Today’s Irony Twofer

This direct mail solicitation from Reason to get me to subscribe to the magazine is ironic for two reasons:

1. That’s not my house they’ve circled there, it’s my neighbors, so if “they” go looking for me there, man, won’t the Harshbargers be surprised!

2. I already have a subscription to Reason magazine, which you’d think Reason would be in a position to know.

Anyway, the real reason “they” know where I am is because I’m in the phone book. I know! Who knew you could still do that? Answer: Me, apparently.


This Manuscript Hires People

Apropos to Charlie Stross’ piece today about what goes into making a book and why it’s not just as simple as tossing out a bare manuscript to whomever might be willing to buy it, I’d like to point out something that I think gets overlooked as a net benefit to books being made the way they currently get made, which is:

As an author, my manuscript makes jobs.

For example: When I turn in my manuscript, it’s taken up by an editor, who looks at it, gets it into commercial shape, and shepherds the manuscript through the book production process. That editor has a job because of what I wrote.

That manuscript is handed off to a copy-editor, who makes sure that my lack of attention in junior high composition class does not haunt the final book. That copy editor has a job because of what I wrote.

The editor talks to an art designer, who manages the process of giving the book a distinctive look. One thing the art designer does is assign a cover artist, who makes something to catch the potential book buyer’s eye from across a crowded bookstore. Then there’s the interior/page designer who makes the words on the page look like something other than a Word document. The art designer, cover artist and interior designer have jobs because of what I wrote.

All that done, off my book goes to marketing and publicity, who will do the job of letting other humans know my book is about to exist in the world, and that they should be excited about that fact (and they should!). The marketing person and the publicity person working on my book have jobs because of what I wrote.

And so does the person at the printer who actually prints the book. And so does the person at the warehouse who makes sure the book gets to the bookstore. And so does the person at the bookstore who sells the book to you.They have jobs because of what I wrote.

So, right off the top of my head, ten people who have jobs because I took it into my head to write a story. There are more I’m forgetting about or omitting for the moment, but these ten will do for the point I’m making. How do I feel about the fact they have jobs because of my work? I think it’s pretty damn awesome, to tell you the truth. Not only does my work feed, clothe and house me (and my family and pets), but it feeds, clothes and houses an exponential number of people as well (and their families and pets).

True, it’s not just my work that does that for them; they have jobs because of what other people wrote, too. But my own work has a direct and material contribution to their employment and well-being. And I like that, a lot. I like the idea of what I do being a cause for many different people, some of whom I will never meet, to have employment and productive lives.

And here’s the kicker: Not only do my words give all these people jobs, but under the current system, I don’t have to pay them anything. In fact, I actually get paid to do it! Getting paid for giving other people work — hey, that doesn’t suck.

Which is one of the other reasons when people declare how great it’ll be when there’s nothing between authors and readers I give them that cocked-head puppy dog look. What will be so great about not giving work to a whole bunch of people, all of whom can do their specific and essential book-creating job better than I could? Sure, I could hire them personally if I felt I needed to, but then I would have to pay them. As opposed to someone else paying them, and also paying me.

Bear in mind, of course, I’m saying all this as someone who has a) self-published, and b) has actually hired artists and editors to work on stuff for him, and may do so again in the future when the mood strikes him. I’m not anti-DIY. But I am pro creating jobs for other people, and pro doing it while getting paid myself. I mean, seriously: Job creation and personal profit! How much more rampagingly capitalistic can I get?

So, yes, just one more perspective for folks to consider when they’re talking about the future of books.


Handing You Off to Charlie Stross Today

On account that Charlie is going to school you on the matter of How Books Are Made, because, as Charlie notes, the idea that the only two people needed to make a book are the author and the consumer is a bit of contemptible nonsense:

This is a bit like saying that in commercial air travel, “the only two people that matter are the pilot and the passenger (the rest add cost)”. To which I would say: what about the air traffic controllers (who stop the plane flying into other aircraft)? What about the maintenance engineers who keep it airworthy? The cabin crew, whose job is to evacuate the plane and save the passengers in event of an emergency (and keep them fed and irrigated in flight)? The airline’s back-office technical support staff who’re available by radio 24×7 to troubleshoot problems the pilots can’t diagnose? The meteorology folks who provide weather forecasts and advise flight planners where to route their flights? The fuel tanker drivers who are responsible for making sure that the airliner has the right amount of the right type of fuel to reach its destination, and that it’s clean and uncontaminated? The designers and engineers at Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, or the other manufacturers who build the bloody things in the first place …?

I’d personally use an even simpler formulation, which is that there a lot of people who seem to think that all you need for a book are a reader and an author, but no one seems to think that all you need for a double cheeseburger is a hungry dude and a cattle rancher. For that matter, no one ever seems to tell a cattle rancher that in the glorious future he’ll be able to do all the steps of cheeseburger production himself, either. Possibly because a cattle rancher can instigate a stampede. Do not enrage a cattle rancher.

Anyway, head over to Charlie’s, he’ll get you in the loop as to what actually has to happen to get a cow novel from a cattle rancher an author to a hungry dude you.


Technical Note Re: E-mail

My primary e-mail address ( is likely to be down in the next couple of hours (8am – 10am Eastern, 2/25/10), as I’m busy fiddling with it. Don’t be surprised if any mail you send me during that time bounces back. I don’t imagine there’s anything so essential that it can’t wait until after 10am for you to e-mail me about it, so be calm and wait. Thanks.

Update, 8:36am: Well, that was quicker than I anticipated — e-mail is back up and running. As you were.


Video Games Into SF Movies

Over at AMC this week, I’m looking at science fictional video games I think could make decent movies — if they could avoid that thing Hollywood does to video games when it makes them into movies. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. As always, if you have thoughts or comments, leave ’em over at the AMC site. Because they love it when there are comments there.

This week also marks the final column in which I work with my AMC editor Clayton Neuman, who is heading off to other projects. He’s been great to work with and an asset to the column, and (equally importantly) has been patient with me on those times I’ve sent him e-mail that said “dude, I am so totally going to be late this week.” I don’t have any doubt that he’ll be key at whatever other project he does, because I know the column has been better because of him. Thanks, Clayton.

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