Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

An Open Letter to Neil Gaiman

06 March 2014

We don’t know each other, but we have something in common: a former relationship with Scientology. Only I didn’t grow up at its centre, then in East Grinstead, Sussex, the way you did. I got in when I was 18.
I read your piece Storms and how they start, and I get that Jonathan Ross is your friend. That isn’t a problem for me. What is a problem? Is failure to understand that your friend was always a problematic choice for hosting the Hugos, which I will get to.
One of the problems of the culture of Scientology is that you’re not supposed to talk about things that other people do to upset you, lest you yourself get told to get to Ethics and write up everything you’ve done. Or, worse, have to pay for a bunch of sessions to “handle” the whole thing. It takes the stiff upper lip thing to the next level, so it’s hard to hear a bunch of complaints and realize there is legitimacy to them.
Your dad was one of the most problematic people in Scientology. He ordered false information put in US security agency computers. He was involved, though not to the point of being an unindicted co-conspirator, in Operation Snow White, the largest civilian intrusion into US government systems to date. He took over for Jane Kember after she was convicted. Your dad, as Public Relations official for the Scientology’s Guardian’s Office Worldwide, was involved in cleaning up L. Ron Hubbard’s PR disasters, such as the chain locker abuses on the ships, particularly the incidents involving children. One disaster was throwing Mary Sue Hubbard under the bus after she was convicted in Operation Snow White. (She arguably got the best treatment by Hubbard of any of his wives.)
But still—David Gaiman was your dad.
Before we go further, I’d like to say: thank you for being a better person than he was, speaking as someone who was harassed by techniques your dad took a hand in developing.
However, better is relative here. I think the statement you made about your affiliation with Scientology (“As a child, I suppose I was as much a Scientologist as I was Jewish, which is to say it was the family religion. Am I now? No.”) was disingenuous given that a) you married a Scientologist before (not Amanda, obviously) and b) non-Scientologists don’t fork over $35,000 for obscure religious level contributions of benefit only to long-standing Scientologists. Sure, I believe you’re not a Scientologist now.
Still, that conditioning is hard to break. Hubbard and David Gaiman, among others, developed strategies specifically for silencing critics. So I can’t help but wonder if there’s a part of you still stuck in the “what are your crimes?” victim-blaming of critics that your father perfected.
Given that kind of a background, I can understand why you might have overlooked why Jonathan Ross was a problematic choice.
The best explanation I’ve read is Patton Oswalt’s post about rape jokes:

In fact, every viewpoint I’ve read on this, especially from feminists, is simply asking to kick upward, to think twice about who is the target of the punchline, and make sure it isn’t the victim.

Now, with that in mind, let’s look at these ten moments of Jonathan Ross’s. I’ll pick three.

  1. Heather Mills: kicking downward.
  2. Ethnic minorities at work: kicking downward.
  3. Madonna: kicking downward about her child.

What the people tweeting didn’t like? They didn’t want a Hugo announcer to kick downward. They had a reasonable fear that he would.
Look, I get that comedians tend to go too far. It’s how they find out where the edges are. But as a culture, SF/F fandom is still trying to cope with how to stop kicking downward. For that reason, Ross was simply the wrong choice. Oswalt again:

We bomb all the time. We go too far all the time. It’s in our nature. […]
I’m a man. I get to be wrong. And I get to change.

What I’d like, Neil, is for you to consider one thing: maybe the people who objected to Ross had a valid point. And maybe you just didn’t see that point while reeling at the backlash.
It’s not too late to look again in a new unit of time.

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Two Takes on Writing for a Living

03 March 2014

First, from Lauren Gallagher/L.A. Witt, a writer who has an impressive number of titles out:

In 2010, with a steadily growing backlist and fan base, my income turned us from sweating over every dollar to being able to go out to a nice dinner (not terribly expensive, just not “fries with that”), and in 2011, the royalties roughly equaled what I’d been making at my previous day job. In 2012, it doubled. In 2013, it doubled again. It’s entirely possible the pattern will continue in 2014.

Another pull quote:

As of right now, Aleks has 32 books on Amazon. Between my two pen names, I have 66. It’s not just novels, either. We both have short stories and novellas, which frequently don’t make it into print except in collections or magazines. Those collections and magazines tend to pay token amounts if at all — contributor’s copies are common — whereas I’ve made over $8,000 from a novella published in 2011. Aleks and I co-wrote a short story that was released last year and has made each of us just under $2,000.

vs. Emily Gould’s “How Much My Novel Cost Me”:

In 2008 I sold a book-in-progress for $200,000 ($170,000 after commission, to be paid in four installments), which still seems to me like a lot of money. At the time, though, it seemed infinite. The resulting book—a “paperback original,” as they’re called—has sold around 8,000 copies, which is about a fifth of what it needed to sell not to be considered a flop. This essentially guarantees that no one will ever pay me that kind of money to write a book again.

Having only one book and having its marketing be at the mercy of a big house’s ad budget is having no Plan B. Lori’s plan B was to write more words. That has been really successful for her—she’s made most of her living writing gay romance and is now making four times her old day job doing it. Granted, it took her a while to wind up, but go look at the titles on her site and count up how many, many words she published.
Note that these two women are talking about publishing in approximately the same timespan, and both are talking different forms of traditional publishing. Most of Lori’s titles are digital first, and many are digital only. She’s self-published a couple of items off her backlist.
As a random geeky aside, I love the fact that the number 8,000 figures in both stories in very different ways. I believe the novella that Lori refers to is this one, which is science fiction (despite the use of the word “vampire” in the description).

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Fun Data from the Author Earnings Spreadsheet

02 March 2014

This page is not affiliated with authorearnings.com. Rails app to generate this can be found on GitHub. Some earlier charts are here.
Table columns are percentiles: 25% means that, if you line everyone up in order, 25% made that or less.

Self-Published Earnings, 2013

# 25% 50% 75% 90% 95% 100%  
914 300 3000 24000 91000 200000 13000000  

Traditionally-Published Earnings, 2013

# 25% 50% 75% 90% 95% 100%  
265 800 7000 38000 100000 200000 1200000  

Self-Published Earnings by # Books Self-Published

# 25% 50% 75% 90% 95% 100%
0-2 100 500 3200 15000 30000 130000
3-5 200 1600 14000 46000 70000 500000
6-10 1000 10000 45000 140000 200000 500000
11-25 3000 19000 78000 270000 380000 3500000
26-50 3000 24000 100000 400000 1000000 13000000
51-9999 5000 20000 80000 102500 1000000 1000000

Traditional Earnings by # Books Traditionally Published

# 25% 50% 75% 90% 95% 100%
0-2 200 1000 7876 50000 100000 190000
3-5 2000 17500 40000 150000 380000 500000
6-10 1500 10000 40000 100000 100000 200000
11-25 4214 30000 70000 250000 450000 550000
26-50 2500 10000 60000 153000 200000 1000000
51-9999 35000 65000 100000 1200000 1200000 1200000

Self-Published Earnings by Cover Art Type

# 25% 50% 75% 90% 95% 100%
My Own 150 1500 15000 50000 104000 3500000
Pre-Made 100 500 2000 11500 60000 100000
Hire a Pro 500 5000 35000 113232 250000 13000000

Self-Published Earnings by Editor Type

# 25% 50% 75% 90% 95% 100%
None 200 3500 20000 38000 165000 1000000
Friends & Family 150 1200 12000 70000 100000 567000
Critique Group 125 800 6000 50000 64000 1000000
Freelance Editor 600 6000 40000 140000 300000 13000000

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The Sort Implementation Interview Question

02 March 2014

I’m going to go out on what seems to be a wildly unpopular limb here and say this: asking a developer to write an implementation of a sort algorithm is almost certainly a bad job interview question.
Why? Because you’re likely not hiring someone to write implementations of sort algorithms. Even if you were, they probably would not be writing optimized code in a job interview situation, so what’s it really testing?
Problem solving skills aren’t universal, nor does the ability/inability or inclination/disinclination to solve one kind of problem necessarily reflect one’s overall skills. Or lack thereof.
Remember that the person being interviewed is also interviewing you and deciding whether they want to work with you or not. If you ask a coding question that’s more directly relevant to the job at hand, then they will have a better sense of what it is you do every day—and whether that’s something they want to do, too. You’re engaging them in your problem space, not asking something they may or may not warm to even if they’d love the job you’re interviewing for.
For example, in an interview I went on once upon a time, the interviewer said, “We have this problem, and I’d like to see how you approach it.” So it was a supportive, shared, coding question. I had questions about some aspects of the requirements, which the interviewer then answered. That was a great interview approach.
I’ve come to dread the sort interview questions. Frankly, it’s not a part of programming I enjoy. I like the fact that other people think about sort implementations. Yay, diversity.
I remember once, I think it was 2005, having re-reviewed all the common sort algorithms, then flown to a job interview. The question: “How would you write a shuffle algorithm?”
I remember that instant of total frustration far more than anything else from the interview.
My answer was something like: create a hash of something like a random seed from the current time plus some aspect of the information you had about the song (since it was about shuffling songs) like the title, and then sort the hashes. I have no idea if that’s a good answer, but it’s what I came up with at the time.
Meanwhile, I’d much rather focus on whether we need this column or not, whether that schema is better suited for the project than this other one (and why), can we produce the desired page with less HTML/CSS markup? And how much can/should we shunt off to JavaScript? How much jQuery do we need? Does this page degrade gracefully without JavaScript? What pieces of this should go in the controller vs. the model or the view (and why)?
Using a different field, asking someone who’s applying for a general application programmer to write a sort implementation is like interviewing for a job as a Cosmo article writer and being asked to produce a sonnet in the job interview. (With the added bonus of live critique questioning your choices.)
Now that’s not to say that knowing how to write sonnets isn’t a cool skill. It is.
But let’s look at what an article writer needs skill at that a sonnet writer doesn’t:

  • Ability to write whole sentences
  • On time
  • Correct length (sonnets have a lines/syllable count, but what an article writer needs is correct amount of space on the page, which is an entirely different form of length requirement)
  • On correct subject
  • Supports advertisers
  • Current and relevant
  • Literal language

What skills a sonnet writer needs that an article writer doesn’t:

  • A feel for syllables
  • Exhaustive vocabulary (because poetry readers will look up words but Cosmo readers almost certainly won’t)
  • How to write something timeless
  • The ability to fiddle until it’s “just so”
  • Metaphorical language

99.9% of all people making their living as writers aren’t writing poetry. 99.9% of the rest write greeting cards for money. The other two are poetry professors. Random aside: did you know Cupertino has a poet laureate?
99.9% of all software engineers making a living as such aren’t writing implementations of sort algorithms or developing new sort algorithms as their job.
Ask more relevant questions.

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You Didn't Fail

27 February 2014

Context: this post from Cassie Alexander.
Cassie, I’ve known you for a long time. We’ve spent nights writing in chat, on Twitter, at conventions, all kinds of things. I remember you bringing your (impressively large) box of rejection letters to BayCon one year before you had a pro sale.
I love you so much I even set foot in a Scientology building for you (because I said I’d be there for you for Writers of the Future) even though I hadn’t done that in many years.
I’m sorry that St. Martin’s has dropped your series, which I’ve loved. (And I feel guilty that I didn’t do as much as I’d have liked to help promote it, and I’m a shitty friend that way. Sorry.)
I’ve never known anyone as dedicated to their art as you are. You’ve written nine novels in the same time I’ve written four (and a half). I keep getting novel ideas, though, and series ideas.
The early days of self-publishing (via POD) were fraught with peril. I remember when I worked at Kepler’s that we wouldn’t order them because they were often so poorly produced (and I’m not just talking badly edited, I mean the covers would fall off, etc.) that they were just too problematic.
The world has changed, though. The production values on POD are now indistinguishable from traditional printing, and e-books have available samples, so there’s little risk. Now you can look and determine if it really is something you want to buy.
There’s a very, very real market and some good strategies for reaching it. And, I’m finding out, that the strategies that work for that are those that don’t work for the traditional market at all.

The Dip

One of the problems with The Dip is that you tend to look at your failures, but not your successes. Losing a book contract is a hardcore dip point.
What’s easy to overlook is that you’ve had amazing success as a writer. You were contracted to write a five-book series—and you did. Four of the volumes are in print and one will be out soonish.

Moving on to Indie Publishing

A few thoughts:

  1. Out:think has some great resources. Read everything.
  2. Reading all the email I got from Out:think led me to start reading Write. Publish. Repeat. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far it’s an amazing book.

Many of the successful indie authors have an seasonal/episodic approach to books. It’s a familiar paradigm in this culture of TV viewers. Instead of one longer novel, the books are novella length, and released as episodes. A season is often six episodes. Because they’re novella length, three makes a nice size paperback.
So the marketing goes like this:

  1. Publish and sell episode 1.
  2. Temporarily drop the price (perhaps free) of episode 1 when episode 2 comes out.
  3. Temporarily drop the price (perhaps free) of episode 2 when episode 3 comes out.
  4. Create an omnibus of episodes 1-3. Create a print book to go with.
  5. Temporarily drop the price (perhaps free) of episodes 1-3 omnibus when episode 4 comes out.
  6. Temporarily drop the price (perhaps free) of episode 4 when episode 5 comes out.
  7. Temporarily drop the price (perhaps free) of episode 5 when episode 6 comes out.
  8. Create an omnibus of episodes 4-6. Create a print book to go with.
  9. Create an omnibus of episodes 1-6. Temporarily drop the price (perhaps free) of that when episode 7 (aka season 2, episode 1) comes out.

It’s rather brilliant, actually.
I was thinking about the whole idea of episodes, and, personally, I’m a fan of thirteen episodes to a season. Gives a great chance for reversals of fortune, too. Two six-episode arcs, a thirteen-episode arc, and a standalone in the middle.
The real point, though is to publish and market fairly consistently: have a predictable release schedule.

A Comment on “Real Writer”

But at the time, I thought, oh, no way, that’s too silly. I’m a Real Writer and I shouldn’t concern myself with smut…even though I happen to be perfectly good at writing it, heh!

Faruk Ateş raised the “real” issue on Twitter today, so I’m going to quote two of his tweets (the first not being aimed at you, obviously, it just gives context as he was wound up about someone’s writing):

“Real” as an attributive adjective has taken on the meaning of revealing that the author doesn’t know what they are talking about. link
“Real women” — meaningless; every woman is a real woman. “Real work” — no work is more “real” than any other. “Real game” — please shut up. link

It’s all real.
So do some cool stuff. I’ll be along for the ride.

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Random Photoshop Things I've Learned Recently

25 February 2014

  1. It’s easier to remove power lines by creating a path (using the pen tool) and stroking the path with the healing brush tool than the old way I used to do it. Yay. (I think this technique was added in CS5 or so.)
  2. I’d forgotten you could create a transparent gradient of an image. (See below)
  3. You can, if you want, combine two different images. One technique I used was to use a darker image over a lighter one and then use the lighten mask. Or vice-versa.
  4. Or, you know, you could pick a sunset one and a thin beam one from here and stack it several layers deep in photoshop (using the above techniques), fuss with it until it looks just so, edit out the stars (for sad and arcane reasons), and then you have this:

merged-lighthouse
And the gradient (bumped up to 100%, but only used at 30%):
merged-lighthouse-gradient
Here are two of the originals I used in creating the composited image:
P1070839
P1070897

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The Weekest Link

25 February 2014

But first, new blog theme on deirdre.net! I just changed it late last night, so I haven’t lived with everything quite long enough to figure out what I want to change. I need to do some work on the covers on the front page (to make them all the same size and work better within the theme).

Computers & Technology

Writing & Publishing

  • How Long Is the Average Book? Also includes relative frequency of POV (1st/3rd), broken by genre. No 2nd breakdown, though that number is probably vanishingly small.
  • Considering self-publishing? Out:think group has some really interesting stuff, much of it free. Hearing Tim talk about why he thinks some people’s Facebook and Twitter strategies don’t work is a breath of fresh air. Basically: the real strategy is to have a mailing list.
  • SFWA thing post from N. K. Jemisin. “But you don’t get to claim marginalization when you’re at the center of a thing.” If you’re tired of the SFWA train wreck, then just stick with that one pull quote.
  • The semicolon’s breezy punctuality.
  • Andrew O’Hagan on ghostwriting for Julian Assange. “It was exciting to think, in that very Jane Austen kind of house, that no novel had ever captured this new kind of history, where military lies on a global scale were revealed by a bunch of sleepy amateurs two foot from an Aga.” Note that this piece is 25,000 words, but it really does explain who Assange is. “I’ve never been with anybody who made me feel so like an adult. And I say that as the father of a ten-year-old.”

Arts

Science, Health, & Things Like That

Miscellaneous Humor

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New Pic

24 February 2014

Rick and I had our portraits done by the awesome Scottish photographer John Parris, who was truly a delight to work with. Glad we could get him down under (when we ourselves were in the South Pacific) and out of the gloomy Scottish winter.
014-566
There are three solo portraits of me (for author photos), one solo picture of Rick, and three of us together.

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That Odd Moment

24 February 2014

…when you realize that places erupting into problem areas on the news are now more likely to be places you’ve been than places you’ve not.
Consider:

The first three? We were there last year.
We went to three Ukranian cities last year: Odessa, Yalta, and Sevastopol/Balaklava. Loved them.
I’m going to do three separate posts for the Ukraine, partly for @bobtiki.

Odessa

First, the Primorsky Stairs, better known as the Potemkin Stairs because of the film Battleship Potemkin, give the optical illusion of being longer than they are. The bottom of these steps is the port where our ship called. There were quite a few people with birds there, and they’d let you hold (and be photographed) with the bird for a few Hryvna (though they’d also accept Euros and Dollars).
Bird Lady on Potemkin Steps
The city coat of arms is everywhere.

Odessa
There are lots of lovely neoclassical buildings, some with great chandeliers.
P1140418

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