October 31, 2010 flash fictionApparently Laurence is having problems with the 100 Word Story server, but goshdarnit, this week's challenge is holiday based. So here it is, folks - my Halloween 100 Word Story. You can listen to the audio below using the player, or download it from this link.
Sit down. I don't care if you have fangs, or claws, or fur where you shouldn't. Sit down. Have some milk.
I imagine this isn't the response you expected. Cookie? Sorry, I don't have any raw childflesh.
Would it make you feel better if I screamed?
I'm not going to. You don't scare me, Mister Monster-Man.
There's this girl, Sally. I like her, but she's way cooler than me. So I sent her a card saying how I feel.
I got a letter back. I haven't opened it.
I'm more scared of what's inside than I am of you.
October 31, 2010I know I've said cons are too short, but this time it's not because I'm going back to the "day job" on Monday.
Every time I go to a con I meet the most interesting people. I'll meet one to three people, we'll spend a significant bit of the con talking to each other, and it'll start a great new con friendship (usually because everyone's living far enough away from each other). Alethea Kontis and Elaine Bloser - who I met at sequential Millennicons - have stories in Dark Futures1. I could list a lot more people - Jim Hines, Paul Popiel, Kathy Watness, Addie King, Nick Winks, and gosh-darn near everyone from the GenCon Writer's Symposium. 2
And I keep meeting more interesting people. And the people I've already met also keep coming to cons. I've not been able to walk down the hall at World Fantasy 2010 without seeing someone I know.
And that's why I want conventions to be longer. Because I know I've not spent as much time with as many of these cool people as I should have - it's just been impossible. I'm pretty sure that there's several people I meant to talk to and just haven't, through nobody's fault. I don't want to schedule appointments - it's bloody pretentious, just for starters - but I'm not sure how to navigate this particular social situation.
And there's a sub-problem that I'm equally clueless with: I usually go to cons on my own - my group at GenCon all game, I go to the Writer's Symposium, and we rarely see each other. Other than one event, we have no set plans together and it's all good. But as I meet other people (or talk to friends), sometimes the people they were with start to get uncomfortable or upset. Sometimes it's just group vs. individual tension, once or twice it's gotten to the point where con-drama almost ensued.
I don't want con-drama. 3
So here's my problems, folks:
1. How do you keep up with friends at cons while still staying open to meeting cool new people without scheduling every minute?
2. What tactics are there (for me or the folks in groups) when group dynamics change? (Or if my description above was horribly unclear, let me know!)
Leave your suggestions in the comments. Please.
1 Why yes, I do try to promote books that include friends.
2 And these are only some of the people I've seen at World Fantasy and known before now - there are lots more.
3 I have enough regular drama that I don't want.
October 29, 2010Here it is:
Pretty exciting, right? This is a huge change for me - I usually schedule cons so that I am continually moving. This time, though... I'm not. I've never been to a World Fantasy con before, and have no idea what to expect. I know there's going to be lots of con-friends there whom I don't get to see very often, so I hope to spend time with them. In some ways, I'm almost thinking that this will be a relaxacon for me.
While I'm not scheduled for readings, if you're there and ask to hear "Kicking the Habit" from Hungry For Your Love, there's a good chance I'll read it (or another story) to you. :)
October 29, 2010There's a few projects I've gotten behind on. The biggest one is the Freelancer Page. I meant to have it up before World Fantasy, and obviously, that's not happening. It will be up next week sometime, including a better system for getting your info included. If you want your information included, check out what I'm looking for and toss me your information!
October 28, 2010Earlier this year, the IT department (called CATs) at my university decided it was time to crack down. They forced folks with Windows (and maybe Mac) laptops to install a program to monitor thier access to the wireless network.
I'm guessing that having the normal IT level of spying control wasn't enough. Those of us smart enough to use tools like HTTPSEverywhere or TOR or even a half-decent torrent client can encrypt our data. But any program living on your machine could get at it before it was encrypted.
Why were such measures necessary? The rationale was those bad and crazy bittorrent folks. Ooooh. Ahh. Wave the "pirate flag" and get everyone to install your crapware on their computers.
This policy went into effect in August. It's now the end of October, plenty of time for the pipes of the Intarwebs to be cleaned of those nasty pirates using up all the bandwidth.
At least, until today.
Recently, the university has been experiencing significant slow downs in the speed of our Internet connection. After further investigation, it seems that increased use of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, and also video streaming websites such as YouTube have contributed to this problem.
Solutions to improve the situation are currently being discussed.
Oh. Now it's YouTube. (And presumably Netflix.) And those eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil Social Networking sites with the MyBook and the FaceSpace with the pictures of the kegging and the drinking.
I mean, really? Facebook is putting a bandwidth strain on them? Sure, the Flash interface for Backyard Monsters spikes my CPU, but not my bandwidth. I just don't get how these sites are crippling an entire university network.
This is assuming that it really is crippling an entire university network. A much more plausible theory is that the CATs team is cleaning up "undesirable" sites. Good luck with that, yo. The students have heard of 3g networks, even if you haven't.
But let's presume that CATs isn't engaged in some kind of craptastic (and inefficient) cleansing of the 'net to preserve the innocence of our new students. Let's presume that it's a real problem.
Maybe the vaunted IT folks at Wright State could have bothered to use arcane intarweb incantations, such as Google "bandwidth limiting QOS router". Which would, of course, solve the damn problem without restricting anyone's web browsing.
October 28, 2010For the Win, Cory Doctorow's latest novel, is easily the best of his latest works. These three books - Little Brother, Makers, and now For The Win - are all centered around an issue or cause. While all three are engaging explorations of the issues (privacy and freedom, the nature to work, and now, unions and organizing along with the economics of MMORPGs), For the Win easily has the most empathetic and fleshed-out characters of the three.
It is a good story of global organization against seemingly insurmountable odds, with smart and fierce children demanding thier rights in a world designed to take it all away from them. It is also an expose of ... well, capitalism.
For the Win doesn't offer up socialism as a panacea, but it does point the way toward sustainable win-win solutions instead of zero-sum aggression. It also illustrates - and quite clearly - some complicated economic principles. (For example, the gold standard was always a farce, and just as silly as our current economic system.)
These small infodumps - while extremely good, so far as infodumps go - are still big masses of information, and they detract a bit from the flow of the story. They're necessary for the story, so it's not mere polemic, but I still wish there was a somewhat elegant way to put these bits in the story.
There's also a few returning character archetypes that Doctorow's used - most notably, the "bad guy" who realizes he hates being a bad guy at the end of the book.
This book was especially powerful to me, since I actually make money (though a small amount) in Second Life. The idea that those economies are as important (if not more important) than many other "real" ones is a concept I'm well prepared to embrace.
Despite the few flaws, the rest of the book comes along quite nicely (and quickly). Definitely the best of these three issue books, and perhaps one of the most immediately relevant.
As usual, Cory's books are available on his website for free as well.
October 27, 2010"Will you send me the documents today."
The period confused me. That was supposed to be a question mark, right? When I asked a friend who teaches a business writing course, they told me it annoyed them too... but was technically correct.
"It's called a polite command," they said. "It's a command, so there's a period, but it's supposed to soften the language."
I thought about it for a second, then realized that I deal with the same thing on a regular basis. One of my supervisors has a habit of saying "Would you care to take on this extra work?"
"No, not really," I say.
I can see the annoyance on their face. "Well, do it anyway," my supervisor says.
"Wait, I thought you were asking me," I reply. "I'll do the work - but I don't really want to."
"I was just being polite about it," my supervisor says.
The thing is, this so-called polite command is not polite. Fundamentally, it's simply obscuring the power relationships between people. If you can only answer in one way, it's not a request - it's simply a command, no matter how much you try to phrase it in the form of a question. [insert Jeopardy theme music here.] It's something that parenting manuals teach you as well.
Saying "Do you want to clean your room now?" to a child when you are actually telling them they must clean their room is setting the child and you up for conflict. If the child does not want to clean their room, they will be honest and not do it. The child then gets upset when you are angry that they did not clean thier room - because you asked them. If the child cannot truly choose to say "no", then do not offer it as a question.It's a pretty simple guideline - and one that's amazingly effective. It still lets you be polite as well. You don't have to be rude when giving a command. We already have something to soften a command. You just have to use the magic word.
"Please do this extra work."
"Please send me the documents today."
"Please clean your room."
I am well aware that "please" began as "If it please you" or somesuch - rather akin to "Do you mind..." or "Will you..." However, in our current usage, "please" alone does not turn a sentence into a question. So maybe this is all entymological shift... but as a social scientist, I have to wonder why the shift is happening now. Why do we feel the need to make our questions into commands? And what does that say about our way of life today?
October 26, 2010 flash fictionThis is part of the Weekly Challenge. Hear (and read and vote) at the Weekly Challenge website here. You can hear my story alone with the player below, or use this link if the player's borked.
The cabbages gained sentience on a Thursday.
They conquered the Earth by Saturday.
Some humans simply went mad, unable to deal with the vegetable voices in their supermarkets, in their stomachs. Other humans required more emphatic persuasion to submit.
A cabbage moving at high speed suffers little damage when impacting a human skull.
The skull is not so lucky.
That Sunday, mass funerals were held for the victims of coleslaw violence outside of every KFC. All countries, led by cabbage rulers, declared peace.
At least the world was finally in harmony.
Until the next Thursday, when the rutabagas started talking.
October 22, 2010 miscellaneousBlue-on-blue tears in the rain
I recently had my son watch Dune - the David Lynch version 1 - as an object lesson. No, not a lesson about how to walk across sand dunes (lest you be eaten by a huge frickin' worm which Kiddo has dubbed "AWESOME"), but about what it means to be human.
I'm not species-centric when I say "human". I agree with the Bene Gesserit premise that it's very possible to have people (homo sapiens sapiens) who aren't human. Likewise, I'm pretty sure that there's at least some examples of pan troglodytes, or whales, or even dogs, that are human. And while I tend to lean more towards the Replicant-detecting empathy-side of defining humans 2, discipline and abstraction of future rewards is pretty high up there too.
Especially when there's a whining boy who won't do his homework. 3
This Sunday past, I didn't have a lot of discipline. Sure, I had reasons - I'd slept poorly the night before, I tend to get distractable when the weather's changing, and so on - but the sheer fact of it is that I simply didn't accomplish the things I meant to. Largely, it was an ass-in-chair problem. Sometimes, I simply can't work well at home - but my productivity soars when I'm at university, or the coffee shop, or the library, or even just sitting in my van at a park. And that reminded me of a panel at one of the cons I attended this summer - I really don't remember which at this point.
A newbie author - perhaps even still in the "wannabe" category - asked how we dealt with the distractions. The interwebs, games, and so on. I remember another panelist's answer:
"If you don't have the discipline to ignore those things, then you're not really a writer."Something tells me that the panelist would've been right there with the Bene Gesserit, a gom jabbar on thier finger. The same something that saw the newbie questioner's face fall, and the sudden self-doubt washing in.
The thing is, it's not about how long you can keep your hand in the box. Oh, yes, self-discipline and empathy are both vital characteristics toward being human. But a human - a smart human - plans ahead to avoid having to endure the box at all. Sure, it's great to have the willpower to avoid drinking - but no matter how much willpower an alcoholic's got, visiting a liquor store is still a bad idea. It's great to have the willpower to quit smoking, but hanging out in the smoking areas afterward is just kind of dumb.
So you identify your weaknesses. I frequent spots where the wifi is spotty or non-existent, eliminating the temptation when I need to focus. I use editors like Q10 and crossplatform jDarkroom when I need to just write. I set timers, avoid games, video, and web browsing when I've got a deadline coming up. I use headphones and fast music.
All those techniques reinforce my discipline. A simplistic, even animal way of looking at them is to call them "crutches". A human way of looking at them is to call them "tools".
There is no shame in tools. They allow us to achieve so many things we would not have been able to achieve without them.
And perhaps, one day, we will no longer need our weirding module.
1 Because the atmosphere of the work is better, IMHO. Avoid the extended version if at all possible - the added voiceovers might explain more, but they really cut into the mood. It effectively (for example) eliminated all of Irulan's lines... and that opening voiceover is one of my favorite memories of the work.
2 Yes, Blade Runner is next for him.
3 Is there a better excuse than opposition to homework to expose Kiddo to classic sci-fi?
And yes, it's been done in LEGO:
October 21, 2010I've been getting a few unsolicited books in the mail (and e-mail) because I'm a member of the Horror Writers Association - meaning that I can vote in the Stokers. If you're one of the possible nominees for that (or Nebula nominees, for next year, since I'm in SFWA as well) and are thinking of sending me a book, this message is for you:
I prefer ePub or Kindle formatted eBooks. PDF is acceptable, but not so great. If you really want to send me a paper book, you can, but be warned that I'll tend to read the eBooks first.
(For those interested, I use a Sony PRS-300 and Calibre, and convert everything to ePub before reading it.)
October 21, 2010Er - not the picture. That's my kid last year. That's a good costume idea (especially when he procrastinates until the last second).
I was talking with an acquaintance last week who told me about the costume idea he & his friends came up with.
"I'm going to dress up as 1960's Michael Jackson and my friends will dress up as Michael in the 70's, 80's, and 90's!"
He seemed very enthusiastic about the costume idea.
"Um," I said, "aren't all of you Caucasians?"
"Yeah," he said without a trace of nastiness, "we're going to have to put on some black makeup on our faces... well, at least up until the 90's."
I'm serious. No trace of nastiness at all. He seemed genuinely shocked when I suggested that going in blackface might, y'know, have roots and a long history of racism. There's even a more in-depth article at Wikipedia. (Note: Racist illustrations from period works are at both those links.)
If nothing else, I think this is a perfect example of when racist behaviors can be perpetuated without racist intent. I'm decent enough acquaintances with this guy to say that he's not an overt racist - but the costume he's going to wear is. The effect on a viewer is not going to be any different because of his intent.
Resist Racism has had plenty of experience with this stuff. What are your experiences?
October 20, 2010[Full disclosure: I personally know Jim C. Hines and have done work for him.]
Red Hood's Revenge is the third in Jim Hines' "Princess Novels". I used to describe this series as "Charlie's Angels meets Disney Princesses, but with plot." I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do that anymore - simply because this series has grown strong enough that such comparisons don't do justice to Jim's books.
Sure, the three main characters - Danielle, Talia, and Snow - are based on Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. But they - just as with Roudette (Red Riding Hood) - are not the saccharine helpless maids marketed by the mouse. They are fully realized characters set in a rich world of thier own. Red Hood's Revenge is inspired by these fables the same way that O Brother Where Art Thou is inspired by the Odyessy. Familiar elements (a red cloak, a spell of sleeping) show up, but in a fully imagined original world.
I cannot recommend Jim's books strongly enough. They are a great blend of epic fantasy elements with fully realized characters and setting, while dodging the problems (and weight) of a typical fantasy epic.
One small note: Issues of sexuality and romance are addressed in this book. The action takes place "offscreen", so to speak. If it were a movie, I'd rate it PG, and I'm comfortable with my nearly 13-year-old reading it.
You can get the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite bookstore.
October 19, 2010Why am I not doing NaNoWriMo this year?
The short answer: I'm doing Personal Thesis Writing Month. Unfortunately, PoTheWriMo just sounds... wrong.
The long answer: It doesn't serve my goals.
I've got somewhere around 30,000 words (more than half of NaNo's goal) featuring two characters I really enjoy. I do not have more than half (or even a third, given my genre's trend towards 90k wordcount novels) of a novel, and I know the difference.
NaNoWriMo does a lot of things really well for a lot of people, and that's great. I don't have anything against the project; it definitely serves to get a lot of people past the hump of not writing. For me, turning out a novel in 30 days would leave me with a lot of words and exhausted burnout. That's not a goal that would be useful for me; I couldn't keep up that pace.
I got to see Tobias Buckell again over the weekend. He taught "The Building Blocks of a Novel" at my local library. He reminded me that a hundred thousand word novel is only 500 words each business day. Two pages a day. No weekends or holidays.
Sure, I'd heard that before, but at this point I know I have the skill to do two pages (or more) a day, just during lunch breaks.
And that would still leave evenings for my thesis. Score!
October 18, 2010 flash fictionYou know the drill: Vote at the Weekly Challenge website where you can read and hear the other entries. You can hear my entry with the player below, or if it's borked (like in some feedreaders), you can download the MP3 directly.
Here's an additional twist: This week's challenge topic is the word Cabbage. Come up with a 100 word story of your own, record it (or not), and send it in to the challenge. Full details at the 100 Word Stories website.
Angie arranged the dolls around the table. "Teatime!" she yelled.
Ellie held his denim trunk still as Angie poured imaginary tea. Bunny's plush ears did not twitch. R.A. (Esquire) flopped his stuffed head to the side, red yarn hair draping his shoulder.
"Raggedy." Angie stared at R.A. "Have some tea."
R.A. picked up the faded teacup. He glanced at Ann's severed head in the corner. She'd guessed wrong. He took a drink of pretend tea.
"Oolong," he guessed, mouth dry.
Angie smiled. "Yes!"
R.A. sighed in relief.
"From what country?" Angie asked.
R.A. swore Ann's button eyes winked in anticipation.
October 15, 2010It's nearly Halloween, and what better time for a free taste (groan) of zombies and love?
Yup, folks, I got permission to put a promotional bit of my story "Kicking the Habit" online as a promotional teaser for Hungry For Your Love, the anthology of zombie romance. I will note that my excerpt (and story) are work-safe, but some of them are a bit more risky.
Follow the big hulking zombie to the promo!
(If you'd like, there's also a promo teaser from Stacey Graham's story "Eye of the Beholder" at her blog. I'll update as other authors post their teasers as well!)
October 14, 2010 dungeons and dragonsMatt and I have debated the merits of the D&D alignment system for years. It is simplistic. Everyone's sorted into nine categories, based on the categories of Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic and Good/Evil. (You can read more about it and take a little quiz to see what alignment you are here.)
It's actually a pretty broad system, and accurately describes many basic archetypes. Knight in shining armor saving village from being destroyed? No problem. Ruthless magical overlord? No problem.
The system fails in complex situations. A lawful good paladin, where the rightful king is plotting to tax peasants into starvation? Er... the paladin's lawful, so they're supposed to follow the law. But taxing peasants into starvation isn't good, is it? There's all sorts of cultural and social assumptions bundled up in here, which makes this decision doubly difficult. Add in a plot point that the peasants were going to revolt, and it's a deeply ambiguous situation.
There have been a number of "house rules" that work like software patches on this system. "Lawful good with XXXXXX tendencies", for example. Other players (and systems) have done away with alignments entirely.
I think that's a shame. I think each adult does have a kind of "default" moral compass. They differ from individual to individual, but it's there. Like alignment, that moral compass is also hard to shift. But the basic categories aren't quite enough.
So let's swap the order.
Instead of Lawful Good, maybe our paladin can be Good Lawful. (Think of every TV cop who does it by the book - unless it's going to cost someone's life.) Or Evil Chaotic (Maximum of selfishness and causing pain to others, but not so insane they do good things as well).
It's a thought. Your comments are, as always, welcomed.
October 14, 2010 miscellaneousThe Goth-o-Matic allows for customization! Lusting for salvation. Oh yeah...
So what's the coolest (yet silliest) goth thing you've ever seen?
the night falls as if slain by the sun, entwined are we.
the salvation for which you lust
flares once, then dies,
devoured by a velvet ebon nothingness.
all hope must surely perish.
your passion throbs no more.
how could you do this?
spirits surround us, crying,
save us from ourselves.
October 14, 2010 miscellaneousI created this poem. I think it reflects this week for me pretty well.
I am swimming in my own despair
my dark soul cries out but no one listens
the beginning of the end
i am lost and cast away from society
there is no life for me, only death
the clock is made of blood
intoxicated with blood
my head is like trent's it is a hole
i will show the world one day
Of course, by "created", I mean "clicked a link on a Bad Goth Poetry Generator". (I linked it above, in case you missed it.) For a much cooler kind of thing, check out this video from the group Hellsongs covering "Paranoid". I doubt you've ever heard it sung like this.
October 13, 2010Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not a "funny" book. It is entertaining as all get-out, but unlike, say "The Zen of Zombie", it has few jokes. What it does have is a fascinating alternate history, one where vampires were a driving force in shaping American culture and history - and the role that our 16th President had in eliminating it.
This book is written like the best (and most engaging) biographies, drawing from "source texts" and cunningly altered "historical photographs". It is compelling, combining a detailed history of the real-life Lincoln with a plausible secret shadow-world.
One potentially troubling detail - that in this alternate world, Lincoln does not oppose slavery solely for being slavery - is dealt with several times. Lincoln, the vampire hunter, finds slavery abhorrent all on its own; it is simply worse when it serves the ends of bloodsuckers.
I am rarely a fan of alternate histories; too often we see only the aftereffects of the differences. Here, because of the shadowy nature of the alternate world, we are able to discover it along with Lincoln, and it comes across much more plausibly.
I highly recommend this book to fans of vampires, urban fantasies, Lincoln, biographies, and especially those who enjoy the recent spate of novels that mash historical texts and modern horrors.
October 11, 2010 flash fictionYou know the deal. Vote at the Weekly Challenge, where you can read (and hear) the rest of the entries. You can listen to my story alone using the player below or this download link. And then be totally awesome.
Because you can.
(And yes, this is what happens when I read Slaughterhouse Five and watch Children of Earth in the same week.)
The aliens told us to comply within ten hours, or face destruction. We had to give them all our men. Forever. As bull studs.
Some men showed up. The female aliens weren't ugly, after all. But a surprising percentage of men preferred life with thier families, thier lovers, thier jobs.
We thought we had time to prepare.
The countdown clock had two hours left when we noticed the translation was not ten hours, but "two hands of hours".
The aliens looked a lot like us.
They had four digits on each hand.
We heard lasers, held our spouses, and prayed.
October 09, 2010For those of us who are switching to linux, there are often quite a few programs that we want or need to keep. WINE now works great for running a lot of windows programs seamlessly, and you can browse their application directory for specific guidance with some of the trickier programs.
One trick that seems to matter - especially with "registered" shareware of any type - is having it run in in a specific directory. Running these requires creating a small shell script - think of it like creating a PIF file or setting compatibility under XP and Vista. Once you know what to do, it's easy. (And I'm hoping this saves someone the need to research this themselves.)
I recommend creating a sub-directory under your home directory to hold these scripts (a lot of people call that directory ~/scripts). For each Windows program, open your favorite editor (Ubuntu default: gedit), and paste these lines (and editing them where appropriate):
# put the program's directory below.
# default WINE directory is ~/.wine/drive_c/
# put program name here after the word wine. Capitalization counts
Save it as launch_program.sh in your scripts directory. Open a terminal window, and type the following, one line at a time to make your script executable:
chmod +x launch_program.sh
Then create a launcher (either through the menu - terminal command is "alacarte" without the quotes in Ubuntu) or on the desktop. The "command" portion should be:
Assign whatever icon you like, and go to town!
October 08, 2010There's a loverly discussion going on about eBook price points over at Jim's blog right now (that includes a mention of yours truly). The info there - while not always agreeing with me - is worth taking a look at, and the comments are definitely worth reading. Really, go read it.
There's one thing I found very interesting in the comments. Most of the complaints that people mentioned about eBooks were:
* "They don't belong to me" / "The store can take them back"
* "What if I lose them through drive failure?"
* "I can resell or hand a physical book to my friend, why not an eBook?"
All of these things were cited as reasons that eBooks were worth less than a paper book. (Not "should cost less", but worth less.)
They're also all limitations placed by DRM. A DRM-free eBook can be:
* converted to another format for your SO who has a Kindle instead of a nook (insert your own devices here).
* backed up properly through whatever backup process you use for your data
* Use your own reading/library software, which means the store can't "take it back".
So, um, why are we still using DRM again? And why is anyone who buys eBooks still letting the DRM exist on their computer? (I'm talking about stripping DRM from your legitimately bought eBooks here, by the way.)
Please don't scream "pirates" at me before you go read my post on pirates. Seriously.
Is there a non-greedy reason that I should have to buy an electronic version for each person in my family? (I've bought the print version too, because it's pretty...) With the first book in the series, I simply bought the print version and we passed it around. I know there's a legal difference - but is there really a moral difference?
I'm having a hard time seeing one.
Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.
October 07, 2010Yesterday, Jim C. Hines (/me waves at Jim) brought up a good point about lower prices on eBooks in the comments:
It occurs to me that the exact same arguments could be made for printed books. Because yes, if printed books were cheaper, they'd probably sell more copies too...
Jim's correct - but it doesn't apply so cleanly to physical products.
(I get completely economics-geek in this, so if anyone needs clarification, please ask. And if you disagree with my economic interpretation, please feel free to say so in the comments.)
There's an inherently supply limitation when you're talking about any physical object. A cheap printed book would still need physical manufacturing costs per unit, rent (for shelf space in the stores or storehouses), and transportation costs.
Even if the creation costs are low, there's a cost associated with getting the product to the consumer. In print, that's primarily borne by the distributors, but those effects are felt up and down the supply chain in the same way a company can pass a tax increase on to consumers.
The two things that make digital distribution different are these:
1) Per-unit costs are low. After initial production (which can still be pricey, mind you), the incremental cost of each additional unit sold is negligible.
2) Storage and transportation costs are reduced to near-nothing.
This lets us take advantage of the long tail in a way that print simply cannot. It allows us to reach those niche audiences in a cost-efficient way.
A practical example: My father is a Master Gardener (yes, the caps are real). He's got a lot of knowledge about gardening - and having his degree in botany doesn't hurt either. People who want the kind of knowledge he has are a niche (admittedly, not the most niche-y of niches, but work with me here). A quick perusal of Amazon shows that most gardening books on the first page of search results are $12 - $25 (paperback). So now you've taken the niche of "people interested in gardening" and narrowed it by the additional term of "people willing to shell out more than $10". Add in one additional narrowing: "people willing to buy a book by someone they don't know." My dad has a reputation locally - but outside of WV/PA, I'd be surprised if people knew him in that aspect of his life.
Digital publishing lets us widen this audience. In reverse order: He could build an online presence so that people know him on a bigger scale. (This is outside the direct scope of the answer, but it's worth mentioning.)
But here's where the difference is: He could price his book for $5 (or $2), and still reach enough people (worldwide!) to make it profitable. More people will be willing to try a book by someone they don't know at a lower price point. It will be able to stay "in print" indefinitely as well.
I've had people visit this blog (and comment, sometimes) from all of North America, most of South America, all of the EU, and most of Asia. They could (if my dad's book existed) all buy a copy of the book and not have to worry about shipping.
When you've got a physical product, there's a point where volume doesn't justify lowering the price. With digital distribution, there's a lot more plasticity in that kind of pricing.
One second, though: There's two HUGE disclaimers here I didn't mention. First, the price cannot approach zero. While you can reach a lot more consumers from a much wider geographic net, there is still a limit to demand. You gotta still pay production costs, right? The 230,630,000 United States internet users (1,586,272,555 worldwide - World Bank Data) are still a finite number. (There's no hard sales data for smartphones + eReaders.)
Second, there is a point where people do not value what they receive because it didn't cost enough. We presume we get what we pay for - even if that's not true. That's one reason why free downloads of novel-length work are problematic. I've got a few (legit) free novels from people I've met that I haven't bothered to read yet. It was "free", after all...
We're still figuring out what the real "market" value of eBooks should be. Big publishers largely seem to be insisting that the best price is about 10% off the paperback cover price. Konrath - and others - suggest that it should be far lower. Economics would suggest that they're both right - the price shouldn't be too low - but keeping it artificially high isn't maximizing profits and isn't maximizing societal value.
Honestly, what I'd love to see is advocates sharing more hard data - especially big name proponents like Stackpole and Konrath. (I realize this isn't going to happen, but I can dream.) Right now the market is differentiated not only by quality, but by sales model. And for both consumers and new players entering the market, that sucks.
October 06, 2010This is a tale of two parking lots.
The parking lots are near a local hospital in downtown Dayton. One, perhaps more appropriately called a parking garage, is owned by the hospital. The lot immediately beside it is not. Both lots were usually about 80% full - quite a few of the hospital employees would choose to park in the private lot because it was so much closer than the (free, but distant) employee lot.
Then the hospital raised parking rates by 50%.
The private lot, still charging the original rate, was constantly full. By 7am, there were no spaces available, and it stayed that way all day. That situation persisted for about four months.
Then the private lot raised their rate to match the hospital's rate.
Now, the private lot is usually only 60% full on an average day.
This is basic math. When the lot was charging the basic rate (we'll call it "x"), it was 100% full. So that's 1x per day. Now that the lot is charging 1.5x, it is only 60% full. So that's ( 0.6 * 1.5 * x ), or 0.9x . The lot is losing money, even though it's charging a higher price. To maintain the same income level, it would have to keep the lot 2/3 full.
Interesting, right? Things get even more interesting when you talk about goods that do not have a finite supply. Like digital books.
The other day, Joe Konrath said that he had greater sales with cheaper eBooks. This makes even more sense than the lower rates for the car park. The car park can only rent as many spaces as they have available. It's supply-driven through scarcity. I know that the lot was completely full all day when it had a lower rate than the hospital's parking lot - but I don't know how many more people would have paid if there were spaces available. It's the idea of tapping into a broad market - the constraint is not supply, but demand.
Authors (and, in turn, publishers), want to maximize demand for our products. If you've found a good author, you'll stick with them. So if you let more people discover your work - while paying you - then it will increase demand for future work as well. 1 So charging "regular price" for an eBook - especially back catalog from a producing author - is turning away potential profits from a much broader reader base. And that breadth might just be more profitable - both in the short and long run - than trying to milk a few suckers for the old idea of "full price".
1 Yes, there is free software to read eBooks on a computer. And turning a netbook on its side actually makes a decent (multipurpose) eReader.
October 05, 2010There's two bits that I want to emphasize from yesterday's (quickly written) bit about e-book numbers. This is the first; the second (prompted by a very cogent comment by Joe Konrath) will be tomorrow.
Digital publishing means that far more people can create books than ever before - and do so profitably.
This is a simple, four-point thing:
1. Not everyone will succeed. So it goes. Having a press doesn't guarantee readers.
2. There will be a lot of crap out there. Then again, I think there's a lot of crap out there now. Gatekeepers are flawed.
3. But here's the key: your definition of crap varies from mine.
4. You buy your kind of crap, I'll buy my kind of crap, and we'll all be happy.
As I pointed out yesterday, digital publishing means that the break-even point is a hell of a lot lower than it used to be. And really, all the math around book production is a hell of a lot easier. Because the break-even point is lower, "profitable" comes a lot easier than it used to. You can try a lot riskier things and not be out a ton of money.
For example, I could put together an anthology for five to seven thousand dollars. Me. I actually have a plan for this, and have a small press interested. I'm looking for investors - because the book would earn out after only about 500 copies. At that point, the authors would be paid, the investors would be paid back, the editors paid, and every dollar earned after that would get split among the participants.1
I bet I could find five hundred people worldwide who would buy Care Bear slashfic. (I don't want to, but I probably could.) That would make it profitable. 2 I don't have to buy it - I could buy zombie romances instead. We can think each other's tastes are gross - but it doesn't matter. Publishers and authors don't have to find mega-hits in order to make money.
Publishers could suddenly have their entire catalog earning money. Yes, they'll have to get lean. They may not make the same margins that they used to. But that isn't my problem.3 Maybe they'll be able to flex and take advantage of the market. Maybe smaller presses or independent authors will do it instead. But it will happen.
You've got to be ready.
1 Yes, this is for real. Yes, I think it can be done. And yes, you can be involved - send me an e-mail if you're interested.
2 Profitable != making enough to live on. But it's a good start - and neither authors nor publishers should be relying on one single product. (That was a take-home lesson from Jim's post yesterday.)
3 Insert argument about Manhattan rent here.
October 04, 2010Earlier today, Jim Hines posted some info about his backlist sales. He's got some good points about building a backlist (which also feeds into this post by Mike Stackpole about literary authors and working one's butt off). I twist Jim's point completely, so please don't think this is a response to his post.
I want to tease out one small number from Jim's post. Today's number is 4.3% That is the percentage of digital sales for Stepsister Scheme among all sales... and with that one single number comes an interesting model.
Royalties are complicated things - apparently the concept of a flat royalty is too easy. There's a decent breakdown here that mirrors what I've been told in the past. Jim doesn't say what his percentages are, so we'll pretend that he gets 10% of gross sales. 1
On Amazon, Stepsister Scheme sells for $8 2 in paperback and $7 for a Kindle edition. Let's pretend. Jim sells 1000 copies through Amazon. 43 of those are digital, 957 are print. It seems like a clear-cut thing that digital is kind of a waste of time, right?
Ten percent royalties from those thousand copies is $766 + $30 = $796. Not shabby. But what if the digital copies had been sold through what Mr. Stackpole calls "Vertically Integrated Publishing" (self-publishing, folks)? That'd be $300.3 Over 37% of the total royalties ... from 43 sales. Or put another way, if he sold 114 copies himself, he'd make as much as from 10% royalties on a thousand sales.
This is a blinding oversimplification. I'm well aware of it, thanks. The real point here is to note that digital publishing can put a lot more money into the hands of authors. Despite my reluctance to link to him 4, JA Konrath makes a good point here.
Would Jim have moved that many copies of his books without DAW's advances and resources? I honestly don't know. But I do know that starting in about 2008, it became possible to do so. The resources needed to produce a digital book - while still non-zero - are much lower than the cost of a print book. It seems strange to think of royalties this way - that we could make the same amount of money by selling fewer works (or more money by selling the same amount). But it's attractive.
And it should be attractive to publishers as well. So they're losing money on literary authors? Then streamline your production costs so they more closely resemble the kinds of things that self-published authors have to do. When a book "earns out" with far fewer copies, it means that even the cool, risky things can be profitable as well.
Comments (and telling me I'm wrong), as always, are welcome.
1 As mentioned in the breakdown, that's horribly high (points on gross sales!), but it makes the math easier. Which makes this example all the more potent, since it means this is probably an over estimation.
2 Numbers are rounded, obviously.
3 I didn't subtract Amazon's fees anywhere throughout this example - it would really be $210 after they took their 30%. If Jim sold it from his own site, then he'd pocket those $90.
4 Because I've seen him get frothier than I do, which is saying something. And he's snarkier than he has to be here, and tends to view publishers as "bad", which I don't.