A Hard Take at Soft Science Fiction

This is a post I recently sent to a science fiction mailing list. A post I fully expect to be skewered for, but it was too much to stay silent about.

Also titled: The Science Fiction Barbarians at the Gate

I’ve been staying silent on some of the recent conversations. Oh dear. Why do I get the feeling that I will be a horribly hated author in this group?

Because I like a ‘sense of wonder’ and I’m not about to let things like “make all aliens inexplicably alien so they are “realistic’ ” or “completely nonhuman” get in the way of a good story (Um, there should be SOME way for the reader to connect, and typically that reader is human. Ergo, some human connection needs to be made). Because I’m not going to limit the technology and possibilities to only the things thought of as possible today. Because I want to explore, either through reading or writing, the more positive possibilities out there and not constantly the dark underbelly of existence.

I love adventure. I love a “Sense of Wonder”, which to me means a sense of fun along with all the other definitions. I love good characters that are the focus of the story, watching the impact on their lives with extraordinary circumstances, technology, or alien contact. I love having fun with other worlds, environments, and aliens. I love to write and read entertaining accessible prose.

In otherwords, give me a story. A good story. A story where I CARE what happens to the characters and don’t want them all dead just to get it all over with.

I freely admit I write soft science fiction because so much of hard science fiction bores me, and I do not find it entertaining. I read to be entertained. I don’t think this is something to be ashamed of.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch in articles such as here and here talks about many of the feelings I have towards science fiction, but articulates them much better. (I also like some of what Beth Meacham has to say towards the bottom of the page here.)

I won’t repeat what she said other than two very important paragraphs in the last link:

But I’m a barbarian. Of the 1,417 original books published in sf last years, I read ten of them. Six of those books were short story collections. Two of them I wrote. The other two were novels by people whose sf I’d read before and liked. Of the remaining 1,407 books, I probably handled 750 of them and replaced them on the shelf. Honestly, most of the 750 novels I put back looked like work.

I read fiction for entertainment, relaxation, and enjoyment. If I want to work, I read the history, literary essays, biography, science, and legal books that grace my shelves.

She refers to people who want science fiction that is entertaining and enjoyable without having to ‘work’ at reading it as “the Barbarians at the Gate.”

I’m writing the kind of science fiction I haven’t been able to find in years because apparently the traditional publishing buyers of SF have dictated on behalf of the readers that the readership has moved on. Only, they are wrong. Not all of us have moved on. The traditional publishers of SF left me in the dust with only old classics to read and the occasional new book that slipped through.

By the way, the publishing game has changed. Read up on it, it’s really interesting. Traditional publishing doesn’t always make good BUSINESS SENSE anymore. And I’m approaching this like a business person who is taking charge of their writing career, not a helpless ‘artist’ that doesn’t have a lick of business sense and has to be taken care of. That means writing a good book, having it edited and proofed, the whole bit. And heck, if I have to do all or most of the marketing anyway, I want a lot more than the typical 6-15% royalties (depending on hardcover or mass paperback).

Am I going to be an indie-publisher? You bet. Because there are other readers out there like me that have been forgotten. Sure, it might be a small niche and it might be hard to find them at first, but it will be a niche I will greatly enjoy providing reading material for. And who knows, I might find a bigger readership than expected.

I also don’t need traditional publishers ‘validating’ the kinds of stories they have ignored for years. Their form of ‘validation’ has proved useless to me as a science fiction reader. Not having the traditional type of validation doesn’t make me any less of an author than one who does.

So, does the above mean I’m about to be skewered? Probably, but there are other readers like me who understand this is “fiction.” As in, stories to entertain and enjoy. I talk to them all the time. We’re tired of being attacked for liking what we like, which is escapism entertainment. Of not being provided for when we want to spend the money on entertaining good reads.

So, I’ll go shut up now and continue writing. Writing with a “Sense of Wonder” and consider myself what Kristine calls “The Barbarians at the Gate.”

Publetariat’s April Hamilton Needs Help

Publetariat is a wonder full free source of information for the Indie author/publisher community. Not only did April L. Hamilton set up a wonderful website that has helped a lot of people, but she has remained open to the community to answer questions and help newbies along as they dip their toes into the new publishing world.

And now April needs help. 2010 has not been kind, and any show of support is needed. Please read this post. If you can help monetarily, that would be fantastic. And if not, please help spread the word.

And remember, it can easily happen in an instant to any of us.

Thank you.

Series Planning – Subplots and Plotlines

I’ve now sorted through the list of Main Plots. While this is a huge step towards organizing the series, there is still a lot more work to do.

The Subplot list has been patiently waiting its turn, and now it’s rarin’ to go!

The Subplots are the smaller bits of Spice that make books so enjoyable. I didn’t want the series, characters, locations or the conflicts to be static. The spreadsheet is a great place to map all of this out.

Like the other plots, each of the Subplots are named. They can be the name of the character, a romantic relationship (or triangle), the location, whatever is needed.

For example: the changing seasons and the weather in the “Salmon Run” series will have a direct affect on many of the plots. So, one line was named “Weather/Seasons”. If a season, a change in season, or weather had any impact on a particular story, a description of how it affected the book went on that line.

The same with a main character. If during different books they changed, had a personal upheaval, had a conflict with someone in particular, it would go on a line all by itself. The line would be titled by that main character name.

EXAMPLE:

NOTE: In place of “Subplot #1”, type in the character name/description of the subplot. To help organize them you can color-code them.

Column 1:

Book #

Book Description

Main Plot #1

Main Plot #2

Main Plot #3

Subplot #1

Subplot #2

Subplot #3

The bigger picture became clearer. The characters started to feel like real people, as the pattern of ebb and flow of their lives became clear. The seasons changed. Life moved on.

More gaps in both Book Descriptions and Main Plot/Multi-Book Plot rows were filled in. Each addition fed on the other additions, sparking more ideas. I found I had to insert book columns, combine books, or move events around.

Gaps

The planning stage is all about the brainstorming and foundation laying to the book/series. At the least they are annoying. At the most they can stop the planning cold in its tracks. But, they can be key to learning more about the story and finding out the hidden depths. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does a Muse. Especially one that is OCD.

“A blank space? Oh no! I must fill it! Thinkthinkthink…”

Great, more ideas.

And each step gave the series even more life. The books filled out. A column of Subplots inspired book descriptions.

Keeping in mind that these are novellas, if I felt there was too much happening in one book, I could space out the progression of plots a little more. As everything was in the planning stage, there was a lot of flexibility in what happened when. Novellas were brought forward, others were pushed backwards. Entire new novellas appeared out of nowhere…

The surprising thing was that I had a lot more story fodder than I initially thought. So much so that I had basic ideas for eight books at the start of the organizing. As the organizing continued, that inched forward to 10, then to 12, then to 14.

So much for worrying about having enough Novella ideas.

This may sound too methodical, but with all the ideas the Muse was spewing out, I had to have some way to see how each idea was going to affect not only the story, but also the individual books themselves and the other Main Plots and Subplots. What happened in one book would inspire consequences that had to occur in the next book or the book after that. What one character did in one book would inspire a conflict a bit later. Repercussions grew out of all of it.

And it was inspiring. Greatly inspiring.

An Example:

I had the main idea for the first book and a hazy one for the second. By putting all that I knew in a spreadsheet, and then plotting across the columns how each Main Plot and Subplot progressed, I suddenly had a lot happening in each book. And a scene inspired by one point inspired a flash of insight on how that scene might set off one of the other points, or lead into another scene focusing on one of the other points.

Entire scenes and storylines started to appear.

Part way through the process the plot of the second book became clear. The Book description was refined.

The plot of the third book, which had been even more hazy, appeared out of nowhere. I went from one good book idea almost ready to outline to three good book ideas. Novellas 1-3 were just waiting to be outlined and written.

Wow, and all from organizing the ideas. It just goes to show how the planning and organizing stage can be a huge inspiration in itself.

By this point I was rarin’ to write. However, more needed to come first, to set the series on a strong solid foundation.

Having the series spreadsheet readily available is helpful not only for quick reference during the rest of the planning, but also during the writing. Wonderful surprising things happen while writing first drafts, some of them inspiring entire new ideas and character development. With the spreadsheet I have one place to go to fit those new pieces in. As I continue to write the series, I can see at a glance what I have done before. The series spreadsheet already is, and will continue to be, a valuable resource.

Here is a sample spreadsheet in case anyone wants to use it as a base for their own planning. It is formatted in Open Office. I hope it’s helpful!

Series_Planning_Template

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“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Series Planning – Main Plot Organizing

As of the last post, I had two columns of ideas: Main Plots and Subplots. However, in order to plot out and write the first book, they needed to be organized. I needed to know exactly what needed to go in the first book, and what ideas needed to be held off for future books.

The solution came in the form of a spreadsheet specifically designed to give an overview of the series (or at least what I had of it). It is formatted very simply.

Along the top were the book numbers.

Below that was a quick description of the main book idea. These were taken from the Main Plot list I mentioned before. These are the conflicts/plots that last for only one book.

At first this process was messy. As I sorted through the Main Plot lists and arranged book ideas, I quickly found that I had to rearrange them. Some obviously came before or after others. Also, some on second glance weren’t very big ideas, but when combined with other Main Ideas really came alive.

As with so many things in writing, there is a time to be messy. For this process, I was definitely messy. That was okay, because it was also exhilarating. For the first time the ideas started to take on form and substance. Order was being made out of the chaos.

Look, a light at the end of the tunnel!

For me, the easiest type of Main Plot to start with was the Book Plot. It’s smaller and easier to see where it’s place among the other Book Plots. For some, it might be easier to organize the Multi-book Plots first and see where the books hang from it. For yet others it will be a hybrid of both ways.

Gaps were something I was worried about while brainstorming. As I was putting the ideas in orders it became obvious where some of the gaps were. I didn’t try to fill in the gaps at this point. It was too early. There were too many other ideas, both Main and Subplot, to go through. So, I left the Book Description empty.

And when I started, there were a lot of empty Book Descriptions.

EXAMPLE:

Column 1                         Col 2                                   Col 3                                       Col 4
Book#                              Book 1                                Book 2                                    Book 3
Book Description        Description                    Description                  Description (No idea – Think of Later)

Next came the Multi-book Plots, the types of conflicts that spanned over several books. I found that I had several. Naming each of them helped me define what each one was about. Defining helped me see that a few of the Book Plots were actually steps or progression in the Multi-book Plots.

The names of the new Multi-book Plots started new rows on the spreadsheet. In the book columns, I plotted the progression of each of the Multi-book Plots with a start, middle and conclusion.
With the new rows, even more gaps became apparent, but they also gave me more ideas on individual book plots. As a consequence a few more Book Descriptions were filled in. Again, if there was an obvious gap in the progression of a Multi-book Plots, I left a cell blank. There were plenty more ideas to sort through, and the answer to that gap might be found in them.

As several rows of Multi-book Plots were added, it became apparent that they staggered in the series timeline. Some ended in only a few books and some spanned many. Some started at the beginning of the series, some didn’t start until several books in. Some were long, some were short. Some inspired others.

This excited me, as it will allow one Multi-book Plots to rise up as another diminishes. Yet, it won’t be so jarring to a reader as the foundation was laid ahead of time.

EXAMPLE:
NOTE: In place of ” Main Plot #1″, type in the name/description of the main plot. To help organize them you can color-code them.

Column 1:
Book #
Book Description
Main Plot #1
Main Plot #2
Main Plot #3

Next up, the Subplot Ideas and the Salmon Run series progression

Note: At the end of the next segment will be a sample spreadsheet for download.
_______________________________
“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Smashwords Moves to Agency Model

Smashwords has moved to an Agency Model for pricing when using their expanded distribution channels.

Founder Mark Coker: “We’ve renegotiated our ebook distribution agreements with Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo.  Effective yesterday, our 10,000+ Smashwords authors and publishers now determine their ebook prices at retail.  No more discounting.  The move also allows us to increase the royalty rates we pay authors and publishers to 60%retail price across the board.”

Smashwords really had no choice but to try and renegotiate those agreements. A number of small publishers and indie authors had to pull their books from using Smashwords extended distribution because of Amazon’s robots trolling the web looking for the lowest prices.

Here is an example of what has been happening:

  1. Ebook is put up on Amazon. Opts for the 70% rate and prices ebook at $2.99 or $3.99 to spur sales.
  2. Ebook is put up on Smashwords and into their expanded distribution into other online stores like Kobo, Sony and B&N.
  3. One of the online stores discounts the ebook to below $2.99.
  4. Amazon robot finds it. Ebook in the Amazon Kindle store is suddenly discounted to match it, and the royalty rate paid on any sales drops from 70% to 35%. ($2.99 is the lower threshold between the 70% and 35% royalty)
  5. Publisher/indie author is not informed of this change by Amazon. Instead, they stumble onto it, horrified to find they are making only half the money they thought they were.
  6. Publisher/indie author frantically pulls ebooks out of Smashword’s expanded distribution in an attempt to get the Amazon price back up to where they are making a decent royalty. The problem is compounded by the delay between the take-down request and the ebook actually getting taken down, possibly resulting in a several week span of lower royalties.

In the above scenario, a publisher/indie author could be losing thousands of dollars in the fiasco. The truth of the matter is that the few books sold through the other avenues does not make up for the many books sold through Amazon.  The other online stores just don’t have the sales volume to make up for the losses.

Big ouch for the publisher/indie author.

The above example is bad for everyone. By pulling out of the expanded distribution, it’s reinforcing Amazon’s monopoly. Readers won’t be able to find the ebooks in question in the places they prefer to purchase or in the formats that are compatible with their preferred ereaders.

Amazon might be a great place to sell your ebooks (if you are on their good side) but they do need the competition to help keep them honest and their terms reasonable. Competition in this case is a good thing. Expanded distribution, and not having your eggs all in one basket, is a good thing.

It is good for the readers, in that it allows all those great books to be found in the online store they prefer to shop that provides them with the ebook format usable on their favorite e-reader.

Good for Smashwords in finding a solution. Allowing the publisher/indie author to set their prices, enabling them to keep royalties intact across all online distribution/selling channels, is a major breakthrough. It allows many to go back to using Smashword’s services without worry for their bottom line.