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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (Or Series) [Final Round]

What is the best best post apocalyptic book (or series)?

OUR FINAL ROUND IS LIVE!  COME VOTE.  

I do want to stress one thing. This poll is about books. It is not about Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald. This is about written literature. And if you thought that the books were a little slow, vote for something else.

This poll will be up for the rest of July, but THAT'S IT. So grab your friends, whip up those fan clubs, vote early and vote often.

Everyone get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

I'm told if you're on mobile you have to click "webpage view" then scroll alllllllllll the way to the bottom, you can find the poll.

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (or Series) [Semifinal 2 Results]

The results of our second semifinal poll are here! Top four will go on to the final round. Bottom four will get some lovely parting gifts. It wasn't a particularly nail biting week, although I was a little surprised to see a fantasy take on post apocalyptic do much better than the science fiction ones.


Text results below.
[And yes, the free website where I do these polls changed the format to put more space between the pie chart and the text results so the text is smaller than it used to be and hard to read. Thankfully, as I said, text results are below.

One of the things I want to try to do as part of our new schedule here is not take two days to flip a poll like this. So stay tuned for the final round to go up TODAY instead of tomorrow. Yes, that does mean that from time to time we will be posting two posts. (I tried doing both things in a single post and the results were always ).

The Stand - S. King 39 46.99%
Station Eleven - E. St. John Mandel. 16 19.28%
Parable of the Sower - O. Butler 12 14.46%
The Uglies Series - S. Westerfeld 8 9.64%
The Postman Novel - D. Brin 3 3.61%
Book of the New Sun Series - G.Wolfe 3 3.61%
Swan Song - R. R. McCammon 2 2.41%
Road to Nowhere Series - M. Elison 0 0%

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Farewell to a Friend, New Schedules, And Random Assorted Things (Personal Update)

For those of you who remember my accountability posts on my book's progress, you're going to start seeing those again at least every other Monday. Unfortunately (though probably fortunately for the quality of the final product) I had something of an epiphany and started over. Though over-romanticized in movies and TV, true epiphanies are pretty rare. Most of art is just the daily work of transmuting the little creative flashes into something someone else can digest. I'd still call it my rough draft, but it's like 1st draft 2.0.

It won't always be attached to a personal update like this one. As two of the reward tiers for my patrons and the closest thing I have to exclusive content, many of my behind-the-scenes revelations and personal updates don't make it to the blog. But I'll couple it with some meta order of business or the occasional personal update, or a critique on cheese or something and you can see how messy the process gets and divest yourself of the belief that books are shat out by the inspiration fairy when lightning hits a writer and rainbow prose comes glittering out their ass.

So anyone who has been watching me on Facebook these last few weeks knows that I am over the moon about my new nannying schedule. If I had to come up with a perfect schedule for a side gig, I would sit down and write out the schedule that I have now. (Okay, maybe I would give myself a threesome day every other Thursday and a three-day weekend, but it would be mostly the same.)

I was working too much before––even after trying to cut back. The week was more hours than I needed and almost more than I could stand.  I also tended to sputter and glut because my schedule would be ten hours one day and then only three the next. I'm no good for a few hours after getting roasted either; I get home and just stare at the wall for two hours, thinking about how hungry I am, before I can even think about dinner.

On the other hand, I ALSO have a bad time (probably because of ADHD) when I have the entire day empty. I tend to waste it until the last possible second of a deadline. It's not even FUN procrastination either where I'm like "Fuck it. I'll do it later," as I go to the beach or play Fallout 4 for hours. It's the kind where I'm sitting in my chair and saying "Okay, I really, really, REALLY need to focus now" for the entire day.

The best schedules for me? About 20 hours a week. (Enough to supplement my writing income, but not so much it eats my writing time.) A little every day so that have a sense of urgency and pacing. No front- or back-loading of the week so that I'm constantly jacked on managing my time. The same TIME every day so that I can write at the same time every day––which turbocharges my ability to sit down and write without staring at the screen for an hour or two first. Not too early because I'm a bit of a night owl and good sleep is connected to creativity. A weekend on the actual weekend (not two days off in the middle of the week when I'm doing a lot of writing) so that I can do half writing days and it actually is rejuvenating.

My new schedule? M: 1-6 T-F: 2-6. 21 hours. Same amount every day (with a tiny variation on Mon). Same time every day. A little each day. Not too early. Actual weekend.

It's so perfect, I could cry. To be honest, I did a little, but when someone asked I told them I was cutting onions for a lasagna. Now all I need is that every other Thursday thing.

Well a new schedule for me means a new update schedule.

There's a link if you want to check out all the nooks and crannies. I'll put the big information at the end of this post. (Some people really like knowing the minutiae of how working writers set up their schedules and what they expect of themselves, but it's not everyone's cup of tea.)


I didn't expect to have any other news, but I woke up to some.

James Bond––not 007 but rather the scampliest scamp of a jellicle cat who was raised on the streets, wore a tuxedo, and rejected the gender binary (that's her in my profile picture)––died last night. She kept eating things that she couldn't keep down (because on the streets, that's what you gotta do), and I guess that caught up with her.

We met James about 9 years ago. She was a local "feral*" that showed up suddenly after a four-unit apartment next door was emptied for a major renovation by the owners who wanted to charge a lot more. Someone couldn't keep her and had just abandoned her to her the fate of the local neighborhood. And we would see her day after day chasing mice or just scrapping with toms twice her size.

*But not really. Read on!

At first it was just a bowl of food each day. But then she started showing up at food time and it wasn't long before she let me pet her, and even hopped into my lap after dinner was over to get some serious snuggles complete with chainsaw purring. Clearly she had had humans before and wasn't really feral.

Then came the rainy night where she showed up waterlogged on the front porch with a tiny "Mew!"

We never stood a chance.

And many vet appointments later for the worms and the abscesses in her teeth (that probably would have killed her within a month or two), her breath cleared up, her coat got glossy, and she became the sweetest lap cat most who met her had ever seen. She would always find a willing set of fingers, claim she had never been loved ever, and purr so hard you could hear her across the room.

At first we would wonder who on earth would simply abandon such an incredibly sweet cat, but very quickly we were just too glad they did.

She never did learn to keep her claws in when she jumped off a lap, she ate anything that hit the floor (and a few things that didn't), she hunted her toy mouse each night in the wee hours of the morning to stay sharp, and she always kind of acted like at any minute the good times would end and she'd be back to being a scrapper on the streets. We'd come down and find her guiltily wolfing down kale or cantaloupe seeds like she was getting away with murder. But after the initial layer of grime and fleas were cleaned off, and once she learned there were bipeds looking out for her, she turned into the sweetest purrbucket I've ever known.



Our new schedule (for those who give a shit about such things):

Friday

Fridays, for the most part, will be The Big Post™ of the week. If you're here for the hard-hitting writing advice (with the occasional examination of how language and narrative play into broader social issues), Friday is the day to tune in.

Tuesday and Wednesday

Wednesdays and Thursdays will be our smaller posts: calls to vote or nominate in whatever poll is going on, the best of the prior month, quickies, fortune cookie wisdom. Things I like to call "jazz hands."

Thursday

Mailbox!  Far and away our most popular type of article here. It's time the mailbox had its own day again and we got to it weekly.

Monday

Harder to qualify than simply "big" or "jazz hands," Mondays are probably between Wednesdays and Fridays in their content and girth. They will be personal updates, smaller mailboxes, prompts, guest blogs, etc.


The Five-Post Goal

Some weeks aren't going to go down like clockwork and they might be front or back loaded with side gigs or other commitments. My writing career is also starting to open up occasional opportunities of interest like conventions, speaking engagements, interviews, or podcasts. I'm trying to be better about the (literally) health-shattering 80+ hour weeks I was working. That's a needle to thread when you are your own boss and you know that people will lower your income if they aren't getting enough of the content they want. So in the cases of major schedule upheaval, I will try really hard to get five posts up. They might just be posted off schedule––Thur, Fri, Sat for example, but I will try hard to at least hit five.

Priority to Fiction

The hardest thing I've tried doing as a blogger is keeping my fiction at a high level of priority. There may be weeks where I just straight up take a post off to work on my story. As you can see from the link through, that's what the majority of my Patreons said was okay with them. Now, I saw a slightly different reality reflected in the numbers of folks who reduced or cancelled their support amounts, so I'm going to try to keep more plates spinning thanks to this new schedule.

Facebook Writing and Social Justice Bard

Most of my major writing ends up on this blog, but some of my throw away thoughts don't. If you particularly enjoyed our Social Justice Bard posts, don't worry. I do as much yelling at clouds as I ever have.

I invite you to follow my Public Facebook Page (you can friend it if you send me a message, but it might be better if you follow it for a while first––unfiltered me is not everyone's cup of tea).  I post somewhat more "political and partisan thoughts" there (rather than just social ISSUES) and also often post "proto-versions" of what later become full blog posts (if you're interested in seeing how those things develop). [There's also personal updates and nerdery there.]

I also have another blog called NOT Writing About Writing that I update usually once a week or more where I put shorter media reviews, personal updates, and political thoughts that don't really tie into writing and aren't really short enough for Facebook. Also, fret not; there may be fewer SJB posts here on Writing About Writing since we'll be dealing with fewer available "posting slots" overall, but there will still be some.

Everything I ever write (and reruns of my best stuff) gets cross posted to that Public Facebook Page, so join me there if you want to stalk me properly.

A Sixth Post?

There MIGHT occasionally be a sixth post in a week. Usually this will happen when I need to cover some ground on "blog business." (Like posting the results of a poll or getting up the prior month's "Best of" posts or something.) In this case you might see an extra post pop up from time to time on the weekend or two in one day. Fiction will also usually go up independent of our regular schedule.

Reminders:

  • I still nanny for a five-year-old and a newborn––sometimes at the same time. Plus my host body occasionally succumbs to your Earth illnesses, so those five posts might not always happen like clockwork or may involve going off the rails of my usual updates. Until my Patreon pays all the bills, my reality is that I sometimes have to prioritize paid gigs.
  • This flexible update schedule should also cut down on the thing where I'm apologizing to absolutely fucking nobody that it's Thursday and I've yet to put so much as a taco video up. I know that some people are annoyed by that and the rest don't really care. But this also settles my own inner overachiever. As long as I get in all the entries that week, my readers (who have literally never said anything in six years about my update schedule) and myself can give me a break.
  • I invoke the Anything Can Happen™ real world excuse. I usually have a couple of "emergency blogs" tucked away, but I chew through them pretty quickly when the fit hits the shan. Health complications might crop up suddenly and have me needing to do a sudden unexpected several-hour shift or even an overnight...or maybe even more. Trust me, I'm going to feel ten times worse about missing a post than all of my readers combined.
  • Admin Long-weekends at least once a month will still be a thing. Usually just the Monday (but occasionally the Friday if I'm really behind) will be cannibalized. I need the extra time to answer emails, clean up menus, catch up on editing and such.


Also......folks, if you like what I do, stuff a few dollars into that "tip jar" at the top left, or even better yet, sign up to be a monthly patron through Patreon and get in on the back channel discussions about posting schedules, big changes, and upcoming projects. I have bills to pay like any other starving artist, and I'm working three side gigs to make ends meet, so even a dollar a month (just $12 a year) will go a long way.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Reminder to Vote (Best Post Apocalyptic Book or Series) [Semifinal 2]

What is the best post apocalyptic fiction book (or series)? 

I started a sweet new nanny schedule today, which means all KINDS of good shit is right around the corner, including a new update schedule that should be pretty off the hook. However, as it takes a couple of days for the "behind-the-scenes" changes to work their way through the plumbing to what is ready to be posted "onstage," and ALSO seeing as Wednesday is the day this semifinal poll will end, a reminder seemed in order.

Please remember there's a second half to this poll before you snark it for missing the title you feel should totally be on there. (And remember that if you want to see a title on ANY poll, you need to nominate it during that part of the process.) In this process, though I occasionally second something I love, I am mostly just a bookkeeper.

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

June's Best 2019

Reminder: I know I'm being a little extra with the "jazz hands" type posts these last ten days or so. I had some company, a profusion of side giggery, I have a new nanny schedule coming up (and this might be my last chance for a slow period for a couple of months). We're going to hit the ground running HARD on Monday.  

June is a fading memory, and these are the articles that will go on to fame and glory in our Best of W.A.W. archives.

What We Fight For (I Am the Night)

I try to glean (though most days it's more like "shoehorn") some kind of writing lesson out of my monthly Vampire game.

9 Things Dungeons and Dragons Taught Me About How to Write (Part 2) 

Being a Dungeon Master or a player doesn't matter when you're wresting writing lessons from storytelling nerdery.

Announcement: Speaking Engagement

A lot of mid-June's bandwidth got taken up by a speaking engagement that I did at Dominican University. For some reason, the announcement that it was happening was quite popular.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (or Series) [Semifinal Round 2]

What is the best post apocalyptic book (or series)? 

I'm spending the week knocking out our backlog of "business posts" because they take an hour instead of five or six, and let me have a little break from the usual fare around here. Starting Monday next week, we will have a whole new schedule and a lot more posting (stay tuned).

The semifinal rounds go FAST. I'll have the results of this poll posted by a week from today and the final round goes up on Thursday. So don't dilly dally. Vote today!

Half of these titles are not going forth to the final round, but WHICH half is entirely up to you.

And while I know the laws of large numbers have begun to determine that a certain number of people won't read anything but the preview text and the poll before commenting that "OH THE HUMANITY!" please consider that 1) this is only half the titles  ("Oh my god how could Lord of the Rings not make it????" It did. It was on round one.), 2) there were rules that disqualified titles (particularly series titles that didn't conclude until after '75), and  3) we arrived here through a nomination process, and I controlled literally NONE OF IT but rather my readers made all the decisions, so if a title never got nominated, acting like it is a crime to the genre might make you look a little foolish, and maybe you should chime in a little sooner next time.

Don't forget you get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

I'm told if you're on mobile you have to click "webpage view" then scroll alllllllllll the way to the bottom, you can find the poll.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (Or Series) [Results of Semifinal 1]

What is the best Post Apocalyptic book (or series)?

We have our winners!  I was a little surprised to see The Chrysalids not even make enough votes to go to the final after it got such strong shoutouts in the nomination process, but I even extended the poll an extra day because I don't like splits between "finals" and "lovely parting gifts" of only one or two votes, and during the grace period, it fell even further behind.

Personally, I was sad to see Girl With All the Gifts fall short as well, but that's more of a personal preference.

Semifinal round 2 will be up early next week.
Text results below

The Road - C. Mccarthy 22 18.64%
Oryx and Crake - M. Atwood 21 17.8%
A Canticle For Leibowitz - W. M. Miller Jr. 19 16.1%
Wool/Shift/Dust series - H. Howey 18 15.25%
The Chrysalids - J. Wyndham 15 12.71%
Girl With All the Gifts - M. R. Carey 11 9.32%
Who Fears Death - N. Okorafor 7 5.93%
The Passage - J. Cronin 5 4.24%

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (Or Series) [Semifinal 1- Last Call for Votes]

What is the best post apocalyptic fiction book (or series)? 

I don't normally post on bank holidays––even the jingoistic ones that are painful reminders of what a landfill inferno the political landscape is lately––but I went to hike a local mountain yesterday. I thought I was going to get home in time to do a quick post, but it turns out my memory of how arduous the ascent could be was smoothed by the haze of time. As this is a semifinal round, and I will be tabulating the results TOMORROW, it felt important to give everyone who hadn't voted yet a nudge.

Please remember there's a second half to this poll before you snark it for missing the title you feel should totally be on there. (And remember that if you want to see a title on ANY poll, you need to nominate it during that part of the process.)

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Bush Unbeaten (The Future of This Blog)


One of my best Patreon rewards goes out to everyone who donates $3 or more. The reason is because small donors are so important to me and to what I do.

I will try not to beat around the bush. If you've been with us for a while, you know that by this time of year in other year I would be teaching summer school and kind of losing my head. And the past couple of years I've used the six weeks to do a "full court press" of trying to get more people signed up to be patrons.

Well, largely thanks to all of you, there's no more summer school. I was able to give my notice last year (which was good because they were cutting more and more corners and treating the teachers like shit). And this year (at the end of summer) I'm going to be able to hang up my leash and catnip and stop doing pet sitting. (Which was a great side-gig for a writer, but still took time away from writing.) Two years ago I was able to stop teaching night classes. And three years ago I was able to step up from one "real" post a week to two or three. Several years ago, I was able to remove ads from Writing About Writing, which gives me a bit more latitude in the kinds of things I can post but mostly just means an ad free experience and a place where I don't feel dirty for selling out. Also, I've been able to commit to making sure all of my writing is always online for free.

All of this is because of my patrons.

But I still have rent to pay and the lights to keep on I still have side gigs. I still spend 20 hours a week wrangling the wild baby. (Time I could spend writing.) I still live in a two bedroom place with three roommates. Last year my insurance and taxes went way up due to the political situation in my country. I'm still not making ends meet without side gigs, and that's where (hopefully) you come in.

I'd like to be posting more and better quality posts. I'd like to post more fiction. And I'd like to keep Writing About Writing an ad free experience. But there are some numbers I just have to hit, and right now I'm coming up short. I've got some plans in the works and a book that's cooking. And I really don't want to have to introduce ads.

Please become a Patron through PATREON.

A single dollar goes a long way. It might not seem like much, but they add up faster than you think. As much as I completely adore my big ticket patrons, my ideal donor "ecosystem" would actually consist of many many $3 patrons. It puts a lot of pressure on a big donor when they are 10% of my income. If something goes wrong in one of their lives, sometimes it takes me months to recover. I'd rather be able to roll with those punches because I have so many $3 and $5 dollar patrons. Even a single dollar (just $12 a year) will get you in on backchannel conversations, polls, and news, as well as make a difference.

Of course if you do not want to make a recurring donation (or if you just want to make it through Paypal because you don't like Patreon) you can do so here: paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting

Friday, June 28, 2019

9 Things Dungeons and Dragons Taught Me About How to Write (Part 2)

Return to part 1

This is a continuation of a previous post (and it's been a while), so I'm going to dive straight in without introduction. Head back to see the first part to the intro and the first five.  

5- The characters must be allowed to affect the plot.

The worst games I've ever run? They were either those dungeon crawls that are basically dynamic board games focused on rules and dice results, or they were stories I had in my head with predetermined endings. We once tried to beat Ravenloft five times in a row. By the end, even the sadistic dungeon master who loved killing players was like, "Come on guys. We have to do this" and our final solution involved Dwarven engineers razing the castle during the day with Greek fire shot from engineered trebuchets and ganging up on the survivors as they fled the castle. Honestly it was magical, but we were so fucking sick of that module that it tasted like cold ash.

Or it went the other way, and I was just telling a story with my players and their characters being window dressing. I just kind of put them inside the plot, but their actions didn't really change the directional flow of the story. "Let's storm the castle." "No, I think that's a bad idea." "WE MUST DO IT NOW!!!" Honestly, I pissed my best friend off so hard that he wouldn't let me run the games for a couple of years. ("No, I was thinking I could do a Star Wars game Chris. You just relax. Have a coke.")


The best games? I barely mapped the plot at all.  The players did everything and I just kind of had the world react to their choices. Shit, half the time the stuff they came up with when they were talking about what might be going on was ten times better than what I had planned, and I just went with it. ("Why YES, there is evidence to believe that the Sith are on the brink of a civil war. Should it be the rule of two or the rule of one?" *writes down a note "Civil war. Good idea!!!" and underlines*)

If they got into a bar brawl, the constabulary would want a word with them (maybe a favor for looking the other way that leads to an adventure) and the guys that lost would be out for payback (oh look, another adventure). If they killed a bunch of goblins, the goblin kingdom would put fully-armed pickets on their borders (more adventures). Where they would do one thing and then see the results of it in the plans and reactions of their antagonists. The big bad Troll-demigod wasn't just sending more and more capable minions to kill them, and everything wasn't wrapped up after a single conflict was resolved (with combat or not). The best games reacted to the players––were driven by them. Their decisions had consequences and they could head bad shit off at the pass if they tried....or completely fuck things up worse.

If you're writing a story that is just a railroaded plot which would unfold the same for literally any main character (or several main characters), your story is probably pretty boring. If you could trade out half the characters for the cast of Gilmore Girls or The Muppets, and nothing would fundamentally change, then what is the point? The characters have to be able to move and shape the plot. Remember how if you switched Othello and Hamlet each play would be five minutes?


6- Why are they even doing this?

The most common thing players want to do isn't getting into bar brawls down at the local tavern.

Actually it's nothing.

Players want to do nothing. Oh they'll get bored and eventually go make trouble, and they'll probably chase down a plot if you give them a reason like riches or a dead brother who needs avenging, but their natural state is to wonder why they would do all this wacky shit that should by all rights get them killed.

There's a famous story in my gaming circle about The Tree™. The Dungeon Master described a huge, nasty gnarled tree that towered over this dilapidated forest and looked like it was the source of evil itself.

"We avoid that tree," the party said.

The DM paused. "But it's clearly a huge anomaly in this forest. Obviously something's going on."

"Yeah," the players agreed. "Something bad. Evil tree in an evil forest. We don't want a thing to do with it."

Well, the DM had written the whole adventure around their presumed curiosity and so they walked around the tree only to run into it again.

"We go the other way," the party said.

"No matter which way you go, eventually the tree ends up in front of you."

"We spend hours walking away."

"The tree ends up showing up on the horizon no matter which way you go."

"This is fucking stupid!" one player screamed. "If I wanted to play Zork where I have to do one thing, I would just go play fucking Zork." (Bear in mind that this was a long time ago and not quite such an anachronistic reference at the time.)

"It's magic, okay!" the Dungeon Master said. "The tree is, like, calling you to it."

"Then fuck it," the party said. "We sit down and have lunch. And use our engineering skills to build a trebuchet that will fire a flaming ball of pitch from here so that we can burn down The Tree™ from half a mile away."

"I assist his engineering check."

"I use my bardic power to enhance that engineering roll."

Details get hazy after this point as there was some kind of out-of-character altercation that ended at least one friendship for a couple of months after someone's popsicle-stick Star Destroyer got shattered.

The greatest question you have to ask yourself about a character is "why would they do that." And you have to ask it of every single character every single time their goals shift. If your reader can't relate to what the stakes are, your reader doesn't care if they get their goal or not, and then you've lost them. If Jack Burton didn't want his truck back, there would have only been a moderate amount of trouble in Little China.


7- It's actually the not-that-great characters that are the most interesting.

My entire social circle got their hands on D&D second edition at right about the same time, and started drooling over the attribute bonuses that included god-like stats going all the way up to 25.  We wanted our wizards buff enough to have hit and damage bonuses and our fighters with impossibly high dexterities and our thieves preternaturally clever. ("Of course Lift Nimblefingers can speak Elvish. He speaks eight languages, you know.")

For a while there, it was weirder to see a third- or fourth-level character who hadn't somehow gotten their most important stat up above 20––18 is supposed to be the pinnacle of human limitation. The multi-class everything wasn't unheard of and the world was crawling with Fighter/Mage/Thieves and Cleric/Mage/Fighter/Psionicists. One guy swore to me that the 8 nestled in with nothing but 17's and 18's (on a number generated by rolling three six-sided dice and adding the result) or that basically one average roll proved that the other five were a totally legit one-in-a-billion chance.

The thing was, these characters SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKED. They were boring as fuck. They either got killed by overwhelming force or they sashayed through everything they saw without breaking a sweat. They had no weaknesses. They were too awesome.

It's fun to have your crack shot, ace pilot, chosen-one mystic martial artist character, kick ass all over town, but there's a reason Luke is kind of fucking boring until he starts failinating the countryside in Empire Strikes Back. There's a reason Han and Leia are both ten times more interesting from the minute they walk on screen. And even better characters have more flaws.

The best characters you can probably think of usually have flaw lists as long as their merits lists. And that goes for the ones you write too. There's a reason the character I remember the best from that period of time with the god-like badasses was a fighter with a 13 strength and shitty stats all the way down because the DM made me role in front of him. Erik Goblinsbane is still in a folder around here somewhere because he succeeded by being scrappy, wily, careful, and really interesting.


8- Build that fucking world....but introduce it slowly

Two things I learned never to do in D&D. One is not bother to build the world. "Okay so what's beyond the mountains? What do you mean no one's ever been there? We've got three-thousand-year-old elves in the forest next door and we're clearly living on an ancient Dwarven ruin, and in all that time, no one's ever thought to pop over and check?" "Wait, so who's the lord of this Castle? Sir Billy? Wasn't Sir Billy the lord of the last castle?"

The other thing was sitting through endless history lessons by a Dungeon Master who clearly thought our Melatonin supplements needed some back-up. For three hours he told us about every little detail of the wars he had written into his notebook and we didn't get to game because by the time he was done all the energy had been hyper vortexed out of the room and we were like, "Oh....look at the time. 6:30pm. Getting really late. Better head out. Got work tomorrow at noon."

It doesn't matter if you're dotting the shoreline with named fishing villages on your entirely-too-detailed map of Ratacia (the Easternmost continent of Fatlanas on a standard map) or working out the socio-economics of your what-if world that you snootily call "futurism" so you don't get painted with the same genre brush as those sci-fi pleb writers. Your world needs your attention. And the richer you make it the more lush details can come through, but you need to dribble them out. Put them in the mouth of a character, a detail dropped here or there. (As long as it's natural. Nothing worse than that weird exposition dialogue. "I love you, Andrea, even though you once tried to poison my father because my twin brother Daniel convinced you that he was me, impregnated you, and told you that your child would be a threat to my mother who is secretly the heir to Valacia..." or the dreaded system explaining line "As you know....")  Just drizzle out enough exposition to get you to the next scene. Let your readers delight in putting the details together like a jigsaw puzzle instead of crapping out some brick of exposition dump on them in the first chapter that screams "Hi, this is my first novel" more than if you'd written it on the front page in crayon, or describing a person because they see themselves in a mirror.

There's a reason people laugh at this line.

9- The best antagonists are never just orcs.

They might be orcs, but they're never JUST orcs. But usually, they're not even orcs at all.

The best antagonists have a few things in common.

They are often a lot like the protagonists––maybe even a LOT like the protagonists. If you're familiar with the concept of a foil, you already understand this, but if not, let me just say that the best antagonists remind the protagonists disturbingly of themselves. Maybe they have the same skill set (like being able to use The Force) but are using it nefariously. Or maybe they are just as clever but are trying to stay a step ahead of the characters. Or maybe they want the same thing but are going about it in ways the protagonist wouldn't. They make the protagonist uncomfortable because they force them to confront something about themselves.

They often exist (after some fashion) because of something the protagonist did. Might have been a mistake or maybe something they would do again in the same circumstances, but on that day they created a problem for themselves.

They often want something that is at least somewhat understandable.  Orcs are just evil (unless you're trying to play a "what IS evil" type game*). Orcs just want to pillage the village, steal the sillage and cause spillage. They are irredeemably bad. What they want goes against everything you stand for or believe in, so you either fight them or people die. Saron and Vader are great bad guys, but they're not great bad guys because they made you think about the nature of the human condition. They're not great bad guys because they express complicated motivations that you can really get behind. they are great bad guys because they personify the human desire for domination––something that we all recognize is bad, yet all can relate to a little as well. They have run with their most base impulse. They're great because they are memorable paragons of evil, but they don't just want to fuck shit up randomly; they want to rule the world/galaxy.

*As a GM, I pull this shit on the regular.

With orcs––just orcs––there's no indecision. There's no nuance. There's no complexity. It's kill or be killed. Great for a fight or two or just to raise the stakes of the emotional struggle, but it gets boring if you're not mixing it up or that's all there is. The best antagonists have a goal that is relatable, possibly even understandable. And the best antagonists? They're the ones you find yourself arguing online that they might have been right.

I'm so right, they have to kill me off and have a mercenary take my place for the final reel.
Image credit:  Hollywood Pictures Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films


The best villain I ever made for D&D––one that still gets talked about today by the players of the game––was literally a dark mirror version of the paladin who had been created as a balance for a divine intervention. He was just as cocksure and manipulative as the character that he was "created" from (except evil), and he was just as convinced of his own infallibility. And ironically, he wanted pretty much the same thing the other characters in the game. He just thought the best way to get it was to kill everything in his path, and to corrupt the souls of the other members of the party to being unwilling to stand against him, and get rid of the paladin.

When I wrote this, it was originally titled as "15 things D&D taught me......" So if I come up with another five there may be a part three (and some title editing). 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (or Series) Semifinal 1

What is the best Best Post Apocalyptic Book (or Series)?  

Our latest poll is live. The semifinals go VERY quickly, so come vote on which titles will go on to the final poll.

This poll will only be up a week (and another week for the second half) so we can get on with the final round. So please make haste. And don't forget that this poll is about BOOKS ONLY, not their movie counterparts.

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Monday, June 24, 2019

What We Fight For (I Am the Night)


I am the Night––in which I shamelessly shoe-horn writing advice into thinly veiled game write ups.

On Saturday night I played in my monthly Vampire LARP, and there was a mass combat. Fortunately, such things don't really happen very often. Usually what combat there is is partaken by a group of badass combat monkeys who want to stomp around, and they go do it far away from court. Personally, I think it's a little weird to play even-more-prone-to-violence-than-the-most-violent-humans when you're trying to get inside the head of a character who will live forever if they don't suffer a violent death, but different people like different aspects of LARPing.

But on Saturday night the fight came to US.

Now I've already told you about how this character is basically the most aggressively authentic and non-vampire character I've ever played. (Imagine dropping Twilight Sparkle into Game of Thrones for context.) Mark wants to make FRIENDS at court and really genuinely likes people and tries to be nice. He's absolutely not built for combat by even the most generous yardsticks. His three physical traits means unless he gets pretty lucky, he loses any physical altercation with anyone....ever....including literally all but the most incapable mortals.

The court was dividing up into people who would fight and people who would hide in sort of a "safe room" (to be slaughtered horribly if those who fought lost, I suppose). Escape wasn't fully an option. It might have been for Mark if he abandoned everyone and used his hidey power and super speed to just haul ass away while effectively invisible. But the irony of this particular iteration of How Vampires Work™ is how powerless a single vampire is without the others. Basically anything in the World of Darkness is more powerful than all but the oldest and strongest vampires.

In the end I didn't go into the safe room even though it was completely absurd for me not to, and as we got split into maximally effective "cells" that took advantage of our ability to exploit game mechanics, I ended up being grouped up with some eager-to-die/no-guts-no-glory cell that wanted to go fight the vanguard forces. So there I was on the front line––just me in my shorts and kitty cat t-shirt with the basic ability to look more intimidating than most people with fangs, while vampires around me used flaming fists, cavitated people's chests with a single hit, wore ballistic armor, dominated our enemies into fighting for us, carried small arsenals of ballistic weaponry, casually used enough physical strength to lift train cars, turned into ten-foot xenomorph-like monsters, and shrugged off three to four times the amount of damage that would turn me into ash.

Interestingly enough, I got to be pretty "cool" in that fight, but probably because Chris knows the systems. I basically hid for the first round of horribly violent combat. Once our four-armed antagonist with a shotgun and a pistol and a small army of war dogs had used all his willpower (to get a second chance to succeed on failed attempts) to put flaming holes in half the court, he didn't have anything left to fight my little pea shooter dread gaze.

So baaaaaasically, I hissed at this outrageously big bad nasty, and he wet himself and ran. (That'll be a fun story for the survivor baddies to tell to their boss.) Then when we were told (in a logistical protocol called "mediation") that we would win against all the dogs, but we had to split 21 aggravated between us. All the others soaked as much as they could, but everyone was super hurt so they could only do like one or two points each. We were eight short. I had not been hurt yet. I took the last points. So I went from not being wounded at all to “I would have ashed if I had taken ONE more damage.” And that is how we managed to have zero casualties. (I sort of imagine the last few minutes of that fight involved a lot of Mark jumping in front of dog coup-de-graces and screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!")

But let's rewind to bring this back around to writing. I spent several minutes thinking about the choice that MARK would make regarding partaking in the violence. I knew Chris would be bored as balls in a mass combat and feeling FOMO (fear of missing out) if I went into the safe room, so I really tried to decide what this character would do. By all rights he should have left or gone into the safe room. But he didn't, and there were reasons for that.
  1. Something he could do was definitely useful to the group. He wasn't just going to be in the way or die horribly so that the grizzled vet could say "You fucking noobs." Now the "thing" was a bit of an out-of-character exploit as we were grouped into several "cells" that consisted of three fighters, one mental attacker and one social attacker. (The fiercey face that Mark can do is a social attack.) Which happens to be exactly the number of incoming attacks a single target can take in a round. [One defender can't be "attacked" with a social power after they have already defended against one.] So at some point, someone decided that my skill set of social abilities was critically important. "You have to convince them they suck, Mark. They suck and they should go write emo poetry instead of attacking us."
  2. I got INTO that situation at all because it was useful and beneficial to me to be there.
  3. We couldn't really get away en mass. I could because of my constellation of vampiric powers, but I would be leaving a lot of people to fend for themselves. 
  4. They were coming after us. Mark isn't going to start joining the strike teams or anything. He's still a big wimp. But there's a different dynamic when they're driving up the hill to where you are with murder on their minds. We were under attack. They meant to kill us all.
  5. A lot of people were going to die if some people didn't step up.
  6. Undeniably there would be some rewar
  7. I was surrounded by fighters. (In other words my death wasn't 100% certain; just super likely.)
None of these things seemed unimportant in the equation. If I'd able to leave, you bet your left nipple I would have. If I couldn't have done anything useful, I would have blown that popsicle stand. If I had been alone, I would have vacated and shunned the area, thus inventing the vacation. (Vacate+shun...nevermind.) If what was at stake was just the lonely observatory in the middle of nowhere where court was being held, I would have been out like trout. If there were a way to get away and some people just wanted to fight, I would have wished them the best and strolled away whistling Green Acres.
What this made me think of in terms of writing is why people, who will otherwise survive if they do not engage in violence, decide QUITE regularly to go forth and risk their lives. I'm not talking about the soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his companions, but the entire way in which armies are moved by using culture to override a human's natural instinct to leave danger unless there is no other choice. The ways in which humans are encouraged to go breathtakingly against their self-preservation instincts, and the ways that are reproduced over and over again to get soldiers to be the aggressors. Mark's rationalizations echo so many others.

A situation is created that is to soldiers benefits to get into (usually by means of a steady paycheck or promise of spoils of war and maybe an education) so that they go along willingly with the steps that lead up to the danger. They are actually trained to see themselves not as individuals but as part of a group of fighters who will maximize their personal chances of living. They are put in harm's way through a chain of command. There is substantial consequence to simply leaving (courts martial...execution...massive social censure). There is an entire culture by which one's failure to do their duty will be seen as causing the deaths of others. Each person is told their contribution is absolutely vital. 

Perhaps most importantly, most military action––even aggressive, offensive action––is almost  framed as defending something that must not be lost, like "a way of life" or "everything we hold dear," and almost never "Goldman Sachs corporate interests in the region" or "we need that land for our imperialist and colonialist expansions."

For writers who regularly have ordinary people taking lethal chances, it's useful to know why they might do that (unless their foolhardy bravery is simply the stuff of legend), and for those who want to portray military aggression, it is useful to know how they motivate mass numbers of people to do something that by all rights is against their self-interest.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Absolutely Last Chance to Nominate (Post Apocalyptic Book or Series)

What's the best post apocalyptic book (or series)?

I'm going to compile our nominations and generate the poll early next week so this is absolutely the last chance to nominate something for the poll or second a nomination that is already standing.

In the meantime, I'm done for now with my behind-the-scenes work, so I should have some good posts up in the next couple of days––including one on Saturday to make up for Wednesday. Thanks for your patience all!

Be sure to go to the ORIGINAL LINK to drop your comment or check in on the rules. Anything left here or on Facebook will not be counted.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Admin Day (REMINDERS!)

Once a month I get so backlogged on all those things I do "behind the scenes" that I need to cannibalize a day from blogging to try to catch up. Well, actually that happens a lot more than once a month, but I don't want to sacrifice any more posts than that.

This week my Patreons need a newsletter––the closest thing I have to exclusive content (and it only costs $3 a month!)––and I am long overdue to get the $10 tier some early access articles. Plus this week is just heavily front loaded with my side gig jobs, and getting the baby down enough to sneak off to do some writing is a very hit or miss prospect. (Today was miss.)

Anyway, SO much of last week was preparing for a guest speaking engagement for an MFA cohort that I got a little behind on everything else. Tuesday is my regular day off. I'll catch up with you on Wednesday.

Also, here are some reminders that I'm going to start tacking on to my "Admin Day" posts.


Did you know that my public Facebook page is welcome to all? Well, mostly. It's a place I talk about some of the mundane aspects of being a writer, share things I just can't on my page, discuss social issues and politics a little more directly, and even do proto versions of some things that later become posts. Plus general nerdery and me being human. Fair warning: I can be a lot, and you might want to follow me for a while first to see if I'm your cup of tea. (99.9% of posts are public so the only thing you get from "friending" that you wouldn't from "following" is the ability to comment.) You should also read the commenting note so you know what to expect. And always send along a PM with a friend request.

Did you know I have another blog called NOT Writing About Writing? It's where I write about social issues, personal thoughts, and review media in a way that I can't gracefully shoehorn into being about writing.

Did you know that this blog has a Facebook page (where I post all kinds of hilarious memes, puns, quotes about writing, and "you should be writing" macros)?

Did you know that this blog ALSO has a Facebook GROUP (where I post just the blog links and whatever meme, macro, quote, or share did the best from the previous day on the page)? Be sure and answer the "security" question. It's really just there so you don't end up subscribed to something you don't want. A simple "yes" will suffice.

Did you know we also have a limited presence on Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media?

Did you know that most of our bigger articles are categorized by topic in The Reliquary? And the best articles of each month and year are listed in The Best of W.A.W.

Did you know that except for a couple of newsletters with some behind-the-scenes info and personal updates, everything I write will always be free? You might pay a dollar or two to get it all in one place in an e-book [stay tuned], but you never have to. However, I have rent to pay and groceries to buy like anyone else, so if you want to support my creative efforts, you can stuff a few bucks in my "tip jar." (I also have Venmo at chris.brecheen@gmail.com) Or better yet, if you want be an ongoing supporter, help my monthly budget, and gain access to some small-but-nifty rewards, consider becoming a monthly Patreon. As little as a single dollar gets you into the VIP room.

Did you know I'm always looking for guest bloggers and will guest blog for you as well? This isn't just "exposure" stuff either. I can and will pay.

Did you know you can send me questions, and I'll probably answer them in a post if I haven't already?

Did you know that MOST questions I get not specifically intended for a Mailbox post have already been answered? You should check the F.A.Q.

Did you know that if you don't know who I'm talking about when I introduce a character in this blog, they are probably listed here?

Did you know I have an official Update Schedule and a pretty well defined Mission Statement?

Did you know that I moderate comments in every space I run? You might want to check them out if you don't want to get banned or have your input erased.

Did you know that Facebook started throttling page creators' content about six months ago in an effort to squeeze more ad revenue from people desperate to get their numbers back. So if you like a page (say, for example, MY page); a great way to show it support, especially if you want to, but can't afford to donate, is to comment and react to those links you know the page is trying to share. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Repost: Friday Night's Reading


On Friday night I did a reading, talk, and panel at Dominican University in San Rafael. I'll write up a little about the experience (it was delightful), but this was the reading I did. It is an older post, but I gave it a bit of polish and some up-to-date publishing news fact checking. We were limited to fifteen minutes, so I only read the last part (after "So what should YOU do?") after briefly touching on a few of the earlier points to set the scene.

Should I do traditional or digital publishing?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I promise I don't bite--unless you either ask nicely (and tell me your safe word) or you take the first shot.]    

CAH asks:

Hello, My name is C.A.H. [last name redacted], and I am a recent follower of this page. I have what might be a very stupid question for you as I think you have heard this many times. I have written my first novel, working on my second now. I would like to know your opinion on what you think about putting it on line and selling it as an E book? Or if you think traditional publishing is even worth the attempt? I really get choked up on my writing when it comes to [from] query letters to agents. I never feel like they are good enough. I am a writer and I want my stuff out there just appreciate any feedback you may afford me..thank you..c. ausband [last name redacted]

My reply:

There are no foolish questions, C.A., only-- Oh who am I kidding.  There are some wicked foolish questions out there.  I mean, the one about my favorite snack food is actually NOT the worst question I've gotten. I have one here wondering if my balls itch when I write for long periods and what I do about it if they do.

"Please don't just answer 'scratch them.'" the question goes on. "I need details."

Here's another: "What's the best country to find Thai hookers?"

I swear to fuck I'm not making this up. I mean how do you even begin to respond to something like that? "Dear Joe. Let's not use that word for sex workers. However, I'm guessing Thailand might be a good place to start."

However, this is not one of those questions. This is a really good question, actually.

A couple of disclaimers are probably worth mentioning right up front before diving into something like this, so why don't I start there:

Disclaimer the first I have not personally leapt through the full array of traditional publishing hoops. I've submitted to a few places, been rejected by (almost) all of them, talked at length with several published authors, but never really turned my own accolades into an impressive cover letter or tried to push toward the next stage of traditional publication. And while I have a little more experience with electronic media (obviously), I still have to pet sit and nanny several hours a week if I want a cell phone, a car, and not to have to shoplift if I visit a bookshop. My decision to go strictly through non-traditional publishing is still in its proto-stage.

Also, I can read pretty gud, and it turns out people write a lot about getting published because so many people want to know how to do it themselves. This approach isn't as reliable with stellar physics or understanding what a Higgs Boson is.

Disclaimer the second Pretty much anything I say is probably wrong. Not WRONG wrong, mind you, but possibly not fully up to date or completely encompassing--especially if you read this months or years after I wrote it. (ETA- I'm updating it in June 2019 with the best of my knowledge.) The publishing industry is experiencing massive tectonic upheaval on par with the music industry about thirteen years ago. Some publishing houses are making the transition, but there's a reason we used to call them the big six. (There're only FIVE now.) New tech changes the game almost monthly. Trending lines have not stabilized yet.  Stuff changes fast!

Disclaimer the third "Digital publishing" is a bit of a metonymy. It is starting to become a pretty wide umbrella that covers everything "non-traditional."

Blogging, self publishing, e-publishing, print-on-demand, a ton of other non-gatekeeper models, as well as things like apps, and password websites are basically called "digital" even though they may end up involving a paper book. These days most traditional publishing involves some dimension of digital publishing, and many of the the things called digital involve physical books (like self-publishing or "print on demand"). There are even small presses with exciting new business models that I would consider to be more non-traditional than traditional. So I'm going to use the term non-traditional from here on out.



First let's dispel a few myths about both kinds of publishing:

The Beale Ciphers and the Phaistos Disc
have nothing on the mystery of how
this piece of shit became a bestseller.
1- No one really knows what in the name of Athena's left nipple happened with E.L. James, so thinking anyone's career trajectory will mirror hers is sheer ridiculousness.
Someone could probably earn a PhD by figuring out what perfect storm of internet fuckery set up the dominoes that led to that underwear skid mark of a book becoming so fucking popular. (I don't just mix metaphors; I throw them into goulash.)

Once 50 Shades was "a thing," it snowballed due to buzz/hype, but how it got to that point is the subject of campfire horror stories. It is literally the worst published book many people have ever read. This woman tweaked her third-rate Twilight fanfic that she wrote on her phone and became an internet sensation.

That just.....doesn't happen.

EVER.

Not in the real world.

I mean you can't punch "Mind Control Erotica" into Google (or....um....you know....something like that...just a random suggestion....look a unicorn!) without finding fifty websites with better writing. Way too many self-publishers have dollar signs in their eyes because of this book when what they should be doing is running around in shark-infested waters with a lightning rod and lottery tickets trying to get eaten by a shark, struck by lightning, and win the lottery all at the same time...

...because that's actually more likely.

Second draft erotic fiction, which couldn't possibly get past a gatekeeper, is not going to make money just because it's published digitally. Basically the only books making real money in digital publishing are the ones that a publisher probably would have published.

Let me say that again in obnoxiously big font and bolded:
Basically the only books making real money in digital publishing are the ones that a gatekeeper publisher probably would have published anyway.
Not that you won't make any money (that's one of the fun parts of non-traditional publishing), but if your book is a turd, it's probably not going to make you more than a few hundred bucks. Your family will buy it. A few of your friends. Then you're done.

2- This upheaval isn't over, and neither side has "won."
The digital world is changing the publishing industry. If you don't think that's true, go back to listening to Fleetwood Mac on your eight-track. However, depending on who you talk to (and which sources they conveniently ignore), you may hear that the publishing industry is finished and that digital publishing has irrevocably torpedoed it. You may have heard that publishing houses are unfazed and not even truly threatened by this flash-in-the-span fad. You may even hear that the evil "big five," Amazon, and other monopolies have dipped their greedy fingers into the digital pie and all but defeated the poor struggling independent artists.

All of this is cocked poppies.

The big five have gotten gobsmacked pretty good. There are a lot of bookstores who scratched their heads as they went out of business and said in their folksy accent (probably with a piece of straw between their teeth), "Well, I reckon folks just don't read anymore." (Hint: They do. Book sales are up--even from a decade or two ago.) But not everyone has quietly rolled over and died either. Bookstores are holding readings, agents are helping with digital media, new publishing house models are being adopted.

I'm still convinced a good living could be made by being an e-agent.

The emergence of "hybrid" authors (those who write in both the digital publishing medium and the traditional publishing medium) is increasingly ubiquitous precisely because neither side has said "There can be only one!" and decapitated the other.  And yet....non-traditional publishing has become a multi-billion dollar industry.... And yet it is still less than a quarter of the publishing industry as a whole. And yet....physical book sales shrink every year and this trend shows no signs of slowing. And yet.... And yet.... And yet....

3- Digital media is not a faster road to money, but then neither is traditional publishing....but digital is starting to make gains in that regard. 
Non-traditional wanks like to point out that you will make only a few cents per traditional book sale, but will make almost all the price of a digital sale to put in your pocket, but then conveniently leave out the part about how you will sell far, far fewer copies. Unless you are already a well-known author or experience outrageous success, you will be making dollars on a few hundred sales instead of pennies on a few thousand.  If you've written a good digital book (the kind that a publisher would publish), it will pretty much be a wash.

(On the other hand, if you've written a shitty digital book, enjoy the few dollars from your friends and the morbidly curious. That's about all you'll squeeze out of it.  Ever.)

T-pub wanks will tell you that you will have to do all the editing and promotion of a book yourself if you digitally publish it, but they leave out the part that unless you are a household name, you will pretty much be expected to do that anyway with a traditional publisher. And if you are a household name, you still have to market your book, but it involves readings and signings and shit that is really only awesome and glamorous for the first half-hour of the first time you ever do it, and then feels a lot like a private, introvert writer in a room with a thousand strangers.

It's easier to make some money right away in digital, but we're talking a few cents a day.  In traditional publishing you usually have to wait longer (possibly years) but the payout will be bigger.


Basically the cold, hard sucktacular truth is that you probably won't make much money as a writer until you are doing it with a mind-numbing dedication for several years, no matter which medium you pick.
But see below: there are some.....developments.

4- DRM doesn't even slow pirates down. 
You will get pirated.

It is like needing to pee while pregnant––just a fact of life that it will be better to simply adjust to (scope out the bathrooms wherever you go and make a B line at yellow alert). It is going to happen. I've already had multiple articles turned into tumblrs or put on Readability against my wishes. Some people have even gotten pissed off at me for asking if perhaps their copyright violation (going viral on some other site) could maybe contain a link back to my blog. I'm not even good enough to call myself a second-rate-blog––I'm like an eighteenth rate blog. Yet the wonderful world of people stealing my shit for their benefit is already known to me.

Do you think some fifteen-year-old with Kazaa who has been told how cool the latest Stephen King novel is by his friends is going to have any trouble downloading it? Yes, they suck. Yes, they're thieves. And yes, they've convinced themselves they're doing you a big favor of "exposure" or that they are raging against the capitalist machine or only hurting the publishing corporation and not you directly. Whatever it takes so they don't even have to spend even a moment feeling bad that they took money from your pocket.

But DRM won't stop them, so don't waste time letting T-pubs tickle your self-righteous gland about how their man-eating lawyers will prevent you from losing your hard-earned pay.

No publishing company is able to prevent this, and their claims that DRM can stop folks pirating your work are simply untrue. There is no technology that can really even provide a reliable speed bump against how fast someone will be able to get their hands on your product if they want it and don't much care about supporting artists. Traditional publishing may mitigate this, but now that electronic media are over 25% of the publishing market, only a few small presses ignore it completely.  If your book has a e-reader version (even Kindle), it is very easy to pirate. And if your book doesn't have an e-reader version, you are losing money anyway by being a luddite. Pick your poison.

5- Making money in non-traditional publishing usually requires a different approach.
Most writers "making it" (let's assume that means making money for right now although your particular goals might be different) in non-traditional publishing are not simply trading out their submission process for self-publishing, but doing everything else exactly the same. Writers who do this find their sales to be very lackluster and even demoralizing. You need to get someone other than your mom and six best friends to actually BUY that self-published book. Writers who are finding success through digital publishing very often have a whole different approach to writing. They're running or writing for blogs. They have Medium, FB, or Tumblr page. They have an online presence. They do a lot of online self-promotion. They run Kickstarters. They have Patreons. They are adapting their entire strategy to work with a plethora of new media options and a rapidly changing culture.

6- Digital publishing is not just a fad.
Traditional houses tried to convince themselves of this for years, and every year they lost more of the market share and acted confused about it.  "Gee golly whiz, how is this fleeting fad of provisional temporariness cutting into our sales again this year?  It just doesn't make sense!"  Finally they are starting to get their shit together and wrap their heads around the fact that artists who don't want to put up with their elitist crap (and can go right to their customers without having to) might be a thing. They are trying to break into more digital fields and their contracts are increasingly digitally savvy. Possibly the shape of things to come.


So what should YOU do?

It's still a very personal decision. If there were a right way (or even a best way), everyone would be doing it. No one had any illusions about self publishing back when it was "vanity press." That wasn't "really" published. It didn't count. End of story. Now things are a little more interesting.

Digital publishing is much, much faster––like The Flash and Quicksilver had a kid.  

You can basically publish digitally on the same day the ink dries on the final draft....even if that's your first draft. You can be making money before your celebratory drink is all the way down. Traditional publishing would take eight to eighteen months of edits, printing, and galleys (although these days they're mostly electronic and just called preliminaries).

But you also don't have any time to reflect. You won't be able to rush a change to the editor three weeks before you go to print. You've already pressed the button. It's done.


I admit it!
Traditional publishing provides a legit stop gap between the dreamer and the doer.

I'm going to be the asshole in the room. I'm going to drop the truth bomb that no one talks about at parties––even writer parties (you know the ones with the boxes of wine). A lot of people who "are writers" don't write very much. They like the dream of being a writer more than they really actually like writing. A gatekeeper creates a built-in, ready-made excuse to presume defeat. They can forever be shopping agents, retooling "that one thing," getting it good enough to submit, and basically just about to achieve success. Any day now. Just you wait.

You will make more of the money your art brings in with digital publishing. 
In traditional publishing, you will probably never make more than 10% of a book's commercial price per unit (and that's if your agent negotiates a pretty sweet contract). Usually it's closer to 5%. (It may get worded in lots of colorful ways: amount per unit, % of wholesale, % of retail, wholesale return value, but it'll mostly come out to roughly the same amount.) In digital publishing, that number is more like 90%. Finding your audience might be difficult, but there is a reason established traditional writers are going hybrid–they get more of what they make on the digital end.

You can make more money all at once (if you close a big five deal).
The really small presses may not be able to pay you very much––especially for a first-timer. A few copies of your book if it's a very modest run. They're mostly just hoping to recover their costs and get your words out into the world. If you have an established reputation, you might be able to negotiate a low four figure advance off your next book.

Now, if you close the deal with a big five, you're going to get an advance on the books they know you will almost certainly sell, and that is nothing to sneeze at. It's usually thousands of dollars and it's not uncommon for that to be folded into an advance on your next book and for you to get around ten grand (even for a first-time writer). It may take you years to make that kind of money through non-traditional means.

Neither side really makes "more" money for a household name or a starting writer, but digital makes more for midlisters.
The cheerleaders for both sides claim they make more, but it's basically a wash for most starting writers. Digital gets you less money, but more quickly, and spread out over time. Traditional gets you more money, but it will probably take years for the first payout, and it lands in clumps. Short stories can pay, but not well. Patreons and Kickstarters and such can pull in some income, but you have to keep putting out content.

If you're eating Fame Flakes every morning (or are just one of THE dozen or so names in your genre), it's probably most a wash too. The kinds of money that big publishers spend on advertising, legal, and your contract will end up getting you more money in the long run.

Things get funny though if you're not a powerhouse or a n00b. The big five are now mostly run by the profit margins of corporate interests. In order keep allocating all their resources (be it legal-fu or the space in the bookstore) to the big new titles that sell, they essentially mothball an author's backlist (denying them much of their trickle revenue, which can be half or more of a long-time author's income), and limit them to royalties only on their latest titles. This has DEVASTATED what might be called the writing "middle class."

Guess where you don't have to mothball anything.

You will not have to face gatekeepers with digital publishing.
This can be especially useful if your art is not of the type that traditional gatekeepers like. (While whole other entries could be devoted to this [ETA: And have], suffice to say that non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual voices have a harder time getting published--especially in certain genres.) Also certain genres are less likely to be published. SF/Fantasy and Self Help books are wildly popular,  but what is called "literary" (or a book of poetry) is less so.

You don't have to put up with agents, publishers who dictate what your cover art will be, a single goddamned gatekeeper, or copy editors who change your parentheticals to em-dashes....even if that is so very desperately what you need.

In traditional publishing, you get the benefit of gatekeepers. 
Not facing gatekeepers can also have a pretty significant downside.  Rejection is good for you. It makes you go back and develop your skills. It makes you do better. Digital publishing can be too much instant gratification. And while the rejection of a pissed off anonymous comment can still sting, getting thoughtful feedback from an agent or publisher is ultimately a good experience. A writer needs a whetstone. Peer review is part of the process for a reason, and your fans on Tumblr might not be, in a manner of speaking, your writing peers. Yes, you can find good, critical feedback without submitting to a gatekeeper, but most non-traditional self-publishers....won't.

If you publish your shit with fifteen typos, a continuity error, and an incomplete sentence, no one is going to be there to object to it, and the first you'll hear of it will be "Dear poseur...."

Traditional publishing is still vastly more "validated."
Brass tacks: the "real" writer thing is totally a thing. Even if you take a deep breath and tell yourself in front of the mirror that gosh darn it, people like you.

If you just want to see your name in print, get your work out there, get feedback, and make money, you can go digital and do all of that within the first month. If you want to be "certified" as a writer by the world at large, be aware that non-traditional publishing is still seen as FAR less valid. You could make a decent salary blogging, reach millions of readers, have books with impressive sales, and have a body of work of thousands of pages, and some a-hole at a dinner party is STILL going to ask you if you've ever "really" published anything.

Non-traditional publishing gives you much more control.
It might be cool to have a "real" book coming out with a "real" publisher, but there is almost no better way to feel exploited as an artist, especially if you land one of those big fives. (Small presses tend to be more collaborative.) Contracts regularly include future intellectual property, fettering a writer to a certain number of books with a publisher, no matter how badly they feel they're being treated. You lose control of a lot of creative decisions--which may be as small as cover art or as huge as editorial control, and a contract can be canceled the DAY before the book goes to print. A lot of writers go to digital publishing AFTER traditional publishing left a bad taste in their mouth.

The quality of non-traditional publishing is, let's face it. Sorta low.
There are mountains of shitaculastic writing out there under digital publishing (and not just E.L. James either).  Everyone who ever got a rejection letter from a gatekeeper and thought "Fuck you; I'm a dragon," everyone who convinced themselves they were the tragically misunderstood next Gertrude Stein even though the real problem was their grammar was still at a junior high level, and everyone who simply couldn't handle the slightest chance that they wouldn't be seen as a brilliant luminary mind of their writing generation by an agent or publisher--they've all gone digital.

Along with, you know...dinosaur erotica.

Sweet butt-licking Jesus do I wish I were making this up.

You're throwing yourself into a really dank world, and the quality is deplorable. Actually we need a new word, below deplorable, to properly handle this. Your writing will need to shine in order to lift yourself out of the cesspool. The expectation is that your digital publishing will suck and it will be absolutely up to you to prove otherwise.

In traditional publishing a certain quality is the expectation.
If someone picks up a traditionally published book, they expect it won't have unedited sentences or a weird formatting error on the first page.  Horrific physical books are the exception rather than the rule. (It's like the opposite of digital.) This isn't always born out by reality, mind, for there is some truly epic shit getting cranked out, and anyone whose read a bodice ripper knows they need a better editor, but.....generally there is a certain baseline quality that digital publishing lacks.

The work isn't really any easier for either side. 
If you think that marketing and branding and basically making a name for yourself while every yahoo with an e-mail gets to tell you how much you suck will be any less work or frustration than submitting, collecting rejection notices, and slowly building up a cover letter you should probably check your expectations. If you think that doing everything you can short of amateur porn to share a link is somehow less humbling than putting books on consignment in every local bookstore for six hours every Saturday, you should definitely check your expectations.

Traditional publishing is whitewashed, sexist, and heteronormative
I'm not going to impugn anyone's personal choice. YOU DO YOU! But many writers consider this an important factor in their decision. Working within a system that marginalizes certain voices––especially if the writer benefits from that favoritism––is seen as being complicit in that system. Many writers would rather opt out.

Non-traditional publishing is on the rise.
The trending lines are showing non-traditional publishing is still growing every year. Non-traditional publishing is showing no signs of slowing. In fact, it's not just growing tidily on its own, but is also encroaching into traditional publishing markets more and more. Traditional just keeps getting harder and harder to break into––the gatekeepers more and more discerning of "true art" or "what will sell." If you are a brand-new, unpublished writer with your eye on a twenty- or thirty-year career, the shrinking market may be the harder path.

And here is the last thing I'm going to say about this...

Whatever you decide, C.A., you have to get past that fear of rejection. Turn in the closest thing you can to perfection, give it every ounce of artistic integrity you have, and let the flying spaghetti monster take the wheel. Just like every writer has to look into the mirror at some point and make the choice that they want to keep writing even if they never make a dime or have a fan, every writer who wants their work out there has to have a moment where what they fear will happen if they don't submit is greater than the fear of being rejected. Because here's the fact of the matter, and there's no getting around it: the meanest, most unprofessional, three-days-from retirement agent sending you a rejection is going to be more civil by an order of magnitude than your average internet commenter. Hate to sound like I'm telling you your buttercup needs sucking up, but neither publishing route is going to save you from rejection. Cost of doing business, C.A.

And really, seriously, good luck.