About Jim Hines

http://www.jimchines.com

Posts by Jim Hines:

Attributor’s Flawed Piracy Study

Publishers Weekly posted an article talking about a book piracy study released today by the Attributor.  PW article is here; their link to the original article wasn’t working.  My thanks to Rich at Attributor, who contacted me with a link to their study results, including methodology, here.

From PW:

Publishers could be losing out on as much as $3 billion to online book piracy, a new report released today by Attributor estimates. Attributor, whose FairShare Guardian service monitors the Web for illegally posted content, tracked 913 books in 14 subjects in the final quarter of 2009 and estimated that more than 9 million copies of books were illegally downloaded from the 25 sites it tracked.

Anyone seeing any possible problems here?  Here are two that jumped out at me right off the bat.

  1. The $3 billion figure assumes that everyone who downloaded an illegal copy of the book would have otherwise gone out and purchased a legal copy.
  2. Attributor is a company specializing in anti-piracy solutions.  Hardly an objective or trustworthy source, in this case.

Please don’t take this as approval of illegal file-sharing.  I’ve made some stories available for free over on my web site (left sidebar), so I’m all for sharing some free fiction.  But when you upload a copy of one of my books to a file sharing site, you’re being a dick.  (Downloading a copy?  Lesser dick.)  If you don’t want to pay $7.99, no problem.  Go to a used bookstore.  Go to your local library.

That said, I don’t think piracy is the end of the world.  I just wish we could get more trustworthy data & discussion, and less dogma.

::Takes a deep breath::  So please feel free to talk piracy and file-sharing, but be aware that over-the-top extremism may be heavily mocked, regardless of what side it’s coming from.

Wednesday Updatezzz…

Last night did not go quite as planned, in that I didn’t plan to bring my wife to the emergency room at 11:30, or to stay there waiting for doctors and lab results until 5:30 in the morning.  She’s fine (aside from bruises after five attempts to draw blood) — this was a scare that thankfully started to pass after the third hour of sitting and waiting in the E.R.  But neither one of us are what I’d call fully functional this morning.

So today we do random updates, ’cause it’s what my brain can handle.

Snow Queen is on schedule.  I’m still planning to have the first draft finished by the end of the month.  And I had a happy-dance moment last night where more pieces of the ending fell into place.  I love it when that happens!

Conventions — I’ll be at ConFusion later this month (1/22 – 1/24), doing what looks like seven panels and an autographing session all on Saturday.  (Including a fairy tale panel with Cat Valente and Peter Beagle — eep!)  I’ve also committed to doing Millennicon in March.

Diana Pharaoh Francis is planning to kill me, and it’s AWESOME!  Click over and read the excerpt from her work in progress, Crimson Wind.

And … um … yeah.  That’s what I’ve got.  Sleep now?

Avatar

Given all the buzz about Avatar, I really wanted to see this in the theater. Of course, thanks to that same buzz, I had a pretty good idea what to expect: beautiful effects coupled with a relatively unoriginal story.

There’s been a lot of criticism about this one.  Over at i09, Annalee Newitz  criticizes it as a white man’s guilt movie. Others describe it as a mutant love child of Ferngully, Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and the Smurfs.

Valid points, but they miss one very important question: All those mind-blowing special effects, and your subtitles are in Papyrus font?  Really?

Moving on to more serious (and spoilery) thoughts, in no particular order… More

Killing Characters

Normally, I don’t repeat announcements here if I’ve mentioned them on Twitter or Facebook.  This one deserves an exception.  Seanan McGuire was kind enough to e-mail me last night, and — after the prerequisite taunting — informs me that The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] is #1 on the Locus Bestseller list!  It’s Snoopy-dance time!

#

So lately, I’ve been thinking about killing characters. Not the redshirts who die to remind us how dangerous the story is.  Not the villains who meet their just deserts in the final chapter.  I’m talking the central heroes.

I’ve read and watched many a story that killed off the good guys.  I’ve seen it done well, and I’ve seen it done badly.  Boromir’s death in Lord of the Rings is marvelous.  He dies protecting the hobbits and earning redemption.  Well done, Tolkien.

Contrast this to Harry Potter.  I felt some of the deaths in the series worked, but after a while it felt like a publicity stunt.  “Book six comes out soon. Let’s start the betting pool on who she’s going to kill off this time!”  “Whoops, we’ve ‘accidentally’ leaked rumors that Snufflepuff the Privy Elf is going to off Snape!”

Joss Whedon is another one who’s known for killing off characters.  Sometimes, he does it to great effect.  Other times, it feels like he offs a character not because the story necessarily required it, but to show the audience that he’s willing to do it.  (The second death in Serenity struck me that way.)

So … when do you kill off a beloved character?  How do you do it well? The easy answer is that you do what’s right for the story, but what does that mean?

Among other things, it meant I couldn’t kill Jig off in the goblin series.  (I’m assuming that’s not much of a spoiler.)  The goblin books were light fantasy, on the fun, feel-good side.  I cheated a few times, and I killed off secondary characters, but to kill Jig would have been wrong for the kind of story I was trying to tell.

But what about more serious stories?  I’ve been struggling with this for a few weeks now, and here are some of the considerations I’ve come up with.

  • Is it realistic for all of the heroes to survive this adventure?  (I.e., would not killing someone destroy the suspension of disbelief?)
  • Choices and actions in a story have consequences.  Is death the appropriate consequence for the character’s actions in this story?
  • Am I wimping out if I don’t kill someone?  (Am I letting them all live because I like them too much to do what’s necessary?)
  • Will this death make the story better?

That last one is hard.  Does better mean more emotionally powerful?  More memorable?  More engaging?  More marketable (losing readers who want the fluffier stories, but gaining readers who appreciate the gritty)?

And when is it effective to cheat?  Theoretically speaking, imagine an author who killed off a character at the end of a trilogy, but deliberately planted hints that the character might not truly be dead after all.  A better ending, or a cowardly cheat?

I don’t have answers for this stuff, which is why I wanted to open it up for discussion.  What deaths in books and films have worked for you, and why?  What didn’t work?  When, as an author or a reader, does it feel right?

Obviously, there may be some spoilers in the comments.

Link Roundup

Some links that have come up over the past few days…

Writing and $$$
Lynn Viehl: The Reality of a New York Times Bestseller
Tobias Buckell: First Novel Advances
Kimberly Pauley: A Challenge for My Fellow Authors (more royalty/sales information)

Realms of Fantasy Follow-up
Catherine Valente, Sarah Monette, Kat Howard, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Barbarienne weigh in on the All-Women themed issue.
Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not to Pass the Bechdel Test
I Didn’t Dream of Dragons: Fallacies of “write what you know” in terms of race, culture, and privilege.  This was powerful.  My thanks to Rose Fox for pointing me toward it.
ETA: Also, updates from Doug Cohen (addressing criticism of his word choice in the original announcement) and copperwise (Artist’s Gallery columnist for Realms, who first pitched the idea for an article about the evolution of feminine images in fantasy art, which I love).

Just for Laughs
The Eye of Argon: MST3K Version: Exactly what it sounds like.  Because I laugh every time I read it.

Realms of Fantasy’s All-Women Issue

Realms of Fantasy is doing a “Women in Fantasy” issue.  For this issue, they’ll only be accepting stories by female authors.

I’ve got a number of opinions on this, but for once I’m going to keep those to myself, at least to start with.

A deliberate women-only issue of Realms.  What do you think?

PS, That’s right, I can write short blog posts!
PPS, Do read the Realms post for further details from Douglas Cohen.
ETA: PPPS, Per an e-mail from Douglas, they have no intention of rejecting good stories just because they’re written by men.  “If I like it (and more importantly, if Shawna likes it), there’s no reason we can’t use it for a different issue.”

2009 Writing Income

This is the third year I’ve posted about the income I make as a fantasy author.  (See the Money Posts from Year 1 and Year 2.)  Money tends to be a taboo topic, but given all of the myths and illusions about writing, I think it’s important to get some actual data out there.  Because knowing is half the battle!

The background: I’ve been writing and submitting my work since 1995.  Goblin Quest was my first book with a major publisher, and came out in the end of 2006.  2009 saw the publication of my 4th and 5th novels with DAW.  So while I have five books in print, I’m still an early-career author.

I am not a full-time writer, for reasons which will soon become apparent.  I also write only fiction, unlike a number of authors I know who write both fiction and non-fiction (in part because the latter usually pays better).

Thanks to a last-minute D&A (delivery and acceptance) check from DAW, my writing income for 2009 came to $28,940.

Breaking that total down, I earned:

Novels (U.S. Sales): $7700
Novels (Foreign Sales): $20,200
Short Fiction: $520
Speaking Fees: $500

I’m rounding, so the totals don’t match exactly.  The most important thing I take from these numbers is how much I love my agent, who is responsible for those foreign sales.  Most of that money comes from Germany, where the goblin books continue to earn nice royalties.  Any time I hear a writer saying s/he doesn’t need an agent, I think back to those foreign sales.  My agent almost quadrupled my writing income this year.  He’s more than earned his commission.

Expenses from 2009 were between $1500 and $2000.  The biggest costs were from convention attendance and postage.

I also decided to put together a graph showing my income over the past eight years (as far back as I have spreadsheets for):

Things didn’t really start to build until 2006 when the first book came out.  But what’s most fascinating to me is that bump in 2008.  2008 was the first year my writing income exceeded the income from my day job. This was mostly the result of some very nice deals in Germany, including the release of the goblin books, my short fiction collection, audio books … basically, Germany + Goblins = Love.

This wasn’t something I expected to repeat in 2009 (not that I would have complained, mind you). Fiction income isn’t the most steady or stable in the world.  2008 was great.  2009 wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong.  However, there’s no getting around the fact that I saw a $25K drop in income.

These things happen.  My French publisher dropped me, and Germany hasn’t been as excited about the princess books.  This is why I keep the day job.  (If it was just me, with no family and no medical conditions that require insurance, I might think about going full-time.  But that’s another post.)

I hope this is helpful. Questions, observations, and random comments are all welcome.  And if previous years are any example, we should see a handful of other writers posting similar info and giving a few more data points.

Winners and Sherlock Holmes

So the book giveaway ended up with 66 comments on LJ, 15 on Facebook, and 26 on the WordPress blog.  I used a random number generator to pick three winners.  Congratulations to:

Heidi Santavuori
seldear
sweetlycorrupt

I’ll be getting in touch with the three of you about the details.  Thanks to everyone who entered!  (And for those who want to check out the books but don’t want to wait for my next giveaway, might I suggest putting in a request at the local library?)

Anyway, on to the movie chat.  Amy and I went out on a real, live date yesterday to see Sherlock Holmes.  (Pop quiz — is it a good idea or a bad idea to take your wife to a movie that has Jude Law and a topless Robert Downey Junior?)

My first complaint is that the whole thing is just a ripoff of House.  I mean, really.  Holmes is just House without the limp, and his sidekick Watson is totally Wilson.  Come on, they barely even changed the names!!!

Seriously, I enjoyed it.  Didn’t think it was the most brilliant film of the decade, but it was a fun romp.  I’m not an avid reader of Doyle, so I can’t say how true the film stayed to the book, but it worked for me.  I do wish we had seen a little more of Holmes’ deductions over the course of the movie instead of getting the whole thing explained in one lump at the end, but I understand why they decided to tell the story that way, trying to keep the audience in suspense.

My biggest complaint … involves spoilers. More

Sales Info (with Graphs!)

I’ve written and read a fair amount about authorial promotion, what is and isn’t effective.  Anyone who’s tired of book sales talk can feel free to skip this one, but I figured some of you might appreciate a little raw data to go with the conversation.

This is a graph of the sales for The Stepsister Scheme (purple line) and The Mermaid’s Madness (black line).  Stepsister has been selling for just over a year now, and Mermaid has been out for about three months.

The sales data comes from Bookscan, which isn’t exact, but it’s the best measure I’ve got for week-to-week sales.  All five of my books have followed the same pattern, starting with that nice big spike in the beginning.  After the first three months or so, many of the books are stripped and returned to make room for new releases, and we head into the long plateau.

With all of the signings, conventions, and other events I’ve done, only two factors have ever caused a visible spike in sales.  The first is Christmas.  Having a book on the shelves in December is a good thing!  (Thank you to everyone who bought books for presents!)

The second is the release of the next book in the series.  You can see where sales of Stepsister more than doubled when Mermaid came out.  I saw that same bump with the goblin series as each new book was published.

I didn’t include the goblin data here, because that would have gotten too messy.  But I’ll note that the release of the two princess books did not cause a similar spike in sales of the goblin books.

Does this mean all of those other efforts are ineffective in terms of sales?  Not necessarily.  For one thing, Bookscan isn’t as good at capturing data from independent book dealers and such, which means there’s a good chance all of those dealer sales from conventions aren’t showing up.  And while any individual event or effort doesn’t show up on the graph, they could still be having a cumulative effect over time.  There’s really no way of doing a controlled study to prove it one way or the other.

And that’s it for 2009.  Happy 2010, all!  No resolutions here, but I am setting a goal to finish rewriting the outline (version 3.0) for Snow Queen by the end of the day, and to finish this @!#$^ first draft by the end of January.  Wish me luck!

Jim C. Hines