Thursday, May 29, 2014

Professional Organizations for Indie Writers

If you read my WisCon Wrapup on Wednesday over at my personal blog, you may have noticed that I mentioned attending a panel on SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America. This is an organization for professional science fiction/fantasy authors, with strict guidelines as to what kind of publications and sales count towards membership. For many authors, qualifying for SFWA is a major career goal. I felt that way when I started writing, but when I decided to go indie, I assumed I'd never qualify. Well, that may change. According to both WisCon panelists and regular commenters on The Passive Voice, SFWA is considering ways to qualify indie authors for membership. No word yet as to how this will work, what the requirements will be, and when it will go into effect, so I'm not getting too excited just yet. However, the possibility is worth considering.

If we indie authors were to join SFWA or other professional organizations for writers, do we want to join with traditionally published authors or form our own group? Traditionally published authors have concerns that don't affect us, like contracts or issues with their publishers. OTOH, it would be helpful to network with others in our genre, and larger groups might be able to help with issues that affect all freelancers/entrepreneurs, such as health insurance (they might provide an alternative to Obamacare. I get my insurance through my day job, so I haven't investigated Obamacare) or retirement funds.

I do know there are groups for indies out there that require a paid membership. If any one of our readers is a member of one of them, would you recommend it and why? Non-authors, would you care one way or another if an author was a member of a professional writing organization? Would knowing that affect how you view his or her work?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part Two -- Your First Novel Sucks)

As I mentioned last time, we writers have convinced ourselves of a lot of untruths, and, you know, it's fine to believe an untruth if that's what you want to believe. My kids, the two younger ones at any rate, still choose to believe in Santa Claus. At least, I'm fairly certain they know he's not really real, but they want to believe in him so they choose to do so. It's part of Christmas at our house so they choose to believe and that's totally okay.

Now, it would be a different story entirely if they were out telling their friends that their families were doing it wrong if they didn't have Santa as a part of their Christmas traditions.

However, if you ever sit it on a kindergarten class at Christmas time, those kids really believe in Santa -- I mean, really really believe in Santa with their whole hearts --and they will set out to tell anyone who might happen to say that Santa isn't real just how wrong he is. And that's where we writers are with this first lie (and I think it's the biggest, most damaging lie we tell): Your first novel sucks!!!
It sucks and you should, minimally, stick it in a drawer somewhere and forget it exists. Even better, pack it in the bottom of a box and bury it in your closet, but, to be really safe, you should dig a hole in your back yard, drop it in, and plant a tree on it.

[Now I'm going to take a little aside, so just follow along. Really, it applies.]

In science, there is a thing called a theory. People not in science have taken this word and warped it into something it doesn't mean, so follow the process:

Let's say there's a scientist taking a nap under a tree, a tree that happens to bear apples, and, while he's sleeping, one of those apples falls off of the tree and hits him on the head. This, of course, wakes the scientist up as he tries to figure out who's been throwing apples at him. But, A-HA!, he has an idea: "I think apples fall to the ground when they are dropped." This idea is called a hypothesis.

Now, the scientist wants to know if his idea is correct or not, so he devises a series of experiments to test it. He shakes the tree until apples fall off. He picks up the apples and drops them from his hands and, yes, sure enough, they all fall on the ground. He takes them up on the roof of his house and drops them from there. He gets other people to test whether when they drop the apples they also fall to the ground. He goes up on the highest building he can find, maybe that leaning tower place, and drops them from there. No matter what test he tries, the apples always fall to the ground.
Also, he finds that he no longer wants to eat any of the apples he's been dropping so he decides he should, next time, test his "drop idea" with something that won't become bruised and inedible.
At the end of all of the testing, IF the idea proves to be true, at least in so far as you can test it, you have what is called a theory. If, however, just one time, the guy drops the apple and it does not fall to the ground, you do NOT have a theory. At that point, you go back to your hypothesis and modify it and start testing all over again.

An idea that is just an idea is a hypothesis.
An idea that has been tested and tested and tested and has had NO (ZERO) failures is a theory.

See, the thing about a theory is that it is still conceivable that there could be some circumstances under which it would not hold to be true, but we don't have the means of testing those circumstances. A theory could still turn out to be WRONG.

And just so you know: The stage beyond Theory is Law. If we have shown, as with gravity, that you will get the same results EVERY TIME you do something, it's considered a Law, and we have shown mathematically that gravity does exist and that EVERY TIME anyone drops an apple it will fall to the ground.

And here is where we go back to this lie that writers tell: The people who state it, state it as a the First Law of Writing: Your first novel will suck. Throw it away and never think about it again.

So, right now, I'm going to punch a GIANT hole in that law. Going back to SCIENCE, any event which shows your hypothesis not to be true makes it not a theory. If it's not a theory, it can't be a Law, and, if it's not a theory, you, also, can't use it as a hypothesis. You have to go back to that hypothesis and modify it. So, if you take "Your first book will always suck" as your hypothesis, let's look at some first novels that show that that just isn't any good as a working hypothesis.

To put it another way, if these following authors had listened to the advice (the very common, spoken-everywhere-among-writers advice) that their first novels were no good and had junked them, here are some (just a few) of the novels we would not have in our world. [By the way, all three of the novels I think everyone should read are on this list. All three of what I would say are the most significant novels I have ever read were first novels by the author.]
Oh, and let me clarify: When I say "first novel," I don't mean "first published novel" (meaning they had a few practice ones that they did throw away); I mean "first written novel by the particular author." Sometimes, in fact, these were the ONLY novels the particular author EVER wrote.
Here's just a few:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien -- Sure, you might say that he wrote a bunch of other stuff before he wrote the The Hobbit, but he had never written a novel before, and that's a very different kind of thing than other types of writing. Oh, and if he'd never published this, there would be no The Lord of the Rings or anything else by Tolkien.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell -- This novel won a bunch of awards, too.

Watership Down by Richard Adams -- It also won a bunch of awards.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley -- I can't even summarize how influential this book has been. Imagine if she'd just tossed it.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens -- Probably nothing else needs to be said, BUT it was also the first book ever to become a "publishing phenomenon" (think Harry Potter except that didn't really hit it big until the third or fourth book), his first book.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -- The only novel she ever wrote.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison -- His second novel took 40 years to write.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- She said she would never be able to write a book to top Mockingbird, so she never made an attempt at a second novel.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Neuromancer by William Gibson -- Gibson had written a few short stories prior to being commissioned to write a novel. The idea terrified him, but he wrote it. It changed the landscape of both science fiction and reality. It won both the Nebula and Hugo awards as best novel of the year when it came out.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling -- Because you can't keep her off a list like this. And, beyond that, I'm not going to say anything else about it.

And, really, I could go on. I could go on for a long time. I mean, I've only covered first novels that have gone on to become significant works of literature, but there are plenty out there that have been more than adequate first novels. This idea that "first novels" should be tossed in the trash is a myth. It's not even an adequate hypothesis.

Granted, some first novels will suck but, then, some of the authors even on this list never wrote anything to equal the greatness of their first work. Harper Lee wouldn't even try again. I'm not saying that your first work is literary genius puked on a page; I am saying don't listen to people that tell you to just put "that one" away and never let anyone see it. To me, that sounds more like, "My first novel sucked; therefore, all first novels must suck." Don't judge your work by someone else's failure.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hachette Men

There was a big flap in the publishing world as a feud erupted between the big publisher Hachette and Amazon.  I linked to an article on our Twitter account at some point.  The gist is that Amazon demanded concessions from Hachette and after they refused to give tribute to Caesar, Amazon took their books off sale.

Predictably authors took to Twitter and Facebook to protest this move by the Evil Empire.  I don't really feel any sympathy for either side.  The simple fact is Hachette is not some little Mom and Pop operation being threatened by Wal-Mart moving into town.  They're another huge, faceless, evil corporation.  It's really a clash between huge corporations who both want to maximize profits for shareholders and Wall Street.  Unfortunately authors get caught in the crossfire.

A year or two ago I wrote a similar blog entry about Barnes & Noble as they appeared to be dying.  The title was something like, Don't Cry for B&N, Book Buyers--or something equally subtle.  The point was that as I said about Hachette, B&N wasn't some little independent store.  In fact they gleefully put independent stores and rivals like Borders out of business.

That's the problem with the book world today.  We want to say this side is Good and this side is Evil, but mostly it's all different shades of Evil.  It's Game of Thrones, not Star Wars.  There aren't any white hats on the field.

For me as an indie author who makes most of his money from Amazon and owns a Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire it actually behooves me to root for the Empire.  And let's face it, if I tried to submit to Hachette they'd laugh me out of the building.  So I'm not going to lose a lot of sleep if they have to pay a little more in concessions to Amazon.  At the same time, having a strong publishing industry is probably a good thing for indie authors because it keeps the Empire in check.  If all the Big [however many now] went out of business and Amazon hardly had any serious competition in the book market it would be easy for them to decide that instead of paying 70/35% royalties to pay 10% royalties.  And what could I do about it?  Competition, free enterprise, etc. is good.

Anyway, as is usually the case this is not a black-and-white issue, more shades of gray.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Overused Science Fiction/Fantasy Tropes: Elemental Magic

What are some overused plot or character tropes in science fiction/fantasy that you're tired of? Are there any authors or books that give them a new spin?

I'll share one of mine: elemental magic, which is usually defined as magic relating to earth, air, fire, and water. Occasionally a fifth element (like spirit) will be added to shake things up. These classical elements first arose in Greece and India and spread to other parts of the world, and belief in them persisted for thousands of years right up to the birth of modern science. I suppose that's why the elements fit so well in traditional fantasy in a medieval setting. I've personally read enough of that type of fantasy and prefer nontraditional settings/magic systems.

That said, there are still authors who can take an overused plot element and make it fresh. For elemental magic, I would recommend S.A. Bolich's Masters of the Elements series, which so far consists of Firedancer, Windrider, and Seaborn. (The next book will deal with Earth, but I don't know the title yet.) What makes this series work for me is the world-building. It's a comfortable world that I enjoy spending time in. The elements have a unique relationship with each other, and each type of elemental master has a distinct appearance and way of working with their element.

How do you feel about elemental stories? Are there any that you would recommend? If you were going to write one, how would you approach it?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Beware the Chucker!

One of my Facebook "friends", a traditionally published author posted this a few days ago:
Bought a self-pubbed YA by mistake on my Nook. I say "by mistake" because I seriously am VERY CAREFUL to check out publishers before I make a purchase. Not that all SP books suck per se, but...well, chances are they're not what I'm accustomed to reading--and, as I buy very few books lately, I am CHOOSY, okay? 12 pages into it (though I had my suspicions after 2 or 3) I finally thought, "Wow, this really sucks! Who published it?" So I checked. Oh dear. Lesson learned, I hope.

Any indie author has to constantly fight the stereotype that every self-published book ever is poorly formatted, full of typos, and overall not written very well.  Unlike all those traditionally published books that never have a single typo and are all so awesome it would be impossible to pick one above all others for an award.  Ahem, that was sarcasm if you didn't get it.

The thing is, every stereotype is built around a kernel of truth.  The sad fact is there are plenty of indie authors who don't know how to edit or format.  They simply scribble something down and then put it up on Amazon, Smashwords, etc. and wait to collect their millions of dollars.  Or they show it to their wife/husband/mom/dad/friend/cat who equally knows nothing about professional writing--except the cat, but since cats are jerks it will refuse to say anything.

To get into the Wayback Machine here for a second, there was a "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry and George are playing pick-up basketball.  One of the other guys on the team accuses George of being "a chucker" because instead of passing, he gets it and shoots it.  Ie, chucks it.  (Hooray dated references!)

That's really what people who don't edit their book are:  chuckers.  Like George they don't really bother trying to get anyone else involved or take any time to look for a good shot; they just grab it and hurl it at the basket.  Ie, onto Amazon, Smashwords, etc.

Maybe it's not because they're dumb or lazy or selfish.  Maybe they're just ignorant of how to make their book better.  The problem is all of us pay the price for it.  See the comment above.  The problem then is people think, "Ugh, self-published books are all terrible, therefore THIS self-published book must be terrible."

The worst part is there's nothing you can do about it.  No matter how much you edit the book the fact it's self-published for most people instantly means you've got two strikes before they even start reading--to mix my sports metaphors.  So if you do miss one or two little things they'll say, "HA!  I knew it!"  Again because traditionally published books never, ever have a typo.  Yup.

Is there a solution?  Not really an immediate one.  The best you can do is be a good citizen.  Revise to the best of your ability.  Have other people who are somewhat knowledgeable read it.  If you can swing it pay for an editor.  There are articles all over the place on how to format your book; go look those up so it doesn't look like crap.  And even after you post your book, go back and reread it every so often.  You'd be surprised how many things you can miss even when you've read something four or five times.

Whatever you do, don't be a chucker.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part One)

Being a writer's a tough gig. Okay, no, wait: Being a published writer is a tough gig. It's the difference between sitting around in your house and playing guitar merely for your own pleasure – or, maybe, the pleasure of a few friends – and playing on stage in front of an audience. An audience which may or may not have actual people in it and an audience which may or may not even be listening. So you go up on stage and play your heart out and no one responds and you don't really have any idea of how good you were. It's a tough gig.

Because it's so tough, we've come up with little lies to tell ourselves to make the seeming rejection less hurtful, and these lies would be okay if we only told them to ourselves. The problem is that once we've told them to ourselves, we start telling them to each other and, when we start telling them to each other, we inevitably tell them to people who are just starting out, and those lies can really cause problems for people who think they're hearing the truth from people who ought to know it. Then they believe the lies, too.

And that's the real problem: People don't think they're lies. They believe they're telling each other the truth, but it's the same as believing that the world is flat or that man never walked on the moon. Or, you know, that climate change isn't happening. So you have people that mean well, they really do, who are telling people, “Hey, you can't sail your ship off in that direction, because you'll fall off the edge of the world.” Just because you believe it doesn't make it true.

So let's talk a little math and science before we go on.

If you think back to your days in geometry, you might remember these things called postulates. In case you don't, I'll remind you. A postulate is something, in an argument (or a math problem), that we accept as a given. Basically, it is something that is so basic that there is no way to prove it so we just accept it as fact. The classic example is a = a. It's pretty clear that that is true, but, mathematically, there's no way to prove it. It's like using a word to define itself.

[Which reminds me of a funny story. This one time at a “Chinese” restaurant (I say “Chinese” because, clearly, this was not just Chinese) with some friends and my brother, my brother wanted to know what curry is (because they had curry chicken, and he'd never seen curry chicken at a Chinese place), so he asked the waiter, “What's curry?” First, that question confused the waiter. I mean, it confused the waiter a lot. We spent more than a few minutes just explaining the question. Finally, once he understood that my brother wanted to know what curry is, he responded, “Curry is curry!” That's the best answer we could get from him. The only answer. a = a. It was less than helpful.]

The thing that's so insidious about these lies is that we approach them as if they are postulates. Or, to use another word, we treat them as axioms. Un-disputable facts. (Look, I know the word is “indisputable,” but that doesn't really convey the same meaning. I'll use the prefixes the way I want to use them, okay? Okay.) This <thing> is so true that all I need to do is state it and you have to accept it. Period. “The Earth is flat.” Don't look at me like that; for centuries, that fact was indisputable.

The truth is, most of these things are more like hypotheses. And there's your science lesson. A hypothesis is an idea that is then subject to experimentation. The problem with these lies, even as hypotheses, is that they have already been disproven. It's like the Church choosing to cling to the belief that the Earth was the center of the universe even after Copernicus and Galileo had shown that it wasn't. Or like Republicans continually stating that climate change isn't happening (okay, fine, I know this is a non-partisan blog, and I know it's not all Republicans, but give me a break).

So, now that you've had your introduction, next week we'll actually talk about some lies.

Monday, May 19, 2014

IWM Internal Memo: Quantum Baseball

Hey, all,
I've had a great idea for a story premise: quantum baseball. It's pretty much what it sounds like. I was thinking of the ball when I had the idea. You know; you can know how fast it's going but not what direction and all of that. But I think you could also apply the players to the formula. I think it would make for a great game idea in something sci-fi; unfortunately, I don't have time for it at the moment.
I expect that Briane will call dibs if someone else doesn't get to it first. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he's already quantum-ed my brain and started a story about it. He does have that one with baseball and dinosaurs, after all.
Anyway, I just thought I'd toss the idea out there. Sort of like the first ball of the season or something.
Good luck!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The fate of the universe now rests in the hands of an ill-advised, unprepared hero who didn't want to be here in the first place. How's that working for you?

Neither one of these people is Andrew Leon.
Andrew Leon, contributor here and author extraordinaire, posted a review of A Wrinkle In Time on his blog the other day that really got me thinking.  While the entire review is worth reading (there'll be a link at the end) here is the part that worked on me:

Another thing I have really come to dislike: the giving of "gifts" that will help the heroes but not telling them how to use those gifts. How dumb is that?
"Here's a red button. Only push it if you really need to."
"What does it do?"
"I can't tell you that."
"How will I know when to use it?"
"I can't tell you that."
So Meg's usage of the spectacles that were given to her were less used as a "last resort" than as a "well, I can't think of anything else to try."
As a plot device, this ploy is rather lame.

Here is the comment I left on his blog, which I am reprinting here because I think both that commentary and the response deserve wider dissemination than it might otherwise get:


I read this last night and then had to do other things before I could comment, so I have had a night to think about it. Don't think that will make my comment any more intelligent.

I have been thinking about re-reading this story, too, recently, because I only vaguely remember it and wanted to see if it was as good as I recall. Now your review suggests that it may not be. Some of that is because as we get more sophisticated we need better stories: what appealed at 11 doesn't at 45. Some of it is that in retrospect, you can question a lot of what you question here. My rule on such questions is if you noticed them the first time you read the book/watched the movie/etc., they are big problems that pull you out of the story. If you only noticed it in retrospect it's not such a big problem. The "Looper" thing is a good example: that question of why the mob would ONLY use the time travel device for that purpose occurred to me the moment I heard the plot, and so it's a big problem.

So some of what you say is a big problem, some a little problem, because of course you read this again, so you have the ability to reflect instead of being carried along on the story.

But the biggest problem you identify is one I hadn't ever really thought of before, and that's the plot device of "I can give you this but not tell you how to use it." Until I read that, I had never even THOUGHT about such a plot device, but of course you're right: it's through EVERYTHING in speculative fiction. And it DOESN'T make any sense. 

It's one thing if the failure to give information is accidental (Wizard dies before explaining the magic scroll) or because the person can't handle the information yet (In Robert Asprin's MYTH books, Skeeve is a novice magician who learns as he goes) but the problems you identify are pretty huge, and hadn't been brought up earlier. Definitely worth a longer post.


So if you use this trope, DON'T.  Andrew is right: it's supposed to create suspense, but it's creating suspense in a stupid, unorganic way.  Any real group of heroes/adventurers, etc., would of course make sure everyone knows how to use everything as much as possible.  If you're not going to give your characters information about something important, have the reason be one that works in the story, rather than simply being a cheap plot device.

Read Andrew's original post here.  Seriously. Do it. It'll take you like five minutes and it's worth it.


Speaking of cheap plot devices, Saoirse's life didn't begin until it ended, at which point she died and went to 'the After', where William Howard Taft tells her exactly how things work.  Read the After, available on Amazon by clicking here.

Andrew himself would never resort to such tricks.  Not even in real life, like when he decided to teach a rude 'friend' of his a lesson via The Magic Cookies, a hilarious story that is available on Amazon by clicking here.



COMING ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, it's the first-ever anthology of stories by indie writers to bear the INDIE WRITERS MONTHLY stamp of approval*, and we want YOU to be a part of it.

The anthology is going to be a collection of stories about Time Travel, and here is HOW YOU CAN GET IN ON THIS:

A. Have a story about time travel, or write one.
2.  Submit that story to us, by June 15, 2014.  (send submissions to litaplaceforstories[at]** and label them "IWM TIME TRAVEL ANNUAL" or something like that.)
THIS IS IMPORTANT: paste the story directly into the of the email.  

III. Make sure you have the rights to the stories and it'd be nice if it hadn't been published somewhere else.  

Word limits? Who do you think you're talking to, here? Because there'll only be a few weeks to read them, shoot for somewhere between 1 and 1,000 words, but if you go longer, by all means, go longer.

Still reading?  Good.  Here is WHY you want to get in on this!

8(a)2.: The stories we like the best will get put into the anthology and you'll be a published writer! 

C: There are prizes! Specifically, the story picked as best by the IWM gang will win a $15 Amazon Gift Card and the Runner Up will get a $10 Amazon Gift Card.

So there you have it!  I look forward to getting those stories.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Alyson Hannigaan and the Semicolon Magnate of the Internet. (How much I'm making at writing.)

Writers don't give enough information about how much we are (not) making at writing, and this can create, I think, the impression that everyone is doing better than you are.  Or at least better than I am, which is almost certainly true.  So from time to time, I will give you a breakdown of where my money comes from in writing.

Keep in mind that I, like almost everyone, does this as a hobby, so if you are intending to work full-time as a writer, you may well do better than I do.

Anyway, here's how I'm doing in 2014.  The amounts earned are from January 1 to date.

Blog Revenues: $25.00.

I get paid for blogging, or at least I used to.  There are many services that will post ads on your blog, including Google Adsense (which I canceled because in 9+ years of blogging I've never actually received any money from Google) and Izea.  I go with Izea, which lets you monetize your tweets, blogs, Tumblrs, etcs.

This year, I have earned a total of $25.00 from "sponsored posts," which are posts where the advertiser pays me to discuss the product or service; there are no limits on what I can say, so I'm free to negatively review something if I choose.  A typical 'sponsored post' goes for $1-5. The highest I've ever received was $100 from a great advertiser (they even wrote the ad.)

I also have banner ads on my blogs that get paid by impressions -- so the more you go check out my blog, the more fractions of cents I make.  Those average, for Thinking The Lions (the highest paying one) $0.37 a month.

Twitter Revenues: $10.90.

Through Izea, I occasionally get the chance to post something on Twitter, earning either a CPC (Cost-per-click) payment or flat rate.  The current rate I get is $0.50 per tweet if it's a flat rate, which isn't too bad considering that I only have to write 140 characters to get that money.

Book Sales: $11.67.

I only sell books through Amazon.  By month, that figure above breaks down to:

January: $2.95.
February $1.40.
March: $2.36.
April: $2.26.
May: $2.70.

Earlier this year, I raised the prices of my books from $0.99 to $3.99, after taking my own advice from the IWM March 2014 issue (still available here!), which advice was that books priced at $3.99 sell better than $0.99 books.

That hasn't proven true yet; I would get about $0.35 per book (the odd amounts are accounting for conversion to US$, from overseas sales -- I'm an INTERNATIONAL author, thanks to Amazon!) prior to May, so I sold four whole books in February.  But having sold only two in May so far, I've already exceeded my profits from any other month except January, because if I'm getting four times the amount of profits, I need to sell fewer books to make more money.

Other Stuff: $16.70.

I tend to forget that I also used to make t-shirts and sell them online (or at least design t-shirts and then have someone else sell them online), something I do through Zazzle.  By far, the most popular t-shirt I ever designed was the "You've Been Punctuated" line of shirts, shirts with oversized punctuation on them, and the most popular of those was the semicolon:

Which you can get here for $20 or so.  I have a lot more like that if you're looking for, say, a great Father's Day gift; all of them can be viewed at this link and you can get them in a variety of colors/sizes!

Shameless self-promotion.

So that's a total, for 2014, of $64.27, to date.  Now, let's look at how that breaks down, expenses wise.


URL/Website costs: $30-60.

The biggest expense I typically have is blog-address payments.  If you want to get ads on your blogs, you'd best not have a "blogspot" address or other URL that announces you're just a blogger. Advertisers don't like it.  So for the past few years I have paid $10 per site to have .com addresses, something I've backed away from as I've dropped my blogs.  That cost $60 per year; this year it'll probably be $30.

Izea, if you sign up, has several 'tiers' of potential bloggers. To get ads, mostly you have to submit a bid (how much you want to get paid, where you'll put the ad, etc.).  The 'free' membership lets you submit 3 bids per month.  I have the next level, which costs $12 a year, and lets me submit unlimited bids.  (Izea has several associated sites like PayPerPost and SocialSpark; I am a member of all of them. PayPerPost and SocialSpark don't generate much business for me these days.)

So that's a cost of about $42 per year.  That's the only cost I have, really, because while I pay $45 a month for Internet access, I'd have that anyway.  One benefit of doing this as a business: Every year I deduct some of my Internet costs as a business expense.  So I'm one of those One Percenters taking advantage of fancy tax loopholes you read about.  *puts on monocle, sneers at the peasantry*

Time spent: About $100 per week.

If you're going to run your writing like a business, you've got to think of it as a business.  I read an article once about a guy who started a coffeeshop, and to save on employee expenses, he worked 40 hours a week at the counter, and he wrote that one day, he realized that he'd gone to college, gotten a degree, and taken out a business loan all so that he could work an $8 an hour job at a coffeeshop.

For me, writing is a hobby that I like that sometimes gets me extra money, unlike my other hobbies (drawing, playing guitar, eating pizza, having weird medical complications), but if I'm treating it like a business I can't think that way.

I typically spend at least an hour a day on writing-related stuff, usually first thing in the morning, from about 6-7, when I read emails, write stories, write blog posts, check out possible publishers or magazines, and look for reviewers.  Weekends, I do a little more.  That's 7-10 hours a week.  I peg my time as being worth $10 per hour, because that's probably what I'd have to pay someone to do those things.  For example, I could probably hire a college kid to send query letters and submissions for short stories to every publisher in the world, for $10 per hour, or a kid to do my Twitter account every day, posting funny things and links there and following people to get followed back.  I've thought about doing that, too -- hiring a publicist, someone who would generate tons of queries or ads or simply Tweets and emails and comments on blogs about my book.  I may do that someday, so if you start getting comments from some stranger on your blog and he also mentions that Eclipse by Briane Pagel is a masterpiece of speculative fiction, you'll know what's going on.

Page Views: 

I wasn't sure where to put this or even whether to include it, but I'm going to, so that you can see the effect of various changes in my habits and methods.

I used to put way more time into blogging than I am currently; that's because blogging used to pay way better than it does now, and while I didn't necessarily like it better, I liked it enough and I enjoyed the extra money, so I was for several years a blogger-who-writes.

The ads slowed down with the great recession, and about that time I got bored with many of my blogs, so I began experimenting with different blogs and consolidating them up into fewer blogs, and focusing more on writing.  (I'm currently at work revising a novel I wrote, and focusing on short stories; that's where the bulk of my time goes, other than editing our magazine here.)

One thing I always heard from people was that my blog posts were too long and that turned people off.  My blog posts (up 'til this one) have been a lot shorter recently, and I haven't seen an uptick in blog visitors, even though many posts are just a paragraph and a picture or so.

Here's a snapshot of pageviews on a few of my blogs:

"Once, there were:" Pageviews today: 128.  All-time high pageviews: January 2010, 51,442. Most popular post: "ESPN Is Not Paying Erin Andrews Enough Money," 73,418 page views, all time.

This blog, which I haven't posted to in several months, was mostly a sports blog for a long time and then became my literary/story blog for a while.  It generates a ton of page views, still, because there were posts about Tebow, Favre, and Erin Andrews.  Why do you think ESPN mentioned Tebow so much last year? I learned, with this blog, that putting a picture of Alyson Hannigan at the top of a post generates page views.  That's literally all it takes. That's why Alyson Hannigan is at the top of this post.

Thinking The Lions: pageviews today: 151. All-time high: July, 2013, 95,908. (WHAT SERIOUSLY?) Most popular post: "Soon, I'll Go Back and Review OTHER Riddles from when I was a kid and figure THEM out." 19,958 views.

This is my personal blog, where all my other ideas start out, so it has stories of me, my kids, pictures, essays, politics, songs, sports, stories, etc.  I had no idea what I posted last July to be so popular, so I went and looked and my July posts were (a) ALMOST ALL REALLY LONG and (b) mostly about stuff like one of my kids learning to swim or my decision that I would try to listen to a song 10,000 times in my life.  So much for conventional wisdom.  That most popular post listed is simply a revelation I had one day about a punchline to a joke I heard when I was a kid.  God only knows what people like about that.

I will say this: If I write a blog post I'm not crazy about, that one tends to be very popular. The ones I like the best are the ones people like the least. I am a terrible judge of taste.

lit, a place for stories: Pageviews today: 5.  Sounds about right. All-time high: January 2012, 55,514.  Most popular post: The Best Spoken Word Song, 109,939 pageviews.

For a long time, this was my pop culture blog where I wrote lengthy meandering essays about stuff like what kind of pizza topping was the best, and I enjoyed it for a great long time before switching it over to what it is now, which is my online literary magazine where I will pay you for your stories click that link to go to the site.

It has been a disappointment as a literary magazine; pretty much only Andrew Leon reads it regularly and I am somewhat convinced that he is only doing so as a condition of his parole.  (What he's on on parole for is a state secret.)

Then again, literary magazines are a hard-sell.  Before you complain that nobody reads your blog, ask yourself how many blogs you read? Same goes for online literary magazines, of which I read... one.  (That one is not mine, mind you: I read one of someone else's.)

Pro-Tip:  A while back, I did an experiment. I had a blog I called "Me, Annotated," which was just old blog posts that I reposted with snarky comments about myself.  The experiment was this: every blog post title began with the word "Sexy" and had a three-word title. This was because I'd heard that Google indexes the first three words of the title, so putting "Sexy Something Something" into your post title would help move it up in page rank.
I last posted on that blog on March 12, two months ago.  Despite that, that blog had 208 page views today, making it currently my most popular blog.  It got 10,358 page views in March, 2014, and has been steadily climbing all year.  So really, every single post I do on any blog should simply be titled "Sexy ..." with two other words.

So there you go.  That's my life as a hobbyist writer: I net about $30 a year (maybe more! *crosses fingers, crosses toes, realizes that is really uncomfortable, wonders briefly about people who can cross their toes comfortably, how weird are they?*), and people pay the most attention to me when I am talking about old jokes, my kids, or Erin Andrews.

Speaking of which:

Feel like upping my profits? Why not check out my collection of horror stories, The Scariest Things, You CAN'T Imagine, attractively priced at $3.99, a price I'm told is like honey to the bee.  Do bees like honey? I don't know. Just click that link and check out the book. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Anticipating the "Why?"


It's one of the most dreaded questions in the world. Well, at least if you're a parent, at any rate. I mean, what business is it of your kid's to know "why?" she needs to do something, right? Or "why?" she needs to do it the way you're telling her to. Or "why?" she needs to go to bed RIGHT NOW! And, sometimes, all you're left with is "because I said so!"

Of course, teachers have the same problem. And it can be worse for them, because, often, they don't actually know the answer to "why?" All they know is that the book says so or the school board says so or whatever, but those amount to the same "I said so" to a kid, and, for a kid asking "why?", "I said so" is rarely enough.

I learned at a fairly young age to not ask "why?" No one ever had answers for me, so I learned to figure them out on my own. I didn't stop asking the question, though, which is what I think a lot of people do. When faced with inadequate answers, they just don't question, which is how I think most people like it.

And, actually, probably how most authors like it.

As an author, "why?" is the worst question ever!
"Why didn't the they just tell them what was going on?"
"Why is there only one city on the whole planet?" (Come on, Star Trek, really?)
"Why didn't he just kill him when he had the chance?" (Because he was killing everyone else, right?)

The problem with the answer is that it's usually an "out of story" answer. Like, "he didn't just kill him because, then, the story would have been over." Or "there was only one city on the whole planet because it would have been too complicated if there had been a whole planet of people to deal with." But out-of-story answers don't work for those questions within the story, which is why it's the author's job to anticipate the "why?"s and provide answers for them within the story. It's why you have so many super heroes with personal codes against killing. That provides the answer to that particular "why?"

The problem is that the "why?"s frequently have to do with a character's (or characters') motivation(s), and that, when dealing with science fiction, can often be at odds with the IDEA. So let's take Looper (you can read my review of it here) as an example:
In Looper, the premise is that the mob of the future has a time machine and they use it to dispose of pre-dead bodies.
Really? That's it. That's the best use they could come up with for a time machine? Which is the problem, because the IDEA is that a guy in the "present" is sent his future self to kill. Wouldn't that make a great story? And, as long as you don't ask "why?", it does make a great story. However, as soon as you say, "Why doesn't the mob in the future just use the time machine to take over the world?" or "Why doesn't the mob of the future use the time machine to invest in all of the right companies?" or "Why doesn't the mob of the future use the time machine to win every lottery ever?" As soon as you ask one of those questions, the story falls apart. And, sorry, the answer "they didn't think of it" just doesn't cut it.

And I'm not even going to start on the scene where the future guy loses his body parts in the present as his present self is tortured and then killed, because there's no way you can answer the "why was that guy there to begin with if he was already dead?" question. Sure, it's cool and freaky to watch as he loses his fingers and stuff, but "cool and freaky" doesn't answer "why?"

Then there's the great "why?" of the Star Trek reboot: "Why did Nero just hang around in space for a quarter of a century doing nothing?" And the obvious answer is that Abrams wanted Nero to kill Kirk's dad but had nothing else for him to do until Spock showed up, so he just had him sit and brood with his thumb up his ass for 25 or so years.

And I could go on but, really, why?

As authors, it's our job to anticipate the places where our readers (or viewers) will say "why?" and weave those answers into the story. Sure, a lot of people, maybe even most people, are not going to ever say "why?", but that "why?" will kill a good or fun idea for those of us that do ask. And, no, telling us not to ask or to "just go with it" doesn't work either. That's a cop out. And irresponsible. And, well, sloppy story telling. Be asking yourself that "why?" question all the way through while you're writing and, anytime you don't have an answer to the question, figure it out. Or take that part out. Something.

And just by the way, long ago I did tell my kids that they could always ask me "why?" I'm telling them something. Man, that's a hard thing to live up to. My daughter, most of all, really holds me to it and, when I try to wiggle out of it, she will say to me, "You said I could always ask you why." The best I can do is delay, too, by saying something like, "Right now, you just need to do what I'm telling you to do. Later, ask me again, and I'll explain it to you." And she does, too.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tips to eBook Success

There was an old article Nigel Mitchell linked to on Twitter last week, but I think unlike a lot of other articles there was some good practical advice in it.  Too many of these articles suggest that the author should spend hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars on covers, editing, and marketing.  At least this author is smart enough to realize your average indie writer isn't flush with cash like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

Since everyone here writes "speculative fiction" I hate to agree with the point that thrillers, mysteries, and romance are the best genres to write in--but it's true!  Those are the ones that make the most money, along with YA.  Sure certain sci-fi or fantasy books, or speculative stuff concerned with zombies and the like can make money, but most don't.  So if you're simply trying to get into it for the money, those big three genres are where you should put your chips.

And it is good to write lots of books.  It's kind of like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.  You don't know which books will do well and which won't if you don't put them out there.  And I guess some people like to know there's more by the author for them to buy, though as a reader that never really enters the equation unless I really like a book.

The social media point I don't really agree with.  I haven't found social media to be all that useful, though I suppose it is better than nothing, which is what I can afford otherwise.  Part of it is probably that like that other point I can't invest my whole day in it, nor would I want to.  I do have to work a real job for money to live on yet since I'm not making $100,000 a month like Konrath.  Other people have kids and spouses and all that too that means they can't be Tweeting and Facebooking and so forth all the time, or even most of it.  And that is why you fail, as Yoda says.

I was intrigued about the idea of selling books myself to cut out Amazon and the like.  When I was setting up my new website on Wix I got thinking about that because it has the kind of tools where I could probably do that.  An advantage is that then you get 100% of the money instead of only 35-70% of it like going through an intermediary.  The idea of then being able to create a customer database didn't occur to me, but that is an interesting idea.

The only problem is when YOU become the seller that means you essentially have your own business.  This could lead to much greater complexity concerning taxes.  In theory you'd probably have to collect sales tax, though Amazon gets around this.  But you're not Amazon so you don't have that kind of market muscle.  My operation is small enough that it's probably better not to worry about it, even if that means I don't find out what random lunatics buy my books.

Hopefully now you've learned something.  Want to know more?  Check out my author blog!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Call for story submissions!

Announcing the first ever

COMING ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, it's the first-ever anthology of stories by indie writers to bear the INDIE WRITERS MONTHLY stamp of approval*, and we want YOU to be a part of it.

The anthology is going to be a collection of stories about Time Travel, and here is HOW YOU CAN GET IN ON THIS:

A. Have a story about time travel, or write one.
2.  Submit that story to us, by June 15, 2014.  (send submissions to litaplaceforstories[at]** and label them "IWM TIME TRAVEL ANNUAL" or something like that.)
THIS IS IMPORTANT: paste the story directly into the of the email.  

III. Make sure you have the rights to the stories and it'd be nice if it hadn't been published somewhere else.  

Word limits? Who do you think you're talking to, here? Because there'll only be a few weeks to read them, shoot for somewhere between 1 and 1,000 words, but if you go longer, by all means, go longer.

Still reading?  Good.  Here is WHY you want to get in on this!

8(a)2.: The stories we like the best will get put into the anthology and you'll be a published writer! 

C: There are prizes! Specifically, the story picked as best by the IWM gang will win a $15 Amazon Gift Card and the Runner Up will get a $10 Amazon Gift Card.

So there you have it!  I look forward to getting those stories.
PSST? Want to read some of my own time-travel stories? Check out 

HEADLINE: “Time Travel Is Only Possible In One Direction, Scientists Say.” Subhead: “Balderdash,” Tim says.

And here's a link to five 250-word time travel stories (and an essay on another one) 


*no actual stamp will be created.  It is a metaphor.

**while this is an IWM and not a lit venture I need to keep my regular gmail unclogged up and I assume there will be 100,000s of stories coming in.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Aliens and Mothering/Parenting

It's Mother's Day today in the U.S. on the planet Earth. In honor of the occasion, I've been using the hand-decorated mug my son made for me (even though the marker ink came off on my hand) and thinking about alien parents. According to the "Your Inner Monkey" episode of the documentary Your Inner Fish (more influence from my son, as he was briefly obsessed with this series), humans are born with brains that are relatively undeveloped compared to monkeys. This is a feature, not a bug, since that means we have an extended childhood that allows our brains to develop over a couple of decades, giving us time to be socialized and educated.That means human children need more intensive nurturing than other animals that mature more quickly. A lot of this nurturing comes from the child's mother, though fathers, other relatives, teachers, and other adults can influence a child as well.

Do you think sentient life forms on other planets require this much nurturing as they develop? If so, do you think it comes from their mother, or whatever the equivalent is? Other life forms may have more than two parents, or may be raised by other members of their race besides their biological parents. No matter what customs apply, I expect natural selection would still favor parents who bond with their offspring--and offspring who form an attachment to their parents would get more support as they mature.

Here's a video featuring one of my favorite alien mothers, the Horta from the original Star Trek series:

You have to feel sorry for a mother who has to care for an entire planet's worth of offspring by herself.

And if I may insert a shameless plug, you can read about a human mother in my SF Catalyst Chronicles series.

Friday, May 9, 2014

"lit, a place for stories" has moved... sort of

Apparently, Google no longer hosts independent URLs, and I am not really interested in paying for a .com name for now on my blog, lit, a place for stories, so the address for THE WEB'S PREMIER STORY SITE THAT WILL PAY YOU FOR YOUR WRITING is now

Bookmark it today!

lit, a place for stories

Omnibus Tips & Tricks

Are you an indie writer with a series of books?  Have you ever considered putting them together into an omnibus but aren't sure how?  The key to making a workable omnibus is formatting.  Today on my blog I give you the tips you need to format your omnibus for Amazon's Kindle.  And best of all, it's free of charge!

And even if you don't have an omnibus you can use these formatting tricks to make your ebook not look like crap on Amazon.  That's kind of a good thing.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Vanity Fair may have Monica Lewinsky...

...but we've got P.T. Dilloway, and okay maybe he never made out with a president but I'm pretty sure Monica can't write a superhero story to save her life.

This is all to say that
... INDIE WRITERS MONTHLY ISSUE 3: MAY FLOWERS is on the stands now! Well, no, it's not. It's only available electronically because: trees.  But it's free! From now until May 13 get the latest issue absolutely free, and be treated to a new story from Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, author of the "Twinned Universes" saga, an interview with superhero/sci fi writer P.T. Dilloway, tips on how to get ideas for writing, and stories of how indie writers got started.

It's all available just by clicking RIGHT HERE.

Friday, May 2, 2014

What I Think About When I Think About Lucy Corin's "100 Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses."

I've been reading 100 Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses, by Lucy Corin, a book that is an actual book.  While I'm usually opposed to actual real books made of paper because this isn't 1853, I make exceptions if it's the only way to read a book that I really want to read.

"Real" books should only be "real" books if there's a reason for them to be in physical form.  The two books I bought as get well presents for myself are both real books (the other one is "S" by JJ Abrams) and both seem to have a reason for being real.

In 100 Apocalypses, for example, Lucy Corin relies on the physical layout of the page to help tell some of the stories.  There are bits in the margins of some stories, a layout that works really well.  (One story tells the main story in the big part of the page but along the margin tells what seems to be an alternate version of the story, a gimmick I liked.)  And the story I got to most recently (I'm about halfway through all the apocalypses) is called "Vision Test Card."

The story starts out with small -- VERY small -- print, just as a vision test would.  It's so small that while I could (just barely) read it on the page, with a lot of work, I ended up cheating (?) and taking a picture of the page with my phone to enlarge the words:

And as I did that, I thought how weird it was that this book, which the author adamantly was determined should remain in physical format for me (again, something I usually dislike: telling me how I have to experience your work rubs me the wrong way, unless it's for a purpose) this book had been converted back into electronic form for me to read it.

The gimmick itself, the small words growing larger, works well in the story and as a reading device, making you work for the story and focusing you on the act of reading as well as the story itself, while also giving you a feel for how the man across the aisle might feel: "he couldn't tell from watching her fingers what she was writing," and we almost can't tell, either.

I call it a gimmick, because it is, but that seems too pejorative. A gimmick is a style device that doesn't work.  When it does, it is more properly termed a device.  So Lucy Corin's devices work in the service of her stories and because of that, the small type, concurrent stories, and even the physical nature of the book itself enhance, rather than detract from, the experience of reading the book.

(Also, it's an excellent book that spec fic lovers should read.  If you want a sample of the stories, McSweeney's ran excerpts weekly and has them up on its site; click this link to go there.  Lucy Corin's writing has influenced mine significantly, as you'll see if you check out any of her stories.)


Check out my own stories at lit, a place for stories, where I not only publish some of my own work but I will pay you for your writing!  Click here to go to the site