Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Choosing your professional organizations as an author

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While I'm trying to write this as a more generic post, I should be up-front about something I've said once beforeI do not recommend EPIC (Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) at this time for writers and authors

And yes, my dues with them are still current for a few more months.  Let me make a comparison to show you why I do not recommend EPIC, but do recommend SFWA.

Last year as I was busy doing the con circuit talking about publishing scams, EPIC was recommended to me as a worthwhile group to join, specifically because of my emphasis on combating scams that prey on independent electronic authors.  The pamphlet I got seemed to confirm this emphasis as well.  I shrugged, and paid my dues.

There are three Yahoo (yes, Yahoo) mailing lists that make up most of the activity around EPIC, and it's from that activity that I have formed my opinion of the group.

If you are rabidly anti-pirate, and want to pay for a virtual water cooler, EPIC is the place for you. Otherwise...

I have mentioned the rabid anti-pirate (and pro-SOPA/PIPA) stance of its most vocal (and publicly lauded) members before here who said they'd given up writing to avoid a conflict of interest when going after pirates.1. When Amazon started pushing small independent authors around, their collective response can be summed up as "So? Quit bitching.".

In contrast, the possibility that someone could get an eBook, read it, and return it2 generated calls for action against Amazon. And when the discussion became anti-library (for the same reason), I was done.

This is in direct contrast to the work that SFWA (Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) does (and the dues are about the same). They provide resources about the craft and business of writing), there's the emergency medical and legal fund, GriefCom, and Writer Beware!. Need a sample contract? How to do a DMCA takedown notice? Want to know about copyright? All there for you - much of it (the informational bits) available for all authors.

Plus the virtual water cooler forums, Nebula voting, and more.

Look, writing is (for most of us) not a hugely profitable venture. We need to make our membership money count. And when it comes to the things I value from a professional organization3 - supporting and advocating for all its members - SFWA far and away comes out tops.

1 It is worth noting that the member I am speaking of here later denied writing this and requested that my comments be removed from the record because they were concerned about tax liability.
2 "Oh Noes! A consumer might not pay! The seller can screw you over, but that's just biz, but damn those cheating readers!!!!!11!!1!"
3 I've just recently learned about the National Writer's Union, and honestly don't know much about them. I'd love to hear about your experiences with them.

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Status Update: Why It Sucks Getting Old

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Why it sucks getting old:  When one bit of your body goes down, it takes the whole damn system down with it.

I managed to get food poisoning (for the second time this year) yesterday, which took me out of commission for about 24 solid hours.  Not only were there the expected... discomforts... but I managed to strain the right side of my back.    And on top of that, my life is never simple.1 Practical result: I was incoherent for about twelve of those twenty-four, and asleep for eight of the rest.

(At least, I hope that's what I did, as opposed to any of the other nasty possibilities.)

So I'm operating at about 75% efficiency today, and I'm more than a day behind.  If you're waiting on stuff from me, please expect a delay of one or more days.


1 This is, however, my own fault.

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Reading at Ghostlight Coffee (Ghostlight Lit)

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EventsI, along with quite a few other folks, will be reading at the "Ghostlight Lit" event at Ghostlight Coffee on 1 April (this coming Sunday!) at 8pm.  (Yes, they're opening specifically for us.)  It's being organized by the always awesome K.W. Taylor, whom I'm glad to be in a writing group with.

If you've never been to an author reading, go.  Whether at a bookstore, library, convention, or coffeehouse, it's a great way to experience the work in a new way, be exposed to something you've not heard before, and get a chance to actually meet the author.

It should be a blast!

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Parables In Overheard Conversations

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I overheard a cell phone conversation the other day in the elevator - you know the kind, the ones you have to overhear, no matter how much you wish they'd be quiet?  The woman talking on her iPhone had just changed topics from her yearly vacation to Europe and had started complaining about her sister.

"She just stays home all day with her kids and getting pregnant on welfare, while I have to work.  And my kid was upset that I was going to work today.  God, it's just not fair that she gets to stay with her kid all day!" 

And then she got off the elevator.

It's a beautiful parable for a lot of the things that go on in our lives.  The rich sister (at least comparatively) was jealous of the time her sister spent at home without working.  I suspect the poor sister would have liked to have an iPhone or traveled yearly to Europe.  What neither sister recognizes is that they have both made valid choices in their lives.  They are both important.  They are both okay.

Maybe they each want to re-evaluate their priorities, or take time to assess all the good things their lives bring them.

But please, please, please let it not take another remake of "The Parent Trap" for them to see the error of their ways.

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Assuming Assumptions

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We have so many cultural - and illogical - assumptions. The damnable thing about them is actually recognizing that they are present in the first place.

In the medical field, it's common to have the person doing a procedure to be the same gender as the patient - or at least have someone of the same gender in the room. (think mammogram here)

I've heard this described as either being for the patient's comfort or to legally protect the doctor.

But for either of those justifications to make sense, one must assume that all parties involved are unambiguously straight.

Maybe instead of defaulting to counter factual assumptions, we could instead work on the actual issues involved.

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The Parts of An Apology (or: stuff I forget often)

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essay.pngThe parts of an apology, in requisite order, are as follows:

1.  I'm sorry.*
2.  I feel [emotion word].
3.  It sounds like you feel [emotion word] because you thought I said/did [restate what you heard].
4.  (if applicable) That is not what I intended.  I don't think I communicated clearly.  Are you willing to let me try again?

Failure to follow these steps may result in other people thinking you're not actually apologizing.

*  Mandatory field.  No qualifiers allowed.

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I don't know what this is - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngThis 100 word story comes from the worst possible timeline. The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.


It is layered deep.

Black words shift, sliding in interlocking shields, serifs sculpting sinister glyphs.

They guard it. They keep it from me.

My shears of punctuation and logic (pieced together with loci of syllogisms) puncture words, play havoc with layered defenses.

The words scream non sequitur shouts of agony and rage. I press on. "You should have!" Snip. "Immature ass!" Snip. "You didn't!" Snip. "You never!" Snip.

The last word screams "I'm leaving," but I snip snip snip it away.

I reach into the center of the fallen fortress to claim my prize.

I don't know why I'm alone.

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A little bit of humor helps... or hurts

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I was recently discussing a project proposal from Eric M. Bosarge, and we got on the topic of humor. And I found myself writing this semi-essay about humor, very appropriate since Community CAME BACK LAST NIGHT!!!!!!!

Anyway, after pointing out my posts on A Teaspoon of Equality and how humor is "not serious" pain, I listed some of the stuff I find funny.

Katrina HumorStandup starts with Bill Hicks and early George Carlin, and some of Ron White, whom I suspect is both smarter than most of his audience and is VERY aware of it. Early episodes of Family Guy versus later seasons. Robot Chicken is about 75%-80% hits for me, but fat jokes leave me cold. Earlier seasons of Big Bang Theory - see Jim Hines' post here, which I agree with.

As far as sci-fi humor, Bill the Galactic Hero was okay, but tended too much toward sexism for my tastes now. The Stainless Steel Rat series, however, holds up pretty well, because I remember the Rat's wife being MORE competent than him... heck, see my review of Zelazny's most famous works to get a sense of what I mean.

I am a HUGE fan of Community and the UK version of the Office, Talledega Nights, the 40 Year Old Virgin, and Borat even though they're both horribly inappropriate (racist/sexist) at times. Largely, this is because when they ARE inappropriate, you're both laughing AND feeling horrible that you're laughing. Or you're laughing AT them, not WITH them... something that Family Guy has lost. We started out laughing AT Peter's asinine behavior - but anymore,
we're being coaxed to laugh WITH him.

When comedians poke at women ("Oh, she can't drive because she has the wrong chromosomes!"), ethnicities (I heard a NASCAR driver say "Polish lap" to describe driving backwards for a victory lap), fat people, etc... well, that just comes across as mean.

So what do you all think? What's funny? What's not?

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Mind Reading in Business Relationships - Just Say No

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mind reading stills 2 - 08In (healthy) relationships, you don't expect others to "mind read".1 You don't expect them to guess your needs and wants - you make them known. There are some broad strokes - if your partner says they don't like chocolate, getting them a chocolate cake for their birthday makes you a douchebag - but within those broad
outlines, specific wants and needs must be made clearly and unambigously.

"I want to eat better and lose weight" means you probably shouldn't proffer doughnuts to your significant other (sorry!), but that does not mean you should intuit that means they want any specific kind of diet at home. If they want low-carb, or all raw-food, or whatever, they need to tell you specifically. If you make them a raw-food meal and they wanted South Beach, then they have to say that.

A business relationship is like any other kind. Do not expect your employees, co-workers, or collaborators to read your mind. This isn't saying that managers and employers should be hands-off or hands-on, macro- or micro-managers. Managers must understand their own needs and desires, and act appropriately.

Some folks do well by giving really broad goals and guidelines and letting employees "on the ground" figure out the best ways to do that. Others want adherence to a very specific and set regimen. Neither is "better" - they each have strengths and weaknesses. When you choose one of these styles, you must own both the strengths and the weaknesses.

Here's a non-management example: I don't keep a lot of Alliteration Ink's inventory on hand. The POD system typically works well for me as a variation of just-in-time inventory. The upside is in storage and transportation costs, as well as the up-front investment in inventory. The downside is that if I experience a spike in orders - say, at a convention - I can run out of inventory before everyone gets a physical book. I have to be able to own both the benefits and the drawbacks of my decision.

Again, I'm not telling you that you should interact with your co-workers and employees in any specific way. I am saying you should choose what you're going to do - and tell the people you're working with.

1 Yes, I expect to see relationship-based psionic stories
now, thank you.

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Authors - read this so you don't fall victim to brainwashing techniques!

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publishing.pngIn the last two years, I've discovered a lot of brainwashing techniques in the realms of independent and self-publishing. A lot. And it's something that you have to guard against all on your own.

You've probably already fell victim to one.

Here's a hint: It's the title.

Yeah, I know. Kinda crappy of me. There really isn't a substitute for experiencing this stuff, though. Everyone thinks they can keep from being swayed by a fad or scam... until it's too late. There's a great guide on Lifehacker that's worth reading, but I want to show one particular example.

Big disclaimer - I am not asserting intent here. I am stating what was written, and what it looks like to me. That's why I'm not using real blog names. YMMV. Also: I disagree with Amazon's monopolistic tactics.

So indie-publishing blog A recently posted this quote from blog B:

Some of you may not agree with Amazon’s monopolistic tactics, and that’s okay. Some of you, however, have jumped in with both feet. As an independent author, I’m in favor of KDP Select. My first promotion brought me into Amazon’s Top 100 (#55 Paid) and completely transformed the sales of all my books.

There's a problem that the quote from blog B was actually a guest post, and the better-known host of blog B actually said (in the intro to the guest post):

I came down against the [KDP] program overall based on my experience.

This is kind of like Bill O'Reilly introducing Jon Stewart, then quoting Stewart's words as if he were Bill O'Reilly. Of course, it seems to just be sloppy citations, but it's worth noting. I mean, if you miss something that obvious, how closely are you reading the rest of what you recommend? 

But that's sidetracking, because the quote itself bothers me. It reminds me entirely too much of a high-pressure sales technique I encountered when I "interviewed" at a multi-level marketing firm.

"This opportunity isn't for everyone. I am not trying to convince you. Some people just can't get it. Not everyone is able to see the chances in front of them, or is wise enough to [take advantage of opportunity]."

See the similarity?

Some of you may not agree with Amazon’s monopolistic tactics, and that’s okay. Some of you, however, have jumped in with both feet. As an independent author, I’m in favor of KDP Select. My first promotion brought me into Amazon’s Top 100 (#55 Paid) and completely transformed the sales of all my books.

I don't know that this particular post falls into the "brainwashing" category (there's some numbers offered at the back end), but it's not the only one. There's an awful lot of folks trying to convince authors that they, and only they, have the answers. And all you have to do is buy their book...

Keep your critical thinking hat on, folks, and while you keep your mind open enough to try new stuff, don't let your brains fall out either.

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Fingers - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Implements of torture"They don't sound like twigs," I say, snapping its pinkie. "don't you agree?"

The sociopath screams, and for a moment I think I made a mistake. But it's charming and superficial - one of them. No conscience. No empathy. No remorse.

"Brian," it shrieks, "let me -"

I silence it with a smack to the mouth.

"They say," I tell it as I apply the brand, sizzling flesh, "torturing a person can make you a sociopath. Without empathy. Without feelings."

I lean close as the light goes out of its eyes. "So tell me, when do the emotions leave?"

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Publishers were collective bargaining units for authors - even if they didn't intend to

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publishing.pngThere are few prior economic models that really reach what is going on with eBooks (and the small press) today. We've spent a couple of years talking about all the bad things that publishers might do (or how they take advantage of authors). We've spent the last year or so hearing from progressive publishers about the good things they do in adding value to an author's work and distribution.

But there's something still missing.

Consider: An "electronic publishing group" - and I use that term loosely - was very concerned about the possibility that someone might read an eBook and then "return" it, but didn't seem to care that the biggest retailer in town was screwing over authors them over royalties on all sales (I'm talking about EPIC, here.). And that's both typical and a big problem.

Publishers - specifically, the Big Six - acted as collective bargaining units for authors. That's not their intent, sure, but because publishers make money from sales to the public, anything that hurt authors also hurt publishers.1

Amazon's testing of IPG and independent booksellers demonstrates that they've come to realize that publishers served as collective bargaining units for authors as well... and small and independent authors do not have that same power.

It's worth noting here that collective bargaining - hell, even co-ops - can be a healthy and vital part of a free-market capitalist system. (If you really want to argue that point we can in another post; read my paper first.) And it is this role that will guarantee that publishers - in some manner - continue to exist. While the many functions of a publisher can be independently sourced, the economic power of any single author is limited.

But I'm looking at this from a conflict-theory perspective, not a structural-functionalist one. While there is a specific role filled by big publishers, that does not mean that the role must be filled by big publishers. There are a lot of ways this role could still exist; some possibilities could be: A co-operative based publishing house, a union akin to the Actor's Guild, or coalitions of small publishers.

The support IPG has garnered from SFWA and others suggests that perhaps a coalition - perhaps modeled on mutual support treaties - would be the most effective route for us to take.

What do you think?

1 SFWA's GriefCom, while an excellent model, is not particuarly well-suited for action against retailers.

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Why Kobo is Suddenly My New Favorite

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Seriously. Color this a huge change in priorities for me - and simply because of this:

From the page:
The eBooks you buy with Kobo are yours. You're free to read them on the most popular open devices. Or, you can buy books from other eBook retailers and read them with Kobo. The choice is yours.
And that is what a retailer is supposed to do.  Huzzah!

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It's not a conspiracy: Explaining the economics behind eBook market trends

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publishing.pngI think the backlash against independent publishers and authors has already started, and will continue to get worse over the next twelve months.

Once again, this isn't a conspiracy theory, but economics. There are several factors in play here, by rather large players. [EDIT: As another instance of this, go look at Scalzi's entry about similar stuff - but with a different takeaway - which published about forty minutes before mine... even though I wrote this post on Tuesday.]

1. Amazon set itself up to dominate the eBook market.
2. Amazon promoted independent authors and self-published authors.
3. Each of the biggest eBook retailers was tied to a specific device, and tried to make it hard to buy from another retailer.

These facts are really all you need to explain a large portion of the economic maneuverings that have happened around eBooks. As many have pointed out, without authors, booksellers don't have anything to sell. But without distribution, authors can't get their work out there.

It was easy to see that Amazon's strategy1 was designed to tie readers to not only a specific device, but a specific store. Realistically, the only limitation (aside from convenience) was - and continues to be - DRM.

DRM was sold to authors and publishers as anti-piracy measures - but has failed spectacularly, and continuously. But by continuing to stoke author and publisher fears of being pirated, DRM continues to be the norm. This is the equivalent of saying you could only use DVDs bought at Wal*Mart in a DVD player you bought at Wal*Mart. Obviously, that's not the case. The movie industry would strenously fight any such limitation, for one simple reason. It would put Wal*Mart in control of the market for their product.

Authors and publishers have willingly gone along with Amazon's plans - including plans where you could get more money by making your eBook exclusively available at the Amazon store. All for one simple reason: Cash.

It's extremely, extremely rare for authors to become rich. Most of us don't make enough to live on from writing alone - so having the opportunity to make more from what we love to do? Of course you jump at it.

And now the screws start to tighten. Amazon has been trying to play hardball - and has basically been testing to see who it can push around. Doing so with the Big Six didn't get them anywhere. Then it waited a while before trying again.

Just in this year alone: It discovered that its exclusivity (and publishing arm) aren't enough to really make people cower. So then (whether intentional or not) Amazon saw if people would gripe loud enough about some "accidental" price changes (and royalty changes)... at about the same time. It demanded more money (and different royalty rates) from IPG.

Folks, those of us who are nowhere near the weight class of IPG or B&N should be very, very nervous... because readers already have those store-specific readers.

And now, Paypal has started to make some moves against folks that it finds too "smutty"... and the steps it has taken impact small and independent folks far more than the Big Six.

The big folks have finally noticed that there's a lot of activity going on that they're not a part of. And they're not happy about being excluded.

1 And really, all the rest of them. It's just more obvious with Amazon.

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Games - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

You can read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Soccer goalThe soccer ball careened across the pitch, smacking up a spray of mud as it hit the ground in front of Mitch. Mitch didn't move, just stared upward.

The opposing striker ran past, kicking the multicolored sphere into the goal. John, his words a cursing stream of consciousness mixture of Joyce and a drunk sailor, ran to Mitch. Mitch didn't respond, even as John's spittle sprayed across his cheek. Mitch just kept staring upward, sweat beading on his forehead.

John's cursing slowed. John slowly tilted his head upward just in time to see the gigantic foot slam into the ionosphere.

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Millennicon is just around the corner! It's a great small convention outside of Cincinnati. Honestly, I recommend it for exactly that reason - it's big enough to attract a group of people, but small enough that you actually have time to meet and get to know folks. Some of my best con friendships started there!

Here's my schedule:

Friday 6pm: Avengers Vs. X-Men
Friday 10pm: Cutting the Cable Cord
Saturday 10am: Autographs with Sarah Hans
Saturday 6pm: Reading with Sarah Hans

(I'm not sure what I'll be reading - we'll see. Maybe something completely new!)

My schedule this year is a little foreshortened - I'm doing the publishing thing, so I'll have more time behind tables than normal. But that also means that you'll have me at your mercy, so stop by during the day!

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Planning Your Social Media

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You don't want to have to do this:
The map of my social media
This is a map of most of my social media connections, blogs, tumblrs, facepluses and so on.  Most.  They all feed into each other in different ways - and managing that after the fact is a huge pain in the ass.

As it stands, Facebook is the terminal node for a lot of aggregation - which isn't necessarily a good thing.

But I didn't want to just dump all the feeds into Facebook willy-nilly.  And I wanted people to be able to interact with different parts of the streams as they wanted, without any issues.

So this is what I came up with.  Mostly, things are managed through twitterfeed, RSSGraffiti on Facebook, and the occasional e-mail post (like the LJ stuff I was working on Sunday).

Sure, I have more discrete projects than most people.  But you gotta watch now, so you don't get taken by surprise later.

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eBooks: Learn to hate the ampersand

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Seriously, folks.  Learn to hate that little squiggly symbol.


Hate it.

The ampersand is at the beginning of HTML entities (remember, we talked about them back here). And then you run into programmers thinking like programmers, not like people.

You see, there is a html entity for the ampersand:  &  (Yes, I had to render that with HTML entities, and it hurt my brain.  See what I do for you?)   Programmers who have programs parsing HTML and XML (remember, your eBook is made up of this stuff) expect you to use that entity when you want to use that symbol.  Even if you don't use it directly in the eBook itself, perhaps you're uploading an XML document somewhere - say, to get a book in Kobo.

And if any of that HTML or XML has a straight ampersand in it?    Then everything gets darned to heck.

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Trust your audience and readers - or you'll piss them off (at best)

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Over the weekend, I watched three sci-fi films with Chris The Nuclear Kid - the very first of the original Flash Gordon serials, the 1980's Flash Gordon, and Titan A.E..  Watching the three in such close proximity really highlighted a lot of important bits about storytelling.  (This is an expansion of a comment thread on Google Plus, by the way.)

The Flash Gordon comparisons are perhaps the most obvious, since the first episode of the serial closely parallels the first twenty minutes of the movie remake.  While hard to believe, the 1936 serial is actually more obvious and blatant.   

I had described the format of old serials to my 14 year old, including the tendency to have cliffhangers. His comment at the end of the first episode, where Flash falls down a tunnel was:   "Wow, that was... um, an actual cliffhanger."

The serial had a lack of subtlety everywhere - every storytelling technique I've ever learned or been told about was (eventually) done really really blatantly. And the net effect was to counteract the technique in question - as my kiddo showed.  I'm assuming - given the similar blatantness of the other pulp fiction of the day - that was acceptable at that time.

But the Flash Gordon of the 1980's - while fun, is still campy as hell.  The fun of the movie is despite the camp.  It was (I presume) a serious attempt to use blatant writing hooks to keep an audience... and only the outrageousness of it kept it from being an utter failure.  And that's with the blatantness turned down.  

Those blatant attempts to keep readers (or viewers) have become a joke.  Literally, like in Young Frankenstein, where Frau Blucher's name makes the horses whinny.  It has nothing to do with glue - but is just Mel Brooks making fun of the ominous thunderclap (or musical sting) when the villain's name is said.

I am totally a sucker for good ship design.
So that brings us to Titan A.E..  Overall, it's a pretty good space opera that could have been great.  It has good use of animation mixed with CG, awesome ship design, and some great voice talent (including Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore) and a ship's crew that has some resemblance to the personality mix that showed up two years later in Firefly.  And maybe that's why I noticed where the tone was off.

Titan A.E. gets classified under "children's", when it really is a YA story.  It is not a comedy, but someone tried to shove comedy in it to make it a "children's" film.  We're not talking the Jayne-like humor in lines like:  "A smart guard.  Who would have guessed?", but near-pratfalls and bumbling incompetence.It creates unexpected and quite frankly, unpleasant shifts in tone.  It really feels like like someone - a producer, perhaps - insisted on having some "cute" jokes to make it fit as a kid's movie.

Which sucks.  It was totally unnecessary - the characters are well-rounded and dynamic enough to provide enough humor to keep it from being oppressive.  It's much like the difference between C3PO and Jar-Jar - one's a character that's funny... and one is a funny character.  I think the attempts at "kid-friendly humor" at the beginning of Titan A.E. both got it misclassified as a children's movie (which pissed off quite a few parents) and took the whole movie down a notch.

So here's the point:  Blatant attempts to manipulate your audience will backfireTrust your audience.

Because even if they can't identify how they're being manipulated, they sure can feel it... and then they'll resent it.

1Some of that incompetence is explained as something else much later in the film... but by then, the damage is done.

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