September 25th, 2007


[process|personal] Talking out of my yinyang

As mentioned here, I promised garyomaha an answer to the question he asked here.
You, sir, are one of the most engaging, outgoing, effervescent, extroverted persons we know. You revel in being with folks, meeting new folks, interacting with folks.

And yet...

Your choice of (a)vocation is writing. Is this not one of the most solitary tasks one can do? Indeed, isn't the recipient of your good works -- the reader -- also a most solitary of tasks?

So, does this show the "yin and yang" of
jaylake? Or a dual personality? Or some deep-seated need to be both alone and together with others?

Writing is profoundly solitary, but writing can also be the biggest bandstand in the world. How many people have the greats of literary history or the bestsellers of today reached? Not that I'm comparing myself to Dickens or Dick either one. Likewise durability. We're still paying attention to Homer, but most people don't know who Walter Cronkite was any more, let alone Walter Winchell.

This is a practice which starts as solitary as one can imagine, much as you suggest. With time and practice, one's head fills with characters. One's life eventually acquires readers through friends, family, classrooms and critique. One's work eventually acquires more readers and soon you are amid a crowd at all times. Characters come to me in dreams, whisper over my shoulder, mutter dark imprecations at their fate. People recognize me on the street occasionally, read my blog here, write me emails.

You're right, it's a yin and a yang. Like the Oriental symbol, each state contains the seeds of the other. Being out amongst the people fertilizes my writing. Writing gives me something else to carry back to the world at large.

This is the ultimate job for the extrovert, as long as they're not an obligatory extrovert. My secret of course is that I am a radically overcompensated introvert.

[writing|child] "The best story"

I meant to mention this yesterday. the_child and I were in the car, talking about writing and writers. She asked, "Who's that man, the one who wrote the best story?" Thinking she might be referring to "Story of Your Life", which is probably my favorite short story ever, by anyone, I said, "Ted Chiang?" She said, "Yes."

Also, Terry Pratchett's Making Money has arrived at Neuvo Rancho Lake. Expect reduced writing productivity for a day or so.

[links] Link salad gets all RND() on you

Las Vegas Under Siege by Zombies and a Mutant — Thanks to my dad.

They Might Be Giants shape shifts again — Thanks to danjite.

Trailer Boy on Adding New Business Lines — I meant to post this earlier. kenscholes on the transition from short fiction to novels.

A Republican politician publically faces the personal consequences of his party's rhetoric — I found this quite moving. Thanks to garyomaha for the link.

Making the World Safe for Velocity — Safety ideas of the automotive past.

The Geek Syndrome — Autism, Asperger's and Silicon Valley.

anghara discusses beautiful language

s4 responds to Mainspring Powell's | Amazon ].

Swiss firefighters turn rap stars — "The firefighters suggest writing their number in your undies." Thanks to frabjouslinz.

kenscholes talks about my new story-in-draft, "America, Such as She Is"

"Last Drink Bird Head" — Another project from the hardest working man in show business, jeffvandermeer.

Pop culture and the space age

In case you've ever wondered what a "Green River Ordinance" is

[publishing] How many is any? Estimating book sales up front.

I'm going to throw a little red meat on the ground before I duck out completely for my workday.

One of the frustrations of being a writer (or an editor, or a publisher) is measuring book sales. There are a whole variety of reasons for this, not the least of which is the returns allowance. However, there are some "wet thumb" measurements which can be read like critic's entrails to determine how a book is doing. Specifically, these are Bookscan reports of retail sales of a title, and WorldCat library listings.

I have a tentative working formula for a trade hardback in the sf/f field. Mainspring Powell's | Amazon ], for example. This based largely on anecdotal evidence, miscellaneous advice, and my (almost certainly inaccurate) gut feel. It goes thusly:

Hardback sales to date = (Reported Bookscan number X 1.5) + (Reported WorldCat number x 2.5)

Here's my logic: Bookscan reports register sales at most chains and major independents. It does not report Wal-Mart/Sam's Club or airport distribution. (Neither of these is an issue for Mainspring.) It does not report library sales, nor does it report hand sales, convention table sales, or many genre independents of either the brick-and-mortar or online variety. For a book like mine, these sources account for a meaningful number of sales.

Library sales can be imputed to some degree from WorldCat. WorldCat reports the number of library systems a book can be found in. It doesn't report the number of copies available. Not all libraries belong to WorldCat, especially smaller ones. Many larger libraries order multiple copies of books, to have in branches, or simply to meet demand from the main shelf.

(Of course, the hardest part about this for writers is determining your Bookscan and WorldCat numbers in the first place.)

Sales of course only matters in the context of total print run, and returns, and how long the book has been on the market. 2,500 units sold in 90 days on a 4,000 print run is healthy movement. 2,500 units sold in 90 days on 40,000 print run is dead in the water. (There's this whole thing called "velocity" as well, which is another topic.) So it's a moving target — print run minus actual sales gives you some notion of the possible volume of returns. Trend of sales over time lets you predict how many of those possible returns won't be actualized. But without the sales numbers in the first place, you can't even make a wild guess at the rest of it.

What do you think of this logic? Especially you publishing pros out there, how do you feel about this sort of augury?

[process] How I learned to start worrying and love the royalty statement

Books, books and more books. The Day Job bordered on the bizarre today. At lunch I went to the bank and deposited a handful of checks. Since one was actually a cheque, I had to go to the international exchange desk at my bank's downtown branch. Meanwhile I continue to contemplate the realities of the several long pieces I need to write Real Soon Now, and grod around in pointless speculation about Mainspring Powell's | Amazon ].

My little literary progeny will be an SFBC selection next month. Apparently it's destined for good things as a mass market paperback in Tor's spring line. More when that develops — the current news is that it's a May release. If I was already supposed to know that, it had escaped me heretofore.

I'm quite of two minds on the whole worry-about-how-the-book-is-doing thing, per my earlier post here, and the various comments appended thereto. On the one hand, I recognize this sort of divination as little more than wishful thinking, given the absence of hard data prior to my royalty statement eventually emitting from the bowels of Tor. On the other hand, this is what I do for a living in my day job — extrapolate information from elusive data points. What is a sales projection, after all? It's as natural to me as breathing to do this kind of data rummaging. Events will eventuate as they do, and my calculations will be upset by reality, as they always are.

The obsession is thus: you're only as good as your last book. In my case, the first. If Mainspring had bellyflopped, the print run, distribution and sales and marketing support would have been minimized for Escapement. This is not personal, it is what publishers as businesspeople do to protect their investments. I'm fairly certain I'm past the bellyflop, but it was a possibility in the beginning.

If Mainspring meets whatever projections Tor had for it (the details of which I am not privy to), then the P&L is satisfied, everybody's happy, and we move on down the line. If Mainspring did so well as to sell through the run, we're all the happier.

Any of these outcomes has a meaningful effect on the fate of not only Escapement, but my potential for another contract and further bookage under my current nom de plume.

Why do I worry? Because how this book performs matters, immensely, to my career. I can do nothing to affect it now except write a better book next time, but still I worry. Does the worry stop me from writing? No. It doesn't even distract me from the work I need to do. My efforts to quantify the book's performance, even at a low degree of confidence, represent a sort of intellectual sport cum coping strategy. This sort of thing amuses me, I happen to be trained to do it, and it doesn't get in the way of my writing.