While I was on tour with Lock In, I turned off the comments here at Whatever, opening them for Big Idea posts and the occasional post when I was able to spend a little time babysitting the thread. Among other things I was curious to see what, if any, effect turning the comment off would have on visits to the site.
The answer seems to be not a whole lot. Traffic to Whatever overall was down in the last four weeks, but I expected it to be down, because it always goes down when I’m on book tour — I’m not posting as much and what I do post tends to be short bits about where I am on tour. Turning off the comments doesn’t really appear to have dropped viewership lower, as a percentage, than any other time I’ve been tour — or if it had it was negligible enough that I don’t see it.
In one sense this is not too terribly surprising. As I’ve noted before, Whatever gets thousands of visits and visitors daily, but only (generally) a few dozen commentors on any given day. As a percentage, the commenting class here — as it is pretty much everywhere — is small compared to the overall readership. The inability to comment is not a huge thing when you don’t comment at all. Likewise, I suspect that most of the commenters were cool with the comments being off for a bit if I couldn’t sit on them like I usually do. So overall: Not a huge surprise, although it’s still interesting to me.
It doesn’t mean that I’ll be keeping comments off, mind you. The commenting class here may be small relative to overall readership, but it is of high quality, if I may say so myself, and for those folks to who do read for the comments (and I’m one of them), I would hate to deprive them of that enjoyment. So comments are back on. Comment away, you crazy kids!
That said, I am going to make one major change: After 14 days, comments threads will automatically close. I’m doing this for two reasons. One, in nearly all cases, the conversation in any comment thread is done two weeks out, and the only non-spam comments the comment threads accrue are from people who generally don’t have anything new or useful to say — indeed, late hits in my experience are generally some form of trolling. They won’t be missed.
Two, I turned comments back on here and less than a half hour later had more than 200 fresh comments in my spam queue. The good news is that WordPress’ spam catcher caught nearly all of them, but on the other hand, it was a reminder that I get a couple thousand attempted spam messages a day here. The site has close to nine thousand entries, many of which still have (had) open comment threads. If you’re a spammer, that’s a lot of shots on goal. Limiting the spam opportunities to just a few dozen active threads will make my site maintenance a lot easier, and these days I don’t have as much time to moderate as I used to.
So if you have anything to say on a comment thread, say it in the first couple of weeks, or forever hold your peace, at least here on the blog.
Here’s another change I’m going to make. From time to time while I was traveling (or otherwise busy), I’ve wanted to comment on some contentious topic or another but held off because I simply didn’t have the time to sit on the comment thread. As a result, and because I am rather more busy with travel and work these days than I was before, I find myself not writing up those pieces. I think Whatever’s range of topics has suffered a bit because of it recently.
So, here’s the plan: If I find I want to write something on a contentious topic but I don’t have time to moderate a comment thread, I’m just gonna write the thing and not turn on comments, or wait to turn on the comments until I have time to moderate. Simple! So simple, in fact, that I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t think about it before (In fact, there have been times when I’ve done that, but it never occured to be to think to myself “hey, you know, this is a thing you could do whenever you needed to.” Because I’m an idiot, you see).
When I have the comments off (or delayed), how will you comment? Well, of course, there is Twitter and Facebook and your own blogs and even (gasp!) email, which is how people used to comment to me before comments were on here at all. Who knows, it may even lead to an increase in hate mail, which, to be honest, I hardly get anymore (this is not an actual complaint).
Fort Loramie, a town just up the road from me, celebrates its German Heritage Days (on pretty much the same days as traditional Oktoberfest begins, incidentally) with a big tent, ruben bites (think a ruben sandwich, in nugget form), and of course, lots of beer. We went last night, and I took photos. If you’re interested, here’s the photo set. Click on any photo there for a bigger version of the photo.
One, as I have returned from the tour, full commenting has returned to Whatever: Comments are turned on by default, and all posts whose comment threads are not otherwise turned off are now open. I’ll have more thoughts a bit later on what I learned about having the comments off while I toured.
Two, I’ve turned off my email autoresponder, so if you’ve been holding off to send me email, go ahead and do it. Also, if you sent me e-mail anytime in the last month and wanted a response and didn’t get it (because I wasn’t responding to most email while on tour), go ahead and resend (Note: you don’t have to do this for Big Idea for October and November: I’ll be getting to those all by the end of the month).
Save for a couple of one-off events in October, the Lock In tour has come to a close. It was a lovely time and it was lovely seeing so many of you out there on the road, but it’s nice to be able to come back home and not have any place that I need to be for a little while, other than here with the family.
It’s been a great four weeks. If you were a part of it, thank you for being part of it.
Also, it’s well past time I came out of the closet as a Sith Lord, evidenced by my red lightsaber. Frankly, I’m relieved it’s out there. Now I don’t have to pretend I’m not Force Choking all who oppose me.
I saw this popping up the Twitters and the webs last night as I was heading back to the hotel, so I might as well give it a proper debut here on Whatever: The title and cover of the book formerly known as The Human Division 2: The Divisioning, taken, I assume, from the Tor catalogue for next year that just got sent out.
Pretty fantastic-looking, I gotta say. Once again, John Harris nails the cover image. But then he always does. And there are likely to be more cover illustrations, since as with The Human Division, we will likely do some form of episodic digital releases. Can’t wait to see those covers, too.
As for the title, and what it means for the Old Man’s War universe, I will say this only that the book will continue (and complete) the story that was begun in The Human Division, and that things will come to an interesting place for everyone involved. It does not mean the end of my interest in the OMW universe, just to get ahead of any concerns or incipient rumors, although I do suspect that after TEoAT, I’ll take time off from the world, just like I did after Zoe’s Tale.
So: the end of one OMW universe story arc, not the end of all possible OMW universe novels. Don’t panic.
The End of All Things will be out next year, and, uh, I’m still writing it. Don’t worry. I don’t miss deadlines.
My hotel room wasn’t ready, and my schedule is such that I won’t be getting back there until after my event tonight, so here: Madison Square Park, for your delight. Right to the left of me, some dudes are having an al fresco meeting about television advertising. I feel like I’m getting the full New York experience.
Well, I am, on the Thursday and Friday of the convention (that would be the 9th and 10th of October). I’ll be having a signing on Thursday at the Tor booth and on Friday I’ll be on at least one panel, and I’ll be doing a couple of fun things off campus as well. I’ll provide a more detailed schedule later (i.e., when I’m not on tour), but for the three of you who were on the bubble about going to NYCC, and for whom my presence will tip you over into the “going” column, there you are. Here’s the link to the convention’s Web site.
Tomorrow: I’m in Brooklyn, the borough where they keep the writers, for an event at Word Bookstore, also at 7pm. RSVPs at the event’s Facebook page are encouraged, but not required. Let them know you are coming (and bringing everyone you know, of course).
The hotel is very bed and breakfasty. I’m on the ground floor, which will make it easy if I have to evacuate in case of fire. I don not intend to set any fires. I feel it’s important to make that point clear.
Yes, I have three TV shows in development at the moment, which is very cool and wonderful for me and which means I’m having a totally giggly moment over here.
Hey, remember that there was supposed to be an Old Man’s War movie? That was optioned for five years and never made it to the big screen. Same thing could happen with Old Man’s War, the TV series. Or Redshirts, the TV series. Or Lock In, the TV series. Lots of things are optioned and put into development, rather somewhat fewer of them get the greenlight to go to screen. Even shows that get greenlit can be pulled before they air. And then once a show gets on the air, it may not survive past the first season, or even the first few episodes. In film and television, nothing is ever assured.
So, it’s possible that everything I have in development makes it to series. On each of these potential series, I’m working with super smart people, all of whom have sold things in film and TV before, and each of whom has been successful in LA in a way I find tremendously encouraging — it’s why I decided to let them adapt what I’m writing. But is it probable that everything I have in development makes it onto the screen? Well. We will see. It is a long journey, full of detours, potholes and opportunities to run off the road and over a cliff. Not just for me but for anyone.
This is just my way of reminding everyone that the very good news I got for Lock In is the start of a process, not an assurance of a series and success. The same goes for OMW and Redshirts. Everyone involved, including me, are working hard to make it happen. And at the very least I personally am having a fair amount of fun as it goes along.
I’m enjoying the moment — I really am. But I’m aware it is a moment. Now the real work begins. Maybe we’ll get to screen and maybe we won’t. But just like I’m enjoying the moment now, I’m going to try to enjoy the journey, too, wherever it leads. No matter what, the books exist, and that will never change.
There’s the saying that “Freedom isn’t free” — but how to express that concept in a way that makes it more than just a bumper sticker platitude, and fold in some steampunk aweseomeness to boot? With Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, author David Barnett may have just the ticket. Here he is to explain how it all comes together.
America is screaming.
At least, that’s what it sounds like to The Nameless. He isn’t really called The Nameless, of course, but he can’t remember his name. As he tells one character in Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon:
“They call me many things. The Indians call me Spirit, in more ways than I can remember. The witches of New Orleans like to call me Fantôme. The Mormons in New Jerusalem think I’m Satan, and the civilized folk of New York don’t believe in me at all!”
The Nameless is a weird mash-up of Natty Bumpo from Last of the Mohicans and Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, criss-crossing the America of 1890 in search for… well, he doesn’t really know. All he knows for sure is that he woke up on April 18, 1775 with no idea who he was. All he was really sure about was that America was screaming, and somehow he had to put that right.
April 18, 1775 is an important date in the calendar in Gideon Smith’s world. It’s when the British put down a nascent American rebellion and ensured that the country – or at least most of the Eastern seaboard – remained in British control. The Spanish still hold much of what we know as Mexico – New Spain, to them. But their constant war with the French back in Europe means their tentative forays north of the border have had to be scaled back, to the point where they didn’t put up much of a fight in 1868 when a breakaway Japanese faction fetched up in San Francisco, took over and rechristened it Nyu Edo, capital of the newly-established Californian Meiji.
There are other factions and independent settlements in North America, of course – the French nominally hold Louisiana, there’s a Free Florida which is a safe haven for runaway slaves from the Confederacy, and Texas is dotted with fiefdoms run by mostly tyrannical former British governors who decided they were too far away from New York and Boston – and a world away from London – to pay too much heed to what they wanted.
This fractured America is, I suppose, one of the big ideas in this, the second Gideon Smith novel. But though he’s not often on-stage, The Nameless is another big idea, linked closely to this. America, he feels, should not be this patchwork of territories controlled by proxy from far away. And that sort of gave rise to what’s the real Big Idea in Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl – the one that we’re all shackled to something, even if we don’t know it. And that freedom can be achieved, though often at a price.
The British governors in New York and Boston are chained to the whims and fancies of London, thousands of miles away. They can barely keep their cities running with the taxes that have to be paid back to Britain, and they certainly can’t expand into the wide open territories to points west without the resources they need. The Governor of New York, Edward Lyle, knows that his city is in thrall to the coal that keeps the lights on and the traffic moving, and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep that happening.
Haruki Serizawa is a scientist working on a top secret project for the Californian Meiji. He and his wife Akiko hoped America would be a new world for them and their daughter Michi, but he is frustrated that the new settlement cannot fully cut its ties to the old country.
Inez Batiste Palomo is the daughter of the Spanish governor of Uvalde, a border town all but forgotten by Ciudad Cortes (Mexico City, to you and me). Her father cleaves tightly to tradition and expects her to do the same, but she’s a modern woman in a world that’s changing fast.
And Gideon Smith is the boy from nowhere, the fisherman appointed to be the Hero of the Empire by Queen Victoria herself. Gideon is shackled to Victorian mores which despise the different, which make it difficult to be anything other than rich, white and male. Yet here he is, in love with a mechanical girl. His society, the one that made his dreams come true, just doesn’t hold with the freedom to love who he wants.
And, I suppose, the book, the whole Gideon Smith series, in fact, is perhaps my own attempt to break free of the constraints – real or perceived – that some feel the “steampunk” genre imposes. I wanted to write a working class hero who didn’t have a double-barrelled name, one who dragged himself up by his boot-straps and demanded the world take him on his merits. One who – once he knows how the world works – has severe misgivings about it. I wanted to create a steampunk world where diversity was celebrated, differences discussed, and expectations challenged, if not overturned.
I’m not sure, as a white male with a roof over his head and a steady job, whether I’ve succeeded in that. But as the characters in Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon find out to varying degrees, freedom rarely comes without some effort.
To get ahead of some questions that might arise — it’s very very early days on this (I mean, obviously, since the book hasn’t even been out three weeks as I write this up), so I don’t have a whole lot of answers for folks about how it’s all going to shake out. What I can say is that I’m happy with the deal, I’ll be well involved, and I think Legendary is a very good place for Lock In to be. Aside from that, the answer I’m currently going to be able to give to you about just about anything is: “Interesting question! We’ll see.” I’m not trying to be evasive. Just: Early days.
I will say this, however: Holy crap, my life these days. Lock In is the third book of mine currently in development for a TV series at the moment (following Old Man’s War and Redshirts), a fact which is amazing and exciting and also kind of absolutely ridiculous if you think about it for three seconds straight. And in each case I am getting to work with fantastically talented people who know what they’re doing. And this is on top of the books, and the amazing people I get to work with doing those, and the video game, which again gets me working with just the best people you can imagine.
To repeat: Holy crap, my life these days.
More details, of course, when I have more details to give. For now, just know that I am happy. And thank you to all of you who are wishing or have wished me success. I think it’s working at the moment.
Unpacked some of the books and ARCs that arrived while I was on the second leg of the tour; here they are for your delight and perusal. Of particular interest, I think, are Ancillary Sword, the sequel to the multiple award-winning Ancillary Justice, and Last Plane to Heaven, the official final story collection of Jay Lake.
What do you find interesting in this collection of works? Share in the comments.
I am home today but tomorrow morning I set out again for the third and final leg of my Lock In book tour, which will take me to Brookline, Massachusetts; Concord, New Hampshire; Saratoga Springs, New York; Brookyn and Philadelphia. When all is said and done, this tour will have had over two dozen events on it, and I will have seen and signed books for, conservatively, about two and a half thousand people.
When I’m out and about and recount my tour adventures to people (I can reel off my itinerary just about in my sleep at this point), the question often arises about whether all this touring is actually still useful and/or desirable in an age where so many people get their books electronically, and when one (or at least, one like me) can show up to a comic con, at which between 20k and 50k people will show up in one place, where you also happen to be. In this context, book touring can at least initially seem like an anachronism, and of questionable value.
Here’s why it’s not questionable, at least for someone like me (and I will explain what “someone like me” means in a bit — stay tuned). In no particular order:
1. Because print books still matter. Chest-thumping about the digital revolution aside, print books are still 70% of the market in a general sense. I personally sell more electronically than in print, but my print sales are still substantial and I’m not inclined to ignore them. Book tours take me to places where those print books are sold, especially at the beginning of the book’s sales cycle. Showing up can make a difference.
2. Because it pumps up best seller list appearances. Lots of tours (including mine) include stops to bookstores that report to Bookscan, the New York Times, and to local and specialty newspapers and magazines, all of whom collate that information and offer up best seller lists. Best seller lists matter because it’s free advertising in newspapers and online, because bookstores (including Barnes & Noble, the largest book chain in the US) put best selling books front of store, making your work easier for people to find — especially if you’re in genre, because sometimes people won’t intentionally wander over to the genre racks — and because it becomes a useful tool in marketing. When you can claim you are a bestseller, it assures someone who has never read you before that they aren’t wrong for giving you a try; after all, lots of other people agree with their decision.
3. Because it helps to support bookstores, and not just in the sense of selling a whole bunch of books to people at the event to see me, although that doesn’t hurt. It also reconnects people to the fact that there is a bookstore in their city, gives them an opportunity to walk the aisles and look at the wares, and gives the bookstore a chance to make the argument to these folks that shopping at the store is still a great way to buy books and a great way to support local business. Helping keep bookstores in business and front of mind to locals is in my long-term best interest, because, again, print isn’t going away anytime soon… unless the bookstores go away.
4. Because it can generate local and national attention. Aside from best seller lists (which generally happen after the fact), local press often run interviews and features — or even just appearance listings — prior to an event, which can help draw people in to the local bookstore, and which can help my publicist capture the interest of reporters and media outlets further down the line on the tour. Simply just showing up can make the difference in whether there’s a review or feature. And again, people may snark about newspapers/magazines being in decline, but know this: Those newspapers and magazines still go out to tens and hundreds of thousands of people. You can still get a lot of attention from and awareness out of them.
5. Because it develops relationships between you and book sellers. If I come into a bookstore, fill it with dozens of people, all of whom buy books, talk up the book seller to my audience, and show appreciation for and respect to the book seller for having my event at their store, you know what? Weeks and months later, long after I’m gone, that book seller is still likely to be recommending and hand selling me and my books to customers who come into the store — and ordering my books, both in back list and when the new books come out. This matters quite a lot because, again, print isn’t dead, and people are people; they remember the people who have helped them out and have been on their side.
(The flip side of this is that if you come in to a bookstore, act like a jerk and give a disappointing appearance for the people who have come to see you, the book seller is going to remember that, too. So, you know. You try not to do that.)
6. Because not everyone who comes to your book tour is going to come to a comic con or other convention. Note that I don’t think these things are either/or — you can do book tours and appearances at large general events, like comic cons, book fairs and other such things. I mean, I do — I do several conventions and book fairs a year. But anecdotally, there’s a large number of people who show up to my bookstore events who aren’t going to go to something like a comic con. Some of them are people who do not see themselves as “geeks” — i.e., people whose idea of fun encompasses spending a day (or three) in a convention center among tens of thousands of other people. Some people hate large crowds and prefer an opportunity to see you in a more intimate setting. Some people have never heard of you before and found out about you through a book seller flyer or email, or a newspaper write-up. Some people just happen to be in the store when you start doing your thing. And so on. Limiting one’s self to one sort of appearance limits you to the sort of person who will come to that sort of appearance — limits your potential audience, in other words. I’m not sure why I would want to do that.
7. Because people want their moment with you. The number of people who have a book signed specifically to have a signed book is actually pretty small. The majority of the people who are getting a book signed are getting a book signed so they get a little time with you — to talk to you about the book, to get a picture, to share a thought or otherwise spend just a moment with someone whose work they like and who they might even admire in some way. A book tour is a good way to have those moments, and those moments matter — it can mean the difference between someone being a casual fan, and someone being a lifelong reader of your work (and being someone who recommends that work to others).
And yes, this is a very hands-on, time-intensive, retail way of doing things, but again, it’s not just about the moment, it’s about what happens after the moment — the knock-on effects of that moment, over days and weeks and months and years. Looked upon that way, it’s not a bad time investment.
(And once again, it can work the other way, too — if you blow that moment with someone, they’re going to remember that. You have to be fully engaged in the moment, and you have to make sure the person you’re having the moment with knows you are actually happy to be sharing it with them.)
8. Because it’s fun, even as it is a lot of work. I mean, come on. I get to go around the US and meet people who are fantastically happy to see me, perform for them for an hour with the reading and Q&A, and then spend a moment with them as I sign their books and/or take a photo with them. It’s a lot of travel and a lot of work being “on” the whole time, but it’s not hard, and there is, bluntly, a lot of ego gratification, which doesn’t suck, either. People geek out about meeting me. That’s weird. And delightful! But weird. I like it, and I like that every day that I am out of tour, I get concrete evidence that people enjoy what I do. It’s a nice life, you know?
There are other reasons to tour, including some that are very inside pool for publishing and book selling, but you get the idea.
Now, it’s important to note a couple of things here. The first is that in general I get toured a lot more, and a lot longer, than most authors; I’ve toured for five out of my last six books and I’ve toured for no less than two and a half weeks each time. That’s a lot, especially when you consider that I publish new books more or less annually. I am also someone who sells a lot generally and is well-along in his career; my position and perspective are different than many authors.
It’s also important to note that by and large the benefits of touring are not short term; at the end of my tour, Tor, my publisher, will just barely zero out the cost of putting me on tour, or will either eke out a tiny profit or suffer a tiny loss. This is all about the long-term benefits: To me, to them, to booksellers, and to the relationships between all of us and the folks who read my work. In the short term, the book tour benefits might seem iffy. In the long term, however, it is totally worth it.
So, again, for me, touring makes sense, and will probably continue to make sense, for a long time to come. I expect I’m not the only author for whom this is the case.
Further proof that the folks at Tor are excellent people with whom I am happy to work: The arrival this morning of a box of “Lock In” cookies, offered up in celebration of the book hitting the bestseller lists. I like that they timed the cookie arrival for when they knew I was going to be home. I also like how they have my photo on some of the cookies. Now when someone bites my head off it won’t have to be an entirely sinister thing.
Vaguely related, not too long ago I noted with some amusement a perennial detractor of mine blathering ignorantly, as he nearly always does on any subject relating to me, about how it didn’t seem to him that Lock In was doing particularly well; this was almost immediately before the book hit the NYT Hardcover list and was Bookscan’s #1 top-selling front list science fiction novel. I considered sending him one of these cookies, so he could eat his words. But then I thought that giving a cookie to an asshole was a backwards way of doing things, at least from the point of view of the cookie. So, no cookies for him. He’ll just have to bask in the infinite pleasure of being wrong, so very wrong, yet again. He’s used to that, in any event.
But if I could, I would share these cookies with all the folks who have bought the book, or come out to see me on this tour. You have made this book a success (so far!) and my appreciation for you knows few bounds. Thank you again, folks. Life is good.