We Are Living In The Future…

…and it’s not always a good thing for sales.

I was at the book store t’other day–the real brick-and-mortar one, to sign a couple of my books, and I was browsing through the SF/Fantasy section, and I tripped over a trilogy*

It was a big set of books. It would be a substantial cash investment for yours truly. And reading the back, the premise was…whimsical.

I am all for whimsical. My career is largely founded on whimsy. Whimsy is a Good Thing.

It’s also easy to do badly and slide over into saccharine and twee.  I have slid across this line more than once myself, I can judge no one for it…but I don’t necessarily want to read it. (Don’t ask me where the line is, I don’t know, and my opinion is skewed to one side anyway, as I am possibly the only person on earth who hated the Little Prince and thought it resembled the magic of childhood about as much as it resembled a dead mackerel wearing a top hat.)

In the olden days, I would have had to buy the first book and see if I wanted to throw it across the room after a few chapters. But we live in the future now! I have an iPhone! Blind trial-and-error are no longer required! So I pulled out my phone and googled the author’s name.

The first thing that came up was the author’s website.  I poked the search result, and up it came.

Sure, it wasn’t optimized for iPhone, but that’s a forgivable sin in this day and age (though in a few years, it won’t be) and as I un-pinched and dragged my finger over the screen, looking for a clue–writing style, reviews, links, whatever–I found…”The Daily Blessing.”

Sigh.

And that was pretty much the end of the chance I’d buy the book.

Not entirely because it was Christian. I was in fact standing in the book store with a Christian and a Unitarian, so I showed it to them and the Christian winced and the Unitarian said “Oh, that’s unfortunate.”  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that was part of it–religious fiction that doesn’t beat you over the head savagely with the Jesus-stick is rare stuff, and I wasn’t about to plunk down trade-paperback money on the remote chance that I’d found the next G.K. Chesterton. (Go ahead and tell me I’m a horrible person if you have to get it off your chest–but I also don’t read military sci-fi, legal thrillers, westerns, or contemporary romance, for the exact same reason. The genre doesn’t work for me. If you are in that genre, it doesn’t make you a bad author or a bad person,  it just makes you an author I’m not reading.)

Now, it’s possible that the author has strong religious principles and didn’t feel obligated to rub the book-reader’s nose in them. Absolutely possible. Unfortunately, the whole thing was also…hokey. And if you are splashing hokey across your webpage, and I am searching to see if you can do whimsical well without descending into mawkishly sentimental, this is going to be a deal-breaker and I am going to click the little button on top of my phone with my thumb and stick it back in my pocket and put your book down and never look at it again.

The funny thing is that if they hadn’t had a webpage, that would have been fine. I was actually thinking vaguely about Amazon reviews when I pulled out the phone. I don’t require authors to have webpages. But if you have one…well, we live in the future now. People can find that, not just at home but when they’re standing in the aisle with their hand on the spine of your book, and what yours says on that first main page may be the difference between picking it up and putting it down.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t talk about your principles on your blog or whatever. Clearly I am the LAST person who could tell you do that with a straight face–we’ve hashed out just about everything here, with frequent guest appearances by my love live, my adventures in intimate grooming, and the state of my colon. But in practical terms, we’re nevertheless living in a world where what people see on your home page is suddenly a sales issue up there with cover design.

And y’know, it’s an interesting thing. Used to be you went to an author website to learn about an author you ALREADY liked–now I can see it rapidly sliding towards checking the website BEFORE you ever buy their book.

Now, I doubt people are doing much serious browsing in the book store–can’t imagine they’re scrolling through the backlog of blog posts on their phones. It’s probably the main page and that’s about it. Although Kevin whips out his iPad and checks author things, also on the spot, and I have grabbed it from him and looked up game reviews while standing in GameStop, which does involve some digging…

And now I’m wondering what you could do to optimize that landing space so that people were more inclined to buy the book, without turning into vile screaming ad-space with “BUY MY BOOK” in vibrating neon letters.

I suspect bad web design would turn off a lot of buyers. I know it’d turn ME off. And probably “optimized for mobile phones” is gonna be really important in the not-too-distant future.

I wonder if good reviews/quotes prominently would be a good idea, or if it would look egotistical? And do author photos help? People like to see faces, it’s a primate thing, but some of us do photograph very badly…I’d pay money to get that horrible con photo of me off the web where I am slumped exhausted in a chair under nasty industrial lighting, and thus appear to be three hundred pounds and three days dead. (Gang, don’t snap photos of artists on the last day of a con, I beg of you. Hardly any of us look good at that point.)

I’d say it’s a whole new world out there, but it’s really been a whole new world for years, and I’m only now paying attention because I can stand in the bookstore with my iPhone and look at it.

*Don’t ask me the name–I am not protecting the innocent, I have totally forgotten.

The Mac & Cheese Show!

I’m an idiot, should have posted this sooner!

A new Kevin & Ursula Eat Cheap, wherein we review a couple of the usual and taste-test five different varieties of mac & cheese! (Never want to look at mac & cheese again…)

Audio on this one is a little bit wonky because of a new microphone, so it’s both better and worse than before. Weird formatting issues hopefully will be resolved on the next recording–it’s a learning experience.

Sock trades?

Okay, since a number of people expressed interest in trading prints for socks/scarves/whatever–yes, I’d be happy to! I have one lovely pair of socks that a fan knitted for me after reading Nurk, and they’re among my faves for when the weather gets cold.

I’m a women’s size 8.5 in socks, I like my scarves long and not very thick (I live in North Carolina, so I don’t need Minnesota cold protection, and I have a short neck, so when I double up a thick scarf around the neck, I look chunktastic) and part of my Eccentric Artist/Fashion Victim look involves brightly colored socks with Birkenstocks, so wild colors and dead-muppet textures are all awesome. (I currently wear my Solmates socks a lot.*) I have no fiber allergies to my knowledge.  I own one lovely purple shawl, and do not get to wear it nearly often enough.

Ah…I have NO IDEA what’s fair on this, prints involve minimal labor for me after the initial art investment, whereas knitting seems pretty labor intensive, but shoot me an e-mail if you’re one of the people who was saying “YES, I will trade knitting for prints!” and I’m sure we can work something out!

*Oh dear god, they have a sock of the month club.  I should not have looked up that link.

You know…

Someone explain to me why I haven’t taken up knitting yet?

I like socks. I like scarves. I have been known to wear shawls. Why am I not knitting?

Is it because I know that way lies madness and yarn?

Sweet, sweet contract!

Oh frabjous day, we finally got the contract. Only four months of waiting!

I kinda want to print it out and rub it all over my body, but that’d probably be weird.

Actually, it’s not perfect yet, we have to go BACK to get another phrase or two changed, but they at least sent something. Which is a big step forward from where we were.

Just as a commentary for writers who may be wondering if this is normal or if this will happen to them…every now and again, you wind up waiting on a contract. A LOT. This one was attended by madness, apparently, and we waited a REALLY long time. The agreement’s made, the money’s set–those are the important bits–and you’ve both agreed that yes, there’s gonna be a book…but the details take forever. And it’s not necessarily that you’re hammering out the details between agent and contract, it’s that the contract department is horribly busy and then sometimes it goes into a thing called “routing” which means, according to my buddy Deb (who once waited three months for a contract and says that, while not NORMAL, it’s not horribly ABNORMAL either) that pretty much everybody in the company has to sign off on it and it turns into one of those complicated little spatial puzzles about how you cross every desk from here to there without recrossing a desk or getting eaten by wolves.

This doesn’t mean they hate you. If you are an author in position, let me assure you that this doesn’t actually mean anything at all, except that they are very busy and understaffed. Do not try to read meaning into this. I know this is hard, but trust me–trying to determine your career future by the contract department’s timetables is kind of like the meter reader determining how much you like him by how promptly you pay the electric bill.  Save yourself some grief, go work on the next book, or the garden, or a model plane or something.

Sadly, they don’t pay you until the contract is signed–and actually, generally not for a while after that–so I was seeing the level of my bank account sink until the pilings were exposed and there were nervous little crabs clicking claws made of loose change.  And this is where an agent is handy, because she can call people and utter menacing phrases about “if you ever want to see this book” where the best I could do would be to send passive-aggressive notes about how I’d love to work on the book but I’ve had to get a job as a Wal-mart greeter because I have no money.

But we have a contract! And god willing, soon it will be the absolutely correct contract! And they will send me money just in time for me to send half of it back out again for NEXT year’s taxes! It’s the circle of life! (Cue singing, lion cub held aloft over savannah, etc.)

Cowardice

Sigh.

I was at Borders yesterday, stopping in to sign Were-Wiener stock, and grabbed a coffee. The woman who waited on me was wearing a headscarf, and she said “I love your jacket!”

I really wanted to say “I love your hijab.” Because it was really pretty, damnit, and the fabric was awesome.

But I didn’t, because the internal editor on my brain, who is out sick seven days out of ten, was actually on the job today and choked me off, saying She’ll probably think you’re being sarcastic.

Sigh.

I should’ve said it. There were no politics attached to it at all. I just really like magenta.

There are too many things I don’t say out of cowardice, or because I know that to do so is to run whooping into the quicksand. For example, I have seen so many Indian women with that marvelous olive-dark skin that’s just so…the color…mmm!…and I would like to say “Your skin is beautiful, and if we lived in a world where we could pick our skin tones…oh man, I would be there in a heartbeat.” Except I don’t, because that sounds like I am horribly ignorant of the systemic discrimination suffered by non-white people and I KNOW that there’s a massive market for skin-whitening products in India for just that reason, and that leads to discussions of white privilege and thence to discussions that exceed both my patience and my vocabulary but which probably involve the word “post-modernist” a lot, and goddamnit, all I wanted to say was “You’re beautiful.”  (And can wear really bright colors and make it look good.)

Sigh. The world is too bloody complicated. I should probably just say what I mean, and trust to the fact that I am clearly harmless, well-meaning, and none-too-bright to carry me through any resulting awkwardness.

Nano…thing…mo.

Well, boys and girls, we are headed towards November at a truly shocking pace, and that means it’s time for Nanowrimo!

I have never understood the hate for Nanowrimo in some quarters.  Editors, yes. Editors, as my buddy Mur points out, have every reason to despise Nanowrimo because come December 1st, their slush pile swells to the size of New Zealand. I would therefore suggest that anybody attempting to write a book in November spend a coupla weeks revising before you inflict it on anyone else.*

But that aside, I think Nanowrimo is great. It gets people writing who would otherwise just maunder about wishing they’d write their book some day. It’s a manageable chunk of time. It’s a manageable chunk of words. There is passionate enthusiasm in the air. And anybody who says it’s not how professional writers write can kiss my ass.

As it happens, I myself write in furious spurts of thousands of words over the course of a week or two, and then I stare out the window for awhile and put a coupla hundred words here and there. Then I shove the manuscript in a file and go work on a painting. I find the manuscript again six months or a year later, go “Wow, this was actually good!” and then write in furious spurts and add another ten thousand words or so, and then I stare out the window so more and shove it back in a drawer.

If I am intelligent, at some point in this process, I send it to my agent and say “Can you find somebody to pay me to finish this?”

The answers so far run along the lines of:

1) Yes, I love this.

2) You’ve definitely got something here, give me an outline for the rest of the book.

3) Hmm…I like this, but I have no idea how to sell it. It may have to wait until you’re famous. I’ll see what I can do, though.

4) I’m very, very sorry, but this freaks me the hell out and I don’t want to work on it. (Hey, it happens!)

and my personal favorite:

5) I could probably write “Option Proposal” on this e-mail and have the movie rights sold before Penguin gets us the contract for the next Dragonbreath Book.

So my system actually serves me very well, half-assed as it may be.  (Two of those described books sold, that last one will likely be the post-Dragonbreath project, and I may wind up releasing those others as e-books or something if I ever get them done.)

But I’m tired of having so many unfinished books. It makes me a trifle neurotic to have all those stories hanging there undone.

Thing is, I can finish a book on a deadline without a problem. Five Dragonbreath and one Nurk down, and I grant you, they’re short-short books, but nevertheless, you give me a deadline and I will work methodically to meet it and turn it a script by the end. And I can write a book, and finish a book, and there’s at least a mathematically possibility that it will be a commercially viable book, if not a runaway bestseller.

So this year, with that in mind…I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo.

Instead, I’m gonna invent NaNoFiMo. National Novel FINISHING Month.

The world doesn’t need me to slap words on another book for awhile and then shove it in a drawer. I already have over a half-dozen third-of-a-book scripts in my hard-drive. Some of them I know I’m not the person to finish (the thing with the barbarian gynecologist I can’t do yet…maybe in ten years…) and some aren’t worth finishing or would require more rewriting than I care to contemplate, but there’s still three or four or five that I could DO something with. The one Bluebeard story with the hedgehog, say, or the kid with the armadillo familiar, or maybe the thing with the goblins, because Kevin really wants to read the rest of that one.

That DO something might be “give it to my agent” or if she has no interest in it, it might be “release as e-book.”  I’m not gonna worry about that bit. I’m just gonna set myself the deadline and FINISH one of those suckers already.

So. NaNoFiMo. For those of us who don’t need to START another damn book, we need to knuckle down and finish one of the ones we’ve got.

*I say this as a person who’s had a character’s eye-color change ten times in three chapters. Do as I say, not as I do.

Whew!

Taxman totals are in!

Taxman II will be an edition of 80 and Tea with the Taxman will be an edition of 58. If you sent me a note, but didn’t pay yet, don’t worry, you’re included in that total.

My profound thanks to everyone who ordered! This covered my unexpected tax “adjustment” and even made some serious inroads on the big tax bill from August.  I am very grateful, and I hope you’ll enjoy the art for years to come!

Now, it’s gonna take a few weeks to get these out–I recall Taxman I taking most of a month!–so don’t worry if they don’t show up right away. Mr. Printy II is blazing away on them as we speak, and I’ll get ’em out as fast as I can (and you can always send a note and check on how it’s going!)