alexandraerin: (Default)
New York Times Best-Selling Author Catherynne M. Valente has announced that there's a prequel novella to her New York Times Best-Selling, etc., The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making up and available to read for free on Tor's website.

I believe that Cat said it's up "as of now", which I don't know if she means "starting now" or "for now"... it might mean this is a time-limited viewing opportunity. I can't seem to get to the post where I read about it just this moment. In any event, there's no time like the present.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making has debuted on the New York Times Bestsellers List at number 8. You may do well to recall that this book was initially published as a free-to-read crowdfunded serial and that copies of it were once again available for free a week or so before its official publication. All of these freely distributed copies did not figure into the arcane arithmancy through which the NYT determines the week's winners and losers... no, that's based entirely on conventional chains of distribution.

For this accomplishment Cat deserves congratulations, which I'm going to do over on her own blog. Here, though, I'm making this post to register my prediction that a year from now we will still have people saying, in all seriousness, that no one will pay for a copy of something that was available for free.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Hey, all... this is just a note to say firstly that the print and electronic editions of Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is due out in a week or so, and secondly that she's prevailed upon her publisher to allow her to put up the original weblit version as a free download for a couple of days. This version lacks the illustrations that the final version has, as well as a bit of its polish.

You can find it in both .doc and .pdf format by following the signposts here.
alexandraerin: (Default)

Salt and sand sprayed against the hull, which the roasting wind had peeled of scarlet paint and bared of gilt. The horizon was a golden margin, the sea a spectral page. Caps of dusty foam tipped the waves of depthless sand, swelling and sinking, little siroccos opening their dry and desultory mouths. Whirlpools of dead branches snapped and lashed the bulging sides of the listing qarib; sand scoured her planks, grinding off crenellations and erasing the faces of a row of bronze lions meant to spray fire into the sails of enemies. The name of the ship was once Christokos, but the all-effacing golden waves had scraped it to Tokos, and thus new-baptized, the little ship crested and fell with the whim of the inland sea.

I huddled against the wretched mast. A few days previously, a night-storm had visited this poor vessel, and its boiling clouds littered the deck with small dun mice. They tasted the mast, found it good, and stripped it to a spindly stick. In the morning, they leapt overboard as one creature, and I, lone inhabitant of the wretched Tokos, watched as they bounded away on the surface of the sand, buffeted by little licking waves, unconcerned, their bellies full of mast. I captained this thin remnant of naval prowess as best I could: shuddering, blister-lipped, no sailor, no oarsman, not even a particularly strong swimmer. My teeth hurt in my jaw, and my hands would not stop shaking—the true captain had leapt overboard in despair—a month past, now? Two?—and the navigator followed, then the cook, and finally the oarsmen. One by one as the sand snapped off their instruments they leapt overboard into the dust like mast-fed mice. But the sea did not bear them up, and they drowned screaming. They each watched the others sink into the glitter and grime, but believed in their final wild moments that theirs would be that lucky leap that found solid land. That they would be blessed above the others. Each by each, I watched the sand fill up their surprised and gaping mouths.

I ate the sail one night and dreamed of honey. The stars overhead hissed at me like cats.


-From The Habitation of the Blessed, by Catherynne Valente. Excerpted here for purposes that will come clear further down.

...

I have the perfect phrase to describe what sort of a story The Habitation of the Blessed is.

Unfortunately, it's already taken.

I mean, if I told you that Catherynne Valente has written a wonderful work of "medieval fantasy", you'd probably think I was talking about something like a book with an elf, a dwarf, and a thief, and a wizard who meet in a tavern and go on a quest. Maybe not quite that cliched, but you'd probably be picturing something that bears the same sort of resemblance to the medieval world as Tales of MU resembles the modern one: a sort of post-Tolkien Disneyland version of the past that is not so much the medieval era as the classical era through the renaissance blended in the same fashion that dinosaur movies take anything that appeared from the Triassic period through the Cretaceous, with the occasional random insertion of modern man.

And while I enjoy that genre, it's a shame, because really "medieval fantasy" really sums up what she's done. Can we just agree to call that other stuff something else? Post-Tolkien? Gygaxian? Swords and dungeons? Dragons and sorcery? Well, it's probably too late to change it, so I'm going to grab a contrast term and call the first book of A Dirge For Prester John a work of authentically Pre-Tolkien fantasy.

Writing a Pre-Tolkien fantasy is an impressive feat given that it was written three decades after Tolkien's death. She clearly goes to the same well that John Ronald Reul and his friend Clive Staples and their predecessor Lyman Frank drew from, but it's equally clear that she's gone back to the well rather than siphoning off from their troughs.

If you're the sort of person who loved reading tidbits from medieval bestiaries (like the ones on this site, which [livejournal.com profile] lissa_quon serendipitously linked to while I was contemplating this review) and then later enjoyed spotting when something from one of those books turned up in a D&D manual or with a pseudoscientific explanation in Shadowrun or in some other game or bit of pop culture, this book will almost certainly speak to you.

If among your favorite part of the Chronicles of Narnia books were the recitations of all the various kinds of creatures that were found on one side of a battlefield or another and you wish there had been more detail, more examination of their cultures and their ways, then this book will almost certainly interest you.

If you've never had much exposure to mythical beasts outside of their pop culture interpretations, but you enjoy a good tale of a traveler who stumbles off the edge of the map and ends up somewhere fantastic in every sense of the word... be it Oz, Narnia, Pelucidar, Barsoom, the Land of the Lost, or anywhere else, this book would be worth your while.

And if you're not particularly interested in any of those things, but you enjoy a good tale that is well told?

Yeah. That this is.

If you already know who Prester John is... or who he was... or maybe who he was not... then there's a good chance your curiosity is already piqued at least a little bit. For everybody else... well, the wiki link will cover the basics for you.

The story of Prester John as laid out in the canonical letter is a fascinating one, but it's compelling in part because there's so little to it. We are given the bare bones. They are big bones. They are impressive bones. They spark the imagination, but it takes a powerful and skilled imagination to flesh them out in a manner that is equally compelling to the sight of the bones laying bare in the earth.

And one need only look at how our understanding of the dinosaurs has evolved over the years to know that how bones are arranged and how the meat is hung around them can make quite a difference. This would be little more than fan faction if Cat had simply taken the letter and used it as a checklist. There is a story here, an original story... well, this is a Catherynne Valente novel, isn't it? It would be uncharacteristically mean of her to give us one story. (And yet it could be argued that she does exactly this, depending upon where one falls on the question of the Trinity.) And in the process she piles living flesh around those dormant bones in such a compelling fashion that it's possible to forget the bones are there. She's not playing connect-the-dots by dropping in references here and there. She's giving us the sort of breathtaking world... the sort of breathtaking lived experience... that could have prompted someone to write the letter that inspired her story.

For example: the letter of Prester John gives account of a waveless sea of sand dunes. What does the letter say on the subject? Compare these lines to what I copied out at the beginning of this post:

There is also in our territory a sandy sea without water. For the sand moves and swells into waves like the sea and is never still.


This is how the letter describes the sandy sea. I confess, the geography detailed in the letter never interested me as much as the zoology, or anthropology if you like. And from these few lines, and an equally scant account of the fish that the sandy sea produces, Cat has produced the scene that I excerpted the beginning of above. It is a scene of exquisite and majestic wonder and terror that is our introduction to the pilgrim in her strange land. Her sea of sand is awful and awesome, terrible and terrific, and all those other word pairs that tricks of etymology have taught us cannot possibly mean the same thing as each other.

When I spoke to Cat a few weeks after having finished her novel, the vision of the sand sea... her sand sea... was so vividly lodged in my mind that I asked her where it had come from. The answer, of course, was that it was straight out of the letter. Oh. I was a little embarrassed to realize that, because of course the source material is even excerpted at the points in the book where it becomes relevant, but... well, her writing makes those few lines come to life with a vividness that I imagine they must have already possessed for her.

In fact, one gets the impression that there isn't a single line or even a word of the letter that did not excite the author's imagination. When telling the story behind the letter, Cat doesn't assume that every line in it is the unvarnished truth, but that every word is there for a reason. There are both white and red lions, John says. Does that mean lions come in two colors? No, it means lions come in two kinds, and the difference must be significant enough to be worth spending an extra three words in an era far less given to effortless expansion than our own electronic age.

Now, there are one or two aspects of the book that I felt were lacking, but long-time readers of this blog will already know that the bulk of my criticism for anything I enjoy comes down to "I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it could have been longer." I'm going to take mind of the fact that this is book one of a trilogy and wait to see the sum of the parts before I presume to point to any deficiencies. Until then, it could be that the heart and substance of my complaints are nothing more than a matter of wanting more. But even if the series ended here and now and another book were never written (note: this is purely hypothetical, as I believe the second book is either at or nearing completion), the harshest characterization I could give this work is "not my favorite Catherynne M. Valente novel."

...

As a side note, Cat has two other novels that will be out in coming months. One is the hard copy of her much-celebrated The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own, Et Cetera (a book I will never get tired of abbreviating), and the other is Deathless, a book that I'm really looking forward to but that seems to occupy a space in the center of my personal Dead Zone. I can't seem to remember that it exists. This is a quirk of my brain, not a statement on her writing. While I was composing this review, I got an email notification about a pending charge on my account for Amazon Kindle services. I had downloaded my copy of Habitation to this computer so I could reference it without going upstairs for my Kindle and because I absolutely could not think of any pending purchases I spent a few panicky moments thinking I'd accidentally bought a second copy of Habitation. But of course it's just renewing the authorization I made when I pre-ordered Deathless.

You can read an excerpt from Deathless and view the awesome retro/aged cover here.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I know I said I would be weighing in more on this after tomorrow, but I have thoughts that won't die and they need to be written out.

As part of this discussion on e-book pricing, Catherynne Valente has a post up on her LJ. I think she's right about some things, including the failure of trying to analogize novel-length works to songs on iTunes. But I think the overall thrust of her post misses the mark.

In particular she speaks about the idea that writing is undervalued as an art, that authors are undervalued as artists. I think there are two different concepts at play here. One is the price that people are willing to pay for things. The other is the value we get for our work.

The first one seems to be the sticking point for Cat. I'm going to be possibly a little rude and use the price of one of her books as an example. Palimpsest. It costs $12 on Amazon Kindle. I paid that. If it wasn't the first book I bought for my Kindle, it was the third and if it was the third it's only because I bought two of her other books first. I own all three of these books in print. I just wanted take-anywhere copies, especially as I tend to lend my Cat Valente books out at the drop of a hat, and I drop a lot of hats.

(In fact, I have purchased three physical copies of Palimpsest and I'm not confident that any of them are in my possession.)

My point here is that I value this book. I value her work. A $12 sticker price is never going to give me pause if it's on a Cat Valente book.

But if you're reading this post on LJ, you only have to look at the side to see that one of my more commonly-used tags references her name. I'm a huge fan of her. Of course I'm going to pay $12 for her book.

But then we come to the second way that authors can be valued: the value given for work done. I.e., money. If Cat needs to know that someone out there will pay $12 for her books, I am here to tell her YES! They are worth that much. If she needed to hear that someone would pay $25 for them... well, I would buy fewer copies, but I mean fewer copies of each book. She would still have my business as a reader, though. I've paid $25 for books by worse authors because I wanted to read them OMGRITENAO.

But if that kind of intellectual satisfaction were all that an author needed, then we wouldn't be having a conversation about price and profit in the first place. And it's clear throughout Cat's post and comments that she's not talking about the intellectual satisfaction of knowing what price people would pay for her work individually. Her concern is the ability of authors to make a living at their craft.

And I share that concern. I think we should be able to make money doing what we do. But I don't think that an ever-decreasing floor on e-book prices must necessarily imperil that, nor do I think it reflects a lack of value-in-terms-of-worth on writing.

Yeah, there are some people who think writing is an easy gig, that anybody could write... it's just making stuff up, just stringing words together. Anybody could do that, right?

But that phenomenon is not unique to writing. We might as well call it "My Six Year Old Kid Could Do That Syndrome", and it's endemic to art as a whole. Authors do get called greedy and lazy sometimes, but so do musicians, and painters, and anybody who does intellectual or creative or intangible work.

I think I know where she's coming from in thinking this, though. I mean, I know what it's like to feel underappreciated, and I've certainly had my share of "You expect people to pay money for this?" trolls.

But the thing is: those are trolls, and no amount of individual people who don't see the value of my work in particular takes any money out of my pocket, or translates to a general trend of people who don't see the value of writing. If we're going to look at trends, we need some numbers.

In 2009, American publishers saw over eight billion dollars in net sales in "trades" (Source.), which unless you buy or sell textbooks is probably what you're thinking of when you think of books. Novels. Memoirs. Non-fiction history books for the general consumer.

Now this is net. I don't have any figures for the actual amount of money consumers spent (which must necessarily be higher), so let's just use that figure. Eight billion dollars.

That is more than $25 for every person in America... adult, child, and infant.

That is more than $1 for every human being extant on the planet.

Given this, I can't believe that we drastically undervalue authors or writing, as a society. But I know why it can seem that way if you're an author. If you're working for a living as an author (or you're working as an author and trying to make a living at it), you can't help but think not in terms of billions and billions of dollars but in terms of the dollars you're seeing.

And when you hear somebody complaining about the price of books, it can sound like they're saying that you don't deserve the dribs and drabs you get... but I don't think the average person realizes just how much smaller those billions become when they filter their way through the system and back to individual authors.

I mean, if you asked a person on the street who's not a writer and has no connection to the publishing industry or bookselling how much money an author makes off a book that costs $10, I'm sure they'd have some conception that the publisher gets a cut, and the retailer gets a cut, and so on. But look at that phrasing: these other entities, they get a cut.

But if the author has a royalty rate of 8%, 10%, or even 15%... all of which I've been given as examples of fairly generous royalties in the trad-pub world... then it becomes apparent that the author isn't giving anyone a cut of anything. Rather, it's the author who is graciously being allowed a cut of the proceeds.

8% of $10 is 80 cents. Not even a buck. When someone complains about paying $10 for a book, do you think they have any conception that the author may not see so much as a buck for it? It's got the author's name right on the front cover. There's an editor or two involved, sure, there's probably an agent in there somewhere, but their names aren't on the cover. The publisher's got a logo but it's practically invisible compared to the author's name.

Think about this. You write a book and it sells 10,000 copies at $10 a pop. And we'll say you have a 10% royalty. I'm just sticking with the nice, round numbers here for ease of math. This means $100,000 came out of consumers hands in exchange for copies of your book. Of that, you get $10,000. Which is nice. I mean, it's $10,000. But it's not much if you divide out the time you spent working to earn that, and of course if you're a published author you already know and understand that moving $100,000 or $200,000 worth of copies of books can feel pretty great but it's not going to buy you a house even in today's housing market.

But will it occur to the average person on the street... or the average book buyer who wonders if it isn't possible to bring the price of books down a little bit... that you, the author, the one person who is irreplaceable and indispensable in the creation of this particular book... would be given a mere 10% (or less!) for your participation in the exercise? Would they have any conception of standard industry practices like reserves against returns and other things that can delay or eat into an author's proceeds from the book?

So I don't think the drive for lower e-book prices speaks to people's regard for authors and writing. Even the people who think we don't deserve as much money for our work aren't saying that you don't deserve your percent of the book sale. They're looking at the price of books and assuming you're loaded.

Any discussion of the price of e-books should also address the way that authors get paid for (and/or maintain control of) the electronic rights of their work, but the answer can't be "...so that's why we can't lower the price." Discount e-books exist, and they are getting attention and they are moving up the Amazon rankings and making boatloads of money for their authors. The time is going to come when the e-book buying market doesn't see a book for 0.99-2.99 as a discount any more. $4.99 will probably wind up as a ceiling, with people paying $6-10 for books they really want by authors they know they don't mind paying extra for.

Publishers are going to be making moves to be ready for that day.

Authors should be ready, too. Hold on to your electronic rights. Fight for a better rate, and make sure there's an expiration date -- if it lasts as long as the book's "in print", that means forever and unless you become a rock star super sensation you will never get a chance to re-negotiate them when the next Amazon Kindle (70% royalty for books of $2.99-$9.99) or PayPal Microtransaction (net profit approximating out to 93% for transactions of around $5 and under) or whatever else breaks onto the market.

Let's look at a reality of today. If you sold electronic rights to your book a few years ago and you get, say, 20% of the list price of the book (that probably sounded generous a few years ago), and now your book is on Kindle. If your book is $10, the standard Kindle royalty schedule pays the rights-holder (your publisher) 35%, or $3.50, minus a few cents for "delivery costs". If your book is $5, the standard Kindle royalty schedule pays the rights-holder 70%, or $3.50, minus a few cents for "delivery costs".

But you? You get 20% of the list price. $2 when the book costs $10 and the publisher makes $3.50, $1 when the book costs $5 and the publisher makes $3.50. Heck, if the publisher drops it from $10 to $9.99, they almost double their profits. Yours goes down a 5th of a penny.

Is anybody actually stuck in that situation? I don't know. It really doesn't seem inconceivable. I'd have an easy time believing that contracts are still being signed today that bind authors into these situations.

And you know what? That's a lot worse to me than somebody who thinks $12 is too much to pay for what I think is a great novel.

To get more value from our work, we don't need to convince J. Random Reader that our work is worth more. We need to convince ourselves that it's worth more.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Cat Valente has a new book out. I haven't blogged about it because I haven't yet read it; that'll probably come some time next week. But it's on such a fascinating subject that I think it might pique a few interests even without a more specific recommendation than "Cat wrote it"

The first time I remember hearing about Prester John was in a world history class in high school. The text book had maybe two or three paragraphs about him. The teacher gave him maybe one paragraph's worth of attention, but I was intrigued. Mythical personages? Lost kingdoms? This was way more interesting than actual history... and it was actual history, because people actually believed in the kingdom of Prester John and they acted on that belief in ways that changed the world. Hoax, rumor, myth, whatever... Prester John was a part of history.

And of course, mythical priest-kings were only one of the things that medieval people believed might be lurking off the edge of th map. My history book didn't even deal with them at a glance, but the world of Prester John was inhabited by the sorts of creatures that inspired the minds of E. Gary Gygax, C.S. Lewis, and other people with letters both in front of and behind their names. Because of such modern fantasy works, I was already well-acquainted with the inhabitants of medieval bestiaries by the time I got my first tantalizing glimpse of Prester John, but I never thought much about the connection between the two. That I learned of Prester John in a history book kind of skewed the context for me.

So who was Prester John? Well, one of the more tangentially interesting things about him is that his title has the same root as "priest" and "Presbyterian", but this is the sort of serious subject that deserves a serious explanation. But watch this instead:



And check out the official website, and if that's enough to get your interest, consider ordering a copy.
alexandraerin: (Trophies)
Yesterday, at the 2009 Nebula Awards, my favorite author and fellow traveler Catherynne Valente won the Andre Norton Award for superior achievement in young adult writing. This would be an impressive feat under any circumstances... one of the previous honorees in this particular honor's five year history was J.K. Rowling, for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Cat won for her work The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, which is slightly noteworthy for being the book with the second longest title to win the Norton, and slightly more noteworthy because this is a book that some would argue has not yet even been published. Not me, of course... and the fact that it's by a traditionally published author and it's currently wending the long and winding path towards bookstore shelves might also have helped ameliorate any misgivings anyone might have felt about honoring a crowdfunded internet novel with a major award.

Or maybe there were no misgivings. Maybe they considered nothing but the quality of the work and saw the medium as incidental. I don't know.

Now, I don't see this as the doors being flung wide open or anything. Next year, the nominee rolls of major awards aren't going to be dominated by weblit. Cat Valente wasn't just a blip on people's radars... she was walking right into the radar room where the operators were all squinting at the little green squiggles to see if anything interesting was coming up on the horizon. I think we might see more traditional authors trying things like this, though. This doesn't mean anybody with a blog is going to be able to jump the queue and get awards and publishing deals. There's still the matter of getting attention, overcoming the signal-to-noise ratio of the web... but I still believe that the answer here is no different than if you go through the traditional route: quality and hard work and time and, yes, luck.

The longer you put in the work, the more likely it is to pay off. There's no way around that and there's no way to force it.

But here's the thing: weblit won the Norton. Weblit won a Nebula.

Who saw that coming? Who saw it coming so soon? This isn't me crowing "I told you so", because I didn't. It's very exciting.

There's a lot to be excited about in this. I'm happy for my friend. I'm extremely amused that a young adult book that's written after the fashion of a children's book that sprang from references inside a very adult book (the story that became ...Fairyland... was first superimposed behind the aptly titled Palimpsest) was so well-received, because that sort of thing just tickles me.
alexandraerin: (November)
The second to last chapter of Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making is now up... I've been holding in squee about this book for the past few months so as not to become repetitive. When it's finished, I'm going to re-read the whole thing in its entirety and then present a single, possibly somewhat coherent review of ...Fairyland... from top to bottom.

In related news: Cat and her partner recently celebrated their marriage. It seems to have been a lovely wedding, but their honeymoon has not gone swimmingly. She's being given advice, offers of lodging, and support from all over. If you've been reading The... Making all along, it might be a nice time to make the tip jar go clink-clink.

And if you haven't... it's good time to start. You won't be waiting very long to find out how it ends. Just listen to the theme that [livejournal.com profile] s00j wrote for the protagonist and see if your appetites and curiosities are not piqued and whetted:

alexandraerin: (Default)
Well, the first chapter of Cat Valente's web serial, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, went up yesterday, a little bit after midnight Eastern Standard Time. It is so full of quotable lines that I dare not quote any of them lest I make the rest jealous.

It's an intoxicating beginning, but it will be a while before the ultimate success of the project can be judged. I know, I know, I've kept saying it will succeed... and some perhaps would argue that it already has, in that it's already brought money and publicity to the author. But as Cat's announcement was picked up and echoed around the web, particularly on Twitter where space is limited and punchier messages travel farther and faster, the message was more often rendered as "my friend/comrade needs help" than "woman of manifest talent has something of unique value to share with the world, and invites compensation from those who enjoy it".

What happened as a result of those repeated calls was incredible and should not be scorned, but it also stands as an example of how an internet community responds to a crisis than as a practical demonstration of cyberfunding as a routine form of income. That's okay. The actual value of The Girl Who, Etc. has yet to be seen by the world, a world that will hopefully keep paying attention even after the initial crisis has ended. I have hopes that as the United States progressively wakes up and people remember to check her site, the first chapter will start to get ReTweets and shout-outs based on its own merit. Once there are a few chapters present I plan on using some of my own advertising reserve to help bring them to the attention of people outside the circle of the literary twitterstorm, and to remind people who maybe caught the initial buzz that there's an actual story attached to it.

This is crucial, because it's going to be the long-term profitability that reflects on the success of the project. Cat's use of language ought to qualify as a Schedule II controlled substance for its addictive qualities, but it's very easy to lose even a very impressed audience when a project like this is new and there's not a whole archive of it to read through. The fact that this particular story is child-friendly opens up one unique possibility for making sure that people keep coming back: their children will insist on it. But I suspect that, initial hoopla aside, the story's readership will really take off once there is enough material to keep the average reader occupied for one hour. Some people can read for five minutes and be hopelessly hooked on something, but few people can read anything for an hour and not desperately need to know what happens next.

Being a very fast reader with a very poor sense of time, I have no idea how much the average reader will read in an hour, which will make it hard for me to judge the accuracy of this prediction.

And, of course, even when it's finished, the full value of the project to its author will still remain to be seen no matter how steady the reader contributions have been. Because she never has to take it down and she never has to remove the tip jar... new readers will continue to find it and will continue to appreciate it.

And readers, new and old, will want a copy of the book that can sit on their shelves, that can be held comfortably in bed, that can be easily managed in airports and coffee shops and on buses, that can be read in the bathtub without voiding a warranty. They're going to want print editions.

(Trust me on this one, Cat. You may feel awkward about putting forward the idea of people paying you to buy a book that they have already read and may already have paid for, but people are going to insist. I'm going to insist, because I really like reading in the bathtub.)

And while the author will certainly have options for producing said volume herself, I hope that through her contacts with small presses and/or the visibility of this project, she can wrangle a deal to have it published through a more traditional means. Yeah, yeah, I know... that seems counter to my rhetoric on the subject. But it would be a tremendous step towards exploding one of the Great Big Lies that is used to discourage self-publishing, e-publishing, and cyberfunded creativity: "If you do this, no publishing house will ever want the results. No publisher wants to buy reprint rights, because no one will pay money for something they already got for free."

It would seem to be a no-brainer for a publisher to pick up a book that has a built-in fan base, that has people clamoring for a chance to buy a copy of it before it's been printed, that lots of people have heard about, that has had steady buzz for months or a year, etc., which is what ...Fairyland... will be by the time it's finished, but it would also be something of an exception to the rules. At least, when viewed as "reprinting a book". In terms of "taking something on the web and packaging it for bookshelves", blogs, webcomics, and humorous or informational sites have been distilled into books before.

So, the only question will be: will publishers recognize this and see the value of being the one who delivers a much-desired product to a willing and eager public?

Actually, by that point there will also be the question of whether or not Cat sees a publisher's contributions to the process as being worth giving up the lion's share of the revenue. Her work is so successful in part because she undertakes to promote it herself, and by the time Girl, Fairyland, Circumnavigated is in the proverbial can much of that work will already be done. All a publisher would really bring to the table at that point is a finished physical product and a distribution system, and the web gives authors access to those things. I know that Cat is friends with a very successful user of Lulu.com's print on demand services (and no, I'm not talking about myself. The print editions of my work are an area I've traditionally underexploited.) I'm sure that she'll find herself with all the support she needs if she decides to go that route.

So, anyway... the project is off to an auspicious beginning, and I predict that I will (perhaps mercifully) not have as much to say about it for a few weeks as it builds in momentum. To make a long story short (TOO LATE!), though, some people will doubtlessly already be declaring victory for the experiment on the strength of the initial reaction and some few people will possibly be declaring the medium and model a failure because the initial reaction was not a practical or sustainable or repeatable response... to both groups of people, I would say that to suss out the level of success of this project, it'll be necessary to ignore the initial response and watch how things unfold over time.

That's something I'm looking forward to doing.
alexandraerin: (Default)
I promise that at some point in the near future I'll start posting a bunch of inane rambling reviews of Dungeons & Dragons products again, but in the mean time: yet another post about Cat Valente.

Actually, this one's not entirely about her. I mean, this whole thing isn't entirely about her... she's the crux, the fulcrum, of the matter, but it's about the publishing industry, it's about authors and artists and performers, it's about new technology, it's about our ability to create and control our creations and to interface with our audience and to reach audiences without a filter in between us.

She's started to receive a bit of a backlash: people telling her to suck it and up get a "real job", people telling her she's selfish, people telling her that what she's doing isn't "grown-up behavior".

And what is she doing?

She's creating something of value and expecting people who benefit from it to compensate her for her work.

That's basic grown-up behavior right there.

It doesn't look like grown-up behavior because it doesn't involve putting on a hideous uniform or wearing a name tag or signing away any rights, literally or metaphorically... it doesn't look like grown-up behavior because instead of putting a price tag and a bar code on the output of her soul, she's asking people to pay what they can and what they will for it.

You know, I had a day job, a year and a half ago. I quit it to do this, to produce reader-supported, cyber-funded stories when I was sure that I could support myself this way... and I almost fucked that up, in no small part because I let myself be insecure about the fact that I do deserve compensation for what I do and so I went through a period of being shy about reminding people that I do know money to get by. Other than that hiccup, it's gone pretty dang well.

And you know what? In the time since I quit, my day job was downsized. The department was shrunk in half and then folded into another one. If I had been there, I would have been another body fighting for a chair... which means I would have been out of work or somebody else would have been.

Why do I need to be a body in a chair? What benefit would I provide to society by doing that? Here, I'm not taking anybody's place. I've made my own. It's uniquely suited to my strengths and weaknesses. I create things for the enjoyment of thousands of people, and some of those people are able to pay me a dollar when they can or five dollars a month or fifty dollars one time or whatever they can give me, whatever value they feel I've provided them.

Is this a rip-off? My actual output varies with my circumstances, but people just pay what they think I'm worth, with no obligation to keep paying. How could that be a rip-off? My dad once told me I should tell people to pay me half what they think I'm worth, so they feel like they're getting a deal and they'll keep coming back for more... if anybody's worried about being ripped off, they're welcome to do that. Treat yourself to a 50% off coupon. Treat yourself to a 75% off coupon if that's what it takes for it to be "worth it". You pay what you feel like. That's how it works.

I mean, if everybody who read my work paid me a dollar for every novel's worth of material they read, I'd be rich and they'd all be getting a huge discount compared to any other book out there. Think about that. And most people aren't even paying a dollar. They're paying nothing.

Who's getting ripped off?

What Cat's doing is the action of a mature mind. She's taking responsibility for her situation and she's doing something about it. Her plight is not her fault, but like everybody else, it's her responsibility to support herself and her family, and that's what she's doing. It's easy to miss this fact, with the initial frenzy that was whipped up on the twittosphere... the somewhat desperate tone of which she had very little to do with... but what she's doing is taking control, of her talents and her rights and her resources.

And it's going to work. That's the thing.

It. Is. Going. To. Fucking. Work.

What she's doing is a proven moneymaker: taking a talent and a unique vision and going online with it. It works. All the naysayers miss the point... they probably look at the internet and they see the one trillion amateur animators that don't make any money, the one quadrillion little webcomics, the googol of hobby sites and blogs that don't go anywhere and they say "There's no money on the web." But the same things that let anyone succeed offline work online as well: talent, dedication, hard work, willpower.

It doesn't matter how many folks are doing it at the amateur-level. They don't take money away from the successful ones, and the qualities that bring success shine... and Cat Valente possesses all of these in spades.

I'm not going to compare our talents... we're way too different. We both have a fairly complicated relationship with the concept of "plot" and nontraditional approaches to structure, but she is at heart a poet and I primarily write dialogue and monologue. Okay, well, I am obviously comparing our talents, so let's do it:

I started Tales of MU with nothing but a name, "MU Tales", which I changed quickly because my mind wanted to read it as faux Spanish "mutales". I made it up as I went along, just to see what I could do, and I published it as is.

And I made it work.

As is.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, I am that fucking good.

That's my talent. I can sit down and I can write and people will read it, rough. Even people who hate what I write about will sit there and tell me that they wish I would write about more sensible things because they love reading it. It comes easily, naturally. For me, the hard part of why I do isn't writing, it's keeping my shit together, keeping my life together even when the parts of my brain that don't write aren't talking to each other, keeping track of the plot of day-to-day life the same as I do with my stories.

But Cat Valente is the hardest working person I know. I only met her briefly but that was obvious. She researches. She plans. She workshops. She vises and she revises and she retrovises. All those little foreign language puns I scatter in character's names are just things I have bouncing around in my brain, but she translates things.

And the results...

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you she is that fucking good, too.

The talent is there. The drive is there. The willpower is there. Everything it takes to succeed, she has... and she's proven it offline. A dozen books. A deal with Tor, I think, though I might be making that up. Of course, the reality is that "success" as an author in traditional publishing is nothing like money in the bank.

But online... she pays bandwidth and hosting, maybe hires out webmastery and graphical artistry if she can't get it donated... but the pie is only split one way. If she sells 20,000 books the Olde Way at $20 a pop, she ain't getting anywhere near $400,000. It doesn't work like that. But if she sells a hundred ebooks at $10 a pop, she is walking away with something that's within a phone rebate of $1,000 even after PayPal takes their fees.

Do you haters and doubters not realize how huge that is? What a profound cosmic shift that is for authors?

Anyone else just starting out... someone like me... would have to do something to become a proven quality before they could hope to make a living. Free samples. Heck, if I hadn't twisted Cat's ear as much as I have already, I'd tell her to increase the excerpt size of ebooks. Give a whole chapter's worth. Or forget about arbitrary breaks and give 'em as long as you think it takes to get them hooked. Give a whole first section of each book. She probably won't have to do that because she is a known quantity with even greater known quantities vouching for her, but it's a viable strategy.

(It's also a viable strategy to give all the books away for free to begin with, but people who don't understand what she's doing will never grasp that.)

This was going to happen sooner or later, that a traditionally published author would go this route and attract a lot of attention. I'm so sorry for the circumstances that forced her into it, but I'm glad it's Cat because I love her work so much and because the conditions are perfect - she's a cult author with wide but non-"mainsteam" appeal as defined by the industry that decides what to market to the mainstream, she's got the support of notable literary lights with large web presences, she's friends with an author who's explored this path before and who won't fucking shut up about it.

So this is going to work for her. Okay, there are no guarantees in life... but that's true about "real jobs", too. This could fail just as jobs can be downsized and companies can fold. But she has everything she needs to succeed, everything that's essential.

Why should she take a spot at a Starbucks that somebody else could fill? Why should she occupy a spot in a phone queue? Who would ultimately benefit from that?

The fact that she gets to do what she loves for a living might gall some people, but it's not a failing on her part. The fact that she's found a way to for herself instead of doing for seventeen layers of middlemen and then waiting in line every second Friday to hold out her hands in hopes that they'll do for her might threaten the composure of everybody who's still sucking it up and swallowing their pride every time they get out of bed in the morning. The fact that she's proving that you don't need to wend your way through the apparatus of The Industry to get paid for your art might be offensive to the sensibilities of those who are in the process of making compromises they hate in pursuit of a brass ring that they're terrified might turn out to not even be real brass is not ultimately her problem.

And, y'know, when Fairyland is a going concern, some of the naysayers and the doubters will say that she couldn't have done it if she hadn't already been a published author, if she hadn't had the support of folks like Neil Gaiman... never mind that some scatter-brained nobody living smack dab in the middle of flyover country already did the same thing... but a lot of the naysayers and doubters will just ignore her success and keep saying it won't work no matter how long it does.

We know this happens, because we see it all the time: "nobody makes money in webcomics", they say, and what [livejournal.com profile] s00j has done with her music for the past five, six years is clearly impossible.

Gah.

It works.

It has worked, it is working, it will continue to work.

The print industry's not going to go away... people like books, and I don't think Cat's doing this because she's pissed off at the world of paper or anything... but the publishers are going to have wake up soon and notice that authors now have another serious option to explore when it comes to paying the bills.

They need to notice it, because I can guarantee that more and more authors will.
alexandraerin: (Writing Dirty)
Yesterday, the internet exploded in Catherynne M. Valente's favor.

This morning:

* I'm relieved that Cat, who is a friend, seems to be getting her most pressing problems solved as a result.

* I'm excited to think that the eyes of the internet are going to be watching her serial project and will see how well it can work as a long-term business model even after the massive celebrity-backed call to arms has faded away.

* I'm a tad envious of all the light that's shining on her right now. I'll admit it. I know I've got something to do with shoving her into this particular limelight... I know that the attention she's getting will bring in oodles of more attention to what I and others have been doing for a while now... and in the mean time, I don't begrudge her the success she's enjoying. But... feelings are complicated things. I can't watch people like Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman twittering away about someone and not wish it was me. But, I suppose it's a side effect of the path I've chosen. By not pursuing publication, I haven't yet come into contact with a lot of the people I would have.

* I'm also feeling kind of smug and proud... proud of you folks.

What the entirety of the internet, with Neil and Warren and others sounding the call to arms, did for Catherynne M. Valente, Award Winning Published Author, my fandom did for me in December. That's some dedication. That's some love. That's some kind of awesome.

And it's not something I expect to ever happen twice. I've got no doubt you all could come through, but I don't want you to have to shoulder that kind of a burden twice. To that end, I've been more careful with my money and I've been exploring ways of turning the spurts of donations into a steady stream income and... here's the crucial bit... I've been looking at how to grow the audience more, which I'll be implementing soon... like, when the twitterstorm's died down. I don't want to interject a competing tempest into the same teapot.

Anyway, being careful with my money and having a more predictable flow help, but I also still do need to have enough money in the first place. It would also be convenient to get some coming in at the middle of the month. Because most of my sponsorship pushes have been at the end of the month, that's when most of my money comes in. That's also when rent - the major expense - is due, so it's helpful. But other bills come due at the middle of the month, and this is kind of a dry period for me.

So, here's the deal: I could really use more sponsors signing up this weekend. If you enjoy my stories and you can chip in to help keep them rambling on... even if it's at the level of $5 or less... it would be very, very helpful if you did so now. Seriously, no amount's too small because it all adds up (though $1 isn't efficient, PayPal-wise. The base fee takes away a big chunk of it. So if you think you can afford $2, just know that

I'll be repeating this call for sponsors tomorrow where it will be read by more people when I put up the Two bonus story that you folks earned through your support of Cat's first toehold in the world of online literature. Congratulations for being part of the ongoing revolution, and thank you.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Okay, so I've been doing my unlevel best to boost the hell out of Cat Valente the past week. There are multiple reasons for this: she's a friend, she's an awesome writer, I think there's enough overlap between our potential fandoms that I feel confident recommending her stuff to you all.

But there's another reason I've been so urgent about it, even putting her forward above my own fund-gathering activities. I didn't want to draw attention to it, but it's now being talked about all over Twitter and Facebook, and she's made an LJ post that touches on it herself: she needs the money. Her ebooks put money in her hands directly instead of her eventually seeing a portion of the profits as residuals. It's a great deal for writers, and it's something I would love to see more of us embracing.

Cat's now going one step further into the brave new world: she's launching a web serial. The site's not up yet, but she's got the donation button up for people to salt the pan. I expect anybody who's reading this blog and is a fan of Cat Valente already probably already knows all this, so I'm not highlighting its existence in hopes that people will flood over there immediately and kick in. But come Monday, the first installment of her serial will be going up and you'll be able to see for yourselves whether you think her talent's worth supporting... if you've been on the fence about picking up Palimpsest or downloading any of her ebooks, it might help, too.

If her circumstances were different, I could sit back and let the web take its course... but as it is, I've been giving her what advice I can. I don't know what--if anything--my bits of advice actually have to do with the moves she's been making. Of course I'd love to think she's following my example... but I don't care about that nearly as much as I care about her success.

I feel guilty, but I am excited as fuck (and very excited fuck at that) that this is happening with a published author who's been something of a sensation and who attracts the attention of folks like Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis (who have both broadcasts tweets about her plight and her project.) The whole world seems to have the idea that this is some crazy desperate half-baked idea. Neil Himself tweeted (corrected for a suspected case of cat-keyboard): "Can the web feed a writer?"

Folks, we are the privileged few who know the answer to that.

It's been my contention that the web can feed a writer... a writer of appreciable talent but not necessarily blockbuster mainstream appeal... better than the publishing industry as we know it. Richard Herley might have some thoughts on the subject... I need to remember to reach out to him again one of these days and ask him about his experiences. Sorry, I digress.

Anyway, at this point I doubt that Cat's next rent check is going to depend solely on whether or not MU fans rally to buy her ebooks, but my offer still stands. I know a lot of you want more Two in general and more diaries in particular. I've got around 20 receipts so far. That's a fifth of the way to the Hearts of Clay story and a tenth of the way to that plus a diary. Just buy any of the books here and email me proof of the purchase from Paypal. Feel free to mutilate the forwarded email to remove any identifying information you don't want me to see. I don't have some corporate accountant looking over my shoulder to verify this stuff. I know tomorrow's Friday and a lot of people will be getting paid then... if you can spare $5-$10, do yourself and myself and Cat and all our readers a favor and buy yourself a book.

(Email feedback -at- alexandraerin -dot- com. Don't forget the email.)

Now, I've been a little distracted... absolutely riveted, in fact... by the sight of all this unfolding, but I haven't forgotten what you all pay me for. :P I've got a Tribe up, I'm about 700 words into a MoreMU chapter, and there will be a 3 Seas following that. Possibly more. Hopefully more. But exciting things are afoot.

Oh, and as always... what I say about non-monetary contributions applies equally well to her. If you can do nothing else, or aren't inclined to spend money on an unknown, please at least join the chorus on Twitter and/or shout about it on your own LJ.
alexandraerin: (Default)
Hey, all... updates coming starting in a bit. I've actually got a few things that are ready to go but I want to do an all-at-once thing later instead. :P I'm trying... with limited success... to avoid being drawn back into a heated discussion on the last TOMU story that doesn't even directly relate to the story.

Anyway, few things.

First of all: it's my birthday. I'm 29. I don't have words to express how happy I am with where I am at this point in my life, with what I do... knowing that I make a difference in people's lives, whether it's simple entertainment and distraction, or providing inspiration, or widening a viewpoint, or letting somebody know that they're not alone in the world... it's a privilege. It really is.

Second of all: here's a special deal for you all - if I get 100 PayPal receipts for Catherynne M. Valente ebooks emailed to me at feedback(at)alexandraerin(dot)com with the subject "EBOOK" (please use that subject, for easy sorting), I'll give you all a story with Two back in her Hearts of Clay days this weekend. If I get 200 such PayPal receipts, I'll write that and I'll give you all a Two diary the following week, with an open thread for suggestions on when/what to cover.

In case that isn't clear: if one or two hundred MU readers buy ebooks from Cat, I'll write more Two for you. They don't have to be receipts from today. If you got in on the ground floor, forward it to me. Edited to add: Except the newer books which are clearly labeled "Kindle", these are DRM-free PDFs.

I'll make the deadline midnight of Friday night. Cat's got books ranging in prices from $5 to $10. I would be seriously happy as fuck (and fuck is pretty happy, I hear) to see this take off for her and I'd like to give it a shot in the arm. If you've got $5 and you like poetry or you've got $10 and you like inventive fantasy in poetic language, check her out.

I think a lot of you will enjoy her stuff and I think she'll be utterly blown away when she sees how well the self-publication model can work financially for her... and you know, it is my birthday and if you want to get me an inexpensive present, helping to prove me right about this would be a good start.

And third: I've been asked... and I'm sorry I didn't get to this earlier... but I've been asked on a past post by a couple readers to give you all an update on where I stand, financially, with the sponsorships and everything. Let me tell you, I'm actually right about where I was the last time I mentioned this: taking in about $1,000 a month, minus Paypal's fees. I get non-sponsor contributions from a few people, too. It has been a huge help to have some predictability to my cash flow. A huge help.

I do ultimately need to get more sponsors. That's the big thing, if I'm going to have money for computer stuff, for travel, for following up on the leads I got in April for merchandise and promotional material, and just for living in an uncertain world... I need to increase my income. My goal is to get my base target income of $1,500 coming in from sponsorships so that everything else... advertising, merchandise, diplomas, etc. becomes excess on top of that. That means, in essence, ~100 more $5 sponsors, or more larger sponsors. If you're already sponsoring at one level and you want to contribute more, you can either sponsor a second story or create a new sponsorship... the old one is not deleted in either case, you have to cancel it inside your PayPal account.

The diploma sales are offline for now. I want to wait until I start hearing back from people who received theirs, and I want to add some more options but I want to do that in an organized fashion. Probably this weekend they'll go back up. So if you've got twenty bucks and you want a certificate to hang on the wall saying you're qualified in Alchemy or Necromancy, that'll be an option again soon. I'm thinking 4B registration (superhero stuff for Star Harbor Nights) will be the next similar thing I offer.

In terms of building up some money I can use for travel (there's a -chance- I can make it to ThinkGalacticon in Chicago at the end of the month, if that's an inducement for anybody in the Illinois area), one-time contributions through my PayPal would be helpful right now. In the past I've offered "naming rights"... having yourself or a friend honored in the story by putting a name on a building or room. Because I want to build up a reservoir here, I'm going to throw this out as a very open-ended thing: if you're willing to pay $250, I'll work with you to come up with a way to get your name (or your RPG character's name or your clan name) into the story. Any of the ongoing stories. If you want a ship in Void Dogs or 3 Seas, we can talk about that, too. Just comment on this post, send me an LJ message, or email me (again, feedback(at)alexandraerin(dot)com if you're interested.

And if that's just a touch too rich for your blood, I'll knock the price down to $200 for anybody who also buys an ebook from Cat Valente. Seriously. I hate to once again point out her ongoing awesomeness in the middle of my attempt to get your money into my pocket, but seriously... she's awesome. I'd love for you all to discover her awesomeness and for her to discover the power of the web as a tool for authors. Help me help you help her help us.

If there's not a huge response to this right now, I'll bring it all up again next week when the diplomas are back online.

Oh, and as always... the best way to help if you don't have the money at the moment is to spread the word. That goes for Cat's stuff as well as mine. Even if you're not ordering any of her books, if they look interesting to you or if you just want to support independent authors, spread that link around: http://www.catherynnemvalente.com/ebooks/ If she does well enough, maybe she'll knock the prices down, you know?

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