This one time at Writer's Camp…
Category Archives: Publishing
Today is the release of the long-awaited first book of a brand new series I’m writing. Wraithkin is out and available in both print and e-format, and the early reviews is that all my hard work has come to fruition with this book. Run and buy, share, talk about it. Publicity never hurt a writer.
So at a very odd hour late last night, I went ahead and wrote a review over at Shiny Book Review. To say that it was an adventure is an understatement. Reputedly, this author has a history of lashing out at reviewers, so we’ll see just how interesting things get around here.
I mentioned elsewhere that the ideal author response to any review is a “thank you for writing a review”. That should be it. Drop mic, exit stage left, fade to black. For some reason some authors feel the need to tell the reviewer that what they read was not what was written, and they missed subtle nuances, etc. Word of advice: if the reviewer missed it, then it’s possible it wasn’t there in the first place.
Nobody knows the story and the characters as well as the author, and it’s completely understandable to see something that the reader does not because you know the characters and story so much better. It’s okay, really. However, lashing out and yelling at book reviewers (or going creepy cyber stalker, like this author did) is not the way to go. You are a professional now, damn it. Try and remember that, even if your Twitter feed is nothing but hyperbole and pictures of lattes (nothing wrong with either, actually).
Yesterday, over on Facebook, I kinda sorta touched on the new HarperCollins digital watermark, which is another updated rendition of their failed attempts (thus far, apparently) at a secure and impenetrable DRM. Those pesky pirates are costing publishers a lot of money, so of course the natural response is to put even more money into a system that will be obsolete in about four months. Most of us who know anything about computers will roll their eyes when reading the description of what this new digital watermark does:
“We are pleased to add this new service to our anti-piracy toolbox,” said Chantal Restivo-Alessi, Chief Digital Officer at HarperCollins Publishers. “Part of the value publishers provide is protecting the livelihoods of our authors and ensuring that they’re being properly compensated for their work. Digimarc Guardian Watermarks help us identify and stop potential e-book leaks in our digital supply chain that result in piracy. This technology, alongside the monitoring and takedown service, helps us better protect our authors’ content.”
The real fear for publishers, it seems, is not in the average 4chan user who has a copy of some bestseller, but leaks from within their own organizational supply chain. Of course, this does nothing for those dedicated individuals who are willing to type up an entire hardcover book and release it into the wild, ala Harry Potter before J. K. Rowling allowed for ebooks to be created. The amount of money that they would need to spend to get this started, as well as ensure on a daily basis that their DRM code within each and every book is unique, is going to be expensive. Intuitive thinking leads one to believe that in order to combat this growing cost (and it will grow, since the digital algorithm for their DRM will be cracked inside of a month by some 13 year old kid who was bored after playing Destiny), prices may go up in the near future for all HarperCollins books, especially with the beating that its parent company, NewsCorp, took this year with their quarterly earnings.
Now why, one may ask, would HarperCollins do this? Well, their 1Q 2014 earnings show that they had a 15% increase in profit, which is very good in the publishing world. Most of their profits came from the NYT bestseller Divergent and ebook sales. Well, one was made into a movie, and the other… must be protected from piracy, because that 15% could have been 15.2%? I don’t know. To me, this sounds like it was a call from above, since piracy of their most popular book (Divergent) didn’t seem to hurt their profit margin any. NewsCorps, in case you were wondering, did not have a good 2013 on the whole (HarperCollins was their lone bright spot, apparently). Instead of riding the surging popularity of their books, a decision was made to ensure that the Dread Pirate Roberts would not be able to pilfer their books. This is going to hurt them in the long run, methinks.
You see, the typical Information Security Analyst clears about $117,000 a year. I’m not sure what the hell a “Chief Digital Officer” is, but I’m willing to bet it’s something like a management level ISA, so let’s say that a senior manager like that would make more than $117,000 per year. Of course, this is also a publisher notorious for pinching pennies, so let’s cut that back a bit. Call it $100,000 a year. But she’s not going to be doing all this coding and whatnot alone (if at all, if my own history of working for senior managers is any indication), so she’ll have coders doing this for her. And the code monkeys should be making about $45,000-$75,000 per year, according to my sources in the industry. That’s quite a bit of money to be paying, per year, to ensure that they don’t lose half of that in sales.
One of the things I’ve found, doing a little bit of research into the matter, is that while HarperCollins is protecting their rights and intellectual properties through the digital marking, they’re also data mining your device. This wasn’t mentioned in the same article as the one above, but from a previous interview done with Ms. Restivo-Alessi by Fast Company back in January of this year. She mentions her job history was in the music industry (specifically, EMI) and digital security, which makes you wonder just how far HarperCollins is going to be willing to go to protect their books from piracy. There is a reason that the music industry has been properly vilified over the past 15 years.
But let’s go back for a moment. In the interview with Fast Company (in regards to a question about data-driven projects), Ms. Restivo-Alessi said this:
The first one is insight. Where we are making the first inroads is really allowing ourselves to acquire more consumer data–primary and secondary–and do it in a more cost efficient way. Also, we’re in the early days of then having a way of providing a digested presentation of the data to our publishing colleagues so that they can incorporate that information in the way they run the business.
The other is a little more sensitive, but I can tell you just in general it’s the area of digital sales and pricing. Again, because of digital, much more data is available so you can start inferring and analyzing impact and demand elasticity. That team doesn’t report directly to me, but it is a part of my job, as a part of looking for what works in the digital space and what best practices we can share.
There are a lot of buzzwords in there that sound impressive until you break it down. Once you do that, it starts to sound downright creepy.
We are consumers, and companies like HarperCollins wants us to buy their product. In order to do that, they have to put out a product that is both of value to us, the consumers, and entice us to purchase their product over someone else’s. This business model is pretty much capitalism in its most basic form, most people would agree. However, when you begin to take away the choice of the consumer through manipulations and “trends” in data mining, suddenly you have 56 different versions of Twilight floating out there because that’s what the data mining shows. The consumer is no longer the consumer, but a part of the product. As Facebook has shown, when you own the trends and data history of a consumer, the consumer becomes the product.
The second part is pretty simply: prices are going to go up, and that will justify more DRM. It’s a self-serving loop, one which tells the Greek myth of the Ouroboros. Eventually, this will consume itself. Oh, they can claim that their new digital marketing and DRM has shown that profits are increasing while they’re protecting the author, but anyone who works in traditional publishing knows that these books that are bestsellers now have been sitting in the queue for up to five years now. It happens to be fortuitous timing on their parts, and nothing more (well, other than the books being good, that is).
Look, DRM is not going to work. The people who steal ebooks are the people who weren’t going to buy it in any case. I have never had someone tell me that they pirated my book because that $3.99 was just too expensive for their tastes (waiting for my inbox to fill up now challenging this statement…). Yes, HarperCollins was profitable in 2013. That doesn’t mean that making it more difficult on the consumer in order to protect past profits means any sort of substantive growth for 2014 and beyond. If anything, this could cause sales to flatten and even decline.
In the end, all this is going to cause is more people refusing to buy HarperCollins overpriced ebooks. To combat this, they’ll have two choices: raise prices, or get rid of the DRM. And history has already shown us which direction they’ll take.
There are some nice deals going on this week.
Kaiju Apocalypse is currently on sale for only $0.99. This is would be the perfect time to get the first book in the series and try it out and see if it’s up your alley.
Also on sale is Murder World: Kaiju Dawn for only $0.99 as well. You really might want to grab this gem, since it has one of my favorite characters of all time in it. We’re still writing the follow up books to this, but rest assured that the sequel will be out this year.
Come on, what are you waiting for? For less than two bucks you can get two exciting Kaiju novels.
I was looking over my map of Weslande (my fantasy world I’m building around the story of I, Godslayer) and I saw that I had made a massive cathedral made of crystal in the middle of a vast desert. I was sort of surprised (I don’t remember doing it, but I make so many maps I wouldn’t be surprised if I did it while half-asleep) and started thinking about other maps I’ve made over the years. Since I’m a pack rat with regards to notebooks and such (I have almost 80 notebooks with random story ideas, notes, city designs, etc), I figured I’d go check to see how many maps have some sort of crystalline cathedral mentioned. When I got done going through them all, uh… yeah.
Every. Single. One.
Wow. Talk about commitment.
But then I started thinking about my childhood, and what influences subtly guided me to add some sort of cathedral like this. It was pretty obvious in hindsight.
Growing up in group homes, I never had a sort of geographical or architectural “anchor” to a place. 26 groups homes in 7 years will do that to you. But while I bounced around from home to home, there was one home I usually ended back at (albeit for a brief time only). I think I ended up there about 10 times. It was also my first ever “group home”, a place that was (once) called The Albert Sitton Home (funny story: when I first arrived there, I was confused and wasn’t sure what was going on (I’d been yanked from school). When the intake staff told me the name of the place, I got upset. I said “You mean all you do here is sit?!” I was a very literal sort of kid). I don’t remember much about the place the first time I was there except that it was the first time I was really fed well. I also remember being able to look out my dorm window and seeing, faintly, this large glowing tower with a blinking light on top of it.
For a kid who was seriously messed up in the head and nobody offering any sort of explanation (I knew what had happened, and how bad it had hurt, but I thought it happened to every kid and didn’t quite grasp why I was being punished… as I said, things were really messed up back then), this grand tower in the distance offered… an escape? It’s hard to explain. So I dreamed of living on top of the tower and eating whatever I wanted. I could play with whatever toys I wanted and not have them taken away by the other kids and broken. I could play in the sand with little toy soldiers and not have a bunch of vatos pour gasoline on my face because they were bored and the white-looking kid was an easy target.
Basically, I could be safe.
But a funny thing happened as I grew older. I went to another group home, then somewhere else, then went back to Albert Sitton Home. Only now it was the Orangewood Children’s Home, and I couldn’t see the tower from the new building. I could still see the glowing light, which I knew was now a warning light for planes and helicopters. The tower actually had a real name as well (the Crystal Cathedral), but it still held that magical allure for me. That tower always seems to be in land I base a story in (whether I mention it or not) and it always is a place of sanctuary, no matter what I call it or think of it.
I have other influences which color my writings as well (not everyone who is nice to the good guy is a good guy, for example), but the cathedral is by far the most influential.
I guest blogged over at Sarah Hoyt’s site today. More on the Marion Zimmer Bradley issue, how it relates, and me asking why the SFWA hasn’t kicked out their 2013 Grand Master and open pederast Samuel Delaney. I, uh, kinda lost my cool a bit.
I’m going radio silent for the weekend. I won’t be around until Tuesday of next week. This weekend is Libertycon!
- Friday, 3:00PM — Autograph signing — kicking off the weekend with some autographing, I might sign a few books. I’ll mostly be sitting back and plotting books while watching the more important authors be bombarded by their fans. I’m signing with Peter Grant, Kurt Miller and Travis S. Taylor. I dream of the day when I can have Kurt Miller do one of my book covers.
- Friday, 5:00PM — Opening Ceremonies — Yada yada yada.
- Friday, 9:00PM — What’s New in Military SF — This one should be fun, since I’ve written a ton of MilSF and Kaiju novels recently (6 in the past 10 months alone). I’ll be with Walt Boyes, K. S. Daniels, Bill Fawcett, Mark Wandrey, Charles Gannon (woot!) and John Ringo (woot woot!). That’s quite a large panel, which means someone (not me) has the unenviable task of trying to rein in John.
- Saturday, 11:00AM — Urban Fantasies — This one… uh… okay, I can do this one, but I feel this is not my usual dog and pony show. Scott Baker, Louise Herring-Jones, D. Alan Lewis and Gail Z. Martin will be with me on this one.
- Saturday, 4:00PM — Reading — Huh. Wonder what I’ll read to the people.
- Saturday, 9:00PM –What’s New from Iron Clad Press — One of my publishers is rolling out a bunch of books this year, and I owe him a Tobias Fox novel. This one will be fun, but I’ll probably be late getting there due to prior commitments elsewhere.
- Saturday, 10:00PM — Book Launch Party — Iron Clad Press, Moondream Press and Perseid Press are all having books come out this weekend, and are having a massive launch party. I’ll be there (since I have books from each publisher) and probably about ready to drop at that point (I get tired easily).
- Sunday, 11:00AM — Autograph signing — another one, though most people are probably still recovering from the previous night’s drinking. I’ll be there, sleeping (or signing, whatever).
- Sunday, 1:00PM — Kaiju – Why Do We Love the Big Monsters Who Stomp us to Pieces? — Eric S. Brown, and I are gonng talk Kaiju, lots of Kaiju, and nothing but Kaiju. This one should be fun.
- Sunday, 2:00PM — What’s New from Moondream Press — Another one of my publishers and we’ll be talking Sha’Daa more than likely.
Late last night, while watching an absolutely atrocious movie, I had a thought experiment come to mind. I dismissed it quickly enough, since the whole point that the director tried to make was his attempt to cause the viewer to “think” (when, in reality, the message was more “I’m smarter and morally superior than you”, but whatever), but then I had a dream about it and how it correlates to the current dust-up in Science Fiction/Fantasy (yes, it’s coming full circle). I’ll pose the moral quandary here for you, and let you decide.
Let us begin.
- There is a train coming. There are 5 individuals of varying nationalities (everyday Joe’s so to speak) tied to the train tracks who will most certainly die if they remain there. There is a lever which you can pull that will divert the train onto another set of tracks. On this second set of tracks, however, is noted white English author Iain Banks (he’s still alive for this thought experiment). Iain Banks will surely die if you divert the train. Do you sacrifice Mr. Banks to save the five everyday Joe’s? Or do you sacrifice the average Joe’s to save the noted author?
Let’s take it up a notch, shall we?
- There is a train coming. There are 5 white men tied to the train tracks who will most certainly die if they remain there. There is a lever which you can pull that will divert the train onto another set of tracks. On this second set of tracks, however, is noted African-American poet Maya Angelou (again, let’s presume that she’s still alive for this experiment). Maya Angelou will surely die if you divert the train. Do you sacrifice Ms. Angelou to save the 5 white men? Or do you sacrifice the 5 white men to save the noted poet?
Thinking yet? Well then, let’s not stop there. I want to keep going because, well, philosophy and sh*t.
- There is a train coming. There are 5 impoverished minority children tied to the train tracks who will most certainly die if they remain there. There is a lever which you can pull that will divert the train onto another set of tracks. On this second set of tracks, however, is noted physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Neil deGrasse Tyson will surely die if you divert the train. Do you sacrifice Dr. Tyson to save the 5 impoverished minority children? Or do you sacrifice the 5 impoverished minority children to save the renowned physicist?
Let’s do one more, just to put some knickers in a twist.
- There is a train coming. There are 5 wealthy, snobby, bratty white American children tied to the train tracks who will most certainly die if they remain there. There is a lever which you can pull that will divert the train onto another set of tracks. One this second set of tracks, however, is noted author (and outed pedophile) Marion Zimmer Bradley. Marion Zimmer Bradley will surely die if you divert the train. Do you sacrifice Ms. Bradley to save the 5 insanely wealthy, snobby, bratty white American children? Or do you sacrifice the 5 insanely wealthy, snobby, bratty white American children in order to save the famed author and pedophile?
Some of you have already decided that the “Greater Good” trumps all, and that the 5 saved are always better than the 1 lost. However, do you really want to run the risk of losing such an established individual like deGrasse just to have, say three of the five kids you saved die from malnutrition or other diseases, before they’re 20? Think about the loss to humanity if someone like deGrasse were suddenly removed, and none of the five ever come close to his level of intellect or contribution to humanity. Do you save the physicist and murder five children?
Some of you immediately went to saving the noted individuals because you know them, and they’re famous. Much like how society now looks to those who are famous being more important that those who are not, you attached yourself to the idea of saving Maya Angelou and letting the five white men die. But ask yourself… did you put Ms. Angelou ahead of saving the white men because of her contributions to society, or do you feel that race and guilt made the decision for you?
The problem with a moral quandary like this is that there is no right answer (except for the last one, but that’s to come). How do you value one over the other? How does an individual choose?
Well, this is where your own perceptions of what is important come into play for this thought experiment. Your judgment is based on who you identify with, who you associate yourself with, and who your “tribe” is.
Part of what bothers me in this current dust-up is that the legions on one side are lashing out at the problem instead of addressing it, then fall into this sort of congratulatory mutual masturbation session in which they pat each other on the back while jerking each other off (inelegant, I know). The moral problems are still there, but instead of making a decision, they’re attacking the questions posed. They may even say that the root of the moral problems I posed above boil down to “RACISM!” and attack me for this. There may even be harsh language.
With the exception of the final problem (let the pedophile die, and pop up some popcorn so the children can enjoy the show is my vote), there isn’t an easy decision to make in the group. If you found any of them easy, then you may want to check your perceptions of what is important or not. If you picked Maya Angelou over the five white men, for example, did you just condemn five innocent men to die? Or if you picked to save the five white men, aren’t you worried someone may turn around and call you racist for not choosing the African-American woman (oh come one, you knew that was coming)?
But since 3 of the 4 questions aren’t really that “fair”, a Progressive minority might casually dismiss the philosophical implications of the decisions and instead attack me, the questioner. This would make sense to some, since after all, I’m the one who dared to include racial stats into the equation. But if that’s the case, would it make your decision easier? Would it make your decision simpler if it were just five men on the tracks versus Maya Angelou? Or five white kids versus Neil deGrasse Tyson? What do you, personally, place value upon when you look at life?
Take this all into comparison with the current dust-up in SF/F and you might… MIGHT… begin to understand. For some within the SFWA community, battle lines MUST be drawn. The very soul of science fiction is at stake, they’ll argue. It is their job to protect it from racism, sexism, misogyny and whatever other buzzword of the week is.
Finally… back to the philosophical questions posed above. Please, I want you to be honest with me (and yourself) in this matter… but did you even think of asking if there was someone else around who could help you save everyone? Because, despite your protestations otherwise, you are not the moral majority and you do NOT get to decide who lives and who dies. NOBODY has that right. You do not get to choose whether Neil deGrasse Tyson is more important that anyone else, or that anyone else is more important that Dr. Tyson.
Or, in the case of Science Fiction/Fantasy, you do not get to determine what is the heart, and what is the soul, and you definitely don’t get to decide what is good and what is bad.