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Self-Publishing A-Go-Go **OR** Throw Some More Spaghetti At The Wall And See If It Sticks

 

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Source: AZ Quotes

I’m kicking around a new idea.

I want you to comment and tell me what you think.

And now you have to read this WHOLE POST BWAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA

So. *Ahem* I’ve been knocking around this ‘writing (mostly science-) fiction’ thing for a while.

I like writing science fiction. I like writing nearly anything, but science fiction is the gravity in my personal cosmos, if you get my lack of drift. My mother has the first story I ever wrote, in fact. With hand-drawn illustrations, and you can REALLY tell my main talents aren’t in the visual arts — shame I don’t have a picture to post here. It was something involving dinosaurs flying around in jets and a time machine. I think I was 9 or 10. And off and on through the years I fiddled with storytelling in one form or another — writing the occasional story and a lot of pretty stinky poetry. Playing and especially refereeing various pencil-and-paper role playing games.

Around… was it 2008? My memory isn’t what you’d call a steel trap… I started writing a lot more. For myself at first, to see if I could do it well. I thought I might have something publishable and mailed a short story submission to Fantasy & Science Fiction around 2009 or 10. I ran across it a year or so ago and cringed. I still had a lot to learn as a writer.

It’s funny. ‘They’ say read if you want to write. They’re right, but you need to do a lot of writing, too. It takes practice to translate “I know a good story when I read it” into “I wrote a good story.” And an open mind and a mindful purpose to improve and yada yada if you write you’ve probably heard it all before, probably from Stephen King who sells WAY more writing than I do — and almost certainly than you, too, as you read this. And if you’re reading this and you can say you sell like Stephen King, I’m flattered a literary icon of some variety is reading my blog. Hi there!

BUT ANYWAY. I’m pondering trying yet another angle at this self-publishing thing, because what I’m throwing at the wall right now isn’t particularly sticking.

And when I ponder major changes in anything, I tend to beat around the bush a lot before getting to the point.

I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

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I found this here.

I put my first self-published stories on Smashwords in early 2012. I have since pulled most of those early stories from my catalog and archived them — maybe I’ll rewrite them or repurpose their ideas for new stories; I’m not sure yet. As written, they share some of the just-beginning-to-write-with-publication-in-mind flaws that were in that first story I subbed to F&SF. But already, they were better. And I won’t elaborate more right here and now lest I sidetrack myself again.

Between then and now I have tried different approaches to gaining a wider readership as a self-published author. I have tried a little advertising here and there when I had the budget (Project Wonderful, concentrating on genre webcomics and Google Adwords). I have tried charging for every single story because some people say that’s The Way To Do It. I have tried higher and lower prices for the same reason. I have tried having both few and many free stories because some other people say… you get the point.

I have tried posting links to my stuff on social media often, and less often, and not at all. Scheduling posts and not scheduling posts. I have tried being serious, and I have tried being humorous, and I have tried being self-deprecating.

That last one, self-deprecation, is far too easy to actually do it very much without triggering some sort of depressive crisis. Because self-doubt is very easy when you don’t have a ton of fans — and when your earlier life has given you much ammunition for self-doubt, as mine has. (Which is where I say thanks to the Patreon patrons I have. Because not only do they think well enough of me and what I write to contribute a significant, pay-my-internet-bill amount of money, but they do that while being few in number (at the time of this writing — I hope for this to be incorrect in the near future). And only one of them is my mother! The majority of them are people I have never met in person. And since my personality is probably 51% annoying to only 49% awesome, they MUST believe in my writing.)

So how can I not believe? But, onward:

I have tried and am still trying to drum up MUCH NEEDED BECAUSE I AND MY WIFE AND THREE KIDS LIVE BELOW THE POVERTY LINE SO HEY COME OVER AND HELP ME OUT CANYA? support and readers on Patreon.

And now, shockingly, I’m getting to the point. My latest permutation on the How To Do Self-Publishing thing. Which is an I’m Going To Tweak How I Publish My Stories And Therefore How I Handle My Patreon thing.

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Columbia Pictures, When Harry Met Sally, via Buzzfeed.

Because there’s not really one way. There are the ways that make sense for you and that you like doing enough to do persistently. And, most importantly, that work. Different things work for different people. It’s a controversial point, but if you don’t go all buckwild taking it to absurd extremes and using it as an excuse to sit around and chow entire bags of chips when you should be writing and publishing, it’s also a true point.

Here (is/are) The New Thing(s) I’m considering doing.

Though I will occasionally still publish a free story, I’m planning on pulling most of the ones I have out at present to be integrated into small collections priced at 99 cents. They’ll have a minimum word count of a novella (7500), and probably not much more than a novelette (17,500) on the high side.

I’m still planning on publishing a big collection, Closer Than You Think, in December. It will probably be my last novel-word-count-length collection for a long while.

Currently, I submit stories to various zines for publication. In fact, one is scheduled to be published in Amazing Stories in November.

I’m thinking of stopping that. Not because I don’t like being published. I do! But maybe if I’m going to self-publish I should concentrate on, you know, self-publishing.

Instead, my thought is that I should publish all of my stories straight to Patreon for my patrons to enjoy first. Then publish the ebook, still at least 30 days later as I do now. And usually, now, significantly later, because I’ll be sitting on them until I have enough to fill out a small collection with some kind of unifying theme.

Or should I just sit on all the individual stories and publish the collections, and maybe the longest ones individually? HMMMMM!

With, for the first time, an actual reward structure for patrons. Because I don’t actually have one of those things at the moment. I’m just thankful for the support and give everyone some posts and fiction and ebooks.

Public/ no pledge: microfiction under 250 words, and blog posts.

$1/month pledge or more: gets to see (and get any ebook file I have to give) flash & short stories (7500 words or fewer).

$10/month or more: same as above, but also gets to read novellas & novelettes & collections over 7500 words.

$20/month or more: same as above, and I also mail a signed paper copy of anything I publish in paperback (probably through Createspace).

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The source for this one has BIG BIG DRAMA on it. You have been warned

So that’s what I’m thinking of doing. What do you think of it? Anything you’d do different? Tell me!

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Most People Give Up

So I saw this tweet today…

…and the title above popped into my head. Along with the very large number of times I have stumbled upon a self-published short story or novel that wasn’t bad, showed promise, and was written five years ago with zero followup and some links to a blog and social media presence aimed at getting people to buy it or download it for free that lasted about a year and abruptly stopped.

 

Most people quit.

Some of them, to be sure, decide that they want to take a different direction and concentrate at succeeding at something else. Well, bravo. Getting good at something takes time and focus, and it’s way too tempting to try to focus on 847 things because they’re all appealing. I know. A ton of things interest me, and I’ve gotten sort of okay at about that many of them. I am distractable. I know what it is like to be distracted by something that seems cool at the moment.

But plenty of others…

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Source. There are others!

…give up because it’s too hard to stick with something until it catches. Hey, we’re all online, we all see stories about Person X who posted ONE LOUSY THING to Place Y and BOOM all of a sudden they’re famous and rolling in dough.

Yeah, maybe it happens once or twice a decade out of the billions of people who post stuff online. And all the rest, there’s a year or ten of steady work getting better at whatever it is they do before that one thing catches on.

If you like what you’re doing — for me, it’s writing science fiction type stuff — keep doing it. If you don’t, you’ll never succeed.

Oh, and talk to other people who do it and like it, whatever your “it” is. Hell, make a Patreon or something about it. I did. Because you never know.

Rewriting In Action — “In Real Life” (Plus an unexpected conclusion)

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[This post appeared on my Patreon page on 3/29 — become a patron, see my work before anyone else!]

I’ve begun rewriting that early story of mine, “In Real Life”.

(The new cover is better than the old, don’t you think?)

It was published in 2012, but it was written, to the best of my recollection, in late 2010. Maybe I’m wrong and it was early 2011, but it’s no more recent than that. That wasn’t too long after I took up writing again – by that time I had worked the most egregious bugs out of my writing, I think – but I temper that thinking with the fact that it’s something of a yearly affair to look back at what I have written and think, oh, I wouldn’t have written it that way now. I could have improved on that. Go ahead and read it with a critical eye, see what you think.

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I’m helping the last customer of the day pick out a low-end cosmetic skin for his personal Heads Up Display when my PayDayFeed blinks three times and turns yellow. That’s the signal that I’ve gone into overtime. The dollar counter speeds up, reflecting time and a half, and the HUD Gear corporate overlay adds a digital countdown to the icon population floating in my view. I’ve got half an hour before I get a disciplinary notice; the company is very serious about limiting overtime outside of major shopping holidays. I perk up my tone as I list the features of the skin the lean pimple-faced boy seems most enthusiastic about, guiding him to a quick decision. We ShareSpace our HUDs through the retail interface, and I nudge his skin’s icon over to his side. He double clicks it to accept, and his account transfers the $119.95 to the store account. The receipt icon appears and I move it over for him to acknowledge. I’m loading my closing checklist at the same time I’m walking him to the door. It’s going to be close, the counter is down to 00:24:36 when the lock clicks shut.

It clicks shut again, behind me this time, freezing the countdown at 00:04:09. Good. I still have 42:21:55 working time until my last OT warning goes inactive. I really don’t want a second one. I smile as I slide behind the controls of my aging Honda/soft three wheeler…

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As I read over that, making mental notes about where to make changes, I thought, this is not going to be a cosmetic rewrite. I am going to rework this sucker bigtime. I haven’t developed just in terms of story mechanics or of smoothly communicating the story and scene to the reader. My style has changed. I have (I hope) a better feel for what needs to be explained overtly and what can be left to the imagination or assumption. Yeah, this story is going to change a lot. And that affirms my idea that the original text will be included after the rewritten story when I create the ebook. The reader ought to have the opportunity to see what the new edition sprang from.

Picking out details as I tackled the rewriting, the first thing that caught my eye wasn’t a miss in terms of writing, but in terminology. “Heads Up Display” (HUD) isn’t the worst way to describe “augmented reality,” but it’s not really very good, either. I hadn’t yet encountered the term “augmented reality” to describe the species of virtual reality in which the user sees the physical reality around himself, but with a visual overlay or modification added. A “skin,” to borrow a term from videogaming. HUD usually refers to a similar idea in which the augmented reality is projected on a transparent surface like the windshield of a car. So one of my first changes is to replace HUD with augmented reality and introduce my own take on the inevitable slangification of technical terms with “augreal.”

I also thought I leaned a little too hard on the details of how the transaction was navigated. Other things I changed were based on subjective feelings – I felt the flow of the original was a little choppy. I think I paid more attention to describing the action and being linear and chronological, and less to how the language sounds – I bet I didn’t read the first version to myself out loud. Now I pay more attention to that aspect. Prose may not be poetry, but it should be good storytelling, and good storytelling engages as much through the feel of the words and sentences as it does through definitional means of describing the setting and action the writer is imagining. At its best good storytelling prose feels a bit poetic in a way, transmitting something emotional and subjective, not just a dry description. Did I hit that mark? I don’t know, it’s notoriously hard for a writer to judge his or her own work. Did I at least get closer? I’m pretty sure I have.

These kinds of conversations with myself (is this good storytelling?) remind me that it’s easy to be a perfectionist in theory. I’d love my writing to be “perfect,” whateverthehell that is. In reality, indulging perfectionism kills productivity. No writer is perfect. Every writer misses the mark sometimes. No writing is ever loved by everyone who reads it. So I have to set myself a limit – I’ve tinkered with this enough, now I’m no longer improving the prose I’m delivering. I’m just tweaking the arrangement a bit, changing for the sake of changing.

Perfection is an illusion. Always strive to improve, never expect to be perfect.

Here’s the rewritten opening:

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I’m already trying to hurry the last customer of the day through his purchase when the world grows a blinking yellow border – I’m now trespassing upon the dread domain of overtime pay. My bank balance, always present in the lower left of my augmented reality, ticks over faster with time-and-a-half. Glowing red digits appear in the center of my vision, ghost-translucent over the face of my customer – the Worktime corporate skin on my augreal counting down the half-hour of OT I’m allowed before I’m written up.

I resist the urge to talk faster – nothing turns a customer off like feeling he’s being rushed – and pour on the persuasion. He’s a kid, pimple-faced and gawky, self-consciously coolish, browsing first person shooter skins for his augreal and avoiding the ones with the highest user counts. But he skips past the lowest, too, and I get it: the key to hurry him out the door. He’s a safe player, looking for the middle ground between Popular Fanboy and Ironically Uncool. I lean in, tipping my forehead toward his, the universal gesture: merge our augmented realities? He nods and I zip through the advanced search options too fast for him to follow – I’ve been here ten years; jobs for humans are rare and precious; nobody leaves one on purpose. I flip through three skins like the ones he’s been lingering on, heavy on reds and flamethrower effects, and repeat the magic words to death: you can exchange it within seventy-two hours, FREE, if you don’t love it. Finally he taps one of the skins. I pass him the TOS icon and he taps agree without reading just like everyone else, even me. Nobody reads the TOS. He passes over his $119.95 – cheap skin, lousy commission, but you don’t try to sell a cheapskate a rich skin. I give him the exchange period countdown widget and open it for him in his augreal. I’m already opening my closedown checklist as I give him the thank-you-come-again. Time is slipping away fast and I don’t need another OT writeup – a quick peek at that widget tells me I’m still three workdays away from the last one dropping off. I rush through the closedown and freeze the OT countdown at 04:09 by locking the steel security gate over the store’s door on my way out. Victory.

#

My impressions:

One: This immediately became a complete rework of the whole text. It’s basically as time-intensive as writing a brand new story. I may not do this again because I’d rather be writing something new. If I wanted to revisit this particular story, I could do just as well coming up with a sequel or a second story set in the same universe.

Two: I do like the new copy more than the old. And of course I do. I’m taking something that 2011 S.A. Barton liked and making it into something that 2016 S.A. Barton likes. People change, likes and dislikes change; this is just another illustration of this.

Three: I’m going to keep going on with this exercise, but it’s going on the back burner. It will be a fine thing to tinker with when I’m feeling otherwise uninspired. And it has inspired me to critically look at myself as a writer – that’s almost always a good thing. Also, I said I’d rewrite the whole thing, and followthrough is good – mostly. If I find it’s eating new work, it’s going to have to go in the trunk. Sure followthrough is good – but on the other hand there’s no need to go down with a sinking ship but pride, and if life as a poorish person has taught me anything its that you must choose what you take pride in with care because pride is a luxury in most cases and luxuries are simply not in the budget.

Four: Rewriting those couple of paragraphs led to this (longer!) post PLUS a few clarifications of my priorities when it comes to writing. Part of my slow progress as a writer is due to the volume of other things that occupy my attention: life in general, children, mundane chores like cooking and, soon, moving household, online classes because grad school loans are part of what supports me having a home and internet access with which to pursue matters of education, family, and self-publishing. Interruptions of writing, unless you’re a monomanac, are going to happen, and many of those “interruptions” are GOOD THINGS. I don’t want to miss playing with my kids and private time with my wife because writing. But part of my interruptions spring from lack of focus. I’m especially prone to defocus because I’m worrying about X, Y, and Z current things going on in my life. The usuals, like keeping vehicles running and people fed and what if a hurricane or tornado comes this year and what if there’s a bureucratic snafu or something and we can’t pay rent and what if my last story sucked and, and, and… and I’m guessing plenty of you reading this can identify with worry as an enemy of focus to one degree or another. I worry about things, it’s what I do – and I remember being a small child and my grandmother saying “we are a family of worry-warts.” Worrying about things is apparently genetic. But I worry, worry, worry. I worry that slow sales of my work stems from older, less attractive stories that turn readers off, for example – rather than the idea that short story singles are limited sellers and novels, or at least novellas, are where the sales are at in self-publishing 999 times out of 1000. Actually, is that the figure? I’m not sure I’ve EVER heard of an author, self-published or other, making a self-supporting income out of solely short stories. At other times, I glom on to other ideas. I’m pissing readers off with my tweets or my blog posts (and I’m sure I have, because having ANY opinion will piss SOMEONE off – you can’t please everyone, ever), but most readers look past differences of opinion with authors and save “I’m not reading that person anymore” for REALLY HUGE UNFORGIVABLE stuff like kitten-eating.

Still on point four: so it turns out this rewriting exercise wasn’t as much about rewriting and getting a few blog posts about the process of rewriting as I thought it was.

It turned out to be about settling some of my internal conflict over my successes, failures, and in-betweens as a writer and self-publisher. Just taking action on the start of this old story plus the thought behind writing this post led to what I hope are some positive conclusions. Writing new things is more important than rewriting old things.I recently wrote a post in which I said unpublishing is a giant pain in the butt and you should consider everything else, including rewriting, before doing it.

Well, I may be best off unpublishing a few things. I don’t know yet – it IS a pain in the ass – but it’s on the table for those stories of mine that aren’t my favorites. We’ll see. Having some short freebies, as I do, remains a good idea – the free story has been the centerpiece of self-publishing marketing/selling strategy for a long while (comparatively long in this young current and extensive incarnation of self-publishing). Keeping my longer novelette and novella singles is a good idea – long stories are more likely to sell. Shorter stories that are neither freebie or novelette, neither the fish nor fowl of the world of self-publishing – I need to take a close look at those. If they’re already in a collection, maybe that needs to be their home instead of living a dual existence as a 99 cent single AND part of a collection. If I drop the unpublishing axe at all, it’s going to be on some of those awkward short stories that are not also flash fiction, novelette, or novella.

I have a lot of thinking to do as a result of this exercise. That makes it already successful, in my book. Some of the points above are me thinking ‘aloud’ on the page – and I’m inviting all of you who have read this far to tell me what you think.

This post has been as long as some of my short stories. If you read it all, you are definitely one of the people I’d love to hear a comment from – you were interested enough to stick with me and my thoughts for quite a while, in reading-on-the-internet terms.

See you in the comments section.

Revising An Old Story — And Boy Does It Need A New Cover, Too

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(This post first appeared on my Patreon page on the 21st. Become a patron and see posts early, get FREE ebooks before anyone else can get them, and help me on my quest to feed a family of five with my dreams!)

 

For a little while now, I’ve been kicking around the idea of going back and editing some of my oldest stories. I generally still like those stories from my earliest days of self-publishing — an immense five years ago, has it really been so little time? It seems like ages.

 

It’s exactly because it seems like ages that I want to create some revamped editions of those stories. Five years isn’t all that long ago, but it was only seven years ago that I decided it might be fun to take up writing for my own enjoyment again and only six years ago that I decided — okay, my wife persuaded me over my own self-conscious and self-deprecating protests — that I might want to write stories to share with other people, and maybe even sell a few.

 

I used to write in grade school, imitations of science fiction stories found in libraries and the steady stream of paperbacks my father devoured. But after placing only (!) third in a short story contest in my smallish school, I decided I must not be cut out for writing — I had absorbed, from somewhere, the idea that writing was a talent and not a skill, and I didn’t have it. I wrote a few short stories in my teens and twenties, for my eyes only. Still convinced that, though fun, I just didn’t have the talent to write good ones. The thought of writing disappeared from my horizon until my late thirties, when it finally sank through my thick skull — I think the credit goes to Stephen King’s On Writing, which my wife brought home for me from a thrift store — that writing was a skill, like any art, and takes practice and time for the skill to develop.

 

And so I started filling notebooks with my own writing and reading the stories I loved with an eye toward what made them fun and interesting to read.

 

Those early self-published works were published while my skills were still new, and they show it. Are they still good? I hope so — at the least, I think the concepts are sound and the basics of story are there. But after writing a hundred and something short stories and making my way through an English fiction writing MA (I’m in the final course of my program as I write this) I think my writing has evolved significantly in the last few years. And I think any writer who passes through the first five years of writing with the intent to be published does the same — the early years of developing any skill are the years of greatest growth.

 

Now here’s the bit that’s important to you if you are interested in writing and especially if you have enjoyed some of my stories:

I’m planning on writing a few posts along the way as I revise, and I’m planning on publishing new editions with the old text included after the new text for anyone who would like to compare and contrast.

 

I think it will be an interesting look into how a writer evolves, for you and certainly for me.

 

I’d love to have the old and new text side by side for easy comparison, but there are a few factors in the way, so one after another it will have to be. 1: my primary self-publishing outlet, Smashwords, doesn’t like columnar formatting. 2: even if I could finangle side-by-side columns they would look like hell on any device you’d read an ebook on, short of maybe a 40″ monitor. 3: my stories tend to lengthen with editing despite the fat I cut, and the comparison columns would soon be out of sync anyway.

 

But why, exactly, is any of that important?

Because as my patrons (if you’re not, I’m talking to you in the next paragraph, and this one is short, so I’ll be right with you), I’ll treat new editions of old stories exactly like new stories. You will see them on Patreon a minimum of 30 days before they appear anywhere else, and you will get a free copy in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI regardless of what I charge for the new edition elsewhere. This one I’m tackling first, “In Real Life”, is priced at $1.99.

 

Even if you’re not one of my Patreon patrons, you may not have read the original, and may find it best to wait and get the new and old editions together — and if by chance you bought the original ebook, once the new edition is released you *should* be able to download the new version from the original vendor you purchased it from. If not, let me know and I’ll hook you up after the patron-exclusive 30 days ends — you’re on the honor system; please be kind to this writer who needs every penny he earns to keep his 20 year old minivan running and the lights on at home.

 

Also, the story may get longer — at least three readers have told me that they’d love for it to be longer, maybe to reveal what happens next after the ending. Now, “tell us what happens next” is sometimes the bane of the short story writers — I, like many others, like an open-ended ending that invites the reader to imagine the possibilities beyond the end of the story — but sometimes it’s actually a good idea. I’m thinking particularly of “Isolation”, the title story of my Isolation and Other Stories collection, which ended after what became the first third of the story in the original draft. My wife read it and said, as near as I can remember, “hell no, you can’t end it there. It needs more.”

 

Sometimes the reader is right. “In Real Life” might need more. Or it might not. We’ll see. But like I said before, my drafts tend to grow during editing — just as, in the old saying, stories grow with the telling.

 

No matter how it goes, it should be fun.

 

Please don’t remind me that those are famous last words — let’s end on a high note.

So You Want To Unpublish A Self Published eBook

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(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 17 February 2016. My patrons see blog posts three days before anyone else — and when I publish a new ebook, they get that THIRTY days ahead PLUS they get a FREE .pdf copy EVEN IF I CHARGE FOR IT ELSEWHERE. On top of that, they get my sincere thankyous as a grateful author — priceless, yes? Totally. See you there.)

There are a lot of potential reasons to unpublish an ebook once you’re set it free. Maybe you published in haste and realized you actually still had a TON of editing and proofreading left undone and it will take AGES to slog through it and do it right. Maybe you’ve had second thoughts and you’d rather wait a while before getting your name and work out there for reasons of your own. Maybe you just don’t like the story anymore, or it picked up a 1-star review you HATE (they happen to everyone, go look at some bestsellers’ reviews and you’ll find 1-star reviews) or…

Maybe, like me, after a few years of self-publishing you decided to read one of your earliest stories and after a couple of pages you thought, oh man, there’s a good concept here and maybe a decent story but man, Years-Ago-Me just didn’t understand that this one wasn’t quite ready for the big time.

And maybe, like me, your first impulse – whatever your reasons – is to rush to wherever you’ve self-published your story and YANK THAT SUCKER FAST PLEASE DON’T LOOK EVERYONE STAAAHHHHHP READING!

But hold on.

Take your cursor/pointer/whatever off the UNPUBLISH link.

Push the mouse away. Gently.

Take a deep breath.

Relax.

One thing I’ve learned in the last few years of self publishing my own work: if you make a decision in a hurry, you’ll probably regret it later.

So let’s talk about why unpublishing MIGHT be the answer, but is PROBABLY NOT.

MOST OF US HATE OUR WORK SOMETIMES

For, at a guess, most of us, we both love and hate our own writing. We write away with great abandon and then come back and realize THIS little bit is a hoary old cliché we picked up from television when we were in grade school and THAT is a plot hole and THIS OTHER is a character acting totally out of character and THIS YET ANOTHER part is just awkward as all get-out. If we proof and edit with a will, and especially if we have a first reader or two experienced in evaluating stories (or an editor to work with, you lucky duck) we catch most of it. But as I pointed out in my post about plot holes, something always slips through. Even if nothing slips through, someone will think your awesome perfect story isn’t awesome or perfect at all, because people have opinions about stuff like fiction and how it should be done – which often translates to their particular preferences (remember the Puppies kerfluffle? Mostly people confusing their preferences with the ‘right’ way to write and sell a SF&F story – even authors). The very concept of perfection is an illusion outside of narrowly-defined specialized circumstances. You can spell a word perfectly – most of the time, unless you’re talking about color/colour or draft/draught in which the difference is merely regional and has nothing to do with ‘perfect’ or ‘correct’ – but you can’t write a perfect story. Can’t be done. You can only write an excellent story.

And yes, you can keep on making changes if you want, but BE CAREFUL WITH THAT. You can find yourself fiddling with one story forever – we’re imaginative types, we writers, and can always think up a different way to tell the same story, write the same scene, word the same sentence. There’s a point in rewriting when you’re only making things different, not better – and you might even be making things worse. There’s a point where you have to decide to either trunk it, or to let the story go out into the world as it is. You’ll get better at knowing when that is the more you write. It’s subjective. Sorry about that, but that’s reality on this one.

OH GOD I JUST FOUND A TYPO ON THE FIRST PAGE WAIT THERES ANOTHER AND ANOTHER NUKE THE STORY FROM ORBIT IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE

Whoa, be cool. Yeah, I freak out a little if I realize I have a typo, especially right on the first page. That makes it worse, somehow. And it happens even to those of us who have regular access to pro proofers and editors – at least, it does on rare occasion. For writers in circumstances similar to mine (no money to speak of, remember?), pro proofing and editing isn’t practical. Or even possible. I sweat the economic impact of ordering twenty-five bucks worth of pizza maybe once every other month, so how the hell could I justify the cost of hiring a professional to look over a short story – especially when there are four other people in the house with an equal claim on every penny? If you’re in that boat, typos will happen to you a bit more often – the more work you devote to ferreting them out, the less it will happen but it will always be more than it is in 90% of stuff that passes through a traditional publisher.

What I’m saying is, don’t panic. Read through your story. Open it in your favorite word processing software and blow it way up until it fills the screen side to side and focuses on only a few lines at a time, and proof it with care. That helps in finding typos, way more than I thought was possible when I first gave it a try. Or print a copy and go over it slowly, red pen in hand. Fix all the typos you can find. Then submit your new typo-freeish copy as a new version. Make a little effort to let your readers know you cleaned it up. Tell ’em on Facebook, Twitter, your author site, whichever place(s) folks are paying attention to you. Let them know you’ve fixed your typo-ing ways and mean to do better going forward. If you really mean it and put the work in to publish the cleanest copy you possibly can, they’ll notice the difference. They may not say so, but they will. And new readers will come away with a better impression of you.

BOTTOM LINE: IT IS EASIER AND FASTER TO SUBMIT A NEW VERSION THAN UNPUBLISH ALTOGETHER

If you take your time and think about it, you might still come to the conclusion that you want that story gone. Unpublishing is your call, in the end. But be aware – it’s more likely to be a big fat pain in your butt than submitting a new version. There are a few horror stories [like this one] about the hassles of unpublishing. That’s because the self-publishing system is set up to facilitate the submission of new versions of the text and/or cover art, and it’s NOT set up to facilitate taking a story down. Yes, your dashboard at Smashwords or whatever may have a handy-dandy UNPUBLISH link right there to use. And THEY may take it out of their catalog instantly or reasonably close to instantly. But while a fresh version of the text may be automatically accepted by iTunes and Barnes & Noble and so on and so forth, a takedown may not be. An order to unpublish seems to be much more likely to go ignored, and then you have to email or call that publisher, which will tell you to talk to support wherever you self-published, which will either tell you to go back to that publisher or alternately tell you they’ll try sending the request (REQUEST? IT’S NOT A REQUEST DAMMIT I TOLD YOU TO TAKE THE STORY DOWN) again and please wait at least three weeks to see if it worked… UGH WHAT A PAIN IN THE BUTT NOW I HAVE TO MAKE A NOTE ON MY CALENDAR TO EMAIL YOU BOZOS AGAIN TO SEE IF IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED THIS TIME WHY DIDN’T I JUST SUBMIT A REVISED TEXT MAYBE THAT’S WHAT I’LL DO OH WAIT IT’S UNPUBLISHED AND NOW THEY SAY I CAN’T JUST REPUBLISH IT AGAIN DO I PICK A NEW TITLE FOR IT OR WHAT I LIKED THE OLD TITLE AND WHAT WILL MY READERS THINK IF THEY BUY WHAT THEY THINK IS A NEW STORY BUT IT’S JUST AN OLD ONE GUSSIED UP A BIT HELLO MORE 1-STAR REVIEWS OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE

And that’s why my advice to you, with all respect, is: if you want to unpublish a story for whatever reason, you’re better off fixing what you feel is wrong with it and submitting the corrections as a new version. Even if it’s radically different than the old. There’s precedent in traditional publishing – remember a little story titled Ender’s Game? Before it was a classic novel of the SF genre and a movie, it was a short story and it changed quite a lot between short story and novel. If Mr. Card can do it, so can you.

To Labor No More: A Short Farce of Automation (Maybe Like Our Future)

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Find To Labor No More at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, Smashwords, Kobo, and maybe a few others I haven’t thought of.

The robot worker, it’s a-comin.

Automation, though we seldom think of it now, has already taken quite a few jobs that once were taken for granted.

The elevator operator used to control the rise and fall of the lift before the advent of the button-studded control panel anyone could just operate with one finger. Children (and the occasional adult) shined shoes before the coin-operated automated shoe shiner (itself almost extinct with the advent of easy to apply liquid shine goop). Robot welders and assemblers now dominate vast swathes of automobile production line once filled shoulder-to-shoulder with workers doing boring, repetitive, sometimes dangerous work that (here’s the upside) once paid wages good enough to admit the earner into the lower reaches of the middle class.

Soon, it seems, the working robot will likely dominate more jobs than we’d like to contemplate.  Long-haul truckers may stop being a thing before 40-somethings like me shuffle off their mortal coils. Same with the people who prepare food in low-end restaurants… and maybe high-end ones, too. A lot of food service jobs are prep-work. Look behind the scenes at your favorite 3-Michelin-star restaurant, if you have the dough to have a favorite one of those. You’ll find a bunch of prep staff doing repetitive menial tasks like slicing shallots, dicing onions, shredding lettuces, julienne-ing carrots, and so forth. I’m not the first one to think a robot could do an equal or better job dicing onions — that bot is already in the works.

There are even bots that can write blog posts. I shudder!

There may be downsides, even after we figure out what to do with all the surplus humans who will no longer be needed to dig ditches, cut carrots, flip burgers, and so forth. Personally, I favor Basic Income (but that’s a different post) rather than pushing them all out to die on patches of floating arctic ice. By the time it’s an issue, anyway, we may be fresh out of patches of floating arctic ice. But that, too, is a different post.

And that’s a lot of writing to get to my 99-cent short story. But I think the trip was worth it.

Automation, like every other things humans have done ever, will have a downside. Some of them are obvious — if you see a machine screwing up a job, you can’t just yell at it to knock it off. You have to get to wherever the things are controlled from, shut it down, and then probably call tech support — which is an adventure in itself if you’ve ever been forced to do it. Especially if the tech support is automated, which it often is at the level of basic functions.

To Labor No More gets into one of those potential downsides, both for machines and humans. For example, what if your servant robots, at work and at home, are just a… little too servile?

Anyhow, you should give To Labor No More a try. Go ahead — it’ll be fine. The reading’s not automated, after all.

Here’s a little preview to whet your appetite:

Hate loading the dishwasher? You don’t even have to clear the table. Let a Right Hand Model 2100 do both for you. You don’t have to cook, either—your Right Hand can do that for you too! And if you run a small business, or even a multinational megaconglomerate, a few good Right Hands can take the wage-wasting drudge work off of your employees’ hands and let them devote all their energy to making your business as big and better as it deserves to be!”

–Transcript excerpt from Vintage 21st Century Collector, Right Hand Robotics Inc. television and web advertisement, late 2099.

… (sometime later in the story) …

“Yes! Come take my socks off before they smell up the whole living room,” he says, voice halfway to a shout. He forces the volume back down, tries to hold onto his cool. “It seems like I had to okay the placement of every damn box that went in or out of the warehouse today, and Zebediah was out sick so they pestered me all the way through lunch, too. I need a drink.” The 2174 pauses; it has removed one of Buddy’s socks and stops with the other one tugged halfway off. It lets go; the half-off sock flops over limp. The robot walks into the kitchen, its compact little spider legs mincing along directly under it.

“What the hell?” Buddy says, wiggling his toes hard in an effort to get the sock the rest of the way off.

“I think it went to make you a drink,” Eunice says, sitting down on the sofa next to buddy…

Familiar Adversary: More Adventures In Cover Design

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AdversaryCover

This post has happened before, with different examples. It happens often enough that it has its own tag, “cover art”.

This familiar old story is about self-publishing on a shoestring. Self-publishing when the often reasonable prices of people who design covers for a living are out of practical reach. And trust me, paying someone else to make covers would be nice, and I might have found a way to make it work if I was writing novels. But, as of this writing, I have 71 distinct titles out, because I’m silly enough to write a bunch of short stories instead of just a few longer works.

Trust me when I say that paying for 71 professionally designed covers is beyond my means.

So I’ve been making covers for a while now. I keep them simple, believe me. I’ve seen some of the videos and blog posts that professional designers make, showing them making covers with (a slight exaggeration, perhaps) 849 layers and who knows how many cool ‘shop effects.

I’ve kept it simple, and cheap. When in unfamiliar waters, stick to the basics and learn them very well. So around the beginning of 2012, I downloaded GIMP, free image-manipulating software that is a distant cousin to Photoshop, and started figuring this cover design thing out.

Through practice, I’ve gotten better since January 2012. Above, the cover on the right represents my skills in October of that same year. I’d gotten slightly better — some of my earlier covers were even less appealing — but not much better. The left/top/better-looking cover is one I made tonight, because I had done a bit of writing and hit a point where I had to put the story I was working on down and do something else. So I made dinner, and then I decided that poor old Adversary, long burdened by one of my early cover attempts, deserved better.

It does deserve better, it’s a good story. Of course, I always say that, because I wrote the thing. Nevertheless, I think it’s good and it deserved some new ‘clothes’.

I could, maybe, have gotten away with keeping the base art. Or — wait — no. It’s too monotone. Too ‘someone stirred the tomato sauce a bit too hard and got froth in it’. But even worse than that, those white fuzzy drop shadows. Ugh. I can’t believe I thought that looked good.

Perhaps worse is the tagline in front of my byline. “A short story by,” I have come to understand, is shorthand for “I am very new at this.”

There are worse things than being a n00b. But it puts some people off; despite the old saying we really do judge a book by its cover, even those of us who say we don’t. We do, we definitely do. It’s just that some of us have realized that a cover is not always the whole story and make it a point to check out the contents. In a perfect world, nobody would have to bother with learning how to make a prettier book cover. But this isnt’ a perfect world, and for every person who says ‘even though that cover is ugly, I’m going to read the blurb and see if it sounds like a good book’, twenty scroll right past looking for a prettier cover.

So that “A short Story by” tagline had to go. You’ll note that I did the one-word-title-in-giant-stacked-letters thing. I’ve seen that style knocking around on a few recent books, so I thought I’d give it a go, too. Maybe it’ll fall out of fashion and I’ll find myself redoing this cover again in a few years because that style will have become cliche by then. Or maybe not.

In any event, I think the title, and the whole cover, look much better now. It’s still a very simple cover, but I think that it has a bit more impact and just plain looks more appealing. And the top-heavy layout of byline and title left me with a blank at the bottom that was a nice place to put a little one-line teaser tagline, which I like to do once in a while.

That might be a n00b move, but I don’t care. As long as it doesn’t say “A short story by” anymore.

“So I’m Writing An Infodump…” “NO.” “But…” “HELL NO!”

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Oh, he’s infodumping in public. He must be SO EMBARRASSED! Poor thing.

You’ve only just read the title, seen the image, read the caption, and you already know: I’m going to tell you (you writers out there) not to infodump on your readers. If you’re a reader, I’m going to tell you how you feel when you hit an infodump: ‘fine, fine, get on with the story already fer chrissakes.’

Before I go farther, let me tell you what prompted this post. From time to time, I poke through one of the ebook sellers’ websites and preview some of the novels and shorts that my fellow self-published writers come up with. The first one I looked at this afternoon started with a fat infodump in movie-intro style. It was labeled “Prologue,” which was a lie. It wasn’t a prologue. It was an infodump sketching out the author’s worldbuilding so that you, dear reader, wouldn’t have to bother your pretty little head with figuring out the background. And, possibly, so the author wouldn’t have to bother his pretty little head figuring out how to establish the important features of his world through things like dialogue and brief exposition and events.

Now that we’re past the digression: if you’re a contrary or exception-minded sort like me, you’ve taken issue with my hostility against the infodump, and have come up with a number of reasons that an infodump might be perfectly fine in a story. At least a little one. And it’s true, a little infodumping is less offensive than a lot of infodumping. The most inoffensive thing about the example I encountered today was that it was relatively short, less than two pages. Not too big to skip forward to the beginning of the first chapter, which is where the story should have begun. It should have begun with chapter one because that’s where it was interesting in a way the infodump ‘prologue’ definitely failed to be.

Which brings me to my major objection to the usage of the infodump: they’re boring. The worst of them (and the one I read was one of these) read like a transcript from a high school history class with the most uninspired and unhappy teacher you ever had the misfortune of having. Nobody wants to read that crap. I bet the writer didn’t even want to read that crap once it was written. He probably had trouble staying awake during editing.

There are ways to handle the infodump that aren’t terrible, and those are the ways you should use as a writer — because they’re not actually infodumps as I’m defining them here. They’re the ways you want to read as a reader. They’re not encyclopedic, they’re worked in with some sort of action. The characters are doing and thinking and saying things as the infodump develops. You still don’t want to overdo it. Even handled this way, if they’re prolonged the reader begins to wish for less information and more story-meat. But when done well, the reader is still enjoying what’s going on. If you’re the one doing the writing, doing it this way moves it from the realm of the infodump (EWWWW!) and into the realm of exposition (well, fine — so long as it stays interesting).

Technically, exposition and infodumping are the same thing. Exposition simply means ‘showing,’ which might be a bit confusing in light of the old and hoary advice, “show, don’t tell.” Exposition is a point at which the writer tells the reader something informative instead of showing or demonstrating it by other means. I think of the infodump as a distinct category of its own: Infodumping is the kind of exposition you do NOT want to write. It’s the kind that really sucks.

All exposition should be used sparingly. You should think about how and why you use it rather than conveying your information another way. And if you find yourself in the infodump neighborhood of exposition, do yourself a favor:

FIND ANOTHER WAY.

Self Published Writers Still Enjoy Being Published By Others. Duh.

Daily Science Fiction New Housing Starts Increase For Twenty Second Consecutive Year by S.A. Barton

Update:

There’s a one-third preview of the story below, under the bloggy goodness about the joy of being published.

This story is one of the twenty-one in my Not Gruntled collection, available in trade paperback or ebook!

You can also get New Housing Starts as a FREE ebook single at Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Today, Daily Science Fiction published my insanely-long-titled short story, “New Housing Starts Increase For Twenty-Second Consecutive Year”. It’s just a word shy of 1500 words; if I self-published it, it would be a free title. Lucky for you, it’s free to read with them, too. In fact, they’ll email you a fresh short every weekday if you let them. I would. In fact, I do. They send good stories and I enjoy reading them.

To the point of the title, though, I’m a self-published writer. I enjoy publishing my own stories. I enjoy making the covers. I like seeing them out in the world and I like seeing the reports coming back that prove that some of you are downloading them (or buying the paperback collections) and — if I might presume — reading words that I wrote. Self-publishing is a pleasant and rewarding experience for those of us exhibitionist enough to want others to see what we’ve dreamed up. Or at least, it’s rewarding to me and others who self-publish often say similar things in the blogo-tweeto-sphere.

Still, there’s a special little thrill that comes with having someone who’s not you publish something you’ve written. Self-esteem is fine, but working on something and having someone else buy it from you to show it to others is a validation that says, “hey, it’s not just ego-smoke you’re blowing up your own ass. You’re actually pretty good at this thing you do.”

So, anyway. If you write, keep sending your literary preciouses out into the world. If you’re not good enough to be published yet, the odds say that if you keep at it, keep practicing with an active and open mind toward learning and improving, sooner or later you WILL be good enough. There are a lot more stories out there than there are slots available in the publishing world for them, so even if you are good enough, you’ll likely see a lot of rejection. That’s been my experience, at least.

One more nice thing about self-publishing: if you convince someone else to pay you money for a story, once the exclusivity period requested by your publisher runs out, you can still go ahead and publish it yourself. So, in about 90 days, if I remember my contract with DSF correctly, you’ll be seeing this story as a free ebook single.

And I get to put “originally published by Daily Science Fiction” on the title page. Cool.

Here’s your one-third preview of the story:

New Housing Starts Increase For Twenty-Second Consecutive Year

First appearance: Daily Science Fiction, 12 DEC 2014

Contents:

Midpoint

Connect with S.A. Barton

By S.A. Barton

Copyright 2014 S.A. Barton

Smashwords Edition

“Of course they do,” Daniel said. He punched the Power Off key on the remote so hard the knuckle of his thumb turned white.

“Dear,” Rosetta said, warning.

Daniel took a deep breath, eyes closed.

“I thought we could go out together tomorrow,” Rosetta said. “There’s a new house going up on the next block. Iris is getting old enough to see.”

“Of course she is,” Daniel said, grumbling.

“Dear,” Rosetta said again, a little more sharply than before.

“I know,” Daniel said. He sighed a small harassed sigh.

“I’m old enough to see what?” Iris asked from just inside the hallway that opened into the living room. She had taken up the habit of lurking there around Christmas, trying to catch them talking about her presents.

“Daddy was just saying a five year old girl is old enough to start learning more about houses,” Rosetta said.

Daniel scowled. She sounded like a salesperson, bright and chirpy and too enthusiastic.

“I like houses,” Iris said. “They keep us dry when it rains.”

“And so much more,” Daniel said.

“When you’re like this, my love, it would be better if you waited until you felt happier before you talked,” Rosetta said to Daniel, then rose to gather Iris up in her arms. “Who wants a bath?” she asked Iris. “Who needs more soap, mommy or Iris? It must be Iris, I still see some egg behind her ear from breakfast…” Giggles retreated down the hall. Daniel sat in the empty room, brooding.

There was so much he couldn’t say. Didn’t it bother her like it bothered him? Was she just better at covering it up?

That night, with Iris sound asleep in the next room, they relieved stress the way couples have for as long as there have been people. They moved together, skin on skin, drawing closer, breathing faster, embracing harder.

“We go go. Tomorrow,” Rosetta growled in Daniel’s ear, teeth gripping his earlobe, as they reached the peak.

“God! Yes!” Daniel threw back his head, crying out, the pain in his ear mixing sweetly with pleasure. “Please,” he added as he collapsed next to her, spent. “Oh God yes please,” he sighed, eyes closed, imagining the ceiling opening on the stars above him. “I don’t know how you work your miracles, honey.” Hating the need to speak in subtext, each hoping the other understood, even in pillow talk, the hate staining the afterglow.

“One day I’ll tell you all about it. For now, just be happy.”

He fell asleep. When he woke, he realized his jaw wasn’t sore. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept without grinding his teeth.

“After we see the house being built, we’ll go to the beach,” Rosetta told Iris as they got ready to leave. “So we’ll all pack a change of clothes for after we swim. Bring a couple of keepsakes, I think we’ll build a pretend house in the sand for them while we’re there. Do you remember what a keepsake is, Iris?”

“It’s something you want no matter what house you live in. Something you really really like that makes you happy,” Iris said.

“That’s right,” Rosetta said, leading Iris down the hall to her room to pick out clothes and keepsakes.

“Can you grab my…” Daniel said, and stopped.

“Grab your what?” Rosetta said, voiced raised to carry back to him.

“Nevermind. Iris is the keepsake I want in our… beach house,” he said.

“Daddy!” More giggles.

Whatever Rosetta had planned, Daniel hoped it would succeed. He hated to think of the day Iris realized what the houses really were. More than shelters.

Traps…

…grab a copy or head over to Daily Science Fiction for the rest!

Reviews And What The Hell Do I Actually Write?

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The author, reflecting on the ain’t-easiness of being green.

The other day sometime between now and a thousand days ago, I got a review for a number of stars I won’t reveal, from a person whose identity or online alias I won’t reveal, on one of my stories which I also won’t reveal.

Because writers who call out reviewers, both I and most of the internet believe, are assholes. And I have quite enough assholishness without adding any more, thankyouverymuch.

But that’s not my point. My point is this: the reviewer referred to my story, which I had not written with the intent of making it YA, as YA.

And that made me think.

What exactly do I write?

I’ve already put out some stories that don’t fit neatly into commercial genre lines. Mainstream with a taste of science fiction, science fiction with a taste of mainstream, fantasy that didn’t turn into fantasy until the story was almost over, the ever-popular horror-science-fiction mashup… well, sort of. Not quite.

But I had never given a thought to writing YA, even when I wrote Kitty Itty And The Seawall Broke, which has a preteen protagonist, a family-centric storyline, a sympathetic cat character, and a title that sounds like YA. I didn’t think of pitching it as YA until my wife read it and said, “you should sell it as YA because it’s YA.”

I tend to favor straightforward storylines, which are not a requirement for YA, but which are common in YA. While some of my work is undeniably adult, much of it is in that gray area that can be enjoyed by the teen reader and the adult reader equally.

So I’ve concluded that I write stories, and some of them can be enjoyed as and thought of as YA because I’m pretty sure they’re all-ages-friendly. Most of them are science fiction, probably because most of my reading, for all of my literate life, has been science fiction.

I sort of wish I could throw them out uncategorized and let the readers decide what pigeonholes they fit in. That would be easiest, if there was any practical way to do that. But there isn’t. So I’ll try to fit the round stories in the round holes and the square ones in the square holes, and when a story is both round and square, I’ll just pick one.

The way the market works, we have to worry about genre. Especially when we’re self-published, and have to face the publisher’s jumbo menu of categories your story must fit in — please pick one already and stop stalling! But the way I write, the way most of us write, I think, we tend to write our stories and then worry about what genre it can be called part of.

So keep writing, and keep pigeonholing as needed. And let the reviews and the puzzled comments about what you’ve written fall where they may.