Two Wrongs

Paul Krugman, an economist I usually find myself agreeing with and a dude whom I maintain a cache of respect for, has been getting a lot of author traction on the internets of late. Why? His recent opinion piece in the New York Times Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not O.K.

This morning no less than five author-peers reposted or reblogged Krugman’s opinion. Paul’s point “Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America” is arguably a valid point. Arguably as there have been a number of well reasoned collections of words published of late which completely justify what Amazon is and has been doing in its ongoing struggle with Hachette. It’s arguable that Amazon is a monopsony (go ahead I had to look it up). It too is arguable that in a battle where the limits are drawn by the boundaries of the publishing industry that the suggestion of breaking up the whole company using heavy handed FTC tactics is justified. It is even arguable who, exactly is getting hurt in this interminable struggle.

America, really? Seems a bit over the top to me. Let’s take a brief moment and identify specifically who is being hurt right now. That demographic is authors and more specifically authors who publish through the publishing giant Hachette in one way or another.

People who publish through groups that are not Hachette are not harmed. Consumers who buy books through Amazon or any other distributer are not harmed. The only people taking a physical hit for this are unwitting leverage. Most likely they woke up one morning to find that their books weren’t where they thought they’d be on a list or release day and are arguably pissed they’re not getting their promised place of prominence.

Do I feel bad for someone who published through a Hachette imprint only to discover their master work subject to a “new” gate on its way to the consumer? Yeah sure, traditional publishing has occupied the role of tastemaker time out of mind. Who wouldn’t enter a publishing agreement with a company assuming that they could pull all the strings necessary to build all that delectable buzz. And Krugman has it right, Amazon is being a colossal buzz kill. So when I see statements like this from the esteemed Chuck Wendig I have to stop and think.

Well, even without the facetiousness, I get it — I’d rather be done with this topic, too. But here’s the reality: Amazon is hurting authors. Maybe they’re doing good business for themselves and no, I don’t think they’re evil or unjustified. But I don’t care, either, because authors are getting fucked over. And, to be selfish, given some of my future publishers, no reason to think that this fight isn’t coming down to come of MY books, too. I have friends here who are hurting, and it may hurt me in the future, so fuck all of that.

I don’t believe that it is possible to take note of how bad Amazon is being to these authors without also commenting on the ease with which Hachette sacrifices these people to this fate. For the better part of a year now these two business entities have been causing too much friction in publishing, hurting authors and for what? The right to determine who is and is not successful within the publishing industry. This battle isn’t about margins or money it is about who gets to play tastemaker in the medium. Amazon has been successfully usurping that role from traditional publishers for a while and Hachette is jealous of it’s loss. Jealous, but unwilling to alter it’s own behavior in the same way that Amazon can and has.

And what of the rest of us? Those seemingly few who went with a different imprint or turned the whole row on their own? I’m not in possession of any numbers here, but four of the Big Five and all the world’s independent publishers use Amazon for distribution still and with some success. It is possible that Hachette published authors represent a minority of of those who write.

If Amazon is to be blamed and/or reprimanded for anything than equal sanction should be imposed on Hachette. Krugman is right when he draws parallels between Amazon and Standard Oil, but only in as much as they are big, powerful companies in possession of weight to throw around. Rather, they are all very large business entities behaving badly.

A Question of Etiquette

So, right now I’m feeling a tad bit confused and maybe a little stuck. I’ve been submitting short stories to a variety of venues in the SF world. Eventually, I get back a rejection notice. And while this is perfectly okay with me — I’ll simply move on to the next venue with the story to see if I can find a better fit — I feel a desire to reach out and thank the editor in question for their time.

I’ve done a bit of research. The “do you write a thank you note after a manuscript rejection?” query has been run on Google, but there seems to be a decided lack of advice on this one point of protocol.

So, are you an editor? Is a thank you note for your time and consideration something you’d appreciate? Are you a writer who sends thank you notes? Does this work for you?

Truth be told not having an answer for this one question is going to bug the crap out of me all day.

This Should Be a Thing

I’m plum tuckered out. Today I have been more or less consistently disappointed by humanity. Disappointed in general, as well as in particular. Pretty much everyone I’ve encountered in the last twelve to sixteen hours has figured out a new and sometimes interesting way to let me down. For example, the long line of college aged kids on the trail to Lake Serene who were speaking so loudly I could make them out over the din of the forest and a 200 foot cascade crashing into boulders. Guys, hiking should be a lot like visiting the library. Then there is pretty much everyone on social media for, well, saying dumb shit.

After our hike we picked up some passable fried fish and an okay beer. Expectations thereafter lowered, the Fam and I returned to our castle on the hill and played frisbee at the park for a while. Mostly good, but I caught a disc, thrown at close range by my three year old, with my ear. It’s still throbbing. Eventually, we made our way back to the house and I thought, “Hey, I need a pick-me-up. I should see what my friends are up to,” and then clicked through to Facebook because I’m a glutton for punishment, or disappointment. Take your pick. At the top of my feed the fine folks at Facebook thought I’d appreciate this.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always set me on edge.

I love helping out new authors. But I’m super busy, so I can’t really take the time to pour myself into that kind of critical reading. And whenever I tell someone this, it’s always a crapshoot whether I’ll get a “thanks for your time” or a raging screed about arrogant writers.

I will not name the author that wrote this. He’s a good guy, and I suspect that this was probably written out of frustration. The amount of reading anybody associated with this gig is constantly asked to undertake can be daunting. At some point we all have to draw lines and declare “None shall pass.” Also noteworthy, I am not the author making said request. This guy writes fantasy, I write science fiction; I’m uncertain he would understand my works any more than I get his. Add to this he’s just an acquaintance I’ve made, not a bosom buddy or a connection to an agent or an imprint. Just some dude I was friendly with over beers at a convention. I’d be really surprised if he reads this blog post. Ever.

But this very public comment struck me as particularly off-putting for a couple of reasons. First, it is a public declaration characterized by indirect refusal to the request of another. He’s not refusing to help by telling the requesting author, he is refusing by telling his fans. While this avenue of response avoids direct confrontation, it also creates more drama than it solves. While at the same time, the comment itself appears to be a lightly veiled attempt to raise one author above another. The Cliff notes for this post? “I’ve got mine, don’t bother asking.”

Add to the above that I’ve found this attitude somewhat widespread. At conventions I’ve sat next to people, other authors, who spend an inordinate amount of time bitching about the unwashed masses with whom they’re too good to consort. To further the misattribution of a phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” This seems to me the genre specific contemporary version of Marie Antoinette’s contempt. Funnily it is not the people with swimming pools of book revenue that tend to do this. Go figure.

If you “love helping out new authors” than give it your best shot. Do what you can, no one expects any more. Be more than a self-promoter, be an advocate for your favorite stories. Tell others about all the really fine works that will improve their appreciation of your canon. You’ve worked hard to find your audience, and you may have had help along the way. If not, it cannot hurt to pay it forward. If you really don’t have the time to read someone else’s work than, at the very least, be honest and mature. Tell them upfront.

In an attempt to reconstruct my attitude I turned this nugget on its head because I’m not into maintaining a never ending streak of disappointment. I seriously had to let this one go or risk staying up all night thinking about it, thus, this is a little bit of therapy. I probably need to turn this into a policy statement, but in the mean time consider my public declaration an invitation. Feel free to change out the pronouns as you see fit.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always get me excited.

I love helping out new authors because I might have just been given an early opportunity to find my next favorite wordsmith. This is why I will create time in my busy schedule to read his book instead of concocting a series of excuses designed to passive-aggressively justify my own narcissism and surreptitiously segregate him from my social crowd. Besides, I should spend less time playing video games. Whenever I tell someone that I will read their book I am reasonably confident I’ll receive a sincere “thank you” for my time, perhaps some quid pro quo. This is far preferable to the anxiety of waiting on their reply which can range from polite dismissal to an arrogant, raging screed.

It is the last day of August. Today I can officially say I’ve been doing this professionally for a year. Writing, or making shit up for living as I love to call it, is an excellent way to make a living.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last year is that it’s a group effort. No one makes it alone. The idea of an “independent author” is a myth, a complete and utter fabrication. For each and every one of us who takes this chance, who writes something down and then sends it out into the world, there must necessarily be a collection of people to read that wager. If you’ve got your’s, I say, “Great! Good on ya.” But I’d also remind you that you did not find your level of success on your own. Someone read what you had to write and loved it enough to tell a friend, to write a blurb, put it in front of your agent or your publisher, or just leave a review on Amazon.

Don’t crap on your fans. Don’t crap on your peers. Pay it forward when ever you can. And always, ALWAYS play nice.

Hugo Awards Are Out

Perfect? No, not so much. Relevant and important to the future of the genre? Unquestionably. The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention at Loncon 3, has announced the 2014 Hugo Award winners. And before you say something as ridiculous as “the Hugos don’t matter anyway” think for a moment on the 3587 valid ballots that were counted to determine this year’s winners. Such a tiny number of people voting, yet the impact of this award is pretty amazing. If you have a problem with the Hugo you should realize that you, all by your lonesome, can still change how this thing works. Participate, be friendly, be open to discussion and get ready for 2015.

Now, I want to send out some good vibes to everyone. Nomination is still a high bar and winners, you’re this year’s rocks stars.

BEST NOVEL

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)

BEST NOVELLA

“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)

BEST NOVELETTE

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com /
Tor.com, 09-2013)

BEST SHORT STORY

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

BEST RELATED WORK

“We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

“Time” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM

Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films;Warner Bros.)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM

Game of Thrones “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM

Ellen Datlow

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM

Ginjer Buchanan

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST

Julie Dillon

BEST SEMIPROZINE

Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki

BEST FANZINE

A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher

BEST FANCAST

SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester

BEST FAN WRITER

Kameron Hurley

BEST FAN ARTIST

Sarah Webb

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Sofia Samatar

I Hate Conflict

Yep, this author really does not like it very much. My problem with conflict is that it gums things up, making it more difficult or impossible to get anything done. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that there is no escaping it, and eventually, if you’re involved in any pursuit where conflict is happening you may actually need to chose a side. I hate that most of all because I usually find myself not agreeing with any particular party. If party A is busy bickering with party B over something that ultimately just creates obstacles for me, why should I line up with either?

The whole Amazon v Hachette cluster event has once again taken center stage. Instead of focusing on some highly anticipated releases, the ring leaders are begging for all the attention. They want to know that we support them in their cause. They’re writing open letters, building grass roots media campaigns, and waving big banners.

Friday evening, what should appear in my inbox, but a letter from The Amazon Books Team with the subject “An Important Kindle request.” Within this multi-page tome (and I possess a big monitor) I’ve been obliged to take Amazon’s side in this contemporary cluster event of monumental proportions. If we just hold hands, sing songs, and spam our adversaries with emails we can eventually go back to pretending to be nice to one another. After reading this letter I felt dirty.

Amazon would love for you to buy into the idea that they’re on the side of readers. Hachette wants you to trust that they’re on the side of creatives. In my opinion, both of these companies couldn’t give less of a damn about readers or writers. Here’s why.

  • In Amazon’s letter to Kindle authors they liken the rise of ebooks to the historical shift in publishing between hard bound and paper backed books. Their history is on the fuzzy side, but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is Amazon’s claim that the ebook can revolutionize book sales the way that paperbacks did somewhere between WW1 and Vietnam.I find it perplexing that as a distributor of books, Amazon fails to realize that words have value. People, good people in fact, spend lots and lots of time and effort collecting those words into big piles. They’re banking on the notion that a lower price point will increase sales volumetrically. Fast and cheap is what they’re going for in their segment of publishing, but this is incredibly shortsighted of the company. As an author who first bleeds on the page and then slaves away at revisions until I’m cross eyed, I don’t want readers stuffing their Kindles with my work. This does me absolutely no good. That kindle stuffed with cheap words will never get read and the return I can expect regardless of how I publish will always be much, much lower. Amazon is pushing writers to produce more if they want any hope of maintaining financial viability. You get to choose two: fast, cheap, or good. By chasing cheap, and pushing fast, they’re losing good.

    The whole Readers United bit seems concocted. It’s like eating soylent green snack cakes. Amazon is clearly trying to win my support in their corporate struggle but they are not actually doing anything to gain my support. So like a big, self-interested, for-profit company.

    If you’re a reader and you think this is a good thing, think again. Short term, with the ever-decreasing value of the printed word, each time you buy a mobi on your Kindle Paperwhite™ you’re likely wasting your hard earned money. You’ve given me a sale, but I’ve lost a reader because Kindle-stuffers don’t read, they collect. Long term it is actions like this that push down prices on everyone’s works, thereby devaluing the cost of the written word to the point where it becomes a worthless pursuit for creatives. I’m not motivated to write and then jump through hoops to publish something at a net loss.

  • Hachette has brought out their honor guard to make the point that Amazon is an evil, multimillion dollar, monopolistic company whose only concern is hurting Hachette’s precious writers. “It’s not our fault that Amazon chooses to behave this way,” they’re saying. “Be on our side because we’re the good guys, ebooks at a slightly higher price point ($14.99 instead of $9.99) just means that much more money will end up in the hands of the people who really deserve it.”I’m not buying this line either. Hachette has its own turf effort underway. A bunch of big name authors have published an open letter in which they “respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon and tell him what you think.” Guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you lost agency when you sold the rights to your work. Sure, what Amazon is doing is craptastic. Refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors’ books and eBooks, refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors’ books, slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors’ books to Amazon customers, and indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on some titles is the opposite of what any company formed around the idea of efficient, low-cost distribution of goods should be doing. This is how the bully behaves, but Hachette seemingly hasn’t seen fit to make any move to help these authors. Amazon is stoking the fire, Hachette is making certain that the shackles are nice and tight.

    The painful part of this effort is that each and every one of the people that signed this open letter seems just fine with the heat. By bandwagoning Hachette’s efforts you’ve effectively let this company off the hook for their part in this kerfuffle.

Neither of these companies is doing anything for the people that they say they care about. Authors don’t make any more if either of them win. Reading doesn’t get any better if either of them win. From the perspective of the people that matter, this is all lose-lose. We lose because attention within a saturated media market is necessarily diverted to business matters pertaining solely to middlemen.

What do I want? Amazon and Hachette to sit down and work things out; both of these companies need to solve this problem sooner than later. They’re hurting everyone who creates or consumes. These business entities are losing business. Do I hate either of these companies? Not so much — they both have a lot to offer. I’m a businessman working at the creative end of this funnel. When things go wrong, when things get stopped up, I notice. But that’s just it, I am interested in selling my stories, not winning some sort of imagined moral battle.

We’re not on the verge of some epic ebook publishing breakthrough, neither are we at the threshold of some amazing renaissance of traditional publishing self distribution. Rather we seem to be hopelessly bogged down in some sort of middleman mire. Amazon, you’ll never get anywhere bullying Hachette authors. If you want to win authors over to your way of thinking, offer them a better deal. Hachette, you’ll never get anywhere pretending you hold some sort of moral high ground. If you want to win readers over to your way of thinking, give readers a better deal.

DetCon1 Redux (Part One)

I’m sitting just outside the DTW jetty that will eventually have a plane parked at its other end. This plane will take me to PHX and thence further on, and hopefully home, to SEA. While I sit, sipping an iced chai from the coffee stand down the concourse, I’ve been reviewing the last four days. Trying to form the lessons I’ve learned into something I can use moving forward. Articulate the wisdom of those who have gone before me.

I should note that in addition to all the learning and networking I had an awesome time. The North American Science Fiction Convention happened to to intersect with the NetRoots Nation convention. This proved a particularly good sort of kismet for all involved. Every time I had a little down time I was approached by someone from the adjacent affair who would invariably say something like “What’s this all about?” or “I don’t read science fiction, but I want to more ….” In some small way all that curiosity and social boundary crossing I think enriched the experience for all involved. Plus, I believe the verdict was that DetCon1 had the better room parties.

Matt Thyer and Jim Hines

From the get-go my convention schedule seemed subject to change. The Vice President’s visit to the same building meant that I got stuck in some amazing traffic. As a connoisseur of the finest road bound cluster events in Norther America and beyond I can say that this was a classic Interstate stoppage. Ultimately, this meant that I missed my scheduled reading. But don’t feel bummed for me because the agile and capable staff running the convention from the table in the green room busted a move and helped me find a spot on Saturday. Opposite Jim Hines. Which was awesome. Did I happen to mention I read opposite Jim Hines? I should probably say that again, opposite Jim Hines.

Had I nothing to read other than a crap pile of words I would still fail to see how this could have gone badly for me. Jim Hines…. Rather my first reading at a convention turned out to be a fairy tale princess event with butter and bacon. We (and mostly he) packed the room. It was standing room only and as we got ready I couldn’t help grinning madly because I knew that I had selected a black arrow from my quiver.

Chapter four of the second book in the “sports in space” series is about the naval space program’s super secret Atlatl gunboat system told from the point of view of Gunnery Sergeant Capston. I had rehearsed the reading a bunch the night before, I wanted it to go really well. I knew there were three good laughs in the manuscript and the potential for a cringe. They happened, all where I had anticipated they might. Even better I know how I can do a better job next time.

The reading was an amazing learning experience and it also served as a great opportunity to get to know Jim Hines a little better. What a great guy to be friends with. I am really looking forward to Geek Fan Expo in September where we’ll both be special guests.

Speaking of readings, I caught John Scalzi and Jacqueline Carey combined reading. A memorable hour of my life, and one which I can now refer to in an effort to make future readings of my work all the better. Both of these excellent authors are also the very best public readers.

So, yes, watching these two masters read was very helpful and informative. I also got to spend some time face-to-face with them both as well as others. A memorable tid-bit that Scalzi left me with was something like, “The operating mode of writing is failure, so get used to it. Submit, and while you’re waiting write some more. Eventually, you’ll get sales.”

Finally, John’s wife Kristine was at the convention. Much like my wonderful Tess, Kristine is a capable, smart, and loving woman who teams up with her main man in the creative process. Perhaps the most important take away from our conversations was that I was reminded I really need to listen and pay attention to what Tess has to say about my work. Perhaps more importantly what she tells me about the way I conduct my business. She is my first, best fan in addition to my partner. Also, “never compromise when it comes to your work.” Kristine gave me this fundamental as a guideline and then we enjoyed a beer in between panels. If you’re reading this, I’ve heard you both. Loud and clear.

And with that, I must leave you. The plane is at the far end of the jetty and the scent of anticipation is running through the crowd. Yes, there will be more. Stay tuned, big announcements are blog bound.

Holy Cow! Goodreads Giveaway

So sometime in February I purchased a good reads ad. According to their daily emails ~22,000 of you have seen the add and only two of those clicked through to check my book out. Needless to say, I’ve been underwhelmed by Goodreads ads for months now. Daily I get an email telling me how many more of you passed over my book. It’s a slow motion death by microscopic cuts to the ego. One which I am paying for fifty cents at a time.

So it was that, about the same time I bought my plane tickets to DetCon1, I decided that I’d likely have a pile of books to give away soon after the convention. “Why not,” I said to myself, “try out one of these new fangled Goodreads giveaways.” I wasn’t expect much of anything. Worse when I tried to embed the widget for the giveaway on my wordpress site I wound up covered in computer puke, head to foot. Late that night I sort of gave up and went to bed. Then I forgot about it.

Today — after a brief but informative conversation with Steve Drew, Super Fan and Emperor of r/Fantasy — I went and checked the giveaway I had previously scheduled. Now my chin has a bruise on it because that was unquestionably a jaw dropping experience.

Overwhelming response, no advertising

Yes, you read that right 169 people entered to win one of 20 copies with absolutely no advertising. Want one?