Short Stories: We Need More Venues For Discovery, Recs, and Discussion

John Chu Hugo Speech

John Chu accepting his Hugo Award, courtesy Scott Edelman on Instagram.

If you’re interested in the Hugo awards or just SFF awards in general, Justin Landon does an excellent job of breaking down the Hugo votes over at his blog. It’s fascinating to see how the instant run-off ballot affects who wins and provides insight into what voters are thinking (a little). It’s a long read but well worth it.

In the section discussing the short story ballot, this caught my attention:

Given the number of short fiction venues today, the Short Story category is becoming increasingly scattered, making it harder and harder to have a digestible slate of stories to choose from. Hopefully, the Hugo Awards can get a handle on this challenge and ensure a full nomination ballot in future years.

I’m not convinced that this is something that the Hugos or Hugo voters as a group can really change. There will continue to be a ton of great markets and plenty for people to read. There’s about to be an all-new magazine (Uncanny) that could, down the road, complicate the matter further.

What’s needed are more short story reviews and recommendations.

Locus reviews short fiction, of course. But Locus is for people involved in the business of writing and publishing and not so much for the average SFF reader and fan. Tangent still exists but I have no idea how relevant it is. The Fix is long gone. And I just plain don’t hear about most other short fiction review outlets, and I can’t be the only one.

This is one of the reasons why I started my favorite fiction posts. I read a lot of great fiction over the course of a year but might not be able to recall all my favorites once it came time to nominate. And I wanted a way to share stories I thought deserved attention and award consideration in a compact yet concrete way.

I’m really glad I have a high profile venue for those posts now in the form of io9[1]. This is the easily digestible list of recommendations Landon is looking for, I think. I would love for there to be more of them.

I wish that it was possible to have a Goodreads for short fiction so that people could rate, discover, and recommend with the same energy as novels get. I know there are some shorts with their own entries on Goodreads, but the last time I poked around it didn’t seem like the platform wanted that and there’s not a big community push behind it. I’d love to be wrong about that.

Is Goodreads itself the best place for this kind of thing? It’s a site and community that already exists, and I’m sure plenty of people who love novels are also down with shorts. Since I don’t spend much time on the site I honestly don’t know if it would work.

Is there a place to create such a community easily? As in not having to build something from scratch (who has time for that–no one)?

The short story/novelette categories in all our major awards could benefit from more discussion and engagement, I agree[2]. I just wouldn’t leave it up to the Hugos to figure that out.

Footnotes

  1. Don’t forget to head over today and look for the new post![]
  2. Don’t get me wrong: I love the story that won and agree that it deserves the honor.[]

Moar Translations Please: A Rough Idea For SFF Magazines

 

Lost in Translation by Alfonso on Flickr

In the introduction to the SFWA European Hall of Fame anthology, editor James Morrow told the story of how this book came to be. It involved meeting up with a translator friend and discovering that translating fiction from one language to another involved more than just translating the words or even the concepts behind the words accurately, it also required the keen eye of an editor who could further shape and prod the prose so that it conveyed the original meaning and read well in the translated language. This is part of why works in translation don’t often make it into genre magazines. This process is time-intensive and, I imagine, expensive in magazine monetary metrics. However, it’s more important now than ever for Anglophone readers to read speculative fiction from outside the English speaking world, as this piece by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz proves.

How to address this dilemma? Some are doing so by offering their own translation services, free of charge, to authors. I love this, but also feel that the burden shouldn’t all be on them. I have an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a while that I offer freely to anyone who wants to take it up and even improve upon. I do hope this is a workable idea, because I want to see more SFF from around the world on a regular basis.

From what I understand, students who are studying for a Bachelor or Masters degree in translation must do a certain amount of real world translation in order to get said degree[1]. Thus an internship that involves real translation work is a useful one to have, even if just for a few credits. This is what SFF magazine editors should do.

Obviously you wouldn’t have just any student as an intern for this. They’d have to be familiar with the genre and have a sensibility similar to the editor’s, or someone who can learn said sensibilities. I recognize that this is an important criterion; I don’t think it’s an impossible one.

There are two models I’ve worked out, one where interns work for one semester and another where they work fr two. In the one semester model, once you know which language(s) your intern(s) can translate, you have them read Best Of compilations and award-winning works from authors in that language going back two to four years or so. This might require a bit of research and reaching out on their part. They provide a short synopsis/overview of each one, and the editor picks a few that sound like they would work for their magazine. The interns then provide a first draft translation. If the story looks like it will work for that editor, they reach out to the author with an offer to publish, translated. If the author accepts, then the editor, translator, and author work together to fine tune the translation.

This will probably result in one or two translated stories in a 6 month period. Not a lot, but more than we see in most magazines. And if four magazines decide to do this, then that’s maybe 16 stories a year.

The two semester model starts out almost the same except the intern also spends the first semester reading every issue of the magazine put out in the last year and maybe reading the slushpile for a month or two. If, at the end of the first semester, the editor feels the intern understands what they look for in stories then the second semester can be about finding new stories to translate. You create a limited submission period for the language the intern can translate and solicit stories. The intern then reads slush, picks out the stories they think will work, and again provides the editor with a first draft translation for consideration. If it looks like it will work, the intern and editor work together on it with an eye toward final acceptance.

Again, this may only result in a couple of stories in that period. I think that’s fine and could be well worth the effort.

The interns get translation experience for school credit that’s directly applicable in the real world, magazines get to widen their horizons, and readers get to read awesome stories that they might not have, otherwise. Win!

I’m sure there are probably some flaws in this idea. Please do help me work them out in the comments. If even part of this seems workable to the editors out there, please give it a try.

Footnotes

  1. If I’m wrong about this or fuzzy on the details, please do correct in the comments.[]

eBook Library Lending Is Still A Mess And Now I Know Why: Publishers

eBook Library Lending Is Still A Mess And Now I Know Why: Publishers

Yesterday at Book Expo America I attended a panel titled “E-Books From Libraries: Good For Authors?” because I’m writing a piece for a magazine on the state of eBook library lending. What I learned is that the reason things are going so poorly in the world of eBooks and libraries is because publishers, agents, and people who claim to be representing the best interests of authors are super ignorant and will probably destroy everything if allowed to continue making decisions. Since I can see no pixel-stained techno peasant uprising on the horizon, I think we’re all in for a bad time.

The panelists were as follows: Ginger Clark, Literary Agent (Moderator); Carolyn Reidy, President and Chief Executive Officer, Simon & Schuster; Jack Perry, Owner 38enso Inc.; Maureen Sullivan, President, American Library Association (ALA); Steve Potash, President and CEO, Overdrive; Paul Aiken, Executive Director, Authors Guild. I’m going to point out from the start that both Ms. Sullivan of the ALA and Mr. Potash of Overdrive both had really great things to say on the panel and are both very smart about this issue. This is not surprising since they both understand the issue from the side of the libraries. Mr. Perry didn’t say too much at the panel. And Mr. Aiken arrived late, and by doing so saved us from having to listen to him be aggressively wrong for too long. That leads us to: Ms. Reidy.

Early in the panel the moderator asked her to talk about Simon & Schuster’s strategy around eBooks for libraries. This is part of what she said:

Publishers didn’t resist coming up with programs because they didn’t think it was good for their business. … They’re protecting not only their business but every author’s, too. We’re the representative of the author in this transaction. Why would we ever want to do anything to destroy that? Publishers have always thought that having an author’s work in a library is a good thing.

What changes with digital is that you can sit at home and if you have a library card you can order any book, you never have to go anywhere. And if you could get every book you wanted free, why would you ever buy another one? That’s the question we had about it in our first meeting. … That is the danger. You could literally undermine the market for every author and for [the publishers]. … Obviously, there is some discovery through libraries. There’s also some ability for people who people who aren’t ever going to buy books to read them and be a part of the conversation. We’ve always believed that the cultural contribution of libraries is important.

But this frictionless ability for people to download books does make a sea change difference.[1]

There is a lot to argue with in this statement, but what struck me is that last line: “frictionless ability.” That right there is an indication of why S&S and possibly many other publishers will continue to have wrong thinking on this subject.

Borrowing an eBook from a library is Not Frictionless. It’s just not. In the past few years, Overdrive and a small number of other companies that actually build the lending technology have made the process a little bit easier, especially if you have a smartphone, tablet, or other iOS, Android, or BlackBerry device. However, if you have an eInk device from B&N, Sony, Kobo, etc., the process for setting things up and moving library books over is more complex than it needs to be and confuses a lot of people. I’m very tech-savvy and I don’t do it because it’s a damn hassle. Think of all the people who want to do it but don’t have access to the technology needed (it’s less expensive to buy a Nook than a computer or a tablet or to own a smartphone) or just don’t understand how to work it. Now realize that this is a major segment of the population that libraries serve.

This is Not A Frictionless Experience.

When Q&A time came I brought this up and then asked: Why are people in publishing so worried about this problem now? No one is having panels with hand-wringing about all those free paper books in the libraries.

Ginger Clark jumped in to answer that question: “Because [eBooks from libraries] can be pirated quite easily.”

Piracy was the big, scary demon in the room for a lot of this panel. But I thought that most of the speakers were thinking about it in correct ways. At one point Clark asked if “windowing” was going the way of the dinosaur. This is the practice of not selling new books to libraries for months or even years after initial release in order to increase sales. Everyone agreed that it was going away mostly because it didn’t increase sales, it increased piracy. Plus, there was a lot of talk of not making the same mistakes as the music industry.

So for Clark to say that there’s this worry about eBooks in libraries because they’re easy to pirate? Guess what: that’s all eBooks. The DRM scheme that Overdrive uses for EPUB is the same DRM that B&N uses and Kobo and Sony and Google and just about everyone else (except Apple). It’s not hard to strip that DRM (so I’m told) and it is no harder to do so if you buy the book than if you get it from the library. So what it seems that Clark and others are actually worried about is that library patrons are more likely to be evil pirates than everyone else. Leaving out that most of the time when media is put up on a torrent or file sharing service, the original was purchased by someone.

I will also point out that NetGalley, a service that provides free eBook ARCs (advanced reader copies), uses the same DRM. And yet I don’t see any hand-wringing about that. Maybe because the people with access to NetGalley can supposedly be trusted? Because they’re not poor people in libraries.

This fear of library pirating also makes no sense in the face of the data brought to the table by Overdrive President Steve Potash, who said that there weren’t many (or any) complaints of library books ending up on torrent sites. This doesn’t surprise me, since Reidy kept saying how there was “no data” on which strategies for library lending would work best and Potash repeatedly said that he had plenty of data, up to 10 years worth, and yet still there was talk of no data.

After Clark got done saying ridiculous things about pirating, Reidy made an answer that showed she has not ever actually used the technology under discussion.

It may be difficult to download a file onto an eReader — although most of them are made so it’s not — but let’s just say that it is today. It could be completely different in six months the way technology goes. We’re not trying to make decisions on what to do just based on what we see in front of us today. After all, it’s taken us a while to get here and things were much clunkier even a year ago. It’s the fact that a digital file can in fact be downloaded very easily. And once somebody learns how a library system works… it will become easier for them to use.

There is a real difference between a digital file and a physical book. And the fact that you have to go to the library and pick it up ad check it out vs. hit a few buttons.

This woman has a real talent for packing in the fail, doesn’t she? Before we even get to how she completely ignored the part about access to technology, let’s address the part where she handwaves away the difficulties and is sure the ones I’m imagining won’t be there in six months.

First, it’s really not as simple as just clicking and downloading a file, particularly if you’re working with an eInk eReader. Even once you’re in the system it’s not that easy. Second, I spent a long time yesterday talking to reps from Overdrive and 3M (who also have an eBook lending platform) and Kobo, and I specifically asked about how they are working toward making the lending process easy and seamless. Every last one of them said that, yes, it’s a goal and, yes, they are working on it, but they can’t always get it done because the eReader companies have to partner with them, except the eReader companies say that the lending software people have to make it work and it’s all their fault.

The only company with a mostly easy mechanism for eInk devices is Amazon, and apparently publishers (or just S&S) don’t like how Amazon brings library patrons into Amazon’s system in order for this ease to happen, and so some books just aren’t available to the Kindle.

Has Reidy spent even the hour I did talking to Overdrive and 3M and Kobo and B&N and Sony about this? Sounds like not. Because from the answers they gave me, this problem is no where near being solved in six months because no one is really working in concert to make it happen. Including the publishers.

Third thing is that last bit about how eBooks are different because a person just has to click, whereas with physical books you have to go to the library and pick it up. What this immediately brought to mind is that the difference is difficulty. It’s okay to let people have free books if there are barriers in place to ensure they won’t take too much advantage of it. Because how dare they. When I countered with this, Reidy was all: No, that’s not what I mean! But then Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild took control and told me that I had made my point in a tone that suggested I should shut up.

He launched into some tirade about how eBooks mean that people don’t have to come to libraries anymore and then we’ll lose libraries and that will be bad for everyone and did we hear about some library in California that was getting rid of all physical books and going digital only and redesigning their library to look more like an Apple store AND ISN’T THAT JUST TERRIBLE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!? I don’t know why anyone allows the Authors Guild to represent them because this dude is all kinds of out of touch.

You can imagine the look on my face as this all went down, but what made it better is that Maureen Sullivan of the ALA spoke after him and said pointedly that my question was a fair one and also addressed some of the stuff I raised about access to technology and how librarians are often the ones called on to help patrons navigate and understand the eBook lending system. She said very many awesome things over the whole discussion and kept bringing it back to how what librarians want is to ensure that everyone has equal access to knowledge and literature at a fair price. One of the things she said in response to my question really shows how much more she (and probably librarians in general) understands the eBook landscape.

“…this is the classic example of disruptive innovation. It causes a lot of misunderstanding, it brings fears to light. … When we experience disruptive innovation, it’s much more effective to think not ‘either/or’ but ‘and’.”

Yes. That.

Many of the people in the audience were librarians and the ones who got to ask questions also seemed concerned with the attitudes of the publishing folks about a host of things. They swarmed the Overdrive guy once it was over to thank him for standing up for libraries in a similar way to Ms. Sullivan. Overall, I would trust the two of them to look out for the real interests of authors on this issue than some of the others on that panel.

It’s so disheartening to go to an event like BEA and have supposed industry experts show you how clearly they do not understand the deeper issues surrounding eBooks or even the underlying technology. Before Carolyn Reidy makes any more decisions about eBooks and lending, she should be forced to use the system. And not just with one piece of technology, but one from every platform: eInk, iOS, Android, computer, NO computer, library computer. Before Ginger Clark talks about the ease of piracy for library eBooks I need her to talk about all the worrying she’s doing over piracy of eBooks from a major retailer and how that is different. Before Paul Aiken opens his mouth ever I need him to not do so.

Until all of these people and the others like them actually do some real work in concert with the software/hardware developers and the librarians on the eBook lending ecosystem, it’s not going to get any easier or less confusing for library patrons and it’s not going to get any better for libraries themselves. But considering the desire to keep eBook lending from being too “frictionless” lest people stop buying books forever because of Free, I suspect this problem isn’t going to get fixed. Not in six months and maybe not in six years.

Footnotes

  1. I have a recording of this panel which I will provide to anyone who wishes to listen. On this quote, I re-arranged some of what she said to make it flow better, but I did not change the context at all. Also: emphasis mine.[]

Story Notes: Uncertainty Principle (from Diverse Energies)

Story Notes: Uncertainty Principle (from Diverse Energies)

So I may have jumped the gun a bit early on the release date for Diverse Energies! However, according to the publisher, it is available now. And I’m seeing it in eBook format on Amazon and B&N, so I suspect print copies will be forthcoming very soon. Check your local, indie book sellers first!

I’m looking forward to hearing from people who read the stories to see what everyone thinks. Rachel Manija-Brown wrote a very thoughtful review here which then led into this post about dystopias and genre labels. One thing I find intriguing is that where Rahul Kanakia was told to write an SF action story, I was told to write a dystopia, yet his story is way more classic dystopia and mine has little shades of it but is more actiony.

Given the discussion on that post, I thought I’d give folks who read my story “Uncertainty Principle” a little peek into the background of it and my thinking around the whole dystopia thing.

As you might expect, these story notes are full of spoilers, so they’re going behind a cut. Don’t read unless you’ve read the story or don’t mind knowing some things about it! (also, ‘ware spoilers in the comments.)

[Read more...]

My Thoughts On The Latest #YesGayYA Developments

My Thoughts On The Latest #YesGayYA Developments

I meant to post this yesterday, but work things got in the way. Then the ever-wonderful Cleolinda posted the long, long post I was going to write and said everything I was going to say. So I’ll keep mine short. I suggest you click over to Cleolinda’s blog for the full story. Seriously.

A few days ago Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith wrote a guest post for the Genreville blog over at Publisher’s Weekly about their experience with an unnamed agent who asked them to make changes to their YA manuscript to erase the fact that a main POV character was gay. At least for the first book in the series. The pair went on to say that they’d heard that this thing with erasing gay characters in YA was something other authors experienced and thus they felt the need to write about it and bring the overall issue to light.

They did not name the agent or agency. They moved on from their specific example to the broader issue. They pointed out that this seemed to come from a concern over market forces rather than labeling anyone Homophobic or Gay Hating. If you don’t believe me, go read the original.

The post sparked a big conversation about the issue and I saw in the comments and on blogs and social networks that several other authors, published and not, talk their stories of having agents and/or editors tell them to remove gay characters from their YA.

Then Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation, posted on Colleen Lindsay’s blog, The Swivet, outing her agency as the one in question (though claims she is not the specific agent in question) and essentially called Rachel and Sherwood liars. Under the guest post part, Colleen added this:

FACT: Both these writers already have their own agents. At least one of those agents reps YA books. So what does it say when the respective agents for both these well-established writers advise them to find a different agent for the book in question because neither of them wanted to rep it themselves?

It tells me that homophobia was most likely not the reason that this book has thus far not found representation.

And that made me see red because that just looks like a personal attack and an attempt to dismiss what Rachel and Sherwood said by saying that their book is no good. Further, on my Facebook page, Colleen claimed that she knew other agents who turned the book down because it had structural issues.

I like and respect Colleen a lot, but I’m calling bullshit on this. Though she says she didn’t mean for the above words to be an attack, that’s what it looks like. And, even if other agents passed on the book for structural reasons, that does not mean that the conversation as represented by Rachel and Sherwood didn’t happen. One does not preclude the other.

Putting that aside, at this point we’ve reached He Said/She Said, and it comes down to which side you believe. Stampfel-Volpe said that at no time did they say they wanted make the character not gay or take away references that he was gay in the book in question[1]. Rachel and Sherwood maintain that this is indeed what was said.

For my part, I believe Rachel and Sherwood. My main criteria being that my interactions with Rachel online and the interactions and friendships she has with people I know and trust do not lead me to believe she would lie in this way. I don’t know Sherwood well, but nothing I have ever heard from her good friends leads me to believe she would perpetuate a hoax for publicity or lie for profit.

Rose Fox of Genreville apparently felt the same way. Colleen mentions something about how the piece wasn’t fact checked, but how was that supposed to happen? The agency wasn’t named. And even though there are claims that the gossip identified the agency, the majority of us wouldn’t know without their self-outing. These are not the kind of “facts” that can be easily checked because the other party can say “That didn’t happen” and they could be lying just as easily as the authors. Rose used her judgment based on what she knows about the two women and, so far, I haven’t seen any reason for her to have doubted that.

Additionally, Stampfel-Volpe’s post is filled with the kind of red flags I see every day as an anti-prejudice activist. The tone is too defensive[2] and unconvincing. Plus, what exactly do you expect the agency to say? “Yes, we did that”? No. Hell no.

Think about it. If they did request the changes Rachel and Sherwood claim and did so because of market forces and such, they wouldn’t admit to it especially if they aren’t homophobic themselves. It’s just like the whole cover controversy with Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. I’m sure that her publishers are not racist people, but they put a non-black person on the cover of her book at first because they assumed that systemic racist attitudes would hurt sales. That is not something you want to admit in public, because it’s gross. It happens, though. We all know it happens. And thanks to #YesGayYA we know that the erasure of gay characters in YA happens, too. And it’s still gross.

No one wants to admit when they give in to prejudiced bullshit.

The other reason I just don’t believe Stampfel-Volpe is that she made this whole thing personal:

One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited. But even worse, by basing their entire article on untruths, these authors have exploited the topic.

Someone explain to me how the agent in question is being exploited when he/she wasn’t named. Also, bringing a topic to light is not exploitative. The kind of people I see using language like that are the folks who try to tell me that by bringing up racism or “inventing” it when it’s not there, I am the one being racist. This is a classic defense. It may even be on the BINGO card. When I see people using this kind of language, I immediately distrust what they have to say. I’ve been on the receiving end of this too often to not recognize it.

I suggest you read the original Genreville post and the other excellent links at Cleolinda’s blog before you come down on one side or the other, especially if you don’t know any of the people involved. The readiness of some people to immediate jump to HOAX! based on absolutely nothing but one person’s word would astonish me if I didn’t already have plenty of experience watching people readily dismiss real prejudice that exists right in front of them as not-prejudice. It’s so much more comforting to think that someone is just a lying liar than that there’s a serious problem to tackle.

Tackling problems requires thought, effort, and often sacrifice. Who wants to deal with that?

Footnotes

  1. Edited to make things clearer. I didn’t read my original sentence a second time and should have. Thanks Helen.[]
  2. Especially the parts added by Colleen, who emphatically claims that the agent is a good friend and not homophobic, even though Rachel and Sherwood didn’t say he/she was. A person might not be personally homophobic, but still perpetuate the idea that mainstream readers are too homophobic to deal with gay charcaters. It’s a systemic problem, and one need not be personally prejudiced in order to bow to the system.[]

Zira’s Heart, Shannon’s Life Force, and Tempest’s Back

Zira's Heart, Shannon's Life Force, and Tempest's Back

Several bits of fictiony news for you! First, I’m experimenting with self-publishing short stories as eBooks just to see what the process is like and to feel out interest in this arena. I have no plans to completely abandon sending my stories out to magazines and such. But there are a few stories that I love and still believe are good, but I’ve run out of markets for them. One such is Zira’s Heart, which is a bit too long for most markets. So, I decided to submit it to Smashwords and get it listed in most major eBook stores to see how that goes.

Shorts never receive the same kind of attention that books get in these situations, but I still think it could be interesting (and fun). I uploaded it last night and it’s already in the Smashwords catalog. Now I’m waiting to see if they’ll accept it for distribution to Amazon, B&N, iBooks and the like. I put the cover and link up on the sidebar of my site and I’m tracking how many clicks it gets. I’ll report as time goes on.

In other news, I don’t know why but I keep forgetting to blog about my first Escape Pod story! Elan Vital, which first appeared in Sybil’s Garage no 6, was podcasted in Escape Pod and read by Mur Lafferty. I’m completely excited to have cracked that market and really glad Mur is the editor now, as I enjoy her other podcasts quite a bit.

I did not intend to actually listen to the piece since I always get emotional even looking at that story. But as several people had praised Mur’s reading of it, I decided to listen to just a little. I ended up listening to the entire thing (crying almost the whole time, arg). Mur is fantastic, as others have said. She strikes the perfect notes all the way through. I’m so lucky! All of my Escape Artists stories have been read by such excellent and talented people[1].

The discussion about my story is filled with people saying they really loved it (squee!) and some who bounced off hard. I am amused, however, by the person who said early on that the story “isn’t science fiction“. Also amused by the person who pointed out that, whatever happens in the future, he is sure companies will always find ways to charge us subscription fees. Too right.

Over at the Biology in Science Fiction blog, the poster asks “What would you be willing to give to keep someone you love alive?” which is more the center of my story than the actual science. I do enjoy some hard SF now and then. But I’m int he camp of people who think that the science or technology in SF is meant to serve the characters and the plot and the idea, not the other way around. Too much Star Trek as a child?

And finally, this weekend I went to Macy’s in my quest to find a new mattress (as described here) on the advice of those who said they had great deals. Those people? Have a weird idea of what constitutes a great deal. Nothing below $1,000 in the quality I need, and salespeople who didn’t even want to admit that they might be able to sell me a mattress without a box spring. They looked horrified that I should want such a thing. My old box spring is clearly inferior to anything they have. Cue eyeroll.

PayPal being under attack by Anonymous affected a couple of family members from donating to my mattress fund last week, but I think that’s over now. Yay? I haven’t even looked at the account yet since a bunch of people sent me a note saying they wouldn’t be able to send money until next week or so, which is fine. I’m going to ask my new roommate to help me flip my current mattress tonight and try to sleep on the less fucked up side so that my back will stop screaming at me in the night.

Here’s what I don’t get: how did we, as humans, survive all this time without natural latex memory foam individually-wrapped coil mattresses? I mean, this is crazy. There must be a solution for sleeping that is not bad for your back and also comfortable. Also one that does not cost $600+. Fie.

Footnotes

  1. Yeah, that’s right, Amal. I am talkin’ about you. Whatcha gunna do about it, huh?[]

Realms of Fantasy Dead, Again

Realms of Fantasy Dead, Again

For those who have not seen the memo, and Shawna’s goodbye, and Doug’s goodbye. Almost 2 years ago now I wrote a blog post about how the death of RoF made me feel, and I actually still stand by the sentiment today. Yes, since then there have been some fishboobs and some whitewashing and even some random trolling from people only tangentially involved. Still and all, I did love it once, and I cherish those memories.

Magazine / eBook Coding Project Meetup At ReaderCon

Magazine / eBook Coding Project Meetup At ReaderCon

Since a good number of the people who are interested in helping with and hammering out details on the eBook Magazine project I posed about will be at Readercon in a few weeks, I think it would be a good idea to have a meetup there. I know there are several of you interested who won’t be there, so hopefully I can get together with you online to make sure we know about the skill sets, availability, and ideas of everyone who wants to be involved.

For the peeps who’ll be at Readercon, how does meeting during the dinner break (yes, over actual dinner) on Saturday sound?

For the online component of this project, people seem to use Google Sites to good effect for organizing such things. Would anyone be interested in setting up one of those with both public and private areas?

If You Build This, Magazines Will Come

If You Build This, Magazines Will Come

During WisCon I had a brief conversation with Jed Hartman about my continued sadness that more online magazines don’t have an eBook version of their stories so I can easily load them on my eReader and thus read more fiction. He agreed that Things Must Be Done, but there are questions of logistics and reader/audience desires plus the technology to make it all happen. We came to the conclusion that making this work is about more than just creating an eBook version of the magazine, but also delivery and access. There’s a niche here that needs filling, but in order to do that, we’re going to need coders.

I want to propose an open source coding project and gather coders around me to make it happen, but I have no flippin’ idea how to do that. I also want to get some more feedback on this idea and work out the kinks. Luckily, I have a blog, so I totally know how to do that. So here are the questions, issues, problems, and goals I see surrounding all of this.

  1. Relatively easy eBook creation. Though programs like Calibre can create EPUB (and other eBook format) files, Tobias Buckell recently pointed out to me that this is not the optimal solution. He equated it to people using Microsoft Word to create web pages. Yes, the program can do it, but the code it generates is from hell. Not fit for anyone except really clueless newbies. We wouldn’t want that for these eBooks. So a primary aspect is to figure out who or what will generate clean code for EPUB.
  2. How many eBooks? Many online magazines do the monthly or semi-monthly thing, but for those that publish every week, do readers want an eBook for every story, or is one per month good?
  3. Free or Not Free? Many online magazines are free, which is a yay. Should their eBooks be free as well? I am personally in favor of charging a small amount for the files for the convenience of having the eBook format. The fiction will still be free on the website, of course. What are other people’s thoughts on this?
  4. Delivery System. Outfits like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony will deliver magazines to subscribers automatically, but only if you have a device that stays within their ecosystem. Like, if I subscribe to a magazine through B&N but use my Sony Reader to read it, it won’t show up each month on its own, I’d have to download then transfer it. Plus, I imagine that many online magazines would want to sell or make their eBook versions available through independent eBookstores or just from their site. I had an idea that I’d like to be able to embed and deliver eBooks with an RSS feed like you do with podcasts. That way, if you subscribe to the feed, you automatically get the file. It would be nice if this worked with paid eBook files as well. This is where the major coding work comes in. How do you set this kind of thing up? And would you need an accompanying program to then transfer the eBook to your eReader?
  5. Subscriptions or Individual Payments? Going along with the system I described above, will readers want to subscribe up front to many months worth of a magazine or would they be happier just paying per month?

This is what I’ve come up with so far, but please feel free to add anything else you think should be under consideration and please give your thoughts, solutions, etc. to the above. I feel that if this is done right, we may end up with a really cool program or online service that can handle all of these things. But, as I said, I’d want this to be open source and made available to magazines for little or no cost, if possible.

I’d love any suggestions on how to proceed from here.

To all those who think the future is self publishing

Read Cat Valente’s post. Or, if you are lazy, here’s the takeaway:

No one goes around suggesting that everyone should become their own autonomous cheesemakers and cheering the death of the cheese industry. Why? Because that would result in a lot of shitty cheese.

Exactly.

Hey, Henry Blodget, Blogger at Silicon Alley Insider, Screw You!

Hey, Henry Blodget, Blogger at Silicon Alley Insider, Screw You!

I’m a little surprised that a respectable news outlet like Business Insider puts up with screeds the likes of which Henry Blodget spewed all over Silicon Alley the other day. It’s shocking to me that not only is the post chock full of whiny, entitled, angry foot stomping, but also wrong information. I know blog posts aren’t fact checked or anything, but hasn’t someone come along from higher up in the editorial chain to even question the bullshit he just dumped all over a supposed business site?

First, the cost to make an eBook — whether you’re just publishing an eBook or one alongside print books — is not “pretty much zero”. It’s just not. Second, if Macmillan, or any other major publisher collapses, someone else is not just going to pick up and publish the books they can’t and someone else isn’t going to just hire all the people that would put out of work. And that someone else is definitely not going to be Amazon. Because, despite the Digital Publishing Platform and Amazon Shorts, Amazon is not a publisher in the way Macmillan is a publisher.

Amazon as publishing entity is about on the same level as iUniverse, Lulu, and anyone with a blog and a decent shopping cart system. I could start selling eBooks tomorrow and those eBooks may even be written by someone who is not me. That doesn’t make me a publisher[1].

But then that is part of the problem with Henry’s post — he doesn’t understand, at all, what it is publishers do, what Amazon does, and how all of these issues affect writers and consumers. Yes, an consumers. Henry says “we” don’t want to pay $15 for an eBook. Fine. Then “we” won’t. Consumers will spend what they spend any way they choose to spend it. If Macmillan or anyone else wants to price their books high then find out down the line that it means fewer sales, how does that hurt Henry or the rest of us?

Oh right, because then Henry can’t get what he wants when he wants it at the price he wants it. And for some reason he can’t just not buy an eBook, he wants to insist that eBooks sell at the price he’s willing to pay for it. Fine, I insist that the Kindle cost only $9.99 so that I don’t have to spend so much on it. What’s that you say? Amazon has to cover the cost of manufacturing and designing and maintaining and updating the Kindle? I don’t fucking care, do you understand? I want what I want when I want it at the price I demand.

Also, I want a pony.

Look, the idea that books, even electronic versions of books, are easy and free and don’t cost anything and amount to just a bunch of bits is, #1: stupid and: #2 dangerous. The idea that you can toss aside the fact that someone worked very hard to write that book (in most cases) and some other people took the time to edit, proofread, copyedit, design, market and promote that book is in essence saying that none of those people matter. If you really think that, you probably: #1: don’t read very many books, #2: have never met a writer or anyone involved in book publishing, #3: place a poor value on art and entertainment, #4: should be shoved off the nearest cliff.

Just try reading only self-published books for a year or two and then come tell me how all those people aren’t necessary. You will likely find a well-written, awesome book, maybe even two. Only if you read more than 100, though. Have fun reading 100 really shitty books, I’ll be over here laughing at you.

Finally, Henry, don’t even try to pretend like what Amazon is doing is good for writers. Just don’t. Because you’re wrong. You act like by giving publishers less money Amazon is somehow giving authors more. How exactly do you think this whole money flow works, son? If Amazon sells a book for $5 and they take 50%, that means $2.50 goes to the publisher. The publisher THEN pays the writer out of that $2.50. The publisher is going to get a larger chunk of that money than they give the writer, but in the end everyone but Amazon gets less.

You can’t paint the publisher as an evil entity who should get less money without saying that the writer will get less money, too, because that is what will happen. So stop trying to pretend like you’re on our side.

The side you’re on is the entitled asshole side, and that’s not a side most people would want to publicly associate with. You’re not even on the consumer’s side, because consumers have a wide array of choices, and one of those choices is not to buy things. People who bought Kindles already narrowed their choices to just Amazon, which is fine, but don’t then whine and cry when you can’t get cheap books for your expensive eReader. If you somehow feel it’s not fair that you paid so much money for the thing and yet still have to pay money for the books, I have two words for you: Google Books. And I have two more: Project Gutenberg.

Those aren’t good enough for you? Tough. Can’t get that new Stephen King release for just $10? Neither can those who buy it in hardback. Ever think that maybe your major problem is not that someone wants to sell an eBook for the outrageous price of $15 but rather that you are completely unaware of how minor a thing the price of a luxury item is when compared to the damage entitled people like you do to those who actually worked hard to create that item? Never given that any thought, huh?

Why am I not surprised?

(P. S. Will someone please stop folks who are supposedly “insiders” in Silicon Valley from acting as if the eBook reading landscape is Kindle and iPad only? I mean, really, how ignorant can one be?)

Footnotes

  1. And can I also point out that writers who sell their books to major publishing houses do not hire freelance editors unless they hired said editor before they sold the book in order to make it good enough for the publishing house, which is really not the same thing at all as saying that writers can just go it alone on this whole publishing thing. What moron farm did you wander off of, Henry?[]

eBooks, eReaders, and why you need to keep up with the tech

eBooks, eReaders, and why you need to keep up with the tech

I would normally post something like this on my tech blog, but I feel like this is more of a writer issue than a tech issue, though tech is a big part of why I’m writing this post. I’ve been pondering this for a long time — and a few inklings have come out in past posts — but the recent resurgence of AmazonFail and the reactions to it made me think it was a good time to share my thoughts on this.

As many of you know, I work for a technology magazine and part of my job is to keep up on news about gadgets and another part is actually reviewing them. Because I have interest in books and am a fiction writer besides, I ended up as the go-to person for eReaders. Last month I covered eReaders at the Consumer Electronics Show and got to see several devices that will be on the market in the next few weeks and months. I must say, there are a LOT of eReaders out there, folks.

To go along with these eReaders, many companies are also setting up online bookstores, kind of like Sony did back in the day. However, there are some differences in the way things are now. First, almost every device coming to market will have the ability to read EPUB books. EPUB is becoming the standard eBook format (spearheaded by Sony), thus the books you want should be readable on the Nook or the iRiver Story or the Alex eReader regardless of where you buy them. In theory.

The logistics of this are a bit gray right now — for instance, it’s not clear if you can buy a book from Sony then load it on the Nook, or buy a book from Barnes & Noble then load it on the Alex. I chalk this up to the general messiness in the eBook area at the moment. Eventually these issues are going to have to be sorted out. In the meantime, a lot of the smaller eReader vendors/eBook sellers are touting that the titles you buy from them can be read on any device, though they’d be happy to sell you their own.

Contrast this with Amazon, whose eBook format is proprietary and therefore can only be read by Kindles and Kindle apps for smartphones and computers. If a Kindle owner decides they like the Nook better, they can say goodbye to their eBook collection. To be fair to Amazon (I know, I know, but bear with me) this was status quo for a long time in the eBook world. Sony only recently started selling EPUB books — before they had their own format for their own readers. And the EPUB as universal format is a fairly new movement. So naturally newer eReaders are poised to take advantage of it.

Regardless of what Amazon is doing, the rest of the industry, including Apple, is going with EPUB and building their own online eBookstores to sell them. Will all of these individual stores survive? Most likely not, especially if the devices they’re attached to don’t do well. It also depends on what the DRM situation is with books bought from bigger players like B&N. But I’m sure eventually some eBook selling entity will arise from all of this and become the default store multiple devices attach themselves to. iBook might be that store, or something scrappier will come along.

So, why is all of this important to you, the folks reading this who are likely to be writers and/or book industry professionals? It’s important because a big part of the future of eBooks isn’t being shaped by publishers and booksellers wrangling with each other over percentages, it’s going to be driven by the devices consumers choose to consume the books.

While I do not agree that the iPad will CHANGE EVERYTHING ZOMG and that it will destroy all stupid eReaders[1], there are plenty of devices and technologies on the horizon that could change the landscape drastically within the next year or two. I’m talking way cooler than the iPad (and much more useful). Here’s a really brief overview:

Footnotes

  1. The reasons for this are many, but it boils down to this: eInk screens were invented for a reason. And no matter how much some people think it won’t be a big deal to read a book on an LCD screen because they spend all day in front of one, I bet they change their tune the first time they attempt reading full screen black text on a white background and nothing else.[]

Hey People In SFWA

I’m only going to say this once and then shut up about it until next year: I wrote some stuff between July 2008 and December 2009 and it’s pretty darn good. And a lot of it is available for free and junk.

I have no reciprocal nominations or votes to offer you, though[1]. Despite the fact that I’ve sold many stories which earned me 5 cents per word, many of them aren’t eligable under the current SFWA rules. Funny that.

Footnotes

  1. kidding. I know people don’t play those games anymore. right?[]

Help, Help, I’m Bein’ Oppressed!

Help, Help, I'm Bein' Oppressed!

Nick Mamatas is always trying to get me to start some shit so he sent over this link to Kathryn Cramer’s blog[1]. Normally I would ignore this crazy person, but I figure many others are going to comment on this or may already have, so I’ll throw in my 2 cents.

Cramer is apparently bored or something because she’s decided to stir the fires of RaceFail again. This time she’s proposing a panel for WisCon (a convention she no longer attends because of its “encouragement of Fail fandom”) called “More Oppressed than Thou.” Because, don’t you know, there are two kinds of oppressed people: those who have actually been beaten up by cops and those who only have a theoretical understanding of their oppression. You think I am kidding but I am not.

I’m sure that I, a black woman living in America, have never, ever experienced oppression. Oh no. But I read about it in a book and that makes me all self-righteous and stuff.

I know the answer to this, but I can’t help asking why it is that people like Cramer are always the ones to start up the Oppression Olympics. Next she’ll be whining about how her Irish ancestors couldn’t get a job or something.

You would think that attitudes like Cramer’s (and Shetterly’s — yes, he makes an appearance in the comments) wouldn’t even require a response because they’re so ridiculolus. However, going by reports I’ve heard about a certain other convention[2] that I know Cramer and those who agree with her view of Racefail attend, I know that we can’t just trust that right-thinking people won’t be taken in by this nonsense.

If someone really, really needs me to explain why her position is a load of horseshit I will. But please tell me that the majority of my FList already knows…

Footnotes

  1. I did not anonymize the link because I don’t care if she knows I’m talking about her. If you’re clicking from your FList and don’t want to even have your screenname show up on her stats, use this link.[]
  2. yes Fourth Street, I am talking smack about you[]

A Market I Intend To Avoid Right Now

A Market I Intend To Avoid Right Now

Many writers have lists of markets that they either refuse to send to or only send stories to last for a variety of reasons, and I know I’m not alone in putting some markets on my NO NOT SEND list due to the attitudes of the editors or publishers. I now get to add Flash Fiction Online to that list.

Bart Leib of Crossed Genres posted on their blog that Flash Fiction Online rejected an ad because they “don’t accept sexually themed ads.” That is fine, as far as it goes, but if you click over to the post in question, you’ll see the ad, and you may agree with me that the ad image is not sexually themed. The sexually themed part of it is the text, which announces that Crossed Genres is looking for more LGBTQ stories, articles, and art.

When looking for more in-depth clarification on this issue the editor of Flash Fiction Online revealed some really, really problematic views about LGBTQ people and marriage rights. He also revealed some attitudes about sex, society and culture that I don’t agree with. But the reason I intend to keep this market off my submission list is the stance on gay rights.

Perhaps it’s completely silly of me to decide on a market because of the personality and views of the editor. But something about that post and that email truly struck me at the core. My worldview and an essential part of my personhood are so opposed to this person’s attitude that I don’t feel that my stories would connect, and I don’t want to associate myself or my fiction with the magazine. That’s a choice I’m making.

Just to ward off the inevitable railing from the usual suspects, I am not calling for a boycott or for Flash fiction Online to be burned to the virtual ground. I’m making a personal choice here and I’m voicing that choice publicly. What you choose to feel or do with the information I’ve presented is your own business.