Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

The Two Principles of Politics

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A vast majority of people's political differences can be explained by the order and degree of emphasis they put on the following principles1:

  • It is important to help those who need it.
  • It is important to stop those who are cheating.
It is (correctly) implied that this is a zero-sum game.  If you write and enforce the rules to stop cheating, you'll sacrifice people who genuinely need help.  If you focus on helping those who need it, you'll let someone take advantage of the system.

While implementations of and the degree of compromise between these principles will vary, I'm willing to bet that one of those statements is generally more important to you than the other.

So which is more important to you?  Helping others or punishing wrongdoers?

1 You can further categorize by how people define "help" and "cheating";  the contrast between Romney's statements on how much he paid of his taxes is a good example there.

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You See How He Treats The Waiter: Cautionary Tales About Amazon for Writers, Musicians, etc

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Waiter on Copacabana BeachYou know the saying.  "Don't judge a man by how he treats his date.  Judge him by how he treats the waiter."

In this case, Linux users are the waiter, and Amazon is the (rather boorish) date.

Purchase an album at Amazon, and you can use their downloader to get the whole album at one swoop.  Unless you run Linux.  Then you can only download it one tedious song at a time via the Cloud Player.

This is new(ish)1 behavior;  you used to be able to use either the official (and poorly supported) downloader or a tool like Pymazon.  But round about the beginning of September, they disallowed that and introduced a kind of DRM-lite.  Oh, you can still use the downloader if you're on Windows or OSX.  Just not if you're on Linux.  No warning, just "boom!"  My experience is pretty much the same as other folks. (Fix found - which almost pisses me off more.2)

Sure, you can still download it from the Cloud Player.  Which is a pain in the ass.  And again, not something anyone else has to do on another operating system.   And that's the part that pisses me off... and makes me think of a guy being a dick to the waiter.

I realize that there's not a bazillion and a half linux users in the US.  We're small fry.  And sure, supporting a third OS can be a bit inconvenient - but when there are two openly developed programs that are specifically for supporting your store... well, they really didn't have to do any work.  But the unnecessary, callous brushing aside says a lot about Amazon's attitude to a userbase who has been pretty supportive of their MP3 store in the past.

Which makes me really, really nervous about how Amazon will treat artists and authors and readers when they think it's inconvenient.

Oh wait.  We already know how they'll treat readers and how they'll treat authors.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.  My letter to them is below. 
I have been a loyal customer of your MP3 store for some time now.  I have recommended it to others because Amazon both avoided the use of DRM and it was easily accessible regardless of operating system.  I have encouraged *ARTISTS* to make their music available on Amazon.

When support for the linux downloader lagged, I persisted, because there were  alternative downloaders that worked just as well.

I ignored the cloud player when it was rolled out.  I do not have a great high-bandwidth connection, and definitely don't have a data plan that makes playing from the cloud a useful answer.

Amazon's policy decision to EXPLICITLY DISALLOW me from downloading my purchases as "full albums" and forcing me to download them one at a time through the Cloud Player... basically took away the one reason why I was buying music from Amazon instead of Google or Apple (or, god forbid, Canonical) instead.

I do not understand why Amazon decided to explicitly shut Linux users out instead of *working* with us.  Hell, I'm sure someone's already figured out how to run the Windows version of the downloader in WINE or a virtual machine.  I probably will if there's something I absolutely CANNOT get elsewhere.  I'll probably take the time to figure out a way around this STUPID, arbitrary crap, simply for the satisfaction of being able to.  And I will be cussing Amazon every second of it.2

Congratulations!  You've made one more computer nerd who likes purchasing his music legally FROM YOU not only want to spend the time to find a way around your restrictions, but also to dislike you for it.

But once I've done that...until Amazon figures this out and stops *explicitly* shutting out Linux users, whenever possible, I'm going to take my MP3 dollars elsewhere.

1I must have been one of the last people to check out under the old system, as I bought quite a bit during August, and then paused for a few months.  The two albums I've bought since then were from bandcamp.
2Wanna know what the solution is? By simply telling Amazon I was using Windows. I used the user-agent switcher extension for Firefox. Boom. Problem solved, pretty much as described in this post about using Banshee. And believe you me, I'm REALLY cussing Amazon now.

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Black WidowHe pulls against the thread, biceps bulging with strain.

I tisk and shake my head.  "Not so easy, darling". I pull out more thread. I wrap it slowly across his torso.

He strains again.  My threads are unmoved.

"You should watch more nature programs," I chide. My first arms caress his cheeks. My second arms spin the thread while my third arms spin him in place.

"Stronger than steel chains," I whisper.  "Useless to resist".

He tries anyway, and my pulse quickens. My fangs extend and I plunge them into his chest.

I drain him before my red hourglass empties. 

Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. The player above 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.

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I got taken by a satire news article about GOP politicians. Here's why.

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I got hornswaggled.

It's not true. He didn't say that.

Here's an excerpt from the article from the Daily Currant (really?  should we just assume that anything spice-related is satire now?) that I swallowed wholeheartedly:

Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock caused fresh controversy today by suggesting that women should pray to avoid being raped. In a meeting with the editorial board of a small newspaper in southern Indiana Mourdock claimed that many rape victims are "not right with the Lord" and should have "prayed a little harder" to avoid their fate.

But I'm not going to feel too horribly bad about being fooled here. Not at all.

Because the guy actually said:

pregnancies caused by rape are “something that God intended to happen”

Given all the other total bullshit that GOP candidates have said about abortion and rape this campaign season, the satire at the Daily Currant ... well, it's more like straight reporting.

Because these guys really have demonstrated a degree of cluefreeness that is simply horrifying.

I think Stephen Colbert kind of catches it all here:

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DRM means that you never, ever own it.

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Remember when everyone paid attention to who really "owned" the eBooks you bought?

It was a couple of years ago, in 1999.  It was largely centered around Amazon's remote deletion of an (illegal1) Kindle version of Orwell's 1984. While the lawsuit was settled and Amazon said they'd never, ever do it again (unless they really had to, of course), it left one big question in the air.

Why does Amazon have this ability at all?

Before I get accused of (once again) being an Amazon-basher, I'd be willing to bet that any eReader that connects wirelessly to its home store has the same capability.  Amazon seems to just trip over this stuff more frequently than other places.

For example, this perfect demonstration as to what happens when the same company holds the access to all your purchased digital content.  tl;dr:  When a woman lost access to her Amazon account, she was unable to access all of the Kindle books she'd bought because they were either on a (broken) hardware device or required access to the same account she was locked out of.

With your word-processing documents, your photos, and so on, you can back your data up.  But that's not the case with stuff that's encrypted with DRM, or digital rights management.  If you can manage to find the file, it's still locked with an encryption key that the consumer is never given.

Or consider Rupert Goodwin's story, where DRM ended up making his files impossible to use... because he's visually impaired.  His ability to access the file (and make it so that he was able to read the book he bought) was hampered so much that he eventually found out how to break the DRM so that he could simply use the thing he'd already paid money for.  (Hint:  search for "I heart cabbages".)

What if you have different eReader brands in the house?  Good luck with that.  While converting a file from ePub to Kindle formats is actually very, very easy... it's only possible when the file isn't locked with DRM.

Sure, DRM is supposed to stop piracy.  Except it doesn't.   (Want to see my position on piracy?  Check out Pirates, Pirates Everywhere or the Alliteration Ink policy on piracy.)

It's not hard, especially with the ReDigi case coming up, to imagine that DRM is going to be used as evidence that the first-sale doctrine can never apply to anything wrapped in DRM.  Obviously, that content is licensed, even if the EULA is found to not apply, because you can't get to the file itself.

The first-sale doctrine "...enables the distribution chain of copyrighted products, library lending, gifting, video rentals and secondary markets for copyrighted works (for example, enabling individuals to sell their legally purchased books or CDs to others)." 

Notice two things in particular there:  library lending and gifting.  We've already seen publishers try to shake down libraries to buy extra copies of digital books.  If first-sale doesn't apply to digital media, then you can't even give away the content you've already bought.  Ever.  They have to buy their own copy, even if you're never going to use yours again.

What DRM does effectively is reinforce the concept that you don't own the stuff you paid money for.  It's little more than a way to milk money out of those people who actually are honest enough to pay for the work... and force them to buy more copies than they would otherwise.

Screw that.

Alliteration Ink provides files DRM-free.  Period.

I am not going to punish the people who pay money to buy our books and support the authors and artists who work with me. 

I've been encouraging my father to buy a tablet or eReader for a while.  His eyes are going a bit wonky, and he needs larger type.   And I'm not going to force him to buy any particular brand - if it can handle ePub or Kindle files, then he can read the books his son publishes.  

I might lose a few bucks here and there when someone pirates a book instead of paying for it.

But if that means that even one person like my father is able to enjoy these books when they otherwise wouldn't have been able to, it's totally worth it.

1 Despite some people asserting the illegality was the most important aspect of the case, they were, and still are, wrong.

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The Rainbow Bridge - A Tribute to Leakey

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This is all Cancerdog has energy for.  Trying to make him comfy as possible.For those of you who don't know, my older dog Leakey (named after the anthropologist) died from lymphoma on the 12th of October.  I'd like to thank the folks at Suburban Veterinary Clinic and Routsong for being understanding... both emotionally, and having the wherewithal to understand what I was saying through me blubbering.

He rallied on Wednesday and Thursday, but went downhill very quickly on Friday.  By noon, he wasn't able to eat solid foods (pizza, his favorite) without me tearing it in bits and holding it for him.  He didn't move more than ten feet (in any direction) the whole day, and was having trouble breathing. By the time we made it to the vet the last time, he was having trouble standing.  I couldn't let it progress to the point where his breathing would get so bad that he'd be nearly choking and not understanding why.

So here's my story tribute to him.
"You know," he said, "we'll see all our pets again." I didn't say anything, just kept walking through the woods. The clearing was just ahead. My other dog pulled at her lead in excitement. We stepped into the clearing. He continued talking. "I really believe that." "I know." I circled the clearing while he talked. "I read this really inspiring poem about a rainbow bridge...What are you doing?" "Lighting candles." As my match touched the last one, Bifrost shimmered into existence and the world shifted. All the dogs greeted each other as Valkryies gathered. I smiled. "Welcome to Asgard."

I miss you guys. 100_6590

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Results of A Promoted Post on Facebook (with numbers)

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After writing The Beginning of the End of Social Media, I decided to promote one - and only one - post on Facebook.  Not only would that post have information on how to follow me directly (without relying on Facebook), but it would also explain what was going on.

They were posted a bit more concentrated in time than I would have liked (I would have preferred it to be spread out by several hours), but the timing was supposed to be excellent.  The top time for sharing links on FB is mid-afternoon and evening on Monday, so this was a best-case scenario.

The post appeared three different times on Facebook.  

1.  When I directly posted the link, and "shared" it via my personal account.  This was the promoted post.  (10/15/12@1702)  Viewed 41 times.

2.  Once when it went up via RSS Graffiti (10/15/12@1735)  Viewed 9 times.

3.  A third time when the Twitter echo of the post hit Facebook (10/15/12@1736)  Viewed 23 times.  This one was also commented on by my personal account, and may have gained more exposure that way.

Notice that, again, this means the link was viewed, not the article itself.  It scrolled across someone's newsfeed.  Additionally, because these were so close together, there is almost certainly some overlap between the three.

Let's take a look at what Facebook reported back about my "promoted" post - the first one, with 41 views.

~twenty minutes after posting.  33% regular views, 85% paid views.

21 hours after posting.  15% regular views, 85% "paid" views.
Almost a day later, Facebook reports back (in percentages, mind you) that I increased my views by 85%!

When you do the math, that's an increase of almost 35 views.... which correlates very nicely with the number of average pageviews I was getting before Facebook made their service broken by design.   I used to get 30-40 views per post... and it dropped suddenly to 8-12 views. 

You know, like the non-promoted RSS Graffiti post got.

Given my experience, and the limited data that Facebook has decided to share with us (and oh, bravo, Facebook, for trying to hide behind percentages instead of giving us raw numbers when telling us how awesome your promoted posts work), it seems clear that Facebook is simply charging you to restore what functionality they used to have.

I realize they're desperately trying to turn a hard profit after going public on the stock market, but this is ridiculous.  The value of social media is the unfettered exchange of information and the number of people using the network.  Instead, Facebook decided to turn a fast buck by sabotaging the very qualities that make the service worth using at all.

If you were looking for a reason to think Facebook would never, ever give even a rat's ass about you as a user or person, this is it.  And when a social media company stops thinking about its users as people and starts thinking of them as commodities, it's probably time to start thinking about finding a new place to connect to people.

And to sell your stock.

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A little bit about the way I work and priorities.

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I need a freaking intern.

Every time that things seem to calm down, a new wave of things washes up and pulls me back down. Or I'm so overwhelmed by the things I've got going on that I end up escaping for hours into low-rez computer worlds.

I probably like it that way, and can't admit that to myself.

That aside, stuff happens. And I get behind. Especially in e-mail (167 unread, another 100 or so read but in the "do something with" pile).  And sometimes folks get really confused or upset about when it looks like I'm ignoring them and don't value them. And that last part in particular isn't true. And I presume that other busy people have similar situations.

So I thought I'd share my (rough, subject to change) priority list for when I'm behind.  This pertains to both real life and online activities.

  1. Things that have a hard deadline (e.g. a story deadline, promoting a book tied to a specific event, etc)
  2. Family and friends
  3. Breather room (often video games or sleep)
  4. Outward-facing things (such as this blog, customer service with Alliteration Ink)
  5. Things that have a "soft" deadline (e.g. "I should probably get to this...")
  6. Things that don't have a deadline that I'm interested in doing.
  7. Things that don't have a deadline that I have to do (e.g. putting away clothes)
Most of the consternation happens with people who are somewhere in categories five and six, or with people who don't realize that many of the things I do (again, this blog is a great example) are completely time-shifted.  I'll write 4-5 posts in a burst of productivity, then not write a blog post for a week because I'm head-down in another project, but folks think I've got time then because, well, there's a new blog post, right?

Um, no.  Sorry.

As an additional tip, the guidelines in The Elegant Email and  "How being unreachable makes me more productive" probably apply.  Especially the bits about "one request or question per e-mail".

So, the tl;dr:  If you haven't gotten a response, I'm not intentionally ignoring you.  If it's getting close to a point where a deadline for a decision is needed or a month (yes, a month) has passed, ping me again.  

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Needing welfare

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Before you start talking about people who get welfare in some way, realize that you don't know who around you has been helped by govt aid in the past.

See, that's kind of the point. Without government assistance during (at least two) points in my life, those hard times were *just* difficult financially.

They weren't *crippling*. But they would have been without government assistance. I would have never been able to recover. It wasn't fun. It was humiliating. But those programs were the difference between things being bad and disaster.

So yeah, you can't tell that I ever needed welfare from my job or my degrees or my house or my (current) income.

That's the fucking point.

Remember it.

If I have to hunt for a publisher's real name, I won't do business with them and neither should you.

Caveat:  Authors sometimes use pseudonyms.  And I understand the need for privacy.

But I do not understand why some folks do not put their names on their (professional) websites.

When you're running a business (and if you're writing/publishing, you are running a business), people want to know whom they're dealing with.  Is there a real person on the other side of the screen?  A bot?  A black hole where your money or stories will disappear into?

Yet I keep stumbling across (usually small, usually new) publishers trying to get submissions (or pledges of money) without bothering to say who they are.   

You should avoid doing business with any publisher who does not declare who they really are on a static web page.

A mention on a blog post does not count.

I'm not talking about making your business a great big "me-fest".  I mean a simple page where real names of real people are shown.  Whether it's the front page, or an "About" page (Clarkesworld, Pseudopod) or a "Contact Us" page (Asimov's) or "Masthead" (Apex) doesn't matter.1  It should be as easy to find the names of the owner and/or primary editor(s) as it is to find the submission guidelines or donation links.

Notice I said names.  I'm not saying you have to expose everyone's e-mail address to the world, even though I do... though I'm going to be skeptical of a digital publication that can't figure out how to obfuscate the e-mail from spammers... because here's how to do it.

Regardless, one of the big changes in the marketplace is that anyone can throw up a website and claim they're a publisher.  (Hell, I did.)  I am not going to trust anyone who won't stand enough by their business to put their own name on it somewhere.  Not with my stories, not with my money, not with my business.

1If you happen to be a publisher who somehow forgot to mention who you are, these are a bunch of good examples of different ways to do it.


Should You Publish It Yourself: Show Me The Money (a real-world comparison)

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[UPDATED:  Robert Helmbrecht clarifies what Hazardous Press is asking for in the comments.]

Over on Facebook, Rob Smales asked this question:

I understand that agents are not interested in short stories - there's just not enough money involved. But if I have a small collection, basically 2 somewhat long short stories and one novella (a little over 45K words in total), should I just go straight the publishers with it? I do have a good working relationship with 3 or 4 horror presses that I could show it to... or is this the kind of thing to shop to agents?

This would be the first thing I've tried to put out myself (not an anthology or magazine) so I'd love any advice I could get.

Pretty much everyone said not to bother sending to agents, but he did get two bits of advice pretty quickly:

  1. Submit to a small publisher that is explicitly looking for single-author collections to release in eBook formats.The publisher mentioned was Hazardous Press (please see the footnotes below).2
  2. Put it out himself.

Which is a perfect opportunity to compare the economics of self-publishing versus using a small press.

Hazardous Press is asking for 2 year digital rights (with automatic 1 year renewals) and a 45% cut of the net proceeds.  They seem to define net proceeds the same way I do:  Cover price minus fees levied by Paypal and Amazon, etc.3.  They are providing cover art and digital conversion.

Here's the decision that Rob (or anyone else facing a similar decision) needs to make:  Is the publisher going to offer enough to offset their cut?

Here's the actual breakdown using my prices and what Hazardous quotes on their webpage for Rob's collection.

I would charge about $90 for the eBook conversion, an additional $25 for ISBN (optional), and then cover art can run you anywhere between $75-$300.  (It varies a lot.)  So that's probably a minimum of $165 outlay on the author's.    If the book is priced at $2.99, you'll get about $2, or you'll have to sell about 83 copies to make your money back. 

If you sell through Hazardous Press (again, according to the web page), you have no initial outlay, but get about $1.10 a copy sold.

If you don't think you're going to sell many copies in two years, then there's no ECONOMIC reason not to let them bear the risk and expense.   (You will want to check what kind of veto power you have over copies, read the contract carefully, etc, obviously.)   BUT - every copy past that 83rd is giving them an extra $1.

Y axis is dollars, X axis is number of copies sold

Does that matter?  Again, it depends on how many copies you think are going to sell.  The two lines of the graph do not cross until you hit 184 copies.  Until then, you as the author are still making more by letting the publisher invest in the eBook conversion costs and cover art.

There are two other things to consider.

First:  What if they defined "net" as "after we make back what it cost to produce the book"?  That's a far more common definition (you were reading the footnotes, right?).  It also changes this whole equation.  If that's the case, the author doesn't start making money until copy number 150 is sold, and your profits will never be more than if you did it yourself (or had someone pay to do it yourself.


Second:  I did not factor in other services that publishers might bring to the table.  Advertising, for example.  Editors.  Expertise.  Representation at conventions.  Access to an audience.  Those things add value.  How much value... that's an individual decision.  (For example, "exposure" is still something I need among readers, but is worthless to offer to Stephen King.)  Maybe access to other editors or a publishing house.  Those value-added reasons might be worth ceding 45% of net profits;  again, it depends on where you're at in your career and what particulars there are with the publisher.

Also note that you want to evaluate this sort of thing clearly, and definitely read the contract.  How new are they?  How many books have they put out?  What kind of reviews?  What experiences have other authors had with them?  All of those might be total deal-killers, no matter how good the rest of the deal is.

This post took about an hour to research and write, and I hope you found the information useful.  I chose to write this for you instead of just doing something that paid me directly.

If you think that's worthwhile, use the coffeecups to the right to drop a buck or five my way, or pick up one of the books in the righthand sidebar.  (Those of you reading via RSS or Facebook, stop by the site at


1 Full disclosure: I am totally going to start doing this as well. But I'm not yet... and as I mentioned on Facebook, I use my prices as a comparison simply because I know them well.
2 I have no experience of this publisher. Doing a quick review of the publisher (using the same criteria as described here): They seem to have been releasing titles since June of this year (though that wasn't as easy to find as it should have been). They don't disclose who they are on their website. On the specific CFS for single-author anthologies doesn't mention exclusivity, while the "Payment and Rights" page says they want renewable exclusives. I'd read the contract carefully.  [UPDATED:  See the publisher's comment below.]
3 Be careful of this. Some (most) places consider "net" proceeds as "once we've made back all the money we sunk into the project.

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Interviews over at Alliteration Ink - and Deathbot Conversion Instructions

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Two part post today, folks!

If you don't follow @AlliterationInk (or don't subscribe to the e-mail newsletter - join by sending an e-mail to news-join [at], you might have missed the ongoing roundtable interview with Jennifer Brozek and several of the authors from Dangers Untold.  It's pretty fascinating, and lets you get inside the head of some of the insiders in the industry.  (Remember, Jennifer's an award-winning editor - when she gives advice and insight, you want to listen.)

You can catch up (it runs through Saturday) at Alliteration Ink blog, and you can pick up Dangers Untold by clicking on this link or the book cover to the right.

If you haven't taken the time to check out or Matt Betts' book See No Evil, Say No Evil yet, it's okay.  I understand - my "to-do" list is really long as well.  It's a shame, though.  I mean, there's not enough humor in our genre fiction as it is, and Matt does a great job inserting humor (and some heart) into both our favorite genres of fiction... and our poetry.  I've got the audio of him reading "Instructions For Converting Your Deathbot to a Gardenbot" embedded below (or click here) and in the podcast feed.

If you liked that, you'll love the rest of See No Evil, Say No Evil.  Click on this link or on the book cover to the right to snag your own copy. Oh, and did I mention that there was a Goodreads giveaway for See No Evil, Say No Evil going on right now? Yup - but it only goes until Sunday, so enter right away!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

See No Evil, Say No Evil by Matt Betts

See No Evil, Say No Evil

by Matt Betts

Giveaway ends October 14, 2012.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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Brief guideline for comments...

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If your comment has a link to a product or service and you don't disclose that (e.g. "For example, I use [link to service]"), I will presume your comment is spam, no matter how useful or relevant it is otherwise.

Make sense?

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The Beginning of The End of Social Media (at least for Independent Authors)

There's a big "given" throughout this post:  You're already making something awesome.  Whether it's publishing, drawing, writing, or singing, I am assuming that you are creating and that what you're doing is objectively on a professional-ish level.

One of the big, transformative things that social media - Facebook, Twitter, and the rest - brought was a levelling of the playing field.  Everyone had a "voice" that was roughly equal to everyone else's.  Quality would matter more than the size of your advertising budget.

Yeah, that was nice while it lasted.  There are major problems with the two biggest social networks (Twitter and Facebook) that mean they are no longer a useful way to connect with your fans and readers.

Twitter has been an unreliable method of getting information to fans for a while now.  A vast majority of users simply cannot scroll back far in their timelines.  You have to post when your fans (or at least, the most share-happy) fans happened to be looking at their timeline or lists.  Sometimes it worked.  Often it doesn't.

That said, Twitter is still the more egalitarian of the two.  It's not a signal-to-noise problem, it's a too much signal problem.  Some individuals have a great deal of signal amplification, but those positions are largely static... which leads to those individuals being pestered with requests for RTs and mentions.  It's not become completely toxic yet, but Twitter's attempts at monetization (sponsored tweets and beginning to close off API access) are probably only going to make matters worse.

Facebook, on the other hand, made their social network broken on purpose.  We probably should have seen this coming with "popular posts" being at the top of the newsfeed instead of "most recent", but now they've aggressively decided to make money out of making sure that others see your posts.  (Tumblr recently started doing something like this as well, but without the sorting mechanism that makes it broken on purpose.)

Yes, Facebook would seriously charge me $7 to promote a post about how I wasn't going to pay them to promote a post.

I can see the results - over on the Alliteration Ink fan page, I can see how many people saw a particular post.  Note - not clicked on, not read, but simply had it put in front of their eyeballs.  Right around October first, the average number of people who saw any post dropped from 30-40 to only 8 to 12. 

My posts are scheduled, so they're going out at about the same time every day... and this pattern has held for over a week.

To put this in context, that's going from 13% of the likes of the page seeing any post to 4% seeing any given post. 

Let's state this plainly:  If you "like" something, presumably you want to hear from them.  The best scenario there had only 13% seeing what they indicated they wanted to see... which is horrible.  To cut that by a third and then ask for cash to try to get it back to where it was before?

Um, no.

So if you want to make sure that you see everything from Alliteration Ink, follow our RSS feed or join our mailing list by sending an e-mail to news-join [at]


Let Me Warn You... OR: FDR shows some precognitive ability

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Well worth a minute of your time.

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Want "alien" writing for your fiction or game? Check out Dscript.

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I got an e-mail out of the blue from Matthew DeBlock, which seemed... strange.

My name is Matthew DeBlock, I am a Canadian currently living in China. I came across some of your writings in my usual searching and "nerdyness".

I have developed a conscript ( constructed script ) called Dscript that I have been developing for nearly a decade. It “matured” to a reasonable level recently.

Dscript is a 2D writing system that turns alphabetical words into glyphs and symbols, they look quite "ancient/alien" that are legible in both letters and sequence.

If you or anyone you know may be interested in applying Dscript I will gladly help out in whatever way I can, free of charge of course. Dscript itself is creative commons, free to copy, edit, sell by anyone. I am always happy to see it used.

Kinda weird, huh?  But yet... intriguing.  So I poked around a little bit, and it's actually pretty neat. Neat in the way Esperanto is neat, mind you (e.g. I don't have the time to learn either), but still cool.

Check out these examples from the generator:

Alliteration Ink


Steven Saus

 ...and Matthew points out the generator produces very simplistic examples, and they're still way cool. For a more complex example, check out this glyph he made for "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".

Dscript is also under a Creative Commons license, so that's pretty rad too.  You can check out Dscript at, with a PDF introducing the concept and a generator that makes (simple) Dscript

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HOWTO Evaluate a Market (a walkthrough)

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publishing.pngI recently got an e-mail from a friend asking about an "opportunity" to make some money from their short (audio) fiction... but they weren't sure about the site itself and if they were scammers.

So I took a look.  I'm going to walk you through my decision making process here;  as I re-evaluate some of my business model, this is one of the services I'll start offering.  I'll run through a couple of other evaluations in the next days and weeks, though, because this is something you need to learn to do as well.

The e-mail itself listed two URLs: and  I took a look at them in order.

New Rennaissance Media:   Yes, that's totally [sic].  They spelled "renaissance" wrong in the company name in the copyright portion of each page.  The website design is... well, dark.  Not a horrible thing, but something that indicates cluelessness among people who claim to be steeped in digital media.  Grammar is stilted and strange at times - including the "Our Work Speaks Quite Loudly For Itself" ... without any live links to their work.  Strange capitalization throughout (e.g. "Monetization" in the middle of a sentence).  No real names used in the "About Us" (or even "Contact Us") portion of the site.  Oh, and buzzwords galore.  (Yeah, I have to purge my own site of buzzwords too - they weren't buzzwords when I set it up...)  Warning signs, but still, maybe the actual product site is better....

MyAudioShortStories:  The media company name is mis-spelled again - and differently, too:  "New Renascence Media".  We finally get a real name of an owner - though it's exposed through their e-mail address ("About Us" is once again devoid of anything actually saying anything about them as people). 

The site is curiously... empty.  There are no "member plans" available for customers to buy!  There's a grand total of one author, and one short story collection.

And then there's the issue of "copy write" [sic].  (Side note:  If they don't know how to properly spell copyright all the time, it at least indicates a stunning level of ignorance for someone interested in publishing or content distribution.)  At one point on the site, they claim that they will not take "ownership" of any author-created content... but later, they say:

New Renaissance Media is the sole owner of this website as a whole, and of any individual content on the website that is provided by staff, Authors, Artists or other contributors who provide work under contract with New Renaissance Media.
And that language is under the "User Agreement" (which seems to be trying to do double duty for both authors and for end-users).  Sure, they later say that "The website also contains content that is the property of others, such as individual contributors or experts...", but again, there's nothing else that clearly states who that is.

So, taking all this into account, I told my friend that I don't think these people are scammers... but I wouldn't grant audio rights of my work to these folks.

The Legal Agreement bits seem to be aimed more at curbing piracy while providing DRM-free content, and it's not pay-to-play, which is why I don't think they're scammers... but contracts (and legal agreements) are about what is actually said and written, not what about what was meant.  It's not hard to find examples of how to word this stuff correctly (Escape Artists does a good job with their podcasts, as does Clarkesworld for print and audio), so there's really not any excuse for doing it poorly.

Which also brings us to the other issue:  They're putting themselves in direct competition with markets that are already well established - Escape Artists, Clarkesworld, The DrabbleCast... and then there's also Audible now as well.  (Though I don't know what Audible has in short fiction, but the three prior exclusively do short fiction.)

With the degree of ignorance already on display (and lack of preparedness prior to soliciting people to join), I'm highly skeptical these folks will be able to meaningfully penetrate the market.

This isn't quite the same as putting your eBook up at every marketplace you feel like (which, in general, I recommend).  Given that they don't specify anything about audio rights (even whether they want exclusive or non-exclusive), by working with these folks you might be disqualifying yourself from putting the audio elsewhere or even selling it yourself directly.  (Or hey, why not Bandcamp?)

So maybe these folks will see this review (or hear back from my friend) and get their act in line.  Lord knows I've benefited from the criticisms of others.  At that point, we can revisit and see if it's any better.

Doing the research (and digging) as well as this writeup took me about an hour or so.  If this has helped you at all, consider clicking on the coffee cups up there to the top right and toss me a buck or three, or buying some of the books there (especially if you buy them directly from Alliteration Ink).  I'm toying with the idea of ads (or "Affiliate Ads"), but I'd rather not, and it's your support that sways me away from the advertising options.

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Football - 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!

I am now - when I remember to do so - updating these in a podcast feed (dubbed "Radio Free Steven the Nuclear Man" by Laurence). You can subscribe with this link ( in your podcatcher or phone.

Lightning StrikeThe Titans' homecoming game was not going well.

It was a perfect evening for football; clear air and just crisp enough to think about apple cider and light sweatjackets. But the Titans had trouble. Bobby twisted his ankle on the first play. It got worse from there.

With seconds left, the Titans were down by five. Fourth and goal. The center snapped the ball, the pass went high... and landed in the hands of Mike Winkerbean. Mike took a knee, just like his idol, Tebow.

A lightning bolt struck him as a voice boomed: "Thor bet on the other team."

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...and the scammers have found Goodreads.

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If you're not aware, Goodreads (here's my author page) is one of the social media/reading enthusiast sites on the interwebs these days.  It's pretty spiffy, and has a ton of cool features.  One of the best things about it has been the relatively high signal to noise ratio.

And then I just got this:

Add Vivian (vivian.12love@########) as a friend?
Vivian is currently following your reviews
Vivian said: "Hello My Name is Vivian Anderson I am a female, i saw your profile I became so much interested to established a relationship with you, Please kindly contact me on my email address at (vivian2012anderson@#######) for more introduction and my picture. Regards Vivian vivian2012anderson@####"

Um, no.  Even if I hadn't actually taken a class taught by someone whose day job is fighting online scams and con-artists, I'd still be really really wary of this.

There's a way to block individual users... but there isn't a way to report someone as a potential scammer/spammer.  Which is a lack I hope those con artists don't exploit, at least until the folks at Goodreads get some kind of remedy in place... because as I mentioned, the service is cool.

Speaking of, don't forget that the giveaway for Dangers Untold only runs until 8 October - so go enter now!

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More Than a Little Annoyed With @Twitter

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A while back, I made a separate Twitter account for me as a publisher (@alliterationink).  It makes sense, since some people are interested in me as a publisher, but don't want to hear me rant about other things.  So I share publishing-related (not just my own stuff, mind, but what others are doing and the like) over there, and keep my main twitter account (@uriel1998) more...mixed-use.

So I was a little surprised when I discovered that @alliterationink had been suspended.  Not by an e-mail from Twitter, but because Buffer had actually sent me an e-mail saying there was a problem with authorization.  When I attempted to reauthorize the account, it failed... because @alliterationink was suspended.

I can't tell you why it was suspended.  Twitter hasn't told me yet.  When I submitted a support ticket (using the steps I saw here), I got an automated reply saying that maybe I had followed people too aggressively (nope) or I might have violated one of the Twitter Rules.

That's a long-ass list of rules.

What's worse, is that I can't access my timeline.  I can't access my followers.  I can't verify whether or not I might have broken any one of that long laundry list of rules... and I'm pretty sure I didn't.  But I can't know, because I can't check and make sure that something didn't go wacky.  It's very possible that something did - I had an automated app just post a blog entry from mid-September on Facebook as a hiccup.  But all I can do is e-mail Twitter back and say "I don't know what I did wrong."

Presuming it's an automated process, it wouldn't be hard to narrow that list down so that people like me can more effectively rebut the claim or change our behavior.  That would get maximal results with minimal person-hours of effort.  Worse, it was actively reviewed first, and the real person who suspended me couldn't be bothered to click a radio button to say why.

Meanwhile, this guy I featured as a bad promoter earlier today seems to have no problems whatsoever.

Between crap like this and Facebook being broken on purpose, I'm starting to wonder if we are already past "peak social media".

There is always e-mail, though.  If you wish to join Alliteration Ink's mailing list - including news of releases, open calls, and more, send an e-mail to news-join [at] You will get a confirmation request that you must answer to join the list.

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Promoting your Book: The Good And The Bad

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This is really quick, and really simple.

A good way to promote your book: Use a Goodreads giveaway. Like this one I'm running for Dangers Untold. (If the fancy widget doesn't show up for you, use this link here. Giveaway ends October 8th.)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dangers Untold by Jennifer Brozek

Dangers Untold

by Jennifer Brozek

Giveaway ends October 08, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

A bad way to promote your book: 

Spam your twitter followers.  Or worse, like this clown, thank them for following you while spamming them, and when they're not even following you.   Kind of a giveaway.

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Not the Post I Planned: My Dog Has Lymphoma

This isn't the post I was supposed to be writing today. I was going to tell you about Dangers Untold, and post some of the cool interview questions (and answers) from the editor and authors.

But then the vet called back.

Diabetic dog has (newly diagnosed) lymphoma.  

It's widespread.  Aggressive.  And his diabetes is (still) uncontrolled.

I told a few folks at CONTEXT that they suspected lymphoma (they did a checkup just before I put 'em in the kennel to go to the con), but I really didn't let myself process or think about it.  Though I knew.  I mean, you know the look that medical folks get when they don't want to tell you bad news. But you set it to the side and tell yourself everything's okay, since you haven't actually heard it. Right?

He's definitely stage III substage b (systemic spread, evidence of systemic symptoms including loss of appetite and difficulty breathing).  Maybe stage IV or V - we've not done that kind of testing.  Doesn't really matter, though.  Life expectancy without treatment (or with prednisone alone to alleviate some symptoms) is 4-6 weeks.  In retrospect, some of those symptoms showed up 2 weeks ago, so bog knows how long he's got.

This is almost - almost - worse than what happened with Taylor, when there was less than 36 hours between diagnosis and him dying.  Almost.

He could be treated with chemo.  Survival rates for 1 year are pretty decent - 50% - but drop heavily for a two-year survival rate to only 20%.  As this website (which gets major kudos for being both pretty rigorous and also giving comprehensible information about cancer in dogs) points out, a year may be up to a tenth of a dog's lifetime, so that 20% two-year survival isn't quite as horrible as it sounds.

And yes, it would be difficult (given the large amounts of steroids involved) with his uncontrolled diabetes.  But that's not the shit thing.

The anticipated per-month cost for chemotherapy for the first four months would be two and a half times my mortgage.  It would be over two-thirds of my monthly paycheck. I can only imagine how much more it would be for a person.

And this really tears the shit out of me.  Because it's not a matter of me going without, or having a little less of some things, or going a (little) in debt.  It's a difference between me having somewhere to live or not.  Or increasing my consumer debt again by another third to a half.

I know some people wouldn't have even treated him for the diabetes.  That's because some people are hellbent on demonstrating why I tend to value the average dog's life over those of the average humans.  For me, this is a hellish dilemma.  (I can type, but I can't talk right now.  I just had to cancel an interview I had scheduled for this evening.)  Even with the chemotherapy - presuming it doesn't turn his kidneys into rubbish - he won't live that long, at best.  Without... well, yeah.

Sure, there's some (cold, oh so cold) relief by knowing that it's not nearly as bad as having to make that same kind of decision about a loved human.  And I can get distracted by the righteous anger of knowing this is the bullshit decision that so many people diagnosed with cancer - even those with health insurance - have to make in the USA.

Because yeah,  if I had the finances to pay for it, this would be a no-brainer...


If you'll excuse me, "Pavlov" and I have to head off to our trailer...1

1 Yes, to those who know me, I'm well aware that making that image and bad joke was an attempt to deflect my own emotions by keeping myself occupied for about twenty minutes. Your point is what?