Monthly Archive: February 2009

$1 Orbit

This is a grand idea: Every month, Orbit Books (my sainted publisher, from whom all goodness flows) is selling an ebook for $1. Check it out at and enjoy, if ebooks are your thing. Personally, I’d rather have the book read to me by George W. Bush than read an ebook, but to each their own.

Word Count, Text-to-Speech = Madness

Advice: Avoid writers when they start talking or writing about, well, writing. We’re a bunch of self-involved, arrogant bastards, friend, and we will bore you to death with our own perceived genius. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

First off, word counts. I never used to truck with word counts. I wrote whatever I felt like and didn’t worry too much about how long it was, and, believe it or not, things usually worked out just fine. The idea of counting words would have disturbed me, to be honest, as I had better things to do, like hang out on streetcorners drinking blackberry brandy and wondering why no one thought I was cool.

Of course, this was waaayyyyy back in time, before computers were everywhere. I typed everything on an old manual typewriter, and it was good. Eventually, for cover letter purposes, I figured out that every page was approximately 200 words, give or take, but that’s as far as I went.

Even now, when misguided publishers have actually paid me for my work, I usually only worry about word count after I’ve written the first draft, and then it’s just idle curiosity to see how far off the mark of a Real Live Novel I am. Usually I’m in the money. I have a weird instinct for that. Can’t explain it, and it’s one of two talents I actually have, the other being the ability to drink entire fifths of whiskey and still bike home. Well, someone’s home, anyway.

A few months ago, I knew I had about 3 months of down time while I pondered story ideas for the next Cates novels, routed them to interested parties, and got contracts signed. I didn’t want to do what I usually do with downtime, which is to drink too much and sit around strumming chords on the guitar and making up songs about my thrilling adventures, so I decided on an experiment: If I had 3 months, I’d write a book in 3 months. Hell, folks write novels in 1 month for NaNoWriMo, right? SO I figured if I wrote 1000 words a day, I’d have something novel-length at the end. So I set off. And I did it, or just about – it actually took me one week longer to finish it up.

It’s not bad. I doubt it’ll ever get published, but a version of it might. Who knows?

But I’ll tell you this much: I’m never going to keep track of word count again. I hated doing it, found it got in the way of my creative flow, and in the end I don’t know if I necessarily wrote any more or any more efficiently because of it. So it’s back to tossing words in the dark and hoping for the best.

Naturally, this isn’t meant to argue that everyone should do as I do. If word count as a daily/weekly/whatever goal works for you, go with Gary and do yer worst. For me personally, I’m done, beyond the macro word-counting to make sure I’m not about to send my publisher a 20,000-word premise instead of a 80,000-word novel.

SECOND, since I actually do have books out there in the marketplace (huzzah!) I have to pay attention to things like the Authors’ Guild’s stance on the new Text-to-Speech feature of the Kindle 2. Which basically seems to boil down to: The guild considers the TTS feature to be a derivative audio work of the novel, for which fancy lads[1] like myself ought to be paid. This despite the fact that the “voice” of the Kindle 2 sounds like the Kindle 2 is begging you to euthanize it.

Now, I am not a lawyer but I’ve had three cocktails, so: I don’t think you can really argue that anything read aloud by anything is a “derivative work”. The Guild’s role is to protect authors’ rights, and the thought process goes like this:

  • 1. Audio books cost $$$ – the famous voice, the packaging, the high production values.
    2. Kindle 2 will read your cheap ebook for pennies on the dollar in a voice that will make you wish to jab knitting needles into your ears.
    3. Therefore no one will bother buying audio books because they will just buy the cheap ebook and let it read them into hypnosis while driving, then order them to kill everyone.
  • Maybe there’s a tiny point there, in that if people own a Kindle 2 AND they are the sort of people who buy audiobooks, they might stop buying audiobooks because their melodious Kindle 2 gives them what they want, aw yeah. And potentially declining sales of audiobooks seems to me to be the obvious real motive here. But the larger point is, you can’t stop this shit, man. The technology has already time-traveled into the future and defeated your future armies. New features are going to be developed and attached to popular technologies, and you cannot put these things back into the box.

    In other words, even if through voodoo or magic or litigation Amazon is forced to remove the TTS feature from the Kindle 2, what happens when your iPod can read books aloud, or your netbook, or your wristwatch, or a small man who can live inside a knapsack you carry on your back at all times? This kind of unstoppable technological breakthrough is unstoppable, and very quickly becomes omnipresent. Think MP3s back in 1994: the RIAA tried to suppress that, too, and boy-howdy that worked.

    Of course, you have to put things in language I’ll understand: Things like royalties and high finance make me sleepy, but if you tell me that the Kindle 2 is somehow going to rob me of a bottle of Glenlivet 12 in the year 2013, and I will suddenly get all Hulky and smash things.

    [1] UPDATE 2/28: I would like to be referred to as The Fancy Lad from now on, okay? Yes, I have been drinking. What of it?

    The Rut

    In this business of publishing, your definition of success changes as time goes by. It’s a ladder: When you’re at the bottom and not even on the ladder, not even published in any way, you just want to see your name in print – someone else’s print, that cost someone money to print. Even a zine called Everything in This Zine Sucks seems like a dream at that stage. Then, once you’ve seen your name in print a few times, you start to want to get paid – just a little – for your stories. You’ll even accept chickens and McDonald’s gift certificates just to be able to say you got paid. And so on, until you’re a hugely successful novelist demanding that solid gold toilets be installed in your house before you write a single word for your next blockbuster book.

    Or so I’m told. I’m sort of at the lower-middle of that ladder myself.

    Of course, one of those steps on the ladder is publishing a book. Just a book. One, tiny novel. Once you do that, of course, you immediately want to publish fifty or seven hundred more – eventually flooding and dominating the universe with your literary output until you are proclaimed Emperor and given absolute authority – and at this point, assuming you manage to do so, you’re in serious danger of hitting The Rut.

    When I was younger, I read a lot of books by Jack L. Chalker. I still love those books, and I still have the cheap paperbacks I bought back when I was a kid, because I never throw or give books away, ever. Chalker was a master and I can only hope to publish as many books as he did – but Chalker had a Rut. We all do. The Rut is your Theme You Can’t Escape. Often subconscious, it’s an overarching concept that creeps into all of your work, or at least most of it.

    For Chalker, his rut was body transformation. I haven’t read every book the man wrote, and I may be forgetting something (I often do, because of the booze), but so many characters get repeatedly transformed into some other creature – while retaining their personality – in Chalker’s books, you start to expect it. No matter how cool the overall premise is, no matter how inventive the plot or how appealing the characters, you know going in that Chalker is going to transform some or all of the folks he’s writing about into mythical creatures, SF monsters, or blue-skinned gods of some sort.

    Nothing wrong with that. We all have themes we can’t escape, tropes that show up over and over again, creeping even into our non-SFnal work. Sometimes these themes will be buried, deep and hard to see, sometimes they’re right there in front of you, obvious.

    You have to get beyond one book or series of books to really see, however; in a series of related books, it’s natural to have shared themes or obsessions that bubble under all the time. You’re writing about the same characters in the same universe, after all. When your first series of books deals with a group of teenagers with special powers who are hunted by the powers-that-be, and your third, unrelated series deals with a different group of teenagers with different special powers who are hunted by the powers-that-be, well, you might have a Rut going there.

    Is The Rut a problem? Not necessarily. Our obsessions drive our work, after all – we’re exploring things that interest, terrify, and amuse us. Trying to explore themes that don’t interest/amuse/terrify you would be sort of like writing a textbook that resembles a novel: All the parts might be there, but nothing would pop off the page. If your Rut is feeding the world crackerjack stories, no worries. But once you notice The Rut, it starts to worry you a bit, just because you have to start wondering if you’re a one-trick pony, writing the same story over and over again.

    The big question, I suppose, is whether you’re bringing anything new to your obsession each time. If you’re exploring new, bold horizons using a familiar tool, bully for you. If you’re just falling back on familiar plot twists to keep things moving, well, that will bite you in the ass soon enough, grasshopper.

    What are my Ruts? You tell me. I think I know; I’ve got enough unpublished material here to give me a fair idea well before my work goes public. And no, booze and pantslessness are not Ruts, technically. Those are Lifestyle Choices.

    My NYCC In 5 Minutes

    All right, the final NYCC post. With things this huge, you end up with a lot to say about them. I took all the video we filmed while running around NYCC and edited together this short video to give my 2 days at NYCC in 5-6 minutes. Enjoy!

    Whew! I’m exhausted.

    Joys of Wikipedia

    On the Panel I was part of at NYCC, the subject of research and Wikipedia came up. One author scorned Wikipedia, stating that if you want your research to hold up, you need to go to a better source, like Brittanica or something. Another author sneered a little at this, but more or less I think we all basically agreed: Wikipedia is fun and all, but I wouldn’t construct my legal defense from facts glimpsed on that site.

    Today, glorious Slashdot gifts us with False Fact On Wikipedia Proves Itself.

    This, friends, is why the future is going to be pretty damned confusing. Can you imagine if we ever do develop time travel? The end of civilization. We’d simply never be able to keep track of anything any more.

    Mind Meld

    SFSignal recently invited me to take part in another Mind Meld with them, this time considering the question of what the hardest part of being a writer is. You can read my response as well as everyone else’s here:

    Personally, I think the hardest part really is having to wear pants all the time. So binding when you’re sitting at a desk all day. But court orders are court orders.

    Quick link

    There’s a short bit over at concerning panels at NYCC here.

    I’ve only been involved with 1 panel at NYCC in my life, so my experience is quite limited. In general, I agree with the sentiment in the piece – the panel was too big. If your purpose is to let fans interact and question authors in a satisfying way, I think a panel half that size would have been ideal.

    On the other hand, we had a big crowd that I got to prance around like a jackass in front of (my favorite promotional technique), and if we cut 5 of those authors would we have done so well? Probably not.

    Next time I do a Con, friends, let’s organize our own unofficial Jeff Somers Panel: You guys, me, a tavern. You buy the drinks, I answer the questions, someone volunteers to a) carry me to my hotel room and b) call my wife and explain it’s not my fault.