Monday Pics

Saturday was my wife’s birthday, so much of the weekend was spent doing things like making breakfast for her and the family, going out to birthday dinner with my parents, then going out to lunch the next day and watching a movie with just the two of us.  As a result, I spent zero time on things writing-related.  Nothing on Snow Queen, nothing on the new series proposal, and nothing for the blog.

Instead, have a picture of Flit with multicolored eyes beneath the Snoopy-infested Christmas tree.  (Is anyone really surprised by the Snoopy addiction?)

And as long as I’m posting pics, here’s the artwork Socchan did from my story “The Creature in Your Neighborhood.”  She drew this during my reading at Icon, and I’m most impressed.  That’s Rolly (after his breakdown), the Mall Rats, Peter the Pretendisaurus, and poor Tommy the Tuba.

The Conspiracy Against New Writers

• I’ve got a book signing 12/17 at 7:00 at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.  Just in case any of you A2 folks need Christmas gift ideas 🙂  The last time I did an Ann Arbor signing, we got one of the nastiest blizzards I can remember.  I’m hoping this doesn’t become a pattern.

Dragovianknight made this wonderful Christmas LJ icon from the cover of Mermaid.  I love it!

• For those of you who read electronically, Fictionwise is running a pretty nice sale.  Looks like 40% off of short fiction, and 50% rebates on e-books.  (Including my own stuff.)

#

Came across a post responding to the pay rate discussion and protesting how the snobby pros are pulling up the ladder, trying to keep new writers out.  I know a fair number of successful authors these days, and the idea that pro writers are scared of the newbies and spending all this time and energy working to exclude them … is kind of dumb.

Of all the things I worry about, of all the things that can hurt my career, new  writers don’t even make the footnotes.  Many pro authors go out of their way to try to help new writers, and to repay the help we received.  Most either celebrate the success of the new folks, or else simply don’t have the time or the interest to notice them.  But nobody’s trying to keep the newbies down (no matter how much Publish America and their ilk try to convince you otherwise while they take your money).

How can I put this delicately?  The biggest reason it’s so hard for new writers to break in is because most of us suck when we’re new.  Myself included.  I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of utter crap while learning how to do this.  Sure, I was discouraged by all the rejection.  I felt shut out.  I had my days where I felt like a martyr and a victim.

But believe me, it had nothing to do with pros being scared of me as a newbie, or conspiring to keep the good markets all to themselves.  It had nothing to do with editors only buying work from Big Names.  It had to do with the fact that my work wasn’t good enough yet.[1. Ann Leckie wrote a very good post deconstructing the “write better” advice, including some of the assumptions and flaws with that advice.  Worth reading.  http://ann-leckie.livejournal.com/141905.html]

If you disagree with what folks are saying, that’s one thing.  Sometimes the pros are wrong.  Do your research and make your own decisions.  But if you’re going to argue, please try to come up with something better than The Grand Conspiracy Against New Writers?

Stop — Drama Time

I’m reminded once again that conflict and drama make popular blog topics.  Therefore, I feel it’s time for me to announce my newest project, an unauthorized anthology of Twilight fiction titled Fuschia Eclipse.[1. Russet Moon Summary – http://blog.fanhistory.com/?p=532]

The project will be published by Penguin Droppings, a revolutionary new self-publishing branch of Penguin.[2. See Jackie Kessler’s posts on the Harlequin self-publishing fiasco – http://www.jackiekessler.com/blog/]  Publishing is changing, and it’s time to do away with the gatekeepers of traditional publishing and make way for the new millennium!

I had originally hoped to be able to pay contributors a token rate of 1/20th of a cent per word[3. Short fiction pay rate conversation – http://jimhines.livejournal.com/479488.html], but after reviewing the Penguin Droppings contract, it turns out contributors will end up owing me $500 per story.  However, they will all receive one contributor copy and Valuable Exposure!

I’ll only be inviting white male authors for this volume.[4. Mammoth Anthology of Mindblowing SF – http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/08/toc-the-mammoth-book-of-mindblowing-sf-edited-by-mike-ashley/] [5. Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Books of 2009 – http://jimhines.livejournal.com/475502.html]  But I want to assure everyone I’m neither sexist nor racist.  I don’t see race or gender; all I care about is the story!  It’s not my fault the only truly great literature comes from white penises!

I’m already working on the cover art.  I’m thinking something tabloid-style, maybe Jacob Black fighting some vampire raccoons and zombie bunnies?[6. Zombie Rabbit Cover of Doom – http://jimhines.livejournal.com/469403.html]  All I know is that, for marketing purposes, Jacob will be portrayed by a pale blond kid.[7. White-washed cover of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar – http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/]

Short Fiction Pay Rates

A week or so back, John Scalzi tore into Black Matrix Publishing for their short fiction pay rate of 1/5 of a cent per word.  Black Matrix responded, explaining that this is a “labor of love.” They never implied that they were a pro market, and isn’t a token payment better than none at all? (I believe Publish America uses the same rationalization with their $1 advance.) Scalzi promptly shredded their arguments.

Cat Valente weighed in as a “mid-career author” who writes a lot of short fiction.  Sarah Monette offered a third perspective, including examples of her own fiction which sold for fairly low rates, and a discussion of when and why she chooses to submit her work to semi-pro markets.

Looking at my own bibliography, there are two stories I received no payment for, and at least a half-dozen more that fall into the semi-pro category, whether that’s a $5 flat rate or a penny a word.  A careful reading will also show that this stopped around the end of 2003, after I “sold” a flash piece to a royalties-only e-book that, as far as I can tell, never sold a single copy.

Around 2004, I began submitting only to markets that paid SFWA pro rates (Then three cents a word. ETA: Current SFWA pro rate is 5 cents/word). Not because I was insulted by lesser pay rates.  Not because I felt exploited by the smaller markets.  But because my goal as a writer was to be read.

Publishing in those smaller venues was good for my ego.  Of course it feels better to be accepted than rejected.  But aside from that ego boost, those sales did little else for my stories or my career.  Sure, I could go out and buy a slice of pizza with my earnings.  But almost nobody read my work.

The contributors got their copy, so it’s possible some of my fellow authors glanced at my story.  Maybe.  (Authors, how many of you read every story in every contributor copy of an anthology or magazine?)  Aside from that?  Well, one friend in college did pick up a copy of World Wide Writer, so that’s something, right?  What’s World Wide Writer, you ask?  Oh, right.  They were a tiny startup ‘zine that died after two issues.

I don’t use pay rate as an absolute rule.  Sure I’d rather make $250 than $25.  But I sold a story to Andromeda Spaceways recently, and they pay significantly less than 5 cents/word.  On the other hand, they’ve been around a long time, put out a nice magazine, and have a good reputation and readership for a semi-pro.  There are a handful of others, publications that pay less than pro rates, but have earned a lot of critical acclaim or developed a broader readership.

In general though, minuscule pay rate correlates to minuscule readership.  I suspect there are more markets listed on the for-the-luv page at Ralan than there are readers for those markets.

When I started aiming for pro markets in 2004, several things happened.  I got rejected more.  I was forced to improve as a writer.  And eventually, as I broke into those markets, more people began reading my work.

Is Black Matrix exploiting writers? Token payment is better than nothing. (Chtulhu spare us from markets promising “exposure” as compensation.)  But there’s “token” and there’s “spare change I found in my sofa.”[1. Deleted for unnecessary snark.] I don’t believe Black Matrix is trying to scam anyone.  But I won’t submit to them, and I wouldn’t recommend them as a market for new writers who want to build a career and be read.

Zombie Rhymes: Three Dead Mice

Three Dead Mice
by Jim C. Hines

Three dead mice.
Three dead mice.
Hear how they moan.
Hear how they moan.
They all chased after a bloke named Pat.
He caved in their skulls with a cricket bat.
If only he’d noticed that undead rat
behind the mice
who nipped him twice.


If any of my artistically inclined readers are interested in doing sketches to go with these, please let me know.  No pay or anything like that — it’s all for the sheer, morbid fun.

Why I Haven’t Written a 4th Goblin Book

At least once a month, I receive an e-mail or a comment asking if I’m going to do a fourth goblin book.  The answer has always been, “Probably not.”  I can think of only two situations wherein I might consider writing another goblin book:

  1. DAW offers to pay me a million dollars[1. Or any publisher, for that matter. I’m not picky.].
  2. I come up with an idea for a goblin story that is both new and exciting to me as a writer.

The thing is, in my brain, Jig’s story is finished.  I’ve shown him and his fellow goblins growing and changing over the three books.  I leave them in a very different place in book three, and I like that.  I like that we got to see Tymalous Shadowstar’s story as well.  I like that we got closure for some of the other characters and situations from book one.  It feels done.

Sometimes I wonder if I made the right call, if maybe I should have kept going with the series.  Jig has some wonderful fans, and he really was a fun character to write.  (Not to mention the goblins were making great money over in Germany!)  And then last night I caught the rebirth of Scrubs.

This is a show that “ended” after season eight.  I thought they had a wonderful series finale, and I was very impressed at how they handled everything.  It worked.

And then they decided to keep going.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know if it was a purely commercial decision, or if someone honestly thought they had more stories to tell.  All I know is that it was painful.  Many of the characters had crossed the line into caricature.  The stories felt repetitive–things we had already seen in earlier seasons.  The whole thing felt hollow.

I hope they’ll improve as the season progresses, and I’ll keep watching to see where they go with it.  But those two new episodes affirmed for me why I don’t just sit down and write a fourth Jig book.  If I wrote it because the fans wanted it, or for money, or for any reason aside from my own love and excitement over a new story, the odds are that I’d lose the heart of those stories.  I’d end up with the same kind of empty, repetitive caricature I watched last night.

I was disappointed when Scrubs ended, but I enjoyed the series, and I loved and respected the way they wrapped things up.  As a fan, I find myself wishing they had left it there.  And as a writer, I don’t want to do that to my own fans.

Tuesday Crud

• For a day or two there, I thought I might be lucky enough to dodge the cough/crud that had hit the rest of the family.  I was wrong.  Stupid crud.

• As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, check out Kate Harding’s slideshow of various BMI ranges.  (I particularly like Moxie’s pic.)  Thanks to @skyladawn for the link.

• Huge congrats to Michael Jasper and Niki Smith.  Their comic In Maps & Legends won Zuda’s competition for November, meaning my buddy Mike now has himself a publishing contract with DC Comics.  Sweet!

• If you’ll be buying any of my books for folks for Christmas, let me know and I’ll mail you one of the two autographed bookplates below to go with them.  (U.S. only, I’m afraid. While supplies last, and all that.)

Lincoln U’s Big Fat Fail

In 2006, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania instituted a policy that students with a BMI of 30 or higher must take a “Fitness for Life” class. The students affected by this rule are now seniors, some of whom may not be able to graduate, either because they haven’t gotten their BMI tested by the university or because they have a BMI of 30 or higher and haven’t taken the class.

James DeBoy, chair of Lincoln’s health, PE, and recreation department, explains:

“This country’s in the midst of an obesity epidemic … We need to address this problem directly with our students.  No student should ever be able to leave Lincoln and not know the risks of obesity.”

For reference, I’m 5’7″, around 160 pounds (which means I’m “overweight”, according to the BMI).  If I hit 200 pounds, that puts my BMI at 30.5.  I am now “obese,” and would be required to take the extra class in order to graduate.  (Presumably, I’m also required to pay the university for the privilege.)

My God, what would these people do without the rest of us to remind them how fat and unhealthy and generally repulsive they are?  It’s not like heavy people get smacked with this message every day.

The underlying assumption is that obesity is caused by a failure of willpower.  People are fat because they’re lazy, gluttonous, or both.  If they really wanted to, they’d lose the weight.  Ergo, they’re fat because they choose to be.

In some cases, there’s truth here.  When I switched from a job fixing computers throughout a six-story building to one where I sit at a desk all day, I gained weight.  I could have added exercise to my life to make up for the walking I wasn’t doing anymore, but for a long time, I didn’t.

However–and this may come as a shock–people are different.  Not everyone’s body works the same.  I know people who eat healthy and play high-intensity racketball for 2-3 hours a night, 3-5 nights a week, but are heavier than me.  My wife knows enough about dieting and healthy lifestyle to teach that Lincoln class, yet despite living a much healthier life than me, she struggles with her weight more than I ever have.  But she’s the one who would be punished by Lincoln’s arbitrary policy.

Do the folks at Lincoln really think fat people haven’t picked up on the fact that society thinks they’re horribly unhealthy and undesirable?  That’s not a problem.  To pick one study, “[o]ver half of the females studied between ages eighteen and twenty-five would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat.”[1. Gaesser, Glenn A., Big Fat Lies.  (2001).] (Emphasis added).

I’m sure Lincoln’s intentions were good.  They’re trying to help people be healthy.  Healthy = thin!  Everyone must be thin!  (By the way, an APA study found the death rate for eating disorders to be between 5 and 20 percent.[2. “Practice Guidelines for Eating Disorders,” American Journal of Psychiatry 150(2) (1993).] But at least they died thin!)

If you want to add a class on lifestyle and healthy eating, that’s one thing.  Having seen what people pay for diets and weight loss programs,  the class should fill up fast.  But to force everyone with a BMI of 30 to take your class, or else they can’t graduate?  Sorry, Lincoln.  Your bigotry and ignorance are showing.  Just ask the the Mayo Clinic:

“[O]verweight patients had better survival rates and fewer heart problems than those with a normal BMI. This apparently perverse result, drawn from data from 40 studies covering 250,000 people with heart disease, did not suggest that obesity was not a health threat but rather that the 100-year-old BMI test was too blunt an instrument to be trusted.” [3. “Body Mass Index (BMI) Badly Flawed.” http://www.preventdisease.com/news/articles/081806_bmi.shtml (2006).] (Emphasis added).

Can obesity be a health risk?  Sometimes, sure.  But if you think that gives us the right to judge, condemn, and punish everyone who doesn’t conform to our screwed-up ideal of human beauty?  Well, I’m planning a mandatory logic class for everyone with an HUA (Head Up Ass) score greater than 30, and you just qualified.

Jim C. Hines