Don't Get Sloppy

I was in Fort Lauderdale last weekend, officiating Beach Brawl 2014 (and yes, I'll write a post explaining roller derby, given the number of times it's been requested), and I left my Flash drive in the business center of the hotel. I don't really use it anymore. Once upon a time, Dropbox wasn't as useful as it is now, and you couldn't sync across multiple desktops with simple internet access. You had to go to a web location, upload stuff, and blah blah. It was the same as a Flash drive except less convenient.

So back in the day, I kept EVERYTHING on that Flash drive. And while it doesn't include the most recent draft of my most recent novel, it has everything as of the completion of FAMILY JEWELS. Why? Because Dropbox could get hacked. Accidents happen. It's always good to have a backup of your backups (and I update my external hard drive even less frequently than I do my Flash drive).

This all sounds like sage advice, so what makes this post-worthy? Well, when I first started saving things on my Flash drive, there was no such thing as Kindle Direct Publishing. There was no black market of plagiarized novels self-published to reap what few sales they can from the ill-gotten work of others. Now, if I lose my Flash drive, EVERYTHING on that drive (which is EVERYTHING) could be posted to KDP by a nefarious neerdowell, tarnishing my reputation and stealing my work. While none of those novels have been published, some of them have strong prospects for future revision (Triad Society anyone?). Those prospects are dashed if someone steals them off a lost Flash drive and throws them up on the internet in their current form.

This is NOT to tell you to ditch the Flash drive, but it IS to suggest that you lock any folder that contains your writing. Sure it adds a step for when you want to access it, but adding password encryption means that if you leave your Flash drive in a business center, you don't have to panic and wait to see your first novel from five years ago suddenly shitting all over KDP.

Lesson learned. :)


Once upon a time I was a podcaster. In addition to the weekly audio recordings, it also afforded me a place to act like a more professional blogger. I could review books (and in fact, reviewed a Tad Williams book that I had been keen to receive). I no longer podcast (or I should say, I no longer host any podcasts; I would certainly be a guest on a show). That leaves me this location to do book reviews, and I'm more hesitant to do so. Here it makes it feel personal rather than professional, and I don't want people to think I'm attacking their work. (I'm also critical on everything, including my own work, but if people don't know me, they might not understand that.) I still have a review saved in my drafts of a book I LOVE (and have read multiple times) that I've never published because there's one part of the book I have a serious problem with and don't want the author to think I dislike his work.

Despite all that, an author asked me on Twitter to tell him what I think of his book when I was finished, and I can't do that in 140 words, so here it is, my first book review in this journal. Not to leave him out there by himself, I'm also going to review another book later this week. Two in one week! Two! It must be Christmas.

And so we begin. I recently read THE CITY'S SON by Tom Pollock. This is an urban fantasy, and I don't normally read urban fantasy. This is also a young adult novel, and I'm tired of young adult novels. It seems like that's all there is on the market, for the most part. So now that you know that, here are my opinions of the book:

Read it. It's a good book.

Boom. Review done.

Wait, I'm supposed to do more? Okay. Here's the general description: Set in modern-day London, there is a world-within-a-world, but not with fairies, vampires, or werewolves. This is a wholly new concoction of not-humans, which makes this the best urban fantasy I've read in years. YEARS! This is the kind of setting that gets turned into a role playing game and you get to play it for years and years until you forget that it was based on a book.

People live in the walls. People live in light bulbs and depending on what kind of light bulbs they are (phosphorus versus sodium) they may hate the other kind of light bulb person. Trainwraiths that remember their passengers, wolves made of scaffolding, and so on and so forth. It is AMAZING. The setting of this book is so awesome that I could give up the plot and just wander around marveling at the world beneath London.

Which also leads me to my first complaint. Much like Buffy, it is hand-waved away that normal people self-delude themselves if they're exposed to this world. They cannot accept it, thus they do not accept it. They forget or rationalize or in some other way dismiss what they've seen. Except for every human character we meet that actually interacts with them. One of the two main characters of the book is introduced to this world and NEVER EVEN BLINKS AN EYE. She rolls right into it like she's hanging out in Camden Market or something.

I had trouble accepting how readily the human characters interact with the other world, but you get over it just like the book does. It speeds along so you don't have time to think about that (which means you either keep reading and accept it or you stop reading, which I almost did, but I'm glad I didn't).

Speed along because there isn't just an imaginative setting, there's an imaginative history to that setting. You get to learn about the Pavement Priests (SO COOL!), the mother of the streets, the Chemical Synod (so cool, but the long Ses make me think they're speaking in parseltongue). The setting is cool, but so much cooler because of the people that make it up.

Which gets us to the people. Ups and downs here. There are the two main characters, boy and girl. Then there's the female main character's best friend. There was a little confusion for me at the beginning because the best friend's nickname is Pencil and THAT name gets truncated down to Pen. The thing is, I thought they both had nicknames, one was Pen and one was Pencil, so things got really confusing really quick. Once I realized that Pen was Pencil and only one had a nickname, it made more sense. I was also disappointed because I thought Pen and Pencil was a great way to describe their friendship in as few words as possible.

The relationship between Beth and Pen is the high point of this book. As personal interactions go, Pollock nails these two the best. It feels the most natural. It reads the most engrossing, and it feels the most realistic. Second is the relationship between Beth and her dad, which really hits its high point in the middle of the book when neither character are together. It really helps their individual arcs along, and I was a bit jealous at how subtly those arcs had their foundation lain in the early chapters with these two characters. That was some mighty fine character development.

The relationship between the two main characters, well, that was the inspiration for this post. Now that I've finished the book, my opinion remains the same. (The backstory of the male main character is pretty wicked as well, lest you think I am ignoring him.)

Speaking of previous posts inspired by the book, there is also this post. I almost quit reading the book because of the errors. And I'm not talking about "Oh no, that's not an error, it's a Britishism rather than an Americanism". I mean, there are errors. Words missing. Words included that shouldn't be (words included that shouldn't that be). ESPECIALLY at the beginning. It dies down after the beginning but never fully goes away. It's rampant at the beginning of the book and was driving me nuts. This suggests a number of possible options: the beginning of the book received the most revision closest to publication (such as editorial notes), thus was not edited as much as other parts of the book that remained the same. The publisher skimped on editing. Or the author is atrocious at self-editing and that was the best the publisher could do. I'm leaning toward the first option myself, as I want to give both the publisher and the author the benefit of the doubt. (Having worked in book production before moving on to media, I know how, why, and how often publishers skimp on editing to save time and money.)

But lastly, and why I'm over the moon about the book, and why it means so little to you whether you'll like the book, his voice is SO similar to my own. I wouldn't have written this book. I've never been inspired to write urban fantasy. But if you had told me that you were from the future and I had written an urban fantasy and you let me read this book, you might convince me. Word usage, sentence style, cadence. It all sounds like me. And that's not to suggest that my voice makes it superior. It is to suggest that there is HOPE! I have improved significantly over the last year. I've moved on to the next level, I think in my brain. I'm ready to do this! But I'm not doing this. I'm still doing that other thing, and that can make it hard to keep one's chin up. But seeing Tom's book out there, that really makes it feel like there are agents out there that resonate to the way I write (just not necessarily what I've written to date). (That Tom's agent is on my short list of agents I want to work with only sweetens that pot, it is not the cause for this adulation.)

A pessimist (like myself) might think that an agent finding that voice wouldn't want another author that sounds similar, but that sliver of optimism I have in there says, but Tom writes urban fantasy and I never ever write urban fantasy (and with less finality, I rarely ever think of young adult stories either). So let's do this! Regardless of my dominant pessimism or my slight optimism, the simple fact that someone with a voice similar to mine has found an agent and a publisher says that YES there are fish out in that sea, so I need to keep swimming or I'll suffocate and the other fish who aren't those fish will eat me and crap me out to be food for phytoplankton. No one wants that.

So, back to the short review, THE CITY'S SON is worth the cost and worth the read. You should give it a try. I quit books in the first chapter ALL THE TIME, and I made it through this one. That should speak for itself. And follow Tom on Twitter. He's good people.

The Bell Rings

So unless you live under a log (in which case you have a secret base and I want to come visit), you heard that the Department of Justice sued Apple and 5/6 of the Big Six today (Random House was not included). Of the five publishers, three settled to avoid the legal costs. Two, Macmillain and Penguin, did not.

First, anti-trust investigations happen much more often than is generally spoken of. They just don't usually make it to court because court is expensive. So, in that regard, this is a big deal.

Second, barring a kangaroo court, I think Macmillain and Penguin will win their challenge.

Third, those in the traditional publishing verse on twitter were incredibly vocal today. I have pared away a lot of the self-publishers I used to follow (mostly because they failed at the social aspect of social media), so I did not get a good view of the opposite side of that spectrum.

Fourth, Twitter is an impossible place to discuss the intricacies of ebook pricing. Both sides of the argument are so complex and contain nuggets of truth that a proper conversation cannot be had in 140 characters.

Fifth, and here's the bulk of my topic today, my opinion on ebook pricing is changing. The reasons for this will take more than 140 characters. Quick recap for new readers, I've been making ebooks for a long time, like back when your choices were PDF or .MOBI (mmm mobipocket, you've grown up!). So here are the two cruxes of the argument and both are true.

ebooks are cheaper than other formats to make and manufacture.

The cost of making the actual book is a small fraction of the cost of making a book product.

The problem is, each side of the argument has latched onto one of these two truths to argue the other side. So both sides have taken 1/2 of the truth to argue the other half. It's like watching the heads-side of a quarter argue with the tails-side that only one side is a real quarter. Those watching the argument can do little but bang their head against a table.

When ebooks first went mainstream and Amazon set the bar at 9.99, I thought they were (and perhaps they were) playing to a familiar .99 value similar to that of an mp3 file on iTunes. I was outraged. 9.99? Are they crazy? That thing cost pennies to make. PENNIES!

9.99 was ridiculous. I wasn't going to pay that. Blah blah blah, grumble grumble grumble. Of course, I did pay it. I paid it a lot. That and 7.99 and 5.99. Sometimes 3.99 on special deals. I dipped my toes in the 99 cent self-pubbed market before I ran away screaming (Hocking being the best author by far I found in that pool). But then the agency model rolled out and all of a sudden I saw 11.99, 14.99, and 16.99. What? Are they crazy? That thing cost pennies to make. PENNIES!

16.99 was ridiculous. I wasn't going to pay that. Blah blah blah, grumble grumble grumble. I would not buy a book for more than 9.99. I've broken that rule twice, and both times in extenuating circumstances. First, me and my wife split the cost of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS when it was released, so really, I did not break my 9.99 rule except that the book was priced over 9.99. Second was Galen Beckett's THE MAGICIANS AND MRS QUENT, which was 11.99, but I bought it with a gift certificate I got for Christmas, so it wasn't like I used real money. I have not broken that rule elsewise, and that's so hard! THE MAGICIANS... was the first in a trilogy and they're all priced at 11.99. And Saladin Ahmed's THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON just came out and that's 11.99 as well. DAMMIT! I want to read that sucker, but I have principles.

Principles, dammit!

Having a discussion with a new Twitter friend, Lauren Panepinto, (who did the super duper awesome covers on Joe Abercrombie's novels--serious, I drool over those covers), I began to communicate what I had come to realize about ebooks and their pricing. I had originally expected ebooks to replace mass market paperbacks. As such, I always expected them to be priced like mass market paperbacks. $7.99? I'll scoop that shit up like crazy!

My evolving perception of pricing, however, could not be communicated in 140 characters, so I abandoned the discussion of books costing more than just manufacturing cost with a weak "I know, that's how I get a paycheck."

Kind of weak, it's true after all, but still. Weak.

If ebooks have to be priced so high because books cost more than just manufacturing, how do you justify trade paperbacks? Mass market paperbacks? They're all derived from the same product, and they're priced for what their platform is expected to be priced at (or thereabouts). So saying, we can't price ebooks that low because it costs so much more to make a book than just manufacturing! is crap. It's crap because you're not making ONLY ebooks. You're making other formats as well.

Or so I said. But I was wrong, at least somewhat. I was wrong because ebooks aren't released like other formats are. A publisher doesn't release a hardback at the same time as the trade. If you got the choice to buy a $25 hardback or a $8 mass market paperback, you'd have to really love that book or really love hardback to spring the $17 difference. Most people would go for the mass market. And publishing makes its money from most people.

The numbers are already in. ebooks are gouging mass market paperback sales, which is entirely expected, which only lends credence to my mmpb pricing. But they're cutting into all the platforms, so now where does that revenue come from instead of a hardback if the ebook is priced too low.

NOW, I will say, early numbers studies say that $7.99 is an ideal price point, and that companies will offset the reduced per title revenue with increased sales. It'll take some time for the market to bear that out, though.

Regardless, I'm starting to think that 11.99 for a new release isn't unreasonable. It's not the $25 for a hard cover, but it is, in a way, the cost that you pay to get a new release. Same goes for DVDs, so why shouldn't it be true with ebooks?

The problem where this all derails is when the ebook is priced higher than the available format print book. You know how I mentioned Galen Beckett above? Those 11.99 ebooks? Yeah, I could get a mass market trade of the same title for $6. THAT'S a problem. $11.99 for Saladin Ahmed instead of $16.95? I just saved five bucks. If I don't want to pay that, I can wait a couple years and it SHOULD drop in price and I can get it for an expense that I think is more appropriate. Those are the choices that the market makes. Things change so quickly that sometimes we forget that it takes time for things to work themselves out.