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Archive for November, 2017

One of the great rallying points of self-published authors and those who champion them is that now the Big 5 publishers* no longer control what you and I can read. With the self-publishing revolution, everyone can be an author, an editor, a publisher. As the printing press allowed for underground pamphleteers to get out their message, the desktop publishing industry made books available to the masses no matter what the New York Literary Establishment might decree!

Yeah, about that… Turns out the NYLE, like any cog in an ecosystem, had (and still has) its uses. The NYLE is, among other things, a gatekeeper. The complaint was that it “suppressed” books by deciding which were worthy of publication, using criteria that were both arbitrary and secret. Now that publishing is a home industry, the NYLE’s role is diminished. But all of those “suppressed” books that are now popping up everywhere? Many of them were suppressed for a reason: They weren’t very good.**

We need gatekeepers. There are too many authors and too many books to keep track of, even in a small niche like SF or mysteries. Somebody has to say, “This is good,” or nobody’s ever going to buy it, not only because they can’t find it, but because (honestly) most people don’t want to spend money on an unknown quantity. (I sure don’t.) But who are the gatekeepers of this Wild West of words?

You are. Everyone who reads a book can go on to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a review. It doesn’t take more than checking a box. A couple of clicks and you’re done. You have contributed to the mass gatekeeping operation which is the only way to deal with the mass publishing operation going on in every neighborhood in America (and much of the rest of the world). And you need to do this.

Independent authors have no marketing budgets (although the Big 5 do). Independent authors have no sales force (although the Big 5 do). Independent authors have no connections with all the bookstores in town (although the Big 5 do). The only thing indies have is the power of their readership to rank and review. Your words, your ranking can be seen by everyone in the world–just like the Big 5’s ads can. But if you don’t review, then the stories you want–the books you shouted about and blogged for–go away. This gig doesn’t pay a lot, and it doesn’t take but a couple of disappointing books to make an author go back to selling insurance.

You think you can do better than the gatekeepers? Fine. Now’s your chance to prove it.

*The number changes all the time.

**This is not to say that the traditional publishers only ever published what was worth reading, either.

#SFWApro

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Mass Market Means Less Mass

It is an unfortunate fact that publishers have decided in recent years to switch from the mass market paperback which has been popular since World War II (and helped to kill the pulp magazine, grrr) to the trade paperback edition, which apparently, because of its different size, is more economical. That may be true, but it’s still a pain in the neck.

Trade paperback, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

You cost more. The average mass market paperback costs $7.99, last time I checked. The average trade paperback goes for $14.99. I may spend $7.99 on an author I don’t know, but I won’t spend $14.99 on an author I do know. It doesn’t matter how much more sense they make to print; if you’re not selling a copy, you’re still losing money.

You are hard to shelve. I’m a reader, always have been. My library has to exceed 10,000 volumes, most of which are in boxes. I have to save space where I can. Not to put too fine a point on it, but size does matter.

You are hard to carry. Mass market paperbacks were designed to be carried by soldiers in the field. They could fit into backpacks without much trouble. This remains true today. Trade paperbacks don’t work like that; they don’t fit in your pocket or purse, and they don’t fit as well in your hand. It’s the same reason I opt for a smaller phone.

I much prefer reading paper books to ebooks, for a lot of reasons. But if this trend toward larger paperbacks continues, I may have no choice but to shift to electronic reading. This will make me sad, publishers. And it will be your fault.

#SFWApro

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I have been given my tentative panel assignments for Loscon, at the LAX Marriott November 24-26, and as I know that my appearances have long (well, since last year) been a highlight of the early holiday season, I wanted to list them here. They are, of course, subject to change, but if they do, I’ll let you know. (We don’t want a repeat of last year’s near-riot at the Star Trek panel when I didn’t show up!)*

I self-published my first book, and I didn’t die! (11/24, 5:30pm) I believe this panel was specifically named to exclude posthumous-American indie authors from attending. I will be taking this up with the committee on behalf of all of my writer colleagues who feel like zombies (which is pretty much all of them).

Blending mystery and speculative fiction. (11/25, 5:30pm) As far as I’m concerned, everything was speculative when I was trying to become a published author. It’s how I did that which remains a mystery.

Writing & Intuition: What happens next? (11/26, 2:30pm) As faithful readers of my blog know, it’s really the characters who write the story and the author simply takes the credit. So I’m going to allow one of my characters to sit on this panel for me–as soon as I can find one who lives in this century…

Given my schedule, I should be around for most of the con. Look me up and ask me to autograph your e-book. I’ll sign a piece of paper and you can tape it to your Kindle.

 

*Oh, wait, there was nearly a riot at the panel because I did show up. If I’d realized Star Trek was that popular, I wouldn’t have said those things…

#SFWApro

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I am not afraid to admit it: I am a man, and I am a fan of Project Runway. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, because what I like about the show, and what I admire about the contestants, is their ability to create something out of nothing in almost no time. Their  parameters are like the guidelines of a magazine. Every week they try to transcribe those parameters into a story that says something about themselves. The fact that they tell their stories in cloth and other (usually) wearable materials is irrelevant; they are creating something out of nothing. And they do it in two days. It’s like a mini-Nanowrimo every week.

I’m not one of those authors who can produce something quickly and on demand. When I was at Taos Toolbox, I was petrified we were going to be required to come up with something fresh in the space of a day, and I knew that was never going to happen. It didn’t make it any better that one of my roommates was doing that very thing–and he did it pretty much every day. It still amazes me, that quickness of mind and creativity. It’s like when Harlan Ellison wrote stories in the window of Change of Hobbit bookstore back in the 1970s. I wouldn’t know how to do that if you threatened to arrest me.

One of the things I like about novels is that you don’t have to come up with new ideas all the time. Well, you do, but they fit into a pattern you’ve already laid out. I’m just not the quickest creator on the block. It’s taxing me to write a novel in ten weeks. (Spoiler: It may not happen.)

The answer, of course, is that I don’t have to be the quickest. I have to be as quick as I can be, work as hard as I can work, and write the best story that’s in me. Because it’s not about who’s fastest, or even who’s best, for that matter. There are seven billion potential readers out there; there’s room for more than one “best” writer.

Don’t ever try to put me on a show called Project: Writeaway, though. (“If you want to win, you have to create a story ‘write’ away!”) I’m not going to run around the room asking, “Has anybody got any extra metaphors? I didn’t buy enough!” or crying, “I should have learned to type faster!” That is not going to happen.

Although, I suppose I could write a story about it…

#SFWApro

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