Wordle Wrap-Up

Saturday, December 31, 2011

3 Chiming In
It's the end of the year for those of us using the Gregorian standard, and this is the time of year that all things turn to clip shows and reminiscences. And thanks to the nifty little creation engine on Wordle.com, I can give you clips for the year. YAY! (Pretend this is exciting. I've got a reputation to main - kthxbai)

So here is the year in review:

1st up, ARCLIGHT - aka: The book that sold.

Here's the book at a glance (or at least the book in its most recently edited incarnation). You'll find protagonists and antagonists. Good guys and bad guys. Setting, friends, and for some reason "Mr." counted as a separate word. (It should actually be attached to the word "Pace", as that's the character's name.) I won't give away much, but I will tell you that "Fade" isn't a verb...

Next, we come to: PREMEDITATED - AKA: Query Shark #192 and First Page Shooter #3

This is the one that I think most people who follow this blog assumed would be my first sale, but I went with the novel which had series potential first. (That, and at the time I sent that query to Madame Shark, the novel wasn't exactly finished...) But it's done now, and it's shiny, and it's soon to be on its merry way out in the world.

And finally, we come to: SING DOWN THE STARS - AKA: the book in my sidebar.

This one's a little different for me, because it wasn't something I planned to write. On April Fool's Day of this year, Absolute Write had its annual day of lunacy. This year's theme was "Steampunk'd", (Oh look! It moves!!) and it was the most awesome thing ever. (Here's the thread, which was archived, but it's such a tiny, tiny part of what happened that day. AW is an amazing place to hang out every April 1st.)

Anyway, during the fun crazies a few of the participating writers started doing a real time writing exercise where we'd write for an hour, then share. All that steampunk saturated my brain and this character appeared - she was a clockwork mermaid. For the span of hours we did this little exercise, I posted about this girl with a metal tail, and how she was inside a tank at a circus.

Then I put the story away... but it wouldn't leave me alone. Sometime around July I picked it up again and the story morphed into more than just a circus tale, and ironically, it's one of my favorite things I've ever done. I'll have this one to super-Suzie either today or tomorrow. I was going to wait, but Dec 31st seems to be my cut-off for patience.

So that was my year in completed novels. For 2012, there's sequels and nearly-there MG thing-a-ma-jobbies to get finished, but that's another day, another year, and another post.

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Cost of Free Downloads

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2 Chiming In
I have an odd habit. No, it's not pirating books :-P (But it IS related to the practice.) Ever since I was sent the link to a site which allowed users to freely share copies of books they hadn't purchased, I've been somewhat fascinated by putting authors' names in the search bar and seeing if they're on the "available" lists. (I then tell said authors, if they are, so don't smack me.) I tend to do this when I get stuck on a WIP because it makes me feel productive. Add that to the recent Guardian article about a prominent Spanish author who has decided not to write for a while in protest of such "sharing" practices, and this post was born.

Let me say this upfront: This is NOT a post debating whether or not file sharing is thievery (though if you want to debate this in the comments, that's your right - just try and keep it civil).

It's also NOT a post defending those who choose to upload/download/share files they have not paid for, nor is it a post vilifying them.

I'm NOT going to get into how major authors have found ways to turn book pirates into a tool to boost their sales, or how other authors have tried to mimic those methods and had them fail.

What this post IS:

There's a very specific response to discovering one's books have been passed around, or are available for download, that makes me want to scream - mainly because I think it does more harm than good. It makes the author turn into a snarling banshee, which in turn makes the recipients of their ire go on the defensive, and that's never the best position to be in when you're trying to make a point that will hopefully change the other party's mind about a certain behavior you want to stop.

On its surface, this response makes perfect sense, but the logic doesn't bear out, and in the end all it does is lead to a lot of screaming and finger pointing, and eventually the sort of defensive flame wars that end up going viral.

Here's what usually happens:

Suzie Q. Author has a book. Maybe it's doing well, maybe it isn't, but the fact is the book exists, and as sure as it exists, it's likely on a pirate or file sharing site somewhere. Either a friend/fan or Suzie herself discovers that the book has been uploaded to one of these sites. She checks the download count, sees 5,678... and hits the roof.

"FIVE THOUSAND DOWNLOADS!" she screams, tallying the royalties that would have been paid had those been sales for profit through a legit provider. She hits Twitter and Facebook and her blog and rails about how she's been cheated out of nearly six thousand sales.

Only... she hasn't.

Those illegal downloads don't correlate to sales. They're the equivalent of someone snatching a free flier off a table and stashing it in their shopping bag; if the flier had cost money, it's not likely it would have ever left the table. Free downloads are popular simply because they're free. People take them because they're there; it's not an indication of whether or not someone would ever pay money for the same property.

When a (legal) free novel goes up on Amazon, it can rack up thousands of downloads a day - even if it's gibberish. There are dissertations offered for free, but written in obscure languages or concerning fields with less than 50 members worldwide; they'll still be gobbled up because they're free. They're likely never even opened.

If I were to take 10 public domain novels and put them(even backward or mixed together) into an "omnibus edition" and offer it for free, it's possible that it could be a "best seller" by Amazon standards... because it's free.

Some of these sites are run by kids who swap homework assignments; they've branched out to books. It's not likely they've ever considered what they're doing to be theft. In fact, from what I've seen, most equate it to checking out a book from the library or loaning one to a friend, not realizing that those libraries actually purchase the copies on their shelves.

And if you've never seen the quality of one of those "free" downloads, you may be picturing a high quality version of the novel like you'd get from Amazon or B&N -- it's not. Most are garbage. They're a formatting nightmare that's barely coherent. (I understand from others that a program called Calibre has made this almost a non-issue, but I couldn't say myself.)

The point is, you can't assume that even 1/10 illegal downloads would have ever been a sale.

Again, I'm not excusing the practice - piracy is piracy. I'm just tired of seeing authors jump up and down, waving virtual banners with these huge numbers on them under the delusion that, had they just been paid for those downloads, their advances would go up and they'd be on the NYT bestseller list. Sure they would, but those were never "sales" to begin with.

Let me put it into different terms. I used to write fanfiction. Between my different screen names and fandoms stretching from the ultra small to the ├╝ber large I had tens-of-thousands of readers on a regular basis. (I've had 5-6 different screen names, but I'll only cop to 2 ;-). ) I didn't write in the larger fandoms for long; there are several writers who did which had audiences approaching 100,000. It would be easy for someone with a reader pool that large to assume that it would carry over (I know for a fact there are people who think this is a given.) But again, this is flawed logic.

Fanfiction audiences read in a universe with which they are familiar; they have a vested interest in characters already in existence. And most of all -- fanfiction is free. You can't guarantee that a single person willing to read your work for free will do the same for a fee. Some won't - some can't - others... might.

Does piracy exist? Of course it does.

Is piracy a pain? Of course it is.

Does piracy cost writers sales? Of course it does.

Does piracy cost writers a sale for every download? Not even close.

"If I'd been paid for just 1 out of 4..." is the same idea as "If I had a nickel for every time you said..." It's a nice thought, but it's not reality.

If someone's file-sharing or pirating your book, then do what you're supposed to -- TELL YOUR PUBLISHER. The offending party may not even realize that what they're doing is any different from handing a friend a copy of a book they love; if you come at them, fists swinging, all you're going to do is create an enemy who won't listen to you. If you allow the publisher to handle things, and they submit a shiny C&D or notice that the offending person / site is violating Terms of Service or copyright or whatever else they're able to do through their legal departments then you're more likely to get your books taken down.

There are a couple of file sharing sites that I check regularly and then tell authors with whom I'm familiar that their books are available if I find them, so they can have their books removed from the site if the site runners are willing to do so. (Some are; some aren't.)

I wasn't even aware these sorts of sites existed until a couple of years ago when I was looking for information on a specific book. I was given a link to a site which I thought was some sort of on-line library, only it was a download site. One author in particular, who I knew through a writers' site, was listed with every book she'd ever published - nearly 10,000 downloads. She informed the site, and they took down her books. Recently I checked my site stats and found that a few readers were jumping over from one of those homework sites I mentioned; I took a look and found that there were hundreds of books there being passed around.

Never assume that a site which was intended for large scale file sharing knows about, or condones, the transfer of copyrighted files. Some are attempting to run a legitimate service, and will cooperate with anyone who holds copyright to something that's been uploaded to their site.

10 Facts

Thursday, December 22, 2011

7 Chiming In
Since I'm out of ideas for blog posts at the moment, I'm taking the suggestion to do a "10 Facts About Me" post.

1. I once ate so many carrots that I turned orange. I was either in elementary or intermediate school, and for some reason I didn't like eating anything else. I still love carrots, but I'm much more careful with them now...

2. I stopped growing taller when I was about eleven; my feet stopped growing when I was around seven.

3. My grandfather was both saved, and killed, by a lit cigarette. (And no, I don't mean from cancer. The first incident involved a sniper, and the second involved high explosives.)

4. My other grandfather helped design the insulation for the space capsule which carried the first chimps into space; I have a piece of the prototype in my closet. They called it a "space sandwich", according to the plate on it.

5. I live in a town which was part of the filming for Born of the Forth of July. I moved from where they filmed Places in the Heart, after moving from where they shot Pure Country, after moving from a town which became a Lifetime movie of the week.

6. I have gone to 3 universities, and never attended a single class. (MIT, Tulane, and ORU, if you're interested.)

7. My French teacher was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and incarceration in a concentration camp.

8. While I don't consciously remember much French, I do occasionally dream in French.

9. My original major in college was Genetic Engineering.

10. I, at various times, attended school in a toga, a death shroud and cowl, and a headpiece made to look like a Christmas tree, with a wrapped box for a skirt.

And, a bonus one:

  • 11. The city in which I attended school was the proud owner of the first failed attempts at solar power on an elementary school, as well as a high school.
  • It was the last "officially" integrated school district in the country - not a point of pride, but ironic when you consider that it was the home town of John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me.
  • Until it was razed to make way for a new high school, the city had the world's oldest, continual indoor rodeo.
  • Anyone who cares to Google any of that information will discover that the aforementioned "movie of the week" dealt with a headline-grabbing homicide... one of the murderers was the checker at our grocery store; the victim was in my church youth group.

Flash Fiction - The Unexplainable Photos

Friday, December 16, 2011

0 Chiming In
Over on Chuck Wendig's blog, it's a Friday tradition to do a piece of flash fiction. I haven't done one in a while, but this week, my curiosity was piqued when he linked to a set of (really, really - disturbingly - really, really) odd old photos. The idea was to create a story based on one of them, but instead, for what I'm putting here, it was the communal sense of otherness that came from the collection.

I think at some point, this may become the prologue to a creepy book, but for now, I give you


People born to the mountains know, it’s more than air you breathe up there. If you climb high enough, and have the nerve to lose yourself in the parts of the world that haven’t touched human hands since apples only grew in Eden, you’ll know it, too.

Every breath is magic.

It hangs heavy and thick, like moss off the trees. It bursts off burning logs as embers that turn to fireflies, carrying just enough of that sense of other to unnerve those weaker souls who come too close. It lives in grandmothers’ tales of ghosts and strange happenings, and it drizzles down in the creeks come spring, when ice that formed before your ancestors were born melts off the peak and brings its memories with it to the world below.

You can’t touch real magic and not know it.

You can smell it, and if the night is very, very clear, and your ears are open, you can hear it. A song that drifts along the lazy breeze in places where the trees are packed so close they don’t sway in the wind.

When the wind calls to you, you answer, simple as that. Try to ignore it, and the urge to run and feel the air on your face becomes overwhelming, exciting for the promise of whatever lies ahead, as though you’re running toward something you can almost see, and it’s the thing you want more than anything else in the world, even if you don’t know what it is yet. It gets in your blood.

Things like that change a person. Though for the good or bad, no one knows until it’s too late to change your mind.