swan_tower: (*writing)

After the brouhaha over WFC’s panels the other week, I took to Twitter to brainstorm ideas for panels that would make World Fantasy more up-to-date with the current genre. Wound up with quite a few I’d like to see at some con, a selection of which are below.

Additionally, I propose a guideline for all panel programming: if you’re discussing a topic or subgenre and your panel is not explicitly about either a historical period in the genre or its most recent works, then it may be good to have your panel description reference one foundational work, one classic, and one recent title. So, for example, if you were going to talk about vampires in fiction, you could name-drop Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. If you cannot think of an example from within the last twenty years, then get Twitter or Facebook to help you out. Otherwise you wind up calling Interview “recent” and looking pretty ignorant . . . .

Anyway, panel ideas! Feel free to suggest more in comments.

* Serialized Publication — Both self-publishing and projects like Serial Box have revived this approach to storytelling. How does it differ from its Victorian or pulp-era counterparts (and from modern serialization on TV), and what are the benefits it offers to the writer and the reader?

* Living Memory as History — Fantasy is stereotyped as being mired in a medieval past, but historical fantasy has started to mine the twentieth century for settings. What’s the appeal of setting a novel not in the present, but within living memory, and what perils does that hold?

* Works in Translation — English-language authors often derive a portion of their income stream from translations of their works into other languages, but the flow in the other direction is much smaller. Let’s highlight recent successes of translation into English, and discuss what the barriers are that keep the numbers from rising higher.

* DVD Extras — Author websites and social media provide many opportunities for writers to “add on” to their works, providing additional details or explanation or behind-the-scenes glimpses of how a book came to be. Do these add to the experience, or does knowing too much take away from the magic?

* Trigger Warnings — Fiction, by its nature, often includes content that might be distressing to a given reader. There’s a trend on the internet to note when a post might contain references to triggering content such as sexual assault or child harm, and fanfiction has a long-standing practice of tagging stories to give a preview of what’s inside. How might professional writers do the same — and what, if anything, is the aesthetic cost of doing so?

* Everybody Writes It, Nobody Reads It — Certain genres appear to be more popular with writers than with readers. Or is that just received wisdom? Agents and editors say nobody wants a portal fantasy, and yet many authors want to write them; the same might be true of pulp. Why the disjunct?

* Resurrecting Books — It used to be that your backlist, once out of print, might never be seen again. Self-publishing offers the chance to give these books new life — but what should an author do when these works aren’t up to their current standards of craft, content, or more? Is it better to revise them before republishing, or should they stand as the historical artifacts they are?

* Examining Empire — Good-bye, faceless minions of the Dark Lord; hello, realistic examinations of empire and colonialism. Recent works such as Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, and Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant have delved into the ways that empires acquire and maintain power. Let’s discuss the angles they take, and what this tells us about the world today.

* Alternatives to Violence — The default assumption in the genre is that the stakes are high only if a lot of lives are at risk, and the most exciting victory a character can achieve is to win a climactic fight. But there are books that present alternatives, either by solving problems through non-violent means, or by basing the conflict on some other axis entirely. How do writers create excitement and tension without resorting to violence?

* It’s Not About You — Popular authors may find a fandom springing up around their works. How do they strike a balance when it comes to interacting with those fans? Authors have been cautioned for years that it’s dangerous to acknowledge fanfiction and other fanworks, but is that really true? And what’s an author to do when the fans say they aren’t welcome in their own fandom?

* Grimdark Women — When we hear the word “grimdark,” most or all of the authors who come to mind are men, and the stories they tell are often criticized for sexism and misogyny. Who are the women writing in this corner of epic fantasy, and do they receive that label on their works? Are the female characters in their stories handled differently from those in the works of men?

* Poverty in Fantasy — Many fantasy protagonists grow up poor, but in most cases it seems to be cosmetic poverty: the rural farmboy and the girl from the streets never seem to be malnourished or wondering where they’ll sleep tonight. What books feature protagonists who are realistically poor? What are the difficulties in writing about someone who lacks the free time and disposable income to engage in the usual activities of a protagonist?

* Bring Your Own Dragon — Our modern world is mobile like never before, but a lot of urban fantasy still features protagonists who are ethnically and culturally homogenous with their homes. Who’s writing about immigrant protagonists? How can an author navigate the mesh of different folkloric traditions, the dynamics of multiple cosmologies being real?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

A while back John Scalzi made a public pledge not to attend conventions without a harassment policy, and many authors signed on.

I’ve decided to add a new pledge(1) for myself: I won’t attend a convention that doesn’t have an accessibility policy.

The proximate cause of this decision is the abysmal experience Mari Ness had at yet another World Fantasy Convention. She’s the one who has spoken up the most about this, but far from the only one it affects: as she says there, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, the Guest of Honor, was using crutches. Many of our most respected writers are elderly and use assistive devices; Gene Wolfe was using a cane. Injury can strike anyone; Scalzi was in Australia when he tore a calf muscle, requiring a combination of crutches, cane, and wheelchair to get about and get home. (How many ankle surgeries have I had, again?) And those are just the authors, then ones a convention might invite and then either lose or massively inconvenience because of bad accessibility. It doesn’t even touch on the fans who might want to attend, but stay home because they just can’t face the hurdles imposed by trying to get around or enjoy themselves while present. But if you make it more accessible for them? You may be surprised how many show up.

I think it’s easy for this one to slide under the radar because many of us are lucky enough not to be affected. In the wake of Mari’s recent experiences, though, I found myself thinking: saying “well, I don’t need accessibility assistance; therefore I don’t care about the policy” is kind of like saying “well, I’ve never been harassed at a con; therefore I don’t care about the policy.” Both of those statements are crap. Do I care about my fellow writers and fans being able to attend and enjoy themselves? Yes. In that case, I need to make sure they’re welcome.

So: if a con does not have an accessibility policy, I will not attend.

Of course, it isn’t enough for me to just say that. What do I mean by “an accessibility policy”? What kinds of measures does a con need to take for me to say I’m willing to attend? Fortunately, other people have put a lot of thought and effort into these matters. Tanya Washburn was kind enough to help me out with this, pointing me at several resources: Geek Feminism Wiki has a page linking to several sub-topics, Conrunner.net has a page, and the WisCon policy is generally agreed to be the best example out there. Just reading through those things can teach you a lot.

The first purpose served by an accessibility policy is to inform people. Maybe the policy says “we regret to say that we cannot arrange wheelchair access to X part of the venue.” That may be disappointing to a wheelchair-bound attendee — but it’s a lot less disappointing than showing up to the con and only then finding out that they can’t go everywhere they want to. If you say you will not be providing gluten-free food in the con suite, then gluten-sensitive attendees know to bring their own victuals. Etc. And providing this information is, quite frankly, not very difficult. It costs no money (you’re already paying for your con website); it requires only a small amount of time and effort. But writing it up is a really good exercise, because it will prod you to think about these issues and consider whether you can’t make some adjustments — which is the second purpose of such a thing; it makes those of us who don’t deal with a given issue more aware of it, which in turn can help us do better.

And that brings us to the third purpose of the policy, which is to actually, y’know, make things accessible. I think that my pledge should include some minimum standards of access, without which I will strongly question whether I should attend. I don’t expect everything: for example, the policy for my friendly local FOGcon acknowledges that they cannot afford to pay for interpreters (e.g. ASL sign), and they haven’t been able to find any volunteers. That, for me, is not a make-or-break issue. Ditto their comment on fluorescent lighting, which is ubiquitous in the kinds of hotels and convention centers that cons take place in; expecting a con to somehow deal with that problem is not realistic.

But some things require very little effort and money, and I think it’s fair to expect them at any con that gives half a damn about access. At the moment, for me, these include:

1) A con staff member who is the designated accessibility contact. This person is in charge of making whatever arrangements the con will be implementing, answering questions from guests or attendees in advance of the con, and handling problems if they arise during the con. If the hotel has locked the door at the top of the wheelchair ramp to the restaurant, this is the person who gets that unlocked. Etc.

2) If panels or other program items take place on a stage, this stage must have a ramp. This was a major issue at WFC this past year — and the most galling thing is, if the con had spoken to the hotel about it ahead of time, ramps could have been arranged with very little difficulty or cost. If for some reason your venue charges through the nose for such things even with advance notice, reconsider whether your panels really need to be on a stage.

3) In larger rooms, provide microphones for panelists. There are some panelists who project well enough to be heard by everyone in the room. The number of such people is rather smaller than the number of panelists who think they can project well enough. Providing mikes reduces the interruptions where somebody has to say “could you repeat that, please?” and the disappointing panels where the audience only heard half of what was said. And again, venues will usually supply and set up these things, as long as you say you’ll need them.

4) Make sure aisles are wide enough for people using mobility devices, and mark out space for them in the seating area. This can be difficult in tiny panel rooms, but in larger ones it shouldn’t be a problem. Blue paper tape is cheap and easy to use for marking pathways and “parking” zones. You can also use it to stripe chairs at the front for the use of those with visual or hearing difficulties.

5) Signage on food in the con suite, green room, and/or banquet. Even if you can’t provide vegan or gluten-free options or whatever, you can at least tell people what’s in front of them, so they don’t have to go out of their way to find out.

Those, I think, are the bare minimum elements I want to see at cons. Other things are great! Other things should be encouraged at every turn! (If there are other things you think should also be on the make-or-break list, let me know!) But if the accessibility policy for a given con doesn’t mention these five things, I’m going to ask. And if the answer is “no, we’re not doing that” . . . I will probably say that in that case, I decline to attend.

And finally, the fourth purpose of a policy like this is to provide accountability. If you say there are wheelchair ramps to the stage, and I get there and no such thing is in evidence? Then we have a problem. And when I bring the problem to the attention of the staff, I’m not making an unreasonable last-second demand. I’m just holding them to the promises they made.

So that’s my pledge. You can sign onto it yourself if you like, or make one of your own. But just as we’ve been pushing to get cons to deal with the harassment issue, we need to push on this one, too.


(1) I’ll note that I started drafting this post before Mary Robinette Kowal posted her own accessibility pledge; various personal issues (including, ironically, a month spent in a cast) derailed me from finishing it in a timely manner. I considered just signing her pledge and scrapping this post, but I decided I wanted to talk about this in more detail, so the post stands. But I’m well aware that I am not the first person on this particular bandwagon.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

Official wording isn’t out yet (they’re still working on it), but this year’s WFC con com has announced that they’ll be expanding their harassment policy, using that of the 2014 World Fantasy as their guide. This is a relief to me, and means I will (barring new disasters) be participating in the program as scheduled.

Even more encouragingly, Ellen Datlow told me via Twitter that the WFC Board — the body which farms out the right to run World Fantasy to individual committees each year — will be meeting next week to discuss implementing a standard policy for the con series as a whole. That chicken has of course not yet hatched, but I find this very reassuring. At present, the Board only “encourages” the cons to have a policy, and lays out no guidelines for what shape that policy should take, if it exists at all. I think it’s become abundantly clear that this approach is insufficient; I’m keeping my fingers crossed that what the Board puts in place will improve the situation going forward.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

Edmund R. Schubert, editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show, has withdrawn himself for consideration in the category of Best Editor, Short Form.

My understanding is that it’s too late at this point to actually withdraw; his name will be on the printed ballots. But he no longer wishes to be in the running, and therefore would prefer people not vote for him.

Why am I posting about this? Because he’s put together a free sampler of material from IGMS — basically the stuff he might have put into the Hugo Voters’ Packet had he stayed in. And there’s a story of mine in there: “A Heretic by Degrees,” the first Driftwood story I ever published.

Schubert approached me ahead of time and asked whether I would be willing to let him reprint that story in the sampler, given the controversy around the Hugos. I told him I was fine with that, and in turn, I asked and received his blessing to talk about my relationship with IGMS.

As many (but possibly not all) of you know, the full name of IGMS is Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. And Card, as many (but possibly not all) of you know, has become increasingly vocal over the years about his homophobia. This is, to put it mildly, not a position I support — which makes my relationship with the magazine complicated.

When I sold “Heretic” to IGMS, Card’s homophobia and other offensive behaviors were not fully on my radar, and I had not yet begun to think through such matters to the extent that I do today. I was just looking for a place to sell the story, that would pay me a decent rate. Later on, that changed: I knew full well what he was like when I sold them “Love, Cayce,” which is the other story of mine they’ve run. By then, my decision hinged on two things:

1) Card’s name is on the magazine, but he isn’t the editor. He hasn’t been the editor since 2006, and while he has occasionally selected a story for the magazine, this is rare. The vast majority of what you read in IGMS is there because of Schubert, who is not taking his marching orders from Card.

2) It pleased me to take money from a magazine bearing Card’s name for a story that has a lesbian relationship in it. (It’s a small detail, not the focus of the story — which is part of why Schubert didn’t pick “Love, Cayce” for the sampler. But it’s there, and it’s treated as both positive and unremarkable.)

And this brings us back to the sampler. Schubert told me his reason for putting it together was, he wanted to showcase what IGMS stands for, under his leadership. Because he is not Orson Scott Card, and he is not running a magazine that stands for homophobia, racism, misogyny, or any other kind of bigotry. I’m not claiming IGMS is a flawless paragon of diversity and progressive ideals; to be honest, I don’t read it regularly. (These days I don’t read any magazines regularly, not even BCS: most of my fiction consumption has been novels.) But it is not a microphone for Card’s views. Nor is it the kind of straight white male conservative bastion the Puppies seem to love so much. Schubert was not asked if he wanted to be on the Puppy slate; he does not applaud their tactics. And he does not agree with their bigotry.

Jim Hines posted recently against the polarization of the field, the sense that you have to “take sides” (and of course in that view there are only two sides, with no crossover or nuance or conflicting agendas). In the end, I think of my stories in IGMS, and my professional interactions with Schubert, as being a rejection of the notion of “sides.” As I told Schubert in email, I have no idea what his politics are, and I don’t care. Or perhaps it would be better to say: what matters to me about his politics is how they influence his professional behavior. I have seen no sign that he’s using his editorial position to promote bigotry; on the contrary, he deliberately crafted the sampler to be 50/50 men/women, and a quick glance shows me at least four non-white writers on the TOC. Nor has he been so publicly hateful that I can’t avoid knowing about it, a la Card. Could I judge him for keeping company with Card, for being willing to run a magazine that bears the name of a man who is so interested in hurting gay people? Sure. And I’m sure there are people out there who judge him in precisely that way. I can’t really fault them for that. But if I’d let that stop me back in 2011, IGMS wouldn’t have run a story about a bunch of second-generation D&D-style adventurers, one of whom happens to be a lesbian, getting into all kinds of trouble.

I don’t want to help build the echo chamber. I’d rather tear the walls down.

So that is where I stand. I haven’t sold IGMS anything since 2011, though I did send them one piece in 2012. Whether or not I send them anything else will depend on how much short fiction I manage to write, whether I think any of it fits with the magazine, and whether think I can sell it somewhere else that will pay me more — no offense to Mr. Schubert. :-) They aren’t my top market, but they aren’t off the list, either. And I’m happy to see “A Heretic by Degrees” included in the sampler, because I’m happy to be an example of what Schubert wants IGMS to stand for.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

Quick synopsis, for those not already aware: this year, Brad Torgersen organized the third iteration of the “Sad Puppy+” slate for the Hugo Awards, which, at least on the surface, was about campaigning to get conservative SF/F authors on the ballot (giving them the place they have been denied by their political opponents). Unabashed racist/sexist/homophobic bigot Theodore Beale/VD++ apparently also decided to organize a “Rabid Puppy” slate, on similar principles, only more so.

Between them, these two initiatives managed to have a huge influence on this year’s Hugo nominations, dominating the short lists for many categories. (Here’s a rundown on what they achieved.) This was met with a great deal of dismay in many corners of fandom.

We all caught up?

+No, I don’t know how that term came to be attached to this. If you know, please enlighten me in the comments.

++I find his chosen moniker sufficiently arrogant that I decline to oblige him by using it.


I’ve felt for years now that the Hugos are a thing I should maybe be more involved in. Two things have stopped me: first, you have to pay for a Worldcon membership in order to nominate or vote, and even a supporting membership is a non-trivial expense, at $40. Second, my reading is very disorganized; much of what I read in any given year was actually published long before, meaning I’m not very au courant with the stuff that’s eligible for awards. This latter point makes nominations in particular quite daunting, because there’s a whole swath of stuff to choose from, and I haven’t read most of it.

This year, for the first time, I’ve bought a supporting membership so I can vote on the Hugo Awards. I’d like to talk about why, and what exactly I intend to do with my vote.

Cut for discussion of details. )

As always, the question is: what now?

There are a lot of proposals to change the Hugo rules in ways that will prevent, or at least discourage, this sort of behavior in the future. Going that route will be hard, though, for two reasons: first, it’s a minimum of two years to introduce any changes to the Hugo procedures (because of Worldcon’s bylaws), and second, many of the proposed changes would disenfranchise a lot of voters who have been participating in good faith. (A fact which, fortunately, I have seen many people point out. The problem is known, and I devoutly hope it won’t be accepted as the price of doing business.)

In the short term, and quite possibly the long one, the better answer is social rather than legislative.

As I said, I’ve bought a supporting membership; if you have $40 to spare and the inclination to officially register your displeasure with this situation, you can do the same. (This also, by the way, gives you the right to nominate candidates for next year’s Hugos — and, as a special bonus, the right to vote on the upcoming Worldcon bids! Look for another post later about the Helsinki bid and why I think people should support it; that’s enough of a digression I don’t want to go into it here.)

What’s the best way to use your vote? Well, the Hugos use an interesting system: instant runoff voting. This is a system built to discourage the triumph of small but dedicated voting blocs over the general sentiment of the electorate as a whole; it means the winner is likely to be a candidate most people thought was pretty good, rather than one a few people adored and a bunch of other people hated.

The Hugos also have “No Award” in every category. When you rank this on your ballot, you are saying that you would rather see no award given in that category at all, if the alternative is to see it go to one of the works you have ranked lower (or left off your ballot entirely: for a cogent explanation of the different effects between those two, see here.) This has happened before, though not recently; the last time No Award won, it was 1977.

I stand with those who say, the problem here is the entire “slate” approach: even if the slate consisted of works I like, I have a profound objection to the entire notion of organized campaigns of followers nominating and voting for the candidates their leaders have selected. That isn’t what the Hugos are for, and if five years down the road we have the Sad Puppy Slate competing against the Social Justice Slate competing against the Can’t We All Just Have Fun Slate, I will consider that a disaster for the Hugos, no matter what I think of the works on the slates themselves.

One way to speak out against the slate approach is to use IRV and the No Award option to register your disapproval. There is a Puppy-free list of candidates here (and if you needed a visual demonstration of how thoroughly they dominated certain categories, there you go). Rank non-Puppy candidates as you feel they deserve; when you’ve run out of candidates you think might be worthy of the rocket, rank No Award. Then rank everything else — Puppy candidates, and anything non-Puppy you thought really was just utter crap — below No Award, or leave it off your ballot entirely.

In other words: say you would rather see no prize given than these tactics rewarded.

This may mean voting against some works you’d ordinarily support. In the case of Dramatic Presentation (Long), for example, maybe you really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy or The LEGO Movie. But voting for them says, “well, I don’t like slates, but I guess they’re okay so long as they pick things I agree with.” That encourages us to form competing slates in future years, which is precisely what many of us are trying to prevent. If you think it would be wrong to give the rocket to Edge of Tomorrow or The Winter Soldier, then rank No Award first — that’s your decision. But please, don’t support the slate.

Because fundamentally, the slate approach is fundamentally not about fannishness or enjoyment of books. It’s about making sure your side wins. And in this case, it’s also about hurting people who have until now been nominating and voting for works they love, and stroking the egos of a few individuals who have felt disenfranchised by the fact that the Hugo electorate doesn’t like their stuff. (It is not even about supporting the kind of SF they claim to like: both Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem and the second volume of Patterson’s Heinlein biography are right up their alley, and several SP/RP types, including both Larry Correia and Beale/VD, have commented that they probably would have supported those. So even their side gets hurt by this, as the decisions of the ringleaders locked out things their followers genuinely enjoyed and might have wanted to vote for.) It is about championing bigots like Beale/VD and John C. Wright. This is, in short, a move undertaken explicitly to upset and drive away people like me and many of my friends.

I will not be driven away. And I will not reward their efforts.

Is it idealistic to believe the Hugos should be about nominating books you, personally, enjoyed? Maybe. But I will do what I can to support that ideal.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)

No, I didn’t win Best Novel. That went to Sofia Samatar, who is richly deserving.

There’s a part of me that had mixed feelings about the prospect of winning the award — not because of anything against the World Fantasy Award in and of itself, but because of the thing that signifies the award: a Gahan Wilson sculpture of the head of H.P. Lovecraft. For starters, he isn’t who I think of when you say “fantasy;” I associate him much more with horror. For another — with all due respect to Mr. Wilson — I find the visual aesthetic of the thing seriously unappealing. But most of all, it’s really kind of offensive.

H.P. Lovecraft was an influential writer: no doubt about that. But he was also a deeply unpleasant person in exactly the ways that we as a genre are trying to get past.

I know there are people who want to keep the award’s design as it is. All the arguments I’ve heard from that side have amounted to “tradition” or “fondness” or something else in that vein. I’ve yet to hear anyone say that people will be hurt by changing the design. But right now, people are being hurt by not changing it. To the point where Sofia Samatar felt obliged to mention this problem in her acceptance speech.

I have a hard time seeing why tradition or fondness should outweigh that.

Had I gotten the award, I would have crossed my fingers that I could say I had received the very last head of H.P. Lovecraft ever handed out as a World Fantasy Award. Honestly, that might be too ambitious of a time-scale; I don’t know whether the WFS could get through the design and production process quickly enough to have it be different for next year. But one of my friends pointed out that they could unveil the new design at next year’s con, and that would make me very happy.

What should it be instead? People have floated lots of suggestions, ranging from the heads of other writers to various symbolic objects. Me, I say throw the doors open: let the community submit designs. We have a wealth of excellent artists among us; let them exercise their collective creativity, let the membership vote to select a shortlist, and then the board can choose the final design. Or make a board shortlist, and the membership votes on the final design. Or whatever. Something that makes the an exciting opportunity for the community, a positive to counteract the negative of the current controversy.

There was a poll at this year’s con, completely informal, to see whether it should be changed. I’m glad to see the WFS taking notice of the issue; I hope we see them take action soon.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

As of about ten minutes ago, I am (finally) a member of SFWA.

I’ve been eligible to join since 2004, when I sold my first novel. But back then I was a starving graduate student, for whom the membership fee was a non-trivial expense . . . and soon thereafter, SFWA began shooting itself very publicly and head-deskingly in the foot, not just once, but several times in a row. Its forums were legendary for their toxicity, the org as a whole was run by people who hadn’t been working professionals in the field for years, and while some may have had good intentions, SFWA was not doing a very effective job of coping with the realities of modern publishing. Why should I pay money I didn’t really have to call myself one of them? The answers people gave me basically fell into two categories: 1) “Griefcom and the EMF are good things and worth supporting!” and 2) “Join and be the change you want to see!” While I had no disagreement with #1 (the Grievance Committee advocates for authors in disputes with their publishers or agents, and the Emergency Medical Fund assists writers without health insurance), #2 got up my nose something fierce. Oh, yes, let me give you money for the privilege of trying to reform a group that shows no signs of wanting to reform. Where do I sign up?

But things got better. Actual working novelists and short story writers stepped up to run for election and, well, did what I wasn’t willing to do: dragged the org kicking and screaming toward a better future. Members who weren’t toxic layabouts raised their heads and went “oh, thank god, I’m not alone.” SFWA’s officers did yeoman work during the whole business with Night Shade’s ongoing implosion. Incidents that would have been allowed to slide ten years ago started to be called out.

It still isn’t perfect. SFWA has its share of dinosaurs and reactionaries, and they don’t always get rebuked as fast or as effectively as they should. But it’s improving, and then there was this thing, and I said to myself, “Self, I want to be one of those people Scalzi et al. brought in.” He isn’t president anymore, but the truth is that he and his cohort — people like Mary Robinette Kowal and Rachel Swirsky — are the ones who changed my thinking about SFWA. I actually meant to join after that happened . . . but I got busy, and I forgot. Fortunately (for suitably flexible values of “fortunately”), the sexist racist homophobic assholes of the speculative fiction field are the gift that keeps on giving. Two weeks ago, when John C. Wright was spreading his revisionist history around the web and various people were debunking him as he deserved, I got off my posterior and joined.

So there you have it: I am officially a member of the Insect Army — which is to say, SFWA, The 21st Century Edition. I will try to use my newfound powers for good.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

The one bright spot is, people are starting to notice.

In 2008, Amazon got into a pissing contest with Hachette, the smallest of the large publishers (and owners of Orbit, who published my first four novels). In 2010, it was Macmillan (owners of Tor, my current publisher). In 2012, Penguin. And now, in 2014, we’ve wrapped back around to Hachette. Books published by subsidaries of Hachette are currently shipping “in 2 to 5 weeks” — including Warrior, Witch, Midnight Never Come, and In Ashes Lie. Is it because there’s a problem with Hachette? Are they not supplying stock to Amazon in a timely fashion?

Nope. It’s because Amazon is trying, once again, to use its market share to strong-arm publishers into accepting unfavorable terms. Unfavorable for the publishers, unfavorable for writers — and ultimately, unfavorable for readers.

This isn’t an isolated incident. It’s an ongoing pattern of behavior. It’s something people have been warning about for years, but the response has usually been that Amazon is your friend. They sell things cheaply and ship really fast (just don’t think about how they treat their employees), and hey, 70% royalties on ebooks! Except that Amazon is demonstrably willing to tank the customer experience if it will help them gain more power in the marketplace. And the more they control, the less friendly they become. They are the abusive boyfriend who systematically isolates you from everybody in your life and then, once you have nowhere else to turn, shows his true colors.

If we had better anti-trust legislation in this country, Amazon would have been stopped long before this. But we don’t, and they haven’t been.

Back when they pulled the buy buttons off Macmillan books as a “negotiating tool,” I removed the Amazon links from my website. (Mostly. Scanning the pages, I see I left the Book Depository there; I don’t know if they hadn’t yet been bought by Amazon at the time.) I’m going to go through and scrub the remainder, with two exceptions: Audible (also owned by Amazon, but they are the publisher of my audio editions) and Kindle Direct Publishing (for the BVC-published ebooks). Notice a pattern there? I’m leaving up the links where Amazon has enough power over me that I can’t just walk away from them. I don’t like it, but I don’t feel I can choose differently. More than half of my ebook sales come via Amazon, and there is no way to buy the audiobooks that doesn’t put money in their pocket.

But they don’t control everything, at least not yet. You can get my books from Barnes and Noble — ebook and print alike. They aren’t perfect, but they’re Amazon’s main competitor. Or you can buy from Powell’s. Or from IndieBound. Or Books-a-Million. Or Indigo, if you’re Canadian. You can also get my ebooks from Book View Cafe or Kobo (and by the way, if you’re the sort of person who’s motivated by Amazon’s “author-friendly” habit of paying a 70% royalty, note that Kobo pays the same, while BVC pays me a 95% royalty instead). Maybe it won’t be as convenient as Amazon; you won’t get free two-day shipping. But that convenience is the bait: they use it to shift more and more business into their hands, and then they use what they hold to change the market to benefit them.

It isn’t illegal. But it also isn’t something I care to support. There are alternatives, and I encourage you to use them.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)
John Scalzi has been doing a splendid job of chronicling the problems with Random House's new e-book only imprints and the evolution of same: index post here, with updates here and here.

He's already covered most of what I might want to say on those matters, but I do want to pull out one particular thread and swipe it a few times with highlighter:

Random House is referring to this model as "profit-sharing."

Which isn't false: it does involve sharing profits. But so does the standard model. That's what royalties are; they're a share in the profits earned from sales of the book. I've been sharing in my publisher's profits since the first royalty accounting period for Doppelganger, because that book earned out its advance in a couple of months. And the advance, let us note, is an advance on royalties -- meaning that the publisher shared with me some of their profits before they even earned any. The math for how an advance gets calculated is complicated, and not every book earns out, but the point is that we've always been splitting the proceeds, in one fashion or another.

Calling this "profit-sharing" is a bit of marketing speak, designed to make the author feel like the publisher is offering something that you don't get under the advance-first model. Which may be true in degree (the royalty percentage), but not kind (the existence of royalties in the first place). As for the degree, it depends on the extent to which Random House hammers out the egregious flaws in the initial contract, such as charging production costs against the author's share of net (not even gross). As many people have pointed out, that's called "Hollywood accounting," and it's why no reputable Hollywood agent will ever recommend accepting net points as your compensation. The studios' accountants will make sure that translates to nothing whatsoever. Not to mention that charging the author for production is what vanity presses do . . . but I digress.

One more time with the highlighter: don't get suckered in by the terminology. All (non-scam) publishers share profits with their authors, one way or another. Random House's way started out as insanely bad, is somewhat better now, and needs watching in the future. But whatever language they dress it up in, it is not some brave and generous new world.
swan_tower: (*writing)
I almost forgot to write a post for this month at SF Novelists. Then [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija started a discussion of portal fantasies on her LJ, and that inspired me to distill my thoughts into my own post: This Wardrobe Closed Until Further Notice.

Comment over there (by which I mean both "Rachel's LJ" and "SF Novelists"); no account required.
swan_tower: (armor)
Hey, guys?

If you are upset about something, and you want to yell at somebody about it, it's worth taking a moment to make sure you're yelling at the right person.

For example, do not blame the author for Amazon's decision to ship print copies of a novel two weeks before the sale date, but not to send out the e-books at the same time. Aside from the fact that retailers aren't supposed to ship anything before the street date, the author has precisely ZERO control over what Amazon chooses to do. (And is probably even more upset than you are, because that potentially screws her over in career-affecting ways.)

And if you are upset about something, take a careful look at how you're expressing your feelings.

For example, is it productive to call the author "stupid," "greedy," "ungrateful," or "a narcissist"? Probably not.

And it is definitely not productive -- nor even okay -- to call her a "bitch," a "whore," or a "cunt."

Seriously. The person on the other end of that e-mail you're about to send? Is a person. One who, in this case, has no actual control over the thing you are upset about; she didn't cause it, and she can't fix it, and she's upset about it, too. But even if those things weren't true . . . what the hell, people. How fragile is your world if the UTTER APOCALYPTIC DISASTER of NOT BEING ABLE TO GET YOUR E-BOOK NOW NOW NOW justifies heaping misogynistic abuse on the person who produces the thing you love?

Please. Be smart enough to aim your criticism in an appropriate direction, not at a fellow victim. But more than anything . . . act like a human, not a hyena.
swan_tower: (Default)
I know some of you read The Order of the Stick, one of the oldest and best D&D parodies on the web. But whether you do or not, I have to direct you, with suitable awe, at the saga of its Kickstarter project.

Creator Rich Burlew set out to raise $57,750 to get one of the collections, War and XPs, back into print. He blew through that goal in less than twenty-four hours. As I write this post, he has raised $868,072 -- and that number will certainly have gone up by the time I hit "post."

You can follow the tale via the project updates. Scroll down to the bottom to find the first one, and then do the same for the more recent ones. It is, I think, an amazing testament both to what Kickstarter can do, and how to do a Kickstarter project well. Burlew has done an excellent job of adapting to the overwhelming success of his fundraiser; not only did he rapidly set new goals (reprinting other out-of-print books, increasing print runs, covering the increased expenses for all the rewards packages), he found a lot of clever ways to reward people for their support. And throughout, he's been highly transparent about the entire process, so that nobody is going to walk away thinking he's put their money to a use they didn't expect. (If anybody is displeased with what he's done so far, they're still free to cancel their support: nothing is final until the fundraiser ends.)

It's a marvel in a number of respects. And if you have any interest in this kind of crowdsourcing model, his experience is worth studying.
swan_tower: (*writing)
You know how we keep having these discussions about anthologies that take the best stories, regardless of who writes them . . . and somehow those stories end up all being by white men? (Totally by chance, you understand, and the editors can't be blamed if that's what was sent to them.)

It's nice to be able to talk for once about somebody doing it right. I've been contacted by the editors of an upcoming anthology, Trust & Treachery, who are actively reaching out to get more quality submissions from women. To quote:
One of the items that we made specific mention of in our original call for submissions was that we’re looking for works representing the entire range of experience -- including all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, sexual orientations, abilities and views on life. The world of fiction and its characters, especially genre fiction and speculative fiction, can be diverse places with a richness and depth in both culture and community. As editors, we made both a personal and professional commitment to have that same richness represented in this anthology. But we need to you help us do it.

This? Is good, pro-active editing. It's realizing that imbalances aren't automatically a reflection of the fiction that's out there -- only the fiction that's being sent in. And that's something that can be changed, with a little effort.

So I'm happy to give them a signal boost. Description of the theme is here, and submissions guidelines are here. And props to Day Al-Mohamed and Meriah Crawford for their hard work.
swan_tower: (armor)
I've piled up four links in short order that detail some of the problems with Amazon, and why, despite an increasing insistence in their PR that they're your ally, they're on the side of the consumer, they're your friend against those meanie-face businesses like publishers . . . they are not the good guy. At best, they are a guy, who will sometimes help you and sometimes screw you over. (The problem is, a lot of the "help" is of the sort that evaporates as soon as they're in a position to screw you over.)

So, the links:

Cat Valente first, on the notion of book subscriptions, and how Amazon keeps muscling their way toward monopoly.

Next Borderlands Books (San Francisco indie bookstore), on their sketchy business behavior. (Scroll down to "From the Office" to find the relevant part.)

And then, Anand Giridharadas in the NYT, on the fraying of decency, and what Amazon does to achieve such low prices and fast shipping.

Finally, just as a chaser, the privacy issues with the new Kindle Fire.

I won't deny that Amazon is useful. I still order things from them occasionally. But I've taken my book business elsewhere whenever possible -- Powell's, IndieBound, and local stores -- and I am not looking forward to the Brave New World in which everything is published through Amazon, for reading on an Amazon device, so that Amazon knows everything I do, with Amazon deciding how much I pay for that material or get paid when people buy what I wrote, because they've ground all their competitors out of existence.

It's like a hybrid of 1984 and Snow Crash. Stephenson was almost right about corporations ruling the future; his error was in using the plural.
swan_tower: (armor)
A few days ago, I linked to a piece by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith about an agent's request that they remove or straighten a gay protagonist from their book.

Their article didn't name the agent or the agency, but today Joanna Stampfel-Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation came forward (on a site hosted by agent Colleen Lindsay [edit: former agent]) to say that she is the one in question, and furthermore, that "there is nothing in that article concerning our response to their manuscript that is true."

[Another edit: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe is speaking on behalf of the agency, but herself is not the agent involved in the incident. I apologize for the misreading, which managed to persist through me reading not only her post, but a vast number of comments on both [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija and [livejournal.com profile] sartorias's journals. Ironically, I'd have less editing to do if I'd stuck with my original draft, where I started out referring to "the agent," without a name. But then I decided that if I was doing the authors the courtesy of calling them by name, I should do the same for the agent. My error, and I am editing the remainder of this entry to fix it.]

Brown and Smith stand by their original article.

So this has just turned into a case of "they said, she said." Which has, naturally, made many people leap to conclusions on one side or the other: "Oh, I knew that story sounded fishy from the start; clearly the agent is telling the truth" or "the agent is a lying homophobic liar." Since it's doubtful anybody has a recording of the phone call where all of this went down, actual proof is hard to come by. I do think, however, that it's possible to apply logic and draw at least a few tentative conclusions.

First of all, Brown and Smith didn't name the agent or agency, and specifically said they didn't want this to be a witch-hunt against one person; lots of other people have come forward with stories of similar things happening to them, and the statistics on queer representation in YA support the idea that publishing has a problem with non-straight characters (and non-"mainstream" characters in other respects, too: non-white, disabled, etc). The overwhelming focus of their post was to call out for agents, editors, readers, and writers to try and reduce the barriers against diversity in the genre.

Stampfel-Volpe chose -- presumably with the permission of The Agent In Question (hereafter TAIQ) -- to identify the agency publicly, and both she and Lindsay spend most of their focus on TAIQ and the writers, rather than the larger issue; they accuse Brown and Smith of "exploiting" her. They do call for general diversity as well, but in the end, you can kind of play bingo with that post; for example, Lindsay says TAIQ is a friend of hers, and not a homophobe. Note that the post on Genreville explicitly said TAIQ may or may not entertain personal feelings of homophobia; Brown and Smith don't have any basis for judging that. You don't have to hate gay people to contribute to the ways in which they get silenced. It can happen even if you like them, because that's how institutionalized prejudice works.

Second, there's the question of why the agency responded publicly. Apparently rumours have been flying behind the scenes, people asking whether TAIQ was the one. There was nothing in the original post, or any public follow-up that I've seen, which could possibly have produced those rumours. This creates two immediate possibilities: first, either Brown or Smith gossiped privately before Stampfel-Volpe took it public, or second, that other people have had similar experiences with TAIQ, and speculated based on those experiences.

We can't answer this one; tracing those rumours to their origin is a lost cause. But as a data point, I offer up this: nowhere, publicly or privately, have I seen Brown and Smith provide a single detail, other than that it was a female agent at an agency that has repped a bestselling YA dystopia, that could have given away TAIQ's identity. (And yes, I have plenty of evidence to back up both those claims.) This doesn't disprove the gossip theory, but it does give a data point against it. As for the other, I have no evidence either way. I'm open to other possibilities as well.

Finally -- as some people have noted on Stampfel-Volpe's post -- there may be a middle ground here. As I said before, institutionalized prejudice works in less-than-obvious ways. It's possible the conversation could have been phrased in a way that TAIQ did not see as reinforcing homophobia, which nevertheless could be heard that way. Without the exact words, we can't judge for ourselves. But I will say, for my own part, that I have a hard time believing this was, from the agent's side, purely an issue of craft, and not of the marketability of queerness. If the pov in question "didn’t contribute to the actual plot" (Stampfel-Volpe's words), then how could that be solved by making him straight? If she didn't actually suggest making him straight -- if that's a misinterpretation -- then how could Brown and Smith have subsequently heard anything that could be misconstrued as "if this turns into a series, later on you can show that he's gay"? And how could the misunderstanding have persisted past Brown saying his sexuality was a moral issue she would not back down from?

Looking at it logically . . . the only thing I can conclude is that either Brown and Smith are outright lying -- maybe as a publicity stunt, because they haven't yet found representation for the book (as various people have begun to accuse them of, over on the agent's rebuttal post) -- or the agency is trying to do very inept damage control for an incident that was, in its outlines if not every detail, more or less like the Genreville post describes. As you can probably guess from my analysis above, my money is on the latter. Is that based partly on personal knowledge of one side and not the other? Sure. I know the authors; I don't know the agent. I judge them to both be experienced professionals unlikely to manufacture a hissy fit because one particular book hasn't sold yet. But even without the evidence I've seen and you haven't: one side was careful not to make this personal, and the other side was not. One side offered summaries of what both parties said in the conversation; the other omitted the authors' responses from their summary. Heck, one side had two people involved, and the other had only one. I know people's opinions can reinforce each other, but there had to have been a moment where Brown and Smith spoke to each other after the phone call to share their opinions. I've heard nothing to suggest either of them started off by saying "I'm not sure that's what she meant," and was eventually talked around to the other's interpretation. If their interpretations matched up from the start, that's at least a minor form of fact-checking.

When all's said and done, though, my real conclusion: go read the Genreville post again. Skip the parts about the agent; read the parts about the difficulty in getting non-straight, non-white, non-"mainstream" characters through the filter of authors' brains, agents' judgement calls, editors' purchasing power, bookstores' support, and readers' inclinations, all the way to the public eye. That, more than any one book or agent or incident, is the part that matters.

Due to ridiculous amounts of spam (months after and unrelated to this incident), I have locked comments on this post.
swan_tower: (armor)
Rachel Manija Brown ([livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija) and Sherwood Smith ([livejournal.com profile] sartorias) have an important essay up at Publishers Weekly, Say Yes to Gay YA, where they recount how an agent offered them representation for a YA novel on the condition that they either straighten a gay point-of-view character, or remove him from the book entirely.

You can read the details there, as well as suggestions for how to put an end to this kind of thing. You can do the same on Rachel's journal, if you prefer LJ, but the PW post includes a mechanism for posting anonymously, if you'd prefer that. They're particularly interested in hearing from any authors who have experienced similar pushback from agents or editors, so as to explore just how widespread the problem is. The reader-side viewpoint is also valuable, to help prove there is an audience for these books.

If you're on Twitter, the hashtag is #YesGayYA.
swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)
An Archive of Our Own has, after much anticipation, reached a point where they can implement subscriptions. This means that AO3 users can set their accounts up to be notified when a writer they like posts a new story. (I have no idea if I'm likely to post anything before next Yuletide, but the nice thing about subscriptions is it's no big deal if I don't; you just won't get notifications. I'm faviconrussian_blue, if you care.)

I'll have to see how this particular implementation of the idea works out in practice, but man, I still want something like it for pro fiction. Obviously it's harder in some ways to implement -- the AO3 is a single database; a short story subscription manager would have to scrape updates from a bunch of different online magazines -- but if there was a central service I could use to be alerted when short story authors I like publish something new, something along the lines of an RSS reader, I would sign up so fast my keyboard would be smoking.

But I wouldn't know where to begin in coding something like that. So I sit here and make begging eyes, and hope that if I mention it enough times, the idea will spread until it lands in the brain of somebody who can do it.
swan_tower: (albino owl)
An Archive of Our Own, one of the big fanfic sites, is working on implementing "subscriptions," where you can designate particular authors (or fandoms or tags or what-have-you) and be informed when new stories get posted.

It occurs to me that, as more and more short fiction publishing moves online, how useful this could be. I mean, I post links when stories of mine go up, so if you read my LJ you hear about those things. But that requires you to follow a bunch of different separate feeds, and it buries the story links in the noise of everything else you read. Maybe some online 'zines tag their stories in a way that allows you to tell Google Reader or whatever, tell me whenever Clarkesworld publishes a Cat Valente story -- I don't know; I haven't tried -- but if she then publishes a story in Lightspeed instead, you won't know about it. How technically difficult would it be to create an aggregator site that covers all the online 'zines (ending at whatever bar the site's operator chooses), and then once you pick an author from their database, notifies you whenever that author publishes something, wherever it might be? I have no idea; IANenough of a webgeek to do that kind of thing myself. I imagine it would require some amount of cooperation from the publisher's side, tagging the pages according to the aggregator's requirements, etc. The benefit, however, is that it drives traffic to your site; and if I discover a lot of the writers I've subscribed to are being published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I might start checking out who else they print, because clearly that place fits my taste. (Heck, print magazines could even benefit, with a blog that advertises the latest ToC.)

I dunno -- maybe it would weaken the sense of loyalty to particular publications in favor of the writers. We still haven't solved the problem of funding online magazines, and if something like this makes it harder for Strange Horizons to raise money, etc, because people are no longer self-identifying as "SH readers" but readers of one author or another, then that would be a problem. But if you really like Aliette de Bodard's Xuya stories, it would be neat to have something automatically alert you when one of them pops up, even if it's in a place you don't normally look. It seems to me this fits with the a la carte trend I'm seeing in how we consume media: Tivo to pull down the programs we want to watch, iTunes selling us individual tracks instead of whole albums, etc. I'm reading some serialized stories online, and I know having new chapters pop up in my reader, without me having to go check for updates, is damned convenient. If short story publishing in general had something like this, I'd use it in a heartbeat.
swan_tower: (angry kitten)
I was mentioning James Frey's latest atrocity to a few friends last night, and promised I would point them at the details, so here they are, by way of Scalzi's blog.

Holy abusive contracts, Batman. It appears that Frey's crass, opportunistic exploitation knows neither bounds nor shame. I can only hope the public outcry will go far enough to scare people away from signing up to be his factory drones -- but sadly, I doubt it will.
swan_tower: (*writing)
Many years ago, I remember hearing an incredibly vague story about some fanfic writer who sued a professional author for writing a book they claimed was too similar to a pre-existing fanfic.

I suspect that was the product of this story going through a game of Telephone, with details being dropped at every turn. Jim Hines, Hero of the Revolution, has dug through the dustbin of the Internets to try and ascertain the actual facts of an incident in the early 90's, involving Marion Zimmer Bradley and the fanfic writer Jean Lamb. Why? Because when arguments come up concerning fanfic, sooner or later somebody ends up trotting out this particular tale, often in moderately warped form (though rarely as warped as the version I heard). So it's worth taking a step back and asking, what actually happened there?

We'll never know for sure -- particularly since, as Opusculus points out in one of the posts Jim links to, the incident almost certainly involved one of MZB's ghostwriters, and none of the likely candidates has given a detailed account of the events. (Neither has Lamb, possibly -- as suggested somewhere in the comment threads -- on advise of counsel.) But if you're interested in the boundary between fanfic and profic, and what kinds of legal issues can arise when something wanders across that boundary, definitely read Jim's post, and follow the links if you have the time. At the very least, the story is not quite what folklore has made it out to be, and so the lessons to be taken away from it are not necessarily what you think.

Or at least what I thought, since I was operating from a very warped version of the facts. So I owe thanks to Jim for the breakdown.


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