GREED: The Fine Art of Sticking It To Your Readers

As a writer, there is nothing more sacred to me than the connection between the teller of tales and those he tells them to. I write because I want to be read, and read by as many people as possible. There is, of course, a practical aspect to all of this, because to make a living at this craft requires a lot of readers. But there are far easier jobs to do which are generally a lot more lucrative, and the sharing of stories and ideas is the primary currency I crave.

Not everyone shares this philosophy. Samuel Johnson said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” and to a degree that’s solid advice, especially in a time when so many folks try to wrangle writers into writing for free in order to get “exposure.” But if cash itself is a writer’s raison d’être, their muse is a whore and there’s a good chance they’re a hack.

As a reader, I’ve always despised publishing tricks that create scarcity in order to squeeze more money out of some readers while keeping material out of most readers’ hands. For example, an expensive “exclusive limited edition” of an author’s book which includes a story that’s not in the generally available edition and won’t be available anywhere else. It’s true that this rewards devoted fans willing to spring for something special, but it also punishes devoted fans who may not be able to afford the book. “If you love me and want to read everything I write, o wonderful reader, you will buy this exclusive collectible. Otherwise, screw you.”

To be clear, I have no problem with cool collectibles. I love beautiful limited editions, all autographed and bound-in-cloth (like a real goddamned hardback) and illustrated and such. It’s the exclusivity of content that I take issue with. That’s disrespectful to your fans, the most important people in the world to a writer, the people who most want to read your work. Why cheat them of the chance?

This applies to pricing, too. While “what the market will bear” is a fine principle for corporate mercenaries, it can be a harsh metric when applied to the dynamic between writer and reader. A writer I know is writing a series of adventure novels about a popular character that I would love to have on my shelf, and support this author’s work, but the publisher prices the paperbacks at $25 and the hardbacks at $40 and I just can’t afford them. Such pricing is unnecessary; Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is fully illustrated and I published it at $12. Even allowing for licensing costs, the prices for my friend’s books err dramatically toward favoring the publisher over the reader.

The worst case of this sort of thing I have ever seen is a new book featuring a crowd of classic pulp heroes in a shared adventure, a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen kind of thing. As you all know, I love pulp and I’m innately interested in this sort of thing. The book looks to be huge and extravagant and loaded with illustrations, a gorgeous artifact for any library. But the lowest price for one of these volumes is $200. And the highest price?

$15,000.

How fucking ludicrous can you get?

I don’t begrudge the writer or publishers the extravagance of their book. If they want to sell an elite edition of it for fifteen grand, and someone wants to buy it, that’s awesome. And even the version at $200 may be worth the price for collectors if the book is beautifully (and expensively) made. But publishing it without a less expensive point of entry for the vast majority of possible readers, especially the very pulp fans this was presumably written for, is unfortunate. It also limits the potential size of the author’s fanbase to a small pool of folks willing and able to fork over a lot of cash.

When he wrote this book, did the writer do it because he loved the art of telling stories, and wanted to reach readers? Or did he just see an opportunity to squeeze money from the collectibles market? Because it really looks like the latter.

Me, I want to reach all the people I can. I want to treat my readers, and potential readers, with the sort of respect I hope to receive as a reader myself. I’d rather sell two thousand books at $12 each than a thousand at $25. I’d rather be read by a thousand people than a hundred. And I’d never participate in a stunt that kept my work from being accessible to most of the folks who might want to read it.

If your favorite book is a checkbook you may disagree.

Writers Who Kill Kittens

Don't lets the mean writer killz me...

Don’t lets the mean writer killz me…

So, I’m reading a discussion about how we should or shouldn’t let a writer’s politics affect our enjoyment of their fiction, and I see this:

“I don’t give the yuck cut of a rat for any writer’s politics. Can they tell a story that I’m going to enjoy and read over and over? Then I’ll damn well read them despite their politics. The only reason I won’t read Pournelle isn’t political, he stapled a kitten to a door. Once you start torturing cats…we’re done.”

Holy shit. Jerry Pournelle stapled a kitten to a door? That’s a horrible thing to do. What an asshole.

Oh, someone clarifies that the poor kitten was actually just in a story. Whew.

Then, the original commenter digs in: “Anyone tortures a cat in their fiction and I won’t read them again. Yeah, it was in one of Pournelle’s novels. But for it to be in one of his novels, he had to think of it.”

Good grief. I just had this argument (again) with people who think that George RR Martin is a monstrous woman-hater because terrible things happen to his female characters in books in which terrible things happen to everybody. (Never mind the fact that the women in Martin’s books are strong and fierce and smart and competent and complex…)

People, fiction is fiction. It is not real life. Depiction of terrible things is not endorsement of terrible things. Depiction of terrible things is drama. It is the fuel of fiction. The first rule of good drama is to mistreat your characters. And maybe even the occasional kitten.

Hating on a writer for what happens in their story is stupid. It’s no better than hating an actor as a person because she played a terrible person in that movie you saw and therefore must be a terrible person.

This isn’t to say that awful people don’t sometimes lace their awfulness into their work, or that they shouldn’t be taken to task over it. Some writers are racists and sexists and nazis and maybe even kitten killers. I’m not gonna defend The Turner Diaries for its very clear agenda (though I will fiercely defend its author’s right to write it any damn way he wanted to).

And if an author states vile opinions outside of their fiction which resonate with themes in their fiction, they’re inviting criticism on those terms so they’re fair game. If you want to peek inside the brains of some truly awful folks, read the blogs written by the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” groups who’ve hijacked science fiction’s Hugo Awards this year. Writers like Theodore Beale aka “Vox Day”, Tom Kratman, and John C. Wright are writers you can comfortably read knowing that they’re the very worst sort of person. Here’s some reasoned debate I saw from Kratman, on Sad Puppy Brad Torgersen’s blog, when some guy mildly disagreed with him:

Kratman

He went on like this for a while, threatening to track the guy down and hurt him. So yeah, douchebag. Sling all the brickbats.

But, in general, assuming that a writer condones terrible things because those things happen in their stories is not just simple-minded, it’s anti-art. Have some goddamned perspective, for pity’s sake. Fight the good fight, not just any possible fight. Don’t like an author’s work? That’s fine, don’t read it. But leave the poor author alone.

No kittens were harmed in the writing of this post.

Crazy Restaurateurs And The Writing Life

Batshit Crazy

You’ve probably heard about, or seen, the batshit crazy Arizona couple who went on Gordon Ramsay’s show Kitchen Nightmares and were so relentlessly, hopelessly, stupidly terrible, both as restaurateurs and as human beings, that Ramsay, for the first time, wound up simply throwing in the towel and walking away. This was followed by an epic psychotic meltdown by the couple on Facebook.

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I’ve never seen this show, as I usually ignore reality shows of any sort, but curiosity got the better of me today and I watched the segment on YouTube. And folks, this is some juicy viewing, I tell ya. Being around people like this in real life would be horrendous; I wouldn’t be surprised if you got ulcers inside of fifteen minutes. I can’t believe Ramsay put up with them as long as he did. But watching them on this show, knowing that they are completely ruining their own business once and for all and reaping what they sow, is schadenfreude of the most delicious sort.

So what does this have to do with the writing life? Two things.

First, if you want to be a writer (or artist of any sort, really), you need to be able to take criticism. It can be tough to put aside your ego and listen to someone saying nit-picky or even awful things about the wonderful work you struggled so hard to birth into the world out of your very essence…but if you can’t do that, you can’t grow, and likely you’ll start shitty and stay shitty. Even if you disagree with the person offering criticism, you should honor their opinion and take it with grace. And unless their points are completely, patently stupid, you owe it to yourself to actually consider them before disregarding them. Nobody is perfect, and armoring yourself in ego or defensiveness will stunt your growth as an artist and a human being, just as we see in the video above.

Second, this video is a perfect example of just one of the many reasons why it’s a bad idea for authors to agree to read unpublished material by folks they don’t know. I’ve written about this before, rather colorfully and more comprehensively, and these folks are just some bloody kitchen knives short of the worst case scenario for this sort of thing. People you don’t know may be good writers or bad writers (odds tilt dramatically toward the latter), but they may also be neurotic, obsessive, crazy, or even violent. You just don’t know. And, as I wrote in the blog post linked above, when a lot of folks ask for you to critique them, what they’re really doing is asking for your praise. They don’t want actual critique. And they may react badly if you give it to them.

That was exactly what happened with Gordon Ramsay and these assholes. They had already damaged their reputation and business, and they invited him not to let him help them fix their restaurant  but to come in and use his show to give them praise so that they could be vindicated by an authority on TV. Then, blindly evil fucks that they are, they reacted horribly to his critique and dug themselves even deeper.

Good for them. Nobody deserves such a fate more than they do, except perhaps current GOP leadership.

For more on this, please do read “Why I Will NOT Read Your Stuff“. I’m pretty pleased with that post, but I’m open to criticism on it.

Are Big Publishers Doing Their Jobs?

Writer Jami Gold has a provocative post on her blog about the fact that big publishers, often seen as the “gatekeepers” of literary quality, are more and more willing to allow books to appear under their auspices without proper quality control. “Who cares about quality writing anymore?” she asks, and uses as an example a current big release from Vintage Books which has been published in terrible need of a skilled editor’s guidance.

As she puts it in a comment below the post, “If publishers aren’t doing promotion or marketing, and now they aren’t doing editing and are ruining their reputation, what do they offer to writers that they can’t accomplish on their own?”

And there’s something to that.  Sloppy editing, celebrity books of hideous quality (contracted for ginormous amounts of money that could better be spent on worthy authors), ebooks released with major formatting errors, a tunnel vision mentality that leads them to release tons of the same ol’ same ol’ and not take risks…

Low or no advances. No promotional support. Lackluster editing. Fewer and fewer actual distribution channels and bookstores. And, of course, an institutionalized disdain for the authors, except those few who have become brand names.

If publishers are going to survive the Ebook Apocalypse, they really need to get their heads on straight and start thinking about what they can offer the folks who actually write their books, and how they can stay worthy of the trust that some people still have in them as gatekeepers. Because at the moment, they’re looking kinda bush league, while many capable self-publishers are looking more and more like the real deal.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Third Doc Wilde Adventure Will Be…

In my post about this year’s Doc Wilde relaunch, I told you that Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom would be re-released in its deluxe improved edition in June, Doc Wilde and The Mad Skull would follow in August/September, and the third book, to be named later, would follow in November.

I’m ready to give you the third title…

Doc Wilde and The Dance of the Werewolf!!!

 I’d originally planned this to be the second book in the series, and wrote a chunk of it, but it was vetoed by my editor as “too scary.” And, indeed, it is a darker, bloodier tale than the first book (even considering Frogs of Doom’s Lovecraftian horrors), exactly as I intended it to be. I mean, it’s werewolves. It should be scary.

I wondered if I’d ever actually be allowed by Putnam to publish the book without toning down the scares and neutering it.

Well, now I get to write the book I want to write, and you get to read it.

How A Writer Can Easily Make His Own Book Covers

Lately I’ve been trumpeting what I call the “Ebook Apocalypse” and detailing why I think it’s great for readers, writers, even bookstores…basically everybody but big publishers (though they have it within their ability, if not mindset, to seize the day and benefit too). Indeed, as I was thrilled to announce a few days ago, I’m no longer publishing with Penguin/Putnam and will be relaunching my Doc Wilde adventure series on my own later this year.

I already have two self-published ebooks for sale (my folksy supernatural tale “Dead Folks” and my exploration of nature, civilization, and the ecological spirit “Wild Soul,” both just 99¢), and publishing them was easy. Authors can do this. They don’t need someone to do it for them. If you’re smart enough to write a book, you’re smart enough to publish it yourself. (But please, in the names of all the sweet muses, have your work properly edited. Don’t be one of those assholes who publishes sub-literate diarrhea just because you can.)

Even covers are easy (though I have seen established writers put up books with terrible covers though they should know better). Continue reading