Saturday, November 22, 2014

New Episode of Eve's Hungry: Spoils of War

I just posted a new episode of Eve's Hungry:

Episode Thirteen: Spoils of War

It's getting close to the thrilling conclusion (which I promise is great) and then I'm going to publish the completed work as a novel on Amazon.  The series has been up for several years and its had over 5,000 page views.  Which isn't a heck of a lot by internet standards, but I don't think it's bad given I've done virtually no promotion other than a Twitter feed and my own Facebook page.  Will any of these page views translate into book sales?  I have no idea.  But it's been fun posting and I hope there are some people that are enjoying the series.

The final chapters are all roughed out and will be done soon.  Yes, for a while I wasn't sure if I would finish it, but we're past all that.  So there is still time to get on the train.  If you haven't been following, here's the link for the first episode.  Enjoy!

Eve's Hungry: Episode One: The Sword Dancer

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fear-O-Matic: Keith Gessen Attacks Amazon for Vanity Fair

The Amazon fear mongering continues with a "new" piece of "reporting" in Vanity Fair, "The War of Words" by Keith Gessen.  And as long as the fear mongering continues, you can count on the faithful Amazon Fear-O-Matic to munch it into bite size chunks for easy consumption.

EDITED TO ADD: (While the Fear-O-Matic is kind of a joke, it's based on a real issue.  I didn't pick these 10 talking points at random.  I went through all the anti-Amazon articles over the last six months, many of which are long and kind of pointless, and tried to identify what common issues they raised.  A real pattern quickly emerged, and not one inherent in general anti-Amazon or anti-technology craziness.  It became very clear this is a managed media campaign and writers are being told what to focus on so the echo chamber fully repeats.)

For those of you who aren't familiar with how to launch a big media campaign to convince the public to care about something they don't care about, here's how it works.  Start by planting a "serious journalism" piece in a major magazine.  It should be something like a reporter investigating and coming to the conclusion that, based on his research, "Amazon might be evil and out to destroy literature."  Then you follow it up with as many editorials, commentary and opinion pieces as possible with talking (or writing) heads shouting, "Yes!  That reporter is right.  Amazon is evil!  And it will destroy literature."

See how nice that works?  Someone who is supposedly "objective" and a "real journalist" investigates.  Supposedly they don't have any agenda but to find the truth.  Then they present their information and pundits pounce on the "revelations."  Of course, the key to this is to coordinate it all in advance and make sure all the key talking points are hit.  The reporter already knows what he's going to find, and simply goes out and tries to prove it, usually by interviewing people who are in on the con and will tell him what he wants to hear.  Then all he has to do is avoid any information that might disprove his conclusions.

As fans of the Fear-O-Matic know, the original "serious reporting" anti-Amazon piece was by George Packer, which came out about six months ago and gave birth to dozens of opinion pieces attacking Amazon.  But I guess the PR team running the Amazon hate machine felt the need to relubricate the media sphere with another "serious" reporting piece, and thus Keith Gessen and Vanity Fair were called into action.

The piece is written to appear to be objective while making sure to hit all the usual Amazon hate talking points.  It appears objective enough that a lot of the commentators on the Passive Voice praised it for covering both sides, including Hugh Howey.  To achieve this appearance of objectivity, Gessen borrows heavily from Packer by making the piece very, very long.  He starts with a lot of history and somewhat neutral backstory and then sneaks in the hate in here and there by quoting haters and adds an extra big dollop of his own hate toward the end.  I doubt the PR machine cares if people read it all, and probably they hope no one does carefully.  So being long actually helps.  People skip over the actual article and only read the opinions of later pundits to point at it's "objectivity" and then respin the hate stronger.

But that's where they Fear-O-Matic comes in, it tosses out all the clutter and focuses on the true message.  Let's take a look:


Gessen hits an excellent 7.5 on the Fear-O-Matic, making sure to cover ALL ten anti-Amazon talking points!  He scores a little less than the 8.5 Franklin Foer got with his terrifically hateful piece for the New Republic, primarily because Gessen waffles on the (widely discredited) idea that Amazon has a monopoly and that big publishers are helpless (which is also absurd).  Interestingly, he gets the exact same score as the other "serious journalism" piece by Packer.  It's difficult to really pile on the hate when you're trying to appear objective.  But, to Gessen's credit, he did manage to slip in some extra hate against self-publishers and "kinda" demanded government action, two points Packer didn't originally cover.


Now, I don't want to go out of my way to attack Mr. Gessen, only his writing.  You can do your own Google search and come to your own conclusions about him.  He does have some "serious journalist" credentials.  And just because he went to Harvard, it would be unfair to assume he's exactly the kind of person Clay Shirky was referring to as a "member of the Sancerre-swilling East Coast Media Elite" who feel their privileged status threatened by Amazon's willingness to let the unwashed masses publish books with permission.  Yet, given that he is investigating whether Amazon is destroying literature, I think it's fair to point out that he is, according to Vanity Fair itself, not only a "reporter" but a handsome young literary darling of the traditional publishing world.  Not just any handsome young literary darling, he is, according to Vanity Fair, one who would have been a "made man" if it wasn't for the nasty old internet who doesn't seem to appreciate Harvard and being told which writers should now be admired and loved.  I guess he was really flamed after his first book was traditionally published.  Does that mean he already has an agenda against technology?  Or that he might not approach the subject of Amazon, technology and self-publishing objectively?  That he might be prone to see the world of technology as an evil place ruled by a super-villian like Dr. No?  We can't know for sure based on his past.  (I mean, who trusts what Vanity Fair says anyway?)  We also can't know for sure that he won't be objective because he wants a good deal for his next literary masterpiece from a big publisher.  But we certainly can know that this particular piece is highly biased against technology, is snobbishly dismissive of self-publishing and is pretty much what you would expect from an unappreciated literary darling who has been bruised by the internet.

Despite being presented as a journalistic investigation, there is little real reporting or new information. (Other than long quotes from the Gessen’s own literary agent.)  While it pretends to cover both sides, there is absolutely nothing negative about big publishing.  The DOL conspiracy is portrayed as their innocent attempts to deal with Amazon's heavy handed tactics.  There is nothing about big publishers forcing “standard” contracts on writers and other bad practices, which logically should be part of the debate.  There is nothing negative about the consolidation of big publishing houses into even bigger media conglomerates.  He even portrays it as good news that there is even more consolidation, because maybe that will help big publishing fight Amazon.  Like many other Amazon fear mongers, somehow the end of advances to writers means the end of civilization. That meme has been discredited, over an over, but Gessen never questions it.

Not surprisingly for a handsome literary darling, while he mentions that there is a culture war at the bottom of it all, it's clear which side he is on.  AU and Douglas Preston are presented as trying to protect culture, they are people who  “feel very strongly about books.” Self-publishers are dismissed as people who rise “to the defense of their benefactor (Amazon).” Self-publishers are also bitter people who, when they “lashed out at traditional publishing, they often spoke with the passion of the dispossessed. ” Is it possible self-publishers also care about art and literature, but disagree about Amazon’s role?  Nope, self-publishers arguments “… were self-interested or disingenuous or silly…”  

There are two particularly interesting tidbits buried in all the manipulated history, empty reporting and hidden commentary.  Overall, the piece smacks of smugness, with Gessen making an occasional snarky aside that would seem to hint that he knows he's writing in favor of the wrong side.  (For example, admitting that the loss of book advances personally concerns him more, since it will effect his future writing deals, than the destruction of Western Civilization.)  Not surprisingly, he doesn't actually interview or quote anyone on the self-publishing side.  But he does reprint a section of Hugh Howey and J. A. Konrath's petition so he can mock it later as being "silly."  Why not actually interview Howey or Konrath, who are easy to get a hold of?  Well, that would require time consuming reporting and leave less space for long quotes by his own agent.  And it would actually treat them as popular writers with valid opinions on book publishing, rather that those crazy internet people that just don't appreciate real literature (see Vanity Fair article on Gessen not being appreciated by the internet just because his book was about Harvard).  

Here's part of the quote from the petition with Gessen's comment in parenthesis:

 “They decided which stories you were allowed to read. They decided which authors were allowed to publish. They charged high prices while withholding less expensive formats. They paid authors as little as possible.” (Actually, that last sentence is largely true.)

Gessen tosses out that the last line is true and then quickly moves on to attacking self-publishers as being silly.  But look at what he choose to quote.  He, himself, admits that it's true that big publishers pay "…authors as little as possible."  Isn't this a huge point?  If he knows it's true that big publishers pay authors as little as possible, how can big publishers be the ones protecting literature?  (And let's ignore that it's not just the last sentence that is true, all the statements in the quote are objectively true also.)  He throws this out and then doesn't comment on what he means by saying it is true.  Paying authors well doesn't matter in protecting literature?  Paying authors doesn't matter in a debate about whether Amazon is good or evil?  Doesn't whether authors are fairly paid deserve a tiny discussion in a very long "serious journalistic investigation" about protecting big publishing?  Nope, better to dismiss it with a passing smug aside.  Sure, writers get screwed, but "books" need to be protected.

Finally, it's rather hard to be taken seriously as a reporter if all you do is go to your powerful agent's office and let him rant about how Amazon is as evil as the terrorist group "ISIS," even if it is in a really prestigious New York building.  (Though it probably will help with your next traditional book deal, since your agent never bothered to email you in the past.)  So, in a moment where the reader might think that some real reporting is about to be done, Gessen details taking a trip all the way to San Bernardino, California to investigate a desert Amazon warehouse.  Anyone following this story knows why.  Amazon has been widely accused of being evil because it's warehouse workers are fainting in hot warehouses.  But Gessen makes no comment on whether or not the warehouse has air conditioning, or is too hot inside, which any real reporter should have mentioned right away.  Nor does he quote any of the workers there.  So presumably, his trip was wasted because the warehouse was cool, the workers said nice things and he couldn't attack Amazon.  But then, he had to expense the trip to Vanity Fair, so I guess he decided to comment on it anyway.  So he mentions the fact that the warehouse workers have to walk a lot.  (Like a lot of other workers, including waitresses.)

He does successfully spin his fruitless warehouse trip into his larger meme of Amazon technology destroying humanity.  The warehouse is filled with conveyer belts and docks and computers and scanners (great reporting!) and people having to hurry about to get things delivered.  We then go to testing labs where Amazon super-villians are dressed in lab coats "as if they had once worked for Dr. No."  Oops, they're not super-villians but technicians in light blue lab coats (lab coats are so sinister). It's all very long and doesn't have much point, but maybe if readers skip over it they will simply catch "desert warehouse" and "Dr. No" and assume Amazon is torturing it's warehouse workers anyway.

Amazon is as bad as ISIS and run by Dr. No.  Excellent fear mongering!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why I Love my Amazon Paperwhite

I'm never been a fan of dedicated eReaders before.  I glanced suspiciously at the original Amazon Kindle when it came out, but it seemed too small and I didn't like the dim grayish screen.  So I never bought one or even seriously considered it.  Then I got my first iPad and the entire idea of a dedicated reader seemed moot.  I've gone through every iPad model and the Kindle app works great on it.  So there was never any reason to reconsider actual the Kindle reader.

But now that I'm about to take the plunge into self-publishing, I've being reading everything I can on the subject. A couple websites advised future Amazon booksellers to own a Kindle to check out how to properly format for it.  That seemed to make sense, so I went to Staples and found a Kindle Paperlight on sale for just under $100.

And, to my surprise as a hard core iPad fan, I really love it.  Not just for checking out Kindle formatting, but for READING.  I'm not a fast reader, I have dyslexia, so reading is always a little bit of a chore for me, especially, longer novels.  But, to my surprise, the Kindle is a much better reading device than the iPad (even the iPad mini).

For starters, Amazon has come a long way with the new Paperlight screen.  It's much brighter and closer to a pure white than the original Kindle.  While I was initially turned off by the idea of a black and white only screen, there's something very pleasant about reading on it, especially longer works.

Second, I was likewise put off by the thought of the smaller (compared to an iPad) screen.  It's only a little more than six by four inches, but it turns out to be a nice size for the amount of text it can hold.  The size makes it a lot easier to hold in one hand and it is obviously much lighter too.  So, again, it's great for reading longer works.

Then there's the battery life, which is simply amazing, particularly for such a bright screen.  It easily lasts a week or more on one charge with heavy use.  That's just a complete change from managing an iPad.  You can put it on the dresser next to your bed without a charger and pick it up to read anytime you want.  (And, like an iPad, the screen is bright enough to act as a flashlight if you need to get up and go to the bathroom after the bedroom lights are off.)  The battery life, and small size, also makes it perfect for traveling.

In terms of set up, there was little to do but type in my Amazon account information.  My Kindle library popped right up and I had little trouble figuring out how to navigate the books I already own and to buy new books.  It's all very simple and self-evident.  I also discovered it's nice to have a dedicated reading device that doesn't offer the distractions of an iPad, like email and games, particularly for me since I'm easily distracted.

I still haven't figured out if the new Kindle is just much, much better than the old one or if my original bias was unfair.  Either way, I highly recommend that readers, even if you aren't self-publishing and even if you have an iPad, give it at try.  I'm sold.

Here's a fuller review of the model I bought with all the technical details:

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Friday, October 24, 2014

Return of the Amazon Fear-O-Matic: Krugman & Gould

One would have hoped Amazon's new deal with Simon & Schuster would taken all the air out of the anti-Amazon's crowds efforts to portray it as the enemy of traditional publishing.  Alas, it is not so.  The fear mongering continues.  And as long as there is fear mongering, the Fear-O-Matic will continue it's important mission.

First we'll take a look at a column by noted economist Paul Krugman that ran a couple days before the Simon and Schuster announcement.  It, and Amazon bashing in general, was quickly torn apart by an excellent piece by Matthew Yglesias on Vox.  That in turn was attacked by a piece on Salon by Emily Gould who, for some reason, made no mention of the Simon & Schuster revelation.  But then, it didn't seem like she bothered to put much work into it anyway.  The best refutal of her piece is simply to reread Matthew Yglesias because she didn't present any real arguments to his excellent points other than say, "Not!"  (Click to enlarge graphics.)


Krugman only hits a 5.5 on the Fear-O-Matic, mostly with half points for only "kinda" agreeing on the main anti-Amazon talking points.  It's clear his heart isn't in it.  But hey, he still wants those advances from the big publishers, so it was his turn to carry some water for the NY literary establishment.


Krugman argues Amazon isn't a monopoly, it's a "monopsony."  It isn't either, and Krugman knows it, but at least he proves he's a real economist by tossing around the word "monopsony," which sounds so much more economic than monopoly.  On non-economic matters he's even more shaky.  His main point is he feels government action is required because Amazon can be a buzz kill if it doesn't sufficiently promote the books of big publishers.  Why should Amazon be required to provide proper "buzz" for big publishers who refuse to make deals with them?  He doesn't explain.  Nor does he explain why some books should get this critical buzz and others (I guess self-published ones) don't deserve government protected buzz.  Or maybe he thinks every book should get buzz, but wouldn't it defeat the whole point of buzz if everyone got it?

There's this thing called "capitalism" that Krugman should look into now that he's got monopsony kinda covered.  It's where you pay money to get things.  The people who pay more, get more.  Like buzz, if you pay more (in advertising for example) and you get more buzz.  Maybe if the big publishers paid Amazon more money they would get more buzz?  Oops, that was the whole nature of the dispute.  So Krugman thinks Hachette shouldn't have to pay more to Amazon to get more buzz for their books?  Maybe instead of working on Amazon, the government should force Oprah to bring back Oprah's Book Club?  Or maybe TV and radio ads should be free to big publishers?  Oops, that would hurt their parent companies, who are giant media conglomerates.  Surely everyone would agree with Krugman that giant media conglomerates have no way of generating buzz unless the government steps in and forces Amazon to provide it.


Gould also only makes a 5.5, less for being wishy washy like Krugman, but for being lazy and not really following up any of her arguments.  Once again, it is odd how the people writing these attack pieces seem to live in a bubble and rarely reference the larger debate or current developments.  I mean, if this is a subject that you really feel strongly about, how can you not mention what others have said about it?  Gould argues that "no one" who cares about literature and ideas can side with Amazon.  Really?  Does she really believe Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath and David Gaughran and Clay Shirky and all the seven thousand people that signed the petition against Author's United don't care about literature?  Or all the people commenting in favor of Amazon on Passive Voice?  None of them care about literature?  I mean, I get that this is just about proving you're on the side of the New York literary team.  That you don't really believe any of it, and know your pieces aren't serving any function.  But at least try to pretend you care.


Typical of these kind of half-baked efforts, Gould claims that Yglesias' strongest point is actually his weakest point, that Amazon already has a lot of competition in ebooks from Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc.  She says, sure, it does have a lot of competition but Amazon is winning anyway.  So she agrees with him.  What's so weak about his argument?  She admits he's completely right.  His argument is correct.  And, as he says, Amazon is winning because it is better.  She agrees.

The weak argument is hers, that for some reason, Amazon should be punished because it would simply be too hard for publishers to try to compete.  I mean, as she says, they would have to like lose money for a while and do other hard things.  Why should they have to do that?  Wouldn't it be easer if people just complained and Amazon stopped being so good at selling things?

Once Krugman gets done reading up on capitalism, maybe he can give Gould a quick lesson.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Amazon Fear-O-Matic: Franklin Foer Edition

So the attacks on Amazon's treatment of Hachette continue to drag on, despite the fact that self-publishers are sick of talking about it and the defenders of "literature" (traditional publishing) have nothing new to say.  And by nothing, I mean absolutely nothing.

If you have any confusion about what the Amazon vs. Hachette controversy is really about, just read Clay Shirky's piece about it.  Betraying his own privileged class, he makes the persuasive argument this is simply the New York literary establishment huffing and puffing because Amazon doesn't treat them like the special snowflakes they believe they are.  Interestingly, none of the special snowflakes have argued with his conclusions, just as they rarely acknowledge all the other compelling arguments against their talking points.  That leaves them with nothing to do but regurgitate the same questioned "facts" that expose the same imaginary crisis, repeat the same flawed logic as to why anyone (but them) should care, and come to the same refuted conclusions as to the need for immediate action.  Different members of the literary establishment faithful step forward to refashion it in different "important" magazines and editorials they control, as if any of this was revelatory or newsworthy.  They seem to be hoping they will all be standing on each other's shoulders to scale the wall of public opinion, but they simply sink into the same mud hole and disappear.

The latest, with the melodramatic title "Amazon Must Be Stopped," is by Franklin Foer.  It's the cover story for the New Republic (but who would know because print is pretty much dead).  It's already been torn apart by better minds than mine.  Here's a solid fisking by self-publisher Barry Eisler.  Here's a legal take down by Maxwell S. Kennerly, Esquire.  And here's the tech perspective by Reihan Salam.

Other than an unenlightening, and inaccurate, rumination on the history of anti-trust laws, there is  nothing in Foer's piece that hasn't been covered repeatedly in previous anti-Amazon pieces.  The main talking points were argued (slightly better) by George Packer in his New Yorker Amazon hate letter, "Cheap Words," six months ago.  I pulled that apart when it first came out so it seems pointless to repeat myself now.  Packer's arguments weren't persuasive six months ago, and they aren't now with Foer plagiarizing them (or plagiarizing the others who did).

So what are we on the side of self-publishing, those of us who don't believe that Amazon is going to destroy "literature," those of us who believe Amazon is one of the best things that happened to books since the paperback novel, supposed to do?  Do we simply ignore this constant repetition of failed arguments by the New York literary elite and hope our silence won't be mistaken for agreement?  Or do we continue to repeat the same defense against the same attacks?  At this point, it's clear the special snowflakes aren't going to give up anytime soon, but it would be nice if we indies can return to the business (or hobby) of actual writing.

So to save everyone time, especially myself, I've invented the Amazon Fear-O-Matic.  Rather than arguing this nonsense beat by beat, I can just plug in the quotes and the Fear-O-Matic does the rest.  So, without further introduction, here is Foer's piece in simple graphic form (click to enlarge):


Foer hits a solid 8.5 on the Fear-O-Matic by nailing seven out of ten anti-Amazon talking points and hinting about (for half a point each) the other three.  Excellent fear mongering!

Now that FOM has covered the basics, let's chat briefly about some of the oddities of Foer's piece.  The little original touches that allow us to read between the lines into his real thinking.


NOTHING ABOUT AUTHOR'S UNITED: Oddly, Foer goes way out of his way not to mention that this debate has already been raging for about six months and Douglas Preston formed a group to try to solve the very problem Foer thinks is so serious.  It's one thing not to acknowledge the arguments of your opponents, but he doesn't even mention his supporters.  Or the fact that a $100,000 full page ad was taken out in the NY Times highlighting his concerns. My conclusion from this is that the entire AU campaign is perceived as an embarrassing failure, even by the NY literary establishment, so Foer prefers not to bring it up.  Whatever his preferences, Foer's unwillingness to provide a bigger context for his argument show he isn't really serious about it at all.  He doesn't believe what he's saying, it was simply his turn (as a member of the NY establishment) to write about it.

BIG FIVE POLITICAL POWER: There's an odd mention of the fact that these giant publishing corporations, who supposedly are powerless against Amazon, have political power of their own.  The line is "Even though the five major publishing houses have political connections and economic power of their own, they just can't compete."  The line about political connections kind of comes out of nowhere and is quickly dismissed.  Why is it there?  It would have been enough to say the Big 5 don't have the economic power to stand up to Amazon (even if it isn't true).  Is this a hidden warning to Amazon?  Hey, the Big 5 have politicians and judges in their pockets like so many nickels and dimes?  Or is Foer lamenting that the Big 5 are unwilling to use their political connections to stop Amazon?  (Perhaps because what they want is so unreasonable, even politicians with juicy book deals can't agree to it.)

One explanation for the special snowflake's hysteria about Amazon is that execs at Hachette (and the other big five) have been lecturing them that if they don't do something about Amazon, the big publishers will be forced to punish them by cutting advances and promotion and embracing all those smart self-publishers who don't demand special treatment.  In other words, the real threats are coming from the big publishers through the NY agents to the trad writers (and their literary supporters).  "If you guys don't save yourselves, don't expect us to save you."  This sounds pretty plausible to me.  So Foer's comment about big five political power might be a reveal that the traditional publishers have already told the special snowflakes that they are on their own.

THE BIG FIVE MIGHT CUT ADVANCES:  Foer also oddly states that publishers might be forced to cut advances, and that will end literature as we know it.  It's a very strange argument, as others have pointed out.  First, there's obviously no connection to advances and great literature (big advances usually go to politicians, thus the big five's political clout, and celebrities like Snooki).  Obviously, great literature was written in the past without advances and clearly will be in the future.  So why does Foer focus so much on advances?  Perhaps because advances are exactly the kind of perks that the NY establishment loves.  They aren't connected to actual sales.  They are simply rewarded to the favored.  Like, say, when the editor of the New Republic writes a little book on the side.  Like say, Foer's book on soccer and economics.  The kind of books one really shouldn't expect to compete in the messy real world for readers and royalties based on sales.  Isn't it better that those kind of books are given a nice advance check so the writer feels they accomplished something and can quickly return back to their journalistic musings about why advances are so important to literature?

Overall, some nice fear mongering laced with hidden hints about the pressure the Big Five is applying to a terrified NY literary elite.  For comparison, let's quickly see how it stacks up to George Packer's original anti-Amazon piece.  After all, he also seemed awfully worried that fine journalists like himself might miss out on those book advances:


Packer's piece scores a 7.5 FOM, which is high but not as good as Foer.  But, in fairness, Packer's article supposedly wasn't an opinion piece and had to at least pretend to be following some journalist standards.  Because of that, Packer only hinted Amazon was a monopoly (because, by any objective standard, it clearly isn't).  Moreover, Packer's job was to set the stage with "serious reporting" so others could jump in and demand government action to solve the "problems" he supposedly uncovered.  So he lost a point there.  Finally, he didn't touch on the idea that Amazon would turn on self-publishers and that cost him a full point too.  But, also in fairness, Amazon turning on self-publishers does seem to be the one new idea that took a little time to percolate with the anti-Amazon crowd.  So Parker had a disadvantage cutting the trail others would follow.  All in, solid fear mongering that set the standard for what has come since.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Eve's Hungry Episode 11: Africa on Fire

I just put up the latest episode of Eve's Hungry.  Check it out at the link below.  I think it's very funny with some great action.  Just five more episodes until the thrilling conclusion.

Africa on Fire

And my apologies to Leo Laporte.  Remember, it's just a joke, Leo!  I didn't see how I could write about Apple without mentioning MacBreak Weekly.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Positive Energy about Self-Publishing

One of the continuing memes from people attacking self-publishing, particularly those attacking Amazon for treating Hachette writers "unfairly," is that self-publishers are angry.  Like many of the arguments against self-publishing (like it's too "expensive") this one is the exact opposite of the truth.  As a movement, self-publishers generally are optimistic and positive, surprisingly willing to share tips and information and looking for new ways to progress as artists and businessmen.  It is actually the supporters of big publishing that are prone to doom and gloom scenarios.  Perhaps because their side of the industry really is rapidly losing power and prestige.

Unfortunately, the fierce disinformation spun by supporters of big publishing in their attacks on Amazon put self-publishers on the defensive.  Self-publishers been forced to be vocal in exposing those lies (like that Amazon is "censoring" books) and had to respond to some of the crazier suggestions, like government intervention to maintain big publishing control.  In the process, it started to feel to me like the negativity has taking it's toll on the self-publishing community.  Particularly with people like the almost supernaturally optimistic Hugh Howey, who has been the specific subject of many really nasty attacks for simply trying to bring out the truth.  For a while it seemed like he was going to be buried in defending himself.

So I was very happy to read his latest post where he seems to have completely moved on from the Amazon/Hachette fight.  He has returned his focus to optimistic inquiry about how to grow the self-publishing industry with many great suggestions:


There is barely a mention of traditional publishing both in his piece and in the comments.   That's because, self-publishers really don't care much about traditional publishing.  The Amazon/Hachette fight has been portrayed by big publishing proxies as a life or death battle for the future.  But frankly, it doesn't matter much to self-publishers (so long as the government doesn't get involved).

Hopefully, the other side has run out of crazy arguments to get self-publishers riled up, and self-publihsers feel they've had their say in a matter of relatively little concern to them.  Of course, that's just going to anger big publishing even more.  But as their desperate voices proclaiming the end of literature fade into echoes, now is the time for self-publishers move on to the fun stuff.

Writing and selling books.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hachette Going Down the Tubes?

I found this post on the Passive Reader very interesting.  Particularly, PG's observation, "Hachette is spending so much time, money and energy promoting its anti-Amazon message that it has failed to spend time, money and energy promoting… books.  This would be a typical screw-up for a poorly-managed company – taking its eye off the ball during a crisis and sliding down the tubes financially."

The rest is here:


Monday, July 21, 2014

Eve's Hungry Episode 10: The Horror

A new episode of Eve's Hungry is finished and it's called, "The Horror."  The title is a reference to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which hopefully will give people a laugh when they find out what "the horror" really is in this alternate reality war between Apple and Google.  You can check it out here:

The Horror

I'm estimating I have six chapters left.  It's all building to Steve Job's big keynote speech, so be sure to catch up with the older chapters when you can.  At some point I'll need to pull down the posts when I put the book up on Amazon.  But in the meantime, check it out and I hope you like it!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Do Publishers Really Want the Government to Protect Writers?

There are many odd things about the weird media campaign by big publishers against Amazon.  The first was the unreasonable expectation that readers should be outraged that they had to wait a week or two to get a copy of Hachette titles or that they couldn't pre-order Hatchette books on Amazon when they could easily find them elsewhere.  Then there was the strange assumption that the general public should leap to Hatchette's defense in a private business dispute without knowing exactly what was in dispute.  Then there was James Patterson, well known for cranking out marginal thrillers with teams of ghost writers, lamenting that Amazon was going to destroy "literature."  The Salon website weighed it with almost daily anti-Amazon pieces, the oddest of which was an attack on angry self-publishers that ended with a plea for them to support big publishing against Amazon.

But surely the strangest argument in the dispute, and the larger battle between big publishing and Amazon, is the idea that the government should somehow intervene on big publishing's side.  Take this nice little plant in a generic Reuters news feed: "The U.S. government's unwillingness to stop Amazon from using hardball tactics in fights with book publishers has angered book lovers…"  What?  Who?  What book lovers are angered the U.S. government won't intervene?  The book loving public couldn't care less.  But I guess that reporter got his drinks paid for by some Amazon hating publishing executive.

It really shows the desperation of big publishing.  They have to know that this argument doesn't work, but seem to hope the threat will be enough to get Amazon to back down.

It's completely absurd for anyone to think the government should intervene in this business dispute when no one really knows what it's about.  Moreover, the last time the government intervened in the publishing world, it was clearly against the big publishers in the Apple price fixing lawsuit.  Still, proxies for big publishing keep floating this idea out there that government action somehow makes sense, without being able to say exactly what the government is supposed to do.  Yell at Amazon and tell them to do whatever Hachette wants?  More embarrassingly, they hint that they might have to wait for a more "friendly" administration, all but admitting they need a government that can be bought off with bribes to fight for their side.

It should be increasingly clear to those behind this failing spin campaign that they are losing the argument.  Readers, the general public and self-publishers have not been fooled and they aren't going to be.  The debate is shifting rapidly, not only as to why Amazon might not be in the wrong, but why nasty standard practices make big publishing a villain, not a victim.   Along those lines, there is a great piece on the Huffington post by Thomas Hauser, explaining why the government should intervene, but against big publishing. 


It seems to me the longer this debate goes on, the more it damages traditional publishers and helps Amazon.  I suggest it's time for the big publishers to advise their minions to move on to another topic and focus on cleaning up their own abusive business practices.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A. G. Riddle's Movie Deal for Sci-Fi Series

The success stories emerging from the world of self-publishing, particularly self-publishing on Amazon, continue unabated.  This despite the best efforts of traditional publishing sock puppets to try to label self-publishers as angry losers with unrealistic dreams who should fall back in line to support the old print establishment.

But the truth is most of the emerging writers in self-publishing aren't angry, they just like writing.  They have no grudge against traditional publishing, they just want to take advantage of new creative opportunities.  More importantly, they are smart people with lots of options, who could do a lot of other things with their lives, but happen to have the right mix of writing talent and business savvy to succeed with this new media platform.

A case in point is A. G. Riddle, a smart young guy who started his first tech company in college and worked for ten years in internet startups.  Only three years ago, he decided to focus his business creatively on writing, not sure if it would end up being a hobby or a profession.  He began a series of sci-fi novels, the Atlantis Gene series.  He sold half a million copies in his first year and the movie rights to the series have just been purchased by CBS Films.


Now, there's no guarantee the books will get produced, even though they seem to be a terrific idea.  And there's no guarantee that Riddle's next novels will be as successful as his first three.  But it's a pretty amazing beginning to a writing career.  It's clearly not going to be a hobby for him.

It's also important to understand that before Amazon made self-publishing a viable alternative to traditional publishing, this wasn't a guy who was sitting around in cafes smoking cigarettes and complaining that he got another rejection from an book agent.  Nor was he a mid-list writer who had got burned by traditional publishers and was seeking revenge by self-publishing.  When he started writing, he did it more for fun than to get rich.  Yet, as a person with a wide range of tech business experience, he probably wasn't baffled on how to creative a good looking cover for his book, or unwilling to pay an editor to proof read it.  In interviews, he comes across as a modest nice guy who is just trying to learn his craft.  Exactly the kind of writer that fans can get behind and support.

Nor is he not the only emerging writer finding success in self-publishing.

The proxies for traditional publishing are doing everything they can to distract from these frequent success stories by trying to falsely label self-publishers as writers who failed to make it in the print world, or unemployed drifters who can't get a real job and self-publish because they think its easy money.  The reality is very different.  Self-publishers are people of every possible stripe.  But the successful ones are usually people that could be successful in many industries, but have a love for writing and a desire to be creative.  Increasingly, self-publishers are going to be people who have little background or interest in traditional publishing, because traditional publishing abandoned it's primary focus on supporting writers some time ago.  It is more interested in controlling market share and moving paper around.

The other meme being floated is that all these self-publishers will eventually crawl into the embrace of the big 5 publishing companies who will be able to scoop the cream off the top and maintain their market share.  That seems unlikely, unless the big 5 change their entire business model, particularly their unfriendly writing deals.  Rising writers like Riddle have little incentive to rush to sign over all their rights to be controlled by a poorly managed legacy print industry.

But who knows?  Riddle's website, somewhat incongruously, states that he is "seeking representation."  So far, it doesn't seem like he needs it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Eve's Hungry Episode Nine: The Jungle Queen

Just published a spanking new episode of Eve's Hungry.  And… it's the best one yet!  Be sure to stay till the very end for another tech celebrity appearance.  Here it is:


Well, maybe it's not the best episode, but it's an awfully good one.  And if it isn't the best, it's only because the others are so great too.  Stay tuned!  More to come soon.  It's all building up to a really great finish.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Anne Rice on Self-Publishing

I like this quote by Anne Rice about whether there is a stigma to self-publishing:  "That stigma is finished, over. In the old days, yes, there was that stigma. But nobody believes that now. There are too many successful and acclaimed indie authors; too many indie authors have been invited in by New York houses based on their indie success. No, there is no stigma today."

It's nice to see such a talented and successful established writer who doesn't feel threatened in any way by self-publishing, and who is willing to go on the record saying it's a good thing.

Much more in the full link:


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Laugh of the Day

I've been wading through all the Hachette vs. Amazon arguments and when I was checking out another piece on The Passive Voice, I stumbled upon this and got a nice laugh:

You can buy it, and some other funny ones, from this link:


Humor is one of the best ways to cut through bullshit.  And yes, it's bullshit to think that self-publishing is killing "literature."  It's actually quite the opposite.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Future of Ideas: A Must Read for Self-Publishers

Great sci-fi author and self-publishing advocate, Hugh Howey, brought my attention to this wonderful little manifesto by The Passive Voice.  While it generally concerns the Amazon-Hachette fight, and specifically a stupid article in the Atlantic, it's a must read for anyone interested in self-publishing:

The Passive Voice

And if you're not sick of the entire Amazon-Hachette controversy, Hugh does some good explaining of what the debate really is all about:

More Thoughts on Hachette/Amazon

Sunday, May 25, 2014

How Long Should Your Self-Published Book Be?

So I'm midway through my first novel (or at least I think I'm midway) and I'm starting to fret about what its proper length should be.  Is it going to end up too short, too long, or just right?  What's the best length for a first novel?  How long should it be?

I know, it should be as long as it needs to be, and no longer.

But like many first time authors, I want to know what the "right" way is.  If only as a guide.  One tip I found very helpful early on was numerous experienced authors (including Stephen King) said you need to write at least a thousand words a day (and work up to two thousand).  I haven't been able to do that, because I have a "real" job that makes it almost impossible to write everyday.  But it is helpful to me when I do find a day or two to do some serious work on my book.  If I can push myself to a thousand words, I feel like I've accomplished something.  So I've become a little obsessed with word count.

While it's taken me longer than I hoped, my unfinished novel Eve's Hungry is now exactly 35,552 words.  Story wise, I think I'm a little more than half way through.  Years ago I read something about novels needing to be a minimum of 100,000 words to be considered by a traditional publisher.  A sci-fi publisher I really respect, Baen Books, says submissions should be between 100,000 and 130,000 words.  (Sci-Fi books tend to run longer than some genres.)  At the rate I'm going, I don't think I'll hit 100,000 words unless I start padding or come up with some other plot twists or subplots.

But I'm not planning to submit Eve's Hungry to a traditional publisher.  I'm going to self-publish.  So I can pretty much do what I want.  On the other hand, I do want it to read like a professional novel.  So should I try to quickly wrap it up and be done with it, or should I stretch it out so it seems more professional?  Worrying about such things is a good way to put off really writing.  Or… maybe if I find the answers, I can hopefully get on with it without second guessing myself every moment.

A quick Google search turned up a few good articles on the subject:




Basically, anything under 40,000 words is a technically a novella and anything over is a novel.  The "average" novel is said to be 64,000 words.  I'm sure Eve's Hungry will end up over 50,000 words (probably over 64,000), so I'll technically be in the official "novel" category.  The most interesting thing I learned was that Ian Fleming's Casino Royale was 42,000 words and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is 46,000.  Since Eve's Hungry is kind of a cross between James Bond and Hitchhiker's, that would seem to argue that shorter is better.  If prior success is any indicator.  Plus, both are great fast reads.  Something worth modeling.

Dean Wesley Smith has a great article on the history of novel lengths:


Basically, he states that novels got longer from 1960's on so publishers could charge more for supermarket paperbacks.  Now, between changes in the traditional publishing world and the rise of self-publishing, he predicts novels will get shorter.  And he concludes with: make it however long you want.

So, where does that leave me with Eve's Hungry?  How long should it be?  I guess I'm back to: as long as it needs to be, and no longer.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Self-Publishing Leads to Big Traditional Publishing Deal

There's a nice piece in the New York Times about cartoonist Randall Munroe:

Tech's Favorite Cartoonist Enters Mainstream Publishing

This seems to me to be the perfect end game for self-publishers.  You build a small audience, put out your own books on-line, and eventually a big publisher comes around and offers "as much money as I could to just throw at him."  At that point, the writer/creator can work as a team with a big company that has the resources to grow his/her audience even larger.

Some of the most vocal advocates of self publishing… cough… J. A. Konrath… seem to think that not only is print dying, but that's a great thing for self-publishing.  He compares books to VCR's and fax machines and tape cassettes.  I think a better comparison is radio, which isn't going away anytime soon.  Radio was predicted to die once television came around, and it didn't.  Printed books, of course, were predicted to die when radio came around and then again when movies, television and now the internet arrived.  If printed books do disappear, it's not likely to happen for at least another hundred years.

That doesn't mean that digital won't continue to grow and even dominate publishing.  Serious readers might mostly read digital books.  But the joys of owning some paper and flipping through it aren't likely to lose their appeal.  Often people buy books in the same way they buy nick nacks and decorations.  They look pretty and they're fun to touch.  And you can read them.

So rather than see traditional print publishing as the enemy, I think it's better to view it as an additional market to be explored once the time is right.  It seems like Randal Munroe handled everything exactly the right way.  He created without a gatekeeper, but when a lucrative offer came to help him expand his audience, he took it without fear of losing control or trying to maintain the "purity" of digital.

I look forward to flipping through his new book the next time I wander through airport bookstore, and maybe I'll even buy one.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Eve's Hungry Episode Eight: Battle of the Aurora

I just published a new episode (chapter) of Eve's Hungry.  It's a lot of fun.  It's a big space battle and Eve finds herself lost in space with some echoes of the film Gravity.  Please check it out!


It's very geeky and funny, but I think the characters are well drawn and there are some surprising (at least for me) moments of personal drama and some nicely crafted (if I do say so myself) action.

Anyhow, I'm back to work on the next thrilling chapter!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Support Your Local Bookstore

Lest anyone think I'm anti-printed books or anti-bookstore, I'd like to pass on some positive news about the traditional publishing world.  James Patterson, mega-successful traditional author, is giving out a million dollars in small grants to bookstores:


This is not only a nice thing to do, it's smart business.  It's good publicity and undoubtedly will create some good will with his sellers.  It's unlikely to do anything to directly to help his income, but it sends the right message, which is that traditional book authors (and publishers) need bookstores to prosper.  Hopefully others in the traditional industry will get the message and likewise chip in.

While Amazon is currently the big bad wolf threatening indies, the truth is small bookstores have been under assault for many decades.  First by big retailers, like Walmart and Target and then by the giant bookstore chains.  Frankly the big publishers always quickly aligned with their competitors, even as they align with Amazon now.

Regardless of where the latest threat is coming from, these bookstores simply have to adapt to the marketplace.  They can't compete directly on price, so they have to compete on service by offering value to customers.  In my own experience, there are wonderful indy bookstores that seem inviting and seductively fun the minute you walk in.  I don't mind paying more for a book in that situation or buying expensive gifts, trinkets or coffee if they offer it.  But some indy bookstores are simply terrible.  Very over priced, unhappy staff, small inventory and often a bias against genre writing (sci-fi in the back, please).  I don't think the world is going to miss those kinds of stores.  The good news is the fewer bad ones, the better off the good ones will be.  The more positive experiences people have when they walk into a bookstore, the more likely it is they'll walk in again.

But even the most amazingly run bookstore is going to have a tough time of it.  Small businesses are just very difficult to keep above water.  No one opens a bookstore to get rich, and that's a good thing, because they aren't likely to.  Indy bookstores (even the bad ones) are usually an act of love for books and for the community they reside in.  So it's a very nice thing Patterson did.  Hopefully the big five will follow his example and also do more to support small bookstores.

Back to self-publishing, as Hugh Howey recently pointed out, the real goal is to get more people to read for pleasure.  I believe as the ebook and self-publishing market grows, more people will begin reading for pleasure and that provides opportunities for bookstores, as well as challenges.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why Amazon is Good for Literature

I really like Amazon.  I have Amazon Prime.  I love free shipping and I am amazed at all the free videos on Amazon Instant Video, which is getting damn close to Netflix for a lot less money.  (Be sure to check out old episodes of Danger Man.)  And despite some gentle ribbing of Jeff Bezos in my fictional upcoming novel, I admire what he has done with Amazon.

Most importantly, I am simply thrilled that Amazon allows you to publish a book on it's website for free, and collect the bulk of the money from any sales of it.  It's easy to dismiss this as no big in the era of the internet, but it's really something quite wonderful.  Any writer can put a book up and have it read by anyone in the world (just about) and charge whatever they want for it (just about).  Pretty incredible.  Equally amazing, Amazon Singles is bringing back economic incentives to write short stories, and they do the same thing for filmmakers who want to sell indie films or musicians who want to sell their own music.  Yes, there are other services that offer these opportunities, but for the biggest on-line retailer in the world to offer this is a huge opportunity for any struggling artists working in those mediums.

That being said, I don't feel any knee jerk need to defend them whenever they are criticized.  They are the 800 pound guerrilla of the internet, and they can take care of themselves.  There are plenty of reasons to be concerned that they might use their bulk unfairly, or that there might be negative trade-offs to the positive things they bring to the world.  And I think self-published authors need to be wary of getting too dependent on them.

So when I see an article like Cheap Words by George Packer for The New Yorker, purporting to look at the pros and cons of Amazon's publishing efforts, I not only have an open mind, but I'm actually assuming there will be some areas for serious concern that will leave me nodding in agreement.  I waded through it painfully, it's over 12,000 words,  assuming I would hear some interesting dirt on the big beast.  Such was not the case.  The article is so completely slanted against Amazon, I found myself even more on Amazon's side by the end, just because the presented arguments against Amazon are so full of holes.

Chief among the article's flaws, it reeks of elitism, as Andrew Leonard points out for Salon.  It's written in a pompous "serious journalism" style that pretends to be well researched and objective, but clearly has a barely hidden point of view.  An anti-Amazon point of view with a big side order of traditional publisher defense.  Packer, best know for his Iraq war reporting and non-fiction writing, braves the mean streets of New York's publishing scene to learn the hard truth.  Big New York publishers hate Amazon.  Breaking news!  Equally insightful, big publishers really hate self-publishing.  Oh, and by the way, working in an Amazon warehouse is low paying drudgery.  Supposedly there's some connection between warehouse workers not being unionized and mid-list literary types not getting big advances by publishers anymore.  Unmentioned by Packer, is that he is also a traditionally published novelist (Random House) and is presumably exactly the type of mid-list writer who won't get good advances anymore.  (Hmm… wonder if this article kissing up to the publishing industry is going to hurt or help Packers chances of getting a good publishing deal with his next novel?  George, have you hear of the term "full disclosure" of potential biases?)

The tone and timing of the article is completely "on message" with all the recent attacks on self-publishing, which fits into a carefully coordinated modern PR spin campaign.  Get a "serious" piece written by a "respected journalist" published in a major traditional publication, like the New Yorker.  That makes the subject topical and news worthy.  Mix in lots of "opinion" commentary by bloggers, like Donald Maass's odious Class System piece, and Chuck Wendig's Shit Volcano attack.  Sprinkle in an army of internet sock puppets to fill in comments sections with nodding agreement.  We could try to pretend this was just the result of a lot of literary agents and publishing execs expressing their frustrations until their views naturally trickled out into the media, but come on.  This smacks completely of a back room media strategy that is probably costing a bundle (if not in actually cash, then in future promises of quid pro quo).

But let me briefly ignore Packer's not-so-hidden agenda and look at the substance of his argument.  It can be broken into two parts.  Part One:

Amazon is Evil Because All it Cares About is Money.

All of Packer's criticisms of Amazon on this front can be applied to virtually any big successful American business.  Who finds working in warehouses fun or high paying?  (I didn't.)  What major business aren't concerned about employee theft, especially when they sell really cool stuff?  Amazon's workers are not unionized, same as most tech corporations, or most new corporations in general.  (Usually takes a few decades for workers to unionize.)  Amazon is a tough competitor.  Okay.  So?

If Packer wanted to write an article about how warehouse workers are getting squeezed, fine.  Provide some real information, make comparisons between various businesses, get quotes from people proposing solutions and alternatives.  Talk about the pros and cons of unionization.  But what little information he presents is hardly damning of Amazon.  Amazon builds warehouses in areas where there are high rates of unemployment.  That's a bad thing?  Isn't that exactly where Amazon, as a good citizen, should build warehouses?  Where people need jobs?  He then goes on to say that warehouse workers are being treated like machines and it's unpleasant work.  Okay, warehouse work can be very unpleasant, but the world needs warehouses for stuff.  He then says that Amazon is trying to automate everything with robots.  Well, isn't that what we want?  For robots to do the unpleasant work?  Won't that free up the employees to work more white collar jobs?  Or maybe he's arguing that Amazon is firing people and using robots instead?  Nope, he later says Amazon is hiring like crazy.

Overall, this sounds like the exact promise of American capitalism.  A new company gets a great idea, selling everything on line, and starts building warehouses where people need jobs.  It then automates those warehouses so workers don't have to do the unpleasant robotic work, and continues to grow and hire more people.  Sounds like lifting people out of poverty to me.  Sounds like a nice future.

Packer repeats the common concern that Amazon's success comes at a terrible price, the closing of lots of brick and mortar stores who can't compete with Amazon's low prices.  But I've never thought much of that argument, and Packer does nothing to convince me.  If you want to argue the pros and cons of capitalism, great, I'll perk an ear but communism doesn't work real well.  If you want to argue for higher minimum wages and government regulations to support workers, great.  I agree the government should protect workers.  But the entire point of capitalism is low prices for great stuff and the corollary is that if you have a business that doesn't sell great stuff, or charges too much, you go bankrupt.  Capitalism isn't about every business being successful, it's about businesses that don't work dying.  They go away and make room for new businesses.  That's how it works.

And everywhere I look, there are new businesses popping up, both on-line and brick and mortar.  The desire for low prices for the stuff Amazon sells hasn't stopped people from opening coffee shops that charge a huge amount for good expresso.  Or sell organic bakery items for twice what Dunk'n Donuts costs.  Notice the huge rise of Farmer's Markets in cities?  Selling expensive fresh fruit from small organic farms?  I guess I'm idealistic enough to think that Amazon filling warehouses with robots that can send cheap materials to small businesses might be helping small entrepreneurial businesses (and I've heard lots of stories about this very thing).  People save money in one area, and are able to spend it in another.  Amazon is also the biggest customer for UPS, which delivers a lot of Amazon's packages.  UPS is totally unionized, Teamsters, the most union of all unions.  (It also uses Federal Express, which is not unionized, but due to some crazy Federal laws, not Amazon.)  Amazon also struck a deal with the US Postal service for Sunday deliveries.  They are also unionized.  Most bookstore clerks are not unionized, so if bookstores are closing, non-union jobs selling books are being replaced by unionized jobs delivering the books to people's homes.  With the health and retirement benefits that unions offer.  No, I don't think all of these changes are always best.  It''s not always job for job, and it's not all in the favor of workers. But overall it strikes me that what Amazon is striving for is a better direction for the future than figuring out how to make people happy to settle for manual labor in a warehouse.  Or having to pay a large retail markup for a mass produced item.  If the overall economy in America still sucks, I'd blame it on two hugely expense unnecessary wars that drained the public sector and a major old Wall Street financial scandal tearing money out of the business sector.  Not on discount goods and free shipping.

Of course, if Amazon is paying its most of its workers less than industry norms, that wouldn't be good.  But Packer doesn't state this or provide any information in that regard.  And certainly it isn't good if Amazon is mistreating workers, but while Packer hints at this (lack of air-conditioning in some warehouses, until recently) he doesn't really provide any evidence of a large scale issue with Amazon blue collar workers.  Because it's really pretty clear he isn't worried about blue collar workers at all.  He's worried about mid-list writers of literary fiction not getting big enough advances so they can write the great American novel.

Packer's attempt to draw a line between abused warehouse workers and suffering mid-list writers is like comparing the fact that Walmart workers don't get health insurance, and the Met has shortened their opera season so there are less challenging lead roles for mezzo-sopranos.  Both things are sad, but thousands of low-paid workers not getting health insurance is a little sadder than a dozen classically trained singers not having good roles.  And they have nothing to do with each other.

Which brings us to his second big point:

Self-Publishing is Evil Because… Because… ?

Packer clearly indicates that this whole self-publshing thing is really, really bad.  It's kind of like warehouse workers fainting because they don't have air conditioning.  It's kind of like the Vichy puppet government working with the Nazis.   It's like a father who abuses you.  Or getting punched in the face.  Why?  Why is it so bad?

Well, that isn't so clear.  Packer doesn't really talk much about self-publishing, except that it seems to be hurting traditional publishing.  How is it hurting traditional publishing, which is having record profits?  Well, it's forcing them to focus on just the top selling authors.  Why?  Well, because that's where the money is.  Okay, but what does that have to do with Amazon?  Or self-publishing?

Well, something.  Packer explains that this is all like what is going on in America today, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Amazon is to blame for the for selling cheap books and there really isn't anything the publishers can do but cut the advances to mid-list writers of literary fiction (like Packer).  Even though they have record profits.

Still don't see what this has to do with Amazon?  Still don't see what this has to do with self-publishing.  Well, what if I told you, as Packer does, that if those mid-list writers aren't supported with advances, they might not write those difficult works of literary art that take time.  Also, those mid-list writers of difficult, complex novels, sometimes go on to write popular novels, that people will really read.  So if the big publishers don't support them, art will suffer, and we might not see some popular novels that eventually might make those big publishers a ton of money.

So… what does that have to do with Amazon?  Why can't the big publishers continue to spend money on advances (which were never that large) to help art and possibly their own bottom line in the future?  They have record profits after all (thanks at least in part to all the new money Amazon is giving them) and Packer argues that it's in their own best interest.  Packer never really explains what this has to do with Amazon.  But there is a connection.  So I'll explain it.

You see, it works like this.  "Mid-list," at least as Packer is referring to it, is code for books that people don't buy.  (He's talking about mid-list literary fiction, not mid-list genre, like romance novels, which sell well.)  These books may not sell well because they are too artistically challenging, because they don't fit into a popular genre, or simply because they aren't that good.  The thing is, the big publishers used to have a system that worked reasonably well to push books through the distribution channels that no one was interested in.  They would ship off a bunch to bookstores, make sure they were placed in prominent places for a little while and then they would have book reviewers try to gin up sales and hope the shop owners would try to shove them on people.  And thus a few of these books, not a lot, would get sold to people walking into the store looking for something else.  The rest would be pulped (a huge waste resources but if you don't print them and force them out there, none would be bought).  Of course, the trick was to keep moving different books through the system, freeing up self-space and giving reviewers hooked into the system something new to talk about.  Kind of like the way the Hollywood Studios run lower budgeted movies through the movie theaters.

Amazon, and self-publishing, have killed that model.  People are less likely to wander into a book store and buy something they weren't interested in.  They can check on-line and find anything they want.  They don't need to take a chance on a big publishers flavor-of-the-month.  They can make connection with authors they like.  They can find obscure books that interest them.  That is, people have more choices, so they don't need to buy books just because publishers decided they should be placed on the front shelves for a few weeks and the New York Times writes them up.

There were some talented writers who benefited from this old arrangement, and it must be a little frustrating for them.  And some of them might have written beautiful challenging art, and some of them might have gone on to write something for more popular tastes, but will become discouraged because they can't get advances for their less popular stuff.   But ultimately, it's the big publishers decision not to support those kinds of books and authors.  Their old brick and mortar machine isn't working as good anymore, but that doesn't prevent them from paying advances (they have record profits) and from trying to promote those same books on-line (through Amazon, for example).  But they don't want to.

Why?  Presumably, they can't justify the expense on even a basic level these days.  Shipping the books out to stores, only to have them not be bought and returned and pulped, just doesn't make sense.  But that still doesn't explain why they can't do something with that material on-line (to justify an real advance).  And I think the answer is, and the publishers know, in most cases, most of those books were marginal anyway.  I suspect a ton of these mid-list deals were simply favors to various connected writers, and connected agents.  The reason literary agents are freaking out is because they can't deliver these kind of publishing deals for books no one wants to read anymore.  The issue isn't supporting great literature, it's supporting marginal writers who want to think they are writing great literature.  That is, a bunch of elitist twerps who can't hack any completion without the pull of a big publisher putting their pompous novels on the front shelf.  Because if they had any real audience for their material, they would be leaping at the self-publishing revolution, rather than fighting for marginal advances.  They would be interested in readers and sales, not advances.  Regardless, there's still nothing stopping the big publishers from supporting "important" (i.e. less popular) literary fiction, but since sales are down, why not squeeze these guys and blame Amazon?

The other big danger to the big publishing world, that Packer doesn't touch on, is that genre novels are were the real money is, and genre writers are the ones that are abandoning the Trads like crazy.  And this is because they have been ripped of for a long time.  They got paid lousy advances, and lousy cuts of sales, so the Trads would have money for those vanity deals on literary fiction.  That's  the bigger problem the Trads have to face.  But Packer doesn't talk much about genre fiction, because he's more worried about "ideas" and "art" and genre fiction is too low class to count as literature.

Packers ends with an argument that gatekeepers (the big publishers) are somehow barriers to a complete commercialization of ideas.  It's an argument that simply makes no sense in the context of what he has written in the previous 12,000 words, and it flatly makes no sense at all.  Presumably it is terrible that anyone can publish a book because it might hurt a tiny group of mid-list writers who won't work without advances?  Presumably great artists won't do work unless they have the support of giant publishing houses?  Aren't the big publishers responsible for breaking fiction into so many specific commercial categories that certain ideas couldn't be published before the self-publishing revolution?  The good gatekeepers arguement makes no sense, and that's why Packer has to stuff so much conflicting information ahead of it.  And that's why he can't even talk about any potential advantage to the self-publishing revolution.

So let me talk about how self-publishing helps the world, and ideas and art.  Did grandpa write a book about his WWII experiences?  Why not self-publish it and give him and his buddies at the VA copies?  Isn't it nice you can do that now thanks to Amazon?  And who knows, a historian in Europe might stumble upon it and it fills in some important information about the Battle of the Bulge.  Seems like society benefits from that.  And guess what, real artists, who don't need advances, can publish the most challenging artistic works now.  Kids can write their own books and as they grow, become better artists.  History buffs can write their own books.  Dinosaur porn is now available.  And lots, and lots of self-publishing writers are making money in genre fiction.  And some of that genre fiction might actually be art as valuable as "literary" fiction.  And guess what, graphic artists are making money designing covers for self-published books.  (And the good one's quickly raise their prices.)  Editors are making money proofing them.  Blogs are making money giving advice.  Toys based on self-published sci-fi books are getting Kickstarter funding.  Soon popular movies will be based on them.  An entire new ecosystem is being created around self-publishing.  One that is already larger, and is bound to be much, much larger than the old one it is replacing.

Maybe some of the people who are making money in this new ecosystem centered around a love of writing and books and art, are the people who are being replaced by robots doing the Amazon warehouse work that wasn't nearly as much fun.  That's what I hope.

And if you're worried about "art" and "ideas" do you really believe the next On the Road, or Catcher in the Rye, or Catch 22 is more likely to come out of a giant big five publisher, or from a guy who self-publishes?   If you think the former, you need to start checking out what is really going on in self-publishing.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New Episode of Eve's Hungry: Fellowship of Tech

So, one of the fun things about writing a satirical sci-fi action story, filled with humorous insider commentary on the tech world, is celebrity guest appearances.  The next chapter of Eve's Hungry features a bunch of A-List tech leaders including Arianna Huffington, Sir Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Dick Costolo, Larry Ellison, Drew Houston, Elon Musk, Marc Andreesen and even Leo Laporte from TWIT.  It's a future tech version of the meeting of the five families in The Godfather.  Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also appears and does a wonderful turn as a Space Admiral in the war against Google.  Who would have thought he was such a fine actor?  (Or at least that's the way he comes across on the page.)

Be sure to check it out:


Friday, February 14, 2014

Hugh Howey's Bombshell Report and Important Self-Publishing Facts: Presented Without Any Supporting Evidence

So a huge battle exploded on dozens of ebook blogs, reported on by my favorite The Digital Reader, about self-publishing/vs. traditional publishing.  It started with some really nasty pieces written by traditional publishing supporters including: self-publishing is a shit volcano, self-publishers are cattle to be slaughtered, and Amazon is evil and self-publishers who use it will be punished like supporters of the French Vichy Regime.  There have been a lot of great responses from supporters of self-publishing, and generally level headed observers.  But the big turning point in the debate has arrived in the form of an amazing report by Hugh Howey, coming in like the calvary over the hill.  It points out the advantages of self-publishing with real honest to goodness facts.  Be sure to check it out:


Hugh is the man.  Seriously.  Wow.

I can't even imagine all the time that went into gathering those important facts about the advantages of self-publishing and then bulletproofing them by rechecking and rechecking, to be ready for the inevitable counter-attacks.  It's a real public service Howey did.

But I'm too lazy for that kind of fact checking here.  And based on all that info, I've got to get back to writing my novel and self-publishing it!  So for the Electric Gutenberg I'm going to introduce what I hope to be a regular feature:

"Important Self-Publishing Facts: Presented Without Any Supporting Evidence"

In this new feature, I will talk about something that I am absolutely sure is a true fact, but that I'm too lazy to try to prove.  Feel free to argue about it.  Feel free to do the work that I didn't to disprove (or better yet prove) what I have to say.  Let's start with a big one:

An absolutely true fact, that I'm completely sure of but too lazy to confirm with actual data, is that: the amount of money (and time) spend by Traditional Publishers on "literary fiction" vs. "genre fiction" is in direct reverse proportion with profits generated by them.  Let me explain.

In the footnotes of Howey's report is a real fact, which I will use since he went to the trouble to find it out.  That fact is: genre fiction (Romance, Mystery/Thriller, Sci-Fi/Fantasy) accounts for 69% of daily sales on Amazon, while "Fiction & Literature" account for only 5% of sales.  Big difference right?

But I am absolutely sure, even though I have no evidence, that 69% of a Trad publisher's budget is spent on promoting literary fiction and barely 5% is spent to promote genre fiction.  What do I base that on?  Nothing.  But I'm sure it's true.

Oh, maybe it works out more like 50% of their budget is spent promoting literary fiction and 20% is spent promoting genre, but I don't really care.  The point I'm trying to make is that Trad publishers don't care about genre fiction, except that it generates the real profits they can plow into promoting "serious" authors and trying to force literary fiction down the throats of readers who don't really care for it.

Why did I come to this conclusion?  Because I hate literary fiction?  No.  (Even though I do.)  Because I couldn't stand the fact that my high school English teacher made me read really boring novels while sneering at sci-fi and fantasy?  No.  (Even though she did and it made me miserable.)  This is all just based on my instinct, admitted emotional bias and antidotal evidence.  I've heard lots of stories about the fact that all the real money in book sales is in Romance, but Romance writers are treated pretty much like dirt.  And everywhere I turn I see an ad for some "serious" novel that I couldn't care less about, and yet is being promoted like crazy.   I also read some stuff about how the big publishers pay big money to put certain books up front in bookstores.  Why would they need to do that unless it's books people aren't that interesting in buying?  I match that with the fact that when I walk into a bookstore, I have to pass by racks of books I can't understand why anyone would buy.

This also fits into all the stuff I hear about the New York Times best seller list.  That it's rigged.  My guess is it's rigged to promote literary fiction, when no one is really reading it.  Likewise, all the ridiculous amount of space old newspapers used to devote to reviews of serious novelists.  I'm assuming there was some payola going on in the form of advertising by the big publishers.  It's also why the traditional publishing has such crappy data about sales.  They don't want people to know what is really selling, because it ain't literary fiction.  Why would the big Trads favor one genre over another?  I'm thinking first snobbery, then elitism, and also, they don't want the people who are really making the money (genre writers) to know how valuable they are.  There might also be a connection between the big Publishers and the university text book system.  Professors quickly learn, "publish or perish" and maybe there is a lot of quid pro quo going on in terms of publishing serious books from professors and students spending fortunes on writing degrees at big universities and selling those same universities text books.  It also may be left over from the 1930's when serious novels really were kind of interesting and popular and publishing execs pine for the good old days when Hemingway was riding around in a tank during WWII.

Now, I don't bring all this up just to trash on elite literary snobs, or stuffy English professors who think A Separate Peace is better than The Godfather, though that is fun.  I bring this up because I think it's a major opportunity for self-publishers.  As Hugh points out in his report (with real facts) genre fiction seems to be an under served market.

So I think there are some real opportunities for writers to strike out on their own in genre.  And I also think they need to be wary of going the traditional route, because I don't think they will be appreciated by the Trads.

Which is what I really think this big Trad vs. Self-Publishing war is all about.  The Trads are terrified that the new generation of genre writers will finally understand their real value.  And that on the internet it is harder and harder to buy eyeballs for things people aren't that interested in.  And that means publishing execs won't be able to have expensive cocktail parties with "best selling" authors of serious books about college professors having affairs before they head off to the symphony with that minimalist architect and his contemporary artist girlfriend.  I mean, do they really want to hang out with some Star Trek loving nerd who came up with a new spin on the Prime Directive?  Or a frumpy romance writer from Oklahoma who didn't graduate from high school?  Or a fat ex-warehouse worker who came up with a detective series about a fat ex-warehouse worker detective?

Horrors!  A shit volcano indeed.