They say ideas aren’t worth much…

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and “they” are correct!

Long time readers know that I give away story ideas on my blog (the ones I’m never going to write, I mean) under the tag “seeds”. And you might remember last year when I mentioned that writer Stephen Kotowych took one of those ideas, wrote it up, and sold it to an anthology called Caped.

Well, now that story has made the short list for the Prix Aurora Awards under Best English Short Fiction.

First of all, congratulations to Stephen; the idea of superpowers that spread virally through punching is a fun one, if I say so myself, but it’s worthless on its own. Execution is everything.

Second, I have no idea how the Prix Aurora works, but if you (yes, you, the person reading this) have a vote, why not vote for Stephen’s story, “Super Frenemies”.

Third, it’s an interesting world, and getting more interesting all the time.

Have a Nook? In the UK? Back up your books

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If you’re in the UK and you have a Nook (there must be at least ONE of you out there) be sure to back them up. Nook is pulling out of the UK market and relying on a third-party to take over for the Nook books people have already bought.

Personally, I don’t put a lot of trust in maintenance arrangements with third parties.

Details here.

Authorial Self Sabotage: first in an informal series

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The common wisdom is: if you publish in the genre, go to conventions. Here:

Now, to clarify (because this has bitten me in the ass before) I’m quoting Kameron Hurley to talk about her assertion, not to blindly agree with it.

I’m going to relink the article she’s linking above because it’s worth reading, and I’m going to quote it, too.

Check this part out:

Here’s another wrinkle: at least in SFF writerdom, there is really no meaningful distinction between friends and colleagues. Which, sure, is true of a lot of fields. But these relationships are particularly close, and the professional utility of these friendships can be very high. There are costs to missing out, to not being at the right place at the right time to meet the right person. Missed connections are a real thing. Because here’s another wrinkle: it’s not just about being talented. It’s about being noticed.

Which calls back to some other, previous posts of mine about luck. (Don’t roll your eyes, people, I’m going to be brief this time.) If you maximize your interactions with other people and with new experiences, and you remain open to new opportunities, you increase your chances of a “lucky” break. That’s why people who say you can’t control luck are wrong. You can’t control luck in any specific situation, but you can increase the chances that something lucky will happen over the long term.

Therefore: conventions, where you meet colleagues who become friends. The benefits of that are unpredictable but they’re there. The costs are there, too.

See this post by Chuck Wendig listing the upside and downside of attending. As Chuck says, the point is to meet people you like and be liked in return. It’s a professional opportunity to make pals, not to cynically acquire names and resumes who will give your career a lift. Chuck also makes an extensive list of the downsides, one of which is cost. Marko Kloos broke down the cost of attending Confusion, an event he really enjoyed and which is apparently the cool new thing.

Clearly, $1,888 isn’t chump change, and it’s clear that no one is going to make back that money on the weekend itself. The money I just paid to Bookbub was not tiny, but the extra sales more than made up for the cost. But that’s short-term thinking. That almost-nineteen hundred dollar ConFusion expenditure will pay off, if it pays off at all, in the long-term benefits that come from the friendships formed at the event.

For example: we’ve all seen writers pushing their books on social media, and most of us know that, while it works once in a while, it’s not an effective way to sell. You reach your core followers, they buy the book, and the positive effects of future promotion nosedives.

But being promoted by other writers to their followers, with a personal recommendation? That’s gold. Meeting an editor who remembers you as smart, funny, and sensible the next time your agent submits your work? Making a good impression on a handful of fans who decide to try your books, then love them so much that they evangelize for them? Also gold.

And it can’t be predicted or forced. It’s like the old saying: “If you want to find someone to love, be someone worth loving.” Authors just have to go, spend the money, the energy, and the time, and hope good comes of it.

For those who have found benefit that way, great. I’m glad Kameron Hurley’s career is doing well and I hope she becomes a best-seller (or whatever her goal is). But it’s important to be wary of Survivor Bias. My own experience at big meetups is not all that positive. Usually I leave feeling that I should have spent that time writing.

And then there’s this:

No conventions. Hear that? They don't attend many conventions

Excerpt from ‘The Career Novelist’ by Donald Maass

That advice is more than 20 years old and it’s the exact opposite of what authors are told now. Conventions may have been around for a long time, but could things have changed so much?

I’m open to the possibility that social media magnifies the effects of creating a F2F friendship with your colleagues; it’s possible that folks who witness fun and funny online exchanges between pros would be willing to sample the work of a whole clique. I also suspect that’s where “cool kids” rhetoric comes from (as in “I’ll never be one of the cool kids”). In social media, casual expressions of camaraderie are a public act and it’s easy to feel excluded when it looks like everyone but you gets to take part in the fun (Not to mention getting the reviews, the blurbs, the nominations…)

Then again, what looks widespread and pervasive on social media is usually neither. The ongoing drama in one person’s circles goes completely unnoticed by the world at large. And those people that look like they’re among the “cool kids” are struggling with their books and their insecurities just like any other writer. The only difference is that their circle of friends has a high(ish) profile.

Still, the idea that long-lasting sales comes to those who don’t waste time on the social stuff is very very tempting.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Is it worth the time and money? How many cons does it take to start making friends? Is it even worth it for me, a guy who hates to be jostled, who can’t hear in noisy environments, and is terrible at recognizing faces? (also names?)

Maybe it would be worth it, but feh. I’m terrible at that stuff. We only get 52 weekends a year, and I don’t want to use one of mine on socializing when I could be working on a book.

I could be shooting myself in the foot with that decision, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

Today’s Twitter Confession

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Sometimes I squelch the urge to say things that are true but seem obvious. I probably shouldn’t.

And this is why Wren, an app that lets me send Tweets without being distracted by reading anyone else’s, is a great way to let off steam when I’m writing.

Mysteries with Honest Detectives and Sad Endings: Netflix Codifies Art

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This article pushes all my buttons.

The more I learn about the way Netflix determines their categories, but more convinced I am that they’re doing something really useful that will soon apply to all entertainment media. To summarize the article briefly: not only have they created over 75,000 separate “genres” (called “altgenres” at the company) but they rate and categorize films according to a very complex system of metrics. How gory are they? How romantic? Where are they set? What job does the protagonist hold? How happy is the ending?

Hiding behind those 75+K genres are all sorts of ratings that Netflix pays careful attention to. If you watch a lot of movies in the Action categories but consistently turn off the gory ones before the end, Netflix will stop suggesting action movies with a high gore rating to you. Other kinds, sure, but not that one.

I’d hoped books could get a system like this with Game of Books, but they didn’t deliver. The project was sold or abandoned, and backers’ pledges were returned.

I still interested in a system that could do something similar with books. Bleak mysteries with an honest detective and a sad/tragic ending ought to be easier to find than they are, but the personal recommendations I get through social media haven’t scratched that itch. Those books were one disappointment after another. Would the Game of Books have managed it? Would “Netpages”?

Obviously, a system like this would never be perfect; Netflix’s certainly isn’t. That’s why I miss Netflix’s “Random” category, since my recommendations are now swamped with kung fu movies and British crime shows. (And why not? Love ’em!) Random allowed me to see recs beyond what the algorithm thought I wanted.

For Netflix to survive, it has to connect subscribers with shows they love over the long term, but sometimes its recs are so narrow that we only get to see a thin slice of what they offer. Basically, they hide most of their library. Before she moved in with us, my niece thought she’d seen everything of interest the streaming service offered. Now she’s binging on all sorts of shows. That suggests that Netflix’s algorithms are too restrictive right now. More variety is needed.

As for books, well, variety is not the problem. Covering them all would be the problem. Still, I think it’s inevitable.

I know there are people who will recoil instinctively from the idea of breaking down books into component parts in order to categorize them, but I can’t help but think that, if readers were able to look for “Contemporary Fantasy Crime Fiction with a Sad Ending”, I might still be writing Ray Lilly novels.

Genres are just descriptions for the marketing department, after all. I suspect we’re coming to a time when book classification is going to have to get much more granular.

Death… I mean, Obscurity stands at your left shoulder and whispers “Soon.”

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I should have put this here instead of on Twitter, but I got into a roll and what the hell.

Here it is, my short essay on obscurity:

I wish I could edit tweets.

Anyway, re: #18, here’s Jaime Lee Moyer talking about her series being cancelled after Tor pulled her first two books just as book 3 was coming out and here’s Patrick Swenson talking about Tor dropping him after one book. Those forgotten bestsellers I mention in tweets #6 & 7? At least they made a little money first. For too many of us, even that’s beyond our grasp.

I have also been thinking about George RR Martin, who recently announced that his next Westeros novel will be delayed. It reminded me of an article I read about JK Rowling, and the pressure she felt while trying to finish the last few Harry Potter books. Those authors have had amazing success, obviously, but they still feel Imposter Syndrome. They still worry that readers will be turned off and turned away. That readers will move on.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about lately, as I watch the Bookbub sales bump fade, and wonder if those readers will move past the 99 cent promo novel to my other work.

Hey new readers, if you want to keep up with my future work, why not sign up for my newsletter? I only send it when I have something new out.

Also, it helps keep the specter of Obscurity a few paces behind.

UNBOUND preorders available

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The anthology I’m going to be appearing in–with Jim Butcher, Mary Robinette Kowal, Seanan McGuire, Joe Abercrombie, and Terry Brooks–is available for preorder. Check out the cover art and the table of contents.

My contribution is set during the events of The Way into Chaos. (Spoilers!)

Randomness for 9/13

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1) Why Salad Is Overrated.

2) Actually, salad is good.

3) Ice-T will has some startling information for you in these (fake) SVU screencaps.

4) Most Heinous Stories of Role-Playing Games Gone Wrong.

5) Picture Yourself as a Stereotypical Man. “Stereotype threat” and academic achievement, or how to erase any statistical difference between whites and blacks / men and women.

6) I love this book design.

7) Classic book covers turned into gifs.

oh god am i really going to write about the hugos again

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Okay. I am. A little bit, but only to float an idea.

Eric Flint (possibly aiming for a fan writing Hugo himself) wrote a long post called The Divergence between Popularity and Awards in Fantasy and Science Fiction, in which he argues that the award-winners of Ye Dayes of Olde (before the mid 80’s, I guess) were also the best sellers in the genre, but for the last 25+ years, that hasn’t been true.

He comes at this argument through an odd, winding route, attempting to magically divine the top sellers by seeing how many feet of books are modeled[1] on the shelves, using pre-Amazon measurements he took at B&N and Borders. (Kids, Borders was once a big chain bookstore.)

Which… fine. Let’s just pretend that this is a good measure of sales. Assuming that the big sellers of today are no longer necessarily getting the awards, why not?

Let’s put aside the idea that there’s some sort of left-wing cabal handing them out to their friends, because that idea is dumb. Let’s also put aside the idea that the standards for the awards are especially literary. To quote Abigail Nussbaum:

The truth is—and this is something that we’ve all lost sight of this year—no matter how much the puppies like to pretend otherwise, the Hugo is not a progressive, literary, elitist award. It’s a sentimental, middle-of-the-road, populist one.[2]

I basically agree with her, although I don’t feel the urge to “walk away in disgust” and am in no way disappointed. The Hugos are what they are, and I think that’s fine for the people voting for them.

But here’s my suggestion, tentatively offered: what if the Hugo voters/nominators aren’t the one’s who’ve changed these last few decades? I mean, sure, some folks age out, new folks come in, so they aren’t the same individuals. But what if they’re the same sort of novelty-seeking reader, preferring clever, flattering books to pretty much everything else?

Because that would mean that the bulk of the readership now are the sorts of readers who don’t care about fandom or voting for Awards. Who have maybe sampled a few award-winners and found them not to their taste. They’re the people who came into the genre through Sword of Shannara, because it was the first fantasy to hit the NYTimes list, through STAR WARS and dozens of other action/adventure-with-ray-guns movies that sold millions of tickets, through D&D novels like Dragonlance, or through shoot-em-up video games.

Maybe the award hasn’t changed very much, but the readership now suddenly includes huge masses of people who are looking for Hollywood-style entertainment, with exaggerated movie characterization and a huge third act full of Big Confrontation.

Obviously, some Hugo voters enjoy that sort of thing, too. If they didn’t, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY wouldn’t have won this year. They may not think R.A. Salvatore’s work deserves an award, but they’ll read it and enjoy it. But the few thousand people involved in the Hugos are not enough to fill out the readership of someone like Jim Butcher or Robin Hobb. That’s a whole other group.

Flint’s post seems to suggest that the awards seem to have moved away from the influential big sellers, and he’s not sure why[3]. I would say that science fiction and fantasy have become large markets with a readership that’s less insular. It has more “casuals” to steal a gaming term. Those are the people who are blowing up the sales of the books at the “basic entertainment” end of the spectrum.

That’s a good thing.

It might seem funny at this point for me to say, once again, that I’m not all that interested in the Hugo Awards. I’m really not, although I’m very interested in selling large numbers of books [4]. The divergence between what sells in large numbers and what wins popular awards is an interesting data point.

[1] Modeling: When bookstores make a special effort to always have an author’s books on the shelf. A copy of The Two Towers sells, and a new one is ordered instantly. That’s a good place for an author to be.

[2] I found her writeup in this io9 summary of Hugo articles.

[3] Do the people who give out the Edgars worry that the books winning awards aren’t on the bestseller lists?

[4] Check out my books. I’ve got sample chapters for you and everything.