Monday, April 18, 2011

So That's What We're Calling It Now

A few writers have been getting into a tangle about how writers should generate income in this new fluid world of publishing. It started with a quasi-gentlemanly spat between David Hewson and Cory Doctorow. Hewson launched with this blog post to which Doctorow took to Twitter here to respond. Others chimed in--most defending Doctorow. I have to admit, the conversations and comments first baffled me, occasionally irritated me and finally just saddened me when I realized what the conversation was really about: most writers get paid crap.

Hewson and Doctorow discussing what path to success works best is a bit like Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga arguing over the way to run a music career. One cultivated his audience over time. The other made a nice big splash. They both ended up behind desks with enough to live off their writing. Lost in their discussion is that both their positions beg the question of publishing success: "I am successful because I am successful." That's not a luxury 90% of writers can argue from.

Let me address this whole "multi-stream income" issue. It sounds hip and sexy and new. It speaks to innovation and bold ventures. It's none of those things. It is, quite frankly, a tarted-up way of saying you freelance or have a day job and write on the side. That's it. Nothing new. It's new economy jargon applied to the same old realities.

Some will say I’m missing the point of the discussion, that juggling multiple jobs is a necessity if you want to write. But, I would posit that isn’t the real point. The point is writing isn’t a live-on career for most people--not because they don't want it to be, but because it simply doesn't pay enough. It hasn’t since its inception as a career choice and all this “multi-stream” talk is not about a writing career at all. It’s about paying the bills any way you can. If, in fact, you have to work other jobs and those other jobs make up more than half your income, you do not have a writing career. You have a vocation that occasionally pays you some money to redo your kitchen.

Calling it "multi-stream income" may sound sophisticated, but I can't help but feel it's snake-oil talk. You're not struggling to make ends meet because you work in an exploitative industry that doesn't value its main source of material--you're multi-streaming your income! Please, spare me the smoke and mirrors.

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Mind or My Money

So, in case I haven't mentioned it (yeah, right), the next Connor Grey book, UNCERTAIN ALLIES, is coming out on April 28. Here's what happens to me when a book is about to be published.

First, I've been fortunate to get multibook contracts, which means that I have books scheduled to be delivered to the publisher. As it happens, I am given a year to produce a book, and they tend to be due about the time the last book is about  to be published generally around February or March. Sounds nice and orderly, doesn't it? Well, if you are me, order produces chaos.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Romancing Teh Gay

I’ve been struggling with my thoughts on the recent Running Press/Trisha Telep debacle with Jessica Verday. In a nutshell, Telep asked Verday to change her gay romance short story to a heterosexual one. Verday refused and pulled the story--as did half the other contributors when they heard about it. Details here and here.

In lots of ways, this situation is not unique to the LGBT community. All minority groups suffer at the hands of the majority in one way or another, particularly in publishing and movies. Stereotypes abound, as do the justifications. What I think makes the romance anthology situation unique is sex. Not orientation. Not gender. Not sexuality. Sex. Gay sex.

I haven’t read the story, but Verday reports it contains three kisses, one use of the word ‘f*ck’ and is sexually ‘g-rated.’ Did Telep ask her to remove any of those things? No. She asked her to change the gender of the characters in order to make it “light on alternative sexuality.” That’s a reaction that LGBT people know pretty well.

Straight couples have romance. Gay couples have sex.

That’s what the underlying issue is here. No sex is pretty light on the sexuality. Why, then, the gender change if no actual sex occurs in Verday’s story? Because in mainstream publishing—and other forms of entertainment—“light on alternative sexuality” means you can have a gay or lesbian character but 1) he or she cannot be the main character 2) cannot be in a romantic relationship (unless it’s for cheap laughs) and 3) cannot express any physical affection of any kind to someone of the same sex (unless it’s for cheap laughs). You know, the sassy gay pal. Extra points if they’re single but not lonely since they’re not interested in dating. In other words, sexless. This, btw, is actually progress. Gays and lesbian used to be depicted solely as psycho, sad and suicidal.

Telep has claimed that she’s not anti-gay, and, to a certain extent, she probably isn’t. But that’s just it—to a certain extent. While Verday apparently wrote a romance, Telep’s imagination, like many others do, leaped to the bedroom. LGBT people are always viewed through a sexual lens. A gay romance inevitably leads to gay sex, even if it isn’t explicitly depicted. Someone might not want to have gay sex. Someone might not care if other people do. But a lot of someone’s draw the line at having their imaginations take them somewhere they don’t want to go. Yet, LGBT folks somehow manage to read straight romance all the time without getting all swick about it.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a gay kiss in a movie that wasn’t accompanied by at least one hiss or groan from someone in the audience? Now try and recall that happening with a straight kiss. The idea that a kiss might merely express affection applies to straight folks. Gay kisses are not affection. They are sex.

Three kisses are porn, I guess.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Saving Time and Cross-Posting to Livejournal

As some of you might have noticed, I've been active online this past week--updating the website, creating a facebook fan page, etc. The intent has been to simplify my online presence while broadening it.

For years, I've had a livejournal account for blogging and like it, but being a cheapskate I use the free version of lj because a) I would only upgrade to match the lj design to my website and b) I have never grokked lj's design language and don't feel the need to learn it.

Enter Blogger. With almost no learning curve, I was able to create a blog page that mimics my website quite nicely. I also like the UI on Blogger better than lj. Now, having said that, I do like the lj community--it's one of the few places online that discussion proceeds in comments without always degenerating into snarkery and trolling (tho I do love me some snarkery) and there's lots of interesting book people there.

I figured out how to cross-post my Blogger to LJ so I don't have to manually do it. The only problem is that the post title is always going to start with [Mark Del Franco], which is the name of my blogger blog. In the short term, I'm not going to tinker with the html to fix because I need to focus on other things.

LJ users: what do you think? Is it intrusive to see my name in every single blog post? Or is it no big deal?

For non-LJ users, here's the link to my livejournal so you can see what I'm talking about.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Short Distractions...

I like short films. They clock in under 20 minutes, so they make a nice break. Here’s this weeks favorite, BLINKY. I love how the robot’s face doesn’t change but depending on context, it is cute, then sad, then scary:

Also, for something sweeter, here’s Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing if you haven’t seen it. Check out the website (slow loading but worth it):

The Lost Thing - Oscar Awards 2011 for best animated short film from carrotive on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Writers Need Indifferent Beta-Readers and Thick Skins

The unfortunate author implosion online that's been circling needs no more linkage, but the situation does prompt me to talk about something ever writer needs, especially self-published ones who don't have a publishing staff: an indifferent beta-reader:

By indifferent, I mean someone who doesn't love or like you personally unless you both can separate your personal feelings from the task at hand: understanding why your work might suck.

A short side story: I had a job where I wrote letters for my boss. I'd print out the letter, hand it to him and ask him to proofread it. Every few months, he would become impatient and snap, "I don't understand why there are typos in this. You're a writer." And I always replied, "That's why I asked you to proofread."

Every writer needs someone to look at their work--whether its one page or an entire book (especially if it's an entire book). The classic reason is that we are too close to our work. We know what we wanted to say. We thought we wrote that. We read what we wanted to say regardless of what's on the page.

There are at least two reasons why this happens: a) we've all seen that chain email that pionts out taht our barins are good at unsrcbmaling mispleled wrods, rihgt? Well, we're even better at doing it to our own words, and b) writers don't read their own work, they remember it. When we read, we don't see the words on the page. We hear the words in our head and assume those words are on the page.

So, at the least, we need proofreaders (It's a real live profession, actually).

The other reason we need indifferent beta-readers---and thick skin--is that we benefit from honest feedback, but we need to take it. It makes our work better. It is hard to hear someone say your work isn't, well, working. A good beta-reader should understand what you're trying to do, understand grammar and syntax, understand paragraph structure and book structure, and understand that they have to convey that information to a delicate ego. One person doesn't have to do all that--you can use one person for story reaction (i.e., someone who you think is in your intended audience) and someone else who knows their way around a red pen. You don't have to do everything a beta-reader says, either, but the feedback will help you justify why you did what you did.

And it's okay to be wrong. You just have to move on from it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another Electronic Brick in the Wall

The coincidence of Amanda Hocking, the successful ebook author, signing with a print publisher and Barry Eisler, the successful print author, going the full ebook route presents a different angle in the usual ebook arguments. Kate Richardson hits on many of the same points I would make--that the decision of how and with whom authors publish is a business decision, but also an editorial one and, of course, a writerly one.

As someone who finds it hard enough to write without getting distracted, the idea of epublishing on my own gives me anxiety. Despite claims to the contrary (by folks who have, frankly, no idea), it's a lot of work. I do want to try it at some point, but I find myself grappling with catch-22s everywhere I turn. So, it's easy to sit back, let my print publisher handle it and let the dust settle some more. Today. Tomorrow, who knows?

If you look at what Kat, Barry and Amanda actually say---you'll notice an aspect of the ebook discussion that doesn't always get a lot of play. Namely, it's a business decision for writers, which means there are going to be as many reasons to publish one way or another as there are writers. It's not just about new tech or evil gatekeepers or presumed inevitabilities.

Amanda has been successful with ebooks, but she recognizes she can reach more readers with print right now with the added bonus of less non-writing work. Barry sees a financial model that, on paper (!), looks better for him. And Kat sees benefits in working with a print team that she doesn't have to build independently (i.e., editing, marketing and a sales force). They are all making trade-offs in their careers that they hope will benefit those careers. You'll also notice none of them say they will never never change. Barry and Amanda are testing the water with new approaches. Kat (like me) is happy to let the whole mess sort itself out a little more. Whether they succeed or fail is their decision--and they're all the right decisions. For now.

As for me, I'm somewhere between Barry and Kat. I see the magic numbers, but I also like having someone else worry about and help with a lot of stuff. I'll probably dabble with an independent ebook, but right now I have a proposal out with my agent and I'll be more than happy to evaluate offers.

Because at the end of the day, as much as I love doing this writing thing, I also have to manage my time and money. Like everyone else.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


When it comes to writing, I’m a stretch runner. I sit and think and tinker for ages, then have a burst of word count upage. As I approach my delivery deadlines, I usually realize I have the last third of my novel still in my head—written, but in my head—and not a word on screen. Panic sets in, but it’s part of the process for me. Words start going down. Page count goes up. Surprises come up in the transition from brain to document. And then one night, usually around 2 a.m., I lean back in my chair and realize I’m finished. I like it. I like putting the pressure on this way, but the moment I hit that send button on the email to my editor, I’m brain mush.

So, here I sit with my mushy brain. Nap? Surf the internet? Write another book immediately? Look for a corporate job? Uh…uh...nap?

This is that moment where I think about all those articles I’ve read about new life phases. You know---someone gets to a point in his life when he’s conquered his job and realizes all his major life goals are settled and he needs something new so he chucks it all to open a swim-with-the-dolphins school in Costa Rica.

I hate that guy.

That’s something you don’t just do. There’s tons of planning involved and never mind the fact that I’m not a retired stockbroker with lots of cheetos in the bank. And let’s not even get into how hard it must be to find dolphins who speak English in Costa Rica.

So, what to do, what to do. 

Hey! I see a couch!