Visual Aid

Yesterday's comments inspired a visual aid that I think best communicates one's goal of publishing and the routes available to you via traditional publishers and self-publishing.

Traditional Publishing


A Dollar Fifty in Late Charges at the Public Library

I have two degrees, English with a focus in creative writing and theatre with a focus in playwriting. When I finished college, I considered myself a playwright. With the exception of two classes, my English education had been crap1, 2. Of my required creative writing classes, I had the same professor for all but one and she was just there for the paycheck. I learned absolutely nothing from her other than, yes, there are bad teachers out there.

While I had dreamed of writing novels when I was younger, I found plays more fulfilling3. I planned on going to graduate school, and maybe teaching writing while writing plays of my own4. That derailed in the spring of 2000 when my college best friend asked me to move to St. Louis and help him with his business. There went grad school and St. Louis doesn't have a strong theatre community. A few oases in the desert, but nothing like Boston. A decade later and I'm back to pursuing fiction publication.

The thing is, I'd still like to get a higher degree. Not because I think it'll make me a better writer (my college classes certainly didn't), but because I said I was going to. I don't like that hanging over me. I told my college mentor on two separate occasions that I was going to go to grad school and here I am 11+ years later without a single graduate class under my belt.

I don't pursue that impulse. Time is a factor. Add in the strong desire to never have homework again. Then season that with I don't think graduate programs teach writers what they need to know. I run into a lot of writing graduate students. Most of them have rolled into the program directly out of college. They're 21, wet behind the ears, and no everything. As any old man will tell you, someone that young can't know everything. You have to get to our age before you know everything.

Joking aside, graduate writing students love to talk about the business though few of them have any experience with it other than submitting a short story or poem to an online magazine. A couple might have been published once or twice5, but they all know how the industry works. What kills me is when they start telling me how the industry works, they're so often totally and inextricably wrong.

Frankly, they'd all be better served by a week of intensive reading of blog archives by Kristin Nelson, Nathan Bransford, Moonrat, and the other heavy hitters of the publishing blogosphere. The thing I hear most often is that it's not how you write but who you know6. There are claims as to costs and midlist authoring and querying.

Oh the querying. I think college professors intentionally teach their students how to query wrong to diminish competition against their own works that they're still trying to get published. I can't figure out why else they would tell them to do the things they do. (One student talked about the importance of listing his MA at the top of the query so that the agent would know they're weren't just any writer, but someone truly talented. He did not appreciate it when I started laughing at him.)

I try to set them right. I try to pop those bubbles that I can. I tell them who to Google and what blogs to read. Listen, student, you seem like a nice person. I'm not trying to rain on your parade, but you're spending graduate level dollars on information that will net you nothing in return. You'd be better served getting a library card and signing onto the internets where they keep the truth. You're in for a rude awakening. Prepare yourself so you can be the first of your classmates to successfully navigate the rocky shoals of publishing.

This leads to the inevitable, what have you published? Me? Well, I have three completed manuscripts, two of which received full requests. I have a fourth I'm about to start querying, but I have not published a novel yet.

And that seals the advice of my fate. If I don't have the bookshelf to prove myself a better source than their instructors, they'd rather believe what they already believe. Don't take my word on it! Just go to these blogs. Look through the archives!

They never do, of course. They have homework, after all. This irks me only a little, but I probably would have done the same in their situation. I feel bad for the older students, though. The ones that aren't still claimed as a dependent by their parents, but have a spouse and kids and a job on top of their school work. They're draining the family funds for an experience they think will ready them for publishing.

Writing readies you for publishing. Reading readies you for publishing. Information readies you for publishing. You can get all this without a graduate program. You don't need to spend 150 grand for an MFA, only a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.

1 Folklore and Advanced Writing: Poetry, in case you were wondering (and no, I'm not a poet).

2 My Shakespeare English class (as opposed to my Shakespeare theatre class I took the semester before) was so atrocious and factually inaccurate ("all Shakespearean plays are tragicomedy") that I complained about the professor to the department. My grade was then dropped from an A to a B.

3 There was a play my senior year that--while pretentious--had a woman scream while the lights were out. No movie, audio recording, or any other medium of delivery had ever evoked such a strong response from me. She reached into my stomach and tore out my intestines. I almost came out of my seat it was so powerful.

4 You think it's hard to get a book published, try the theatre. The people that make a living in that art are not only incredibly talented but wicked lucky as well.

5 This demographic is obviously changing as more and more young authors are published as undergraduates and even teens. Hannah Moskowitz had a good blog post on what it's like being a published author as an undergraduate.

6 Knowing the right person can open a lot of doors, don't get me wrong. It can be maddening for those of us who don't. But in the end, if your writing isn't up to snuff, you better know the owner of the publishing company or it doesn't really matter.

Bordering on the Ridiculous

Sara Megibow posted recently that she "did her part to help Borders" by buying a book there. And all I can think is, you either screwed the publisher or screwed the author by buying there. If Borders doesn't pay for the books it's selling, someone has to take the loss. Either the publisher will take that hit, or they won't count is as a sale and the author will take the hit or maybe they'll both share a little bit in the screwage. Either way, the only way they get paid is if Borders recovers and Borders isn't going to recover.

The "doing her part" thing is what bothers me. All of a sudden there's some kind of community obligation to save Borders from itself. And yes, Borders brought this on itself. It used to be dominant over Barnes & Noble and while sure Amazon dramatically upended the industry, it could just as well be Barnes & Noble teetering on bankruptcy while Borders becomes the last brick and mortar mega-bookstore. Bad management, poor planning and implementation, bad business. And for as frequently as agents remind authors that writing is a business, that fact never seems to apply to bookstores. Borders is a business and it failed. Yes it represented the third-largest book seller in the industry (not represents like some are still saying--if it's not paying publishers, it's the largest book thief in the industry).

Borders does not have such loyal clientele that if it goes out of business, they'll quit reading. This isn't something we need to do to save the industry. It represents a marked difference in methodology with its competitors, one that I've liked as a customer. But it is simply incapable of functioning as a business, so that doesn't matter. To buy at Borders now is to effectively buy a pirated copy of the book.

I can't help think of Amtrak. Not a lot of you have been on an Amtrak train. That's why the government gives them money every year to stay in business. They don't draw customers. Amtrak tickets are the same or more expensive than flying and the trip time is five times as long. We "save" Amtrak every year because the only companies interested in buying it are European and we couldn't have that. Better to throw millions of dollars to a company that doesn't know how to function in its own business than to let Europeans try and make a profit on American soil.

While I am liberal in most of my political persuasions, this is one instance where the free market is doing exactly what it's supposed to do. Borders has failed as a company. It will now go out of business and its marketshare will be taken by those capable enough to do so. This isn't a cause for writers and industry insiders to rally around. There is no noble cause here. They weren't the victim of monopolization or unfair government pressures. They were a business that failed to do what it set out to do.

It's time we turn our attention to those companies that are still surviving. You want to do your part, buy a book from a store that actually pays the people that make the book.

No Sympathy for Bookstores

The general premise is that if you want to be a writer, you should buy books whenever you can, whether they are for yourself or gifts for others (this sentiment most often comes up around Christmas). I don't have a problem with this, to be honest. Support the business you work in. Makes sense to me.

This then moves on to the "and buy at your local independent bookstores." There are a lot of assertions to be made about the benefits of independent bookstores versus national chains and online purchasing. These claims are almost always made by people who live in large cities (notably New York) where independent stores like the Tattered Cover have well established their awesomeness1.

For the rest of the country, the reality of the independent bookstore doesn't call for such unprecedented love. Of all the small towns I've lived in (five in three different states), the independent bookstore is much the same: used books, limited selection, disorganized or poorly defined space, a limited new release section that only includes names like Grisham or King, and prices set at full value or higher. In my current town, there are two independent bookstores, both conforming to this description. They open at 10 and close at 4, so even if I felt obligated to patronize them, I would have to take a day off of work to do so.

Not growing up in a place like New York where an independent bookstore might have a large enough market to survive the B&N onslaught, I am not enamored with the notion of the underdog2. Now don't get me wrong, I don't dislike them. There are stores like the Tattered Cover that have so well established themselves that people can mention them online and others know exactly what they're talking about. Two thumbs up for those places. It's the presumed obligation that rubs me wrong. A business needs to earn my business. If you cannot provide me the book I'm looking for at an hour in which I am able to patronize without requiring vacation spent, you won't get my dollars.

Not that the large chains are doing any better. My experiences with the last two paper books I've purchased have been miserable. I skipped my hometown Borders and B&N and went to the Borders on Boylston in Boston. This is one of the better Borders in the country, so I should be able to find Tad Williams' new release, SHADOWHEART, without much difficulty.

...or so I thought. The book wasn't on coop or on the shelf. There wasn't even space made for it on the shelf. The first three employees ignored me, talking to themselves. The fourth one had never heard of it but was able to confirm that they had six in stock. It ended up being on a cart because it hadn't been shelves yet. What kind of store doesn't have new releases shelved the day they're supposed to be released? When I worked at Blockbuster, Tuesday new releases were shelved Monday night after closing like any common sense business would.

If I had purchased the book online, it would have been delivered today and for $13 less than what I paid for it at Borders. This brings me to the fundamental aspect of book shopping in any store, whether you're a local indie or a national chain:

You have to earn my business.

Amazon is the big bad wolf because that's how we roll in America. If you're the biggest, you're evil. Support the little guy. Fist in the air. Do the right thing. Go to your local independent bookstore and give them your business.

I don't give any business charity. If a local bookstore earns my business, it's on them and good luck to them. That's the kind of place I'll support and speak well of (and often--have you seen how many times I reference Jackie's Diner on my website?). Spare me the guilt trip. I was raised Catholic. It doesn't work.

I really wish Nashua (or even downtown Boston) had a place like the Tattered Cover. There's an antique bookshop near where I work, but that doesn't do much for me. Otherwise, it's online purchasing or continued bad experiences with the national chains (I ranted on twitter what happened when I tried to buy Bujold's CRYOBURN, so I won't repeat that, but it was even more annoying than this time around).

More so than ever, I am pleased with my decision to go e-only in my book purchases3.

1 I lived near the Tattered Cover when I lived in Denver. It is indeed awesome.

2 Which is weird, because usually I'm a sucker for an underdog.

3 SHADOWHEART is the last in the Shadowmarch tetralogy, so this should be the last paper book I buy, depending on how much farther Bujold takes the Vorkosigan series.

That was EPIC!

The fastest way to start a literary nerd fight? Say X fantasy book is/is not epic fantasy. Epic fantasy may be the poorest defined genre currently being published1. I think this is a result of the '80s/'90s where almost all fantasy published was epic fantasy. Epic fantasy was so pervasive within the genre that epic fantasy = fantasy. There wasn't a heaping of sword and sorcery or just plain old fashioned fantasy. Which leads to the confusion today of what counts as epic.

It would be nice to be able to say that the definition remains the same and it's just the education of the audience that is lacking, but nerd fights over genre boundaries always end up challenging the fundamental nature of epic's definition.

Epic used to be matter of scope. The threat was world-threatening and the journey was world-spanning. The stakes were the highest they could be ("evil power rises and destroys the world!!!!") and the hero would leave his modest beginnings to distant lands never dreamed of to return a changed person ("I was a prince this entire time and no one told me!"). Most often epic fantasy is said to be the genre that models itself after the Hero's Journey.

These are where the challenges come in. If the threat is to the microcosm of the protagonist's world, isn't that just as great as the entire world being threatened? And to travel across the breadth of that microcosm, isn't that the same as traveling across the entire world?

What gets me about these kinds of challenges is the imperativeness that such focused stories be quantified as epic fantasy. It's an innate desire of a fantasy author to be compared to the icons of the craft, those authors that inspired us to pick up a pen in our youths. And with the exception of Robert E. Howard, all those authors are epic fantasists. Tolkien, Goodkind, Jordan, Williams. All of them published tomes of work that devastated their worlds and enthralled ours.

If we don't write epic fantasy, how can we be as good (or better!) than they were? So everything we write has to be epic, even if that means we need a hammer to drive the peg into that hole.

I don't think it's the definition of epic that is in question, but our own psychological need to be compared to our heroes that fuels the epic argument. But there are some fuzzy lines. Someone suggested that Harry Potter was an epic fantasy. After I stopped my gut reaction of "nuh uh!"2, I began to question whether or not that was possible. Harry certainly has a Hero's Journey. He travels to new worlds, and Voldemort wants to destroy the entire world, wizard and muggle alike. But really, the distance Harry travels is very minimal. Not even the breadth of the British Isles. That lends itself to the epic nature of a microcosm adventure.

As I ponder that, I wonder, does it matter? It's easy to define the Lord of the Rings trilogy as epic. Memory, Sorry, and Thorn. A Song of Ice and Fire. There is no pondering there. Those are EPIC, in every measure of the genre. But can't there be just a regular fantasy genre? Lois McMaster Bujold's CURSE OF CHALLION I call fantasy instead of epic fantasy. It's good fantasy, but not world spanning or world threatening. The fact that it is not epic fantasy does not diminish the quality of the story.

So in the end, I don't have an absolute argument. I can certainly pick out the easy ones. But the middle gray area is open to discussion. In the end, I come down to "How much does it really matter?" Perhaps its just a matter of ego and not a matter of importance.

1 Other than literary fiction which focuses more on language and depth rather than any kind of genre hierarchy. I did not say literary was the poorest defined genre because a lot of genre books that publishers don't want to pigeonhole into that genre end up in literary rather than the appropriate genre in an attempt to widen the target market. As such, it is disqualified for cheating.

2 Can a YA story also be an epic fantasy story? YA is more a demographic than a true genre. Same with middle grade. It informs some choices that will be present in regard to swearing and sex and (supposedly) violence. But otherwise, YA is actually an adjective. YA fantasy, YA mystery, etc. There's no reason HP can't be YA epic fantasy. But then, you don't normally see epic fantasy tagged onto a modern fantasy setting. That usually lends itself to urban fantasy. Plenty of fodder for argument all around.

Stranger in a Strange Land

It's a fair bet most of your writer friends aren't your real-world friends. They're online. The internet has been a terrific tool for us to gather and discuss and be. You may have been trapped previously with those that said they wanted to write, but whose offerings amounted to nothing more than literary masturbation, taking their favorite D&D characters and expostulating their awesomeness in prose. (If you were lucky, it would at least be good prose. But how often are we that lucky?)

Now, we can find people with similar interests and similar talent to share our ideas and our fears. We can push one another to do better and help each other to succeed. This is all great. Thank you Internet for your participation in our growth as writers.

But at the end of the day, we're still writers in our own world. We do other things like read books and watch movies with friends who may have little to no writing talent or interest in exploring the craft. But they still have opinions. Everyone has opinions. And they share them. They share them with you.

I'll see a movie and someone will say how much they liked it and I pray that they don't ask me what I thought. Or, if they're going to ask me that question, they do so before they offer their own opinion so they can see quickly that I'm not just going to say I liked something because a bus blew up or some thing. I do not have a switch. I cannot turn off being a writer. I can dial it down. I can take it from an 11 to about an 8 or so, but in the end, the writing is important to me. Transformers 2: Rise of the Fallen is utter rubbish. I don't care if the point of the movie was to have big robots fight and blow shit up. You can make a movie with big robots fighting blowing shit up and still write it in such a fashion that when you walk into a building in Washington, you don't exit into an African desert!

I'm told I'm too negative. I don't think I'm negative. I think I'm critical. I challenge the art I am interested in to be the best it can be. My measure for that quality is based on my own understanding of writing, which, compared to the rest of my friends, is much higher (immodest or not, it's the truth and most of them would admit to that).

I did a podcast interview with Scott Wegener, the artist for Atomic Robo. This best explained what it's like being a creative person. When he looks at something, the first thing he looks at is the visual aspect. He's a comic book artist. He draws for a living. The visuals are important. Likewise, the first thing I look at is the writing. I can give a pass to average visuals because that's now what I do.

It can feel very isolating in those discussions, especially in a larger group, when people are giving a thumbs up and thumbs down based solely on a visceral reaction to the spectacle of the movie, and all you want to do is grab a red pen and mark up all the holes that to you seemed so glaring.

Don't worry. You're not alone. Your people, they're here on the internets.

The Six Books of Harry Potter

Nathan Bransford invited readers to post comments about Harry Potter on their own blogs and link back in his, for which this post is created. Depending on how long you've been following me, you might have listened to the episode of the PodgeCast or even read the older post on my LiveJournal that covered the matter. Rather than digging through all that, I will repost here why I think the seventh book should be erased from the collective memory.


Molly Weasley vs. Bellatrix Lestrange


Like many of the previous novels in the series, HPDH lacked a firm editorial hand1. The 300-page trek through the woods was interminable. At least 100 pages could have been cut from that scene without detracting from the story.

The climax of HPHBP enumerates a number of rules for the final book. Harry is chasing after Snape and not having any success at all. Snape tells him that he'll never succeed without learning how to cast without speaking. More over, if Harry ever hopes to face Voldemort, he must first defeat Snape. Neither of these issues are addressed in book 7.

Never, not once ever, does Harry cast a spell without speaking in the seventh book. When it comes to the final conflict, it has no bearing whatsoever to the outcome.

Harry never faces Snape. Nagini kills Snape while Harry watches, so really, the whole ending of book 6 is negated.

WORSE, that negation also reduces Dumbledore's sacrifice. Why did he let Snape kill him? To protect the Elder Wand. Snape defeats Dumbledore and thus is the owner of the Elder Wand. Harry is supposed to defeat Snape so he can get the Elder Wand. The Elder Wand is one of three items that GIVE THE BOOK ITS NAME! That plotline is entirely disregarded.

Lupin and Tonks die so that Harry can be father to an orphan, bringing to a ridiculous conclusion to the character arcs of two of the most reasonable characters in the series up to that point. They throw their lives away to avoid responsibility2 and their deaths are a complete throw-away. It's not even a scene of the book.

Harry sends Ginny, the most badass combat wizard of the group, away at the end of the sixth book. And she stays away. What character is this? Certainly not the one that had grown into a strong-minded woman in the two previous books3.

And the clincher, JKR's comments following the publication of the book. No, not that Dumbledore was gay. Who gives a shit about that? No, she made two comments that just make me wonder how she managed to write such an amazing series in the first place as she seems completely out of touch with her own characters.

Blog post 1: JKR answers the questions of what happened to the characters after the end of the series. Harry and Ron become aurors and revolutionize the field. AYFKM?!?!? Neither of them are smart enough to be aurors much less to revolutionize the field. They lucked into potions class and would never have been able to last in any long-term capacity in that profession.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, she had created an arc she never resolved. Voldemort had tried to be the Dark Arts professor and failed. Following, the school never had another professor for more than a year. Being his opposite and given his proven track record at surviving the dark arts (and experience leading DA), Harry should have taken on the roll to break the curse. Ron could have taken his self-confidence and gone on to play professional Quidditch, which is the only activity he ever truly loves in the entire series.

Blog post 2: JKR says she crafted the ending specifically for Harry to represent Jesus in an effort to draw readers to Christ through her fiction. Hey, if that's what she wants to do, that's her choice. But to accomplish it, she derailed her own series and turned it in a direction where she could recreate Good Friday in a wizard combat zone. Never sacrifice your story for your message. A skillful author could use the former to deliver the latter.

Adendum 1: I also contend that Neville is more popular because of the movies than he is because of the book. JKR uses Dobby as the character that arrives with the timely answer (e.g., gillyweed). In the movies, they use Neville who is a lot cheaper than a CGI house elf. Not only did it work, it was BETTER than the books. It fit the character better and fleshed it out. The Neville of the books never got any real attention (other than being a practical joke) until HPOP, whereas the movies began his evolution one story earlier in HPGF. While he gets a great scene in the final book, I wonder how much attention he would have got if he hadn't grown so popular.

Adendum 2: What would have been cool? In HPPS/HPSS (depending on your nationality), Ron is the knight and has to sacrifice himself for Harry to continue on to the end. If that had been paralleled in the final book, it would have been a stroke of genius.

1 After the series became popular, there became a standard format to any Harry Potter novel. Part 1: Main plot. Part 2: Awesome subplot. Part 3: Lame subplot.

Parts 2 and 3 always got equal attention and swelled the book well beyond an appropriate page count. Parts 3 from every novel could have been chopped with no loss to character or primary plot flow. It would have just chucked lameness that we all had to wade through like we were sewer workers or something.

2 I have yet to meet a (sane) mother who would sacrifice the life of her kid to be with her husband while he runs off to get himself killed.

3 In all their previous fights, Harry and Ron have required a third person to force them back together. When Ron returns with the sword, it should have been Ginny hauling him there with whatever cattle prod Ron needs that book. They abandoned their strongest weapon and the story abandons her too4.

4 I will admit to some bias, as she's my favorite character, but really. If you're going to war, you don't send the guy with the machine gun home because it's dangerous. Certainly the guy with the machine gun doesn't stay home once he's there.

Reformed Conservative in a Liberal World

Conservative blowhard commentators often accuse this or that media of being liberal (depending on which media they want to accuse at that particular moment). While I feel the following is true about any medium, I am speaking today about print publishing so will keep this opinion only there. I don't think publishing is liberal. I think publishing is capitalistic. It will print whatever book will make it money. (Or how else could Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter continue to spew their crazy?) The people that work in publishing, however, are predominantly liberal.

This doesn't bother me because I count myself among their ranks. The real challenge is for me to count myself among their ranks. I am a Gen-Xer raised by a Greatest Generation mother. Staunch Catholic brought up before Vatican II watered down the demagoguery, perhaps the best lesson she ever taught me was that she was born in 1930s Detroit and if I saw her react negatively to black people, I should know that she is wrong. That's as far as her liberalism went. Women had gender roles. Gays were unnatural. The pope and his teaching were directed by the hand of heaven. We lived on a street with only one black family (who actually would not play with us because we were white, to flip a presumption on its head). No one had gay children (turns out one of them did, and the family accepted him, but no one talks about it). Everyone voted for Reagan and in turn voted for Bush 1.

I began having doubts in my faith as a teenager. I had separate doubts about organized religion, but a genuine acceptance of god was questioned by a completely separate list (people tend to assume I'm an atheist because of my mother, which is an insult to me and my beliefs and wholly untrue). It began with the separation of humanity from nature. Seeing the pollution and and ecological destruction we wrought on the environment, and understanding the scientific necessities of an environment, I had trouble accepting that God would have placed us to rule over the rest of the world rather than live cooperatively in it. This lead to years and years of questioning.

September 21st, 1996, I abandoned my belief in god and became an atheist (to which I continue to this day). This freed me from many of the obsolete structures of organized religion. I could accept people with differing beliefs because I had no obligation to spread my own. What it did not do was change my long educated perception of homosexuality. If an observation of nature had lead me to question the existence of god, that same observation made me question whether homosexuals were anything more than perverts. They had no means for reproduction, and as an evolutionary animal, they thus fell outside the purpose of our species.

This was not to say I felt them abominations. That's just overly dramatic. I lived in my fraternity house with a gay member (though not roommates; he lived in the room above mine). He always assumed I did not like him because I was an Army ROTC scholarship student. In fact, he just annoyed me because he'd complain how dirty the house was if there were three magazines on the coffee table1.

It was a year or two later, having a peaceable discussion with someone about homosexuality (this was the 90s, so it was only just easing into acceptance by the national consciousness), that I mentioned my difficulty homosexuality. They then pointed me to a study on dog breeds and a few other species that, when faced with overpopulation, would change sexual preference to ebb off their growing numbers.

Boom. That easy. Homosexuals weren't outside of nature. They weren't an abomination. They were quite rightly a result of our own means of ignoring environmental equilibrium. It wasn't just a biological happenstance, it was an inevitability. All right then. I'm sold.

And that's it. I have numerous homosexual friends, some of whom are thankfully far less annoying than my fraternity brother was in college. I support LGBT equality. My state's legislature passed the best gay marriage law in the entire nation23. That's the end of it, right?

Well, kind of. Now it's a matter of degree. I participate to the best of my ability in the pub-o-sphere to which there are people much more liberal than I am. People like the Rejectionist who faced a similar upbringing but rebelled much sooner. Even with all these decisions I made, it took about a decade of living life off the rails before my conscious beliefs and my unconscious beliefs truly aligned. Being part of the pub-o-sphere, though, there is an LGBT cause du jour, effectively. Blog posts, tweets and retweets. It's like a phone tree. You can watch the outrage spread across your friends list.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Change is happening--change for the better--and this is what it looks like. I just don't have the energy to get so impassioned about it. I support them in their efforts. Raise a fist, go go go! But I don't have the desire to write a blistering rebuttal to today's offense. I just ran a marathon of leaving behind my Catholic upbringing to one of acceptance. I work daily to remind myself to erase stereotypes, to accept and support my neighbors in their choices.

It makes me feel like an outsider. Often. If I don't retweet this or change my user picture here, they're going to assume that I'm against them. (The with us or against us fervor can get pretty heated sometimes.) But really, I feel I'm the goal. Not the end goal, by any means. Perhaps the Rejectionist is what we'll all become some day. But a successful social revolution will move right-set minds to where I am now. I'm not the outsider. I'm the desired result.

I know this isn't writing focused4, and it may be too hot a topic to even post on, but there only ever seems to be two discussions, white hat or black hat. Just thought I'd raise my hand and say, "Hey, we're on our way, but the road is long."

1 Later of course, he got really drunk, insulted an entire sorority, and told them it was me. To this day, he's never apologized even when I've asked him to point blank. Clearly being gay doesn't prevent you from being a dick.

2 It's relevant to point out that this was a legislative success. Depending on the appeals to recent judicial rulings, those states whose gay marriage is a result of judicial decision will see immediate challenges. Legislative roads are subject only to elections and public referenda.

3 New Hampshire allows gay marriage, but individuals may not sue private institutions like chruches to force them to perform the ceremony. I never even knew people had considered doing this, and am glad the law includes the provision. Equality for all, after all.

4 I do have a few gay characters in my stories. I never hesitate to make them good guys or bad guys because I have no agenda to press. Much like my fraternity brother can be a douche despite his sexuality, homosexuals can be villains or heroes despite theirs. The key is to make sure they are not so because of their sexuality. I do not want to read about a Big Gay Hero any more than I want the Big Bad to wave his evil rainbow flag.

Print is Killing Publishing

Whether you love the smell of paper books or not, digital distribution will be the primary means of accessing text-based media within your lifetime. Three years ago I was in a meeting of department heads and vice presidents and all the people that make decisions on things. We were discussing the company's ebook strategy. Three years ago, Flashpaper was new and xml-ebooks were in their first iteration. We were on the precipice and most people didn't know it.

We're now over the precipice, in case you're wondering. We're falling. Argue all you want that you prefer paper. We'll hit the bottom soon enough.

Flashpaper seems like old hat now. XML is realized (not fully, as we continue to experiment with enhanced ebooks). HTML5 and CSS3 are the vanguard of the mobile revolution, where computers play second hat to smart phones and tablets. The entire publishing paradigm is shifting and those companies that deal with text-based media are trying to figure out how to handle such a rapidly changing market.

At this meeting, standing a the precipice, we discussed the marketplace, the challenges of digital sales, and most importantly, the challenge of pricing. I asked what I thought was a simple enough question: Why don't we just sell content directly to the consumer?

Now at the time, ebooks represented less than 1% of total sales. MUCH less. The industry moneymaker at the time (and currently, though not for much longer) was paper books. Paper books sold in stores and online at Amazon. A book's marketing budget was much smaller than what was needed to force any one particular title to the forefront of the consumer consciousness. So much of the business depended on customers finding the books while looking for other items. (You know the "people who browsed this item also looked at X, Y, Z" suggestions on Amazon? Those are a big deal.)

The answer was as simple as the question. We can't sell directly to customers because it will upset the market. Cutting the middleman out of a particular part of the market would rock the boat for the much larger revenue generator.

In truth, the answer isn't so simple. It is short, but it embodies so many challenges that publishing isn't willing to tackle. How do you set up a marketplace? Which department owns it and maintains it? Will this require new staff and the costs that go along with them? How does a marketplace work? (I cannot express to you the number of meetings I had to have with directors and VPs explaining what meta-text and catalog searching is.) How do you handle international sales? How do you draw users to your market without the goods of other publishers that are offered in the collective of a place like Amazon? How do you establish industry market standards without provoking (more) anti-trust accusations? How do you sell books?

Did you catch that last one? How do you sell books? Publishers are really good at selling books to the market. Publishers are not very good at selling books to the customer. The industry grew up in cooperation with the market, not in opposition to it. Publishers do not have the staff, the institutional knowledge, or the will to bring anything but a marginal effort to bear when it comes to direct selling.

How does that affect you and me? You get the agency model of ebook selling. Ebooks cost as much as their hard-back brethren because the cost still accommodates the middle man. Rather than a 50/50 split between author and publisher, the whole thing is muddled by including a third party to act as a literary fence.

With the inclusion of self-publishing arms and fourth-party catalogs like Smashwords, marketplace e-bookshelves are less accommodating than ever for browsing. There aren't enough ways to hone searches aside from direct keyword searches. If you want to see fantasy, you get sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. And a LOT of it. And a lot of that, self-published. Sure Tor might not represent 100% of the fantasy market, but when you trace so many of the imprints up to their parent corporations, you'd be surprised how many of them are owned by the same people (Penguin owns at least four different fantasy imprints. Tor at least three, and so on). Bundle all these titles into a top-notch database driven search engine, slap a nice marketplace on the front of it, and all of a sudden you don't need to charge $17.50 for an ebook. You can charge $10 and make more money than you ever did before.

With the rapidly changing distribution paradigm, the obligations of playing nice with the market because of print will soon be meaningless. The problem is, by the time that happens, the publishing industry will have given up any opportunity it had to establish itself as a market option for readers of its work, will have allowed Amazon to muscle its way into the industry despite spats with Macmillain (which I still contend Amazon won despite [or because of] the application of the agency model to ebook pricing [something that will bite publishers in the ass]).

The game is being played while we fall. When we hit the bottom, the game ends, the new era of publishing begins, and only one victor will get up and walk away. The more we fall and the more I see the game played, I predict that victor to be Amazon. If decisive action is not taken, publishers, authors, and customers alike will lie broken and bloodied at the foot of the Cliffs of E-sanity.

You Gotta Fight for Your Read?

I've offered tacit support of SPEAK during the flair-up against the comments made in Springfield last week. I didn't hop on the bandwagon and speak out against it for a couple reasons. First, I'm fat, and doubt I could hop on a bandwagon if I wanted to. Second, I don't think my message would reach anyone that could be swayed by anything I have to say.

Having lived various places in Missouri, the guy that said what he said will never be convinced of anything. Nor will his comments convince anyone that needed convincing. His fanatics already believe the swill he's spreading. My telling you how ridiculous his promotion of rape as sexuality wouldn't surprise you. You're a smart individual and already knew that.

I am going to make a comment tangential to the subject, though, where I think a reasonable discourse may change minds. When book "banning" (and those quotes are deliberate) comes up, it is inevitable that someone says that it's unconstitutional. First I'm going to tell you why it isn't. Second I'm going to tell you why you hurt the cause you're supporting by making that claim.

The book isn't being banned. It's being removed from the school and its curricula. A banned book would not be allowed to be printed or sold or owned. Congress (or even scarier the Executive or even scarier yet the Judiciary) would say, no more BREAK. We're old and dumb and scared of sex and any value BREAK brings to society is not worth our discomfort. It is forbidden! That is an infringement on speech. That's not what's happening here.

The school board is empowered by whatever body elects/appoints it (either the people or the municipality) to administer its schools. It can decide what books are and are not included in its curricula. This does not deprive the author of speech. The book is still printed and sold. Students are still able to purchase the book from bookstores. It just won't be part of their homework assignment.

Does this suck? Absolutely, for BREAK, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, FAHRENHEIT 451, and so many others. Is it wrong? I believe so. I think those books are relevant and worthwhile. But it's not unconstitutional. You want to make a big impact? Skip the incredibly passive "Speak Out" skin on your twitter icon and instead do the very active vote in your next school board election. Question the candidates about the issue and elect people who understand the value of these books and want to see them in our schools.

...okay, add the skin too, but only after you've made a difference in your local community.

Now, why is saying its unconstitutional a bad thing? It creates a reverse straw man argument. Douchebag McAsshole says rape is sexual and bad for kids (I say rape is bad for kids, but that's beside the point). He says we're going to ban the book. You say, you can't do that, it's unconstitutional! You are incorrect. What you've done is given him the opportunity to disprove your argument rather than defending his own. He doesn't need to explain why he thinks rape is sexual (eww), he just has to show how what he proposes is legal.

Which it is. Not only does he not have to defend himself, he will defeat you in the argument you're making. This is not how to defeat Douchebag McAsshole. And we want to defeat Douchebag McAsshole. We want to defeat him very much.