Older Unwiser


As an American, one feels obligated to have opinions. This week I’m letting other people have my opinions for me. The first set of opinions is the one I agree with 100%, as presented by Michael Graeme of The Rivendale Review in his post: Is Amazon Good for Aspiring Writers?. Michael makes all sorts of great points with which I agree entirely; therefore I deem these opinions to be good and right and just, especially in his summation: things are changing drastically at the money end of the book business, but for your average aspiring writer, it looks pretty much like business as usual to me.”

On the other side there is this set of opinions with which I do not whole-heartedly agree, in Chuck Wendig’s blog post Amazon, Hachette and Giant Stompy Corporations. I do not entirely disagree with everything said in there. I fact, once I read it a second time I was inclined to agree with much of it, until he gets to the part where he conflates value with money (as so often happens these days) – where paying more for a thing is seen as a measure, if not a justiication, of its value. In the real world of supply and demand, it is scarcity that tends to cause higher prices, not some imagined intrinsic worth of a thing. The more you pay for something, in his world, the more people you are supporting along the way, therefore you are contributing to the common good. You buy goat cheese at the farmer’s market, and local farmers prosper. I can see that. I like goat cheese. I support my local farms here where I live. But … you pay more for books, and … some imagined community of writers prospers? Are you supporting every guitar player in the world when you download an mp3 file? I don’t happen to think so. There’s this widespread idea that if art was free then there would be no more artists. That’s crazy talk. As far as I can tell, art – even Art with a capital A – is Biological with a capital B. It’s going to happen. It’s part of what we are, as animals, in fact all animals (mammals and birds at least) create some kind of art. They communicate. They make music. They appreciate the world as they see it (which we can scarcely even imagine!) Call me crazy but I think this is all true.

Take the money out of art and what you are left with is art, in the same way that twelve minus zero is twelve.

Take a look at Wattpad if you think there’s some shortage of writers or the impulse to write. Take a look at Soundcloud if you think there’s some scarcity of musicians. Take a look at YouTube if you think people aren’t doing shit with video. Take a look at Tumblr if you think there are no painters or photographers or cartoonists or other visual artists. Art, when you get right down to it, is primarily one of the many ways people attempt to get laid, especially young people, and it ain’t gonna stop happening.

So okay I threw some of my own opinions in there along with the more sensible ones of Michael Graeme and the interesting if sometimes questionable ones of Mr. Wendig. But that’s all right. I am an American. It’s my obligation.

It was election day here in California. As usual, I voted for more government. Yay.




The Free Indie Reader #1 Report: More than 500 downloads so far

It’s been three weeks since we launched The Free Indie Reader #1 and I can report more than 500 downloads so far from the 4 distributors it’s currently available from, including, in order:

Feedbooks #1 with 172 downloads

Free-Ebooks.net #2 with 168 downloads

Smashwords #3 with a (fairly disappointing) 139

Obooko  #4 with 35 downloads

The Smashwords numbers are disappointing for a few reasons, primarily because that is the link I’ve used the most in my (largely useless) social-media-marketing campaign, which has been posting on forums such as mobilereads and mobilism and various goodreads groups as well as sff.com and a few others i’ve quite forgotten, not to mention tweets and such.

I’m also a bit frustrated with Smashwords because it has yet to get “premium” approval for distribution into their channels, such as iBookstore and Barnes & Noble. Some of their rules are fairly silly, such as requiring the author name to be on the cover and the same as on the title page, which doesn’t make much sense for this particular book (being an anthology, more or less like a magazine, without a single author) and in general for their business model because it means they have people physically looking at each cover and matching the author names they see with the contents in the files – not a scalable practice at all. And a quite foolishly arbitrary rule in the first place, in my humble opinion. Why is the cover any of their business, other than size and a certain threshhold of quality? Most of the covers on that site are shite, in any case.

Also, they complained about links to author’s blogs and websites inside the book! This makes even less sense. Of course authors want to publicize themselves inside their ebooks! It’s obvious. Anyway, I’m still struggling with them over that. And to think they’re #3 anyway in terms of downloads, partly no doubt because there’s no spanking in the title or chestal regions on the cover.

Well, it continues to be a fun endeavor. I’m even toying a bit with the new  “book referral” service called bookarma, which looks to be probably a useless spam machine. Also I wanted to try out bookbaby.com for distribution, but they came back with so many complaints about my Calibre-converted ePub files that I doubt I’ll spend any more time on them.

Last but not least, Amazon is unfortunately out of the question, because one cannot price one’s books for free there, and The Free Indie Reader would not be free were it not free. It’s been my experience that my books which have been made free on Amazon are downloaded at about twice the rate of those on feedbooks/smashwords/ibookstore/barnes&noble, which are all more or less tied for second place overall.

If anyone has any more suggestions on how to blab about The Free Indie Reader in a productive way, I’d love to hear them. The contributing authors have been great about blogging and tweeting and I have a strong feeling that many of the downloads are due more to their efforts than to mine.

Downloads are the goal after all. We want people reading this book so they can discover for themselves, like I did for myself, just how good these writers are, and by “these writers” I mean:

Lisa Thatcher, a writer and culture reviewer par excellence who maintains a most fascinating blog

Paul Samael, who also reviews free e-books and has introduced me to many great indie authors through his website

Carla R. Herrera, who has written several gripping SF books, all worth reading, and you can find her at her website

Giando Sigurani, the author of the dazzling novel “Mister Mercury” whose home can be found here

Willie Wit, the prolific author of tantalizing flash fictions

Michael Graeme, who has written many books across many genres and maintains The Rivendale Review

Judy B, who’s wide variety of works can be found online at Onze Productions

Rivendale Review: The Free Indie Reader #1

Indie author Michael Graeme of the Rivendale Review on The Free Indie Reader #1

Note that as of New Year’s Day total downloads so far (that I can see) are:

Smashwords.com: 110

Feedbooks.com: 125

Free-ebooks.net: 101

(No data yet available for Smashwords distributors or Obooko.com)

The Rivendale Review

free indie readerIf you’re looking for some new names in fiction to tickle your fancy, then look no further. Tom Lichtenberg has just put together a collection of short fiction by several indie authors (myself included). All of these authors write for free, their work having appeared on Feedbooks and Smashwords in the past. The Free Indie Reader No 1 is available from Feedbooks or Smashwords – just click the pic. And it’s free. Yes, FREE!

I’ve spent the Christmas holidays dibbing into this collection and I’ve enjoyed it very much. I also consider myself fortunate to find myself in the company of these very talented writers, whom probably – no disrespect to them – no one has ever heard of. I’d like to say thanks to Tom for taking this project on, and I’m happy to join with him in drawing the attention of the e-reading public to a little collection…

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On Being Generally Disrespected by Jonathan Franzen

DIsclaimer: As a bookseller I have sold many, many books by Jonathan Franzen. I even read one once, and I think I enjoyed it, although I have no memory of it at all.

Jonathan Franzen is one of those who seems certain that the literary world is going to hell in a handbasket, and that handbasket is named Amazon,com. Self-publishers are nothing but “yakkers and braggers” who do nothing but hawk their products too loudly in the open marketplace like common vulgar fishmongers. What about the quiet ones, the reclusive ones, the autistic geniuses who can’t make themselves heard above the noise of the crowd? In the old days he laments, those few-and-far-between were playing on a level field of mass mailings of manuscripts to exclusive agents who would never even glance at them unless they had a mutual connection at the University of Iowa writing program. Nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be!

They say that hindsight is twenty-twenty, but often it’s more like forty eighty, or ten nine thousand. Amazon is not the only face of corporate America dictating culture to its consumers. It’s just joining the private club, the one where Random House was used to holding court and deciding who’s who and what’s what, along with Harper Collins (Fox!) and a couple of other conglomerates. I’m sure he enjoys his status as “house” slave to the gentry, but his diatribes reek of Uncle-Tom’ism. Amazon and its legion of dirty field serfs are making too much noise and don’t know their own place. The rabble is reading fan fiction! Dear Lord.

Technology is disruptive. Change is a bitch. But as it says in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Of the making of many books, there is no end.”

No worries.

The whole Franzen article is curious. Much of it discusses the early 20th Century Viennese journalist/satirist Karl Kraus, a prophet of sorts regarding the trajectory of modern history (not dissimilar to Thorstein Veblen in some regards) and Franzen’s relationship with that writer and his ideas. There’s always a certain presumptuous in delineating one’s affinity for an important figure, especially one who’s no longer around to say, like Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, ‘you have no understanding of my work’. For one thing, Kraus was a popular performer as well as a journalist and publisher, not merely a cranky curmudgeon. It’s possible he was more of a Lewis Black than a Jonathan Franzen. He was putting on a show. He was certainly an interesting and brilliant person in his own “great times”, but Franzen’s take reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s wonderful saying: “It’s easy to be cynical. It’s just hard to keep up!”

Franzen comes across as basically cynical. Twitter is dumb because … people are stupid? Readers can’t find good books because … there are so many bad ones, unlike before, when every bestseller was an eternal gem, like Clan of the Cave Bear? Amazon is worse than Random House, because … why? We all suck because next day delivery is pretty darn convenient? Technological progress is making us all idiots because we can instantly look up any information about any subject anywhere anytime, unlike the old days, when we couldn’t? In the end, though, in the final paragraph, he seems to be coming to terms with the idea that he’s basically whining like an old coot from a previous generation who has not adapted to what reality is now.

In my own reading of Karl Kraus, I never understood him to be taking such a position. He was not nostalgic nor romantic. He was more of a fatalist, a philosopher, who saw that the essence of humanity was not changing underneath the trappings of modernity, despite the predictions of futurists and progressives who believed in the inevitable moral evolution of the species based on technological progress. That still rings true to me.

Fame, Fortune, Readerships and So On

A few thoughts prompted by a few readings here and there: an interview with the author Hugh Howey, a book review of the new book by author Thomas Pynchon (Bleeding Edge), a blog post by the author Misha Burnett, and my own little experiments in the world of authorship.

There are several distinct goals in view when a person sets down to write something. 1) The process of writing is a self-communication of great value in and of itself, discovering the way your mind works, becoming familiar with its rhythms and voices, following where it leads to see where it might take you, and all great benefits and worth the effort. 2) what is written would like to be read. Writing – as far as it is story-telling or imparting of information – is a form of call-and-response, and being read is the implied counter-reaction to its action. Stories that want to be told also want to be listened to. To this end, one goes about putting a book into the world and trying to draw attention to it in whatever ways one can. 3) Authorship, as opposed to the mere amateur status of writing, implies getting paid. Readers are great, sure, but readers are consumers, customers, buyers of things, and one’s book is no exception to the way the world works in terms of products and distribution and sales and all that. Lately the opportunity to give books away for free on the internet has been leveraged successfully as a marketing tool by many. There is still money to be made even that way, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. 4) Authorship also implies a certain vanity. One wants readers, one wants readers to pay, one wants readers to like the book and serve as references to others who will pay and also like and also serve as references, and so on in a glorious spiral in which everything comes together nicely and what started out as a fun little hobby becomes a joy ride of fame, fortune, glory and happiness.

We all know that the odds are against you. Winning the lottery, getting struck by lightning, being bitten twice by the same shark in different oceans, having your book become a major motion picture series franchise featuring the cutest young men and women in Hollywood. It happens! (Well, maybe not the different oceans thing). It does and we know it does and there are the one in a million, and then there are the nine hundred ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine. I count myself among those.

I’ve been lucky. Due to a number of circumstances a few of my books, three especially (Zombie Nights, Snapdragon Alley, Tiddlywink the Mouse), have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, enough to have a real chance of catching on, if the readers liked them enough, to generate the wondrous word of mouth and spread like wildfire throughout the galaxy. What happened, though, was that the readers did not like them enough. This is on me, not them. As Katie Kitamura notes in this interesting interview, whether we like to admit it or not, “the flaws in a piece of fiction are, unhappily, so often also the flaws of the writer.” I accept that completely. In my case, the books did not provide an experience satisfactory for many of the readers. The characters were not compelling enough, the plots were not thick enough or juicy enough, the endings were not pleasing enough, the books were also not long enough. In short, there were plenty of flaws in these books – and in my many others which also benefited from the exposure, and have been downloaded many times themselves.

You often hear that “the market” will sort it all out, and it will. What you hear less often is that failure is always an option. It can and does happen, most of the time, in fact. The world is big enough for everything, but it’s not big enough for everything to be big!

There is time, though. As Hugh Howey points out in his interview, ebooks are forever, and an undiscovered book is always new to the reader who comes across it for the first time. My books continue to be downloaded. Most of them are available for free on Feedbooks, some remain free on Amazon and Smashwords, or else they can be purchased for a very low price, and I continue to write, mostly for reasons number one and two described above. I love doing it. My latest is an anti-hero anti-fantasy anti-epic comico-tragical adventure called “The End of the Line”, a continuation of the Epic Fail saga I’ve been cowriting with my young son (Entropic Quest, Prisoners of Perfection). Earlier this year I also wrote a book I quite enjoyed writing called The Lemon Thief’s Ex-Wife’s Third Cousin, which was doing quite well for a while on Feedbooks, if nowhere else. Nothing will stop me from writing what I want, when I want, and putting it out there, and occasionally blabbing about them. The only thing that might get in my way is success. Fortunately, there seems to be no imminent danger of that!

Copyright, Corporate Greed, and Books You Can’t Get

This very interesting study illustrates quite clearly how copyright and corporate greed have resulted in the unavailability of books over the past few generations. There are more books from 1910 in print today than there are from 1990. Astonishing when you think about it, because far more books were published in 1990 than in 1910, but the books published more recently are not in the public domain, won’t be for decades, and because of how the corporate publishing world operates, most of those books will never be in print in our lifetime.

Self-publishing will change this, to some extent, as more and more authors take ownership of their own copyrights and keep their books in print in perpetuity, but authors of the past few generations are shit out of luck for the most part. Their books, if they were lucky enough to get them published in the first place, remain in print for only a very short time before they disappear for good. And why? Because of the outside chance that some day, some how, those corporations might just possibly be able to profit once again from those books. There might be a scandal. Who can tell? But in the meantime, you can kiss those books goodbye. It’s a shame.