Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Are You Really a Publishing House?

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Talk to enough authors, and you’ll learn the axiom that anybody can call themselves an agent. It’s easy. Just call yourself one, and boom, you are one.

It’s not just agents anymore. With today’s technology, anyone can call themselves a “publisher” or “publishing house” with nothing more than a computer in a home office.

A delicious bookThis isn’t a bad thing. It’s essentially how I work as Alliteration Ink. It’s great for DIY and indie authors - and I think that's a large part of why authors have started calling themselves "publishers". They want the vestigial respect of the title (and avoiding the supposed stigma of being self-published). But the skills - and motivations - to publish your own work are not identical to those of publishing someone else's. And worse, this whole "call yourself a publisher" thing has thrown open the door for scammers and unethical people to present themselves as something they’re not.

So I wanted to come up with some quick litmus tests to determine if someone is a real publishing house or not. Here’s the ones I’ve come up with so far:

1. The do not require payments from the author.
2. The author is paid in something more than author copies
3. Editorial oversight/control from someone separate than the author
4. They do not publish their own work as their main imprint. 1

Number four is perhaps the most problematic one here. I’m trying to draw a clear line between being a self-publishing author (again, no problem with that) and being a publisher. They’re different hats - just like being a publisher and providing publishing services are two different hats. Blurring the line between being a publisher and self-published author is problematic at best.

(I actually fail number four - I have two drabble collections that fall into this category. I’m not happy about that, and will have an announcement regarding that later this week.)  [EDIT:  That announcement is here, announcing Pursued By Bears as a separate imprint.]

Again, these are quick-and-dirty litmus tests, not a substitute for an in-depth evaluation. I still recommend ITW’s checklist to evaluate a publisher of any size. But if someone fails more than one of the tests above, maybe you can safely give them a pass.

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An Open Letter to The Men In Genre Fandom

[Full disclosure - I am a member of SFWA and have written articles for the SFWA Bulletin. In fact, I should have an article in the next one.]


There's a damn good reason that women and minorities aren't as well-represented as the straight white male in genre fandom. It's well exemplified by the 200th cover of the SFWA Bulletin (check out this clever article with pic here)... but maybe not quite for the reason you think.

Admittedly, the woman is in a victorious pose (and therefore, presumably strong), but the chainmail -- sorry, scalemail -- bikini armor (in a mountainous climate, no less) still plays right back into the sexist patterns of old. While portraying her as a strong warrior, it simultaneously tears away the strength of the woman by arranging her outfit and pose so as to satisfy the male gaze.1

It's a decades old tactic - pay lip service to empowerment whilst simultaneously tearing away the power that you grant. It reminds the represented group(s) who is actually in charge. It reminds everyone who the target audience is...and isn't. (Important note: While I am talking about sexism here, I'm guessing that racism follows the same pattern as well.)

I showed the cover to my writing group, half of which are women. Instead of being outraged or annoyed like I was, the women just shrugged.

"What do you expect?" said one.

"Same old same old," said the other.

"But...but..." I spluttered.

"Look," they said2, obviously pitying my innocence, "this is nothing new. This is ... well... normal."

Further, as Geo-Geek pointed out:
Double bonus - the Resnick and Malzberg dialog at the back is to sing the praises of lady editors and publishers. With, "She was competent, unpretentious, and beauty pageant gorgeous... as photographs make quite clear. Tell succeeding generations all about her [Dorothy McIlwraith], please." at the start.

There's two related things for us males to learn here.

  1. Our fandom is assumed to be sexist by people outside it.
  2. The burden of proof is on us.

This means that every Scalzi-Hines poseoff that mocks and decreases or minimizes sexism is assumed to be an exception. And that every *-mail bikini and every case of victim-blaming is seen as the norm. That people think that women can't enter a convention or a comics store or a gaming store without being ogled and harassed.

And there's only one way to change it.

We - the guys who have perpetuated it for so long - must join voices with the women who love the same things we do. We must all say in one voice, repeatedly, that sexism is not okay any more.

When sexist bullshit raises its head, we have to ensure that there's a clear message that it's not okay in our community. That apologies are matched with actions, instead of justified with "reasons".

There is only one available course of action:

We must clearly, consistently ensure that until those apologies are said, until those sexist behaviors change, that people behaving in sexist ways aren't welcome in our fandom.

So say we all.

For further (and slightly less spork-wielding) reading, I highly recommend Jim C. Hines' post about cover art and about posing like a man in regards to sexuality and objectification.

1 If you're a guy going "What's the problem, she's just sexy!" right now, then you are demonstrating the male gaze as referred to here.
2 Obviously I'm summarizing, folks. And in case you're wondering, those women are not prejudiced against genre. The opposite, if anything.


Doctor Versus Doctor In A Stunning Avoidance of SlashFic!

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John Michael Perkins posted a cute "what if" on his Facebook the other day:

Who would win:  Doctor Who or Doctor Doom?
I found myself responding at 0400 this morning... and it tickled me enough that I thought I'd share. 

[SCENE: TARDIS interior, decorated first half of season six. DOCTOR is working at the TARDIS console.]

DOOM: [Enters TARDIS, wearing POWER ARMOR OF DOOM] Fear me, for I am DOOM! Hey...this thing is...
[DOCTOR turns from the TARDIS console. As he waves SONIC SCREWDRIVER, it whirrs distinctively. It is very effective! POWER ARMOR falls apart to the ground.]
DOCTOR: [calling offstage] River...
[RIVER enters, looks at the now-naked DOOM, and rolls her eyes.]
[NAKED DOOM charges at DOCTOR. RIVER shoots him in both knees. DOOM falls to the ground, whimpering.]
[DOCTOR looks at RIVER's gun snorts dismissively.]
DOCTOR: Be a dear and take out the trash. [DOCTOR turns back to the TARDIS console.]
RIVER: Sexist. I'll make you pay for that comment, sweetie. [Looks at DOOM] Even though I have to use the handcuffs on him.

[Fade to Black]

...and yeah.  So that's me on not enough sleep at four am.   And somehow, even though Dr. Doom ended up all nekkid, no slashfic.  Go me.

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The Five Books That Changed My Life (wherein I cheat mercilessly)

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In another one of those “tagged in a post” things, Graham Storrs long ago tagged me to write a post about five books that most influenced me.

I’m going to cheat.

  1. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. A memoir of Vietnam, done up as a series of short stories. It’s unclear from the narrative how much is actually autobiographical memoir and how much is fictional. It all feels true. This book is singlehandedly responsible for rescuing me from hating literary fiction. (I had a college prof who spent a whole semester having freshmen dive into the Grapes of Wrath.) It’s powerful, it’s passionate, and it’s engrossing.
  2. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. This book is remarkable. Twining narrative, “found” objects, and potentially pretentious things like colored text, it manages to avoid being overly clever art, and instead comes down on the side of immersively powerful narrative. It shook up what was left from “The Things They Carried”, making it obvious that "clever" and "smart" were not always synonyms for "douchebag pretension".  My girlfriend (or LLL, if you prefer) got me a better edition for Christmas.  YAY!
  3. Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuck. This book (the only nonfiction one on the list) did a lot to help convince me that it would be possible to do what I love. It’s not gimmicky, it doesn’t have a secret solution, but it does contain a lot of common-sense wisdom that might not be that common. It, along with zefrank, AFP, and Tyler Durden help keep my FILDI high.
  4. The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. 23 Skiddo. I ran across this book while still a teenager. This book introduced me (obliquely) to Discordianism and the art of looking at life obliquely and with humor. It’s absurdist, insane, profane, and delightful. All in equal measures, at least, if you're descended from a Yeti. Fnord.
  5. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Starship Troopers, all by Robert Heinlein. Here’s where I cheat. You should read all three of these. (Anyone who bases their opinion on RAH from reading just one of these three is a fool.) Not only is each a thoughtful examination of these systems of government and ethics (libertarianism, a fully participatory democracy, and communism) working correctly, but by reading all three, you’ll realize that RAH could actually write coherently and kindly about each of them. While each book's argument has flaws, they're remarkably well put together, and with a far better plot:lecture ratio than anything that Orwell wrote. Warning, though: They're sexist. Perhaps progressive for their time, but still quite sexist and heteronormative. And still worth reading.

So what books have influenced you?

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My Next Big Thing - Mark and Sylvia

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I’m horrible at blog hops and tagging and so on. I tend to write blog posts in big blasts (usually a week or two worth at a time) then let it lie fallow save for an occasional as-needed update. So when I get tagged in one of these - say, by Sarah Hans (editor of Sidekicks!, due out in March 2013) - I’ll often forget about it when it’s time for me to actually write the damn thing.

This particular blog hop - The Next Big Thing - lets you know about my next Work In Progress (or WIP). While it's true that I'm going to be the publisher of Sidekicks! (which Sarah's editing), I can't really say that it's my work. She and the writers are doing all the work as far as the actual stories are concerned.

So instead, I'm going to shift gears a little and talk about what I'm actually writing.

You might remember me saying that I failed (and sorta won) NaNoWriMo. Let me tell you a little about that (ongoing, but more slowly) story.

The book currently has the unimaginative working title of “Mark and Sylvia”, after the two main characters. That said, here’s the elevator synopsis:

“He’s a bisexual werebear. I’m a transgender mage. Together, we fight crime.”

I’ve been writing iterations of this for a couple of years (a LOT of years, actually), and the characters have pretty clear voices at this point. It’s a nice, darkly humorous urban fantasy in the same neighborhood as Dresden and Canderous. Which is really strange, since I never wanted or set out to write urban fantasy. At all.

The whole idea really came from the characters and their interactions. Mark showed up first - he’s actually the original reason I got back into Second Life and ended up being a bear there.

Bear with a Sonic Screwdriver
Sylvia came partially from my academic research into transgendered individuals, and partially from my memory of a young transvestite and an older transsexual I met in Louisville back in the 90’s. And then they end up together, and Stuff Happens.

It was actually a mistake to try to make Mark in Second Life. It made it hard for me to let the character grow and change. So I don’t try to visualize anyone in particular for the characters. If this were ever to become a movie, I would wait to see it until after I was done writing the books.

Writing these characters is getting faster. I’d already written out a bunch of short work (which I’ve largely trunked) to get their voices down. It let me work out a lot of the problems with the characters before I started on the main book. Since I’ve not finished it yet, I’m not sure when I’ll be done, or who (if anyone) will be representing it.

There’s been two surprising things about this book so far. The first is how little of a “thing” the bisexual and transgender bits are. They come up, but they’re not a central emphasis of the story. The second is how much I’m blatantly snagging villians and ideas from elsewhere... and even namechecking it. But I think it works; having the characters say “Isn’t that like this thing I read on the Internet?” and having another explain the similarities and differences both credits the source material and explains how I’ve made the motif my own.

So that's what I'm working on. How about you?

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Book Review: Dead Inside: Do Not Enter (Notes From the Zombie Apocalypse)

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Dead Inside:Do Not Enter is (accurately) described as a cross between World War Z and PostSecret. It is one of the most wonderfully bleak books that I've read recently.

It's all made up of "found" objects and momentos. Photographs, notes, messages, all discovered in a backpack by an anonymous survivor.

Some of the items were never meant for posterity - bits of silent conversation on paper carried on when the dead were nearby. Some are clearly confessions, memories, hurried memoirs scrawled out to a transient hope of a future posterity. A future reader.

A future.

This book requires a suspension of disbelief. Try to read it bit by bit or like a regular novel, and you will have no idea what I'm talking about.

Set aside an hour or two. Find a relatively quiet place where you won't be bothered. Have other people nearby for extra points.

Read straight through. Pause with each page, but don't stop. Let each photo, each note build in an ongoing crescendo of horror.

Highly recommended.

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Setting Dynamic Window Title on Xterm and Custom Icon For Multiple Xterms At Launch

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tl;dr:  This is how to set a dynamic title of the path name and variant icons in your xterm (and probably any other terminal application) without altering .Xresources.

It's been a while since I wrote up a geeky howto.  You might remember (if you're a *nix geek - and if you're a Mac geek, you're secretly a *nix geek, just saying) that I talked about using Xterm and making it behave nicely with copy and paste.  This worked out wonderfully - my terminal windows are nice and snappy.


They were all titled "xterm" and all had the same default non-icon.  Ick.  (And if you're about to mention screen, know that I use it already for stuff like my IM and twitter client...)

So, after a pleasurable hour and a half of banging on a keyboard, I found out how to make Xterm not only title itself dynamically, but also how to make a number of icons automagically show up.

The title is actually pretty easy.  In your .bashrc, add these lines:

B'dow. Too easy.

Next, snag xseticon. If your distro has a copy, great - otherwise just compile it from source.

Then you'll need to snag a nice clean terminal icon. The one from the One Bit icon set (free!) worked well for me:

Here's what I did - I added a bunch of new transparent layers and put a "wash" of a different color on several variants using the GIMP. (That's why I chose this image; the clean black area let me easily select it without any trouble.)

You'll snag those icons and scripts from the github repository. Put the script wherever you like it, and make sure the paths in the script point to the actual icons.

Last step - alter your .bashrc, so that there's an alias for xterm (see the README in the repository) that calls our script.

Then, whenever you call xterm, you'll have a new colored icon and a title that reflects where the heck you were working.

This is one of those small annoyances that, once fixed, simply makes life so much easier. Huzzah!

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Dealing With the "Professional" Problem (or: The Inadequacy of Labeling)

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Label Removal"Professional" is really slippery word.  Folks fight bitterly for the right to be termed a "professional".   My "day job" profession fought for years to be called "technologist" instead of "technician" because it was more "professional".  Fifty Foot Shadows has a great discussion on the concept in the photography world.

Much as Fifty Foot Shadows points out, the term is far from clear-cut.  Here's some real life examples (collected over the last few years) from the writing world.

  • One author told me that he didn't consider any writer to be a professional unless that was the way they made their living.  No day job.  No spouse providing other benefits.  Just writing.
  • One author told me that he didn't consider any writer to be a professional unless they were good enough of a writer to get paid for their work.
  • One author told me that he didn't consider any writer to be a professional unless they acted to a certain code of civil conduct, no matter what they got paid.
Three different definitions, all passionately defended.  All of them deeply flawed.  None of them wrong.

Here is a step-by-step guide to dealing with this problem:
  1. Screw other people's labels and validation.
  2. Define what "success" means to you.  Ignore all others.
  3. Make your goals things that you control.  Things you can't control aren't goals.
  4. Haters exit stage right, pursued by a bear.
Rinse.  Repeat.

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Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business manages to balance both a challenging point of view - you are responsible for your habits, and therefore are responsible for everything that happens to you - without being preachy or pessimistic.

Each section largely centers around a single case study (with illustrative anecdotes and data from other sources) that clearly demonstrates the point being made... while managing to not lecture or talk down to the reader. The case studies are compellingly written and researched, making the book not just fascinating, but fun to read.

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Learning to Change The Way I Communicate

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[This is a bit more personal journal than most blog entries.  Feel free to skip if you like.  And no, I'm probably not talking about you at any point here.]

CommunicationI mentioned the other day that I'm doing my level best to say what I mean, mean what I say, and avoid being snarky.  That is, I'm doing my best to make all the different conversations that are going on (what's actively being said, what's being deliberately left unsaid, body language, etc) to all be the same conversation.  Further, I try to keep my conversations to the conversation I want to have rather than the conversation that my initial emotional impulse would be.

It's part of my overall personal-drama-reduction initiative.  Really, I've had enough for a few lifetimes.

First off, communicating clearly is hard.  Even as a largely clueless guy1, I started off being crap at calming my emotions.  So while I might get the words right, getting the tone to be where I wanted it to be has been difficult.

Second, I have problems getting people to believe that I'm serious.  This is almost certainly my fault.  Explicitly saying something - such as "No, it's okay you left me a lot of work, really, I'm good with it" - is interpreted as sarcasm.  The more I say "I'm not being sarcastic, really, it's fine," the worse it seems to get.  I thought that - since my tone was so hard to hide- that when I wasn't being sarcastic, that'd be obvious as well. 

And finally, there's the people who read into everything I say.  "Oh, clueless guy.  So this is a gender thing."   

Maybe it is the people I'm talking to, or the medium(s) I'm communicating over.  Or a combination of all of the above.

Trying to un-futz your communication style after a couple of decades is hard, necessary work.  I'm not expecting a cookie for doing it, either.  At the same time, it's really discouraging to get negative feedback for trying to do the right thing, to be honest about your emotions, and to not hide behind sarcasm and belittling.

And then there's the praise.  And attention.

Because I'm also noticing that reasonable requests are not getting any attention.  In multiple sectors of my life, over and over.  There's a lot of places in my life where the only way to be heard at all is to be (at best) a squeaky wheel.  And at worst, to be some kind of threat.

That's when the hits on the blog, the shares, the returned messages - all the things that signal "you're important" - start going nuts.

But I'm going to do my best to ignore those too. 

Right.  Enough rambling.  Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?

1I can analyze this stuff after the fact, but realtime?  I'm useless.

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Book review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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In the world of Ready Player One - a near-future dystopia - Ernest Cline sets a compelling mystery plot that weaves in and out of the real and virtual worlds.  It's tight, compelling, and drew me in quickly and didn't let go.  If that wasn't enough, there's one other thing:   If you're a child of the 80's and remember stepping into a video arcade with ANY degree of fondness, just stop reading reviews and pick this book up now.  Really.

This book is enjoyable for anybody... but if you know the difference between the sounds of Mario coins and Sonic coins, or instantly place the quote "Red Warrior Needs Food Badly"... well, this book was made for you.

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Help a Teacher I Know Get a New Classroom Carpet for Pre-K Students

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I met Mrs. Cobb way back when I was in Missouri. I can personally attest to her skill and dedication in helping children; teaching pre-K kids was a huge part of her life back when I lived there too.

Now she finds herself in the position of so many other teachers - needing something basic, but unable to get the budget to obtain it.

My class desperately needs a new carpet for our gathering space, circle time, and large group activities. The new carpet picked out has both upper and lower case letters, numbers to 20, 6 colors and 4 shapes. It will be a great resource for the students in my classroom.

The carpet is over $400, but with everyone giving just a buck or two (or more, if you can), it should be easy.

Swing by and donate a buck or five to help these young kids get what they need for a nice classroom
. They take all sorts of payment options, and it's fast and easy.

Note: If for some reason it says the project isn't available, just hit up the gift card. She had to update the picture and sometimes it resets the projects as well.

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Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

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The Last Policeman has a fairly straightforward setup - a suicide that somehow seems fishy.  Most of the other officers want to leave the case be.  One cop believes it's a murder, and will follow it to the end of the Earth.

Literally.  The asteroid is due to hit the planet in less than a year.

There's something special about this novel.  Something almost ineffable in the way it hits the tone of this situation just right.  Something beautifully haunting. The way it captures the quiet - and not so quiet - desperation of looming doom.  And that's what takes this novel from pretty good to "damn good".

It's worth noting that the day after I finished reading this novel, I learned that an asteroid had passed between the Earth and the moon.  It had been discovered three days prior.

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I'm probably not talking about you, unless I am.

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Ironically, this post is actually prompted by a real-world event in real time (I'm writing this at 3:10pm, and I'm about to hit "Publish").  It's not your business what post exactly prompted it or why. Yes, I said essentially the same thing to the person involved in an e-mail.  And suffice to say that if you think I'm being obliquely snarky about someone on the blog, read the last paragraph.

I'm updating my "If you think I'm talking about you" page (if you haven't read it yet, you should) with two bullet points:

  • Many - but not all - of my posts are written well in advance of when they appear on the blog.
  • I often try to relate or generalize my experiences from one area of my life to another one.  This happens enough that it's actually part of my bio on my website.  

Let me give you a real world example (partially because it's convenient, but also because it's such a good example and doesn't violate HIPPA laws):1

  • All of the "review posts" were written about two weeks before I even started scheduling them on the blog.
  • The post about the "Old Boy's Club In Writing and Publishing" was inspired by the events at my day job that followed after I wrote Get User Input and Print to any Networked Printer From the Windows CLI and Visual Basic.  I took the experience in my day job, and generalized that to the publishing world (because most of you are not here about my day-job adventures).   I wrote that post somewhere around New Year's and scheduled it that week.
  • Obviously, I will bump schedules, write something in real time, and call someone out by name (hello Penny Arcade!) when necessary.
  • I don't make a distinction between the scheduled pre-written posts and the "immediate response" ones.  The events in this post about playing Minecraft with my kid?  Happened two days prior.  The blog entry posted well after he'd gone home.  No distinction made between that two-day old post, the Penny Arcade post (written immediately before posting it), and the "Old Boy's Club" post that was inspired and written weeks before.
I'm doing my damnest this year - we could call it a resolution - to say what I mean.  That means to be REALLY CLEAR when I'm being snarky - and avoid snark the rest of the time.  Which is kind of hard when you're a sarcastic SOB by inclination.  But that topic should probably be it's own post.

I'll schedule it.

1 And before you ask "Oh, is this what prompted you to write this?"... please re-read this entire post.  I'm not going to answer that.

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Necessary, Sufficient, and Causality (or Adventures in Publishing)

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Most people know that correlation (two things happening together) may not be the same thing as causation (one thing causing another).  It's just as important to know the difference between necessary and sufficient causes.

For example, having an internet connection is necessary to get online.  It is not sufficient, though - you also have to have some kind of device that can use the connection.

Pretty straightforward.  Then you throw people in the mix.

Having sex is necessary to get someone pregnant.  But it's not sufficient - you can have sex lots of times (or ways) without pregnancy occurring.

Oh.  Wait.  Sex isn't actually necessary either.  Artificial insemination and all that.  So we'll say that getting a sperm and egg cell together is the necessary --

Right.  Cloning.  Parthogenesis.   Those are necessary for one way of making babies... but not necessary for other methods.  So it starts getting complicated.

And that's just biology.

It gets really complicated when you start looking at sociology or economics.  Especially something that's craft and/or art dependent like publishing.  Our brains rebel.  It's too much to deal with intuitively.  And that's when the crappy advice really starts flying.

Think about any of the strident folks who insist their way is the only (or even best) way to publish.  They're usually talking about one of the reasons they succeeded.  But the reason they're talking about almost certainly is not sufficient by itself... and may be counterproductive for the way you are going about getting published.

There is no single sufficient or necessary element to being a successfully published author.

Read that again.  It's important.

There's lots of things you can do that will raise your chances.  There are other things you can do that will hurt your chances.

Want evidence?  Check out the First Novel Survey that Jim Hines did (along with the further analysis of the data I provided).

Stop focusing on things like sales, or acceptances, or downloads, or hits.  You can keep trying to tweak, trying to find that one sufficient element that simply doesn't exist... and lose track of why you're doing it at all.

Focus on goals you do control.   How many words have you written?  How many submissions?  How many articles?  How many queries?

Meet those goals.  Keep meeting them.  And do it again.

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Book Review: Lost at the Con by Bryan Young

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[Full disclosure:  I know Bryan Young personally.]

Lost at the Con is, in many ways, a geek homage to Thompson's _Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas_.  So I should probably start by saying that I thought that _Fear and Loathing..._ was, at best, okay.

The main problem I have with this book is the same problem I had with Thompson's :   I didn't like the protagonist.  They aren't people I choose to be around - and would probably be people I'd actively avoid, if at all possible.  However, I liked this book quite a bit more than _Fear and Loathing..._.  Despite the protagonist's jerk attitude, Bryan is clearly both familiar with (and a sympathetic friend to) the con-goers portrayed in the book.  And unlike Thompson's work, Young's protagonist actually does start growing and redeeming himself (a little bit in the second act, more in the third). 

And really, that's my only problem with the book at all.  It's a significant problem for me as a reader because of my own personal tastes.  If unpleasant protagonists don't bother you, then Bryan's writing skill and sense of humor make this a great pick for you.  If an unpleasant protagonist turns you off, Bryan's writing skill and sense of humor will need to carry you through at least a third of the book.  It's worth nothing that the author's skill did carry me through that first bit... but I noticed.

Read the preview parts, and see what you think (especially knowing there's some redemption later), and you'll probably have a good idea if this book is right for you.

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The Old Boy's Club in Writing and Publishing

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There is an "old boy's club" in publishing.  It's a bit of a misnomer - some of the boys are women - but there is one.

Actually, there's quite a few of them.

They're insular circles where people get invited to anthologies, asked to edit projects, do artwork, or publish things.

It's hard to gain access to one.  There are so many poseurs, wannabes, and think-they-cans out there (and that's not counting the actual cons and ripoffs) that it is almost necessary to have a small group of people that you can count on.

Here's the thing:  It doesn't matter. 

You can spend a lot of time and energy trying to get noticed, accepted, and respected by these clubs.  To be brought into the inner circle.

日本寺大仏・磨崖仏/ Nihonji Buddha・MagabutsuDon't.

Be awesome instead.  Be smart instead.  Be creative instead.  Find other people at your level - either at conventions or online - and bond with them. 

Now more than ever, it's possible to make your own successful network of trust with people you've worked with.

And if you meet the guru by the side of the road... write your way right past him

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Book Review: Alchemystic by Anton Strout

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[Full disclosure:  I know Anton Strout personally.]

Long time readers of my reviews might know that I often name-check Anton as the reason why I feel confident reviewing the works of people I know.  I wasn't that kind to his first novel. 

Alchemystic is NOT Anton's first novel.  It shows.

There's a good balance of action and humor, with just the right level of snarky asides to keep it from getting weighted down, but still feeling natural and compelling.  The first third of the book sometimes slows a tiny bit for (very necessary) exposition, but then it gets moving at a breakneck pace that pulls you right with it.  Anton's clearly mastered the action-packed (yet quipping) urban fantasy genre, and it's great fun to go along with the ride.

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Might as well have been Moria...

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I've been playing Minecraft on MyMinecraft with kiddo lately.  Apparently someone set the mobs to start spawning like crazy, because this happened:






Yes. One of those is to the knee.

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How Not To Be A Douchepuppet (Featuring Penny Arcade)

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It's pretty simple, really.

When a group of people say that they're dealing with sexual assault and are systemically being made to feel uncomfortable at conventions... you don't fucking mock them.

There's all sorts of ways that you can reinforce a discriminatory and abusive system without meaning to be discriminatory.  It's like playing Monopoly - the rules of the game force you to be an asshole to the other players.  So you can support a sexist - and creeper-friendly - environment while still having good or neutral intentions.

When you step across the line that Penny Arcade did yesterday, you're actively encouraging creepers and giving a nod-and-a-wink to sexual assault.

Mike Krahulik, Jerry Holkins:  I know you guys have done some great things in the past.  And everyone makes mistakes.  This isn't a mistake.  You don't get to claim it's satire when it's the same thing you've been saying seriously for years.

Yeah, I know you have females that you love and care about in your life.  That doesn't make it better - it makes it so fucking much worse.
You are mocking women who are demanding to be treated like people.  

But thank you for one thing.  You've given me a great example of douchepuppetry in real life for my kid.

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There Is No Orthodoxy (Or Always Best Way) To Publish Any More

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Publishing these days is like investing.  What you find to be the best way to do it may NOT be the best way for another person. 

Yes, we should make sure that people are making informed decisions.  But if they reach a different conclusion than us with the same information, then so be it.

When you insist that others can *only* be right by following *your* idea of orthodoxy, it doesn't convince others.

It only makes you look insecure.

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Book Review: A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein

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In one book, Kurt Vonnegut Jr wrote "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."  I first saw Kate Bornstein almost on a whim, without knowing what, exactly, I was getting into.  I have never been so glad to follow an impulse.

This memoir - A Queer and Pleasant Danger - is a raw accounting of Auntie Kate's life - including her time with Scientology.  Auntie Kate leavens the often-painful story with so much compassion and kindess that I was able to understand and empathize (if not outright relate) to all parts of her life.  In turns fascinating and inspiring, Ms. Bornstein managed to write a memoir that makes her unusual life path perfectly relatable. 

And don't forget that she's a very funny lady.  The full title of this book is "A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today".  If that title makes you smile, then don't hesitate to pick up this book from a remarkable human being.

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Book Review: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

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[Full disclosure:  I know Jim Hines personally.]

Libriomancer starts off Jim Hines' third series.  The first series - Goblin (or Jig) books - are comedies set in a fantasy world.  The second series - the Princess novels - are fantasy stories with comedic elements.  This series - Magic Ex Libris - is set in the modern day, but perfectly balances the tonal difference between the first two series.  This book is just fun, with laugh-out-loud moments, but also shows off the skills that Jim has developed while writing the Princess series.  That alone would be enough to make this book a highly recommended pick of mine.

But when you add in that magic comes from books, giving Jim an excuse to throw in all sorts of fun references?  Why, that's a delightful icing on the cake. 

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Book Review: Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

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There are some books (and stories) that you want to like... but can't. Unfortunately, Pump Six and Other Stories, this collection of Mr. Bacigalupi's work falls squarely in that category for me. These stories are lush - many of them set in the same near-future dystopian world. There are a lot of good things in these stories as well. The storytelling is lush and skillful. The characters are NOT the run-of-the-mill white, middle-class Americans you so often end up seeing... but are still so convincingly written that you empathize with them anyway. The future dystopia is clearly and thoughtfully constructed without being the same old same old with a fresh coat of paint.

The problem I had is that many of the stories were... depressing. Not disturbing. I'm okay with disturbing. Instead, many of the stories were just sad. It often seemed as though a patina of hopelessness was washed over the pages. And I don't do sad very well, even though I recognize the skill both in the worldbuilding and writing itself.

As it stands, the skill on display made this collection worth reading, even if I didn't actually *like* it. But if depressing plots don't bother you, then Mr. Bacigalupi's writing in this collection will be a treat, and you should snag it ASAP.

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Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

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This book *could* be a one-joke wonder - "Huh. Redshirts die a lot. Huhuhuh." This book *could* be a good satire, like GalaxyQuest was.

Redshirts is neither.

Redshirts takes the primary joke, the biting satire, and then once it's just about got you thinking that you know where it's going, it slams down a sharp right turn and throws in solid characterization and an unexpected huge helping of solid plot and suspense. There is a reason this book has gotten so much attention. It's that damn good, with special delights for fans of a specific franchise....

Highly recommended.

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This is your life...beginning.

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Whenever you start to flag on your New Year's resolution, watch these two. Back to back.

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Priorities: Money, Mouth. Literally.

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While eating at a local employer's place of business - one large enough to have a cafeteria - I saw all of the "get healthy" intiatives. They encourage healthy eating with numerous signs, programs, and motivational and educational materials.  This was part of my dinner.

Yeah, you know where this is going.  The smaller portion of veggies cost significantly more than the cake.

Sometimes, you just gotta use a rageface.

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Not a Chance - A 100 Word Story

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Red-faced KrampusThe boy clutched the edges of his blanket, huddling into the flannel, hiding against the cold and his sister's condescending glare.

She tapped his shoulder. "Santa's not coming. Not even a chance. Come to bed before..." she shuddered "...he sees and beats us again."

The boy didn't move. Finally, his sister shook her head and hid in the tiny room they shared.

The boy started awake at the hoofstep on the floor.

The demon, Santa's prisoner and helper, punisher of the wicked, handed his chain to the boy.

"Merry Christmas," it hissed. Boy and demon smiled the same smile.

Please note that the 100 Word Story Podcast is changing URLS to!

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.

I am 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. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

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Short reviews coming up over the next week...

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Just FYI:  I've got a backlog of reviews that will be going up over the next few days;  other posts may be interspersed as needed.

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A very, very short review of _The Hobbit_

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I was going to write something longer, but at this point I'm really just +1 some specific points....

Quick addition:  If you want to get a sense of how things are different and yet the same (and written by someone who has clearly not only paid a great deal of attention to the story itself but the craft of it), go read In Defense of Fili, Kili and Thorin Oakenshield – an Appreciation Beyond Hot Dwarves.

  1. It is good.  Even the supposed "slow bits" were interesting.
  2. This would have been sooooooo rushed if it wasn't stretched out across multiple movies.
  3. It is not the book.  It is a prequel to LOTR.  While it's in many ways similar to the book, it isn't. 
  4. Not Being The Book is Not A Bad Thing;  the movie is clearly tied into the larger world of Middle-Earth rather than being a standalone adventure.  (Also possible because it's been lengthened across releases.)
  5. This is also not the Rankin-Bass Hobbit animated feature.
  6. There was only one add-on that felt really klunky - that was the Defiler.
  7. I *loved* how the dwarves were not all carbon copies;  fellow nerds, time to vary up your D&D characters.
       (Again, check out "Beyond Hot Dwarves".  Really.)

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