Friday, April 03, 2015

Crass Commercialism: The Science of "Codes": Ping! and you're dead!

Time to switch from overly aggressive marketing to a bit of crass commercialism, as I write blog posts that disingenuously act as though they are doing something other than soft-selling my book, Codes, which is available for pre-order now and which will be available for actual reading on April 27, so take a moment to click this link and go ahead and pre-order it.  If I were you, I'd get an e-version AND a hardcover copy, just in case civilization falls apart and we no longer have electricity (or Spaghettios).  While I'm out serving as monster bait in our new, lawless world, you could be fondly re-reading Codes and remembering the time when people didn't eat each other for survival.

Ah, fun times. Fun times.

Anyway, what I thought would be a good way to sucker you into at least thinking about buying the book interesting would be to talk a bit, here and there, about the science I entirely made up off the top of my head for my science-fiction novel, and see if, having just created things out of whole cloth, those things could actually exist in our own world.

Writing science fiction of course means that I don't need a science background, even though I have one: I have an actual science degree (well, political science, but as Albert Einstein said: "Stop quoting me.")  The whole point of fiction is to make stuff up, so I try to do as little research (or thinking) as possible whenever I'm writing. And in general.

So as I wrote the book, I'd just throw in whatever ideas I thought might work in the setting of the novel.  Codes takes place in the near future, an era invented by Phillip K. Dick.  It's a world that's mostly recognizable: there are colleges and strip malls and cars, and the cars do not fly, but there are little touches here and there that demonstrate things are more advanced then our everyday lives. Those are the things that say this is the future: things like the Gravity Sling store where Robbie, the main character, works.  The Sling is a service that will fling your package into low-Earth orbit for a reasonable price.

(To be fair, that's not something I invented entirely; scientists already envision that being possible at this point -- Arthur C. Clarke dreamed it up in 1950, calling it a "mass gun." So while I didn't make it up, I did have the creativity to locate it in a strip mall next to a defunct retro-sandwich shop.)

But the Gravity Sling franchise doesn't really factor into the story.  So let's talk about something that does: the deadly weapon I invented for the bad guys to use.  I call it the ping.

What, you say that doesn't sound frightening or deadly? Shows how much you don't know.  The ping!, is a projectile shooter.  It shoots something like a BB, only obviously a lot faster, and it gets its slang-name from the sound the projectiles make (ping!, in case hadn't made the connection yet.)

What makes the ping! so deadly is that the projectiles are made of a special -- and undescribed, in the book-- kind of material that allows them to ricochet, with almost perfect conservation of energy, off anything more dense than, say, an eyeball.  When the projectile is first fired, it can pass through the first layer of skin, or the aforementioned eyeball, or eardrum, to get into the human body.

The pings don't pass through anything that's not organic, so if you just shoot wildly into a room, they'll keep rebounding and rebounding until they hit something organic.

And then once it does hit you, the ping can really tear you up: most of the time it's going to enter the skin and then rebound off the other side of you -- the inside -- and back around and around without ever breaking out, shredding whatever part of you they happen to have gotten into.  Only rarely will a shot pass right through you and do little damage.  The rest of the time, you're turned into a bag of skin holding an organ puree.  The security guards who actually serve as the police force, at least in this part of the city, use them because they're quiet, don't have to be too accurate, and almost always kill the target.

So ping guns combine a bit of shotgun with a bit of what killed Snowden in Catch-22 (that's a literary reference! I read a book once! And remembered it!) with some maybe-almost-accurate science.

Now, the question I was thinking about as the book becomes a reality is: could the ping! actually exist in real life?

Having not researched it at all before I wrote the book, I didn't know -- but I looked it up now, and it turns out it could, actually, possibly,  be a real thing someday.

What follows is based on roughly 22 minutes of skimming around Wikipedia and googling things like "what is the tensile strength of the human liver," which is the kind of search history I like to think keeps the NSA working overtime when they see it.  MY TAX DOLLARS AT WORK.  Here's what I figured out about how these deadly future guns would be possible.

First up is conservation of momentum.  If a ping! is going to keep going and going and going, it's going to have to keep its momentum in a collision with a wall or your skull or the lamp.

Science says this: whenever two objects collide (assuming all the perfect-experimental-conditions etc) the momentum of the two objects is perfectly preserved, so that the momentum before the collision is the same after.  That's because object A imparts momentum to object B, and vice versa. Think of a bat hitting a ball, or an skateboarder hitting the ground:

The momentum lost by object 1 (the bat, or the skateboarder) is gained by object 2 (the ball, or the Earth.)  Here's a video that helps actually demonstrate what's going on.  (PS I didn't watch the video, I just copied it from a site that said it explained things, so if it doesn't explain things or its porn or something don't get mad at me.)

Ping projectiles couldn't go on forever, both because they're losing momentum when they collide with something that doesn't impart momentum back to them -- a wall, or your dead body -- and because this isn't an experimental system and so there are things like friction and gravity working on them, too.

But they could go on a long time, especially if fired with sufficient velocity (necessary, given the tiny mass of the projectile itself.)  So that part is true enough: a projectile, if made of the right things, and fired with enough power, could theoretically keep rebounding long enough.

Then there's the bit where the projectile passes through organic material but not inorganic material, o at least not strong inorganic material, because the pings have to go though clothes.

That seems more possible even without research: bullets, after all, ricochet off things but pass through skin.  But the pings don't just rip through your skin and keep going: they rebound back off the inside of your body, so they have to be able to pass through human skin only once.

To do that, first, Ping projectiles would have to pass through almost anything that's equal to or less than the strength of human skin, but bounce off of anything stronger. So that means we're talking about the tensile strength of human skin.

And here you thought this blog post would be boring!

"Tensile strength" is the maximum stress something can bear before breaking.  Steel has an ultimate density, or tensile strength, of 400-5,200... somethings? I didn't read that closely.  Human skin has a 20.  Human hair is 380, while spider silk is 1000.  Wow.  Clothing has a tensile strength of about 6.

So human skin is actually relatively weak -- only three times as strong as clothing, and 1/19th as strong as human hair.  A ping could, as I guessed, pass easily through the human skin.

Along the way, I saw -- don't get jealous of me that I spent time on a Friday night reading about this stuff! -- that there are materials with phenomenal tensile strengths.  There's something called "Zylon" that's used in the Mars rovers that has a strength of 5800, while something called a "Boron Nitride nanotube" has a tensile strength of 33,000.  So my ping projectiles could be made of something like that -- or coated in that, perhaps.  And they'd pass through anything with a tensile strength of 20 or less.

So: Boron Nitride pings 6 times as strong as steel would pass through human skin pretty easily.  What about the part where they don't come back out? It's possible, I suppose, that passing through the skin the first time would then reduce the momentum enough that the projectile couldn't pass back through on the way out.  Since the momentum remains constant in a system except for friction, etc., the friction of passing through the organic material might slow it enough that it then wouldn't have the power to slice back out of the body on the other side.

But that doesn't seem very satisfying -- it would have to be slowed a lot to not be able to break back through the human skin, but still rebound over and over inside whatever part of the body it'd gotten into.

The resistance inside the human body isn't the problem: Organs are even weaker than skin.  That's what I found out while I skimmed through papers and studies that contained phrases like "some interesting facts concerning the changes in meat during postmortem aging have been reported."  I'd never heard that before.  Isn't it just like Big Media to cover up the interesting facts about postmortem changes in meat? I'm glad I could help blow the lid off that cover-up.  The liver has a very low tensile strength compared to human skin -- they measure it in kPA, or kilopascals, as opposed to MPa, or megapascals, for human skin.  (I know this because I looked up a study on the biomechanical response of the human liver, where if I read it correctly some doctors smashed bits of liver against things.)

Muscle has a higher tensile strength, as much as maybe 100 according to a blurb I kind of read on one of the Google results.  (Look, this isn't Science, with a capital S.  It's 'science.' I'm going to skim.)  So Which posed a different problem as soon as I realized it: it's not the skin that's the problem.  The ping has to get through the muscle.  So it'll easily pass through the skin if it can be fast enough to break through the tougher muscle, but there's still the problem of why it doesn't just shoot through like a regular bullet.

Here's where I'm really going to get in over my head with this stuff.  If the pings were covered with a nanopin film, it might provide the bounce I need once it's inside: a nanopin film is a composite material that creates a hydrophobic effect sufficient to almost completely keep water from resting on it:

That's a picture of a lotus leaf, but the effect is similar: a water droplet landing on a nanopin film forms an almost-spherical shape rather than spreading out.

So here's how I'm going to misapply that: If the ping was covered in the tiny nanopin film, the additional repulsion provided by the hydrophobic qualities of the film might be enough to cause it to ricochet back off the inside of the skin, where there's more liquid than outside: the ping enters through the (relatively) dry outside, slows a bit, and then regains momentum by the repulsion of the hydrophobic coating versus the inside, wetter part of your skin.  The projectile then still rebounds off bone, and goes through organs because even though they're wet, too, they're so much less dense/strong than skin it doesn't matter.

I realize this all has about the same validity of The Atom's 'belt made of white dwarf star material' allowing him to shrink

but I like it anyway.

And, frankly, if a dry, scientific discussion of tensile strengths and conservation of momentum won't get you to buy my book, then I don't know what will.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"An overuse of commas", or why it's important to be honest in reviews.

There was so much potential in this well written but totally discombobulated book. Several different and interesting story lines ended up going nowhere. The characters spent most of each chapter agonizing and internalizing over whether they had behaved correctly to situations or if they should have behaved differently, or how other people perceived their actions. I learned to just skim over the internalizing pages and then try to pick up on the thread of the story. On top of that, the plot(s) kept jumping timelines which confused me. Sort of a Robert Altman film without the benefit of visuals. I would give this a 1 star but I appreciate that is was well written and without gore, raunchy sex, or gutter language.

That is a review of my book Up So Down.

You, too, can own the book whose only
redeeming quality is that there
isn't a lot of raunchy sex!
Click here to buy it.
Up So Down is a book I'm really very proud of.  I spent a long time writing it -- I started it, actually, about when my twins were born in 2006, and I didn't publish it until 2012, after it had made it almost to publication by a traditional publisher, and after I had serialized it on a blog and made some major revisions to it.  After all that, which is an almost unprecedented level of work for me on a book, I published it, and then two years after it first came out, I got that review.

That was not my only negative review, even for that book.  PT Dilloway commented that there were 'missing pieces,' (although he gave it five stars and was generally positive) and Andrew Leon gave it four stars but commented that while the story was fine, the book suffered from some editing problems:

Mostly, it's nothing all that serious, an overuse of commas that most people won't notice, but there are some spots where there are wrong words or names and a couple of those spots did make me have to go back to figure out who was talking at a given a moment

I am thinking about those reviews -- the seriously bad one, and the ones that liked my book but found problems with it -- because those two authors, Dilloway and Leon, are right now in the middle of a debate (some would say fight) about the propriety of giving a negative review to an indie author's book.

The brouhaha is superficially about Andrew's review of Sandra Ulbrich Almazan's Lyon's Legacy, which you can read here, but it seems to me it is more actually about what kind of authors indie authors are, and how they should be treated.

Average rating on Amazon:
4.5 of 5 stars.
Click here to buy it and
make up your own
mind about the book, which
has its merits.
I had read Lyon's Legacy a while back and gave it five stars and a very good review.  When I saw Andrew's review, and when Andrew and I discussed his reaction to the book off the record, I was honest with him, and, finally, with myself -- if not with my review.  The book, I admitted, wasn't really worth 5 stars.  I had inflated the grade a bit because I liked Sandra and wanted to support her and felt, at the time, like I shouldn't give even a little negativity to a fellow indie author. Especially in retrospect, I felt the book was more of a three-star book: an interesting story, functionally well-written, but not a compelling must read that a five-star rating would merit.  I admitted to Andrew that if I reviewed it now, with my new thinking about reviews and indie authors, I would have probably given it 3 stars, and thus I wouldn't have posted a review at all.

That's my own compromise with ethics and reviewing and supporting indie authors: I won't post a negative review of an indie author.  I used to take that stance and find something positive to say about the indie book, no matter what, and never point out flaws.  Now, I take that stance and either post an honest review of a good book, or I won't review it at all.

(PS If I've read your book and haven't posted a review, that doesn't mean I didn't like it. I rarely post reviews, period, and there are great books that I haven't gotten around to posting reviews of because I really don't like to review books.)
I didn't go back and change Sandra's review or ranking, mostly out of laziness.  Instead, I read Andrew's review, and then I read the vituperative comments and back-and-forth debate about whether or not an indie author should give a bad review to another indie author.

Should one indie author give a bad review to another?


It seems that simple to me: if you are going to review something, anything, and make your comments public, you should be honest.  Anything less than that is a disservice to your reviews, to the people who read your reviews, and to the writer of the thing you are reviewing.  It's also far, far more harmful to indie writers to give good reviews to crappy books than it would be to correctly note that the book is awful.

I'm pleased to say there's not much raunch in this one, either! 

However, there are editing issues. Some of them, most people won't notice. Like the punctuation stuff. But the verb tense mistakes might catch some people, although I'm not convinced that most people will notice. Overall, I'd give the book a B. Maybe a B- because of the editing issues. Definitely worth $0.99, though.

That's Andrew Leon on my book Temporary Anne.  He gave me a B-!  ME!

Andrew doesn't know this maybe, but once in fourth grade I got my report card and opened it up and I got a C and I started crying because I was raised to view average as failing, and so giving me a B- is tantamount to coming up to me and kicking me in the shin.  Or worse.  A B-!  OH MY GOD. I was actually, when I first read that review, furious.  Temporary Anne was about as well-edited as I can possibly get a book to be; I slaved over editing that thing and even sent out reader copies and paid a bounty for errors.  A B-!

Andrew Leon reviews books -- and movies -- regularly.  His reviews have led me to read some of the books he's recommended -- The Sparrow and its sequel spring to mind -- while other reviews, even of books he's raved about, have left me thinking eh, probably not.  He's unsparingly honest in his reviews and not afraid to criticize people, even people he's close to.

That's what makes his reviews valid, and worth reading.  Andrew says what he thinks, and after a while you get a feel for what he likes and dislikes, and you can compare it to your own likes and dislikes, and get more value out of the review.  Reviewers are best when you know them, pretty well at least.  I get movie recommendations from lots of people, and I disregard many of them.  Our 23-year-old, The Boy, for example, is always telling me what movies I should see.  I discount his opinions a lot because he loved the movie 21 Jump Street and it's sequel Dumber Jump Street or whatever it was called.  I found those movies so awful I felt as though I'd been robbed of two hours.  But The Boy, like Andrew, is forthright about what he likes, so I know whether or not to pay attention to his criticisms and can weigh them against what I might like, or not like, about movies -- because The Boy and I share similar tastes in dramas, and so when he likes a thriller or drama, I listen.

If you review things, the issue of whether or not people should pay attention to you depends on your being absolutely honest about the review. That's the only way anyone can really get a feeling for how you view movies and whether your views are worth paying attention to.

That leads me into the second reason why reviewing books honestly, even books by struggling newbie indie authors, is necessary: because you owe it to the readers.

Think about why you read a review: You want to know a bit about the thing you are buying, and you want to know whether it's worth buying or not.  I just had to get a new laptop for work.  I went and read a couple reviews of the one I was thinking of getting, and I was relying on those reviews being honest.  That's the point of a review, after all.  Reviewers aren't publicists, flacks, sycophants, or yes men.  They are opinion-givers, and a less-than-honest opinion transforms you from reviewer/critic into cheerleader.

Cheerleaders have their place... what was I saying, now?
Cheerleaders have their place, I suppose. Paid ads get you to pay attention to the thing they're advertising, even though they're not really very unbiased.  Even ads required by law to be honest, like pharmaceutical ads, manage to obfuscate by showing you people having fun and living life to its fullest while explaining that the anti-acne medication might cause you to have unusual growths on your body.  (That is a serious actual side effect of a drug I saw advertised on TV the other day.  But that is for another, way more gross, post.)

But if you're going to be a cheerleader, and root-root-root for the home team, you're not reviewing a book.  You're promoting it, and there's a difference between promoter and reviewer.

P.T. Barnum was a promoter.

I read book ads all the time -- in general I am very much a consumer of advertising, which I kind of like and which I analyze and ruminate about -- and I read lots of book reviews, and I have been bothered by the blurring of lines between those two things, because I am a very discriminating consumer of books and I have a very limited book budget and very limited book reading time, so if you sucker me into buying a bad book, I get angry.

That's the thing about good reviews of bad books published just to be nice/supportive to other authors: you're helping rip someone off, and that someone is your readers.

Andrew, for example, is an author himself and reviews books on his blog in part (I assume) to help generate readership of his blog in hopes that will generate readership of his books.  PT does the same thing, I assume for the same reason.

So why set up a system in which you lie to your own readers?  To say Andrew should have lied and given a good review of a book he disliked is to say that Andrew should lie to people he wants to listen to him.  If Andrew (or any blogger or reviewer) does that often enough, readers will drift away.  (This is something I do not have to worry about, as I only have three regular readers, and one of those readers is secretly me using a sock puppet.)  If Andrew -- or PT, or anyone -- recommended a book as good and I read it and it was terrible, I might let one slide.  But I'd be more skeptical of their next review, and about the second one I'd give up listening to them.  I might give up reading them.

Whatever your threshold for being lied to by a reviewer, you have a threshhold, so a reviewer who is not honest damages his own credibility and slowly loses his readers.  This is not a business model (or a hobbyist model) that I think anyone would seriously recommend, but, if you do believe that's the way to run your life/a business, fine.  Go off and create your own death spiral of uncompensated promotion of authors until your blog fades into obscurity and your reviews have no pull anyway.

Because that's what you're doing (assuming you are not compensated for your lying): you are simply offering free promotion to someone who doesn't deserve it -- someone who wrote a book you didn't like.

Which raises this question, for people who think it is a disservice to indie authors to review their work honestly:

Do we want a system of publishing that relies on dishonesty to make it a viable business?

I used to think that, yes, we do.  Not in so many words, of course.  I  thought oh, I have to support other indie authors and say nice things about them because it's us-vs-them and we need all the help we can get.  But it boiled down to We will lie to get this industry off the ground.

Which is terrible, and which is the kind of thinking that led to the proliferation of awful awful awful indie writing.

I'm just going to say this, and keep in mind that I have been hit with criticism a lot, and keep in mind further that I have sold, on average, zero books per month, so I'm not excluding myself from this statement:


The rest of the stories are of variable quality. One thing Pagel periodically suffers from is a lack of focus. A lack of focus can be used to good effect when it's being used purposefully to achieve that effect but, when the lack of focus ends up being just a lack of focus, it means that it's just a blurry word picture without any real discernible meaning. A few of the stories in this collection feel like that to me, like they almost say something, but they just weren't drawn together well enough to really get the message through (and I don't mean message in the sense of a moral, just message as the story itself).

The cover is modern art!
That's Andrew on my collection of short stories Just Exactly How Life Looks, and I am only just now realizing that possibly the worst thing I could do with a new book coming out is post a column in which I emphasize the negative reviews I have had, but whatever, that's my publisher's problem, right?


Yeah, I'll never actually get around to that.

If you are being honest, you will admit that most of everything that humanity makes, artistically speaking, is awful.  For every good book there are 10,000 bad books, and that saying is true for movies, meals, paintings, plays, and so on.  It's fair to say that the vast majority of humans who are creating things are nowhere near as good at creating things as they should be.

That's bad enough: people will always want to write, and paint, and cook, etc., and they will always mostly be not as good at it as they should be.  The internet and the amazing technology we have means that almost anyone can put a movie out, a book out, a song out, and so on, and most of them will be very, very, VERY bad.

VERY bad.

But that doesn't mean that we can't make it worse by encouraging people to go on writing badly and never telling them that they are bad, and that doesn't mean that we can't practically doom the whole industry by having bad writers get good reviews so that eventually people just decide oh to hell with it I won't read indie writers because they can't trust the reviews and the book are always bad.

THAT is what the end game of let's give good reviews to bad books is: Readers will slowly gravitate away from indie books because there is no quality control.

Quality control exists, in a way, in traditional publishing, in that you have to convince at least one other person -- the publisher -- that your book is worth reading before it appears in stores or on Amazon.  Quality control doesn't exist, at all, in indie publishing, as anyone who's ever published a book with too many commas in it can tell you.  That's why so many people -- including me, at this point -- don't trust indie writers.  There are simply too many bad books.

Reviews can serve as a quality control.  IF THEY ARE HONEST.  If we can't trust the author's judgment about a book (and we can't, let's be honest, we all love our books inordinately, the way everyone thinks their kid is the best), and if the author hasn't had to sell the book to a publisher, how can you tell if it's any good? Reviews are about the only way.  But if all the indie authors have a secret pact to lie to the general public and other indie writers about whether the books are any good, where's the control? How will we sort the good from the bad? Just buy them all? That's the plan? Everyone should buy everyone's book and say nothing but good stuff about it and we'll all be happy?

I don't think that's a good plan. What other industry has been built on lying to each other, and the general public, about the quality of the thing that industry is peddling?

Point taken, but do indie authors want to be like those industries? Do you want your book compared to the McDonald's cheeseburger, to Fox News' two guys and that one girl, to the Chevy Nova? Do you want your book to be something people only read when they're desperate, or its free?  

You know where that ends up? 


"Hey I was reading this indie book the other day...

"You were what?!?!"

"Well, it was automatically downloaded onto my Kindle like a virus and then I was stuck in this traffic jam with no wifi signal so I figured what the heck, it was better than gouging my eyes out."

"Was the book any good?"

"It was just a jumble of letters and at one point a crude drawing of either a stegosaurus or possibly John F. Kennedy.  I gave it 5 stars on Amazon.  Got to support indie writers yo!"

I mean, seriously, support every indie writer by posting only good reviews no matter what?  What if I did publish "JUMBLE OF LETTERS: STEGOSAURUS KENNEDY," and the first paragraph was this:


Does the 'courtesy' to lie to everyone in order to support indie writers extend to that? Should Andrew ignore the fact that I obviously misspelled Tarauafev'eva and just give it five stars and praise the innovative way I ignored the fact that I obviously needed medication?

As always, pointing out the extremes shows that there are limits to a theory.  If everyone agrees that JUMBLE OF LETTERS: STEGOSAURUS KENNEDY would not be deserving of a good review, even if I am an indie author, then everyone agrees that there is a limit to how much you can lie in a review to support other authors.

And having agreed there is a limit, that ends the fight.  Right? If you agree with me that there is a limit, you may disagree on where that limit is -- you might put your limit at "STEGOSAURUS KENNEDY" but Andrew might have his at "overuse of commas."  Maybe your limit is "Only the worst books get 1 or 2 or 3 star reviews." Maybe your limit is somewhere else.  But there's a limit and we don't have to agree where it is to agree it exists, and that ipso facto it is not wrong to post a negative (but honest) review of an indie book you didn't care for.

(I am  not talking about posting negative reviews for revenge.  People who do that deserve to be shunned by not just indie writers, but by all authors and readers.  If you deliberately downgrade someone because they were honest, you're not much worth reading yourself.  We all know who I am talking about, and I'll just allow a grace period for that person to fix the problem, which I assume was not well thought out.  If I don't hear it's fixed, though, and soon, I'll live up to my own standards and ignore people who do that.)

Finally, there is one last reason to honestly review books you didn't like, even by indie authors: It helps the author. 

the After, though, could have used some more editing. A lot more in all actuality. On the plus side, there are no consistent errors caused by not knowing any particular grammar rule, but there are lots and lots of left words, wrong words, and just plain typing errors. There's also an issue with the formatting. The big issue, for me anyway, was that he gets the character names mixed around a few times, especially with Ansel and Austin, which caused me to have to go back and make sure I knew what was being said before I could go on. Due to the sheer number of errors, I'd have to give a "D" on the technicals. So, if you are a person that has a problem getting into a story due to these kinds of things as I usually am, you may need to skip this. 

"D" is for "Darn Good," I assume.
I have stopped talking to people for less than that criticism Andrew wrote of the After.   That stung. A "D"? I was extremely upset when I first read that, not least because that kind of harsh criticism may really make people not want to read it -- despite the fact that Andrew went on to say the editing problems should not deter you from reading it.  (HINT HINT GO BUY IT OK?)

But again, I gave a moment's thought to it, and realized that it was legitimate criticism.  the After was a big, long book and though I'd written it, then serialized it, then re-read it again, I was sure, too, that I'd not gotten rid of all the little typos and things that a friendly (or un-) eye can catch, or that might be caught if I let the story sit for a while and then re-read it again when it was not so fresh in my mind.

You can see a pattern here in my own Negative Andrew (dibs on that character) reviews: they focus on the editing, mostly, with the exception of the criticism about the shape of my short stories.  But whether they focus on technical or substantive details, criticism, even harsh criticism (which Andrew's usually isn't), is important because it shows a writer where he or she is going wrong.

I knew that I needed to edit more.  I knew, actually, too, that I needed to sharpen up my stories.  But I never really did anything about it because: why should I? Nobody seemed to care, and if they didn't care about it, then I wasn't going to spend time doing something I disliked (editing.)

As Andrew's criticisms mounted, though, I decided to take them seriously -- something that coincided with my desire to reach a bigger audience than my own indie 'career' was letting me get to.  So I began more carefully editing my books and stories.  I would write them, let them sit, refine them, let them sit, and then publish them or send them to magazine or book publishers.  I began (very slowly) going back through my older work and editing it.

That hit its peak when -- here's the OVERLY AGGRESSIVE MARKETING PART! -- I wrote the original version of Codes, which was then called Find Out Who You Are.  I wrote that book, which started out at about 22,000 words, in just over 3 weeks. And it was good.  I knew immediately it was a good book, too good in fact to dump onto Amazon and let it linger there forever.

So I decided I'd take a swing at a more traditional publisher, something I'd been doing more and good, but really good.  So I began sending it around to publishers while I rewrote it a third time, adding bits and pieces and tightening up parts.  This third time around, I found little inconsistencies in the plot, or parts where I'd left storylines dangling.  So I fixed those, too.
Available for pre-order April 1! Get it before
Andrew Leon has a chance to point
out how many semicolons I used in it.
(HINT: 24.)
more.  And before I sent it to a single person, I sat down and re-read the whole thing and corrected whatever errors I could find, streamlining the story and fleshing out characters.  By the time that was done -- about a month of work -- I knew the story was not just

Last summer, Golden Fleece Press bought the book for publishing (FOR PRESALE APRIL 1!) and after reading it, my editor sent me a copy with about (I'm guesstimating) a hundred zillion things to change.  I re-read the book again, having not thought about it for five or six months, and made the changes, but added a lot more backstory, too, and then as I did that I realized that I had two colossal plot holes that made zero sense.  When you're reading the story you might not have caught them but if you thought about it later you'd be all Whoa, that was dumber than 'Looper.'  So I fixed those and sent it back.  They then had it copyedited, and I was treated to such comments as "I don't have any idea what this sentence is supposed to mean," so I had to fix it again.

That's what, five run-throughs including by two different editors? And it worked: Codes went from a good story to what I can confidently say is a great story.

I didn't just rely on professional editors to want to make those changes.  Remember, I wanted to improve my editing and writing before I got a book deal.  I wanted to do that because I was sick of D- and B- and other critiques.  I wanted nothing but good reviews, which meant fixing the things people kept complaining about.  It meant focusing my stories and really, really editing, and working to improve the product I was putting out.

Did Andrew's criticisms lead directly to me getting a book deal? Probably not.  But they sure helped.  And that's the final reason I value honest criticism: It made me a better writer.

If you have received a negative review -- in whole or in part -- and gotten upset about it, maybe you should take a moment and ask whether it's possible the reviewer isn't an ass, but instead genuinely didn't like your book, and look into why they didn't.  Then see if you can fix it, in that book or the next one.  That's a lot more productive than attacking the reviewer, starting flame-wars, threatening to downgrade or actually downgrading their own books, and the like.

And if you post reviews, make them honest.  If you can't bring yourself to criticize another author -- I don't like to, either -- then don't post reviews at all. Because honesty is the only smart choice in the long run, for you, for your readers, and for the authors who genuinely want to get better at writing.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mr Bunches shows you what "The Force" looks like

I plan on maybe having a Tom Cruise-related ranking, some more publicity for my book, and thoughts on Andrew Leon's critiques of a fellow indie writer, soon, but until then, here is Mr Bunches demonstrating how you use "The Force":