Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ball of Confusion

Even though the horse is still dead, I'm continuing to beat the hell out of it.  I'll keep this short, (or maybe not, come to think of it) because it's just a minor variation on the theme that J.A. Konrath, (in fact, he posted on this same subject this morning) Kristen Lamb, and a host of others have been bleating for a while: not only are legacy publishers getting hammered by the wave of change sweeping the book publishing industry, the best-selling name authors who are their bread and butter are clueless as well--panicked  and out of touch with the reality that the midlist and Indie writers experience down in the trenches. They are more concerned with protecting themselves and the publishers that feed them than they are in helping or supporting their fellow authors.  They're well-fed and fattened, and what they want most desperately is to turn back the clock to the status quo that existed for so long, a return to the days where the Big Six were the gatekeepers and books existed only on paper.  And maybe getting rid of that Internet thing that seems to be causing everyone a lot of trouble too.  Where did the god damned cheese go?  I want it back.

In Salon yesterday morning, best-selling author James Patterson was interviewed about his call for a government bailout of the book industry.  He doesn't seem to understand the issues; more than anything, he appears completely dazed and confused over what is  going on.  I'll let the article, which centers around the desperate ads Patterson placed in the New York Times Book Review and Publisher's Weekly last weekend, speak for itself.

What struck me was the sheer desperation of his plea.  But what struck me the most was this: he has no idea of what to ask for.  He has absolutely no solution, and he admits this several times in his post.

Dig this: "E-books are fine and dandy, but it’s all happening so quickly, and I don’t think anyone thought through the consequences of having many fewer bookstores, of libraries being shut down or limited, of publishers going out of business — possibly in the future, many publishers going out of business."

"I haven’t thought about it but I’m sure there are things that can be done. There might be tax breaks, there might be limitations on the monopolies in the book business. We haven’t gotten into laws that should or shouldn’t be done in terms of the internet. I’m not sure what needs to happen, but right now, nothing’s happening."

And the most pathetic piece: "My solutions to this point are the other things i’m doing, and it’s a lot. In terms of the big picture, yeah, if I’m gonna see Obama tomorrow — if i could see the president, I’m not sure what I’d say — because he’d say what do you want me to do? I think that’s the stage we’re at. The stage we need to get to, something needs to get done. Let’s go the next stage."

He states he believes it's the publishing industry that produces "enduring classics," (ironically forgetting the author), and says that "its power will be gravely foreshortened, and the number of classics limited, by  attenuated publishing and bookselling industries . . . I don’t think we can be the country we’d like to be without literature."

My gut reaction to all this isn't anger, but embarrassment and pity.  The poor Luddite somehow equates technology advance and the publishing industry paradigm shift to the end of literature of we know it.

The numbers show otherwise.  More people are reading today than ever before, and the recent best-selling successes of self-published authors shows what can happen when self-imposed gatekeepers get out of the way and let authors write what they want and connect to audiences that embrace what they have to say.

Coming on the heels of Authors' Guild president Scott Turow's idiotic and widely-panned Op-Ed article in the New York Times last week, it simply shows how insulated from reality the authors at the top of the food chain are.

I'll say it again: all the noise coming from the industry Big Names are in defense of the status quo that has taken care of them for so long; there isn't a single sincere note sounded anywhere by any of them supporting the authors outside of their exclusive country club.

Wanna take a guess on how much Jimmy-boy earned last year from his buddies in the ivory tower?

Try $94 million.  You think he has skin in the game?  Yo, James: why don't you fork up some dough to bailout your bed partners?

A government bailout?  Please.  James, you want to bail out a short-sighted, greedy self-serving industry that shows not only a history of myopic behavior, but one that still refuses to get its head out of its ass?

Maybe the problem is that there are too many heads stuck in that ass to remove, without some serious surgery.

Dude, get an Internet connection, will ya?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

First Draft Finished, Random Ramblings

The first draft of The Winds of Heaven and Earth is in the bag and weighs in at 160,000 words.  I'm spending the next few days going through and just reading it as a linear story (and correcting obvious typos and errors) before I start on the second draft.  It's an incredibly good feeling to reach this point, because I *love* editing and re-writing; in my mind the hard part is done, even though there is a lot to fix and work on.

And now for something completely different.

As a science fiction fan, a child of the space age, a fan of and a huge promoter of science and science education (my daughter is a PhD marine scientist), I noticed a trend coalesce last week with several announcements in the aerospace industry.

The move to space privatization is picking up steam, and NASA's role is becoming increasingly . . . not marginalized, but rather evolving into a supporting role in the manned flight and space industry.  Their primary role, now and in the future, is clearly in the slot of robotic science research and exploration, rather than cutting-edge trailblazing of human frontiers.

Private industry now launches satellites, supplies the International Space Station, will take the lead from Russia in the near future on shuttling humans back and forth to the Station, and will likely accomplish not only a human flyby of Mars first, but establish a colony there and on the Moon decades before any government agency on earth does, with deep-pockets former space tourist Denis Tito announcing a 2018 two-person flyby attempt, and Dutch startup Mars One planning a 2023 colonization initiative funded by reality TV income.

In addition, there are several corporations taking the lead in the potentially lucrative asteroid-mining business, with multiple startups announcing their future plans over the past few months.

NASA's role will--and should--be in the arena for scientific research, with continued programs like robotic probes of the outer solar system and space telescope programs to search for exoplanets around other stars and potential identification of life-bearing worlds around those distant suns.  Private, commercial companies will continue to transition to the human exploration and resource exploration roles, similar to the pattern from centuries ago as the New World and Asian spheres were opened up by private industry after the initial exploratory expeditions were launched and funded by European governments.

In other words, the government functions as scout and target-setter, and private initiatives follow through.  This is a model that has deep historical precedent, and it's encouraging that space exploration has reached this point.

As a member of the generation that watched Neil Armstrong's first steps onto the surface of the moon as a child, I'm am continually amazed that over forty years have passed (and Neil's death) without any forward progress; in my opinion, and the opinion of many, we've regressed.  It a sad fact that it was political willpower in the context of the Cold War with the Soviet Union that launched the Space Age and propelled man to the moon; once that goal was achieved and the war ended, that will flagged and the public and government lost interest.

Now, commercial interests have picked up the baton.  Is that the ideal?  Not really, but it has precedent and moves things forward; and although some of us may not see human footprints on Mars in our lifetimes, at least we're moving forward to the long-term need of getting humankind out of this fragile cradle we're living in, and dispersed among the stars.  That is the only way to ensure the long-term survival of our species.  If the world's governments and political leaders--and even the general public--don't have the will and the interest, at least, hopefully, we'll get there someday, somehow.

For first-liner updates from me, please follow me on Twitter and Facebook as StephenMHolak.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Trend: Another Self-Published Author Hits #1

A few weeks ago, I posted about Jennifer L. Armentrout's success with Wait for You, the first self-published book to hit number one on the digital bestseller list.

This morning, Digital Book World announced in their daily newsletter that The Bet by Rachel Van Dyken was the best-selling eBook in the U.S. last week.  The Bet is self-published.

Looks like a trend is kicking in here, Peeps.  Now that the Big Six gatekeepers no longer can bar the doors to publication, more and more readers are voting with their wallets about the quality of independently-published fiction.  We've all read a number of anecdotal success stories about authors rejected by traditional publishers having success in the self-publishing arena, but the success trend is not only growing in frequency, but in magnitude, which should be an inspiration to authors and aspiring authors everywhere.  Put in the hard work and let the readers be the judges.

On the home front, The Winds of Heaven and Earth is sitting just short of 160,000 words, and I *swear* I will wrap the first draft this week.

I've done some work on the next book in the trilogy, The Dark Paths of the World, and even have an early cover concept.

What I'm finding interesting is, even though The Winds of Heaven and Earth is in early draft, there are seeds taking root that's already propelling the plot and momentum of the next story.  I already have the first chapter of DPW written, even though its predecessor is still a work in progress.

One final note before I wrap. I've seen a recent spike in sales for A Fairy for Bin Laden, which I attribute to my growing Twitter (@StephenMHolak) audience.  If you don't already follow me there, please add me, and a Like on my Facebook Page would be appreciated as well.

Now back to work.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Best of Times . . .

Before I switch over to the main point of this post, I'll just throw out a little "works in progress" update.

The Winds of Heaven and Earth is flying off the pen; I'm north of 150,000 words now and expect to wrap the first draft of that in about a week or 10,000 more words or so.  That said, remember Hemingway's famous perspective on the state of an early manuscript: "The first draft of anything is shit."  True dat; when I look back at prose I wrote over a year ago, I cringe.  But it's raw materiel, and I force myself to think of it this way: I've just about finished excavating the marble that I'll now carve a statue of David from with my editing chisel. Or at least, his oversize penis.

(Clearly, this is a poor day for metaphor work, so maybe a bit of outlining is on the docket for the afternoon.)

I've also completed a detailed outline of the second book in the trilogy, The Dark Paths of the World, and written the first chapter of that installment (long story, but a scene I wrote near the end of The Winds of Heaven and Earth jumped all over me as the perfect opening for DPW, so I did some plot shuffling), and an rough outline for a children's book called Tinker's Chance, about a fifth-grader who discovers his principal is an evil robot who plans to replace the school's teachers with computers.  TC won't be a graphic novel, but I'm thinking heavily illustrated; we'll see.

Shifting back to our regularly scheduled program, Digital Book World's  daily newsletter (if you are an Indie author, or dabble at all in the eBook medium, I strongly urge you to subscribe to that free newsletter) showcased an interesting point / counterpoint today on the health of the current climate for authors, in light of all the tumultuous changes happening in the publishing industry..

On one side of the coin was lawyer, bestselling writer, and Author's Guild president Scott Turow.  In his April 7th Op-Ed article "The Slow Death of the American Author" in the  New York Times, Turow laments about (and somehow mixes): the recent Supreme Court decision to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, the minuscule eBook royalties doled out to authors already under contract to the Big Six, digital piracy, Google's actions ten years ago when it scanned and made available for free out-of-copyright or ambiguously copyrighted books, library book and eBook lending practices, and Amazon's recent patent to re-sell eBooks as a "sky is falling" invocation of doom and gloom.

Oh yeah.  He closes with: "Last October, I visited Moscow and met with a group of authors who described the sad fate of writing as a livelihood in Russia. There is only a handful of publishers left, while e-publishing is savaged by instantaneous piracy that goes almost completely unpoliced. As a result, in the country of Tolstoy and Chekhov, few Russians, let alone Westerners, can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation.

The Constitution’s framers had it right. Soviet-style repression is not necessary to diminish authors’ output and influence. Just devalue their copyrights."

Somebody, quick, hand me a tissue.  Scott, jeez, I'm sorry you contracted-to-big-publisher best-selling authors are getting screwed out of eBook royalties.  Take it up with your agent.  (Or have your agent call Hugh Howey or Bella Andre's agents.)

Or maybe as president of the Author's Guild it's time to crawl out of the Big Six's bed and use your clout to help the little guy, ya think?

On the sunny side of the street was Jeremy Greenfield's article in Forbes "How the Authors Guild Is Kind of Like the NRA and Why Scott Turow Is Wrong About Authors", which, as you might guess from the title, strongly disagrees with Turow.

He goes on to question (identically to an issue I also had with Turow's piece), "So, who is Turow defending with his New York Times editorial? The small percentage of authors who benefited the most from the old publishing paradigm and who have not found a way to benefit from the new and the equally small group of authors who would have been their successors if publishing had stayed the same."

Spot on, though to be fair I believe Greenfield's comparison of the Author's Guild to the NRA is a stretch, although clever.

Greenfield goes on to cover other stuff, namely the hit non-fiction authors are taking in the new climate, but his main takeaway is the perspective I agree with: now is probably the best time in the industry's history to be an author.  When paradigms shift, there are always winners and losers, but I believe in this case that the former heavily outweigh the latter.

The main barriers to club entrance--the artificial judgment practices of the old publishing industry stalwarts--are gone, and an author can write and publish with the confidence that if his work is good, it *will* find an audience.  No one, now, can keep that from you.  Except you.

Now stop reading blogs and online articles and go write.