Friday, December 23, 2011

Hilarious comedy routine by John Branyan on difference between Shakespeare's vocabulary and typical American's today. Funny and thought provoking for any modern writer. (Thanks to Lorina Stephens of Five River Books for the tip.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Editors not always right

A mildly amusing walk through rejection letters received by (subsequently) major writers: To be fair, some of these are early works, and I have always maintained that one role of acquisition editors is to protect writers from publishing their earlier, not-quite-ready works prematurely. And even the editor who rejected "Left Hand of Darkness" (which went on to become a major classic) is making a reasonable decision on what kind of book is right for his press.

But, you know, sometimes we're just wrong.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Interview with Moi

Interview with me and two other authors from the Tesseracts 15 anthology at Totally Tesseracts blog as part of Tess 15 launch.

Monday, November 14, 2011

SF Writing contest

The Friends of the Merril Collection are running a Speculative Fiction Short Story Contest in order to raise awareness of, and funds for, the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy.

The Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest will be open to entries as of Nov. 15, 2011. There are 3 monetary prizes to be won: 1st place $350 (CDN), 2nd place $100 (CDN) and 3rd place $50 (CDN). Winners will also have their fiction published both on the contest website and in a limited edition hand crafted booklet (5 copies – 1 to be archived in the Merril Collection, 1 to be retained by the artist crafting the booklets, and the others to be distributed among the winners). We are accepting only original, previously unpublished Spec Fic (SF/F/H, Magic Realism, Slipstream, etc.) short fiction of up to 4,000 words. The hard deadline for submissions is Feb. 15, 2012. International entries are welcomed. All subs are judged blind. There is an entry fee of $5(CDN).

Entrants are encouraged to visit for a full set of entry rules, contest FAQs, and other contest related information and updates.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ethical Editing

Highly entertaining article on cheating at university The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story. Well worth a read.

This is, needless to say, not a service provided by And why the blurb on editing theses and dissertations emphasizes "ethical" assistance. So far, no one has asked me to help them cheat, so not a problem with which I've had to deal.

I am somewhat sympathetic to the article-writer's position that the profs who get these falsified assignments deserves them, since they are the product of bad assignment structures, poor assessment practices and a lack of proper help to students who need it. As I teach my student teachers, if they use authentic assessments, students won't want to cheat because it will be about the learning, not the grade; if they are providing formative assessments, they will be coaching students through the process, so they will know something is up if the paper that is handed in is not the one that was in process for the three weeks before; and if they are using properly designed rubrics, the sort of inflated rubbish they get from these bought papers won't pass muster. And, if universities were serious about stopping students using these services, cheating would have negative consequences for the cheaters rather than for the professors who report it.

But it is fascinating to think that that so many of these papers pass through the system without a blink. So many out there with credentials they don't deserve, certifying competencies they don't have.

My favourite term paper story is the student who handed my own term paper into me. I'd written it ten years before as an undergrad, and when another student approached me and asked if he could borrow it -- because I'd gotten an "A-" whereas he'd gotten a "C" and he wanted to see what he had to do to get an "A" next time -- I said sure. Apparently my "friend" had photocopied it and put it in his fraternity's term paper file, where it had, apparently, had a long and prosperous career as a paper in that course. Since the course was almost always taught by grad students, and that grad students only teach the course once before graduating themselves meant that the rapid turnover prevented anyone from seeing the paper twice. But then I was a grad student teaching that course and suddenly had the strangest sense of deju vu reading a student paper -- but being the compulsive hoarder I am, I actually had copies of all the papers I've ever written back to Grade 9, so I pulled mine out and sure enough, this was it.

My favourite dissertation story I only have second hand: A colleague told me that when he was in seminary he had attended a dissertation defence, his faculty using the public defence model. Apparently the appointed External on the committee had suffered an attack of appendicitis and been unable to attend at the last minute; but to the supervisor's delight, had recommended the leading German authority on the topic, who by complete coincidence, happened to be attending a conference in the neighbouring city. It had been a simple matter to contact him and have him add a short extra jog to his trip to Canada to attend the defence. The problem of course came when the newly appointed external arrived, opened the dissertation and discovered it was his dissertation. The miscreant had found his unpublished dissertation and translated it from the German, thinking, what were the odds of anyone on his committee ever finding an unpublished dissertation in another language? Again, the irony of a seminarian cheating to become a qualified man of god is hilarious; but the coincidence of the original external getting sick and being replaced by the one guy on Earth who could call it looks to me to be the direct hand of god! Mysterious but hilarious ways! Made for, apparently, a highly intense defence since the external made the point of announcing his find at the public portion of the defence, lest, I assume, someone tried to cover it up. Spectacular end to that career, I would think.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kobo becomes Publisher

News story on Kobo following Amazon's example to become a publisher as well as a book seller:

What drives me crazy in this media frenzy about Amazon and Kobo etc "cutting out the middleman — the publishers" is that is not what is happening at all. It is a complete misstatement/ misunderstanding of what publishing is and what publishers do. This sort of coverage greatly adds to the confusion around developments in the publishing industry and increases the likelihood of new writers making serious mistakes.

When Amazon announces that it is publishing 122 new books this year, this is not an example of authors going direct to consumers, this is an example of a distributor adding a publishing house to their business. Amazon is doing, with these 122 books, everything that a publisher does — providing for cover art, book design and extensive editing — the whole 9 yards. This isn't cutting out publishers, this is joining the ranks of publishers. It's a development with all sorts of interesting implications: what if Amazon gives preference to its own titles over other publishers titles in its distribution arm. In the long term, the danger is that a few massive online distributors like Amazon may be the only market left standing, with worrisome issues about monopoly and censorship. But it is NOT a story about "eliminating the publisher".

The story that Amazon is "cutting out the middle man--the publisher"— is already long past. Amazon has been selling self-published ebooks for years. Selling self-published ebooks for which the author has found the coverart themselves and foregone editing and book design is an example of cutting out the middleman, because these books have been written but not published. (I would argue that there is an analytical difference between Arthur Slade self-publishing books that have been professionally edited, designed and have professional coverart, and the authors that Krista has been complaining about who put their books up on Amazon without even proofreading their drafts. The former is self-publishing, the latter is non-published.)

For years the public and many beginning writers have believed that publishers took an author's book, distributed it, and skimmed off 90% of the profits in the process. The steps of refereeing, editing, design, marketing, etc remain largely invisible to the public, and mere annoying barriers to many beginning authors. Media coverage of the emergence of publisher-distributors like Amazon is not helping to resolve this confusion, but rather compounds it. The result, I am afraid, is many more authors choosing to 'go with Amazon' by which they will mean uploading their unedited, underdeveoped, manuscripts rather than submitting to Amazon's publishing arm and getting (from all accounts) really good covers and editing....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Word on the Street (Lethbridge) 2011

Today was the Word on the Street Festival, the first iteration for Lethbridge. On the upside, it was nice to see some version of this national event in the city; on the downside, organization left something to be desired.

My primary complaint is that the contracted organizer seemed to miss that this was supposed to be about the written word. Three quarters of the booths and activities had some other focus: ethnic food, a roller derby booth, blood donors, jazz and country musicians, ethnic dancers, face painting, and so on. I get that the organizer was trying for a festive atmosphere with lots of interesting things happening, but it did rather end up feeling more like the random collection of tables/tents one gets at the weekly farmer's market than anything remotely related to the written word.

Furthermore, the logic of setting up a bandstand and installing a country singer at one end of the block while setting up poetry readings and meet-the-author events downwind along the same block of his city-blasting sound system escapes me. At one point Tigana and I walked past what appeared to be a choir of 20 or more singers whose lips appeared to be moving but from whom we could detect no sound, given the banshee wail of the country performer. What was the point of this arrangement? If I were the choir, I would have been supremely pissed to have been asked to perform under such inappropriate conditions. I know that we certainly didn't bother even trying to listen to the various author readings, for it was clearly a hopeless endeavour. Giving priority to the bandstand over the authors seems to rather severely miss the whole point of the exercise! Why weren't the authors given the bandstand sound system, and the musicians off in the corners, instead of the other way around?

And where were the literary activities? Face paint for the kids is all well and good, but where is the instant poetry booth, the magnetic poetry board, the graffiti wall, the improve group, the word-oriented kids activities? Or adult activities, for that matter? There was nothing to involve, engage the passerby that had anything to do with writing or reading -- clearly, the organizer didn't believe words would be enough and opted for Festival Filler instead.

And Tigana burst into laughter at the sight of the heavily advertized 'bouncy house for the kids' -- it was smaller by half than our own family's backyard version, purchased from Costco; it wasn't even the size of the entrance to the bouncy house at the house party we had attended the night before. For a city-wide event, advertizing a bouncy house as the main attraction for the kids, I think we imagined something bigger than a toddler's wading pool. It was embarrassing.

I have to give some credit for organizing skype conferences with various authors; but I know it embarrassed Mary to live in a community with so few writers we had to skype in speakers. And when I talked to a couple of writers I knew forlornly manning the autograph table and asked how sales of their books had been, one Edmonton author confessed she'd only sold one book, and that to the out of town author sitting next to her.

The University bookstore did an excellent job of profiling itself as somewhere to buy books other than texts, and they were good to have copies of all the featured authors available for sale. But I can't help wondering if they broke even on the deal....

I hope the event goes again next year...but I hope the organization is a little better.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Too Much Tracking

I've been editing for a while now, and I generally use "track changes" in Word as the best way to add to, delete from, and comment on a manuscript. As I was finishing up a document recently, however, the damn program kept crashing on me every 8 minutes or so. Very frustrating. I took my computer into my IT guys, and their suggestion was simply to upgrade to the most recent version of Word, since it seemed likely my current Word had corrupted somewhere. Okay, fair enough. Slight nusiance to have to reconfigure all my personal preferences and menu options and so on, but needs must. And on the whole, I like the new MacWord interface just fine and am getting quite used to it quickly enough.


One unexpected change was that when I reopened the document on which I had been working, I discovered that all of the comments had now been numbered automatically. I can see how this could be a useful feature. Several people working on the same document and wanting to discuss a comment on page 236 could now say, "comment 27" and know they were all talking about the same thing. My problem is not with the functionality of this new feature, but with a latent dysfunction -- the psychological impact -- that the software engineers failed to consider.

I like to think that I am a pretty good development editor and catch a lot of mistakes that otherwise might get missed, and that I have a lot of helpful suggestions to make. It is therefore not uncommon for me to be making three or four comments per page, over and above the usual grammatical additions and deletions. And authors have always been good with that, happy that I was doing such a thorough job. But now comes sequential numbering -- and suddenly it is unavoidably brought to the author's attention that that three or four comments per page add up to -- in this case -- 425 requested changes.

I cannot blame the author -- any author!-- for freaking a little bit at the prospect of having to address over 400 changes. It must seem completely daunting, in a way that three or four changes per page might not. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step, so responding to the comment on the first page, then a couple on the next, appears doable; whereas taking on all four 400 at once may sound like a good time to bail....

Anyone know how to turn comment numbering off?

Interview on Editing

Interview with me on editing by Mike Plested on his regular Get Published podcast. Mike's questions covered a lot of ground and I think the interview came out rather well-- i.e., he did a good job of editing out all of my more stupid comments.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Quote of the Week

If I rave about a book I love and I have it with me, I am absolutely not going to give it to you. If I love it that much, I am going to keep it. And if I love it even more than that, the thought of you even borrowing it and maybe smudging up the dust jacket and cracking the spine makes me throw up a little in my mouth. So buy your own copy. Or pirate it.

-Sandra Kasturi, publisher, editor, poet.

Monday, August 15, 2011

When Worlds Collide

The When Worlds Collide Festival in Calgary this past weekend was a magnificent success, the best SF convention since Context'91. I participated on seven panels/readings/workshops, to apparently positive reviews. I found three new Alberta small presses I hadn't been aware of before; got to meet half a dozen authors (most notably Krista Ball, Susan Forest and Michell Plested) with whom I have corresponded but not previously met in person; got to rave at Minister Faust who've I met before but haven't seen since he turned professional writer; made a couple of deals for freelance work; spent an evening with a Five River's author I am currently editing -- very productive working supper!; raised the possibility of Five River publishing their work with a couple of promising authors; had another half dozen authors pitch their work to Five Rivers, one of whom I actually said yes to her sending a submission. Got to hear dozens of readings by top authors-- again, highlights were Susan Forest's brilliant comedic short story, Bob Stallworthy's poetry and Susan MacGregor's novel excerpt. (I would love to get my hands on MacGregor's novel, but she is already in the process of signing elsewhere.) Was able to take in a couple of other panels on topics I was actually interested in -- in contrast to most other conventions where panels are either on topics that don't interest me, or topics I've been speaking on for last 30 years, so kind of bored with. Writer/editor/publisher- oriented topics here of actual relevance.

My only regret was that I didn't get a chance to really sit down with Robert Sawyer, our paths always crossing as one or other of us was on a way to do a talk; and some other authors I see in various facebook references were apparently there but I didn't run into or perhaps didn't recognize. But then there is always next year...

If this year's event was any indication, I highly recommend next year's WWC Festival to any writers (or serious minded readers) as a great venue to meet/do deals with editors and publishers, to find out what is happening in the field, and to take in some great workshops/panels etc.

Friday, August 5, 2011

When Words Collide

I'm planning on attending the When Words Collide convention in Calgary next weekend.(August 12-14) Still recovering from surgery last week, but pretty sure I'll be able to get around in another week. It's a new convention, but it is being mounted by a reputable team, and the concept -- a con for genre writers and editors -- is deeply appealing. If anyone else is going, hope to see you there.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Estate Planning

I have another guest editorial on Writer in Residence today, this time on estate planning for authors. My basic argument is that creators need to think about what will happen to their copyrighted materials after they're gone and put their wishes into a will. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The 2011 winners of the Bulwer Lytton fiction contest (for worst opening line) have been announced

The SF winner:

Morgan ‘Bamboo’ Barnes, Star Pilot of the Galaxia (flagship of the Solar Brigade), accepted an hors d’oeuvre from the triangular-shaped platter offered to him from the Princess Qwillia—lavender-skinned she was and busty, with two of her four eyes what Barnes called ‘bedroom eyes’—and marveled at how on her planet, Chlamydia-5, these snacks were called ‘Hi-Dee-Hoes’ but on Earth they were simply called Ritz Crackers with Velveeta.

The fantasy winner:

Within the smoking ruins of Keister Castle, Princess Gwendolyn stared in horror at the limp form of the loyal Centaur who died defending her very honor; “You may force me to wed,” she cried at the leering and victorious Goblin King, “but you’ll never be half the man he was.”

The contest has deteriorated a bit in recent years to short, self-contained jokes, but they do still illustrate several principles of bad writing. Things not to do.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Publishing

Blog entry on publishingby Edmonton author Krista D. Ball reads as if it were written by me, so might as well include it here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

quote of the week

"There's a word for a writer who never gives up...published." Joe Konrath (Thriller writer)

Also good interview with M.J.Rose at A newbie's guide to Publishing on going independent....

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rate increase...

I've had to raise my rate for appraisals: I've found that many of the submission packages coming in were taking a lot longer to respond to than I had anticipated, so I've needed to adjust the rate accordingly. At $90, it's still no relation to my hourly rate, but I can't raise the initial appraisal much higher or it defeats the purpose. The new rate is also more in line with other reading services...given that I have a two to three months backlog as it is, I don't need to undercut the competition; and I'd rather people were choosing because they trust my judgement, not just because I turned out to be the cheapest editor on the block....

I'm not too worried about the rate increase cutting into business since anything under $100 is still just the price of an evening out. If an author doesn't believe in their work enough to invest $90, pretty sure they weren't going to be long term customers anyway.

My hourly rate remains the same though, since that was already set at industry standard.


I know I go on a bit about the importance of book design, especially for self-publishing and micro-presses which often seem to overlook this important step in the process, but here's a book that takes typography in our genre seriously.

Science Fiction Typology has also got to be an example of publishing for a niche market. I can't see any of the large corporate publishers going for a book like this, because let us face it, this is not the stuff of mass market, but for those interested, how cool is this!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Encyclopedia of SF

Thanks to Peter Halasz for bringing to my attention that the long-awaited, much anticipated 3rd edition of the Science Fiction Encyclopedia has been announced:

Friday, July 1, 2011

On Critiquing

Quote of the month:

I do spend a lot of time on my crits, but I've found out all the crits I've done, most of them will help the writer in their next book and not in the book they have for critting.

-- Barb Geiger

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Matt Hughes Archonate Blog

And speaking of writers' blogs, here's another that might interest you: Matt Hughes' Archonate blog carries Matt's advice to writers. Besides being an extremely successful SF writer (on my personal top five list!), Matt also does a fair bit of freelance development editing and teaches courses and workshops on writing, so his advice is worth reading.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Creative Process

Found this at but I'm not sure who the original creator is....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Arthur Slade's Blog

I follow a bunch of author blogs, but the most interesting and the most useful for other authors is undoubtedly Arthur Slade's. When he talks about selling books on Kindle, for example, he gives you actual sales figures, charts and graphs and a concise analysis.... I find I get more insight into the real life experiences of a (highly successful) professional author from this blog than almost any other. Unlike other authors who make all sorts of pronouncements on how to write or on the writing industry, Arthur just says, 'I've tried this and this is how it turned out for me' with the implication that your mileage might vary. And he has a lot of interesting ideas -- I like the discussion of losing weight while writing for example.

One basic principle that Arthur demonstrates by example is that if you want people to come to your blog on a regular basis, it has to be about more than just your latest book release. Slade's blog is fascinating: personal and yet helpful, accessible yet no talking down to readers. A lot of author blogs I look up are just announcements of book releases and accolades received. I seldom return to such blogs because they are ultimately boring even for the most fanatic fan. Slade includes lots about his latest book's progress so fans can answer the question "When is the fourth Hunchback book coming out?" but there is enough other stuff to keep the rest of us coming back again and again just because Slade is one of our more interesting virtual neighbours. I don't mind reading his commercials: I hadn't known the third Hunchback book was available until I returned to his blog to see how his experiment in digital book publishing was going, and then went out immediately and bought the book for my daughter. But I was there for the content. I humbly suggest that if you want readers for your blog, then you'd better have some actual content to hold their attention between commercials. The better the content, the more likely people are to refer friends to particular entries: I discovered Slade's blog because someone referred me to the entry on typing on a treadmill, and because I found that such an exciting idea, I stuck around on a regular basis for the rest of his blog -- including the commercials.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How to Become an Author, in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps by Robert Brockway is a painfully funny, sadly accurate account of writing for a living. Well worth a few minutes reading. (Thanks to Dave Laderoute for bringing it to my attention.)

One thing that took me slightly aback was his complaining about his initial advance of a mere $30,000. Not that his math isn't correct and that that worked out to less than minimum wage for the hours he put into the book. He's completely correct that one could make a lot more pumping gas at the local 7-11, and with a lot less angst. It's just that $30,000 is still a lot more then the average beginning SF novel advance of $3,500 to $6,000 (from those publishers who still pay advances -- more and more, the smaller presses simply can't afford to offer anything beyond editorial assistance). Once one has established oneself as a dependable seller, someone whose books are likely to sell more than a few copies, well then advances might well go up. But for SF writers trying to break into the market with no previous credentials, $6000 is pretty much top dollar. I know I'd be deliriously happy if I got anything close to five figures for my first novel. I can count on my fingers the number of Canadian SF writers who can actually make a living just from their writing--and on one hand the number who make a good living at it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Book Piracy

Interesting and largely convincing perspective on book piracy by Tobias Buckell (brought to my attention by Silvia Moreno-Garcia) which argues authors have to step back from an emotional response to having their books pirated and look at the issue from a business mindset.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Setting

On of my favorite blogs is "Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing". One of today's entries is entitled "Humans Across Time and Space" and features a trailer from the BBC series, "Human Planet" along with Lisa Wade's brief commentary...

And I thought, Interesting glimpse at the idea of "setting" as determining character and story...worth 3 minutes if you're ever feeling in need of a little inspiration re setting....


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Writing for a Living

Came across reference by Simon Rose to a column from a couple of years back on authors taking about writing for a living. Worth a look.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writer Beware

You are probably already aware of Writer Beware, but thought I'd just mention the site again. SFWA's Writer Beware" site lists on a website that is open to the public the various schemes, scams and pitfalls that threaten writers. There is also a blog by A.c. Crispin and Victoria Stauss that makes for fascinating reading.

I note with interest that some of these scammers are charging $250 in reading fees...time to raise my rates, eh?

Friday, May 27, 2011

New Twist on Book Publishing

Thanks to Lorina Stephens (Five River Books) for pointing this one out: Ubimark books has come up with a new concept in print books to allow readers to tie into the internet experience as easily as digital books do...these books include QR codes (those little square 2d bar codes you photograph with your cell phone) to connect readers to maps, photos, and commentary. Interested in more detail about this scene? Want to see a map of where it takes place? Photo of the house in question? You whip out your smart phone, use the camera to take shot of the QR, and the QR application on your phone connects you directly to the relevant Internet page.

Naturally, this allows publishers to upload a lot of supplementary material, but what is really exciting is that it turns print books into Books 2.0 because like Web 2.0, the commentary and supplementary content is generated by other readers. Instant book club!

Check out the video at

As a university instructor, I could definitely see some applications for textbooks -- click the QR code for anything you don't quite understand, and get the FAQ file on that topic, the powerpoint, the discussion group.... Could be interesting!

On the other hand, I'm not sure I want a QR code on every page of my novel...I think I would find it distracting. Here I am trying to get into the scene of the hero fighting the pirates, or whatever, and there is this QR code staring at me saying, "Hey, buddy! Want to see what other people have to say about how realistic this scene isn't? Hey you, yeah, I'm talking to you! There is a whole bunch of stuff here you're missing! Stop what you're doing and come see!" Yeah, not so much! It would be like your spouse talking to you while you're trying to read. And there is no gurantee that reader-supplied commentary wouldn't include a whole bunch of spoliers: "Hey, did you notice the line about the butler -- this is where he does the murder!"

One code at the end of the book or at the end of each chapter, maybe -- or maybe QR codes will become the new scene break mark...but I think Ubimark might be overdoing it with one or two a page. Though for a historic work, might make sense to provide access to more explanations than for a contemporary novel. I could certainly see them as useful in reading Chaucer, though at some point, a hyperlinked digital text (where you could simply touch a word on your Kobo/Kindle or whatever, and it would define it for you etc...

But still, interesting possibilities...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Agents as Publisher

Perceptive column by Dean Wesley Smith on how writers are allowing themselves to be exploited by agents.... (Thanks to Russ Crossley for bringing column to my attention.)

I have to admit, my reaction to agents turning "publisher" was very similar, though Smith writes with a good deal more verve than I could have managed. As the publishing field is revolutionized by emerging technologies, various parties will try to reconfigure the playing field to their advantage. These new 'agent' publishers are a good example of the capitalist entrepreneur trying to insert himself between the producer and consumer to skim off the profit. Given new publishing modalities, there is no need for anyone to intrude between producer and consumer in this market -- an established writer should have no difficulty selling directly off their own website, though I can see a place for distributors such as Amazon. But agents taking 50% of the 'net'? After paying out set up expenses? Smith is correct to rain down derision on such a suggestion.

As mentioned here previously, 'net' is a flexible figure, and there is a long history of Hollywood ripping off creators through creative accounting such that their work never turns a 'profit', even when it earns enormous amounts. That hasn't been a significant issue with publishers up to now, but the agent-publisher contract that Smith reviews is very clearly an example. And the agent-publisher is completely upfront that all the set up costs for the book (cover art, book design editing and so on) are to be recovered off the top -- so the question has to be, exactly what is the agent bringing to the table for his "50%" share of royalties, when the author is bearing all the costs of publishing the book in the first place?

There are two possibilities: First, the agent is acting as the contractor, bringing all the necessary subcontractors --editors, artists, designers, distributors etc.-- to bear on the project. Smith recognizes this role and correctly sneers at the need to pay such a person 50% of your lifetime profits. There are plenty of actual service agencies that will provide these services for a flat fee. Or, the author could simply take on the contractor role his or herself, and hire their own artists and designers and editors, thus be assured that the cover (for example) will meet their own requirements, standards, and personal tastes. Who needs an agent for this?

Second, and a role Smith fails to acknowledge, the agent does bring a level of branding to the product. Presumably, sufficiently famous agents provide a layer of refereeing that could increase consumer confidence. Okay, I can see that. But is that worth 50% of the book's income forever? Not convinced!

For me, the question is simple: What are you getting and what are you paying for it? I am not about to hand over the rights to my book to an agent to publish using my own money. Traditional publishers earn the right to my rights by offering to cover all the costs of publication upfront, and by providing a variety of services (editing, cover art, promotion, distribution) and (usually) by paying an advance on royalties. Their willingness to take a risk on my book, investing a fair bit of capital up front, earns them the right to reap a return on their investment. And their willingness to invest in the book provides the consumer with the assurance that somebody beyond the authors themselves thought the book worthwhile and likely to be of interest to readers. That model has worked well for a long time...Publishers who backed the wrong books went out of business; those who made good calls prospered, along with their stable of authors. I'd still be happy to sell to a major publisher and know I was going to get mass distribution, upping my odds of getting mass sales. Failing that, selling to a small press like Five Rivers or CZP makes sense to me, as they bring a whole range of services to bear, and take on all the financial risk, and provide some branding beyond my own name. But I'll self-publish before I hand over my book to one of these emergent agent-publishers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Submission Guidelines

I've blogged elsewhere that the The editor is not your enemy, but I am constantly amazed how many authors seem to start from that assumption. In one recent on-line discussion, an author took exception to a online publisher specifying such details as "straight quotes marks rather than Word 'Smart quote marks'" in their guidelines as needlessly picky -- he described such requirements as "stringent, bordering on snobby" and a "barrier" to soliciting work. When I tried to argue that different publishers needed different formatting options (e.g., print publishers like smart quote, online publishers need straight quotes because smart quotes turn into weird Greek characters on screen) so it just made sense to alert authors to what was needed for this particular market, he responded that the publishers were trying to get the authors to do their job for them.

Well, yeah, I guess you could see it that way. But if I am submitting to a publisher, I'm going to try to make it as easy as possible for them to accept my work. The first step in that process is to ensure that I have read and followed the submission guidelines. In my most recent sale, I had to reformat all my "--" to "&emdash", a process that took me about 20 seconds. I really don't see the problem. Making all the changes required by their guidelines probably took about half an hour, a very minor investment of time compared to writing and editing the story -- but if you multiply that half hour by 200 submissions, well, from the editor's point of view, that's a couple of week's work for no reason -- it's just annoying that authors couldn't be bothered to follow the formatting specified guidelines.

When I encounter a manuscript that isn't formatted for the particular market, I usually safe in assuming either:

(a) the author is a newbie whose got hold of some Writer's Guide manual from the 1970s that says this or that format is the correct way to do it, and no one's explained that that's all changed since the turn of the century -- what the publisher needs varies depending on the software they're using and the format (book or print) they are putting out, so it varies between publishers and actually matters because if you get it wrong and they don't catch it, your published work could be filled with weird Greek characters....

(b) they are submitting a piece they formatted for another market which has already rejected it, and the author is shooting it out to the next market down their list -- and if they are not reading the submission guidelines on formatting, they're probably not paying much attention to the guidelines on genre, style, etc. etc. either.

I'm usually okay with (a), since it is relatively easy to bring these folks up to speed, but the (b) category are a pain. Why would I want to read, let alone publish, a manuscript that someone else has already rejected, possibly more than once? Sure, taste vary and it is possible that I might like what someone else felt unsuitable for their venue, but if I have to read through 200 slush pile submissions, anything I can do to quickly whittle that number down, I'm going to do. When I see a submission that looks like a resubmission from somewhere else, chances are I'm going to send it to the bottom of the pile and get to it when (and only if) I can't find anything more suitable among the submissions targeted specifically to my publication guidelines.

To summarize: what publishers need varies widely; each publisher specifies their particular preferences in their submission guidelines; following the guidelines makes it easier for them to accept your work.

This is not rocket science. This is about professionalism. If you are submitting (or resubmitting) a manuscript, take the time to read and follow the guidelines provided. The half hour it takes you to do so is time well invested both in terms of your making the sale and in saving some poor copy editor hours of unnecessary frustration. Failing to do so strongly suggests to a publisher that the submission is coming from someone who is unprofessional -- either inexperienced, or careless, or just difficult to work with. With so many quality manuscripts competing for so few slots, you'd have to be a complete idiot not to format as requested.

I'd like to conclude with a comment by editor/publisher Sandra Kasturi which illustrates what I've been saying (emphasis added):

    We prefer CLEAN manuscripts, READABLE manuscripts--no stupid Gothic Nazi fonts and weird layouts intended to "help" us. But I don't want zero formatting and courier font because I'm reading manuscripts on the screen. I get tired of reformatting them into a readable font just so I can have a look at it. And the correlation between stupid font/layout/lack of paying attention to guidelines & really dumb story/bad writing, is almost 100%.

    I think when we re-open to slush on July 1st, I might put a caveat at the top of the guidelines page that states "Due to the extremely high volume of submissions, if you have chosen to ignore the guidelines, then your manuscript will be automatically rejected."

    Then I can hear the sound of a thousand terrible writers having temper tantrums because we're not catering to their every needy whim.

    Isn't it nice? We've only been in business three years, and already disillusionment and aggravation are the mots du jour. : )

Monday, May 9, 2011

Digital Book Signings

Fun little video at autography on new software that allows authors to sign digital copies of their books on Kindle, Kobo etc. (Thanks to Lorina at Five River Books for pointing this one out to me.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Creative Accounting

Excellent article by J. Daniel Sawyer on how authors (and other creative types) are often cheated out of their share of project's profit through creative accounting. Fascinating stuff. (Thanks to Rebecca M. Senese for bringing it to my attention.)

It is important not to let such articles make us too paranoid, however. The examples from the movie industry do not apply nearly so much to the book publishing industry; and unless you're Stephen King, chances are your books aren't making enough money to make it worthwhile for anyone to go to the trouble of cooking the books to cheat you. Most publishers are pretty conscientious about paying you your 10%, because fudging the books to shave a few thousand dollars off an author's returns would be more trouble than it's worth.

The structure of (traditional) book publishing was such that as long as a few of a publisher's books were hits, they could afford to have others break even and the occasional loser. Recently, for example, a romance writer worked out that her NYTimes hit romance novel earned her about $50,000 and made $250,000 for the publisher (though one has to subtract paper, printing, distributions costs from that, so not sure what the actual net profit would be here). The revenues from all books published are put against all the costs incurred, and the publisher hopes that comes out in the black. In contrast, each movie or TV series is set up as a separate company/project, with it's own debits and credits -- so in that scenario, putting the costs/losses of movie A against the profits of movie B looks like cheating to people who signed contracts based on net profit from movie B. But in the book industry, its just 10% of cover price of your particular title, and everything is just one company, so that is a lot more straight forward.

Or to put it another way, authors recognize that its okay for 90% of the cover price to go to publisher, to cover the costs of printing, paper, distribution, sales people -- but also acquisition editors, copy editors, book designers, cover artists, etc. -- AND the money lost on books on which the publisher took a risk. Because, you know, at some point they took a risk on you....

In my experience, the people who suspect the (legacy) publisher is ripping them off are more likely paranoid than justified. The number of cases where legitimate publishers were ripping off authors are vanishingly small; though of course the vanity press industry is a different matter entirely.

What makes the article about creative accounting relevant to writers today, is that the publishing model is rapidly changing as emergent technologies open all sorts of opportunities. Some of the proposed models look a lot more like movie contracts and are therefore similarly suspect. The fight between Amazon and publishers over the pricing of eformats was a distance abstraction to most authors, but it was precisely a struggle over these sorts of issues -- an attempt to blur the lines between publisher and distributor, with Amazon and Smashwords and the rest trying to grab off a higher % of the net profits by defining themselves as the publisher rather than just a distributor-- that was at the heart of the struggle. This matters to authors in the long run, because, as Sawyer's article cited above points out, it's the 'net' profits that allows space for creative accounting.

Similarly, the proliferation of small press publishers raises the possibility of a greater range of accounting practices -- either through inexperience, or deviousness. It's possible that some of these publishers are less ethical than others. But again, in my experience, most are scrupulously honest and in fact often putting their own finances at risk to ensure authors get paid what they are owed and on time. The few cases where the publisher/editor is of questionable reliability, there are usually plenty of warnings on various blogs, such as Writer Beware. Although authors should adopt a 'buyer beware' attitude towards new presses and do a little research, if a publisher has a stable of happy authors, one should start from the assumption that they haven't decided to rip you (and only you) off.

I have come across a few authors who are sure they are not getting their due, loudly decrying this or that publisher for ripping them off. But whenever I have asked how they know, they say something like, "Well, they say I only sold 320 books last year. I know that many copies sold to people in just my local circle of friends, so they must be lying! I bet I've sold thousands of copies just this week alone!" And so on. Okay, I suppose that's possible -- but is it maybe possible one only sold copies to people in one's circle of friends? Because the average self-published and small press title sells less than 200 copies. One can't really blame the publisher's royalty statements every time one's sales are slower than one might hope.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Understanding E-book Sales Trends

Very interesting article by Erik Sherman April 25 on e-book business trends in which he concludes that " E-books may actually be growing at a far faster rate than even those who are bullish on the subject think."

Sherman's breakdown of the available data reveals that it is woefully inadequate: it quickly becomes obvious that methods and databases established to track traditional book sales are based on assumptions that no longer apply. For example, AAP represents the 300 top American publishers, so it used to be the database to analyze -- but only 16 of those 300 members are reporting their ebook sales to AAP, so those figures are clearly a completely inaccurate representation of even trends within the AAP-- even if the AAP members were still relevant for ebook sales which they may well not be! Given that the whole point of the emergent ebook tech is that one can go to press without a publisher, analyzing ebook sales from legacy publishers may be missing the boat. Given the hundreds (thousands maybe?) of small presses springing up in response to the new POD and ebook technologies (and in response to the legacy publishers increasing tendency to 'play it safe' by publishing only mainstream, lowest common denominator, processed cheese product) many of whom have been selling quite well on the ebook market, it may well be that self-publisehed authosr and 'small' presses have a significantly -- but completely unreported - larger share of the ebook market than AAP members.

Sherman also points out that even if one accepted the currently available indicators, inadequate as they are, they often compare apples and oranges -- when someone says ebooks sales are up x%, are they talking $ figures or numbers of titles sold. Because comparing $ figures between a $2.99 ebook and the same book in paper for $22.99 may seriously misrepresents the comparison if we are talking # of copies sold. The more one looks at the numbers the more confusing, or ludicrous, it becomes.

(See also Flying under the radar)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Critics (Salon's Laura Miller)

Interesting essay on role and pandering of modern reviewers here (brought to my attention by poet and publisher Sandra Kasturi). I think it speaks more to mass market phenomenon in general than decline of reviewing as an art form. I think great reviews and great reviewers can be found servicing their niche markets, if one is prepared to look around for a voice one can trust.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Editor is Not You Enemy

I have a guest editorial on Writer in Residence today (Sunday, March 27). Brief discussion of acquisition editors; Tuesday I expect to do a second editorial on development and copy editors.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Story in Tesseracts 15

Was pleased to learn that my short story, "Split Decision" has been accepted for publication in Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales, edited by Julie Czerneda and Susan MacGregor, (from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, ISBN 978-1-894063-58-6; $15.95).

The Tesseracts anthology series has always been considered the top market for Canadian SF, so I'm pretty pleased that I got in the first time I submitted. I am trying to find time to do a bit of my own writing, rather than just always editing other people, but most of that energy has gone into my novel. This was the first short story I've sent off in years, so getting a sale right off is very encouraging.

It was especially encouraging given that this year's editorial team are editors whose work I have always admired. Julie Czerneda is mostly known for her own novels, of course, but she has also become a top editor of anthologies and texts for the school market. And Susan MacGregor is not only one of the driving forces behind On Spec magazine (the longest running Canadian SF magazine), but the editor behind the Divine Realms anthology of Canadian spiritual SF. (Not, as it turns out, an oxymoron!) I have to say, one of the things that keeps Tesseracts on top is Edge's ability to choose first rate editors for each annual; that, and choosing interesting themes. This year's them was YA SF, and choosing someone like Julie Czerneda, who is so active in the promotion of science and SF in schools, and Susan MacGregor, one of the editors behind the first On Spec special Youth issues, is just genius. So it is pretty exciting to be part of it all.

Tesseracts 15 is available for pre-order from for $11.48. Official release is Sept 2011.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gender Gap in Book Reviewing

Interesting post today at Society Pages (a sociological site) on gender gap in book reviewing -- major review outlets feature more book reviews by males, and more reviews of books written by males. I'd be interested to see how that breaks down in SF and Fantasy fields -- anyone look at Locus reviews or SF Horizons or etc?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

When Words Collide - A Calgary Reader Con

Looks like a new reader/writer oriented SF convention is being organized in Calgary. Might be worth checking out: When Words Collide".

Thursday, January 13, 2011

TWUC Workshops

The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is offering the Professional Development Symposium “Secure Footing in a Changing Literary Landscape” in Toronto, St. John’s , Montreal , Ottawa , Regina , Calgary , Vancouver and Victoria, in February and March of 2011. The symposiums take place from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.

Even if you have attended a Writers’ Union of Canada workshop in the past, you won’t want to miss this exciting new day-long exploration of the changing literary landscape.

Authors Betsy Warland and Ross Laird will illuminate the new landscape of digital literature and publishing and discuss its impact on traditional modes of creation. Kelly Duffin, the Union ’s executive director, will discuss authors’ contracts in the digital age.

This full-day event is designed to address the creative and financial questions that arise as writers navigate print-based and digital literary landscapes. The symposium also explores the importance of community and the need for writers to develop their own writing community.

Most workshops of this calibre charge hundreds of dollars. The price of this symposium is $75.00 and covers costs, including lunch. For registration information on the city and date closest to you please go to Please circulate this information to writers you think might be interested in coming to this event. Space is limited so register today.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Foundation Announces 2011 Older Writer's Grant

The Speculative Literature Foundation (SLF) is pleased to announce
that it is accepting applications for the 2011 Older Writers Grant.
The grant of $750 is available to any writer of speculative literature
of 50 years or older at the time of application who is just beginning
to work professionally in the field. There are no restrictions on the
use of the grant money.

The grant will be awarded by a committee of SLF staff members on the
basis of interest and merit. Applicants are asked to submit a brief
autobiographical statement, a writing sample, and a bibliography. For
full details on how to apply for the grant, please see the SLF web
or email Applications must be
received by March 31st 2011. The successful applicant will be
announced on June 1st 2011.

The Speculative Literature Foundation is a volunteer-run, non-profit
organization dedicated to promoting the interests of readers, writers,
editors and publishers in the speculative literature community.

"Speculative literature" is a catch-all term meant to inclusively span
the breadth of fantastic literature, encompassing literature ranging
from hard and soft science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to
folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern
mythmaking -- any literature containing a fabulist or speculative

Chiaroscuro Reading Series

Toronto area residents (or anyone traveling to Toronto) may be interested in the new Chiaroscuro Reading series, featuring SF authors. Here is what organizer Sandra Kasturi has to say:

Helen Marshall and I are running this new reading series in Toronto, which features only speculative literature writers (both poetry and prose). We run every second Tuesday of the month.

We just wanted to put the word out to those of you who are not in Toronto--if you're coming to the city for any other reason--a convention, a trip, a book tour, etc., please keep us in mind--we'd love to have you come and read at our series. We've gotten pretty good turnouts at our events, and people are really on board for a regular SF/F/H series!

So if you're a spec lit writer (or you know one who'd be interested) and you're going to be in T.O., drop me a line, and we'll see what we can work out. As I said, we're usually the second Tuesday of the month, but we can sometimes move the date to accommodate you (i.e. Cory Doctorow will be reading on Sunday, March 6th).

(We also arrange a "meet the author" get-together for interested students, who sign up in advance, and get to hang out with the writers before the readings.)

And if you're in Toronto & environs tonight, we're on at 8pm at the Augusta House, 152 Augusta Avenue (off Dundas Street West, between Bathurst & Spadina), 2nd floor, with "Mid-Winter Tales" featuring Karin Lowachee, Caitlin Sweet and Peter Watts! It promises to be a good night.

See you there, or hopefully see some of you out-of-towners at our reading series in the near future!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Branding in E-publishing

Author Mike Stewart recently brought A Newbie's Guide to Publishing to my attention, and it is a pretty interesting column, both for Joe Konrath's postings, and for the numerous responses he receives.

But while I was reading all of the discussion at this useful site about recent changes in publishing and the emergence of e-readers as the publishing medium of the future, it occurred to be that we are in the early days of marketing, and that we can expect to see some new trends in branding.

Right now, people are paying $2.95 for an e-novel by their favorite authors, and downloading dozens of that author's books to the e-reader thinking that they'll get around to reading them sooner or later. As I look around my to-be-read shelf with it's a pile of 200 or so books, it's pretty obvious to me I should stop buying more books until I actually read some of those on my 'next' shelf. And if it weren't obvious to me, it's pretty obvious to my wife who tells me 'stop buying more books until you clean out some of this mess!' But with an e-reader, the temptation to just keep downloading is almost overwhelming — no pile of physical books to impose restraint or trigger it in a spouse. Instead, just gigs of empty space yearning to be filled with more books. Nature abhors a vacuum, and damn if every book lover doesn't want to have more books on their hard drive than anyone else.

Sooner or later, ebooks are going to start channels like Youtube or etc. Somebody is going to come along to help feed that feeding frenzie. So they are going to say, "hey, let's put all the Star Trek books ever written into a packet for $300 bucks, call it the ST library. And people will download that monster just because they can, or because they know their friend Jason is a huge ST fan and it is therefore an obvious xmas/birthday gift, even if Jason has already read 3/4 of the bundle and wouldn't actually by that for himself. And then next will be the Star Wars Bundle and the Honour Harrington bundle – then the stupid military SF bundle, and the rightwing SF bundle and eventually Allan Weiss or I will get around to editing the Canadian SF bundle — every Canadian SF book/collection ever published. And people will buy it, even if they have no intention of reading more than 1/4 of the titles, just 'cuz.

It's the same principle as cable channels. There are tons of cable channels that make my brain hurt because who watches this stuff? But sometimes the answer is nobody watches that channel. I certainly didn't order that channel, it just came with the bundle. Because when ever you give consumers options, there is always that percentage that say, "I want 'em all". So a bunch of completely hopeless channels survive because a lot of people are paying $1.50 a month for that channel because either they couldn't be bothered to filter it out of their order, or because the evil cable company included it in a bundle with 20 other channels the consumer wanted.

I see the same trend evolving for book bundles.

So while today everybody is scrambling to self publish, I think we should be keeping half an eye out for when someone — Sony or Amazon or whom ever — starts bundling books. Because, you want to be in on that bundle action! I'll take my 25 cents for every bundle sold.... And, you know, always a chance someone working their way through the bundle will stumble on my book and like it enough to hunt down other stuff I've writen, building me a reader base! Of course, Runte is pretty far down the list alphabetically, so I'm thinking of adopting the nom de plum Aaron Aabbi to give me a fighting chance of being among the first books read in the bundle, before readers realize they are never going to read it all, and that a lot of it reads like cable TV.

Robert — I mean Aaron.

(The problem is, when I write columns like this, even I'm not sure whether I'm being satrical or not...)