Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Five Years Ago...

I was 37 weeks pregnant, rushing around work in my European houseshoes (the only pair of shoes I had that fit my swollen feet), trying to finish up some projects before I had to leave for my weekly ultrasound. I met my husband at the doctor's office; we drove in separately. After the ultrasound, the doctor walked in and said, "You timed it just right."

They'd been monitoring me for pre-eclampsia, and I'd had to do a protein test over the weekend (which is probably the only time I've missed WisCon since 1998). Even though my C-section had already been scheduled for mid-June, it was time to move it up.

Without rehashing the details, we wound up with this:

 Who, since then, has led us down many a path of joy and frustration, laughter and worry, teaching and learning. Until today....

He not only turns five, but graduates from pre-K.

Happy birthday, son.

With much love,


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

WisCon 36 Recap

Ah, another WisCon has come and gone. They always go by so quickly. Here are a few highlights from the weekend:

1. The hotel: Apparently, all the rooms now have refrigerators (this used to be the luck of the draw). This allowed us not only to buy some produce at the Farmer's Market, but to buy groceries for breakfast and lunch--a much cheaper and healthier option. However, the room we had didn't have a bathtub, just a shower. Alex is used to taking baths, but he gamely agreed to try showers. The experience wasn't too bad. I miss the orange-scented shampoo/conditioner/bodywash the hotel used to provide. However, they did provide us with a free insulated bag to bring our food home.

2. The pool--The three of us got to spend some family time in the pool. It was funny how the pool seemed cooler at night but warmer in the early morning (when I swam laps for exercise). No wonder Alex preferred the whirlpool!

3. The weather--It rained heavily enough on Saturday to delay our going to the Farmer's Market, but not so severely that we couldn't go at all. Later, it cleared enough for Eugene and Alex to walk from the hotel all the way down State Street to Memorial Union and back. No wonder Alex napped when they returned! Sunday was too hot to do much outside, so Eugene and Alex did some activities in Kids programming.

4. My purse--My purse strap broke as I was coming back to the hotel from a brief shopping excursion. For the rest of the weekend, I wound up using a stylish brown paper bag.

5. My purchases--I bought a unicorn mug in the Dealer's Room (the source of the bag mentioned above), two e-books, and a paper book. I also picked up a few items at the Soap Opera on State Street.

6. My panels--I did a reading on Saturday with some other members of BroadUniverse; that seemed to go well. Sunday I moderated a panel on critique groups. It was my first time moderating, and it was interesting because a couple of the other panelists were quite outspoken. I think it went well, however.

7. Other Panels--I attended panels on female villains, crowdfunding and self-promotion, the oppression of children, things to know before self-publishing, and "I'm Blonde, But I'm Not 20 And I Don't Physically Kick Ass." This is probably the fewest number of panels I've attended at a con, but part of that was due to helping out at the BroadUniverse table.

8. My sales--I sold five paper books during the convention. I wasn't sure what to expect, but for a relatively unknown author, that's not bad. It looks as if I had a few sample downloads from Smashwords, but I didn't see any sales of e-books during this time.

9. The Signout--It was fun participating in the SignOut on Monday. I appreciated that we were able to get some light munchables during the event. (I shared them with my son.) Alex helped me hand out chocolate Kisses during the event; he was quite the fun assistant. I also asked another author to sign my Kindle.

10. My friends--It was great being able to see some of our friends at WisCon and outside of it as well. I wish WisCon could be twice as long--but the hotel bill would be a bit much then.

P.S. I have a few paperbacks of Lyon's Legacy left over from WisCon. If you'd like to order one directly from me, it's $5.00 plus shipping. I can take payment through PayPal or via check. Please contact me if you're interested.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blog Ring of Power Interview: Sally Franklin Christie

I hope you're enjoying your long weekend, everyone! Thanks for stopping by today. My guest today is Sally Franklin Christie, and she's going to tell us about her current work, Milk Carton People. You can find the previous parts of her interview on Terri's, Theresa's, and Emily's blogs; Dean will host the conclusion tomorrow.

Tell us about your new book and when it is out? Where can people purchase it? 

Milk Carton People released in February 2012.  It is available at most of your favorite e-bookstores and it is also available in paperback.  I am excited because I have had it around in one form or another for probably a decade.  From other authors and marketers I have heard that the best way to sell a book is to write another.  I hope this book will sell my first book, If I Should Die.  They are both thrillers of sorts.  Both books have main characters who overcome things from within and without.  Both show us a bit about the world of a protagonist and how things are not black and white on the meaningful scale of right and wrong.  It is perspective and perception. 

Is there anything new, unusual, or interesting about your book? How is it different from other books on the same subject? 

The Main Characters in Milk Carton People have gone missing from their own lives.  They are a part of the world and at the same time apart from the world.  They can experience things and see each other but their interaction with the rest of humanity is cut off.  It has a lot to do with a person’s reaction to being plucked out of an ordinary day and plunked down in the middle of a world that simply doesn’t make since.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? 

I had to do a lot of world building.  These folks had new rules of physics to learn.  They could pass through walls but couldn’t open doors.  None of their co-workers or families could see them.  They could make things in one world solid in their own but again there had to be rules about how it could be done.  Some things couldn’t be done at all.  For example, they can access bread and a toaster if they take their time but they cannot make toast because the laws of energy do not cross over for them. 

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why? 

My favorite part of the book is where the Main Character, Ruth, finally understands anger and comes to terms with it.  She understood fear and longing but until the end there were parts of being human that she didn’t own up to.  It was through the antagonist’s fears that she made the connection.

Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it? 

I learned cause and effect.  I also learned how serious world building can be.  I researched the history of Milk Carton People and delved into the world of missing people. 

Tell us about your book’s cover – where did the design come from and what was the design process like? 

Amanda Kelsey at Eternal Press made this cover.  I explained that the book begins and ends with the Main Character sitting on a park bench.  She got it.  She nailed it.  Most recently, I asked Kim at Blazing Trailers to make a trailer for the book.  She nailed it, too.  If two people can see what I saw after learning what the book is about then I feel like I nailed it as well.  Amanda Kelsey also did the cover for If I Should Die and Blazing Trailers made the trailer for that one as well.

You can find Sally online through the links below:

Blog:     Life is a Story – Tell it Big
Other:  Buy Links for Milk Carton People and Buy Links for If I Should Die
Is your book in print, ebook or both?
Both are available in e-format and print. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Science of the Week, 5/25/12

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone! Today is the start of WisCon. I plan to have an extra post up on Tuesday discussing the convention. For now, here are some of the most interesting news stories I read on ScienceBlog this week:

A robot learns to tidy up after you (I need a bunch of these to pick up after my son! I wonder how good they would be at organizing his toys.)

Rewritable storage via DNA

Newfound exoplanet may turn to dust

Rare neurons discovered in monkey brains

Not much this week, but I'm sure people have other things besides science on the mind going into the long weekend. I hope you enjoy yours. If you have time on Monday, be sure to stop by for another Blog Ring of Power interview.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What I'm Wearing to WisCon...

Besides my new sundresses, that is.

This is a button that I designed online. In case you're wondering, "fungible" means "interchangeable." A recent letter from Simon Lipskar, head of  Writers House, to the Department of Justice suggests that the agency model of book pricing doesn't harm consumers because although the price of best-selling books went up, other book prices went down. Joe Konrath deconstructed Lipskar's letter here (Konrath was the one to use the word "fungible", BTW), and he pointed out that Lipskar assumed that readers would be just as happy with one book as another. In effect, he was treating books like interchangeable widgets.

As a reader and a writer, I most certainly do not feel books are widgets. It doesn't matter who publishes them; what matters is the story inside and what craft the writer brings to the story. If I'm in the mood for a certain type of book or an author's voice, something else will not substitute for it. I read and write because I value these stories. I search out specific authors and series because I care for them.

No matter if you're a reader or a writer, no matter how you pursue your path to publication, I hope you will show support for authors and the unique stories they create.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Scientific American, June 2012

I don't have an interview for you today, but there will be one on Memorial Day.

Since I finished reading the latest issue of Scientific American over the weekend, here are a few articles I thought would be interesting to science fiction writers and readers:

"The Ultimate Social Network"--Between five and seven pounds of our body weight is due to the bacteria living on our skin and inside us. These bacteria may affect our health in ways we're only beginning to understand. Unfortunately, some of the most helpful strains are becoming less common due to antibiotics.

"The Human Brain Project"--This article discusses how a project to create a digital simulation of the human brain will affect computing and medicine.

"Fusion's Missing Pieces"--Although several countries are participating in a venture to build a fusion reactor, the project is over budget and behind schedule.

In other news, I ordered something last week for WisCon. It's already shipped, so I'm crossing my fingers that it arrives by Tuesday night. If it does, I'll take a picture and blog about it on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Interview with Briane Pagel: Five Questions about 'The After'

Last year, I invited Briane Pagel to my blog for a two-part interview. You can read it here and there (but not everywhere).Since then, he's published a new book, called "the After." After reading and enjoying it, I had a few non-spoiler questions for him about the book. Here are his responses:

1.      What inspired you to write “The After”?
About four years ago, we were set to take a trip to Florida.  I had just finished another novel of mine, one that I haven’t published yet, and was looking for something to write. (I write every day, usually in the mornings.  I have a complicated writing schedule that would be best described as a paper version of an orrery.) 
At the same time, I had had a discussion the day before with one of my kids in which I said that my view of Heaven was that it was whatever you wanted it to be, a perfect place ideally suited to you.  So I decided to explore what that would be like, and began the book with a family taking a trip to Florida because that’s what we were getting ready to do.
2.      Why did you choose William Howard Taft to be in your novel?
Honestly? I needed a character to explain the After to Saoirse; every fantasy or sci-fi novel has an uneducated person as its main character, and that person always needs to learn about the world he or she is moving into – so there must always be an Obi Wan or someone to tell your character about the new world.
When I got to the part where that character was going to knock on Saoirse’s door, I left off for the day – my habit is to write 5 pages, no more, no less, on a novel at a time – and later that day was jogging and thinking about where the story would go next and the song William Howard Taft by “The Two Man Gentleman Band” came on.  The lyrics include the line You can’t sneak nothing past/William Howard Taft.
On that basis alone, I decided William Howard Taft would be the explainer and possible-villain.
3.      Why is he almost always referred to by his full name?
William Howard Taft is referred to by his full name almost every time because of his importance in the After; it’s a way of weighting his significance, like a leitmotif for his character.  Those times when his name is diminished are significant, but the why is left for the reader to decide.
I’ve often said that symbolism is bunk and that everything is symbolic of everything – two views I hold dear as a writer.  So I tend to use symbolism the way I use salt in baking:  If I have it, I’ll use it but I’m not sure why. 
4.      The main character, Saoirse, is confused for much of the novel. Was it difficult to write a confused character yet make the story clear for the reader?
I think the hardest thing for me to imagine was what the After would really be like – if you knew you were there, if you didn’t know you were there, if someone clued you in to it. 
One theme that’s pretty common in literature is the question of whether a memory of something is the same thing as doing that thing.  Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is one of the earliest stories I ever read on that theme, but another good one is Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow.  In both, people “experience” something by having memories of it implanted in them.
That kind of thing bothered me, because I place a premium on doing that thing.  If you go to the beach, you feel the sand in your toes and the fear when something brushes your foot and the wind blowing the salty smell to you and the sunburnt shoulders and that awesome feeling when you are later on dry and changed into clean clothes, and then you remember it, which to me seems different than simply having a memory implanted, even though the net result is the same, so the question of whether simply remembering something is  as good as doing it is one I like to think about.
Then there are things like The Matrix – where people never “experience” their lives at all, having them only be mental images.
the After is different than both of those, in a way:  people really experience it, but it’s clearly not what we think of as real.  So it raises lots of questions: if you are surrounded by your family but they’re not really dead, is that the same thing? Would it be Heaven if you didn’t have your family there? 
And then I began to wonder: what would you do?  Would “life” be a constant adventure? Would it be humdrum?  Wouldn’t there be people who simply wanted to sit and read a book, even if they could do anything else in the world?
It’s that confusion that you see coming through in Saoirse (see? I didn’t forget the question!):  the confusion about what life is, what perfection is, and what having everything exactly the way you want it means.  People think that would be eternal happiness, sunshine and meadows and songs, but don’t you sometimes want a rainy day? 
5.      What would your After be like?
I thought I’d have a flip answer to this, something like “Unending leftover pizza and sleeping in on Sundays,” but then I thought about it for a few minutes and came up with this:
My After would be all those choices I didn’t make in my life: I’d spend eternity living every possible life I could have led, from simple stuff like the time we decided to go to Las Vegas for vacation rather than San Diego (I’d go to San Diego) to the times I wanted to quit my job and start a new business, to a recent day when I was driving and opted not to pull off at a historic roadside stop because I wanted to get to my hearing early so I could check my email.  In my After, I would have all eternity to take that left turn and see what was historic about that place, what San Diego is like in December, what I would have been like as an oceanographer, as a doctor, as a writer, as a theater actor, as a rock star.
Which in itself might be as unsatisfying as Saoirse’s was, at times – when you never have to make a choice, everything has the same value to you.  And when everything has the same value, there’s a risk that nothing will have any value.
(Sandra: I particularly like those last two lines, which is why they're bolded.)

Thanks for stopping by again, Briane, and don't forget to check out his book!

Monday, May 14, 2012

BRoP Interview: Pauline Baird Jones

I'm fortunate today to be able to bring you another BRoP interview with a BroadUniverse member, Pauline Baird Jones. She's here to share her creative process with us.

Where do you get your story ideas?

I think my mom wonders that, too, though she'd add "where in the world…" The short answer, is that I have no clue. With some thought I can trace one story to a fragment of a dream, another to a profile of a person, some emerged out of a bit of conversation, there was some fan fiction gone awry, desperation, perspiration, movies/books that didn't satisfy…I guess you could say I get my ideas from living. 

Do you have a specific writing style? 

I have noticed that I have what I'd call a more conversational style than other authors. It's more relaxed, like a conversation with the characters. I think I have issues left over from early English classes and the formal writing required. So my characters are never formal in thought or speech (unless their character calls for it).

How do you deal with writer’s block? 

I hate getting writer's block and I'm never sure if I'm really blocked, just trying to write too soon, or attempting to force a scene or my characters where they don't want to go. Since I write randomly, seat of the pants, I have many false starts and it takes me time to get into the flow of a new book. And its very easy to go down a wrong plot path and have to backtrack, or not know my characters well enough to get them to do what needs to be done (or figure out what they think needs to be done). I love it when the Muse pops free of the block and the ideas come fast again. But it takes a lot of pacing and thinking for that to happen.

 Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not? 

 I use beta readers, not critique partners. I can't give my MIP to anyone too soon. There is a simmering period, then lots of rewriting and thinking. When I'm about halfway through, then I need eyes on it, but just to tell me it makes sense and isn't too awful. When I've got a complete rough draft, then I bring in the beta readers and ask them to be brutal. 

How much time do you spend on research? What type of research do you do? 

It depends on the book, of course. When you're writing science fiction, sometimes there isn't information available. So I have to make it up. (grin) I did do a lot of research for my steampunk novella and am currently doing a lot of research for my upcoming novel. It's interesting and fun, but unlike some, I never get lost in it. The only thing I get lost in is the story. So I'm happy when I can ease back on the research and ramp up the writing.

You can find the previous parts of Pauline's interview here and here (Theresa's and Emily's blogs respectively. Her interview continues tomorrow at Dean's blog and concludes on Wednesday at Terri's blog.

Pauline Baird Jones began her writing career penning romantic suspense (fictional murder doesn’t get you strip searched!) but she had a secret longing to ramp up the spills, chills and daring do. By chance she wrote a science fiction romance, realized she’d been mixing fiction into her science since high school (oops, sorry science teachers!), and thought, why not go where she hasn’t gone before? After that, it was easy to stir in some steampunk. The Key was the first in her Project Enterprise series, which will conclude with #6, Kicking Ashe.

Facebook page:
Goodreads author page:

What format is your book(s) available in (print, e-book, audio book, etc.)?

Trade paperback, most digital formats. I have one book available in audio: THE KEY.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Science of the Week, 5/11/12

Is it just me, or do the weeks seem to be passing faster and faster?

Here are a few science links for the week:

Free-floating planets in the Milky Way Outnumber Stars

Secrets of the first practical artificial leaf

Bacteria as computer builders

Quantum dots brighten the future of lighting

African scientist, disigner partner to fashion anti-malaria garment

Some giant planets in other systems likely to be alone

"Losing yourself' in a fictional character may affect your real life (you may have seen this one discussed elsewhere)

Can that train rumble or glass reflection power your laptop?

Dinosaur burps may have warmed prehistoric Earth

Robot reveals the inner working of brain cells

There, that should keep you busy for a while. In case it doesn't, there's always National Train Day tomorrow. While my son probably prefers Halloween or Christmas, I'm sure National Train Day is on his favorite holiday list. I think I'll stick to Mother's Day myself. ;)

Have a good weekend, and be sure to return Monday for another Blog Ring of Power interview!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Help! I've Been Pinned!

I'm probably one of the last people to get on board the Pinterest train, but I finally did so the other day. Ironically enough, I did so to save ideas for my real-train-obsessed son. Now I have several other boards up. I've seen other writers use Pinterest to collect inspiring images, so I'm doing that for my Catalyst Chronicles series. I have another board dedicated to my favorite books, plus additional boards for some of my other interests. (I was hoping to use this for the science links I post on Fridays, but apparently Pintrest is more interested in collecting images instead of text.) You can follow me at Sandra Almazan or sf4ever if you're interested.

Writers: Do you have any other writing-related uses for Pintrest? If so, what are they?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Guest Post at Motivation for Creation

I'm just popping on to say I'm a guest at Lara Schiffbauer's Motivation for Creation today. My topic is scheduling pre-writing sessions instead of just writing sessions. Thanks for hosting me, Lara, and please head on over to comment if you so desire.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Interviewees Wanted!

Since the next Blog Ring of Power interview doesn't start until Thursday, I have no moveable interview for you today. So I thought it would be a good time to put out a call for more interviewees, preferably for authors writing SF or fantasy. I'm open to either doing a complete interview on this blog or inviting people to take part in the five-part Blog Ring of Power interview. Feel free to either comment on this post or e-mail me at sandraATsandraulbrichDOTcom if you're interested.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Spreading the Word: Kris Rusch and Royalty Statements

Those of you who follow Kristine Katherine Rusch's blog may know that it was hacked on Thursday following one of her "The Business Rusch" posts. When she reposted her article on another site, that was hacked too. She's given permission through The Passive Voice blog for this article to be reposted far and wide.

Beginning of post:
Welcome to one of my other websites. This one is for my mystery persona Paladin, from my Spade/Paladin short stories. She has a website in the stories, and I thought it would be cool to have the website online. It’s currently the least active of my sites, so I figured it was perfect for what I needed today.
Someone hacked my website. Ye Olde Website Guru and I are repairing the damage but it will take some time. The hacker timed the hack to coincide with the posting of my Business Rusch column. Since the hack happened 12 hours after I originally posted the column, I’m assuming that the hacker doesn’t like what I wrote, and is trying to shut me down. Aaaaah. Poor hacker. Can’t argue on logic, merits, or with words, so must use brute force to make his/her/its point. Poor thing.
Since someone didn’t want you to see this post, I figure I’d better get it up ASAP. Obviously there’s something here someone objects to–which makes it a bit more valuable than usual.
Here’s the post, which I am reloading from my word file, so that I don’t embed any malicious code here. I’m even leaving off the atrocious artwork (which we’re redesigning) just to make sure nothing got corrupted from there.
The post directs you to a few links from my website. Obviously, those are inactive at the moment. Sorry about that. I hope you get something out of this post.
I’m also shutting off comments here, just to prevent another short-term hack. Also, I don’t want to transfer them over. If you have comments, send them via e-mail and when the site comes back up, I’ll post them. Mark them “comment” in the header of the e-mail. Thanks!
The Business Rusch: Royalty Statement Update 2012
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the fact that my e-book royalties from a couple of my traditional publishers looked wrong. Significantly wrong. After I posted that blog, dozens of writers contacted me with similar information. More disturbingly, some of these writers had evidence that their paper book royalties were also significantly wrong.
Writers contacted their writers’ organizations. Agents got the news. Everyone in the industry, it seemed, read those blogs, and many of the writers/agents/organizations vowed to do something. And some of them did.
I hoped to do an update within a few weeks after the initial post. I thought my update would come no later than summer of 2011.
I had no idea the update would take a year, and what I can tell you is—
Bupkis. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch.
That doesn’t mean that nothing happened. I personally spoke to the heads of two different writers’ organizations who promised to look into this. I spoke to half a dozen attorneys active in the publishing field who were, as I mentioned in those posts, unsurprised. I spoke to a lot of agents, via e-mail and in person, and I spoke to even more writers.
The writers have kept me informed. It seems, from the information I’m still getting, that nothing has changed. The publishers that last year used a formula to calculate e-book royalties (rather than report actual sales) still use the formula to calculate e-book royalties this year.
I just got one such royalty statement in April from one of those companies and my e-book sales from them for six months were a laughable ten per novel. My worst selling e-books, with awful covers, have sold more than that. Significantly more.
To this day, writers continue to notify their writers’ organizations, and if those organizations are doing anything, no one has bothered to tell me. Not that they have to. I’m only a member of one writers’ organizations, and I know for fact that one is doing nothing.
But the heads of the organizations I spoke to haven’t kept me apprised. I see nothing in the industry news about writers’ organizations approaching/auditing/dealing with the problems with royalty statements. Sometimes these things take place behind the scenes, and I understand that. So, if your organization is taking action, please do let me know so that I can update the folks here.
The attorneys I spoke to are handling cases, but most of those cases are individual cases. An attorney represents a single writer with a complaint about royalties. Several of those cases got settled out of court. Others are still pending or are “in review.” I keep hearing noises about class actions, but so far, I haven’t seen any of them, nor has anyone notified me.
The agents disappointed me the most. Dean personally called an agent friend of ours whose agency handles two of the biggest stars in the writing firmament. That agent (having previously read my blog) promised the agency was aware of the problem and was “handling it.”
Two weeks later, I got an e-mail from a writer with that agency asking me if I knew about the new e-book addendum to all of her contracts that the agency had sent out. The agency had sent the addendum with a “sign immediately” letter. I hadn’t heard any of this. I asked to see the letter and the addendum.
This writer was disturbed that the addendum was generic. It had arrived on her desk—get this—without her name or the name of the book typed in. She was supposed to fill out the contract number, the book’s title, her name, and all that pertinent information.
I had her send me her original contracts, which she did. The addendum destroyed her excellent e-book rights in that contract, substituting better terms for the publisher. Said publisher handled both of that agency’s bright writing stars.
So I contacted other friends with that agency. They had all received the addendum. Most had just signed the addendum without comparing it to the original contract, trusting their agent who was (after all) supposed to protect them.
Wrong-o. The agency, it turned out, had made a deal with the publisher. The publisher would correct the royalties for the big names if agency sent out the addendum to every contract it had negotiated with that contract. The publisher and the agency both knew that not all writers would sign the addendum, but the publisher (and probably the agency) also knew that a good percentage of the writers would sign without reading it.
In other words, the publisher took the money it was originally paying to small fish and paid it to the big fish—with the small fish’s permission.
Yes, I’m furious about this, but not at the publisher. I’m mad at the authors who signed, but mostly, I’m mad at the agency that made this deal. This agency had a chance to make a good decision for all of its clients. Instead, it opted to make a good deal for only its big names.
Do I know for a fact that this is what happened? Yeah, I do. Can I prove it? No. Which is why I won’t tell you the name of the agency, nor the name of the bestsellers involved. (Who, I’m sure, have no idea what was done in their names.)
On a business level what the agency did makes sense. The agency pocketed millions in future commissions without costing itself a dime on the other side, since most of the writers who signed the addendum probably hadn’t earned out their advances, and probably never would.
On an ethical level it pisses me off. You’ll note that my language about agents has gotten harsher over the past year, and this single incident had something to do with it. Other incidents later added fuel to the fire, but they’re not relevant here. I’ll deal with them in a future post.
Yes, there are good agents in the world. Some work for unethical agencies. Some work for themselves. I still work with an agent who is also a lawyer, and is probably more ethical than I am.
But there are yahoos in the agenting business who make the slimy used car salesmen from 1970s films look like action heroes. But, as I said, that’s a future post.
I have a lot of information from writers, most of which is in private correspondence, none of which I can share, that leads me to believe that this particular agency isn’t the only one that used my blog on royalty statements to benefit their bestsellers and hurt their midlist writers. But again, I can’t prove it.
So I’m sad to report that nothing has changed from last year on the royalty statement front.
The reason I was so excited about the Department of Justice lawsuit against the five publishers wasn’t because of the anti-trust issues (which do exist on a variety of levels in publishing, in my opinion), but because the DOJ accountants will dig, and dig, and dig into the records of these traditional publishers, particularly one company named in the suit that’s got truly egregious business practices.
Those practices will change, if only because the DOJ’s forensic accountants will request information that the current accounting systems in most publishing houses do not track. The accounting system in all five of these houses will get overhauled, and brought into the 21st century, and that will benefit writers. It will be an accidental benefit, but it will occur.
The audits alone will unearth a lot of problems. I know that some writers were skeptical that the auditors would look for problems in the royalty statements, but all that shows is a lack of understanding of how forensic accounting works. In the weeks since the DOJ suit, I’ve contacted several accountants, including two forensic accountants, and they all agree that every pebble, every grain of sand, will be inspected because the best way to hide funds in an accounting audit is to move them to a part of the accounting system not being audited.
So when an organization like the DOJ audits, they get a blanket warrant to look at all of the accounting, not just the files in question. Yes, that’s a massive task. Yes, it will take years. But the change is gonna come.
From the outside.
Those of you in Europe might be seeing some of that change as well, since similar lawsuits are going on in Europe.
I do know that several writers from European countries, New Zealand, and Australia have written to me about similar problems in their royalty statements. The unifying factor in those statements is the companies involved. Again, you’d recognize the names because they’ve been in the news lately…dealing with lawsuits.
Ironically for me, those two blog posts benefitted me greatly. I had been struggling to get my rights back from one publisher (who is the biggest problem publisher), and the week I posted the blog, I got contacted by my former editor there, who told me that my rights would come back to me ASAP. Because, the former editor told me (as a friend), things had changed since Thursday (the day I post my blog), and I would get everything I needed.
In other words, let’s get the troublemaker out of the house now. Fine with me.
Later, I discovered some problems with a former agency. I pointed out the problems in a letter, and those problems got solved immediately. I have several friends who’ve been dealing with similar things from that agency, and they can’t even get a return e-mail. I know that the quick response I got is because of this blog.
I also know that many writers used the blog posts from last year to negotiate more accountability from their publishers for future royalties. That’s a real plus. Whether or not it happens is another matter because I noted something else in this round of royalty statements.
Actually, that’s not fair. My agent caught it first. I need to give credit where credit is due, and since so many folks believe I bash agents, let me say again that my current agent is quite good, quite sharp, and quite ethical.
My agent noticed that the royalty statements from one of my publishers were basket accounted on the statement itself. Which is odd, considering there is no clause in any of the contracts I have with that company that allows for basket accounting.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with basket accounting, this is what it means:
A writer signs a contract with Publisher A for three books. The contract is a three-book contract. One contract, three books. Got that?
Okay, a contract with a basket-accounting clause allows the publisher to put all three books in the same accounting “basket” as if the books are one entity. So let’s say that book one does poorly, book two does better, and book three blows out of the water.
If book three earns royalties, those royalties go toward paying off the advances on books one and two.
Like this:
Advance for book one: $10,000
Advance for book two: $10,000
Advance for book three: $10,000
Book one only earned back $5,000 toward its advance. Book two only earned $6,000 toward its advance.
Book three earned $12,000—paying off its advance, with a $2,000 profit.
In a standard contract without basket accounting, the writer would have received the $2,000 as a royalty payment.
But with basket accounting, the writer receives nothing. That accounting looks like this:
Advance on contract 1: $30,000
Earnings on contract 1: $23,000
Amount still owed before the advance earns out: $7,000
Instead of getting $2,000, the writer looks at the contract and realizes she still has $7,000 before earning out.
Without basket accounting, she would have to earn $5,000 to earn out Book 1, and $4,000 to earn out Book 2, but Book 3 would be paying her cold hard cash.
Got the difference?
Now, let’s go back to my royalty statement. It covered three books. All three books had three different one-book contracts, signed years apart. You can’t have basket accounting without a basket (or more than one book), but I checked to see if sneaky lawyers had inserted a clause that I missed which allowed the publisher to basket account any books with that publisher that the publisher chose.
I got a royalty statement with all of my advances basket accounted because…well, because. The royalty statement doesn’t follow the contract(s) at all.
Accounting error? No. These books had be added separately. Accounting program error (meaning once my name was added, did the program automatically basket account)? Maybe.
But I’ve suspected for nearly three years now that this company (not one of the big traditional publishers, but a smaller [still large] company) has been having serious financial problems. The company has played all kinds of games with my checks, with payments, with fulfilling promises that cost money.
This is just another one of those problems.
My agent caught it because he reads royalty statements. He mentioned it when he forwarded the statements. I would have caught it as well because I read royalty statements. Every single one. And I compare them to the previous statement. And often, I compare them to the contract.
Is this “error” a function of the modern publishing environment? No, not like e-book royalties, which we’ll get back to in a moment. I’m sure publishers have played this kind of trick since time immemorial. Royalty statements are fascinating for what they don’t say rather than for what they say.
For example, on this particular (messed up) royalty statement, e-books are listed as one item, without any identification. The e-books should be listed separately (according to ISBN) because Amazon has its own edition, as does Apple, as does B&N. Just like publishers must track the hardcover, trade paper, and mass market editions under different ISBNs, they should track e-books the same way.
The publisher that made the “error” with my books had no identifying number, and only one line for e-books. Does that mean that this figure included all e-books, from the Amazon edition to the B&N edition to the Apple edition? Or is this publisher, which has trouble getting its books on various sites (go figure), is only tracking Amazon? From the numbers, it would seem so. Because the numbers are somewhat lower than books in the same series that I have on Amazon, but nowhere near the numbers of the books in the same series if you add in Apple and B&N.
I can’t track this because the royalty statement has given me no way to track it. I would have to run an audit on the company. I’m not sure I want to do that because it would take my time, and I’m moving forward.
That’s the dilemma for writers. Do we take on our publishers individually? Because—for the most part—our agents aren’t doing it. The big agencies, the ones who actually have the clout and the numbers to defend their clients, are doing what they can for their big clients and leaving the rest in the dust.
Writers’ organizations seem to be silent on this. And honestly, it’s tough for an organization to take on a massive audit. It’s tough financially and it’s tough politically. I know one writer who headed a writer’s organization a few decades ago. She spearheaded an audit of major publishers, and it cost her her writing career. Not many heads of organizations have the stomach for that.
As for intellectual property attorneys (or any attorney for that matter), very few handle class actions. Most handle cases individually for individual clients. I know of several writers who’ve gone to attorneys and have gotten settlements from publishers. The problem here is that these settlements only benefit one writer, who often must sign a confidentiality agreement so he can’t even talk about what benefit he got from that agreement.
One company that I know of has revamped its royalty statements. They appear to be clearer. The original novel that I have with that company isn’t selling real well as an e-book, and that makes complete sense since the e-book costs damn near $20. (Ridiculous.) The other books that I have with that company, collaborations and tie-ins, seem to be accurately reported, although I have no way to know. I do appreciate that this company has now separated out every single e-book venue into its own category (B&N, Amazon, Apple) via ISBN, and I can actually see the sales breakdown.
So that’s a positive (I think). Some of the smaller companies have accurate statements as well—or at least, statements that match or improve upon the sales figures I’m seeing on indie projects.
This is all a long answer to a very simple question: What’s happened on the royalty statement front in the past year?
A lot less than I had hoped.
So here’s what you traditionally published writers can do. Track your royalty statements. Compare them to your contracts. Make sure the companies are reporting what they should be reporting.
If you’re combining indie and traditional, like I am, make sure the numbers are in the same ballpark. Make sure your traditional Amazon numbers are around the same numbers you get for your indie titles. If they aren’t, look at one thing first: Price. I expect sales to be much lower on that ridiculous $20 e-book. If your e-books through your traditional publisher are $15 or more, then sales will be down. If the e-books from your traditional publisher are priced around $10 or less, then they should be somewhat close in sales to your indie titles. (Or, if traditional publishers are doing the promotion they claim to do, the sales should be better.)
What to do if they’re not close at all? I have no idea. I still think there’s a benefit to contacting your writers’ organizations. Maybe if the organization keeps getting reports of badly done royalty statements, someone will take action.
If you want to hire an attorney or an auditor, remember doing that will cost both time and money. If you’re a bestseller, you might want to consider it. If you’re a midlist writer, it’s probably not worth the time and effort you’ll put in.
But do yourself a favor. Read those royalty statements. If you think they’re bad, then don’t sign a new contract with that publisher. Go somewhere else with your next book.
I wish I could give you better advice. I wish the big agencies actually tried to use their clout for good instead of their own personal profits. I wish the writers’ organizations had done something.
As usual, it’s up to individual writers.
Don’t let anyone screw you. You might not be able to fight the bad accounting on past books, but make sure you don’t allow it to happen on future books.
That means that you negotiate good contracts, you make sure your royalty statements match those contracts, and you don’t sign with a company that puts out royalty statements that don’t reflect your book deal.
I’m quite happy that I walked away from the publisher I mentioned above years ago. I did so because I didn’t like the treatment I got from the financial and production side. The editor was—as editors often are—great. Everything else at the company sucked.
The royalty statement was just confirmation of a good decision for me.
I hope you make good decisions going forward.
Remember: read your royalty statements.
Good luck.
I need to thank everyone who commented, e-mailed, donated, and called because of last week’s post. When I wrote it, all I meant to do was discuss how we all go through tough times and how we, as writers, need to recognize when we’ve hit a wall. It seems I hit a nerve. I forget sometimes that most writers work in a complete vacuum, with no writer friends, no one except family, who much as they care, don’t always understand.
So if you haven’t read last week’s post, take a peek [link]. More importantly, look at the comments for great advice and some wonderful sharing. I appreciate them—and how much they expanded, added, and improved what I had to say. Thanks for that, everyone.
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“The Business Rusch: “Royalty Statement Update 2012,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Science of the Week, 5/4/12

So, has everyone recovered from the A-Z Blogging Challenge yet?

I don't know if any of these science stories can compare to the fire-breathing robot dragons I talked about on Wednesday, but I still found them interesting:

Black Hole Caught Red-Handed in a Stellar Homicide (but can you give a black hole the death penalty?)

Large-Scale Simulation of Human Blood (this allows doctors to predict how individual patients will respond to drugs)

Giant "Flea-Like" Insects Plagued Dinosaurs 165 Million Years Ago

Rogue Stars Ejected from Galaxy Found in Intergalactic Space

Observation of New "Beauty Particle"

That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend, and see you Monday!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Flying, Fire-Breathing Robot Dragons!

I found out about the aforementioned robot dragons Monday night from my husband and couldn't resist linking to the Time article. There is video if you click through to the link. Personally, the size makes me think more of fire lizards from Pern than the dragons, but who's going to be picky?

On a related note, I found another article about a flying robot on ScienceBlog today; this one can perch on a human hand. Again, there's video at the link. Perhaps someday they can put this feature into the robot dragon to make it more realistic.

Seen any other cool robots lately?

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