Animals in the House

20 Apr

Happy Easter — whatever that happens to mean to you. For me, it’s a four day weekend and chocolate bunnies and candy eggs. Oh, and cute baby chicks and frolicking lambs.

Meanwhile, down in Toronto, the Prime Minister’s wife is at the Toronto International Film Festival showing of a film about Internet cats — all in aid of the Humane Society.

Speaking of cats, there is a large, presumably whiter than white, one among the pigeons as a result of the Hugo nominations announcement yesterday. Lots of gloating and outrage all around.

Some people say we should change the way nominations are done; some say we should abolish the awards altogether. A bit like calling for an end to democracy because your candidate didn’t win (or more likely, theirs did).

I say, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. I say, you can’t have a horse race if half the horses are hobbled. I say, we should address the elephant in the room.

Nominations for the Hugos and, I suspect, for the Nebulas, and for any award where people get to nominate and vote are subject to all the benefits and flaws of any democracy (and don’t get me started on juried awards). Voters may be driven by the loftiest ideals or the lowest partisan motives — sometimes both at the same time. Voters may be deeply immersed in the issues or voting based on a single issue. Voters may care intensely about the merits of candidates or be concerned only with loyalty to the tribe, however that tribe might be defined. Moreover, people have always campaigned for recognition and sometimes for inclusion on the ballots. Some people have even campaigned for other people to be on the ballot (I myself have recommended several books/stories I liked; sometimes, though not always, written by people I liked).

Anyone who thinks it’s only about the art is naive; those who believe it’s all about popularity are cynical. Even if it is about the art, art has always been political to a greater or lesser extent. Ezra Pound comes to mind.

As John Scalzi has already said, people are on the ballot because they are qualified to be on the ballot, that is, because enough people followed the rules and nominated them to be on the ballot. The five or so who made it, in each case, got more nominations than anyone else did.

As for whether they deserve to be there… under the rules, they absolutely do. Artistic merit? History will decide that not the people who nominated and not the people who wind up voting. Bulwer Lytton comes to mind — more popular than Dickens in his time; now remembered mostly for “It was a dark and stormy night…”

The Hugos are interesting in one respect. While those who nominate the Nebulas (and the Canadian Aurora Awards for that matter) are also qualified to vote for the Awards, the Hugo voters are significantly different than the nominators.

You are qualified to nominate if you were/are a member of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 WorldCons at the time nominations closed. To vote you have to be a member of the 2014 World Con. Voters are therefore a subset of the nominators PLUS anyone who buys a 2014 membership between the close of nominations and the close of voting. Hard to say what that means, though looking at last year’s results you can see that getting the most nominations was not always a guarantee of winning the award (though finishing first in the first count was).

Manipulating award ballots has been going on ever since there were award ballots. Block voting by clubs, open and secret ‘vote for me’ campaigns (especially those based on vote for me so we can screw the other people), even, it is rumoured, instances of buying fraudulent memberships have all been done in the past — and who can say how far in the past. The first two are, perhaps sadly, within the rules; the latter is not. Imagine such things happening in a democracy — think, Tammany Hall, Huey Long, the Hunt Brothers.

Everyone on the ballot deserves to be there. But whether they deserve to win, is another question. I know I will try to read all the entries — I say try because I have limited patience for bad writing — and will vote for the best of them. I will not prejudge any of them. I will support the most meritorious. In my opinion. Your opinion may vary.

So don’t monkey around — exercise your franchise and don’t be an ass about it.

News about publishing

New Books out from Bundoran Press — Strange Bedfellows and Breakpoint: Nereis.

Speaking of jury prizes, here’s one for women only.

And another for self-published writers. No cash but a review in The Guardian isn’t bad.

Alistair MacLeod dies.

Finding the Fun

10 Apr

I spent last weekend at Ad Astra and had a ton of fun. It started by taking a more relaxed approach to the Dealers’ Room. I opened late and closed early each day and I honestly can’t say it cost me any sales. People knew we were there and they had lots of opportunity to buy if they wanted to do so. And we talked to lots of people who may become customers later — so that’s all good. Sharing our table with Robin Riopelle and Marie Bilodeau and having authors Alison Sinclair and Andrew Barton sit in for an hour or two helped take the pressure of me, Liz and Mike. 

I did some programming — some of which reflected my writing life; others, my publishing one. I’ll focus on the latter. On Saturday I joined Adam Shaftoe, Nina Munteanu and Nick Montgomery to discuss the possibility of being a ‘lovable critic.’ It was a great discussion but I think we generally concluded that it was better to be an ‘honest’ and a ‘helpful’ critic, especially if you could avoid being a needlessly sarcastic one. On Sunday I participated in a panel on Crowd Source Funding with Rebecca Simkin and Sunny from Nerd Mafia. You might want to check out Sunny’s articles on the topic.

The big event of the weekend was the Triple Whammy Launch Party where Bundoran Press launched Breakpoint: Nereis by Alison Sinclair and Strange Bedfellows edited by Hayden Trenholm. We were joined by Robin Riopelle who was presenting her book Deadroads from Night Shade Books. Lots of fun with Alison, Robin and Andrew reading and plenty of friends, new and old, in attendance.


Review of Strange Bedfellows at Black Gate

24 Mar

Review of Strange Bedfellows at Black Gate

OMG, it’s Literature (and other random thoughts)

23 Mar

Literature – it’s a real thing!

Could it be that all the kerfuffle that has rocked SFWA over the last year has nothing to do with politics? Could the fight between racist misogynist neo-Nazis and pin-headed liberal elitist fem-Nazis have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with art?

Well, maybe not everything. Politics comes into everything and, in America (and increasingly in the rest of the western world), everything seems polarized between left and right. Conversations — especially on-line — soon degenerate into shouting matches and name calling.

Mostly there aren’t any conversations as social media algorithms make sure we only see ourselves reflected back to us. And, of course, conspiracy theories abound about how one group or another is dominating awards programs or controlling publishing to the exclusion of the other group(s). I’m reminded a bit of the old Proclaimers’ song, What Do you Do? The rotation of Pareto’s Foxes and Lions also comes to mind. A First World Problem.

Be that as it may, I was struck recently by a tweet wherein it was reported that an Amazon reviewer had criticized a book by saying, essentially, ‘we don’t need no stinkin’ literature — we want galactic empires.’

So there you have it. The real enemy is Literature. We don’t want human feelings, realism, social criticism, cultural cross-breeding — we want Big Ideas that mess with our heads and more fun (usually defined in ways only some people find fun).

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, have often railed against the insertion of MFA lessons into my fiction. (Or as Danny Kaye put it so brilliantly, choreography into my dance routines.) I want good stories more than anything else. But good literature is always about good stories. And fun and big ideas can go hand in hand with emotional richness and character development.

It’s true that wasn’t what the good old days focused on — but then the good old days weren’t good for everyone. The world has changed — but the good news is, you don’t have to change with it! You can stay mired in your own particular enclave of galactic empires and wooden dialogue. Or whatever.

So here’s what I suggest. Read the things you like and don’t read the things you don’t. There’s plenty of variety to go around. But quit whining that the stuff you like isn’t dominating the publishing or awards scene. Cause, as the Proclaimers said, sometimes ‘minority means you.’ And all the bellyaching and vicious attacks in the world aren’t going to change that.

It’s all about the Dopamine

I’ve been working hard to try to figure out social media. I’m sure we all have. When does it work and why? The biggest mistake people make, I suspect, is that they focus on the media and not on the social. Twitter becomes like broadcast advertising — ‘Buy my book!’ or more recently, ‘This person here thinks you should Buy My Book!’ or, if you’re really sophisticated, “I’m interested in astronomy — see this neat link — and my book has astronomy in it so you should Buy My Book!”

This message, I increasingly think, fails. I mean, who buys things because a random stranger calls you on the phone and asks you to buy something. Actually about 4-6% of the population will do that at any given time — that’s why telemarketing exists. The other 95% of us have to put up with the noise. So tweeting Bye My Book! is nothing but noise to 95% of your followers.

Which, of course, is why people are desperate to have a 100K followers. 5% of that gets you 5000 people who might Buy your Book. And 95000 who simply ignore the noise.

But maybe it would be a lot more effective if we focused on the social and ignored the media (or, I would argue, the medium). My friend, Robert J. Sawyer, advised that you should never sit on a panel at an SF convention with your book propped in front of you. It gets between you and your audience and, what’s more, tells people that you aren’t interested in them; you only want them to ‘Buy Your Book!” The key is to build a personal relationship — be ‘social’ — and if people find you interesting and pleasant, they might well DECIDE to buy your book. This article explains it pretty well — it’s all about the social process of self-reward.

Places and People and other self-promotion

Speaking of Robert J. Sawyer, we will be appearing together this June at the NorthWords Festival in Yellowknife (along with another of Bundoran’s partners, Elizabeth Westbrook-Trenholm). We will be wearing our writing hats more than our publishing ones.

Even sooner you can see all three of us, as well as our third partner, Mike Rimar, at Ad Astra in Toronto where we will be launching Breakpoint:Nereis by Alison Sinclair and Strange Bedfellows edited by Hayden Trenholm. I’ve provided links so you can “Buy My Book!”

A bit of non-Bundoran writing news, the French translation of my book ‘A Circle of Birds’ from Anvil Press was reviewed in Le Devoir.

Finally another great article from Kristine Katherine Rusch that sounds an awful lot like my life at Bundoran Press.



“Creativity is …

21 Mar

“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity” – Charles Mingus

Keeping it simple — easy to say but hard to do. Most of us fail 99% of the time — but that’s no reason to stop.

New Books/ARCs, 3/7/14

7 Mar

New Books/ARCs, 3/7/14.

Can you hear that? That’s the sound of an oligarch flexing his muscles.

4 Mar

No, I haven’t got confused. This is not my personal blog which is sometimes about politics and I’m not talking about Vlad Putin; I’m talking about Jeff Bezos.

Part of the argument that has been flitting around in the discussion of self- vs. traditional publishing centers on the elephant in the room for both sides: Amazon.

Self-publishing advocates argue that the Internet has given writers a broader range of choices. The rise of e-books means anyone can publish a book. It’s simple as typing and a file transfer. The more enlightened point out that to publish a good book, there should be some intervening steps (editing, design, cover). All well and good. But the big issues are and always have been marketing and distribution. Marketing remains a problem because, despite the claims of social marketing, the evidence remains that bookstores, word-of-mouth and, to a lesser extent, reviews are still the best way to sell your book.

Now, distribution is another matter. Amazon has done an amazing job at becoming the number one bookseller in the America. They can sell books cheaper than anyone else, using volume, razor thin (or negative) margins, and ever rising stock prices to keep their business growing. The only advantage booksellers had was they could give you the book the same day you want it. With falling inventory, shrinking floor space and Amazon’s drones, even that advantage may soon disappear.

With print books, Amazon still mostly relies on traditional publishers to supply their goods — though even there CreateSpace and their own publishing line may soon take a bite.

But in the world of e-books, they are the number one manufacturer. Not a monopoly or even an overwhelming majority but the biggest show around. And growing.

Which brings us to ACX, Amazon’s audio-book division. Having, through takeovers, cut throat deals on royalties and similar tactics, become the near-monopoly producer of audio books, they did what monopolies do — they took steps to maximize their profits.

Others have spoken more fully on this step and you can read what they had to say here and here and here.

The key lesson to learn is that this is what was always intended.

Amazon was not created to sell books; it was created to sell widgets. Bezos picked books because they fit his business model not the other way around. If fresh produce had fit his business model it would be chain supermarkets and farmers’ bazaars that would be closing — while every hobbyist gardener would be self-marketing their backyard tomatoes. Some of them would be getting rich doing it.

In the arts, every artist wants to be unique. In the widget world, everyone’s product looks the same. Amazon is just as happy having a million writers sell ten books as having ten authors selling a million. In fact, the more the merrier. James Patterson can actually change the way his publisher does business; Hugh Howey (and I use Howey, not because I have anything against him or think he is a bad guy — quite the contrary, I think he’s great for standing up for the average writer) can have no impact on Amazon’s practices whatsoever. His voice, louder than most, is still drowned in the million voice choir. His exhortation for ACX to be more generous in their audio royalty is almost certain to fall on deaf ears.

Let me finish with a political observation. Some people — not just Americans, this is a world-wide phenomenon — think billionaires are their friends. Cause unless you are also a billionaire (and even then), they probably aren’t.

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates seem like nice philanthropic guys; Ted Turner has contributed more toward conservation than anyone in America. But it wasn’t their billions that made them nice — they were nice to start with or had nice people around them they could learn from. But niceness didn’t make them rich — being hard-headed and a little bit ruthless, being good at business made them rich.

Alexis de Toqueville said this about America in the 19th century “As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”

Money equals morality. It’s a silly idea — if you want to see how silly try reading Ayn Rand with an adult critical mind.

Will Amazon do to self publishers what they’ve done to audio self-producers? If they get big enough to do so with impunity, I’m guessing yes. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

News of the Week

Because irony isn’t dead, you can get a free e-book from Bundoran Press, March 6th and 7th, here at, wait for it, Amazon.


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