Neil Gaiman’s “Most Important” Writing Advice

March 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

The most important writing advice, from Neil Gaiman.

Need a quick kick in the pants? Neil Gaiman has it for you over on his blog.

I’d add to it, but really, what else is there to say? Runners don’t start off running marathons; they run every day until they can. Ditto writers.


Finish things.

Keep writing.

Seems pretty obvious, but sometimes we need someone further down the path to call back and remind us to keep hiking.


Writing about Reading: The Forever War

March 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is one of those landmark science fiction classics that any good sci-fi reader should have read a long time ago. Either I’m not a good sci-fi reader (HA!) or I’ve just been distracted by other, equally landmark SF titles, because I didn’t get around to reading Haldeman’s book until recently.

I didn’t know much about the book when I bought it, other than it was categorized as “space opera.” From the introduction, I learned that Haldeman had a hard time finding  a publisher for the novel because it was heavily influenced by his time in Vietnam, and publishers in the early 70s didn’t think readers wanted books about Vietnam. Boy, were they wrong.

The plot centers around Mandella, who we first meet as a private in the space marines, going off to train on the outermost world in our solar system, Charon. From there, we follow Mandella through his career as he reluctantly advances in rank and continues to fight—for 1,000 years.

Maybe it was knowing that Haldeman drew on Vietnam for this book, but several times throughout The Forever War, I was reminded of the novels and short stories of Tim O’Brien — particularly The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato. Like O’Brien, Haldeman’s book isn’t about battles and killing the enemy so much as it is about the time in between the battles and the experience of being a soldier in a seemingly senseless and endless war. It’s about coming home to a society you don’t recognize anymore, about being an alien among your own people—or, more accurately, about “your own people” being the aliens.

The Forever War is simultaneously dated and relevant to right now. Haldeman’s interstellar war began in 1997, so right away the story seems a little musty. But the experience of being a soldier—be it in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or on a distant planet in the far future—that doesn’t change much. You train, you fight, you lose friends and parts of yourself, you fear, you dread, you love, you hope, and you sometimes die. If you make it home, you find that home is a strange, alien place into which you no longer fit. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone waiting for you to help you make sense of it all. If you’re not, well, you probably end up going back to the war.

In his foreword to the edition I read, John Scalzi sums up what makes The Forever War a classic:

“The first is that it speaks to the time in which the novel first appeared. There is no doubt that The Forever War did this … The second thing is tougher, and that is that it keeps speaking to readers outside its time, because what’s in the book touches on something that never goes away, or at the very least keeps coming around.”

As much as we wish it to be otherwise, it seems that there will always be war. And as long as there is war, Haldeman’s novel will remain relevant, and thus remain a classic.

For publishers, the times are a-changin’

March 20, 2013 § 3 Comments

Unless you’ve been living at your desk, so completely immersed in your writing that you’ve not tuned into book news in several months, you’ve probably heard of Hugh Howey and his novel, Wool. You may have also heard that he self-published the book electronically as a serial, and made a great deal of money doing so before finally selling the print rights to Simon & Schuster—after turning down seven-figure deals from other publishers because he was already doing better on his own.

Howey’s story is one the one everybody points to when they talk about the new publishing paradigm that’s currently taking shape. Over at Wired, Evan Hughes published a fascinating look at how publishers are reacting to authors like Howey and the growing sales of e-books. SPOILER: They aren’t reacting well:

Still, it’s not clear that traditional publishers are well positioned to own the digital future. They are saddled with the costs of getting dead trees to customers—paper, printing, binding, warehousing, and shipping—and they cannot simply jettison those costs, because that system accounts for roughly 80 percent of their business. Ebooks continue to gain ground, but the healthiness of the profit margins is unclear.

My dream has always been to publish a paper book with a well-known house for a huge advance. But after seeing Howey’s numbers (as quoted by Hughes), perhaps my dream is outdated. I’m starting to wonder if the Dickensian serial model has found new life in the e-book world; Dickens and other writers of that time often published their novels piece by piece in the newspaper before they were published as bound books.

In the classic film Ghostbusters, Egon states categorically, “Print is dead.” And that was in 1984. Was he ahead of his time? Is print dying? I look at the success of Wool, and I have to wonder.

How many copies do you have to sell to be a “best-selling author”?

March 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

FULL DISCLOSURE: I had never heard of Neal Pollack before reading this interview. I have read nothing by him. I now feel like I ought to, especially since I read a lot and feel like I should have heard of him. But I haven’t.

Regardless, Neal Pollack sat down with The Onion’s A.V. Club for a brutally frank interview about the ups and (mostly) downs of his career. He even breaks the taboo about talking sales figures, telling how many copies his “bestsellers” have actually sold. Check it out here.

Here’s how Pollack sums up his career as “the greatest living American writer”:

I was still just a guy with one book under his belt. And a book that, despite all the attention it was getting, sold maybe 10,000 copies. It wasn’t some sort of international publishing phenomenon. It was, at best, sort of a moderately successful indie-rock project. So I still had to do stuff like write promotional copy for Weight Watchers to support myself and pay my mortgage, which was relatively small. The year I quit the Reader, I made almost no money. Maybe $30,000. And I thought, “Aren’t I supposed to be a famous writer? Is this it? A drafty townhouse in Philadelphia?” So that pattern established itself for me over the years; I’d have a little success, let it go to my head, and then make some outrageous move to try and capitalize on that, and the move would come crashing down on my head. I would always get a little overexcited.

Have you read anything by Pollack?

Random House bows to pressure, changes contracts

March 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

writing contestColor me surprised. After first defending their wretched Hydra and Alibi contracts in a letter to SFWA, Random House has done an abrupt about face and changed those very contracts, along with the contracts for its Flirt and Loveswept imprints. This is good news for writers, folks. Here’s a blurb from Publishers Lunch:

Random House announced changes to the contract terms for their start-up digital imprints Hydra, Alibi, Flirt, and Loveswept on Tuesday morning, following pointed criticism from the Science Fiction Writers of America, the Horror Writers of America and other author group representatives. The company is adjusting the charges made under their profit-sharing contract model, and also offering authors a separate, more traditional advance-plus-royalty contract model.

The advance-plus-royalty model follows a traditional contract model:  Random House’s “standard ebook royalty of 25 percent of net receipts” along with an agreed-upon advance, with the imprints covering all production, shipping, and marketing costs. In the revised profit-share model, there are fewer charges to the author’s share. In particular, the percentage-based fees for publishing services have been eliminated, as have the “out of pocket title set up costs” for ebooks, producing more of a true profit-share.

Now the imprints will cover entirely “all marketing costs connected with general, category- or imprint-wide marketing programs” and title-specific marketing plans up to $10,000. Any costs above $10,000 “will be proposed in advance to the author. If the author agrees, the incremental costs of such title-specific marketing activities over $10,000 will be deducted from sales revenue before profits are split.” For print books, “actual costs directly attributable to production and shipping of the book” will be deducted from net sales.

Under both models, Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt will still acquire rights for the term of copyright, but there will now be an out-of-print clause where authors can “request reversion of his or her rights three years after publication if the title fails to sell 300 copies in the 12 months immediately preceding the request.” The imprints will generally seek to acquire world rights in all languages, with earnings from subsidiary rights split between the imprint and the author subject to the business model the author chooses. Random House added that “If we see opportunities with select manuscripts for performance or transformative digital editions (such as video games), we will seek to acquire additional rights, subject to negotiation with the author.”

Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss, one of the initial critics of the original contracts, said the changes “represent a significant improvement” and that she was impressed with Random House’s “openness to discussion, and with what seemed to me like a sincere commitment to responding to criticism and making the digital imprints’ contracts more author-friendly.”

Kudos to Random House for so quickly seeing the light.

March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Random House Hydra/Alibi debacle has reignited the debate about pay-to-publish. Again, I advise sticking to Yog’s Law: Money flows toward the writer. Scalzi has more on why pay-to-publish business models (I prefer to call them scams) are a bad idea.


In writing the pieces about Random House and its egregious, non-advance paying eBook imprints and how no writer ever should submit to them, or indeed work with any publisher that does not offer an advance, there are some folks in the comments and elsewhere on the Internet who are saying things along the lines of the following (paraphrased to condense points into a single statement):

That’s easy for Scalzi to say because he has power now, but us newer authors have no power to negotiate. And the market is changing and there are lots of good eBook publishers who just happen not to pay an advance.

One word for all of the above: Bullshit.

First, for those you who think the “Hey, let’s not pay you an advance but instead you can share in the backend!” model of publishing was first thought up in relation to electronic publishing:

View original post 1,620 more words

SFWA responds to Random House regarding Hydra

March 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Science Fiction Writers of America have responded to a letter from Random House regarding their imprints Hydra and Alibi.

Yesterday, I posted links to the blog of John Scalzi, SFWA’s president, in which he tore into Random House and examined an Alibi contract. SFWA’s letter boils it down for you, in case you didn’t have time to wade through Scalzi’s two long blogposts. (Although I highly recommend you do. It will help you recognize similar scams in the future.)

SFWA goes on to say this:

The contracts of these imprints mean that SFWA will now be watching Random House very closely. If the egregious features of Hydra and Alibi’s contracts begin to make their way into the contracts of Random House’s other imprints, particularly Del Rey and Spectra, we will be required to act, up to and including delisting Random House as a whole as a qualifying market for SFWA.

Clearly, I stand with SFWA on this issue, and I am very glad to see that they are taking punitive measures against Random House. I do not want to see this become the new standard for publishing.

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