The Minor Detail People Often Miss

Michelle Sagara makes a very cogent observation here about a small detail people often miss when they use me as an example of how a blog can help you sell your novel, that small detail being that I had a Web site a decade before I sold that first novel, and had been accreting an audience all that time (Michelle gets the date of the beginning of Whatever wrong — it came online in 1998. But it’s true I had a Web site of one form or another dating all the way back to ’93, and that I regularly put new content on it during that time). As Michelle notes:

I have nothing against using Scalzi as an example of a person who leverages his blog to bump sales, I really don’t. But I take exception to the people who don’t understand that if you want to build Scalzi’s blog, you need to spend 10 years amusing, outraging, and moderating people, for free, and because it clearly amuses you, and you must do this before you have something to sell. But if you have a spare 10 years, you too can achieve this.

This is something I’ve touched on as well, but I really like the way Michelle’s said it, and it does continue to amaze me that people can look at Whatever and say “look! He did it! I can do it too!” and sort of miss that I’ve been doing it, in one form or another, for a decade and a half. I don’t see any reason why you can’t do what I did; just remember how long it took me to get where I am at the moment, and that for most of that time I was just another schmuck with a blog, not someone with a career writing novels.

Also, you know. It’s pretty obvious that I’m not blind to the idea that talking about my books and writing here might get people to try the books. But I’m allergic to the idea that Whatever should be about marketing my books, or that I should frame the way I talk about the books here with an eye toward getting all y’all to buy them. Jo Walton mentioned recently she knew a writer who was told by her agent to be upbeat about her next book in her blog; I think that’s a really excellent way not to engage your readership. I’m pretty sure that if all I said about my books here was along the lines of “OMG!!!1! Theyz excellent!” people would blot out anything I said about them. People really do know when you’re marketing to them.

Personally I think people think about all this crap too hard. The reason to do a blog is because you want to. If you do it for any other reason, people will be able to tell, and it’s probably going to fall on its ass. The reason I think Whatever does well is because I like doing it, and I’ve liked doing it all the time I’ve done it. Simple enough.

Movies and Books

A couple thoughts on things:

* Oscars tonight, and on looking at my Oscar picks piece from the day the nominations came out, I think my picks are still pretty solid. A couple of additional thoughts, however:

  • I’d say for Best Picture, No Country for Old Men looks more like a lock than it did earlier (thanks to its wins at the various run-up awards), but if it doesn’t win, it’s possible that it will be Juno, not There Will Be Blood, that snipes it, since it seems like there’s a groundswell in that direction, while Blood seems to be getting more of a “just too depressing” vibe the longer it’s out there.
  • Likewise, I’m less convinced Paul Thomas Anderson is going to walk away with a screenwriting award as consolation — this is another place where the Coens look like they’ve gained ground. What I think would be really interesting is if “Roderick Jaymes,” the Coen’s editor, gets the Best Editing Oscar, since “Roderick” is in actuality the Coens. It’s entirely possible the Coens will walk off with four sets of Oscars (they’re also producers on Old Men).
  • I’m still going with Ellen Page for Best Actress, but everyone else seems to think Julie Christie is going to nab it. Well, fine, believe that if you want. Page is still the cheese to my Oscar macaroni. On the Best Actor side, I think everyone in the world will be genuinely shocked if anyone but Daniel Day-Lewis wins.

* Last week I told Holly Black that my expectation for Spiderwick this week is that it would hold over pretty well, because it’s a family film and family films do better week to week than other films often do. And lo: Spiderwick made $12.6 million this weekend, down just a third from its opening weekend, which is a really solid retention rate these days (most films drop by half these days on the second weekend). Jumper is down about half (it’s also at around $12.6 million), which is totally in line for its market demo. Both of these flicks look pretty solid for their theatrical runs; they may finish under their production costs domestically but international will fix that pretty handily and then DVD is all gravy. They’re not blockbusters, but they’re solid hits, and you can’t complain about that.

* Speaking of books, there are less than 24 hours left for you to make a bid on Zoe’s Tale. Go on, you know you want it. And remember, if the bidding gets over $2,500, a hardcover of Agent to the Stars is thrown in as a premium. And then all the money goes to the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust.

* Also remember that you can still donate to the Dewey Donation System to take part in a drawing for a special edition of my upcoming novella. Cheaper than the Zoe’s Tale auction, but just as much fun, and you’ll be doing good, too, just in a different way.

The Worst Presidents?

Athena is learning about the presidents these days, not through school, but via the Animaniacs, whose “President’s Song” she is memorizing much in the same way she memorized their “50 states and their capitals” song (clearly, Animaniacs are her Schoolhouse Rock). While she was running down the presidents in the songs, and because she is into quantifying stuff as only a nine-year-old can be, she asked me which presidents I thought were the worst ever. Here are my top bottom five:

1. James Buchanan: Broke the country. Worst ever until someone else breaks the country, so let’s hope he’s not seriously challenged. I’ve written about him before.

2. George W. Bush: Provisional ranking, both because of my own personal biases and because the judgment of history takes a while. That said, there’s no doubt he’s a bad president by any account that doesn’t have “we haven’t been attacked since 9/11!” as the sole relevant justification for an entire administration. Massive deficits, torture, housing crisis, “unitary executive,” politicization of the Justice Department, so on and so forth. Won’t be missed; best Dubya can hope for is that everybody agrees never to speak of him again after January 20, 2009.

3. Richard Nixon: Who I think was actually a decent president overall, policywise, but then there was that whole Watergate thing, and that’s really hard to get around. A shame about the paranoia.

4. Warren G. Harding: Look, the dude himself knew he was bad, saying: “I am not fit for this office and never should have been here.” Looking at the scandals or his administration, notably the Teapot Dome affair, it’s hard to argue the point. The reason I personally don’t rank him higher than Nixon: He had the decency to die before his term was done, forestalling more damage.

5. Ulysses S. Grant: Great general, lame president. Black Friday, Panic of ’73, inability to pass legislation, and scandals all over the administration, etc; really, just a mess. Decent ex-president, however, and wrote what are generally considered the best memoirs of any president (mostly about the Civil War, however).

If I had to drop Bush from the list, I’d bump the three below him up a notch and then the anchorman spot would be held probably by either Franklin Pierce or Andrew Johnson, neither of whom was any great prize.

It probably hasn’t escaped notice that four of my five worst presidents are Republicans; sorry about that, GOPers. If it’s any consolation, the lone Democrat, James Buchanan, really is the winner by a wide margin. And there’s the fact that Abe Lincoln gets my vote for best president, and he’s a Republican (I’m quite fond of Theodore Roosevelt, too).

I don’t really have an extensive ranking system for worst vice presidents, but I will note that the two vice presidents I consider to be the worst, Aaron Burr and Dick Cheney, both shot people while in office. Coincidence?

Your picks for the worst presidents?