Do It Your Way aka Thoughts On Consequences Of Buying Reviews & The Culture of Cheating

There’s always going to be as many different approaches as there are different types of writers. It’s a fact one must accept, despite any strong opinions an author my hold on various publishing & writing related subjects. The furor this past week over the whole “paid reviews” scandal and John Locke’s How I Sold One Million E-Books In A Month is just a sign of the realities. For many authors, writing is an art and integrity is the goal and of high importance. For others, those who buy into the fairly common myth that all authors are rich, writing is a means to fame and fortune. They want to get rich. Writing a quality book is secondary as long as people buy what the put out there. Others lie somewhere in between. Wherever you are on that scale, it’s easy to be frustrated by the many pitfalls and struggles one faces on the writing journey. And when someone seems to take an unethical short cut to get there, it can make you mad.

Paying for reviews has been around for a while. Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly allow people to pay to have books reviewed under certain circumstances: 1) it’s three months past release date; 2) it’s self-pubished. There are others which you can find on their websites under Review Policies. But there’s a big difference between paying for their time and attention to your book (they are not cheap in what they ask, mind you) and paying for a guaranteed outcome. Paying for five star reviews is something that’s about dishonesty and cheating. Paying for the time of respected review sites which are swamped and by which association–good or bad review–your book will draw more attention, that’s the reality of the marketplace. So while paying for reviews isn’t new, the trend toward buying success definitely is and it’s quite disconcerting.

Reviewers, like editors, bookstore staffs and publishers, are gatekeepers. What happens when it becomes public knowledge that the keys to the gate can be purchased? For those who count on gatekeepers to weed out the wheat for the chaff, how will they know where the lines of quality expectations are drawn? Admittedly one of the issues with the rise of self-publishing and POD is that sometimes really good books get mixed in with a whole lot of low quality crap. There are no gatekeepers and it’s way too easy, so some people write their book and rush it onto the market with no money or time spent on editing, quality art, etc.  These are not artists, these are capitalists. And so the reader and book buyer is left looking for a way to be sure they spend their limited budget wisely, especially in the current climate. And gatekeepers provide one trusty way to at least cut down the odds that you’ll be buying crap. There’s no guarantee that you’ll like every book you buy from such professionals, but you can at least be sure someone who makes their money warding the gates took a look and signed off on it. You can expect certain standards of editing, layout, art, etc. And for many, those things are indeed a comfort.

So the saddest possible outcome of scandals like this “buy a good review” outbreak is the loss of trust readers may develop in gatekeepers which, in the age of self-publishing and POD, are becoming even more important than ever. Book bloggers are going to play a big role in the future as the publishing industry model changes. This is especially true for independent authors and small presses who don’t have mega-corporate budgets for marketing and must rely on word of mouth.  You need reviewers in whom readers place their trust and confidence to help spread the word about your books. If readers begin thinking all reviewers can be bought, you’ll be in big trouble. This is something you should think about long and hard before buying a review. Because the long term impact on the market could be staggering.

But another sad reality is the pressure some may feel to compromise their integrity and beliefs because “that’s what you have to do to make it.” From fellow authors to small presses, if the trend continues, pressure may grow to participate in buying reviews. As New York trade houses cut their staffs and buy less books by new authors, newcomers may find POD and self-publishing is the best way to open the door. But without marketing, they stand no chance to succeed. If buying reviews is the only option or what works, many many put aside their ethical questions to “go with the flow.” And that would be unfortunate, because such decisions can lead all kinds of places, most especially to regrets about what one can never undo.

I think integrity still matters in life and in writing. Readers who know you continue to sweat over your words and put out quality stories, characters, etc. will wait, despite the length of your process, anticipating your next book with excitement. The integrity of your process may frustrate their patience but it won’t disappoint their sense of respect for you as long as the books are worth the wait. There’s still value in remembering who you are doing it your way. No matter what pressures arise in a culture of cheating like the one that seems to be arising around buying reviews and all kinds of other aspects of publishing. If it truly gets to the point that people of integrity have no place in publishing or in society, we’re in big trouble. We’ve already seen major repercussions of that around the world.

So despite the claims of those who would buy their way to the top, I would still remind and urge fellow writers to Do It Your Way, be yourself. It’s okay to say “No, that’s not for me.” It’s okay to separate wrong from right. It’s okay to pursue dreams with a moral compass and do the right thing. It’s still okay to believe in art.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

A Humble Plea For Help To Any Who Would Hear

Well, this is very hard to write. I hate being anything but positive in energy, and more than that, I hate asking for help. I was raised in  a family that helps and gives to others, not the other way around. We’re mostly very lucky and blessed and have always had a lot of blessings some others don’t have.

But the situation is dire. As depression goes, today is one of those days where you feel like you could lay down, go to sleep, and never wake up and the world would be a better place. It’s been a long time since I had a day like this, despite being on depression meds for almost eighteen months. But the burdens of the moment feel so overwhelming.

For those who don’t know, in May 2010, I was laid off/fired from my technical writing job. There were excuses made about work being adequate but no great and not having enough for me to do, but no one could or would provide concrete examples. Up to that point I’d been praised for my work. Some clients friends did some checking and found that the company had financial issues and one of them was providing health insurance, as a small business for their fifteen or so employees. Since my wife’s mental illness issues were flaring and she was on a lot of meds, in and out of the hospital, and having lots of medical appointments, I began to suspect it was more about that liability than my performance. Never had enough to prove so I had to let it go but I was offered a six month severance package and asked to sign a termination agreement to not sue the company now or in the future for anything. This just made me more suspicious.

In any case, I went on unemployment and began honing my resume and looking for work. As of this date, I am still unemployed. Three times I have reached third interview and had the company apologetically tell me they had a last minute hiring freeze. None of those freezes, to my knowledge, have yet been lifted. Twice I was a final candidate and told someone else had a slight edge and was chosen. I worked with many “resume” excerpts through this 26 months on various resumes and kept trying.

In the midst of this, my 18.5 year old cat died. She’d been with me half my life. I’m still getting over it and feeling like I lost both child and best friend.

Then my part time job decided since I was looking for work out of state, they couldn’t wait to see what happened and replaced me. About this time, misfiled paperwork from the full time job messed up unemployment in a cycle that cost us all income from November 2010 through February 2011. Just as we got it reinstated, my wife’s mental illness flared again and she spent the next six months in and out of the hospital. I was forced to commit her against her will multiple times and to file several thousand dollars worth of legal actions to get guardianship just so I could oversee her care. Although she did finally get the treatment needed and turn around, she also decided to divorce me as much for taking away her rights as anything else.

So I spent more money for a divorce and, finally, last Fall, relocated back to Kansas to be near family who could help with the dogs, etc. and to have cheaper cost of living. After going through 2.5 years of hell with very little close support (new city, new friends, not enough established ties so people mostly walked away or kept emotional distance), I finally came back where I at least had strong shoulders to lean on. But try as I have, and I apply to jobs constantly, revise my resumes again as I have, I am still getting nowhere on jobs.

To their credit, Grail Quest Books and Delabarre Publishing have given me some opportunities to both edit, copyedit, and to write kids’ books, etc. This has been good to have, but it’s not enough to get me back to financial stability and it’s also case-by-case, not steady. I still carry the burden of web costs for SFFWRTCHT’s website as well as related materials when the publishers don’t provide them. This includes postage and packaging for giveaways, etc. (You’ll notice we’ve been having less). I do this without complain because I love what I do and am proud to help the SFF community and other authors. But there are costs involved like anything.

This weekend I went to Con-tamination in Saint Louis. They offered me a free dealer table. I stayed with family. I ate most meals free. Just had to pay for gas. Sales were slow and paltry but I did make connections. But I also arrived to discover that somehow my digital camera LCD had been damaged. Then, driving home my engine somehow burned out and has to either be replaced or I may have to get yet another car. This car was bought in February with help from my parents.

My dad and mom are retired. They have been helping us now for 2.5 years and carrying an incredible burden. Several hundred a month to over a thousand when things came up. I was left with significant debt in the divorce, a portion of which they paid to refinance for me. I’ve so far made no payments on that but instead have had to pay on other debt, student loans, etc.

Sum it up by saying, I’m in big trouble here. I am living as frugally as I can. But I can’t cover this car replacement or repair nor a camera and my parents are really overburdened.

So I find myself asking if anyone knows of work or financial aid or anything that might help. It really hurts to ask. But the economy is not getting better. Unemployment benefits may well run out again because I’m on my last extensions. And I’m feeling lost and hopeless as to how to change anything. In any case, if you pray, I appreciate prayers. But if anyone call beyond that bryan.thomas at anchoredmusic.com is my PayPal. Or you can send by Dwolla at yaornw at yahoo.com. It sucks to be in this position but I’ve kept busy doing SFFWRTCHT and helping others promote books, writing, freelance editing, and volunteering even as I search for work. If I was paid for the hours I put in it would be full time. This crisis, unfortunately, is one too many. My second novel releases tomorrow. And I’m getting ready to cancel the next two cons etc. if I can’t get past this and maybe even if I can. I just can’t go on like this. We’re waiting on the final estimate but for a new engine or car it would run $2-4,000. My camera can wait, as I have a film one that functions, but I’ll have to spend $100-150 for that, too, at some point.

Anyway, thanks all for listening. I have nothing to give back other than time and friendship beyond what I already do. There are stories free on my website but I am mid-novels with nothing new to offer as an extra, so I count on your good hearts.

Blessings,

Bryan

The Importance Of Reaching Beyond Female Stereotypes

My friend and fellow editor Kat Heckenbach asked an interesting question on Facebook today which really got me thinking about stereotypes: Are authors obligated to make characters fall into certain stereotypes because readers expect it? (For example, most people think of Goths as angry, snarly, dark, and Poe-obsessed. But when referring to a little kid, they can and do use the word cute–but if a Goth character in a book said that, would it just throw you right out?)

Stereotypes are common in literature, there’s no doubt, and in Science Fiction and Fantasy this can be particularly the case, especially with female characters. Damsels in distress are a mainstay of our genres, both inside the stories/books and on the covers. Most of us have seen Jim C. Hines’ posts about the silliness of the way women are posed versus men in such art. These images feed the stereotypes. Yes, they are an attempt by publishers to sell books using sex, which has worked forever as a means of moving product, not just books. But what message do they send culturally to women, young women and, almost more importantly, men, about the roles women have to play in our society? Are they just objects for lustful stares and wet dreams? Do these images leave open  the possibility for far more substance below the surface? How silly do male characters look when dressed and posed like female characters typically are? Take a look at this imagining or Avengers with such poses.

Think I’m kidding? Take a look at two cover examples below. One is an older example, the other more recent. Do artists and publishers actually think anyone could fight dressed this way or would? It kind of questions the character’s intelligence, doesn’t it? To make it worse, in the case of Ringo’s book, the publisher site describes the character as “soccer mom and demon fighter.” Wow. A soccer mom who walked around in that outfit would be accused of indecency, wouldn’t she? Not to mention being shunned by fellow soccer moms.

For me there’s no question that bucking stereotypes is far more interesting and adds nuances. If you start out with the typical housewife who raises kids while the hubby works but then turns out to be a zombie fighting badass, how much more interesting did she just get? I think, in particular, with women characters, fantasy struggles with this. The traditional epic fantasy has strong, sweaty fighting men protecting their helpless women, but is it really that interesting anymore? And can’t we change our views of women enough to include more possibilities? Even history would demonstrate that women have played far more diverse roles than the stereotypes a male-dominated society describes them with. There has been at least one female Pope, for example, whose gender was only discovered after she became pregnant. That was hundreds of years ago and she had to conceal her identity. But this is a different age. Why should women have to hide their true selves? I’d like to think we’re more enlightened than that, but I know not all of us are.

I grew up with strong women around me. From my Mom, who was the stay at home housewife, a woman who retired from nursing to raise her three kids, to my twin sister, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers, the women I grew up with were not stereotypical. They had common traits we might associate with women, of course. They were often more emotional than men and could talk about it more freely. Most of them were better at cooking and laundry, etc. than we men. But this was not because we were incapable of it, rather it was because that was the role they were expected to take on. They took it on gladly, too, but my Mom sat me down at fourteen with a stern warning. “You’re going to learn to cook, clean, do laundry, basic sewing, and anything else I think you need so your wife can’t send you back some day and tell me you’re not finished.” And so I did learn, and those skills have been invaluable to me. In fact, when I got married, my wife didn’t know how to sew, so I was the one who fixed buttons, dog toys, etc. in our house. I also helped with cleaning. In fact, there were some tasks I really don’t enjoy which are typically associated with menlawn work, for examplewhich my wife enjoyed and did while I helped with so-called “women’s work.”

There’s a ridiculous term if I’ve ever heard one: “women’s work.” The work typically grouped under that heading is the work necessary to daily living. If you’re a bachelor, unless you’re rich, you’re going to have to do laundry, find a way to cook and eat, etc. It doesn’t make you suddenly sprout breasts and start generating estrogen. “Women’s work” is an insulting term because its origins come from a sense of superiority by men that the “important work” is not for women. Because, of course, raising good, responsible citizens while the men are at the office working sixty hour weeks is unimportant. Keeping a nice home so the man can come home and actually relax during down time is menial. We’d all survive without those things, right? Yep, without “women’s work” we’d still be the greatest country on Earth.

Hardly. Some of the most meaningful character-building times in my life were working with my mother and grandmothers on the very tasks typically called “women’s work”learning to cook, fold clothes, sew, etc. I’m a creative after all, and cooking and sewing, in particular, very much stimulate my creative impulses. Add to that the fact that walking around naked outside of performance art has tended to be frowned upon, especially if your ribs are showing like a starving African kid, and, well, they really did me a service teaching me to care for clothes and feed myself. I’m just saying…

And look at this cover for Raven 3: The Frozen God. Seriously. A woman dressed like that fighting monsters on an ice field? Oh yeah, that’s realistic. Yeah, this warrior woman is so badass, she doesn’t even freeze. Yep. The only time women in my life ever dressed this way was to go swimming, at Halloween of costume parties, or in changing rooms at the store. In fact, other than my wife, none of the women mentioned from my life in this post ever dressed this skimpily. It’s not even appropriate for the task. Unless, as my editor suggested, the only way to kill this monster is to get it aroused. Doubtful.

You just can’t stereotype women any more than you can men these days. The fact is that we are all individuals and just when you meet a women whom you think embodies all the “typical female traits,” five minutes later she’ll surprise you with aspects you never would have imagined. It used to be “men’s work” to get an education and write, for example, and where would our genres be without Ursula LeGuin, Connie Willis, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, A.C. Crispin, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and numerous others? How much would be have missed out on if the Cat Valentes, Kij Johnsons, Nnedi Okorafors, and N.K. Jemisons had never put pen to paper? Seriously. What about Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, Beth Meacham and Liz Gorinsky, Anne Vandermeer and Sheila Williams? They buy stories from men as well as women and all are amongst the top editors in this business.

I get the whole male instinct to want to protect their women. But it’s not like those instincts don’t also exist in women. Think I’m wrong? Go to a playground and act weird around some woman’s kid. Be sure and take a picture of that black eye and get a copy of the mug shot, too, okay?

I think it’s incumbent upon all writers, male and female, to carefully consider the roles they give to characters. Yes, with minor roles, sometimes stereotypes can be expedient. And sometimes they get the job done, but push yourself to make sure that for every stereotype you employ ten characters who buck such narrow definitions. Not only will your plots and themes and work expand in scope and meaning as a necessary result, but it will resonate more profoundly with modern readers and even help erase stereotypes as functions of our culture. I can think of no greater goal and contribution Science Fiction and Fantasy writers could make, can you?

The world needs more ninjas posing as suburban housewives who save the world. It needs more mothers who don’t wait for their husbands to save the day but draw their sword or blaster and take on the kidnappers themselves, kicking ass to free their kids. Our modern world has plenty of room for men in the kitchen and sewing, too. After all, think of Top Chef and other cooking shows: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Curtis Stone,  Gordon Ramsey, Calvin Klein, Bob Mackie, and Guccio Guccishould these men be considered abnormal for the excellence they’ve worked hard to create? Hardly.

As much as I applaud them for having this panel, it’s 2012. Should we really still desperately need panels like this:

(PR) Kicking ass in high heels: These days women can kick ass, save the world, and still have time to fall in love.
But why are they still doing it in hot pants and high heels? Can heroines be a size 18 and still be beautiful?

Unfortunately, we do need them, and it’s because of the perpetuation of stereotypes. Think of the other issues we could be putting our time into if we just put aside these silly limitations and moved on?

One of the worst insults I got in a review was a review which said I had “shockingly outdated female roles.” This was for a story where I have female political leaders, female starfighter pilots, female warriors, female military leaders, and so on. I thought I was trying hard to break the molds, and yet here comes a reviewer to tell me I hadn’t done enough. I still think they’re wrong, but, at the same time, it pushes me to strive harder, to ask more questions, and to do everything I can to prove them wrong so I never hear such a disappointing criticism again. After all,  my Mom reads my books. I don’t want her thinking I didn’t learn a thing from all her efforts. But more than that, I don’t want my daughters and other girls who read my books to ever think I’m telling them they can’t be anything they want to be.

The world may set limits, but in the worlds of your fiction, possibilities are limitless. Don’t let yourself write within the familiar box of the world in which you live. Instead, tear down the walls and shoot for something no one’s seen but should be seeing. Push the boundaries and see where it takes you, your characters and your story. Let no one accuse us of writing the same old fantasy or space opera. Instead, let us together launch a new age and work to redefine what “same old” is. To my mind, we owe it to our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to open the world’s doors. After all, making the world a better place is a responsibility for all of us, not just a “chosen male few.” We live in an age when the distinction between what women can do for careers and what men can do is fading to almost nothing. How can our fiction represent our times and a bright future if it doesn’t reflect that?

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

The Invisible Enemy: And This Is NO Science Fiction

Imagine a girl, 22 years old, star athlete, straight A student. A solid, loving home with dedicated parents who are so proud. Off in college at a great school. She’s expected to conquer the world one day. Then it all falls apart.

Imagine a girl, 29 years old, she’s smart, probably genius IQ, hard working, attractive, energetic, dedicated, passionate, well liked with the future shining bright ahead of her. She’s just married and she’s fulfilled her dream and moved to the U.S. from Brazil. She’s a straight A student as a foreigner at a U.S. college. She’s going to school full time while working full time, too. Then one day, she just starts walking and walks over forty miles. Along the way, when her shoes and purse become hassles, she just tosses them aside and carries on. It’s 12 hours before the police have to halt Interstate 10 at night to stop what they think is a suicide and find her dodging cars. She’s disoriented. Insists someone moved the highway. She’s just trying to get home. They eventually take her home and her husband is worried sick. She’s up constantly, cleaning obsessively or talking to herself. She puts perfectly fine things she used to value out for the trash. She begins destroying her immigration documents, her photos, etc. She becomes increasing hostile toward her husband who just wants to know she’s okay. There are two more police incidents the next few days until a court order is sent to put her in a mental hospital for evaluation.

Both are real people I know.

Such is the lot of millions of men and women around the world. Their lives are so blessed and perfect, until, one day, an invisible monster knocks them off track and they’ll never be the same.  Studies have found that 1 percent of the U.S. population  suffers from various forms. 40-50% of the U.S. homeless population suffers. 40 million suffer in Europe. It’s not a fluke. It’s not freak incidents. It’s a real problem. The police and medical personal have difficulty because the mentally ill are irrational at times but other times can seem perfectly normal. After all, police and hospital personnel have often never met them before. How are they to know it’s true when the spouse or a family member says they’re not normal? With HIPPA laws, the patient has a right to refuse treatment or make their own decisions. The spouse and family have no say without the patient’s signature. If what the patient says seems plausible, they have to go with it, and the family member will just have to deal with it.

When they’ve had enough of this crap and feeling helpless, fearing for their own lives and for their loved one’s life, some families give up. If they can’t commit the relative, they just kick them out. Enough of ruining my home life. Go take care of yourself if you can. Most wind up homeless. The family feels guilty but it’s better than living with that kind of drama. After all, mentally ill people can harm you with incredible bursts of anger and strength. And they certainly cause stress, sleepless and other issues that become really destructive to one’s lifestyle. Oh sure, there’s medicines available that can make them normal most of the time, but the sick person quits meds every time they feel better. “I’m normal. Why should I have to take that?” they say. In a few weeks or months, the nightmare starts all over again. One can only live with that for so long. The sick loved one has lost everything, but at least they don’t realize it much of the time. That seems more merciful than living with the pain daily: feeling like you failed them, knowing you gave up, knowing what you’ve both lost, etc.

It’s an invisible enemy, my friends: mental illness. It afflicts millions of people and families around the world. To those on the outside, the afflicted seem immature, odd, quirky, eccentric with their inappropriate behavior. Some are feared. Others mocked. All avoided. Most written off. By anyone who doesn’t know them. Families struggle to get help and support. Friends abandon them because the afflicted person’s behavior is too hard to be around and/or understand. The only help they can reach for is impersonal, cold medical and social workers or law enforcement. And none of those encounters is usually pleasant. People call them “lunatics” or “wackos.” “Put them in a home,” they shout. They look down on relatives talking to adult loved ones like children in public, totally unaware the person is having an episode or has a history of behavioral patterns that loved one is trying to cope with.

A checkout lady scolded me at the store and accused me of being a “controlling bastard husband.” Told my wife to divorce me and find someone who respects her. All this because I refused to buy stuff we couldn’t afford and didn’t need that my wife wanted during a manic episode. Every time I went to that store, near our apartment, I got evil stares from people who’d seen it. There was no way to explain that they’d believe. They didn’t see her enough to know the difference. They couldn’t see our credit and bank accounts. I was accused of spousal abuse for restraining her when she tried to hurt me and herself with knives, darts or other objects. By Texas law, they had to file a case against me. Luckily the grand jury threw it out after seeing evidence of her mental health history, but imagine if I’d had to carry that stigma around? Who would ever believe I really didn’t abuse my wife?

The hospital staff and their damn HIPPA law made it all the worse. If my wife hated me that day, they cut me off from any information or input. If they wanted to do expensive tests, my wife, who was manic, could say ‘Yes’ and I’d be billed for it. Even worse, I was treated like an abuser because despite the doctor, who knew me, telling them I would never do that, my manic wife made the claims and laws are laws. It was humiliating, heartbreaking, insulting, and frustrating. It was stressful and angering and so much more. I felt like a victim, too. I was a victim.

Chances are someone you know, maybe even someone you love, has some form of mental illness. Chances are you encounter people in the world who do. Please remember these stories. Please educate yourself. A well researched article on Mental Illness From Stanford can be found here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-illness/. Please sympathize with and pray (if you do) for their loved ones. Most of all, please don’t dismiss them as irrelevant. Having a person you love–same face, same voice, etc.–saying terrible things, treating you like an enemy, abusing you, etc. and feeling helpless is one of the worst things you’ll ever experience. Far worse than you could ever imagine.  Families are broken apart. Hearts broken. Children lose parents. Spouses lose their mates. Parents lose their children. And the sick person loses their future.

May is National Mental Health Month. Please remember.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

 

An Alternative To A Song Of Ice And Fire

I respect George R.R. Martin as a writer. He’s immensely talented. I’ve met him. He’s a nice guy. I respect the achievement that is regarded as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time. I read the first two books. I enjoyed them for what they are. But I couldn’t finish book 3. A Storm Of Swords just lost me. I have wrestled with that for a couple of weeks now and finally sorted out why.

Why would I want to read a book that deals with heroes like reality does? GRRM takes all the archetypes and knocks them off one by one. Killing any admirable heroes and leaving us with mostly unlikable scum. Oh Jon Snow and Arya and even Tyrion still have likability, despite flaws. But you know, I get this kind of depressing reality on the news daily and the internet, I don’t need it in my fiction.  I read fiction to escape. I read it to hope for a better world. I read it to see possibilities, not realities that are depressing and sad or reminders of that.

Maybe I’m more thoughtful than some people. I’m painfully aware of my frailties, failures and inadequacies. My life’s quest has been to try and conquer them or at least counter them by living a life that makes a difference. From teaching to volunteering to mission  work, I have sought to help and encourage others and myself by seeking to make a better world, at least in the portion that I touch. And when I write, that’s why I write old fashioned heroes where the good guys are good and admirable, despite being flawed, and the bad guys are bad. You know who you want to see win and that’s okay because it’s natural. It doesn’t have to weaken the characters to have them be people who make us want to be better people ourselves; to make us hope people, including ourselves, can rise above our depravity and lead better lives, lives of significance that make a better world.

As my friend and editor Randy Streu states it: “It’s like, somebody decided that ‘nuance’ meant that, to be a real hero meant to be so flawed and depraved that actual heroism was dead. Acts for the greater good are a biproduct of self interest.” I guess some people do probably believe that. But I don’t. I think heroism is alive. I sometimes think the media wish it wasn’t. They go after anyone with character or fame like sharks at a steak cookout, tearing them to shreds, cutting them down to size, poking and probing at every potential weakness or flaw to tear them down. Reality TV thrives on this. It’s a celebration of mediocrity and failure. It’s about taking people we admire and bringing them down a  notch. That’s why it’s so wonderful when someone actually survives the reality TV feeding frenzy and comes out shining. Take Clay Aiken on the current Celebrity Apprentice or even Arsenio Hall. Arsenio lost it once, but then apologized and let it go. And he showed himself to be the class act most of his fans always hoped he was.

But Song Of Ice and Fire as well written as it is, as deep as it can be, just leaves me cold. Are people really this bad? Probably. But why are we celebrating it? Why are we putting that out there as a tale of fantasy when it’s really more a tale of sad reality? Don’t get me wrong, GRRM has a right to write what he wants. I stand up for his freedom of speech. I’m just saying that the alternative to A Song Of Ice and Fire appeals more to a lot of people and that’s not bad or wrong. I wish there were more of it.

I recently interviewed Robert Silverberg about the rerelease of the incredible Majipoor books which changed my life. The hope and excitement they inspired not only in the possibilities of what one man can do but what one writer can do have been formative in my life. Are there bad guys in that? Yes. Is the hero flawed? Yes. But there’s an underlying sense of wonder and optimism which is inspiring and moving. Lots of books used to have that. Less have it today and I wonder why. Is our nihilistic age destroying our ability to hope?  My childhood memories are filled with books which so inspired me: from Winnie The Pooh to Dr. Seuss to Huckleberry Finn and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of these books, like Finn and Wilder dabble close to the vest with reality. It’s not that characters don’t face real problems or flaws but that they triumph and grow into better people and the overall theme is hopeful and makes you want to do the same in your life. Is that such a bad thing? Does anyone who has kids really want them reading books with the tone of A Song Of Ice And Fire to set their expectations for the world and their lives?

Again, I am not saying A Song Of Ice and Fire is bad. I am just suggesting that another type of literature has its place and its importance and is still needed and wanted by many readers today and that, perhaps, the focus on moving away from that is misplaced. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are popular for a reason. They celebrate the triumph of flawed heroes over strong forces and great odds. And the protagonistic characters are admirable and likable.

It’s funny to me that so much of Christian literature took it to the opposite extreme. There, heroes are so whitewashed and villains so tame that readers living in the real world quickly grow bored and frustrated. The books don’t engage their reality enough, rather than the opposite of perhaps engaging too much. Instead of lacking heroes, they lack realistic people. The characters are cardboard and perfect and don’t resemble anyone we know and the world is too neat with too many rounded edges and not enough jagged ones. If that makes any sense. Whereas the Bible is filled with powerful heroes who are flawed men and woman fighting to rise above their flaws and facing incredible odds. Those character types still have power and meaning for audiences today. I think that’s why so many classics continue to be reprinted again and again, like the Majipoor series.  I’ll continue trying to write it, and I hope others will as well. I really hope the kids of tomorrow can find books to inspire them like I used to.  And I’ll continue to seek an alternative to A Song Of Ice And Fire.  Not that I refuse to read such things but that I’ll visit them sparingly. They offer me less of what I seek and need and thus don’t satisfy my cravings.  The HBO version has just made me feel stronger about it as they ditch the story and important POV characters like Arya for any scene where they can show more flesh and more gritty sex, violence, etc. They emphasize even more the darkness and they’re losing their way with the story in the process.

Yes, I still believe real heroes exist and the world can be a better place if we do our best to rise above our flaws and make a difference. I still believe story telling even on film doesn’t need to be darkly discouraging and total depravity, that there can be hope in its midst. And I hope I always will. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Journey Through The SFF Classics: A Beginning

Okay it’s time. For two years now, I have amassed a library of classic SFF books but have not managed so far to tear into reading them. To be fair, I read 52 books a year just for SFFWRTCHT. And I do get requests for other interviews now, so I read another 20-40 for those throughout the year. That’s a lot of reading for a guy who takes about 5 days to go through a 350 page novel. That amount of reading will not change. I am still committed, happily, to that and grateful for the way it has allowed me to read a broad spectrum of SFF contemporary works by a wide variety of authors.

But I have this gap in knowledge that keeps coming back to haunt me, and, as time goes on, I fear it only deepens. As I go to Cons and participate in panels, as I talk with other writers about craft, not being familiar with some of the very classic works everyone so often talks about is a handicap and I must overcome it. So I am challenging myself to a Journey Through The Classics. I’m starting with a few core books and will expand as I can.  I am going to read these, most of them fortunately much shorter as older novels used to be, and then add more to the list, with the hopes that I can start catching up my knowledge of the SFF field through history. I have also acquired a number of older magazines, some pulp, some 20-year-old issues of magazines like F&SF, Analog and Amazing. I am going to work my way through those as well. But first, I need to get going on these books, so here’s my list, most of which I have not yet read, some of which I  may have at some point but don’t remember.

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
The Skylark Of Space by EE Smith
To Open The Sky by Robert Silverberg
Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
The Caves Of Steel by Isaac Asimov
The Listeners by James Edwin Gunn
The Weapon Shops Of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt
Nerves by Lester del Rey
Necromancer by Gordon R. Dickson
The Triumph of Time by James Blish
Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinelin
Dune by Frank Herbert
Doc Savage: The Thousand Headed Man by Kenneth Robeson
Stands Of Zanzibar by John Brunner

It should be noted before someone suggests it, I have already read the entirety of Asimov’s Foundation. I realize Van Vogt has more noted books but so far I have not found them so I will read one of the ones I have. The Silverberg and del Rey are personal choices. I have never read del Rey and feel I should since he is an icon. Silverberg is my favorite of all SFF authors and I have not read his early work and want to do that. A friend recommended To Open The Sky as one with faith (not just religious) themes, and since I have done panels on this to great reception I feel it’s time to start reading source material for those so I can only increase their value.

I am also not committing to read these books in any particular order. Honestly, I likely will attempt the shorter ones first, because of my reading time and just to get in a flow. I plan to do reviews/commentary on these as I finish for my own value more than anyone else’s, although I will share that here. These will not be full on reviews but really more my own ponderings and interactions with the texts. They’re classics. What do I have to add that hasn’t been said before by many people? Not much as a reviewer, but as a fan and writer interacting with them, I hope there will be some nuggets of learning and discovery worth sharing.

I certainly reserve the right to update my list at my own discretion. In other words, I will allow you to suggest books but I feel no pressure about which I choose to read and when. I have left A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams off the list because I read half and didn’t care for it. I do need to read it again but I’ll have to get in the right mood. And before the smart alecs show up, I do have a sense of humor. I love comedic books. I just found this one odd, not all the funny. But I do respect its place and regard amongst fandom and I do feel I should give it another chance at some point so I’d expect it to come on the list at some point during this Journey which may last several years because it takes as long as it takes.

For a good list of some of the books I’ve read in  the past, including many considered classics, I posted my 70 Most Memorable SFF Books I’ve Read here.

I hope some of you will engage with me on this journey and perhaps even join me. Who we are today is very much informed by the past. And often whom we become and the strength, value and character of it is determined by our knowledge of the past. After all, we not only learn from our mistakes but those of our forefathers.

I very much look forward to the education of this journey and to your thoughts and my own along the way. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

 

ConStellation III Report

Well, we survived it: A Science Fiction Con with no WiFi. Most of us were less than happy about that, and the hotel had a plethora of problems, including a badly leaking roof which forced staff to evacuate the art show to a new location due to the heavy rains and tornado weather. However, the Con was so well run, we all had a great time in spite of this. Even the hotel staff urging us downstairs at one point couldn’t dampen spirits for long.

The dealer’s room was a happy place with a generous group of people supporting each other and steady visits from always helpful staff even as attendees made their way through. I sold 13 books at the Con and had 3 more online sales during the convention, which makes it my most successful Con for book sales so far. Attendance reached 250 this year, a new height for the Con, and I’d say that definitely helped. I also gave out a lot of cards with my website info on it as well. Despite my new ebook cards drawing interest, I didn’t get the first sale on them but that was due in part, I believe, to Sams Dot not having ebooks and thus not wanting to push them, and I didn’t go out of my way either. They were readily in sight for anyone who looked at the table. At ConQuest, when it’s just me at my table, I’ll try a different approach. I must admit, I do prefer selling paper copies, however.

Two of my three panels were well attended. 10 people showed up first thing Saturday morning at 11 for CHARACTER BUILDING. They were attentive, but, perhaps, tired. It took me a bit to work them up to interaction, however, they were all eager to learn. My reading that afternoon had no one present, but I waited there for 15 minutes and then got an influx of people and wound up reading to 6, which was almost double my reading at Conclave last October. And they really seemed to enjoy that as well as the Q&A time following, so I felt good about it. I also know at least two of those people bought books, so I’d call that a success as well.

On Sunday, I did two panels back to back. The first, FAITH IN SFF, drew a dozen very engaged people. I didn’t go to all of the other panels, but I’d say I had as many as the Conan panel before had drawn and these people engaged very  much with the material and me, leading to a great discussion. They even applauded at the end. I had approached this as a discussion of faith in all of its forms: not just faith in Higher Powers, but faith in magic or science or even wealth. I asked everyone to be respectful and stated that our purpose was not to argue validity of beliefs but discuss how they motivate us and how their presence is handled in world building. I read my list of SF classics with religious themes from SF Signal and then added those mentioned in the comments on that post as well as a few others I’d discovered. Attendees added even more. I’ll have an even longer list when I do this panel again at OsFest. In fact, the OsFest chair was present and complimented the panel,  encouraging me to repeat it at their Con. I honestly wasn’t sure we’d get much interest in the topic and that, if we did, it might devolve into incivility. I was so pleasantly surprised. Very enlightening for all of us, I felt. I learned as much as anyone.

My second Sunday panel, GREAT READS, drew only 3 people but they were lively and we had a great discussion on books we’ve loved. I read books from my 2011 Year’s Best Reads List and didn’t even get to my 70 Most Memorable SFF Reads which I also had brought with  me. My list of books people suggested, which I want to read includes:  Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer, Persistence Of Vision by John Varley, Flight of The Dragonfly by Robert Foster, Chung Kuo by David Wingrove, The Leandros series by Rob Thurman and Integral Trees by David Niven.

My own schedule was so busy that I didn’t get to hear Elizabeth Bear’s panels, unfortunately. Between my own panels and reading and then dealer room duties, I missed her activities. I did, however, introduce myself and I’ll see her again soon at Convergence in Bloomington, MN. She also agreed to do an interview by email for SFFWRTCHT soon, so that will be two great chances to learn about her more.

I also sold a series of interviews with short story writers to Sams Dot Publishing for their Aoife’s Kiss zine and booked Jack McDevitt, who turned around my questions so fast, I’d already turned the thing in Monday, well ahead of the May 1 deadline for the June issue. I’ll be looking into Tanith Lee and others for upcoming issues, 1 per month.  This is my first paid interview series. The small press pays a token amount, but it’s regular income of a sort and, added to other sources, is a step in the right direction.

One of the more humorous events of the Con also involves McDevitt, whom I told in my emails I would look forward to meeting at OsFest in Omaha this July. He’s list as Guest Of Honor, only, he said he wouldn’t be there. Too busy. I ran into the Con chairs of that Con at my panels and mentioned that to them, suggesting perhaps emailing Jack soon might be a good idea. To say they were a bit worried would be an understatement, but on Monday, Jack informed me he would indeed be at the Con. He said he’d forgotten to write it down and commented: “I’m beginning to understand why my wife won’t let me out alone at night.”

Altogether, a success and enjoyment. I’d certainly do it again, if asked. I certainly recommend it to other dealers and creatives as well. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Top 10 Silliest Things People Get Annoyed About On The Web

We’ve all seen it. People flaming mad over silly things someone did on the web. And I’m not talking political or religious posts or family infighting, either. I’m talking fairly common little things which really shouldn’t be that big of deal to anyone. They are always things that really deserve people getting riled up about them, so why people waste their energy getting so mad over so little is beyond me, but here’s my Top 10 Silliest Things People Get Annoyed About On The Web:

1) Facebook invites–Whether to games, pages or groups, the posts on your wall are often more Facebook’s fault than your FB friend’s fault. FB has a silly set up for these things. Sometimes they happen and people are even unaware. The first time one appears for a particular application, page or group, click the x to block all posts and you’ll never see one again. It’s eas. So if you’re going to get all bent out of shape about something this small, you probably shouldn’t be on the Web.

2) People Who Don’t Do Social Media/Webbing Exactly Like You–What? You have time to read and comment on tons of blogs? You spend hours a day keeping up? You do everything just right, dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Hey! Good for you. But not everyone has time or interest and there’s nothing wrong with that. The freedom that makes the web great is the fact users can employ its capabilities on their own terms. Just because someone doesn’t do it the way you think it should be done, doesn’t make them an idiot. Your furor over it is far more idiotic.

3) Celebrities Who Don’t Follow Back Or Reply– REALLY?!!! Seriously people? You honestly think they have time? They don’t have a million followers for nothing. In fact, many of them have assistants who do all their web posts and tweeting. How are you to know if it was genuinely them responding anyway? Does it make you better than everyone else if they do? I don’t think so. Get over it!

4) Hashtags–“They use too many!” “They’re confusing!” “They’re annoying!” “They’re stupid!” #gotnewsforyou #hashtags are #heretostay. They’re not going away. #deal withit! They can actually be a lot of fun and, more importantly, big time savers.

5) Lists Omitting Their Personal Favorites–Uh, hey, these lists here, like this one? They are a person’s OPINION, okay? They are subjective. Great freedom of the web: you can make your own list. So why are you getting all upset over mine? I may not like or rank your favorite things the same as you but you can counter with your own list. No need to insult my intelligence or question my parentage or integrity. It’s OPINION. Repeat after me.

6) Other People Daring To Talk About Things They Themselves Don’t Care About–“So-and-So is so annoying. Why can’t he post about something interesting that I like?” I don’t even know what to say about this. Unfriend, unfollow or shut up and respect free speech.

7) People Having More Friends/Followers–It’s not high school. The Web is a great equalizer but you do have to be interesting and you do have to make an effort. If someone has more followers and they’re not a celebrity, they’re probably just following back more and interacting better. Maybe they’re providing more useful content. You can always up your game but it’s not a competition and it’s nothing worth getting all steamed about.

8 ) Chain Posts–Okay, they are silly. And they don’t make sense. No, you are not denouncing Jesus if you don’t repost. No, you won’t go to hell either. No, you are not unsupportive of veterans, etc. either. Some people enjoy being sheep and others march to their own drum. You’re fine either way. Just hide the posts if they annoy you but don’t even give it a second thought.

9) People Using Foreign Languages On The Web–This one’s so obvious, I almost forgot it. Really? English is the dominate language for website language because of the html developers using it, not because English rules the world, people. You have users from all over the world. If you get to a site where they are using a different language, learn it or leave. Now, posting comments in a language no one can understand is rude and silly, too, of course, but it harms the poster more than the recipient. I mean, if they really wanted to communicate, they’d get with the program on that. So stop bitching, really.

10) People Who Get Annoyed At People Who Point Out Their Silliness In Posts Like This–You know you’re out there. If we can’t learn to laugh at ourselves, how can can we survive? Seriously. In a nihilistic world, it’s important to separate what’s worthy of raging and angry energy and what needs to roll off our backs. Did I poke at your precious annoyances? Maybe they shouldn’t be so precious. Save your wrath for things which really matter. The internet and your lives will be happier places, trust me. There really are plenty of legitimate things to get mad about, but these ten just aren’t them. After all, web piracy is alive and well and so are things like child porn, abuse, bullying, etc. So let’s try and keep things in perspective.

Well, there’s my Top 10. What would you put on this list? Feel free to comment below. I’ll be interested in hearing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tips: The Power Of Diligence

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Steve Martin talks about how important diligence has been to his success. And the website Study Hacks, which explores how some people succeed and others don’t explores his comments. I also recently read that a high percentage of Robert Frost’s most acclaimed poems were written after he’d reached the age of 50. That got me thinking how important diligence is to the writer’s journey.

If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, the writing life is a lifelong journey. The day you stop learning new things or striving to get better, you might as well close up shop because that’s what it’s all about. Through all the rejections, all the bad reviews, all the starving days, all the tribulations of artistic life, only one thing is sure: you can always get better. You’ll know know everything.

That’s why diligence is so vital for success as a writer.

If someone as respected and famous as Robert Frost did his best work in his later years, if someone like Steve Martin values diligence, how can we not ask ourselves to be diligent too?  You can only be the best you can be at any moment. But if you continue to grow and learn, i.e. through diligence, you can get better and better. And, like Frost, the highlights of your career can come later in life. Martin won two Grammys for his banjo albums, both well into his career as movie star, post-career as standup comedian. He’d been playing banjo for 50 years when he won one of them. Now that’s diligence.

How successful do you want to be? Do you want a career or just a hobby? One requires diligence, one doesn’t. Period. To do anything artistic well, one must constantly reexamine and strive to improve technique, craft, etc. No one’s perfect and there’s always room to grow as an artist. There’s a reason writers talk about the “writer’s journey.” There’s also a reason you don’t hear successful authors say “the journey is over.” In fact, many would say “my writer’s journey’s just begun.”

Think of writers like George R.R. Martin, who is writing a 7 book series but taking more than a decade to do it. The gaps between books are years, not because he intends to drive readers and his publisher to distraction, but because he’s diligent. He wants to get it right. Would anyone begrudge him that? To me, there’s something to be admired in that kind of dedication. It’s a level of intensity I sometimes wish I could match. On the other hand, GRRM has more financial security as a writer than I do and I wonder if I’d survive such long periods between paychecks. Still, I admire his dedication and diligence in writing it the best it can be and doing it the way he needs to in order to get there.

To do anything well, one must be willing to work hard. Some times working hard means different things for different people. For some, certain things come more easily than for others. I have writer friends like Jay Lake who turn in what they call “clean first drafts.” Others of us spend days going over copyedits. I think these are things one can improve on with time. I know some who struggle with POV and description, while others roll intricate flowery emotional prose off their keyboards like breathing air. (I hate them for it, don’t you?) Some are stronger on science than character. Some are stronger on dialogue than plot. Part of being human is to be imperfect. It’s not a crime. It’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome with diligence.

It’s a cliche, I suppose, to say anything worth having is worth working for, but in a sense, that’s just truth. The writers whose careers last decades are known for diligence: Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc. All have worked hard to perfect their craft. All write with great discipline and take advantage of every opportunity. All produce multiple books and stories every year. And all will tell you it’s hard work and that they are always seeking to improve.

For me, part of following their example is modeling myself after their efforts. I am diligently blogging, writing, and networking. I am diligently educating myself about this business. I am diligently reading to be aware of what’s come before and who’s writing what. And I am diligently studying storytelling, craft, prose, etc. to understand how others do it well and improve my own work in the process.

How’s your diligence? Is it a priority for you? Are you in it for the long haul or short run? Good questions to ask, I think. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

The Importance Of Strategy & A Career Plan For Writers

I recently commented on a post by Mike Duran, an author friend, who got slammed by self-publishing fans for the gall to suggest one might actually want to have patience and explore options before rushing into self-publishing. HOW DARE HE?! You’d have thought he was talking about abortion or gay marriage from the vehemence of the responses. Most seemed not very thoughtful (not all) and very knee jerk reactions.

Ask yourself this right now writers: Do you want a writing career or do you want a writing hobby?

By writing career, I don’t necessarily mean full time. That’s  a pipe dream for the majority of writers. But you can publish a lot of books while holding down a day job and be quite successful as well. That’s a writing career.

By writing hobby, I mean someone who just wings it. You write, you throw it out there, repeat.

It does not matter if you are an outliner or pantser, if you want some kind of career arc with longevity, you must consider strategy and planning for how to approach your career. Yes, those plans will evolve over time. Things will happen you never expected. That doesn’t negate the need for careful thought. And one of the most important considerations you can make is which publishers to work with and why.

FACT: The market is flooded with self-published books.

FACT: There is a lot of stuff that’s self-published because no professional publisher, small or large, in their right minds would pay money to publish it.

FACT: When you self-publish, people will look at you as if you might have written crap. It’s up to you to get them to discover differently and it’s a hard road.

So why is it so offensive, then, to suggest that people exercise patience? Hey! I know how hard it is to be patient when it comes to your passions. I have ADHD and patience is something I never pray for, fearing God will actually test me. But the advantages I’ve found to the reactions for my novel, published through a small traditional press, and my self-published short story collection are significant. The novel gets taken far more seriously by reviewers, readers, etc. It’s easier to sell. It’s easier to promote. It lent a sense of legitimacy to my career as a writer that the collection just didn’t. Now, I’ll admit the novel’s better. But even so, the collection was carefully prepared, beta read, and edited by others before I put it out there. I did approach it like a professional rather than just throwing it out there. But the stigma of self-publishing is a fact.

I walk into bookstores with my novel or sit at tables and the first thing people ask is “self-published?” People are inundated. And people are wary. They actually look relieved when I tell them it was published by a professional publisher.

These are just observations I’ve made from the past five months as an author out promoting his book. So it amazes me that so many people will jump down the throat of someone who suggests the common sense to think before you act in regards to self-publishing. It seems plain and simple to me. In fact, it seems stupid not to think it through.

The difference between those who want to be professional writers and those who are hobbyists is some thoughtful consideration of what to write, how you’d like to see it published, whether to have an agent, etc. It involves consideration of craft and growth, constant educating and reeducating of one’s self to stay on top of not just prose issues but the industry and genres. It involves being a harder critic on yourself than anyone else can be and approaching your work like a pro: seeking gatekeepers to help vet it and make sure it’s polished. The difference between a self-published novel where the author hired editors and made sure it was polished and one where the author just threw it on the market is huge. Do people occasionally get lucky? Sure. But luck is no foundation on which to build your career. Most of career building comes from hard work. It’s surely a symptom of our cultural addiction to instant gratification that people ignore that. There’s been plenty of evidence to prove it.

If you want to play Russian roulette with your career, you do have the right, of course. But if you don’t, attacking someone with common sense for daring to suggest you use some yourself is foolish and ignorant. It shows a lack of seriousness about yourself and your work. It shows the lack of a pro attitude.

I approach my writing as a career I’d like to make a significant portion of my income from. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was but a young child. It finally seems possible. After years of struggle, rejection and heart ache, I am finally getting success. I want more success, greedy bastard that I am, not less. So every move I make in regards to contracts signed, publishers I submit to, etc. is very carefully considered. I ask friends. I do research. I pray. I’d like to get to the goal of three novels a year. So far I am at two written. I’d like to have an agent. And I’d definitely like to make a profit as a novelist. Not there yet. So before I consider self-publishing, I think long and hard about my decisions. I can’t afford to be casual. I can’t afford to be careless. If you’re serious about your writing career, neither can you.

Let’s be clear. I am not saying all self-publishing is crap. Read this again if you think that. Never said it. But I am saying the stigma is real. And cannot/should not be ignored. What if your work gets lost in the shuffle? Are you okay with that? What if it’s not ready and you realize that after it’s out there associated with your name? Could it scare off future readers? Yes it could. Can your work be rejected without being read just because of the stigma? Yes. So give it careful consideration. Self-publishing may be right for you. But the stats speak for themselves. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. And above all, it’s no reason to attack a man suggesting patience as good sense in your approach to publishing.

If you’re serious about writing, it should be approached like a business. And most successful businesses have strategies and plans beyond an hour from now. Think about how you spend your money, where you spend it and why. How do you present yourself? What’s your audience? Are you a long form writing? A short fiction writer? A nonfiction writer? Or all three? What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths? How do you need to improve and what are things you can do to make that growth happen? Set goals. Most of all, write. Every day. It does take patience to succeed, especially in the writing business. It also takes smarts, not just passion, but wise thinking and strategizing with every move. How will the decision you’re making right now advance your career? If it doesn’t advance your career, is it worth doing? Where do you want to be in six months? A year? Five years?

Have a strategy. Have a plan. Know what you want. Go for it thoughtfully. That’s my two cents.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince—which received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011—and The Returning, both from the space opera series Saga Of Davi Rhii. He also wrote the collection The North Star Serial, and short stories published in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Of Fur And Fire and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation, amongst others. A freelance professional editor and proofreader, he’s edited books for authors like Leon C. Metz, David Brown and Ellen C. Maze. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Twitter (#sffwrtcht), where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, A.C. Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎18 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.