Quick Hits, 4/26/06

Some more bits and pieces, because apparently that’s where my mind is at these days:

* Two charitable things related to books:

1. Role-playing game publisher Palladium Books has hit a rough patch due to a combination of internal malfeasance and external issues and is scrambling to stay open long enough to get itself back on its feet. To accomplish that, Palladium’s president Kevin Siembieda is offering a special collector’s edition poster, each signed and numbered, featuring characters from the Palladium Books line. That’s $50. If you feel just like chipping in a few buck, there’s also a donation button on their Web site’s front page.

I met Kevin Siembieda last year at Penguicon 3.0 when he and I were on a panel together, and he seems a good and interesting fellow. I hope he and his company make it through this scrape.

2. Kari from Inkgrrl has a friend suffering from breast cancer and is trying to help her make her ends meet by drawing attention to The Michele Fund, which features a number of author-signed books and other stuff auctioned off to pay for medical expenses. The auction items are here.

* Want to read me, Jeff VanderMeer, Cory Doctorow, Cherie Priest and other SF/F writers blather on about how we use teh Intarweebs to promote ourselves? Then you’re in luck: Here’s a Publishers Weekly article on the subject.

* Cartoonist and columnist Tom Tomorrow weighs in on the Kaavya Viswanathan thing, and wonders just how much the “book packager” who worked with Viswanathan on the book is responsible for the mess that’s now unfolding. More than one person I know who has knowledge of book packagers suggests it’s entirely possible the packager in this case is letting Viswanathan take all the flak even if it’s they who are partially or primarily responsible. I don’t know anything about that one way or another, but if it were the case, using a 19-year-old writer as a bullet shield is not a very ethical thing to do.

One salutary thing about this particular scandal is that it might make authors and readers more aware of who book packagers are and what they do. My own personal experience with book packagers has been quite positive: my Book of the Dumb books were produced under book packaging circumstances, as the copyright page in the book will suggest to astute observers, and I was both treated more than fairly and had a ball writing the books. So I wouldn’t suggest that all book packagers are evil. But some may indeed be more slippery than others, and it’s worth asking how slippery the packager might be in this case.

* Whatever reader Jason Bennion talks about one of the nice things about the Internet age, which is that it has the potential to make you feel “closer” to an author you like (the author in this particular case being me). I quite clearly think this is true, and I think the converse is true as well, since I am quite consciously using the Internet to establish a relationship with my readers. Among other things this includes trying to be conscientious about answering mail from readers and addressing comments here.

Mind you, it’s not a burden — I mean, gee, it’s not like it’s just awful having to read e-mails from people saying they liked your book and saying “thanks” in a quick return e-mail. In fact, one of those e-mails came in, and I responded, between that last sentence and this one. Turnaround time: About thirty seconds. It’s 30 seconds well invested. Now, it’s easy for me to do because I don’t have the e-mail volume that some substantially more popular authors have; I can’t even imagine JK Rowling’s in-box. But even more popular writers can still give that personal touch. I rather strongly suspect Neil Gaiman has more e-mail than he can answer, but his solution of putting up what amounts to a letters column with each of his blog entries still lets you know he’s engaged with his audience.

Now, Bennion rather cogently notes that although the Net allows for the feeling of intimacy, it’s not actually intimacy: “I don’t have any illusions that John and I are buddies — obviously, John Scalzi doesn’t know me from Adam, nor do I really know him, no matter how much it sometimes feels otherwise.” This is very much the case, of course. I’ve never made any bones about the fact that although I’m free and open with my opinions and points of view here, I also keep a significant part of my personal life — the vast majority of it — off the Whatever and out of the public eye; you’re seeing a public distillation of who John Scalzi is here, just as I only see whatever it is people choose to show of themselves in their comments and e-mails.

Be that as it may, the back and forth here (and on other author sites) is still a rather more egalitarian form of relationship than traditional author-audience roles; in our e-mails and comments to each other we’re talking to each other more often than anything else (I don’t think people here would let me get away with anything else anyway). This is not to say that I carry on a full conversation with everyone who e-mails — lot of my responses boil down to “Thanks! I’m glad you liked the book!” — but the informal, fast and friendly nature of the e-mail medium doesn’t create the distance that a paper letter does (or, at least, does with people of my generation).

I’m just glad I live in an era where I can respond to people almost immediately, and without having to hunt for a stamp. If I had to respond with a printed letter to everyone who sent me a letter, I never would — all that crap with stamps, and mailboxes and gaaaaah. I am, without a doubt, a writer of and for this era.

15 thoughts on “Quick Hits, 4/26/06

  1. I admit there did seem something baffling to me about a half-million dollar advance going to a previously unpublished 17-year-old writer. Usually you ought to have a couple of top 10 NYT bestsellers under your belt before publishers will lob that kind of cash your way. As Tom indicates, there’s much more behind this girl’s book deal than meets the eye. And now, she seems to have queered the whole thing for her book-packaging mentors by plagiarizing. Very odd, and raises a lot of questions.

  2. I just want to say that absolutely nothing on my list is provided by “book packagers”; indeed, all my authors write their own books. Alone. In sealed rooms. With quill pens. Okay, except for Cory Doctorow, all of whose books are written by an anarchist collective in Camden Town.

    You have to pay special attention to the “Note On The Type” page. That’s where the publishing insiders hide the real poop. Blogs are great for this kind of “inside info,” I find.

  3. PNH:

    “You have to pay special attention to the ‘Note On The Type’ page. That’s where the publishing insiders hide the real poop.”

    Well, and the typefaces themselves are a little-known publishing code. A book book typeset in Caslon, as you know, is ghostwritten more often than not. And let’s not even talk about New Baskerville.

  4. Ah, this brings back memories of my childhood, when I used to collect those damned Fear Street, Goosebump, Hardy Boys, 3 Investigators books. Mind you, I was only 8-10 then. To me, they were the coolest things since, er, Enid Blyton.

  5. Well, one of the major selling points of the book was its author. It may not be so much that they’re letting her take the blame as that the general feeling is that having her say they wrote portions of the book for her would be more damaging than the “internalization” defense. Judging by the general “Scandal!” reaction the mere involvement of a packager has caused, I could see them feeling that would be worse.

    There’s a good article with more on the packaging thing here at the Indy (Harvard’s other paper). And if you click on the link for more Kaavyagate coverage, there’s an article about another, similar case from this particular packager.

    Is there a codebook somewhere for the Typeface page? I always read it, and I’ve never found any scandals. Very sad.

  6. You know, even in the bad old days, some authors took the time to respond to fan mail. I wrote a gushing fan letter to Isaac Asimov when I was in high school back in the late 60’s. I got a typed and signed postcard back, thanking me and hoping I’d continue to enjoy his work.*

    I did, of course. :)

    *It’s immaterial to me at this point whether the Great Man wrote it himself, or whether an aide did. I was charmed and delighted.

  7. Very cool. I have no doubt that many authors did answer the fan mail back in the stamp days. I’m just pretty sure I wouldn’t have been one of them.

  8. I’m nervous about someday meeting the people whose blogs I read. How does one interact with someone one has followed for some years unannounced?

  9. Diatryma — this is why you make blogs bidirectional and comment on threads. So when you meet someone in meatspace and say, “Hi, I’m Dr. Phil — love your blog, John,” he can say, “Oh yeah, you’re whack job physics teacher with the Kate Winslet obsession. Nice to meet you. Uh, I have an appointment to go to… over there… in, uh, like Nebraska.”

    (grin)

    Dr. Phil

    ps- more scary that I can recognize “people” on LiveJournal by their icons…

  10. My sympathy for Kevin Siembieda is limited by my annoyance with his company’s internet policy. I wrote him and told him that if he stops threatening to sue fan sites for posting conversion rules, I’ll buy $200 worth of books right now, but I won’t buy anything from him at all until he does. I don’t really expect him to bend to my will, but it makes the schadenfreude that much sweeter…

  11. In this way, I think the internet is a throwback to the functions fulfilled 50-plus years ago by pulp magazines. Particularly for Weird Tales and it’s ilk, the readers, writers, editors, and letter-writers were all drawn from the same group. If you were to pick up an issue (more likely, a fasimile as the real thing tends to go for $100 or more on Ebay per issue), from the glory days (1928-1940), you might find Robert Bloch (Psycho) poking fun at Robert Howard (Conan) or else readers vociferously arguing about the appropriateness of the scantily (un)clad women by Margaret Brundage on the cover.

    Between the death of the pulps–1951-1953 being their swan song years–and the birth of the Internet, we had a 40-year gap in which the conventional media channels went into an undemocratic mode in which lots of people with good ideas and good ideas about other good ideas, went un-heard-from (unless you count tiny little regional literary chapbooks). But now we’ve got a medium of easy communication between authors and writers again. So woohoo.

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