31 August 2010

When Publishers (Aren't) Useful

Pile of booksWithout looking too hard, you can find some very good, very cognizant articles on why publishers will still be necessary in the brave new world of eBooks 1. ( Scalzi | Hines | Stross | Buckell ) They are fundamentally correct. Publishers are useful... most of the time.

As Scalzi put it (and really, you should read his post, it's funny as all hell):
Won’t I need an editor? Or a copy editor? Or a cover artist? Or a book designer? Or a publicist? Or someone to print the book and get it into stores?
And he's absolutely right. But that's also where the "sort of" comes in.

I've been doing a lot of cons this year, and talking to quite a few people in the publishing industry - small press, large press, authors, editors, and so on. And I've I've now heard three publishers (of various sizes) 2 say two things that really bothers me:

Authors are solely responsible for publicizing their own book
Authors are solely responsible for making sure their book gets distributed to booksellers.

Sure, authors need to hustle to promote their book. Readings, signings, interviews and the like are definitely part of our responsibility. And sure, authors should make themselves known to local bookstores, sign their stock, and the like. But these publishers were putting all the responsibility on the authors. I have no idea how to get a paper book carried by any of the chains - that's what publishers and distributors do. I can't fund an advertisement (save maybe some per-click ads, and who the hell clicks those?).

I can do most of the things publishers do - or hire someone to do it for me. There's a cost (whether my time or my money), but most of those things are reasonably affordable. But out of the list of jobs that publishers do, there's two things that are a lot harder for an independent author to do: Publicize and distribute the book. Yet those are the two things that authors were being told to do on their own.

So here's your warning, folks. Yes, authors have to hustle and promote their work. And yes, authors need to contact and work with local bookstores and libraries.

But if a publisher isn't going to step up and work with you in those areas, how necessary are they?

1 This is also tied to the argument that print ain't dead yet.
2 I've also had other publishers categorically say that they oppose those statements. This isn't a slam on all publishers, just some.

27 August 2010

Review: Makers by Cory Doctorow

Conquered: MakersCory Doctorow's Makers (AMZ | B&N) is a book full of ideas and possibility, which makes up for a somewhat predictable plot and flattened characters.

I read this book after I had read Doctorow's Little Brother; the two have very strong similarities in plot structure. It's a serviceable - if a bit transparent - structure, but the girders and siding are definitely showing after reading both of these books.

This isn't surprising - both books are idea books. Where Little Brother is concerned with personal freedoms and surveillance societies, Makers is concerned with economics, sustainable development, and making money doing cool things. And like Little Brother, the ideas are what make this book worth reading.

Throughout, Doctorow imagines "New Work" - a thrilling idea of decentralized (and yet networked) expertise being used to let people make and work how they want in a sustainable and profitable way. It's a fascinating vision, and easily ranks up there with his conceptualization of "Whuffie" as a transcendent kind of economics. Unlike Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, where whuffie played an omnipresent but background role, "New Work" is the front-and-center conflict of the story.

The plot is, as mentioned, a bit predictable in the broad outlines. Most of the characters come of a little bit flat as well, making it difficult for me to care about the character's emotions. A separation or argument simply evoked a "meh", and the single real "sex scene" came off as gratuitously explicit. What I ended up caring about was the idea - the concept of "New Work", of working in innovative ways (and seeing some thoughts how the establishment might strike back).

While this book is not Doctorow's finest fiction, it is a fascinating thought experiment and worth reading for that alone. It is also available for free as a Creative Commons download at his website.

26 August 2010

Writing For Women

I need to be clear on something up front here: This is marketing and targeting an audience, pure and simple. Keep going through to the end before deciding to flame me, 'kay?

A Young Woman ReadingSo yesterday I talked about some basic principles of how men can try to write better female characters. This is a very, very different thing than men writing for women readers.

Because our readers exist in today's (sexist) society, they grow up expecting to like and appreciate different things due to gender roles.1 Look at movie audiences (and how they're marketed): Men like action and things that go boom. Women like emotions and relationships.

These aren't universals - I know women who like horror movies far more than I do, and men who like emotional films. But they're still useful generalizations to think about when marketing your stories - and you can find ways to subvert them there as well.

The way this translates to text is pretty simple: Women tend to like internal dialogue and musing about relationships. Men tend to like action sequences, with little introspection. I've noticed that from reader comments about my own stories, especially from female readers. When the emotions are only conveyed through expressions and body movements, I get a lot more women telling me the story feels "flat" - even if it's got a strong subplot about relationships.

So when you're doing your second or third draft of the story, try to mix it up a bit. If you tend to have lots of introspection, cut a bit of it out. If you tend to have little to no introspection, add some. Your characters and story will be the stronger for it - and you'll broaden your audience appeal while subverting gender stereotypes.

1 Again, I do not think this is a good thing. I try to work against it whenever I can. But it is how things are right now, whether we like it or not. I hope this advice will be unnecessary very, very soon.

25 August 2010

Because she's gorgeous...

I offer this real-life, overheard example 1 of subtle sexism in our society:

In the midst of a discussion about the devaluation of college degrees (prompted by this article), a man told me (emphasis mine):
"That reminds me of my sister-in-law. She's just drop-dead gorgeous, you know. But she got a summer job working as an electrician from her dad, and then later on became an apprentice and still works as an electrician today.
I kept waiting for the sister-in-law's appearance to have anything to do with the story. It never did.

Nobody commented on it - and few people even realized it'd been said. But the reverse - randomly commenting on a relative's hotness - would have been very, very strange if the relative was a woman.

I don't think anything was "meant" by it, or that it was even intentional. I'm pointing at it as a symptom of the sexism embedded in our society.

1 As always, where and when I overheard it, along with who said it, may or may not be completely changed around. The intent is the same.

Men Writing Women

KE054S14 World BankI enjoy "controversial" panels. Partially because I often like to debate things, partially because my background knowledge of the issues is pretty extensive1, and partially, at least in regards to writing, the issues are really pretty simple.

Yes, simple.

I was on the "Men Writing Women" panel at GenCon's Writer's Symposium. The entirety of the advice can be summed up like this:
In our society, men and women have different roles. Listen to women without your own prejudices, and then write characters true to what you hear. Your characters must make sense in your world - so make sure you know what happened to make things different than historical or present society. Apply the Bechdel test to your own work.

Simple, not easy.

If you want to convincingly write a realistic character who is a 14 year old woman in modern Western society, you have to talk to 14 year old women.2

You have to examine your own biases and be aware of them when you're writing. In a future society where everyone's equal, why would a character ever say "hit like a girl?"

You have to realize our current society is structurally sexist. For example:

At an earlier panel, I'd answered a question by saying, "That's something we're going to cover in depth with a later panel - Men Writing Women. The short answer is, your female characters shouldn't be men with boobs." The audience chuckled.

Another panelist said, "And the one after that is Women Writing Men, where your male characters shouldn't be chicks with dicks." The audience gasped a little, then laughed nervously.

The difference in reaction to essentially the same statement is an artifact of the sexist nature of our society. Those sorts of things can be subtle - and nearly invisible to us unless we actively search them out.

If you're a male writer, I highly recommend Privilege, Power, and Difference. If you can manage it, take a class or two on women's studies at a local college or university - and hear what they're actually saying.

Should all your female characters going to be enlightened and liberated women? Of course not. There's a variety of personalities in the world, and some of them aren't very flattering. But at the same time, if you only have giggling women falling for your male lead character (or screaming when danger threatens), then you really need to re-examine your work.

1 I've been on both sides of religious debates, plus that sociology degree...
2 And manage to not come off as a pervert.

24 August 2010

CONTEXT 23

I'll be at Context 23 the last weekend of August. This will be my second year at CONTEXT, though the first that I'm on panels for this convention. It's a nice, quiet convention - a good break after the sheer size of GenCon. That and Tobias Buckell will be the GoH this year, which is an awesome thing in and of itself.

Context is a friendly convention focused on speculative fiction literature and related games, comics and films.

If you enjoy manga, anime, science fiction, fantasy, or horror, you'll find plenty to entertain you at this convention.

Not only are there the panels, but there are a number of intensive seminars for writers. I'll be deep in one of those on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday I should be around the con. The three panels I'll be on (unless the programming director grabs me for another!) are:

Saturday, 2:30pm: An Eye for Detail: The Writer's Creed
Saturday, 7pm: Writing for Different Mediums / Venues
Sunday, 10am: Genre Conventions - What's Different or the Same?
Sunday, 11am: eBooks

(If you've been reading this blog for a while, I bet you've guessed that I'm excited about the last!)

I hope to see you all there!

23 August 2010

Impact - A 100 Word Story

[Steve's note: Yes, this is an "encore episode". It's also a reminder that if you like these flash fictions of mine, you can get over 60 of them (including this story) in Pencils Made This Scar, available at my site and on Amazon. It's only $2 for over 45 minutes of entertainment - what a deal!]

Pilot whaleIn 2012, the whales told us they were intelligent.

Then they told us they were causing global warming.

My roommate giggled as the whale songs were translated into the details of the libertarian Federation of Ceteceans. He laughed harder as the whales revealed their ongoing plan.

Carbon dioxide was the first step. Next, they would free methane trapped at the ocean floor, spiking the temperature and turning the Earth into... well, the Water.

"That's horrible," I said.

"Don't you see the irony?" he asked. "They're libertarians. They don't believe in environmental impact statements!"

I thought I could smell salt water.

Students are unprepared for students


Totally and completely [sic] from the RSS feed (and first paragraph) for this Dayton Daily News article:

Despite college admissions officials saying high school success is the best guage for incoming students, state statistics say students are ill-prepared for students.

Apparently the article posted at 0217 this morning, which might explain a lot. Either that or someone needs to hire English grads instead of Journalism grads.

20 August 2010

Story publication in Everyday Weirdness!

I don't know how I forgot to mention this, but my story "...and I Felt Fine" went live at Everyday Weirdness back on the 10th!

It's a flash piece that came to me when the last Terminator movie was in theaters. I realized that the whole premise of the Terminator movies assumes that, well, that the machines are stupid.

What if they weren't?

Read the story to find out... and maybe you'll remember reading it when it's all far, far too late...

(And as always, if you like this fiction, drop a buck or five in the coffee cups over there on the right. Thanks!)

19 August 2010

Practical Privacy Online

PrivacyThis is not one of the "ZOMG GOOGLE KNOWS WHAT I DO" posts - though those are important as well. Instead, this is about managing your privacy for your physical safety.

Do not think you're too small-time to worry about privacy. I had my first Facebook stalker (that I'm aware of) when most of my published work was in small 'zines. If you're creating content on the internet - anything at all - you may suddenly find the world's attention on you. All it takes is one popular blogger or tweeter to think your work is cool - and you may not be aware of it until it's too late. (I've had work I've been involved with picked up by "weird website awards" back in the 90's, and by my local newspaper, boingboing, and various well-connected authors since then.)

Be aware that you are always findable. No matter how much (or little) you share on the web, there's data out there about you. Your goal is to make it hard enough that a casual creeper 1 gets discouraged. If that frightens you a little bit, good. There is no such thing as perfect security; you must remain aware.

Know what you want to share, and what you don't want to share. I once sent a female podcaster a birthday card; I sent it to her house because she'd put her address on her Facebook page. She said it was a little creepy - because she hadn't realized where I found the info. Provide some information (or alternatives) easily, so that people looking for it will use the easy-to-find stuff you want them to.

Create alternatives. Too expand on the above: It's easy to find my PO Box. My current address is not publicly tied to me at all. So if someone wants to send me a paper birthday card, contract, whatever, it's easy to do without having to reveal my home address. Create a separate e-mail address if you want to, and so on.

Always act like someone's watching. When you post something online, make sure of three things:
Is it something you'd mind an employer (or potential employer) seeing? So yeah, the beer bong pics need to stay on your PC. Depending on the people you know, this might also require trimming your friends lists on social networking sites if they don't get a clue.
Is it something you'd mind a skeevy creeper seeing? Would you want a sexual predator knowing your kid's name and where you live? I didn't think so. Which is why my kiddo's name is "kiddo" on the internet.
Is it something that you'd mind a criminal seeing? Do you really want that guy who thinks you're out to destroy America knowing that you checked in with foursquare at the university late at night? Do you want a burglar knowing you're going to a convention for four days when they can find your home address?

Regularly obfuscate details. I talk about real-life events in my blog. It's a safe assumption that I've changed a random number of details in a random fashion. When I say I talked to a woman at work, I may have talked to a man at university. Or not. I don't refer to regular people by name whenever possible (as opposed to other public figures, like authors or businesspeople).

Use Whoisguard or an alternative. If you've registered a domain, your real information is on the web and findable. My hosting provider uses Whoisguard, which gives an alternative address. There are other products that do the same thing.

A special note about Facebook. If you have a public persona (including teachers, professors, podcasters, writers, etc), and are already on Facebook, create a fan page now. (PROTIP: If you're using your real name for your fan page, put your middle initial in either the personal page or the fan page so you can tell them apart.) Limit your personal page to people you "know". Personally, I limit it to people I've personally met and at least talked to - whether in Second Life, at a convention, or whathaveyou. Others limit it to only real-life friends. Whatever limit you're comfy with, but stick to that. At this point, I do not trust Facebook's privacy controls. (Some reasoned analysis here; I choose to be paranoid.) As a result, I'm not related to anybody, I didn't go to high school, and so on. It's not because I'm worried about data mining2; it's because I'm concerned about privacy.

If your significant other or kids are upset about this, tell them to deal with it. Seriously. I am not joking about the Facebook stalker. While at GenCon, I heard about an author who had a Twitter follower come up to her and suggest indelicately that she join him in his room. 3 99% of the people you meet on the internet are regular folks - even when you've gotten the attention of a big audience. Thing is, the internet's a really, really big place - and that 1% can be trouble. Maybe you're just being paranoid. Maybe you will never experience this sort of issue - or never run into one of the creepers. But the risks if you're wrong are pretty damn high. It's a risk I'm definitely not willing to take.

These are my tips; share yours in the comments!


1 That's a professional term, you know.
2 Though that's a good reason, too.
3 Secondhand story. And maybe it was a male author and female fan. Or two males, etc. You don't know the details, but the point's made regardless - that's how obfuscation works.

18 August 2010

Review: Dead Matter by Anton Strout

[Full disclosure: I know Mr. Strout. That's not stopped me from critiquing his books before now... ]

Dead Matter (AMZ | B&N)is Anton Strout's third book in the Simon Canderous series, and they simply keep getting better. This time, Simon must face an ancient, terrible threat... but without the support of the Department of Extraordinary Affairs.

The story is fast-paced and fun. The jokes feel natural, the humor a part of the character's everyday lives. The problems that Simon faces are organic to the plot - and he can't always count on his powers (or his friend's abilities) to save the day. This definitely gives this book a more tense feel, which works very well. Mr. Strout also twists existing myths and monsters very well, both tying up loose threads introduced in the earlier novels and creating a new, fresh take on an otherwise overused Big Bad.

From an aborted Taco Night to a touching conclusion, I can definitely recommend this book for fans of urban fantasy (or a host of TV shows like Buffy, Paranormal, or the X-Files that fall in the same genre).

17 August 2010

The Burning Servant - A New Story



I've mentioned Mike Stackpole's Chain Story Project before. What I haven't mentioned is that my story "The Burning Servant" is now the 14th story in the project.

The Burning Servant is one of the stories in The Chain Story. This series of stand-alone tales all begin at the Wanderer's Club, a gathering place where tales of fantastic adventure are traded.

Often, these stories are told by robust persons of adventure - larger than life champions from the highest ranks of society. This story, of darkness, death, and compromise, suggests that the most accurate accounts of history have little to do with the official story.

You can read The Burning Servant for free (donations requested), or if you would prefer to read the story in ePub, Mobi, or PDF formats, they're all available for less than a buck.

Greetings DDN readers!

A story mentioning this blog has gone live at the Dayton Daily News today. (If you didn't get here from there, you can see the article here.) It's one that makes the local Tea Party Exchange (and the Dayton Tea Party) not look so hot (regular readers know about this already).

If you're interested in what I had to say about the Tea Party Exchange, the original post is here, the lengthier post (with additional information) is here. It's true, I'm not a member of the Tea Party. I'm actually not fond of their politics. However, I started talking about it because I oppose hypocrisy; I can be harder on people I agree with than those I oppose.

Me? My name is Steven Saus. I'm a blogger, writer, sociologist, student, and medical technologist. I am a veteran (prior service, really; I've not been in combat), having spent eight years in the U.S. Army. I live in Dayton, Ohio, but I'm originally from West Virginia. I run this blog, ideatrash, which is pretty random (politics, writing, and sociology feature prominently). I am also the lead contributor to Polishing Dayton (aka "Polishing the Gem City with a Dirty T-shirt"), which is FAR more focused on underreported events in the Dayton area than politics.

Comment moderation has been turned on for all my blogs (I have read the comments on the Dayton Daily News website; I'm glad to see that comments on that article are disabled). I'll approve comments as I get a chance, but that's going to be pretty random. However, this is my space, and I'll approve comments (or not) as I see fit. Go re-read the first amendment, then get your own blog if you disagree.

And finally, just a small note for the creepers: The only address & phone info for me on the web is outdated. Bothering the people who live where I don't is kind of missing the point.

Okay, enough of that. Regardless of your political persuasion, I hope you enjoy. Later today (just after noon), I've got something far less political and (hopefully) far more entertaining for you.

16 August 2010

Real Friends - A Flash Fiction

FriendsBob started giggling while we wheeled the gurney down the hospital hallway.

"This Is Not Funny," I said, biting off each word. The body - or client, as Bob called it - didn't smell, but I'd still put VapoRub under my nose. We clattered down the dark hallway toward the back exit.

"It's really nice of you," Bob said while he tried to stifle his giggles. "I mean, when Maggie called in at the last minute, I really needed someone to help me out here."

"It's not what you think. You're paying me."

"Sure," he said, "but not enough to be moving clients from the hospital morgue to the funeral home. And that's how I know you're a real friend."

"Don't."

"Because friends help you move, but real friends -"

I tried to focus on the corpse on the gurney, ignoring the sanity-blasting pun.

Never make friends with a mortician who moonlights as a stand-up comic.

13 August 2010

On the Internet, Everyone Knows You're A Dog

[Edit: More information, replies to e-mails, etc over here.]

Yesterday, I had a friend point me to "The Tea Party Exchange". It's a local (to me) website where you can see if a particular business supports the Tea Party and shop there (or, ahem, not).

My point isn't whether or not this website (or the Tea Party) is a good idea. In case the page has been changed by this point, let me point you at a few things from the home page. (The landing page has audio flash without warning, so I linked above past that.)

In Donald L. Hutchinson's story of why he created the site, he said (emphasis mine):
I asked the [Tea Party] members that night this question: “How many of you by a show of hands would prefer to shop at a local, tea party owned small business, if that business would agree to donate 5-10% of the proceeds to the Dayton Tea Party?”

And yet, if you scroll down the page and look in the bottom right corner, you see this (screengrab from 8/12/10 @ 1850 EST):
TeaPartyHypocrisy


What, you may ask, is DESIGN Web Graphic? Where is this website outsourced to? According to their site, DESIGN Web Graphic:
We will be your offshore web design partner in India. Save up to 70 to 80% expenses by outsourcing web development projects to India.

Dayton has plenty of web designers here. It's nice to see that the Tea Party (or at least, this guy) is so committed to local businesses that he outsourced a site designed to promote local businesses to India.

Kudos, Donald Hutchinson. I couldn't make this stuff up.

Edit (8/14/10): You gotta give them credit for being bold. Sometime after I posted the screengrabs above, the Tea Party Exchange changed the LIVE link above to the one below:

Covering Tracks

Cute, right? And yes, I'm asking them for a comment.

12 August 2010

A 25 Word Story

"I don't care," he said to his wife. "It doesn't matter how many arms or eyes she has. She abducted me, but I love her."

(Non) Portable Entertainment

Highly Portable Detector Some entertainment should be portable.

Like books.

I strongly believe that the ebook market is going to follow a similar trajectory to the digital music market, over approximately the same time period. We're already seeing this, with Amazon trying to play the role that Apple did with iTunes and the iPod. I think that, for similar reasons, it'll probably shake out the same way. Kindles will end up being able to read ePub, other people will be able to read Kindle-formatted books on thier nooks or Sony Readers or whathaveyou.

But that's not the way things are now, and it's kind of frustrating.

I spent a good part of Sunday formatting an ebook collection of my flash fiction. One of the annoyances was making sure that I created versions that could work with both Kindles and other eReaders. (Anyone remember having to code different versions of you websites for Netscape and IE?) And a bigger annoyance, now that I have an Sony Reader of my own 1 is portability.

When I started programming, I had this flash of insight:

Programming is all about taking one source of data, possibly transforming it, and outputting it in another format.

That insight has informed a lot of my opinions about portability - that is, the ability to take entertainment I digitally own (either free or purchased) and enjoy it on the digital platform of my choice. Especially when you're talking about text.

I'm not talking about derivative works (just because you bought the book doesn't mean you get the audiobook or movie adaptation for free), or even significant changes in media (specifically - paper books don't give you an automatic "right" to a digital version). But it does make sense that I should be able to convert an e-book I legally own from ePub to Kindle to PDF to text and back again. 2

There's software to do that - but not if your book is locked with DRM. And that's the way the "big stores" sell them. That does not stop pirates - it doesn't take much searching to find programs to crack DRM - but DRM will either stop (and tick off) your legitimate consumers, or teach them that breaking the law is an okay thing to do.3 I just bought a PDF that got waterstamped with my e-mail address and purchase number - but with a few programs and some elbow grease, I can make all of that go away. In the meantime, I'm annoyed that reading the PDF on my eReader is going to be problematic at best.

I'm not saying piracy is okay. Piracy ends up hurting content creators - you know, those authors you care enough about to want to read their work. I am saying that portability is okay - it's changed (and expanded) the ways we listen to music - and that portability is being hurt by DRM that doesn't actually do what it's supposed to.

I said last week that DRM is a farce - and this is why. When are businesses going to stop paying for a "service" that their customers actively don't want?

1 The Sony Pocket Reader, based on the recommendation of Charles Stross. It does exactly what he says it does - and actually fits in my cargo pockets, which was a key need of mine. And it was on Woot! for significantly cheaper than list price.
2 Yes, I realize I'd lose all the formatting. That's not my point.
3 Originally written before the Library of Congress decision and the 5th Circuit Court decision. You should probably read Engadget's breakdown on what those decisions mean - and don't mean.

11 August 2010

Review: The Apex Book of World SF

The Apex Book of World SF (AMZ | B&N)is an ambitious project that, mostly, succeeds despite its difficulties. [Full disclosure: I read the electronic version, which does not include the story "Compartments", and that I reformatted the ePub version for the publisher immediately prior to reading the anthology.]

Many of the stories suffer from slight translation quirks - unusual turns of phrase, a slight stutter in the flow of words. They are not errors as such, but seem slightly awkward to an ear raised on United States English. The substitution of "whilst" for "while" throughout (including the construction "meanwhilst") was jarring and reminded me that I was *reading* instead of allowing me to be submerged in the story.

Some of the other stories fall slightly flat for other reasons. For example, "The Levantine Experiments" is a story full of "telling", and "Biggest Baddest Bomoh" has essentially the same plotline as "The Monkey's Paw" with little else to distinguish it. "Wizard's World" suffers from technological dating, and the characters are not quite compelling enough (unlike, say, "Johnny Mnemonic") to allow me to ignore it. None of these stories are bad - but they do not excel.

The stories that do excel, however, are transcendent. "The Lost Xuyan Bride" is a compelling noir alternate history. "Excerpt From a Letter by a Social-Realist Aswang" tickled my sociological heart. "Into the Night"'s unreliable narrator frightened me with the possibility (or reality) of my own impending futureshock. And "The Bird Catcher", the tale that opens this book, is beautifully, dreamily, horrific.

Overall, this is a book worth reading (especially the relatively inexpensive digital version). While some of the stories are merely serviceable, the gems more than make up the difference.

10 August 2010

Post GenCon Linkage

Only at GenConI participated in several panels during GenCon - Writing Support, Men Writing Women, Market Report, Digital Resources, The Next Step, and Business of Writing. I mentioned several websites that weren't on other handouts that Jean Rabe had, so here's a quick link roundup.

(PS - If you were on one of those panels and had further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments. If you didn't get the handouts because we ran out, let me know as well.)

Digital Resources
We didn't talk as much as I would have liked about researching online. The Deep Web often has details you can't find elsewhere. The googleschool tag on Lifehacker has a lot of advanced tips; but the 20 Search Helpers is a must-read if you've never used a + and - while searching. Hashtags got mentioned; they're explained here. Jennifer Brozek also mentioned #askagent and #zinechat (the latter has no results because it's a monthly thing, not a weekly one. I mentioned "landing pages" in multiple panels - here are posts from Lifehacker detailing why (and how) to maintain your online identity.

Writing Support
SFWA, Horror Writer's Association, Preditors & Editors, and Writer Beware. (Yeah, they were on the handout, but they're worth mentioning again.) There Are No Rules is another good resource.

Market Report, The Next Step, The Business of Writing
The First Novel Survey (and further analysis). My post You Are A Freelancer also sums up my attitude and favorite resources to recommend. I did not get a chance to mention TalkBiz. Some of his material does not apply in our situation, but he has a good, firm grasp of fundamentals.

Men Writing Women
It's probably worth just reading these blog posts of mine that go over more about gender differences: On Men On Rape, I Can Hold Her Down . (Yes, I know I mentioned them not that long ago.)

09 August 2010

Everyday - A 100 Word Story

Rob's Left Side Driving"One day into vacation," Beth said from the passenger seat.

"Yup." I kept my eyes on the road. The highway twisted through the forested hills.

She hit the button to open the sunroof. "We've only got six days left."

"At this rate, you'll burn the motor out before we have to return the car."

She laughed, deep and rich. She let her hair out of the ponytail. "Mark, did you really expect to just carpool to the beach?"

I thought about my cubemate who'd turned into the sexy woman beside me.

"I hope not," I said, and we both smiled.

07 August 2010

Pirates, Pirates Everywhere (summary post)

This is a compendium post of Pirate Week; I'd appreciate links pointing here. If you've found this material useful, buy me a coffee or mocha using the cups over in the right sidebar. Thanks!

Content creators need to stop worrying so much about pirates.

It's a big enough issue around digital products that it always comes up when digital content (music, stories, art) is discussed. But it gets far more attention than it deserves.

So this week, as I head out to GenCon, we're having PIRATE WEEK over here at ideatrash. First we'll review why it is (and isn't) a problem. Tomorrow we'll talk about the two types of solutions, and then we'll get into the meat of the solutions themselves.

This is a real issue for me - I discovered the first torrent with some of my work on it just a week or so ago.

You'd think that digital piracy (or theft) harms content creators in pretty straightforward ways. Every person who pirates my story is one less paying customer. By and large, that's true. But there's one important caveat.

That's assuming everyone who pirates my story would have paid money for it. I definitely will be losing some money, but I can't easily calculate how much. On top of that are the compelling studies showing that piracy helps everyone but the very top sellers. I don't think that statistic justifies piracy; why would you pay for something that you got (illegally) for free? (There is an answer, though - more on that below.)

Let's be clear: I am not condoning piracy at any point. It is, quite literally, robbing me and every other content creator.

But let's face it - piracy exists. It is a fine line. You have to acknowledge piracy's existence without condoning it. Given that piracy exists, I approach it as a disease to be managed. The question I ask is this: "How can I reduce piracy as much as possible - and make what's left impact content creators as little as possible."

So from the point of view of content creators, we're definitely losing money to pirates, and maybe getting some benefit - but we don't know how much, or when, or how. That's a crappy way to do business. So there still needs to be a way to manage and reduce pirate activity around our own works.



So what's in place to manage piracy now? Mostly DRM - aka Digital Rights Management - (and other ways to reduce your legal rights to content you've purchased).

DRM (and other schemes of rights restrictions) are not effective means of stopping digital pirates. DRM regularly gets cracked within months - or less. Even avoiding digital production entirely is not enough to stop pirates. Further, DRM mechanisms end up annoying (and alienating) the legitimate customers that you do have. While the 5th Circuit Court and Library of Congress recently passed some promising rulings, they are far more complex than a headline might have you think.

I am not condoning piracy. I am saying that piracy - like viruses (digital and biological) - is a fact of existence, and one that content creators have to get used to. There are only two systemically effective ways to reduce (or manage) piracy.

What do I mean by systemically? I mean a solution that works across-the-board, without the content creator having to take action with each specific instance. DRM - if it worked - would be a systemic solution. A DMCA takedown notice (background, sample), however, has to be filed each and every time. Imagine having to get an injection each time you sneezed. Sooner or later, you'd just carry tissues.

So we need a systemic solution, but DRM - the one you always hear about - is as ineffective as orange juice against ebola.

Luckily, there are two systemic ways to reduce piracy. The first sounds simple:

Personal relationships


This doesn't mean being BFFs with a bunch of eyepatch wearing Swedes. It means getting your customers (readers, listeners) involved with you.

One of the oldest (and most common) justifications for software piracy was "We're just taking a little from a massive corporation." They didn't see it as directly affecting anyone. Or in the real world, many people have shoplifted something in thier life - but would never consider taking the same thing directly from a friend.

Mike Stackpole (among others) uses "moral DRM" to remind readers of this relationship - telling people that a real person is at the other end, and stealing the work directly hurts a real individual.

I think this also explains the effect that piracy has on sales for midlist authors and musicians. Part of the effect is due to increased publicity - if you don't know that I write, how can you buy my work? - but another part is the awareness that you're not supporting your band / team / friends. To make up for it, you go and buy more of thier work - both because you like it and to atone for stealing it earlier.

So that's one factor - and one you might have heard mentioned before. But there's one other way to minimize the effect pirates have on your work - and one I've not seen mentioned before:

Stacy & Steve Birthday Party

Keep producing.


Let's compare two authors (I know both of them, and met them both at GenCon, so that keeps us on topic for the week, right?). Pat Rothfuss and Jim Hines. Both are fantasy writers. Both have an online presence, and both have a devoted following that they totally deserve.

There's a great big difference between them: AFAIK, Pat has one novel out (and a single other limited-run work). Jim has six novels in print and a ton of short stories.

Let's say I get a pirate copy of Jim's first book, Goblin Quest. (I condone READING it, not pirating it.) I read it. I love it. Following the principle I went over yesterday, I then go and buy the rest of the goblin books. As Jim keeps producing more material, I buy it as well. I've become a True Fan. Sure, Jim might have lost some initial sales of his back catalog... but I'll keep buying everything he puts out forevermore.

Same scenario, Pat Rothfuss. I get a pirate copy of The Name of the Wind, love it, and... oh. There's nothing else I can buy, at least until next year.

This isn't a rag on Pat's writing speed - he's a fantastic author, and Jim is as well. What I'm illustrating here is that Jim can afford to care less about pirates because he's producing new material on a frequent basis. That gives more opportunities for merely casual pirates - those who are using piracy to sample work - to "go legit" and support him.

From this context, the more frequently you publish, the more you can "manage" piracy by letting it serve as a cheap back catalog. (You can cut that down even further by putting back catalog stuff on discounted sales, since there's a percentage of pirates who would be okay paying half-price instead of stealing it.) It also goes even further to explaining the "boost" that piracy can give some small and mid-list creators - not only do they want to "support the team", but they are easily able to. Obviously, this is something that short story and novella writers can maximize far more easily than novelists.

I can't stress enough that I am not condoning piracy, even when it's beneficial to content creators. I am saying that piracy is a fact of life, and one that content creators need to come to grips with.

In more and more ways, I see digital sales being a potential boon to short story writers in a way that hasn't been seen since Dickens' serial fiction was printed in newspapers. It's up to us to seize that potential and make it happen.

After posting all of the above, Jim C. Hines left this comment:
So in order to make this work, it sounds like the creator would not only have to keep up a steady stream of new content (which I agree is a useful thing), but also do the personal outreach to connect with readers? This worries me, because I consider myself someone who's fairly active at trying to make those connections, but when I compare blog and web site hits to overall sales, it looks like the number of people I get any sort of personal connection with is only a fraction of my overall readership.

It's a good point and question (and he kindly gave me permission to make it part of the official guide here). My answer follows:
First, I think you're already making those connections. You're a real person to your readers, not a faceless "big publishing company". That's all that's really needed here. Whether one does that through a blog, a twitter stream, Facebook, or personal appearances and signings is irrelevant - the key is being viewed as an individual rather than a faceless entity.

Second, I'm talking about using those personal connections (or even just the potential for them) converting that sub-segment of your readership who would (or has in the past) pirated your work. That number's far smaller than the entirety of your readership.

Or put another way, I think even the Pirate Bay might [1] respond differently if an individual asked them to take down a work because it directly impacted feeding their family, rather than a lawyer demanding they do so. None of the "legal threats" they have up (and have ignored) are from the actual content creators.

[1] Maybe they would ignore it because TPB has an ideological axe to grind; I think the principle is sound, even if it's an extreme example.

06 August 2010

Drowning Pirates With Goodness.

Stacy & Steve Birthday PartySo we've talked about piracy, the harm it can cause to content creators, the failure of DRM, and the importance of making yourself into a real person. And that, my friends, brings us to the second big way content creators can defend themselves against pirates.

Keep producing.


Let's compare two authors (I know both of them, and met them both at GenCon, so that keeps us on topic for the week, right?). Pat Rothfuss and Jim Hines. Both are fantasy writers. Both have an online presence, and both have a devoted following that they totally deserve.

There's a great big difference between them: AFAIK, Pat has one novel out (and a single other limited-run work). Jim has six novels in print and a ton of short stories.

Let's say I get a pirate copy of Jim's first book, Goblin Quest. (I condone READING it, not pirating it.) I read it. I love it. Following the principle I went over yesterday, I then go and buy the rest of the goblin books. As Jim keeps producing more material, I buy it as well. I've become a True Fan. Sure, Jim might have lost some initial sales of his back catalog... but I'll keep buying everything he puts out forevermore.

Same scenario, Pat Rothfuss. I get a pirate copy of The Name of the Wind, love it, and... oh. There's nothing else I can buy, at least until next year.

This isn't a rag on Pat's writing speed - he's a fantastic author, and Jim is as well. What I'm illustrating here is that Jim can afford to care less about pirates because he's producing new material on a frequent basis. That gives more opportunities for merely casual pirates - those who are using piracy to sample work - to "go legit" and support him.

From this context, the more frequently you publish, the more you can "manage" piracy by letting it serve as a cheap back catalog. (You can cut that down even further by putting back catalog stuff on discounted sales, since there's a percentage of pirates who would be okay paying half-price instead of stealing it.) It also goes even further to explaining the "boost" that piracy can give some small and mid-list creators - not only do they want to "support the team", but they are easily able to. Obviously, this is something that short story and novella writers can maximize far more easily than novelists.

I can't stress enough that I am not condoning piracy, even when it's beneficial to content creators. I am saying that piracy is a fact of life, and one that content creators need to come to grips with.

In more and more ways, I see digital sales being a potential boon to short story writers in a way that hasn't been seen since Dickens' serial fiction was printed in newspapers. It's up to us to seize that potential and make it happen.

05 August 2010

When Pirates Love You

Yesterday I told you that today I'd reveal the first of two ways content creators can systemically manage piracy. The first sounds simple:

Personal relationships


This doesn't mean being BFFs with a bunch of eyepatch wearing Swedes. It means getting your customers (readers, listeners) involved with you.

One of the oldest (and most common) justifications for software piracy was "We're just taking a little from a massive corporation." They didn't see it as directly affecting anyone. Or in the real world, many people have shoplifted something in thier life - but would never consider taking the same thing directly from a friend.

Mike Stackpole (among others) uses "moral DRM" to remind readers of this relationship - telling people that a real person is at the other end, and stealing the work directly hurts a real individual.

I think this also explains the effect that piracy has on sales for midlist authors and musicians. Part of the effect is due to increased publicity - if you don't know that I write, how can you buy my work? - but another part is the awareness that you're not supporting your band / team / friends. To make up for it, you go and buy more of thier work - both because you like it and to atone for stealing it earlier.

So that's one factor - and one you might have heard mentioned before. But there's one other way to minimize the effect pirates have on your work - and one I've not seen mentioned before. Look for the subject line "Drowning Pirates With Goodness".

04 August 2010

ZOMG ITS GENCON

By the time this post goes live, I'm ALREADY AT GENCON.

squee!

There's a crapload of AWESOME folks at the Writer's Symposium this year - too damn many for me to list offhand! The schedule of things I'm participating in is below, but I want to draw your attention to TWO SUPER AWESOME THINGS. (Can you tell I'm excited?)

SUPER awesome thing the FIRST: I'm going to be sharing a reading slot with Lawrence Connolly. 5pm Thursday, in the Mariott (upstairs, if I remember correctly) the HYATT, 3rd floor. The man is a fantastic reader, and hails from the same region of the country as myself. It will be an Hour Of Fantastic Reading. (What will I read? I'm leaning towards Broken, Kicking the Habit (both of which I originally read at the Read and Critique at GenCon), and maybe Breathe if I have time.)

DOUBLY awesome thing the SECOND: Stalking the Wild Hare. It's an anthology which will be on sale at the convention. As Mike Stackpole put it: "It’s a collection of stories by the authors involved in the Writers’ Symposium, which Jean Rabe wrangles together. It’s a limited edition, and Gencon is going to be the place where you can get it signed by all the authors." This is a hefty puppy, well worth every penny. Let me re-stress: Limited Edition.

(Can't make it to GenCon and want a copy? Toss me an e-mail: image of e-mail address and we'll see what we can work out.)

Look forward to seeing you all there!

Being Boarded By Pirates

Yesterday we reviewed the harm pirates cause to content creators (like me), and showed why it's important to at least manage piracy.

So what's in place now? Mostly DRM - aka Digital Rights Management - (and other ways to reduce your legal rights to content you've purchased).

DRM (and other schemes of rights restrictions) are not effective means of stopping digital pirates. DRM regularly gets cracked within months - or less. Even avoiding digital production entirely is not enough to stop pirates. Further, DRM mechanisms end up annoying (and alienating) the legitimate customers that you do have.

I am not condoning piracy. I am saying that piracy - like viruses (digital and biological) - is a fact of existence, and one that content creators have to get used to. There are only two systemically effective ways to reduce (or manage) piracy.

What do I mean by systemically? I mean a solution that works across-the-board, without the content creator having to take action with each specific instance. DRM - if it worked - would be a systemic solution. A DMCA takedown notice (background, sample), however, has to be filed each and every time. Imagine having to get an injection each time you sneezed. Sooner or later, you'd just carry tissues.

So we need a systemic solution, but DRM - the one you always hear about - is as ineffective as orange juice against ebola.

Luckily, there are two systemic ways to reduce piracy, we'll be talking about the first tomorrow. Look for the subject line "When Pirates Love You".

03 August 2010

Pirate Week (or how I stopped worrying about piracy)

Content creators need to stop worrying so much about pirates.

It's a big enough issue around digital products that it always comes up when digital content (music, stories, art) is discussed. But it gets far more attention than it deserves.

So this week, as I head out to GenCon, we're having PIRATE WEEK over here at ideatrash. First we'll review why it is (and isn't) a problem. Tomorrow we'll talk about the two types of solutions, and then we'll get into the meat of the solutions themselves.

This is a real issue for me - I discovered the first torrent with some of my work on it just a week or so ago.

You'd think that digital piracy (or theft) harms content creators in pretty straightforward ways. Every person who pirates my story is one less paying customer. By and large, that's true. But there's one important caveat.

That's assuming everyone who pirates my story would have paid money for it. I definitely will be losing some money, but I can't easily calculate how much. On top of that are the compelling studies showing that piracy helps everyone but the very top sellers. I don't think that statistic justifies piracy; why would you pay for something that you got (illegally) for free? (There is an answer, though - more on that in a few days.)

So from the point of view of content creators, we're definitely losing money to pirates, and maybe getting some benefit - but we don't know how much, or when, or how. That's a crappy way to do business. So there still needs to be a way to manage and reduce pirate activity around our own works. And that's where we'll pick up tomorrow - look for "Being Boarded by Pirates".

02 August 2010

Why my ads are gone.

Yup, that's right. Ads are gone, you can turn off the ad-blocker (unless I missed something).

See, here's the thing. Ads annoy me - probably more than you. And there's quite a few of you who read (and enjoy) these 100 word stories, or the links to other free-to-read fiction of mine on the web. It would be a big problem - except for you.

I think you're the kind of person who likes reading that fiction.

I think you're the kind of person who supports things you like.

So take a look at my books over there to the right. Or look to my own store on the web. Or toss me some coffee money using the coffee cups over there to the right.

Thanks.

Balloon - A 100 Word Story

This story's a little special to me. You might remember that my dog Taylor (that's him in the picture) passed away about a week ago. This story is for him.

You can hear the audio below, or if the player's borked, there's a direct download here. You can, of course, vote for it at the Weekly Challenge as well.


"I don't want to go on the stupid ride." Sarah put her small fists on her hips, staring at her father.

The spin-and-puke (or whatever) sang the same shrill tune as the neighborhood ice cream truck. "Okay," her father said. "How about a balloon animal?" A nearby mime, hearing him, wheeled his tank and deflated balloons closer.

"I want Spot to be alive again," Sarah wailed, tears streaking her dusty face.

The mime lifted a finger and went to work. In moments, he presented Sarah with the inflated dog.

She looked unimpressed, until it licked her and wagged its tail.