Hugh Howey's Blog
May 24, 2013
A bold question, but it isn’t the first I’ve heard of this happening. Several erotica and romance authors on KBoards have complained that their ranking on the Nook bestseller list does not reflect their actual sales. The most recent victim is Maya Cross. Maya reported on KBoards that her new release LOCKOUT was sitting at #5 in the Nook store. Her first book, LOCKED, soon began to shoot up the lists. But when it hit #126, it stopped. It didn’t go any higher. Even though it was selling very well.
This was only mildly suspicious until she woke up the next morning to find the former #5 bestseller, LOCKOUT, sitting at #126. LOCKED, meanwhile, had dropped to #127. The two books sat side by side, pinned, selling more than the ranking would indicate. And poor Maya watched as her sales gradually diminished due to the lower visibility.
I should point out here that many indie authors are expert at reading sales numbers from sales rank. We’ve shared enough data and collected our own as we move through the lists, so that even as the numbers required to hit certain rankings grows over time with the growth of e-books in general, you can tell when something is amiss. At this point, it was cause for alarm. But then a pattern emerged.
It turns out that two other authors have experienced the same thing and with the same number! Gail McHugh saw her book rise to #126 and go no higher. It appears that any flagged book, whether due to racy cover or racy content, is given a hard ceiling. Couple this with allegations that erotica books have been deleted from NOOK UK with no explanation and no recourse. Folks, this ain’t right.
It’s not right for three reasons.
First, it’s bad for the customer. Is it a wonder that B&N is flailing when it refuses to serve the needs and tastes of its customers? Readers coming to their storefront should know what’s selling the best, as that’s a reflection of what they might want to check out. Otherwise, why have a bestseller list at all?
Second, it’s bad for the authors, who are unfairly discriminated against. With the press of a button, Maya saw her earnings diminish. This should infuriate anyone with a pulse. It’s disgusting behavior. If a customer wants to see what’s selling best in their favorite genre, like mystery or science fiction, those lists are a click away. Nobody should manipulate the overall bestseller list and harm authors just to suit the tastes of what someone in an office wishes their list looked like.
Which leads to the third party this hurts, and that’s Barnes and Noble. Bookstores excel when they match good books with happy readers. This is an attempt to halt that process. It is immoral, abhorrent, and it should stop. I hope it does so before Barnes and Noble drives itself out of business. That won’t be good for anyone. Not that their business decisions seem driven by such logic.
Edited to add: Selena Kitt, Cassia Leo, and Liliana Hart have all seen their books pinned at the magic number of 126. If you want to support these authors, check out their books. And why shouldn’t you? They must rock if they sell so well. Buy them on Amazon, Kobo, or the iBookstore, as their rankings should reflect your purchase appropriately:
Anyone else affected by this? What do you all think of this practice?
May 23, 2013
In case any of you enterprising and impatient cats are searching Amazon occasionally, don’t flip out when you see the product page for DUST. It’s just a pre-order page. The book will release on August 17th, which gives me plenty of time to write it, have it edited, and get the physical edition proofed.
That means August 18th is the day I resume work on the next Molly book!
May 22, 2013
In an official press release today, Amazon has announced Kindle Worlds, ushering in a new era for fan fiction. By allowing copyright holders to willingly open their worlds to exploration, fan fiction will be publishable and purchasable just like e-books on KDP are today.
If you ask me, this is a major game-changer. I’ve been a huge proponent of fan fiction ever since David Adams began dabbling in my world over a year ago. When other authors approached about the possibility of exploring the silos, I gave them full permission and even suggested they self-publish and charge for it. Even if it’s a buck, artists should be able to profit from their work. And yeah, I think fan fiction is work. It isn’t stealing any more than Shakespeare basing all of his plays on other plays or historical events was stealing. I’ve already had a post about this on my blog, which led to an interesting blog post by Brandon Carbaugh on how the best Batman works were the non-canon ones. This isn’t new. It’s just taking a new shape.
It’ll be interesting to see how much backlash this receives. John Scalzi points to the nastiest clauses on his blog. I think one of these clauses is going to be misinterpreted by many. It states that anything the fan fiction author creates now belongs to the original copyright holder. At first glance, you would think this means the original author is going to rob and take advantage of the fan fiction author. But I think it’s something else. The biggest fear with fan fiction is that the person who owns the copyright will get sued because of a perceived similarity drawn from fan fiction. This clause nips that possibility in the bud. Rather than a clause that says: “You can’t sue the copyright holder,” they wrote a clause that says: “You can’t sue the copyright holder.” It’s a valid fear neatly dispensed with. Otherwise, I think Amazon would have a difficult time getting copyright holders to sign on.
I hope this new program leads to two things. First, I hope this serves as an impetus to get more people into writing. There’s a misconception out there that the idea is the hard part and the writing is the easy part. You hear it all the time. People are reluctant to share their idea for a novel because they think someone else will steal it. The reason that fear is misplaced is because the idea is the easy part. Sitting down and hammering out the words is the chore. I didn’t understand this until I started writing. My fervent hope is that fan fiction will ease readers into becoming authors as they discover they can complete the difficult task of finishing a story. Once they do that, they can move on to create their own worlds. As I’ve said elsewhere, our competition isn’t with each other, author to author. We can’t write that fast! Our competition is all the other distractions out there, and so anything that fosters reading and writing is good for all of us. We’re in this together.
My second hope is that the legal framework will inspire established authors to dabble in fan fiction. I know I’m interested. (Please Disney, are you listening? Marvel and Star Wars. Stat!) I linked to Scalzi’s blog above. He has written a re-make in FUZZY NATION that came from a work in the creative commons. And his REDSHIRTS is a lock for the Hugo this year, precisely because it draws from another popular world (one that’s huge with WorldCon attendees). Shakespeare was mentioned earlier (how do you like that segue, John?) as well as Batman and numerous comic heroes. Great work comes from collaboration and a synthesis of ideas. Amazon could help foster this communal writing.
Of course, there will be challenges. Self-publishing is still facing some of these. But it has come a long way. The idea of fan fiction becoming profitable took a major step last year when 50 Shades of Grey was the #1 selling book by a wide margin. It started as fan fiction. That’s a literary career made because someone wanted to play around with characters they held dear. How can there be anything wrong with that? Well, for some it’ll be because money muddies everything. For others, it’ll be because Amazon is involved. And I find that sad.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Amazon. I was before I started writing. They have done much to foster reading and writing. They have given many a writer new hope to find an audience for their work and possibly a career for what they do. They have kept my wife and myself buried under swelling TBR piles. Their business plan revolves around providing cost savings to readers and higher earnings for writers while earning slimmer margins for themselves. Well, that’s if you just look at everything they’ve done. If you look at the things they have not yet done, but you fear they might do in some distant future, there’s probably plenty of reason to fear them. Based on what they’ve never done. But they might. You never know.
I think Amazon is betting that if they keep everyone happy on all sides, they’ll make a profit on sheer volume. What’s funny to me is that everyone complains Amazon is only in it to make money, and meanwhile investors stay angry at Amazon for not making more money.
I’m going to operate with my usual naiveté on this one. Not knowing what the hell I’m talking about has served me well in life. It seems to me that Amazon has witnessed the power of turning readers into writers with KDP. Now they’re looking to entice even more people into the fold. Again, if the literary world thinks the fight is amongst ourselves, we’re all doomed. Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the latest XBox. Tomorrow, Facebook will probably change its layout in a way that both pisses us off and makes it more of a time-suck. Our competition is elsewhere, people. Driving readership and writership should be our number 1 concern. It’s my concern, has been since I was an avid reader in grade school. And I think it’s Amazon’s as well.
(If you want to write your own version of this blog and include a lightsaber fight and copious amounts of sex, please send me a link. I’ll give you a dollar.)
May 21, 2013
May 20, 2013
Yes, it’s totally not fair that New York is getting its third meet-up while Cincinnati hasn’t had its first. I agree. This one isn’t my fault, though. I’m going to be in NY for BEA next week, and a handful of bestselling authors have invited me to sign books with them at the W Hotel in Times Square. Tina Folson, Jasinda Wilder, Liliana Hart, and CJ Lyons will all be there. After the signing, we’re going to have a super-duper combined meet-up at a nearby bar.
If you want to join us, drop by the W between 5 and 7 on Saturday, June 1st. Bring books to sign or snag one there (I’m giving copies of WOOL away. Everyone will have books!) Then follow us to the meet-up afterward. It should be the biggest and baddest one yet.
Next week is BookExpo America, the largest book conference in the United States. It’ll be my first year going. My boss at the bookstore I worked in always said next year would be my turn to go, and then next year would roll around and he would apologize and leave the store to me for a week. This year, I’ll be able to meet him up there and grab some lunch together, catch up a bit.
BEA is mostly about showcasing upcoming releases and doing business between booksellers and publishers. Some bookstore owners do their catalog ordering right there on the floor. There are authors signing copies of books and stacks of advance copies and free books to whoever wants them. I’m expecting a little chaos.
I have a couple of talks planned and interviews scheduled. Most of my time will be spent at booth #966: Bestselling Indies. I got an invite a while back from a group of the bestselling authors in the business. Even though I sell a fraction of what they do, they took pity on me and asked if I wanted to go in on the booth with them. It’s going to be a chance to hang out with my heroes and trailblazers like Bella Andre, CJ Lyons, Barbara Freethy, Stephanie Bond, and Tina Folsom. I can’t wait!
May 19, 2013
I think Amazon’s servers are keeping tabs on my word count for DUST. To put some pressure on me to write faster, both WOOL and SHIFT are Kindle Daily Deals today. That lowers the price to $1.99 for each book. I’d call that a steal . . . except that both books are all over the torrentz and warez sites. Let’s just say it’s reasonably affordable.
And here’s the real trick: If you have the ebook, the full audiobook is only 99 cents! Which means you could get the full recording for three bucks. Insane in the membrane.
Maybe it’s a sign that I think my books are overpriced that I rarely urge people to buy them. But at $1.99, it feels like a good deal. And if you don’t own a Kindle, you can still read the thing on any device. There are apps for that. Or, since the book is DRM-free, convert it to whichever format you prefer. But get them while they’re cheap!
(You should also snag Stephanie Bond’s book, Our Husband, while it’s only 99 cents. Stephanie and I will be sharing a booth at BEA this year. She’s one of the bestselling and coolest indie authors around!)
May 18, 2013
I have a routine. Every single morning, I get out of bed, grab the New York Times off my driveway, and put on pants. Sometimes in that order. And then I sit down with a bowl of cereal and read a paper made out of actual paper. It’s my favorite thing in the world, something I got hooked on when I lived in New York and returned to while working in a bookstore. It feels quaint, sure, but it’s not like I’m trying to live in the past. That’s for the editors of the New York Times to do.
More specifically, it’s what Pamela Paul wants us to do. The new book editor has decided that e-book bestsellers will no longer appear in the print edition of the New York Times Book Review. The argument is that they belong online. I haven’t heard what this means for the combined list, but my guess is that it’ll stay combined (the first list and most important one right now jumbles the print and digital together).
Interestingly, when Simon & Schuster launched the print edition of WOOL, the New York Times refused to count the print and digital as the same book, which kept us off the combined list. That was how WOOL could show up on the hardback bestseller list, the paperback bestseller list, and the e-book bestseller list, but not on the combined. Three versions of the book hitting the charts in competition with one another but not on the main list. It shook my confidence in those lists in general. This move does as well. These lists should reflect what you, the reader, are . . . reading. Not what publishers want to see advertised. For that, it should cost them. You know, so the paper can stay in business.
The whole thing smacks of a child hiding their eyes, assuming if they can’t see something then it’s not there. Change scares the shit out of some people. The rest of us know it has never been a better time to be a reader or a writer. And if you see me with my pants off in the driveway, squatting over a copy of the New York Times, I’m not making a political statement. I’m just grabbing my favorite paper in the entire universe, and sometimes I get my morning routine all out of order.
Edit: @Swedgeland informed me via Twitter that this has an ugly precedent.
I should have seen the question coming. It was one I used to pose to my professors in high school and college. I never believed all the supposed “meaning” injected into works that we were supposed to learn to spot. Not until I started writing.
And then I gave a talk at my wife’s university, and the first question out of the audience of college freshmen was whether or not authors deliberately put in the metaphors and allegories they are expected to learn. I remembered being that student. I told him, “Hell yes it’s there on purpose.”
When I write, it has to be about something more than the plot and the characters and the conflict. What’s the central idea behind the story? What am I exploring? And let me be clear: I am exploring for my own benefit. These are the layers added to keep myself engaged. I don’t expect them to be uncovered or appreciated. In fact, I halfway expect them to annoy if spotted, these deliberate repetitions of theme and circumstance. But when you plan on doing seven or ten passes through the same work, you better make it entertaining for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll write a rough draft and hit “publish.” You will not have any desire to immerse yourself in the work any further. Well, that’s my approach; every author is different.
The interesting thing about these layers of meaning is that you rarely get to discuss them with anyone. You don’t want to spoil the work for those who haven’t read them. I don’t want to post anything about these themes because there are always new readers. So stop reading if you don’t want spoilers. They’re coming.
An Amazon review of THE WALK UP NAMELESS RIDGE showed me how important it can be to have this discussion. The reviewer enjoyed the work but felt as though she was missing some vital piece, some message. I responded by explaining what the story meant to me:
A man who secretly wishes others to die so that he can be the “first” to conquer a goal is saved by a climber who cares nothing for notoriety. Ziba is a diminutive woman who ends up being the bigger man (pardon a sexist phrase; it’s meant to be ironic).
What would our nameless protagonist have done if he’d found one of the earlier climbers dying on the summit? I can picture him shoving the body off and staggering back to camp a fingerless and footless hero. I can’t see him trying to save the man’s life and thereby creating a hero in another. To Ziba and Cardhill, saving the life is all that matters. And climbing the peak is all that matters. Being famous for anything never crosses their minds.
Mountaineering seems to me a good metaphor for ego. Not because climbers are egoistic, but because mountains are stand-ins for every sort of accomplishment. This, then, is a story with that framework but the opposite message. And the real protagonist is Ziba, not the nameless observer. It’s her story, slyly told by a witness. Why is she nearly invisible in the tale? Because that’s what the narrator’s audience does to her after he survives the climb. He tells them the true story, but all they hear is that he was the first to make it. They (we) care more about primacy and less about worth. In this way, the short story is also about us.
For HALF WAY HOME, the message was too personal to leave out. In the afterward, which I’m not sure if the e-book edition has, I talk about the struggle for ethical progress. The original cover of the person scaling the tree is tied into the harrowing climb up to the canopy in the book. For me, Porter’s struggle with his gender identity speaks to my generation’s fight for equality. Previous generations fought for gender and race equality. Or to end slavery. Or poverty. But the book is really about what things we do today that future generations will find barbaric. The key scene in the book is the butchering and eating of Vinnies, which Porter finds disturbing without understanding why. He is also mocked for this.
I consider myself a Jeffersonian Vegetarian. That’s someone who eats meat but thinks it’s wrong to do so. Future generations will move on, and what seems ludicrous to us today will one day be normal, and our views will seem backwards. We’ve seen this happen throughout history; expecting it to stop with us is absurd. It makes you wonder how many of these things we do that a future us wouldn’t want us to do.
The PLAGIARIST is about something that has always stood out to me. We tend to be envious of the gifts of others while we take our own gifts for granted. I want to be able to sing precisely because I can’t. I was an excellent chess player with very little instruction, and so it didn’t hold my attention. I placed third in a major tournament, beating one state champion and drawing with another along the way, and that was the last time I ever competed. When I see someone pick up a guitar and strum a few chords or play a song and then admit that they never play anymore, it troubles me. What I wouldn’t give for their ability! What someone else probably wouldn’t give for something I can do that I don’t take advantage of. And we all do this, I believe. The people I admire are those who are truly great at something, find joy in it, and devote their time into it.
In THE PLAGIARIST, Adam Griffey takes his poetry for granted as he stalks those who write prose. His plagiarism isn’t the tragedy. It’s all the original works that go unwritten.
The MOLLY series is all about extremism. If there’s one thing in my life that I rail against as a cause, it’s extremism. I can go a bit far with it. Maybe because it’s something I see in myself. My theory is that the things we yell the most about are the things we secretly harbor. The politician who rails against prostitution is discovered with a prostitute. The talk show host who is anti-drug had a drug problem. I think we assume the inner demons we are hiding from others is also the demons they are hiding from us. It’s because we lack imagination (or real empathy). Other people’s demons are foreign to us. We fear in them ourselves. I’m pretty sure Freud had a thing for his mom; his fuckup was assuming we are all like him.
That probably makes me an extremist, because it’s the thing that bothers me most about people. It’s also the thing I’ve worked the most hard not to succumb to. With the first MOLLY book, I tackled this on each planet. I exaggerated a facet of the human condition to explore how damaging its extreme form could become. In book two, the planet of Drenard is tidally locked in way that makes one side boiling hot and the other side inhospitably cold. The section breaks for all three books was a version of Omega that has two dots opposite one another. While placing those in the original manuscript, I had a quote from Clint Eastwood in mind, which I think is the most brilliant thing ever said of extremism:
“Extremism is so easy. You’ve got your position, and that’s it. It doesn’t take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left.”
The other theme taken throughout the Molly works is the idea of life and the universe being circular. This colors the cosmology of the fictional world in that the Big Bang is really a massive loop with everything in the universe coming back around on itself over and over. It also plays into how the books end similar to another book in the series. The first two books have identical endings in several ways, all done purposefully. Molly’s confrontation with Lucin and Byrne, with a shot from a distance, sets up the parallel between Walter and Cole that plays out in their backstories in book four. The last line in both epilogues brings Molly’s parents into play. But my favorite gimmick (if that’s what these are) is the name of each book seeming to have meaning in each section, but that meaning not playing out until the epilogue.
What is “The Parsona Rescue?” Is it the discover of the Parsona rescuing Molly from school and from Earth? Is it the rescue of the ship from Palan? Or from disassembly on Glemot? Is it the rescue of Cole in the Darrin system as Molly takes out the Firehawk from the cargo bay? It’s none of those things and all of them. It’s really the epilogue, which shares the name of the book. It’s rescuing her mother from the nav computer.
The Land of Light is the same way. It could refer to the bright side of Drenard, where the Wadi Rite takes place. Or, when they go to rescue Molly’s mother, it could be the false paradise she’s locked inside of. The clue here is when Walter starts to say of the drums full of fiber optic cabling, that they are like “Lands of light.” (He is cut off at “Lands of li-” to keep it from being too obvious). In the end, it is the epilogue again, with the reference to hyperspace, where Cole finds Molly’s father.
The same with The Blood of Billions. It’s the blood of immigrants, the blood of the voters, the blood taken for fusion fuel, until you get to the epilogue and find out it’s the blood on the hands of the Seer. With Fight for Peace, those who bought the original print edition know the fight is within the last surviving Glemot elder, who watched his planet burn and lived for hundreds of years in orbit. I removed this epilogue from the e-book edition later. It alludes to the next two books in the series, and I saw that it was going to be a while before I released them. The meaning of the fight for peace throughout the work is revealed from the backstory of each character, and how that plays into their fears and redemption at the conclusion of the book.
Now, does any of this matter? Not really. Not for the reading or enjoyment of the books. But for me, it matters greatly. I don’t think I would write if I didn’t have something beneath to really write about. The last thing I completed was a science fiction western. The challenge was to write a story that takes place during and in the American West, but with a science fiction plot. That negated the ability to teleport a cowboy to Mars, a’la John Carter. And I couldn’t tell a sci-fi story with a western style, like Firefly. What I ended up writing was a story about alien invasion in the context that we were aliens who invaded this continent. We fear what we ourselves have done. It’s a lot like Freud having something for his mom. Or the fact that my ideal T-Shirt, if only someone would make them, would read: “Fuck the fucking extremists.” Or something worded a bit more strongly.