State of the Fourth Estate 07

And here we are again. Tradition must be honored, and since the tradition is that the “State of the Fourth Estate” post shall be late…This is, by the by, a tradition I find it annoyingly easy to follow–which is why one should always consider the ramifications before establishing a tradition.

(All mutterings about not quitting day jobs will be cheerfully ignored. But remember kids: don’t try this at home.)


My thousandth blog post has come and gone. Contrary to what I predicted last March, it wasn’t greeted with celebration, modest or otherwise. The truth is, I didn’t even notice. But let’s be honest: my ramblings about Microsoft’s semi-nefarious designs on your hard drive space probably aren’t on anyone’s list of their favorite blog posts. I enjoyed writing it, which is the main point–this blog is where I try out ideas and techniques as well as give myself a break from the novels that get most of my writing time–and I think it turned out well. But I’d be the first to admit it’s not champagne-worthy.

This post is Number 1031. Assuming I average around 500 words per post, that means the blog has about six novels’ worth of prose. Or, allowing for multiple drafts, one readable novel. I think I’ll halt that line of speculation before it goes downhill.

Speaking of novels, in a break with tradition, I don’t have one in beta at the moment. Like Herding Cats is finished and is making the rounds of agents*. The next book, Demirep, is about halfway through the second draft.

* Though, as readers of my newsletter can tell you–but why should they, when you can subscribe to it yourself–my querying is currently on hold while I rework the query letter.

Of course, the biggest news of the year was about my acquisition of a new day job. To answer the obvious question first, yes, it does mean that work on Demirep is going more slowly than before I started dividing my attention.

On the other hand, the rewriting is going faster than it would if we had run out of money for Kitty Krunchiez and I was trying to write while fending off small, fuzzy carnivores with designs on my fingers.

Life’s a series of trade-offs that way.

And–insert usual disclaimer about unexpected events here–Demirep should still be ready for beta readers in a few months. Editors and agents aren’t the only ones responsible for the notoriously slow nature of the publishing industry. Fair’s fair.

As usual, once Demirep goes out to beta readers, I’ll be starting a new project. I don’t know what it’ll be. As usual, my ideas folder has several promising entries. Whichever one does the best job of grabbing my attention when the time comes will get the nod.

That’s one of the joys of not having signed a contract for a series. Mind you, I’d love to experience the joys of having a series contract, but one thing at a time.

And right now, that one thing is Writing Year Seven.


I’m Back

And I’m back. Did–no, on second thought, I won’t ask if you missed me. If you did, I’ll be mortified at denying you the pleasure of my company for two weeks. And if you didn’t, you’ll be mortified at having to admit it. So let’s just not go there and save us all the embarrassment.

Taking the time off was definitely the right move. Not having to fit blogging around a work training schedule, holidays, and family time simplified my life enormously. I’m still on a training (read that as “variable”) schedule, but everything else has settled down enough that I think I can get back to blogging on the usual Tuesday/Thursday/Friday plan. I’ll worry about possible changes to the blog posts once I’m done with training and have a more predictable work schedule.

No, I didn’t get much fiction writing done over the break. But I’m ready to get back to that as well. As soon as this post goes up, I’m starting the second draft of Demirep. Unlike many authors, I enjoy revising. Finishing a first draft is a rush, but sometimes the actual writing is a slog. Rewriting is almost always easier, because I know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. Fewer false trails means faster, more enjoyable writing.

Moving on.

There’s progress on the Bay BridgeTransbay Transit Center. The repair plan has been made and approved. Not a whole of detail has been released yet–it sounds like there will be more after the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board meets on Thursday–but the gist is that steel plates will be attached on the upper and lower surfaces of the vulnerable beams.

Standard disclaimer: I’m not a structural engineer. That said, the fact that the plan calls for reinforcements to be added to both the Fremont Street and First Street beams suggests to me that the tests found nothing wrong with the metal–that the problem is more likely to be design or construction. I’m looking forward to hearing more, including the estimated date for reopening the Transit Center, which will depend in large part on how long it takes to find a source for the reinforcement plates.

Moving on again.

Actual employment that requires leaving the house does mean I’ll have less time for television. That may be a problem come baseball season–though, as I’ve said before, I find having a ballgame on in the background helps my writing–but at this time of year, it’s arguably a good thing. Yes, the latest seasons of Worst Cooks in America and Kids Baking Challenge* started this week, the former on Sundays at 9:00 and midnight Eastern, the latter on Mondays at the same time. Which is, by the way, very nice scheduling for those of us on the West Coast: 6pm and 9pm fit very nicely around dinner and bedtime. (As usual, those of you in other time zones get the awkward scheduling.)

* Shouldn’t that be “Kids'” with an apostrophe? It’s a competition for, i.e. belonging to multiple kids.

But I’m having doubts about WCiA. It’s a cooking show, supposedly. But it seems as though each season we see less cooking, and the antics of the competitors are getting more predictable. Both, IMNSHO, are the result of competitors being chosen for their personality traits, rather than their willingness to actually learn to cook.

We’ve got the wacky ones. We’ve got the one with a crippling lack of self-confidence. The annoying fan of one of the instructor chefs. The one whose mother still cooks all his meals. The model (and, goddess help us, we’ve got two models and a bodybuilder this season). The one who thinks sugar is a universal ingredient and the one who thinks the same of capsaicin. And, of course, the one who thinks her cooking is just fine and doesn’t understand why her relatives forced her to go on the show.

The producers think this will lead to wacky hijinks. The point they’re forgetting is that arguments aren’t story. Nobody wants to see watch people snapping and snarling at each other. We want to see the contestants successes and, yes, the failures that don’t threaten to fill the set with flames. It’s their growth as cooks that’s the story.

Last season the show spent so much time on personality clashes that the cooking seemed halfhearted. Even in the finale, the cooking competition seemed muted and the food wasn’t up to the standard set in previous years. If this season goes down the same path, I won’t be watching. Which would free up an hour a week for writing. Hmm.

KBC, on the other hand, is still a delight. The kids all have their quirks, but they’re not extremely exaggerated stereotypes. They’ve clearly all been working hard at their craft for years, they’re thrilled to be on the show, and they understand that stuff happens–forgotten ingredients, knife cuts, and bad days–and has to be dealt with.

And it’s obvious they’ve studied the show’s earlier seasons. They know what’s coming, and it was charming to see them literally fleeing in terror when the twist arrived in yesterday’s episode. And yes, though we’ve seen it before, it’s still nice to see them pitch in to help each other finish when time is short.

That’s an hour of potential writing time I’m going to sacrifice willingly every week.

Change Is A-Coming

The end of an era is the beginning of a new era.

I’ve been doing this full-time writer thing for almost six years. Despite what you might think, that was never the plan.

In my latest newsletter*, I said “Everything takes longer than planned.” That was true of getting Like Herding Cats out the door. And it’s true of the plan for launching my writing career.

* Are you subscribed to the newsletter? If not, why not? You could be reading exclusive first draft excerpts from Like Herding Cats, and blog-like rambles on the publishing industry and my place in it. How can you not want to read my extended metaphor of the querying process as a theatrical audition? Millions of authors singing, dancing, and doing Hamlet’s soliloquy for your pleasure! Ahem. Pardon me. And if you’re not already signed up, please click that link over in the sidebar.

See, the original idea was to take six months to focus on writing. Learn to string words together in pleasing ways. (Pleasing to me and to others. The latter is much harder than the former.) Develop the habit of writing. (The jokes about procrastinating writers are funny because there is a certain amount of truth behind the stereotype–which is why we tend to get defensive when non-writers tell them.)

And after six months, I’d start looking for a job, because, despite what Kokoro might tell you, cat food doesn’t just magically appear in the bowl. I never figured it would take five years to land a paycheck. But somehow, that’s what happened.

I haven’t started the job yet; I’m still doing paperwork. I don’t know what my hours will be, so I can’t gauge the impact on the blog. But I can make some contingency plans. If I wind up working or commuting Tuesday and/or Thursday mornings, I won’t be blogging at those times. Ideally, I’ll change the schedule* and blog other days or times. Not so ideally–and it’s a possibility since I will unquestionably have less time to write–I may have to make the hard decisions.

* Friday cat-or-other-critter posts are always written and posted ahead of time, so I don’t expect any change to those. You’re welcome.

If it comes down to a choice between blogging and writing novels, I’m going to pick the novels.

It’s all well and good to say that this blog is building platform–attracting followers who’ll buy my books–but if I never write the books, it doesn’t matter how many followers I’ve got. I won’t stop blogging about things unrelated to felines. But if I have to cut back the frequency, I will.

With that said, let’s move on. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned who my new employer is. That was intentional. The job is in the technology sector. I plan to continue my usual snark about Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and anyone who believes the Internet of Things is a good idea. My employer may fall into one of those categories. Or not. This might be disinformation.

But I want to be absolutely clear that anything I say here is my own opinion, completely uninfluenced by questions of employment or sanity.

Welcome to the new era, in which I’m less worried about waking up to find that somebody has supplemented their diet with my toes. Hopefully, that’ll make for a more cheerful blog, the political environment notwithstanding.

Change is good. In well-controlled, carefully measured doses.

A Departure

This will be the last blog post I link to on Facebook, at least for the foreseeable future. If you’re coming here to find out when I’ve posted*, I recommend you use the link on the blog itself to be notified by email whenever I post. You can also–at least for now–follow me on Twitter (@CaseyKarp).

* As part of your other Facebook usage, of course; I’m not quite egotistical enough to think following me is the only reason you’re on Facebook. On the other hand, if you are, drop me a note: I could use the positive reinforcement.

In addition, I will no longer be reading Facebook posts. No more likes, no more birthday greetings, and no more comments (though I will look for and respond to comments on this post for a few days).

Believe me, it’s got nothing to do with you, singularly or collectively. No, this is all about me. Because, as several people who know me will tell you, everything is all about me.

Okay, Facebook itself has a lot to do with my decision. And if you really want to spread the blame around, toss a bit at Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who recently summed up much of what I’ve been thinking about Facebook.

I’m not going to follow his lead and delete my account, at least not yet. I’ll come back to that shortly.

Spoiler: my decision has little to do with the annoyance of having to link posts manually, except to the extent that the inability to link posts automatically is a symptom of the larger problem.

The bottom line here is literally that: Facebook is so focused on the bottom line that they’re incapable of admitting a mistake. Worse, even if they were to try to fix something, they’ve gotten so big and unwieldy they can’t possibly do it quickly or well. (Yes, the old oil tanker problem: if every course change costs you time and money, you had better get the course right the first time.) Facebook can’t change course on a dime. Hell, they’d be doing well to change course on a billion dimes.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my Facebook account is, and has always been, in support of my writing. We’ve reached the point where at least as many people go to Facebook to look for someone as who go to Google or Bing, LinkedIn or Instagram, or any other search or interpersonal networking site, so if a writer wants to be found by his readers, he needs to be on Facebook.

Nor is it any secret that Facebook makes its money by selling information to advertisers. Not just who you follow, but which posts you read, what you Like or Hate, who you comment on, how long you spend on the site, and even how long it takes you to read a post.

And yes, Facebook limits what posts you see by how much the poster is willing to pay to get the posts in front of you.

Which is why the ability to automatically link blog posts went away. Facebook doesn’t want you leaving their site to come to mine, so they’re limiting my ability to lure you away, unless I pay them for the privilege.

Sure, there are ways to get around that, ways to see everything a particular person posts, but they’re clumsy, and not everyone knows about them.

Not only is this kind of silo not what the social internet* was created for, but if we can believe any of Facebook’s public history, it’s not what Facebook was created for either.

* The part of the internet used by the entire world to talk to each other, as opposed to the original, original internet intended to link military computers. (Gross oversimplification, I know. It’s a side-issue. Deal.)

I’ve decided that I’m not interested in being part of Facebook’s walled garden any more. I don’t want them making money by selling people advertising because they’ve chosen to follow me–or because I’ve chosen to follow them.

As I said, I’m not going to delete my account. If people are going to come to Facebook looking for me, I’m mercenary enough to want to be here to be found. But only to the extent necessary to direct them elsewhere.

Over the next few days, I’ll be unfollowing and unfriending everyone on Facebook. Don’t be offended: as I said, it’s not you, it’s me. And Facebook. If you want to do the same to me, please go ahead. Or if you would rather leave things as they are in the hope I’ll come back someday–and it could happen, although I agree with Dr. Plait that it’s unlikely–feel free. Your relationship with Facebook is your own business.

Hope to see you somewhere else.

Cheery News

I said on Tuesday that I wanted to save today for some cheerier news. That news is that I’ve finished the revisions to Like Herding Cats.

Actually, to be totally honest, I haven’t quite finished. I’ve got one chapter to go, so–barring a total computer meltdown*–I will finish today.

* I really, really hope I didn’t just jinx myself…But what are the odds of four different computers dropping dead at the same time? No, don’t answer that; I’m happier not knowing.

Finishing the book doesn’t mean you’ll be able to read it soon, unfortunately. As I’ve said before, publishing is a glacially-slow business. Let me run through the next steps for anyone who’s curious.

I’m still not interested in self-publishing. That means I’m looking for a so-called “traditional publisher”.

Some of you may be wondering “What about Poisoned Pen?” Well, see, PPP is a mystery publisher. LHC isn’t a mystery. So, even if PPP wanted to publish everything I wrote, they wouldn’t be a good fit in this case. Publishing isn’t just about printing the physical book and formatting the ebook. Just to give one example, publicity and marketing (two different things, though there is some overlap) require genre-specific knowledge, and PPP doesn’t have that knowledge for the sort of fantasy I write.

While some publishers, especially smaller presses, will accept submissions directly from authors, many require–or at least strongly prefer–agented submissions.

So I need an agent.

Finding an agent is like getting an acting job. You have to audition. A lot. Agents get literally hundreds of applications (“queries”) every week. How many are they likely to accept? Depends who you ask, but I’d be surprised if the average was as high as a dozen a year.

Why so few? It’s not because they’re looking for a surefire bestseller. There isn’t such a critter. They’re looking for a book they think they can sell. Or, in many cases, they’re looking for an author they think they can sell. Because they don’t want to just sell one book, they want to sell lots of books. A good author/agent relationship lasts a lifetime.

Which means agents are justifiably picky. And authors have to sell their books multiple times. First with a query letter that introduces the book and the author. It needs to make the book sound appealing enough for the agent to look at the first few pages. Those first few pages need to be interesting enough for the agent to ask the writer for more–sometimes the whole book, sometimes just a larger sample.

This is not a speedy process. A good agent is going to prioritize their current clients over prospective ones, so their query reading time is limited. Most agents need a month or more to respond, and then, if they’ve requested more of the book, they’ll need more months to read that.

That’s grossly undersimplified, but you get the idea. In the best of all possible worlds, LHC might take six months to find me an agent*. In a not-so-good world, it could be a year to eighteen months.

* In the worst of all possible worlds, it won’t find an agent at all. Splat Squad didn’t, and neither did Lord Peter. If one of them had, I wouldn’t be sending LHC out looking.

But let’s be optimistic. I find an agent, and then I can look forward to LHC hitting the shelves, right?

Nope. First, the agent is probably going to recommend another revision. No book is perfect, just like no software is free of bugs. The agent will want me to tweak LHC to make it better (which includes, but isn’t limited to, making it more salable.)

And then the agent has to sell the book to a publisher. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that process takes time. After all, it’s very much like querying an agent.

Let’s be optimistic here as well, and figure it takes six months. Might be more–or never–but it probably won’t be less (there are plenty of stories of agents not selling the book that convinced them to sign an author until years after they’ve established a successful career with other books.)

So now we’re a year out–end of 2019–but we’ve got a book deal. Surprise! We’re still not close to publication. The publisher is going to want a round of revisions. No book is perfect, right? Right. And the publication process takes time as well.

Contracts are being signed right now for books to be published in late 2020.

Sure, PPP did it a lot faster with TRTT. There were reasons to accelerate the process, reasons that wouldn’t apply to LHC.

Bottom line, if everything breaks perfectly, you’ll be getting a copy of LHC for Christmas in 2021. And by that time, I should have three or more additional books going through the sell/revise/publish process.

Someone out there is undoubtedly reading this and saying “How is this cheery news?”

The old saying is “You can’t win if you don’t play the game.” I’m playing the game. Finishing the book and sending it out on query is a win. Small, perhaps, but any victory is cheery.

Don’t Go There

Troubles and tribulations. Death and destruction. And that’s only the content of the story!

But first, a commercial message. Feel free to hit the “Skip ahead 30 seconds” button on your remote.

Hard as it may be to believe, this blog isn’t here just for your entertainment. It’s also here to sell books. Which is, admittedly, also for your entertainment, but at one remove.

Anyway, consider this your occasional reminder that The RagTime Traveler is still for sale at all the usual venues. It still makes a great Christmas present.

And on a related note, I’m planning to be at the West Coast Ragtime Festival on November 16 and 17. I’m not doing a formal signing, but there will be copies of TRTT for sale, and I’ll be happy to sign them if you catch me in the halls.


Perhaps you’re familiar with the movie The Thing. I won’t go into detail; there’s a more than adequate write-up on Wikipedia.

The key facts are that the movie was based on a 1938 novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., the novella is considered a classic piece of science fiction, and the author is better known as the editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later renamed Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from 1937 to 1971.

Why do I bring this up?

It turns out that “Who Goes There?” (the novella in question) was not the original form of Mr. Campbell’s story. Science fiction historian Alec Nevala-Lee recently uncovered the manuscript of a novel, Frozen Hell, which–surprise!–turns out to be an earlier version of the story published as “Who Goes There?”

The novel was found in a collection of manuscripts Campbell donated to Harvard, where it had been ignored for decades. (This happens more often than librarians like to admit. Old collections of author’s manuscripts are rarely at the front of the line for cataloging–and as for publicity, they’re usually not even in the line.)

Speaking as a science fiction fan, this is extremely cool news.

But. (You knew that was coming, right?)

Wildside Press is currently raising funds via Kickstarter to publish Frozen Hell in ebook, paperback, and hardback formats. This is, IMNSHO, a bad idea.

Not that there’s anything illegal or immoral about the plan. Wildside is a legitimate small press, and the publication is being done with the full permission of Campbell’s heirs.

My objection is authorly. Frozen Hell is not the version of the story that Campbell wanted the world to see.

Don’t forget, Campbell was the editor of Astounding when the story ran. He bought his own story–which was common practice; editors often wrote and published their own works, often under pseudonyms. He could have run the longer version of the story*, but chose not to, and in the process, sacrificed a significant chunk of his potential income. (Then, as now, stories published in magazines were paid for by the word.)

* It was also common practice at the time for novels to be serialized in the magazines. Campbell wouldn’t have been doing anything unheard of by running Frozen Hell instead of “Who Goes There?”

Nor is there any evidence Campbell tried to publish the longer version as a standalone novel at any point over the next thirty-some years, even though that was the time when science fiction novels became popular.

In short, Campbell made the editorial decision that the novella was a better story. The novel should be considered a rejected draft.

Would Mr. Nevala-Lee want someone to publish a draft of his latest book–perhaps a draft that doesn’t even mention the discovery of Frozen Hell? I doubt it.

Shouldn’t Campbell’s wishes receive the same consideration?

Check It Out

I was going to call this a minor note, but I know several of you will consider it more important than the main post.

Agent Extraordinaire Janet Reid is taking a vacation. Unlike me, she makes sure to leave some content for her blog readers. And so, today’s hiatus post features the very handsome Rufus. Drop by and say hello.

(And if you have any interest in the business side of writing novels–or long-form non-fiction–you really should be reading her blog.)

Plug over. (But if you don’t care about the business of writing, you may want to skip the rest of this post.)

Tor Books–one of the big name publishers in Science Fiction and Fantasy is taking a lot of heat in the publishing world over what they’re calling an experiment.

According to their press release, Tor–or possibly their parent company, Macmillan–believes making e-books available through public libraries lowers retail sales. Consequently, they’ve decided to hold all e-books out of libraries until four months after publication.

They’ve released no specific information to back up their claim, so it’s impossible to know what they’re thinking. Are they of the opinion that libraries are a bigger source of piracy than booksellers? Do they think libraries are buying one copy and lending it to multiple clients at once? We don’t know, and we may never know. But either way, it’s a pretty nonsensical call.

I don’t know about the library vendor who handles Tor’s e-books, but the ones I’m familiar with have interfaces to the libraries’ circulation system and only allow simultaneous check-outs up to the number of copies the library has purchased. My local library, for example, outsources their e-books to Overdrive, and I’ve had to wait for check-outs often enough to be sure they don’t lend more simultaneous copies than the library bought.

And libraries as a source of pirate copies? It is to laugh. As I’ve noted in the past, pirate copies often show up the day books are released, sometimes even before. In order to do that through a library, your hypothetical pirate would have to be first on the reserve list, not just for one book, but for every title they intend to steal. To get, say, six books on release day, User OX* would probably have to check several out, remove the copy protection, and check them back in before he could grab the next batch. Because most library e-book vendors limit the number of books users can check out simultaneously.

* That’s supposed to be a skull and cross-bones. Thus we see the limits of my ASCII art skills.

Maybe OX’s library won’t notice he has a habit of checking multiple books out for five minutes, but you better believe the vendors are watching for that sort of pattern.

So what’s Tor thinking?

Several articles suggest they may be hoping to beef up their First Day sales numbers, potentially helping their position on various best-seller lists. Which is, I suppose, a possibility, but it strikes me as unlikely.

Or maybe Phase Two is introducing a higher cost to libraries, “for expedited access”. Remember, we have no data to support Tor’s claims. If they come back in a few months and say, “Hey, sales did go up, so if libraries want books on Launch Day, they can damn well pay us for the income we’ll lose,” nobody can contradict them.

In any case, the embargo began with Tor’s July titles. It’ll be interesting to see what happens come December, when those titles are due to reach libraries. Will libraries bother to buy them, four months after their clients have presumably either bought the e-books themselves or borrowed the paper editions?

And, let’s not forget that libraries make their buying decisions when books are reviewed in library-oriented journals. That can be six months or more before publication. For well-known authors, the decision may even be made when the book is announced, and that can be a year or more before publication. So we may not see the effect on library purchases until late 2019.

Interesting times we live in, folks.

Losing Face

More proof, as if anybody needed it, that Facebook didn’t get where they are today–a dominant force on the Internet, with a bankroll large enough to slide them through public relations disasters that would kill any lesser company–by playing nice.

Not with its users, and certainly not with the outside world.

You’ve probably seen the recent news stories about their detection of several accounts, possibly linked to Russia, that Facebook believes were attempting to sow confusion and create conflict leading up to the November elections.

In brief, these accounts were promoting protests, specifically counter-protests against pro-Nazi–pardon me, Alt-Right–events.

My cynical side wonders whether Facebook would have taken action if the accounts in question had been promoting the original rally rather than the counter-protest, but since there’s no way to know, that’s something of an irrelevant point.

The bottom line here–and Facebook is, of course, focused directly on the bottom line–is they have to be seen to be doing something about Russian interference with American elections.

Not only have they closed the accounts in question, but they’ve taken the additional step of notifying people who expressed interest in the counter-protest that it might be a Russian operation.

Needless to say, this has not been a popular move with the event’s other organizers, who have had to spend the past couple of days proving to Facebook that they’re not fronts for Russian spies, while simultaneously reassuring people that the counter-protest is real.

Naturally, Facebook doesn’t see a problem. They’ve Taken Action! They’ve Caught Spies! They’ve Made Facebook Great Again!

And it’s not like the protest groups are major advertisers, paying Facebook large sums of money to promote their event.

Facebook’s other recent move is to make it harder for their users to see what’s happening outside of Facebook. Until yesterday, it was possible for bloggers to automatically link their blog posts on Facebook. No longer. (It’s not just blogs that are affected by this move, either. Auto-posting of tweets to Facebook won’t be possible anymore, nor will it cross-linking be possible from any other service.)

Sure, you can still manually link a post. Log into Facebook and copy/paste the relevant text or URL. Takes two minutes. Except, of course, if you’re a prolific tweeter, blogger, or what-have-you-er, those two minutes per post are going to add up quickly.

What really stings about this move, though, is that it only affects posting to Profiles, not to Pages.

Grossly oversimplified: Profiles are intended for users–consumers, in other words. Pages are intended for groups or businesses–or, as Facebook would prefer to call them, revenue generators.

Pages get less visibility than Profiles. Unless, of course, the owner of the Page pays Facebook to advertise it.

I did mention that Facebook’s eyes are on the bottom line, right?

So where does this leave me? I make no secret of the fact that I’m on Facebook–with a Profile, not a Page–purely because it’s considered to be a major part of an author’s platform. “How are people–readers!–going to find you if you’re not on Facebook?”

Right or wrong (and I’m well aware of the counter-examples, thanks), that’s the reality we live in right now. Nothing has changed in that regard since the Cambridge Analytica revelations. So leaving Facebook still isn’t an option.

If I want my posts to keep showing up on Facebook, I’ve really only got two choices: post manually, or convert my Profile into a Page (and then pay Facebook to promote it).

Converting wouldn’t stop them from selling my personal information to other advertisers, and I really hate the idea of paying them to sell my information. And I’m not crazy about having to post everything twice (and thank you, Twitter for not setting up a similar block).

This post will get a manual link. Future posts will too, at least for the time being–but I’m not about to link to the Friday cat posts at midnight. My loyal Facebook followers will have to wait until I get to my desk Friday morning.

And we’ll see how it goes. I will undoubtedly forget from time to time. No question that I’ll botch the copy/paste periodically. If the whole thing gets to be too big a hassle, I will give up on Facebook, regardless of the “necessity” of being there.

Because, no matter what Facebook thinks–or, more precisely, wants its users to think–Facebook isn’t the Internet.


Let’s talk about “impossible” for a moment.

Have you seen any of the dozens of articles and videos making the rounds under some variant of the headline “This boat is impossible to capsize”? If you haven’t, there’s a good example at Popular Mechanics.

It’s immediately obvious reading the article that the boat can be capsized; the real brilliance here is that it’s designed to flip itself back over automatically.

With a caveat or two. The article above cites three design factors that contribute to the self-righting capability. All are subject to failure modes: “the cabin itself is watertight” (provided no hatches are left open) and “it has a very low center of gravity” and “the cabin is built to be extremely buoyant” (assuming all cargo is stowed properly and nothing heavy is mounted on the upper deck).

This boat was designed for law enforcement, the Navy, and what PM calls “other groups who sail in high-pressure situations”. How many of those organizations are going to want hull-mounted weapons of some sort? Sure, you could counterbalance the guns by stowing their ammunition at the bottom of the hull–but then, are you going to jettison the guns when you run out of bullets?

“Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.” (Rick Cook, The Wizardry Compiled)

It’s not just programming, and the Universe is winning in all fields of endeavor–as I’ve noted before, you can verify this any day on the freeway. All it takes is one person who doesn’t read the directions to undo even the best design.

And that assumes the designers haven’t overlooked anything. Lest we forget, the original “unsinkable” ship, the Titanic, failed to live up to the hype in part because of a design flaw*.

* Accounts differ, but most note that the bulkheads intended to isolate compartments and confine water coming in to a limited area did not extend to the full height of the ship. When enough water had entered the sealed compartments, it began to flow over the top of the bulkheads and fill adjoining compartments.

But I’m not here to denigrate the boat’s designers. Realistically, headline writers are indulging in a bit of click-baitish hyperbole.

I’m on record as accepting the contradictory usages of the word “literally”. But I’m drawing a line here. “Impossible” does not mean “can”. Not even “can, but reversible”.

We need a word to mean “can not under any circumstances”, if only to save writers’ fingers when discussing the likelihood of finding compassion among the Republican’s party leaders.

Don’t sink the Titanic, don’t capsize the Thunder Child, and don’t erode the utility of “impossible”.

The Group W Bench

The latest twist in the publishing industry–and the latest hot topic of discussion among authors, agents, editors, and other industry types–is the morality clause. Rachel Deahl’s write-up in Publishers Weekly is a good overview.

The TL;DR is that, in reaction to the #MeToo movement and high profile cases such as Milo Yiannopoulos, publishers are demanding the ability to drop an author if he or she says or does something the publisher believes will affect their ability to sell the author’s books.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. They range from “I don’t like it” to “I loathe it.”

I’d be less bothered–not okay with it, but less concerned–if such clauses were very narrowly drawn, citing specific causes for termination. Unfortunately, by all reports, current boilerplate contracts are very vaguely worded, giving the publisher free rein to decide what constitutes moral turpitude. As one agent notes in Ms. Deahl’s article, there’s nothing to prevent a publisher from using a morality clause to get out of a multi-book deal that isn’t earning enough.

There’s definitely an Alice’s Restaurant vibe here. Publishers want to know if we’re moral enough to “join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages” (or whatever else it was we wrote about that the publisher liked enough to offer a contract) “after bein’ a litterbug.” Except, of course, they want to make sure we don’t turn to littering after we’ve served our stint as pyromaniacs.

Full disclosure: The contract for The RagTime Traveler does not include a morality clause. I’m free to say and do what I want, hindered only by my recognition of the law, societal standards, and my ability to get a contract for the next book.

Realistically, even under the best, most author-friendly contracts, publishers have plenty of ways to free themselves from an author they’ve had second thoughts about. Ms. Deahl notes the typical clause giving the publisher the sole right to determine if the manuscript is suitable for publication. There are other such clauses, and there are semi- or non-contractural options, including failing to publicize the book or allowing it to go out of print.

But by adding a morality clause, publishers are giving themselves a Get Out of Jail Free card. It’s good to see agents objecting to morality clauses. But publishers still have the final say on whether they’ll modify or drop the clause if the writer and agent object. They already have nearly all of the power in the relationship–only a few of the highest-profile writers have the option of declining a contract over a clause the publisher refuses to drop or modify, nor is self-publishing always an option.

Despite publishers’ claims that morality clauses are solely for self protection and won’t be used for censorship or financial reasons, the bottom line is that the contract is the contract.

One piece of advice writers hear over and over at the beginning of their careers is “Don’t accept a publisher’s assurance that [specific term of a contract] is never enforced. Publishing is a business, and that clause is there for a reason. It will be enforced.”

As always, interesting times are ahead.

One housekeeping note: Google I/O begins on Tuesday. As usual, I’ll be writing up my thoughts on the keynote announcements. Since I can’t do that until after the keynote, Tuesday’s post will be later than usual. Don’t panic if you don’t see anything from me in the morning. I haven’t forgotten you.