Tag Archives: Charles Stross

Links & Misc. — Spring Cleaning! Part 1

So I had a lot of stuff pile up in the first part of the year that was like, “that’s interesting, I’ll look at it more closely later in the blog maybe,” and of course, that didn’t happen. Now that it’s finally spring in my part of the world, I’m just going to present the things I collected in blocks, and you all can see if there’s anything that interests you enough to click on.

Publishing & Writing Stuff:

Kathleen Sharp gives a full and factual accounting in Salon.com of what actually happened with Apple, Amazon and the development of the e-book market.

Jim C. Hines explains why chasing trends in writing fiction is a fool’s errand. (Authors do these pieces from time to time; many new authors are just absolutely sure it can’t be true. But it’s true; this is how fiction publishing works.)

Charlie Stross expands with more facts and thoughts on Jim’s article.

At Tor.com, Emily Asher-Perrin does an interesting analysis of how Ron Weasley’s character in the Harry Potter series is changed and negated in the film adaptations.

Kameron Hurley guest-blogged at Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, earlier in the year about “On Persistence and the Long Con of Being a Successful Writer”.

Michael J. Sullivan has useful marketing tips for fiction authors.

John Scalzi looks at reality involving award winning books.

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You Cannot Defend Your Balloon — Author Abstinence


“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 purpose 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, author Charles 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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The Next Emerging — DRM goes bye bye

One of the issues in trying to have discussions about the emerging retail e-book market is that many people have difficulty understanding what the word emerging actually means. We are so used to viewing technology as rapid that when versions of tech and products impinge on our consciousness, many people expect everything to be fully in place, fully available, fully operational, etc., as if all it took is the wave of a magic wand as soon as we realize we want something. In reality, technology percolates for years, being refined in research labs, academia and through governments into a more and more workable product for the general public while infrastructure and personnel begin to be built slowly and sporadically. Start-ups explore possible options of a market for the tech. Tech people and wealthy, tech savvy early adopters buy crude and expensive versions of proposed products. Then a major retailer undertakes to break the market out in a large way in general retail and enlists major suppliers to help.  If it’s successful, then the rest scramble to catch up, with infrastructure being thrown up like a hastily erected fort, new companies coming into being, frantic contract and international trade negotiations, and new applications hastily devised.

E-books went through this exact same process. E-books (electronic text,) and various concepts of portable devices for reading them have been around for thirty years, used widely by academia and the education market, the subject of countless experiments and small operations.  Then Amazon, the major retailer, decided that it would open up the market and try to dominate it for as long as possible by creating the Kindle, a workable e-reader that would have Amazon’s full infrastructure and tech support behind it. Book publishers, having been burned for millions in the first go-round of e-books back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, were faced with a problem — they didn’t have the tech personnel, infrastructure, ability to digitize and knowledge of the consumer electronics market to throw themselves into the market willy nilly. So they went with what Amazon wanted, which was a DRM which locked customers into the Kindle platform, and which would be different for each major vendor, out of fears of piracy, lack of technical control with vendors and many other factors.

All the way back to 2008, I was pointing out that DRM was temporary, an unwieldy stop gap measure done out of caution and immediate demand that would be removed once the emerging market was on its feet and had enough vendors come out to play.  It soon became clear that ePub, the open source electronic format that was heir to past platforms, was going to be the likely most workable general and transferable format selected and become the standard, which would certainly be easier for publishers as they dealt with a growing pool of customers with different sorts of devices and a much needed increase in the number of retail vendors.  Once Apple, Barnes & Noble and Indigo came in enough to puncture Amazon’s monopoly, and it became clear that the main market for e-books would soon become not e-readers but all sorts of computers, including smartphones, publishers would have enough leverage and enough of a retail market to go forward without DRM.  This didn’t set well with many people, however, who screamed that if DRM wasn’t removed right this minute from every e-book format, the publishers would find that they had no customers. Point out that the e-book market was growing at 200% with DRM, so that was sort of a worthless threat, and you’d get a fusilage of unrealistic views on e-book production, contract negotiations, and how e-book piracy meant nothing and would kill us all at the same time.

Back in 2009-2010, I said give it five years and the e-book market will be fully established and by that time I expected DRM to be largely gone. And so it seems to be coming to pass — Macmillan, who has been in the forefront of the large publishers dealing with the emerging market, is now putting out large chunks of their list without DRM, including the Tor/Forge list, and the other publishers are quickly following suit or likely to be. What’s also remarkable is that they’ve gotten Amazon willing to go along with this idea, but this is presumably because Amazon has seen the writing on the wall and knows that being able to sell e-books and print content to people with other devices than a Kindle and multi-device needs has become the far bigger market than the Kindle that launched it all. Now that e-books is a big emerging global market, the training wheels are coming off, though I’m sure retailers like Amazon will still find uses for DRM in some areas.

Does this mean that you can have a sane conversation about the e-book market now? Probably not for a few more years yet. But it does mean that the emerging market is transitioning towards established market pretty much right on schedule. SF author Charles Stross has done several blog posts on this and related topics recently that are cogent and informative, including the issues of Internet revenue, Amazon’s spiderweb strategy with e-books, and feedback that he gave when requested to Macmillan about their DRM removal plans. Worth checking out, especially this one. (Yes, I’ve fixed my linking problem.) You can find Macmillan/Tor’s announcement here at Tor.com.


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Interesting Writings for the New Year

Welcome to 2011! For my household, 2010 was not an amazing year but it was way, way better than 2008 and 2009. We hope that this new year will be a new start for many people and get better for all, not worse. Here is the grab-bag of interesting writings that accumulated while I was dancing about like a crazy woman:

1) First off, the grimmer stuff — two articles from online magazine Salon that document things going on in the on-going war against women, a war that is set to escalate in 2011 in the U.S. with a new Congress that has shifted to the far right, and with state legislations also continuing their shift to the far right and their tendency to propose and attempt to enact unconstitutional laws against women’s civil rights:



2) Moving on to publishing, Richard Dansky points out that arguing that your subjective views are objective is a weak strategy:


3) Author James Knapp ponders how to publicize his books, (warning, this is likely to make you chuckle):


4) Writer Roxane Gay pointed out that the latest edition of Best American Short Stories was predominantly white and male in its contributors. This produced the usual screaming about whether particular anthology editors are racist scumbags or not and whether anyone has the right to point to demographic disparities, totally ignoring the real issue which is that in some areas of publishing, female writers are still being blocked out and in too many areas of publishing, including SFF, non-white writers are still blocked out and that it would be nice to improve the rate of progress so that this doesn’t happen so much anymore. In this follow-up to her original post, Gay brilliantly illuminates the problems inherent in even attempting a discussion of these issues:


5) Eric Rosenfield provides an interesting, short piece on the illusion of slipstream and how putting a purple sash on category SFF as different from green sashes is ridiculous and he proposes an approach in eliminating the imaginary war. I’m all for it, except that I do think there’s a bit of a flaw — a lot of the people who read Haruki Murakami also already read China Mieville. But wait, that’s not a flaw really, just evidence that it’s working:


6) Next up, a very interesting interview with the head of Sony’s E-Reader division about e-reading and the market:


7) While the world may seem very grim (see the war on women articles above,) actually good things are happening and progress of sorts is being made. The redoubtable Charlie Stross explains:


8 ) And lastly, a picture instead of a writing — the very weird sport/exhibition of human pyramids!

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The New Villain

Written fiction is an industry that expands, not competes, but this is very hard for people to wrap their heads around. Whenever one-three authors are successful at one type of story or another around the same time, it attracts readers to that type of fiction, and then from there, some of them drift on to other types of fiction, related and less so. But the fear is always levied that this will not happen, that the perceived popular type will take over, crush most of the others out there and revolutionize the field, usually in horrible, commercial, etc., ways. Identifying apparent trends is really identifying the enemy. Meanwhile readers have already moved on to try other types of stories. It seems we must have a villain to worry about, the thing that will take over readers’ brains because readers can never be trusted.

In the late 2000’s, the villain was urban fantasy, first as a perceived horde of icky women authors, then just as a horde of fantasy writers. Reams were written on the Internet about what the popularity of contemporary suspense fantasy could possibly mean, and there still remains fear, among SF fans and alternate world fantasy fans, that urban fantasy — dismissed only six years ago as of no importance — will destroy them. The reality — that a third wave of new fans in the late 1990’s and early oughts, plus old ones, went exploring — is apparently considered too prosaic an explanation.

A good chunk of those fans then went on to try out historical fantasy titles, which have also been expanding along with the rest of fantasy, and the most popular era for the historical fantasy novels to start with is the Victorian era and the Sherlock Holmes turn of century, allowing a return to steampunk. Steampunk, a term coined in the 1980’s along with urban fantasy, was applied to certain types of alternate history SF and historical and alt historical fantasy, as well as occasional alternate world fantasy tales that featured a version of Victoriana. It had gadgets, and usually steam trains. The interest in steampunk came initially from fans who were interested in popular cyberpunk SF then exploring various different incarnations of that type of suspense. While never a big sub-field, it was widely respected. A new wave of hard SF/cyberpunk authors have had some degree of popularity in the oughts, especially coming out of Britain, and post-apocalyptic SF, where the more modern world breaks down but gadgets remain, has also been having a good run attracting readers, especially in YA SF, in part catching the readers that flooded in thanks to fantasy titles like Harry Potter and Twilight, as well as new readers interested in SF through YA series like The Uglies. So it was hardly surprising that some authors and readers would return to steampunk SF as well, in both YA and adult fiction. And some of them, such as Cherie Priest with Boneshaker, have had some solid success, supported also to a degree by an aesthetic movement that embraces steampunk and likes to make gadget home decor and wear really cool waistcoats.  (And seriously, even if you aren’t a steampunkian, who doesn’t like a cool waistcoat and tophat?) China Mieville’s earlier respected forays returning to steampunking in alternate world fantasy also laid some ground.

Despite this success, however, the steampunk trend in fantasy and SF is not terribly huge, (some people don’t like waistcoats.) And if you look at SF, steampunk is really not the hot factor right now compared to zombie SF. But perhaps because zombie SF is always, often incorrectly considered to be part of horror, that invasion hasn’t registered or at least is not that much of a concern yet, (kind of like the early stage of a zombie movie.) But steampunk has recently been made the villain du jour on the Internet SFF community, the thing that is polluting and diluting the beautiful science purity of SF. (It’s not yet considered a huge threat to other versions of fantasy, but give it a few years. Also, zombie fantasy may start to be considered a threat down the road.) Some people are complaining about it, (not steampunk again!) including the very bright author Charlie Stross, and others are pointing out that this is kind of a ridiculous complaint. (Welcome to success, Cherie Priest!)

Ben Peek has done a reasonable job of assembling links to some of the key threads of debate:


My friends, you will have to decide whether it’s worth your time to read such back and forthing that sounds exactly like the same back and forthing on all the other proposed past villains. It might perhaps be better to wait for the next villain, possibly the zombies, or alien SF which readers are pursuing, or environmental SF or comic fantasy or alternate world horror fantasy, or anything female SFFH authors are doing that sells well. If nothing else, it’s a sign that SFFH is doing relatively well in a difficult economic and retail world. And it is a break from all the complaints about vampires. Unless they have waistcoats.




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Oh, please, please, Charlie, do it!

Charles Stross has done a very nice series of essays on fiction publishing, as previously noted. But now he’s gone too far. So far, in fact, that his blog will be added to my blog roll.


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