Sunday, June 30, 2013

Things I've Been Listening to Lately

Yeah, I've been on a Christopher Titus kick. I loved his  sitcom, but his stand-up is sooo much better.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Copyright - Playing in Someone Else's Sandbox

There was an interesting discussion over at The Passive Voice regarding Amazon's new Kindle Worlds Store.

For  those who may not know, Amazon has licenses with several copyright holders where freelance writers can submit stories based on the copyright holders' properties. If those stories are accepted, the freelance writer gets 35% of the net revenue for stories 10,000 words or higher. In return, the freelance writer gives up all other rights to the story for the life of the copyright.

Now, the inital stories have been done by some excellent writers, including one of my mentors, Colleen Thompson. Colleen is an award-winning romantic thriller author. She wrote The Jersey Devil Made Me Do It for the Pretty Little Liars series.

The established writers in the inital program, like Colleen, J.R. Rain and Scott Nicholson, were approached by Amazon for the project. Make no mistake that their contract terms are not the same as Joe Shmoe off the street.

The official Terms and Conditions haven't been posted yet, but here's Amazon's rough breakdown.

One thing you have to remember--if you participate in Kindle Worlds, you are essential playing in someone else's sandbox. What this means is that Alloy Entertainment still owns the copyright to its characters. (No, Sara Shepard, the author of the Pretty Little Liars books does not. Alloy Entertainment hired her on a work-for-hire basis.) Basically, Alloy is having you all try out for them.

Why do I suspect is that Alloy Entertainment approached Amazon about this "opportunity"? They recently fired L.J. Smith of Vampire Diaries fame because the execs want Elena to end up with Stefan and L.J. wanted Elena to have her HEA with Damon. So what better way to find docile, compliant little writers, willing to accept non-negotiable terms than through a KDP clone, who will think this is a great idea?

Despite my snark, is this really a bad idea? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of it depends on what your career goals are. On one hand, writing for one of these series could expose you to a whole new audience. (There's a reason why Amazon would approach a top romantic thriller author to write a YA mystery story.) On the other, that's a lot of writing time to give up, especially if you write a novel for one of these "worlds."

Why do I call this whole thing playing in someone else's sandbox? It reminds me of little kids.

Billy invites Jimmy over to play trucks in Billy's sandbox. Jimmy builds a sandcastle with Billy's sand and truck. Can he take it home? No, the sand and the truck are Billy's. Billy gave Jimmy permission to play with his toys for the duration of the visit.

Translation: The holder of the copyright has control over the intellectual property. He may permit you to use his characters, settings or situations (i.e. his "world"), but he OWNS it. If I wanted to write a short story set in Harry Dresden's Chicago using former police officer Karrin Murphy, then I need Jim Butcher's permission. How each of us is compensated for this short story needs to be negotiated between Jim and me. Well, actually, "our people" will do it.

In the case of Kindle Worlds, there's no wiggle room to negotiate. You take or leave it.

Some folks at The Passive Voice are very upset by Amazon's (aka Alloy Entertainment's) stance. But this isn't the iron chokehold traditional publishers had on writers. We can make a very good living without relying on hand-outs from Alloy.

Clara invites Jennifer over to play dolls in her new doll house. Jennifer brings her own doll with her. Clara does not own Jennifer's doll just because it was in the dollhouse. Jennifer does not own the doll house just because her doll was in it. Clara gave permission to Jennifer to place her doll inside the house for the duration of the playtime.

Translation: If you create a new character for the copyright holder's setting, then you own that character, but not much else. A perfect real-life example is the legal battle between Neil Gaiman and Todd MacFarlane. Todd invited Neil to write a issue or two of Todd's Spawn. Neil invented Angela, Spawn's heavenly counterpart. Afterwards, Todd used Angela whenever he felt like it and didn't pay Neil a dime. In this case, Neil DID NOT give up his rights to Angela when he signed the contract with Todd.

So is this really a bad contract with Kindle World? That's something you have to decide for yourself.

When you consider you're writing for someone else's copyrighted world, not really. Many people are referring to this as monetizing fanfic. After seeing what happened with Fifty Shades of Grey, they are probably correct. (For those not in the know, FoSG started life as a Twilight-fanfic novel called Master of the Universe.) To me, it's really work-for-hire on spec. (And if you don't know what that term means, you REALLY should not be submitting to Kindle Worlds!)

If you feel it's unfair, then walk away. No one's going to give you crap if you do.

But what you have to look at is the entire compensation package, not just the money.Could the fan spill-over to your own work be worth giving up your claims to that little story? If you think you can use it to your advantage, then check out the program.

But most of all, know your copyright! Kris Rusch constantly pushes The Copyright Handbook, and I highly suggest you buy yourself a copy. Know what you can and cannot do with your intellectual property as well as someone else's.

And for the love of Murphy, don't EVER sign a contract you do not thoroughly understand. L.J. Smith learned this lesson the hard way.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Yep, it's true. Yesterday, SCOTUS repealed DOMA and upheld the appellate court on Prop 8 by refusing to issue an opinion on the case, which means it's kicked to the curb.

So this little video is dedicated to all LGBT folks who can now get married (hopefully in ALL 50 states soon), and most especially to my gay truck-driving ex-brother-in-law:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Where the Hell Did My Summer Go?

No, I didn't forget to post on Monday. I didn't have time. DH took a six-day weekend, and we tackled his office. We got a lot of stuff thrown out or packed for the move, but there's still a ton of work that needs to be done. And I have barely touched my office, much less the current wip.

Today, I made the mistake of looking at the calendar. It's already the last week of June, and my page production sucks the big one. Yeah, I'm packing. Yeah, we're moving. Yeah, it's got to be done by August 5th.

That's our target because public school starts two weeks later. That would give us enough time to get settled and GK enrolled.

Yep, the kid's heading back to public school. I have mixed feelings, but overall, I know it's the best move for him. Plus, I'll have more writing time, right?

Unfortunately, my sales are starting to reflect my lack of writer productivity. Hopefully, I can make it up this fall.

As long as my readers forgive the delay.

I'm definitely ready to strangle that stupid little voice in the back of my head.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Videos I've Been Watching Lately

Christopher Titus issues some painful truths about America. He makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Packing Up Inspiration

Over the last few weeks, we've been tossing, donating, and packing as we prepare to put our house on the market. Monday, we started on the loft which has DH's work desk and a majority of my book shelves.

I've donated several hundred books already, but there's more I cannot bear to let go. Some because they were gifts. Some because they are first editions signed by the author. Some are out-of-print with the rights so tangled or the estate of the author so uncaring that I know I'll never see those stories again if I part with the tome in my hand.

Then there are those that touched me, where the characters are more real to me than some people I know. Lessa and F'lar. Sun Wolf and Starhawk. Tarma and Kethry. Morgon and Raederle.

Nostalgia takes me as I flip through the pages of their books. And I start to understand just how deep, how ingrained my idea of story dwells within me.

I cry a little and blame it on the dust triggering my allergies. And I promise myself that when I unpack my friends, I'll spend some long afternoons with them again.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why Indies Taking over the World Is Not a Fad

There's been a lot of panic in the publishing world over the last few days thanks to Bowker's report that self-published authors now hold 12% of the total e-book market and 20% of certain popular genres, such as romance.

"Don't look, Ethel!"

I'm under no illusion that the e-book market is a miniscule percentage of the total publishing market. I also know that Bowker can only report on books that have ISBNs and that most indie writers don't bother with ISBNs on their e-books. (I'm one of those writers that bought ISBNs back in the day when it was the only way to get books into certain e-tailers like Apple. And dammit, since I bought them, I'm going to use them!) So deep down, most industry professionals realize the total indie numbers are much greater than what Bowker is reporting. We simply don't know by how much.

"Boogity! Boogity!"

Bowker's report and the trad industry's subconsciously acknowledged indie growth has prompted a spate of elitist diabtribes on the web, the worst of which I will not link to because of the author's obvious attempt at troll-baiting. The one person who surprised me was trad publishing guru Mike Shatzkin. Granted, his back-handed compliment regarding Anybody Press as the newest member of the Six Horsemen was probably the nicest thing he's ever said about indies. The rest of the article turned into an advertisement of his upcoming seminar on how to fight our growing market threat.

"It was too late. She'd been done incensed."

Except I don't think the trad pubs know what they're really fighting. Indies offer a wider range of selection at a lower price than they do. A lot of writers are now making a living wage as indies compared to the paltry advances and royalties offered by the trad pubs. On top of everything else are the draconian clauses and shitty treatment aimed at writers by what are essentially middle-men(women). The trad pubs really don't understand why experienced writers are leaving in droves.

"She done got a free shot!"

I'm not one of those writers who believes print will go away. Hell, Target is selling LP's again. Granted, as a specialty item, but it was weird seeing the cover of The Dark Side of the Moon again. What I'm saying is down the road, print will be the specialty collector's item that an LP is now. Right now though, publishers haven't hit that stage, and they still need source material. They think they can rest on their ability to distribute to bookstores.

"Get you clothes on!"

But what bookstores are they distributing to? Borders is officially gone. Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million are barely hanging on and have been closing stores as leases end. Costco, Target and Wal-Mart only care if the books are the NYT's top twenty. Indie bookstores are slowly making a comeback, but the owners are much more selective in their inventory, pleasing their customers rather than shoving the latest Grisham down every person's throat.

"He likes to turn the other cheek."

So what happens next? Who knows. But even the trad publishing people are seeing the writing on the walls. Indie publishing is not going away. What each side morphs into over the next couple of years is the real question.

And for your viewing pleasure (and the source of my quotes), here's Ray Stevens:

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Movie Mania - Now You See Me

Yesterday was Father's Day so DH wanted to go to a matinee then hit his favorite restaurant. None of us really wanted to see The Man of Steel (we felt seriously burned after the Brian Singer disaster a few years ago). So DH had his choices narrowed down to Fast and Furious 6 or Now You See Me.

All I can say is DH made the right decision. Now You See Me is the FIRST movie I've seen in the last TWO DECADES where I was surprised by the ending. Excellent, EXCELLENT film!

DH will be the first person to say I've become jaded when it comes to story. I always find myself picking apart any movie or TV episode we watch or book I read. It's the ugly side of being a storyteller. But this is one instance where I can admit the ENTIRE CAST AND CREW GOT ME! And I love them for it!

The basic theme is the delight and the wanting to believe in magic versus the ego's need to control everything. I can't really say anything more without ruining the experience for you. Do not read reviews. Do not talk to your friends. Just go see it this week.

What I can tell you is the the producers' very casting choices affect how you watch the movie and you perceive the story. Take a good hard look at the cast and give me a one word description of your PERCEPTION of each person:

Michael Caine
Jesse Eisenberg
Isla Fisher
Dave Franco
Morgan Freeman
Woody Harrelson
Mark Ruffalo

I give Now You See Me a ten!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Slut Shaming in the Publishing Industry

Slut shaming (def.) - "the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for engaging in certain sexual behaviors that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, dressing in sexually provocative ways, for requiring access to birth control, or even for being raped or sexually assaulted"

There's a new tactic among traditionally published authors aimed at indie writers. It's the equivalent of slut shaming, and it's appearing with disturbing regularity in articles online. The disturbing part is how TP authors are even using sexually loaded language to describe indie behaviors they deem unacceptable.

The purpose within the publishing industry is the same within the social-sexual context--to make indie writers feel inferior for *gasp* daring to take control of their careers.

In all fairness, both of these articles appeared in The Guardian, a UK online newspaper known for its, um, provocative stance on subjects. Normally, I would take The Guardian with the proverbial pound of salt. However, in each woman's case, this is a direct quote, not an editorial insertion into the article.

In the first article, Chrissie Manby refers to herself "as a self-publishing virgin." In the second, NYT Bestselling author Audrey Niffenegger was quoted as saying "what I was doing was preserving my ebook virginity" in reference to releasing The Time Traveler's Wife through her agent's publishing company.

What bothers me is the "virginity" concept both women seem to embrace in regards to e-books.  It's both laughable and highly disturbing. Apparently to these authors, a female writer's worth is only measured in the value her e-book brings to male editors and publishers.

That concept totally destroys the self-sufficiency which is at the heart of indie publishing. That I and every other indie writer can manage our freelancers and produce a worthwhile product is something that should be shamed appalls me.

Frankly, it goes back to one of the reasons I left a national writing organization recently. I WILL NOT be patted on the head and told not worry about that silly, messy business that I CANNOT POSSIBLY understand. For the love of Murphy, I ran my own law firm. I think I can handle hiring editors, formatters and cover artists as necessary to keep my publishing business going.

And guess what, Chrissie and Audrey? Angry Sheep Publishing was in the black within eighteen months of its existence.

You ladies have every right to choose the path you wish for your career.

But you're not going to shame me into giving up my power just because you did.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

No One Evers Asks Me If I've Tasted Human Flesh

Make believe is stories of the imagination, right? If I write about vampires and werewolves, everyone assumes I'm making it up.

But if I write about sex, then I'm obviously talking from experience.

I get so damn tired of the double standard. It's not just guys making sleazy comments. Other women do it, too. Then they pretend they couldn't possibly know about X.

I'm sorry, but if you grew up on a farm, you've seen animals mate. And it turned you on, but you're ashamed to admit it. (You know who you are. Get over yourself.)

The lies men foster about women are bad enough. But when we women treasure those stupid myths, we're not only hurting ourselves. I've heard so many men complain that they don't know what women want. And frankly, they have a point.

It's because women don't know what they want. Or if they do, they lie about it. Because a good girl couldn't possibly want a man to do that to her.

It's taken DH and I nearly twenty years together to get to the point where I tell him, very directly, what I want, and he doesn't assume I mean the exact opposite. Lately, that consists of me asking him to make dinner so I can get another hour of writing in.

So what prompted today's rant? First of all, Feminist Mormon Housewives had a thoughtful piece on sexuality and socialization.

Then Alter Ego had another issue with a man on social media. Apparently, some people with Y chromosomes believe Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, etc. are the equivalent of AE has had an issue with someone of the male persuasion roughly every two months since she became active on social media.

Don't get me wrong. Most of the men that AE interacts with have been perfect gentlemen, so I'm not trying to paint everyone with the same brush. And several fellow erotica writers have had even more problems with women getting on their high horse, wanting to shut down anyone who so much as whispers the word, SEX.

Even my zombie romantic comedies have some sex in them. But what bothers me is that people will ask if I've had sex in a shower. (Not that it's any of their business.)

Not one person has ever asked me if I've tasted human flesh.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sometimes I Weep for the Future...

Unles you've been living under a rock for the last few days, you've probably heard about the racist bullshit involving a Cheerios commercial showing a white woman in a family relationship with a black man. Frankly, the whole stupidity makes me want to cry. Which is why I LOVE this meme:

But other writers give me hope. Go read N.K. Jemisin's Guest of Honor speech she gave at the Continuum SF convention in Australia.

I think what bothers me most is that Nora shouldn't have to send out a call to action for equality. Too many people have fought too long and too hard for rights that we are letting slip through our fingers.

On top of the Cheerios commercial, there's the sexism blow-up in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America organization. Angie Benedetti has a rundown here and here with lots of links to other writers.

Why are we letting other people foster this hate (yes, I'm specifically talking about the GOP, the Tea Party and Fox News)? Even worse, why are so many of us taking this into our hearts?  Can we not accept that things change?

Well, guess what? Change is a part of life. When my great-grandparents were born, the Civil War had been over less than twenty-five years before. Automobiles were fancy toys rich people used to scare horses. And the idea that human could fly? Laughable.

Five out of eight of my great-grandparents lived to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I let my son stay up to watch the returns for the 2008 presidential election.

Because things change.

Yet, my mother still refers to African-Americans by the n-word, despite having a master's degree in multi-cultural education. My sister-in-law claims immigrants are pushing her out of a job, even though she lost one position because she was caught stealing. I've been told by several well-meaning "friends" that I shouldn't make more than DH because it affects his self-esteem.

Hell, if the last one were true, I wouldn't be married to the guy in the first place.

So what does this have to do with a Cheerios ad?

They put out a damn cute commercial, and I'll buy more of their cereal to support a company that uses the same types of families I see everyday.

Including in my own house.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Songs I've Been Listening to Lately

I posted the soundtrack to this some time ago, but I never posted the actual video (because it hadn't been made at that point). Hope you enjoy it! Weird Al always cheers me up!

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Real Life of an Indie Writer

Yesterday, when I talked about my income, it brought a few of interesting comments, both on- and offsite. But here's the thing--I did NOT include my traditional publishing income.


Because my advance skews my income average for the year. So far, every Sword and Sorceress anthology released has earned out, but I won't see any additional monies coming in for two years at the earliest.

I also did not include my Apple, etc., numbers for the second quarter because I don't have all of them yet. So basically, you're looking at Amazon and Barnes & Noble only.

Some people found the figure of $392/month for 2013 depressing. I don't. Considering my average earnings per month in 2011, my first year indie publishing was $14/month, I've come a long way.

If you are looking for instant gratification for your efforts, frankly, indie publishing is NOT the way to go. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Mind you, the work isn't hard. At least, it's not to me. But like building any other business, you take out what you put in.

Also, if you're looking for a regular paycheck, indie publishing is NOT the way to go. On my best month so far, I made $1200. At the worst, my first three months of indie publishing my income was $0. I didn't get an EFT from Amazon because I didn't meet their $10 threshhold for issuing payment.

Later, when I did get payments, money had to go into savings and stay there, only to be doled out for bills and necessary business expenses. Needless to say, I haven't gone on a hog-wild spending spree and bought a Mazaratti or some other stupid shit like that.

No, real life has its own demands. Thankfully, that best month payment came two weeks before GK needed surgery on an impacted wisdom tooth and to realigned a skewed molar.

If you want to be a successful indie-published writer, you need to be in this for the long haul. There will be ups and downs in the seasonal selling cycle as well as ups and downs over the next several years. As Bob Mayer said, "The gold rush is over."

Hopefully, you're not one of those people looking at indie publishing as the proverbial gold rush. If you have, you may want to rethink things.

There's not guarantees in this business. I hate to tell you this, but there's no guarantees in life either.

The only question you have to answer? Is writing what you want to do with your time?

If so, then you need to put your heart behind it. Readers can tell when you're only going through the motions. You WON'T sell any stories if you're putting up half-assed shit.

There's no guarantee you will sell if you put up the greates novel ever written either. That's the chance you take.

If you can't deal with taking chances though, I strongly suggest finding another line of work.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Real Income of the Indie Writer

There's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately about the real income of indie writers. I'm probably as average or median as they come. The following is my experience. Mine alone.

I currently have eight stories for sale under my name in the urban fantasy genre: four novels under one series and four novellas under a second series. I have one perma-free novella under the first series.

Alter ego currently has eight novellas and one short story for sale in the contemporary erotica genre. Four novellas are under the first series, two novellas are under a second series, and one novella is the start of the third series. The rest are individual stories.

In both cases, I'm only selling e-books, though I hope to expand into print by the end of the year.

For 2013, I'm averaging $392 per month before taxes.

For comparison, I averaged $649 per month at my former part-time, retail job before taxes.

Yet, I'm a little further ahead by writing full-time. Why?

Because there are a lot of expenses that people don't take into account when they work outside of the home. In my case, there's gas money. There's the business casual wardrobe. There's the sheer time of the commute. There's the stress of dealing with the public, which makes getting my head back into writer mode all the more difficult.

On the positive side of being an employee are things like health insurance. Even when you make a decent income as an author, simply buying a policy can be impossible. Writer David Farland tried to get health insurance, but he is a Type II diabetic. Any company willing to insure him and his family charged more than he could afford.

A few months ago, David's son Ben was severely injured in a snow boarding accident. Ben's medical bills already exceed a million dollars and will climb higher. David and his wife are facing the possibility of bankruptcy and losing their home, much less keeping their other kids in college.

There's also the fact that your taxes are doubled as a self-employed person. It amazes me how many people don't realize half of their taxes are paid by their employer. Once again, it's those little things we don't think about that trip us up.

These were among the many things that my husband and I considered before I left my job. Overall, it's been a success for us. However, the long-term goal for me is to get to the point where I'm selling enough books to match DH's salary, bonuses and benefits.

Just in case.

Your mileage may vary.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The DOJ-Apple Trial Starts Today

Granted I haven't practiced law for six years and I've let my license lapse, but it doesn't take an Apple genius to figure out which way the shit's going to fly in the trial that started this morning.

- Apple has been accused of breaking Section 1 of the Sherman Anti-trust in regards to conspiring with five publishing companies to fix the price of e-books.

- Apple's five co-defendents have all settled with the DOJ. While the DOJ is staying mum about certain details, in most cases where a defendent settles with the government, they "roll over" on their co-defendents, i.e. they cooperate with the government and provide information to assist in the prosecution of any remaining defendents.

- Apple's only defense in a charge of conspiracy is to provide evidence that they did not conspire. Their big problem is Steve Jobs boasted about the "deal" in interviews before his death. In my reading of their pleadings, they admitted to the conspiracy but have tried to claim they are justified based on Amazon's actions. First of all, Amazon has not been accused of any illegal action. Second of all, Apple is providng an excuse, not a valid legal defense (which there isn't in price fixing).

- Apple claims the DOJ is being controlled by Amazon. (Excuse me a moment while I laugh hysterically.) Is Amazon the largest online retailer in the U.S.?  Possibly. Are they THE largest retailer in the U.S.? No. Are they the largest bookseller in the U.S.? Depends on if you're talking volume of units sold (no) or number of titles offered (yes)? Is Amazon anywhere near big enough to control the U.S. government? No.

- Apple's supporters claim Judge Denise Cote is biased against Apple. No, she isn't. In fact, she's given Apple and their attorneys a lot of leeway. She's told Apple's attorneys what evidence they need to present to win this case. Judge Cote has practically drawn them a GODDAMN FUCKING MAP on what to do. Have they listened to her? No.

So what it comes down to is that Apple is screwed and their attorneys are getting rich over Apple's executives refusal to stop acting like dicks.

For the record, Angry Sheep Publishing sells e-books through both Amazon and Apple. In February, sales through Apple beat sales through Amazon and have continued to do so through March and April. Needless to say, I have an investment in Apple not doing stupid shit. But for Apple to deliberately commit business suicide? Every executive and board member at Apple needs a fucking CAT scan because brain tumors are the only explanation I can come up with for handing your business to your competitor on a silver platter.

[Editor's Note: Thoughts on the decision is this case can be found here.]

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock

Where Spock 2.0 learns to play the classic decision-making game...

And if you're not sure of the original reference...