Self-Destructive Writerly Sins

Don’t be this Book

I’ve written before about the self-destructive urges writers get. Plagiarism needs to be near the top of the list.  Penning sexist rants about your greatness to an agent is another. And, of course, there’s always the venerable Internet meltdown.

Now we have another example of something authors really shouldn’t do to boost their career: Try to game the NY Times Bestseller list.

Last week, Handbook For Mortals by Lani Sarem, knocked Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give off the No. 1 spot of the Times‘ YA bestseller list.  Now this may happen occasionally with a debut novel, but usually that means the fans have heard some advance buzz about the book.  This one, nada.  Another red flag? Brand new publisher.  Final red flag?  To quote Phil Stamper on Twitter:

This is what I’m referencing. A book that’s out of stock on Amazon and is not currently in any physical B&N in the tri-state area.

Suspicious to say the least.  Then you have the weird fact that the author is listed as playing the lead in an “in development” movie of the book. WTF?  It gets better:

It turns out the author worked as a band manager before she decided to write YA books. One of the bands she managed? Blues Traveler. Yep.

The band tweeted about the author on its official Twitter account: “yes, this is weird but not surprising…We fired her for these kind of stunts. Her sense of denial is staggering!”

So apparently this scam involved a lot of strategic bulk buys of a book that barely existed in order to promote a movie. And, unsurprisingly, when real people finally got their hands on a copy, the writing was really, really bad.

Also, unsurprisingly, the NYT pulled it from its list.

Probably Lani Sarem though having a “NYT Bestseller” attached to her film project would generate some financing. Maybe it would have. But she went about it in such a stupid, sleazy way she probably killed her own project with this spectacular and well-deserved failure.

Continuing on my trek into the 21st Century

Updated my blog as I mentioned in the last post. Now I’m looking at my career while I wait for a couple of editors to respond to my latest projects. Short term I’m looking at possibly another Choice of Games title. Long term I’m investigating joining the ranks of indie authors. So far what’s held me back is the shear volume of work involved. Marketing has never been my thing, and I’m scattershot at best when it comes to social media (witness my sporadic blogging). But it does seem to be the future of things, so I’m looking seriously at what it would take. Of course I would need a new novel or three, so best case we’re 12-18 months away from even considering pre-launch stuff, without taking other paying gigs into account. Then again, a lot of the groundwork I need for this (e-mail lists, press kit, &c.) can be worked on well in advance and would presumably help out my traditionally published stuff. So, we’ll see…

Not The Greatest Path to a Book Deal…

So, less than a month before the election, a group called “Pantsuit Nation” appeared on Facebook. It was a Mecca for Hillary supporters, who were invited to join the “private” group en masse until, by the time the Washington Post was printing glowing reviews of the pro-Clinton site, it had nearly two million members. The Post contrasted its uplifting message with Trump supporters more acerbic and “in your face” social media presence. The coverage did not hurt the numbers either, as the site continued to grow after Clinton’s loss becoming something of a “safe-space” for online feminists to sit shiva and tell their stories.

Well, apparently this was all a scam.

The group’s founder, Libby Chamberlain, made a surprise announcement that “Pantsuit Nation,” after less than two months of existence, is going to become a book. This has come as a bit of a shock to the online membership. Who aren’t happy about it.

As mentioned on the Huffington Post:

And now, of course, there is a book deal, announced with no transparency as to where the profits from the book are going, whether the contributors whose posts Chamberlain is presumably selecting for this book will get paid, and without any consideration for breach of privacy laws were someone’s intellectual property and personal experience suddenly able to sit on your coffee table. Pantsuit Nation reportedly is working to become a 501(c)(3) and 501 (c)(4) charity, which raises more questions about profit allocation and distribution. Chamberlain is the only person credited on the book pre-order page, which also is troubling given that the book supposedly has no content, theme, or profit sharing structure and is already available for $17.99 on Barnes and Noble’s website.

As a writer and user of social media myself, I find this very disturbing, and very sketchy. It has all the earmarks of a scam, up to and including the accelerated timeline. It almost looks as if the site was founded with the intent to scrape free content for publication.

 

And this makes me happy.

If you follow me at all, you know I’ve been at this for quite a while now. I’ve written about my first novel, Forests of the Night a couple of times now, but in both cases I talk more about the story than how it was published.  Back in the early nineties I was still in my twenties and still in college.  Instead of a brag shelf, I had a bulletin board covered with rejection slips.  (Do people still do that?)  I had written one execrable fantasy novel that was 120,000 words of learning experience, which, to my credit, I knew was unsalvageable.  Forests was different though.  It was the first writing I’d ever workshopped, and while I received a lot of criticism, I got enough feedback to produce something I thought was publishable.  As one did in days of yore, I sent queries to many, many literary agents. And, upon finding representation, my new agent, Jane Butler (who retired some time ago now) sent Forests off to Sheila Gilbert at DAW.

In 1992, Sheila bought my first novel about an anthropomorphic tiger detective and started my career as a novelist.  I’ve been working with her ever since.  For nearly a quarter century and 23 subsequent novels she has worked with me and supported even some of my more insane story ideas.  Her late husband contributed the map of the planet Bakunin in the front of the Hostile Takeover books.  In addition to giving me editorial notes on my books, she’s asked for input on cover ideas, and some of the suggestions she’s accepted have resulted in some of my favorite cover art. Perhaps most important for my career, and my fans, she’s kept most of those 23 novels in print, including that first one with the anthropomorphic tiger detective. For paperback original genre fiction, that’s not just rare, it’s practically unheard of.

This past weekend, at Worldcon, Sheila got the kind of recognition she deserves. As much as she’s supported me, and all her other authors, it’s gratifying to see the SF community supporting her with a well deserved (and overdue) Hugo.  Congrats, Sheila!


Welcome to Moreytown

You may have heard me mention on Facebook that I’m writing a game for the fine folks at Choice of Games based on my Moreau Novels.  As I said when I broke the news:

If you’re unfamiliar with CoG’s work, think of it as a (much more) sophisticated digital version of the “choose your own adventure” titles from the 1980s.

Nohar
Nohar

My current progress on the project: I just crossed the halfway mark on the draft of the game.  If we count by chapters, I’ve finished six of twelve so far.  If we go by “word” count, it’s probably short of halfway because I suspect the code part of the writing will become more complex as I close in on the climax.

That “word” count  is a good way to give you some idea of the difference between this kind of project and straight prose.  In a typical novel, my chapters typically run an average of 2,500 words or so.  The chapters in the game probably cover the same range of plot development as my prose, and display to the reader/player a similar amount of narrative.

forests4
Sexy Nohar

However, when we include the code along with the narrative the reader/player doesn’t see (for instance, because they went out the door rather than the window) each game chapter runs from 5,000 to 10,000 “words,” that’s 2x to 4x the amount of writing for a comparable prose chapter.

Some non-spoilery details about the game so far: You will be playing a non-human— fox, tiger, rat, capybara, etc. The setting is a non-human ghetto, the eponymous Moreytown, in a unspecified US metropolitan area.  It will have street gangs, drugs, and explosions.  It will have fights, cults, and, potentially, interspecies romance.

I will keep everyone posted as this works its way through the development pipeline.

A literary snob pisses on Terry Pratchett’s grave

A couple of days ago, Toni Weisskopf posted a link to this letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs to a young Forrest J. Ackerman. It’s a pithy letter, shorter than most blog posts, but is a prescient rebuttal to this hot mess of a Guardian article appearing almost exactly 84 years later.

The Guardian:

Life is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers.

Burroughs:

No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment… If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.

The Guardian:

By dissolving the difference between serious and light reading, our culture is justifying mental laziness and robbing readers of the true delights of ambitious fiction.

Burroughs:

That, however, seems to be a universal pedagogical complex: to make the acquiring of knowledge a punishment, rather than a pleasure.

Our critic at the Guardian seems to be of a piece with Forrest J. Ackerman’s long forgotten teacher. Great literature must require effort! If something is accessible, one need not apply. . . Not like anyone from the canon of English literature ever wrote for the masses *cough*Dickens*cough*. And while our critic sings the praises of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, somehow I suspect he might contemplate seppuku before deigning to touch a modern regency romance.

So while our arbiter of taste at the Guardian says “I am not saying this as a complacent book snob” I may just invoke the words of that author of 16th Century potboilers and say he “doth protest too much.” After all, who but a snob would open a critique of an author by saying “I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short… Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him.”

If you wanted to efficiently display literary bigotry, mean-spiritedness, close-mindedness, and pretention all wrapped in a bundle of industrial strength smug, and do it in as few words as possible, you couldn’t do better than emulating this opening. Of course, our “critic” does let us know that he “did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.”

I guess this guy isn’t a Hemingway fan either.

But, I think, the worst part of this vile literary emetic is its apparent genesis. Our “critic” was upset at “the huge fuss attending and following [Pratchett’s] death this year.” Read that again. Our purveyor of literary light, our guide to the right and good in the fictive universe, is upset that people made a fuss when Terry Pratchett died. I know there’s this British thing about reserve and overt displays of emotion, but really… can someone’s heart be so black to object to people’s sorrow over the man’s death? Oh, and just when you couldn’t think less of his argument, he throws a swift kick at Ray Bradbury’s corpse as well.

So, in conclusion, I suggest if you want to critique the ovure of a recently deceased author and want to be taken seriously you avoid the following pitfalls:

  1. Don’t admit you never read the their work, or intend to in the future.
  2. Don’t call the readers of their work lazy.
  3. Don’t say no one should have made such a big fuss when they died.

11-22-63

11/22/63I’ve always liked Stephen King.  He counts as one of the significant influences on me as a writer. And reading (listening to) one of his more recent works, 11/22/63, I came to an epiphany about one of the major techniques he uses to keep readers continually turning the pages. Maybe I just noticed it more when I listened to his work via audiobook than on the page, but once I noticed it, I remembered all the times he used this technique, bits from books I might have read decades ago.

It’s so damn simple too.

He foreshadows the crap out of everything.

He does it big, he does it small, he does it with the main story plot and he does it with the subplots about character relationships. He will flat out tell you something’s important behind this here door, and then he’ll walk the plot away leaving you desperate to know what’s behind it. 11/22/63 practically breathes foreshadowing simply because the nature of the premise, but the book itself is littered with smaller examples from the early mention of “the broom” to the narrator saying that placing a particular bet was a mistake long before we are ever shown why. It seems that rarely a scene goes by in the first two thirds of the book where he isn’t saying in some fashion, “You see this? Pay attention, it will come up later.”

It’s like crack to a reader, sprinting ahead to see each hint pay off.

Now pardon me while I go figure out how to do it as smoothly as he does.

The 10 things I have to say about the Hugos

10) No, the Hugos weren’t captured by some sort of conspiracy. It’s silly to say it’s a conspiracy. So silly, in fact, that saying that someone else is saying it’s a conspiracy is a nice bit of rhetorical judo that makes one feel intellectually superior to the crazy wing-nuts who are saying— one is asserting— that it’s some sort of conspiracy. However, it does appear that, until recently, the pool of Hugo voters had shrunk to a few hundred people whose tastes, reading habits and circle of friends would graph out more like a bulls-eye than a Venn diagram.  But that’s the difference between conspiracy and self-selection bias.  i.e. It’s a clique, not a conspiracy.  But anyone who’s gone to high school knows that from the outside, the difference is sort of moot.

9) As I’ve said privately to some folks, I think bringing in more fans to the process is probably the best thing to happen to literary sf fandom during my professional career. I’m not going to qualify that, or hedge here. I think more fans = good. I give Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen full credit for that. For everyone else: Either the door is open or it ain’t. And if it ain’t, you might as well give up the voting entirely, make it a juried award, and let the Locus reader’s poll be the voice of the people.

8) Wailing and gnashing of teeth about the “destruction” of the Hugos is really unbecoming. We are talking about one single year of an award that’s been going on for well over half a century. Are we pretending, after all this time, that it all goes south and everyone packs it in because of this? Is the Worldcon Committee going to look at a thousand supporting membership checks and say, “The Evil One may have touched these.  Alas we must burn them and salt the earth so nothing ever grows again.”?

7) Speaking of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named; does everyone realize that everything he does is intended to piss people off? I mean every time you invoke his name you give him more power. People are withdrawing their nominations, specifically because of his endorsement. I suspect this gives him great joy.

6) This was also the greatest gift possible to those who wanted to smear Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen.  After all, everyone knows that proper debate on the Internet consists of finding the most extreme and unhinged example of something related to your opponent’s position and arguing against that. If you’ve stated anything about Larry and Brad being racist, sexist homophobes, and your argument consists of third party quotes by someone else entirely, you are an asshat. Really, there needs to be a Godwin’s Law 2.0 about invoking Vox Day’s name online.

5) “Gamergate” involvement seems only to have happened after the nominations, and only in the minds of a few online agitators who wanted them to be involved. Either as a crusading army of vengeance, or as a convenient sexist strawman to hang on the necks of the opposition.

4) The concerns about slate voting are valid. (Like #2 above, this is an assertion I do not qualify or hedge.)  But then the complaint is with The Evil One’s spamming the award with bloc voting for the Rabid Puppy slate. That was a destructive act, and was the major difference between the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. Brad Torgersen explicitly wasn’t encouraging that behavior with the Sad Puppies. A moment of reflection about that, and about the small voting pool of the Hugos, is enough to explain why the “Rabid” Puppies had more impact (i.e. the Rabid Puppies were the ones demonstrably engaging in this behavior while the Sad Puppies weren’t.) There are non-destructive strategies to deal with this from both ends, such as future Hugo ballots allowing only a couple of slots per category, and future “slates” suggesting many more works per category.  Whining is not such a strategy.

3) No Award is valid if you think the whole category is void of merit, for whatever reason. But doing so to “protest” slate voting, to “save” the Hugos, or to insure they still have “meaning,” strikes me as wrong-headed and kind of childish. (See point #8 above.) The 2015 Hugos are not going to contaminate the 2018 Hugos, or the 2008 Hugos.  Cooties don’t time travel. All that kind of reactionary voting strategy does is reflect the current year award’s mess— and, honestly, if you think this year is hopelessly broken and tainted, a protest vote does nothing but certify that taint.

2) Name calling isn’t helping. Mockery isn’t argument. And the vitriol I’ve seen expended on this is going to last long after everyone has completely forgotten this year’s Hugos. Especially some stuff from the pros out there. People remember who acted like a dick long after they forget exactly why they acted like a dick. This includes fans, the people supporting you by buying the stories we’re arguing about.

1) Once we start talking about literary merit in what is intended to be the popular fandom award we have descended into matters of taste. Once you pretend to know some ultimate objective truth about maters of taste, you have become a pretentious twit.

Bad Examples: Publisher Edition

Say you’re a publisher.  Say you’ve been profitable in the past but have been sliding into financial difficulties.  Let’s even say that you’ve had a few past issues with lawsuits over breach-of-contract.  Then, let’s just posit that some blogger does some research and finds all sorts of shenanigans:

  • There is a set of authors who have not received royalty payments in over six months. EC has blamed this repeatedly on a new accounting system installed in December of 2013.
  • CEO Marks admits that “already submitted finished books” will be paid but that “payment may be delayed.”
    […]
  • The author portal has been shut down where a select few authors could check their royalties.
  • Authors request for return of their rights have been rejected and some are told that their books will be published with or without their approval.
  • The total sum of unpaid royalties, editor fees, cover artist fees is in the several thousands, perhaps approaching six figures.

So you need to put this behind you, right? You need to make good your commitments to your authors and possibly do the obligatory mea culpa for damage control, right?

Right?

Bueller?

What am I thinking? No, what you really do is file a lawsuit against a blogger.

You file a lawsuit.  Against a blogger.

Really, Ellora’s Cave? Really? What kind of legal advice are you idiots getting? I’m sorry, you think schoolyard bully tactics are somehow going to protect your collapsing business model? WTF you think will happen in discovery, when the defendant gets to see your books to demonstrate the truth or falsity of the claims in their blog post? WTF you think will happen when you get a well-deserved reputation for being litigious bullies who also happen to screw their authors? Has your legal team dropped the habit of pissing off Judges?

My prediction: Bankruptcy before this ever makes it to court.

Speaking of authors doing things wrong. . .

Strangely enough, just as my ancient post on Mr. Patrick “fiction writer working at the very highest level today” Roscoe gained some renewed attention, another author decided to break the cardinal rule of writing in the age of the internet, that rule being: “Thou shalt not start a flame war over a review of thine book.”

I will not fully engage my snark here because Jacqueline Howett does not seem to fit in the same category as professional authors undergoing a review meltdown (Anne Rice for example).   She seems slightly more entitled to a bit of sympathy for her misstep. Her repeated misstep. Missteps ending with the eloquent:

“Fuck Off.”

More’s the pity because the review in question actually suggests that she has promise as a writer, and just needs some fairly serious copy-editing. (Note to self-publishers:  Everyone needs copy-editing.  Get yourself some before you start uploading files. This is one of the responsibilities you assume by bypassing traditional publishing.) Now, because of her public tantrum, she’s now known for being the author who had a hissy fit over her own bad sentence construction. (She’ll be lucky if the following sentence does not become an internet meme: “Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance.”)

So it doesn’t matter if you’re professionally published, self-published, or uploading things to fanfiction.net.  All public internet whining gets you is a fist full of abuse from folks who love this sort of thing, and a reputation as one of “those” authors. I mean, editors do Google you, and it doesn’t help you if this or this is one of the top results.