new year, new site, new project


TL;DR: I am writing, or furiously attempting to write, two novels in 20 days, and posting all first draft copy as well as daily notes and occasional essays to Come stop by.

Hi all. I’m a little late with this, mostly due to frantically getting things up and running the past few days, but I have things to say! And a place to say them! So I’m running out of excuses for not getting them said.

I have a new author site. I haven’t decided the division of labor between the sites yet; as I imagine it, Cobbler & Bard will be pretty business-focused, the Pulchrifex Papers will continue to aggregate random non-writing-related stuff that grabs my interest, and if C&B takes off then PP will probably slowly die. Further bulletins as events warrant.

For those of you who do follow this site in any measure out of interest in my fiction, you should know that NOT ONLY will C&B be hosting that stuff in general in future, BUT ALSO I have a huge writing and meta-writing initiative that I’m posting up there RIGHT NOW, and will be through all of January. This is surely the place to start—so surely, in fact, that it’s sort of mind-croggling that there isn’t a permalink to that somewhere on the blog page, ah well another thing to do oh god.

And I am now officially way over my allotment of social media time for the day. So I do sincerely hope to see you over at C&B, and please share and comment if you like what I’m doing.

david foster wallace did not use scrivener

Ed Ditto’s tutorial on creating print manuscripts from Scrivener is required reading for self-publishers. It’s gotten me a huge portion of the way to formatting The Dandelion Knight for print, and I thank him for his service (and Garrett Robinson for the video version, which I haven’t watched yet but would like to one day). But, through no fault of Ed’s, the process fails at one step that is critical for me and perhaps no one else.


I know. Let’s just stipulate that they’re necessary. But, if you’re compiling to PDF, Scrivener forces you into a Sophie’s choice with footnotes—use Proofing layout and lose some fonts (as well as some amount of control over whether your pages end up recto or verso, at least allegedly), or use Publishing layout and tolerate endnotes. I refused to give up IM Fell for my title page and chapter titles, and I refused to tolerate endnotes. So I opted to compile from Scrivener to Word.

Unfortunately, there are a few aspects of the conversion that weren’t great. They’re all manually fixable, but they do kind of need manual fixing. I’ll show some screenshots.


Problem 1: Author and title are too close to the main text.

Solution: This is easy but annoying—manually go through the headers and change them. Unfortunately, Scrivener makes each chapter heading into its own “section” and edits to one don’t propagate through the rest. I’ve tried to fix this in styles but haven’t managed to figure it out.


Problem 2: Footnotes are the same size as the rest of the text. (Oops, it looks like a useless hyphen has also crept in.)

Solution: Also easy, not annoying: Just put your cursor into a footnote, select all, and change the size.


Problem 3: Pages don’t always end on the same line. (In its “two pages” display, Word displays odd pages on the left and even on the right, because it starts with 1—so don’t worry that the odds and evens are on the wrong side or that the margins are reversed for recto and verso. At least, I think you shouldn’t worry.)

Solution: Select the entire main text, then go to Format -> Paragraph. Click “Line and Page Breaks,” then deselect “widow and orphan control.” You want to select all because the document is divided into different sections; the last thing you want them to do is treat widows and orphans differently!

Henson on genre, part deux

On The Muppet Show, the young and annoyingly earnest Scooter gets to have his way—because his uncle owns the theater. Kermit, in order to put on his show, must keep him happy. Scooter suggests a number with a dancing poodle.

Kermit says, “It sounds, said the frog, displaying his artistic judgment, sappy.”

Scooter mentions his uncle.

Kermit adapts: “It sounds, said the frog, displaying his will to survive, wonderful.”

Ibid. (I’ve just discovered the “your Kindle highlights” page on Amazon — can you tell?)

Jim Henson talks about genre without talking about genre

[Henson:] I didn’t call him a frog.

[Interviewer:] Right, he was just Kermit the thing.

[Henson:] Yeah, all the characters in those days were abstract because that was part of the principle I was working under.… I still like very much the abstract characters and some of those abstract characters I still feel are slightly more pure. If you take a character and you call him a frog, or like Rowlf, our dog, call him a dog, you immediately give the audience a handle. You’re assisting the audience to understand; you’re giving them a bridge or an access. And if you don’t give them that, if you keep it more abstract, it’s almost more pure. It’s a cooler thing. It’s a difference of a sort of warmth and cool.… [I]n terms of going commercial and going broad audience, you want to reach the audience as much as possible, and you need those bridges.

Quoted in MAKE ART MAKE MONEY, Elizabeth Hyde Stevens

the wattpad experiment

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about Wattpad. Since then I’ve published the stories that Amazon still hasn’t price-matched, but I’ve been a little bit reluctant to post new work, or work that’s for sale elsewhere. But I’m now far enough along with a work in progress that I think it’s worth doing.

For those who care about the “business” angle, the work in progress is a novelette or novella (it’s not done, so I’m not sure) set in the world of THE DANDELION KNIGHT, titled “Dispatch from a Colored Room.” I don’t intend ever to sell it; its role is to be a free introduction to the series. The Wattpad version will be somewhat unpolished, but I will assuredly post it to my various ebook retailers and try to make it free as soon as it’s actually done. So those of you who don’t have Wattpad accounts can wait for that, although I wish you wouldn’t. To encourage you to follow along, here are the cover and an excerpt:


They do not teach you, in the offices of Dawnroad Bank, how much it strains your credibility with clients when you’re standing on their doorstep shivering hard enough that you’re actually a little out of breath from it. Dawnroad Bank does not often pay personal visits to clients in the boondocks of the sinistral sixth. But Dawnroad Bank never leaves money on the table.

Think about where that’s gotten them now, when the skies are split like the bellies of week-drowned rats and you can’t take a bite of bread without gritting your teeth on black bone-ash.

Some of you are going to want me to get to the point. You know that’s not how it works. Who’s here tonight? I see Aurea Laclois, the only woman in this room brave enough to admit she’s whored to live so she could walk this stage; I see Ambrose Chrysaor, who still can’t talk after a Champion nearly strangled him backstage for the crime of playing his part too well. Everyone here has suffered something like, and not for any “point,” because any geometer will tell you that a point is defined as nothing. A thousand points adds up to empty space. And you’re here, listening to me, because you know it.

SATORI now available on Comixology!

My co-creator, Mike LaRiccia, has put our 2008 comic, SATORI, on Comixology for $1.99. Since he mentioned this to me, I’ve just joined Comixology—I can’t say much about the PC version of the app, since it seems my information hasn’t cross-pollinated from the mobile app to the website, but the mobile reader is beautiful and there are a ton of issue #1s of great comics for free. So, even if you don’t want to read SATORI, and even—especially!—if you don’t like reading comics, I would strongly recommend joining Comixology and perusing the free issues. Here, I’ll even help you out with a few pointers:

  • SAGA: Fantasy space opera family drama. Seriously, do not even consider clicking away from this post before you download it.
  • THE WALKING DEAD: The state of the art in zombie survival horror; inspiration for the AMC show of the same name.
  • BONE: Reasonably funny screwball comedy, evolving over the course of 1000 pages or so into beautifully drawn and written (yet still funny) epic fantasy.
  • PLANETARY: A superhero team of fantastic archaeologists, striving to keep the world strange.
  • RASL: Dimension-warping soap opera slash conspiracy thriller slash love letter to Nikola Tesla.
  • WANTED: The logical, horrible extension of superhero power fantasies; inspiration for the really pretty different James McAvoy/Angelina Jolie movie of the same name.

ed robertson on starting up as an indie publisher

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

All worth reading. The “nuclear option” in Part 3 is an intriguing idea—definitely the opposite of my approach. I guess I’m worried about the preoccupation that the SPP started to develop in maybe late 2012 or early 2013—the idea that free used to be useful, but now (due to algorithm changes and miscellaneous jiggerypokery) isn’t worth the risk inherent in training your readers to expect all your work to be free at some point. But the SPP has always been in favor of permanently free books used as low-friction introductions to series, and that is essentially what Ed’s talking about.

I think the insight comes down to: If you’re a new author with just one title, or (if you’re me) a few unrelated titles, you’re not going to make any money anyway. So you might as well do what you can to get readers, and free is one of the more powerful things you can do.

At the moment, I’m not sure I have the cycles to devote to making a book permanently free in any case—honestly, I’m not sure I have the cycles to reformat THE DANDELION KNIGHT for Smashwords, much less execute any price-matching trickery correctly. And I’m not even working on the sequel to TDK right now, so permanent free isn’t going to buy me any follow-on sales for a while (although it could drive sales of BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS or a subsequent collection). Still, it’s at least good practice to think about all this.

I think I’m on the final 10,000 or so words of THE EIGHTH KING. Two weeks’ work, in theory. We’ll see.

new book, free book

BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS is free on from 8/6-8/8!

bloodwaxmirrors DKcover_1563x2500

Not entirely coincidentally, THE DANDELION KNIGHT is now available on for $4.99! The plan is to get it to other distributors as well, but that’s going to take a bit of time. What I’d really like you to do, naturally, is to view this as an opportunity to get $8 of books for $5, rather than $3 for $0—but if free’s all you’re up for right now, I’ll take it.

It is perhaps worth saying that BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS is unlikely to be free again in the foreseeable future. For those not conversant with how Amazon works, there are only two ways to make it free: (1) Put it up free somewhere else and wait for Amazon to price-match it, or (2) Enroll it in KDP Select, which allows me to make it free for 5 days out of each 90-day enrollment period in exchange for exclusivity on Amazon. BLOOD, WAX, MIRRORS is now in KDP Select, but I don’t want to keep the book exclusive to Amazon, so I don’t plan to re-enroll it. After I’ve built up my library a bit, it’s possible that I’ll go route (1), price-matching to free—but I think I need more books and stories out before that starts making sense.

This reminds me, I really need to see whether I can publish “Statler pulchrifex” and “Wormwords” on Amazon; those would be neat to have as permanently free promotional stories, since both are available for free online anyway. I’m reasonably certain I’m allowed to do this, but I’ve lost track of the contracts, so I should probably contact the editors at NATURE and COSMOS to be sure. Also, I need to set up proper affiliate links and update the DANDELION KNIGHT page on this here blog.

Also, I have a kid and a job. Well, one step at a time.

two hilariously contradictory views on the publishing industry

Pat Rothfuss: Why I love my editor…

Penelope Trunk: How I got a big advance from a big publisher and self-published anyway

OK, they’re really only “contradictory” inasmuch as Rothfuss is impressed by and grateful to his publishing overlords, whereas Trunk is full of mockery and scorn. And of course they emphasize different things; Rothfuss basically lived in poverty and squalor until he hit the big time, whereas Trunk has been super-successful in a few industries and spends her life thinking about how businesses succeed and fail. You might not necessarily expect a fantasist who lived on ramen for most of his life to have the same priorities as a kick-ass entrepreneur. (I worry that I’m painting Rothfuss as a schlub or a failure here; that’s not my goal. Penelope Trunk is not likely to write anything, ever, that hits my heart as squarely as THE NAME OF THE WIND. Which, by the way, is not except possibly in the broadest sense “what people [were] looking for.” I think people are most affected by things they didn’t know they wanted until they had them. I would never have sought out a contemporary British comedy of manners, but MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND is one of the ten best books I’ve read in the last ten years. And I’ve read a lot of really good books in the last ten years.)

I don’t think I’ve ever read a traditionally published author say anything but (apparently sincere, and quite warm) good things about their publishers. But fiction authors probably don’t know as much as Trunk about marketing, and they’re probably happy not to know; it isn’t professionally useful for them. There are at least some genre authors who could use their blog as a sales platform the way Trunk is doing it, but most of them owe that capability to traditional publishing. (Exceptions: John Scalzi, Amanda Hocking, E. L. James, Howard Tayler, presumably others.) I do still wonder why no one’s run the numbers and jumped ship, though. Maybe because they figure there’s no going back? But how can that be right? Maybe DAW wouldn’t take Pat Rothfuss back if he scorned them, but someone would. That’s not true for a midlist writer, obviously, and then I guess the interesting question is whether a midlist writer has less or more to gain from jumping ship.

I wonder if it’s down to the view of the craft. Penelope Trunk doesn’t need to spend all her time writing to produce a good book — in fact, she’d better not; she has to demonstrate success in and leverage insights from some non-writing field to give her books any credibility. But, for a fiction writer, any time not spent writing is time not spent honing a craft that is at least mythologized to be incredibly exacting and time-consuming. (I sometimes wonder about this. Then I realize how crappy I was five years ago, when I started writing THE DANDELION KNIGHT, and how much better I am now, and how good I’m still not.) And, for fiction writers, writing is all they’re selling; it’s not a summary of insights from some other accomplishment, it’s just itself. Anything Penelope Trunk learns about marketing, or accomplishes in marketing, is both useful for itself (in part because she already knows a lot about marketing) and potential book material. Anything Pat Rothfuss learns about marketing is maybe useful for itself, except that he already has the services of specialists who know more about it than he does, but he can’t use it in the book — unless the last Kingkiller installment takes a seriously sharp left.

I sure would like to hear more on Norman Spinrad’s self-publishing experiments. But I worry that no news is bad news there.

“publishers will have to survive on so-called mid-list books”

Norman Spinrad has some very interesting speculation about the future of publishing. “Interesting” because he actually seems to be reasoning fairly closely about it, and about different authors’ niches in what’s to come, and deriving conclusions at variance to what I tend to hear. I think this is the nut:

Let’s say you’re a major best-selling author on the Steven King or Danielle Steele level. You’ve just finished a new novel without a contract because you’re rich enough not be need an advance to finance the writing of it, but you’re greedy enough to want to make as much off it as you can. Who isn’t?

Let’s say that it’s far enough in the near future so that ebooks are roughly half the book market. Let’s say that a hardcover would go for $30 and an ebook for $10. Let’s say you took a big advance from a publisher at the cost of agreeing to that 25% of ebook sales. To make the calculation simple, let’s say the novel sells a million hardcovers and a million downloads. At 15% of $30, you make $4.5 million on the hardcover. At 25%$ of $10, you make $2.5 million off the ebooks. Total take $7 million.

But what if you sidestep the traditional publishing industry and self-publish for $10 an ebook at 70%? That’s $7 million on a million ebook sales alone. And you still own the paper publishing rights. Can you not then make a deal for those volume rights alone with a publisher for a lower advance or even no advance and still come out way ahead?

The top ten or twenty best-selling authors won’t need publishers. They can hire a computer geek to do the setting up for a grand or two and another grand or two for the online “cover art” and that’s it. They’re already brand names, and in the ebook age, national net pr would be relatively cheap and easy to buy from hired guns.

Advances? Who needs your stinkin’ advances, Random House and Simon & Schuster?

The answer, of course, is most everyone else…

This is backwards from the way most people I’ve encountered are thinking about it — the CW in my field of view, for the little it’s worth, is that the big authors will stick with the publishers because it works for them, and the little people will write on spec, self-publish, and occasionally make it big. Spinrad’s analysis is nice because he’s considered the economic incentives of the giant authors, which (by his numbers) are considerable, and assumed that the little people want to be working writers, not flailing amateurs. (He’s also articulated a role for e-publishing in the context of the sub-mid-list, books that earn reliably but slowly; read the essay for that.)

It’ll be interesting to see how the incentives play out with the best-sellers. I’ve definitely heard big-name authors gush with gratitude about their publishers, so Spinrad’s take on the economic incentives may be eccentric; on the flip side, I haven’t actually seen a big-name author seriously try to monetize a soup-to-nuts self-published ebook. If Neil Gaiman or Stephenie Meyer or someone does this and makes out like a bandit, that could have serious ripple effects. But publishers might adapt rather than turning to the midlist. Spinrad seems quite confident that publishers have nothing to offer a best-selling author. He may be right; the author’s reputation is presumably his or her biggest asset, and no publisher owns it. Yet, anyway. Publishing companies might respond by tightening the terms of deals for promising lower-tier authors, the ones who have an incentive not to self-publish on his model. I’m not sure how tight, and how far into the future, those deals could extend and still be legal. But it seems like the sketch of an alternative approach.

More later, maybe.