The Writing Life, Part. . .Whatever

So, Steve is on his way to ReCONstruction, the Tenth Occasional North American Science Fiction Convention, in Raleigh, North Carolina.  I had planned to go, but decided to stay home and work on Ghost Ship, which was due on Sunday, and still 50 grand short of a book.

My couple days of being able to stay inside the book paid off in that I now know not only how the dern thing ends, but how it gets there — which is gratifying.  I’ve been alternating making notes with writing straight ahead, sentence structure be damned, with the goal of having a completed draft by the time I finish my vacation and go back to the day-job.  The logic here is that I can edit while the day-job is dinning in both ears, but lately I’ve been having a bad time writing, ditto.  I think I may be starting to crack under the sheer weight of numbers.

A while ago, one of my co-workers at the day-job asked me why I didn’t give up already with the “hobby” (that would be this), when it so plainly added a lot of stress to my life.  I explained that, in 2007 and 2008, I earned significantly more at my “hobby” than I earned at the day-job; and would have done in 2009, as well, had any one of two payments scheduled for late fall arrived then, instead of in the first quarter of 2010.  In 2010, I can’t tell yet which is winning, honest labor or hobby, because some scheduled payments are late.

You’re seeing the pattern here, right?  What the day-job has in its “pro” column are:  (1) on-time delivery of scheduled payments, and (2) affordable access to decent health care.

If I could get (2) any other way, the day-job and I would part company.  Mind you, I don’t like uncertain payments, but I have coping strategies, built over a decade of freelancing without a net, and years of occasional short rations previous to that.

Which brings us, roundabout, to the question of why people make art:  musician, writer, painter, sculptor — there are very few working artists who make very much money at their art, though some of us can pretty consistently manage a modest living (yes, I did say I earned more as a writer than as a secretary).  There is, of course, the Adulation of Millions, but most artists of my acquaintance are pretty realistic about that aspect of the work.

Many working artists who do have day-jobs consciously choose to stay at a “lower” level, in order to have time and space to practice their art.  I’ve made that decision myself, several times.  We’re not idiots, most of us; we know what a promotion and the attendant mission-creep will do to the time we have for our work.

So!  What have you  — yes, you — given up for your art?  Have you ever been tempted to give up your art?  Have you given up your art?  Do you regret it?  Tell all; inquiring minds want to know.

And!  The galley proofs for Carousel Tides have just landed in my in-box.

Doin’ it right, ackshually

This just in from the ISP of yesterday’s offending website:

This account has been terminated for violation of our Acceptable Use Policy. All hostnames associated with this account have been blocked to prevent future abuse. It may take a little while for DNS servers across the internet to reflect this change.

Thank you for your report,

— Alan Ellis
DynDNS Ninja Squad

Expanding Universe Follow-Up

You all know what tomorrow is, don’t you?

Right!  It’s the twelfth day after the ending of the Great Expanding Universe contest, the day on which the prizes will expire!  And I still have three people who haven’t picked up the coupon-code for their free electronic edition of The Dragon Variation.

Missing folk are:

Al MacDiarmid

A.W. Ford

Samantha Brandt

If you know any of these folks, give ’em a nudge, ‘k?

Once again, congratulations to all the winners, and many thanks to all those who threw their names into the hat!

The Glamor!

So what I’m doing this afternoon instead of writing is putting together a DMCA take-down notice for seventeen novels and stories written by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller which have been scanned and made available for electronic download in violation of my copyright.

For each of those seventeen violations I have to tell the site owner:

1.  The exact title of the work infringed upon

2.  The exact URL of the infringing work

3.  The exact URL of a legitimate electronic copy of the work

Gosh, this is fun!

Judging a Book by its Cover

We got a letter from a long-time reader the other day, who, perplexed by the fact that Steve and I aren’t Rich and Famous Writers, as we clearly deserve to be (a thesis, by the way, that I agree with completely), mounted a study to figure out why this was so.  The results of study led the reader to the conclusion that we lacked the readership enjoyed by Author X (as a fer-instance) because Author X has better cover art.  The reader therefore directed us to instruct our publisher to get us cover art like that gracing the books of Author X, so that we, too, could become New York Times bestsellers.

Now, I have no doubt that our correspondent is well-meaning, and that the expressed concern regarding our continued state of non-famousness, or at least, non-richness, is genuine.  However, there are a couple things. . .off-center about both the conclusion and the directive to us.

Let’s do the easy one first:  Authors do not dictate to publishers.  Authors do not commission cover art.  Authors may, in this enlightened day and age, actually get to consult on the cover art for their books.  Sometimes.  Other times. . .not so much.  Some authors, the rare writer-illustrator, get to do their own cover art.  These folks are the exceptions.

Now, leaving aside for the moment the whole can of worms that is “better” in terms of art, our correspondent appears to have missed a couple of important nuances.

The first, and most glaring, is that Author X writes Urban Fantasy, and thus her covers are Urban Fantasy covers — specifically of the tits-n-tatts variety (which, as a reader of this particular author’s work, make me nuts, because while, yes, the heroine is indeed kick-ass, she is not tattoo-entwined, as depicted.  I can offer textev.).  Now, there’s no question that these covers are effective sales tools — for Urban Fantasy books.  For space operas, they kinda suck rocks.

This is because genre cover art is shorthand; it is not designed, necessarily, to illustrate a particular scene from the book, nor is its mission (see my parenthetical, above) to accurately portray the characters.

The Mission Number One of cover art is to get the book into the hands of a prospective reader.  Note that our concerned reader had this bit dead on.

The way cover art sells books is by accurately “reporting” to prospective readers what’s inside the box.

Thus, this cover. . .

Cover for The Dragon Variation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

. . .accurately reports that there is action and romance inside.  A reader — I should say a reader of genre science fiction — who is looking for action-romance will not be misled in their buying decision should they purchase this omnibus, and they are primed to be pleased with what they will find inside.

This cover. . .

. . .promises magic, adventure, perhaps some romance.  I happen to like this cover very much — full disclosure: I’ve been happy with almost all of our cover art, in terms of accuracy of reporting and reader allure — despite the fact that the two front-ground characters look nothing like the people I described in the story; nor is the horse, while bat-winged, particularly my bat-winged horse.  The art accurately reports what kind of story is between the covers, and invites the browsing bookstore customer to pick the book up and have a look at the first page or two.

Once the art has done its job — enticed the browser to pick the book up and look at the text — my job as an writer begins.  I’ve got a paragraph, maybe a page, to grab the reader’s imagination and convince them to buy this book, out of the hundreds of others right there in the science fiction section, or the thousands inside the boundaries of the bookstore.

The argument could therefore be made that the first pages of our novels are weak, while Author X is strong in the force.  It could be that there are more romance readers (a huge market segment) seeking out Urban Fantasy than will take a chance on a scifi novel.

The truth of the matter is, nobody actually knows which books will have “it” and become bestsellers.  If we did, we’d all do it, right?  I mean, we’d be idiots, not to.  The best any of us can do is the best we can at what we do; hope for good art, good marketing support, a steady breeze in the sails, and kindly people at port.

And the winners are. . .

Steve and I solicited the help of our local independent bookseller, Ellen Richmond, owner-operator of the Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, to draw the names of the thirty-six winners of the ebook edition of The Dragon Variation, containing Liaden Universe® novels Local Custom, Scout’s Progress, and Conflict of Honors.

Here’s a picture of Ellen, showing off the entries, just before she gets down to the tough job:

Ellen Richmond of Children's Book Cellar, Waterville ME
Ellen Richmond and the Contestant Pool, photo by Steve Miller

Here are the results of her labors; the thirty-six winners:

David Kroll

Tom Knapik

Adora Hoose


Brent Chivers

Mark Yon   webpage

Michael Cummings  webpage

Al MacDiarmid

Liz U

Ivy Truitt

Mervi   webpage


Eric Francis

Sean Holland


Paul Prior

Shannon Lewis  webpage

A.W. Ford

Tili S.

Shawn Gray



Samantha Brandt


Moira Young  webpage



Laurie Green  website

Debby Reagan


Bill Fisk

Monika H.


Angie Penrose  website

Alex Fayle  website

John Ridley

* * *

After Ellen went to the back to soak her wrists, we called on local artist and framemaker Amy Cyrway to draw the blogger winner.  Here she is, caught in mid-deed:

Artist Amy Cyrway draws blogger winner
Artist Amy Cyrway draws the winning blogger, photo by Steve Miller

The fruit of her labor is:  Lissa Davies!

* * *

Congratulations to all the winners!

Thanks to everyone who took the time to enter the contest, and to all the news sites, bloggers, individual readers, and friends of the Liaden Universe® who helped to boost the signal!

Special thanks to Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf, Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express, long-time Friend of Liad Mike Barker, Ellen Richmond, Amy Cryway, and Bill Taylor!

This was fun!  Let’s do it again sometime!

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

July 19, 2010,  edited to Add: Individual emails were sent to all winners at the email address they provided on their entry.  If you have not received that email, or if the email address you provided in your entry is one that you don’t ever check, please write to me at sharonleeATkorvalDOTcom (where The Usual replace AT and DOT) to claim your prize.  Thanks.

Sharon Lee

Contest Closed

The Expanding Universe contest is now closed to entries — and the waiting begins!

Later today, Steve and I will take the Big Treasure Chest full of contestants down to Deepest Waterville Maine, where Ellen Richmond, the proprietor of our local indie bookstore, Children’s Book Cellar will exhaust herself by pulling 36 separate entries.

Watch this space for the winners list.

In the meantime, we’d like to thank Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books for making this contest possible; Mike Barker for suggesting it; Heather Massey of The Galaxy Express for showing us how it could be done; all the bloggers, news sites, individual readers, and friends of the Liaden Universe® who boosted the signal and every single one of the more than three hundred folks who entered the contest.  May the luck be with you all!

The writer, not exactly goofing off

So, I haven’t been around the blogs much, a trend that will probably continue,what with one thing and a lagging book.  Still behind on the email.  I love y’all, though.

Steve has been doing the work of four good men; meaning there are many autographed Saltations in the sky, on  the road, and, reportedly, in the hands of the folks who supported the writing of the project. Signing the books reminded us of how much we owe you guys, and we thank you again, deeply.

I still do worry about the folks on the Lost List.  Take a second to look at the list, especially if you’re in the US and haven’t received your book.  If you see your name, please don’t assume that I’ll cross-check you against the SRM database and thus discover your whereabouts.   Be proactive!  If you see a friend’s name on the list, give ’em a nudge, why not?  My goal is to get a book into the hands of everyone who was kind enough to subscribe.

The last week included an emergency run for Argent the Forester to the Subaru Repair Shop, where he emerged willing, and now able, to drive Steve to NASFiC in a couple weeks.

The day-job continues to be Entirely Too Stressful.  I blame the heat.  And administrative boneheadedness.

This evening, Steve and I are scheduled to read, and he, as a Trustee, to act as host, at the Winslow Public Library’s 100th Year Anniversary Party, which will be lots of fun.

The Expanding Universe contest has 326 entries so far.  Have you entered?  Have you blogged?  Have you pointed a friend to the contest?  Time’s running out for all of those things; the contest deadline is midnight EDT today, Friday, July 16.

Today, late as it starts will be an on-the-sofa-with-the Leewit-day.  Hope everyone has a stress-free Friday!

Expand or Lose

Remember!  The Liaden Universe® celebratory Expanding Universe Contest for a chance to win one of thirty-six electronic copies of The Dragon Variation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, or (if you’re a blogger who has boosted the signal and posted here) to be entered into a drawing for a BN gift card is in its last hours.

The contest goes over at midnight, Eastern Daylight Time (4:00 GMT) today, Friday, July 16.

Read the rules and enter the contest here