July 2017 Archives

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I learned this from Robin Hobb, though I'm pretty sure she didn't realize that she was teaching it to me at the time: there is no extra credit in science fiction. 

By which I mean, one of the things that I do, that other writers do, that people in various other fields probably do too (though I don't have direct experience of that) is that we make extra work for ourselves because of... I don't know, acculturation probably that if we JUST WORK HARDER and are teacher's pets and volunteer for extra labor that somehow we'll get better outcomes. This is superstition, really--because publishing is an enormously unpredictable and random business where quality is not always rewarded, and a lot of things can go wrong. And like anybody who makes their living off a capricious and dangerous environment (actors, fishermen) writers are prone to superstitions as a means of expressing agency in situations where we're honestly pretty helpless. (Nobody controls the hive-mind of the readership. Oh, if only we did.)

Now, by extra credit, please note that I don't mean the things that I consider part of baseline professionalism in a writer: turning in a manuscript that is as clean and artistically accomplished as possible, as expediently as possible, and working with your editor to polish and promote the resulting book. What I mean is raising those bars to unsupportable levels, such as: "I will turn in a completely clean manuscript so that the copyeditor has nothing to do!" and "I have a series of simple edits here, which I will resolve be rewriting the entire book, because then my editor will be more impressed with me."

Spoiler: The copyeditor will have stuff to do, because part of her job is making sure that if you break house style you're doing it on purpose. Also, your editor will probably be a little nonplussed, and possibly sneak a pull out of the bottle of Scotch in her bottom drawer, because you've just made a lot more work for her.

Other manifestations include: "I must write forty guest blog posts today!" and "I must write at least twenty pages every single day to validate my carbon footprint!"

(That latter one is the one I tend to fall prey to, for the record.)

I see it a lot among women writers especially, probably because we feel like we constantly have to validate our right to be in a space that is only intermittently welcoming, but it's certainly not a gender-specific problem. 

And the thing is... it just isn't so. You don't have to do a pile of extra credit work. It doesn't help, and might in fact be detrimental--to your health, your sanity, and eventually your career. It's possible to out-produce your readership's appetite; it's possible to out-produce the publishing slots available to you; it's possible to fuss yourself so much over tiny details that don't actually matter that you add years to your production schedule and die broke in a gutter, or talk yourself out of finishing the book entirely.

They're never perfect. They're just as good as you can get them, in the limited time available, and then they're done and you learned something and the next one can be better, you hope.

And nobody's going to bump your 4.0 up to a 4.2 because you did a bunch of homework you didn't actually need to do to get the finished product as good as possible, and also out the door.

I am taking an (unasked-for) vacation from blogging to attend the bed of a close, elderly, family member who is dying. This is not unexpected, but death doesn't generally happen on a schedule and I've no way of knowing whether it is hours or days away at this point: so life for the rest of us is, perforce, on hold—and so are my blog updates.

(There may be some appearances, probably unheralded, by guest bloggers over the weeks ahead. Watch this space.)

The Delirium Brief

Today (Tuesday) is the official publication date for The Delirium Brief in North America. As of this book, the Laundry Files are moving to Tor from Ace, who published the series from books 3-7. Because it has a different publisher in the UK (Orbit), The Delirium Brief won't officially be out until Thursday—but I gather it's already on sale in many branches of Waterstones.

First week sales figures are really important to authors these days, much like first weekend audience figures for a movie. It'll eventually get a price drop (and a low cost paperback edition), but if you want to read it, you'd be doing me a favour if you bought it now rather than later. Also? Reader reviews on Amazon really help—the more, the better. Authors these days are expected to do a bunch of their own marketing, and if the number of reader reviews on Amazon passes a critical threshold (fifty is the number I've heard) then they're more amenable to promotional book-of-the-month deals and future discounts.

If you want to order a signed copy, read this. Oh, and there are still tickets to the launch reading/signing at Blackwell's Bookshop in Edinburgh on the evening of Wednesday 12th.

Frequently asked questions (below the fold):

So, the XPrize folks and ANA just announced a competition for submissions to an anthology of short stories, about the experience of passengers aboard a flight that mysteriously finds itself time-warped 20 years into the future. From the blurb:

Your flight has been mysteriously transported 20 years into the future. How could this happen? Wait, that's not important. Take a deep breath. Look around. Without a doubt, the world has changed. What new technologies and innovations have reshaped the way we live?

XPRIZE, ANA and the world's top science fiction storytellers are embarking on a journey to 2037, envisioning a world transformed by exponential technologies and a global community of innovators. We'd like for you to join us.

Seat 14C is, at its core, an earnest endeavor into our possible future. We invite storytellers from around the world to submit their visions of 2037, as told from a passenger aboard ANA Flight #008.

Your short story is a first-person account of the passenger seated in 14C aboard ANA Flight #008. What does this person experience as they arrive in 2037 and explore a changed world? How has emerging (or not-yet-invented) technology altered society for the better, and how does your character discover and interact with this technology?

We are hopeful for our future, and we ask that your story creatively weaves technology and culture, envisioning an optimistic and exciting future for mankind.

Disclaimer: when I was invited to contribute to the anthology I had to say "no" because I was up to my eyeballs in work-related rabid ferrets (read: deadlines). I'm still waaaay too busy to emit a short story, largely because I have recently discovered to my horror that my ability to write works of fiction less than 20,000 words long has atrophied due to lack of use.

However, if I was going to write an entry to this competition, it might read something like this.

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