Aug 28, 2012

The Odd Insecurity of Tradition

It's strange, the things that randomly occur to you when you step out of the middle of an emotional conflict. For going on [redacted] years now of actively engaging in the delightful melee of publishing (I won't whip out my literary measuring stick, such activities seem so very pointless, don't they?), I've watched as the social tides of verbal battery have shifted thither and yon, with neither side giving - or gaining - much ground.

That is, if you analyze simply the intangible outcome of their philosophical campaigns. The reality - as it so often proves to be - is another tale altogether.

I've watched as industry insiders flocked to Amazon and left the occasional 1 star review with the critical comments: "Would've enjoyed this book more if it had only had a good editor. This is why I don't like picking up self-published books." Honestly. They really ought to figure out a better approach - if only they had access to people who could write creatively! But nevertheless, their efforts to corral all self-published authors into the descriptive of "young, brash, impatient writers who just need to learn a thing or two about the industry they claim to love so well" has done little to diminish the ground gained by self published authors. The number of authors successfully making a business of their efforts is increasing steadily, in spite of the general cursings from industry traditionalists.

At the same time, I've seen many attempts to demonize the mainstream old schoolers, with implications of finance over substance, heartless, cold wretches of kings choking on the crusts left by their once invulnerable processes of alchemical transformations. And to a certain degree, they've done precious little to prove these accusations false. Attempts to define themselves as Cultural Gatekeepers and Protectors of Artistic Purity don't do much to endear themselves to their reader base. Nor, truth be told, to their author base.

The criticisms of one group by the other have only escalated - the internet and ebooks have simplified the publishing process, and the economy has both given encouragement to writers to write as it has urged editors to edit, and artists to... well... do that art stuff. Possibility has met with desire to create spectacular work, and the efficiency of delivery has placed millions of books into the hands of a generous public.

Has traditional publishing been challenged by this? Well, yes. Of course it has. There a millions of new books out in the market, giving readers millions of new choices, and, yes, that means the "TradPub" industry has to now share the stage with thousands of independent publishers and previously unknown authors. For a previously struggling industry, this can only make their blood run cold. And what are they willing to do to keep their hands on the money coming in.... well, what wouldn't they be willing to do? People are dependent upon that revenue - distribution agreements, printing contracts, marketing, and on and on. It's a whole web of interacting money changing hands, and now, not only are they not making the money they once did, now they're losing more because so many new authors are getting in the way of them and their money.

Really now! The nerve of those independent authors!

So, they're scared. They're a big, bloaty wildebeest, trying to figure out why it's so hot on the savanna. A little twitchy, a little malnourished, and that oasis is looking a bit more like a mirage with every passing minute. Ooh, that piece of grass moved a little bit. Is that a lion? Oh my god, it's a Lion! AND IT'S GONNA EAT ME! RUN!! RUN!! STAMPEEEEDDDEEEE!!! Oh. Oh, wait, no. No, that was just a piece of grass. Stupid grass. I'd eat you but you're really dry and I'm really thirsty.  But this grass over here likes me. It wouldn't tease me by making me think it's a lion and freak me out so bad that I'd start a stampede and run over my best friend Terrence. (yes. Terrence the Wildebeest. Back off, dude.) See? You're much nicer grass. You look kind of tasty. Especially that bit near the bottom that looks like round, deep pools of amber, resting atop a row of sharp, glistening teeth OH MY GOD YOU'RE REALLY A LION AND NOW YOU HAVE ME BY THE THROAT AND I'M ONE DEAD WILDEBEEST DAMN IT...OH THE HUGE MANATEE... [dies]

Okay, Mutual of Omaha time is past, let's move on.

So, everyone's on edge. The American economy has as many issues as Sports Illustrated (sans Swimsuit Issue) and people are acting a bit like those drowny folks at the end of Titanic, thus it's a wee bit scary. Much nicer over here, watching from a safe distance. Just lots of well-dressed folks splashing about, trying to find a bit of flotsam to cling to, while the cold water slowly drives the warmth from their bones.

(Jeez, Ren, way to put a positive spin on that analogy.)

Okay, so here's a nicer uptick to wrap things up. Look, everyone, it's a really big industry. A lot of people are remembering - or discovering - how much they love books. A lot of people don't. Sales overall will continue - or may continue - to climb, but there are both new authors and new readers, so the gains may be only marginal. There are the added distractions and storytelling constructs of Supercable TV, the Internet, Video Games... so either the Gatekeepers of Creative Traditionalism and the Revolutionaries of the New Literary Frontier can find a way to work together, or they will continue to find new and delightful ways to tear one another apart, leaving only the most stubborn and flexible ones surviving.

You think it's going to end up another way? Then clearly you haven't been reading your history books. The inflexible mass always fails. Always. Dinosaurs? Rome? You cling too hard to "the way it's always been", and sooner or later, you're history as well. Then the little cavemen who invented tools and fire knock your playhouses down, steal all your toys, and a few million years later we're pumping you into our gas tanks or dressing up like your senators in our frat parties. Adapt or die.

Or, the alternative is to just hang out and keep clicking your heels, secure in the knowledge that the magic was in you the whole time.

And don't worry. I'm sure the next Emerald City will be a bit nicer.

Aug 21, 2012

Silence was a Statement

I think I've done a fair job of keeping North American political discussions off my blog - I've tried to keep the focus on a roadmap of my endeavors as a self-publishing author, and I've left my personal views on things like religion, politics and society for my books. Especially due to the volume and tone of the current political climate in the United States, it's become increasingly tumultuous - downright violent, or getting fairly close to it.

Up to now, I've kept my statements to more of the sense of "hey, let's try and remember how human beings discuss things, and stop from becoming poop-throwing monkey heads" and avoid dipping into the topics of the debates themselves.

I do this for several reasons - mainly, no matter how smart you think your opinion may be, there's going to be at least one person out there who will try to skin you and wear your flesh as a suit because of it. But also because I find the majority of the debates going on more like the fights that break out in a game of hockey. Basically, they're entertaining as hell, but in the end you're not actually winning any points that way.

I've been asked my general political leaning (most people think I default to Democrat or Liberal, which is not the case) - - but when I tell them my position on the "political spectrum", there is much misconception, I find, in the reactions I receive.

See, I'd categorize myself as an Aggressive Moderate.

Yeah- - that look - the one you have on your face right now - that's what I'm talking about. A common misconception of "moderate" is that it's the big group of people who can't make up their mind, or that they're the ones most lacking in conviction. This cannot be further from the truth.

A general fallacy in modern politics is that there are two sides to each debate. On every news program, on most blogs and so forth, all political discourse invariably breaks down into a war of words between "us" and "them." It's like the old joke about putting a dozen people into a room. They usually only agree on one thing, and that's the one dude in the room that none of them can stand. And from that Ultimate Opposition, each camp splits the chasm wider and wider by trying to press the other camp into as small a defining space as they can.

Let me give you an example:

Abortion has been a hot debate for some time (and looks to be going for a revival), and the two most vocal groups define themselves as "Pro Life" and "Pro Choice". Just take a moment to look at those camp titles. On the surface, how could anyone truly oppose either one? We both support the idea of living, and we all like being able to choose - - - so why are they truly opposing camps? To understand that, look at the way they define each other. The "Pro Life" group looks at the Pro Choice people and implies that they are baby killers, people with loose morals and radical "I spit in the eyes of God" heathens - I heard someone call them "Terrorists" the other day. Meanwhile, the "Pro Choice" people point at the ProLifers and call them Nazis, Fascists, antiquated misogynists from the dark ages of social reform.

Now, honestly - there might just be some elements of truth on both sides, but - - - as an aggressive moderate, I suspect the Big Truth lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe you can have a love of human life and still demand the constitutional protection from being told what medical procedures you can or cannot have?

Gun control is also a funny debate (and "funny" I mean very serious but not handled particularly well), but maybe we can talk about that another time.

You see, that's not where the debate goes. No one wants to give an inch of ground, so the two groups dig in their heels and demand the other side's surrender. Neither group wants to try to meet in the middle, suspecting (potentially for good reason, but honestly, who knows?) that the other side will see their flexibility as weakness and go on the full offensive.

And I see this same situation play out across the board - constitutional law, budget debates, foreign policy, tax reform, religion, publishing (traditional versus self-publishing) and on and on and on.

I'm going to share with you the challenge I give myself, every day: if you're watching the news, listening to a social debate, discussing whether or not the latest Batman movie was any good - - whatever it might be - - pause in your typical rush to slap down your own personal two cents, and ask yourself what the OTHER person's opinion REALLY is, look at what your intuitively contradicting opinion is, and find the place in the middle, where both opinions meet. Not every debate has to be peanut butter versus jelly. Sometimes, the two go together much better than we imagined they might.

My favorite analogy for this is how we need two eyes, two ears, two feet, and so on in order to exist as human beings - - at least, if we want depth perception, auditory directional sense, good balance and that sort of thing. The common human being was designed for balance - and while it's just fine that we as a nation have more than one general idea on how things ought to be done, the purpose of that duality is to find a means by which all our people can be cared for, so that the rising waters lift all boats.

We have to find ways to work together. This doesn't mean surrendering our ideals or our principles - it means finding the commonality between us that will allow us to work together for the goals we all share. Or, to quote Benjamin Franklin, we must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately.

THIS, I believe, is why the founding fathers of the United States of America urged a separation of "Church and State" - because we're never all going to completely agree on one; but we can at least try and come together on the other.

Let's change the narrative, everyone.

New Wine in New Skins

Okay, so on the one hand, they say you can't judge a book by its cover, but we generally do. They also say "beauty is only skin deep", and it isn't always so. Ah, sweet conundrums of the universe, how you do love your games!

So anyway, that's my short way of going into the fact that I've re-skinned the Chronicles of Aesirium. I did the original covers over a year ago, and, to be honest, they weren't feeling as fresh as I would've liked.

Thus, with the help of my dear friend, author and artist Jen Ashton, I've got 6 new covers for my series. I've done a bit of editing on the inside, as well - there were a few things that'd been bugging me, and it was time to clear a few things out, as well as synching all the volumes up nice and tidy in Amazon's database. A week-long wrestling match came up with the new editions, the last of which went active this morning.

Reaper's Return - book 1 - has already picked up in sales just since its new cover and interior went live on Friday. So this is a nice thing. If sales pick up across the whole series, I'll go next over to Createspace and update the paperback editions, as well, though I'm considering having maps drawn up, maybe some interior art. All part of the plan, my friends.

I also talked to an old friend of mine from ECCC about doing some new artwork for the series - been wanting to do something special for this upcoming SteamCon, since I'm going to be attending - I'll keep you posted here.

Also, a new project is on the radar - - wrapping up a couple more short stories and trying to get to a stopping point on the children's book I've been writing with my daughter (we may push back in order to get the art we want, but it's still in production), so while this may seem on the surface to have been a less productive year than 2011 in terms of actual novel count, it's actually kind of crazy, the number of things I've actually been doing.

Granted, a lot of that has been through ghost writing, but I'm not going to hate having work. And it's nice to say that I've got more than 45 published works to my credit, even if more than two-thirds of those are under a different name.

At the same time, it reminds me of that old saying - if you find a way to get paid for doing what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. And, with that, I need to get back to it. Hope your day is amazing!

Aug 14, 2012

Still Kicking

A lot of debate about whether or not bookstores have been killed by the digital movement, and it seems as if the conversation is at last beginning to move away from trying to figure out whose fault it is, whether or not digital books are here to stay, or the usual OhMyGodTheWorldAsWeKnowItIsComingToAnEnd... And, with any luck, this is the sort of conversation which will one day take center stage.

The thing is, media drives business, and business drives media. How? Supply and demand, baby. Suppliers are always looking for more cost-effective ways to deliver their goods, and the consumers are more and more looking for the best and most efficient way to get what they want. People like paper books, so they can order them quickly (if they're in a rush), or go to the nearest bookstore (if they like to leave the house from time to time). People also like digital books, because they're (usually) less expensive - easier to rationalize picking up new and independent authors - and, I mean, come on, now - you get them IMMEDIATELY.

But, yes. People will always still like paper books. Just like people still like classic cars and record players. But to deny that new media has offered up new options, new mediums; to hold off on looking into making your work accessible to digital formats, and that sort of thing? Well, you're just shooting yourself in the foot - I've been through the 8-track/record/cassette/DAT/CD/MP3 movement, and also the Beta/VHS/Laserdisc/DVD/HDDVD/Blu-Ray march, and....well, things change. Sometimes, they change very quickly.

What they rarely do is change BACK.

So, anyway, here are the links I was looking into which inspired this mini-blog. Check them out, they're both very good reads.

The full commentary can be found here, a really thought-provoking and concise breakdown can be found also here.

Aug 1, 2012

Self-Pub...12 things to consider

I get this question a lot - "Ren, I'm writing a book, but I don't know if I should self-publish or hold out for being published..."

I usually cobble together some sort of answer based on what I know of them, or we just chat about the pros and cons about both paths, but I came across Rachel Thompson's "12 Most Relevant Reasons You Should Self-Publish", which nicely wraps it all up in a lovely bow. So here it is, sharing it from me to you.

She lists most of the very considerations I thought about - many of which I was doing without even realizing what I was doing. Kinda wish I'd come across wisdom like this 2 years ago....but then, given so many of the changes to the industry, I guess it wouldn't have been so relevant then.

And who knows how relevant it'll be in two years more. Exciting times, regardless.

Anyway, without any further ado, go take a look at her list. Awesome material. Enjoy!