A Very Noisy Cover of Here Comes the Rain Again

As part of my continuing effort to justify the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription I have, I’ve been playing with my Audition audio software and learning how to use it. Today I learned how to make a multitrack file! Go me. I also played with the various filters in the software to distort and shape sounds.

All of which is to say I recorded a song today and it is very very noisy indeed. It’s “Here Comes the Rain Again,” which is my favorite song from the Eurythmics. Here it is (and no, it’s not actually nine minutes long, I don’t know why the media player says that. It’s, like, five):

Yes, that’s me singing. No, Annie Lennox doesn’t have a thing to worry about.

In case you’re curious, every noise on that track either comes out of me, or out of an acoustic tenor guitar. Audio filters are fun! Let’s just say I let my Thurston out to play, and if you get that reference, congratulations, you’re old too.

No, I’m not giving up my day job. Relax. But I do enjoy playing with sounds. This is fun for me.

In any event: Enjoy the noise.

Blacklight Sunset

Because sometimes it’s fun to play with Photoshop’s sliders and see what you come up with. This is what happens (in part) when you push the “dehaze” slider all the way to the right. The real sunset didn’t look like this (it looked like this), but I think it might be cool to live on a planet where the sunset did look like that, every once in a while.

Enjoy the weekend, folks.

New Books and ARCs, 7/21/17

As we ease on into another summer weekend, here are the new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound this week. What do you like here? Share your feelings in the comments!

Win This ARC of “Don’t Live For Your Obituary”

Here’s Sugar curling up with a good book, in this case the ARC of Don’t Live For Your Obituary, my upcoming collection of essays about writing and the writing life, which comes out in December from Subterranean Press. And you can win it! Here’s how:

Tell me in the comments which Beatles song I am thinking of right now.

That’s it!

The person who correctly guesses which Beatles song I am thinking of wins. In the case where more than one person correctly guesses, I will number the correct guesses in order of appearance and then use a random number generator to select the winner among them.

“Beatles song” in this case means a song recorded by the Beatles, and includes both original songs by the band, and the cover songs they recorded. Solo work does not count. Here’s a list of songs recorded by the Beatles, if you need it. The song I’m thinking of is on it.

Guess only one song. Posts with more than one guess will have only the first song considered. Posts not related to guessing a song will be deleted. Also, only one post per person — additional posts will be deleted.

This contest is open to everyone everywhere in the world, and runs until the comments here automatically shut off (which will be around 3:50pm Eastern time, Sunday, July 23rd). When you post a comment, leave a legit email address in the “email” field so I can contact you. I’ll also announce the winner here on Monday, July 24. I’ll mail the ARC to you, signed (and personalized, if so requested).

Kitten not included.

Also remember you can pre-order the hardcover edition of Obit from Subterranean Press. This is a signed, limited edition — there are only 1,000 being made — and they’ve already had a healthy number of pre-orders. So don’t wait if you want one.

Now: Guess which Beatles song I am thinking of! And good luck!

Agent to the Stars, 20 Years On

So, on July 21, 1997, which was a Monday, I posted the following on the alt.society.generation-x newsgroup:

Thought y’all might like to know. I’m happy, pleased, tired.

96,098 words, cranked out in a little under three months, working
mostly on weekends, grinding out 5,000 words at a sitting.

Learned two things:

a) I *can* carry a story over such a long stretch;

b) like most things on the planet, thinking about doing it is a lot
worse than simply sitting down and doing it. The writing wasn’t hard
to do, you just need to plant ass in seat and go from there.

I did find it helped not to make my first novel a gut-wrenching
personal story, if you know what I mean. Instead I just tried to write
the sort of science fiction story I would like to read. It was fun.

Now I go in to tinker and fine tune. Will soon have it ready for beta
testing. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

That novel? Agent to the Stars. Which means that today is the 20th anniversary of me being a novelist. Being a published novelist would have to wait — I date that to January 1, 2005, the official publication date of Old Man’s War — but in terms of having written a full, complete (and as it eventually turned out, publishable) novel: Today’s the day.

I’ve recounted the story of Agent before but it’s fun to tell, because I think it’s a nice antidote to the “I just had to share the story I’d been dreaming of my whole life” angle first novels often take. The gist of the story was that my 10-year high school reunion was on the horizon, and having been “the writer dude” in my class, I knew I would be asked if I had ever gotten around to writing a novel, and I wanted to be able to say “yes.” Also, I was then in my late 20s and it was time to find out whether I could actually write one or not.

Having decided I was going to write one, I decided to make it easy for myself, mostly by not trying to do all things at once. The goal was simply: Write a novel-length story. The story itself was going to be pretty simple and not personally consequential; it wasn’t going to be a thinly-disguised roman a clef, or something with a serious and/or personal theme. It would involve Hollywood in some way, because I had spent years as a film critic and knew that world well enough to write about it. And as for genre, I was most familiar with mystery/crime fiction and science fiction/fantasy, so I flipped a coin to decide which to do. It come up heads, so science fiction it was, and the story I had for that was: Aliens come and decide to get Hollywood representation.

(I don’t remember the story I was thinking for the mystery version. I’m sure death was involved. And for those about to say “well, you didn’t have to stick with science fiction for your second book,” that’s technically correct, but once I’d written one science fiction novel, I knew I could write science fiction. It was easier to stick with what I knew. And anyway I write murder mysteries now — Lock In and the upcoming Head On. They also happen to be science fiction.)

I remember the writing of Agent being pretty easy, in no small part, I’m sure, because of everything noted above — it wasn’t meant to be weighty or serious or even good, merely novel-length. When I finished it, I do remember thinking something along the lines of “Huh. That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I should have done this earlier.” In the fullness of time, I’ve realized that I probably couldn’t have done it any earlier, I wasn’t focused enough and it helped me to have some sort of external motivation, in this case, my high school reunion.

Once finished, I asked two friends and co-workers at America Online to read the book: Regan Avery and Stephen Bennett, both of whom I knew loved science fiction, and both of whom I knew I could trust to tell me if what I’d written was crap. They both gave it a thumbs up. Then I showed it to Krissy, my wife, who was apprehensive about reading it, since if she hated it she would have to tell me, and would still have to be married to me afterward. When she finished it, the first thing she said to me about it was “Thank Christ it’s good.” Domestic felicity lived for another day.

And then, having written it… I did nothing with it for two years. Because, again, it wasn’t written for any other reason than to see if I could write a novel. It was practice. People other than Regan and Stephen and Krissy finally saw it in 1999 when I decided that the then brand-new Scalzi.com site could use some content, so I put it up here as a “shareware” novel, meaning that if people liked it they could send me a dollar for it through the mail. And people did! Which was nice.

It was finally physically published in 2005, when Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press published a limited hardcover edition. I was jazzed about that, since I wanted a version of the book I could put on my shelf. The cover was done by Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik, who among other things knew of the book because I was one of Penny Arcade’s very first advertisers way back in the day, advertising the Web version of the book (those guys have done okay since then). Then came the Tor paperback edition, and the various foreign editions, and the audiobook, and here we are today.

When I wrote the novel, of course, I had no idea that writing it was the first step toward where I am now. I was working at America Online — and enjoying it! It was a cool place to be in the 90s! — and to the extent I thought I would be writing novels at all, I thought that they would be sideline to my overall writing career, rather than (as it turned out) the main thrust of it. This should be your first indication that science fiction writers in fact cannot predict the future with any accuracy.

I’m very fond of Agent, and think it reads pretty well. I’m also aware that it’s first effort, and also because it was written to be in present time in the 90s, just about out of time in terms of feeling at all contemporary (there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remaining, to pick just one obvious example in the book). At this point I suggest people consider it as part of an alternate history which branched off from our timeline in 1998 or thereabouts. Occasionally it gets talked about for being picked for TV/film. If that ever happens, expect some extensive plot revisions. Otherwise, it is what it is.

One thing I do like about Agent is that I still have people tell me that it’s their favorite of mine. I like that because I think it’s nice to know that even this very early effort, done simply for the purpose of finding out if I could write a novel, does what I think a novel should: Entertains people and makes them glad they spent their time with it.

I’m also happy it’s the novel that told me I could do this thing, this novel-writing thing, and that I listened to it. The last couple of decades have turned out pretty well for me. I’m excited to see where things go from here.

Getting Lucky With College Costs

The bill for Athena’s fall semester at Miami University arrived a couple of days ago, and we paid it, and I have some various thoughts about that I want to share.

When I went to college, 30 years ago now, I couldn’t pay for it. I did what the majority of people did then and do now — I cobbled together various sorts of funding from multiple sources. A scholarship here, a Pell grant there, a work study job and loans — and still it wasn’t quite enough when one of my funding sources fumbled the ball pretty badly and I had to ask my grandfather for help (which to be clear, he was happy to provide, with the only provision being that I would write him a letter a month, a request very much in my wheelhouse). I graduated with a fair amount of student debt, rather more than the average amount back in 1991, which was around $8,200. I think I was around 30 when we paid it off.

I don’t regret my college debt — I’m of the opinion that my education was worth what I paid for it and then some — but at the time I didn’t really like having the anxiety of wondering how it was all going to be paid for, and my education being contingent on outside financial forces, over which I had no control. I was lucky I was able to find ways to cover it all. I was also lucky that I got a good job right out of college (in 1991, during a recession), and was always financially solvent afterward. That college debt never became a drag or a worry, as it easily could have been, and which it did become for a number of my friends.

I don’t think scrambling for money or paying down college debt added anything beneficial to my life, however. As much as certain people might make a fetish of having to struggle in one way or another for one’s education, and that struggle having a value in itself, I’m not especially convinced that the current American manner of “struggle” — pricing college education at excessive rates and then requiring students and family to take on significant amounts of debt, effectively transferring decades of capital from the poor, working and middle classes to banks and their (generally wealthy) shareholders — is really such a great way to do that, especially since wages in general have stagnated over the last 40 years, the same period of time in which college tuition costs have skyrocketed, consistently above the rate of inflation. Worrying about college funding and paying off college debt isn’t character-building in any real sense. It’s opportunity cost, time wasted that might be productively spent doing something else educationally or financially beneficial.

So: I don’t regret my college debt, but I don’t think it was something that added value, either, to my education or my life. All things being equal, I suspect I would have been better off not having to worry whether I had enough funding for college any particular quarter, or being able to take the monthly post-collegiate debt payment and use it for something else, including investment. Not just me, of course; I don’t think anyone, students or parents (or colleges, for that matter), benefits from the current patchwork method of college funding, or the decade-long (or longer) hangover of college debt service.

We always assumed Athena would go to college; very early on we began saving and investing with the specific goal of funding her education. Along the way we caught the break of my writing career taking off, which meant the account intended for her education plumped out substantially. By the time it was the moment for Athena to decide where to go to college, we were in the fortunate position of being able to pay for it — all of it — wherever it was she decided to go. So, to go back to the initial paragraph, when that first Miami University bill came up, we were able to cut that check and send it off. No muss, no fuss. We’ll be able to do the same for the other college bills over the next four years.

Which is great for us! And not bad for Athena, who will end her college experience debt-free in a world where the average US student with college debt in 2016 was in the hole for $37,000, with that number only likely to go up from here. But let’s also look at everything that had to happen in order for us to get to that point: We saved early, which was smart of us, but we also had the wherewithal to save, which meant we got lucky that Krissy and I both had work, that in her case her gig included health insurance for all of us and that in my case I was in constant demand as a freelance writer, which, I assure you, is not always the case. We got lucky that the books took off as they did; the odds on that were not great. We were lucky that no one of us got seriously or chronically ill, or that other family crises depleted savings. Athena is an only child; that’s not necessarily lucky, but it definitely was a factor when it came to paying for college. We only have to do this once.

All of which is to say that Athena will be getting out of college debt-free partly because we planned early but mostly because of factors that we had only some control over, and over which she had almost none. She didn’t choose her parents or her circumstances; she got what she got. And in this case, she got lucky.

That’s fine for her. But it’s not a very useful strategy for paying for college. “Get lucky picking your parents” should not be the determining factor for whether you leave college debt-free, leave with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, or can’t afford to go to college at all. Every single one of those circumstances can have a substantial effect on how the rest of one’s economic life will go — and how the economic life of how one’s children will go. There’s a reason why in the United States, home of the “American Dream,” it’s actually pretty difficult to move up the social ladder. Yes, I did it, but I also don’t pretend I didn’t get lucky — a lot — or that my path is easily repeatable. Take it from someone who is living the American Dream: It stays only a dream for most of those dreaming of it.

I’m proud that we can pay for our daughter’s college education. I’m also well aware how many things had to break our way to be at this point, which just as easily could have gone another way. It would be better to live in a world where luck, one way or another, is not a salient, determinative factor for whether one can afford college, or whether one can graduate from college without debt. In fact, that world does exist; just not here in the US. College tuition in most developed countries is substantially less than it is here, including being basically free in places like Germany and France. We could do that here, for state schools at least, if we decided we wanted to.

But we don’t. I know we have our reasons. I just don’t think those reasons are very good.

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

It’s not just an old proverb. It’s literally happening across the street from where I live.

And yes, I like it that I write about high-tech futures from a place where it’s not at all unusual to see a Mennonite woman bundling hay using a tractor that’s probably as old as I am, and that the hay will probably go to feed the horses that pull the Amish buggies around here. Welcome to rural Ohio, y’all. We have juxtapositions.

Tonight’s Song I am Mangling on the Guitar

It’s a lovely song and one of my favorites from this band. I need to practice it a lot more.

Thunderbolts and Lightning

So, this thunderstorm showed up today, and for about an hour there was nonstop thunder and lightning, so much so that I thought I might go out and see if I could capture some lightning in slow motion.

How did that turn out? Well:

I was pretty pleased with myself, I have to say. And then I came back inside before I got zapped.

New Books and ARCs, 7/14/17

Here’s a very fine Bastille Day selection of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi compound in the last week or so. What’s ringing your bell here? Tell us in the comments!

The Unsolicted Review: Poo-Pourri

Some members of the Scalzi Household — I won’t say which ones for privacy’s sake — occasionally do a thing called “pooping.” Look it up on Google if you’re not sure what that is. And while pooping is generally a laudable and healthy activity, it also sometimes leaves a certain odor.

Someone I know recommended “Poo-Pourri” as a way to counteract the particular odor of the activity: You spray a bit into the toiletbowl prior to the event and the poo-pourri essentially forms a citrus-scented barrier on the top of the water in the bowl, preventing other odors from escaping. I got a bottle to see if it actually works.

My verdict, after a week: Yes, it does mostly work, although whether it works because of the advertised barrier of essential oils or just because the blast of citrusy smell from the stuff is so concentrated that it simply overpowers any other smell is (if you’ll excuse the pun) up in the air. Either way, the citrus nasal bomb is preferable to the alternative.

Does it work better than, say, Febreeze or a scented candle? Maaaybe? I mean, the fact of the matter is whichever way you go, the scent of the room is “the scent of the thing I employed to avoid my bathroom smelling of poo,” so you won’t be fooling anyone anyway. That being the case, might as go with a scent you like.

In any event, if you or someone in your household poops, and want to avoid poop smell, and wish to deal with the odor before rather than immediately after the incident, and intense citrus is your thing, this stuff seems to do the trick.

How to Screw Up a Triumphant Bestselling Debut

I’ll preface this by noting I think Milo Yiannopoulos is a real piece of shit human being who I’d be delighted to see tossed into the metaphorical oubliette of uncaring oblivion. But, when I saw some people having schadenfreude over Yiannopoulos’ book sales of Dangerous, which were reportedly only a fifth of his self-asserted sales numbers, I had a moment of “well, actually,” as in, “well, actually, that real piece of shit human being might not be lying about his sales.”

Here’s the deal: Yiannopoulos has asserted his book’s opening week sales were on the order of 100,000 copies. Contrasting this, Nielsen Bookscan, the service which tracks physical book sales via many (but not all) booksellers, including Amazon, has his first week sales as 18,268 in the US (and — heh — 152 in the UK). As most of us probably know, 18,000 is less than 100,000.

Or is it? Because here’s the thing about Bookscan — it doesn’t in fact track all sales of a book. It doesn’t track eBook sales, for example, nor does it track audiobook sales. Nor does it track sales from some small independent booksellers, who might have not signed up to be Bookscan-reporting retailers. As a result, depending on how much you sell in other formats, and where you sell your books, Bookscan can massively underreport your total sales.

I know this because that’s what Bookscan does with me. A couple of years ago I tracked the sales of the hardcover era of Lock In (which is to say, all the sales reported while the physical book was only available in hardcover). For the time it was in hardcover, Bookscan reported 11,175 hardcover sales in the US. However, overall the book sold about 22,500 copies in hardcover and about 87,500 copies across all formats (hardcover, ebook, audio).

In all, Bookscan recorded roughly 12.7% of my total sales. Which is not a lot! If Yiannopoulos were seeing a similar sort of ratio, based on his physical copy sales, he could indeed have sold something on the order of 100,000 copies of his book in the first week. He might not be lying.

With all that said, on further examination, this is why I very strongly suspect that Yiannopoulos has not, in fact, sold, 100,000 copies of his book in the first week:

One, my sales numbers included audio; cursory examination of Yiannopoulos’ Amazon book page shows he does not have an audio version of the book available — important because Audible, the major audiobook sales channel in the US, is owned by Amazon, and would definitely have the audiobook noted for sale on the Amazon sales page. That eliminates an entire sales channel.

Two, I suspect (but have no evidence) that Yiannopoulos is strongly relying on Amazon to sell his book, rather than having some large percentage of retail sales come through brick-and-mortar book sellers, and specifically does not have an advantage that I and other genre authors have, which is specialty bookstores selling our books. My Bookscan numbers skew low precisely because I sell a lot through indie and specialty book stores, which don’t report to Bookscan. If Yiannopoulos is relying primarily on Amazon — which would make sense, given the push to preorder there, the online nature of his alt-right audience, and the fact that it’s easier to set up sales through Amazon than through the distribution channels of physical book stores — then his Bookscan numbers would capture a far higher percentage of his sales than, say, it would of mine.

Third, there’s this comment from Yiannopoulos’s camp:

It’s true that the major booksellers only managed to ship out 18,000 copies to retail customers by the list cutoff. But that’s because they didn’t order enough ahead of time, and have been scrambling to play catchup ever since. The real news is that we’ve received wholesale orders and direct orders of such magnitude that our entire stock of 105,000 books is already accounted for.

This is a little bit of publishing inside pool which apparently Yiannopoulos is not aware of (or is trying to fudge), but: You don’t count wholesale orders because wholesalers will eventually return books if they don’t sell them. The publisher has to make them whole for that, either by shifting credit to other books (which in this case Yiannopoulos as a self-publisher of a single book does not have), or by refunding the money. Yiannopoulos may have shipped 105,000 hardcover copies of the book, but that’s not the same as having sold them. I don’t know in this case what “direct orders” mean — it could be sales to individual book buyers (in which case that would be a sale) or to individual booksellers (in which case they are probably returnable, as book stores are loath to stock anything on a non-returnable basis), or to organizations which are making a “bulk buy” for their own reasons, say, a conservative organization who wants to hand out copies to employees or on the street or whatever.

But however you slice it, by Yiannopoulos’ own words (and by his apparent lack of understanding of how bookselling works), he probably has not in fact sold all 100k of the hardcover books. Also, with regard to the wholesalers and other booksellers, I do hope someone in his organization is keeping money in reserve to deal with returns when they (inevitably) happen. I’m also curious as to how he as a self-publisher is dealing with long-term storage and shipping of the books; I really don’t see Yiannopoulos himself handling that. I don’t picture him as a detail-oriented person. Perhaps this will be a job for the interns.

With all of this said, and again with the reminder that I find Yiannopoulos a hot feculent mess of a person, sales of 18,000 hardcovers in one week is pretty darn good. It was enough to land Yiannopoulos at #3 on the USA Today list and at #4 on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction list (and #2 on the paper’s print/ebook combined list). He’s a legitimate bestseller. And those 18K sales don’t cover ebook sales, which given his audience demographics I suspect are pretty high. Most authors would be absolutely delighted to have 18k in hardcover sales in their first week. People exercising schadenfreude about all this are thus advised to temper their glee somewhat. The book is not a failure in any manner except in contrast to Yiannopoulos’ industry-specific hype, and also (if the professional reviews are to be believed) as a book worth reading.

(Incidentally, the first week sales also show that Simon & Schuster, who were to publish the book until they didn’t, had really rather accurately priced the book when they offered Yiannopoulous a $250,000 advance on it. An 18K first week would have put it on a sales track to zero out that $250k advance in a year or two, depending on eventual paperback sales. It would have made money for S&S, and possibly broke even for Yiannopoulos.)

Can Yiannopoulos sell 100,000 copies of his book? I suspect so in the long run, especially considering that Yiannopoulos can now have it as a rider for speaking events that whomever is having him speak will be obliged to purchase a certain number of the book in order to have him appear — and speaking events and appearances are the actual bread-and-butter for a creature such as Yiannopoulos, for which this book is mostly advertising.

Has he sold that many in the first week? I doubt it. The actual number, in all formats, across all retailers, is somewhere between 18,000 and 100,000 copies. Which, again, is not at all a bad number of books to sell in the first week. Had Yiannopoulos been smart, he wouldn’t have alleged selling 100K books in his first week at all, he simply would have taken those USA Today and NYT list rankings and waved them about happily, and built PR around those.

But apparently he’s not really that smart. Now most of the stories are about how he only sold 18,000 copies in his first week, rather than the 100,000 copies he alleged. Well done him.

My Twitter Muting Regime, July 2017

Twitter recently announced a few more options to mute the obnoxious and stupid on their service, a move I applaud both as a general step to cut down abuse on their service, and as a person who the obnoxious and stupid often try to bother on Twitter. The new mute options include muting accounts that don’t follow yours, and also muting new accounts (that you don’t follow), the latter of which is good for cutting down the number of sock puppets you might hear from.

These new options make it a fine day to talk about my own Twitter muting regime, which some of you might find comes in handy for yourself. I do mute a lot, as a consequence of people saying stupid/obnoxious things to me on Twitter on a frequent basis, and muting does make Twitter more tolerable. I do prefer it to blocking, since unless you tell them, the muted have no idea they’re muted, so they’ll often keep yelling at you long after you’ve consigned them to oblivion, and I like the idea of these jackasses wasting their time and effort. Other people prefer blocking or some combination of the two, which I think is cool. Whatever works for you.

So here’s how I mute:

1. I mute new accounts, using the new feature Twitter provides. In my experience brand new accounts that tweet at me (evidenced by very low follower/tweet numbers and default icons) tend to be sock puppet accounts, i.e., the additional accounts of an obnoxious person, who wants to make it look like he (it’s almost always a he) has a posse. I would note that Twitter does not at this point appear to define what “new account” means in this context; whether aging out of the “new” category requires a certain number of days/weeks or a certain number of tweets, or both, or some combination. In an ideal world, I would love to have granularity; I would probably mute new accounts for a month, and until the account made 200 tweets (unless I actively followed the account). But it’s possible Twitter is not saying what qualifies as “new” so it will not have jerks trying to game the “new account” setting, which I can appreciate.

2. I mute accounts with default icons, previously eggs but now eggs with shoulders. This also eliminates a lot of sock puppets and people who can’t be bothered with the service enough to actually change the default image. Between this and the “mute new accounts” setting, I expect a lot of Twitter sock puppetry to be even more futile in the future than it already is today.

3. I mute accounts that are antagonistic toward me on Twitter. This doesn’t mean I mute accounts when people disagree with me, or say something that clearly is meant to be sarcastic or sardonic, or are just having fun sassing me, or poking fun at my ego. I mute them when they’re being assholes and/or sea lions and/or otherwise trying to troll me. After nearly a quarter century online I’m pretty good at knowing who is doing what and why, and for people I don’t know, I have a “one strike” policy, because life is too short to deal with assholes. I personally advise people to mute other accounts using a “one strike” policy and by trusting their gut when it comes to people being assholes to them. Basically, if it feels like someone is trying to insult or gaslight you, mute the lil’ fucker. Twitter has 300 million users. You’ll find other people to talk to.

4. I make the Twitter handles of particularly obnoxious people mutable words. Very recently a particular garbage human tried to sea lion me and a bunch of his sycophants tried to join in on the fun. I muted the original garbage human, but his sycophants, eager to have their senpai notice them, would respond to me and “@” the garbage human too. Well, as it happens, Twitter lets you mute specific words, and Twitter handles qualify as words. So I made the garbage human’s handle a mutable word and, voila, no more sycophants (or, rather, very few). This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, and given the basic suck-up nature of alt-righties, MRAs, PUAs, aspiring fascists and the sort of dude who thinks he’s tough guy but is actually sort of a shrieking coward, it really cuts down on the bullshit I have to see.

For me, this strikes a good balance for keeping my Twitter feed mostly uncluttered by jerks while at the same time open enough for random normal humans, who do not revel in being an asshole, to comment at me when they want to, because very often those people and their comments are delightful and I am glad they make the effort. Twitter is in part worth being on specifically for folks like that. That said, I am also a quasi-public individual and minor celebrity, so keeping the lines open for random folks to chat might make more sense for me than it might for someone who is just trying to use Twitter to chat with friends and otherwise keep up with people they find interesting. For those folks, other mute settings like muting people who you don’t follow, or who don’t follow you, might make more sense.

Another point to make here is that Twitter’s mute settings are not irrevokable, so you can go turn them on or off on a temporary basis if you have to. For example, if the forces of evil were attempting a particularly heavy day of trying to jam up my tweet stream, and I didn’t have the time and/or inclination to individually mute all the jerks, then I might turn on “mute people who don’t follow me” for a day, until things got mostly back to normal, which would cut down on the jerkiness considerably. The point is to mix and match muting strategies.

Now, this is where some folks who you might choose to mute will huff and puff about free speech and/or how muting people means you’re not willing to engage in honest debate or whatever, but really now, screw those dudes. You’re not obliged to humor jerks who want to make you miserable, on Twitter or most anywhere else, and anyone who is of the “You won’t debate me! I win!” sort is probably the sort of person you’re well shut of. Let them have the “win” there. You’ll actually win by never having to see them on Twitter again.

(“But how would you feel if people muted you on Twitter, Scalzi?” Well, I’m sure they have, just as people have blocked me on Twitter. In both cases I feel fine about it. No one is obliged to humor me, either, on Twitter or most anywhere else. Please, mute or block me on Twitter as necessary or desired!)

So that’s how I (currently) mute people on Twitter. It’s made my Twitter life much happier. I encourage you, if you use Twitter, to do similarly. You should be able to enjoy the service without the jackasses.

Announcing: Don’t Live For Your Obituary, A Collection on Writing, in December, From Subterranean Press

Hey, did you know it’s been ten years since You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, my last collection of essays about writing and the writing life, debuted? That’s a pretty long time, especially when you consider everything that’s gone on — in the world, in publishing, and with me — in the time since 2007. So it seemed like a very fine time indeed to collect up another set of essays.

And thus: Don’t Live For Your Obituary: Advice, Commentary and Personal Observations on Writing, 2008 – 2017, out this December from Subterranean Press and available for pre-order now. It’ll be available both as a signed limited hardcover (that’s the version that’s available for pre-order) and also in ebook. And it comes with very excellent cover art (see above) by Nate Taylor, whose work you might remember from my The Mallet of Loving Correction collection, for which he also provided a very excellent cover.

What’s in this book? Well, let me just quote the flap copy here:

Between 2008 and 2017, author John Scalzi wrote fifteen books, became a New York Times bestselling author, and won numerous awards, including the Hugo, the Locus and the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio. He also had book deals crater, lost more awards than he won, worried about his mortgage and health insurance, flubbed a few deadlines, tried to be a decent parent and husband, and got into some arguments on the Internet, because, after all, that’s what the Internet is for.

Scalzi wrote about it all—the highs and lows in the life of a working writer—and gave his readers, and other writers, a glimpse of the day-to-day business of navigating a writing life in today’s world. Sometimes these essays offered advice. Sometimes they commented on the practical business of publishing and selling books. Sometimes they focused on the writing issues, arguments and personalities of the day. And sometimes, Scalzi reflected on his own writing life and career, and what both meant in the larger scheme of things.

Don’t Live For Your Obituary is a curated selection of that decade of advice, commentary and observations on the writing life, from one of the best-known science fiction authors working today. But more than that, it’s a portrait of an era—ten years of drama, controversy and change in writing, speculative fiction and the world in general—from someone who was there when it happened… and who had opinions about it all.

Yup, that pretty much sums it up.

If you want the signed, limited hardcover for yourself or as a gift (just in time for the holidays!), I really recommend pre-ordering it now. The hardcover edition is limited to 1,000 copies, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. You’ll want one, not just because I write all pretty and suchlike, but because Subterranean Press makes gorgeous books, and when you have it in your hands, you’ll pet it and tell it how it’s special and no tricksy hobbitses will ever take it from you, precious. Trust me on this. Here’s that pre-order link again.

Meanwhile In Japan

The Japanese version of The End of All Things.

Incidentally, I used the Google Translate app on this and it kind of made word salad on it. So we’re not quite yet in the world of automatic intelligible translations. At least for novels.

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 7/7/17

Hey, look, another stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. Just in time for the weekend! Tell us in the comments which looks compulsively readable to you.

Today’s Very Quick Writing Tip

Written yourself into a corner? Go take a shower.

No, seriously. Whenever I write myself into a corner (like, for example, yesterday), I go and take a long shower. And whilst I am standing there doing nothing other than having water spritzing onto my head and body, my brain works the problem. And more often than not, comes up with a solution.

(It doesn’t have to be a shower. It can be housecleaning, or going on a long drive, and basically any activity that keeps you busy while you brain has nothing else to do but work the problem. You get the idea.)

I suspect I’ve said this before, and that other writers and creators have said similar things. But inasmuch as I just used it again, and it worked, I thought I’d mention it again.

Also, uh, hello. Busy writing, I am. It’s not a bad way to live. Hope your Friday is going well.

 

How People Get to Whatever, 2017 Midyear Report

This is going to be a blog stats nerdery report, so you can skip it entirely if this sort of thing bores you.

At the halfway point of 2017, Whatever is on track to have the lowest number of direct site visits of any year since 2008, which is the year the site started being hosted by WordPress VIP. If current visitorship levels continue, the site will end up with around 4 million visits for the year. That number is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also considerably off the eight million visits the site got in 2012, the highest-traffic year of the site.

So what’s going on this year that’s bringing the traffic down? I think there are a number of things going on.

The first chunk of things has to do with me. I’ve written comparatively less here this year than in other years, and there’s a pretty direct correlation between the number of posts and the number of visits. Write fewer posts and you’ll get fewer visits. This year there are have been 230 posts to date (231 with this one); in 2012 I posted 848 posts total, which means probably twice as many posts that year at this point than this.

Also this year I’ve had no post really “break out” yet — the massively-shared post that boosts readership at the site. Again, in 2012, I had a stack of those: the “Straight White Male” post, but also “A Fan Letter to Conservative Politicians,” “A Self-Made Man Looks at How He Made It” and “Who Gets to Be a Geek?” and a few others. Those are things you can’t plan for — you can try to make something viral, but there’s no guarantee it’ll work — and you just take them as they come. This year has had some widely shared posts, but nothing on that sort of scale.

Finally in this category, and largely explaining the first two, this year my focus has been elsewhere a lot of the year to date. Offline, I’ve been touring and traveling heavily, primarily to promote The Collapsing Empire, and working on writing Head On and doing a few other projects. All of those leave less time for writing longer-form thoughts here. This factor also means Twitter is in many ways more congenial to my schedule — it’s easier to dip in and out of when I have a snarky thought, which as most of you know is pretty often. Plus there is some stuff that I would write here that I now write over at the Los Angeles Times, because they pay me money for that, and I like money, and also the larger audience a major newspaper provides, online and off.

Basically that last point is: Hey, I got busy with paid and promotional work! Which was and is always the goal. But it also means longer posts here are often the first to get cut in the list of “things to do today.” Not always — sometimes I just have to say something — but usually.

So those are the reasons relating to me directly. Now for some of the things not relating to me directly:

First up, the general collapse of blogs, which has been happening for a couple of years now, really seems to have accelerated in the last year. I notice this anecdotally, first in that the number of personal blogs referring visitors to the site has dropped significantly, and secondly in that when I do the occasional Google search on “Scalzi,” filtering for the last 24 hours of references, very very few blogs show up anymore; its mostly book reviews and sites masquerading as pirate media servers in order to give the unwary a virus.

Now, if I’m writing fewer posts (and fewer long-term posts), there’ll be a drop because of that anyway, but I have a more stable metric for this stuff as well: The Big Idea posts, which I post regularly even when I don’t otherwise post, and which have stable (and nice!) visitor stats. Two years ago, a good number of personal blogs would link into Whatever to note Big Idea posts; this year, again, very few. Basically Twitter and Facebook have largely completed their digestion of the blogosphere at this point. This is also reflected in my stats: The two largest referrers to the site are these two. But there’s no way to parse out in my site stats where on either site the links originate. From a site stats point of view, they’re both black boxes.

(Which, incidentally, makes me sad. Back in my day, you could find a lot of interesting people and sites just by combing through your site stats and seeing who was linking to you, or by doing the occasional ego search. These days, again, the results are either opaque or just plain junk. There’s not a lot of there there anymore.)

So basically fewer people are getting to Whatever through the ways they used to. But — and here’s an salient point — I don’t think the content of the site is overall getting fewer readers, because there are other ways they read it now without directly visiting the site. For example, Whatever has (as of this very moment) 28,342 people who follow the site via WordPress, which means they see the posts not on the site, but through an RSS-like feed which they can scroll through. Whatever has another 12K or so subscribers via Feedly last I checked, and a couple thousand at least who get posts emailed to them. So that’s 40K+ people who get whatever I write here without ever having to come to the site unless they want to comment.

Then there’s stuff like Google’s AMP initiative, which, if you click a Whatever result on Google while you’re on a mobile device, presents you with an alternate “streamlined” mobile-friendly version of the post rather than taking you directly to the site (which, I will note, already presents a mobile-friendly version of the site). Those readers aren’t captured on my site stats either, as far as I can tell.

What this means, basically, is that for 2017, there’s something like 9+ million potential visits to writing on Whatever that aren’t being registered in the site stats (I say “potential” since not every post sent out via WordPress or Feedly is going to be read by an individual subscriber). Which is significant! And also suggests, again, that the issue is not fewer people having access to the writing on Whatever, but me not having access to the full numbers (or, more accurately, meaningful numbers). This is another example of how the Web has changed substantially, even in just a few years.

What does this mean for Whatever? Honestly, not too much. I don’t rely on Whatever for income, so the visitor stats, while they’re interesting for me (I mean, obviously), don’t have on effect on how I run the site. I don’t have to post clickbait-y pieces to drive traffic, and depending on my whim, I can post six pieces a day or none. Once again, “Whatever” exactly describes what the site is about; it’s whatever I have on my mind, how I wish to present it, when I have the time to do so.

On a personal level, I admit that this diffusion of Whatever readership is annoying to me; I liked it better when I had a better idea just how many people were reading my stuff at any one time, rather than having to guess. I’m kind of a stats nerd, it seems. I suppose if I wanted to splash out a lot of money and time I could probably find a stats program out there that could interface with everything and give me a more accurate picture, but: Money and time. I don’t really want to spend either.

And anyway, as much as I enjoy Twitter and other social media, sometimes I just want to write at length, and this is the place for that. The occasional tweetstorm (i.e., chaining multiple tweets on a subject together) is fine, but honestly if you’re going to write at length, just write a friggin’ blog post and link people into it. Also, and again, I own this site. Long after Twitter or Facebook is a memory, as long as I pay for this site, it’s here to stay.

So: However you’re reading this, thanks. I’m glad you are. Let’s keep going through 2017.

I Wrote 5500 Words on the Novel Today and My Brain is Mush, So Here Is a Picture of a Cat

Mush, I tell you! But the kitty is pretty.

In Which I Trespass Against Dan Wells at Denver Comic Con, and He Exacts His Fitting Revenge, a Tale Told in Two Tweets

That’s fair. 

In other news, at the airport to be on my way home. Thanks, Denver Comic Con and all who attended, for a fabulous time.