WorldCon, Part 2

And here’s the rest of my WorldCon, picking up Sunday morning…

Religion and Fandom: This panel looked at the attitudes of fandom towards those fans who are noticeably religious, and it pretty much hit the mark. While SFF fandom has a good reputation for being tolerant of the other, whether that be race, nationality, sexuality, etc., many fans are openly hostile to religious folks. We talked about a few specific examples, including one where the chairman for a WorldCon bid specifically told one fan/priest that he did not want any of “your Christians” voting for his WorldCon bid because he did not want them at his convention. Another panelist, who was a fan long before becoming a pastor, had been asked upon selecting seminary, “You’re so smart – why would you want to be a pastor?” They also gave a few examples of when fandom had been particularly tolerant, including one Jewish panelist who was once assigned a volunteer to help her get around the convention on the Sabbath while still remaining observant of her religious restrictions of not performing work on the Sabbath.

They then talked some about the forces behind this, going all the way back to the catholic church vs. Galileo, but they also spoke about how on a personal level, many fans have been burned by specific actions of religious people outside of fandom. This makes it easy for them to lump religious fans in with the misogynistic, homophobic, anti-science Christian right here in America. Certainly, that particular culture has a lot to answer for, and it’s hard to make the distinctions when their political actions (and IMO, their betrayal of Christ’s teachings) get more and more extreme each year.

In the end, nothing was really resolved, but I suspect this issue is going to get worse over the next decade.

Living with a Creator: I was hoping to hear about strategies for easing the home life with writers and families, but I did not really find much of that here. There was some discussion of spousal health insurance, but mostly it was some reminiscing about how they met their creative spouses. So, it was sweet and all that, but it didn’t have what I had come looking for.

E-Books Nuts and Bolts: This turned out to be a good indie panel, focused on how to make e-books. However, given the wide range of experience in the audience, we could not settle down into the specifics of any particular tasks. However, lots of good information popped out as we flitted from one topic to another.

There was another strong recommendation for Sigil, including the fact that it does have elements of code validation. There was also a solid slam against Smashwords’ Meatgrinder from several panelists, one saying, “Friends don’t let friends use Smashwords.” The Mobile Reads forum was recommended as a good place to ask technical questions.  They also pointed us at the official standards documents for e-pubs and a tool called e-pub validator . But overall, they pushed the KISS mantra (Keep It Simple, Stupid) to avoid incompatibilities across the dozens of different reading platforms.

They also tossed out a lot of other sales platforms beyond the standard Kindle, Nook, and Kobo sites. apparently is a good place to buy ebooks in Australia. is a good place to get your e-books into libraries, though one librarian made it clear that not all libraries were moving towards Overdrive. seemed to be a place to buy Kindle books *not* from Amazon. They also recommended for having something of an SFF focus.

SFWA Membership for Indies: This wasn’t a proper panel, but at one of the panels, the new president of SFWA said a little about SFWA membership. Currently, SFWA membership requires either three short story sales to qualifying markets, one book sale to a qualifying market, or a produced script with acceptable credits/quality. (For the full thing see here ) Under those rules the most successful indies in the world cannot be members of SFWA. However, given that the publishing world is changing, this is under reconsideration. In fact, Gould made that part of his campaign platform. He said in the panel that it was now in committee discussion, looking to define some ways to compare Indie sales to the original professional sales requirements as well as some way of verifying those sales.

I tracked him down a little later and asked him for details, particularly how we might see the committee process in action. He said that at the moment, one of the hold-ups is their bylaws. Apparently, the existing bylaws pretty much make it impossible for Indies to come in. However, they are in the process of reincorporating in California as a 5013c non-profit organization, and the new bylaws should offer them greater flexibility to address the issue. Right now they’re waiting for the IRS to rule on their non-profit application. After that, it will be addressed more publically, but for now it’s just in a closed committee. I asked him where I should be watching for updates on this, and he pointed me towards the main SFWA blog.

How to Extend Your Book Beyond the Page into Social Media: This was something of a disappointment. Three of the four panelists did not show up, and one extra was drafted at the last minute. It turned into more of an interview between the moderator and the draftee. The draftee was mostly a twitter fan, and all the advice was structured around twitter. When I raised the possibility of Google+ I got the standard, “What? Is there anyone even *on* Google?” To which I replied that there were more on G+ than on Twitter. I was pretty much shouted down by the rest of the audience, but I was then saved by the moderator, who said, “Actually, I may need to check Google+ out. Evo Terra swears by it.” I got a big grin out of that, because Evo is in my circles there. But other than that, the panel was not very informative.

Creating Memorable Podcasts: This turned to more of a technical session than a content session, but it was still packed full of good information. There was some discussion of PC vs. Mac – with a moderately strong Mac bias – but they made it clear that it was possible on both. There was a strong recommendation for the Zoom portable digital recorder. For solo or face-to-face interviews, they all agreed that the quality could not be beat. A good condenser microphone could add to that, but they felt strongly that the Zoom recorder was much better than your computer. This matches advice I’ve heard elsewhere, so I’m going to accept this as gospel for now. For such equipment, they suggested checking out pawn shops for cheaper deals. As one panelist said, “Many podcasters built their rigs from the failed dreams of garage bands.”

For non-face-to-face stuff, the general solution seems to be Skype. There was also some discussion about making multiple recordings when interviewing over Skype, i.e. each person record their own voice and mix them together later. There was also a tip on using a program called Levelator to even out different volumes between two speakers in an interview. One person noted that running over a Wifi network made his Skype much choppier, and that he had much better luck when all participants were on physical-cable network connections. They recommended Hijack Pro and Wiretap Pro for recording Skype on the Mac.

For posting, there was a strong recommendation to explore dedicated podcast hosts because most blog hosting accounts can’t handle the bandwidth for a popular podcast . I’m currently on Dreamhost with an unlimited download service, which I think I snagged on a limited-time deal, so I might be ok. They also recommended as a good podcast host. They also recommended using the WordPress blog with the Blueberry Power plug-in for managing the podcast release, since it ties in nicely to iTunes and other podcast-broadcast services.

They did say a few things on content. Notably, for narrative, don’t focus so much on the voices of characters as on cadence, rhythm, and accents. These come off better than an attempt to disguise your voice. You can do varying amounts of show prep, but a certain level of spontaneity sounds better than the sound of you reading off a teleprompter. Length varies quite a bit. Twenty minutes seems to be a sweet spot, but 45 minutes is also good. One longer podcaster said she tried to stay under 90 minutes, but that she set a hard limit at two hours. The best advice, though came from someone who does a lot of interviews, and he said his three rules are: “No politics, no religion, and no BBQ, because these are the three most divisive issues in America.”

Writers, Their Fans and Flame Wars, Oh My!: This was a good panel. I had been hoping to see Chuck Wendig on it, but he was unable to make it. However, I thought Hugh Howey made an excellent replacement, and the rest of the panelists were quite good. The general sense of the panel is that flame wars suck, and that there are lots of things you can do to make them worse and precious few things you can to do make them better. Some of this is because griefers and trolls like to generate drama, so you’re often battling against people dead-set against civilized conversations. Other times, however, you run into trolls who are true believers in their cause, and you can make some headway with them – not pulling them out of their belief but in correcting their drama-generating practices.

A few quotes: “Most people are posting in good faith, even if it doesn’t sound like it. Try to remember that.” “The greatest shortcoming of HTML is that it has no <sarcasm> tag.” “A lot of folks pile on because their friends are piling on, not because they really feel strongly about it.”

Several of the panelists pointed to John Scalzi as someone who has dealt beautifully with some flame wars. Notably, he has turned his greatest detractor into a fundraising drive, where he is donating $5 to appropriate causes every time this detractor mentions him by name. Enough people have pledged to match the donation that by years’ end, this detractor will have effectively raised tens of thousands of dollars for causes he detests.

And finally, they recommended two books: The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Elgin, and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson (and others). I’m going to toss in one of my own favorites, The Usual Error by some friends of mine Pace & Kyeli Smith.

The Hugos: I confess I did not actually attend. Dinner ran late with my wife, and by the time we got back to the hotel, it seemed to be standing room only, and we weren’t exactly dressed for the event. We had hoped to catch it on closed-circuit TV in the hotel, like we did years ago, but now we have to rely on UStream. Apparently they had their own problems with it (but not as bad as last year), but the internet connection in our room was not up to the task of watching it. So instead, we caught the play-by-play reporting made by several others in attendance.

I didn’t have much riding on any of the awards, since I had not read or seen many of the nominees. However, I was glad to see SF Signal get their second Hugo for best Fanzine. I also thought it was very classy of them to recuse themselves from future nominations so that other deserving fanzines could have a shot at it. I was frankly ecstatic to see Mur Lafferty win the Campbell for Best New Writer. Her “I Should Be Writing” podcast helped get me moving on my own writing career all the way back in 2007.

I was not at all surprised to see Game of Thrones win for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form. The Whovians had managed to nominate three different episodes, and that effectively split their vote. Babylon 5 suffered a similar problem early on, and they solved it by asking Straczynski to choose which episode to nominate. I have to say I was a little surprised to see Avengers beat out The Hobbit. I think Avengers was a better film, but I had expected the more literary Hugo voters to go for the Tolkien favorite.

I’m glad Scalzi won Best Novel for Red Shirts. I had not actually read any of the other nominees, so I can’t say that it was the better novel. In my opinion, it’s certainly not the best work Scalzi has ever done, but I think the fans may have done a little bit of “lifetime achievement award” for him here. He has set down the mantle of the SFWA presidency, and I think he’s done a lot for the field in that capacity, so I don’t mind seeing a little extra weight being thrown his way for literary recognition. Then again, it was something of a fun take on the Star Trek tropes, just like Galaxy Quest was thirteen years earlier, and it may have just won enough fans’ hearts in the same way.

Marketing: I did not really do much in the way of marketing at the convention. While I focused enough on the writing end to make my tax write-off believable (I hope), I was there more as a fan than as a writer selling books. However, I did find a giveaway table that was quite happy taking the last of my ARCs for Ships of My Fathers. They went like crazy. Two things may have helped: First, I only put out six or seven at a time, and people seemed drawn to the shorter stacks on the scarcity principle. Second, I was next to the other trade paperbacks, and my cover was IMHO much better than the other covers there. I also tried some little cards with the cover on one side and a description on the other side. The back also included a QR code linking them to the Amazon buy page. About sixty of those were picked up. I don’t know how many readers I’m going to gain from these efforts, but I figure WorldCon attendees are the alpha dogs of SF/F readers, and if they like something, they’re more likely than most to tell their friends.

So, that’s it for my 2013 WorldCon. It’s going to be in London next year, but I’m unlikely to go. More likely, I may finally make the trek to DragonCon and see if I can take it all in. Just remember folks, fandom is vast, and there are plenty of smaller regional cons to check out. You don’t need pointed ears to attend, but don’t be surprised when you see them.

WorldCon, Part 1

WorldCon_IronThroneWell, I was hoping to wrap this all up into one mammoth blog post, but it looks like it’s going to be two mammoth blog posts. So anyway, here’s the first part of my WorldCon experience. I haven’t been to a WorldCon in thirteen years, and I’d forgotten how big it is. Then again, I also know it’s small by comparison to other cons (think DragonCon or ComicCon) as well as earlier cons. The numbers I’ve been hearing bandied about are in the 4000-5000 range, which is about average for WorldCon, though the official numbers won’t be in for weeks at least.

I’ve run into a lot of familiar faces from the Texas convention scene, but I’ve also seen a number of folks from much further afield, including a few I haven’t seen since that last WorldCon I went to in 2000. That’s always great, though I find my focus has changed. As I mentioned before, I’m not trying so much to glean wisdom from the published authors, editors, or agents, as much as I’m trying to learn more about production and marketing.

And interestingly, while the panel listings did not explicitly mention indie publishing, that didn’t stop several of the panels from talking about the subject directly. So, here are a number of panels I went to.

Self-Promotion: Everything You Know About it is Probably Wrong: I arrived late to the con and walked into this one already in progress. It was mostly industry professionals, and I had not arrived with a notebook for taking notes. However, I did hear one interesting semi-contradiction. When asked about giving books away to grab new readers, they said it was great when your publisher did it at a convention, but anyone doing it on their own was simply declaring that their book was worthless. Then, ten minutes later, they were praising Baen Publishing’s wisdom in giving away the e-book versions of the first books in a series in order to pull readers into the series. I know I’m coming at this from a different perspective than they are, but I was a little annoyed by their praise of a practice when done within the industry in juxtaposition with their dismissal of the same practice when done by indies.

The Business Side of Writing: I didn’t get much from this other than the same old things of “don’t quit your day job” and “treat it like a business”. On the whole, these are things I’ve seen said better elsewhere. I will note, however, that one of the two authors on the panel was an indie. About the only thing that made enough of an impression for me to jot down was the notion that treating it like a business meant writing a business plan. I _might_ investigate that. On the whole, I would say it’s a good idea, but the last time I ran a business (a software company in the 90s) the whole business plan attempt devolved into long meetings with my partners while we dallied around with some high-concept vision statement and mission statement. I’ll have to take another look at the more useful bits of this idea.

C.J. Cherryh’s Worldbuilding: Alas, this did not have C.J. Cherryh there to tell us her inner secrets. We did have an old friend of hers who had a number of great anecdotes along with a couple of other writers who were big fans of her work. The overarching message seemed to be that there is no such thing as too much research. While that may work for Cherryh, your mileage may vary. I’m a huge fan of her work, but I’m afraid I didn’t get much out of this panel.

How to Convert a Book into E-Book Format: This was an attempt to walk us through the basics. It did talk about Calibre, but the presenter’s preferred tool was something called Sigil. The project is hosted here ( ) complete with some Windows-install links. I had heard of Sigil before from others, but I had not actually looked at it yet. Now I’m giving it some serious consideration. If nothing else, it looks like it makes a great WYSIWYG HTML editor for doing the hand-coding of the ebook.

The Role of an Agent: This one was filled with experienced industry professionals, and they briefly described how agents will send manuscripts to appropriate editors and then work to negotiate the contract. Then it seemed mostly to go into some nostalgia about how things used to be before publishing was consumed by big corporate culture. It is now run by accountants, not editors. In fact, one said that the current publishing environment is such a scary and dangerous place, writers are lucky to have agents here to deal with it, “so the writer doesn’t have to worry about it.” Frankly, I thought they did such a good job describing the problems in New York, it reaffirmed my decision to avoid it altogether.

In the Q&A period, someone did bring up indie publishing and whether a successful track record would help negotiate with New York. This seemed to be a sore point with some of them as they were adamant that there was no way to track self-published sales. I think what they really meant is that there was no reporting mechanism telling them independently like they can get with BookScan data, because as just about any self-publisher will tell you, we can track them better than New York. We get monthly statements.

Literary Estates: This was one of those panels that really needs to be expanded into a weekend-long seminar. There was just far too much information to cover, but the basic message was make a will and make sure you express what you want to have happen to your books in it. That is, who inherits the rights? The attorney recommended against trying to get too specific on how the property is to be treated because numerous cases have shown that those restrictions are almost impossible to enforce. It’s far better to appoint a trustee (or your beneficiary) who understands your goals and philosophy and then simply trust them to use their judgment.

If the Pen is Mightier than the Sword, What Have You Stabbed Lately?: This was supposed to go into dealing with politics, but I was getting pretty tired by this point, so about the only thing I came away with was that Maurice Broaddus sounds like an interesting writer.

Writing Erotica: Whenever this panel happens, it’s always a late hour, so I confess I was pretty much wiped out by the time it started. I have no notes from it, and only one vague memory: “You want to know the difference between porn and erotica? Porn pays better.”

WorldCon_K9Gender in SF: This went into a lot of gender views and politics in SFF, mostly on things that had been done badly. Specifically, when dealing with non-binary gender in the future, most authors seem to ignore the history of it, such as what’s already been going on for decades or centuries today. Also, when stepping away from the basic cisgendered heterosexual norm, too many authors put way too much emphasis on the sex rather than the rest of the characters’ lives. There was, however, one recommendation for a graphic novel titled, “Y The Last Man”.

For fantasy, the question was raised whether we need to be historically accurate for gender roles? That is, if we say that medieval times were male-dominated, must all of our fantasy fiction also be male-dominated, or is this just an excuse to perpetuate misogyny? This also raised the aspect of “hidden history”, i.e. the real history that was not largely written about by male historians, so if we focus on a male-dominated medieval setting, are we really being historically accurate after all? And then, of course, what’s with all these wizards and dragons – don’t they make any historical arguments moot? In short, there were no solid conclusions, but the panel was clearly unhappy with the current state of affairs.

Publishing Intermediaries in the Digital Age: The panel description for this one read, “Agents, Editors Publishers. All obsolete in the digital age, right? We find out how useful these experts are and what services they can provide to authors and other creators.” Also, looking at the lineup of industry professionals, I went in expecting this one to be mostly the defense of traditional publishing and a screed against indies. It didn’t quite pan out that way.

About twenty minutes in, mostly filled with nostalgia for the way New York publishing used to be run back in the 70s and 80s, the subject of self/indie publishing came up. The moderator (a game publishers, not a fiction publisher) asked how many in the audience were considering self-publishing. A few hands went up, including my own. He then asked how many of us had actually already done it. Three hands remained up. “So, how is that working out for you?” The first guy that answered said, “I sold 35,000 books last year at a $5 price point.” I think it’s fair to say that both panel and audience were stunned. I spoke with this particular author afterwards, and he has about seven or eight books out.

The moderator then moved on to me. I answered, “I’m just starting out, and I’m selling about 300 books a month now also at a $5 price point.”

“So, not quite quitting the day job money?” he replied.

I agreed, but what I did not say that it’s turning into good enough money that in five or six months it will outstrip the $5000 – $7500 advance any New York publisher would be likely to offer me, and that advance would be spread out over eighteen months. I think that moment, more than any other, made me happy I’d made the choice to start off as an indie author. I might aim for hybrid status later on when I have a stronger backlist, but for now I’m quite happy where I am.

The third indie in the room was managing the literary estate of a well-known SF midlist author, and she was in the process of indie publishing all of that author’s backlist. About the only other thing I got out of the panel was a tip for where to find independent editors: The Editorial Freelancers Association,

First Contact: I had been hoping this would be more of a discussion about how to write first contact scenarios, but mostly I found it to be a bunch of recommendations for the panelists favorite contact stories: The Left Hand of Darkness, the Rama trilogy, The Road Not Taken, and The Sparrow. There was some discussion about motivations, i.e. why did they come? what do they want from us? what will we want from them? So, it was nice, but not spectacular.

WorldCon_LegoHugoThe Shift from Print Publishing to E-Publishing: The panel description made this look like a discussion of the reading experience of print vs. e-book, but it turned into an indie love-fest. Notably, none of the panelists felt that print was going away, especially for non-fiction, but they all felt strongly that the fiction market was being turned upside down by e-publishing. One quote: “If you adapt, you’ll thrive. If you don’t adapt, you’ll go out of business.”

They also pointed to the explosion in short fiction. It had been dying just a few years ago as genre magazines were hemorrhaging subscribers, but now it’s thriving with short e-books directly from the authors. They all made a point that it was important to interact with your readers and give those readers what they want, i.e. don’t put up artificial barriers between the readers and your work.

And finally, Hugh Howey drove home the point I’ve heard many, many times: “The best marketing you can do is to write the next book.” He’s famous for his Silo series (starting with _Wool_), but he had already put out eight books before he wrote that one. He had been slowly building an audience, and that was the first one that his fans started pushing hard to their friends.

That pretty much goes with what I’ve heard elsewhere, both in and out of New York publishing. Things take off between your sixth and tenth books. I can’t remember where I first heard this, but here it is: “Most overnight success stories were a decade in the making.”

The Changing Economics of Book Production and Distribution: I’m not sure what I was hoping for from this panel, but I can say that I didn’t get it. This mostly turned into the same kind of publisher complaint session I’ve been seeing for the last year or two and hearing from other professionals at the con. Returns are killing us. E-books are eating into our print sales. E-books are costing us money. There’s no money to be made. Amazon is the Great Satan. And so on. Some of this struck me as just plain wrong since when I look at publisher’s financial reports, they have lately been pointing to their increased profits from e-books. So, it may just be that these particular panelists were further behind the curve than others. It’s hard to say for sure, since I know I went in with my own pro-Indie bias.

However, I did get to ask one question that I really wanted to ask. Namely, did they foresee any game-changing technological advancement in print-on-demand publishing coming down the pipeline that would close the cost gap between POD and offset printing? They all said no. Most of the POD improvements they have been seeing are in quality and speed of printing, not in cost. On the other hand, though, none of them could point to any technological/mechanical reason why such a cost revolution was impossible. Of course, that does not mean such a revolution is coming, but did not rule it out in my mind. Personally, I think that if such a price revolution did occur, it would be as big of a disrupting force as e-publishing has been.

And that takes me through the end of Saturday. I was too wiped out to attend the masquerade. As much as I enjoy seeing cosplay, the whole pageantry thing of the masquerade event is lost on me.

Part two will include a number of other panels, some thoughts on the Hugo awards, and a bit on some marketing I did at the event.

Back from WorldCon

Well, I’m back from WorldCon.  It was a blast, and as tiring as it was, it made me realize how much I missed seeing the national SFF scene.  Certainly, I enjoy my regional cons, but I’m looking forward to trying to do more big national cons in the future.  WorldCon is in London next year, but I don’t think I’m ready to head overseas just yet.  Then again, that might the year I finally go to DragonCon.

Anyway, I’ll have a way-too-long write-up later in the week talking about all the panels I went to.

Heading off to WorldCon and a Few Writing Updates

pocket-programI’m heading off to WorldCon this morning. I haven’t been since 2000 in Chicago, mostly because of the kids and the difficulty of travelling. Now, of course, the kids are older, and this year it’s just down the road in San Antonio. I’m definitely looking forward to it, but at the same time, I have to admit I’m a little disappointed in the programming.

You see, in all my years of going to SF/F conventions, I’ve often attended the writer-centric panels. They tended to be split between the craft itself and a dozen different ways of asking the question, “How do I get published?” I’m still interested in the panels discussing the craft of writing, but I’m no longer interested in the panels on getting published. I chose to go indie, so I’m not particularly interested in tips on crafting an agent query letter.

But I figured that with self-publishing (or indie publishing as the cool kids say) on the rise, there would be some panels talking about that. Well, no, it turns out there aren’t any. The closest it comes is what looks to be a defense of traditional publishing with all the agents, editors, and publishers holding the line and a separate discussion on the transition from print books to e-books, though not about the business changes that represents.

Meanwhile, I have seen estimates that anywhere from 10%- 30% of the SF stories being read today are by independent authors like myself. A quick glance at Amazon’s top 20 SF books shows me that about half of them are from indie authors. Mind you, this is across all SF books, not just SF e-books. Amazon represents about half of the US book market, so even if you cut that ten of twenty in half, you still have about 25% of those top sellers coming from the indie world. (A brief note to statisticians: I realized this is a very rough estimate, but there are no real, solid numbers available on this anywhere.)

Apparently, whoever did the programming for this year’s WorldCon didn’t get the memo. I can’t entirely blame them though. Most of their main guests and headliners come from the ranks of traditional publishing. This is sure to affect their mindset. Then again, with the commercial success of Wool, it might not be that long before an indie shows up on the fan-based Hugo ballot.

Still, there’s plenty to see and do, so I’m looking forward to it.

As for the rest of the writing, August was something of a crap-fest, particularly towards the end. I have special needs children, and their needs became, well… extra special this month. The last Friday before school, we put two and two together and have made a change to one of the medications, and that is already paying some dividends. And of course, they’re now officially back in school, granting me hours of kid-free time each day to do productive work.

And what work have I done so far? I confess much of this week has been spent on catching up on some administrivia that had nothing to do with writing. I sold off an old flatbed trailer. I dealt with some insurance issues for my mother. And quite lamely, I paid the water bill just in time to keep it from being disconnected. But I’m at least gearing up again. Here’s the current state of various projects:

Shattered: Draft done and lying fallow for the next few months.

Stone Killer: I’m about 40% of the way through at 32,000 words. I’m hoping to wrap it up sometime in September.

Hell Bent: I’m still waiting on the rest of my beta feedback. I’ve gotten three out of the six so far, and while it’s generally been good, I’ve got a pacing problem in the first third that I haven’t figured out how to fix yet.

Debts of My Fathers: It’s still in edits. I found this particularly hard to work on with the kids home in summer. Drafting new words was easier by comparison, because I could do that on my laptop. In fact, much of the new text for Shattered and Stone Killer was written in the early morning, down in the kitchen, while I cooked large batches of my picky son’s favorite food. Alas, I have to edit in my office where I can spread out with my printed copy and hand-written notes. Long-story short: I did not get much good editing time in my office this summer.

Oaths of My Fathers: It’s still in pre-draft limbo. I will attempt to get started on it once I had Debts of My Fathers off to the beta readers, and I will want to finish it before I send Debts to the copyeditor.

You may note that I left the dates off those. Well, they’ve slipped since my original estimates in June – I’m just not sure how much yet. Debts of My Fathers is the priority since I have readers asking for it, and I still hope to get that out around the end of the year or the beginning of 2014. Hell Bent, which is actually further along will very likely wait until after Debts of My Fathers is out the door. As one friend recently said, I’ve primed the pump for chocolate, so I need to deliver more chocolate before I send out the mint.

That’s it for now.

Hugos, Hardcovers, and E-books

The last time I read a Hugo-nominated book in time to vote for it was 1997. I read three of five that year, including the winner Blue Mars, by Stanley Robinson. My vote had been for Holy Fire, by Bruce Sterling. While I liked Blue Mars, it bored me a little while Holy Fire grabbed hold of me and would not let go. Starplex, by Robert J. Sawyer, was the third one I’d read, and while it was interesting, it didn’t really do much for me. So, if I liked two out of three, why don’t I read the Hugo nominees every year?

Because to read them in time to vote means reading them in hardcover.

That hasn’t always been true. A few times the publishing schedules would work out so that the paperbacks came out in time to be read over the summer, but often enough, they came out too late to do me any good. Certainly, I’ve gone back and read a few, years later, but not in time to be part of the Hugo decision.

So, what do I have against hardcovers?

Most people would say cost, but that wasn’t it for me. I’m hardly made out of money, but a book provides hours of entertainment, and on the dollars-per-hour scale, even hardcovers do better than a trip to the movies.

No, for me it’s the qualities of the physical format.

  • I don’t like the actual hardness of the cover. It makes it harder for me to grip.
  • I don’t like the larger size. It’s hard to take with me, so it stays by the bed.
  • I don’t like the weight. It makes it hard to hold in bed or closer than my lap when sitting.
  • I don’t like the art jacket. The book is always slipping out of it, and it’s always getting torn, unlike the sturdier art-surfaces of paperback covers.


All in all, my reading enjoyment is seriously impaired by the physical qualities of a hardcover book. More than once, I said I’d be willing to pay a hardcover premium for an early-release paperback, but no one ever did. So I slogged along, waiting for the paperbacks. In the rare cases when I simply could not wait, I struggled through the hardcover, but it was always with the intent that someday I would replace it with a paperback in case I wanted to reread it.

Then, last year, I bought a Kindle. As I explained before, my reading experience on my Kindle is as good as a paperback, and in some ways, it’s even better. It’s light, durable, and small. It rests comfortably in my hand, and it goes places where even paperbacks were left behind.

So now I find myself looking at first-run e-books, and instead of squawking at their high cost, I recognize that they have finally provided me with a chance to pay that hardcover premium for an early-release paperback. I no longer have to wait a year to get the book in a format I enjoy reading. I can get it now at the click of a button.

So with no small irony, I realize that next year’s Hugo awards will be given out in San Antonio, at the first WorldCon I’ll be attending in over a decade, and once again, I’ll have a chance to vote on the Hugo award for best novel. The books that will be on that ballot are coming out this year, and thanks to my little Kindle, I could be reading them right now!

So, what are they going to be? I know Scalzi has a new book out called Redshirts, somewhere between military SF and Star Trek spoof. David Brin has been pushing a first contact novel titled Existence. Iain Banks has a new Culture novel out, and Jim Butcher will be releasing the next Dresden Files novel later this fall!  (Ahem, please pardon the fan-boy squee.)

What book are you dying to read this year, even at first-run prices?