Fourth Questions Answered

So!  After a short break to get some work done, and do promotion — we have arrived at a pair of Fourth Questions.  To wit!

Question Four Number One

There is a recollection that Lee and Miller once upon a time wrote one (or more) books under an NDA where they can not indicate which book(s) they wrote, presumably as they were ghost writing (or for a house name). If the NDA has timed out, wonder if you could let us know which book(s) you folk wrote. If not, you are, of course, welcome to toss this question into the bit bin.

No, we narrowly escaped from a NDA situation in which the folks wanting our services were, um. . .a little feral in their understanding of what a NDA was and how much of our lives and creativity they got to own after we signed on the dotted line.  We kind of wrote a story about that.  Coming soon.

What we DID do is sign on to do a couple of works-for-hire.  One was for a gaming company, way, waaaaaay back in time, right after we’d moved to Maine.  The other was Sword of Orion:  Book One of Beneath Strange Skies, published by Phobos Impact.  People occasionally write to us, wanting to know when the next in that series will be published, or asking us to make the existing volume available as an ebook, and the answer is!

It’s not our book.  Those few who own this volume will note, not only the authors’ dedication to Victor Appleton, but that the book is copyright 2005 by Phobos Books LLC.  That means we don’t own the story, or the characters.  Certainly, we can’t undertake to write the sequel of a book someone else owns.

So, there’s that.

Question Four Number two

Now that Baen has your manuscript, approximately how long before an e-arc will become available…  Not every author that I enjoy releases an e-arc of their works and I really appreciate your willingness to support my addiction to your universes… Additionally, do you get more from the entrance fee for an e-arc than for the final electronic product since the final product it’s usually discounted?

The timing of eArcs has been amply discussed elsewhere.  Short form:  eArcs, their appearance, or non-appearance, in fact, their very existence — falls within Baen’s honor.  Authors do not make eArcs available.  The publisher makes eArcs available according to their own customs, of which we wot, if not precisely not, at least very little.

Authors are paid a percentage of cover price. This percentage is set down in the contract.  I think we get fifty percent of cover for the eArc, and something in that range for the finished ebook (see author being too lazy to get up from her desk to walk into the tech room, wrestle with the file cabinet and pull the contracts).  Percentages for hardcover and mass market sales are less, but the theory is you make it up in volume.

Here endeth the answers to Questions the Fourth.

Previous Answers:
Third Question Answered
Second Questions Answered
The First Answer

The first answer

Methodology:  Choose a question from the screened comments on this post.

I received 35 responses to this post, containing 65 questions.  One response  contained a record 22 questions.

More than half of the questions received are massive spoilers for the Liaden Universe®.  This is fair — the name of the game, after all, is Ask Me Anything, not, I’ll Answer Anything.

So!  Today’s question is!

Do your characters sometimes head in a different direction than you were planning in your stories? And if so what do you do, do you try to force them into the original direction, cut that scene out and change characters, see where they want to go, or something else? How do you deal with a stubborn character?

Our-and-my characters always have their own ideas about where they’re going, why they’re going there, and what they will and won’t do when they get there.

We consider this a feature.

Characters who have their own ideas about themselves and their lives, and strong feelings about what is proper — or needed — are what we want.  This may occasionally spoil or even void a scene, which is certainly inconvenient, but scenes can be rewritten, after all.  Stories are about characters.  To tell our stories properly,  we need to listen to the characters.

Being character-driven writers means that we are what’s sometimes called “organic writers” — which means we don’t produce an outline at the beginning of a story and stick with it, come ice or nor’easter.  We do start with a general idea of where we, mere authors, think the story’s going, but even that’s subject to change.  As a rule, the things that must happen, happen because they are necessary to the character(s).  I would say “to the character(s) arc,” but that would imply that we have some kind of control over that.

I have gone into a book knowing that one particular character, created for that book, would not survive their arc.  In fact, they would redeem themselves in death.  Except. . .in the course of the book, they redeemed themselves many times over, and bought back their life, in essence.  Which meant I needed to write a different ending, but, hey — that’s what writers are for.

Dealing with a stubborn character — Steve and I learned our lesson there on the very first Liaden book — Agent of Change — where we were working with — a very simple outline.  But one of the set pieces was that Val Con would arrive at a certain place in need of transportation, and that he would therefore steal a spaceship.  In fact, as it clearly stated in the outline, he was to steal a ship belonging to a friend, that was berthed at the station.

I was lead on Agent, by reason of having no day-job at the time, and I was zipping right along, barely able to type fast enough to keep up with Miri and Val Con, and there!  We got to the space station, there was the ship, and Val Con — stopped.

Stopped dead, right there on the page.

I figured I needed a break, got up, took a walk, came back, wiggled my fingers over the keys and said to Val Con, “OK, then!  Time to steal a spaceship!”

Nothing happened.

I showed him the outline, where it said, clearly, Val Con steals ship.

He shrugged.

Nothing happened.  I pushed.  I put in a line, typed *** to indicate a scene change, and tried to jump ahead, to where he was already on the ship.

Nope, nada, nothing.

I went back to the original scene, and tried to give him a little shove down toward the dock, and was informed that yes, I was the one with the typewriter, and I could, in theory, make him steal the ship, but if I did, he would never work for me again.

Well, that was unnerving, so I got up and went into the kitchen to make bread.

Eventually, Steve came home from his day-job, took a look at my face, and said,  “What’s wrong?”

“Val Con won’t steal the spaceship.”

“Oh, won’t he?”  said Steve.  “I’ll talk to him, OK?”

“OK,” I said, and started to pull stuff to make dinner.

He disappeared into the living room (my desk was in a corner of the living room in those days), and I heard the typewriter start, then stop.  A couple lines were typed; paper was ripped out of the platen.  New paper was rolled in, a couple keystrokes, then. . .nothing.

At dinner, Steve said, “Val Con won’t steal the spaceship.”

“Right,” I said, and we put our heads together and talked the scene over and how we’d gotten to the scene, and, eventually, realized our error.  Val Con and the owner of the ship he was to steal were friends.  Val Con did have his honor, and while he might do many things, steal from a friend, he would not.

So, we, as writers, had a couple choices before us.  We could change the ship-to-be-stolen, so that it no longer belonged to a friend.  This was actually the easiest solution, but we thought about it some more, and decided that there was a better solution, and we went back a few pages in the manuscript and wrote in a sentence where the friend gave Val Con permission to use any resource belonging to the friend that he might need.

After that adjustment was made, we went back to the space station — and Val Con was already moving toward that ship, a spring in his step, and reviewing the best places to Jump for.

So, yanno — that’s how you deal with a stubborn character.

Here ends the answer to the First Question.

Ask Me Anything

So, they tell me that spring is coming.  Or at least Daylight Savings Time.

What say we get the website loosened up and moving again?

You — yes, you! — may Ask Me A Question in comments.  All questions will be kept Sekrit, and on Wednesday, March 13 — Anything Can Happen Day Times Two! — I’ll start answering questions here in the blog, one at a time, questions chosen at my discretion.

Sound like fun?


Let’s go.

Promise keeping

Back in, oh…October, I guess, 2012, a couple folks who are interested in the nittier-grittier part of our careers asked me to let them know if Dragon Ship earned out.  I agreed to do that, though they may have thought I’d forgotten about them by now.

In point of fact, Dragon Ship, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, published in two hardcover editions in September 2012, has earned out.  I know this because we have received the royalty reports for January-June 2013, covering sales made during the six months prior to that period, aka July-December 2012.

Y’all didn’t believe me when I told you that the Wheels of Publishing Grind Slow, did you?

While I’m here, let me address a couple of other frequent questions.

A question that we’re asked frequently, with regard to all of our books, is “Where do you make the most money, from paper sales or from esales?”

Based on this batch of royalty statements, it looks like print still has a slim sales edge, for new books.  Books that have been out for awhile (I give you Mouse and Dragon, the gift that keeps on giving) seem to have stronger esales.

The third frequent question has to do with how well our indie ebooks, offered through Pinbeam Books, sell.  This is often part of a conversation about how it’s no longer in the best interest of authors to be yoked to a trad publisher.

So, the indie sales more than pay the mortgage every month, which is pretty good for something that’s a sideline, which we don’t promote, and only update the inventory sporadically.  We have seen sales fall off since early 2011, when we first started making the chapbooks available electronically.

I think there are two reasons for that.  One is that when the Kindles and the Nooks were Hot Items that everybody had to have, all those people with their new toys tried to make sure that all their favorite books were on the toys.  There was, in a word, a Great eBook Rush.

The second reason is that Steve and I are simply not bearing down and making new eChapbooks available every month or two.  See “sideline,” above.

Regarding the larger discussion of Trad Publishing vs. Total Author Control. . .our experience has shown — since 1995, when SRM Publisher published it’s first paper chapbook, Two Tales of Korval by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller — that a hybrid approach to publishing — some trad, some self-publishing — is the path that produces the greater rewards.

Anybody have any other nitty-gritty publish-y type questions?  Now’s the time to ask.

EDITED TO ADD:  This just in, from Forbes:  How Much Money Do Self-Published Authors Make?


The short answers

Kyrstellaine asks:

Is the lacework that Theo does based on some real-world lace technique, or is it Liaden-world only?

We didn’t know about it when we started Theo on her lace work, but it turns out that there’s this, and this, and this, among other similar projects; so plainly other minds work in like fashion.

* * *

Judy asks:

Do you ever find yourselves talking like some of your Liaden characters? I.e., “All joy…”, etc.

Sadly, yes.  It seems to come most easily when I’m Very Annoyed.  I’m inclined to view it as a Good Thing, because if I’m using the energy to speak in Rolling Periods, and Broad Irony, I’m not throwing things.

* * *

Betsy asks:

Which of you writes dialogue and which one writes plot? Or do you divide up the writing in some other fashion?

Oh, we both write the dialogue; I’m not sure who writes our plots, but I’d sure like to have a word with them.  I know that some collaborators split the writing tasks, or certain characters will only be written by one writer; other characters by the other. . .we don’t do that.  Whoever is on-point has to do the Whole Job of Writing — Voice; Description; Plot; Ripping Out the Stitches when something didn’t work, and Setting In New Ones.

The reason this works for us is that we role-play the characters and the scenes and talk constantly about where we think the story’s going — lamentably, a moving target — so we’re both on-board with what the characters sound like; their motivations; their vulnerabilities and their goals.

* * *

Lacey asks:

Will there be a backstory on the norbears? (Much more about them, please.) Or on the dea’Gauss line and how they linked to Korval?

For norbears — have you seen Out of True?

On dea’Gauss — that’s a possibility — everything’s a possibility — but it’s not something we’re planning on writing soon.

* * *

Amanda asks:

Will the “5 book dash” bring the current Liaden storyline to a close? and related (but not exactly the same), what are your plans for retirement and will your current backlog fund such?

It’s our intent that The Five Book Dash will bring closure to the combined Agent of Change/Theo story arcs.

Retirement — no writer I’ve ever known has actually — or wanted to — retire.  Andre Norton had a novel published the year she died — at 93.  Anne McCaffrey was still writing when she died  — at 85.

I can’t speak to their personal affairs, but, unless A Miracle Occurs, we’re not going to be able to afford to retire.  I hope to avoid spending my last years under a bridge, but it’s possible that I will.

* * *

And, finally, OtterB asks:

It’s a minor point, all things considered, but it nags at me. What does Surebleak use for power when Pat Rin first arrives? Presumably the port has its own generators (or whatever), but what about the streets? It doesn’t seem like there’s enough cooperation to allow an electrical generation and distribution system, but on the other hand, I don’t get the impression from the description that they’re using, say, oil lamps either. Can you (heh) shed some light on this?

I’m thinking Handwavium, myself.

* * *

Thanks to everyone who contributed a question!  Even though I didn’t get to them all, I appreciate the time you took to ask!

The third answer

Drammar asks:

You’ve described what it’s like to write as part of a team — how either you or Steve will be the “driver” for the book, and that the driver has a tie-breaking vote concerning the book, and that you role scenes with one another, etc.

What I’m curious about is what happens when you (specifically you, Sharon) are working on a single author title. Does Steve act as a sounding board, do you discuss plot points with him, or are the only voices in your head the ones of the current characters?

Well…the easy answer is that, in my experience, if you have two (or more) writers living in close proximity, each of them is going to have a finger in whatever pie happens to be baking at the time.  Even lacking Proximate Writers, it’s not at all unusual for writers to ask other writers for aid — in looking over an awkward scene, or reading a draft to see if it makes sense, or to bounce ideas off of.  More on this in a moment.

Now, with the Carousel books and stories, I Very Much Wanted to write about Old Orchard Beach, a resort town in Maine of which I am quite foolishly fond.  I also wanted to write about Googin(s) Rock, which exists inside the borders of the town and is Enormously Spooky-Looking and, so, well, magical, that even the sea runs strange around it.

Steve, however, was Very Much Less Interested in writing a story about a magical rock, nor was he Anywhere Near as entranced as I was with the puzzle of fitting a fantasy story into a “real” town; the technical challenge, in essence, of crafting a story that worked on both the mundane level and on the magical level.

(Occasionally, I get Strange Fascinations; I offer as Exhibit A Rool Tiazan and his Good Lady.  Steve has learned to just stand aside and wait.)

So, anyway; it was abundantly clear that, if I wanted to write a book about Archers Beach, I was going to have to do it myself.  I had by this time already written Barnburner and Gunshy — mysteries based in the fictional Central Maine town of Wimsy, during those ten years when we weren’t able to sell any of our writing to anybody, and I sat down to write about Archers Beach knowing, at least, that I could write a novel “by myself.”

(It is a curiosity that the books I’ve written “by myself” have all been told in first person.  Especially considering how much I like to hop heads.  But the first voice I heard when I opened up a new file, intending to sketch out the story, was Kate’s, and we never looked back.)

I pitched the concept to Madame the Agent, who. . .shared Steve’s enthusiasm for the project, but I wrote it anyway, because, by that time, I had to.

For me, writing a book involves a lot of wandering around the house and Staring at Nothing.  Steve is used to this behavior, so — no change in the household routine, there.

What was a little different was that, at the time Carousel Tides was written — in 2006 — matters with Meisha Merlin were starting to come to a head.  We hadn’t been paid for the delivery of Crystal Soldier or Crystal Dragon, or seen the upfront money for the book under contract — Web of the Trident.  Our agent had counseled us not to turn in that book until the money had gotten caught up.  Steve was valiantly trying to write Web so that it would be ready for delivery when the checks came in.

I started to write Carousel Tides — that’s Steve’s title, by the way– thinking maybe having another, different, book on offer might be a Good Thing, and also — had to, above.

In addition to wandering around the house, staring at nothing, I bounced ideas off of Steve, and when the first draft of the book was done, I asked writer friends to read and critique it for me.  After that, I went into revisions, and, sometime after that, I sent the completed manuscript to Madame the Agent, who sent it around all during 2007 and 2008 to unanimous rejection, until it finally came to rest at Baen, in 2009, and was published in 2010.

When it came to writing Carousel Sun and Carousel Seas, Steve continued to act as a sounding board and first reader.  He also took up the slack with washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking, and all the rest of the household tasks that are handed off to the non-rolling partner when the other is on a Writing Roll.

How’s that for a Long, Rambling Answer.

Thanks for asking!




Barbara asks:

Do you think you’ll be in the Baltimore area for your tour? or is PA the closest you’ll get?

The information for the upcoming tour in support of Trade Secret is here.

The tour was arranged by the publicist for Simon & Schuster/Baen, and the broad outline has been in place for several months now.  We will, as noted, dip briefly into Philly, attend PhilCon in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and then head back home to Maine.

Thank you for your question.

The second answer

Andrea asks:

I tend to discover new fandoms via fan fiction that has been written for them, so I wish there was more Liaden fan fiction so more people like me could discover this wonderful universe, but I know that that is only one simple reader’s perspective and am honestly/really curious about how you feel about fan fiction in general and for your own universes in particular. Is it strange/uncomfortable to have other people interpret one’s own characters, or …? Thanks!!!

I’m obliged to you for the information that there is so little Liaden fanfic out there, though, frankly, I wish there were none.  I don’t want “other people interpreting” our characters. Interpreting our characters is what Steve and I do; it’s our job.  Nobody else is going to get it right.

This may sound rude and elitist, but honestly, it’s not easy for us to get it right sometimes, and we’ve been living with these characters. . .for a very long time.  I created the prototypes for Val Con and Miri when I was 12 — so that’s almost 50 years together at this point, and there are still misunderstandings.

So, my position with regard to fanfic of our work?  We built our universes, and our characters; they are our intellectual property; and they are not toys lying about some virtual sandbox for other kids to pick up and modify at their whim.  Steve and I do not sanction fanfic written in our universes; any such work that exists, exists without our permission, and certainly without our support.

I know that some of my colleagues think that having their stuff fanficed is swell, and actively encourage derivative work.  So my advice, for people with a yen to write fanfic, is to work in the universes of those authors who permit and encourage it — and to respect the wishes of those of us who do not.

Thank you for your question.

The first answer…

Stephanie asked this question:

Preface: I’m very fond of Theo. Her chapters were published while I was pregnant with my two youngest children. I ticked of weeks of pregnancy with happy exclamations of “the new chapter is here.”

My question: Her books seem harder for you to write. That’s just my impression from reading your blog. I wondered if you knew why and or if that impression is accurate.

Now that’s an interesting observation.

In fact, the first two Theo books — Fledgling and Saltation were a lot of fun to write.  The live-without-a-net thing was exhilarating of itself, taking the writing to the level of Performance Art.  Also, starting a new series is always fun because you’re shooting from the hip, you have no backstory to constrain you (well, we had Daav’s backstory, but Jen Sar Kiladi’s  accomplishments were not known to Clan Korval — he could have been anyone; done anything.  We-the-authors had known Approximately Forever that he had a daughter during his time away from the Clan, and we had some. . .Ideas about what he might’ve been doing (I found an early piece, in fact, in that file of typed and 9-pinned early scenes that tells of his leave-taking from his mistress — who was. . .a very different person from Kamele Waitley), but really, mostly, as far as Theo and Kamele — and therefore their readers — were concerned, Jen Sar was precisely who and what he said he was.

In any case, the first two Theo books were lots of fun.

Where things began to get. . .let’s say sticky, rather than not-fun, since we know from experience that anything sufficiently not-fun won’t get written — is when Theo catches up to, and needs to be rectified with, the Clan Korval backstory.

Small Confession:  I’ve always found Theo more difficult to write than Steve has found.  Theo is a Lot More Earnest than I can easily support, and she had. . .less access to irony and sarcasm.  Miri, Val Con — Daav himself, are much easier characters for me to write.

The stickiness referred to above was increased somewhat by Baen’s viewpoint as  a publisher.  If you’ll recall, Fledgling was the first Liaden book that Baen had acquired (I’m not talking about the Webscriptions electronic reprints, which were not seen as “belonging” to Baen).  Therefore, from the publisher’s viewpoint, All Books Going Forward — were Theo books.

We tried that, with Ghost Ship and Dragon Ship, each progressively harder to write.  When it came time to pitch the next “Liaden” book — aka the next Theo book — we realized that the problem was this. . .

In-universe, there’s a lot of stuff going on for Clan Korval, and Theo’s Stuff is only part of a much, much bigger picture.  We had been trying to fit all the Other Stuff around Theo’s Stuff — and it was cramping our style.

This was the realization from which the Five Book Dash was born.  Five books, all pointing in the same direction, each giving scope to a mover and shaker in the Liaden Universe®, only one of which is (projected to be) Theo-centric.

This solution made the back-brain happy, which will, in turn, make happy writers, and books that are less sticky to write.

Thanks for asking!