be, a social organization, a support organization, or a professional organization (SFWA, for reasons I’ve never quite figured out, decided it couldn’t be more than one type of organization, and perhaps it was right…).
So eventually I got involved in some of the arguments, and over time, I decided that SFWA was headed in the wrong direction, so (being someone who believes in doing, not whining), I declared candidacy for office for an upcoming election, with a platform of trying to drive to conclusion some of the continuing fights going on within SFWA, and to try to move it in directions I felt it needed to go.
Some members supported me, some didn’t. One who didn’t was Damon Knight, who happened to be founder of SFWA. I found it troubling to be in conflict with him over future directions of SFWA (although to be honest, Damon and I didn’t always see eye to eye (I got the impression I rubbed him the wrong way at times — that, of course, was unprecedented, given my quiet, docile personality); but even when I disagreed with him, I strongly respected his opinion. Now, I was on the wrong side of that opinion, and it bothered me.
But it also made me think, and realize that, given I’d already chosen to retire from active writing, that maybe I shouldn’t be actively driving the future direction of SFWA; II was, after all, a self-described passenger now. I also realized that as long as I was a member of SFWA, I’d be unable to not get involved in the fights over what SFWA wanted to be when it grew up — that’s just not me.
So I cancelled my candidacy and resigned from SFWA. It’s all Damon’s fault — and I wish I’d been able to thank him for making the decision necessary. Because in retrospect, he was right; SFWA moved on without me and is doing pretty well from what I see from the outside, I got out of the way, and most important, I got to pull a lot of conflict (even if the arguing and fighting was mostly done with interesting people in interesting ways) and time committments out of my life, and realize that SFWA was part of my past, not my future. So everyone ended up winning.
It was hard to convince myself it was time to move on — but once I did, I realized it was the right thing to do, and I haven’t regretted it. Except, on a social level, where I ended up losing coontact with a bunch of really great people, folks who’d helped me get my writing career started, and were a great help and resource as I was figuring all that stuff out.
So I don’t miss SFWA, and SFWA doesn’t miss me, but I sometimes miss the people that made SFWA SFWA, even if they were ones I tended to fight with. It is, for the most part, a great bunch of folks, and very open to people that could, potentially, take their jobs — but they made you welcome anyway. I’m proud of my time there, and the work I did supporting the organization; and in a funny way, I’m just as proud to realize in retrospect that I also served SFWA as well as myself by choosing to resign.
I’ve heard some of the rumors about my resignation, some were rather amusing, in fact. At the time, I mostly wanted it all to move on and both myself and SFWA to focus on other things, I didn’t want to become more of a distraction than I’d become with my candidacy. But now, I think, it’s safe to talk about, and I’m comfortable with my decisions — Damon and I didn’t agree on what SFWA ought to be, and given he founded it, I wouldn’t go against his vision, even if I disagreed with it. And perhaps he was right; SFWA certainly went in a different direction than I wanted it to — and I can’t complain about the results. It’s a time when I’m happy to be proven wrong, because it doesn’t matter who’s right, as long as the organization moves forward in productive ways…