Friday, August 27, 2010

Stackpole on eBook Publishing and Me on ePublishing in General

Here's a fine article on negotiating electronic rights with an actual publisher, not a self-publishing contract with Amazon/Smashwords/iStore. So, take note, this doesn't directly apply to self-published material.

http://www.michaelastackpole.com/?p=1626

Solid info. I particularly value the advice on translations. I would not have considered this.

He's right. We're in a seller's market from the writers's standpoint. A big motivator behind this change is readers buying stories for half to a quarter what publishers need to charge for them. Note the word 'need'. Save it for later.

Plus, the writers can see more cash go straight to their pocket. In this way, it becomes possible for authors to make a living in their chosen field.

It never made sense to me that many professional writers can't afford to write full time. Farmers farm. Teachers teach. Police police. Carpenters... carpent. You know what I mean? Writers, in comparison, work IT, or instruct at the university, or blog, or a hundred other occupations, few of which have anything to do with writing.

How did we get here? Lots of reasons, which is a good topic for another post for when I'm riled up. A forum-goer from Absolute Write (who is herself a rather successful non-fiction author) said it best: "Most money spent on marketing doesn't go to getting the book in front of consumers". This comment stemmed from a discussion of high book prices and low author royalties.

Doesn't that seem counter-intuitive?

Remember 'need' from earlier? You need cash to get the book to reviewers. You need cash to get the distributors to stock it. Heck, Barnes & Noble charges a cool six figures for front-window space. Hey, it's their space, right? Why not charge to get the book good placement? It warms my free market heart. So does Amazon brutalizing B&N in revenues.

Innovation heads industry. Improving availability, distribution, or price can lead to a significant profit in any business. Epublishing does all three. I note no one is arguing the first two points. The money is where the battle is waged, and consumers wield all the power. They're voting with their dollars. The early polls show this new innovation to be a real winner.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ebook Piracy

So I was watching a long, involved forum thread the other day, and one of the posters admitted to stealing eBooks simply because they couldn't afford to pay for them. The morality of what he does as an aside, and avoiding the pitchfork-and-torches crowd, it got me to thinking of the times in college when I'd grab a game from the still-swaddled Intertron or crack a friend's copy.

Yes, that's right, I've done this. I'll be down to face the guillotine shortly. Just let me finish my post.

I remembered not having money, but I also remembered that somehow I managed to purchase the good games that came out of the list of pirated games. Thief, Unreal, Duke Nukem, and System Shock, to name a few. Now, this was before having a demo was accepted wisdom. Publishers argued that users would simply play the demo over and over and never buy the game. Sure, that was possible, but the demo is hardly the full game. If I enjoyed that game, I wanted more. These are the ones I bought.

The good games.

Now we move forward to a time when most games have a demo and I have (or rather had) the cash to buy just about anything I wanted. I no longer pirate games. I can try before I buy. For the few games that have no demos, I either know that it's one I want, or I just don't play it, or I wait for it to hit the $5 price on STEAM.

And now I consider that behavior as it applies to eBooks. How does one decide to press the Purchase button?

Is the description concise? Do I know what I'm getting? If I'm in the mood for action-adventure set in a fictional tenth-century Europe and the book turns out to be the author's Dark Age version of Pride and Prejudice, I'm going to be annoyed.

Are there free samples? Is there a demo, as it were? If I can read the first chapter, I'll know if I'm interested enough to continue. Description aside, nothing says more about the book than the actual prose. And, again, it's another way of letting me try before I buy. I know what I'm getting.

Is it expensive? If I'm still waffling on any of the above points, the price can tip me one way or another. $2.99? Impulse buy. Sure. I can get a couple of two-liters of coke, or I can buy a book. Probably going with the book. $14.99? Okay, just what kind of scam is this? I really don't care how much the publishers shelled out for the cover, editing, and (most annoyingly) the marketing and shelf space for the physical copies. Not my concern. I do know that I can enjoy a good lunch at a decent restaurant and a couple of beers for that and read my $2.99 book. Think I'll go with that second option.

Yet, all of this can be trumped by truly amazing work. If that chapter is really intriguing, I'm much more inclined to put down the $15. (Though I doubt there's a description good enough to pry that cash from my fingers without a sample chapter). If it's part of a series that I've loved (note, not enjoyed: LOVED!) then I'm inclined to pay more. I'll curse their greed, but I'll still put down the green. Again, that's the key.

The good books get bought.

Now, how does it all relate to the piracy problem? Well, let's look back at why I used to copy out games. I wanted quality games. I wanted to know what I was buying. I wanted a fair price. The first two points are on the same coin. The price is negotiable based on my wants and desires.

Good work will get purchased. How does one know it's good? A sample chapter and positive reviews.

Marginal work will also get purchased, but only if the price is right.

Now, one man's good work is another man's garbage. Give your readers the tools to decide where yours falls in that spectrum, but price the work towards the lower end. Just in case.

George Galuschak: The Big Splash

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2010/20100816/splash-f.shtml

George Galuschak is a good friend and a superior writer.

If you've got beloved pets, this one will tug the heartstrings.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Star Trek: These Captains Are Too Damn Good

Yes, I'm bashing on Captain Picard.

You're a madman, Kelley! You'll kill us all!

Yes, very likely, but that's not the subject of this post. My complaint about Star Trek is that their characters are too perfect in a military sense. Starfleet doesn't make any mediocre captains. The institution is a complete meritocracy. Anyone in command has fully and completely earned the right to be there.

This is incredibly unrealistic, and can give readers very unrealistic expectations.

Now, you may think I'm complaining about a lack of realism in a science fiction franchise. No, no. I'm complaining about a lack of realism in these characters. We humans are broken things. The dictionary is filled with words to describe our negative character traits. In a captain (the position of ultimate authority in an isolated community) these traits magnify, create conflict, create interest in a story, and Star Trek robs us of that.

A vain captain may require more effort put into the appearance of his ship than in her functionality. A tyrannical captain creates a sluggish, mutinous crew. A grasping or ambitious captain can create an atmosphere of destructive competition.

Yet, we've all grown up watching Star Trek. The captains we've seen have no significant flaws. Captain Picard is the very Avatar of Command. He never loses his temper. He never reaches for glory. He's not shy about combat. He never blames others for his mistakes. For that matter, he almost never makes a mistake. Seriously, can you think of any? I can't. He's an exceptional officer, and we're all quite familiar with him and his habits.

And the other two captains are no better. Sisko hates to lose. In fact, his personality fractures when he starts to lose. But, that sort of flaw works out pretty well when you're fighting a war. Janeway demonstrates obsessive single-minded pursuit of a goal. Well, that's okay if you're millions of light years from home and your task is the safe return of ship and crew. That's like saying in a job interview that you 'work too hard'.


Now let's take your scifi reader. Odds are good they're thoroughly familiar with these characters. These perfect characters. A captain who abuses his authority, even trivially, begs the question from the reader: Who would put this person in command? Without an answer, you run afoul of the reader's suspension of disbelief, and it's all Star Trek's fault.