Amazon has too much control over what books get published

19 November 2014

From Salon:

On Nov. 19, at the annual National Book Awards gala, Neil Gaiman will present the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Ursula K. Le Guin. At 85, Le Guin could be resting on her well-earned laurels, but she continues to write, mostly short stories, and to explore new fictional terrain, particularly in Earthsea, the imaginary archipelago where some of her most memorable fiction is set.

. . . .

Not bad for a writer who, wearied by rejections, started sending stories to science-fiction magazines because she thought she might have a better shot there.

. . . .

 The first question I have is about genre, since you’ve written in so many. “Lavinia” is historical fiction and made me think you could easily have had a whole alternate career writing books like those of, oh, Mary Renault. There are some strong similarities between science fiction and historical fiction, but you also write fantasy, poetry, etc. How do you decide which genre to write in — is that part of the plan from the beginning (“I feel like writing a fantasy novel next”) or does it emerge in some other way?

Ah, genre. A word only a Frenchman could love. Well, you ask how I decide which genre to write in, and I have to answer, mostly I don’t. My mind doesn’t work that way.

Way back, around 1960, I did make a conscious decision to see if I could write for the science fiction magazines, because editors in other fields kept telling me they didn’t understand my stories, and I thought maybe sf editors might. I got my first two acceptances in one week. One story sold to a science fiction magazine, and another, not aimed at any market, was accepted by a small literary magazine.  The fact that the sf magazine paid encouraged me to go on learning how to write fantasy and sf. Thirty bucks was welcome back then.

I didn’t follow the sf rules and conventions unless I felt like it; essentially I went on writing what I wanted to write, and they could call it what they liked. To publish genre fiction of course branded me as a sub-literary writer in the eyes of the literary establishment, critics, award-givers, etc., but the great potentialities of the field itself, the open-mindedness of its editors and critics, the intelligence of its readers, compensated for that. Genre fiction was looked at as a ghetto, but I wonder now if realist fiction, sealing itself off in the glum suburbs of a dysfunctional society, denying the uses of imagination, was the ghetto.

A degree of recognition, a fearless agent, several loyal editors, and fiscal solvency allowed me to go on writing what I felt like writing, overstepping boundaries.

. . . .

You’ve been outspoken on both the Google Books settlement and, more recently, on Amazon. And you’re a founder of Book View Cafe, an alternative publishing operation, but you also still publish with small and large presses. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what today’s authors need to know or understand about publishing.

Book View Cafe is a professional authors’ co-operative, relying on member volunteer work. It fills a largely blank place in the publishing field. I do publish when I can with small presses that continue to regard and sell books as books, not as products indistinguishable from other commodities. I think corporate ownership and management of the big commercial publishers has grown steadily more misguided, to the point of allowing commodity marketers such as Amazon control over what they publish, which means what writers write and what people read. Dictatorship/censorship by the market or by government is equally dangerous, and crippling to any art.

There’s still a whole range of options for professional writers — between the poet who has no “market” at all, yet writes and publishes for love of the art, through the ordinary novelist who tries to balance artistic standards and conscience with demands for easy salability, to writers eager to sell themselves and their product to the highest bidder. E-publication has changed the rules, and made self-publication temptingly easy. It’s not easy to know how to be an author these days! I’m way too old to give any advice on the matter to anyone. All I can do is keep on going as I always did, in the direction that seems to promise the most freedom.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Six-Word Stories

14 November 2014

i09 asked its readers for six-word stories.

“Run, Maria!! The hills ARE alive!”


6 astronauts depart, then 7 returned.


We figured robots would vote wisely.


“Are you from the future?” – “Sometimes.”

Link to the rest at i09

Women Rise in Sci Fi (Again)

6 November 2014

From The Atlantic:

In February of this year, Ann Leckie’s book Ancillary Justice won a Golden Tentacle Award from The Kitschies—an award that celebrates “the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic.” Leckie was elated. The Kitschie trophy is a hand-sewn stuffed tentacle of sorts, and it sits proudly on Leckie’s mantle. “I was like, ‘Oh that’s really wonderful, how could anything be more validating,’” she says. “I love my golden stuff tentacle with the sparkly pom poms.”

Then the rest of the awards rolled in. First there was the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Then the Nebula Award. Then the Arthur C. Clarke. Scattered amongst them is a BSFA Award and a Locus Award. It was hard for Leckie to believe. “It was kind of like hallucinating,” she says. “It’s still kind of like hallucinating. I’m sitting here on my couch and I can turn my head and see them on the mantle and it’s really hard to see that they’re there.”

It appears as though women in science fiction are having a moment, and perhaps even more. This year, women were nominated for, and won, close to half of the major science-fiction awards out there. And much of that work touched upon gender in some way. In Ancillary Justice, the main character is a space ship (this sounds strange, but it’s worth reading the book to see what I mean) and the genders of the characters are continuously ambiguous. LIGHTSPEED magazine Kickstarted a series called “Women Destroy Science Fiction” that showcases work entirely written and edited by women. It asked for $5,000 and got $53,136 in return.

But to say that all of this represents progress for women in the traditionally male-dominated world of sci-fi oversimplifies the history of the genre a bit.

As with anything else, women have long been working alongside men to create fiction that covers on science, the future, technology and more. Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein is often cited as one of the first classics of the sci-fi genre, and even before that Margaret Cavendish wrote The Blazing World—a satirical utopian vision—in 1666. “We’ve been doing this for ever,” says writer Kameron Hurley.

. . . .

“It’s always Asimov and Heinlein,” she says. “You don’t hear about Russ or LeGuin. And there are very particular ways that people talk about it. One of those is by saying ‘well she did it, but it wasn’t really science fiction,’ or ‘her husband has a big impact.’”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Laura for the tip.

Re-reading a modern day romance classic.

3 October 2014

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

From Stephanie at Fangs Wands & Fairy Dust:

I read a lot and always have.  But it is a testimony to the excellence of this book that I can remember when I first bought it, and where in the now defunct bookstore I bought it. Furthermore, I remember going back there again and again waiting for the next book in the series.

I always thought I remembered a lot from my first reading. But, even reading through the last couple of books in the series, I realized I had forgotten an awful lot of the details, had some out of order, and thought different characters did different things. So about a week and a half ago I began rereading the story.

There has been a lot of contention since the series came out about whether it would stick to the book in plot and character. And, I have to say that it has really kept to the book, the last couple of episodes in this first season took some not unwelcome liberties, but all in all it has.


There is a lot less Jamie in the first few parts of the novel.  He doesn’t appear nearly as much as I seemed to recall. I’ve chalked it up to wishful thinking on my p[art as who wouldn’t rather Jamie than his gnarly uncle?  And the paradox of marriage to someone who has not yet been born is still really, really interesting.

This is a long book but really worth the time and money. It is in all likelihood at your local library in a couple of formats.  I think it is well-written, engaging, gripping and un-put-down-able — even after the second read.  And, I enjoyed reading it even as I watched the series.

I admit to having read Outlander when it was first released. In fact I’ve read the entire series. The characters are so real to me that I’ve had mixed feelings about any translation to either the big or small screen. The Starz series has managed to win me over, despite some lingering trepidation. Dear Ms. Gabaldon, it’s been 23 years, yet Claire and Jamie still have the power to enchant.

Read Stephanie’s perspective here.

Julia Barrett

The Maze Runner

2 September 2014

Here’s a link to James Dashner’s books

Self-Publishing Confession: I have no idea why this book is selling.

22 August 2014

From author Sean Cummings:

My book Unseen World has had a wild ride since it first became available to purchase back in 2009. Lyrical Press, then a startup ebook publisher and now an imprint of Kensington Books was its first home.

. . . .

Anyway, the darned book didn’t sell. You couldn’t give it away, which is weird, because it’s really a pretty fun read – but then I’m biased. Anyway, Lyrical Press gave me my rights back – more publishers should give the rights back to books if, for example, that publisher closes their doors less than two years after opening to great fanfare. That was a pretty classy move on Lyrical’s part.

Unseen World came back two years later – this time in print with Snowbooks in the UK.

. . . .

Guess what … it didn’t sell. I think it actually sold worse than it did when it was published by Lyrical Press. But … to Snowbooks credit, they too gave me back the rights to all three of my books published by them.

. . . .

Flash forward another three years. I’ve just learned that Strange Chemistry Books is closing its doors. I’ve had two books published by them and I’ve got three books with the rights back. So I said to hell with it … I’m going to self publish Unseen World with a different title via Kindle Direct Publishing and with this cool new cover art that I whipped together.


And the strangest thing is happening … the frigging book is selling. For the life of me, I have no idea – maybe it’s that I’m selling it for 99¢ that people are deciding to take a chance on it. There haven’t been many reviews either on Amazon or on Goodreads, but there are a few more five star ratings so that’s nice.

. . . .

I really don’t know why it’s selling, but Marshall Conrad has been in the top 50 for Superhero books for nearly two months now and in the top 100 Dark Fantasy for nearly thirty days. It’s up there alongside big name authors like Stephen Blackmoore or Charlaine Harris. It has to be the price, right? Maybe? Okay, I’ve experimented over the last month and raised it to as high as $3.99 and it still held its own, remaining in the top 100 for Superhero fiction. I keep raising and lowering the price but it still seems to sell.

What kind of voodoo science is this? I just have no idea why it’s selling. I’m grateful though, you have no idea. Because after Strange Chemistry closing and my sales for Poltergeeks and Student Bodies being fairly abysmal, I was wondering if I should just walk away from all this. Very simply, the strong sales for Marshall Conrad have been a ray of sunshine in an altogether crummy year for me professionally.

Link to the rest at Sean Cummings and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Here’s a link to Sean Cummings’ books

A Game as Literary Tutorial

25 July 2014

From The New York Times:

When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”

“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”

. . . .

For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”

The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” author China Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).

. . . .

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”

And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.

The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)

Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.

“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Larry for the tip.

The Viking Facebook

17 July 2014

From The Verge:

An unusual article recently appeared in the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association.

It featured web-like diagrams of lines connecting nodes, a hallmark of research that analyzes networks. But each node, rather than being a plain dot, was the head of a burly, red-bearded Viking sporting a horned hat, his tresses blowing in the wind.

This whimsical-seeming piece of scholarship went on to describe the social network of more than 1,500 characters in the Icelandic Sagas, epic tales about the colonization of Iceland around a thousand years ago that were first written down a few hundred years after that. It was the work of a pair of statistical physicists, Ralph Kenna of University of Coventry in the UK and his graduate student Pádraig Mac Carron, now at Oxford, who are applying the tools of their trade to works of epic literature, legend, and myth.

For this particular analysis, they painstakingly recorded the relationship of every settler in 18 sagas. The resulting web of interactions helped shed light on theories humanities scholars have been discussing for years, and even picked up on some previously unnoticed patterns.

. . . .

The story of how Kenna and Mac Carron got here begins with the Irish tale of the cattle-raid of Cooley, or the Táin Bó Cúailnge. That yarn tells how the warrior-queen Medb of Connacht rallies an army to steal a fine bull from Ulster, and how youthful Cúchulainn, an Ulster folk hero, stands against her. Complete with a maiden prophet with three pupils in each eye, wild chariot rides, and an enormous cast of characters, it’s a story to grip anyone’s imagination.

It’s a story that Kenna and Mac Carron, who are both Irish, have known since childhood.

. . . .

The Táin, which comes to us in pieces from many different manuscripts, the oldest nearly 1,000 years old, is considered literature rather than historical account. But it might still encode, in a way statistics can reveal, information about the society that produced it. Math might also help classify tales in a new way, quantitatively, in addition to the usual qualitative classifications.

. . . .

Siccing a pattern-finding program on a novel might uncover meaningless patterns, or ones so obvious that a high school freshman could see them. But Tim Tangherlini, a folklorist and professor at UCLA who hosted a 2010 National Endowment for the Humanities meeting on network analysis, sees potential. “There are a lot of latent patterns in this material that you can’t discern overtly. You can do it very well as a trained reader — by developing ways of thinking about the material that let us see latent patterns — but we have a very hard time articulating it.” Algorithms could help make those patterns visible. In the case of social networks, they can reveal which people are the most connected or powerful, as well as how densely connected the network is and the average distance between any two people, qualities that vary depending on the type of group.

For instance, research suggests that real social networks have different properties than fictional ones. The idea of seeing where epics — which are certainly not all fact, but perhaps not all fiction — fell on that spectrum appealed to Kenna.

. . . .

What Kenna and Mac Carron found was that the epics fell between the real networks and the fictional ones. The network in The Iliad is relatively realistic, and Beowulf’s also has realistic aspects, with the exception of the connections to Beowulf himself. That chimed with the idea from the humanities that he, unlike some others in the story, may not have existed. The Táin’s network was more artificial. Interestingly, however, they found that a lot of the Táin’s unreality was concentrated in just a few, grotesquely over-connected characters. When they theorized that some of those characters might actually be amalgams — for instance, that some of the times the queen of Connacht is said to speak to someone, it might be a messenger speaking for her instead — the network began to look more realistic.

. . . .

They had unwittingly stumbled onto patterns that tied into theories humanities scholars had been discussing for years. The sagas are thought to have been written using actual genealogical information, says Tangherlini — in fact, many of the Icelandic sagas are classified as “family sagas,” and they may have been written to cement a family’s glorious past — so it makes sense that their social networks are very realistic.

. . . .

At a broader level, comparing social networks in these old stories to those in more recent fiction may help reveal deeper truths about what literature has meant to people through the ages. “Great literature might have been more representative of society in the past,” says Birkett. “There’s a big difference between a realistic representation of social networks and a realistic representation of life, or the human condition … I don’t think you could write a modern novel that accurately represented social groups [the way the sagas do], because there would be too many characters.” Mac Carron echoes that sentiment. “Njal’s Saga has something like an average of four new characters every page,” he says. “Whereas in modern fiction, I think they do try to make sure you can keep track of everyone, with the exception of maybe Game of Thrones.” Even in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings — which Mac Carron and Kenna analyzed to compare with the sagas — the networks are nowhere near as vast. That density of characters, and the realism of their networks, suggest a different purpose for literature than might be the case now — the creation of portraits of societies, rather than portraits of individuals.

Link to the rest at The Verge

President Snow

15 July 2014

The Big SFWA Indie Flap

8 July 2014

From author Jerry Pournelle:

The big flap started last Thursday with a letter to all Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) members from SFWA President Stephen Gould.

. . . .

The story was told that this was a deliberate insult by SFWA aimed at independently published writers, and worse, it comes in the midst of a long and drawn out debate within SFWA over whether to admit as ‘professional writers’ those whose only credentials are self-published worked. One of the people who brought up the issue of admitting self-published writers to SFWA was me, and the case I used as illustration was Dr. Jennifer Pournelle, my daughter, whose book Outies, a book written (with permission) in the universe of The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle has been a top selling science fiction book for decades, and remains popular (and very readable I would say, but then I would, wouldn’t I?). When Jenny wrote the book she solicited offers from publishers and received several, all with generous (for first novels) advances, but terms that gave the publishers the lion’s share of eBook rights so long as the book was “in print”; and since electronic books never go out of print, that means the life of the copyright. She did some calculations based in part on Mote sales, and some expectation the author’s name would attract some attention and sales, and decided to self-publish the work, again with our permission. The bottom line is that the book earned more in a year than the advance offered by the publisher, and she still owns all the eBook rights; and it’s still selling, as indeed it ought to since it’s a pretty good read. Not as good as Mote, say I, but then I’d say that, wouldn’t it?

I pointed out that this ought to qualify as a valid credential for joining the Science Fiction Writers of America. She was offered publication by a major publisher, and has earned more in self-publication than she was offered, and she retains all her rights in the book, and surely that’s professional? And since she has been the publications manager for a major California university, she’d be a pretty darned valuable member. My point was that if SFWA is the organization of those who write and publish science fiction in America, she blooming well qualified, and so did a number of other writers out there.

SFWA has dithered over this for two years.

Link to the rest at The View from Chaos Manor

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