1. With regard to the ebook pricing, it appears to me that what he’s saying is that ebook prices are going to fluctuate more than Macmillan might prefer, probably because Apple’s deal allows them to bounce prices around, and Macmillan is likely contractually obliged to Amazon and other retailers to allow them to match prices with whichever retailer is offering the lowest price. It also appears he’s annoyed with the Justice Department about this. As he notes, there is some irony here.
From my point of view this has the potential to be annoying but on a day to day basis, meh, unless Apple decides to tube prices for the entire publishing industry, and I don’t really see them wanting to do that. Given Amazon’s still-dominant position in ebooks, they would be doing Amazon’s work for them.
2. With regard to subscription services, I’ve offered my thoughts on them recently, and generally speaking my opinion on them hasn’t changed. Basically I’m still not entirely convinced that all subscription services offer isn’t another chance for someone else who is not me to a) have a say in the shape of the publishing market, b) take money that might otherwise go to me. It’s adding more of those dreaded middlemen. I’m not sure I need any more middlemen in the mix. I’ll need to be convinced. We’ll see what happens from here.
3. General upshot: Hey, did you know publishing is changing? Always has been, always will be.
(UPDATE: The Toast and The Butter are indeed revamping their contracts; details at the bottom of the original entry.)
Writer Beware has posted a heads up for writers with regard to Web sites The Toast and The Butter, and the rights they are asking from contributors. Specifically, WB reports that contributors to the sites must hand over copyright (and, where applicable, moral rights). The specific freelance contractual clause in question, according to WB (relevant bits bolded by them):
The Contributor hereby acknowledges and agrees that the Work, including any drawings, images, sounds, video recordings, or other data embedded in the work and including adaptations or derivative works based on the Work is the sole and exclusive property of the Toast and the Toast has all rights under existing United States’ copyright law and all reproduction and republication rights. In the event that any portion of the Work is not copyrightable, The Contributor hereby irrevocably assigns any and all ownership of the Work’s intellectual property rights, including but not limited to: patents, trademarks, design rights, database rights, trade secrets, moral rights, and other proprietary rights and ll rights of an equivalent nature anywhere in the world to the Toast. The Contributor further acknowledges and agrees that the rights being granted to the Toast include the right to own and register all copyrights in the Work. The Contributor hereby irrevocably assigns all the above described rights herein to the Toast and agrees to execute such additional documents as may be requested by the Toast to evidence the Toast’s ownership of said rights in the Work. The Contributor further hereby waives any “moral rights” claims she may have with respect to the Work.
WB also notes that this transfer of copyright is not noted in the submission guidelines on the site. I checked, and this seems correct.
What do you get for this transfer of copyright and moral rights? According to Writer Beware:
So, yeah, no.
Note well I have been a huge, huge fan on The Toast and specifically the work of Mallory Ortberg, who is site editor, and who may in fact be one of the funniest humans alive on the planet at the moment. I’m also a very big fan of Roxane Gay, who recently signed on to edit The Toast’s sister site, The Butter. As quality reads online, I love them.
But no matter how much I like and admire Ortberg or Gay, or their writing, the sites’ attempting to grab copyright and every other possible right for $50 is a whole lot of egregious bullshit. Also egregious bullshit: The response of Nick Pavich, publisher of The Toast and The Butter, when questioned about the policy (see the above included image, which notes his response). It’s basically saying the publisher doesn’t actually give a shit about writers, which is not, generally, an excellent way to convince people to write for you, and which makes Ortberg and Gay’s positions more difficult.
I’ll be clear: I would not write for The Toast or The Butter for these terms, no way, no how. I’ve done work for hire (the formal term for work for which one does not retain copyright), but it sure as hell wasn’t for fifty bucks — if a company is requiring me to relinquish all rights and potential for future earning from my work, I better be adequately compensated up front, and fifty bucks doesn’t even come close to matching my definition of “adequately compensated” in that case.
Nor could I suggest other people write for them under those contractual conditions, especially as Mr. Pavich’s response above suggests he’s not especially interested in negotiation on that point. That’s his right, if that’s the case, but I’m not sure why I would want to write for someone who has that little regard for the economic concerns of the folks who populate his site with the stuff people want to read. Contempt isn’t a good look.
The good news here is that this is a relatively simple fix. The Toast and The Butter can easily change the language of their contract to avoid attempting to claim copyright and moral rights (the latter of which, as I understand it, may not actually even be possible for them to take in some jurisdictions), and instead work out a license commensurate to what $50 is actually worth, which (in my not entirely uninformed opinion, having been on online editor) would be first publication, a window of exclusivity and the right to non-exclusive archiving on their site. They could also reserve non-exclusive print rights (or compilations, etc) contingent on additional payment. That seems reasonable to me.
This is also a reminder that writers should always always always check their contracts and also understand them, and the market. Bluntly put: Selling your copyright is not a standard practice, and certainly not for five lousy Hamiltons. So what The Toast and The Butter are doing here is a flat-out rights grab. If you didn’t know it, you know it now. Again: I sure as hell wouldn’t take this deal, and I don’t know why anyone else would want to either.
I hope this gets fixed soon. I like reading The Toast and The Butter. But I would find them more difficult to read, if I don’t believe they treat their writers with respect. Demanding copyrights for next to nothing is not what respect looks like to me.
Update, 1:05pm — Two tweets of interest from The Butter editor Roxane Gay:
Update: 2:15pm:More on the changing contracts, from The Toast editor Mallory Ortberg: “[W]e’re changing our contracts to ask only for First North American Rights (so rights revert to the writer after 6 months), as well as online serial rights so that we can retain the work on our sites in perpetuity. We’re also writing into the contract the promise that we will revert rights in the case of a book deal, so that what we’ve always done in practice will be spelled out in writing.”
The only I note I would add to the above is that I would want it to be clearer if the online serial rights were exclusive or non-exclusive; this could be an issue if the publication which bought something for reprint has an online component.
But generally, this is a substantial improvement.
So: I can keep reading The Toast and The Butter! Hooray for me! And also, and rather more importantly, hooray for the writers of the site. And thanks to the Toast/Butter editorial staff for listening and making changes.
I tried to write a piece of some substance today, and it just came out, well, awful.
(Yes, yes. “As opposed to what you usually write, Scalzi? Hur hur hur hur.” Very funny. Shut up.)
I think I’m going to write off the rest of 2014, brain-wise, here on Whatever. The good news is, that means more cat pictures for you! Which is what I know you come here for anyway. This being the case:
Yes, there we go.
(Also, for those wondering about Ghlaghghee, she’s feeling slightly better today. Which is not the same as feeling good. We’re doing the “let’s take this a day at a time” thing from here on out.)
So, Ghlaghghee has been feeling under the weather and moving around slowly and peeing in places she normally doesn’t, none of which are good signs, so I took her to the vet today to see what’s up. And what’s up, basically, is that Ghlaghghee has experienced congestive heart failure, and she’s on the downslope of her time here with us.
The vet gave us some medicine to clear up some fluid backup in her lungs, and depending on how that goes, Ghlaghghee could live for a fair amount of time past this point, even a year or two longer. But our vet also noted that this was a “best case scenario” option; realistically she has less time than that. Given how tired and sluggish she’s been recently, I suspect “less time” is likely to be the case.
We’re fine on this end; the nice thing about getting this information from the vet is it gives us a little bit of time to prepare for her to take her leave of us, and to make sure she does so as comfortably as possible. I’m letting you folks know because obviously Ghlaghghee has been a big part of Whatever over the years, and I feel it would be unfair to spring her death on you all suddenly.
So: Be ready, and if you like, think some good thoughts for my cat as she prepares to move on. I would appreciate that.
Want to give a signed book of mine but didn’t get it together to participate in the annual “get a personalized book” thing I do? Well, the good news that there are still ways to get signed stuff from me for the holidays. Here’s how to do it:
1.Jay & Mary’s Book Center’s entire stock* of Scalzi novels is now signed, and they have all of my novels as well as the two blog collections (Hate Mail and Mallet). So give them a call (calling is better than e-mail); they’ll be happy to ship to you here in the US.
2.Borderlands Books in San Francisco also has a few signed copies of Lock in available, and I’m pretty sure they’ll also ship here within the US.
More commonly known as “Coca Cola Life,” which is their reduced-calorie offering, sweetened with cane sugar and stevia. I call it Mirror Universe Coke because the label is green, rather than the more familiar red Coke branding. I’m not a fan; green Coke labels are Just Not Right. Green is for clear sodas and/or Mountain Dew and its various cognates. I was not aware I had a strong feeling about this until now, but apparently I do.
And how is Coca Cola Life? It’s fine. Apparently some people are very sensitive to the stevia aftertaste, but I don’t appear to be one of them, so that didn’t bother me. To me it tastes pretty much like Coke should, and it has a mouthfeel somewhere between regular Coke and Coke Zero. At this point, having drunk Coke Zero for as long as I have, regular Coke feels kind of syrupy, so I’m not a huge fan; Coke Life is rather less so.
That said, I don’t see myself drinking much Coke Life. It’s not any better, taste-wise, than Coke Zero, and Coke Zero has the advantage of having no calories in it, whereas Coke life has 160 calories per 20 oz. bottle. That’s less than regular Coke, but it would still add up pretty quickly for me.
Indeed, I kind of wonder who the market for Coke Life is; I think you’re either fine with regular Coke or you don’t want any calories at all. Coke tried the “reduced calorie” thing before with C2, which didn’t stick around long, in part because Coke Zero came out in the market at roughly the same time. Maybe the cane sugar/stevia mix is supposed to be a draw (C2 was corn syrup and aspartame), but outside of the hipster “Mexican Coke” crowd, I’m not sure anyone will care, and those folks already drink Mexican Coke.
So, yeah: Coke Life is all right, and I wouldn’t have a problem drinking it, but I wonder who it’s really for. I’ll stick with Coke Zero, personally.
Life takes you places you don’t always expect, and it can do it at any age. So Shannon Page found out when she and the late Jay Lake sat down to write Our Lady of the Islands. That knowledge informs the book and the people in it, as Page explains below.
I’m forty-eight years old. I got married in October; I’m going to become a first-time aunt next spring. I just taught myself how to barbecue (canning will come next). I recently started acquiring and editing books for a small press. My own debut novel came out last year, and now Our Lady of the Islands has received some very nice attention from Publishers Weekly and several other reviewers. I even took up swimming a few years ago and am sometimes teased by fellow swimmers to “slow down.”
Such wonderful things! All accomplished in my late forties.
Now, I love coming-of-age books: those powerful stories where a young person overcomes adversity and figures out who they are and what they need to do in the world. But when Jay Lake and I sat down to write Our Lady of the Islands, and he began the brainstorming with “A young woman…”, I interrupted him at once.
“Jay,” I said. “We’re both over forty. Our lives are fascinating, complex, and changing all the time. We’re still interesting—and so are all our friends. Let’s write about someone who’s not sixteen. Or even twenty-six.”
To Jay’s credit, he thought that was a great idea. Thus was born Sian Kattë, a middle-aged businesswoman whose comfortable life is disrupted quite violently, leaving her to sort out…well, who she is and what she needs to do in the world. She suddenly acquires the power of healing by touch—a power she has not asked for and cannot understand, much less control.
Sian initially resists this enormous disruption—who wouldn’t?—but the world won’t leave her be. As her life falls apart around her and she becomes entangled in political and religious intrigue, she eventually realizes that she needs to let go. Answers that worked perfectly well in her twenties and thirties no longer fit her story. Sometimes, things need to break in order to be healed.
Though I wasn’t given any magical powers in the process, I faced much the same challenges back at the beginning of my forties. I had a comfortable home, a longtime marriage, a stable and safe career. And none of it was working, though I was in complete denial about it. By the time Jay and I had that initial conversation, that life had ruptured completely. I’d filed for divorce, moved to another state, and was pouring myself seriously into my writing. Jay’s path, though different in its details, was similar; he called it “taking a left-hand turn when the road goes straight.” He already knew his life might well be cut short by cancer. He didn’t want to waste any of it stuck in old paradigms.
We wrote the novel, passed the manuscript back and forth several times, sent it out to a few first readers…and then, guess what? Our lives were not through changing. Jay and I ended up parting company, and the manuscript sat, trunked, until early last year, when Jak Koke, managing editor of Per Aspera Press, asked me, “What ever happened to that book you wrote with Jay? Can I read it?” A year later, he made us an offer…contingent on some major reworking.
Deep into his final struggle with metastatic colon cancer, Jay was happy to see the book marketed, but made it clear that he would not be able to work on any revisions. So I agreed to take that on, hoping to get the book out in June, for Jay’s birthday. Unfortunately, it needed more work than that tight deadline permitted, so the publication date was pushed back.
Jay entered hospice on May 21, and died on June 1.
Though this version of the novel diverges in some ways from the draft he and I worked on, I think he would like it. His world and our characters remain; the story is still the one we set out to write. I am deeply sad that he wasn’t able to read it. This book quite literally wouldn’t exist without him. But I do hope it does honor to his memory.
A gentle reminder that if you wanted signed/personalized books from me for the holidays, today is the last day to order them, which you can do by following the directions here. I’ll also be signing all of Jay & Mary’s remaining Scalzi stock, so after today, there should still be some signed copies of my work available, it just won’t be personalized and may not arrive before Christmas. Plan accordingly.
YouTube personality and general book enthusiast Lindsey Rey has an “author exploration” video featuring me and my books, and it’s a pretty good encapsulation of what I do, actually, especially for people who might not know about my work. Plus it’s always fun to listen to someone this geeked out about science fiction and fantasy. Check it out.
There is a scientist inside you, just waiting to come out! No, not like the creature in Alien. This is a good thing. Chad Orzel, author and professor of physics, explains why in his new book Eureka!, and also here in this big idea post.
It seems very appropriate to be writing about the new book in a feature called “The Big Idea,” because I can say without hyperbole that it’s a book about the biggest idea in the history of humanity.
OK, maybe there’s a trace of hyperbole there, but just a little. Eureka is about an idea that is radically transformative on every level from individuals to the entire human species. It’s not an Internet technology, or a particular fact, but a process:
You look at the world around you,
You think about why it might work the way it does,
You test your theory with experiments and further observations, and
You tell everyone you know the results.
This four-step process is the essential core of all of science. More than that, it’s central to just about everything we do. Science leads directly to all the technologies that have allowed a not especially threatening species of hairless plains apes to thoroughly dominate the surface of the planet (for good or ill). More than that, science is central to activities that we do just for fun.
That may seem like an odd thing to say, given the distant relationship most people have with modern science. When I tell people I’m a physicist, one of the most common responses is “You must be really smart. My brain just doesn’t work that way.” Which is flattering to my nerd vanity, but just not true—we all use the process of science every day, often in pursuit of hobbies that we wouldn’t think of as scientific. And many of the great discoveries in the history of science followed paths analogous to many of the things non-scientists do for recreation.
A good card player in a game like bridge, for example, can deduce almost exactly who has what cards from exceedingly limited information—the bids made by the other players, and the conventions of the game. Astronomers like Vera Rubin used exactly the same process to deduce the existence of vast amounts of invisible “dark matter” in the universe, five times as much of it as the matter we do see.
Someone passing time on an airplane by doing the crossword puzzle in the in-flight magazine makes use of the same process that led physicists to quantum mechanics. The idea that particles behave like waves wasn’t anybody’s first guess, but it’s the inevitable result of fitting together indirect evidence, in the same way that when all the “Down” answers fit nicely, you know the annoying pun in 6-across is also correct.
Even the simplest of hobbies, stamp collecting, has a key place in science. We remember Charles Darwin as the father of evolution not because he was the first person to write about evolution—his own grandfather was writing poetry about evolution in the 1790’s. Darwin’s scientific fame is the result of decades spent collecting facts about the natural world and studying the patterns that emerge when they’re put together. No one observation points conclusively to evolution, in the same way that no single stamp makes a collection, but the mountain of observations Darwin collected made a case that was overwhelming in 1859, and has only gotten stronger.
Eureka tells these stories, and many others. It’s broken into four sections—Looking, Thinking, Testing, and Telling—each highlighting a particular aspect of the scientific process, and connecting great scientific discoveries with ordinary hobbies that use similar processes. Whether you’re cooking, or playing sports, or just reading mystery stories, you make use of the same bag of mental tricks scientists use to probe the mysteries of the universe.
The goal of all this, as the subtitle says, is to help people recognize that we all have an inner scientist, and make use of the process of science. That realization allows a greater appreciation and understanding of scientific discoveries both new and old. More than that, though, I hope it encourages everyone to make more conscious use of their inner scientists: Look at the world. Think about why it works that way, and what you could do to make it better. Test your theory by trying things out. And if you find something that works, tell the rest of us about it, so we can all benefit.
The look-think-test-tell process of science is at the heart of every great human advance, from cave paintings, to Stonehenge, to the Large Hadron Collider. It’s the most powerful tool we have for understanding how things work, and how to change them, and used more widely it can help make the world a better place for all of us.
For the last four days, the Whatever Shopping Guide 2014 has been about helping you find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. But today I’d like to remind folks that the season is also about helping those in need. So this final day is for charities. If you’re looking for a place to make a donation — or know of a charitable organization that would gladly accept a donation — this is the place for it.
How to contribute to this thread:
1. Anyone can contribute. If you are associated with or work for a charity, tell us about the charity. If there’s a charity you regularly contribute to or like for philosophical reasons, share with the crowd. This is open to everyone.
2. Focus on non-political charities, please. Which is to say, charities whose primary mission is not political — so, for example, an advocacy group whose primary thrust is education but who also lobbies lawmakers would be fine, but a candidate or political party or political action committee is not. The idea here is charities that exist to help people and/or make the world a better place for all of us.
Also, informal charities and fundraisers are fine, but please do your part to make sure you’re pointing people to a legitimate fundraiser and not a scam.
3. One post per person. In that post, you can list whatever charities you like, and more than one charity. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on charities available in North America.
4. Keep your description of the charity brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the charity and is interested but easily distracted.
5. You may include a link to a charity site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.
6. Comment posts that are not about people promoting charities they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find charities to contribute to.
All right, then: It’s the season of giving. Tell us where to give to make this a better place.
This morning, unbeknownst to me, my daughter decided that she needed to make her views about the Eric Garner grand jury decision known to the folks at her school, so she dressed in black for mourning and wrote the words “ICANTBREATHE” on her arms. And then off she went to school, here in rural, conservative Bradford, Ohio.
Where, as it happens, she encountered no major pushback for her political speech. Some of the kids asked her about what the words meant and at least one of the teachers commented that of all the kids in the school, she would be the one to make a protest. But in terms of her getting crap for it, nope. Which speaks well of the little rural conservative town in which we live, and the people with whom my daughter goes to school, students and faculty both.
(It may also say something about the Garner case, in that I’ve seen concerns about it from all sides of the political spectrum. I’m not going to go deeply into that at the moment, however.)
As a parent it’s very interesting to watch my child’s developing political and social thinking on all sorts of topics. Some of her thinking she inherits from me and her mother, obviously. But there’s a whole side of her thinking that comes from her own view of the world and her own take on various subjects. It’s a reminder that children surely and inexorably become their own people. I’m proud of my kid that she’s thinking about things outside of her immediate self-interest, and that she’s willing to deal with potential flack for those thoughts.
She’s not always going to get it “right” — but then I don’t always get it right, either, and I’ve got 30 years on her. But she’s finding her voice and remembering to listen. I’m very happy about both.
The following is a public service announcement about you, me and Twitter. Some of it are things I’ve said before, but I’m presenting it all here in a handy, easy-to-read numbered list. Ready? Here we go.
2. When I use Twitter, I am generally using it as a public individual making statements made for public consumption, i.e., I assume the things I write there will be seen widely and outside my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances.
3. As such, people I don’t know will frequently respond to tweets I write. This is fine! That’s part of the nature of Twitter. Respond away.
4. If I find your reply interesting, amusing or otherwise of note, or if I’m just in the mood to be chatty, I may respond. Because that’s my assumption when you replied: that you were open to a response from me as well. Likewise, if you “@” me on a Tweet that’s not a response, I assume that you meant for me to see it and possibly respond. Don’t “@” me if you don’t intend to invite me into the conversation!
5. But I may not respond, for various reasons. You should assume that I won’t. It’s not personal, I promise.
6. Most people who respond to me on Twitter are lovely people. But some people aren’t. If I decide you aren’t, then here’s what I will likely do: I’ll block or mute you. If I block you, you won’t be able to tweet at me anymore. If I mute you, whatever you’ve tweeted at me will disappear from my tweet timeline and no subsequent tweet from you will show up in it, ever. Either way, it will be as if you don’t exist on Twitter at all! Why would I do this? Because life’s too short to deal with irritating people on Twitter.
7. You’ll know if I block you because Twitter will tell you. You probably won’t know if I’ve muted you — kind of the point of muting people is that they don’t know. I get a warm feeling in my heart from the idea of the muted, jabbering on as if I’m still able to see their “cleverness.”
8. That said, sometimes before I block/mute someone, I may let them know I think they’re a complete waste of a circulatory system, or some such. Then I block/mute them. They may have a comeback to what I said, but I wouldn’t know. From my point of view I’ve gotten the last word.
9. No, I’m not obliged to read your Tweets, and no, it’s not censorship to block/mute you. You are free to keep tweeting at me/about me as much as you like! That’s the very essence of free speech! But “free speech” does not guarantee you an audience — in this case, me. If you’re the sort of person confused about this, it’s just another reason why we’re both better off having you blocked or muted in my tweetstream.
10. Things that may get you blocked/muted include, but are not limited, to:
Being racist, sexist, homophobic or other varieties of bigot;
Being insulting and boring about it;
Being insulting and clever, but not knowing when to quit;
Being the sort of person who is under the impression that a medium confined to 280 characters per post is the perfect medium for a substantive debate on a complex issue;
Having your understanding of social/political issues clearly confined to cue cards provided to you by others;
Being an author or other creator whose purpose for being on Twitter is to spam people about your work;
Being someone who believes that the only reason I exist on Twitter is to retweet something you think I should;
Appointing yourself the Arbiter of Things I Should and Should Not Say On Twitter;
Trying to pick a fight with me;
Just generally being an asshole.
11. Occasionally someone with a large number of followers on Twitter (and/or a large number of sock puppet accounts) will attempt a pile-on, in which his (and it’s almost always his) followers try to flood my tweet stream with nonsense. When that happens, I use the original asshole’s Twitter handle as a mutable phrase, which means that any tweet bearing that handle is pre-emptively muted. As the sort of gibbering yahoo who piles on inevitably includes the originator’s handle so they can get a virtual head pat for doing their master’s bidding, this cuts out almost all of the nonsense. So if you’re the dog-piling sort, don’t bother; I won’t even see it. Also, maybe rethink your life choices.
12. Basically, I am on Twitter for my own amusement, not to engage in argument, substantive or otherwise, particularly with people I don’t know, and especially with people who I determine to be jerks. If you understand that when you communicate with me, we’ll get along fine. If you don’t, then you’ll be blocked or muted. Either way, the problem will be solved.
Update, 6/11/22: I block more than I did when I originally wrote this, so I’ve updated the piece to reflect that.