Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Cockroach Invasion (Video)

Baby cockroach on an egg boxA common question raised by my bio is, "Do you really keep cockroaches?" As though it might be a quirky thing I invented just for the bio. Yes, I really keep cockroaches. I started with one cockroach (Sparkle), then got two (Ash and Gem) and this time ordered five (but I have eight). Mostly because I used to have a community fish tank. Now I don't, I'm filling that space with cockroaches.

Other things people often ask:

What type are they? Madagascar hissing cockroaches. (There are several species called this, which interbreed, so most likely they're a bit of a mix.)

What do they eat? I give them dry stuff (fish food, cereals, nuts, seeds) and fruit/veg (most stuff, except they don't like cucumber and I avoid irritant things like onions and chillies). Sparkle was an odd one, in that he'd only eat dried food (and wouldn't eat if it'd been moistened). Most of them like their fresh stuff though.

What are they called? I've named the one bigger nymph. They're called Pancake, because they're unusually broad for their length. My guess is Pancake is a bit older, as they're hanging out on their own more and look less nymphy.

Do you breed them? No. Cockroaches breed a lot, being cockroaches and all, so that's a lot of babies to handle. A lot of people also have reptiles, so feed unwanted babies to those... but I don't have space for lizards.

How do you avoid breeding? Keep males and females in separate tanks. For the batch this time, I'll split them as they get a little bigger, then sort out their final tanks when I know what they'll be.

Do they get lonely (when kept in a tank alone)? No. Cockroaches live in colonies, but they're not attached to each other like bees and ants. My biggest concern with the new babies is they're rather small and the weather's hot, so they'll help retain moisture by staying together. I won't be splitting them until they grow a bit (except Pancake, who'll move after some settling time).

Why?!!!!? They're clean, friendly and easy to keep. They tame well and live about as long as a hamster (in approximate ages, my previous ones reached four, one and a half, and three). I love their little antennae!

Can I see them? Here's five minutes of my cockroaches being cockroaches...


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Writing Diary: Cozies and Blog Future

Cozy Mystery

In my self-publishing roundup, I said I was going to write a cozy mystery. This has begun. My basic concept is the fairy godmother of a small English village investigating murders. Her wife is a retired toothfairy, as the somewhat more science-oriented (in a teeth kind of way) helper. It's going to be so cozy you could turn it into mittens. Apart from the horrible murder, obviously.

In a bit of synchronicity, I went to see Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap recently. This had been booked prior to the decision to write a cozy. Christie's work is really my model, as I like the whole thing where everyone's got a secret and many people have a motive. That said, I've been reading a whole bunch of cozies from Amazon, to get a feel for the modern genre. I think lighter themed stories often get overlooked when people talk diversity, but there's a whole lot of women with strong friendships going on in the genre, as well as a lot of older protagonists. It's a little weak in other areas, but it's a good basis for building a story I'm happy with in terms of the characters.




Short Stories

I'm getting along with the short story writing. I'm not necessarily writing the most saleable themes/styles at the moment, as I'm getting back into the groove. But you never know. I do sell those write-what-I-want stories sometimes. If not, I'll switch over to something a bit more traditional later.




Blog

I'm unlikely to be posting a lot of new content on the blog for the foreseeable future. I'll post writing updates and things related to my writing. Maybe a few photos and art things here and there. But the longer content - especially the science and diversity content - is basically done for now. The blog clearly isn't interesting people outside of a few friends. It also takes a long time to write out the longer posts. I can't really justify that time. It'd be different if the blog was new... but when it's going nowhere after six years, it's time to acknowledge it's a time-sink rather than doing much good.

I do want to keep posting a bit though, so people know I'm around and what I'm doing. I'm also trying to post more reviews on Goodreads, as I think that'll help other authors out more than recommending them on my blog. You're welcome to follow/friend me there if you like the reviews.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Trigger Warnings, Content Guides and My Books

Cartoon rainbow octopusThere tends to be a lot of talk about whether books should have trigger warnings or content guides, but little talk about how to actually implement this in a useful way. Back when I first published my collection, I tried to write a content guide (I use that term because I don't like to dismiss discomfort that isn't at a triggering level... a reader shouldn't need to have a panic attack before it's accepted as a problem). I started this by writing a list of content for each story in the collection, but I ran into some problems, and didn't end up including it on the book information page in the end.

The two big issues I found were:


  • False Grimdark Tone - By listing out every possible item for each story, it made my work sound like the grittiest grimdark ever. Certainly my short stories tend to run darker than my novels, but even the novels would come out as sounding really dark. The problem here is a longer work will often have small references to a lot of things that potentially might get a warning, but when it's put together as a list, it seems like a huge number of things.
  • Overwhelming Lists - Providing someone with the initial story-by-story list would be overwhelming. So would a paragraph trying to summarise all those things. A content guide that's too long will be ignored. It also means readers might not notice the items they need to notice, or assume that it's only a small reference (like the other twenty things on the list).

I revisited this topic recently after my decision to write a cozy mystery. I picked up a bunch of free cozies from Amazon and began reading. As they were free, I didn't check the reviews that carefully. This was a mistake. One book was branded as a cozy mystery, but it wasn't (down to having a rape scene). It's not that I don't read books with darker content, but I'd not expected it from this book, so it was jarring. It's not a surprise that some reviewers stated they'd never read a book by this author again.

Lack of accurate content information can cause issues in all directions. It can make it harder for readers to trust a new author. It can make it easier for authors to misbrand a book for sales, because they can cover over that it has content that isn't part of a certain genre. Overall, it makes it harder for people to make informed choices. This is always the thing that baffles me when people are against discussions of book content, because it does me no favours as an author if readers pick up a book under false pretences and never want to touch my work ever again.

But on revisiting, I still didn't have much of an idea of what to write in the content guide. There isn't a lot out there for those who have decided that it'd be a good idea. There are guides for things like films and computer games, but those don't always work in the context of a book. What I ended up with was a bit of a hybrid between having a content paragraph and having a content grid (listing content briefly under main categories). I discarded the idea of a general rating, as I don't think it's that helpful (and my book pages will make it clear when something is a work for teens or children, so that's covered elsewhere).

The general format I decided on was this:


Tone Paragraph to get around the grimdark issue. In this paragraph, the general tone of the book is set, along with a few other issues that don't fit in sex/violence/swearing. As this is prose, it's easier to make it clear it doesn't list everything. I can say it includes things like this, or a number of issues such as that and this, rather than a providing a complete list of every possible thing.

Then specific categories. The big three people tend to want to know about: sex, violence and swearing. This is a more at-a-glance summary of whether it does have these things and what sort (where appropriate).

As an example, Sunstruck became:


The novel primarily has supernatural violence, but does touch on real issues such as racial microaggressions and attitudes towards mental illness. There are bar scenes and references to alcohol.

Sex: None
Violence: Fight scenes; descriptions of dead bodies
Swearing: Some, usually from secondary characters

This still left a few issues. What exactly should be included, outside of the big things? I felt social issues were one to include in the tone paragraph, such as noting things like racism*. Alcohol was a big problem area, as technically, it'd be listed for a lot of books. But when does it reach the point of it being worth noting? A passing reference to a wine and cheese party? The main character actually drinking? In the case of Sunstruck, neither main character drinks alcohol during the novel, but there were enough bar scenes that I felt it was worth a note.

I also considered some book-specific issues. In mysteries, sometimes the dead body is described and sometimes it's glossed over. This is an important thing to know for the mystery genre, as it helps set the level of coziness. However, this isn't something likely to be discussed much in a content system for computer games, as they don't match up with book genres in that way.

Finally, there was placement of the content guide. I decided to put it as the last thing on every page. It made it both easy to find (as it's always the last thing, so always there when you scroll right down) and easy to avoid for those worried about mild spoilers (just stop reading at the title, because there's nothing more after it).

I don't think it's perfect, but it's a start. I can edit them later if they turn out not to be quite right. I also think it opens it up for people to ask me if they have an uncommon thing they want to avoid. All in all, I hope it helps people find books they're comfortable reading.




-

* Some content guides include character identity, but really, if a reader has a problem with marginalised characters, they don't want to be reading anything I write (and no one ever seems to want WARNING STRAIGHT WHITE MALE ALERT on books). That's not really a book-by-book content statement, but an author statement. I do want to mention acts of discrimination though, as I know from personal experience that some days it can be too close to home.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Self-Publishing Speculative Fiction - Year One Roundup

Happy BookMy first self-published book went live on 23 May 2013. This is a discussion of what happened in the first year and my plans for the future. To make the stats easier, my year stops at the end of April 2014 (rather than ending it at an odd date in May). 1 May 2014 marks the start of the second year.





***THE BASICS***



Background

I live in an area where it's very difficult to get jobs, so writing is my only income. I'd had a few short stories published in professional markets. This paid a few bills, but I needed to earn more. The obvious earner would be to get an agent and a trade publishing deal, as this comes with an advance and a better level of financial security than selling short stories. But it's difficult to do, and I didn't want to put all my eggs in one dinosaur nest.

I'd planned to self-publish collections for a long time, as there's not much of a market for them in trade publishing, and I liked the idea of including those odd shorts that wouldn't usually find a home. The collection was Rainbow Lights and came out on 23 May 2013. I followed it up on 11 August 2013 with a steampunk novelette called By Means of Clockwork Selection.

I tried the trade publishing route with my novel, but there wasn't any interest. I initially didn't think I'd have much chance self-publishing a novel, but as time went on, I realised a novel had more chance. There were more places who'd consider review requests and more demand from readers. If a novel couldn't break out, it was likely that nothing would. Sunstruck, an urban fantasy novel, was published on 15 March 2014.




Process

I couldn't afford outside editors or cover design. There's a push when this is the case for authors to save up the money until they can afford these things. But this comes from a place of having a regular income where saving is possible. Writing is my income, so I faced the issue that I wouldn't have money to self-publish unless I self-published. Instead, I kept costs down by trading skills, using volunteers and learning to do as much as I could myself. My critique partner went through for story critiques. A family member helped with copyediting. I offered a manuscript swap when I was looking for Native American readers (which has limits, as it meant my pool was among other writers, but it's better than having no one looking over a work for cultural comments... and as it turned out, one of my volunteers gave it to their grandmother, which was a bonus).

My own editing passes involved some straight read-throughs, but also comparing a list of common mistakes to the file (I'd search for both the correct and incorrect word or phrase, and check it was used where it should be). Whenever someone found a mistake, I'd add it to the list. Each book also had a dialect guide. The most complex of these was for Sunstruck, which had details about general British to American English and word use for each character.

Formatting the ebook wasn't that difficult, as it's basic html / CSS. The formatting guide by Guido Henkel is useful. I used the process of making a basic html file, validating it with W3C's validator, and then converting it to mobi and epub in Calibre.

For the epub version, I also used the epub validator site. I found a few useful things to know about epubs for this. One is not to use the name attribute in 'a' (link) tags. Use id instead. This isn't a problem for mobi, so I ended up having to reformat a fair few tags in my first epub version. There's also an odd bug with older versions of the epub check, which meant my file passed but Smashwords rejected it. The problem was solved (when converting in Calibre) by going to the "EPUB Output" tab and ticking "Preserve cover aspect ratio".

The only thing I couldn't crack was getting text to centre on Amazon's 'look inside' feature, but I'm pretty sure that's them and not me. I noted a lot of other books had the same issue (and some random ones didn't) so it's likely to be something small and strange causing the issue with 'look inside'. It looks fine everywhere else.




Cover Design

I made my own covers, which turned out to be the thing people were the most positive about when it came to the books. Rainbow Lights had a chalk pastel/charcoal squid. By Means of Clockwork Selection was a photo manipulation (based on photos of old farm machinery, gears from a cuckoo clock and a graphics card). Sunstruck was computer coloured from a hand-drawn outline, with photographs used to create the background texture. It was all my own work, other than the fonts (most were free fonts or donationware, but I bought a license for one - the title font on Sunstruck).

For each book, I checked out other covers and learnt what I could about typography. My observation is that self-publishers are more likely to mess up the text than the picture, because they spent lots of time finding the perfect picture... and slap any old text on it.

The fonts I used were:



There are a lot of great free and inexpensive fonts out there, so it's worth spending as much time on the perfect font and its placement as it is on the perfect picture.





***THE BOOKS***



Rainbow Lights

Rainbow LightsRainbow Lights is a collection of science fiction/fantasy short stories and poems. It contains thirty-five items and is a full-length collection. Some of these had been published before, though many were new. There wasn't a strong theme with the work, but I tend to write stories with multiply marginalised / intersectional characters. The title and the rainbow squid on the cover were an attempt to convey that to readers.

As it was the first book out, I was fairly optimistic. I attempted a lead-in with posts related to aspects of self-publishing, such as my initial plan, an analysis of rainbow book covers and writing the back cover. I'd intended to talk about how I approached arranging the table of contents, but I decided against as the other lead-up posts didn't generate a lot of interest.

As the final release approached, I posted a cover reveal, which included pictures of the squid in-progress. This was actually more popular than the release post. The squid got favourable comments as did the idea of themed cupcakes (which I've done for all the releases).

My main lesson with this was to be careful of setting release dates. It's very easy as a single worker for something to come up, no matter how prepared everything seems.


Stats:

Time on Sale: 12 Months
Price: $2.99
Sales (First Paid Month Sales): 7
Sales (Year Total): 15
Amazon US Reviews: 0
Amazon UK Reviews: 0
Goodreads Ratings: 2
Goodreads Reviews: 1


Promotional Activities:

  • 4 review requests sent out. I searched several hundred blogs to get these. There just weren't many places who took short fiction. None of them wanted to review it.
  • 23 copies given away as a LibraryThing members giveaway. This led to one review which was posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.
  • I offered the book free for a few days during the winter, via direct downloads on my website and a Smashwords coupon. This was advertised just on my social networks. The downloads were: 4 from Smashwords, 10 mobi from my website and 20 epub from my website. There was a slight boost to the sales of By Means of Clockwork Selection (four sales) during the free time.

Reviews, Guest Posts and Related Things:


After the initial sales, a few came in here and there, but sales dropped to nothing before the year was done. Overall, the book got very little attention. I had trouble promoting it in diversity-related spaces due to the woolly nature of the character identities. It wasn't a book of lesbian space pirates or anything else which could be summed up that easily. Each story had a different protagonist. At the same time, I saw other collections promoted which did have this easily-defined character hook. They've done a lot better in terms of number of ratings and reviews.




By Means of Clockwork Selection (Clockwork Plague #1)

Clockwork SelectionBy Means of Clockwork Selection is a novelette in a proposed series called Clockwork Plague. I had considered either putting this in Rainbow Lights or doing a collection of Clockwork Plague stories. I went for the single novelette approach for two reasons. One is I was interested in how a series of short stories would do. The other is that it gave more freedom to develop the storyline, as I could spread it out over time.

I didn't try review copies, as I knew from my experiences with Rainbow Lights that it'd mean checking a hundred blogs to find one that would even take a review request. It wasn't worth the time. Instead, I ran a free launch promotion using Amazon's Kindle Select. I contacted the places that list Kindle promotions, and it appeared on eight sites. There were 268 downloads and a review appeared on Amazon UK around that time. The impact of the free days was small, but it didn't appear to harm sales either (and it didn't cost me anything to try).

This was a much easier book to brand. I chose a story from the series set in London and put gears on it, so it'd be obviously steampunk. The main character was a black lesbian woman. It's generally easier to promote women characters and lesbian work. It was notable when I ran the free promotion on Amazon that a lot of lesbian romances and the like came up in 'also bought'. People were clearly finding the book through that keyword. Though I did worry it might get negatively reviewed as it's not a romance, this didn't turn out to be a problem.

When #DiversityinSFF got started on Twitter, I created a list of 100 diverse authors. The post got a lot of views and I saw a small burst of sales (eight sales) for Clockwork Selection. I don't know if those sales were to new readers who found the book via my blog. They may have been to the same people who bought Rainbow Lights, who'd waited until I'd get money from the sale (as it was in the first paid month after the free promotion). But given the timing, I think it's likely at least some of them were due to the blog post being passed around. This was the only time I saw much of a connection between the blog and sales.

Stats:

Time on Sale: 9 Months
Price: $0.99
Sales (First Paid Month Sales): 8
Sales (Year Total): 15
Amazon US Reviews: 0
Amazon UK Reviews: 1
Goodreads Ratings: 2
Goodreads Reviews: 1


Promotional Activities:

  • Free launch promotion, leading to 268 downloads on Amazon.

Reviews, Guest Posts and Related Things:


Though sales weren't huge for the novelette, it did comparatively well considering its length and the lack of promotional opportunities for singles shorts. It did as well as the collection and took a lot less time to write (though it brings in less per sale). I think this was the most successfully branded book, as it was very clear what it was about and who it was about. Like Rainbow Lights, sales had stopped by the end of the first year.




Sunstruck (The Bigfoot Mysteries #1)

SunstruckSunstruck is an urban fantasy novel, which I initially tried to query. I had two main issues with querying. One was being urban fantasy. The genre is saturated, which makes it harder to sell and tends to make agents/editors less likely to take risks. The other is the novel market is much less diverse than the short story one. I had realised this was an issue before I wrote the book, and I did try to hit enough general urban fantasy tropes that it wouldn't be seen as too different. But I couldn't really get away from the fact the viewpoint characters are a non-human and a Native American two-spirit person with OCPD.

By the time the last rejection came in, I had some experience self-publishing. I couldn't see urban fantasy turning around anytime soon, and there were still readers for it, so it seemed like a reasonable bet. After all, I didn't need big publisher sales.

I posted about the launch and did some word clouds for the characters. I intend on posting a more comprehensive references list for the book at some point (there's a cut-down version in the back of the book).

An unexpected problem was a family member left a review. It hasn't occurred to me it'd happen as there had been no hint of leaving reviews (and they didn't review the other books). I got this removed by contacting Amazon, but it's a note to remind family that leaving reviews is a bad idea, even if they don't seem inclined to do so. (Reporting my own family was very dystopian in a way.)


Stats:

Time on Sale: 2 Months
Price: $2.99
Sales (First Paid Month Sales): 7
Sales (Year Total): 10
Amazon US Reviews: 1
Amazon UK Reviews: 1
Goodreads Ratings: 1
Goodreads Reviews: 1


Promotional Activities:

  • 31 review requests sent out. I could have sent more, but I'd done the big sites and I needed to focus my time elsewhere. 3 asked for a review copy.
  • Offered copies on the Goodreads group Making Connections. One request leading to one review (on Amazon and Goodreads).

Reviews, Guest Posts and Related Things:


The biggest issue Sunstruck faced was the Bigfoot. I've seen a fair amount of talk about how boring they are. There were also issues with Bigfoot English, as some reviewers cited this as a reason for not wanting to review the book. In hindsight, I'm not sure why I imagined the book was not too different. I think I focused too much on the fact the plot is a basic murder mystery, without looking at the things other people focused on.

I thought not being Native American might be an issue (as in people concerned about accuracy, whether the portrayals were respectful, etc.), but that one didn't come up. I don't think most got past the Bigfoot.

I hoped a novel might do better than the short stories, as more people read novels. There'd also been more support for the idea of me writing a novel on Twitter. That didn't happen. By the end of the first month, I had the same first month sales as the previous books (along with no sales of the previous books). The stats suggest the same few people buy each new book. The good side of that is the people who are buying are coming back, but there's no build in audience occurring.





***GENERAL ISSUES***



Community

Most books are going to need community support to sell. Most initial support comes from an author's reputation in the community. That interest in an author provides a spark to get people reading samples and encourages them to give the book a chance. Even if a book is terrible, the person with community support will get more reads and reviews (they just won't be very flattering reviews).

I've been blogging since late 2007, though only really got going in 2008. I've been on Twitter since 2008. I've been active in that time and my blog does get a fair number of views. So the question was, did that relate in any way to community support?

Not really. I'd note I'm not talking just sales here, but other ways someone without money might help out. Retweets, picking up books when they're free, mentioning a book when it fits someone's looking-for-books criteria and other things like that. Any activity was mainly restricted to a few people I talk to regularly. I don't know exactly who the fifteen people who bought the first two books are, but I was in a situation with Sunstruck where I could identity all but one of my first month sales... because the people who bought copies told me they'd done so. Basically, I have a few friends. That's great and I'm grateful they bought a copy, but that's not the same thing as wider community support.

This has been the hardest thing about the year, as it made it clear where I stood in regards to the community. I feel I've probably harmed my sales by blogging about diversity and representation issues, because it's clear the way I've done so didn't really interest the side of the community looking for diverse fiction. But doing so will have killed sales in other areas and likely harmed my chances of getting an agent.

It wasn't all a complete surprise. I'm non-neurotypical. I've spent my life struggling in social situations. I like online things as I can tailor them to my strengths, but I'm aware I still come across oddly to most people. For all that I might have hoped it wouldn't be a deal-breaker, it wasn't something that came out of nowhere. I can't see a way to really change what I do in the community, because it's already as much as I can manage. Instead, I've had to accept that there isn't really a place for me, and I need to look elsewhere if I want to succeed.




Spamming

So, if trying to post content doesn't work, why not spam everyone? Because it doesn't work either. I follow some authors who post daily about books that came out years ago. It's the same old advert every day. The result is I miss when they have something new, because I've learnt to tune out the adverts. And those are only the few I still follow, because they do say other things. Most authors who spam get unfollowed.

My policy has to been to make one announcement when there's a new piece of news. A single book will split into various news pieces, as there are posts about aspects of the book, cover reveals, reviews and the release itself. This isn't something I plan on changing, as I think it keeps the news fresh (rather than repeating the same promotional message for a book every day for years).

When I did try a cautious repeat of a piece of news (with a new message attached) it didn't lead to additional sales. Spamming might make the author feel better, but it's not useful.

There are some debatable areas. If someone asks for a story of a certain type, and my story fits, should I say anything? I did try this a few times, and got brushed off. So I don't think this is a good idea either. People are waiting for someone else to recommend the story, which creates a loop of not being recommended because no one's read the story, so no one reads the story in order to recommend it.




The Stories

One obvious question that arises is did the stories themselves have problems? Though obviously all writers have room for improvement, I have no reason to believe the basic writing was a problem. I've sold stories before and those stories were in Rainbow Lights, so if I'm deluded, so are the editors who paid for those stories. The reviews I did get were good (and things people didn't like weren't based on a criticism of basic craft). There weren't many returns on Amazon at all (and the two that were returned were almost immediate, so could have been because of misclicks). I think it's more comfortable for people to assume something didn't sell because it was bad, especially if those people also intend to self-publish (they can assure themselves that it won't happen to them, because their book is good). But it doesn't fit the evidence in this case.

This leaves asking what else about a story might make it difficult to sell? Describing my own works, three general concepts came up repeatedly: quiet, quirky and diverse. Quiet is not a good way for a book to be noticed. It's more the sort of things authors do for later books, when they're better known. Quirky could be a plus feature, in that people sometimes say they want quirky work, but I haven't seen a lot of positive reaction on that basis. Diverse is a hard sell. If it weren't, there wouldn't be any need for campaigns telling people to buy diverse books.

The three main ways to change the stories:

  • Find a more popular style. Which might sound okay in theory, but it's not like I sit down and think, "Let's make this story as odd as I can!" I often don't realise I've done it until the reviews roll in.
  • Find a high concept idea. Trade publishing wants this, but the things in my ideas file don't fall in this category. This is another thing that's easier said than done.
  • Find a genre or category where those things will become positives. This is a better possibility, but more on that later.




***THE FUTURE***

Things didn't work out in the first year, so I needed some other ideas. These were the main ones.



Short Stories

When it was clear Sunstruck wasn't going to sell, I went back to writing short stories. Selling short stories to magazines is only a short term buffer, but one or two short sales would make things a bit more comfortable. I'll have to put a reasonable amount of time into shorts until I see some sales, so this will take priority over other things.




Short Non-Fiction

I considered whether I could write reviews or other non-fiction to sell to magazines. But it doesn't seem like many places pay (in the areas where I could write as an entry-level writer).




Trade Publishing

The usual advice here is to write what you love and hope it sells. I did that and it didn't. I also can't afford to write ten more books to find the one. I either need an idea with a reasonable chance... or I need to do something else. I could try writing something, querying it, and then self-publishing if it doesn't work. But the markets are a little different, so a book written for one won't necessarily do as well in the other. Hedging my bets could mean failing at both.

In the end, I don't have any of those high concept ideas and killer hooks. So anything I send to trade publishing needs to be something I can market in self-publishing too.

When I try to think of an idea that fits all these criteria, all I've really got is tumbleweed gently blowing across the nothingness.




Self-Publishing

For self-publishing, it was about identifying areas where books tended to sell based on their genre/category (rather than needing community support or a big marketing budget). Almost all of those areas were erotic romance or erotica. But I'm not going to write in those genres. It bothers me that people keep pressuring me about this. I'm asexual. Sure, there are some asexual writers in those genres, but generally this is not an area with a high saturation of asexual writers. It's not exactly great to have people keep telling me the only way to succeed is to write stories for a sexual audience from a sexual gaze. Or trying to morph any idea I have into a book with more sex. It's uncomfortable and frankly rather creepy.

But eventually, I stumbled across some success stories outside of that. They were cozy mysteries. It is an obvious choice. I tend to like my mysteries at the cozy end. Quiet and quirky are positives for the genre. Plus a bit of light supernatural is fine, so in many ways it's a rebranding exercise rather than something completely different.

One issue is that it's a niche that doesn't do that well in trade publishing, so this isn't a hedging-my-bets idea. It's a self-publishing only one. Another is that these books are usually series. I feel a commitment to continue a series once I've started it, which isn't good if it's not selling (and I already have another novel series that isn't selling).

However, the plus side is that cozies are usually short. I could write it as a standalone and then consider extending it later. It might not be the best idea out there, but I don't have a better one.




Blog Book

Bogi Takács suggested collecting my diversity blog posts into a book. I initially didn't see how it would work, as blog books usually sell based on the person writing them. On the other hand, it's likely it'd sell as well as the other books (so at least provide some money), it could be done in moments when I wasn't up to producing new content, it wouldn't take that long, and basically... this is another thing where I don't have a better idea.

So, this will be happening. I won't include every diversity post I've made. Some are better than others. There are also rather a lot. But I will include a selection of the more essay-style ones and some reviews. It'll have a few new essays too, because bonus content is nice.

However, it'll be happening in the gaps between things, so I don't have a date. Any thoughts on that welcome (like if you'd buy it, what you'd love to see as bonus content, what posts absolutely must be in there, etc.)





***CONCLUSIONS***

There were aspects of self-publishing I really enjoyed. I liked the whole process of editing, formatting and cover design. I hope I can get together enough money to get print versions done at some point (I can't afford the proof copies and font licenses at the moment). I also liked the freedom, as I didn't have to think about how to frame certain things to get them past someone else. I've been writing more stories with non-binary gendered characters since self-publishing, because there's less pressure to conform to what editors want me to write.

The downside was the sales. I'm not in a good financial place at the moment, so it's hard to watch the sales coming in so slowly. I wasn't expecting to sell a huge number, but I had hoped sales would build as I put out more titles. It was also hard to realise where my place was in the community, which has made me feel very isolated.

But I don't have a better idea. I don't think there's a place for me in trade publishing at the moment (and so far, trade publishing has agreed with me). Maybe in a few years things might change, but right now, there's no interest in my work from that part of the industry. Whereas self-publishing did sell a few copies, and a few is better than nothing. It's a bad idea, but it's the best I've got. About all I can do is keep trying and hope next year I'll have something happier to report.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Separating Writers and Their Work

Sad PuddleThere's been a lot of talk about separating writers from the work, with a view to how to vote in the award ballots. The argument is it ought to be about the work. We're as bad as the bigots if we refuse to vote for their work on the basis that they're bigots. We ought to all be more balanced about it. But it's notable that the call for balance is mostly coming from people who are in a privileged position and can step back anytime they want. The people being told they ought to be balanced about it are mostly marginalised.

It's as though it's expected I'll read the work and say, "That story was only a little bit bigoted, and not the complete bigotfest requiring eyeball bleach that I imagined, so let's give him some cookies." This isn't happening. I don't give out baked goods to someone who is toxic about my very existence, on the basis that they were slightly less toxic today. I don't think the bar can actually get lower than that.

But what if the work managed to somehow avoid all that? It's unlikely, but even if that is the case, I'm supposed to pretend I don't know the author is someone who is actively dangerous to me? Who'd be perfectly happy to see me killed? Who is going to write like that in their body of work, even if they managed to avoid it in a short fiction piece they wrote one time?

Saying the person is nice to their friends also doesn't cut it. It's not unusual for a person to be nice to their friends. This doesn't counteract saying black people ought to be shot and women shouldn't be writing science fiction. I don't care how witty they can be at conventions. And consider who they are likely to be making those witty jokes about.

I'm reminded of Samuel Delany in his 1998 article, "Racism and Science Fiction":


"Since I began to publish in 1962, I have often been asked, by people of all colors, what my experience of racial prejudice in the science fiction field has been. Has it been nonexistent? By no means: It was definitely there. A child of the political protests of the '50s and '60s, I’ve frequently said to people who asked that question: As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, however, I presume in a field such as science fiction, where many of its writers come out of the liberal-Jewish tradition, prejudice will most likely remain a slight force—until, say, black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total. At that point, where the competition might be perceived as having some economic heft, chances are we will have as much racism and prejudice here as in any other field."

This is the shift we're seeing, for people of all marginalisations. Numbers are increasing. People are appearing on bestseller lists and award ballots more and more often. We're still a long way from actual equality, but the shift in numbers has become obvious.

Now, we're seeing the backlash. The community has reacted to more marginalised people being around by voting for bigots for the SFWA president and putting them on award ballots, because that'll show us. Saying it's the minority doing so isn't the point. It's that this is going on at all, and that the majority either ignores it or cautions that we ought to take a balanced view about it. But there's nothing balanced about this situation. It isn't okay to say people aren't allowed to be unhappy that the community either doesn't want them or is indifferent to what is going on. It's telling the person who has been punched that defending themselves makes them as bad as their attacker.

Why is there this sudden call for balance where there's none? Do people think it makes them look more reasoned to say that maybe the bigots have a point too? Maybe we are all actually inferior sub-humans who should never write fiction (which is what the bigoted view comes down to, that people dare to exist and earn money in the industry). Is it simply a lack of awareness of what it's like for a marginalised person directly in the firing line? I don't know why, but all I can caution, especially if you are in a privileged group, is to consider what you're saying before you call for balance. The scales still favour some people over others, so there's a long way to go before we can be balanced about it.