Tidbits

Mar. 27th, 2014 09:41 pm
Various tidbits that we will pretend make a post!

1. I spent most of last week and weekend at ICFA, the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, which for many people is an academic conference offering important insights about fantasy and the arts (literature, film, television, apparently tarot cards) and for me is a time to have a nice drink by the pool. Various personal issues and getting extremely sick prevented me from enjoying this conference as much as I would have liked, but I did have a chance to do a reading with Eugene Fischer and Dennis Danvers By a complete coincidence, we had all managed to choose stories on a similar theme: horror stories about the process of creating story. And by horror, the excerpt from Eugene's novella strongly suggested that we are all going to die, Dennis' story chatted about a puppy strangler – and by this, I mean, someone who strangles puppies, and my story had a house built from the teeth of small children. All very cheerful for a Saturday morning, though the puppy strangler story had us all collapsing with laughter. I think you have to read it to understand.

Special thanks to Julia Rios and Keffy Kehrli for helping me out during the conference.

2. Alas, attending ICFA meant I missed going to Megacon – and seeing many of you – but it looks like next year the events are on separate weekends. I'll keep my fingers crossed that golf is on a separate week.

3. While I was at ICFA I did get various tidbits of good news, including:

The release of Mythic Delirium 0.4, April-June 2014, available from Weightless Books here, which contains my poem, "The Silver Comb." (If you check, you will also see that it lists my name right under Jane Yolen, which is pretty awesomely cool.)

The news that Upper Rubber Boot Books will be reprinting my short story, "Twittering the Stars," as part of their new upcoming SOLES series.

I'm particularly delighted by this second bit since prior to this, although "Twittering the Stars" was hands down my most widely and best reviewed story (well over 40 positive reviews the last time I checked) it was also only available in an anthology that briefly popped up in bookstores and then mostly vanished, although the ebook is still available, which in turn meant that it was also one of my least read stories. I've been hoping for a chance to have it released into the wild again, so this is pretty awesome.

I'll also just note that Upper Rubber Boot Books offers a lovely selection of poetry books.

4. And while I was at ICFA and recovering from ICFA, Tor.com blogging continued! Two more posts on Mary Poppins, here and here, and also a second post chatting about Once Upon a Time and Oz here where I am VERY DISTURBED about the biological implications.

The Once Upon a Time Oz posts are not going to be a weekly event, primarily because so many parts of the show leave me wanting to throw things at the television or slam my head against something, and this sort of emotional reaction is a) not appreciated by the cats, who, as they have noted, do not deserve to have their hard-earned cat naps disturbed by this sort of thing and b) not really helped by friendly contact from the ABC publicity department (though I appreciate the effort.)

5. But regarding the upcoming Game of Thrones season four: yes, I do plan to snark individual episodes here, but I may be a bit delayed depending upon when exactly the new computer arrives.
So quite a few folks pointed me to this screed from Alexis Madrigal, an online editor at the Atlantic, written in response to this annoyed post by Nate Thayer. Both the original post and the response have garnered a lot of attention, although I agree with the commentators on the post that the response is less about current pay rates at the Atlantic and more about "What the hell is going on at the Atlantic?"

Oh well. At least they don't employ David Brooks.

Aaaaaaaaaaaanyway, what caught my attention was not so much the discussion of financial issues, but something pretty much buried deep down in the article: "Any time I imagine the glamorous world of writing for The Atlantic or The New Yorker or Harper's in 1968 or 1978, I remember that most journalists were going to homecoming football games and writing about the king and queen."

Not many people know this, but I started out as a sports writer.

Truth.

My first paid, professional pieces were for the local paper, reporting on the the high school soocer team. It was pretty cool -- I got to go around on the bus with the team and say that I wrote for the paper AND I got paid. My mother still has the articles somewhere.

Here's what the Atlantic's article missed entirely: I wasn't a journalist. I did exactly no investigation of the high school soccer team (not that I had much to investigate) or anything else. The later occasional (very occasional) articles I did for the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel weren't much different: short fluff pieces describing some places around South Florida. I never entered a journalism program, and although I certainly applied for multiple positions at various magazines in my senior year of college, these were all for editing positions, not staff writing experiences.

Because I was fully aware that what I was doing wasn't journalism. It barely counted as reporting. It was a cheap way for the local paper to get some local things covered while giving all of us writing creds to help us get into college. Any actual investigation of our school was done by the New York Times (the daughter of the education editor for The New York Times attended our school, so we got a bit more national attention than probably justified, and no, this has nothing to do with my current occasional screeds against the publication; I didn't know her at all although Facebook continues to insist that I did. I hate Facebook. Moving on.)

And here's the dirty little secret: contrary to what the Atlantic's editor is suggesting, this is exactly how many local papers got those homecoming king/queen articles going. Sure, sometimes they hired people (and high school students) hoping to start the fast track to journalism. And sometimes they hired people just thrilled to get their names in the paper for whatever reason, or who wanted to say, "Well, I occasionally write for the Y" or who were told by their high school counselors to get their acts together and have something besides "piano" on their college applications -- preferably something involving an organization.

Am I saying I got nothing out of that? Not at all. I learned how to type up my little articles and send them in and learn early on that even local editors can be ruthless with your limited copy if they think a nice ad about a furniture store will look better there. I learned early on that often, other things -- like my job at the library -- will pay better than writing gigs, but you have to pay taxes anyway. I learned the very basics of writing pitches, which later helped me write a few things for newspapers later. Listing that on my college applications probably helped me skip my senior year of high school (a definite plus) and was later of considerable use in my first query letters to larger newspapers and magazines and led to some decently paid freelance work which helped pay the bills. (And some very irritating freelance work, but we'll skip that for now.) And I could always tell myself that yes, I'd been published -- when I was fourteen. (Well, technically when I was seven, but very, very few people apart from my grandfather really counted that one.)

And I got paid.

I don't claim to know where U.S. journalism is going. It's got its decidedly weak spots (pretty much all of the coverage of Hugo Chavez' death has been just awful), though longer magazine articles can still provide something worth reading. (Also from the New Yorker: coverage of a Congo literary festival -- much shorter than the piece I linked to above and The Borowitz Report. Also, no David Brooks.) The Tribune Company is reportedly trying to sell off its newspapers to focus on television. So who knows? But as a writer, I am perhaps not surprisingly hoping that pay continues to be a part of real journalism, at least.
Curious question:

Why, in nearly every discussion of the death/survival of brick and mortar bookstores, does Books A Million never come up?

Seriously. It's like we have either Barnes and Noble and struggling independent bookstores or nothing, always followed by worried observations that Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores are closing their doors. And nothing about the entity in between. And yes, I'm as guilty of this as anyone. And yes, the concerns about Barnes and Noble, based on their fiscal reports, seem valid.

But in 2012, Books a Million, according to their annual report added retail outlets. They took a fiscal loss for the year, but the report also adds that as a result of the expansion, they had their strongest holiday season ever, and their expectations for 2013 remain strong.

Now, let me be clear here: Books A Million is a lot smaller than Barnes and Noble is, and although I haven't seen any royalty reports from anyone, this strongly suggests that book sales through Books A Million are thus a lot smaller than sales from Barnes and Noble (let alone Amazon or even for some authors Target and Walmart). And I don't see, nor does this annual report suggest, that Books A Million has any plans to reach the size of Barnes and Noble or the late lamented Borders, and their annual report notes that they haven't paid stockholder dividends for the last few quarters. And annual reports by nature tend to at least try to give an optimistic spin on events.

But still, here you have it: a brick and mortar bookstore that is adding locations and unlike Barnes and Noble reported a healthy holiday season. Which almost nobody is talking about. I don't know what Books a Million is doing right (I didn't bother to comb through the entire annual report) and I have no idea what their position will be later this year. I do note they are selling Nooks, suggesting that they, too, have a lot of concerns about Amazon's dominance in the ebook market. But they are there, and growing, and I think they should be brought into the discussion.
Generally speaking I try to avoid the self-publishing/traditional publishing debate like the plague, on the grounds that when it comes to self-publishing I really don't know what I'm talking about, except to note that everyone I know who has done well with self-publishing (i.e., earned actual money) has done so the old-fashioned way: with an incredible amount of hard work. It absolutely can be done, no question, but it absolutely requires lots of work, also no question, either through getting your name known in the first place and then self-publishing your backlist, or starting out as an unknown and getting your name known. Anyway.

But when this many people (and by "people" I mean in part "The New York Times," assuming that counts as "people" and not "frequently clueless robots") start talking about a problematic self-publishing enterprise owned by no less than Simon and Schuster, and previously Penguin, I sit up and feel the need to spread the word. Here's David Gaughran, breaking down the numbers for you and self published author Jennifer Powell with some additional links.

Important note: no, not everyone is or should be publishing in the hopes of making money. Sure, that can be one reason, but for many people, the idea is just to get your work out there, to share whatever you've created with the rest of the planet. And that's fine. But I don't think that anyone should be publishing in the hopes of losing money either.
For those who have been watching the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against five of the big six publishers (and now we can all guess why Harcourt, Brace wasn't also thrown into that mix), Penguin and Macmillan have now released their official legal responses. You can read a summary here, which also contains links to the full pdf files from Penguin and Macmillan.

One major, non-legal question that arises out of this: wait, you get a free enhanced ebook of Winnie-the-Pooh with the purchase of every iPad? How did I miss this? I also enjoyed Penguin's thundering "books are not widgets," which, yes. Also, apparently when a major publishing house hires a new CEO, the other CEOs have a big and expensive party for him. I am only saddened that neither Penguin nor the Department of Justice has given us the dinner menu. And sadly, it seems that sometimes Macmillan got left out the parties and nobody explains why. Nobody. What sort of investigation is this where we don't get the gossip? Was this because of a shellfish allergy?

Snark aside, this will be interesting to watch.
As most of you know, the U.S. Department of Justice instituted a lawsuit against five of the Big Six publishers and Apple, accusing them of price-fixing/colluding when they chose to set up an agency price model to sell ebooks. Three of the publishers agreed to settle.

Here is a very detailed response to the settlement from one literary agent, which also contains some very interesting statistics about ebook pricing. Long, but worth a look.
Popping out to note that you have just days to sign up for the debut stories of Daily Science Fiction, which in September will be showcasing the work of such luminaries as Hugo Award winning author Tim Pratt, Campbell Award winning author Mary Robinette Kowal, Cat Rambo, Lavie Tidhar, and more. And, er, me, with a small strange story named "Sparks." (Still working on that whole title thing!) I am not at all sure what I am doing in this sort of company – I'm actually a bit freaked out, especially since I'm coming after these people so expectations are going to be high.

You will be able to read the stories in one of the two ways: either in a daily email (thus inspiring the title), or, a week later, on the website. I'm suggesting email; that way, you don't have to wait, even though I'll be throwing up links once the story is on their website.

Oh, and despite the title, the zine will be showcasing fantasy as well, as well as pieces like "Sparks" that don't exactly fit in either category.

Also, I realize that August has been pretty much a complete loss as far as blogging (and, well, writing) has been concerned, what with cons, fatigue, major computer issues and the like. I have a few other things to deal with this week, but hopefully I'll be able to return to a more normal blogging routine come September.
[profile] newbabel chats about his experiences with publishing here.

In unrelated alarming news, right after the loss of the left cursor key, my h key seems to be having difficulties. I really don't feel like replacing the keyboard on this computer, but nothing else, saving beating computer manufacturers on the head, seems to be coming to mind as a long term a response. (I'd love to try writing without an "h" but I'm not sure that would actually work - look how many words in this post alone need an "h." Such a little letter, h, so quiet, so supportive, so hushed when it makes its own appearance not helping to transform other sounds. You'd think it would be delighted to vanish on a little vacation and remain unnoticed. But apparently not.)
If you haven't heard, Amazon and Macmillan have gone to war, with the unfortunate result, for readers and writers caught in the middle, that you can't buy Macmillan's books on Amazon.com, and writers can't sell Macmillan's books on Amazon.com. Macmillan is the large parent company that owns the huge presses of St. Martin's Press, Henry Holt and Co., Tor (science fiction), Forge (mostly mystery but other stuff as well), my beloved Scientific American and several other publishers. They are Big Guys. Amazon.com is the world's largest online bookseller, selling multiple other items as well.

My mixed reader/writer response )

Sigh

Aug. 4th, 2009 06:20 pm
But I find myself impelled to chat about the table of contents for The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF. As many others have pointed out, this supposedly mindblowing book does not have one story in it by a woman, or a person of color. Or Isaac Asimov. ([profile] tchernabyelo has an excellent post suggesting that the Table of Contents even does a disservice to white male writers.)

I was going to stay silent on this, really, I was. I suck at these sorts of conversations. And then I remembered three more conversations/blog posts I've been in/read about just this week that chatted about the perception that men read/write science fiction and women read/write fantasy. Never mind that a couple of the major bestselling fantasy writers out there have been men (Tolkien, Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, Ted Williams.) (Or, amusingly enough, that it was two guys who told me to read Twilight. I'm still working on forgiving them for this.) Never mind that some of the major bestselling and ground breaking science fiction writers have been women (Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, Nancy Kress, far more) Never mind that the boundary between the two fields is extremely questionable to begin with and many works of speculative fiction contain elements of both, and many writers write in both fields.

No, what's upsetting me is the robots.

When I was a kid, I had no taste in books whatsoever. None. For crying out loud, I read Enid Blyton and Bobbsey Twin books. Yes, it was that bad. My horrified parents and grandfather tried to help by sneaking in decent books, some of which I did like/love. Two things, though, could automatically make any book ABSOLUTELY GREAT:

Robots.
Dinosaurs.

(Alas, no one ever wrote the ultimate book for me: a book where all the dinosaurs were secretly robots and trampled all over schools and found pirate treasure and kidnapped criminals. I did tell you I had no taste as a kid, right? Moving on.)

I loved robot books. Good, bad, indifferent – it really didn't matter; if it had a robot in it, I read it. I also watched Star Trek and played Star Wars with all of my friends, all of whom wanted to be Han Solo because, let's face it, Han had an ACTUAL spaceship and in the last two movies redeemed himself by also having robots.

Fantasy, at the time, was a decidedly secondary love. Yes, I loved Oz and Narnia and the Nesbitt books. But I wanted robots. And come to think of it, Oz actually had a robot (Tik-tok, the mechanical man who needs to be wound up). No wonder I loved Oz. Talking animals AND ROBOTS. But I digress.

In case it hasn't been clear, I'm a girl.

And each and every time someone says something like this:

" That probably has something to do with my concept of "mind-blowing". Women are every bit as capable of writing mindblowing sf as men are, but with women the stories concentrate far more on people, life, society and not the hard-scientific concepts I was looking for."

I want to respond with, "BUT, ROBOTS!"

I mean, I could dispute this by chatting about Connie Willis and Ursula LeGuin and Nancy Kress, or about how the phrase mindblowing sf does not necessarily have to exclude a focus on people, life and society, or how much of the very best science fiction focuses on how hard scientific concepts change people, life and society (and robots!). I could note that this just again perpetuates the ingrained and frustrating fallacy that not only sees science fiction and fantasy as two opposing genres (even though they're continually shelved together in bookstores and libraries), so ingrained that even someone like this particular anthologist/editor, who has focused on and published female writers before, finds himself repeating it.

Instead, I'll just say it again:

I love robots. Really, really, love robots.

Even the ones that don't look like dinosaurs.
Amazon.com deletes purchased copies of Orwell's books from reader's Kindles.

Ok, first of all, this publisher is dumb, and by dumb, I mean, really, really serious dumb. One main takeaway lesson from Readercon is that people there loved their Kindles, wanted everybody else to have a Kindle, did not understand why I did not have a Kindle, and planned to buy all of their books on the Kindle and buy everybody else's books on Kindles. My mother is equally gung ho about her Sony e-reader ("look at all the books I have on it!") leaving me feeling as if I am the only person still craving the marvelous touch of paper. If publishers can offer electronic reader editions of books, they should - otherwise they are missing a large, growing and fervent market.

But dumb though this publisher is, I'm equally concerned about Amazon's move here. When I buy a book, it's because I want to own the book. If I didn't want to own the book, I'd just head to the library. It's bad enough that I can't trade Kindle editions in at a marvelous old used bookstore and then spend time wandering through those stacks looking for books I can spend my credit on (I love used bookstores) although I'll admit that since for me giving up books is kinda like pulling off a fingernail I probably wouldn't have that desire for 99% of whatever I bought on the Kindle I don't even own.

But to buy a book in whatever format and then have the bookstore come in and steal it away from me....

I love paper. Did I mention, loving the marvelous touch of paper?

Update: In the comments, [profile] lordsnotrag notes that the books in question were unauthorized texts that somehow slipped through Amazon's system, and Amazon was probably attempting to hold off a lawsuit from the actual rights holders. Which begs the question of how did an unauthorized text jump through Amazon's system in the first place, and also, why didn't Amazon send a quick email to purchasers of this text explaining that this was an unauthorized copy rather than simply deleting it?

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