Archives for June 2012

Isaac Asimov on self-assessment

As reported in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s combox:

Dear Dr. Asimov,

When do you know that a story is good enough to be published?

—Edward Willett

Dear Mr. Willett:

When it is published.

—Isaac Asimov

Barry Eisler on efficiency

Even a wagon with square wheels can be pushed, if there’s enough force behind it. I wouldn’t call that an argument for outfitting vehicles with square wheels.

Barry Eisler

Francis Bacon on fortune

It cannot be denied, but outward accidents conduce much to fortune; favor, opportunity, death of others, occasion fitting virtue. But chiefly, the mould of a man’s fortune is in his own hands. Faber quisque fortunæ suæ,1 saith the poet. And the most frequent of external causes is, that the folly of one man is the fortune of another. For no man prospers so suddenly as by others’ errors. Serpens nisi serpentem comederit non fit draco.2 . . .

The way of fortune is like the Milken Way in the sky; which is a meeting or knot of a number of small stars; not seen asunder, but giving light together. So are there a number of little and scarce discerned virtues, or rather faculties and customs, that make men fortunate. The Italians note some of them, such as a man would little think. When they speak of one that cannot do amiss, they will throw in into his other conditions, that he hath Poco di matto3.

—Francis Bacon, ‘Of Fortune’


1Everyone is the architect of his own fortune.

2A serpent does not become a dragon unless he has eaten another serpent.

3A touch of the lunatic.

Plus ça change

Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books.

—Niccolò Perotti, 1471

Sarah A. Hoyt on talent and confidence

The assumption that talent and confidence in that talent correlate is a fallacy from movies, I think. I’ve seen timid mice who would write very well, and I know — ye gods, a lot of them are darlings of the industry — a lot of braggarts I wouldn’t read if it were the only thing I had to read on a deserted island.

Also, while I AM one of the deformed souls who will come back to writing no matter what — it doesn’t mean it has to be for-money writing or even writing most people want to read. For two years I wrote almost nothing but Jane Austen fan fic. And while I don’t like what I was trained to do for a living, I probably could make a living off the furniture thing. Pros have thought I could. And at least twice I would have walked away from writing and rented a workshop, if my husband hadn’t asked me to give it one more year.

How many writers have I not been able to read because of the stupid movie cliche that “if you’re stubborn enough, you have what it takes?”

Well . . . it’s better with indie now. I have more stuff to read and can even find it. And maybe, just maybe, this whole ethos will change.

Sarah A. Hoyt


I just heard the dandiest bit of verse. Apparently some of these fantasy guys do rhymes from time to time — who knew? Anyway this guy, who wrote the novelization of the Lord of the Rings films or something, wrote a few lines about trying to get hold of his agent or something. They went something kind of sort of like this:

Dial Nine for an outside line, under the sky,
Seven for a techie in his hall of stone,
Three for an Elf-king who’s probably high,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
in the deep Long Distance where the Phone Bills lie.
One Ring to call them all,
One Ring to bind them,
One Ring to go to voicemail
where you’ll never find them,
in the deep Long Distance where the Phone Bills lie.

Style is the rocket

‘Don’t mock the afflicted.’ This is a good rule, but it needs a rider: ‘Unless they choose to afflict themselves, and treat their affliction as cause for pride.’ Colour-blindness is not funny; but a colour-blind man who should proclaim the virtues of his superior eyesight, and sneer at all those who suffer under the illusion that red is different from green, would be the stuff of immortal comedy. He would be laughed at heartily, and have no one to blame for it but himself.

There is a kind of literary colour-blindness which occurs, for the most part, only among highly cultivated people; for such folly in nature is self-correcting. It takes two opposite forms. One is the belief that prose style is all; that a work of literature is only as good as its individual sentences, and that a bland or pedestrian prose style is in itself sufficient to condemn a story as subliterary dreck. The second form I shall discuss later. [Read more…]

The cry of the highbrow

‘Ah, Shakespeare. Quite a promising poet in a minor way, when he was writing those sonnets and sucking up to Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers. All very proper. Pity he squandered his talents by going into that low-brow theatre business.

‘I wonder what ever became of him? He could have been somebody if he’d stuck to proper literature.’

Wasserman vs. Resnick on genre publishing

[I]n certain genres (romance, science fiction and fantasy) formerly relegated to the moribund mass-market paperback, readers care not a whit about cover design or even good writing, and have no attachment at all to the book as object. Like addicts, they just want their fix at the lowest possible price, and Amazon is happy to be their online dealer.

—Some idiot named Steve Wasserman, in The Nation

OMG! This is such a relief! I’ve been so misled.

I can finally stop editing and taking pains to package my romance backlist well! NO ONE CARES! They’re just addicts!

I can finally stop editing and taking pains to package my fantasy backlist well! My readers don’t care about quality!

I can tell my dad, a science fiction writer, to relax and stop sweating over Hugo-quality material! No one cares! Science fiction readers are just junkies!

I can tell my publisher to stop spending all that money on my award-winning cover artist! An LA Times book reviewer has declared that it’s pointless! My readers are indifferent to brilliant cover art! We could probably just package the worthless sh*t that I write in a brown paper wrapper!

Whoa! So GLAD Mr. Wasserman enlightened me. The pressure to write well, the pressure on my editors to acquire and edit well, and the pressure on my cover artists and designers… Gone! It never mattered! Our readers our brain-dead junkies! Yay! What a RELIEF not to have to behave like REAL writers, editors, artists, and publishers, after all!

Laura Resnick

Publishing: self, trad, and the gross

One reads a lot about the different percentages that writers receive through self-publishing vs. traditional print publishing: for instance, this piece in Forbes about Mark Coker and Smashwords. I prefer to break down the numbers in a different way, by looking at grosses rather than percentages. With your gracious permission:

If I, as an unknown writer, do somehow sell a book to a traditional publisher, I’ll probably receive a $5,000 advance, take it or leave it, with no significant prospect of its ever earning out. So how much do readers have to fork over at retail to earn me that money?

In MMPB from a traditional publisher, I’m getting 8 percent if I’m lucky (assuming that sales and returns are reported honestly); lower rates from some houses. That means that readers have to spend $62,500 for me to earn that $5,000; which equates to 7,822 copies of a $7.99 paperback.

With a self-published ebook, I’m getting 60 percent on sales through an aggregator; more than that on direct sales through Amazon, but a bit of that will be lost to their bandwidth charge, so we’ll simplify the math and assume 60 percent across the board. I’ll need $8,333.33 in retail sales to earn my $5,000 nut. If I’m charging $3.99 for that book, I need to sell 2,089 copies.

I make the same amount of money from a quarter of the number of readers, and charging half the price. It’s a lot easier to find buyers for 2,000 widgets at $3.99 than for 8,000 widgets at $7.99. Of course books are not widgets; but different cheap editions of the same book are essentially fungible.

Looked at another way: if the reading public spends a million dollars on traditional print books, it provides a living wage for approximately two full-time writers. If it spends a million dollars on self-published ebooks, it provides the same wage for 15 writers. Gee, I wonder which is better for the writer.