Today POD; tomorrow the world has decided to squeeze print-on-demand publishers, who in turn will squeeze authors. (Not that some don't already.)

I'm not part of the POD world, but it's easy to see where this goes next. This is the take from Writers Weekly (which has personal connections as a POD publisher): Telling POD Publishers
- Let BookSurge Print Your Books, or Else...

Some Print on Demand (POD) publishers are privately screaming "Monopoly!" while others are seething with rage over startling phone conversations they're having with Amazon/BookSurge representatives. Why isn't anybody talking about it openly? Because they're afraid - very, very afraid. purchased BookSurge, a small POD publisher/printer back in 2005. Amazon also lists and sells titles for the largest POD printer, Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram (the large book distributor). According to their website, Lightning Source serves more than 4,300 publisher clients and has more than 400,000 titles in their system.

The whole story:
More planes

And now, the next-next-next generation of fighter jet after the Mustang.

While the falling 180/360 turns steal the show, the loops are incredibly tight. Visually, they rival WWI era biplanes.

The url:
Mustang heaven

The whole story:
Traffic problems

So Dogboy is on his way to play poker or drink beer - as if there's a difference - up in God's country. He goes down this country highway and finds an intersection blocked by a car. He pulls up, thinking he's going to finally use some of his medic training. Turns out the guy is stopped in the middle of both roads, talking on his cell phone.

"Nothing wrong with the car?"
"No shit. Guy's OK, car's fine. He's just talking. Sitting there like he's in his driveway. Blocking the road," said Dogboy.
"So what'd you do?"
"I went to the pickup, reached in the back and got my baseball bat. Then I opened his back windows for him."
"He's lucky I wasn't in a bad mood. I woulda taken out the windshield, too."
Reason 3 to write fiction

Jill Lepore recently wrote an excellent article in the New Yorker about some of the differences between fiction and nonfiction, highlighting the historical connections. Change the word "history" in her article to "nonfiction," and it's right along the lines of what I've been talking about.

The url:

But the final word on why anyone writes fiction - or nonfiction for that matter - belongs to Samuel Johnson:

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

Reason 2 to write fiction: Entertainment

A second reason, among the many, to write fiction has to do with entertainment.

I’m old school maybe, but my concept of fiction is that its primary purpose is to entertain. That entertainment can happen on many different levels and in many different ways – Proust and Zane Gray both have entertainment value, though usually not for the same person.

Entertainment should not be the primary purpose of nonfiction. That may be even quaint notion these days, and it may certainly seem odd coming from someone who writes narrative nonfiction (which Rangers at Dieppe was), since by definition narrative nonfiction employs the strategies of fiction. But it goes back to my belief that nonfiction has to hew to the truth of the specific reality it deals with. If entertainment becomes more important than that reality, then it ceases to be nonfiction.

Leopards Kill was a pretty dark book through a lot of stretches, but I hope the story was entertaining to read throughout. If it had been nonfiction, I think readers would have come away with a very different experience, probably not one as hopeful, and I know not as clear cut.

(To be continued . . .)

Reason 1 to write fiction: The truth

A few weeks ago on his late-night talk show, Joey Reynolds and I had a friendly discussion about why I write fiction. It went something like this:

Joey: Why write fiction? Fiction sucks.
Me: Except for mine.
Joey: Well yeah. But other fiction sucks.

Having written nonfiction, it would be kind of crazy to attack it. (And since I was on his show promoting Rangers at Dieppe, a nonfiction book, it would have been really stupid, even at like three in the morning.) A good nonfiction story or book is a good story or a book.

But you can do things in fiction that are either impossible or very hard in nonfiction. Nonfiction requires a strict adherence to the truth of specific, surface things. The story is limited by what is in front of you.

Fiction lets you tell the truth in a much deeper way. If it’s a well-written book, it’s the only way to tell that story.

To use one of my books as an example, Leopards Kill talked about what was going on in Afghanistan several years before it was possible, let alone fashionable, to do so. (I wrote it two years before it was published; it’s only in the last few months that what is going on there has started to come out.) That book is about a lot of other things besides Afghanistan, but if I’d done a nonfiction book on that topic – as I’d once been considering – I wouldn’t have been able to say what I did there. Unless I distorted the surface reality to the point where it was no longer nonfiction.

(to be continued)

Facedown . . .

. . . is one word.
Rogue Warrior update

Because readers asked:

The next Rogue Warrior is being published by Tor/Forge and is coming out sometime this fall, though for some reason the actual pub date seems to be a state secret which even the authors are not allowed to know. It'll be called Dictator's Ransom. (Unless it gets changed again by the title gnome, or whoever the F it is who's in charge of picking titles along with their nose.)

As usual, the hook mixes a lot of fact with fiction. There's a lot of Dick's over-the-top and very non-PC humor in this, kind of like the very first book he did (with John Weisman, not me. An excellent book, by the way. And you should check out Weisman's solo stuff as well.)

There's a lot of bs secrecy attached to the book because much of it is set in North Korea. Since the series is known for being based (sometimes more, sometimes less) on real life, with a lot of things that really happened and a lot of "on-the-spot" research mixed in, the lawyers are having fits. They say that Dick is not supposed to have gone there, being that he's an American citizen (according to rumor; I've never seen the papers myself).

So the official word is that he hasn't gone there, and neither did anyone else connected to the book, including moi.

I'm also not supposed to say that anyone was hurt making the book. The official thing there is some sort of formulation along the lines of "any injuries, damages, etc., that may have occurred, were incidental."

I love the etc.

WTF, right?

Anyway, the publisher has screwed around with the pub date for various reasons. The general date they've been using - early fall - "happens" to coincide with the general date for the planned release of the new Rogue Warrior game which, by "coincidence," is also set in Korea. No one went to North Korea for that either. And I don't think any of the dweebs - uh, exalted and honored technical experts - got hurt. That's for real, since I know they weren't there.

Taking joe to a whole new level

That's an $11,000 coffee machine.

Here's the quest:

You have to admire the sheer audacity.
Copy editing etiquette

Is it considered proper to answer a copy editor's query with "fuck you"? Or is the more nuanced "fuck yourself" preferred?

The future of publishing (part four)

[This series started on 2/20/08]

So why will authors need publishers in an all-electronic, all-digital world?

First of all, I think physical books will continue being sold for a long time, just as CDs are. While paperbacks won't last once a good ebook reader comes along, hard cover books will continue to be important for a number of reasons. Still, their sales (and the profit from them) will pale compared to the cheaper and more easily produced ebooks of the future. And for publishers, this is an enormous problem.

Individual authors can set up their own web sites and, in an environment where the ebook dominates, cut their own deals either with the customer directly or retail channels. Stephen King essentially did this several years ago. Most analyses of his experiment grade it a failure, and in one sense if clearly was: King could have made more money by going through traditional channels.

But that experiment shouldn’t necessarily be judged by that standard alone. King couldn’t achieve mega-author status on the internet alone – but he could still sell a significant amount of “product” at a time when the technology was far from perfect, and the tools for exploiting the technology (marketing on the web, etc.) were not yet (and are not yet) fully developed.

I don’t think that authors working alone will be able to reach mega-sale status, and that’s one area that traditional publishers can continue to leverage. They can also still deliver some amount of prestige and, at least in theory, increase the quality and therefore value of the book by careful editing. (Of course, if they're not doing these things to begin with - but that's another topic . . .)

But those are things that publishers can offer to writers – what can they offer readers?

1) A convenient place to acquire books. To do that, they have to control the distribution – their websites, etc., have to be the only place to get the product.

2) When they’re selling a book, publishers are really selling an experience. That experience is not just that one story, but the feeling of belonging to a community of readers that has experienced that story, and wants to experience similar stories or adventures. By collecting a number of authors together, the publisher enhances and expands the experience and community – and not coincidentally, sells more books. The web offers publishers a chance to create mini-salons and cyber cafes that complement and add to the experience of reading the book.

3) Publishers can use their resources to enhance e-books, adding to the virtual experience. While authors can do this on their own, the ability to finance better productions and thus raise the readers’ expectations can benefit the publishers, marking their product as more professional and therefore desirable.

Note that none of these things necessarily help writers, at least not directly. Even if they were all done successfully, the changes in technology are so fundamental that publishers may not be successful. But if they don’t at least start thinking along those lines, I think they’ll all be out of business by 2020.

* * *

The interests of publishers and writers are not precisely parallel, but they don't have to be diametrically opposed. One often gets the feeling these days that they are - not so much from the editors, but from corporate-centric decisions that harm the product and the industry in general.

As traumatic as the changes in technology have been and will continue to be, people will still want a good story, will still want usable information, will still long for the sort of reality-suspending experience books currently provide. The question is, how and who will provide them in the future.