Monday, July 25, 2011

On change in general and the closing of Borders in particular

I'm saddened by the closing of Borders. It seems to me they were a beautifully conceived operation. But unexpected changes took them unawares.

Tell me about it.

It's ironic, but speaking as an aspiring science-fiction writer, change has never been my friend. In the 1980s, when I began seriously contemplating writing as a profession, I used to purchase copies of Locus on a regular basis (if you're an SF writer and you're not familiar with it, you really should be).

In those bygone days of yore, I would often read about promising new writers getting advances in the low five figures.

(The lowest five-figure possibility is $10,000.00 nothing to sneeze at, even today!)

I was greatly heartened by this information. I assumed the situation would remain stable, awaiting the day I could get my act together.

Alas, it was not to be.

There's no need to rehash the whole sad story here. I don't even understand it how all happened. Suffice it to say that advances grew smaller and the number of places where you could submit unagented manuscripts shrank steadily.

You can still catch a break. J. K. Rowling did. But the chances are against it. You'd think nurturing new writers would be considered good business practice, but apparently it's not a priority these days. Everybody's got other things on their minds.

A lot of us have had blinders on, with no choice but to hope for the best. But it's hard to ignore the truth. A crap shoot when nobody's rooting for you is a fool's game.

I'm gonna miss Borders. The publishers will miss them too. Fewer places to buy books means fewer books will be sold. They've hardly started to feel the repercussions, I'm sure.

Another thing I did in the 1980s was purchase all of Robert A. Heinlein's YA novels, the ones I had loved in my youth, in paperback. I got 'em at a grocery store in south Tampa. They were there to buy, so I bought 'em.

You see, it used to be that you could find SF books anyplace they sold paperbacks and magazines. Then things changed, and there was a preponderance of Star Wars and Star Trek books. I don't know how those decisions happen, but that's the way it was.

That's not the way it is now. Now there's nothing. My local grocery store in Hendersonville, North Carolina has a little clone of a big box bookstore in it, half an aisle with books and magazines and chairs to sit on. Paperbacks and hardcovers and magazines, and a nice little wood parquet floor. Somebody spent some money on that setup.

But there aren't any SF books there. Or SF magazines, for that matter. Just top selling writers like Stephen King and Catherine Coulter. That's all you can find there.

No mysteries or westerns, either. You know, I kind of miss westerns.

(There's not even a section for westerns on smashwords. Oh, I know, there's a section for historical fiction. But still.)

I miss record stores, too. I miss browsing through racks of CDs. Fuck that, I miss browsing through racks of vinyl LPs.
Those days are long gone.

Borders had a respectable selection of CDs. That's another reason to miss them.

I'm not up on how music consumers get their fix these days. Digital downloads, I presume, but I've never learned how that works. I just know the world has moved on.

I remember being absolutely stunned when the big record store chains closed down. The closing of Borders is just a new version of that changeover. The world has moved on again.

But indie musicians and indie writers now have unprecedented access to their audiences. That's a good thing. I recognize that, even though I still feel like a stranger in a strange land.

It's called serendipity. Nobody planned it. Nobody said hey, let's give all those creative people a break.

But until they figure out a way to close the floodgates--and I'm sure they're busy thinking about it--we've got a window of opportunity.

Let's take advantage of that.

Even as we shed a tear for the way things used to be.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

More on the "Tsunami of Crap"

I saw that piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. The one that got Rusch & Smith so fired up. I found it an enjoyable read, actually.

I pretty much agreed with him all the way down the line. I just don't see what all the fuss is about.

The title was the most irksome aspect, and, as Ms. Rusch speculated, it might have been foisted on him by an editor.

Otherwise I thought it was an affectionate and humorous look at indie publishing.

I'm aware that somebody stumbling on this blog might think I'm delusional. A long-time unpublished writer is about to release some of his old stories that never sold in an e-book with a goofy-looking cover, and he's all excited about it. He seems to be expecting good things to come of it.

Yep. That sums it up.

I'm one of the people traditional publishing has "protected" you from.

I thought the comparison to American Idol was spot on. Do I really need to point out that it's a popular show with lots of fans who have no wish to be "protected" from it?

And some talented folks have gotten a start there. The same thing will happen with Indie writers.

And I might even be one of them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My first typewriter

It's been more than 45 years since I got my first typewriter.

I was maybe eight years old, and I received it, I believe, for Christmas one year.

It was made by the Marx toy company, and it was called a 'Marxwriter'--but it was no toy. It was a fully funtional typewriter and I wrote many a story on it.

Well, I guess I should be honest here--I started many a story on it. In those days I had a habit of not finishing any of the projects I began. Honestly, I don't think I knew how.

I stall have some of the pages I wrote on it. Time permitting, I may even share some of them here--they're pretty funny.

Oh, the Marxwriter only typed in caps, but it did have a shift key and all kinds of characters and symbols. Way more than a regular typewriter.

I recall that thing with a great deal of fondness. What a lovely present for my parents to give me! Thanks, Mom and Dad.

When I got to be about thirteen I read somewhere that editors wouldn't take manuscripts typed in caps, so I stopped using it and started borrowing my Dad's.

I recall that now with sorrow. I wish I'd remained faithful to that little machine.  I mean, it's not like I was submitting anything anywhere anyway--in fact, it was right around then that I stopped writing altogether; I didn't take it up again until I was almost thirty.

I wish I still had my Marxwriter. It would be an honored, treasured possession.

Goodbye, little Marxwriter, and thanks for the memories.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting there

There's a bit of a learning curve involved, but I'm slowly getting there.

My first book is in a Works word processing file at present. It's all one font, all one size, and all justified to the left.

As I understand it, this will be important when I transfer it to Word.

I'll eventually be able to center the story titles, put them in boldface, and have them be in a slightly larger font size. Other than that, I'm keeping it simple.

I tweaked the cover a bit today; I made the graphics darker, slimmed down the little aliens and gave them some upper body mass and made their faces less cartoonish (not that it matters much at the size most people will view them at) and I put the small tree on the left behind the saucer. Made it darker, too, which also helps make it clear that the tree is some distance away from the larger one. And of course it makes the saucer more prominent; in the first version it looks like it's hovering over the water.

What's left for me to do is to read the smashwords style guide carefully, and also a book about MS Word that I've already checked out from the library. (I do all my writing in the Works word processor but I'm going to use Word to prepare the final file.) And to transcribe most of one story, and to finish another one. Then upload it to Smashwords. It should all happen this week.

The title, as you can see, is Incident on Sugar Sand Road and other stories. The blurb is already written.

The contents of the book will be:

Saviors of the Galaxy
This is a condensed version of the first section of my upcoming novel of the same name. This will be my ongoing series, about a mixed crew of sentients who travel around the galaxy in an old starship.

Incident on Sugar Sand Road
This one is humorous; it's set in 1989, the year it was written, so it's something of a period piece. I sent it to Omni (yeah, I told you it was old!) and got a nice letter back from one Robert K. J. Kilheffer saying that he did find it humorous but that it wasn't right for Omni, and that it was too long.  That's the only feedback I've ever gotten from an editor. Ever. And yes, the version I'm publishing is the drastically shortened version.  It was rejected by most of the other SF magazines before I wised up and took his advice. I even submitted it to Century, a magazine Mr. Kilheffer also edited, and he was kind enough to say he remembered it and still liked it, but that it wasn't right for Century either. Oh, well! I've always had a certain fondness for it. So now it gets to be the title story of a collection.

Farewell Message
This is from the opening chapter of a novel I wrote in the early nineties. I finished it but never submitted it anywhere; I'm not sure why. I'll be taking another look at it soon to see if I want to publish it now. (I love that I suddenly have that option and that freedom!) The premise I actually still find interesting, so it's still alive somewhere in my writer's heart. The title I slapped on it was Moons of Exile, and that's probably the title it will appear under. The only copy I have access to is on paper, so this is the one I'll be transcribing.

Deus Ex Machina
This is set in the same universe as Saviors of the Galaxy. I think an early version of it may still be at Forward Motion.

Holy Warfare
This has languished on the hard drive of my old computer for almost a decade, unfinished. It's the one that starts with the explosion! This is the only actual writing left for me to do--come up with an ending for it.

Three of these stories have appeared in rough draft on the Forward Motion website for writers. A lovely place, that.

So. Like I say. Getting there.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Here's the cover to my first ebook

Hopefully it will be appearing on Smashwords sooner rather than later...

So what do you think? Should
I lose the little purple guys? Feel free to comment...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why some people are in such a dither about indie publishing

It's exciting that we now have the opportunity to share our writing with the whole entire planet.

But it's hardly revolutionary.  I mean, for many years now the world wide web has been making it possible for folks to publish web pages about their cats, or vintage color TVs, or the merits of various regional beers--or whatever else sprang to their merry little minds.  You could spend the rest of your life reading all that shit...

What's different is that now we can charge for the products of our fevered brains. That's what's gotten some folks so upset.

It's all about the money, honey...

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Wacky World of E-books

It's early days, yet.

The presence of E-books in popular culture is only going to increase.

As a science-fiction writer, I suppose it's part of my job description to make predictions.  So here goes:

For one thing--speaking as a baby boomer who's old enough to remember betamax video recorders and quadraphonic sound--they haven't really reached the typical mainstream consumer yet.

Well, there could be varying descriptions of the TMC, I suppose, but trust me--a majority of TMCs are waiting for two things right now: a compatible universal format for all e-books, and more affordable hardware.

I predict those things are coming.  Then we'll see the E-book phenomenon really take off.

And yet, E-book sales at Amazon are already greater than old-fashioned book sales!

If you're a writerthe revolution has arrived. It's sort of obvious. 

But some people don't welcome its coming.  They think (and rightfully so) that if anybody can publish a book just because the want to, that lots of people will. 

And that most of these books will suck.  As J. A. Konrath says, they're worried about a "tsunami of Crap".

To an extent they're right. Let's admit it--a lot of self-published fiction won't be very good (just trying to face the facts here, folks--this doesn't apply to you!).

So what? 

So there are enormous new opportunities for readers and writers, that's what.  I personally fail to see the downside.

I've always felt a lot of traditionally published books were sucky crap anyway.  Why should e-publishing be any different?

I love what Kris Rusch has to say about this:   "The slush pile isn’t some growing, breathing, horrible thing to be avoided.  It’s a tower of hope, of dreams".

It used to be editors who looked at the slush; then they stopped, and supposedly the job was passed along to literary agents.  But now most of them don't look at it either.

Basically, nobody's been looking at it.  Which is why it's so damn hard to break into publishing these days.

So now the readers get the chance to wade through our slush.

They don't have to.  But some of them will.

And I say, thank God somebody's finally taking an interest.

Readers are people who like some books but dislike others.  Editors are people who dislike some books but (hopefully) like others.  Oh, and they get paid for it.  That's all.  End of story.

Maybe somebody out there has written a series of novels about a Vampire Starship Captain.  And every editor who's seen it has passed on it.  (Some of them might have gotten a kick out of it privately, but passed on it anyway because--well, let's not go into all that just now, okay?)

But there might be a few readers out there who would enjoy something like that.  Enough so that maybe now some new writer can make an honest living, and a bunch of readers can scratch a peculiar itch most folks don't have.

Win/win for everybody!

I mean, what's the harm?

Gotta love it...

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's like having a new career, all of a sudden

It's the career I've always dreamed about, too.  Writing for a living.

Dean Wesley Smith recently blogged about the amount of time it takes to write four novels a year.

It comes to something like an hour and twenty minutes a day.

I'm a little slower than Dean, probably--and I do love tinkering and revising, which he sort of advises against--but I imagine I could do three novels a year if I spent two hours a day at it.  Probably.  Even factoring all the time it takes to clean my computer screen.

The thing is, with indie publishing, it's a done deal.  If I just apply the seat of my pants to the surface of the chair and the tips of my fingers to the keyboard, I will produce a product to be offered for sale right alongside Stephen King and John Grisham.

That's heady stuff.

I can write whatever I want.  However much I want.  I can write utter crap and put it out, with no one to stop me.

No one to stop me.  That's an amazing thing.

I've no intention of writing utter crap, by the way.  Just in case you were wondering.

No, if I hope to receive an income from this work, it strikes me that I'd better do the best damned job I can possibly do.

Now, I'm not going to make a habit of blogging much about my personal life here, but today I'll make an exception because it's germane to my topic.

I'm in my late fifties, unemployed, and I live in a trailer park in North Carolina where the newest trailer is well past thirty years old.  I can't afford internet access so I use the computers at the public library.  I get food stamps and unemployment but I'm behind on my rent, and believe me, it's a source of anxiety.  I have 8 cats that I love a lot, but when one of them gets sick I can't afford to take them to the vet--I was going to call the humane society and ask if there was someplace I could take Sugar when she was sick, and if there had been nothing available I'd have tried to work out something with a veterinarian--but obviously, there aren't any guarantees in a situation like mine.

I used to make a sort of modest lower-class living as a ceramic tile mechanic before the economy imploded and the housing market went to hell.  These days I can't even get on at Wal-Mart--I tried.  My last job was working in a factory for minimum wage, and as an English-speaking person I was in the minority.

I've been writing for years, and I've watched in dismay as the number of places you could send an unsolicited manuscript steadily shrank.  And now, as I understand it, the world of traditional publishing is in such a state of upheaval that I might as well not bother with them anyway just now, even if I were so inclined.

So is it any wonder that I greet the world of indie publishing with a great deal of joy and hope?

I've thought long and hard and carefully how I should proceed, and it feels right to me that my first e-book will contain five pieces of my best short fiction, the oldest of which was written in 1989, at an introductory price.

I love it that I'm free to make a decision like that!

I think it's very possible that my income from the book will at least match what I was making at the factory--and I'll be working three or four hours a day sitting down, instead of twelve hours on my feet.

Why wouldn't  I want to be an indie writer?