Mark Terry

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Game of Thrones - Strangled by Your POV Choices

March 21, 2013
I recently finished reading the 2nd book in George RR Martin's SONG OF FIRE AND ICE series, better known as A GAME OF THRONES. The book, in case that wasn't confusing enough, was A CLASH OF KINGS. Unlike the first book (A GAME OF THRONES), where I watched the first season of the HBO TV series, this time I read the book first before jumping in last night on the first episode of season 2, which mostly lines up with A CLASH OF KINGS.

I mentioned before that Martin's got a lot of points of view. Within those chapters, labeled with the POV character's name, he doesn't wander from that character's POV. I applaud that, actually. It's a series that already has about 15 main characters and seemingly a literal cast of thousands. I'll be reading some passage that lists 20 characters and their family histories and think, "I hope I'm not supposed to be tracking all of these names."

Anyway, an interesting thing happens in the book that rather fiercely becomes obvious in the TV series. Sometimes having limited POVs can cause dramatic problems.

Case in point. In the book, Tyrion, the dwarf and, in this book at least, the Hand of the King (sort of chief of staff, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security and head of the FBI all rolled into one), is questioning some people about a knight who broke into a brothel, found a specific whore and her baby, and stabbed the baby to death right then and there.

Tyrion has questions, but we never see this scene. The reason we never see this scene, the way Martin structures this book, is no one in that scene is a POV character. As horrible as it is, we never actually see it. (And to me it lacks a certain power because of what exactly is going on there - the Queen Regent and her psycho son King Joffrey, are having all of the former king's bastard children hunted down and killed - is more alluded to rather than overt).

So in the first episode of season 2, we get King Joffrey (who in the book is 13 and in the show probably 15 or 16 going on a Terrible 2) talking to his mother, the Queen Regent (Cersei), about the rumor going around that his actual parents are her and her twin brother (Jaimie), which is actually true. (And neither of them are POV characters in A CLASH OF KINGS, although Cersei was in A GAME OF THRONES, the book). And it's him that sends the knights and King's Guard out hunting down the now-dead King Baratheon's bastards and having them killed. And in the TV show we get the scene in the brothel, and we also get scenes of several other bastards being killed (none of which were in the book), leading up to them basically torturing a metalsmith about the location of one of them, who, if not a major character, is in the company of a major POV character, Arya Stark.

This happens a number of times in just the first episode of the TV show. Where things that were talked about in the book are actually SHOWN. Which is good, because in a visual medium like TV or movies, having characters talk about dramatic things that happened doesn't work very well. And honestly, I'm not sure it works that well in books, either.

On the other hand, there's plenty, plenty, and more a-plenty of dramatic things going on in A CLASH OF KINGS, and since it's already 969 pages long, not counting appendices, I wouldn't ever encourage George RR Martin to ADD to what he's writing.

But I think it's a great example of problems writers face when choosing their POV characters.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Amazon KDP Select Exclusion

For everyone familiar with Amazon ebook self-publishing, they're probably aware of Amazon KDP Select. The primary advantage to this for authors and publishers is that for a period of 5 days out of every 3 months, books enrolled in KDP Select can be made free.
The first time I did this, for my novel, THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, I had well over 8000 downloads in a 24-hour period. It totally drove all my other sales. Since Pitchfork is the first in my Derek Stillwater series, all is good.
I've made Pitchfork free periodically and generally speaking it gooses my overall sales, although not to stratospheric numbers. Free downloads have never been as high as the first time, either. I recently did it for 5 days straight as a way of boosting some interesting in my latest Derek Stillwater novella, GRAVEDIGGER. In 5 days straight I gave away a little over 2000 copies of Pitchfork. Sales have been decent since, a definite bump, so it does work.
The catch, of course, is that I can't offer Pitchfork for sale anywhere else - specifically through Barnes & Noble or Smashwords - while it is enrolled in KDP Select.
I don't much like that. Kindle sales account for probably 95% of my sales overall, and Smashwords accounts for almost nothing (same with Kobo, iBooks and Sony), but Nook sales are money, and although I suppose the boost on Kindle sales is worth shutting out a portion of the Nook funds, I don't like the idea of shutting out the Nook readers.
But I do it anyway for some of my books because, well, Amazon makes me money and allows me to apply fairly basic retail principles to selling books - something that I find most publishers don't do.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Making Money Writing

report March 14, 2013
As I was invoicing a client today and filling the data into a spreadsheet I keep, I typed in the word "article" in the space for type of work.

When I first started as a freelancer, the types were pretty much "article" and "column" and "JAGT", which refers to the technical journal I edit and have edited since 2000.

I don't write a lot of articles any more. So what has appeared in this space? Let's show you a few.

-Report (typically market research reports, although I haven't done any recently)
-eLABc/tech sheets (this is actually website content, but the tech sheets are website pages of specific diagnostic laboratory tests)
-ms. Edit (edited a novel manuscript for a client)
-editing gig (this was editing for an translation company. The company hires a bunch of translators for foreign companies that want reports, etc., translated into English or other languages. Then they hire editors to make sure it's actually readable. I don't do a ton of this, primarily because this particular company pays only OK, but also tends to have these bizarre and impossible timelines, like, they contact me at noon and have a project that will take 10 hours at least, but they can't get me the materials until 5:00, and they want it done within the next 24 hours. Life's too short for that kind of crap).
-White paper (I still do a fair number of these and would like to do more)
-enews alert (basically short email blasts)
-Q&A (in this case a client paid me to answer questions one of their customers had about a report I had written a couple years before)
-report chapter (in which I wrote 2 chapters for a longer business report)
-press releases
-e-book (not my own, but for a publisher)
-website copy (I'm doing more of this now and it's good if the company has deep pockets; technical companies typically expect to pay well for this and don't complain; startups are assholes with no money most of the time)
-ebrief (same as an enews alert, essentially a short e-newsletter or article, 3 -5 paragraphs or so)
line edits (for an online medical encyclopedia; editor was a jerk)
-website proof (basically tidying up a client's web pages)
-Column (in this case, it refers to a regular gig I have where I search the news about movers & shakers in the specific area, then write a paragraph profile of the person involved)
-PPT edits (I've done this a couple times - and am in the middle of one now - where a client needs a PowerPoint presentation turned into something usable and professional)
-App Note - this is an online technical document for a biotech manufacturing company
-Book Reviews (haven't done any recently, but I did for quite a few years)

Other areas are, of course, books and paid blogs. I've never done paying blogs, although there's a lot of them out there (generally the pay seems to suck, but if you can get one that wants you to blog a lot and only pays $25 or $30 per post and you don't have to spend a ton of time writing them, I can imagine them being worthwhile financially)

There are other things that are out there like ad copy, direct mail (junk mail by any other name), pharmaceutical technical writing, grant writing (done a little bit of it). And generally speaking, if you're going to be a freelance writer, you need to keep an open mind about it.

And, of course, there's probably all sorts of paying writing gigs that will be out soon that aren't quite in existence yet. Who would have guessed 10 years ago that people would be writing text designed for mobile apps?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What I've Been Reading

March 2, 2013
The last 10, well, not exactly books. But fiction stuff, that's on my list.

1. The Human Division #4: A Voice in the Wilderness by John Scalzi
Yeah. He's serialized this novel and a chapter/section comes out every Tuesday. Which accounts for a lot of these 10 reading selections. I'm not going to describe each chapter except to say that I'm really enjoying this book. It's in his Old Man's War universe and it's fun and interesting and, like everything I've ever ready by John, very entertaining.

2. The Human Division #5: Tales of the Clarke by John Scalzi

3. The Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
You may have heard of this one.

4. The Human Division #6: The Back Channel by John Scalzi

5. The Night Ranger by Alex Berenson
This is a short story and I actually read it on my phone while sitting around waiting for one of my son's swim meets to start. It was probably one of the regional meets, because you have to get there early in order to save time and the seats are uncomfortable and for whatever reason the swim team's parent ensemble is dominated by moms, so Leanne does most of the schmoozing and I walk around to keep my butt from getting sore. Anyway, Alex Berenson writes an espionage series about John Wells, a CIA agent of sorts who used to be under cover with al-Qaeda. He's sort of working privately now. This short story is a prelude to a novel (which I bought but haven't read yet) and so it doesn't involve John, but involves a bunch of American college kids who eventually get kidnapped in Africa. Clearly John's going to do a bit of rescueing.

6. Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman
Better than some of his more recent books. Or at least more memorable. Yes, it features Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis. In this case it kicks off when a tree falls over and the homeowner discovers a metal box buried near the roots that contains the skeleton of an infant. The novel sort of spins out after a while, then spins back. Quite good, though, although I think he didn't give us much real backstory on the villain.

7. The Human Division #7: The Dog King by John Scalzi

8. The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais
This was the first Elvis Cole novel and I first read it years and years ago. So I thought I'd go back and read it. I did. Lean and mean and very good.

9. The Human Division #8: The Sound of Rebellion by John Scalzi

10. The Human Division #9: The Observers by John Scalzi

Otherwise I am currently reading George R.R. Martin's 2nd book in The Song of Fire and Ice epic (better known as The Game Of Thrones, which is the name of the first book and the name of the HBO TV series and, in my opinion, a far better name for the series in general) called A CLASH OF KINGS. It's approximately 1000 pages and I'm about halfway through.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

John Scalzi on Alibi

March 7, 2013
Yesterday John Scalzi wrote a scathing post about Random House's Hydra e-book imprint contract, which, basically, sucked. Today he's back, having gotten a look at Random House's Alibi ebook imprint, which also sucks. It's worth reading.

I wrote a lengthy comment, and figured it was worth posting here. So here it is.

I just wanted to write this here, because it’s worthwhile for everyone’s consideration. I’m neither agent nor attorney, however…
Book contracts are weird. In the overall world of contracts, book contracts are strange, okay? Because, if you don’t know anything about how publishing works, reading a contract – even one like the one discussed here and yesterday – might seem reasonable if you don’t know any better.
Which is why agents are of value in negotiating publishing contracts, and/or attorneys with experience with publishing contracts. (To which I want to add, but an attorney who is NOT familiar with publishing contracts, is not necessarily all that valuable here, because they won’t necessarily understand what is in a TYPICAL/STANDARD publishing contract.)
For instance, what is the “standard” for ebook royalties. Is it 10%? 15%? 20% 50? 70% It’s shifted around a lot since ebooks became popular and I honestly don’t know what would be a standard ebook royalty with a traditional publisher. I known that it’s 70% for ebooks you self-publish if your price is over $2.99 (in most platforms, anyway), and 30% otherwise, but I don’t how that compares to current publishing royalties today. I know what my agent negotiated back before ebooks really took off – the same amount as for the hard covers, which was something like 10%, which sucked then and sucks now.
The point here is that publishing contracts are somewhat loosely based on STANDARD PRACTICES WITHIN THE INDUSTRY. That is to say, for a long time, a standard royalty on a hardcover was something like 10-15%, although if you or your agent had clout, you might get more and if you or your agent didn’t, or were desperate, you might get less. And mass market paperback might be something like 6-8%, with variations depending on sales, i.e., 0-5000 copies gets 6%, 5001-10,000 gets 7%, 10,0001 + gets 8%, that sort of thing.
The additional point is that these change. They change because enough agents negotiate contracts in such a way that everybody pretty much agrees, yeah, a standard ebook royalty is now 25%. We can negotiate up a little or down a little, or nibble at the margins, or whatever, but the starting point is 25%. Writers organizations and agent organizations might exert group pressure, but (in theory, anyway), writers employ agents, not the other way around.
For example: 20+ years ago, agents charged 10%. Somewhere around the 1980s, agents decided, seemingly as a group, to charge writers 15%. They essentially gave themselves a 50% raise. For the most part, writers said, “Um, okay, sure, I guess.” Some didn’t. Sue Grafton, for instance, was very reluctant, although she eventually did agree to sign with an agent who charged 15%. Writers didn’t have much say in the matter, since writers typically work as sole contractors. (A significant exception is scriptwriters, who have a union/guild, and I like to think that if agents wanted to give themselves a 50% raise, the SWG east & west might have something to say on the matter).
All of which is to say, THESE CONTRACTS, these SHITTY, HORRIBLE, ETC, ETC contracts that John is discussing here, are probably perfectly legal. But they are not – AT THE MOMENT – STANDARD PRACTICES within the publishing industry. But apparently the largest publishing house in the country would like them to be. Which is disquieting, at the very least. But the way writers convince publishers not to try and change STANDARD PRACTICES so dramatically is to NOT SIGN THE CONTRACTS. Presumably some desperate writers will, because, for those of us who are published, we’ve been there. We know all about the desperation thing. But the fact remains, that you have way better options. The only thing these contracts give you is validation from Random House. But that’s a little bit like being told what a sweet, pretty victim you are by your mugger.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Contracted Theft

March 6, 2013
If you haven't read John Scalzi's post about Random House's so-called e-book imprint, Hydra, you really should. And the take away message here is that a large, wealthy conglomerate is trying to screw writers. Beware!