Blog Without A Name

In which the secret to writing success is revealed

My name is Sharon Lee — Hi, Sharon — and I’m a writer. I’ve been writing for a long time – much longer than I’ve been married — and have pursued the craft more doggedly than any other activity, including reading.

How long have I been writing? The first card in my story-box is for “Once there was a man” (that would have been the first line of the story, rather than the actual title; I didn’t bother thinking up titles for my stories for a long time.), completed in March 1972. That was like, before the internet. I’m pretty sure “Once” wasn’t the first “story” I considered that I’d completed, but it is the first one to have a card. I probably read about tracking my work in a card file in a book somewhere. Since there wasn’t an internet ‘way back then, wannabe writers read books to find out about the craft of which they aspired to become practitioners.

So, let’s see. In March of 1972, I would have been 19 years old, just feeling my way into the whole writing thing. A beginner. A rank beginner, may I say, in all senses of “rank.”

At that point in my career, I didn’t have any readers; I – no, let’s back up for a minute. . .

English is a funny language. I say “I didn’t have any readers,” and of course I didn’t, and still don’t. I’m a human being, not a book or a manuscript. People may read me, but not in the sense that I read a written page. Therefore, when I say, “I didn’t have any readers,” of course what I mean to say is, “my work had no readers,” or, possibly, “my work had not found an audience,” or, even, “my work had not yet gathered fans.”

It’s hard to remember, in art – well, really, in anything that requires a great deal of effort and. . .intimacy with the work being created – it’s hard to remember that I am not the work. It’s very hard to remember this, and, as you see above, English doesn’t even cut us a break by imposing a stringent linguistic separation of worker and work.

It’s too easy to say — “I had no readers.” “I got rejected.” “I won an award.” “I have fans.”

We can say, “The novels I write have attracted readers.” “The proposal for the next book was rejected.” “Scout’s Progress won the PRISM Award for best novel.” “The Liaden Universe® stories and novels have gathered a significant fandom, some of whom self-identify as Friends of Liad.” But saying those things requires advertance and determination.

I’m going to try to be precise with the rest of this post — because words matter, and people matter; lives and personal happiness matter.

Where was I?

Right — “Once” had not reached an audience. It’s entirely possible that there was and is no audience for “Once,” and that’s OK. It wasn’t, as I recall it, a great, good, or even passably interesting story. It was practice; it was a necessary step in honing my craft. I didn’t, in my heart of hearts, actually expect to get it right the first time, the twelfth time, or even the hundredth time. All those books I had read suggested that acquiring the skills necessary to become a professional writer might not be easy, and might require of me some significant amount of time, practice, and effort.

I kept on practicing; I kept on reading — more fiction than how-to-write books, because, as frequent readers of this blog will have observed, I am light-minded — and I kept on trying to write better. At some point — in fact, in January 1976, I submitted my first story, not to a magazine, but to a contest. I would have been. . .23 years old. The title of the story was “Era” and it was awarded first prize by the judges of the BaltiCon X Short Story Contest. The prize was forty dollars, a membership to the convention, and a chance to meet Isaac Asimov.

I can’t tell you how long “Era” was — I didn’t start noting the word count on the story cards until 1978 — but, based on my recollection of the length of story I was producing at that time, it probably earned very respectable five cents a word.

“Era’s” success in the contest emboldened me; I typed up a clean copy and submitted it — to Analog, to Galaxy/If, to F&SF, to Amazing, to Weird Book (it says here, but I think it was probably Weird Tales), to Unearth.

It was rejected. Kindly rejected, by several of the editors, but — no is still no.

“Era” had not found readers or fans.

“Era’s” author typed on, moving down the timeline of her life.

In due course, she met a guy. In due course, she got — not great, not godlike, not even consistently good, but she got good enough at this writing thing, and — she sold a story.

That would have been “A Matter of Ceremony” — the nineteenth story with a card in the story-file. Twenty-four hundred words. Sold in November 1979, a couple months after the celebration of my twenty-seventh birthday, published before I saw my twenty-eighth.

I’m not going to drag this out much longer. Let’s just say that the story-box now holds 96 cards; 53 recording the adventures of various long and short works written by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

While Steve and I were creating the greater portion of those 53 works, the internet happened.

Now, I don’t know that the internet radically changed how people think about becoming writers. Before the internet, aspiring writers didn’t really get to meet other aspiring writers, unless they were lucky enough to live in a creative hot-spot, or they went out of their way to enroll in Clarion, or other intensive workshop for beginning writers.

I think that there have always been people who want the short cut, the secret handshake, the name and the phone number of The Guy In Charge.

People who insist that putting the cart before the horse will so work just fine.

All the internet has done is make it possible for these people not only to meet each other, but to infect a broader range of wet-eared newbies.

The internet has been a game-changer; the game is changing daily — all the games, everywhere. And, keeping up with the change, it seems like every day there’s a new theory to explain the rules of the changed game.

One of more interesting of these theories is called The Long Tail, which posits, in brief, that an artist whose work has garnered the support of 1,000 True Fans can make a living from their art in the brave new age of the internet.

It’s an interesting theory. Almost, almost it describes an actual reality. Like theories everywhere, it wants tweaking and testing, and adjusting for the personal circumstances of the artist in question, or the work in hand.

But, still, as a starting point, the Long Tail has something going for it.

Steve and I made use of the Long Tail when we wrote Fledgling and Saltation Live! On the Internet! I’m thinking about starting another variation on the theme, some time later this year.

Now, I need you to stop and remember something. I sold my first short story in 1979. Steve and I are working on Collaborative Works 54 and 55 and I type this. Our work has found an audience, readers, fans, and friends.

Unfortunately, there are people who have looked at the Long Tail Theory and have seen not a description of a process, but a short-cut to fame.

They think — “I’ll gather 1000 Friends on Facebook first, then I’ll sell those people my novel. When I write it.”

No.

Really. No. That’s not how it works.

In my so very not humble opinion, the Long Tail is characterized as a tail for a reason. And the reason is that the garnering of True Fans happens after a work, or a body of work, has found its audience, its fans, its friends.

It doesn’t work to put the tail before the mouse, the cart before the horse, or the boom before lighting the fuse.

Do the work, get the attention, reap the reward.

That’s how it works, when it works. It doesn’t always work. More people don’t become writers than say they want to, on the internet.

 

And, because it bears repeating, and repeating, and repeating:
Do the work, get the attention, reap the reward

It was nine in the morning, on a cold and rainy night

With Steve’s connivance, Binjali got to his state inspection today. The shop boss called me mid-morning to say that “The Subaru passed inspection.” But! “There’s a pretty major leak in the tranny line. We can replace the line if you want; cost about twenty, twenty-five dollars.”

I do love a system where a car can pass its yearly inspection, but still have a ruptured transmission line. I gave my permission to proceed with the needed repair and after work I settled my honest debt, picked up the car and drove home.

Once at my own desk, I undertook to compile Two Tales of Korval: Adventures in the Liaden Universe® Number One for uploading to Smashwords, which took about an hour and a half, working from an html file. In order to convert it to a document acceptable to Smashwords’ Meatgrinder, all the code has to be stripped out, which isn’t exactly hard, but is time-consuming, most especially the part where you have to delete the html code for itals and put in the Word itals. And then going through the document one word at a time to make sure that you haven’t missed any < or >.

Be that as is, Two Tales is now available on Smashwords, for them what indulges.

The ironic part of this whole exercise is that we went with Smashwords so that they could do the hard work and distribute to Apple. It would, however, appear that our publications, even meatground and verified do not meet Apple’s Stringent and Exacting Standards for publications it will permit to be listed in the iBooks store. Some things? Are just too much trouble.

I know I said I’d put the unbound copy of I Dare up on eBay last week. Time got away from me, and that didn’t happen. Now, it just seems reasonable to wait until after the upcoming US high holiday — Memorial Day, celebrated Monday, May 30. Watch this space for an announcement that the auction has gone live.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of thought on how to design the delivery of the linked short stories I talked about here a little while ago. Serializing a novel is fairly straightforward — you write a chapter, you post a chapter; when the chapter earns its piece of the action, or the next posting day arrives, whichever comes first, you lather-rinse-repeat.

Short stories seem to be something different. It’s my impression that, for web serialization, one must publish something at least once a week to keep reader interest, and I’m pretty sure I can’t sustain an output of a short story a week for very long before my brain explodes.

I’d thought of just writing a short story a quarter and publishing it directly to Nook/Kindle/Smashwords (hmm; not sure Smashwords allows single short story publication — must check), but that would leave folks who are looking for a serialization out in left field.

Anybody have any idea how a series of short stories would work as a web serial? I know some authors have taken subscriptions and mailed the story when complete to subscribers. This also doesn’t seem to be completely satisfactory, but I could be wrong.

So! Brainstorming session’s open! Who’s got something to say?

*Blink*

The clock just chimed 8 p.m.

Rolanni looks up and wonders what she did all day.

Um, right.

Gave up on Apple and decided to let Smashwords be our distributor to the iBookstore and a couple of other things they do. This is by far the easier course.

Which is not to say it’s easy. Three hours to convert Variations Three into — wait for it — a doc file. We here at the Cat Farm do not do doc files, nor do we do Word. I don’t have a firm count on the number of computational devices there are in this house, but I guarantee that not one of them has Word on its hard drive.

So! That meant I had to follow the user manual — which is attitudinal and annoying — and refrib for doing the work in Open Office and saving as a doc file. Gah.

Three hours later, however, the file I submitted to Smashwords was accepted by the so-poetically named Meatgrinder, is now for sale in multiple formats on the Smashwords site, and will be coming soon to an iBookstore near you.

The next book, she said firmly, will go quicker, now that I know what I’m doing — I heard that — and can make templates and cut-n-paste chunks of the stuff that Smashwords needs to have in its files for its own comfort.

I signed a Whole Buncha blank pages. And did the dishes!

I also started building a Pinbeam Books site. It’s here. I have for the moment forgotten how to get rid of all that nonsense on the sidebar. Maybe tomorrow. And most of the links aren’t live. But at least the books are listed and it doesn’t look like a ghost site to drive-by visitors.

The auction for the red leather edition of Pilots Choice is over. The winning bid was $510. As the winning bidder is a long-time Liaden fan — I don’t know if I’m allowed to say more than that — I’m very pleased.

Sometime this week coming, let’s say I throw the unbound copy of I Dare up on eBay and we’ll see what happens. Sound like fun?

And now — where the hell did the day go? — I’m going to go find lunch, and my husband, and probably a glass of wine.

G’night.

By common reckoning, the year was 1461

MacDuff the Mac having at long last achieved a state of onlineness, persuaded by Time-Warner tech support last evening that there is, oh, yes, indeed, an internet in these greeny climes to which he has been exiled — today we chose faces decided to get on with downloading the needed software to make and upload books to the iBookstore.

This proved…difficult. Indeed, though much has been accomplished in pursuit of said software, yet it eludes both my hand and MacDuff’s hard drive. This is not, I hasten to say, the fault of either my hand or MacDuff. No, I lay this failure squarely at the feet of Steve Jobs.

In order to access iTunes Connect, which is the door behind which the special! software! is hidden, one must obtain an Apple ID and a password. This was done and my email address duly certified. I then went to iTunes Connect, certain that iTunes Producer would very shortly be in my possession, doubtless for a small fee.

In this I proved to be optimistic. For though I enter the Apple ID I had just verified and the password, ditto, iTunes Connect stands steadfast in its refusal to allow me to pass the door, stating Apple ID does not have permission to access iTunes Connect.

What I can’t figure out is if this means ever or only until the new ID and password filter through Apple Universe, though, really, how long ought that to take?

I also can’t figure out if there isn’t somewhere else besides iTunes Connect where one might obtain this all-important program. It being Appleware, probably not.

Welladay.

I also today talked on the phone with my sister, changed out old files for new, and signed about 100 of the 800 pages to be tipped in to specially pre-ordered volumes of Ghost Ship. It’s amusing how weird your signature looks after you’ve signed it only a hundred times. I may have a new name altogether by the time I get to sheet 800.

The day has been gray and clammy, threatening rain at any moment, though only now has the rain actually begun, in a dispirited, grumpy sort of way.

Scrabble is asleep in the copilot’s chair, directly next to MacDuff. Mozart naps on the arm of the sofa, the position from which he supervised my signing; Hexapuma is Worshipping His Steve.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend. What’s doing?

___________
To history buffs, the year was 4171 A.U.C. To Christians, it was 3418. To Moslems, it was the middle of the year 2882. But by common reckoning, the year was 1461.

–Header for Chapter One of Starwell ©1968 by Alexei Panshin

Auction closing soon

The auction for the rare! leather-bound edition! of the rare! Lee and Miller original omnibus Pilots Choice (including the full text of Liaden Universe® novels Local Custom and Scout’s Progress) goes over tomorrow, Sunday, May 15, at 1500 PDT. If you were thinking about bidding, or just want to reserve a seat in the studio audience, time is getting short.

Here’s the link

Books Read in 2011

Library Wars Volume 1: Love and War, Kiiro Yumi
The Perilous Gard, Elizabeth Marie Pope
Edie Ernst, USO Singer — Allied Spy, Brooke McEldowney
Silver Phoenix, Cindy Pon
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (e)
Foreigner, C.J. Cherryh (read aloud with Steve)
Betrayer, C.J. Cherryh (read out loud with Steve)
Right-Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse (e)
American Rose, Karen Abbott
The Bull God, Roberta Gellis (e)
Sin in the Second City, Karen Abbott
Of Blood and Honey, Stina Leicht (e)
The God Engines, John Scalzi (e)
Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key, Kage Baker (e)
Unseen, Rachel Caine
Total Eclipse, Rachel Caine
Weight of Stone, Laura Anne Gilman
The Story of Chicago May, Nuala O’Faolain

Books Read 2011

The Perilous Gard, Elizabeth Marie Pope
Edie Ernst, USO Singer — Allied Spy, Brooke McEldowney
Silver Phoenix, Cindy Pon
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (e)
Foreigner, C.J. Cherryh (read aloud with Steve)
Betrayer, C.J. Cherryh (read out loud with Steve)
Right-Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse (e)
American Rose, Karen Abbott
The Bull God, Roberta Gellis (e)
Sin in the Second City, Karen Abbott
Of Blood and Honey, Stina Leicht (e)
The God Engines, John Scalzi (e)
Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key, Kage Baker (e)
Unseen, Rachel Caine
Total Eclipse, Rachel Caine
Weight of Stone, Laura Anne Gilman
The Story of Chicago May, Nuala O’Faolain

Five Things Make a Post, Thursday Edition

1. Steve is on his way home. Last contact was from “someplace in New York.” First contact was from “above Harrisburg,” and I thought, “Well, he’ll be home in a couple hours, then.” sigh. All these years and I’m still not used to Harrisburg being a loooooong way from home.

2. The auction for the leather-bound edition is live until Sunday-coming! Take a look! Go on, you know you want to…

3. Today’s paycheck from the day-job makes available the news that honest labor pays about $6700 less thus far than setting up as a professional liar. This year, anyhow.

4. Still trying to work the brain down from overdrive. Haven’t had to cope with the full “can’t stop! gotta think!” for…years and years. I wonder if that means that the cpap machine blowing air into my skull is actually, um, working.

. . .and wonders, if so, if that’s what you call your double-edged blade.

5. In service of number 4, above, I’ll be on the couch, reading The Perilous Gard.

On rewards

One of the things I tell beginning writers when I talk to them is to write what they love; that nobody sees out of their eyes but them; that the effort of raising their voice is worth any consequence.

Everybody saw xkcd this morning, right?

Chapbooks uploaded

I’ve just uploaded the last of the chapbooks — twenty-five in all. I note that, as of the present moment, twenty-four of those chapbooks are available in DRM-free ePub format from BN.com; Endeavors of Will, which went up only moments ago is still in the review stage.

Amazon is “reviewing” six chapbooks, which means they’re not yet in the sales database. The account has, perhaps, been frozen, pending the resolution of the “Chariot to the Stars” issue, reported here yesterday; or it may just be that Amazon is slow this weekend.

I will list all of the elektrified chapbooks below. For the Liaden stories and the various questions of what appears where when and published by whom, I see that Someone has been very busy at the wiki and has gathered all that information into one place. Thank you, Someone.

Pinbeam Books (aka Sharon Lee and Steve Miller) chapbooks available in DRM-free ePub (Nook) and mobi (Kindle) format:

Two Tales of Korval: Adventures in the Liaden Universe® Number One
Fellow Travelers: AitLU Number Two
Duty Bound: AitLU Number Three
Certain Symmetry: AitLU Number Four
Trading in Futures: AitLU Number Five
Changeling: AitLU Number Six
Loose Cannon: AitLU Number Seven
Shadows and Shades: AitLU Number Eight
Quiet Knives: AitLU Number Nine
With Stars Underfoot: AitLU Number Ten
Necessary Evils: AitLU Number Eleven
Allies: AitLU Number Twelve
Dragon Tide: AitLU Number Thirteen
Eidolon: AitLU Number Fourteen
Misfits: AitLU Number Fifteen
Halfling Moon: AitLU Number Sixteen
Skyblaze: AitLU Number Seventeen

Calamity’s Child
The Cat’s Job
Chariot to the Stars
Endeavors of Will
Master Walk
The Naming of Kinzel
Quiet Magic
Variations Three

…My next task forward of this is to build a bookstore page, and elektrify The Tomorrow Log and also Time Rags. However! What I am going to do immediately, now that this part of the larger task is behind me — is proofread the galleys for Ghost Ship.