Tuesday, September 6, 2011


In this brave new world of indie publishing, obviously there will be many more stories published then there were under the old system. They will be written by writers in various stages of development and with wildly varying degrees of flair. We all know it's inevitable.

Readers and critics may be more understanding then we think. We've at least got enthusiasm and passion going for us, and people may pick up on that. Hey, slush could become fashionable. It might even become an area of study.

Stranger things have happened. If things do turn out that way, remember—you learned about it here first.

I can think of at least one precedent for my prediction—The Eye of Argon

But I digress.

In my home genre of science fiction, there have been many tides of fashion over the years. I'm betting we'll soon be revisiting a lot of them.

For example, once there was something called New Wave. In its heyday (the mid-to-late-1960s and the early 1970s) it indeed seemed novel and exciting. I won't attempt to define it, exactly, but there was a certain psychedelic stream-of consciousness aesthetic to a lot of it, and literary pretensions absolutely abounded—but they were good-hearted pretensions, all in all, and a lot of good stuff got published. Some writers were pigeonholed as New Wave whether they embraced the movement or not (which was probably good for them commercially), but others felt left out who needn't have doubted their own coolness. It was a heady time.

There are probably at least a few writers who still wish to mine that particular vein of ore. And now they can all be published.

Then there was that whole "Del Rey Books fantasy gravy train" back in the 1980s. That was when Tolkien-style fantasy became viable as a separate genre in its own right (to the point where the Science Fiction Writers of America changed their name to the Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, thus cleverly keeping their acronym), due mainly to the vision of one Judy-Lynn Del Rey, who was surely as influential an editor in her own time as John W. Campbell was in his.

Even now a boatload of fantasy writers are doubtless waiting in the wings—including some younger ones inspired by Tolkien's timeless tale who missed that early-80s tsunami of stuff the first time around—and they're all hoping we'll love them. Some of them could even attain their desire.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Cyberpunk at this point, but I'm durned if I have a lot to say about it. On the whole, I think it took itself too seriously, but I have to acknowledge the sheer brilliance of William Gibson, and the Cyberpunk aesthetic has certainly been an influential one, even on me—George's databand in Saviors of the Galaxy owes something to Cyberpunk, I think (although I first encountered the concept of 'jacking in' in Samuel R, Delany's Nova, way back in the New Wave era). But I have to admit I resisted reading Cyberpunk solely for the sake of its supposed importance. Which probably means that I missed out on some good stuff.

Might there yet be a few Cyberpunk authors out there hoping to wow us all with their visions?  What do you think?

I'll give one final example of an SF trend (though I could probably think of others): Starting in the early 1960s there was a vogue for something you might call Science Fantasy. Examples would include Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight series, Ursula K. LeGuin's first novel Rocannon's World, many of Andre Norton's novels including the Witch World series, Leigh Brackett's Ginger Star trilogy, and Frank Herbert's Dune series.

There. I've finally gotten around to what I actually wanted to talk about. I don't know how fashionable Science Fantasy might be at the moment, but it's the sort of thing I want to write. And I'll have more to say on the topic in my next installment.

Thanks for dropping by.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Writing as a career

Fred Pohl once remarked; "The good news about writing as a career is that the income curve is asymptotic. The bad news is that it starts at zero." It wasn't till the early '90s that I started making enough money to actually live on and support my family—Lois McMaster Bujold, in an interview that appeared on Baen.com

I'm sharing this quote because it touches on the careers of two people in the topmost rank of my pantheon of admirable writers.

Frederik Pohl, in his memoir The Way the Future Was, recounted that he felt like a failure during the first year of his first marriage, but that certain things he wrote that year continued to earn money over the course of his lifetime, and that in retrospect he realized he'd spent his time more wisely then he knew.

Ms. Bujold informs us it was almost a decade before she could earn a comfortable living as a writer. Yet I can't think of another SF author in the last thirty years who has had a more enviable career than she has.

One thing they have in common is that neither of them gave up.

Food for thought, that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Look to the Future, part 3

Okay, so I'm a published writer now, in the sense that my first book is available to the public.

So far, it has sold just one copy on Smashwords (so you could also say I've already made my first buck in this business). And as of midnight tonight [this particular paragraph was written on Tuesday, August 30], it will have been out for two whole weeks, officially.

But I didn't choose Smashwords because I expected a lot of sales there. I chose it because I was broke, and they're a free service.

And because of all the places they'll eventually distribute my book to. It's actually a pretty amazing deal they're offering.

They're very up front about your financial prospects with them, including the fact that their own retail operation is very small potatoes. 80% of your sales, they hasten to assure you right at the beginning, will come from retailers other than Smashwords itself. Keep your expectations low, they caution you, Many authors never even sell a single book, they point out.

Fair enough. But still--I'm human enough to have entertained fantasies of being an immediate breakout phenomenon with unprecedented sales right off the bat.

Sigh. Okay. So that didn't happen.

But my book has now qualified for the Smashwords Premium Catalogue, which means it will soon be distributed to Barnes and Noble, the Apple iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, and--by the end of the year--Amazon. And then there's Stanza, which seems to be a way for people to read books on their cell phones--not that I can see why anybody would want to do that, but if Stanza can earn me a few extra bucks I will gladly go along with the gag.

None of this stuff is totally instantaneous. My book has already appeared at Diesel ebooks, but so far it isn't available anywhere else (besides Smashwords), although it's been distributed to Kobo and should show up there any minute now.

I looked at my Smashwords account page earlier this evening, and my book won't be distributed to anybody else, though, until the end of this week.

So. Not instantaneous, but not unreasonably delayed, either. In my opinion.

Reports of sales won't be instantaneous either, and neither will royalty statements. But Smashwords does pay out royalties four times a year, which is much better than traditional NYC-based print publishing ever managed. And likewise, data about sales seems to be on a much faster track than it generally was with traditional publishing.

As fascinated as I am by all this stuff, none of it is really under my direct control. So what am I doing to secure my future?

Writing like mad, that's what.

Anyway, I'm planning to write like mad. Just as soon as I give my trailer a good cleaning. And wash my truck.

Oh, and I mustn't neglect maintaining my presence in the blogoshpere. Gotta keep my name out there, and all that. And there sure are a lot of interesting blog convos going on right now.

Maybe too many.

Still. The best way for me to move forward is to write, publish, and repeat--a formula I first encountered on Kris Rusch's website. So that's what I'm going to be doing.

Soon. Any day now.

At some point I'll also take the opportunity to learn more about computer art and graphics, because I do feel compelled to keep on creating my own covers.

Likewise, there will come a time when I'll need to embrace learning what it really means to be publisher as well as writer. Smashwords is certainly my home base for now, but somewhere down the line it might be advantageous for me to deal with all the various sales outlets directly.

And then there's the POD option. CreateSpace or Lightning Source? I'll need to check that out, because eventually I also want to offer a hardcover print version of my book, on Amazon, at least, since POD makes it so very possible for indie writers like me to do so.

And one of my own personal priorities will be marketing to libraries. How to do that? I'm confident that the quality of a POD book these days will be more than acceptable to potential buyers. But how exactly does one go about cracking the library market?

Wow, I've still got a lot to learn.

But I won't really need to know how to create a spiffy cover, or to make my hardcover edition attractive to librarians, until I have written--at the least--two more actual additional books.

So. Write, publish, and repeat. Let the buyers and readers find you in their own good time. And let the chips fall where they may.

That's the strategy I'll be embracing.

For now.

Just as soon as I can finish cleaning out my truck.