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.


I Know, Let’s Offend Everyone!

Science fiction is no stranger to controversy, but I always thought the controversial topics were the concepts not the people doing the talking. Sadly, the people who cannot innovate new ideas must innovate new ways to annoy us. That’s what leads us to the following abortive attempt to discuss social topics with sensitive candor: Continue reading

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

Project 2019 … ?

I wouldn’t call myself a producer or a showman. I’m just in the business of taking ideas that excite me and seeing what happens to them. For example Bob Ross was a painter the moment he bought a canvas, an easel and some paint and started creating. But he didn’t become the Bob Ross until he took his love of painting and created the whole Joy of Painting series.

That’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’m trying to figure out how to be my own Bob Ross. Not sure how to get there, just trying to develop different ideas and see where they take me. One of those ideas popped into my head this morning. I’m pretty excited for Blade Runner: 2049 to come out, so I was watching Blade Runner in 1080p and it is beautiful.

It’s been a while since I watched it end-to-end, but when I saw the “Los Angeles November, 2019” slide, it occurred to me that you could make a pretty funny crowd-sourced video in two years. It’d be pretty easy – put together a montage of video clips of LA with the original Vangelis soundtrack over the top. The juxtaposition of Vangelis and those Anaheim homeless camps would be fun.

Someone might think I’m making fun of people who don’t get the joke. Not really. I’m envisioning a Conan O’Brien-esque bit where you walk around LA using the lines from the original ’79 movie on people and filming their reaction. Might be funny, might be worth putting together. Doesn’t have to be something you need a Kickstarter for. Not sure if I can get people excited enough to participate in it.

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