Archive for category Business of Writing

Bezos and the Washington Post

PostMaZonI don’t suppose I’m breaking the news that Jeff Bezos hit the 1-Click ordering button for the Washington Post and this morning woke up wondering just how the hell he spent $250,000,000 last night. This is why I don’t have 1-Click ordering turned on. Plenty of websites are trying to figure out the business implications of this move, and just how hands-on Bezos might be with the editorial page of the paper. However, I’m thrilled to break at least some news that you’ll read first on Writerly Words.

The Washington Post will merge with Kindle Digital Printing.

This move is seen as a big positive for the paper. They can now offer articles from beyond traditional journalists. These new stories won’t have to go through the gatekeepers of editors, type setters, or fact checking, and can be offered directly to the reading public at a price agreed on by the writer then reduced, unannounced, by Amazon.

But that’s only half of the good news. The Washington Post will now join Slaughterhouse-Five as the newest addition to Kindle Worlds. This means that writers can create their own unique fiction set in the exciting world of The Washington Post, creating their own plotlines for well known characters. Who hasn’t wondered what would happen if Woodward and Bernstein turned their investigative eyes away from the Nixon Administration and towards ferreting out the vampire threat trying to infiltrate the House of Representatives? Wanted to read about Ezra Klein’s adventures as a swashbuckling spy? All these story lines and more will be opened up for writers and readers to explore.

I, for one, am excited.

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Amazon Presents: Fan Fiction

In the ever-growing push to monetize more and more of the written word, today Amazon announced a new arrow in their quiver: Amazon Worlds. The shortest explanation, the one getting the most play around the internet, is that Amazon is now getting into fan fiction. Which is close enough to correct that anything closer is splitting hairs. Perhaps one might look at these more as tie-in works, but what are tie-in works other than licensed and approved fan fiction and I’m getting ahead of myself.

Deep breath, try again.

It sounds like Amazon Worlds isn’t what most people think of when they think of fan fiction. For one, their first content guideline is “We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.” Their last, “No crossovers from other Worlds are permitted.” So good-bye slash fiction, random sexual romps, and crossovers, some of the pillars of fan fiction. It’s also not what most people think of as fan fiction, because it’s going to be officially licensed. Amazon has lined up the rights to three “Worlds,” those of Gossip Girls, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries. Right now, that’s it, though they’re hinting more in the future. So for now, that Heathcliff fan fiction where he saves the world from an asteroid won’t be paying your mortgage.

Through the licensing of these worlds, it also means that the original content creators will get a piece of the action. How big of a piece, Amazon isn’t saying, which means it might be on a case-by-case basis, or they might just not feel that it matters to enough people. This is good. People getting paid for their creations is the basis of the creative industry. Always has been, always should be.

However…well, we’re creating now a situation where the canon lives side-by-side with the non-canon. Right there in the Kindle store, right there on your reader. Chuck Wendig, in commenting on this, says it perfectly:

Someone might read Book 3 of the Miriam Black series, The Cormorant, and say, “But this doesn’t refer to that time when she time-traveled back to the Old West in that novella, Booby Nuthatch.” And you’re like, “That wasn’t real, though, someone else wrote that.” But then they say: “I PAID FOR IT SO IT FELT REAL TO ME” and then they sob into your shoulder and you wonder suddenly how they got that close and should you call the police? Probably.

Now, there are theoretically going to be “content guidelines” offered by the original creators of these Worlds, “and your work must follow these Content Guidelines.” But these guidelines aren’t up yet. In theory they’ll create a sort of show bible under which the tie-in media is produced, but ultimately this is the creation of non-canon within an author’s world which is given a stamp of authenticity and sold to the consumer. At a reduced rate.

As this is opt-in, there’s no worry about this sneaking up and reducing someone’s brand. Anyone who wants their creation to be thrown open to the Kindle Worlds writers can freely do so, anyone who doesn’t…won’t. It’s potentially great for franchises that the author has reached the end of, as it wouldn’t create the canonical confusion that Chuck Wendig is worried about, allowing for a continued monetization of the world. I like the idea of authors getting paid.

It does create an interesting new twist to rights management. Over on Twitter agent Evan Gregory was kind enough to respond when I asked if this created a new right. He explained these agreements would fall under the derivative rights that are often reserved by the writer and bundled together as part of TV/film rights. “Though I suppose now, for a popular book series, those rights could be licensed separately.”

Welcome to the new frontier in control over rights: the fan fiction rights. Though I didn’t press further, I do wonder what implications there will be if this takes off. When digital published emerged there were a lot of questions about who controlled digital rights on contracts that were negotiated before that was a thing. This will be different. This will be a case of derivative rights being negotiated before a new market for them opened up. If the platform is successful, I suspect we’ll see at least one fight over this.

So…yeah, it’s an interesting platform. It’s opt-in, there’s no immediate sign that any rights holders will be begrudgingly opted-in, the original creator gets a part of the take. It’s an interesting experiment, just not one I see myself taking part in on either end. The only conclusion I think anyone can have right now is a resounding “we’ll see.”

Oh, and…

  • Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.

But that’s a matter for another day.

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The Hydra Alibi

Man, that would be a great name for a thriller novel. A young protagonist caught in a web of confusing lies, not knowing the way out, before realizing that she’s been duped by a major corporation she trusted. And being told “that’s just the way it is.” Can she fight back against such an overwhelming force?

This is one of those awkward posts to write, because the first thing I have to do is acknowledge that I’m following other posts, largely written by departing SFWA president John Scalzi. And then I’m going to link to a lot of those posts. And then I’m going to quote a lot of those posts. I can’t imagine anyone reads this blog who isn’t aware of Whatever, who perhaps hasn’t followed this issue. But it’s something that I do want to bring up, because it’s something that I do want to talk about.

The issue is Hydra. And Alibi. And possibly, though unconfirmed, Loveswept and Flirt. These are the four new imprints that Random House recently announced. Per their FAQ, this is their raison d’être:

Why are you launching these imprints?
As publishing continues to evolve, and with more authors finding their first home in digital, we are committed to creating new ways for readers to discover books. The dedicated team understands both the content and medium, and wants to help break out authors in the digital space. The imprints will seek out the best and brightest to grow the next generation of authors in the most prolific and lively genres.

A digital-only imprint of the lively genres of science-fiction and fantasy (Hydra), thrillers (Alibi), “new adult” (Flirt), and romance (Loveswept). This isn’t the first time one of the Big Six publishers has flirted with a digital-only imprint, and it’s likely not the last. This is, however, the first one that has seen the full fury of Scalzi and the SFWA brought down on it, which happened earlier this week when contract terms leaked first to Writer Beware, then were dissected on Whatever. The high-level overview?

  1. No advance. None. Zero.
  2. The costs of book setup, which are not inconsequential, are deducted from the author’s share of profits.
  3. All rights are conveyed in the contract, primary, secondary, all languages, all formats, everything.
  4. The term of the contract is length of copyright.

What all that ends up meaning is that for no up front money the Hydra imprint gets full rights to do anything with the novel they see fit, and deduct the costs of those activities from the author’s share of the profits. At that point in the story the information was second-hand, but first-hand information soon showed up. Scalzi got his hands on an Alibi contract, and tore it to absolute pieces. Figurative pieces. Though I suppose it’s possible he printed a copy and tore that to literal pieces. I probably would have. The breakdown above held in this contract. These terms border on vanity press terms. Hell, at least most vanity presses don’t require length of copyright exclusivity.

This morning, a more official SFWA response. To pull out my favorite paragraph, which I think sums it all up:

You extol your business model as “different”; the more accurate description, we believe, is “exploitative.” We are particularly disappointed to see it arising out of Random House, a well-regarded, long-standing publishing firm. Bluntly put, Random House should know better.

SFWA has declined to recognize Hydra or Alibi as qualifying markets for membership, citing the lack of advance and the financial burden placed on the author. I’m thrilled that SFWA is all over this. I’m thrilled Writing Excuses is all over this. I’m thrilled that Scalzi is all over this. The danger of this contract, of these terms, lies in their success. If these new contracts succeed, they could serve as a blueprint for other publishers. There shouldn’t be a point where a publisher can say “this is how publishing is now.” Or “this is how the business works.” Because it’s not. And it shouldn’t be. Success of these terms relies on the ignorance of those who would sign onto them.

So why am I writing about this when I get fewer page hits in a year than either Scalzi or SFWA likely get in a day? Two reasons. First is summed up by something Scalzi tweeted while I wrote the first draft of this post:

There is no such thing as a voice too small in this matter, or a site too inconsequential. If anyone has any notion of publishing and sees this post who didn’t see the posts on Writer Beware, Whatever, or SFWA’s website then I’m glad to pass that information along. Even if that’s not possibly the case, I think it’s important for someone in my position to say something.

Why?

That’s the second reason: Because I’m the potential target of this. I’m the writer working on his first few novels, the writer who has only seen short story contracts before, the writer who potentially doesn’t know the difference between good and bad terms, the writer who thinks maybe this is just how things work now, or will in the future, then signs on the bottom line. I feel targeted by this. Certainly not personally, but by a broader inclusion within a class of unpublished. And that pisses me off.

I’d like to close with a few words of thanks. Thanks to Writer Beware and Whatever for both exposing that this contract, and more specifically for breaking down step-by-step just why it’s such a bad contract. Seriously, if you don’t want to read the posts behind all of my links, the most important one for someone who hasn’t seen a contract before is Scalzi’s breakdown of the Alibi contract. I’ll even relink it right here so you don’t have to scroll back up and figure out which one that is.

I’m glad to have people looking out for me. Once again, certainly not personally, but by the same broader inclusion. It reminds me that everyone, no matter how successful, was once that aspiring writer trying to sell his or her first novel. Was once a potential target of a company trying to pass along bad contract terms. It’s why organizations like SFWA exist, and it’s why I look forward to the day I can pay into their dues.

So be smart, go read, and be careful about what you sign.

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Used E-Books?

You’ve probably seen it by now. If you haven’t, the news broke this week that Amazon filed a patent “to create a secondary market for used digital objects purchased from an original vendor by a user and stored in a user’s personalized data store.” Now, Amazon has its fingers in a lot of digital soups, so this would mean music, this means movies, but what most folks are focusing on is that this means ebooks. If you want opinions of people who matter slightly more than I, Chuck Wendig has posted about this, as has John Scalzi. Twice, in fact, with the second post making the point that he’d rather you pirate his ebooks than buy them used from Amazon if he’s not going to make money off of them.

I know people are going to find that last point a little extreme and alarmist. I get where he’s coming from, but I’m not sure I completely agree.

If you’re still here, then you get to hear my opinion.

First, let’s pump the brakes on this a little. It’s trendy in modern reporting to focus on patents awarded to one company or another. Frequently that means focusing on patents awarded to Apple and Amazon. In the case of Apple, it’s an attempt to guess at what will show up in the next iPhone or iPad, though a huge number of the patents don’t end up in any electronics. It’s been with increasing frequency that patents aren’t about protecting a product you are preparing to sell, it’s to prove you had an idea first. It’s to keep other people from using that idea or, if they do, force them to license the idea through your company. This is the land of the patent troll.

Note, I am calling neither Amazon nor Apple patent trolls. However, both company do have multiple patents that do not reflect current, or even future, products. It’s impossible to know whether this used digital object patent is such a patent or not. It will remain impossible up until the point Amazon rolls out the new service. However, let’s go with the assumption that Amazon will move forward, because assuming it won’t means my blog post ends here and I have nothing else to do with this space but post pictures of my baby or cats. This is not that part of this internet, this is instead the part where I opine about things I really lack enough details to really opine about.

It’s called blogging, damnit.

Alright, so let’s assume that Amazon is going to go through with this. They want to create a process by which you can sell back your used digital music, movies, and books, allowing someone else to buy it at a reduced price. What are the problems with this?

To start, let me say that I am an unabashed fan of used bookstores. This past Martin Luther King Jr. Day when I found myself with a day off work and no wife or baby, I didn’t sleep in, I didn’t veg out with the television, or finally finish Dishonored. No. I went on an odyssey to visit seven used book stores in the Northern Virginia area. This weekend my wife and I are talking about hitting two more near Eastern Market. One day I’ll hit I-270 and do all three locations of Wonder Books. I love used book stores.

And I understand something about used book stores. I understand that the purchases I make do not benefit the authors or their estates. Those books have already been bought new and the royalties paid out. While I mostly buy out-of-print titles and books by deceased authors when I go digging through the shelves, I do occasionally buy from a living author, one who would actively benefit from the royalty. That’s how I got the second and third titles of the Old Man’s War series. I’m not making a stand here that every book should be bought new, that any literary transaction should put money in the author’s pocket, because if I argue that I’m a hypocrite and turning my back on every one of those used book stores that I so dearly love.

Of course, as Scalzi points out in his opening reply to the second blog post linked above, “usually, the used bookshop down the way is not an aggressive multinational corporation aggressively pursuing a monopsony position in the market, with billions in yearly gross revenues.” That’s not the point I’d like to focus on. I would like to focus on his very next sentence. “And also, it’s really hard to sell a physical book and keep it at the same time.”

This is where things get a little thornier.

If I go into a used book store and buy a copy of Old Man’s War, I know that the person who originally owned it and read it sold it to that used book store. That he or she no longer owns that copy. In theory this is the case with digital media. In practice, it’s not. While breaking DRM on digital media is illegal, there is software available to do exactly that. So there’s no guarantee that the digital copy of Old Man’s War sold back to Amazon doesn’t also still exist on the original purchaser’s computer. Or another Kindle. Or anywhere else, really. And, actually, Old Man’s War is a horrible example anyway, as Scalzi’s publisher is quite proud of the fact they no longer use DRM, so that makes this problem even more challenging.

Amazon may have considered this, they may have a solution. Again, we don’t know.

So let’s go back into that used book store and its science fiction section. When I go into Hole in the Wall Books, or Wonder Books, I know how many copies of Old Man’s War they have. In my experiences this is typically between zero and two. As a consumer, I know when they sell those two copies they have no other copies. Amazon will need a hell of a lot of transparency with this particular issue, proving that they are only selling the number of used copies that they have the authority to sell. I doubt the methodology for moving these used copies will be keeping a copy of the file in some separate folder then deleting it when someone else buys it. No, it’ll come as a copy from the same master file that they use when serving up any other request for the book. I’m not saying I don’t trust Amazon in this respect, only that writers shouldn’t have to rely on nothing but their trust of Amazon. After all, the words “Amazon” and “transparency” do not go hand-in-hand.

However, that does raise another point. What actually makes this copy “used.” I’ve bought books from used bookstores with brittle pages, with broken spines, with covers nearly coming off, with notes written in them. I’m paying less money (well, that’s usually a lie, I’m often buying books labelled as 35-75 cents originally for $2-5), but I’m also getting a copy of the book that isn’t in nearly the condition that it was new. If used ebooks are served from the same master file…what makes them used? What’s the difference in the file I receive, other than the price?

This creates an incentive to buying the books used. Which means an incentive towards the copy that doesn’t produce royalties for the original author. If I can get the exact same file for less…why would I pay more? As long as there are “used” copies on hand, would anything drive people to buying the “new” copies other than some loyalty to authors and creators. Most people don’t have that. Which meshes in nicely with the question of how Amazon proves they’re only selling as many “used” copies as they have.

Again, with any or all of this, Amazon may have considered these problems and has solutions in place.

There’s no way of knowing this is how Amazon will work the market, they may simply provide a service to link sellers with buyers while skimming just a little off the top. Or they may act as the internet’s new used book store, the alibris of electronic copies, and take a much larger cut.

Amazon may even intend to compensate creators for used copies moved through this process.

Amazon may not even do a thing, and just wants the patent to keep anyone else from doing it.

We don’t know their plans right now. That doesn’t mean that we can’t voice our concerns or look at the possibilities of what’s to come. There’s no reason to necessarily distrust Amazon, but there’s also no great reason to trust them, either. They are a business looking out for their own interests, and they are increasingly such a massive share of their market that they can dictate terms. We’ll just have to wait and see what those terms end up being, and hope that they don’t negatively affect the ability of creators to profit from their intellectual property.

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Get Read by Harper Voyager!

For anyone who hasn’t seen the news, Harper’s science fiction and fantasy imprint Voyager is doing something they haven’t done in over a decade: open up for unsolicited, unagented manuscripts. There’s a length FAQ up at Harper Voyager’s webpage, and when everything opens up on October 1, this link should get you to the submission site (until then, it’s redirecting to the FAQ).

Sadly, I don’t have anything ready for this open call, a shame as Voyager is one of my dream imprints. They’re also looking primarily for eBook properties, though “[t]here is the possibility that submissions will be published in print as well.” Is that a foolish reason to turn down this open call if the manuscript was more complete? Absolutely. Am I a print romantic? Yes, I am.

Still, this sounds like a fantastic opportunity to put your manuscript into the hands of the Voyager editors, to get read by the science fiction arm of one of the Big Six publishers.

I do note one smart thing Voyager has done here, they are opening this up for the first two weeks of October. What makes the date so essential? It’s about as far as possible from Nanowrimo. I hesitate to think what the difference in submission qualities will be opening up in early October rather than early December. Nanowrimo, I love you, but you know damn well people would be submitting their recently “completed” Nano novels to this open call. Whether this was an intentional move by Voyager or not, I don’t know.

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Books as Arts and Crafts

Even as a devoted fan of The Soup, I never expected to type the name “Lauren Conrad” in this blog. And yet, here goes. Did you see what Lauren Conrad did? If you didn’t, here it is. At least for the time being. The original video is gone, and I don’t know if copies will last.

After the video posted, the internet had a minor conniption fit about it. It’s been pulled apart by the Huffington Post, Gawker, Jezebel, Slate, and even the LA Times. In case the video embedded above gets pulled down, Lauren Conrad, formerly of The Hills and more recently published author under the TeenHarper umbrella, suggests a craft project that involves cutting the spines off books (in this case, Lemony Snicket books) and gluing them to the side of a box. What about the rest of the book? She recommends “You can also keep the pages you’re cutting out for a project later on. I have a wall in my office where I’ve taped a bunch of book pages up there.” Or, I suppose, you can store them in the box.

Decorating with books isn’t anything new. A local used book store that I love to pieces has a side business called Books By The Foot, which sells…books by the foot. For the purpose of filling bookshelves, largely with an eye to the decorative appeal to them. They’re sold by binding variety, color, or size. These are books intended to be looked at, not necessarily read. More destructive to the books are projects like this, books with their covers removed and stacked with their spines inward. Go to your local Restoration Hardware, or almost any other hip furniture store, and you’ll find books with the covers and spines removed, tied back together by twine, and placed into bell jars.

I’m also not going to pretend that hundreds, if not thousands of books aren’t destroyed on a daily basis through the process of remaindering. There’s something visceral about watching the process. Which is where a lot of the negative reaction came from. It doesn’t help that she targeted a series of books that the internet loves. That I love. Look, I thought the series fell apart near the end, I know I’m not alone in that opinion, but these are still books that I intend to have a complete set of when my daughter is the right age for them, that I will gladly read and re-read to her. So, yeah, it hurts to see them cut apart, especially in a video that ends with the request to “share with us the books you’re reading now.”

Why? So you can cut them apart, too?

So, alright, books as a decorative element are nothing new, destroying books is nothing new, destroying books to use them as a decorative element isn’t new. Yes, it hurts to watch them actually cut apart, especially by a former reality TV star.

And I understand wanting to use books as a decorative element. I love my Ace Doubles, and the other bits of classic pulp science fiction I’ve bought over the years, but right now this is how I have them displayed:

Only…less blurry in person. If you’ll notice they’re all on bookshelves, which means the spines are sticking out. Leaving aside Lauren Conrad’s decorating tips, the spines are the least interesting part of most book covers. I’m not going to say there’s no design to book spines, but what I love about these books is the covers. It’s why I wrote an entire post about one of the cover artists. It would be easy to mount some in a shadowbox and hang them on the wall to display to covers, without destroying the books. But I love reading the books, too. I wouldn’t want them not to be accessible. Doubles offer another problem by having two covers to potentially display. Some I have a clear favorite, but how can you choose between covers like the ones to the left and right. Those are flip sides of the same book.

Ace Doubles. Damn hard to find a way to fully display them in a way that isn’t destructive to the book. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start cutting them apart, it just means I’m always looking for some solution.

I understand why, as a bibliophile, it hurts to watch that video. I also understand, as a bibliophile, the aesthetic appeal of books.This isn’t meant to be one of those death-of-print-books articles, but I can’t help but wonder if changes in technology will change the ways we present books. They’ve already become a collection of decorative elements that just happen to be held together into one package. While Lauren Conrad, or her handlers, saw the controversy spurred by her video and took it down, these sorts of crafts projects exist, and many more books are destroyed on a daily basis without any reason behind them. Perhaps, just perhaps, what Conrad did isn’t nearly so bad from than angle. At least some pleasure will come from it. Could those books have been donated to any number of organizations that would provide them for children to read? Certainly. But in the grand scheme of book destruction, one box with Lemony Snicket spines is a drop in the bucket.

That’s not a defense. I don’t like it. I’m certainly not going to do it. It’s an acknowledgement that we book readers are entering a similar phase with our favorite medium that music lovers did. Records are routinely made unplayable in the name of interior design and decoration, and we hardly blink at that. It’s not the death of the book, it’s not the death of reading. It’s just the future of physical media, which I suspect will be increasingly repurposed. I’m not saying don’t care. Caring is fantastic, and I hope that someone has responded to the video above by donating copies of Lemony Snicket books, or other books, to places where they’ll be read. It’s sad. Books will never die as a thing, but this is a clear sign that they aren’t what they once were, a step along a transition. It’ll be a tough one, but it’s unavoidable. All we can do is love our books.

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Unrelated: Bees and Kickstarter

Two unrelated items.

First, I mentioned in my post about the big storm that both our beehives were knocked over by a falling branch, and have since gotten questions about how the bees are. We reassembled the hives on the spot, but weren’t able to take a full look at the hives until this past weekend. I can report that both queens were spotted (get it, it’s a pun because queen bees are typically marked with a spot of paint) during the inspection, so all the branch did (to the bees at least) was put a massive dent in one of our outer covers and riled up the hives. They’ve been devouring sugar water at a high rate of speed, but that’s a good thing at this stage. Got to get the stores together to overwinter.

For now, we’re filling up the feeder jars as quickly as the bees empty them, both otherwise letting them live their lives. Once we saw both queens, we removed any need to go deeper into the hives for the next few weeks.

Second, anyone who follows Kickstarter is probably aware of the controversial new project wherein Penny Arcade is using the site to raise $250k (though they’re really looking for $1million) in order to remove all advertising from their site. No one has asked, but I still wanted to share my thoughts on the project.

Thought the first. I don’t believe this is within the spirit of Kickstarter. I’m not going to say that Kickstarter should only be for the unknown and unheralded, it shouldn’t. I’ve seen many established products and brands use the site as an end-round of the games making process (such as for Double Fine and Ogre) or drives to fund reprints (such as for Order of the Stick). However, the Penny Arcade project strikes me more as a company seeking business expenses, not creating a product. As quoted from the Kickstarter guidelines:

A project has a clear goal, like making an album, a book, or a work of art. A project will eventually be completed, and something will be produced by it. A project is not open-ended. Starting a business, for example, does not qualify as a project.

I can’t help but wonder if the name “Penny Arcade” is what got this project green lit by Kickstarter. Obviously I don’t know Kickstarter’s reasoning, and I won’t pretend that I have an encyclopedic enough knowledge of past Kickstarters to know the precedents. However, in spite of my thoughts on whether it should or shouldn’t be within Kickstarter’s guidelines, I’m not joining the outrage because…

Thought the second. I don’t believe that Kickstarter is a zero-sum game. That is to say, I don’t believe there’s a set amount of money that is going to be donated to projects on a given day, and that the Penny Arcade project is taking money out of the mouths of projects that are less ambiguous about their adherence to policy. The people who are donating the Penny Arcade are donating to Penny Arcade. Hell, it could even be a net positive if people are funding a Kickstarter for the first time, and finding other projects while browsing around the site.

There’s one exception to the zero-sum issue, the staff picks. Currently the Penny Arcade project is taking one of the three Staff Pick spots within the Comics section, an exposure that it clearly doesn’t need. So do I think that it’s strictly within the rules? No. Do I think that makes it inherently a bad thing? No.

But I’m just me.

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Writing and the ACA

I think we all saw the news yesterday. Those who were watching Fox News and CNN even got to see several iterations of the news. In a complicated decision, the US Supreme Court rejected the individual mandate under the commerce clause but upheld it under Congressional powers of taxation. I’m not here to argue about whether the bill ultimately is or isn’t constitutional. I’m not a constitutional scholar. I’m only going to share a few things in an attempt to make the ACA a relevant topic on what is primarily a blog about writing.

First was a writer who announced he would be able to go to writing full-time under the ACA provisions that go into effect in 2014, especially the provision forbidding health plans for discriminating against applicants with pre-existing conditions. Second was Steampunk artist Kyle Cassidy predicting that “artists will leave crappy corporate jobs they held just to have insurance for art jobs that pay less.”

Now today on Art Info there’s an article titled How Artists Will Be Affected by the Supreme Court’s Decision to Uphold Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which goes into more details about…well, how artists will etc etc etc. While the site largely focuses on the various graphic arts, it’s important to remember that all people who create for a living will have similar effects. Whether a painter, sculptor, free-lancer, or author, we’re all in a position where our creative endeavors result in an unpredictable income stream for all but a very fortunate minority. The probably with this spotty stream is that insurance is, in a word, expensive.

One of the reasons that healthcare is prohibitively expensive for artists and other self-employed people is that they are not part of a larger network, which allows insurance companies to better spread out risk and costs. Even small companies sometimes don’t qualify for group plans. Some 52 percent of artists described themselves as either completely uninsured or inadequately insured in the face of high premiums, high deductibles, and annual limits on care.

Under the ACA, states will set up group exchanges by 2014, which will organize the insurance market and allow individuals and small businesses to band together to form groups, just like if they were part of a large corporation. The exchanges will not be able to consider pre-existing conditions when creating groups — currently one of the biggest reasons why individuals or small businesses have a hard time getting affordable insurance.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t promise that the ACA is going to work entirely as expected. Or that it will be enacted at all. A significant groundswell of anti-ACA emotion could give Romney the White House and enough of a GOP presence in the House and Senate to overturn the bill. It’s going to be a long and weird two years until the majority of the ACA takes hold, and probably a few years after that until we will know how it works in reality versus in theory.

However, I support artists. I support creators. Not just because I am one, but because this world would be a damn boring place without things being created. So I support a safety net for those individuals who dare to dream and want to try creating full-time. Hell, I hope to join them some day. So I hope that Cassidy, Art Info, and the writer planning on going full-time in 2014 are well founded in their optimism, that this will provide a way for more people to be able to create without worrying about what will happen if they get sick.

When asked in 1993 about whether it was easier to be a writer in Canada or America, science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer answered:

I think the biggest advantage a writer has in Canada is free government-sponsored health care…I was able to become a full-time writer because I didn’t need a job in order to get health insurance. Canada — and just about every other industrialized country — considers health care a basic human right, but in the States so many people who might otherwise take the plunge and become full-time writers have to stay shackled to a nine-to-five job so that they won’t be financially ruined should they be in an accident or get ill.

The ACA isn’t full Canadian medical care. But it is a step towards allowing those who want to be full-time creators to do so. Taking aside all the politics about the ACA, whether it’s Obamacare or Romneycare or whatever othercare you care to call it, I applaud a society that better supports those who create for the betterment of that society.

If that’s political, it’s political. It’s also how I feel.

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On the Future of Publishing and Fake English Football

I’ve taken to watching author/professor/humanitarian/professional video game player John Green play FIFA on Youtube, in part because he crafts damn fun narratives for his digital players, and in part because he’ll spend entire games talking about things that have nothing to do with his fake FIFA team.  Such as his views on the future of publishing, why publishing isn’t the music industry, and the problems behind the new Amazon paradigm for bringing books directly from authors to the masses.  His videos are 10-15 minutes long, his thoughts on the future of publishing are nearly 30 minutes, so it’s split into two parts.

Part one, in which he discusses how books are not made by individuals:

Part two, in which he discusses three potential futures for publishing:

Look, it’s no big secret that I’m no fan of the notion that Amazon wants to deconstruct the publishing industry, so I largely agree with John Green.  I like what Amazon is offering.  To an extent.  The new digital ways of distributing writing are fantastic for writers who want to make their back catalogs available, or for authors who are putting out the best material that they can.

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Kickstarter Postmortem, Part 1

I’ve decided to split this postmortem into two halves.  This first half will focus entirely on my thoughts.  Part two, sometime next week, will include a back-and-forth with the editor of The Memory Eater anthology to talk about the decision to go Kickstarter, and what he thinks of it as a way forward for fiction and anthologies.

First and foremost, I want to say thank you.  From the absolute bottom of my heart, thank you.  I recognized several names on the donors list that I know are followers on Twitter, readers of this blog, friends in real life, or who I otherwise pointed to the Kickstarter.  It’s been overwhelming each time I see one of those names come up.  If you are reading this and you donated, or you helped spread the word, or you simply put up with me becoming a single-focused Kickstarter monster for 40 days and 40 nights, I cannot thank you enough.  I hope that the end product of our campaign justifies your faith in the project.

I didn’t want to go any further without saying those words.

The Kickstarter experience was a hell of a roller coaster, and I wanted to give people a look at what it’s like to be part of a project that doesn’t have A Name attached to it.  What do I mean by A Name?  Let’s look at some of the most successful projects on the site.  The same day we got funded, Steve Jackson was funded just shy of a million dollars to resurrect his classic game Ogre.  During our campaign, Amanda Palmer hit her $100,000 goal in a matter of hours.  The classic example, at least until someone beats its $3.3 million haul, is Double Fine Adventure, which got $300,000 in just eight hours.  In all of these cases, we’re talking about individuals (Jackson, Palmer, and Tim Schafer) who have rabid and devoted followers.

Who were we?  We were a rag-tag collection of authors and illustrators who combined didn’t have the prestige that any of Jackson, Palmer, or Schafer have in their pinky fingers.  In the end we became the 84th most funded Publishing/Fiction project in the site’s short history, well behind juggernauts like Dinocalypse Now and Steampunk Holmes.  Compare that to the three projects above, which all had two things in common when compared to The Memory Eater.  Both had more backers than we had dollars backed, and both had, and sold, rewards worth more than our entire project.  Hell, then some of our stretch goals, even.

There’s another Kickstarter postmortem out there, as web video legend Ze Frank broke down his experiences in funding his new show through the site.  His project and ours have a few differences, namely just about everything except that we both used Kickstarter.  He’s an established name online, with an established fan base, and he chose to go for an 11 day project largely because Kickstarter itself was interested to test short-term projects as they saw most money raised in the first and last three days.  In his postmortem he has a hunch:

:: HUNCH :: My guess is the shape of the blue curve is mainly defined by pretty basic network properties of information spread – a short period of exponential growth followed by exponential decline. The initial spike has to do with novel interest and many overlapping points of broadcast (initial marketing, retweets, blog posts, sharing) Once you are in the phase of exponential decline, you will have to fight to maintain interest, either by enlisting larger broadcast nodes (news articles, bloggers) or by creating shareable events (new reasons to share your campaign.)

My hunch, before our Kickstarter opened, was that the initial spike seen at the beginning of a Kickstarter from a known quantity, A Name, is due to a period before the information about the project is saturated.  It doesn’t take nearly as long for Ze Frank, Jackson, Palmer, or Schafer to largely exhaust their ability to mobilize an existing fan base.  The long tail is due to funding goals being reached, so there’s a decreased excitement.  Those trickling in at this point are those who are curious or somehow missed the opening blast trickle in, then the big finish is from those who were holding out but decided they really wanted to be in on the whole thing.  The concept of exhaustion and diminishing returned interested me as we went into a project where we were reliant on hard fought word of mouth and people stumbling upon our project being curious.  And one that likely wasn’t going to get 72-hour funding.  So, since I like being obsessive, and I like charts, and I like numbers, I put together The Infamous Graph.

Each morning at as close to 7:55am eastern time as possible (the time we launched, so our Kickstarter midnight) I grabbed the total contribution from the Kickstarter and scribbled it down.  They all went into an Excel spreadsheet, and I tracked the overall progress (blue bar, left axis) and the daily change in pledges (red bar, right axis).  The other extraneous lines are a green line tracking our overall goal and a purple line representing an even progression towards the goal, so I’d know if we were ahead of or behind pace.  Please note, this is unofficial in every possible way, and I know it’s flawed as I somehow ended up with 39 data points coming out of a 40-day Kickstarter project.

Yes, we did have two days where we lost money, including nearly $50 the last Saturday of the campaign.  We had three more where there was absolutely no movement.  Ze Frank raised 2/3 of his total in those first three days.  We raised just shy of 20% in our initial push.  Ze Frank had a “slight increase” in his last three days.  We raised over $1000, nearly 1/4 of our final total, in a frantic and wonderful last four days.  Ze Frank had a comparative drop off (though his worst day far outstripped our best) and never really shot back up.  Our project kept experiencing fits of activity that kept the blue line right around the purple line.

The projects, in short, couldn’t look much different.  Then again, they couldn’t be much different.  One wanted $50k, the other just over $4k.  One was a single person, the other was a team of artists and creators.  One was a known quantity, the other was more of a gamble for the contributors.

So we experienced some giddy highs.  At the end of that first week when we were on pace to double our money, we started talking stretch goals.  I like stretch goals, and we all had visions of The Memory Eater 2 swooping through our heads.  Yeah, we never even came close.  We were never in as good shape as our best days looked, we were never in as bad shape as our worst days looked.  I’ll be honest, after that bottom out there on day 33, I didn’t expect we would be funded.  Yes, I’d heard of last minute pushes, but I didn’t think they could be as powerful as I’d heard.

They are.  And then some.  I suspect it helped that we were at 80% when we started showing up on Ending Soon pages.  The last 96 hours featured people who were holding on to see if their support was needed, and those Kickstarter regulars who like to push a project over the top.

The project went largely as I expected.  We had a strong start, a strong finish, and some setbacks in the middle.  It took longer for us to reach a point of saturation, because it took our voices so much longer to spread.  We experienced some diminishing returns, but not nearly those represented by Ze Franks graphs.  But then…we also funded on the second to last day, not on day three, so there was never a point where we weren’t in danger.  Hell, up until about 7 hours left in the project there were two backers who could sink us by virtue of the size of their donations, and even up to the finish line there was still just one.  I didn’t expect they actually would, that would take an amount of spite that I would like to think doesn’t exist on Kickstarter, but worrying about things like that is one of my various unhealthy hobbies.  I don’t smoke, so this is what I get.

In the end I wanted to let people see what a Kickstarter project looked like when it had nothing but tenacity and the promise of some excellent short stories going for it.  Plus a couple dozen people who really believed in a thing and wouldn’t say die.  In the end, 166 people joined us for the ride, which is all flavors of exciting.  Where do we go next?  Well, our fearless leader CP has some questionnaires to put together and the rest of us get to take a deep breath and stop spamming our Twitter followers.  Which is one more thank you I owe, to everyone who simply put up with me talking about this project so endlessly.  Especially my wife, who got the best view of my mania.

I’m not sure I’m excited to go through another Kickstarter project.  I liked getting somewhat dragged into one, having a stake but not being the key figure.  It was fun, but it was also nerve-racking, exhausting, and focus drawing.  My writing productivity dropped precipitously near the end.  This isn’t a reason for writers in general not to do Kickstarters, it’s a reason only for writers who are me to never spearhead one.  Which…honestly…if this had gone a lot bigger and better, if we’d hit those stretch goals, I was considering two different projects I’d like to do that might benefit from a Kickstart.  Now, I might still do them, but they won’t be crowdsourced.

I’m looking forward to talking with CP a little more next week.  We’ve been in touch through most of the campaign, I know some of his thoughts on it, but I’ll be interested to get some more formal answer to what he thinks we did right, did wrong, and what lessons other writers and anthologists might take from our experiences before launching their own Kickstarter.  Keep an eye out, I hope to have it up by Friday of next week, but mine is not the only calendar for that.

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