Did You Know? Or Have You Not Heard?

This past weekend, some friends told me they had listened to Truths and Lies and Make-Believe while they were traveling recently, and wondered when I was going to do a new CD.

Truth to tell, I had hoped to record a new CD this year — I’ve got a few scratch tracks down, and some more songs I haven’t quite worked up. If I managed it, and could get it released before the end of the year, then I’d have completed a new CD every two years since the first one.

In the course of explaining that I don’t think I can make it happen this year, though, I realized that they didn’t know I already had a second CD out … even though it came out almost 18 months ago!

That’s how bad I am at self-promotion.

promotion
Have you heard? Did you know? (Image: “promotion,” by Platform4, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

And that’s the reason for the question in the title. Did you know, or have you not heard, about these things? Then I really haven’t done my job, have I?

I try very hard not to beat people over the head with what I’ve done, but clearly I could do a little better when even my friends are unaware of new releases.

So now you know. It’d be great if you let someone else know, too!

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Why I’m Not Self-Publishing My Novel, Part III

(If you’re interested, Part 1 of the series is here and Part 2 of the series is here.)

Since 2016 was a year ago already (!), a brief recap: my near-future science fiction novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, is in the pipeline to be published by WordFire Press. Way back last year (!) a newsletter reader sent in this question: Why did I go with a small press instead of self-publishing? I came up with three reasons. The first two are linked above, and lead in sequential fashion to:

Third, and Possibly Most Important: Publishing is Hard

I say that with the authority of experience, because I’m already a publisher. I produced and published my two CDs — though I reckon the term is “released” in the music business — and that wasn’t a trivial effort. Granted, I didn’t engineer or master them and my performance on them was limited to what I could reasonably do, but once the tracks were mastered I handled the rest of the production process.

I also say “publishing is hard” with the authority of vicarious experience. Several friends of mine are in the self-publishing business, writing and publishing and art directing and marketing their own work. Some of them have enjoyed very high degrees of success. For my novel I could learn from their examples and follow in their footsteps and take on all those responsibilities as well, but, as Simon Tam said in an episode of Firefly, “That thought wearies me.”

Books

(Image: “Books,” by Moyan Brenn, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

The thought wearies me because I know how much effort it entails based on my experience in the nonfiction world. As my blog and newsletter readers alike know, late last year I self-published the revised and updated version of Quality Educationavailable here (and you and all your friends in education should definitely check it out). Not only did I restructure the book so that it’s nearly unrecognizable from the original print version, but I got it formatted for e-book as well as for print-on-demand production, consulted on the cover design (I knew better than to try to do it myself), and have since been trying to market it in the midst of everything else I’ve got going on.

The thought of self-publishing my novel wearies me because the experience of self-publishing my music and my education book nearly wore me out.

So, when we get down to the proverbial brass tacks, I really like the idea of participating in the publishing process with my novel, rather than running the process. And I hope that by leaving the details of production to the good folks at WordFire, I might actually free part of my brain to write some more songs and more stories — short and long!

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P.S. For a different take on self-publishing’s place in the larger publishing universe, Larry Correia recently “fisked” an article from a “literary” author who had little good to say about self-publishing.
P.P.S. As noted at the outset, this brief blog series was originally an issue of my every-once-in-a-while newsletter. You can subscribe to get the latest on my shenanigans.
P.P.P.S. Seriously, I would greatly appreciate it if you would take a look at Quality Education, and encourage your friends in education to take a look at it, too. Thanks!

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Why I’m Not Self-Publishing My Novel, Part II

(If you’re interested, Part I of the series is here.)

To recap: my near-future science fiction novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, is in the pipeline to be published by WordFire Press, and a few weeks ago a newsletter reader sent in this question: Why did I go with a small press instead of self-publishing? I came up with three reasons.

Last week I laid out my first reason: the value a publisher adds to a novel. So here we go with:

Second, I Value Publishers’ Selectivity

I may be more aware of this aspect of publishing because I’m on the front lines of selecting novels for a major publisher — Baen Books — but in general novels selected for publication by big houses and small presses alike have crossed a certain threshold of quality, simply by virtue of being selected from a large number of submissions.

Be the first to read...

Imagine that you can only afford one (or maybe two) out of all the books on all those shelves — that’s what a publisher faces in selecting novels to publish. (Image: “Be the first to read…,” by Thomas Leuthard, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

The “threshold of quality” assumption may not be equally true in all cases — some publishers take chances on novels and other books they might not usually take, for various reasons — but in most cases a novel gets into the publication pipeline because someone declares it good enough to carry the publisher’s logo. In fact, often it’s multiple someones: an initial reader (or two or three), maybe a senior editor, perhaps others in the marketing and management end of things, and of course the in-person publisher.

I consider that a vote of confidence in my favor, and I appreciate it.

The publisher’s selectivity is not, of course, a guarantee of success. There are no such guarantees. I don’t know if the story will capture people’s attention, though I certainly hope it does. We’ll see, won’t we?

Meanwhile, next week I’ll cover the third reason I’m trusting a publisher with my novel instead of self-publishing it.

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P.S. This blog series was originally an issue of my every-once-in-a-while newsletter. You can subscribe to get the latest on my goings-on and projects.

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Why I’m Not Self-Publishing My Novel, Part I

One of my newsletter readers asked this question, so I obliged and answered it in a newsletter issue, but I thought some other folks might be curious about the inner workings of publishing … so I’ll answer it here, too.

We pause here for a word from our sponsor: Yes, you too can subscribe to my newsletter and get the latest news or whatnot I decide to send out, and even get to ask me questions like this one. And now, back to our story…

If you hadn’t heard, my near-future science fiction novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, is in the pipeline to be published by WordFire Press, a small press in Colorado. A few weeks ago a reader sent in this question: Why did I go with a small press instead of self-publishing? The question is even more appropriate now, since just last week I self-published a new edition of my first book, a nonfiction examination of education and how the system might be improved.

I came up with three reasons why I was happy to join forces with a small press instead of trying to self-publish my novel, and I’ll hit them one at a time in three separate posts. First,

I Think a Good Publisher Adds Value

The continuum of opinions on this is probably pretty wide, so let’s see if I can explain my position. Each time we read a book (or listen to a CD, or watch a movie, or whatever), we evaluate it, whether we write a review or not — this is where I might ask you to post a review of one of my CDs or of my book(s), except that I’m terrible at doing reviews myself — that is, we assess the book’s subjective value in terms of our reading experience against its objective value in terms of what we paid for it.

EDIT>

(Image: “Edit,” by Matt Hampel, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

What goes into our subjective evaluation is different depending on our expectations and what adds to or detracts from the experience. A major factor in fiction is the story itself: does it flow well, does it transport us to a time and place we enjoy, do the characters and their situations resonate with us, etc. A good publisher can put a book through successive stages of editing to improve the story. For instance, my novel has gone through the “developmental” edit stage and will go through additional edits as the process continues.

One thing that can affect our enjoyment of the story is simply how easy the book is to read, not in terms of style but in terms of presentation. With respect to that, a book that is well-edited and laid out nicely so that it’s easy to read will probably score higher than one that is sloppy; a good publisher can therefore add value by making an average book better, and a good book beautiful. We may also factor in such things as cover art, and a good publisher can often retain better cover artists than a self-publisher can.

So, even before we consider that a good publisher has marketing and sales connections beyond what most self-publishers can muster, they can add value to the product, the book, itself.

And that’s the first reason I’m not self-publishing my novel.

I’ll cover the other two reasons in future posts. In the meantime, I need to get back to the day’s writing and editing.

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P.S. Before I go, here’s where I ask you for your help: If you know a parent, teacher, or anyone interested in ways we might improve our educational system, point them to the new edition of Quality Education — completely restructured and updated from the original version — available now on Amazon in both electronic (Kindle) and trade paperback formats. When I released it last week, it reached as high as number 13 on Amazon’s “Education Policy and Reform” list.

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A Tale of Two Covers

Check out the stark difference between the covers of the old and new editions of Quality Education:

Left: The cover of the ASQC-Quality Press edition. Right: The cover of the new, self-published edition, designed by Christopher Rinehart. (Click to enlarge.)

 

I don’t think the original cover was all that bad, but the motif is a little dark.

The new edition, however, by virtue of its being completely overhauled — even though most of the content is the same, the new structure makes it feel to me like a completely different book — needed an updated, more interesting cover. I think the new cover works very well, and graphically represents that a lot of different elements go into making a sound educational cornerstone for society.

What do you think?

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P.S. Obligatory shameless plug: If you or someone you know is a parent, teacher, or just an interested observer of the goings-on in our educational system, the new edition of Quality Education is available now on Amazon in both electronic (Kindle) and trade paperback formats. Earlier this week the Kindle version reached as high as 13th place on Amazon’s list of “Education Policy and Reform” bestsellers.

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Would You Like to See the Complete Cover?

For those who are interested, here’s the full wraparound cover for the new version of Quality Education:

Cover design by Christopher Rinehart. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Of course, the wraparound will only be available on the print version.

If you are (or someone you know is) a parent, student, teacher, or administrator interested in improving not just individual classes and schools but helping the entire system operate at a high level, then this updated and completely restructured edition of Quality Education might interest you. Stay tuned for more information — the release is imminent!

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Cover Reveal for the New Edition of ‘Quality Education’

I shared this with my newsletter subscribers a couple of weeks ago,* but here’s the cover to the completely revised and updated edition of Quality Education, which will be available as soon as we work out a few last details.

Cover design by Christopher Rinehart. (Click for larger image.)

 

The full title of the book is Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It, and it’s updated and completely restructured from the original edition. That version was published in the early 1990s by the American Society for Quality Control, and was one of the first books to apply the organizational and operational principles of continual improvement to the educational system.

The book presents education as a transformative process and covers expectations, roles, and inhibiting factors for parents, students, teachers, and administrators. With special emphasis on the quality philosophy of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the text adapts Deming’s systems flowchart, Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle, and “14 Points” to the problems and processes of education.

The book also examines education’s customers, differing definitions of quality with respect to education, and the failure of well-intentioned reform efforts such as the “National Education Goals” (also known as “Goals 2000”) of the late 1980s. It includes chapters on programs for gifted and talented students, values education, and curriculum and other standards, and presents strategy ideas and discusses leadership required to develop and sustain quality education.

As we get closer to releasing the final version into the world, I’ll post updates!

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*Yes, if you subscribe to my newsletter you will get news like this before anyone else, too.

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Two Friends on Patreon: Lee and Mikey

Would you like to be a patron of the arts for as little as a dollar a month? You can!

Several friends of mine have a presence on “Patreon,” an online resource that connects you with creative people doing their artistic things. Usually they promise to produce certain things on a regular basis — maybe a drawing or painting, maybe a song or a music video, it’s all up to them depending on their art — and you as their patron get first access to what they do and often “insider” specials as well!

Dollar Heart

(Image: “Dollar Heart,” by Chris Palmer, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

Anyway, two of my friends you might want to support are Alethea Kontis and Mikey Mason.

Alethea Kontis is primarily known as an author of fantasy novels and two well-received children’s books in which the letters of the alphabet rearrange themselves. “Princess Alethea” often produces humorous “Fairy Tale Rants” on video, and her latest novel is Trix and the Faerie Queen. Alethea’s Patreon is set up for monthly donations as low as $1 per month, though higher levels earn additional bonus videos and such.

Mikey Mason is primarily known as the “Comedy Rock Star,” or on the science fiction and fantasy circuit as the “Comedy Rock Geek.” Perhaps his most famous song is “She Don’t Like Firefly,” though his more recent “The Secret Origins of the Robot Holidays” has been played frequently on The Dr. Demento Show. Mikey’s Patreon is set up a little differently, as his patrons pledge per song or music video; however, you can become Mikey’s patron for as little as $1 for each new song or video he produces.

Both Lee and Mikey have had some unexpected expenses recently, so your patronage — either recurring, through Patreon, or on a one-time basis by buying a book or CD — would mean a lot to their being able to continue writing their stories and songs.

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For more information:
– You can find Alethea online at http://aletheakontis.com/
– You can find Mikey online at http://www.mikeymason.com/

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The Slush Formula

Writers, can you estimate the chances that your story will make it through the slush pile?

I’ve come up with a formula.

Some background: A couple of years ago, I saw a post on a forum somewhere by a writer who said their story had “zero chance” of being passed on to the Publisher.

They may have been right, unfortunately. But why?

The chance that I will recommend a story to the Publisher is directly related to the quality of the story, the clarity of the storytelling, and the appropriateness of the subject matter. Each of those is a subjective measure, yes — what I think is a great story you might think is mediocre; what’s crystal clear to you might be indecipherable to me; etc. — but all three must be present in sufficient measure for a story to make it through.

Factoring & Expansion Formulas

It’s really not as complicated as all that. (Image: “Factoring & Expansion Formulas,” by CMLorenz16, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

Thus I express the probability of any given story being passed on to the Publisher as

P ≈ Q * C * A

So if a story really has a “zero chance” of being passed on, it is only because one or more of those factors approaches zero.

The good news is that’s rarely the case. (For us, “zero chance” is only when someone submits a memoir or children’s book or something else we don’t publish; then, appropriateness = 0.) So writers who have an accurate assessment of the strength of their story, how well it’s written, and if it’s appropriate should be able to estimate their chances pretty well.

But the thing to realize is that for the probability to be high (we’re talking percentages here, so it will almost never be 100%) each of those factors — story quality, writing clarity, and subject matter appropriateness — must rate very high indeed.

That’s the challenge.

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Monday Morning Insight: Failure and Greatness

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

Today is Herman Melville’s birthday (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891), so let’s unpack a Melville quote:

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

Most of us fail at something or other before we find something we do well, and most of us will not achieve “greatness” no matter how often we fail and try again.

And “better” in this case is definitely a value judgment.

Since Melville was a writer let’s examine this quote as it relates to the literary world, where it is plainly possible to “succeed in imitation.” We have plenty of writers who have found great success presenting essentially the same stories as someone else, and no shortage of others who continue to do so in search of their own success. The authors bring something of their own viewpoints and voices to the stories, but the common term is “filing off the serial numbers” to make it a bit less obvious that our fantasy story is essentially a repackaging of Tolkien or Rowling, or our science fiction story is a direct descendent of Heinlein or Bujold or Niven or some other famous author.

It’s not too surprising that this is the case. Authors continue to produce Tolkien-esque fantasy stories because the audience has yet to tire of them. From military science fiction to urban fantasy, space adventure to steampunk, the audience yearns for more — so much that authors who have not been able to break in with publishing companies have found their own fans through self-publishing. And if their fans feel they receive good value for their entertainment dollars, then that’s all that matters; after all, if being original means starving, then succeeding by being imitative isn’t all that bad. (We might even disagree with Melville and say that really is better.)

Yet success is not guaranteed, even when imitating examples of success.

Authors and publishers often do not know what story will resonate with a large audience, but that is especially true when it comes to more original stories — ones that are difficult to categorize into existing genre niches. Some works are so original that they define entire new subgenres, but they still have to be good enough (for whatever the audience considers “good”) beyond just being original in order to attract an audience.

But Melville refers to greatness, and I like to work backward from there. The authors we consider “great,” even if they were not pathfinders of their genres, produced work that hums with originality in some respect: depth of detail that puts us firmly in the setting and the story; emotional power that elicits deep sympathy for the characters; pacing and action that set our hearts to racing; all these and more elevate their work from entertaining to spectacular. Did the authors we consider “great” risk failure, or even endure failure, on the way to creating their monumental stories? I think they did, particularly when those stories were fresh and original compared to other things being produced at the time.

Failure

Are you striving for anything great? (Image: “Failure” by Andrea Small, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

It may be, however, that they were not trying for greatness. Indeed, it may not be wise to strive for greatness when striving for success is hard enough. Greatness will be determined by history, by whether our stories continue to resonate down through time — but that doesn’t help us very much in the here and now.

Here and now, every writer risks failure with every story they start. It seems safe to say that writing a story that lasts, that impacts generations, involves taking more risk than writing a story very much like another. And even when taking only moderate risks some writers will fail more often, or more spectacularly, than others — but that’s true of every human endeavor.

What about you? How have you failed, and what have you learned from your failures? Don’t let it hinder you too much; remember, Melville considered failure the true test of greatness.

Keep striving!

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