Monthly Archives: February 2008

A Gut Check Moment for SFWA

(Note: this is a long rant about SFWA. If you don’t care about SFWA, you can skip it. If you do care, get a snack.)

A question from the peanut gallery:

Since you’re not running for SFWA president, do you mind sharing your thoughts about that race this year?

Not at all. Basically, this is the year SFWA decides whether it has a future or not.

(For those of you who don’t know, SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; I’m a member and last year I ran a write-in campaign for the president’s seat. I lost.)

There are two people running for SFWA President this year: Russell Davis, SFWA’s current Western Regional Director, and Andrew Burt, who is the current vice-president. Davis has posted his qualifications and platform here, and I think both are more than satisfactory; Davis has worked at nearly every level of SF/F publishing as a writer and editor, which gives him needed insight into the industry, and his platform is eminently sensible and says a number of the things I think are right about SFWA, particularly the part about it needing to get its own house in order on a nuts-and-bolts level. He’ll be getting my vote this year.

As for Andrew Burt, I think he would be a fine president too, as long as what SFWA members want to do is publicly and enthusiastically cut the organization’s throat.

Some of this estimation, you can be assured, is personal, and it does me no good to pretend it’s not, so take that for what it is. I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with Burt in one form or another for a few years now in his capacity as a SFWA official or functionary; in my opinion it might be possible to find a better example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but if there is one you’d better hope they don’t work with anything critical to the public, like nuclear power or immunizations. The best I can say about Burt is that he falls into the “means well” category of unintentional menace, although in my experience the petulance and pettiness he indulges in after people are inexplicably unappreciative of his latest well-intentioned disaster don’t recommend him to sympathy; he’s the sort of person who is under the impression that passive-aggressive lashing out can be hidden or mitigated with a smiley-face emoticon at the end of a sentence.

However, independent of my personal feelings about the man, SFWAns electing Burt as president would still be a bloodletting event for the organization. Why? Because of what Burt brings to the table, and how it all combines for disaster. To wit:

1. Burt’s publishing record, or lack thereof. By his own admission, in Burt’s writing career, which goes back into the last century, he’s produced five short stories that would be SFWA qualifying. His one novel was self-published (publisher: Techsoft. CEO of Techsoft: Andrew Burt) and has more Amazon reviews (seven) than sales registered by BookScan (five). In contrast, Russell Davis has published close to twenty novels and was editor of two book lines at Five Star Publishing, including their SF/F line; his book sales figures dwarf Burt’s by a few orders of magnitude. Davis wrote science fiction for a living; Burt writes science fiction, it seems, largely as an affectation.

Burt would make a virtue of necessity by suggesting he’s not running on his publishing record, because, after all, why would one’s career as a writer be at all relevant to someone who’s running to be president of a major writer’s organization? But of course it does matter, and it should matter. Active professional experience matters to other creative organizations: The president of the Screen Actor’s Guild is not a guy who qualified on a commercial a decade ago and has then spent the intervening time in community theater; the president of the Writers Guild of America (West) isn’t a guy who squeaked into the Guild on a technicality and has since mostly just given workshops at the Learning Annex. And it’s certainly mattered to SFWA in the past: unless my research is wildly off, all of the past presidents of SFWA save one had published novels prior to their presidential tenure; the one exception had his published while he was president and was a multiple Nebula nominee for his short stories before that.

And it matters (or damn well should) to other SFWAns, the ones who have sold books and more than a bare handful of qualifying short stories, to have someone heading their organization who understands the concerns of actual, working writers because they themselves are (or have been) a working writer. Why would you, as a writer, trust someone who has never signed a book contract with a science fiction publisher to engage in fruitful discussion with science fiction publishers about your professional concerns as a writer? Why would you, as a writer, trust someone who has barely any experience as a writer to move the organization in a direction that is relevant to your professional career? Equally importantly, if you were a brand-spanking-new science fiction writer, with your very first book contract in hand, why on earth would you join a professional writer’s organization whose president has less personal experience with book contracts than you do?

Without an actual writing career to recommend him, Burt needs to let his previous experience as an officer of SFWA recommend him for advancement. And this is where we run into an interesting snag:

2. Andrew Burt’s Disastrous Tenure as SFWA Vice President. Consider, if you will, that the major policy achievement of the current Capobianco administration has been the adoption of a series of recommendations on SFWA’s role on copyright, as provided by an exploratory committee (disclosure: I chaired this committee). The proximate cause of the creation of this committee? Andrew Burt, acting for SFWA, munging a DMCA takedown notice and as a result carelessly violating the copyright of a SFWA member, who, as it happened, had one of the most popular blogs on the Internet and a willingness to use it. Both of these caused a major embarrassment for SFWA, the dissolution of the ePiracy committee of which Burt was the head, and a top-to-bottom review of how SFWA handles helping its members police their copyrights.

When the exploratory committee recommended the creation of a new committee to handle copyright complaints, did Burt wisely avoid seeking a seat on this committee and, because he was the central player in the fracas, recuse himself from any board votes on the exploratory recommendations? Indeed not: Burt lobbied to have himself installed as chair of the new copyright committee, and as a board member (and in my opinion, in a clear and obvious conflict of interest) voted for himself as that chair, and regrettably succeeded at both. This naturally resulted in white-hot anger from a number of prominent SFWAns, yet another major public embarrassment for the organization, and such a backlash from inside SFWA that Burt was obliged to step down from his position as chair of the copyright committee.

Which is to say that to a very large extent, SFWA’s entire last year has been spent dealing with the problems that Andrew Burt, during his tenure as SFWA vice president, has personally created. To be sure, he had help for at least part of it (he couldn’t have been elected onto the newly-formed copyright committee on his board vote alone), but at the end of the day, his bad actions were the ones that damaged public perception of SFWA, tore at the unity of the organization, and caused it to invest significant time and resources repairing the wounds Burt inflicted with his initial lack of care, and his subsequent, entirely self-serving drive to install himself into a chairmanship he had no business seeking.

The fact Burt wants to be president of SFWA after jamming the organization into a wall twice in the last year suggests to my mind either an Aspergian lack of cluefulness, or a grim, committed drive to prove that the Peter Principle is wrong, and that, indeed, one can rise beyond one’s level of incompetence, perchance to explore heretofore unknown, virgin realms of incompetence none have ever seen before. Alas toward the latter, SFWA would be chained to him and dragged along as he frisked about these new lands.

Burt’s lack of writing career and penchant for publicly immolating himself and SFWA have not gone unnoticed, which presents a third issue:

3. Andrew Burt’s Reputation in the Professional SF/F Community. Simply put: It’s bad.

How bad?

So bad that some of the most successful current science fiction writers have his e-mail address in a killfile.

So bad that a publisher whose company brought out dozens of books last year, including ones from Hugo, Nebula and Campbell Award-winning authors, said this of him to me, and I quote: “if approached by him for anything, my response would be that he not email me for any reason and that I’d consider any further emails to be harassment.”

So bad that one of the first e-mails to me after Burt declared he was running for SFWA president was from someone who wondered how many SFWAns would resign from the organization if he were elected. Not if SFWAns would resign, mind you, but how many. That some number would resign was taken as a given.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. If Burt’s reputation is so bad that there are key SF/F professionals who go out of their way to avoid contact with him, what is that going to mean for SFWA if he becomes president? SFWA’s president is SFWA’s public face, and this case, SFWA’s public face will find doors being slammed in it. Repeatedly. With gusto. If SFWAns think this is something that can be gotten around, they need to think again: Ultimately, everything SFWA does goes through its president; it rots from the head. If people in the professional SF/F community can’t or won’t work with SFWA’s president, they can’t or won’t work with SFWA. If SFWA can’t help its members because key people in the SF/F professional community can’t or won’t work with it, what purpose does SFWA serve?

In an era of multinational corporations running the major SF/F imprints, SFWA can’t hope to slug it out with publishers toe-to-toe; some of these companies probably have more lawyers than SFWA has members. Personal contact and relationships need to be there if SFWA wants to be heard and to be effective for its members. Personal contact and relationships are precisely what Burt doesn’t have — and what, thanks to his public reputation, particularly in the last year, it seems unlikely he will develop at this point. If Burt is elected, it will be the year Science Fiction Doesn’t Return SFWA’s Calls. Not exactly the path for organizational effectiveness, or for rehabilitating the organization’s image after an especially bad year.

And that, my friends, is a real problem. Whether SFWA wants to admit it to itself or not, thanks to the massive public debacles of the last year, its reputation is in the dirt, and not just with people already active in the field. I go to a fair number of science fiction conventions, you know; I’ve met a lot of the neo-pros and the under-30 writers who are (or should be) SWFA’s natural new membership. They see SFWA as either useless, or actively hostile to them. The events of the last year didn’t help, because among other things, who do you think these neo-pros look up to? People like Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross or Tobias Buckell (who SFWA has already lost, in no small part because of the events of the last year)? Or Andrew Burt?

Look: SFWA is in the hole, people. Not just in a general sense, but to the people who SFWA needs if it wants to survive: New writers. How do we get out of the hole? Here’s a hint: it’s not by rewarding through election as our president the guy who dug the hole and then walked SFWA over to the edge and pushed it in. Think about what that would say about the organization. Think about what it says to the people thinking of joining.

Now, I can’t blame Andrew Burt for running for SFWA president, since in my opinion he’s pretty clearly shown he’s absolutely and utterly incapable of recognizing his own incompetence, or the damage he’s done to the organization; really, what would have surprised me is if he hadn’t run. However, I can and will blame my fellow SFWAns if the man is actually elected president. Because I assume, hope and pray they are not as incompetent as he.

But if they do elect him president, then what the majority of SFWAns will have said (or, in any event, what the majority of the chunk of SFWAns who could be roused to vote will have said) is that SFWA really isn’t an organization that’s focused on the needs of active and working writers. Rather, it’s a nice little club where fringe types can marinate and pretend they matter to science fiction, and that they are actually useful to active science fiction writers, even if they don’t and aren’t. And you know what, that’s fine, but I don’t actually need to be in that club. I could find me some hangers-on on my own, without paying the $70 annual fee, and without making one of them president of the club. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this opinion.

And that’s what will spell the end of SFWA: the organization reaching a point where active, working writers look around, see who’s running the place and decide that it’s just not worth the time or money, and then they just go. SFWA doesn’t just lose those writers, you know. They also lose the writers they influence. Have that happen long enough, the clubhouse will empty right out.

Not to worry, though. Andrew Burt or someone like him will be there to turn off the lights. That much, he can handle.

Update, 8pm, 2/20/08: For those of you interested, Andrew Burt’s SFWA presidential platform. You’ll note his estimation of his competence and personal skills are at a substantial variance to my own estimation of the same.

Registration Changes at Whateveresque

Because of the immense number of attempted spambot sign-ups at Whateveresque, I’ve decided to change the way I do member registrations there. From now on, I will register people for memberships there on the 1st and 15th of each month, rather than on a rolling basis, as I had done.

This will accomplish two things. First, it will still allow people who actually want to be part of Whateveresque to sign up, and second, it will kill the nearly 100 attempted spam-bot sign-ups I get each day. I think everybody wins in that sort of scenario.

Don’t worry, I’ll announce open registration days here, so those of you who have not signed up yet will get reminders.

Congratulations Holly Black and Steven Gould

It’s a good weekend for writers of my more or less general acquaintance: The Spiderwick Chronicles, based on the book written by my pal Holly Black, came in 3rd in the weekend box office with a healthy $19 million (which is right about what I told a friend of mine it would gross, so I feel shiny that my box office predictive abilities continue to work), while Jumper, the movie based on the work of Steven Gould, my soon-to-be co-instructor at Viable Paradise, clocked in at $27 million to take the number one position. Here are the box office estimates for the weekend. And there’s still tomorrow, which is a school holiday! Very exciting news for everyone involved.

The Power! The Power!

Power went out here just short of 11am and only now resumed. I am happy to report we did not have to eat any of the domestic animals in the ensuing, thankfully short-lived civilizational collapse.

Hope you all likewise managed to avoid the apocalypse.

Because GLaDoS Won’t Disassemble Herself

Athena, putting herself into infinite regressing freefall while she takes a small break from battling an insane computer. Note she’s so hardcore she plays Portal on portrait mode. Because landscape is for babies.

Also, clearly, the desktop computer is fixed.

A Couple of Nice Things

A quick note of some accolades sent my way recently:

* The Last Colony popped onto SFSite’s Reader’s Choice Best of 2007, along with Axis, Brasyl, The Name of the Wind (which took top honors) and six others. The Ghost Brigades was on this list last year, so it’s nice to see the series continue in SFSite’s readers’ affections (Old Man’s War didn’t make this list the year before, but it was nominated for a Hugo, which is almost as good. Almost).

* Speaking of Old Man’s War, the increasingly-indispensable SFAwardsWatch noted a week or so ago that OMW showed up on an annual “Best Of” list in Japan as well, as one of the top books in translation. To which I say, finally I have a reason to haul out this video:

(checks off another life goal)

Yes, I have tiny life goals. At least I have them, pal.

“Zoe’s Tale” Auction to Benefit the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust

The Short Version:

I have recently completed my newest book, Zoe’s Tale, and am offering a special pre-publication bound manuscript version of the novel to auction to benefit the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust. This is an exclusive and extremely rare version of this novel (only four other copies of this edition exist) and will be the only way for a member of the general public to read the novel prior to its official publication in August 2008. All money raised by this auction, minus eBay and PayPal fees, will go to the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust. The auction is currently taking place on eBay and will end on Feb-25-08 09:10:29 PST. Opening bid is $50.

Please let people know.

The Long Version (especially useful for new folks who might wander by):

Who Am I?

As mentioned, I am John Scalzi. I’m the 2006 winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a two-time nominee for the Hugo award in science fiction, including a Best Novel nomination for my debut novel Old Man’s War, which was published in 2005. Since then I’ve had four other novels published: Agent to the Stars, The Ghost Brigades, The Android’s Dream and The Last Colony. I also write non-fiction books (including the upcoming 2nd edition of The Rough Guide to the Universe, an astronomy book) and am the proprietor of Whatever, a popular blog (you’re likely reading this on it).

What is Zoe’s Tale?

Zoe’s Tale is the fourth novel in the “Old Man’s War” series, but like the other books in the series, can be read as a stand-alone novel — you don’t have to have read the other books in the series to get into it. Here is the description text that will be on the published book’s jacket flap:

Meet Zoe Boutin Perry: Friend. Daughter. A colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player and a pawn in an interstellar chess match to save the human race.

Seventeen years old.

Readers of John Scalzi’s bestselling Old Man’s War series have met Zoe before, but now, in this compelling stand-alone novel set in the same universe, Scalzi brings her front and center, to tell her tale as only she can: “Not straight but true, and telling it all; the joy and terror and uncertainty, the panic and wonder, despair and hope.”

Zoe has a lot to tell. She and her family and friends are at a pivotal point in history, unwillingly placed at the center of a galaxy-spanning gambit by the human Colonial Union, which wants to draw an alien alliance into a war neither of them can win or afford. Zoe’s colony home of Roanoke is the flashpoint, primed by outsiders to explode and destroy everyone Zoe loves… unless she can somehow stop the seemingly inevitable process that will bring destruction to her door.

Zoe’s tale isn’t the one she would have chosen for herself, but it’s one she rises to tell, calling on every resource she has — every ounce of wit and guile and heart — to save her colony and become the woman she has to be to keep humanity among the stars.

As a personal note, as the writer, I’m really pleased with how this book turned out.

What should we know about this edition of Zoe’s Tale?

That it is not a final version of the novel. It is a bound edition of the final manuscript — which means it hasn’t been copy edited. All the author’s idiot spelling and grammar errors are still in there (sorry), and there may be a slight variance textually from this edition and the final published edition (the plot details, however, will not change).

In exchange for putting up with these pre-production flaws, however, you will have a chance to read the book long before even the critics and booksellers do — indeed, at this point only four people have read the complete novel from beginning to end.

Moreover, only five copies of this edition of the bound manuscript exist, and no more will be made. One copy I’m keeping; one copy goes to my wife and two are gifts for personal friends. For collectors, this is a rare opportunity to have something literally no one else can get.

Will it be signed?

Yes, and if the winning bidder wishes, also personally inscribed.

What is the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust?

Let me crib from their Web Site here:

The DAV Charitable Service Trust supports physical and psychological rehabilitation programs, meets the special needs of veterans with specific disabilities – such as amputation and blindness – and aids and shelters homeless veterans…

Programs supported by the Trust target several groups of physically and psychologically disabled veterans. Key programs include:

* Helping to maintain a volunteer-operated transportation network providing rides to sick and disabled veterans needing transportation to and from VA medical centers for treatment;

* Providing food and shelter and connecting homeless and needy veterans to essential medical care, VA benefits counseling and job training;

* Meeting the special needs of veterans faced with specific disabilities such as blindness and amputation;

* Supporting significant therapeutic initiatives;

* Supporting physical and psychological rehabilitation projects aimed at some of America’s most profoundly disabled veterans; and

* Bringing hope to the forgotten and suffering families of disabled veterans.

The Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust is ranked as a “Four Star Charity” by CharityNavigator.org and as a “Best in America” charity by Independent Charities of America. According to CharityNavigator.org, 99.3% of the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust revenues go to program expenses. See details here.

Why did you choose the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust?

Three main reasons:

1. It is part of Disabled American Veterans, a charitable organization with a history of service going back nearly 90 years. That sort of longevity appealed to me, particularly given the mission of the organization.

2. Our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan means that we have new disabled veterans coming home every day; I want to honor their service. Whatever one thinks of war, generally or specifically regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, those disabled while serving deserve our help back here at home.

3. The “Old Man’s War” series has had a lot of fans in the US military, and I wanted to thank them for their support by returning the favor to those of them most in need.

Why are you putting the auction on eBay instead of running it off Whatever, like you did for the charitable auction for The Last Colony?

One, I don’t want to have to police the bidding; I have a lot of work to do, writing-wise. Second, I hope this might get the auction out to a wider group of bidders, and also convince bidders unfamiliar with me that this is a legitimate auction for charity.

How and when will you donate the money from the auction?

I will be accepting payment for the auction through PayPal. When the payment gets into my account, I will then make a contribution to DAVCST for the full amount of the auction bid, minus eBay and PayPal processing fees, on the following business day.

To ensure to all and sundry that the money has gone to DAV and not into my pocket, I will post a copy of the receipt of the contribution on my personal blog, Whatever as soon as it arrives.

How will the item get to me?

I will ship it to you, worldwide, without charge. When I ship it I will provide you with the tracking number so you will know where it is and when it’s going to get to you.

Can I tell others about this auction?

I hope you will — please, feel free to tell anyone you’d like. You can point them here, or at the eBay item page.

Let me know if you have any other questions — and happy bidding!

Reminder: Free eBooks from Tor

I mentioned last week about how Tor was giving away free eBooks of popular titles (including Old Man’s War) to those folks who signed up to receive a newsletter; well, the e-mail about first of these titles, Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris Mistborn, just showed up in my mail queue. It’s a PDF file, and it looks pretty much as if it were taken from the production layout, so it’s a nice job. And it’s definitely DRM free: Fiddle with it to your heart’s content for your own personal use. Please don’t drop it onto BitTorrent. Having people drop an e-mail for free eBooks really isn’t too much to ask — and since I know what’s planned for Tor.com, I can assure you it’s going to be something people who love science fiction and fantasy are going to want to get an e-mail about when it happens. Everybody wins!

OMW is going to be next week’s free eBook (and several others are planned after that), so it’s not too late to sign up and get that. Tor is also sweetening the deal by entering each e-mail into its “Watch the Skies” Sweepstakes, in which the prize is one of those very sweet Asus EEE 4GB Galaxy Mobile PCs, as long as you sign up by 11:59pm Eastern tonight (that’s February 15, 2008) on May 15, 2008 (I’m clearly having trouble with details today). The details of the sweepstakes are here. I see that since technically I’m not an employee of Macmillan, I’m eligible to win (yay!), but since it would also look very bad if one of the participating authors won the prize, I’ll just unilaterally exempt myself from participation (sigh). Sometimes having ethics sucks.

In any event, if you want the eBook of Old Man’s War, remember to sign up, sooner than later. Also remember that if you enjoy the works in the free eBooks you’re getting, to seek out and buy other works from those authors. Their families and mortgages will thank you for such tender attentions.

Kaboom

Windows updated today, automatically, and then as it was installing the update (“do not restart or unplug the computer!”) it crashed, offering up a blue screen of death and forcing a reboot. Now this picture represents as far as it will actually go in the signing on process — I can’t even access the boot menu. Add this to some already existing hardware issues and it seems a good bet this computer needs a drastic overhaul and/or replacement. And of course I have some work locked up in the hard drive. Now I get to call the client. Sigh.

Whateverettes, RSS

Incidentally, for those of you who read Whatever on an RSS feed of some sort, if you’d like to see the Whateverettes but can’t be bothered to actually visit the site, here’s the RSS feed for them. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

My Gothy Valentine

For your Valentine’s Day pleasure, allow me to unload unto you a classic-yet-underrated slab of late 20th Century goth romantic mopery: “Stand Inside Your Love,” by The Smashing Pumpkins:

This is actually one of my favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs, because for as much as Billy Corgan is an object lesson in how overcompensating neurotic self-importance can kill, this song is, sonically and lyrically, a flat-out brilliant distillation of everything it means to be adolescent, emotionally inexperienced, and so much fucking in love with someone you don’t know whether to laugh maniacally or blow your own head off. Read the lyrics; they couldn’t be more siphoned out of a teen bipolar’s hidden poetry Moleskine if they tried. Seriously, it’s like Corgan snuck into the room of a kohl-loving 15-year-old cutter and inserted a neural shunt straight into her brain.

Now, maybe you have to have been on the giving end of a massively unrequited crush as a sophomore to have this work for you (ahem), but if you were, pow, it’s all there. I can easily see some kid in 2000 scribbling these lyrics into a Valentine’s Day card for their Eternal Beloved — and then, of course, having said EB say “oh, that’s so sweet,” and then turn around and go out on a date with someone else who totally does not appreciate how magnificently awesome and special they are.

No, I’m not bitter.

( If you’re wondering what lyrics I actually did put into that card when I was fifteen, go here. A slightly more optimistic choice than the song featured above, yes, but then I never really could carry off the goth thing. Alas.)

Another reason to love the song: Excellent use of the subjunctive.

That said, the video itself if an indication of why the song was not more popular than it was; by the time it came out (on Machina/The Machines of God), the Pumpkins had fallen down a well of ridiculously pompous prog-gothery and they wouldn’t be getting back up again. Don’t get me wrong, I love me my German expressionism, Wilde and Beardsley as much as the next totally heterosexual guy (totally! Seriously!), but after a certain point someone needed to pull Corgan aside and say, “dude, stop huffing your own fumes.” Before this video was made would have been good. But the video does remind me that Melissa Auf der Maur makes my ventricles spasm in a happy, happy way. So there’s a silver lining for me.

In any event, enjoy your Valentine’s Day, gothy or otherwise.

Customer Service Question

So, in my neverending quest to keep Whatever interesting to all y’all, a question:

The Whateverettes (over there on the sidebar): Are you aware of them? Do you click on the links from time to time? Are they a valuable addition to your daily Whatevery?

Please let me know. And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest.

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem

To begin, know that for reasons too tiresome to recount here, I started the morning with trauma involving a cat.  This occasioned me standing in front of my bathroom mirror and observing all the various places I was bleeding from the head.

My first thought was not “let’s get out the hydrogen peroxide.”

It was, “I really need to get a picture of this for the blog.”

You’ll note there is no picture accompanying this entry. That is because what I did after that was smack the crap out of myself for losing grip with reality. And then I got out the hydrogen peroxide.

Now let us never speak of this again.

Gaze Upon its Gazeuponableness!

Look what just arrived in the mail:

Yes, it’s one of five printed and bound copies of the completed manuscript of Zoe’s Tale that exist in all the world. One copy is mine, one goes to my wife, and two are gifts. As for the fifth copy… well, some of you will recall that I auctioned off a bound manuscript copy of The Last Colony in late ’06 to benefit the John M. Ford Book Endowment for the Minneapolis Public Library. That auction did pretty well, and as it happens I have a couple other charities in mind that I think could use some cash. So the fifth copy of ZT here is very likely to be auctioned. And soon.

But not yet. Details, as they say, are forthcoming. Patience.

Also, Since People Have Been Asking

Of the $164,000 I made from writing last year, about $120,000 of it was from writing fiction. The rest is from other sources, including non-fiction book advances and royalties, blogging for AOL and various one-off projects.

Of the fiction money, the most significant chunk came from royalties from Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades (The Android’s Dream and The Last Colony are too new to have contributed in terms of royalties). After that was income from foreign sales (sales in 10 foreign markets, mostly of OMW and TGB, but also TLC, TAD and Agent to the Stars). After that were royalties from The Sagan Diary (!), an advance for the trade paperback version of Agent, a final advance installment of TLC and then short stories.

This was the first year my fiction was a clear majority of my income (in 2006, it was about half), which is why I’m planning to devote most of my time to it for the next couple of years at least — it makes sense to build out this particular income stream as completely as possible. I do intend to in non-fiction — I have two non-fiction books this year, after all — but fiction is the primary focus.

In any event, since people were curious what the breakdown of fiction/non-fiction was in ’07, there it is.

Also, since people ask why I write about money at all: Well, why not? The income taboo is silly, especially when silence about money hurts writers, who are typically in the dark about what other writers make, and about what is reasonable for them to expect for their work. We’ve gotten a good conversation about writers and money going, and others in the field are chipping and speaking about their own experiences. If talking about what I make helps to get that conversation going, I’m happy to talk about it.

Three More Links About Writing and Money

In addition to the Jim C. Hines link about writing and income I posted earlier:

* Catherine Shaffer is talking about non-fiction freelancing (NB: Up until last year, this sort of freelancing was the largest single chunk of my income);

* Agent Jennifer Jackson breaks down what new writers can expect out of their first book advances;

* Jay Lake ruminates on what having a day job gets him.

Have fun reading.

Various & Sundry 2/13/08

More bits and pieces:

* First, dig this: The super-mega-ultra deluxe versions of Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades:

These things are wrapped in so much leather that when I took them out of the shipping box, I thought I’d stepped into a boot store. The insides of the tray cases you see here are covered in buttery-soft suede, so again I spent some time petting my books. And to top it off, green and black are my favorite colors. There’s nothing I don’t love about these things. Yes, some animal had to die for it to get to me, but I like to think that up in cow heaven, this cow is happy that it didn’t just get processed into some convenience store heat lamp hamburger. There’s at least some dignity here. In any event, it’s a very nice presentation for the books, and it ought to be, because these particular editions of OMW and TGB go for $250. There are still some of this version of TGB available, if you feel splurge-y.

* As another quick follow-up to the money advice entry, I do see online that people are now complaining that my “20 cents a word” lower bound (see tip #9) is unrealistic. I agree it’s unrealistic in the SF/F genre, where that rate is on the upper end, but then I don’t think people who want to write full-time should be confining themselves to genre. I disagree that it’s unrealistic elsewhere, and I’ve got a Writers Market with at least a couple hundred magazines and markets that pay in the 10-to-49 cents per word range (that book’s “$$” tier of markets) to back me up on that, and this doesn’t count corporate or other sorts of writing gigs. There’s a reasonable amount of opportunity for a writer to get work in that range of pay.

That said, fixating on a specific per-word rate is kind of missing the point. The point is that writers need to understand that their work and time has value, and that, particularly if they want to write full-time, they have to exercise some judgment as to what is going to be worthwhile exercise of both. Personally speaking, if a gig is below 20 cents a word, I have to ask if there isn’t a better use of my time. Other people’s lower bound may be lower than this, or (gasp!) higher. But I think establishing some sort lower bound is useful for a writer, particularly those of the full-time stripe, because then they don’t get suckered into doing work they can’t afford to do. They can just say “sorry, not worth my time,” and look for something else. This lower bound can be fluid based on a realistic assessment of one’s experience and the state of the market, but it needs to be there.

(Also, and to be clear: Yes, I do sometimes write for less than 20 cents a word. Because it’s a project I want to do, for reasons other than money, or at least money is not the primary reason to do it. I’m not purely income driven, nor, for their sanity’s sake, should anyone else be. But you have to make sure you have the balance right.)

* Speaking of the money entry, my fellow writer Jim C. Hines adds his perspective (and outs his own writing income) here. It’s worth reading.

* Obama wins eight straight primaries and he’s only now ahead in the delegate count? How many “superdelegates” are there, anyway? Also, if anyone doubts Clinton’s going to push to get the Florida and Michigan delegates counted (they were disqualified because they pushed up their primaries), this state of affairs is going to make it inevitable. Fightin’ and scratchin’ all the way, folks. It’s that kind of year. Unless she gets hammered in Ohio and Texas. Then, as I understand it, it really is all over.

That said, there wasn’t a contest last night where Clinton, who didn’t crack 40% of the Democratic vote, didn’t get substantially more votes than McCain on the GOP, who swept all three primaries and didn’t get less than 50% of the GOP vote last night. Overall the turnout was incredibly lopsided, even if you throw out DC, which you should (McCain got 3,900 votes there; Obama, 85,500, which tells you just how Democratic-leaning DC is), and has generally been lopsided all the way through the primaries, even when the fields were better populated, and the GOP field hadn’t been narrowed down to a candidate whom conservatives loathe and one who has no chance of winning. I don’t expect the disparity to be so great in the actual election, regardless of who is nominated. Even so, GOP strategists can’t be happy with this state of affairs.

* Today is the second straight day school has been canceled here in Bradford, and for the second day, the weather really isn’t that bad. The school is closed because of “road conditions,” but I suspect that translates to “we decided to save a little extra money by keeping everyone home today.” Yes, I’m cynical. They did this last year in February, too — there were like 10 snow days. At least then there were actual snowdrifts. Not that Athena is complaining. Of course, now she’s bouncing off the walls because she’s bored and I’m working. Go us.

Speaking of work, off to do some now.

 

More Writing “Advice”

Not from me, from Stephen Granade. Here’s a sample:

Here’s the thing that you, the would-be fiction writer, have to understand about writing and publishing: it’s a big conspiracy. It’s a cabal. There are probably robes and secret handshakes and driving around in tiny cars while wearing fezzes. You can tell because every published writer denies it, and if there’s stronger proof than that, I don’t know what it is.

I for one deny it. Deny it emphatically.