Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Friday, June 28, 2013

the mythology of the bookstore versus seo

There's this company called "Hubpages" that I encountered in my travels that is not a great company, and floods search engines with a lot of relatively amateur content for link bait to monetize eyeballs. There's ads all over the page. There's links to eBay and Amazon that are monetized affiliate links.

I was reminded of Hubpages when I encountered a bookstore in my travels that looked suspiciously like Hubpages or or any other one of the countless SEO sites that hack out a few dollars on the web by flooding search engines with content to generate pagehits.

Amazon has ads, too. Quick, go to their site and check out this awesome remote control helicopter. Syma S107/S107G R/C Helicopter - Blue Scroll down below the product description and what do you see? External ads. Amazon, the larges bookseller in the world, monetizes eyeballs, and sells ads on product pages. (It just doesn't seem to do it for books. Yet.)

Bookstores tend to only advertise their own products. How many bookstores sell advertising space on their walls to lead out to other companies? Plenty indie shops will have business cards of other local businesses, maybe a billboard, but how many charge for advertising space on the shelves themselves? How many page hits does Amazon get compared to a site like eHow?

Now, with sites more like eHow or About or any other of the weird and arcane SEO sites out there, if they set up eCommerce to sell directly from their site, and still plaster the page with ads, who profits from the ads? It's not authors of books. I know that for a fact. Whoever arranges with the site might profit from the ads, as part of normal negotiations about availability and titles in locations that try to compete with Amazon, perhaps, in the same way anyone can set up a Hubpage account and split the ad revenue.

We negotiate our contracts and negotiate our contracts...

The mythology of the bookstore experience is going to get farther behind us, when bookstores more resemble and Hubpages than they do the lovely independent booksellers with physical stores we can browse. Thinking about eBooks as if they are just books in a different format damages our ability as web publishers to reach into the ad revenue that is a major source of income on the web.

Imagine the ad revenue lost on the retail splash page for Stephen King's latest novel, at the largest bookstore in the world, a website with ads on it already to other books, and a website that occasionally does offer external ads. Imagine the trickling coins for all the lesser authors - all us vast millions of authors - coalescing into a single pool of revenue for a single site. Do any agents demand a cut of the ad revenue, at eBook sites that offer to split the revenue with publishers? I've never even heard of this, but it's an idea that's sort of already here, on the web, and it's a sign that maybe things are changing fast and even people who try to stay on top of the changes are still living in the mythology of the bookstore, because it didn't occur to me to think about this until I woke up this morning from bad dreams about the people I have actually met who have been in charge of large companies.

We're thinking about all of these websites, and our relationships with them as if we are still operating bookstore businesses. We do not think of the eBook quite enough as if it were true that all publishing is web publishing, now, and that all books are at least a part of the SEO that dominates the internet. So, someone visits Stephen King's latest book at, and clicks through the recommended links. Does Stephen King's publisher generate a click-through bonus if someone buys a book from the page they visit after finding Stephen King's? Any web-publisher worth his salt would be thinking along these lines, because that's exactly how affiliate ads work all over the web right now: click through my page and buy the next thing and I get paid for drawing you there.

And, one area where a publisher has an opportunity to prove value to an author in the digital age, I might add, is to provide a cut of affiliate advertising money. On the eBook sites that split the ad revenue (which they should if they want to plaster their book sale pages with advertisements when the book is the actual draw), a percentage going back to the author would be a thing a publisher could do to prove their worth in the digital age. Amazon does many things for indie authors, but they do not offer to split ad revenue off the eBook listing's web page.

Books are vessels that carry ideas. Advertisements are profiting off the relationship between ideas, and greasing those lines of contact. They're not evil, and even if they were they're here to stay, and who gets a cut of the ad revenue on the webpage for your book?

[ETA: Naturally this is also an area where Amazon, already available for affiliation, can increase loyalty to their website, as could any other on-line retailer of eBooks, and they already have all that lovely payment information on file, too.]

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

cottage empire

There used to be this idea called a Manor House, where every part of the house was in production. The fields produced. The house had manufacturing on site. There was animals, and wool, and workers year round.

Cottage industries were like tiny manor houses.  People worked at home to produce the goods that they sold.

Then, a few generations down, the idle landed gentry kicked back and observed the workers, managing the estate that had been in their generation, taking rent and selling goods from the grounds. Manor empires like this predicated themselves on primogeniture. They rose and fell with the quality of marriages and quality of generational managers. Many last a hundred years. Few last a thousand.

Today, and in the weeks and years to come, the example of family businesses seems to be the closest one to manor estates of old. There's restaurants that are in their fourth generation of success. Yuengling brewers passes down father to son, quietly expanding and gently growing without shareholder to make a demand and without unrealistic, explosive expectations. Fathers buy franchises and pass them down. Farmers hold land and only sell it when their sons and daughters flee to small estates.

Churches are generational sometimes. Everything is, sometimes.

I see something in the cottages, though. eBooks are built. Designs are put together for the etsy store, and plants are grown and sold locally.  Manors rose up from the cottages that were well-managed. Empires rose up from the manor estates.

Cottage industry has returned, and with it the power of full production, of products made and sold, and homemakers making more than the workers that leave for work. After that, companies will pyramid themselves upon the cottages. Factory towns return to us. Manor estates return to us.

These characters of mine in this book I'm writing are tumbling around a factory of 3D printers and biological workstations, each set up in condos owned by the corporation. They're sleeping and eating in the rooms where they work. They live in the factory, and the cottage is there, again. The manor homes will be built upon the cottages.

It's like in an RTS. Units of production compound into massive units.

Disorganized thoughts for a disorganized draft. I'm going back to work, people.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

[guest post: Zachary Jernigan] Should I Get an MFA in Writing? Short Answer: No. Long Answer: Yes.

I get asked this question a lot, and it always causes me to wonder one thing:
Why on Earth would you want an MFA?
Really, I’m being serious. Why does that sound like a good idea?
I’ll tell you why I thought it was a good idea. If you’re reasoning is anything like mine, you’d probably be best off just going ahead and not getting an MFA.

In the beginning of 2009, I’d only been a writer -- and here I mean actually writing stories, as opposed to writing the opening 500 words to an unfinished story every couple months -- for about a year and a half. I’d gotten one short story sale.
Despite how not-all-that-awesome this sounds, I was pretty pleased with myself, writing-wise. I’d never envisioned selling anything, much less one story.
Still, being pleased with this one aspect of my life didn’t mean much when I didn’t know what the hell else I was doing. I hated my job (nothing new), I had no money (nothing new), and in general I was just a depressive (also nothing new).
Hey! I said to myself. Buck up! You’re gonna get your MFA!

It’s not like I thought it would solve all my problems or anything. When you’ve spent your twenties bumbling from one loathsome job to the next, trying to summon motivation for anything, you don’t think about solving the problem.
Nope. You don’t even think the problem is solvable.
You just want something to distract you, and maybe give the illusion of forward momentum.
A MFA, for me, was a way to justify my existence for the next two years.
That’s not to say there was no practicality in the decision, of course -- I did want a terminal degree in order to teach someday; I did want to become a better science fiction and fantasy writer (and sell more stories) -- but I’d be lying if I said my decision to attend the Stonecoast program was not in great part inspired by desperation, the feeling of having no other real options to give your life meaning.

The funny thing? The thing you should not count on if/when you decide to attend an MFA program -- the outcome that feels as unlikely as lightning striking me on a cloudless day?
Going to Stonecoast turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
Hell, maybe the best decision.
Because of Stonecoast, I now know a crapload of awesome writerly folks. I have friends who care about a lot of the same kinds of things I care about -- something I never had before. Some of these people are creatures I’d known nothing about other than the fact that they had their names on the spines of books.
And that’s pretty cool.
Because of Stonecoast, I’ve sold ten more short stories to markets larges and small. A couple were nominated for awards, and one was shortlisted for an award.
That’s pretty cool, too.
If it weren’t for Stonecoast, I’d never have written a novel. I know this for a fact. I needed pushing, and the folks at Stonecoast were there to push me when I needed some pushing. I now have a book on shelves, available at Amazon and everywhere else. I’m incredibly grateful to have accomplished this -- grateful and shocked nearly out of my skin.
I’m serious. I used to work at this used bookstore, and you know what I’d do? I’d stare stare at the shelves, at all the titles on display, and feel nothing but despair.
I knew I could never write a book, and yet I did.
And that, I tell myself, is pretty much the coolest thing ever. The most unexpected thing I can imagine.

Of course, I don’t want to pronounce my MFA a complete success. Some things worked out as per usual. I have enormous debt, and all of my efforts to get a teaching job have come to naught. I’m seriously considering applying to PhD programs this fall, because...
Well, sometimes you continue feeling desperation. You continue feeling adrift.
Sometimes, you just are who you are, and shouldn’t expect a couple years to make all of your problems -- and their solutions -- come into focus.

Still, I’d make the same choice again. I totally would. Why? You don’t expect decisions made out of desperation to pay off so well. You don’t expect, after most of your adult life feeling no source of direction at all, that a mere $60,000 investment will be enough to discover your path.
Or at least a compass point.

Should you get an MFA?
Well. shit.
Buddy, I hope it’s clear that I can’t answer that.
All I can tell you is this: If you feel like you’ve got no other option but to go, you’re either kidding yourself or you’re on just the right track.

Friday, June 14, 2013

[guest post: Carol Wolf] Should Novelists Have to Make a Living?

“Do you believe authors should, in theory, be able and encouraged to make a living from their writing,or do you believe they should be making money in a "day job" like everyone else? If you prefer the latter, please explain why.” From J.M. McDermott's Facebook page

The tradition in the western world is for writers to support themselves with a series of temporary jobs while they do the years of work necessary to learn their craft to the point where they can support themselves as writers. Writers' book jacket bios reflect this custom: so and so drove an ambulance in Spain, taught English in Kenya, flipped burgers in a greasy spoon on the road to Albequerque, and mucked out the stables at the Santa Clara Race Track.

The belief is that these jobs provide valuable material for future work. It is hoped that by the time the writer has had enough success to make a living from his/her writing, that a certain level of understanding of how most people live has entered into his/her consciousness. Since the purpose of fiction is to reflect how humans live and react under various intense circumstances, the more truthfully a writer understands humans, their activities, actions and conditions, the better writer s/he will be.

One sees the result in writers where such an apprenticeship was never served. There are numerous writers in Hollywood who went directly from a middle- or upper-middle-class upbringing, to college, and then directly into writing for television. Many Hollywood writers have a complete dearth of understand of how work is done in the world. One example is the Smallville series, where the only work done on what seemed to be a dairy farm was loading and unloading bales of hay. And this was in Iowa, where the cows seemed to have perfectly adequate grass all the time. Had the writing team for that show taken a field trip to a dairy farm, the work the characters did would have been far more interesting. And much more truthful.

So if the alternative to writers having a “day job,” is that they live in a bubble all their lives and never know how most of the population spends a majority of its time doing, then, yes, I think writers should be encouraged to get a day job. However, after sufficient years to gain a lifetime's worth of experience in how people live and how work is done, writers should be encouraged to make a living from their writing. This is because my favorite writers should all spend as much of their time at their work, so that I have more of their books to read.

If the encouragement to make their living from their writing comes in the form of bigger checks for their work, I am all in favor of that!

Carol Wolf is the author of Summoning, Book One of the Moon Wolf Saga,.Binding, Book Two of the Moon Wolf Saga, was slated for publication the day her publisher, Night Shade Books, declared bankruptcy and is presently a frozen asset. Coyote Run, written together with Eric Elliott, was released May 29.

 Carol Wolf blogs at

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[guest post: Michael J. Martinez] Dear God, not another genre-blender

I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the cover of The Daedalus Incident, which is really nice, though somewhat misplaced. I didn’t draw it; Sparth did, and the folks at Night Shade Books came up with the design elements. Every now and again, though, I get some confusion about the cover. It’s…different, after all. My host on this very blog thought it was steampunk – understandable given the fonts and the sepia tones. Indeed, the folks at Library Journal used steampunk in their description accompanying the starred review of the book (which gives me a convenient excuse to link to the review, of course).

But there’s no steam in The Daedalus Incident, and neither of the two settings in the book are in the typical Victorian era one might expect. I admit, The Daedalus Incident is a hard book to describe. When I’m asked, I usually just say that I’m crashing an 18th century Royal Navy frigate into 22nd century Mars. That’s usually enough for eyes to go wide, smiles to appear and follow-up questions to be asked, and that’s all I can ask. But it’s not time-travel. It’s…a genre-blender.When you think about it, steampunk itself is a genre-blender: a combination of alternate history and science fiction. More recently, it’s been inflected with the occasional horror and fantasy tropes. I can think of at least two books off the top of my head that could be described as steampunk-urban-fantasy-horror…which seems cumbersome, I admit.

But then, if I were to list genre descriptions for my own book, I think I’d end up with alternate-history-alchemypunk-space-opera crossed with hard/military SF…and you may un-cross your eyes as soon as you’re able after reading that. It sounds like a lot to get one’s head around.

I think the problem with SF/F novels that purport to combine various genres is that they can easily fall into setting traps. Relying solely on the interesting dissonance of the combined setting elements – without really building it out into a full setting, let alone a full story – results in a very shallow work that quickly wears out its welcome once the novelty wanes.

When you take a sailing ship and put it in space, but don’t give it the depth of setting, plot and character to make it really work, you end up with, say, Treasure Planet. What I wanted to do was to give the idea that depth. I wanted to know why and how my sailing ships voyaged between worlds…and that led, I hope, to a setting that doesn’t just blend genres, but defies them except in the broadest terms.

That, I think, is the real promise of genre blending. It’s not just shuffling the deck, picking four cards, and ending up with faerie-werewolf-romance-cyberpunk. It’s creating something from the tried-and-true elements of SF/F that’s refreshingly new, well thought-out, and ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.

And someday, just as steampunk has become its own subgenre, maybe these new blends become accepted parts of the SF/F canon and become an inspiration to the next generation of writers. That’s ambitious, and maybe my book isn’t the one to break that ground, but an author can dream, right?

So maybe there’s a book out there that’s a strange brew of genres. But check it out…it may be something altogether different and new.


[Thanks, Michael, for stopping by!]

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

[guest blog] Stina Leicht

"This, milord, is my family's ax. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation… but is this not the nine-hundred-year-old ax of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good ax, y'know."
---from The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

The 1970s was one of the most turbulent eras America has ever faced. I remember the protests, the Vietnam War, the gas shortages, the women's liberation movement, the civil rights movement, the push back from the establishment--the chaos and fear. All of it was being fought over. Everything seemed unsettled. I remember how frightened the adults were, and I remember how frightened the kids were in return. Now that I think about it, maybe the reason I've always loved SF and Fantasy is because I'm a child of that era. From the beginning for me, the joy of SF--the adventure--was associated with the danger of facing issues no normal adult was willing to discuss, let alone face. Maybe that's why I believe that SF is at its best when addressing difficult topics. We all need a place where it's safe to explore the possibilities--no matter how dangerous or unsettling, and fiction is that best safe place. That's why so much of what's happening in SF right now, this push for inclusiveness, is so important. It's also why I'm so invested in what's happening. It isn't entirely because I'm a female. It's because I love SF so very much. I want it to survive and thrive. I want it to continue to be a viable genre.

I want SF to be that nine-hundred-year-old ax, handed down to future generations, damn it.

That said, I feel as a writer of SF that I have certain responsibilities when I address difficult subjects. First and foremost--don't do more harm. That means I need to be as informed as I can. That means research. It also means exploring the subject from many different points of view, as many as I can manage, and being open to where those points of view might lead even if it's uncomfortable. It means listening and understanding and having empathy and perspective. It means thinking outside myself, my experiences, my milieu. Second, don't dictate to the reader their experience. That means allowing the reader to fill in the blanks for themselves because it's important to have some humility. I'm only one flawed human being, after all. I don't have all the answers, and I never will, but I can ask the questions and provide a space to explore them. Mistakes will be made along the way, and that's okay too. Own those suckers. They do you no good if you deny them because you can't learn from mistakes you don't claim. Always remember you're learning like everyone else and strive not to make the same mistake again.

For example, I tend to use tropes, and one of my favorite things to do is to take a SF trope and turn it upside down or sideways because I enjoy getting a different perspective. The trouble with using tropes in this way is that sometimes people don't get past the trope recognition stage. Add a strong emotional reaction on top of it, and it can be even more difficult. But that's part of being a writer. Sometimes the reader isn't going to understand, and I have to be all right with that. Also? It's possible I made a mistake. See above.

Readers have certain responsibilities too. Reading fiction is an interactive experience. You're meant to fill in certain details for yourself. It's what makes your experience of a book your own. It's intended to be that way. But it's also important to remember that your experience, the information with which you fill in those blanks may not match anyone else's. You may never know what the author was really thinking when they wrote something. It's all right to guess. Such things add depth. It's all right to have a strong reaction too. But what if you like a story, and it turns out to be problematic? Stories are written by human beings and human beings aren't perfect. It's going to happen. It has happened, and continues to happen. The important thing to remember is that, while the work in question may be flawed, it's okay to enjoy it. However, don't make excuses. Be strong enough to admit it's problematic. If you can't, at the very least have the strength of character to allow that other points of view are valid because they are. You don't have to agree with a different perspective in order to acknowledge its validity. Allow for the possibility. Make room for it to be explored. That's what SF is about, after all--exploring the possibility.

Many, many thanks to Joe for letting me guest blog today. If you haven't checked into his books, well… what are you doing here?

[Thanks, Stina!]

Monday, June 10, 2013

This Week WIll Be Guest Blogging: I Will Be Elsewhere, Others Will Be Here

Due to the shift in ownership of one of my publishers, I'd like to take this opportunity to announce that I will be blogging at other people's blogs, and other people will be blogging here.

This trend will continue for a little while, until such time as I am out of places to guest blog or ridiculously rich and famous. One of the two.

Tomorrow, I expect Stina Leicht will be dropping the truth bombs on your head, and Carol Wolf and Zachary Jernigan will be by a little later this week.

We're all undoubtedly scribbling away at what we think we need to share with the people that are around the different places.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Scrape Together Dues

Some time this month I'm going to be scraping together my membership dues once again for the SFWA. There was a lot of heat publicly, and agents and editors have a very down perspective sometimes on the role SFWA plays in genre. But, here's the thing: an unbiased 3rd party is exactly what everyone needs. The SFWA role in the Skyhorse/Start thing was one of being that unbiased 3rd party, facilitating a difficult situation to make it better.

No organization is perfect, but between Writer Beware, the Emergency Medical Fund, and the tireless work of volunteers like Mary Robinette-Kowal, I can think of few organizations I'd rather support more than this one.

Every volunteer organization will have a few bumps and hiccups along the way. Honestly, I've been tossing a few of the last few issues of the bulletin into the trash with tongs because of the cover art, alone, and I have found little of value inside its pages even when the art wasn't an embarrassment.

Still, some times a lot of good can come from a lot of people getting together and at trying to do good. If you want the group to do better, volunteer your time, as you are able, to make it so.

And, don't get caught up in all that silly drama. It's true of the blog-o-sphere, as well. For a group of fans that proposes to come together based on a shared sense of wonder and the fantastic, we can be quick to replicate the tribal boundaries that demarcate all the jr. high school cafeterias. Be open, and accept all comers and prove that we are doing this better, building a future better. If you have time for drama, remember what your mama taught you, when you had time for drama as a young person, and she would find things for you to do.

Like write books.

Thanks SFWA, and I'll be scraping together some dues soon-ish.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Dogs and Horses.

Official news has hit: Skyhorse/Start is acquiring Night Shade Books, and the first two novels of the Dogsland Trilogy are part of the deal. In the process of this, a lot of dirty laundry came to light.  Paperwork that hadn’t been delivered for months appeared, at last, in the light of day. In this big reveal, we learned that 2nd novel of the Dogsland trilogy was sacrificed to a distribution crossover, and very little meaningful effort to promote the book happened, despite the verbal and written promises of the publisher. The book wasn’t even included in the company catalog.

Despite the troubles, the series was still praised by John Clute, Publisher’s Weekly, Jesse Bullington,Jon Ginsburg-Stevens, and Paul Goat Allen. It received critical acclaim, landed on best-of-the-year lists, and generally won over the small audience it was presented to.

This news means that there’s a whole new opportunity for readers to discover books about which John Clute said “..this could mark the beginning of something very good indeed from a genuine hard puncher.” (Strange Horizons, June 20, 2011). The third book is forthcoming from WordHorde later this year. The first two will be part of Skyhorse’s resurrection of Night Shade, available from PGW for fine bookstores everywhere.

The Dogsland trilogy begins with Never Knew Another, where two children of demons discover each other in the midst of the poverty and degradation of a city that would burn them alive for the crime of existing.The two demon children find love for a little while, but it is overshadowed by the city and people that pull them apart.

Now's the time to get on board, so go forth and check out the books at your preferred retailer, and maybe be so kind as to drop a review as you're able.

Thanks for your support during these challenging times.

J. M. McD