Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: free book

Caught via Hugo-award winning and NYT bestselling author John Scalzi (and congrats on both counts there), the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Gordon Van Gelder, posts about the fate of short fiction online and asks for comments and feedback from readers regarding it.

His basic premise is the fear that if you start giving stuff away, no one will pay for it. Not just in the case of a specific author but rather in the case of publishing overall; if magazines start allowing readers to read online and for free the stories they print, no one will want to buy stories anymore. Which strikes me as quite a slippery slope of an argument, and I worry he’ll lose control of his toboggan.

I tend to understand his fears, though, I think, because really, it makes a lot of sense. I’ll note that since I started offering Entrekin as a free download, the downloads have shot way up though the sales have remained pretty steady. But it also makes sense in other ways.

I’ve been neglecting my other two blogs lately (writing and prepping for teaching tend to make me laser-focus), but had I been keeping up, I would have pointed to Tor.com, the new website of science fiction/fantasy publisher TOR books. So far, I’m quite stunned by its execution; in range and scope, I think it’s rather amazing, and exactly the sort of things publishers need to be doing more often. Free stories. Free novels, even. Forums for readers. Reading is not just about words on a page; it’s about community and culture, and in one fell swoop, Tor has realized the combination of the two. It’s damned near perfect, and I can only imagine it will get better.

When Tor.com posted Scalzi’s short story, “After the Coup”, the story managed nearly 50,000 hits in two weeks, a number that is, approximately, equal to the number of subscribers to three of the biggest science fiction/fantasy magazines combined. When Van Gelder pointed out that all those subscribers pay, whereas TOR.com readers are getting a freebie, Scalzi apparently responded he was “comparing eyeballs to eyeballs.”

Which puts it pretty well, I think. Because in neither case is either number a certain count of readers. One might hope, I guess, that a subscriber would read an entire magazine, but I don’t think I ever have; every magazine I’ve ever subscribed to, there’s usually one article each issue that’s a stinker.

In fact, Tor.com’s implementation seems like the perfect execution in an online world: a publisher gets behind an author, and gets first-look rights at what that author creates, which it can post on its website for an industry-standard fee. Readers can view it free, authors get paid, and publishers get free marketing (New! Exclusive Junot Diaz story! Only at Riverhead.com!).

Used to be that publication made sense, if solely for purposes of distribution; there was no way to get a lot of books to a lot of people without having the kind of operation only a major publisher could implement. Nowadays, though, sites like this seem to indicate that nearly 1.5 billion people in the world have Internet access, whereas something like 90% of books sell fewer than 1000 copies. Which seems to me to indicate that there’s a giant disconnect between content creation and content distribution, if only because so many Internet users read. Blogs, e-mail, news . . . it’s really just a giant database full of information and content.

I’ve read Seth Godin claim that books are really just souvenirs, and I’m not entirely sure about that one way or the other, but I do think that magazines and newspapers well could be. They are holders of information, but certainly no longer the best method of delivery of that information. I’d say I’m reasonably informed about global news, but I literally cannot remember the last time I actually even saw a newspaper, much less picked one up or read one.

Van Gelder notes:

So I started to wonder: has short fiction been devalued by the fact that so many places offer it for free online nowadays?

But when was the value of any fiction ever determined by the price people are willing to pay? All of Shakespeare’s work is public domain and available free, online, and what’s more, no one has to pay to produce or perform any of it.

What I think Van Gelder really means, though, is that we may be coming to a point where writers no longer need a short fiction marketplace (and I realize this is another slope of the slippery type, but still). In Japan last year, 5 of the 10 bestselling novels were distributed neither online nor by book but rather to readers’ cell phones. No mistake, the industry as a whole is changing markedly, and I think most professionals within it will learn to adapt to new ways of doing the business of getting good content to interested consumers, which is really basically all publishing actually is, anyway.

Personally, I’m still mainly surprised that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction still only accepts queries by traditional mail. No electronic submissions.

I mean, seriously, what’s up with that?

(though they do accept payment for sample issues through PayPal. Interesting that)

Was it a year ago today I clicked the buttons to launch my own publishing venture? If it wasn’t, it was pretty close, I think. I know it was at the start of March, because I remember thinking about its being close to my parents’ wedding anniversary.

Now, like a birthday present, a website called Lulu Book Reviews has put up an extraordinarily positive review of it. LBR is a nascent venture, just initiated last week or so, and its review of Entrekin is only its second, but I see good things ahead for the site, and I don’t just say that because the review was so overwhelmingly good.

As reviews and kind words go, Entrekin had a rather good year. Back in June, the PODler had great things to say about it, and I already mentioned that, in July, one wonderful reader (thanks again to Deborah) downloaded it to her iPhone to read it and shared the experience with me. Not long thereafter, I took a long-ish hiatus from blogging, and during that time, some other nice things happened. The first was my entering Entrekin into the Writer’s Digest self-published book of the year contest. During the summer, I got a note, via MySpace, from one of the judges, who told me how much he’d liked my book and that it had made it to the second round of judging.

That note made me smile, and not just for the kind words; there’s a bit in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caufield says something along the lines that the best authors make you feel like their friends, make you want to phone them up and tell them how much you liked their book and maybe chat a bit. That note made me feel somewhat like that.

Ultimately, Entrekin made it no further in the judging. I’d had doubts it would, truthfully, but mainly because of the category selection; there was none for a collection, so I had to enter it into the “mainstream/literary fiction,” which only really makes up probably less than half the book. There’s still poetry, and there are still five essays, one of which, concerning September 11th, is, I think, one of the more powerful pieces in the book. It was certainly the most powerful to write.

But Entrekin did get 4s (out of 5) straight across the board (plot, grammar, character development, cover design), and whoever offered commentary liked that it’s all over the place, but that one gets the sense that I write because I love to do so (and I do), calling the notes at the end “genuine and heartfelt,” then, “This was a remarkably refreshing read, and its earnestness is catching.”

Which is just lovely, yes.

The judge also commented on a possible improvement, calling it “only … one small thing,” and then mentioned my self-titling the collection. He (or she) noted that doing so “might lead many cynics to think that Will Entrekin is egocentric. Just a thought. Again, I don’t think so particularly, but there are some who might.”

This comment made me chuckle, though I don’t yet know how to react beyond that yet. It’s not a criticism with which I’m unfamiliar, but still I don’t know how to respond; the more I note I’m, in fact, not, the more defensive I appear. Totally no-win situation. Lately I’ve just taken to not responding, except in extraordinarily rare cases; the last time I engaged anyone, in fact, I did so to stick up, so to speak, for someone else. That that someone else hadn’t responded, though, might well have been the clearest indication that they didn’t feel response was necessary. When I was younger, my parents taught me to always stick up for myself; part of it, I think, is that I’m still often learning how.

This bears up to the last review of any of my writing before LBR’s. I very deliberately took a step back to more fully realize what I wanted to do and how I might, during which time a blog called POD People reviewed “How the World Will End.” The reviewer, Emily Veinglory, opened by noting she’d heard quite a lot about me, though she doesn’t mention whether what she’s heard was good or bad, then that “It seems he can write, but it really isn’t clear what he writes about.” So she decided to give a shot to one of the free stories available over at my Lulu page, and I’m positively thrilled she decided to find out for herself. She chose “How the World Will End,” which, coincidentally, was the very first download offered, just a few days before the book became available, noting that she thought it was clear I knew how to put words together, but that the story, which started concrete, became “abstract,” noting that she “didn’t really get it.”

Which is, of course, fair enough. “How the World Will End” is a flash piece based on a song, written as a sort of translation/adaptation; I listened to the song and tried to extrapolate what it would be had it been a short story. It’s certainly experimental, but as for “abstract,” I’m not certain. Veinglory says one might call her “overly literal,” but then, I think the story is overly literal; I’m not a symbolic sort of writer, mostly, and when “HtWWE” mentions a missile, I meant a missile; when it mentions penguins, I meant penguins; and when it meant mountains and rivers, I meant mountains and rivers.

What I think is more important than the question of concrete v. abstract is that, ultimately, Veinglory notes she’s “left certain that Will Entrekin knows how to write but I am not sure that I would be interested in anything he chose to write about,” which is a shame and indicates that “HtWWE” fails, for her, on a number of levels: as a story, but also as a taste of the collection itself and as an enticement to give others a try. Veinglory ultimately gives the story a 5.5 star rating out of 10, which I actually consider extraordinarily charitable considering she didn’t seem to much like it; I obviously do like the story (I wouldn’t have included it if I hadn’t), and though I’m not certain how to rate such things (on a scale of swimming to banana, I’d give it a purple), I’m also not certain I’d have given it much higher. I think it did what I wanted it to, ultimately, and works for what it is; whether that’s good or not I leave to the reader to decide–in Veinglory’s case, then, not so much.

But ultimately that’s the question of the book, and what I’ve learned from this year. Is Entrekin a good, or great, book? To that I answer that I like it and am proud of it, and more than that, I cannot say. Does it do what I wanted it to? That I can’t answer, either, because I didn’t necessarily hope for it to do anything; all I wanted was to learn from this experience, and I have. I’ve learned that what counts is to put out something you stand behind, and believe in, no matter the circumstances, and that you acknowledge it for what it is. I’ve learned that marketing and promotion are difficult. I’ve learned that I don’t believe in self-promotion, because I’m not promoting my self; I’m promoting my book and doing so on my own. And I’ve learned that the best thing in the world one can achieve is belief in yourself and your work, but mostly I’ve learned that I certainly couldn’t have done any of this without you. I couldn’t have done it without the kind words and gracious notes. I couldn’t have done it without the people who took pictures of themselves reading Entrekin. I couldn’t have done it without your support, and for that I am both deeply humbled and extraordinarily grateful; no amount of thanks feels like it could be enough.

I’ve learned that some people like it, and others don’t. Mostly, I just hope people decide for themselves.

To that end, given that it’s the year anniversary, and given that my favorite author’s novel is available for free download for the month, I decided to follow suit. For the entire month of March, Entrekin, in its entirety, will be available as a free download at Lulu.com.

I hope you give it a shot if you haven’t already, and I hope you like it if you do.