A strange thing happened to me in October last year. I found myself in a position that I had never been before: a story I was writing was off-track and I couldn’t see any way to pull it back.
I pride myself on not doing that. I’m strict about continuity and sticking to the precedents and events that I have written into the story. The destination might change, but never the journey walked thus far. I push myself to be creative enough to write my way out of any particular gnarly situation I throw my characters into.
All of a sudden, that wasn’t working for Starwalker. I knew where I wanted the story to go, the things I wanted to have happen, and it seemed to make sense on the surface. But the more I wrote it, the more it felt wrong. The tone was off, sliding into darkness and despair. There’s a place for that kind of tone and I’ve played with it more than once, but this was different. It was like the whole story was sliding down a dark hole (or, appropriately, being sucked into a black hole).
More than that, I found I was pushing the characters harder than I liked. They were resisting the path I wanted them to take, and it was increasingly the fault of a big, looming being that they were facing down. More and more, the characters were becoming helpless, and the crew of the Starwalker are all capable, strong-willed people. Satisfying the outcomes are a result of at least some level of agency, not a lack of options that looks and feel a lot like railroading.
When it comes down to it, I just didn’t like the feel of it or where it was going. The more posts I wrote, the more I couldn’t see it coming to a ‘good’ end (by which I mean an ending that would be satisfying for me and my readers).
My readers were very kind. Some voiced concerns over the path the story was taking. Some expressed their unhappiness with the tone. None of them gave me a hard time about it.
Eventually, I had to admit that I’d got the story into a place that it couldn’t recover from gracefully and put a stop to it. Maybe it took me longer than it should have to come to that realisation, because I’m stubborn about these things and I didn’t want to admit it. I despise retcons. But to save the story, that’s exactly what I was going to have to do.
It’s not easy to admit that you’ve messed something up. When I wrote the post that let my readers know that I was going to reassess the path of the story and make some changes before moving forward, I was fraught with nerves. As supportive and forgiving as my readers are, this was going to be embarrassing at best, it was going to invite vitriol and criticism, and, at worse, lose me some of my readership.
To their credit (not mine), my readers were wonderfully understanding and supportive. Some expressed concerns they hadn’t voiced before, concerns that gelled with my own feelings, and some gladness that I was addressing it. I cannot say how much of a relief that was, especially after how much I’d beaten myself up about it all. With that particular worry behind me, I was able to turn to the task of fixing up the story with a lighter heart.
Throughout this process, I have thought long and hard about how I got into that place to begin with. How did things get so far off-track? How did I not spot it earlier and fix it?
I don’t think there was any one cause. I can’t point at a single thing and say ‘you were the problem’.
Part of it was that I was too committed to where I wanted the story to go. I’ve had something similar happen before, when I’ve had a clear idea of something I wanted to have happen, usually linked to a specific character, but it just didn’t work the way I thought it would. A character would have a particular need or drive that was at odds with my end goal, and either refused to do what I want or turned the tone sour. I could see that continuing would put them in an emotional place that wouldn’t work for a satisfying end, or it would taint that whole part of a story (for example, a character doing something because they have no choice, rather than being fired up and driven to do it under their own agency).
When it happened that time, this feeling was my cue to adjust my plan. I rolled out the implications of what I could see, didn’t like where it was headed, and adjusted before it got mired into the wrong path.
So why didn’t that happen this time? I think I pushed too hard, was too stubbornly holding onto my vision. I believed I could make it work. And, to an extent, I couldn’t predict just how dark and depressing the tone would get.
My personal frame of mind at the time had a lot to do with that. That’s not to say that I was in a dark or depressed place: I’ve never been truly depressed in my life, and I’m immensely grateful for that. But I was in a difficult place, emotionally and mentally.
My health around that time was not good. I was struggling with the fatigue (more than usual), and when that happens, my mental energy and attention span shrinks. I was pushing myself to keep up with everything, the serial included.
On top of that, my work had become very busy and stressful. I was asked to change teams to help sort out an issue, and had to switch projects in the middle of a release, which meant a huge amount of catch-up for me, including lot of rapid upskiling in a new area of our product (to me). (I wrote about this recently.)
Then there was the run-up to NaNoWriMo. Organising events, getting stuff in place, sounding enthusiastic and energetic on the forums, and being ready to hit the ground running from the Kick-off Party onwards. I had loads of help, but there were a lot of balls to keep an eye on. The Writer’s Retreat was a worry, because we weren’t getting the number of bookings that we were counting on (we wound up losing money on it in the end, but that’s another story).
So when I say that my frame of mind might have impacted my ability to troubleshoot Starwalker’s plotlines, that’s what I mean. Juggling varying sources of stress and distraction while dealing with soul-sucking fatigue is going to have an impact, no matter how much I push to stop it from showing.
I’m not blaming any one thing. I am grateful for my job, and while I’m under a lot of scrutiny right now, the challenge is good for me (and my career). I wouldn’t switch being an ML for anything; the work is completely worth it. The fatigue is something I try to manage and deal with, and I have to be honest with myself about my capabilities.
It has also been almost five years since I started writing Starwalker. That’s a long time on a single project, and I think I was starting to get burned out on it. I have taken short breaks from it before – a month is the longest I’ve taken before, I believe – but spending that long on a single thing runs the risk of settling into unhealthy patterns. Ruts, habits, grooves, patterns: they can be good or bad, and with few mental resources to call on, I think I let momentum carry me forward in the week-by-week posting further than I should have. It’s telling that I had the mental capability to deal with other stuff but not Starwalker.
So I wound up in a place that I couldn’t see my way out of, and I was so mentally drained in relation to the project that I wasn’t sure what to do next. So I called a halt to it. I admitted the position I had found myself in and put the story on hold while I took a break. I didn’t set myself a return date – something I always make sure I do – and only promised to return.
I think I did the right thing. I put Starwalker on hold during the first week of NaNoWriMo, and freed myself to do something completely different for a month. I put up the author note and tried not to worry about it (I’m a worrier), and mostly succeeded.
It was a much-needed break. It wasn’t about rest; it was about needing to do something else, something not Starwalker. I knew that it was the right thing to do as soon as the hiatus post went up and I could feel the weight lift from my shoulders. I was still bracing for any potential fall-out (which didn’t happen, thank goodness), but I had given myself permission to turn my attention to something else for a while, and it made all the difference.
After NaNo ended and I put Vampire Electric aside again, I took a week to myself, then started looking over the troublesome parts of Starwalker. I wound up retconning seven posts – nearly two months of work – to get back to a place where I could adjust the story’s path sufficiently. All through the break, I had let my subconscious chew on the problem, as well as consciously pondered ideas and options from time to time. Once I had my restarting point settled, I was ready to get going. And I did.
The break wound up being about six weeks in the end; posts resumed on Christmas Eve. It was actually a little later than I had hoped, but work was still insane and I wanted to make sure I restarted Starwalker right. I took the time I needed and I think the story is better for it.
I still find the whole incident rather embarrassing. I strive to do better.
Right now, I’m still juggling a lot of story elements and figuring stuff out as I’m going. A part of me wishes that I had taken more time to plan out the end of Starwalker Book 4 more thoroughly, but I think that’s fear from what happened. Over-planning kills stories for me, so I try not to. I try to have faith in myself that I can do this; I can find the ending that I want this story to have.
So far, I think it’s going well. I have a good idea of where I want it to go, I’m adjusting things on the fly, and I’m excited to get the next part written. The tone is lighter, the pace is faster, and the stakes are higher.
Here’s hoping I can pull the end of this book off well. Wish me luck! And strap in, it’s going to be a rocky ride.
When I think about the possibility of selling a story to a movie studio and one day seeing my work up on the big screen, it seems like an impossibly exciting and terrifying thing. Of course, it’s a lot of work (if you happen to be involved), and they’re going to change stuff, and it might not match my own vision entirely, but still. My story. My name. Big screen.
I dare say I’m not the only writer who quivers at the thought. It’s hard to imagine being that lucky! Who wouldn’t be thrilled to sell the movie rights to a studio, particularly a big studio? (Sure, the chances of it actually being made into a movie might not be all that high; it might languish in pre-production hell for years and never wind up going anywhere. But it would still be thrilling to have the chance!)
It’s a tricky business to get into, though. Navigating the contract is the first minefield and you’ll need an expert to guide you through it safely. Selling rights to your work has many pitfalls, and if you want to retain any creative control, that adds more complications and potential barriers. How much control? What can we veto? What can we demand? When does the studio/director/creative controller get to tell us to pull our head in? We can’t all be George R.R. Martin and deeply involved in the adaptation. As the writer of the original work, we might not have any input at all.
We might not even have our name attached to it at all. Some writers might prefer that (particularly if the adaptation is vastly different from the original work), others might not care, while others might demand that the origin and inspiration of the work be attributed to them appropriately. If you want any kind of credit, you’ll have to specify it in the contract or risk missing out. You might even have to specify the placement of the credit as well, or risk winding up a footnote at the end of the end credits that only Marvel movie-goers sit through.
Like any contract, it’s best to get an expert to handle the details for you, someone who will defend your interests in the way that you want. I won’t pretend that the above is all you have to worry about; I’m sure there are many more details that will need to be worked out.
Until recently, I thought that once the contract was agreed, that would be it. Everyone signs the dotted line and the project goes along accordingly. Apparently, that’s not always the case, as Tess Gerritsen found out.
Tess Gerritsen has written many books and been adapted to screen a few times (for example, in the current TV show, Rissoli and Isles). She is currently embroiled in a law suit against Warner Bros. about the 2013 movie Gravity, because she believes that it was based off a story (with the same name) she sold to a different studio, New Line Productions. The original project died before fruition, and yet a few years later, after New Line was bought by Warner Bros., a very similar movie became a reality. Gerritsen was not involved in the Warner Bros. project, she wasn’t paid, and none of her original contract was honoured.
In a recent blog post, Gerritsen says that this could set a dangerous precedent for selling intellectual property (your story, project, or concept) in Hollywood. If the entity you sold that IP to is bought, the new owner inherits the contract, but they might not have to abide by the terms of that contract. This isn’t a case of plagiarism; it’s a case of breach of contract. In her words:
Warner Bros., through its ownership of New Line, also controls the film rights to my book. They had every right to make the movie — but they claim they have no obligation to honor my contract with New Line.
She’s right: writers who sell their work should be worried. We spend hours and hours of our lives on creating these stories; to have them stolen out of hand and profited from is unfair, immoral, and should be considered illegal (or whatever the civil breach-of-contract term is)*. Gerritsen’s case is not yet finished (she is in the process of re-filing her claim), and it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
I wish her luck, for her sake and for other writers who may find themselves in a similar position (and assuming that her claim is justified, of course, though I find her argument compelling). I hope this isn’t a symptom of another way creators are robbed by the industry.
If only it wasn’t so tempting (and potentially lucrative) to see our work on the screen!
* This doesn’t reflect my view on piracy, though it strikes me that the arguments are similar. That’s a whole other post for another time.
This is a piece I wrote back in 2008. I think it started as an exercise: take a song and use it to frame a narrative. It came out creepy and strange, and darker than I had intended. And yet, I am still fascinated by it. I still hear the song in my head when I read it, eerie and beautiful.
I have been thinking about this piece a lot recently, probably because the song it is based around came on my playlist, but I thought I’d lost it. After a hunt through some computer backups from 2009, I finally unearthed it (along with a bunch of other old writings, all of which made me insanely happy).
It’s a strange little thing. I have done a little work on it this week, tidied it up and focussed the progression of the narrative a little. There are parts of it that I love – some of the juxtapositions of imagery and lyrics make me happy – and parts that I think might be too obtuse and won’t come across the way I hope. I don’t want to over-edit it, though. Some of its charm (if you can call it that) is its raw nature, so I’ve decided to stop poking at it.
This isn’t a story that I could sell, because the lyrics in it are used without permission, so I thought I’d share it here. I’m currently wondering if I should enter it in a horror story competition that is running this month (as they don’t seem to care about the rights), but I’ll see how confident I’m feeling after I’ve slept on it.
I’d love to hear what you all think!
I huddle in a room where the lack of light is close and cold. The edges of my chair pick up threads of a distant light: a bright streak across the front of the seat; glimmers on the spokes leading up the back; a hard line across the top. The legs lie in darkness.
There’s a chair
in my head,
on which I used to sit.
Hush. Hush, little one, don’t make a sound. But I want to. I want to cry and scream, I want to pick the chair up and bang it on the floor, bang bang, you’re dead. I want to shout terrible words just to hear my mouth make them, just to hear the walls throw them back at me, bad girl, bad girl.
Instead, I sing to myself.
Took a pencil
and I wrote
the following on it:
This room swallows sound. The darkness grabs it and throttles it, and spits it out again at my feet. That’s where they gather, all of my small noises: on the dirty patch of floor just in front of my toes. I try to kick them away, but they won’t leave me alone. Stupid, pathetic little sounds, the sorts of things a wounded animal might vomit up.
Silence isn’t good enough. The air is listening to the way I push and pull at it, in and out, in and out. I don’t think it likes me. It turns to brass in my mouth and I don’t want it to touch my teeth. I don’t want anything to touch my teeth; I might bite.
Now there’s a key
where my wonderful mouth
used to be.
I wonder what locks I might open. I run my tongue along my teeth, taste brass again, and try to think of answers to questions, so many questions. I have been asked over and over again; they’ve gone now, but they’ll be back to ask more of me. Their words hang in the air: bright black things dangling in the darkness.
I cling to my chair with its flecks of light. It is solid; it rocks me. But it cannot make a rock out of me. They ask too much. Leave me to my chair.
Dig it up,
throw it at me,
I’m being buried under the weight of their words. Like a secret.
Dig it up,
throw it at me.
Like my secret. It sticks to me, mud on my skin, drying and cracking and showing me naked underneath. I can’t tell; I must never tell. It’s my mud, my dirt, my crack and break. Bless me, beat me, makes no difference. It’s mine and I’ll never give it up.
Where can I run to,
I am the rabbit. No, I am the fox, and the hunt is on high. I hide in the scrub and the brush; I crouch in the basement and huddle by my chair. I am a friend of the dark, but the dark doesn’t like me. I run and I run, little circles around the chair’s highlights. Nowhere, fast, here I come.
But I am no fox; I cannot run. I cannot be what I want to be. I will never be what they want me to be.
where can I hide,
I am a monochrome bird. They have cut off my wings and bound me to this chair. It’s the wrong shape for me; I must change it.
I must be something different now.
Who will I turn to
I won’t remember my secret any more. I had one once; they keep asking me about it. But I will be empty. I am sitting in the dark, new and waiting to unfold.
now I’m in
a virgin state of mind?
If they keep asking, will they give it back to me? Fill me up with it, stain me all over again? I want to stay monochrome – don’t grey me out and smudge me into the dirt. Keep the filth; I don’t want it.
Got a knife
the voids that I can’t bear,
No more marks. No more little niggling scars to give away a past. Filthy little histories, washed away in thickening liquid. Pare me down to a bright, new nub and bring me into the light. Let it fall on me again, let it shine through me, the way it used to.
To cut out words
I’ve got written
on my chair,
I brush the dirt from my skin and forget it underfoot, and I am clean again. There are no secrets here. There are no answers. This space – this chair – is only big enough for me; my heartbeat fills it up and there is no more than that in me now.
Like: do you think I’m sexy?
Is it better if I’m clean and empty? If I’m polished up for the light, shined and spruced and smiling vacantly? Now I’ve forgotten what I’ve hidden away? Will that make me better? Because I feel something missing, something broken.
Do you think
I really care?
Does it matter if I’m broken? Does it really matter if my secret breathes in the dark and the dust, crouched there dressed in the pieces of me I pared away? As long as I don’t walk there, as long as I keep my face turned away, I won’t know that I’m missing.
Can I burn
the mazes I grow?
I’ll walk the way I’m facing, I’ll fill the emptiness with something different and I’ll never know that I’m hollow. I’ll light a candle in me to shine through my smile.
I don’t think so.
I’ll cleave to the chair I’ve made and pretend there was never anything else. I will stand tall, even when they question me, void of their answers.
Where can I run to,
where can I hide,
Don’t look back, never look back. I am new and waiting to unfold, waiting for their light to shine my eyes.
Who will I turn to
now I’m in
a virgin state of mind.
Here they come, here they come. I stand and smile and show my teeth. I shine.
I am new and unfolding.
(Lyrics: ‘Virgin State of Mind’ by K’s Choice)
Part of the Amazon is not your friend series.
Isn’t this battle just between two companies? You may be wondering how the Hachette battle with Amazon could be interpreted as being Amazon against authors. Sit back and allow me to explain.
This is two-fold.
First, there are the Hachette authors. The press about the battle between these two companies has been rife with Amazon’s tactics to disadvantage Hachette’s books. The books have been taken off promotional lists, discounts have been removed, and shipping date predictions have been in the 4-6 weeks band, claiming there weren’t any in stock. Book pages have also been updated with suggestions that customers might prefer books by other (non-Hachette, of course) authors.
(Note: now that the matter has been resolved, these measures have not all been lifted. Some speculate that this is Amazon’s way of passive-aggressively punishing Hachette for not giving in to their demands. Really, Amazon?)
Through this whole battle, Hachette authors were reporting a huge downturn in sales through Amazon. It’s a powerful enough store that they can easily see the difference in their royalty reports.
Throughout the embargo, Amazon made several overtures to Hachette, offering to lift the sanctions if the publisher agrees to ridiculous temporary royalty agreements. These include giving all profit from the book sales to the authors or donating the profit to charity. Basically, they wanted Hachette to give up any money they might make on the book sales for the duration of the contract negotiations.
(In at least one of these ‘offers’, Amazon have been prepared to give up their share of the profit as well. It is only fair to note this. I have no visibility of what this would actually mean to Amazon, though; what percentage of its revenue comes from books, I wonder?)
It’s no surprise that Hachette turned all of these ‘offers’ down. They are so obviously ridiculous and a propaganda ploy designed to cast the publisher in the role of villain, because it’s forced to refuse in order to protect its bottom line. Let’s not forget that this went on for months; not an insignificant chunk of the financial year for any company.
Whoever is right or wrong, the authors are the ones being put in the middle. Amazon may claim differently, but that’s what they’ve done. (Amazon actually says that Hachette was the one using authors in this battle, but no, I’m sorry, Amazon is the one who put the sanctions in place.)
There has been a lot of outcry against Amazon’s tactics, to the extent that over 900 authors put their money together, signed a petition, and put a full-page ad in the New York Times, imploring Amazon to stop its stupid tactics. Known names like Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Chabon, Scott Turow, George Saunders, Philip Pullman, and Nora Roberts were a part of this.
What was Amazon’s reaction to the ad? To move the other section of authors at its disposal into the middle of this debate: the KDP authors. This brings me to the second part of this issue.
In August 2014, Amazon sent out an email to all of its authors. It wasn’t just the KDP Select authors that it tried to call to its side: all KDP authors were contacted, including me.
The email is a beautifully-crafted piece of propaganda. It combines fear-mongering, just enough of the truth to justify itself, and sympathy-evoking images and tactics. I was astonished when I read it, and quickly angry. It is the most despicable thing I have had someone send to me.
There are some very good analyses available on the email and its content, and I encourage you to check them out. I’m not going to go through it all when others have said it so much better than I could. I’m just going to touch the salient points for this post:
- Amazon sent this out to authors who had nothing to do with the battle.
- It’s clearly an attempt to rally indie authors to their side.
- In the email, Amazon asks us to spam the Hachette CEO with hate mail. This is the entire purpose of this email! They included his name and email address, and asked to be copied in so they could see.
Great. Because what this world needs is more people sticking their oar into something that doesn’t concern them, and more hate being spread around. Right.
This email is what ultimately prompted me to start writing this post series (I know, it has been a long time in coming!). I didn’t want to get involved and there are lots of informed and informative blogs around who are speaking up on this. But Amazon involved me directly by trying to draw me into the debate. Well, maybe I’m slow, but I get there in the end, and I don’t have much patience for that kind of tactic.
Amazon have shown their true colours. They are ruthless, they have a skilled marketing department, and they’re not afraid to throw you under the bus if it will benefit their cause.
So I’m raising my voice. I’m writing these posts. It may have taken me months to get to it all, but this seems too important to stay silent any more. The Hachette battle may have concluded but the story is far from over.
I have been thinking about this blog lately, and about the things I should write about here. I’ve got a patchy track record with updating it and I’d like to do better. I’d also like to expand its scope somewhat.
Part of it is that I’d like to expand the scope of my thinking and writing. I enjoy the critical thinking that goes into exploring a subject, and I enjoy writing these things up. But I want to mix it up, try new stuff, think different kinds of thoughts.
Part of it is that I’d like to develop this blog as a fun resource for readers and writers. Probably more for writers, due to the general slant of the material, but readers are more than welcome.
So what does that mean? I have a few things I’d like to do here. In no particular order:
- Keep writing about publishing, because there are more changes coming through and they affect everyone who enjoys books and stories, whatever medium you consume. Amazon might be a big mover in what’s happening at the moment, but they’re not the only player worth watching (yet).
- Write more reviews. I have one or two that I have been working on, and I hope to get those finished up and posted soon. I don’t get a huge amount of time to read these days, but part of this is that I am trying to read more. I’ll also be reviewing other forms of fiction, like TV shows, games, and movies.
- Write about things that the CWG has talked about. We have some great discussions, and some of them have been caught on this blog. A lot of it hasn’t. I’d like to change that.
- Do more random writing tips. They’re fun and short. I try to keep them short. Need to think up some more tips for this!
- Try something different, like interviewing an author.
- Make better use of my writing time. My schedule has fallen down in a few places, and I need to get back into the regular habit of writing (these days, I do enough to get the next Starwalker post up, and that’s about it). For those times when I’m not writing Starwalker, I should be writing for this blog. Or something else. A short story. Flash fiction. Something opinionated.
That’s what I’m thinking about right now. What do you all think? What else could I tackle here? Is there something you’d like to see here? Speak up, I’m listening!
This year, January got off to a terrible start (I fell sick on the 1st and was horribly ill for four days). It ended, however, on a high note with my annual work performance review.
This led me to some introspective thinking (a fairly common phenomena for me) and reinforced just how much appreciation means to me.
2014 was a hard year for me. My health was crappy, there were mis-steps in my writing, and I was under a lot of stress for a significant portion of it. (There will be posts on some of this soon; they are under construction!) My day job contributed to at least some of this.
I can’t really go into details, so what follows is going to be a little vague in areas. I’ve mentioned this before: there was a shake-up in the latter part of the year and I shifted to a new team to help sort it out. The timing coincided with the busiest parts of NaNoWriMo, compounding the impact for me, and the project I took on was high-profile in the department (this year, it’s the highest priority in our whole department, so my team is under even more scrutiny, but that’s a different story).
I had a lot of attention on me and how I handled the issues in front of me. It was a chance for me to shine, if I pushed hard enough at the right stuff. (On the plus side, I couldn’t have done worse than my predecessor.) Of course, knowing what that ‘right stuff’ was was half the battle.
It was a lot of work. I had to learn a new technology – actually, several, as the part of the product the new team was working on was new to me, and involved interfaces with a lot of database, server, and network architecture that I’ve never had to deal with before. That was just to get the context of the area we were working in.
Then I had to figure out what the team was trying to achieve in the code they were working on and how to get them to achieve it. Bear in mind that I’m not a developer and I don’t have a developer’s training or background; my degree was in English Literature and Creative Writing, not software, engineering, or science. I’m more of a pick-up-and-run-as-I-go kind of person when it comes to learning this stuff, and I’m pretty good at grabbing the conceptual picture and fleshing it out. I can’t write the code, but I can usually tell you what it’s trying to do and why. As a technical writer and team lead, that’s what I need to be able to do.
On top of that, another part of being a Scrum Master (team lead-type role, in Agile terms) is helping the team work well together, as a team. I only really knew one member of the new team; the rest were faces I had seen around the office and that was about it. And they needed some help in working well together. Figuring out how to do this involves analysing personalities and using this to work out how to encourage them to get along. Understanding your team is essential if you want them to do well, and I was starting with pretty much nothing in that regard.
So I had to lot of catch-up and quick analysis to do when I joined this new team, because we were mid-project and couldn’t waste time. I had to hit the ground running, adjust things as I went, and bring some changes into the team in a way that was collaborative, encouraging, and positive. (Trust me, doing it hamfisted and forceful never works, and would have blown up in my face. I prefer taking the positive route and having the team come along willingly, as much as I can.)
It was a mad scramble. It was a lot of work and pressure. I was tearing my hair out at times, and counselling myself to patience, and pushing hard to get us to where we needed to be.
In the end, though, I fucking did it.
We got there. We delivered our release with everything we had been asked for, along with a few extra bits we were asked to squeeze in. The team works better together (I still have some work to do there, but it’s coming along). The team all worked hard – I’m not taking credit for everything – but I did everything they needed me to do.
In my performance review for 2014, this was acknowledged and openly appreciated. All the work I put in was worth it.
Cynics may say that this is just a corporate HR thing, that performance reviews don’t mean anything in the scheme of things. Maybe. On the other hand, my manager didn’t have to emphasise this win so strongly, but he did. And it was a win for me. I pulled off something that few others could have done and they thanked me for it.
Sure, sure, monetary compensation would also be nice, but that doesn’t happen for another month or two. Maybe I’ll get a nice surprise then. For now, though, I’m proud of what I achieved, and I’m happy that my managers appreciate it.
This all got me thinking about the power of a simple ‘thank you’. They mean a lot to me. I think it’s because I try not to expect them; I’ve been disappointed a lot in the past. They tend to touch me more than I can rightly express.
It’s not just my day job. There are a few of my writer friends and event attendees who have gone out of their way to thank me, and it always bewilders me a little.
There are a couple of my writers who don’t come along to events and meet-ups very often, but whenever they do, they make a point of thanking me for my effort and time. A couple of thoughtful people have given me gifts as a token of their appreciation. Sometimes, someone buys me a coffee. I have people email me occasionally with glowing comments about my writing.
It’s those small, unexpected things that touch me most, I think. It’s not the gifts or the coffee that mean the most: it’s that someone went out of their way to do something like that for me.
I try to respond gracefully when people do things like this, but more often than not, I’m floored and don’t know what to say. I do my best not to brush it off – that’s just rude – and probably wind up doing something clumsy to express my gratitude for their appreciation. I don’t know if they know how much it means to me.
Honestly, it makes it all worth it: all the work I put in, the time I spend on it, the energy I devote to it. It means a lot more outside of work (after all, the day job is paying me to do what I do there), because compensation isn’t required or asked for. I choose to do what I do because I want to; I love it, and my people, and the things we do together. Knowing that others appreciate it, that I’ve touched someone’s life in a positive way, makes me insanely happy. (And sometimes a little bit misty-eyed.)
So, to all those who have thanked me, however you have done it: thank you. Please know that you have brightened my day and lightened my load.
A little appreciation goes a long way. In the spirit of that, I’m going to make an effort to spread more of my own.
Thank you all for reading. :)
Part of the Amazon is not your friend series.
The battle between Amazon and Hachette went on for months, finally coming to a resolution in November (2014). The big boys were duking it out, and neither of them came off particularly well.
I’m no big fan of big traditional publishers. Just like Amazon, they are a business first and support readers/authors/books second, if at all. They have a bad track record with embracing ebooks and the digital side of the industry. They don’t give authors good royalties for ebook sales. Their contracts are minefields that can hobble an author’s career unless you are very careful or very lucky.
However, they are more dependent on a healthy book industry, as it’s the only industry they’re in. Amazon does not have this focus (this will come up later).
When I read something about this battle, I go into it with no particular bias; both sides are businesses and they’re looking after their own interests. I aim to be objective. (I know that the name of this series might imply otherwise, but being disturbed by Amazon’s actions in the book industry doesn’t mean that I support big publishing.)
They key here is to figure out which one will benefit books, authors, and the industry as a whole, in the long run. And as far as I can tell, if Amazon had got what it wanted, it could well be a disaster for the book industry.
Why should we care at all? It’s just one company against another, right? Well, yes and no. This battle might have been between Amazon and Hachette, but the future fallout is much broader than one single distribution agreement.
The crux of the battle was Amazon trying to change the terms of the distribution agreement it has with the big publisher. The timing was driven by the contract with Hachette being up for renewal. In the near future, the contracts with the other big publishers will also come up for renewal and they’ll have the exact same battle on their hands (I believe Simon and Schuster snuck in and renewed their deal while this battle was going on). What happened with Hachette set the pattern – the precedent – and makes it difficult for a different outcome to occur in subsequent negotiations: if Hachette had fallen, so will all of the big publishers. That’s why this section is ‘Amazon vs Big Publishing’, not just Hachette.
Why would that be a bad thing? Well, that all depends on what Amazon and Hachette are demanding.
Let’s talk for a moment about the Book Depository. What does that have to do with all of this? Bear with me and I’ll explain.
The Book Depository was an online bookseller (of physical books) that was built on the basis of supplying really, really cheap books direct to your door. It undercut standard book prices and made no profit whatsoever, but because it offered such cheap prices, it gained a massive market share. It sold for silly amounts of money (to Amazon, who was protecting its market share, but that’s actually beside the point here).
The man behind the Book Depository had no interest in books, writers, or readers (he came out and said as much). His business practices threatened to crash (paper) book prices and reduced the royalties that made their way back to writers. He never made real money from the business itself. It was never intended to be a sustainable business model: the sole purpose of the business was to build up a big enough market presence to make it a saleable company, and to make a small fortune from it. This is exactly what he achieved.
There’s nothing illegal about what he did. It’s a legitimate business tactic, as long as you don’t give a crap about the industry you’re playing with. It’s still reprehensible in my book, where irresponsibility like this can rob hard-working people of their income. You come in, you make a mess, then you skim off enough proceeds to make the millionaire list and leave the fallout to those left in your wake.
Disturbed? You should be. (This is how the current Western economic difficulties happened: irresponsible and unethical use of legitimate business tactics.)
Now let’s look at Amazon’s history with the big publishers. It signed distribution agreements with the big publishers several years ago, with a certain set of terms. These terms were most likely to be pretty favourable for the publisher, because Amazon was building its market presence at the time and needed to make those deals for its online bookstore idea to become competitive in the market. It undercut the market to grab customers looking for good deals.
Fast-forward a few years to now and Amazon is well-established. It doesn’t need to make concessions to entice a publisher into a distribution deal any more. It can go toe-to-toe with the big fellas in the industry – and it is. It can make its own demands and rewrite the deal for its own benefit.
It’s a success story for Amazon. Is Hachette just being stubborn because it enjoyed a favourable deal all this time and doesn’t want its toys taken away? Maybe. I don’t know all of the details of the deals, past or present. But I am sure that it’s not that black and white. This is no hero and villain scenario.
I do know some of the contention between the two companies. Part of what Amazon was demanding was to control the price of ebooks. It also wanted to dictate how much of an ebook’s price goes to the author.
Both of these things are bad.
Firstly, dictating an author’s royalties? Quite frankly, this is none of their business. An author’s royalties are contracted with their publisher and Amazon has no need to even know what that rate is. Amazon’s interface is entirely with the publisher; that’s part of what a publisher is for.
Big publishers do offer terrible royalties for ebook sales, this is true. It’s one of the reasons that I have a lukewarm opinion of traditional publishing (for my own work), because I’m not sure I’d put up with it. However, I don’t expect an external company like Amazon to stick their oar into my personal contract negotiations, especially ones that have nothing to do with them.
This sounds like pure propaganda to me: Amazon trying to get the authors on their side. It could also be a move for Amazon to control a publisher’s internal finances; after all, if they can dictate how much is going to the author, they are also dictating how much the publisher is getting. What company would give another company that kind of power over their finances?
Controlling the price of ebooks is a bit less straightforward. On the surface, it sounds a lot like businesses protecting their bottom line: Amazon want to offer ebooks at lower prices to make more sales, and make everyone more money; Hachette want to be able to keep their higher-priced ebooks to make more per sale. Amazon are also making a lot of noise about how ebook prices will create a better experience for readers (more on the source of this later).
Underneath that, there’s more to it. Smashwords does a good job of explaining what this control of ebook prices could ultimately lead to. John Scalzi also wrote a post that had an interesting point: publishers like Hachette might want to keep ebook prices higher than average to avoid crashing the paper book market. It’s not in their interests to damage the paper book market: fewer paper book sales mean fewer bricks-and-mortar bookstores, which means fewer avenues to get their books to readers. It could effectively cut off a whole chunk of their market.
Amazon doesn’t have this concern. It is only concerned with one bookstore: itself.
Let’s also think about the impact of lowering ebook prices of traditionally-published books and well-known authors’ work on self-published authors. As Scalzi points out, lowering the ceiling on ebook prices means compressing ebooks into a much smaller price range. One of a self-published author’s key selling points can be that they can undercut the more well-known names in the business; readers are more likely to try an indie author if they’re cheaper than the big names. A smaller selling range means less wiggle-room to do this.
Add on sales and discounts, and it’s even harder for a self-published author to stand out from the crowd. Other less concrete factors could also come into play, such as the perception of value. If everything is $9.99, how do you know what’s good quality? What about new releases? If the new Stephen King is available at $9.99 on release day, how many people will be willing to buy his backlist at the same price; if it’s older, it should be at least a little cheaper, right? Buyer expectations will drive other prices down, compressing the gap in which an indie might shine even further… you can see where I’m going here.
Amazon’s dedication to the $9.99 price ceiling is particularly interesting when considering non-fiction books, because they’re commonly much more than that. How will this impact them? It’s another concern.
There are a lot of things to consider about whether low prices across the board are a good or bad thing; these are just some of the things we should be thinking about. Ultimately, Amazon is claiming that it’s better for everyone. If that’s true, if it means more money for everyone in the industry, why would Hachette fight it so hard? They’re a business looking after their bottom line too, right?
It’s just not that simple. Amazon is asking for control, which could have all kinds of (potentially unpredictable) impacts on Hachette and the other big publisher. Who, in their right mind, would hand control of their business’s bottom line over to another company?
This is where I come back to the Book Depository case. Amazon have done everything in their power to build their market presence and footprint. They’ve built themselves up by offering low prices and making little to no profit. Now, their teeth are showing.
Amazon itself is not up for sale, so this is not the short-term money grab that the Book Depository was designed for. So what is its goal?
Books are not the only kind of merchandise that Amazon sells. That might be where it started but it’s so much more than that now. I struggle to think of something I can’t buy on Amazon these days. It’s a megastore – or, more worryingly, you could call them a supermarket. And the danger with a supermarket is loss leading: selling certain items at such low prices that people are enticed in, and making the real money off everything else those people buy once they’re in the door.
In the UK, loss leading in supermarkets force pig farmers to sell their meat at a loss just to get it sold at all. Milk farmers are in a similar situation, where the prices demanded by the supermarkets are so low that they are barely making any profit, if any. But if not for the supermarkets, they’d have no business at all.
Are books the milk on Amazon’s shelves, drawing the punters in so they can be dazzled with tasty electronics and toys?
This is conjecture on my part, but it’s where I see it leading. Their dedication to lowering prices makes me highly suspicious of this sort of tactic. I see no reason for Amazon not to do this, if it can get its way. Dictating prices is just the tip of the iceberg, and if we want a healthy, thriving book industry, catering to all tastes and price points, we can’t give control to an entity as self-serving as this company.
Luckily, the stand-off came to an end a couple of months ago, with Hachette retaining control over its book prices and author royalties, and Amazon adding incentives for lower prices. For me, the key point is that Amazon did not get the control it was looking for. But the reactions still have dire overtones: will this battle happen again the next time the contracts are up for renewal? Will the big publishers eventually be worn down? How else will Amazon try to get its way? What will that mean for those of us who work in and enjoy the industry?
Personally, I want to see Amazon’s power grab cut off at the knees, because I don’t think it will end well for anyone except Amazon if it’s allowed to continue. And I want to see the other big publishers follow suit, support Hachette. I suspect their authors already do.
Which leads me neatly to my next post. Watch this space!
This month was a bit of scramble. The Creative Writing Group schedule was still waiting to be agreed with my venue, which meant that all of the writing events I run were in flux, because they’re all linked.
Over the past three or four years, I’ve had a big writing weekend once a month: the CWG on the Friday night followed by the Monthly Write-in the next day. It’s a tiring weekend, usually on the heels of a full week at work. But it was easy for people to remember and for us to coordinate, so it worked.
Over the past three or so years, we have also organised weekly or fortnightly drinks meet-ups, which are less writing-focussed and more about getting together to hang out, chat, and connect. But attendance to these dropped off over the last year, until only a few of us would turn up.
The drinkies meet-ups were held after work sometime in the middle of the week, which was again draining for me (anything that extends my working day has an impact on my fatigue). Between one thing and the next, eventually these meet-ups dribbled to a stop.
I have noticed a couple of trends related to these events and their timing:
- The writing weekend increasingly wipes me out. The Sunday of that weekend is a write-off (pun intended), as I need to rest in order to be able to go to work the next week.
- Some attendees have to choose which event on the writing weekend to go to, either due to home commitments or financial limitations.
- People do want drinkies meet-ups but struggle to remember when it’s on.
This all led me to have a serious think about the schedule we had set up for ourselves, and how we might make it easier on ourselves. The solution seems simple: split up the events to spread the energy and monetary load, and get a regular cadence to make it easier for people to remember.
Now, this could be counter-productive, or at least make no difference at all. Spreading the events out could mean fewer opportunities to truly rest; there’s something to be said for getting costly things over and done with in one go. There’s also no guarantee the spread will help with the financial load for our attendees (I’m paid monthly, which is a difference cadence from most others I know, so I’m not in a good position to predict what this will mean for everyone).
But, on the other hand, it could make all the difference in the world. And there’s something about being organised in a clear, concise way that makes me happy (there are those OCD tendencies again).
After some consultation with my lovely co-ML (Municipal Liaison; event organiser for NaNoWriMo, but we don’t restrict ourselves to November), we decided to go with the new plan and see how it pans out.
Now, our monthly event plan looks something like this:
- First Saturday: Monthly Write-in
- Following Thursday: Drinkies!
- Third Friday: Creative Writing Group
- Following Thursday: Drinkies!
The respective pages have been updated. For those Brisbanites connected with us on our Facebook group, events have been set up for extra help with tracking and reminders.
I think we’re good to go. I’m excited to see how well it works, and I’m looking forward to a more even load. I might have fewer ‘free’ weekends, but I think it’ll work. And it means that I get to see my people more often, which is never a bad thing.
If any of you are in Brisbane, I hope you drop by and say hi!
January is already nearly done, and I’m only just setting myself some goals? What can I say: it has been a busy year already.
But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about what I hope to achieve this year. Already, some planning has happened and things are shifting. So let’s get down to it! What stars am I aiming for this time?
As annoying as it is, life stuff impacts on my ability to write and create the stories that are buzzing around in my head. So what are the things that I’m hoping to get done this year, and will they make my writing life easier?
The beloved and begrudged day job pays the bills and makes everything possible. I have some hopes for improvement in this area, particularly with how challenging it is right now, but I really can’t complain.
I’m in the enviable position of:
- Having a job that pays my bills
- Enjoying the job and liking the people I work with
- Being relatively secure in my job
- Qualifying for long-service leave this year. I just need to decide when and how to use it!
I’m always leaning towards new prospects and opportunities, but really, staying happy and healthy in my current position will suit me just fine for this year.
Over the past 18 months, I have reorganised my home to be more comfortable and conducive to writing. I’m most of the way through the process, so my main goals for 2015 in this area are to:
- Finish up the reorganisation, which mostly means:
- Gutting the dining room and refilling it.
- Sorting out the old office. It’s going to become a guest room or possibly a beanbag room. Or both.
- Enjoy my surroundings.
- Use my writing balcony more.
Ah, the monkey on my back, the fly in my ointment. It hasn’t been good, though I’ve been keeping my head above water (which I judge by my ability to keep going to my day job). I’m hoping to do some investigations into potentially helpful avenues, depending on cost, and will mostly keep trying to look after myself.
This is what we’re really interested in, right? What writing am I hoping to achieve this year? A tricky question, because I’m not sure if I should continue to aim high, or learn from last year and be more conservative.
I guess, at the end of the day, this is a list of things I want to achieve. So let’s start there!
My plan has always been to stop there. I’ve got the kernels of ideas for Book 5 brewing (the seeds are being planted in Book 4), but there’s not enough there to write. Yet. I don’t believe in starting blindly; I won’t write without knowing what it is I’m writing (I’ve done this before and it doesn’t work for me). It’s simply not ready.
On top of that, I have been writing Starwalker for 5 years now (!!!). I am immensely proud of that, and I’m just as in love with it now as I was when I started. But it’s time for a break. I’ve got projects piling up on my to-do list that I would love to get to, and right now, I don’t have headspace to seriously write more than one at a time.
So what does this mean? It means I’ll be putting a pin in Starwalker after Book 4 is complete. I may come back to it one day, but I’ll be taking a rest from it.
If I get the itch to play in the Starwalker realm, I may well continue building the Shorts. I have a list and an idea for most of them, and shorts are a good way to capitalise on downtime.
I may also look into publishing options. Self? Traditional? Kickstarter-funded? All good questions to consider.
I made good progress on this last year, and I want to capitalise on that this year. My long-term goal is to:
- Complete the second draft (currently about 50% done) and get to the end of the story
- Do an analysis of the draft and see how happy I am with it, and what work it needs. It might need to be broken up into multiple novel-sized chunks.
- Serialise the third draft, editing and reworking as I go.
For 2015, I want to work on the first of those bullet points. It’s going to be a big story; if current patterns hold true, I’ve got about 100,000 words left to write. This means I’m unlikely to finish it this year, but I’ll probably work on it as my NaNoWriMo project again and make a good-sized dent in the remainder.
These ebooks have been out for a while, and I’ll be honest: I’ve let them languish. I have edits I need to do to them, and new covers to apply, and new blurbs to write. I need to adjust the pricing and try to lift their market presence.
In all, it’s probably not a huge amount of work (though with marketing, it’s a bit of a black hole, so we’ll see), but I want to set aside the time and mental space to do it.
Vampire Victim Support Group
This is a lot of fun, and because they’re shorts, I’m hoping to be able to fit them in between other stuff. I’ve got a list of them roughly mapped out, and hope to expand the series over the next year. I’ve also got some big-picture ideas (the original idea was a group of loosely-connected vignettes, and I’ve started pondering ideas for the connective material), but we’ll see where that goes.
Tales from the Screw Loose
This project (otherwise known as the ‘robot brothel story’) has been lurking for a while and is almost in a state that’s ready to write. Talking with a friend about it recently, it’s easy to get enthusiastic and excited about it. It’s not going to be a short or quick project (current plan have a rough trilogy outlined), so this will take some investment. Probably a good one to serialise.
I’m not confident of my ability to get to this in 2015. The projects listed above could easily fill up the year, and I’m not in a place where I’d put this at the top of my list.
Chances are, what I’ll do is see whether I could cope with a second serial when I get to the stage of serialising Vampire Electric. That probably won’t be this year. So Screw Loose will remain on hold, for now, but not forgotten.
I’m not entirely sure what this covers. I know I talked last year about putting anthologies together, but I really don’t have the mental energy for a project like that this year. Or at least, right now. I think the list above is plenty to keep me busy; everything else is on hold. Backburners. I’ll fight the urge to get distracted by squirrels and shiny objects.
I will add that I’m hoping to be a bit more regular with posts on this blog. I let a few things languish last year, so I’m aiming to be better this year. Finish what I start, which means putting up a lot of posts currently sitting as half-finished drafts. I’m getting there, one step at a time. Watch this space!
Writing Events and Community Stuff
I’m still very active in my local writing community. And by ‘active’, I mean that I organise a bunch of events, get people together, and have a load of writing-related fun. I have no intention of changing this. My writing friends are a constant source of support, amusement, inspiration, and comfort. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
Monthly Writing Group and Write-in
That said, I am changing things up this year. The monthly events I run are successful and working, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be better. I have spread the events out over the month, sharing the load around a bit, and I’m hoping that will wind up being better for my health (previously, the two big monthly events were on the same weekend, which was a big, tiring time for me). It also spreads the cost of the events, which will help many of my attendees.
After the turnout and feedback we got last year, my co-ML (Municipal Liaison – I have a wonderful friend who helps me to organise the events) and I are in discussions about whether we will do another one this year. The main issue seems to be the cost and getting time away from family commitments. We can’t do anything about the latter, and we work to keep the prices as low as possible, but at the end of the day, if it’s not working, we need to be honest about it.
We’re looking at other ideas and options, and it’s likely that we’ll try something new and different this year. Cross your fingers for us! I’m sure it’ll be fun, if a lot of work, but it’s always worth it.
This has been a lot of fun over the past couple of years, and I’m aiming to run another one this year. I took feedback last year and have some ideas for how to change it up, so there’ll be a new setup this time. I’ve got the theme in mind and I think I know what the challenges should be. I’m hoping to make it fun for everyone who gets involved.
That’s everything! It’s a big list, now that I look at it all in one place. I’m both a little daunted and utterly ready to get going. So much to do, why waste time?
Let’s go. Let’s make 2015 better than 2014. Onwards and upwards, my friends.
I hope you’ll all join me on the journey.
Part of the Amazon is not your friend series. (Sorry for the delay – catching up on a backlog of posts here.)
I have already talked about the KDP Select program and why its exclusivity requirement is a problem for indie publishing. A big chunk of program incentive that is waved in front of an Amazon author is the KDP Select Fund, and it’s worth thinking about in its own right.
Every month, Amazon pumps hundreds of thousands of dollars into a fund, which is split amongst the KDP Select authors depending on their books’ performance (mostly linked to the lending library). This is a valuable source of income for some Amazon authors. Lately, the amount put aside in this Fund has reached up into the millions of dollars.
I chose not be part of that system and I didn’t give the Fund its own heading to complain about not getting a slice of this particular pie. That was my choice and I don’t regret it. I want to talk about the implications of this fund.
It’s a very nice incentive. I congratulate every author who has benefited from it, and it has been part of what has tempted me towards the KDP Select program.
The more I think about it, though, the more dubious I become. This Fund can’t last forever. Amazon is supplementing authors’ income, bulking out its ebook royalties and paying for borrowed books with this fund. Amazon is the only ebook venue I know of that does this (are there any others? Let me know!).
Recently, it has added the Kindle Unlimited book lending to the fund. However, there’s no indication that the subscription money earned by KU is going into this fund. It started out as just a chunk of money that Amazon offered up to authors and that’s what it still looks like.
There is no indication that the Fund is in any way self-supporting. Lending library fees don’t appear to be funding it, nor any other traceable revenue from Amazon’s ebook services. This, for me, is a big warning flag. Why? Why would they hamstring their bottom line like that? That’s a chunk of their profits they’re giving away, which seems strange for a business.
(A little side note: authors have always been paid by libraries for their books – this is a normal part of a traditional contract – so this doesn’t represent any kind of revolution. The libraries somehow figure out how to make that work, and other ebook library services (available through distributors like Smashwords) have figured out how to do it. It’s only right that authors should be paid for library lending of their work. My question is: why is Amazon supplementing it this way?)
Amazon is a business, not a charity, and don’t kid yourself that there’s anything altruistic about the Fund. It’s not a favour for its authors, nor for its readers. We need to think about it in terms of business goals. It’s clearly not there to make money, so what else is the company gaining?
You. Amazon authors. It’s an incentive to tie authors into the KDP Select program, which means more books going exclusive with Amazon, which means fewer books available in other stores. Which has knock-on effects into the book industry as a whole, all of which benefit Amazon. (See also the previous post and associated links about exclusivity.)
What happens when it no longer needs to entice authors into the program? When it has so much of the industry that the other stores can’t compete any more? That fund will dry up. When it has achieved its goal, it will have no reason to keep paying it out, so why would it?
But Amazon promised, it’s in the agreement. Right now, it is, yes, but that agreement also includes a clause that allows Amazon to change its terms at any time, with no notice or consultation. There is a clause allowing them to make a bait-and-switch.
Authors can withdraw from the program at specific, select intervals (currently, every 3 months), so they could just leave, right? But by the time Amazon no longer needs to pay for the Fund, there won’t be any/many alternatives available. We’ll have to wait until an alternative rises out of the ashes of the old, if it is still possible by that point (I’m sure there are plenty of people who have speculated on this).
I consider the Fund a temporary measure at best, a short-term tool. I can see it drying up, maybe slowly, maybe quickly, as Amazon cements its market domination and ceases to need it so much. I can see them using excuses like ‘market pressures’ or ‘business protection’ or ‘government/tax impositions’. What I am sure about is that once Amazon get the monopoly it’s pushing for and it’s no longer necessary to maintain that Fund, it’ll fall by the wayside. It just doesn’t make sense to maintain it: in business terms, that’s profit they’re giving away.
Perhaps this is a cynical view. Perhaps it won’t happen soon. And maybe it’s okay to milk the cow while the calf is young. But when someone offers me a juicy deal, I have to ask what’s in it for them, what their goals are, and what it’s going to cost me at some point.
Without the Fund, what is the KDP Select program is really giving you? Some promoted exposure? I think about the knock-on effects in the industry, the audience you’re not getting to and the bookstores that are struggling as a result, and I have to ask: is it truly worth it? Is it worth the cost down the track?