Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sometimes, It's All About the Tongue

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Six Degrees of Recommendation Algorithm Separation

Stumbling to the computer the other morning morning with my first cup of coffee, I saw that a friend had posted a rather striking status update on Facebook:
So, Amazon seems to think that my 8 year old daughter who has some Warriors books (cats with a human wizards and warriors society) loaded onto the kindle should try Wesley Morrison’s “Let No False Angels.”
We both had a good laugh over this, even if mine involved some painful snorts of coffee through my nose. And it was a great reminder about how parents need to monitor the advertising their children see, and which books their children are reading. Like my mom did when I was an 8-year-old and she glanced over my shoulder at the Larry Niven paperback in my hands, didn’t like what she saw, and took it from me to be replaced with a Tom Corbett, SpaceCadet novel.

I’m also the first person to admit that Let No False Angels is not for an 8-year-old. The second person would be my sister. Like when her then-very-young daughter plopped into my lap and asked me to read her one of my own stories instead of a book from the pile around us and my sister came tearing into the room shouting “You will not read my daughter one of your stories!

Even better, this may be the first time I’ve actually understood how one of Amazon’s algorithms work. How could a very dark, very adult novel like mine end up being recommended to an 8-year-old with a Kindle full of warrior cat stories? I’m pretty sure it went something like this:

Step One: I publish Let No False Angels.

Step Two: I write a blog post crediting James Lileks and his Kindle novel Graveyard Special with inspiring me to finally pull the trigger on self-publishing my own book.

Step Three: James Lileks writes blog posts about his daughter, who also really enjoys those warrior cat books.

Step Four: My friend’s 8-year-old fills a Kindle full of said warrior cat books.

Step Five: Amazon puts all the dots together and recommends Let No False Angels to my friend’s 8-year-old who loves warrior cat bookss.

Step Six: Kevin Bacon sees this blog post, gets James Cameron to read my novel, a film adaptation ensues, and my wife and I finally buy our dream house.

Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the picture. At least until the next Amazon algorithm adventure, which will probably leave us all completely confused again.

(Cross-posted from the writing blog.)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

"For God's Sake, John, Sit Down!"

Because today is, well, you know...

Monday, July 1, 2013

You All Have Indie Cooties

Michael Kozlowski over at Good E-Reader doesn’t like indie authors, self-published authors, or whatever you want to call us. In fact, he literally thinks that “Self-Published Authors Are Destroying Literature.”
When I first read his article, I laughed until I cried, and then I started reading it with the voice of Harvey Korman from History of the World (“Sire, the peasant are revolting!”) in my mind, and I laughed some more. At best, Kozlowski comes across like the drunk uncle at a family dinner, hellbent on telling the younger generation how they’re ruining it all for everyone! and stop doing it wrong! He’s annoying, yes, but you still love him, that’s just the way he is, and you know he’ll calm down after having coffee and some pie. At worst, he’s the kid on the school bus who wants to get in good with the even bigger bullies in the back, so he won’t stop flicking your ear because the bigger bullies once said that you had cooties. You know you’re going to have a very long childhood full of very real problems with that one.
Personally, I ran screaming from a PhD in English Literature so many others had always assumed I would go for, and someone has been sounding the alarm about how “literature” is being destroyed probably since the first storyteller watched the second get a better reaction from the tribe around the campfire. Somehow, though, literature always manages to survive despite the best efforts of everyone to save it, even if that literature might not be the same writings people thought were “literature” at the time. Remember that scene with Kirk and Spock on the bus in San Francisco, where they talked about Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann, the “giants” of twentieth-century literature? It’s funny because it often does work out that way.
Kozlowski is right when he says “95% of these [self-published] books are insufferable and are written to capitalize on trends in publishing, with authors trying to emulate successful writers.” He’s also hilarious because he seems to think that traditional (you know, real) publishing companies don’t also work this way. In Kozlowski’s parallel universe of acceptable publishing, no book is ever “met with a deathly silence” (a phrase from Andrew Franklin, actually, but Kozlowski clearly agrees with him) or its writer disappointed and left to cut through the noise from all those other books on his or her own. And all those paranormal romances, teen vampire series, YA dystopias, and television tie-in novels are original, well-written, well-edited works of quality fiction with great insight about the human condition — or at least Very Special Episodes — because they are offered to the masses by an actual publishing company, which therefore makes those chosen authors inherently legitimate and worthy of my reading time and money.
Even more, only self-published authors worry about sales and marketing in this fantasy world of modern publishing. They relentlessly spam potential readers on social media (and a few do, granted), whereas those Twilight displays at the B&N across town were put up solely for artistic value, not to sell books. Real publishing companies just don’t care about those sorts of things, at least the ones that haven’t gone bankrupt and been bought out yet.
The problem Kozlowski sees is more than just real books by “legitimate published authors” having to share digital space in online bookstores with we indie/self-publishers, however. It’s also about price. Like Kozlowski says, an e-book from a traditional publisher runs anywhere from $7.99 to $12.99, whereas self-published e-books can be had for as little as $4.99, $3.99, $2.99, or even less. Our pricing has “devalued” their hard, legitimate work, and like Pavlov, we’ve conditioned readers “to pay as little as possible,” to the point that “often they will not even consider a more expensive book.”
Now, this is where Kozlowski’s logic truly escapes me. Only self-publishers really worry about marketing and sales, remember, but the problem is that our books are undercutting the price of real books and therefore…cutting into their marketing and sales? And the actual problem here couldn’t possibly be that traditionally published e-books are overpriced to begin with, especially when you can sometimes get a paperback version for even less than the e-book. The very idea is just madness, because the only people who truly know not only literature but specifically who and what we should be reading are traditionally published authors and their traditional publishers, at least the ones that haven’t gone bankrupt and been bought out yet.
In the end, I can live with the fact Michael Kozlowski apparently thinks that I “MAY pay for a few bills, but at the expense of modern literature,” whatever that really is. Or that he probably considers me illegitimate as a writer, without ever having read a word of my own novel. Or probably believes I took a still-forbidden shortcut at 47 years of age (after having more agents than I can count on one hand) instead of just simply acknowledging I was a failure and going quietly away, never again seeking to unleash another written word upon an unsuspecting readership.
I can live with all of that, because even if my own writing never brings a moment of joy to Michael Kozlowski’s life, his own rant brought a lot of unexpected joy to mine. He angered me, made me laugh, and provoked a true reaction, which is what realliterature is supposed to do.
Of course, if more real books from real writers with real publishing contracts could do the same, people might be reading fewer of the self-published e-books, like mine, that Michael Kozlowski so obviously despises.
Talk about irony, right?

(Cross-posted from the writing blog.)