Briannah Donolo Goes Viral — As We Always Knew She Would

So I came to my blog today to find a lot of views. Was my piece about Amazon negotiations that fascinating?

Nope. (Well okay, it was a bit fascinating, but not that much.) They were searching out young singer Briannah Donolo, a few of whose music videos I’ve put up here, and the group included record company people. What had Briannah done? Sung the hay out of the U.S. and Canadian anthems at a recent Canadiens-Bruins hockey game apparently. (See below.) The performance has gone viral, as in global.

Is my family surprised? Having heard that voice from back when she was a little thing, no. We knew it was only a matter of time. Congrats to Briannah, and for everybody else, enjoy:

 

 

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Amazon Gives In

Every few years, giant we’re-selling-parts-of-the-moon-next conglomerate Amazon decides whether it’s going to keep selling books (a mere 7% of its revenues,) and when it decides, so far, that it’s going to do so, it negotiates sales terms contracts with the Big 5 global conglomerates that dominate U.S. publishing, among other presses. (It doesn’t have to negotiate anything with the self-published authors since they agreed to a contract that states that Amazon can change their terms, including the monetary ones, whenever it wants.)

The sales terms do not include just what prices publishers will sell print books to Amazon for or price e-books with Amazon at, but also how much Amazon gets of each sale as its retailer cut, and how much additional monies Amazon gets of each sale in “developmental marketing” fees. Those are the fees that Amazon charges for search rhythm algorithims, search inside this book features, special screen displays, recommendations, etc., that all help books sell on Amazon and make it easy for people to find them. Amazon has been increasing the number of fees it demands the publishers pay to sell with Amazon in the contracts, squeezing the publishers for more revenue to feed its enormous business acquisitions engine. (Amazon gives most of these services away for free to self-pub authors, but it has been adjusting its cut and charging some fees to them.)

This has been particularly hard on small presses, for whom the balance between the costs of doing business with Amazon and making it up in cheap bulk sales they depend on from Amazon is very precarious. But it’s of concern for the big publishers as well, especially because some of the conglomerates also sell other merchandise to/through Amazon and because other retailers and wholesalers are likely to follow Amazon’s lead in charges. So when French-based global conglomerate Hachette entered into negotiations with Amazon this year, it balked at Amazon wanting a higher cut of revenues for marketing fees for e-books and print, as well as tighter control of the e-book market and better terms on print returns refunds (meaning more expenses and shipping costs for Hachette.)

Amazon promptly tried one of its favorite negotiating tactics with any size of publisher — suspending sales on Hachette’s titles, which it claimed were suddenly out of stock at Amazon or didn’t have a buy button anymore altogether, or messing up prices, so that Hachette would cave quickly. But Hachette isn’t as dependent on Amazon sales as some of the other Big 5, and more to the point, they are facing the same need as Amazon to cut costs and squeeze more revenue, so they dug in. Amazon promptly started a media campaign, claiming the dispute was only about e-book prices, that it was trying to decrease the costs to the consumer by making more e-books at the legendary price point of $9.99. This of course ignores that most e-books, including from the Big 5, are priced well below $9.99 already.

Hachette offered a few terse statements that the negotiations were about way more than e-book price points, but otherwise ignored media knattering in favor of confidentiality over the negotiations. That media coverage, as it was back when Amazon tried this tactic on Macmillan a few years ago, was not exactly positive towards Amazon. It got worse when a bunch of authors, some Hachette authors affected by the ban, some just big bestsellers, took to the presses to complain about Amazon’s author punishment negotiation tactic in a business deal that the authors had no say in. Amazon made pie in the sky promises that they knew contractually they and Hachette couldn’t actually do, even if authors and Hachette had been willing, over e-book prices only. But that didn’t change the general view that Amazon was riding roughshod over the book publishing business, especially in the States, which was still reeling from various retail shrinkage in recent years. That e-book sales have flatlined, having reached perhaps their natural share of the market for now, and that online selling of print books has expanded to more vendors, didn’t help Amazon have more leverage. Continue reading

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Ecosystems — We Are All Tied Together

Humans unfortunately in large majority try to reject the idea of ecosystems, even when they learned about them in school. They want to separate out one bit from another, deny the connections and that things that affect the larger land or other humans will affect them in the process. They definitely often want to deny that the natural world knows what it is doing or that we can harm and alter it, and in turn be affected by that. This really fascinating video, “How Wolves Change Rivers,” about the re-introduction of wolves into the national park by the Sustainable Human organization, offers us a fascinating glimpse of those connections and how valuable and critical they are, how they go beyond our expectations of connection.

So if you ever run into somebody who doesn’t understand why we’re bothering to try to save one species of animal or another, and how one species can have a very large impact, point them towards this video. It is well worth your time.

 

 

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Gamesplayers Are A Mighty Wave

Once upon a time, a very angry man teamed up with some anti-feminist frothy guys to get revenge on his game-designer ex-girlfriend. They claimed that she had sex with a game reviewer in return for favorable review coverage of her game, and harassed, doxed and death threatened her. The fact that the favorable review coverage never occurred was irrelevant; the charge was meant only to raise questions on the Net. Meanwhile, the frothy guys proceeded to attack with doxing, harassment and death threats other women who had nothing to do with game reviewing or game company PR, and then went after anyone and any website that criticized them for it.

Despite all this, their efforts didn’t draw much media attention outside of the geekosphere until two events occurred. First, the frothy guys confused some Intel marketing folk into withdrawing one of thousands of ad buys from a games website that had been critical of them.* And second, they shut down a talk by an academic in women’s studies at a university by threatening a mass shooting at the event. The bulk of the media coverage from that was negative, depicting the frothy guys as terrorizing women and bigoted. Right wing activists, who used to decry games as violent degeneracy, about-faced and helped push the message that those calling for better diversity and talking about the presentation of women in games were somehow corrupting the gaming industry and engaging in vague, often contradictory conspiracies. (*Update: Intel has now re-bought the ads they pulled a month ago, after getting a clue.)

The saddening thing about this campaign – and it has been an organized campaign — is that its threats and identity theft towards these women are ultimately futile towards its main stated goals. Yes, women have only a toehold in the engineering, tech, animation and gaming industries. But women used to have only a toehold in the fields of medicine, law, education, publishing and laboratory sciences too. The men in those areas used to throw up their hands and suggest that maybe the women were few because they weren’t really suited for those fields, while frantically rolling boulders to try to keep women out and making the atmosphere as toxic as possible for the ones who were there.

Women have always worked in games, despite such barriers, from board and tabletop to educational games, sports, and electronic games from the arcade to the console to the computer networks. And women have always played electronic games, in great numbers, from their earliest days. Currently, they make up half the gaming market and the largest demographic group in the 18-39 age range. Electronic games have always been commercially mainstream, put out by large companies for a global market, and sporting a wealth-load of popular spin-off merchandise and toys, from Pac Man lunch boxes to Pong earrings.  Continue reading

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A Little Goodwill Tonight

From Zander Zon:

 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

 

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Some Web Series for Halloween

As one of my favorite series, Space Janitors, has started up its third season with a bang, I also found some other web series that I enjoyed that are fun for Samhain. First off is Felicia Day’s Geek and Sundry and Bad Hat Harry’s produced sitcom Spooked:Paranormal Professionals, about paranormal investigators. The episodes are about twenty minutes long, which is nice. There are four episodes for the first season which came out this summer. I’m not sure if they’ll do another season, but I certainly hope so. They have some excellent guest stars in the series, such as Tom Lenk. Here’s the first episode, “Our First Assignment”:

Second, fantasy author Rachel Caine has turned one of her series, The Morganville Vampires, about a Texas, U.S. college town secretly run by vampires, into a new web series, Morganville: The Series, and she’s got some serious talent in it: Amber Benson and Robert Picardo rocking the house. The younger actors in it are a bit stiffer and less polished than the Spooked crew, but each episode (about 8-9 minutes long,) gets more interesting. Here’s the first episode, “Glass House“:

 

Have a happy, safe, harvest festival of candy and parties, everyone! And may all your jack-o-lanterns glow!

 

 

 

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You Cannot Defend Your Balloon — Author Abstinence (Repost)

Since everything is hiddly-piddly on my end (I blame Halloween,) with lots of stuff unfinished, I am reposting a piece I did a couple of years ago. It has become relevant again — well, at least I think it is — in the light of several recent incidents concerning fiction authors reacting to reviews with published screeds of anger, and in one case, with stalking and harassment and then a published screed of anger. Enjoy as you care to. Note: here’s the link to the original publication of the article, where you can see a discussion that I and Scott Bakker had in the comments about the piece as well.

“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” – Joss Whedon

When you release a written fictional work into the pubic marketplace, either on your own or through a publishing partner, it is like sending a helium balloon up into the air. It is floating off across the sky and how it will be seen is no longer under your control. Ever. Forever. Nor are reactions to you personally, as the author and therefore as a public figure of a sort, by people who may have no real knowledge of you and might not have even read your work, only heard of it.

It is very hard for authors to learn to sit still and not rush to try to defend their balloons — or themselves for launching them — when they feel someone is taking potshots at a work or misunderstanding it completely. No matter how much you may want to defend your work, however, you cannot. It will never have the effect that you want it to have. Because you are the one who launched the balloon, what you think of the balloon means nothing in the wider world in which it floats. And your rush to defend the balloon – even to those who agree with you about it – will be seen at best as a sort of whining, quaint idiocy, and at worst as you being a raging jerkwad whose work they no longer have any interest in trying. Even if you have a cheerleading group of fans who are encouraging you to take action and give the critic what for, they are wrong. It will not work and it will drive other potential readers away. It does not matter if you are a bestselling balloon launcher, an award winning balloon launcher or a new balloon launcher. Snarl that people don’t have the right to make comments about your balloon and yourself as author of it and you’re toast. Because the reality is that they do have that right. Always. Forever. And just because you decided to launch a balloon does not give you any say in how they use it and talk about you with it. You released the balloon – it’s theirs now.

I was reminded of this back a few months ago, when the Clark Award nominations came out. It is tradition when award nominations are announced for there to be tirades against the nominees, along with suggestions as to who else would have been much better as a nominee. These tirades serve several useful purposes. They get people to be aware of the nominees, curious about them and talking about them – which is one of the main purposes of the awards themselves – and they get people to be aware of, be curious about and talk about suggested alternatives. And often they start other discussions that bring up other interesting works. For the Clark Awards, we got a goodie – a rant from noted author Christopher Priest, to whom the word “pithy” is certainly apt. His tirade created a side discussion started by author Cathrynne Valente, not about Priest’s views, but about the resistance women get on the Internet and elsewhere for making critical views like Priest’s or even mild observations, resistance and reaction that is framed entirely or almost entirely on them being women and ranges from violent threats to unconscious slams based on the feminine aspect. In the course of that issue, Valente mentioned a female blogger who is known for courting controversy who had jumped on Scott Bakker’s fantasy novels and on Bakker for being a sexist while not really having read his books. Valente did not agree with the blogger’s rants, but was looking at the framing of the reactions to her doing them. And this is how I learned that Scott Bakker had apparently been engaged in a war of words with this woman over his work.

Which surprised me. Bakker, who is a smart cookie and whose stories are actually I’d say subversively feminist, is obsessed with neurolinguistics and related issues. So you would think he’d understand the concept that the author cannot also effectively be the defender and cannot avert any “toxicity” from one person being critical, only compound it by trying to take on a role that the author cannot play. Perhaps he is going on the notion that it’s at least attention and attention is good, controversy sells, etc., but given that there is now a substantial chunk of people who now think Bakker is horrible and won’t touch his stuff, the trade off doesn’t seem very effective.

I was reminded of this again recently when I heard that a gang of bullies from Goodreads is now attacking reviewers they don’t like and think are too mean and critical on Goodreads in a separate site, identifying their victims and giving out their personal info. Every author I’ve heard tell of regarding this idea is appalled by it. While passionate arguing over works is all to the good, having vigilantes viciously attack others who disagree with them in the authors’ names is a disaster for the authors. (Plus, as the authors note, it’s just plain nasty.) It’s again a claim that others don’t have the right to make opinions, unfounded or otherwise, which is never going to sell a work or effectively defend it.

So how do authors deal with negative criticism if they can’t defend their balloon? They accept it. If the criticism is about the writing or the story and the criticism is not directly addressed to the author (i.e. they are not physically or electronically approached,) the simplest approach is to ignore it. Let it stand. It is your job as an author to send out a set of words into the world. It is not your job as author to critique the words that others say about your words. If you are directly approached with negative criticism of your writing or story, the response then is to say that you’re sorry that they didn’t like it, and hope that if they try something else of yours in the future, that they will like it better.

In such situations, gentle humor in you, the author, accepting, even celebrating, critical reactions as part of the joy of literature and the learning experience of being a writer may also help. When directly approached for his reaction to Priest’s scathing, brief commentary on his Clark Award nominated novel, authorCharles Stross made T-shirts celebrating that Priest had called him an “Internet puppy.” Scott Lynch wrote about his bad reviews with humor and gratitude. John Scalzi celebrated his 1-star negative reviews for his new, bestselling novel Redshirts.

When the criticism is about non-writing issues like sexism and racism, the situation gets more complicated – and usually more personal. Reactions such as these are not just negative; they denote pain. There is a much stronger desire to defend the balloon, to defend one’s person and to deny another person’s right to have experienced pain on the grounds that the person is wrong to have that reaction to the work, is just trying to create controversy, etc. If that criticism is not directly given to the author, however, the best response is again to ignore it, to let it stand unacknowledged by you and not try to effect it or deny it with author commentary. It is an issue that every reader and potential reader decides for themselves and you won’t change that. Others may argue it for you – and hopefully will not do so as bullies or stalkers, but for you, the balloon has flown. You can widely discuss in interviews, essays and elsewhere not negative reactions to your work, but what you were trying to do in the story and positive reactions to it. Talking about your work from an author’s perspective usually is more likely to interest potential readers than arguing with a stranger about what sort of person you are.

If you are approached directly or asked about criticisms of your work based on issues such as sexism, the response is similar to that for writing criticisms: that you are sorry the person had that reaction, that this was not at all your intent in the work (because you didn’t want to cause people pain that way,) that you will think carefully about what the person said (because it’s usually a good idea to consider that reaction outside your own experience,) and that you hope that if the person decides to try any of your other works in the future, that he or she will feel that they are better. That’s about all you can do, and it may in no way change the critiquer’s mind or what that person says about you. It does, however, acknowledge that you heard what was said and that you accept your balloon is in the sky and is going to be seen in different, perhaps uncomfortable ways.

There are authors who may object to this whole idea, who like being magnets of controversy, who delight in vigorously defending their creations, who assert they are gods of brilliance or at least being unfairly picked on. After all, many vaunted literary figures in history have been lauded for the wit of their literary feuds and withering putdowns of critics. Such an approach, however, (besides being from a dated time,) does not remove criticism, nor weaken it. The balloon has flown and all who encounter it, or even hear of it in the sky, will judge it. Any argument you make, you make in your creative work, and that’s all you get. Beyond that, you’re simply preaching to the choir of those who already think you’re right and your work is golden, and snarling at those unsure, uncaring or upset. That’s your right to act that way. But you still are not actually defending your balloon. You don’t have that power. You’re the author. You gave it to the world.

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