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Revisiting the Wherefore

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About three years ago, my first novel came out.

No, wait.  That’s not right.  Let’s try…

About three years ago, I released my first novel.

Each sentence is nine words long.  The end result — readers can buy my story — is the same.  But the implied process was very different.

Back then, I told a writerly friend I expected it’d take five or so years for the trade-versus-indie bluster to fade.  If one knows the industry solely from popular online discussions, that estimate sounds wildly optimistic.  If one talks to writers who’ve taken the time to understand their evolving options, it’s not so far off.  As mentioned here, the “versus” is a sickly beast many have already left behind.

With that in mind, and in light of the reprised conversation on Fantasy Faction, I thought I’d revisit a post from 2012 explaining why I chose to return to SF writing as an indie author rather than resume riding the query-go-round, and see how well my reasoning held up.

Continue reading Revisiting the Wherefore

What’s “Real” About the Cost of Self-Publishing

Another day, another piece of writing on self-publishing that makes me want to *headdesk.*  So I’m going to put this post here and, in the future, simply point to it when yet another one of those articles pops up.

Truth: There is no “real cost” to self-publishing, just as there is no “real cost” to trade publishing.  Anyone who tells you there is intends to sell you something, validate their own choices, or is simply unaware a range of options exist.

What is the “real cost” of feeding a family of four for a week?  What is the “real cost” of a college education?  What is the “real cost” of owning a home, taking a vacation, adopting a pet, raising a child, buying a car, having someone do your taxes, finding the perfect gown for an event?

The answer to all those is, “It depends.”

And too often, someone comes along to assert “It depends” must be followed by “the quality of work you want.”

That someone is wrong.

Writers new to self-publishing often take a Google-tour of sites claiming to give them “real” information.  And some writers, thinking they’re being helpful while defending their choice to not self-publish, have written compelling pieces that place the cost of putting out a single novel somewhere between ten and sixty thousand dollars.

Those are not helpful articles.  New writers who stumble onto them and believe them are likely to either give up entirely or become an easy target for scammers.  Heck, after reading an author dropped thirty thousand dollars to self-publish “properly,” who wouldn’t believe an Author Solutions package of ten grand sounds like a fantastic deal?

(And if you’re not familiar with Author Solutions and the support it receives from major publishers and imprints, start here and here.)

In most cases, cost is assumed to be the same as quality when one of two factors come into play.  In the first instance, cost matters if money is considered to be a measure of personal worth (see “Protestant Ethic”).  In the second, cost is used as a proxy for quality when one isn’t accustomed to or comfortable with cost comparisons and negotiations.

I once paid nearly $2000 for a gown.  People at the reception in Washington D.C. complimented it.  I once paid $65 for a gown.  Never in my life had I received so many compliments, and this from a Beverly Hills crowd.

So if you’re a new writer, here’s the deal:  You do not need to pay what large trade publishers pay to get professional results because—and this doesn’t get mentioned often, for some odd reason—you are not paying to retain employees, warehouse product, or maintain expensive office space.  And frankly, you’re not paying for exclusivity.  You are paying a contractor to provide you a professional service.*  You are paying for that service one timePeriod.

How do you find professionals who deliver great results at the price point you’re looking to pay?  Use the same method that used to be touted to writers in search of a compatible agent: check the books you like.  Well-produced indie titles will list their publication team—cover artist, designer, copyeditor, etc.—in the front matter and/or the acknowledgements.  Best of all, ebooks usually contain a live link to the professional’s website.  In very little time, you can create a targeted list of professionals whose work you like alongside the approximate cost of their services.  Easy-peasy.

If you’re an established trade writer thinking you should say something about self-publishing, here’s the deal: Read up on successful self-publishing members within your own professional organization.  SFWA recently opened its membership to self-published writers who meet the same income standards as trade-published writers, and many long-standing SFWA members fully embraced self-publishing long before.  Just a small bit of reading and discussion will reveal that the professional experience and focus of those who primarily self-publish differs from those who might self-publish a small project or two on the side.  They can give you actual numbers, based on multiple projects.  And if you have a question about self-publishing, it’s easy to ask.

For some, custom artwork provided by a Certain Name is critical to seeing their final product as “professional.”  Those folks will pay a premium for it.  For others, it’s essential to pay Certain Name for a developmental edit to shape their story for reasons of craft and/or confidence.  Those folks, too, will pay a premium.  But premium is a choice, and should not be presented as a necessity.  Telling new writers—and established writers uncertain if they should step into self-publishing—that they must spend a pile of money to be professional and spend every moment on insurmountable tasks associated with publishing is a swift and efficient way to put a lid on the number of writers who’d otherwise be able to engage with enthusiastic readers.

In fact, it’s kinda mean.

It isn’t realistic.  It isn’t “harsh truth.”  It is a narrow band of experience, based on a different business model, that’s erroneously touted as universal.

I’d much rather see us reach out with accurate and up-to-date information on the range of costs associated with self-publishing.  That’s the way to realistically and immediately support diversity, to give fellow writers the knowledge needed to take advantage of options and avoid scammers, and to expand the readership for everyone.

So at the end of the day, the truth is pretty straightforward.

The real cost of self-publishing is what you pay, after researching your options, to get the results you want.

Period.

(Next week I’ll put together a post in response to the “You can’t become a better writer unless editors reject you repeatedly” post I can point to whenever that meme pops up.)

*I’ve heard the argument that paying below Big 5 rates for artistic and editorial services harms professionals accustomed to making their living at their trade.  While not unsympathetic to that viewpoint, I do find it a tad offensive when directed at the one professional in the publishing business who has forever been told they shouldn’t expect to make a living in the biz.

Musing That Might Or Might Not Apply To Current Conversations

My admiration for a professional acquaintance grew during the Indiana RFRA upheaval (which I introduce here as an EXAMPLE, not something I really want to debate right now*). She is a life-long Republican activist. And I do mean activist. She organizes and attends political rallies, works in campaign offices, and is always ready to intelligently discuss policy. My beliefs and hers overlap in very few places, but I’ve always enjoyed our conversations whether we’re agreeing or disagreeing.

She held strong beliefs against RFRA–beliefs she determined were more in line with her vein of conservatism than that of RFRA’s supporters. Knowing she’d forever damage her standing among segments of her party, she became one of the loudest and most reasoned voices speaking for its amendment or repeal. Many of the photos you’ve seen of local rallies include her. She was even asked to speak at the largest rally. And she spoke to her fellow conservatives at every opportunity.

Coolest of all? She consistently delivered moderate messages regardless of her audience. Since the message was both inclusive and diverse (it touched on social, economic, personal, national, political, and generational responsibilities), people on both sides listened.

Even so, folks on one side bad-mouthed her as a fake supporter and criticized her mention of economic motivations as cold-hearted and selfish. Folks on the other side bad-mouthed her as a fake Republican intent on attacking religion.

But in the end, she and others supported and achieved a middle ground: Indiana has an RFRA that is more in line with the original intent of the Federal RFRA, and the folks whom the original Indiana RFRA drafters targeted were extended protection, and the discussion continues.

Oh, and Indiana state government has allocated millions of dollars to marketing and public relations intended to repair the damage done to Indiana’s convention and tourism business.

***

There is a charming innocence in believing life is like a box of chocolates. I rather hope that isn’t true because that would mean some chocolates are rotten, or filled with venomous spiders, or imbued with the ability to randomly kill those I love. I’d prefer my chocolates to be like chocolates, thank you very much.

Life is really a plane filled with passengers who ought to be prepared to slip into The Langoliers without warning. The view is fantastic and the destination just might be wonderful, but at any moment something will go terribly, irrevocably wrong and your survival will depend upon not only your own preparations but the attitudes and preparedness of those sharing your plane.

Continue reading Musing That Might Or Might Not Apply To Current Conversations

When Motherhood Matters Far More

100_2195Motherhood and writing: a topic buried beneath mounds of advice columns, cries of frustration, and hurtful moral judgments on all sides.  Most of what I hear are concerns a child will stall/delay/derail a career, coupled with ways to work around the child.

But this is a different sort of article.  This is about the other side of motherhood and writing, the decision that opens the door for all those advice-guides and judgments, and the truth some writers fear to some degree or another.

It’s about accepting—choosing—slower career growth in exchange for raising children and caring for family.

It’s about putting motherhood first.

More mothers do this than talk about it.  You won’t hear much about choosing to gaze into a baby’s eyes as she breastfeeds, but you’ll hear lots about one-handed typing to create a first draft while the baby eats.  You won’t read many tales about how much more satisfying it is to help your child master riding a bike than it is to complete a solid first draft.  And rarely will you see a writer claim that putting avid pursuit of a writing career on hold was the best damned decision of her life.  You’ll most often hear the frustrations instead.

Why?

Continue reading When Motherhood Matters Far More

Posts You Didn’t Know You Might Like

At the end of the year, it’s common to let one’s blog readers know the most popular posts.  But I assume most of you read those popular posts.  After all, those posts were popular.

So I’m instead going to tell you about the posts I liked, but ones that didn’t get very many reads for whatever reason, just in case you missed something.

What the Reader Expects:  “It’s been twenty-mumble years since I first decided I wanted to write novels.  I sucked at it.  I sucked hard.  I mean, a lifetime of theater and reading had given me an internalized understanding of story arcs and the importance of emotional investment.  But my plots had holes as deep as the Mariana Trench.  The characters—young and old—indulged in the emotional roller coaster of adolescent melodrama.  Plot stuff happened because those happenings gave me an excuse to shoot the characters into the next Big! Emotional! Scene!”

Independent Bookstores = Happier Writers:  “Thinking the fall of Big Box retailers signals the demise of literature and a decrease in a writer’s opportunity is like seeing the bankruptcy of Applebee’s as an event of culinary significance.”

Seeing My Own Bias:  “That’s a problem, really.  My problem.  I don’t much like discovering how deeply certain biases sit in me.  It isn’t comfortable.  But it is real, so there ya go.”

Pomegranates and Bats:  “Will most readers give a damn? Gods above, I hope not. I mean, if my readers are more focused on the damned moth than the plot and characters, I have most likely failed to tell a compelling story. But such “unnoticed” details form a larger picture, and sometimes its faults are actually easier to see in the whole than in the parts.”

Bonus Selection — Does Convention Visibility Matter? :  “Now, maybe the 2500+ attendees of Gen Con’s Symposium certain to see the advertisements (and the additional fifty thousand attendees who might see them) aren’t considered a large enough audience for publishers.  But, considering the number of novels released around the time of Gen Con, and the number of authors who could use even the smallest sales boost, I think it’s ridiculous—from a writer’s perspective—so few publishers chose to promote even fewer writers.”

ETA: And just in case you’re curious, the most popular post ever on this blog is still Seeing Is Understanding,

Happy browsing!

#SFWApro

Worthy Regardless

Sword and Chant CoverBack in June, Anne Johnson hosted my guest blog post on writing gender equality in epic adventure fantasy.  Just a couple days ago, this 2011 story got a bump when it was featured on Tor.com.

And it got me thinking…

Let me say from the start that it’s fabulous to see archeologists pay better attention to little details like the sex of the folks they’re researching, particularly when they’re defining the culture based upon that research.  It’s awesome to see the combat-based contributions of women have made throughout history acknowledged.  And the more articles we have like Hurley’s We Have Always Fought, the better.

But as tempting as it is to wave that research around — “See?  We can have women in our stories!  History says so!” — it’s important to acknowledge the fact we don’t need to justify our stories. Continue reading Worthy Regardless

The Things You Learn About Family

Earlier this year, I’d sorted through nearly all the boxes I’d had in some sort of storage for about five years. Then my folks moved and, by February, I had acquired at least as many boxes of stuff as I’d sorted before. Some of it was mine. Some of it was just stuff my folks didn’t want but didn’t want to “just give away.” Some of it, I discovered today, was family memorabilia.

One huge bulging envelope was covered, side to side and top to bottom, with my father’s crisp engineer lettering. Inside I found lots of miscellaneous remembrances: a 1950s Ice Capades program, a Palm Springs newspaper from 1976, a gift certificate for four martinis at the Apple Valley Inn (expired, alas), a copy of my cousin’s Naval commission, postcards of icky Benny Hill type humor sent by my grandfather when he was traveling.

But the real treasure is the letters. There are letters my father wrote home while he was in the Navy, and letters my grandmother’s Calgary relatives sent her in the 60s and 70s. There’s a wedding announcement for someone in Sicily–my grandfather’s home country–and from a man named Freddie, whom I knew as a child as the wild-white-haired old man who had a cabin near ours in the remote Apple Valley desert. The glimpses of life offered are so, so cool.

One little falling-apart letter, typed single-spaced on the front and back of a small sheet of thin paper, was from my great-grandfather. It’s a sad and angry letter than tells of how poor he and his wife are, living in Chicago Heights in 1951, and how ungrateful his children are for not sending them more money and taking them on vacations. He mentions no one remembers him saving “Joe” from the Black Handers in 1907. The next line, an incomplete sentence, refers to either Sam’s brother, or someone Sam killed, or perhaps both. Does he mean Joe? We don’t know. The odd sentence construction leaves interpretation open.

Then I found a browned newspaper clipping from 1938, talking of the murder of Sam Costello at the hands of Al Capone’s hitmen. Why was it in the envelope with all those letters and such?

I called my father to tell him of the find, and to ask about that newspaper clipping. Turns out Sam Costello was my great-grandfather’s cousin.

We’re still not certain if that’s the same Sam connected to the Joe who was either murdered or saved or both in 1907.

Perhaps, too, we will find some other clues to help us on our genealogy quest to discover if our family can apply for Italian citizenship.  My great-grandfather, alas, was not too keen on government records, reportedly changed his last name at least twice, and told numerous versions of his life in the United States.  It’s a puzzle, but we’re closing in on it.

 

The Purpose of Kata

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If you talk about martial arts long enough, someone will eventually say, “What’s the point of kata? You can’t use it in a real fight. The only thing kata is good for is tournaments.”

I mightily disagree.

Kata is, in simple terms, a series of choreographed movements — punches and kicks, stances and turns, blocks and attacks and evasions. From the outside, it looks as if one fighter is taking on multiple attackers coming at her, one at a time, from different directions. Many martial arts use them as a training tool, with some arts and schools putting greater emphasis on them than others.

A friend recently asked me about the purpose of kata. I gave a short answer, then realized how different today’s answer was from the answer I might have given ten years ago, or even five years ago. My understanding has changed — not only because of my training, but because of my teaching experience.

At first, kata serves to instill rudimentary body awareness and muscle function. We’re talking very rudimentary here. The student must learn, at the bare minimum, to be aware of and in control of what her body and all its parts are doing at any given moment. Most people can stand up and throw a punch with their left hand, but will not be able to say what the right hand was doing without looking at their right hand. Ask if the knees were bent or straight, or if the chin was lifted or tucked, and she will have no clue. Ask her to keep track of all those things while moving from one technique to the next with at least a smidgeon of intensity, and things quickly fall apart.

Continue reading The Purpose of Kata

My SFWA Dilemma

100_2471I’ve a decision to make—multiple decisions, in truth—about where and when I want to devote my non-writing energies as a professional writer. It might seem easy, choosing to join or not join SFWA. It would indeed be so if I’d opted against self-publishing, if I didn’t tend to plow into organizational upheavals, if I didn’t have strong opinions, and if I didn’t think it questionable to join an organization that presently excludes self-published writers who are far more successful and prolific than I am.

So. Matter the first.

I qualify for active membership in SFWA. My three qualifying sales—Speculon, Writers of the Future, and Cicada—all happened before 2007. I didn’t join at the time for reasons I can’t even clearly remember, but that quickly became irrelevant when life fell into a pot of reeking muck and shattered glass for four years. The contracts got lost along the way, but it’ll be fairly simple to get copies from WotF and Cicada. But the Speculon contract? From a dozen years ago? From a market currently closed?

Continue reading My SFWA Dilemma

Because I’m Just Crazy Enough To Do One More Thing

At this particular moment, doing a 30-day blog challenge sounds enjoyable.  I figured I’d better mention it in public before that sense of enjoyment slipped away.

So: Beginning Monday, June 3, I’ll start on the questions below.  Any and all are free to play along!

But… There is a wee catch for those playing along.  If you’re a writer, relate one of every five answers to one of your characters or worldbuilding aspects in a past, present or future story.  If you’re a reader, relate one of every five answers to some aspect of a story you’ve read.  Since many of us are both, feel free to choose either one or both as the fancy strikes you.  Note that it doesn’t have to be every fifth answer.  It just needs to be at least one of every five answers.  If you want to do it for all thirty, you will have thirty most impressive entries!

Here’s the list:

Continue reading Because I’m Just Crazy Enough To Do One More Thing