The Sordid Tale: A Follow-Up on Handbook for Mortals

I mentioned this earlier – a book on the NYT best-seller list had the hallmarks of a massive book-selling scam. The amateur sleuthes of the Internet uncovered her story and now the truth comes tumbling out. ‘Handbook for Mortals’ gamed its way onto the NYT best-seller list for 23 hours.

Now that the book is falling back into obscurity, its rise to fame is a tale that could fill twelve episodes of a Netflix series entitled “How to Be a Scumbag Bestselling Author.” Lurid details are now out, but the author remains unrepentant. “There’s good and bad in what occurred,” Sarem says.

You can read the details for yourself in the Vulture article. I’m not talking about this because I have any interest in shaming Sarem. She wanted to be a best-selling author. This is the path she took to get there. Was it right? Was it wrong? I’m not sure yet. Still figuring everything out myself.

I do think that there’s a larger point to be made about the dynamics of the writing game and when the time is write, I’ll talk about it. In the meantime, continuing to crank on Mesh. Much work remains to be done.

Five Reasons Why I Don’t Submit Free Short Stories

Okay, let me put my ‘Bardist’ hat on. I’ve submitted stories to free online ‘zines, participated in write-a-thons, and responded to writing prompts. Some friends are writers, some friends are editors. I’ve heard a lot of debate about the realities of art and commerce in the modern writing game.

At a certain point, I decided that if I was going to Write For Real, I had to be focused. I would confine my work to the places where my work had a shot at being paid for. People hear this and like to sneer, so let me try to explain in a cogent fashion why I only submit my work to places where it can be paid for. It’s a good thing, as you’re about to see for yourself:

  1. Professionalism begets professionalism – Want to be a professional? Hang out with professionals, it’s that simple. That happens to be true whether you’re a bartender, an actor or a writer.
  2. Paid stories are more likely to be read – Let’s face it, if writers weren’t worried about getting published, we would still be writing on bathroom walls, Medium, or Tumblr. We want our thoughts to be shared, we want our work to connect with readers. Platforms that pay for stories work so much harder to get their work in front of eyeballs than free services. When readers read you they’re also reading them! Much of the promotion work a semi-pro writer has to do is done for you.
  3. Money makes you take your art seriously – Doing anything for money carries an intrinsic standard of quality that you won’t find if it’s just a hobby. If you aren’t writing for money, you stop worrying about what you write or how often. “Don’t feel like working today? No problem, you aren’t getting paid anyway!” Knowing that there’s actual money involved makes you take the job seriously.
  4. Money makes people take you seriously – People only value what they pay for. Don’t ask me why this is true, but it’s true. Over and over again, social experiments have demonstrated that if you’re given something for free, you don’t value it as much as something you pay something for. I want to be valued, therefore I ask to be paid.
  5. It cost me something to make this story – Yes, it’s true. Creativity is fun, but it still burns calories. It still involves effort. I give up a lot of personal time and energy to write this stuff down. That’s not a bad thing, but it is time I could be spending on myself, my cat or my video games. If it cost me something to make this piece of art, then I need to value myself first, before I ask anyone else to.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I don’t submit free stories. It’s not to be mean, it’s not to be dismissive of those publishers or authors. They want to give their stuff away for free, god love ’em, and I wish them well. That’s simply not my path. If those reasons aren’t sufficent, you can find a few more by reading these articles:

Learning About Storytelling From Mr. Rogers

I just ran across this video essay and wanted to share it. If you’re like me, you’re interested in how the craft of storytelling is developed. You might not have considered Mr. Rogers to be a master storyteller, but he was actually very good at that job.

As the filmmaker says, his storytelling reflects a sincere desire to communicate between one person to another. You can’t be a good storyteller unless you’re willing to be open with your listeners, be vulnerable to them. That was a key takeaway, and I wanted to share that with you because I know you’re looking for ways to develop your craft, too.

 

Audience Building With @Scalzi

The Internet has mixed feelings about John Scalzi. Personally, I’m a fan. Guy writes good sci-fi and remains down-to-earth despite his level of success. Not only that, he’s always up to talk to regular people and has a fair amount of integrity:

After trading tweets with him for a while, I decided to ask him a question that very few other people would be in a position to answer. As I’m getting started as an author, I’m running into a number of challenges I did not expect. How do I navigate this unknown territory?

Even established authors find audience engagement to be somewhat daunting, but Scalzi seems to have found his own personal comfort zone between writing and talking to people so that more people buy his stories. How does it work? I decided to ask the man himself and see what he said. I was pleasantly surprised by the 140-character insights that followed. Continue reading

New Short Story in Production – ‘White Station’

A vivid dream woke me this morning around 4:30. Now I’m researching Old West ghost towns and re-reading Westerns from Elmore Leonard. I can’t get these images out of my head and I want to capture them while I still can.

So now, even though I want to work on ‘Mesh,’ I have another story to get down on paper and it’s called ‘White Station.’  You can track its progress along with my other short stories over at the Short Stories page.

 

Leave George R. R. Martin Alone!

Oh God, really??

Leave George R. R. Martin Alone!

I guess the Harvey Dent was right: You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Some people are maniacs online. I read how angry fans are trashing George RR Martin’s release schedule, and it left me spitting with anger. Then I sat on this blog post for over a month. Life is too short to get into petty squabbles, I said. Now I’m reading this … ‘Game of Thrones has lost its way.’

You people (I’m speaking to the fans that can’t enjoy a show or a book without turning into armchair pundits) need your head examined. I’ve met GRRM and he’s a sweet guy. He doesn’t deserve this.

Leave George R. R. Martin Alone!

Here’s the thing: We’re all trying to make it as authors here. Is this is all we have to look forward to if we’re lucky enough to achieve his level of success? We’re conditioned to spend our lives trying to tap into the id of our readers, understand them and write stories they love. George R.R. Martin did that. Now you’re turning on him? Are you crazy??

Continue reading

Snark Has Always Existed

I was just reading this interesting story about a high-schooler in 1963 who sent a survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. The story is worth a read unto itself, but my takeaway comes from Ayn Rand’s response to the boy, enshrined in the picture on the right.

“This is not a definition, it is not true,” Ms. Rand says, “and, therefore, your questions do not make sense.” Using a classic ‘forest for the trees’ argument, she derails the discussion and dismisses the topic. We’ll never know how she feels about symbolism in fiction, but we do know that she was as ethically egoist in real life as she was in Atlas Shrugged.

Ayn Rand’s response reminds me of the million-or-so arguments discussions I’ve had on the Internet. If you don’t want to hammer the facts, hammer the law, as they say. It sucks, because someone who isn’t invested in the outcome can torpedo your search for truth at almost any time. Yet, that’s the truth that faces any one of us who attempt the Bard’s life. It was true back in 1963, and it’s true now.

Today a Shark Tweeted Me

As a goof, I decided to ask @HelentheShark a question and to my surprise, she answered! Please see below for examples of hilarity ensuing:

You might be wondering what this has to do with being a sci-fi author and the answer is, ‘it doesn’t.’ Sometimes you just have to enjoy the ride.