Monthly Archives: October 2007

A Lot of Money for a Book

It’s been brought to my attention that someone is selling a new (i.e., unread) copy of Agent to the Stars for $999.95 (here’s the link for verification, although if you visit it after today, who knows if it will work).

My thoughts on this:

1. At that price for a book, does taking a nickel off actually work on a psychological level?

2. Would someone really pay that much for something they can read online for free?

3. If they would, couldn’t they just buy 140 copies of The Android’s Dream in paperback instead, and artifically inflate my opening week numbers? That would make me and my publisher happy! Heck, I’d give them a copy of Agent to the Stars for that. Hint, hint.

4. If someone can really sell their copy of the book for $1,000, I suddenly know how I’m playing for Athena’s first year of college ten years down the road.

I wouldn’t stop anyone from spending $1,000 on a book of mine if it actually and genuinely makes them happy, but, you know. I can think of better uses of one’s cash. And God knows I’m having a hard time thinking of a book I’d spend a thousand dollars for, so I can’t imagine why anyone would spend $1,000 for mine. This isn’t fake humility, by the way, since I clearly don’t mind putting out $250 limited lettered editions of my work for all y’all solvent enough to buy them. But a grand seems a bit much. That’s an iPhone and a PS3! And pizza! The mind boggles, it does.

Dream in Paperback

FedEx brought a whole box of these today:

And I have to say, they look great. I think the cover looks even better on the paperback than it did on the hardcover — the more compact layout suits the design — but even more cool is the fact that the book’s cover is a festival of textures: The words are bumpy, the sheep are slick and the blue feels just a little nubbly. We’re talking a riot of friction gradients everywhere you touch. I can’t stop petting the cover. Honestly, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

The official street date for this paperback is next Tuesday, but inasmuch as this isn’t Harry Potter, I would suspect copies are even now making their way onto store shelves. If you see it in the wild, I’d be obliged if you’d whip out your cell phone camera and get a picture.

Also, I hope those of you who haven’t checked it out yet will give it a try. I’m not supposed to say things like this, but this really is my favorite book so far: I love all my books, mind you — I wouldn’t publish anything I didn’t think was pretty damn good — but this one’s my special pet, because it’s just completely nuts. I mean, come on: I started it with a chapter long fart joke. And it’s a good joke, if I do say so myself. Pulling that one off was a huge boost to my fiction-writing confidence. Also, and independently, I think this is the book of mine that would make a kick-ass summer movie. It’s a popcorn-shoveler if there ever was one. Deep? Not so much. Fun? Hell, yeah.

So, yeah: Me pimping myself. You want to get this one. Clamor for it at your local bookstore, or at the various places you shop online. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you on the official release date, too.

And when you get it, run your fingers over the cover. You’ll see what I mean about the friction gradients. Well. Feel it, in any event.

John Scalzi’s 2008 Convention Schedule

This is another one of my famous “put it up there to refer people to” posts; this one is my current list of science fiction convention appearances for 2008.

January 18 – 20: High-Voltage ConFusion (Troy, Michigan) — I’ll be the toastmaster for this; the other Guests of Honor are Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier (yay!), Carl Lundgren, Kevin M. Dunn, Throwing Toasters and The Roaming Pirate Party.

April 18 – 20: Penguicon 6.0 (Troy, Michigan) — GoHs here are Tamara Pierce, Randall Monroe and Keith Baker. As far as I know, I’m attending this year as a common schmoe Nifty Guest, and apparently they’ll be serving Schadenfreude Pie in the con suite as well. Excellent.

May 23 -25: Oasis 21 (Orlando, Florida) — GoHs here are David Gerrold, Paul Vincenti and Bill and Brenda Sutton; I’m attending here as “Special Guest Writer,” which I’ve been lead to believe involves presenting David Gerrold chocolates on demand. Or so David tells me, and who am I to argue? He’s the Guest of Honor, after all. This will constitute my first ever appearance in Florida, incidentally.

August 6 – 10: Denvention 3 (Denver, Colorado) — This is the Worldcon for 2008. GoHs are Lois McMaster Bujold, Rick Sternbach, Tom Whitmore and Wil McCarthy as toastmaster. Unless I’m nominated for something, Hugo-wise, I’ll be attending as a common schmoe.

August 15 – 17: ArmadilloCon 30 (Austin, Texas) — I’m the Guest of Honor here. With me are Dean Morrisey and Kelly Parsons, with Bill Crider as toastmaster. Joe & Gay Haldeman are the special guests. They are not required to present me chocolates on demand. The timing of this convention is fortuitous, actually, since the scheduled release date of Zoe’s Tale is August 19. I love it when a plan comes together. This will also be my first time in Texas, save a few hours at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport.

November 28 – 30: LOSCON 35 (Los Angeles, California) — That is, if California is still standing after the current series of wildfires. Yeah, I know, I always thought it would be an earthquake that brought the place down, too. I’ll be Writer Guest of Honor here. Don’t know who the other GoHs will be yet.

Six conventions is about on par with what my annual schedule of conventions has been the last couple of years, and is actually up from this year, when I attended a paltry four (ConFusion, Boskone, Penguicon and the Heinlein Centennial), although to be fair, I did have that whole tour thing. There are a couple of other conventions I’d like to go to next year, but I’ll be honest and say that looking at my schedule for 2008, and throwing in the other appearance commitments I have (plus, you know, the writing that I theoretically have to do) I don’t know what else I’m going to be able to fit into the schedule.

Also, we’ve been spending silly amounts of cash on traveling and other frivolities this last year; it’s been fun, but we’re also suddenly aware that like anyone else, we’re going to be better off if we actually pay attention to how much money we have flying out the door. I think 2008 will be a year of relative financial responsibility if not austerity, which means the cost for a convention weekend (air travel, taxis, hotels, food, new books, exotic massage services, etc) is going under the same financial microscope as everything else.

Which is to say that if you want to see me in a convention setting in 2008, these really are your best bets.

The Big Idea: Jeff Somers

Over at Ficlets, we continue our Big Idea series with author Jeff Somers, who sounds off on his book The Electric Church, which is your “teched-out super-assassin has to whack an impossible target sort of against his will” sort of thing. Orbit liked it enough to use it to launch their line of books here in the US; yes, no pressure there.

Jeff’s discussion of his book is a good one, because rather than focus on the story elements (which there would be a number to play with), he’s instead talking about the mechanics of writing the book, and how who the novel was originally sold to made a difference in how they story got constructed. This is fascinating stuff because we all deal with this in one way or another. I know my books end up being within 10% of 100,000 words, in no small part because that’s my contractually-obligated length.

These are the things that people who don’t have a book contract in front of them have to think about — and this is what makes Jeff’s Big Idea piece worth reading.

Ooooo… Scary

Yeah, I fiddled with the background to make it Halloweeny. Sue me, I’m a sap this way. Also, for those of you with PCs, the header will look better if you have the “Chiller” font, which you can get here. If you Mac folks can suggest a suitable “spooky” font for that flavor of computer, by all means let me know and I’ll specify it in the style sheet.

Those of you in the RSS feeds, move along, nothing to see here.

A Slightly Stale Halloween Treat

As proof that the Internet never forgets, someone posted onto USENET a Halloween poem I wrote a decade ago and subsequently completely forgot about, possibly because it wasn’t especially good; the meter was all wonky, for one thing, and content-wise it more or less reads like I drank too much cough syrup, hallucinated and declared I was Edward Gorey. But what the hell. I’ve fixed the meter (somewhat) and have posted it behind the cut. Just don’t be expecting genius.

Continue reading A Slightly Stale Halloween Treat

The Big Three

Yesterday Warren Ellis posted monthly subscription and newsstand numbers for the “Big Three” science fiction magazines in 2006 (and threw in the circulation numbers of Interzone as loose change); he got them from Gardner Dozois via the last Year’s Best Science Fiction compilation. The numbers are not spectacular: 15,117 for Asimov’s (no newsstand numbers reported), 23,732 for Analog (plus 4,587 newsstand sales), and 14,575 for Fantasy & Science Fiction, which itself had 3,691 newsstand sales. Interzone apparently stated its monthly circ as between two and three thousand.

Add it all up, and tossing Interzone overboard for the moment, the “Big Three” short fiction markets have a circulation of 61,702, plus whatever Asimov‘s monthly newsstand sales are: Let’s round to 65,000. So that’s 65K, total. Not a lot. And all of the Big Three suffered circulation drops from 2005, some double digit percentages, too. What we don’t know from these numbers are the demographics of the readership, but I’m going to make a guess that the average readership age for these magazines is in the older than I am by a more than fair margin (I’m 38). The circulation pool is very likely to be the same circulation pool it has been for the last 30 years; if so, it’s no surprise it’s shrinking, because one end of the pool is drying up when the subscribers die, and what’s coming in on the other end is a trickle. Which is to say, right now, the SF magazine circulation pool is Lake Lanier and the magazines are Atlanta.

Over at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow is wringing his hands about what needs to be done to save the Big Three, but between you and me and the rest of the whole bloody Internet, I have to wonder, as Ellis apparently does, if it’s worth the time. I seriously question whether the “Big Three” think they need saving, and therefore I question whether they want to save themselves. And if they don’t, I’m not entirely sure why it would be incumbent on anyone else to try to save them.

The big three can still be relevant, mind you; I suspect Asimov’s was essential in bootstrapping Charles Stross into being the decade’s pre-eminent SF writer when it published the short stories that would eventually become the Hugo-nominated novel Accelerando. Likewise, Tim Pratt’s Hugo win this year is going to do great things for him moving forward. That said, I can think of more prominent SF writers published since 2000 who have gotten along without the benefit of exposure in the “Big Three” than who have been helped by them.

For examples of this, one need only look the Campbell Award winners from this century. I did a little research this evening, and unless I’ve flubbed bibliographies greatly, I’ve come up on an interesting tidbit, which is that of the last seven Campbell winners — Naomi Novik, me, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Wen Spencer, Jo Walton and Kristine Smith — precisely one of us was published in the “Big Three” prior to winning our award: Elizabeth Bear, who published a poem in F&SF in ’03. So, a single appearance from just one of us.

Now, to be sure, this can’t be laid entirely at the feet of the “Big Three.” I explained here before that I’ve never submitted to any of the “Big Three,” primarily because they take paper submissions only, and I don’t have a printer, and can’t be bothered to get one. Anyway, my short fiction work so far is pretty sparse. Naomi Novik’s is even more sparse than my own. On the other hand, it seems indicative of something that it took Bear until this year to make it into Asimov’s, where she had submitting stories since Isaac himself was at the helm. Did it really take until 2007 for Bear, who has won the Campbell and Locus awards, published eight novels in three years and sold dozens of short stories (not to mention a story collection), to write something worthy of Asimov’s?

Really?

Well, maybe so. But in the meantime she developed a hell of an audience without that magazine, and without the other two members of the “Big Three.” That audience learned to look for her — and for Jay Lake (who also didn’t get published in Asimov’s until after his Campbell win) — and for other new writers in the genre in other places. Now, I don’t doubt it was very cool for Bear to get published in Asimov’s. But was it necessary or relevant for her career? I won’t hazard Bear’s opinion on this, but I think it clearly wasn’t.

Nice but not relevant is not where the “Big Three” want to be, but this is where they are. I am admittedly a weirdo when it comes to my science fiction career, but look: it says something that I can’t be bothered to print out a single goddamned story to submit it to Asimov’s, or Analog, or F&SF. It says something that I’m not writing more short fiction to try to get into their pages. They’re just not that important to my career; certainly not as important as, say, this place. Look: yesterday, the Whatever got 37,558 unique visitors, which means that I get about the same number of people visiting on a Monday as Asimov’s and F&SF combined roll up in a month. Is it smarter for me to spend time writing fiction for any of these magazines than it is for me to write here?

And if I do write short fiction, does it make sense for me to send it to publications that are hard for my fans to find and buy? Subterranean Online or Strange Horizons or Jim Baen’s Universe will pay me the same or more for a story; in all these cases I can easily link my readers here to the story, and they can either read the entire story or read a substantial portion online before they buy. Yes, I know the “Big Three” have electronic editions for sale via Fictionwise; I prefer something more user-friendly. The “Big Three” are my second-tier markets for short fiction for these reasons, and if it gets to that point, I’m likely just to paste the work up here. It’s worked for me before.

Again: I’m not the normal case. I have a larger online readership than most. But there are other SF writers online who get hundreds and even thousands of visitors a day, who cultivate their own fandom online, who have friends who are happy to help them pimp their work and funnel readers to their writing. I suspect it’s not that hard to raise consciousness of new work online to the level you’ll find in the pages of the “Big Three,” given their current circulation numbers. That gives emerging writers a way to build careers outside those magazines, and it means the “Big Three” run a further risk of isolating themselves, both from where science fiction literature is going, and from the audiences building around these new writers.

Now, if I saw concrete ways the “Big Three” were working to rebuild circulation and make their magazines easier to find in my local bookstore, or if they had more intriguing online presences, or I felt they were more engaged in the current generation of writers and interested in cultivating the next, rather than waiting for them to make it on their own, or even if they just took electronic submissions, maybe I would be more enthusiastic about submitting; maybe I’d be more concerned about their slow exsanguination (I am concerned to the extent that I know the people who work there; I am fond of many of them on a personal level. I’d like for them to have jobs going forward). But I’m not going to spend a lot of time agonizing about theses magazines’ extended death scenes when I don’t see them doing these things to help themselves. Maybe they are doing these things and I just don’t know. But to be egotistical about it, if I don’t know, isn’t that kind of a bad thing? I’m not exactly hiding here. I’m generally pretty well-informed.

Let me be clear about this: I think it would be better if the “Big Three” not only survived but thrived; they’re the memory trees of the genre, and they can still bear fruit. I want to feel excited about the idea of being published in their pages, and in a way more than fond affectation. I’d like being published there to mean something. I want it to be nice, but more than that I want it to be relevant. They have a ways to go for that.

The Thing I am Glad About Today

That Athena doesn’t give a damn about Hannah Montana. I do believe she lumps the show in with all the other live-action tween shows like Drake and Josh and iCarly and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, which she unreservedly believes are pure evil, which is of course something I encourage.

That said, there is no live-action kids’ show today that approaches the pure vomitrociousness of the live action kids’ shows of my youth, like, say, the terrifying horror that was Big John, Little John, which appeared as if it were produced with the money sucked out of pay phones:

The kid star of BJLJ, incidentally, is Robbie Rist, who is perhaps better known, depending on your age and/or geekitude, as “Cousin Oliver” from the Brady Bunch, “Dr. Zee” from Galactica 1980, and the voice of Michaelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies of the early 90s. That’s right, three decades rocking the cultural margins! So, of course, he has a Web page. Well done, Robbie Rist. Well done, indeed.

A Real Conversation, Slightly Fictionalized for Dramatic Purposes

(Phone rings. It’s a FRIEND, in California)

Friend: So, I’m here in San Diego, and everything is on fire. All of California is on fire. Fire reigns here.

Me: That’s very nice, but I think your fascination with this fire thing has blinded you to the actual big news story of the weekend.

Friend: Which is?

Me: Dumbledore is, like, totally gay.

(Pause)

Friend: That’s insane.

Me: Which part, that he’s gay, or that it’s the big news story?

Friend: Either! Both! Is this gay thing in the books somewhere?

Me: No, JK Rowling said something about it at an appearance. Someone asked if Dumbledore ever knew love, and Rowling said something like, ‘well, he’s totally gay, and yes.’

Friend: Was she kidding?

Me: No, apparently Dumbledore has this mad crush on a guy, who then turned out to be evil, and Dumbledore was slow on the uptake because when you’re infatuated, you miss details.

Friend: Like your boyfriend being completely and utterly evil.

Me: This is what I am led to understand.

Friend: That’s just crazy.

Me: I don’t see why it’s a surprise. He always did have such fabulous robes.

Friend: And this is really what the rest of you people have been talking about all weekend.

Me: Well, I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of the situation. It’s Dumbledore. You’ve just been consumed with your silly little fire.

Friend: Being consumed in fire is more like it.

Me: I think you need to focus on what’s really important.

Friend: Not burning to death?

Me: No, no. The secret inner lives of fictional people in books you haven’t bothered to read.

Friend: I’ll get right on that.

Me: Do. Because now we’re all wondering about McGonagall.

Friend: What, like she’s a Templar or something?

Me: See. Now you’re getting it.

RSS Feed Reminder

After three weeks, I’m still getting people popping up claiming to be surprised Whatever is still an ongoing concern because their RSS feed has not been updating. So for anyone who still needs it, here’s the current RSS feed:

http://scalzi.com/whatever/?feed=rss2

Please update if you need to.

I know some folks are concerned about me missing out on some readers because of RSS confusion, but the fact is I myself so rarely use RSS feeds for anything I really can’t be roused to care all that much. I figure sooner or later the people with the faulty RSS feeds will either get curious and show up here and be amazed it’s an ongoing concern, or they’ll simply assume I’ve died in some horrible way, cycle through their grief and get along in their lives without me. Really, either works for me.

Kodi, Lost Deep in Thought

Is she thinking:

a) “Did I leave the gas on?”

b) “I really do think everything is better with steak”

c) “That squirrel doesn’t look like it gets chased nearly enough”

d) Other?

If d), please insert your suggestion below.

For Janny

My pal Janny, who is fabulous, and who went to high school with me, tweaks me about claiming Hayzie Fantayzie’s “Shiny Shiny” is the worst song of the 80s:

you know you love this song. i heard it blasting from your dorm room and saw elfin shadows mimicking the moves on the drapes.

Lies, despicable lies! At the very least, it can’t be proven.

Janny continues:

i remember this song well, but luckily, can never be traced back to putting it on a mixed tape. instead, i favored an equally infectious- but far superior- tune called “kiss me with your mouth” by stephen tin tin duffy.

At which point this song, long dormant in my head, reader up and earwormed me for the rest of the day with its oh-so-80s twee. To which I say, gee, thanks, Janny. Thank you so very much. I agree it’s better than “Shiny Shiny,” although let’s state up front that this is a very low bar to surmount.

In any event, they say the best way to get rid of an earworm is to pass it on to others. So, here you go:

No, no. Don’t thank me. Thank Janny.

A Little More on People Like Me

Rachel Swirsky, who I think is one of the best new writers in genre (and possibly outside of it as well) reheats the discussion of my “colorblind” writing or lack thereof in the context of JK Rowling’s recent relevation that Dumbledore is, like, totally gay, and focuses on the fact that both Rowling and I note information about characters not in the books themselves but outside of the books, a fact which opens us up to her criticism. The article is here (as should be the discussion of the article itself, which is already underway).

I don’t want to comment too much about the content of Swirky’s article here, but I will make note of two quick thoughts. First, Rowling’s revelation comes late in the context of the books, but it’s quite possible for the fact to be incorporated into the movies, which are still an ongoing concern for two more installments, and I think you have to look at the Potterverse in context of all of that; it’s not just confined to the books. Second, I think the headline suggests I’ve said after the fact that one of my characters is Native American; I assume the character in question is Harry Creek, from The Android’s Dream. If it is, I’ll note I haven’t laid claim to Harry being of Native American descent; it’s some of my readers who assumed that’s what he was. I haven’t specified Harry’s racial background, other than noting in passing that I really wouldn’t mind if Will Smith played him in a movie adaptation.

I do want comment on this bit in the article, however:

Scalzi himself argues that he’s not writing colorblind (because he knows what colors his characters are), but that readers are reading colorblind. He goes on to say that this doesn’t of necessity reinforce a white default. As a first step, he says that while he envisions characters is novels as being “people like me,” whiteness is not part of that profile. Honestly, I have a big problem accepting that — but, let’s accept it anyway. Scalzi’s politically aware and not, IMO, given to lying to trump himself up. Perhaps, through deliberation or coincidence (I trend toward postulating the former, even if not on a conscious level), Scalzi has trained himself not to view race as a default.

Swirsky goes on to explore my logical errors, but I’m not interested in that at the moment (follow the link to get the full effect). I do appreciate that she accepts for the purpose of argument that my conception of “people like me” is not significantly bound to whiteness, but I also suspect that, aside from her willingness to grant that statement of mine, which I appreciate, she’s still not fully convinced. If this is the case, this is fair enough; white folks find it really easy to find various ways to say that race doesn’t matter to them.

So. If folks are wondering why I say I’m able to think of “people like me” as something other (or at least, significantly more) than white, the best answer I have for them is that if they’d gone to my 20th high school class reunion, it might have gone a bit to explain that position. Webb School of California was indeed fairly homogeneous — but the homogeneity was in class and educational backgrounds, which is to say nearly everyone at school came from families that ranged from well-off to flat-out rich, and/or had parents who were educated to at least the college level. One exception to that, incidentally: me — I was the first person in my immediate family to finish high school, and my mom made less than it cost to go to the school. But I “passed”; at the 20th one of my classmates was surprised to discover that while I was at Webb, when I went home from school it was to a mobile home (this classmate and his wife, incidentally, fund a scholarship to the school for female students of color from low-income backgrounds, so don’t make any quick and snarky assumptions about class blindness there).

Racially, however, the school was pretty heterogeneous. The white/not-white split of my class was just about 50/50, and as a boarding school, we drew in kids from around the world, including from Hong Kong and Taiwan, the Middle East and southeast Asia, as well as from California, of course, which is in itself racially mixed. Our class total was 80 people, more or less; in there we had folks of most races, colors and major religions, and not a few who were from families mixed in one way or another.

The major division in our class at the time there was not about race per se but language; some of the kids from Hong Kong came in only middlin’ fluent in English, and in their free time congregated together. Aside from that, if you were to look at how the cliques fell out, one way they conspicuously didn’t fall out was by race.

I’m not going to try to sell you the idea that Webbies were or are ignorant of race and the role it plays in larger society; certainly we were not. We weren’t stupid. I’m not even going to try to sell you the idea that everyone who went to Webb — or possibly even everyone in my class — would say that my view of how race factored in socially at my high school is 100% correct. But I am going to say to you that my high school experience reinforced the idea that, for me, “people like me” was rather more significantly about factors other than race. You’d know this if you saw who my good friends were from high school; you’d also see this if you saw who I’ve considered my good friends since then.

If you were to ask me which prejudice I’ve had to work the hardest on over the years to recognize and correct for you, I would tell you that it doesn’t have to do with race but with sexuality. I don’t think I was ever actively homophobic, but when I was 14 years old (or thereabouts) I certainly had my brain filled with the general set of myths and prejudices against gay people that floated about at the time, and certainly Webb, for all its other qualities, was not a place — in the mid-80s, anyway — where one would find a lot of sympathy or acceptance of gays. People certainly were rumored to be gay, but they weren’t particularly nice rumors.

I would say that it wasn’t until I was in college that I mostly pulled my head out on that particular subject, although I am glad to say I did. One of my still proudest moments in terms of social conscience was when, as the student ombudsman for the University of Chicago, I went on record saying that the University should extend health and other benefits to partners of gay and lesbian faculty and staff. This was in 1991, when only one other university had done so. The University eventually did, although I don’t flatter myself I had a direct influence on that (it happened a year or so after I graduated). Nevertheless, I’m glad I planted that seed of conscience. Certainly anyone who has read here over time knows how that seed has grown.

What happened there, I suspect, is simply that in college I began to know people who were openly gay and lesbian (many years later I found out that people I knew at Webb were gay or lesbian, but — see above — it was not something I knew at the time) and knowing people made the difference in my thinking; I was able to see them as people like me. I didn’t have to make this adjustment (or at least, not that much of an adjustment) on issues of race, however, because of my Webb experience. Consequently, now as an adult it’s not something I think about when I think about people like me.

Now: This doesn’t mean I don’t get unearned advantages or credit when people who are white see me as people like them; I certainly do, and I’d be a fool to suggest I don’t. I don’t get stopped for driving while white; I don’t get followed by store security no matter how badly I dress; people don’t assume I have a crappy education or don’t speak English. I have to say that I do find no little irony in the fact that some people I’d prefer not to give the time of day to think of me like them simply because of skin tone and presumed cultural commonality. Likewise I know that there are some people, some of whom I like and admire, who believe that fundamentally I can’t see myself like them because of skin and culture differences. In both cases, I respond by being me: I try not to pretend to commonality that I don’t feel; I try not to imply commonality I don’t have.

None of that, however, changes how I feel about these things, which is that on the list of things that qualify people for being what I see as “like me,” race is really pretty damn far down the list. What I would like to believe about myself — and what I strive for — is that I discover what makes you like me when you open your mouth and talk to me (or any other of the communicative cognates of this action), and we discover our minds and our characters and how they play with and off of each other.

Is this hard to believe about me? I think only to the extent you don’t actually know me.

How to Irritate and Annoy People in the Name of Blogging

I came across this blog piece today, in which a number of ostensibly popular bloggers share how they would leverage off-blog time to increase their blog’s hits. I found it to be a fantastically depressing piece, because so much of the advice boils down, essentially, to this: “become a starfucker for more popular bloggers.” Mind you, it’s couched in more corporate-speaky language than that — which is depressing in itself – but starfuckery it is.

Let’s break this down a bit. First, to get this out there up front: If you’re spending your time starfucking a blogger, your sense of priorities are unspeakably out of whack. It’s like sleeping with the screenwriter in Hollywood. The screenwriter who wrote the direct-to-home-video feature. That debuted on the public access channel. In Bakersfield.

Seriously, people. Get a grip. You have better things to do.

Now, note that a lot of “strategies” these bloggers suggest people do for their starfuckery — things like commenting on blogs, socializing with and e-mailing links to bloggers, or linking that blogger’s work to Digg or Reddit or whatever — are perfectly cromulent in themselves. What makes it starfuckery — rank and transparent starfuckery at that — is the reason you’re doing it, which is, for the ulterior motive of promoting your own work.

As in: You’re not commenting on a blog because the article or the other commenters speak to you; you’re commenting on the blog because you hope people will click on your name at the bottom of the comment and visit your own site. You’re not passing on a link to a blogger just because you think it’s germane to that blogger; you’re passing it on because you hope the blogger will throw you a scrap by noting she got it from you, and then putting a link to your blog in the note. You’re not socializing with the blogger because you might actually like the person, you’re doing it because you’re “exploring ways of working together in win-win ways,” as one of our fine advice givers wrote.

Don’t do this. Because people aren’t stupid. Look, I go to conventions and writers’ events, as most of you know. And invariably the most annoying person there is the aspiring writer or neo-pro who is simply there to network, and does so in a graspingly obvious fashion: the guy who goes from group to group, looking for the right people who will eventually let him trade up to standing in a conversational circle with, oh, let’s say, Neil Gaiman, so he can ever-so-casually drop the name of his latest book/story/whatever into Gaiman’s ear.

There’s nothing wrong with networking; there’s nothing wrong with talking about your book with Neil Gaiman (or whomever) either, should you get a chance. But it’s all in how it’s done. To repeat: People aren’t stupid. They know the difference between someone who is engaged in a conversation for the pleasure of the conversation itself, and someone who is marking time in the conversation until they can once again open their mouths and talk about them. By the same token, it’s not all that difficult to differentiate between the people who engage on a blog because they’re interested in what’s going on there, and the people who engage in order to try to get people to go somewhere else. The only person who thinks he’s getting away with it is the starfucker himself. Well: Surprise! He’s not.

Articles like this — “how to get more people to read your blog!” — have been around since the old days of blogging, back in the paleolithic era of the late 90s, when blogs were still “online diaries.” It’s not new. The moderately new wrinkle, as noted earlier, is the dispassionate and soul-squattening language these folks are using to share these ideas, infused as it is with the commodified non-sensery of corporate-speak:

“I would pick 5 top-100 blogs that I felt worked well with my target market, then I would read each of their articles and spend time coming up with interesting and constructive comments”

“I’d engage in social media marketing campaigns using a variety of content sharing sites, social networking and community based sites.”

“Building relationships with influential people is my favorite off-blog marketing method because it gives the greatest amount of returns for all your efforts.”

(emphasis mine)

I mean, for fuck’s sake. Who are these guys? Now, maybe it’s not entirely their fault, since the question the blog owner asked to elicit these responses (“If you had 2 hours a day to devote to no-cost, off-blog (even off-line) marketing for your blog, what would you do?”) is chock-full of corporate mentality in itself, and assumes that people should approach their blog like an exercise in market domination. But on the other hand, just because someone hands you a question like this doesn’t mean you have to answer it in the same fashion. One could just as easily say “If I had two hours a day to market my blog, it probably means I’m missing two hours of sleep, and that’s what I would use it for.” Because, well. That’s what I would use it for.

Let me give you some advice. It’s really very simple. When you comment on a blog, or offer someone a link, or socialize with them, it’s about what you can bring to the party, not what you can get out of it. If you have two hours a day to market yourself online, you’re thinking about it wrong. What you have is two hours to explore and enjoy the online world, to read stuff you like, to read stuff you might like, and to participate and share ideas and thoughts and flames war and whatever else, and basically help make the sites you visit better, for no other purpose than you like those sites.

(It could also mean you have two hours to write something good on your own site. But that’s another topic altogether.)

More simple advice: The most successful networkers don’t “network.” It’s an odious term. The most successful networkers ignore the grasping patheticness of the term altogether. Rather, they talk. They laugh. They share the moment, and enjoy other people’s company; are generous with other people and help them celebrate their successes, rather than asking to scrape up against that success so some of it might crumble off on them. It works the same online and off.

Or to put it all even more simply: Don’t look at other bloggers as people you can use. See them as people. Don’t look at other blogs as places you can use. See them as places you want to be. Really, it’s not hard to do.

Appearance Note

Whoops! I meant to note this earlier, but I’ve been preoccupied. So I’ll do it now.

If you live in the Western Ohio/Eastern Indiana area and want to see me in person, but don’t want to bother me at home and/or risk having me set the dog on you as you roll up my driveway unannounced (the former of which I appreciate and the latter of which the dog would be delighted to take part in), I’m delighted to tell you there’s an alternative: I’ll be making a library appearance this Sunday, 2:30pm, at the Amos Public Library in Sidney, Ohio. It’s at 230 North Street in that lovely town. While I’m there I’ll be giving a presentation of some sort (what kind? Beats me; I’ll see what the audience wants me to blabber on about) and also signing books. I am told there will also be books available for purchase there, in case you weren’t already stocked up.

So if you’re looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon, there’s an idea for you. Hey, it’s that or football.

Blogcutting

Not too long before the 2004 election, I decided to stop reading political blogs entirely, because basically they were making me antsy and irritated, and also I noticed that if I wrote about politics here after reading a stretch of polibloggers, I ended up really screedy, and not in the good “hey this is amusing, come look” way, but in that bad “what this person really needs is a hooka and a footrub, or a maybe a hard blow to the head” sort of way.

This time around, it’s 13 months before the election, and I’ve decided to stop reading political blogs, now, because as far as I can see they’re pretty much already at the screedtastic level we were in 2004 when I decided to shove off. Honestly, I can’t even imagine what they’ll be like next summer. I’m not sure I want to know. It’s not to say I won’t keep informed with politics, of course, or even that I won’t pop into a poliblog from time to time, since they get linked to at the places I read. But as for regular, daily reading, which is what I’ve been doing, well, not so much.

Incidentally, this cessation of poliblog reading does not mean I won’t be writing about politics here. Oh, my, no. But I do want to make sure that in the cases where I am genuinely screedy about something, it’s coming from me and not because I’ve just read 20 blogs in a row where the authors are convinced the apocalypse is coming right this very second unless their party/candidate/political philosophy prevails in every single instance. Damn it, I want to own my political screediness, not just have it as the result of a contact high.

Now I suppose the question is what I’ll replace all those poliblogs with on my reading list. I suppose I could just use that time to write more, but that seems unlikely. Maybe I’ll start reading knitting blogs. I hear they’re good. No, really. Crafts are fun, as long as I don’t have to do them. Anyway, I’m open to suggestion.