Archive for March, 2011

Amanda Hocking, J.A Konrath, book deals and the whole shebang

Perhaps those should be semicolons in my blog title? Hrm. No matter.

Amanda Hocking sold a four book series to St. Martin’s Press for a cool $2 million something.

This after having self-published and earning almost $2 million on her own steam.

Not surprisingly, the traditional publishing sector is feeling more than a little vindicated.

At first, I did go “Wha?” So I popped onto her blog.

According to Hocking, she’s not doing it for the money, or the validation, or any other number of things she’s been accused of.

This, at least, should be a no-brainer. In fact, by all estimates, she should be able to make at least that $2 million by herself within a reasonable time frame if not more. She reasonably estimates she might actually be losing money.

She says:

1. Readers inability to find my books when they want them. I am getting an increasing number of emails from people who go into bookstores to buy my books for themselves or friends or family members, and not only does Barnes & Noble not carry my book, they can’t even order it for them. People are requesting my books, and they can’t get them.

2. Readers complaints about the editing of my books. I have hired editors. Many, many editors. And I know that I can outsource editing, but I’m clearly doing a really shitty job of picking editors. EDIT: The people hired as editors are great people who worked very hard. Which is the most frustrating thing about the continued complaints of errors in my books. I know that my books are better because of the people I hired. And I don’t understand how there can still be errors. So my remark at “shitty” is over my frustration at the situation. Not the actual editors or the work they did.

3. The amount of books I’ve written and the rate of speed that I write books. If it took me five years to write a book, and I only had one book written, I’d be thinking long and hard about this deal. But right now, I have 19 books currently written. By the time the Watersong series goes to print, I’ll still have 19-24 titles at least that I can self-publish.

James Patterson has a book out now that has incredibly low reviews, some of the lowest I’ve seen for any book, and that book is still selling like crazy, and I can find it Target and Walmart. Even the sequel to the book, which the reviews say is even twice as awful as the original, is selling like crazy. Why? Because James Patterson wrote it. (Or more accurately, because his name is on the cover).

I want that. Not the writing bad books thing. I’ll always strive to write a product that people enjoy. But I want to be a household name. I want to be the impulse buy that people make when they’re waiting in an airport because they know my name.

That, I think, is as close to career stability as I can get. And that’s why I took the deal.

Hocking definitely knows what she’s doing. I just want to point out that what’s working for her doesn’t mean it’ll work the same way for any other author.

For example, I don’t believe any publisher can knowingly push someone to be the next Patterson or Brown or Roberts. What takes off, takes off, and in my uneducated opinion, the publishers are really only along for the ride. If they could push anyone to be that much of a blockbuster, I believe they’d do it a lot more frequently. I think Hocking is in position to make herself a household name on her own and if not, I doubt there’s anything the industry can do to boost her that she can’t do herself.

Also, having access to the kind of money she has now, it’s not impossible to find a good editor, even the best in the industry and pay them to edit for her. For that matter, she can probably delegate most of this to her assistant. This being the business of finding cover designers, formatters, hiring a publicist and so forth. However, again, in her position she’s got ample justification to just hand things over to the St. Martin’s and then all she needs to worry about is her writing. Just need to point out that I doubt they’re this accommodating to every new writer they sign on.

Likewise, if B&N are dumb enough to refuse to carry her books that she can publish through CreateSpace or any number of POD presses… I have no words for that.

J.A Konrath, however, turned down a similar book deal. He thinks he’d be able to go it better alone, with his numbers backing him up every step of the way.

Placing myself in their situation, what would I do?

Not being in the situation where people are waving a couple million dollars in my face, I think that I’d have to turn it down.

First off, I’m going to have to assume that the only reason they have that much interest in me is because I’ve already proved through self-publishing that I’ll sell. In that case, following that logic, it’s unlikely they will actually make me more money in the long run. Declining their offer is only going to bring me more publicity, which can only be good.

Then, there’s the case of my writing slowly. Estyria book 1 took me about 3 years to finish. If I have the ability to sell it on my own, I wouldn’t want to risk losing money in the long  term to go with traditional publishing.

Mostly though, money aside, I don’t want to lose control over my work.

If Estyria had stayed the way it was in its first incarnation, I don’t think I’d feel the same way.

When I started writing Estyria, I went with the easier route. You know, generic European style royalty. Cookie cutter western-fantasy element smorgasbord pick-your-own adventure. Not that I’m saying properly done historical fiction is easy, but just try writing something that doesn’t have reams of English-based information for the gleaning.

But now, after I’ve made the conscious decision to shift the setting from generic fantasy to a fantasy world based on ancient China and have been progressively writing in more and more Asian elements into my world and story — I’d be really amazingly angry if any of those elements were twisted, skewed, or utterly eliminated from the end product.

This means my cover girl needs to be Asian. No, not the more conventionally attractive Philipina or Indian Asian — Chinese or Japanese Asian. And yes, she needs to be dressed in proper Hanfu. The males too, if they make it onto the cover.

This also means no white-washing of the story elements. If it ever makes it to being optioned for a movie, I want full control over it to make sure the actors are going to be Asian. Every single last one of them that is portraying my characters that are of colour is going to be Asian. Full stop.

I wouldn’t be this adamant except…

You really took out the Chinese script in A:TLA and replaced it with gibberish? Really?

And for the people who thought it was ok to whitewash Ursula K Leguin’s characters in the movie — I’d really like to have a few impolite words with you.

And on lesser notes, the publishing houses who insisted on putting white girls on the covers of novels about POCs because POC faces on books hurt sales.

Yeah. I don’t even.

So. That’s how I stand now.

Let’s see if this ever even becomes an issue. If it doesn’t, I’ll laugh my fool head off for worrying about the sky falling.

If it does, hey, remind me of this will you? Unless someone I know has cancer and needs the money pronto for medical reasons. Then I might have to set my artistic integrity aside.

On writing what we don’t know

Or, what might be appropriately called stumbling into appropriating the other.

Marina asks: “…is it even possible to do this successfully? To borrow from a culture that isn’t your own and not totally piss off the people who already feel misrepresented?”

I honestly don’t know the question to this.

Her response:

For me personally, I think what I’ve arrived at is that I’m not bothered with borrowing as long as you admit – to yourself, in the structure of your narrative – that you are an outsider, that you have no interest in telling a story about this culture but rather using certain elements of it that appeal to you to tell your own story that has to do with your own cultural framework. And that means no copy-pasting things that will make me assume you are really talking about THIS, this thing I’m familiar with, that I live with, that is part of who I am. Borrow as you wish, but change the details, blur the lines. Don’t drop in things wholesale that will make the suspension of disbelief for me impossible.

It’s basically all about aligning our expectations. If you use certain cultural markers I am going to assume that you’re familiar with my culture as I am and will look forward to your statements/input. And then I’ll find out that the markers were just randomly inserted there, that you have no idea what they mean, that you’re not going to talk about anything that has to do with my perspective at all and then I feel cheated and angry and disappointed. Don’t lead me on. Never set up expectations and then fail to deliver.

I think that’s about most of it for me also.

The worst part about your failed cultural appropriation?

It’s not even when you get things wrong, wrong, wrong.

Like:

When you call Qixi the “Chinese Valentines’s day”. (It’s not.)

When you have Korean characters wearing kimono.

When all your Asian women are demure, docile, and etc ad nauseum.

It’s not even just when you use easily available stereotypes like geishas, subservience from Asian women, ninjas, samurai, kitsune, Monkey (as in the king of), or bound feet.

It’s not even when I realize that you don’t care about the greater culture, that you have no idea what exactly you’re pulling out of your ass and you don’t care that it is getting pulled out of your ass because you’re imposing your Euro/USian-centric paradigms on every thing.

Not even when you clearly did a quick Wikipedia check up on Asian tropes and myths and just called it a day.

What takes me to the book-throwing stage is when you mish-mash Asian cultures together or lump Native American mythology into a thin gruel and justify it by saying it’s “more interesting” that way.

What will take me to the “vociferously ban-hammering your book on my blog” stage is when I pick up a book that mentions part of my culture and get conned into buying it as a result — then I figure out that you’re just using the most readily available parts of my culture that you deem most interestingly “exotic” as a hook to get people from my demographic in and to appeal to the weeaboos and Asian fetishists.

It’s when I know that you’re doing it to be cool; to get brownie points for “stepping outside of the mold”; to be, again, “exotic”.

It’s when I know that you’re not interested in my culture for any reason other than to profit off of it.

Yes, it’s tone.

It all boils down to tone and handling.

To answer Marina’s question, nothing is too taboo for me, provided you handle it correctly.

I’m sorry I can’t give you the answer to life, oh ye budding aspiring authors, but that’s just how it goes.

I would prefer that you get off “Journey to the West” (Neil Gaiman, I’m looking at you) and move towards say the Ramayana or The Dream of the Red Chamber or even The Romance of the Three Kingdoms or even Feng Shen Bang but hey, again, no taboos here. Just treat it right.

Look at it this way:

I’m the father with a shotgun.

You’re the suitor wanting to take my underage daughter out.

YOU figure out what’s appropriate and what’s not cuz I’m sure as hells not spelling everything out for ya, but better know that if you fuck up, I’m going to be all over you like buckshot on yo white ass.

If you can’t take the heat, just back off, break off the date, and I won’t hold it against ya.

For those who say I’m a bitch?

Just prove you like her enough and that you’ll treat her right. Otherwise, no dice.

 

 

Author brand protection : necessary or selling out?

I initially read a post by John on dearauthor.com that asked: “When does a reader know too much?“.

To be frank, the comments are fairly illuminating and not entirely in a comfortable way.

Asides from the expected  and deserved condemnation of Orson Scott Card and vague mentions of Authors Behaving Badly, I have to admit I was surprised that readers were put off by a whole variety of things from sounding too “cocky” to their personal voice sounding too much like their narrative voice to being irritating that the “personal stuff” was being mentioned too frequently.

Then I encountered a blog post by Zoe Whitten where she muses about “professional behaviour” on the part of authors and what should and shouldn’t be expected of authors.

This led me to think about my own stance on author branding and interfacing with the world with a writer persona.

I’m going to publish under a pen name if at all possible. Under kyrias to be exact.

I don’t intend to ever publish under my real name because I want to keep my personal life and my online/public life separate.

Whereas I’m not going to hide my personality or necessarily prevaricate about my beliefs in order to avoid alienating readers, I also don’t believe that it’s either in my best interests or necessary to enjoy my work to know about my spiritual or political beliefs.

My real life name is also fairly identifiable as belonging to a certain culture and I don’t want people picking up or avoiding my books because of their assumptions on how the book is going to go based on my name.

I’m going to keep this blog as “clean” of personal drama and “stuff” as possible unless it’s to share a genuinely funny story that I think people will enjoy.

I know that sometimes I’m just not interested in reading about the minor details of an author’s life because frankly, we’re not friends. We might become friends if we ever had a chance to interact as equals, but in my mind, authors and fans don’t stand on the same footing. There’s expectations, assumptions, potential one-way admiration, and simple lack of reciprocity that just doesn’t make for a genuine relationship. And an author can’t be expected to try and build a real relationship with very single one of his/her fans.

There’s my two cents.

What are your thoughts?

 

Twilight versus Star Wars?

Amanda Hocking asked: “Why is it so much more respectable to geek out over spaceships and a made up religion than vampires with undertones of a real religion? Is it because of the romance? Is romance inherently uncool?”

Frankly, Scribbler said it already and said it well:

“The thing is, if you take the vampires and the werewolves from Twilight, you actually have nothing that makes it geekish. It’s a romance story. They aren’t fighting to save the world, they aren’t even really fighting evil. It’s all about scores of characters fighting over the safety of one human girl. Theres nothing grand or epic in that.

Look at the vast majority of geek “stuff”. it’s mostly – and I do emphasize “mostly” – epic. It’s grand scale. Super heroes taking on super villains, the underdogs taking on the vast evil space empire, a bunch of heroes out to save the world from some huge monster. Innocent people get saved from the big bad.

Twilight is the opposite. Lots of innocent people getting killed (The Vampire Army) just to get at one girl. It actually runs completely against “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

Also, there are no male characters, bar the “bad guys” getting killed maybe, that are actually of any interest to guy geeks. The two main male characters don’t stand out as particularly interesting or strong characters in a “hero” sense. Neither of them seems inclined to use their unusual super power on some kind of grand scale to help anyone other than Bella.

I see them as no different to any other male characters in a romance story.”

Precisely.

It’s not about geeks disliking everything that the mainstream likes, or necessarily purely about gender and their different takes on what is enjoyable and what not, or even the question about whether romance is icky or not. To frame it in those terms almost seems like making strawmen arguments.

Personally, I don’t find the Twilight stories compelling because I find them shallow.

Noting: I read fluff all the time. In fact I read so much fluff I’ve been accused of having it rot my brain. I have nothing against fluff. At all.

There is nothing at stake. That is, nothing too important.

Ultimately it’s a love story with nothing hanging in the balance asides from one or two people’s happiness. Perhaps if you threw in their families and friends, you might get fifty people who are going to be affected by the outcome.

Compelling? Perhaps in the short term.

Compared to the fate of the universe and whether it gets taken over by the dark side? Suddenly not quite so much.

I like Babylon 5, Star Trek and so forth because there’s depth. There’s humanity and sacrifice. There’s more to it than just two people angsting over their rocky love affair. There’s entire worlds at stake and millions of lives routinely hang in the balance. Even barring that, the political angling is fascinating.

I adore romance novels and I probably read a couple thousand of them over the course of my life — but I’m not going to consider them worth “geeking” out over.

To me, it’s diluting the concept of geeking. Geeking to me involves actual thought about the work; being able to take home something other than the purely superficial.

Interesting as Meyer’s work is, I don’t think there’s much to read into it past the literal. There is no worldbuilding as it’s mostly set within our world; there’s no interesting twist in terms of vampire culture to delve into; there’s nothing particularly political in how the vampires and werewolves intersect, and the romance between Bella and Edward isn’t even as tragically fraught as Romeo and Juliet’s (which I feel is saying something) because there’s nothing but angst keeping them apart.

At the end of the day, I want something that makes me think, that stirs the blood in ways more than just hormonal.

Twilight just doesn’t do it for me in that sense.