Various and Sundry, 7/10/10

Stuff here and there:

* Apropos to an earlier discussion here about when it was ever a fine time to be a full-time science fiction writer, here’s Robert Silverberg to drop a little perspective on who was able to be a full-time science fiction writer when he entered the field some fifty-five years ago. The good news is, things are slightly better today (at least, I can think of more than five science fiction writers doing better than scraping by as full-time novelists).

I noted in the comments to the earlier post that while I am at the moment in the fortunate position of being able to support myself off my science fiction novel writing, I like just about every other freelance writer I know have cultivated several writing revenue streams. Because I think every novelist should expect their career to have its ups and downs, and I’m a big believer in making hay while the sun shines.

* Hey, wanna see something cool? Look at this cover of Diana Rowland’s upcoming book, Secrets of the Demon, by artist Dan Dos Santos. See that creepy-looking demon in the background? You know what its name is? Skalz. THIS IS TOTALLY AWESOME. And I’m sure you can see the resemblance. Anyway, Secrets of the Demon will be out in January, and I’m totally going to be there for it. Because I suspect this Skalz character is going to be one bad demon. As if there were other kinds.

* Along this same line, check out the name-check Nick Sagan gave me in the genuinely excellent new comic book series he’s writing, Shrapnel: Hubris. Apparently I was a nice part of town, once. Sigh. I yearn for gentrification, I do. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of science fiction and/or the comic book arts, I have no idea why you have not already picked up this comic.

* And in sports news: I profoundly do not care about the LeBron thing, and in the World Cup final I’m rooting for Spain, because a publisher in Spain has bought the translation rights to several of my books, and no publisher in the Netherlands has ever bought a damn thing from me. That’s right! I root for my economic interests! Go, La Roja!

And there you have it.

36 Comments on “Various and Sundry, 7/10/10”

  1. Thank you, Mr. Scalzi. I am always delighted to read anything by, or hear anything from, Grandmaster Robert Silverberg.

    When I was writing my 5,000,000+ original words for my static web domain almost 15 years ago, I thought of Silverbob publishing 2,000,000 words per year as a teenager in New York City, and his example (plus Asimov’s) kept me going through slow times. This week, I’ve been averaging 2,700 words of finished fiction per day, completed a novella, completed a novelette, and hope to complete a novel this summer (400 pages down, about 25 to go, per outline and notes). Now, to the Post Office to submit the novella and novelette…

    Today, young writers have SFWA to provide guidance, company, contract advice, random audits of publishers, and awards.

    The very fact that SFWA members are smart enough to vote John Scalzi into (hardworking, nearly thankless) power is evidence of the value of the organization.

    My own membership has lapsed (long story, don’t ask) but I urge all young writers (not chronologically, but length of experience submitting and being published) to follow the leadership of Robert Silverberg. and John Scalzi and their colleagues.

    I now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

  2. The probable reason no Dutch publisher has bought any rights from you is that the market is just too small. You pretty much have to be selling at JK Rowling/Stephen King levels for them to be able to actually cover the cost of translating your stuff. Add the fact that something like half of what you see on Dutch TV is in English with Dutch subtitles*, so most of the population of the Netherlands has at least a passable command of English. I bet you sell in the Netherlands, it’s just that it’s English-language sales via your British publisher (if you have one) or your American publisher.

    *Because of this and watching the last couple of seasons of Voyager on Dutch TV after we moved to Germany, I learned how to say “Captain, I have acquired the target” in Dutch. According to the subtitles, it’s “Hebbes!” (OK, actually, that’s just “Got it!”, but that’s what the subtitles said.)

  3. To amplify DemetriosX at #2: English proficiency in the Netherlands and Scandinavia is apparently above 80 percent, according to one cartogram I’ve seen.

  4. Just a heads up…

    The 2 links regarding Shrapnel: Hubris go to the same page and there doesn’t appear to be a Scalzi name-drop on it.

    As for the World Cup, our non-scientific poll in the prediction article has the Dutch as 2/1 favourites.

    I’m in Fort Lauderdale, just thirty miles down the interstate from Miami and I have to give a mild shrug of the shoulders and a halfhearted, “so what?” to the whole LeBron thing.

    Now, if Robert Silverberg were coming here to do a series of lectures…..!

  5. So I assume you were rooting big time for Germany before Spain knocked them out? :)

  6. Not particularly interested in the sports stuyff. The whole thing with LeBron James looks like something that P.T. Barnum would have staged, and I just don’t get the fascination with soccer.

  7. Well, looks like Spain is going to win. Paul the Octupus says so.

    At least Germany won 3rd place.

  8. I like the Dos Santos cover for the upcoming Rowland book. It’s quite a departure from the covers for the two previous books in the series.

  9. Logic (and octopodes) tell me that Spain is going to win. My intuition tells me that the Netherlands is going to win. Ususally, I find that when my logical brain is telling me something, it’s bad to ignore it. I also often find that when my intuition is telling me something, it’s bad to ignore it.

    WTH do I do now?

  10. #13 – Either flip a coin or go with the jersey you’d be caught dead wearing. That latter is part of why I’m rooting for Spain. I’m too Irish to dare the orange.

  11. As a Dutchie, I haven’t yet bothered reading any Dutch science fiction/fantasy translations this millennium; when I still did, I used to find them to be of generally low quality, not to mention that the English originals were cheaper and released much earlier. The same goes for most of my friends: they all just read you in English.

    That said, as one of the three people in this country who’re not interested in football, I am totally joining you in rooting for Spain. :)

  12. For those of you who don’t get or care for soccer, it’s okay. If everyone had to love it, then it would be subversively evil, rather than beautiful. Naturally, that would only lead to revolution.

    So, thanks for keeping the peace.

  13. Yeah, as a Dutchie I’ve been reading scifi and fantasy in English for a long time. Releases either take too long to be translated, are poorly translated or sometimes simply not translated at all.

    Personally I’ve been the cause of many Scalzi book transactions at my local book store, both for personal use and to give away as presents…

  14. #11–Isn’t it awesome? I switched publishers (which is why there was a change in cover design) and this art is better than I could have ever hoped for!

    And just so everyone knows–yes, Skalz is totally named after John. This is because he told me how I could make the purchase of a corset tax-deductible. He makes a reference to the incident in this post:

    Obviously, such advice was worth more than a mere acknowledgement.

  15. Damn it, John posts a series of book/comic links and I always seem to be buying something soon after. It’s a Pavlov’s dog reaction.

    “John posted *ding* – fire up Amazon and buy something…..”

  16. Hope you’ll consider at some point offering some tips to aspiring writers on how to cultivate those other revenue streams. I can only seem to find 1) incredibly sketchy job postings along the lines of nigerian princes 2) job sites like elance and crowdspring where literally hundreds of freelancers are competing for literally one or two jobs 3) big silence from other sources. Would love some ideas for how to create that demand while working on becoming a self-supporting novelist.

    Meanwhile, congrats on the infamy. You do have a wonderful name for name-dropping.

  17. I also don’t care about the LeBron whatsisface thing. Or the world cup for that matter. In 5th grade it occurred to me that it really didn’t matter who won a game. I still can’t figure out why it should matter, and 5th grade was a distressingly long time ago.

  18. The better world cup is next year and in a better location. ;) New Zealand and the Rugby World Cup – please comes visit us as the sheep all look the same.

  19. “The field vanished from under me by 1958 and I had to turn to all sorts of non-sf writing until things began to revive in the mid-1960s.”

    It’s possible this may be selective memory.

    Silverberg spent most of the period 1958-68 writing porn. (Note to younger readers: before the internet, written porn came in books.) He wasn’t alone; quite a lot of SF writers tried this back in the day (Mike Resnick, Philip Jose Farmer, Barry Malzberg, Dean Koontz…) with varying degrees of success.

    Silverberg turned out to be really good at it. And he made ridiculous, great steaming gobs of money. 1960s porn publishing was all about consistent product, speed and reliability — you didn’t have to be a great writer, but you had to be able to deliver a consistent and predictable level of quality at a very high rate of speed. One book per month from an author was the minimum, and some publishers wanted two. Very few writers could sit down at a typewriter and produce a complete porn novel every two weeks again and again for years; Silverberg could. And he got rich doing it.

    N.B., “rich” is not an exaggeration. Porn gave him a six-figure income at a time when a hamburger cost 20 cents, paperback books were 60 to 75 cents each and a new luxury sedan, fully loaded, was under $5,000. By 1965 the 29 year old Silverberg owned an $80,000 house free and clear. That’s $80,000 in early 1960s dollars, which would be something north of $1 million today.

    Now, it’s not clear whether Silverberg left writing SF in 1958 because he discovered that porn paid ten times better (literally), or whether he quit SF first and then discovered porn. But at the other end of things, it’s pretty clear: he didn’t return to SF because “things began to revive in th3 mid-1960s”. He came back because by the mid-1960s he had a big house, a couple of cars, a nice pile of money in the bank — and he was heartily, thoroughly, utterly sick of writing porn.

    AFAIK Silverberg has never written a memoir of his porn career. But Mike Resnick has, and it’s worth a read:


    Doug M.

  20. Doug M.

    “It’s possible this may be selective memory.”

    It’s not selective memory in the least; nothing you note contradicts what he wrote. He simply didn’t go into detail because his writing outside the genre was not pertinent to the entry.

  21. Go Netherlands.
    I may be wrong, but I think a lot of Aussies would be on the dutch side of the fence (or should that be on the dryside of the dyke?) Sporting wise I think we have a lot in common – many close contests in swimming and hockey (field not ice).
    I can’t even blame my step-father (who is dutch) for my allegiances – as I have had Holland as my second team in world sports for much longer than I have known him!

    John, hope to see you at Aussiecon 4. Just have to change my membership from supporting to attending. I really have no excuses – I work just 10 minutes walk away from the convention centre.

  22. Um. He says he came back to SF because “things began to revive” around 1968.

    I suppose that’s not inconsistent with “and I made a pile of money writing other stuff, which freed me to write what I pleased”. But given that the discussion is about how to support yourself writing SF, I think it can be fairly called ‘incomplete’.

    BTW, Silverberg has been pretty open about his career as a porn writer. I wouldn’t say he’s proud of it, exactly, but he’s not ashamed of it either.

    Doug M.

  23. Doug,

    John’s right and you’re getting hung up on what Silverberg wrote.

    “given that the discussion is about how to support yourself writing SF”

    Well, if he wrote porn, he *didn’t* write SF from 58 to 68. Unless you’d like to argue that porn is SF of course. He never says that he didn’t write in other fields or that he scraped by on ramen.

  24. I am published in both Dutch and Spanish and so am torn (and I think exactly like how you do on this, root for where you’re published). But I’ve actually been to Holland, much of my last book was set in Amsterdam, and I have a bit of Dutch blood, so think I will say Hup Holland Hup today. That said, I am very wary of going against that all-knowing octopus.

    By the way, just read GHOST BRIGADES and loved it, very well done.

  25. Nick Sagan’s writing comics? SF comics? How did I miss this?

    Thanks for the heads-up – Will definitely check them out!

  26. * Along this same line, check out the name-check Nick Sagan gave me in the genuinely excellent new comic book series he’s writing, Shrapnel: Hubris.

    Oh wonderful – someone becomes El Presidente, and immediately the running lackey sycophants of the capitalist sf oligarchy start sucking up to him.

    To arms, citizens! Storm the barricades of tyrannical science fiction imperialism! You have nothing to lose but your bad Jane Sagan/Consu slash fiction!

  27. Doug M.: Thanks for the headsup about Silverberg’s porn career. I agree completely that knowledge of his writing career is incomplete without it. I had no idea it was so lucrative back then. Not surprised to hear that Philip Jose Farmer (whose SF I enjoy) and Dean Koontz wrote porn as their “mainstream” fiction certainly has elements of porn. I was surprised by the others though. There’s one mainstream sf writer whose award winning short-story is pure porn, IMNSHO, but I won’t mention her name as I don’t want to be killed in my sleep. I now wonder if she has branched out, but probably not as she’s on at least the second tier of sf writers today, income wise from sf novels, that is.

  28. On another tract, I find being a sports fans (I even watched the extra time of the World Cup, as un-American as that is) to be the perfect antidote for those you can’t make shut up otherwise. People who don’t follow sports will leave you alone once you start spouting off about your favorite team, sports, star, whatever. The same general idea works on anti-tv snobs also.

  29. Silverberg refers specifically to 1958 because that’s when the bottom dropped out of the sf magazine market. There were about almost 30 sf magazines at that point. Which meant Silverberg and Ellison could have 5-10 stories printed a month. None of them terrible good, admittedly. But it was a living. Then American News, the major magazine distributor got sold, split up, and suddenly there was no easy distribution for sf magazines, as well as the rest of the magazine market. By 1960 there were only about 8-10 sf magazines and about half of those appeared only bi-monthly. It’s why Earl Kemp published his “Who Killed Sf”, because it assumed that the death of sf magazines was the death of sf. Most good sf novels were reprints of works that had appeared in sf magazines. Such sf novels as appeared in original paperback up to that time were usually looked upon as cheap hack jobs, because they hadn’t been worthy of being published in a magazine. That’s why the sf writers who suddenly survived from the 50s into the 60s have very odd looking resumes and bibliographies for the next 5 years or so. And also explains the influx of new writers circa 1963-64, often making their mark with novels.

  30. I didn’t really cheer to either team, but Spain was the better team and deserved to win the World Cup in comparison to their opposition). The Netherlands should have a had a least 2 red cards on top of the one they actually received. Not to says the Spainards were saints. In fact, the play acting they engaged in was embarassing- they apparently have no pride.

    All in all, I think Argentina and Germany was a better final, though it actually occurred in the quarter finals, as was Uruguay and Germany (for the third place spot).

  31. I have a hunch that most published fiction writers are part time writers and that it is not restricted to SF/F. Anyone see the Parnell Hall video he posted on youtube (just look up his name). There are probably alot of people like that.

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