Don’t Expect Instant Transformation

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. James “Jim” Belasco speak at a conference. Belasco is known for his entertaining and insightful books on business and management, such as Teaching the Elephant to Dance and Flight of the Buffalo. He gave an entertaining talk, or so I recall after looking at my notes over the weekend. I particularly liked this quote I wrote down:

Unfortunately, reading my book … will not result in instant transformation.

I can relate to that.

Open Book Series
What will you get out of a book? (Image: “Open Book Series,” by Kristin Bradley, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

That resonates with me because it’s certainly true of Quality Education, the book I revised and released last year. Reading it will not magically transform your life or your thinking, nor will it automatically revitalize any school system — but I’m confident you can find some good things in it.

It will be equally true of the novel I have coming out in a few months, Walking on the Sea of Clouds. It’s a pretty good book, I think — not perfect, not close to being “great” as such things are reckoned, but good enough for what it is. If near-future science fiction is your thing, you’ll find some things to like in it.

I suspect what Dr. Belasco said rings true for a lot of my writer friends. We do what we do and what we can, and put what we’ve done out in the market for you to consider. We hope you’ll like what we have to offer.

But for me, it’s important that you don’t expect too much. Don’t look to me for something that will change your life or revolutionize your world: you’ll be sorely disappointed. All I try to provide is good words, be they stories or songs or whatever: not great words, not matchless words, but good words — for good people, like you.

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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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Monday Morning Insight: the Goal of Writing a Book

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

 

In my college years, I read a lot by James Clavell (who was born on this date in 1924), and particularly enjoyed Shogun, Noble House, and King Rat, which was inspired by Clavell’s experience as a prisoner of war in Changi Prison in Singapore in World War II. Later, I discovered his translation of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the introduction to which is well worth reading even if you are already familiar with Master Sun’s masterwork.

Clavell was born in Sydney, Australia, as Charles Edmund Dumaresq Clavell. He eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen after settling in California, where he was the screenwriter for the classic science fiction film The Fly (among other notable films). Quite an amazing man!

In a 1986 interview, Clavell said:

… the goal of writing any book is to create the illusion that what you are reading is reality and you’re part of it.

I love that quote, and try very hard in my own writing to make my fiction seem realistic. Whether I ever succeed, of course, is up to my readers to decide.

Keep Calm and Read a Book

Even if you don’t read my book — which I would appreciate — I hope you can find the time to read some good books! (Image: “Keep Calm and Read a Book,” by Robert Burdock, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

In that same interview, Clavell also said,

All stories have a beginning, a middle and an ending, and if they’re any good, the ending is a beginning.

That’s another thing to strive for, I think: to make the end of a story a jumping-off point for other stories. Not necessarily sequels, and not even necessarily stories that will be written, but stories that the reader can imagine because the characters and the situations seemed real and resonated.

I can only hope that my fiction achieves those things.

Speaking of which, my newest story, “We Side With the Free,” is coming out in the November issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. If you read it, or anything else I’ve written, let me know how you think I did with respect to Clavell’s advice.

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Monday Morning Insight: Do You Like Books? Great!

I spent the weekend at the ConCarolinas science fiction and fantasy convention, where I had the great pleasure of talking with a few people about my novel that’s in the publication pipeline — which is a bit surreal to me — so it seemed fitting to select a quote that relates to books to start the week. Teddy Roosevelt wrote,

Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls “the mad pride of intellectuality,” taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.

All of us who write and who hope our writing reaches an audience would do well to remember that some of what we publish will “meet the needs of one person, and some of another.” That follows along with Lincoln’s observation about not being able to please everyone all the time. We can only hope that our work finds its way to those who will appreciate it, and perhaps even to those who will value it.

Old books

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

 

But Roosevelt is right that we should beware of dismissing books that meet other people’s needs, and thereby of dismissing those other people. In the science fiction and fantasy field, especially recently, fans and even authors have taken sometimes excessive delight in disparaging works we consider hackneyed or offensive or otherwise worthy of derision.

In some cases we’ve reacted to what we perceive as unmerited success (“How could so many people buy X?”), and in our most self-conscious moments we might admit to coveting that success for our own work. Alternately, we might think we are being discerning, perhaps even sophisticated; we might think we are making important statements about art and its relation to the world; we might just be trying to make a joke.

Regardless of the reason we find to scorn a book or someone else’s taste in books — we dislike the author (or the person) on some level, we prefer another subgenre, we haven’t had enough fiber that day — we would do well (I would do well) to realize that what we think of as a book’s faults or merits will differ from what someone else thinks, and we should allow one another our different opinions. The market, and time, will always be the final arbiters.

So, do you like books? If yes, great! If no — if you don’t like any books — then maybe you just haven’t found the right books for you yet. I hope you’ll keep looking!

And if so, what books do you like? Excellent! Whatever books you like, for whatever reason, that’s wonderful. Keep reading!

And have a terrific week!

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Spotlight on Books: the 'Mother of Milstar,' Eating Clouds, and Subversion

A few new books that have come to my attention, that I’d like to bring to yours …

Over at New Scientist, there’s a review of a new book about actress Hedy Lamarr, who invented the frequency-hopping and spread-spectrum techniques that made Milstar satellite communications secure … and that make WiFi and other modern communications possible.


(Artist’s conception of Milstar satellite. USAF image.)

My commander at the 4th Space Operations Squadron, where I “flew” Milstar satellites, called Ms. Lamarr the “mother of Milstar” because of her invention. This new book sounds as if it captures not only the essence of her invention but also the trouble she ran into as a movie star who also happened to be a first-rate thinker.

Meanwhile, my writing friend Edmund Schubert has a new short story collection out entitled The Trouble with Eating Clouds.

Ed’s stories are very entertaining, often thought-provoking, and sometimes a little quirky. You might already have guessed that from the title, if not from the striking cover art, but I figure there’s no harm in stating the point.

And speaking of short stories, the folks behind Crossed Genres magazine (which published my story “The Tower” in one of their quarterlies) have brought out an anthology entitled Subversion, which they describe as “science fiction & fantasy tales of challenging the norm.”

Of course, ’tis the Season: if you know someone who might enjoy one of these books, now you can satisfy their Christmas wishes.

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DRAGONFORGE, by James Maxey

Finished reading DRAGONFORGE today, on the plane from Atlanta to Raleigh-Durham, and I must say my friend James Maxey has crafted a tight, compelling story that picks up where his excellent BITTERWOOD left off. I thoroughly enjoyed DRAGONFORGE — but how could I not enjoy a book in which one of the leading characters is a dragon named Graxen the Gray?

Seriously, James did a great job expanding and enriching the future world he described in BITTERWOOD. I haven’t been reading much SF or F recently, because I see quite enough in the slush pile that already distracts from writing my SF novel, but I’m glad I read DRAGONFORGE to be reminded of what good genre fiction is supposed to be.

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