This blog is now officially one year old. My first post was little more than “Hey! This is my blog!” and a brief introduction. I didn’t have any grand plans then. I can’t say my plans are that grand now either, but at least I’ve got some momentum.

And momentum is exactly what I was lacking a year ago. I had been piddling around with my writing for years… well, decades really. I felt I had a lot of stories to tell, and I thought my writing was rising to a professional level, but I was not getting anywhere. Of course, I wasn’t trying that hard, either. I had a couple of leads on agents, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to proceed. For that matter, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to proceed.

You see, somewhere in that tentative agent hunt, one of those agents had asked an important question: why do I want to be published? This was different than the age-old question of why do I want to write, and notably, it was a question I had never asked myself. At the time it was asked, my only answer was that it seemed to be the next logical step, but writing and publishing are very different tasks, and just because I enjoyed one was no reason to think I would enjoy the other.

The other lurking question was whether to pursue traditional publishing at all or head out into the lands of self-publishing on my own. “No unagented submissions” was the rule of the day, and even getting an agent was a dicey proposition. Meanwhile, a legion of scam artists were eager to pounce on my dreams and turn them into debts and disaster.  And the self-publishing evangelists were making claims that seemed too good to be true.

To say I was stuck would be an exaggeration of my forward motion, but that had changed two weeks earlier. I was having lunch with a friend, and we were both bemoaning our lack of progress. He was trying to make the jump “above the line” in films, and I was trying to move forward on some kind of writing career. We had both been stuck for years, and we didn’t see anything obvious that was about to yank us forward.

And that’s when I said it. “I don’t want to be having this same conversation in two years.

It’s not pithy enough to be a Nike slogan, but it had the same effect. I dusted off this domain – registered but idle for years – and started blogging. I finished the edits to Beneath the Sky. I finished the draft to Hell Bent. I wrote the draft to Ships of My Fathers. When the new year came around, I finally answered my questions about publishing and made the decision to self-publish Beneath the Sky.  In May I did exactly that. Since then I’ve done first pass edits to Ships of My Fathers and launched into the draft of its sequel, Debts of My Fathers.

I’d like to say it’s been one steady roll of successes, but I’ve had my stumbles along the way. Publishing Beneath the Sky took longer than I had hoped, and I feel like I rushed the cover. The draft to Debts of My Fathers stalled over the summer due to distractions from a house full of special-needs kids and some problems with how the third act was shaping up. I’ve resolved those now, and I’m heading back in to finish it up. But now I’m two months behind where I wanted to be.

Still, I’m eager to keep moving and confident that when next September rolls around, I won’t be having that same stuck-in-the-mud conversation. Tasks that I’m still hoping to finish off this year include: finishing Debts of my Fathers, polishing and publishing Ships of my Fathers, getting Hell Bent into the hands of my beta readers, and writing the first draft to the sequel to Hell Bent, tentatively titled Stone Killer.

As for the blog, I have a few changes in mind. Some of them are cosmetic, but a few are content-focused. I will probably be dropping my intermittent blog entries on making gold in World of Warcraft – though for the record, I did punch through the one million gold mark this summer. (Fanfare?  Cheers?  Golf clap??)  Instead of talking about gaming, I’m going to take a stab at writing more short fiction. This is something I have not done regularly since the 1990’s, but I want to give it another shot. The SF/F essays will continue, and I will likely continue to talk some about writing and publishing. The book reviews will keep coming along as fast (er, I mean, as slow…) as I read them, but I’m thinking about adding some columns on movies as well.  Podcasting is still a possibility, but it’s iffy.

I hope to have two or three more books in print by the time this blogiversary rolls around next year, but other than that, I have no idea where this is all headed. As always, I’m making it up as I go.

We Need a New Yog’s Law

I recently sent off my novel “Beneath the Sky” to be copy-edited. A friend of a friend recommended a friend as a copy-editor, which means, I suppose, that my novel is halfway to Kevin Bacon. But that aside, I’m paying to get have it copy-edited in a professional manner because I want to put this thing out there in a professional fashion, but with that act, I run smack into that old publishing stand-by, Yog’s Law.

Yog’s Law states an old truism of traditional publishing:

Money flows towards the writer.

For years (decades?), I’ve heard writers and publishers quote this law. The backstory is here, where apparently James McDonald boiled down all the anti-scammer wisdom he could into one simple phrase. In that, he did a fabulous job. It’s clear, to the point, and memorable. Golly, it’s almost as if he knows a thing or two about writing, eh?

In traditional publishing, this little gem has saved a lot of aspiring writers from becoming aspiring victims. Don’t pay an agent to read your book. Don’t pay your so-called publisher for copy-edits or cover design. And for the love of God, don’t pay your publisher for the actual printing! Money flows towards the writer.

But in self-publishing (or “indie” publishing as the cool kids say) this is getting blurred. I’m a writer up to the point where I think the book is ready to go, but then I’m the publisher when I put it through copy-edits, cover design, print setup costs, etc. These are legitimate tasks that a publisher performs when publishing someone else’s book, and publishing companies hire people (i.e. PAY someone) to do those tasks. Then when it’s all done and out the door, I suppose I’m somewhere in between, money flowing back to me the writer while also setting some aside as the publisher to cover costs for the next book.

John Hartness opined on this last year, and James MacDonald (YOG himself!) stopped by to comment on it. He pointed out that his law is still valid as long as you keep track of which hat you’re wearing, i.e. writer vs. publisher, and that ultimately the publisher’s money is still flowing towards the author. “That it’s only moving from one pocket to another in the same pair of pants is immaterial.”

I get that, and be assured that I’m being pretty tight with any cash outlays towards this self-publishing venture, but I could have been less so. I ran into one company, 52 Novels, that does a lot of the publishing work for you. For a fee, they handle e-book formatting and for a little extra will even do print-book layout. They can farm out cover design, and if you ask nicely, I think they’ll even hook you up with a copy-editor or other literary services. By all accounts, they are quite ethical and have a reputation for doing high quality work for a reasonable price.

But I’ve heard of others that are maybe not so ethical, yet they look quite similar. Perhaps the crucial difference is that after you pay these less-ethical cousins for their services, they do you the added “favor” of publishing the book for you to various e-book outlets and POD fulfillment channels, only keeping a mere 20-50% of the perpetual royalties in exchange for this bonus service. With that one little detail, I’ve suddenly gone from paying a professional to do the job right to paying someone to rip me off. At least, that’s what it looks like to me. (To be clear, 52 Novels is a pay-for-service company, NOT a publisher or scammer.)

The key difference seems to be that when I pay my friend-thrice-removed to copy-edit my book or hire an artist to paint my cover, I am retaining all control as the publisher of my book. But that’s not boiled down into such a nifty little gem as Yog’s Law.

I suppose what we need is Yog’s Corallary, something like: But if you do pay for necessary services, be sure you keep control.

Yeah, not quite so clean and pithy. Yog, where are you when we need you?

Note: an extra bit of googling found a professional response to this question of Yog’s Law in the self-publishing era, including some good logic and a big-ass flow chart, so check out The Write Agenda.  It’s very informative and promises an impending white paper on the subject. But still, nothing quite so clean and pithy as the original.

Just What Is a Vanity Publisher?

Last month, a friend of mine told me his novel was coming out soon. His wife showed it to me already on the Kindle, and the hardcover is coming out in January. I asked him who his publisher was, and he told me XLibris. And I confess, my first thought was, “has he been had?” More specifically, I wondered if XLibris is a vanity publisher.

It’s actually a sign of the times that I would even ask that. About ten years ago – or was it fifteen? – Xlibris was about the only self-publishing option you had other than doing all the layout and contracting out the printer. They were one of the first publishers to use print-on-demand, and back in the day, they were the salvation of several authors’ backlists. I remember Ardath Mayer telling us how happy she was to finally rescue so many of her out-of-print books and for only a few hundred dollars per title. Her fans were ecstatic, because who wants to read books six and seven when one through five are unavailable. Meanwhile, of course, books six and seven started selling better.

Now it’s a completely different environment, perhaps more different than even Ardath could have imagined. If I had an orphaned backlist, I could publish it on the Kindle for next to nothing. For print books, there’s, CreateSpace, and Lightning Source among others, offering a road to print for as little as $20 to a few hundred. Options abound for those who choose to self-publish.

Alas, scams also abound. They are con operations masquerading as publishers, who will turn your novel, plus a sizeable investment from you, into well… money in their pocket and dashed dreams beneath your feet. As I heard about some of the features of the XLibris deal my friend got, I started to wonder if XLibris had fallen from its position as a leader in self-publishing to a con artist with a good name.

Well, I’ve done a little research and it looks like XLibris is still on the up and up. I think the main reason I found myself suspicious was that there are now so many other options that are more attractive to me that they suddenly looked questionable compared to the other options out there. Yes, times have changed that much.

But don’t take that as an endorsement of XLibris or any similar publisher. You still need to do your own due diligence when charting the waters of vanity, subsidy, and self publishing. An excellent place to start is over at Writer Beware’s page on vanity publishing.

One Righteous Smackdown

While I have written a couple of novels, I have not yet published them. In truth, I have not yet submitted them, but they’re both still in the editing phase – more on that another time. Publishing through the large New York houses has become harder and harder in recent years, both for economic reasons and simple changes in the Industry. Of course, various forms of self-publishing are available (from to Lightning Source and Kindle/Nook e-book options), but being selected by an established publishing house has great emotional appeal. Fortunately – no, not really – there are countless scammers ready to feed on those frustrated writers, promising fame and riches while only delivering shame and expenses.

Fortunately – really – there is a team that sorts out the good from the bad. The website Writer Beware has been shining the disinfecting light of truth onto this problem for years. They keep lists of legitimate agents and publishers as well as calling scammers on their scams. Even on some that fall somewhere in between, they point out the areas of concern and tell you what to watch out for. They get some support from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), but mostly it’s a labor of love.

Most scammers either keep on scamming or scurry away into the corner only to return under a different name, but a few have been doing what they can to muddy the water. A largely anonymous group called The Write Agenda has been making claims against Writer Beware for a while. It’s not really enough to completely undo their scam-busting work, but I guess these scammers hope to reduce their stature to being merely one of two mudslinging opponents. Writer Beware has mostly ignored this in the past. After all, why point folks towards your worst character assassin? However, now the Write Agenda is apparently going after a number of other folks who support Writer Beware or even SFWA.

I guess if you can’t bully someone into submission, you start going after their innocent friends.

Well, that’s probably not the best idea when you’re trying to bully the righteous, because they will haul out their wrath and deliver one righteous smackdown. Earlier this week, Writer Beware did just that. In addition to documenting many of The Write Agenda’s illegitimate activities, they are making some attempt at breaking through the group’s anonymity to reveal the true scammer’s sour grapes. It would appear that he has done battle with Writer Beware before and lost.

So as we move away from newspapers, perhaps it’s time to update the adage: Never argue with someone who buys his electrons by the barrel, especially if his friends do too.