Sunday, September 21, 2014

Special Snowflakes

I was sitting around this weekend wondering what to blog about.  I usually brainstorm these things while out walking my dogs, but I found no inspiration on my weekend walks.  Despondent, I started surfing through the links on the blogroll on the side of this page, and I came across something too good to pass up.

Those who've read this blog for more than a day know my feelings on the Hachette/Amazon dispute.  A group calling itself "Authors United" - a pretentious term that presumes to speak for all of us - has taken a very public stand against Amazon(curious that the publishers isn't doing this...mayhap it has something to do with this ruling that found that traditional publishers were illegally colluding with each other to artificially inflate the prices of ebooks, and the big boys were afraid of getting their pee pees smacked again over butting into the sphere of public debate, so they encourage their slaves writers to do it for them).  This group recently sent out Roxana Robinson, the Authors Guild President, to talk about how mean Amazon has been to poor, poor Hachette.

In order to continue, you should first take a look at the video in question.  You can find it over at this link on The Passive Voice, or at this one on Hugh Howey's blog.  I'd embed the video myself, but I haven't figured out how.  I know, I know...I'm a technological Neanderthal.

Ms. Robinson demonstrates perfectly why writers have had such a hard time getting better terms from traditional publishers - she is absolutely clueless about business.  Paul Kedrosky, the editor of Infectious Greed, does a masterful job of fisking Ms. Robinson in person, but there are a few points I'd still like to cover.

The first and most ludicrous point Ms. Robinson tries to assert is that books aren't products.  She claims they are intellectual property deserving of special status.  When Mr. Kedrosky brings up a few examples of other entertainment mediums that are considered products, thereby making books nothing super special, she makes an inane comparison to the intellectual licensing of software.  This is absurd - while your story itself might be intellectual product, the physical case it comes in is indeed a product.  It has a physical manifestation and I plop down plenty of real money to buy it.  And although you can't steal a piece of software and call it your own, if you buy a CD from Microsoft with Word or Power Point, the store and company consider it their product.  Ms. Robinson's comparison would make more sense if some was asserting that a book they'd written was original when, in fact, it was taken nearly verbatim from her, but that's not the case here.  Books don't carve out some special niche in the marketplace just because a person thinks the item is unique.  In fact, packaging it for sale makes it the very definition of a product.

Next, Ms. Robinson doesn't seem to grasp that Amazon is under no legal obligation to sell books for Hachette.  The contract between the companies has run out, so the legal framework of distribution no longer exists.  This is the very underpinning of the dispute, and Hachette authors should consider themselves lucky that Amazon is selling their work at all.  Amazon is being far more gracious than I'd be in their position - I'd tell the entitled whiners writers employed by Hachette to take their dispute up with their employer since it's their employer my contract dispute was with, not them as individuals.  Ms. Robinson acts entitled to her works being distributed via Amazon since she knows that Amazon is the largest distributor out there, and therefore a major source of her employer's revenue.

Finally, when she can't win the argument on facts - either because she has no reasonable refutations or because she doesn't understand the facts - she tries to go into victim mode by scolding Mr. Kedrosky for using the term "special snowflake."  She spends a good minute trying to make this about his use of a term that Ms. Robinson and the writers of the Authors Guild have earned.  These writers are acting as if they are special and that the normal rules of business don't apply to them.

That's the most maddening part of her diatribe.  Too many writers want to sit on purty pink clouds all day so they can dream up their next masterpiece, forgetting that this is still a business.  If you can't make money from your work, all that creative thought, nice as it might be, means little since no one gets to see how deep you are.  No matter what we might like, business is governed by pesky things like contracts, profit margins, regulatory requirements, and supply chains.  Just because a person thinks that their work is oh-so-special, that doesn't mean the market gives a shit.  You are not entitled to a living - you have to work for it, and that means working within the framework as it exists.  This entitled mentality is why publishing houses can get away with obscene practices like giving authors only 15% of the revenue stream, and then only doing so every six months.  If Ms. Robinson and her colleagues truly wanted to make a difference, they could turn their focus on the houses that treat them like interchangeable scraps of meat.  Until they do so, they'll continue to shill for the companies that treat them like dirt, and they'll smile while doing so.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 1 - A Roll Of The Dice

"I grip my enchanted sword tightly with my right hand, my shield attached to my left.  I crouch slightly so I present a smaller target to the dragon.  I start to creep forward, but at the last second...I rush the beast and jam my weapon into its thigh."

Tucker stared at Dan, his eyes narrowing.  The tension was thick as everyone awaited Dan's actions.  For his part, Dan shook his fist, raised his hand...

...and threw the dice.  A three on the 12-sided plastic piece.

The Storyteller smirked.  "Not only did you completely missed the target, but your rash action has moved you right into the path of the dragon's flame.  Roll against fire to see if your shield protects you.  If you don't get a six or better, you've become a charcoal briquette."

Tucker's jaw clenched.  This wasn't the outcome he'd been expecting, and the fire was just the kind of thing Dan would throw in - he could be such an asshole.

Fortunately for the burly redneck, he rolled what he needed to, but only just.  Smiling at the six that appeared on the dice, he looked back at Dan as if to say, "Fuck you and your snooty dragon."

"You made it," Dan observed.  "You survive, but only after tripping and falling to the ground.  Your pitiful rolls have cost you momentum and you lose out on an attack roll next turn."

"What?  That's bullshit!"  Tucker's face was growing more and more red.

However, Lisa managed to calm him.  "Chill out, Tucker.  We all knew what we were getting into when we made Dan the Storyteller.  This happens.  It sucks sometimes, but it also makes the game more enjoyable."

Lisa had potential in the looks department, but she kept her hair too stringy and her clothes too baggy to be taken seriously as a beautiful woman.  Still, she was one of the most fun girls they played DragonLore with, and her quirky sense of humor lightened up games.

There were seven of them sitting around the table, their feet crossed as they rested on the ground.  Kurt, Chris, Pat, and Ray joined Lisa, Tucker, and Dan.  They may not have been the "cool kids," but they had each other.  And they had DragonLore.

DragonLore was a role playing game they'd found when they were all pre-teens.  They played in middle school and high school, and each got fun made of them out of it, but they found each other in college.  Yes, others were out drinking themselves stupid on a Friday night, but their nights huddled around the roll of the dice and the fantasy land created made them each feel like they fit in.

"Is Tucker hurt?" Kurt asked.

"You mean Varagorn?" Pat corrected.

"Yeah, him.  You know what I mean."

"Our characters each have DragonLore names.  If we don't use them, what's the point?"

"Fine," Kurt sighed.  "Is Varagorn hurt?"

"Yes, Chandra, he is," Dan intoned.  "His shield blocked most of the dragon's fire breath, but he took a nasty burn to his calf."

"Hey!" Kurt said.

"Zip it, Varagorn," Kurt said with a smile.  "Chandra pulls out her red healing potion and runs to him."

"Maybe she rips her cloak on the way?" Ray offered.

"Just because my character is a chick, that doesn't mean she's gonna put up with any of that sexual harassment shit."  No one really understood why Kurt decided to make his character female outside of his twisted sense of humor.

They fought the dragon for another four turns before finally scaring it off with a bloody wound on its neck.  None of them was hurt too badly.  The biggest damage was to the staff that Pat's Woodsman Grok carried - the dragon picked it up and snapped it in half like a toothpick.

"Before you lies the dragon's treasure," Dan said.  "The piles of rubies, sapphires, and emeralds is a sight to behold, but it's the chest against the far wall that has most of your attention.  It's large - too large to be carried - and it's glowing light blue."

"Let's get it," said Pat.

"Wait a sec," said Ray.  "We need to make sure it's safe first.  Mouline uses his detect magic spell to see if there's any black magic over the chest."

Dan made a quick roll, coming up with a ten.  "You detect tons of magic, but none of it appears harmful."

"What about traps?" Lisa asked.  "Lenoir checks for booby-traps."

Dan rolled again on the Scoundrel's trap detection ability.  The roll was an eight.  "No traps found on the chest."

"Then that's it," Kurt said.  "My guy moves to the chest and opens it."

"An arrow shoots from the wall and strikes you in the chest.  Roll against immediate trauma."

"You dick!  You said Lisa..."

"Lenoir," Pat corrected.

"...Lenoir didn't find any traps."

"No, I said she didn't find any traps on the chest.  I didn't say anything about the rest of the room."

Dan was clearly enjoying this as Kurt grumbled about the circumstances.  The Knight rolled.  A 12.

"Ha!  Your arrows can get fucked."

"Okay, okay.  The arrow grazed your armor and ripped your shirt, but it made nothing more than a scratch.  Your character shit his pants and got to the chest."  After pausing for muffled laughter, Dan continued, "Inside the chest are wonders to behold - there's a fresh silver sword that gleams in the light..."

"That's mine!" Kurt exclaimed.

Ignoring the redneck, Dan went on, saying, "There's also a small rapier with a bronze handle.  Several potions of a variety of colors are underneath a tattered grey cloak.  Against the roof of the chest is attached a silver dagger with a line of gold around the edge of the blade.  A quiver of arrows rests against the side, standing guard over three scrolls.  Two of the scrolls appear to be normal parchment, while the third is all black."

"Well have to take that one to a Reader," Ray said.

"Shh," Lisa said, a finger over her mouth.  "I want to hear what else there is."

"Then stop humming," Ray came back with.

"What?"

"Stop," said Chris.  "I hear it too."

The group went quiet.  There should've been no sound, but Ray had been right - a small hum now pervaded the room, growing louder with each passing moment.  A second later, the room started to glow a soft shade of blue.

"What the hell is..." Tucker started.

But he never got to finish his sentence.  In a flash, the group was gone.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Comma On!

Flow is important to a good story.  Therefore, I can't tell you the number of times, in the course of reading a novel, where, through no fault of mine, I've been forced to look past the times the writer wants me to pause, even if such pauses are necessary.

Notice anything about that last sentence?  The number of commas would be enough for me to put my fist through a book and see how many pages I could tear through.  In other words, please watch your commas.

Commas are a necessary part of speech.  They offer a pause in our prose that helps the reader get the flow.  If never used, our work becomes a series of run on sentences that don't let anyone get a breath.  However, I've run across a lot of writers who overuse them.

Writers sometimes get so eager to convey a lot of information that we try to cram it all into a few sentences.  This leads to using so many commas it's as if we have an unlimited supply.  That we do is beside the point.

Ask yourself if your pause is really necessary.  Do you want the reader to take a breath?  Is the sentence short enough that it could survive without the comma?  Could you break the sentence into more than one so that the number of commas is reduced.  Further, are you cramming so much information into the sentence, requiring multiple commas, that you leave the reader with no room to imagine the story for himself?

Too many commas are as bad as not knowing when to use one to begin with.  We've all read stuff that we've had to go back and re-read because it made no sense.  We then say something witty like, "Oh, I see - that spot needed a comma.  Now it makes sense!"  It's annoying.  Unfortunately, so is overuse.

When I see overuse, it makes me think the writer is trying to hard.  They really really really want me to "get" them.  It looks needy, and I've been known to put down such books.  So, some simple rules:
1.  Use commas for compound sentences(independent clauses of sufficient length separated by a conjunction such as and or but).
2.  Use them for proper complex sentences(a sentence starting with a dependent clause followed by an independent clause and separated by a conjunction...but not the other way around).
3.  Lists - separate each item(in lists of three or more).
4.  For expository words that help explain or expound upon a thought.
5.  After a conjunctive adverb such as however or unfortunately.
6.  Following an identifier for speech(like Robert said, "Boy it's hot in here.")

Yes, there are a few other times, but these are the main rules of thumb.  So please use your comma sparingly.  Doing otherwise makes you either sound elitist or like a 16-year old high school girl who just has to be with her boyfriend every waking minute.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Making A Name For Yourself

You might be the best writer in the world.  Your stories could be complex emotional dramas that punch into the very soul of anyone who picks it up.  Unfortunately, if no one reads your work, your talent means little unless you're writing only for your own gratification.

So how do you get readers to look at your stuff?  In the traditional world, theoretically, this is something your publisher and/or your agent handles for you.  The truth, of course, is that more and more nowadays you're on your own and have to arrange a lot of this for yourself unless your name is Patterson or King.

In the indie world, the writer is solely responsible for marketing.  This makes some people nervous, but I personally enjoy it(probably because I'm a HUGE control freak).  You've got to get your name out there, and there are a multitude of ways to do so.

To start with, utilize the connections you have.  If you write a blog, tap into that network.  Contact blogs you frequent and see if they'll do a blog tour for you.  Perhaps they'll mention your work, along with a link to your site or Amazon page, or maybe they'll interview you.  This can be mutually beneficial by either drawing reciprocal traffic, or you could offer to do the same at some later date and host that writer on your site.  It becomes a symbiotic relationship that can bear fruit for all involved.

There are also sites to advertise your book on that don't require cash.  Sites such as BookBub, BookSends, EBookBooster, and Goodreads offer advertising to start the circulation.  And remember that advertising comes in all forms, including book reviews.  Goodreads and Amazon have reviews for various works on their sites.  If someone is interested in your work but has never read you, chances are that they're going to listen to someone who has.  This is fraught with peril, for if a few people think you suck, the odds that others will pass you by increases exponentially, but good reviews have the same chance of enhancing your circulation.

Why is that?  Because the most persuasive form of advertising is through word of mouth.  How many times have you read an author and found the person's story so compelling that you had to tell someone else?  Reviews are sort of like this, but hopefully you can get your book to enough people that this will become a self-licking ice cream cone.  By spreading the word, readers can garner you more attention.  People are more apt to read if given a recommendation by someone they trust, so getting in with a good word of mouth campaign is vital.

But how?  You need people to read your stuff for this to start, but I've just said you need word of mouth to get people to read your stuff.  Well, it's really not that hard.  Start with friends and family(if they really like your work...you'd be surprised how easily people can sniff out phony praise).  Move on to free giveaways.  Yes, this sounds almost counterintuitive - how am I supposed to make money giving away stuff for free? - but people like to help others if they feel they are privy to something new.  A free giveaway entices those kinds of people into reading, and you can use that as the kickoff for a good word of mouth campaign.  Remember, you have to build a base first before you can grow a large audience.

Be creative.  Offer bookstores(indie ones...large retailers are likely to tell you to get lost) a free shipment where they rake all profits.  Many will be eager to see if you sell.  Look into public and school libraries.  Go to college bookstores or campuses and see if young students will give you a shot(again, you'll likely have to do it for free).

In the end, marketing is your responsibility, even if you have the vaunted book deal.  No one is too good to do it.  Those that either think it's beneath them or that it's too much work are doomed to obscurity - don't be one of them.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

One Week Delay

I had every intention of following through today and putting up the first chapter of a new online novel.  I even had the first half of the first chapter written and was going to come back to it before bed.  That's when I started thinking.
 
I know, I know...bad idea.
 
The online novel in question was going to be from the Homecoming universe.  It's a place I'm very familiar with.  It would've been no problem to expound upon the many storylines available.  Unfortunately, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a nonstarter.
 
The reason for this is that I can't use any of the main storylines from Homecoming since I intend to write a rather involved prequel that will flesh those out.  The storylines that leaves me with are...well...depressing.
 
You see, due to the time involved from the end of the original flight from Earth to the events in Homecoming, thousands of years pass.  That makes any novel set on Earth a tragic tale since it really can't have a happy ending.  Humanity is unable to win unless I alter a novel I've already finished, and as much as I love you guys, I'm not about to do that.  I also didn't want to present a morose tale where there is almost no possibility of a happy ending.  I'm not saying a happy ending is an absolute necessity - many novels I've read end ambiguously, and they can be great - but I'd like the possibility to exist at the beginning.
 
Therefore I'll write something else.  I just don't yet know what that is.
 
Yes, I could've thrown something together tonight, but it would've been bad, and I don't want to throw that out there just for the sake of a post.  I'm going to take a few days to brainstorm so that next week's post is something people might like to read.  Sorry for the disappointment tonight, but I know the delay will be worth it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Bits And Pieces

This will be a short post, but I wanted to share an idea I recently had.  I wish I could take full credit for it, but folks like Sarah Hoyt have been doing this for years.  Me being as slow as I am, it simply took me a while before I caught up.

I've decided to write a serialized novel during Friday's short stories.  I'll write a chapter each week and see how it goes.  This "novel" will never be published anywhere besides this site, so you'll have to tune in to find out what happens.  Further, you'll get to see it in raw, unedited form.  Yes, I'll do some edits prior to hitting the publish button, but nothing beyond what I usually do for a blog post, and certainly nothing in as much depth as I do for one of my more traditional novels.

As of this moment, I'm going to set the story in the Homecoming universe and see where it takes me.  Of course this being my blog, I reserve the right to change it between now and Friday when the first chapter gets posted, but I promise that once I start, I'll continue until it either reaches a natural conclusion or it becomes so unreadable that I discard it entirely(y'all will get a chance to chime in before that final decision...it's only fair).

So come back Friday and tag along for the ride.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Elitism And Willful Ignorance

This post was originally going to be about an article I read on The Guardian's website that grossly distorts the price points associated with the indie publishing market.  JA Konrath and others have already thoroughly fisked the lack of awareness the author presented, but I figured that I could add my own take to the mix.  However, a new article then appeared in USA Today.  That was when I knew the issue was much bigger than one article by someone who obviously hadn't done her homework.

There is a wonderful mixture of elitism and willful ignorance on the part of those who deride the indie publishing scene.  Suzanne McGee, the journalist who wrote the piece in The Guardian, seemed to set out with two goals in mind - first, to let the public know just how much indie authors paid to get their book out there(all while publishing numbers so absurd I wondered how anyone ever got started...the figures she presented aren't anywhere near in line with reality); second, to discourage others from getting into the indie side due to the cost.  After getting absolutely destroyed in the comment by several self published writers - including Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, and Brenna Aubrey - Ms. McGee revealed that she'd spoken to a whole seven self published authors(who she says she could get before her deadline to her editor) and that she included some costs as "essentials" that really are not(at least not in the range she mentioned; in other words, she used opinion as fact in computing costs).  Her piece was exceptionally misleading, and the comments beneath were near universal in both taking her numbers apart and in mockery.

It's the second article that fascinated me most, though.  Alison Levine is an author published through Hachette, and the Amazon/Hachette dispute is at the center of the indie versus traditional universe right now.  As every other Hachette writer has done, she comes down against Amazon for having the audacity to point out that obvious - that there is no rationale for pricing ebooks as high, or close to as high, as hard copy books.  This meme has become so widespread that I honestly wonder if Hachette has orchestrated a campaign to have its writers come to its defense.

Ms. Levine intimates that the poor masses amongst us aren't buying books anyway, so those of the literate who can afford to buy won't really notice the difference between a $9.99 ebook and a $12.99 ebook.  After all, those pitiful peasants are too cheap to appreciate real art.  She goes on to say that those paying $1 for used paperbacks will stick to that (implied) trash and just ain't sophistimicated enough to appreciate or buy ebooks.  Therefore the price shouldn't be affected by them.

In yet more arrogance, she compares novels to high end works of art that show the "artist's blood, sweat and tears."  She acts entitled to a certain price point, and those bastards who do silly things like react to the market are taking money out of her pocket.  She deserves to make an amount of money she thinks is reasonable.

These writers show next to no understanding of the dynamics of the marketplace, as well as a healthy underlying fear of what the indie market and the ebook revolution has done to their comfortable world.  These innovations have threatened their livelihood, and, dammit, that's just not the way the world is supposed to work.

Ms. Levine and others could do so much better by embracing the changing times and using their position to force traditional publishing houses like Hachette to pay their writers more so they can do wacky things like pay the electricity bill, but they've got theirs, so screw everyone else.  Fortunately for us, the public has a much larger share of the vote in this than they do, and that vote is beginning to show.  That's why they have to squash it - if things change too much, they'll have to go outside of their comfort zone.

Going outside of a comfort zone is what indie excels at, and such change is growing larger by the day.  Such is the natural result of an arrogant industry that thought it had control, only to find that the world is no longer what they thought it was.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Everest - A Short Story

The climb looked steep, but it was the last I needed to make it to the roof of the world.  That my vision had gone blurry and I could barely breathe was beside the point.

My team tried to leave me behind at the base camp.  "Too risky," they whined.  "You need to rest," they chided.  I'm sorry, but I hadn't come around the world and spent nearly a month on this mountain just to stop 1000 feet from the summit.

I left when it was dark, the sun still an hour from the horizon.  The white glacier before me provided enough reflected light for me to see, at least until I reached the more vertical ascents, and the sun would be up by then.

Digging my spiked climbing shoes into the ice, and plunking my pickax into the ground, I pulled my wobbly legs from step to agonizing step.  Frost filled my lungs as I took a breath, and every time I exhaled I found myself engulfed in a young fogbank.

Still, I continued my trek.

Lots of people would be proud when I summited.  Even more would be astounded.  Yes me, the guy who once panicked because he got stuck on top of a tree fort, would now reach the peak of the highest mountain on Earth.  It would be glorious.

The mucus I expelled would only add to the legend, and my aching bone would be a testament to my determination.  I trudged forward, knowing that the summit team was only 90 minutes ahead of me.  They'd sure be surprised when I came up behind them.  Some might even be mad at the risk I took, but where was reward without risk?

The steps began to require greater and greater effort.  Coupled to this, my breathing became more difficult.  Each crunch of the snow and ice made me feel like I was running a marathon as I took in gulps of air, only to find that the act of breathing itself was a challenge.

Still, I continued my trek.

The sun had just broken the horizon when my leg refused to move.  This was ridiculous since I knew the last sheet of vertical ice still lay ahead.  With an extreme effort, I pulled it free from the mountain, but when I planted it, the air that filled my lungs now burned.

I don't remember going to a knee, but I felt the cold seep through my pants and onto my skin.  Strange...I'd have thought it would've been colder, but my skin had gone so numb that it barely made an impact.

What did make an impact was the wind.  Stiff and unrelenting, it bowled me over, and I barely had enough time to put my hand out in front of me to catch myself.  Trying to get back to my feet, I found the exertion unbearable.

I'll just rest for a second, I thought.

But that second turned into ten, and then 60.  The air in my lungs was so cold that I couldn't even take full breaths.  Even if I could, the cold I had was producing enough mucus that they wouldn't have been full breaths anyway.

That's funny...I could've sworn that the sun was coming up, but it seemed instead to be getting darker.  Stars burst into colorful patterns as I strained my neck to see.  Urging my legs to move, I found my body unwilling to respond.

Not good, I thought.  Not good at all.

Yet another strange sensation to find myself getting warm.  It wasn't a deep warmth, but rather a surface warmth that tickled my skin.  I felt my breathing slow, yet I couldn't notice any distress from it.  In fact, breathing seemed secondary now.  All that remained was to find warmth in this ice.  This ice would be my blanket, the mountain my bed...

...and my body a monument to yet another who passed near the roof of the world.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Not Villainous Enough?

I've been noticing a trend in my stories recently.  I love epic tales where the hero overcomes incredible odds to reach the mountaintop, but it seems, at least to me, that such tales are no longer as widespread.  The problem rarely lies with the hero, but rather with his or her opposite.  All of this got me wondering...

...what the hell is happening to our villains?

Villains rarely stay so nowadays.  Take two of my favorite TV shows - Once Upon A Time and Supernatural.  I love the way these shows take a heroic adventure and adds some spice.  However, I'd be remiss if I didn't say I noticed that my beloved villains, the ones that you want the hero to overcome, rarely stay villains.  Regina, the so-called "Evil Queen," has found a soft spot and teamed up with Snow White.  The imp Rumplestilskin has gone from near omniscient baddie to a grieving father who helps Prince Charming.  Crowley, the notorious King of Hell and the man in charge of those sentenced to suffer for all eternity, has teamed up with the Winchesters in going after even bigger villains.  Even Lucifer, Satan himself, is cast as just a misunderstood son who took issue with his dad's project.

It got me wondering just what the hell was happening, because this trend has surfaced in my books as well.  Muzta Qar Qath of the Tugar became an intermittent ally of Andrew Keane.  Lucius Malfoy brushed off Voldemort in the search for his son.  Even Atvar of The Race ran schemes in conjunction with humanity when new colonization ships showed up from Home.  Is there something in the water?  Why can't these baddies just stay bad?

I think the answer to this is manifold.  First, we grow familiar with bad guys that stick around a while.  No one likes dealing with a constant evil, and we realize over time that almost no one is pure evil.  Everyone has motivations and a backstory of their own, and a villain hanging around so long reveals these quirks to us.  We humanize the villain and start to understand him

The second answer is that complex villains make for compelling characters, and since people rarely relate to unfettered evil, nearly everyone needs a redeeming feature of some sort.  One dimensional villains are easy to root against because they offer the reader no reason to see them as anything but bad.  As such, it makes it tough to get into such a story unless the villain is so powerful, like a Voldemort, because you can't get invested in the outcome.  And more complexity means that the villain has to do more than just be bad.

Finally, I believe there is something within all of us that roots for redemption and forgiveness.  We want to see the villain not just defeated, but to realize the gravity of his or her mistake and try to make amends.  It seems much more satisfying to watch a villain attempt to right wrongs, almost like we've won an argument or something.  I realized this when I thought of the man who was undoubtedly the greatest villain in the history of movies - Darth Vader.  This was a man who choked out his subordinates for making a mistake and once slaughtered an entire temple full of children.  Yet we still cheered when he turned on the Emperor to save his son.  In the final scene where Vader was burned in a funeral pyre, we found ourselves feeling sorry for this murderous bastard.  This, I think, is the final element, and the most crucial, in empathizing with the villain, for it makes them like us.  After all, we all make mistake, so wouldn't we like to be redeemed at some point?

I've come to accept that this makes villain conversion almost inevitable in any story with depth.  As much as I love seeing the bad guy get beaten, that bad guy has to be so powerful to create a good story that they must be utterly destroyed for the story to be credible, and then where does the hero go from there?  You can't keep finding even greater villains if you want to stay believable.  Therefore, you need a believable element, and an element of redemption and change must be part of that, for it indicates growth.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ego Is A Two Way Street

Last week I ranted on in a post about how a lot of indie writers may be getting too big of a head about the rapid rise of their market.  I pointed out the pitfalls and tried to warn people that the traditional publisher and large book store still rule the roost with the majority of the reading public, most of whom are unaware that there is even a battle underway.

That said, this works in both directions.  Roughly a generation ago, big chain stores like Barnes & Nobel and Books-A-Million came in and completely changed the market for books.  They had cheap prices and a large enough stock that the average reader could find whatever they desired.  This WalMart approach to book selling devastated the mom-and-pop bookstore that had been on top for most of the previous 50 years.  Borders joined them, and a new era was upon us.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to this glorious new world order - the chains got overconfident, even cocky.  Having crushed their competitors, they were now unwilling to adapt when Amazon came on the scene.  Why would they?  After all, people still liked to look at books before buying them, and you couldn't hold a computer screen.  They tied themselves to traditional publishing and snubbed their noses at everyone else...because they could.

Then things started to change.  Sales began to drop, even during peak times.  Revenue was no longer guaranteed, even though books were still being written.  There was this new ebook thing, but they were just an extension of books, so obviously everyone would follow their habits to the bookstore.  And since traditional publishing and large chains were inexorably intertwined, there was nothing to worry about, right?

The indie scene changed that.  Rather than embrace the change and recognize they were in the business of selling stories, not selling just what some people said were stories, the big chains let the market pass them by.  The funny thing is that they continue to snub them and make placement ridiculously difficult.  Some standards are good, or else big chains would be overwhelmed.  However, unless you're either a traditional author whose publishing house is in their good-boy list, or you've sold enough that you are unable to be ignored(by like, say, making the NYT Bestseller List), the larger chains won't even acknowledge you exist.  This is a mistake of catastrophic proportions.

The traditional market is hurting as more writers are opting for indie.  This has created a self-licking ice cream cone whereby the chains think they have to charge more for a dwindling supply, making even more likely for writers to leave and customers to go elsewhere.  In the face of this, larger chains continue to refuse to change.  Like the horse and buggy industry of the 1890s, they've been the only game in town for so long that they forgot that it's not horses and buggies people want, but rather a mode of transportation.  Similarly, it's not the hardcover that readers want, but the story.

Unless they change, I think these larger chains will be gone by 2030.  While they're disappearing, they'll stubbornly insist it's the economy or that the public has eschewed books in these dark times or some other piddling excuse that lets them ignore reality.  All the while they'll look down their noses at the indie scene and just know that such a route is for losers.

I mean, why not?  It worked so well for the recording industry.