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    • CommentTimeMar 13th 2011 edited
    I admire Norman Spinrad's work immensely, and his seminal BUG JACK BARRON was a deep influence on TRANSMETROPOLITAN. I got this in email from him a couple of days ago, and thought it might be of interest. Norman can be a little off the wall...

    QUARANTINE--an experiment in epublication

      Norman Spinrad, who has published over sixty works of short fiction, many of them widely anthologized, in everything from Playboy to New Worlds to Liberation to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, has put his latest, QUARANTINE, directly on sale as an original “mini-ebook” on Amazon and Barnes & Noble for the mini-price of $3.00.

    “Too hot for any conventional magazine to handle, not that it surprises me,” the author explains, “which makes it an ideal guinea pig for this epub experiment.”

    QUARANTINE is the novelette-length story of a terrorist attack on New York using a genetically engineered virus that spreads ambiently and gives the entire population of Manhattan Island, tourists and all, uncontrollable diarrhea.  Nor is this surrealism or satire, and the biotech is all too plausible.

    Certain to gross out, disgust, and/or outrage a mass audience, but perhaps just the sort of thing that arouses pleasure for the very same reason in a certain niche readership.

    The question this experiment seeks to answer is how many readers is that?  If this can work for something like QUARANTINE, it can work for all sorts of fiction by all sorts if writers, and if it does, the short story could teleport itself from condition terminal into an unexpected golden age.

    To learn more go to NORMAN SPINRAD AT LARGE:

    QUARANTINE at Amazon:

    QUARANNTINE at Barnes & Noble:  At Barnes & Noble

  1.  (9647.2)
    Frankly, yes, go man go! Also, this brings to mind Harlan Ellison's condemnation of science fiction writers back in the 70's who thought ill of writing for film or (gasp!) teevee - I think the arguments went along the lines of "yer a bunch of dipshits for not grabbing the money when it's offered, so long as you don't compromise yourself" - so yeah, old-school writers that have ideas that mainstream publishers balk at, go digital, get it out, and ride the power of your name....

    I for one will pay three hundred dollars for someone to slap the hell out of Harlan Ellison and make him realize he can get The Last Dangerous Visions out as an e-book, thus shutting the fuck up all the disparagers who leaned on him about not getting that damn thing out in a timely manner. Also, old-school writers can get stuff out without worrying about penny-a-word nonsense - I'm looking at you, Robert Silverberg....

    The whole DIY sensibility doesn't mean you are a punk on the fringes these days, it means getting your stuff out there in front of an audience - that is the primary goal of every artist - so if you got the street cred of a writer with name recognition, even someone that has, oh, I dunno, two decades of brilliant science fiction, then the freedom is pretty self-evident. I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner. Maybe because the agents weep into their pillows when one raises the idea....
  2.  (9647.3)
    I love the idea of this, but I know if I were to do it with my own work I'd sell about a copy and then be relegated to whatever corner of the Internet "celebutantes" go to when they die.

    So it's cool when an established writer does this--and I really mean that--but I wonder how the little guys are supposed to survive on it.
  3.  (9647.4)
    @Skylar - The "little guys" survive by doing it in bulk - this is the equivalent of the pulp days, when these Big Name Writers didn't have a name yet, when they had to write several stories a week and get them into the pulp mags - pretty soon, they had "name recognition" on the covers and a substantial collection of stories that can then be published in book form - so yeah, you and I don't have the name recognition, but we can still get our stuff out there, and keep it out there, and keep shoveling new work into the feeds until folks begin to look forward to seeing the new stuff show up. Then you have a ready-made audience for the day when you release the story collection, and then the first novel....

    It's the "work" part of working on the craft of writing....
  4.  (9647.5)
    I'm sympathetic to that viewpoint, but pumping out in volume like there's a deadline for the universe isn't my road to best quality. Beyond that, it's a lot of risk for the chance of some recognition. There's billions of things on the Internet. You'll still have to rely on a lot of luck to get some signal through the noise. If you don't luck out, you'll never get the time back. Maybe this is an argument for better curation of content from new voices (three cheers for Weaponizer in that respect), or maybe it's something else.

    If I'm being too fatalist, I'm sorry. I agree with you that the only way forward is to try as hard as possible. Just having trouble seeing the upside coming.
  5.  (9647.6)
    Bought because, as the man says, $3 ain't a hell of a lot of money in the long run. But, Jesus, next time he tries something like this, someone donate a couple hours and whip up a cover image for him so he doesn't have to do it himself in MS Paint.
    • CommentAuthordjtoell
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2011
    It's a great story. Just great, loved it. If it sounds like something you think you'd like, you're probably right.

    But what a terrible ebook.

    The story was absolutely plagued with typos and formatting errors. There was one amusing line that I wanted to "share" via Kindle, but was too embarrassed to do so because of a major typo. Seriously, Mr. Spinrad must have a friend out there who can pitch in and point out when it says "you" when it should say "your," for example. I'll even volunteer to proofread the next time around.

    Very amateurish, and I'm sad to say that this experience will probably prevent me from checking out the other titles of his that are available for the Kindle (as they also appear to be self-published, although I could be wrong).
  6.  (9647.8)
    See, what @djtoell and @David Matthew bring up is, frankly, a laziness on the part of a writer that is used to having the various editorial filters one may get used to in the mechanizations of Big Publishing - but think of it in terms of other arts - Can a painter paint a masterpiece while knowing their canvas is not stretched properly or the oils aren't blended properly? One is only as good as the body of work one presents to the audience....

    It's the responsibility of the artist to make double-damn-sure that what the audience sees is the very-damn-sure thing that is intended to be seen - in the case of Spinrad, well, that's probably a certain measure of laziness and a certain measure of what-the-fuck-ness, as in "I'm doing something as an experiment, so I'm not gonna strain myself about it". Sad, really, as this is the very thing that hamstrings the whole idea of self-publishing/DIY/POD/whatever it wants to be called - the item that eventually ends up before the eyes of the audience needs to look like it's worth the time to look at it.

    So yeah, it's entirely possible for people who have the attention of Spinrad to say "yeah, see, this is bullshit, man", but obviously he's not giving it his all, save for the content (typography flaws notwithstanding), so he's not thinking it through, and/or overlaying the experiment with perimeters rooted from his experiences writing for magazines. He, and we, have to scrutinize every aspect of the finished DIY product that falls before the eyes of the audience - font, point, illustrations, binding, basic spelling, all of it - and this is where old school folks may end up having their heads falling off from the effort, but on the other hand, this is where the freelance editor/designer/etc person can step up and say "no, no dear, not if you want to be taken seriously"....

    And to address @Skylar re speed of creation and exposure in Teh Interwebs - There is no deadline, there is just the work - as smarter folks than I have said, it's all about sitting down, writing, finishing, and getting the finished writing out to an audience. The Internet provides a place to distribute and curate and maintain a catalog of one's work, and barring nuclear war or draconian legislation or paysite implosion, it'll be there forever. Which is more than many a pulp writer ever got in their wildest dreams. Sure, take your time to write your best, no one's asking more of you (at this time), so If you are concerned with Time, and the Worth of said Time, and Will I Be Heard, then you may wanna re-examine your desire to be a Writer.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2011
    This is interesting as it hits on a number of points that were emerging in the thread on eBook success (over in the Internet forum):

    • Price - he has hit the sweet spot of $2.99 (£2.12 apparently according to which is the lowest price to get 70% of the price back and seems to work well for all the success stories.

    • Editing - one of the things that might trip up someone who thinks they can just put books up on Kindle. Amanda Hocking is up-front about the fact that she pays for a freelance editor and other proof-readers, because eliminating obvious typos and errors can really help with reader retention (as some of the above comments show)

    So one out of the two isn't bad for a first experimental go at publishing an eBook (the point about a good cover is also one that has come up elsewhere, I'm not sure how critical it is but it can help make your book look more professional which has to help), hopefully the lessons learnt here will help with future endeavours.
  7.  (9647.10)
    It's the responsibility of the artist to make double-damn-sure that what the audience sees is the very-damn-sure thing that is intended to be seen

    This is a pretty extreme viewpoint that seems to leave out a lot of nuance in what art is or isn't, even just for the subject of writing. What about double-entendre, which implies filtering out some content to one portion of the audience? What about symbolism, which does the same in dividing the audience between explicit and implicit readers? What about poetry, that suggests frames of mind that cannot be sensibly stated?

    What about a writer who has a disease in his Broca's area and, though he intends the work for general human consumption, can't speak with full clarity? What about an illiterate mute 90-year-old from a dead island tribe who communicates by sign language, and once spent a month with Stalin on vacation, but insists on only his own words being recorded and not some editor's adaptation? And that's all if we presume that the artist is accepting a definition of success based solely on cultural impact. Which is where the modern consensus always runs on permissible definitions of artistry in writing -- never write for yourself, it's unseemly and you'll embarrass someone -- but we can look at lots of other art forms where the artist isn't expected to give the fucking time of day to the audience, such as music or, yeah actually, most Culturally-Significant Western painting that happened after Picasso. There is a wide gulf between how we react to typos in formal writing and how we react to sloppy guitar-work in seminal works of modern rock, and the only real difference between the two things is the audience's tolerance of the unfinished.

    I'm not advocating the primacy in artistic expression of clarity over authenticity or vice-versa, just pointing out that there is a spectrum. Ultimately audience expectations are the only thing that makes an un-edited novel so off-putting. If typos didn't take us out of the moment, and make us think about the production rather than the product, then what the fuck would typos matter in terms of consuming writing? They do, though -- in a novel, a typo is mega distracting. But that's the work of my brain, not the words on the paper. The words on the paper have only one purpose and that is to point toward the shape of an idea, and no writing ever does that perfectly. Even well-formed words are still distortions of the ideas they're heaped around of.

    I think it's legitimately interesting that we have this scandalously unfinished novel in the form of an e-book to discuss. Typos in novels are distracting. But for how much longer? Note that in modern times, more or most of what the human race reads is not edited content (it's not just young people -- the average old person isn't reading the New York Times for daily news, they are reading chain emails about Democrats eating babies). Today most new written communication is forum posts and chat strings. Consumers of unedited writing don't know "you're" from "your," and the reason is because it isn't critical to communication. They read as they listen and write as they talk. They use writing as language, not self-image maintenance. In not much time, it probably won't seem strange at all for unedited works to make their way into "the consensus of things that are novels," though I don't know that any of the audience for those works will be paying actual money to read them. And by then, it may strike a lot of readers as off-putting and contrarian for a writer to make them puzzle over what "you're" means.

    (*posted by someone who is self-editing his double-sized super-novel for free online consumption and spends hours reworking every hundred words, and lies awake dreading untrimmed redundant articles that he's missed)
    • CommentTimeMar 16th 2011 edited
    Well, there's artful Stepping Over The Boundaries Of Orthography, and there's sloppy editing. If the novel doesn't give you any inherent reason to believe the former (say, because there's a system to the errors, or it's about illiteracy), it's probably sloppy editing. And calling on creative license to justify it is nothing but an excuse.

    I know a guy who actually argues that because it's on the web, editing won't matter. 'Cause everybody's already really bad at it. But it still distracts, and you can set yourself apart in a positive way by putting some care into it. Every time your readers are torn out of the story's flow (by anything, spelling or sudden name changes or plot holes), you're creating a cue to reconsider their decision to keep reading. It's okay if you keep giving them enough reasons to continue nonetheless (hevan't read this ebook yet, but I trust Spinrad to deliver that), but you'll be making the sell harder every time.
  8.  (9647.12)
    I just bought and read Wil Wheaton's story Hunter from Amazon for 70p and it raised a new question about selling like this for me.
    The story is short, 3000 words at most and I was left feeling that as good as the story was, I hadn't really got a good deal for my money.
    Does anyone else think that there's a minimum acceptable length for a price or is it merely the quality of the story that matters?
    • CommentAuthorkperkins
    • CommentTimeMar 16th 2011
    While the story so far (I'm about half way through) is OK, I can't say I'm too impressed.
    First off, I tried buying and downloading it for Nook for Mac, and couldn't get it to work. Finally after a few emails to B&N support, I found out that this book won't work on Nook for Mac. Why? I don't really know, but that's just stupid, and I realize it's not Mr. Spinrad's fault, but there's no technical reason for this (maybe a DRM reason?), so I'm getting my money back from B&N.

    The Kindle version is riddled with typos. The cover is a default page from the Calibre software that he made the ebook with. I'm sure he's not an artist, but he could have done something with some text, or something. He uses the # to show chapter breaks (I assume), when he just as easily put centered ellipses, which would have shown that he put some thought into this. As it is, it looks like he cranked the story out in his word processor, and put it into Calibre, did the minimum amount of work to convert it to ebook formats,and loaded it up to Amazon, and B&N.

    This kind of amatuerish stuff will put many people off. If you don't have enough faith, and love for your story to present it nicely, why the hell should I think it's any good?

    It's an interesting experiment, and the story is a solid, unusual story, but the delivery is poorly executed.

    Someone mentioned Wil Wheaton's "Hunter". That's an example of doing it right. There's a real cover. AND. IT'S. BEEN. EDITED.
  9.  (9647.14)
    I'll address the themes here, but it seems that it's derailing the post from a "Hey Norman Spinrad it self-publishing!" thing - but as it is....

    @BrianMowrey - I see where you are coming from, but no, you are missing the point - it is not about artistic expression, its about making sure what the artist intends to be offered to the audience is the very best that the artist intends - in the "olden days", this meant handing off the nuts and bolts of grammar and syntax and "is this what you REALLY meant?" editorial filters that, frankly, editors are paid to do, which DIY folks are not in a particular position to deal with, unless they are willing to take the whole weight of "this is my thing". The art, no matter what it happens to be, is a reflection of the artist, and the artist must make sure that is what presented to the audience is, as I said before, double-damn sure exactly what they intend. If they artist in question desires to present an unadulterated illustration of, I dunno, their mindscape as seen through clinically damaged senses, then so be it - but even that individual has the artistic responsibility to make sure that what that artist envisions is what the artist intends to be seen.

    As to the issue of Worth vs Product, part of it was already brought up by @Vaehling - yeah it was a nifty story, but cripes, typos drag a reader out of the moment - which brings us back to the sub-line of the whole issue - yeah, a NAME PERSON may put a story online for a fee, but cripes, man, get yer shit straight. I'd hazard to guess, if Harlan Ellison ever ventured into the whole murky waters of e-publishing (in all it's horrid aspects), at least the text will be, oh, what's the word I'm looking for, DOUBLE-DAMN SURE that the words that have his name attached were the words that he intended. A NAME WRITER may be able to get away with poor examples of writing,but that writer won't survive long, even on their name value, without producing proper worthy prose.

    As already indicated, yeah Wil Bloody Wheaton has a firm grasp on the whole "selling a name on a story" thing- granted, he's no Norman Spinrad, but in this Attention Economy o' th' Web, Spinrad is barely Spinrad in Teh Internet Culture. So he got his stuff out there on a Name and a Hope, and I for one don't have the metrics in front of me, but I'd hazard to guess it's at the very least, pretty neat for Norman - because money notwithstanding, there's a one-to-one correlation to Person Buying The Story and Person Wants My Work - which, numbers not lying, has a certain amount of weight. Wil Bloody Wheaton has already illustrated this Subsidy of E-Publishing - one has a first-hand metric as to how many people on the face of the planet want to spend money for your words. And that's pretty empowering....

    Where was I goin? Oh yeah. Someone somewhere needs to tell the old dogs of fantasy and SF that we all wanna get their stuff, but we don't wanna haveta buy the big bulky space-taking magazines: I don't wanna buy a mag off the rack for that one Harlan Elllison story, or William Gibson story, or Warren Ellis story when-he-starts-writing-proper-prose - and what's more, there's no editorial restrictions (Warren can write that Godzilla bukakke story that's in his head at last), and money paid goes straight to the author, so one has feel-good feeling of funding an author's demise by paying for that last bottle of whiskey....

    It is the Alpha and Omega of the Pulp Era - all are free to write and post and offer for money anything that mind can conjure - in the end, all that is desired can be collected into a properly bound book and placed in the hands of devoted readers - it's just a matter of the name-worth authors to break away from the whole Author-Agent-Publisher cycle and strive for better than they are getting....

    Think of it - what would Philip K Dick be doing right now with e-publishing, had he been alive right now?
    • CommentAuthorjonah
    • CommentTimeMar 17th 2011
    How much control do authors have over what gets sent as a sample? I mean the book is about diarrhea? Give me a taste. More than the typos the lack of anything happening in the sample turned me off.

    How about Amazon Mechanical Turk for editing? I wouldn't trust the service for grammar, but for word processor auto-correct goofs and the like it should work fine. I wonder if it really would be cheaper than an editor(and more reliable than bugging your friends/family) overall? I'm surprised there isn't a version tailored for authors now. Ideally, there would be a tool that chops up your writing to be analyzed and stitches it back up for you...

    @KitsuneCaligari I think Philip K Dick would be having a harder time. It's interesting to think about. Also, not to disparage Wil Wheaton, his hard work or talents, but he was on a TV show with a rabid fan base and I would say he actually has a leg up on most authors. You know, if Wil Wheaton's writing was truly awful I think he might even have more sales, at least in the short term. The internet rewards the genuinely bad. See: Rebecca Black, "famous" person meltdown of the week, etc.
    • CommentTimeMar 17th 2011
    @BrianMowrey: Sorry, but I must disagree. If an artist cannot use the tools of his medium, he's not much of an artist in that medium. Why he can't use the tools is irrelevant.

    Beyond that, if he has an untold compelling story but refuses to let others use the tools to tell that story for him, he shouldn't expect that folks will read - let along pay for the privilege of reading. Yeah, there will always be exceptions. But in general, if somebody can't write, nobody's going to read.

    Good editing matters. Take this line from Jasper Fforde's latest:
    "I can get you a table at the Inn Uendo. The maitred' is missing a space, and I promised to give her one.
    As I type this, the spellchecker really wants me to insert a space in maitre d' (for those of you who didn't get the joke, well, there it is). Big kudos to Fforde for the joke, and the publisher for ensuring nobody destroyed it by correcting it.

    Conversely, on page 259 the last paragraph begins
    Thesettings - mostly of a winter scene in London...
    I had to read and the surrounding paragraph three or four times before being convinced it was a typesetting error and not a joke I didn't get. Talk about getting the reader out of the moment!
  10.  (9647.17)
    I see where you are coming from, but no, you are missing the point - it is not about artistic expression

    So, yeah. Most opining on the art form of writing is basically close-minded by self-admission. For some subjects, it is understood that if everything isn't up for discussion, you aren't having a discussion, and for some subjects it is not. I don't really have a personal problem with the preponderance of craft-primacy and audience-primacy in writing conventional wisdom, though, and, as I said, I don't like typos when I'm reading -- my personal preferences aren't favorable to this book. What's more, it's probably good for the art-form of writing overall that brand-destructive artistic theories don't get a lot of airing. Painting was put in as an example in my post because it exists, we know what it is and so it's a point of reference. But I wouldn't wish the 20th Century of painting output on most art forms. But we haven't just engaged in a discussion here. I'm trying to have fun with a subject rather than hash over a term. All good. I'll put my fancy-pants away and stop derailing the thread.

    If an artist cannot use the tools of his medium, he's not much of an artist in that medium.

    Ditto this. I wasn't taking a personal stance on this debate, just pointing out that it is a debate, and this is evidenced by the dynamics of accepted authenticity in nearly every art form but writing, just as a fact. If you want to only think of art as the thing you think art is, that's fine. But, again, ten years from now, the kids today who think apostrophes are announcements of pluralization are going to be consuming something. If I were offering a personal view, I would agree R.E. tools. Also, in your own scenario of an intentional typo versus an accidental one taking you out of the moment, I have to find it amusing that you use the pun as an example of why perfection is vital to the art form (again, with myself being someone who admits distraction over typos). I mean really, fuck puns.
    • CommentTimeMar 19th 2011 edited
    Pun? Pun? I suppose it can be read that way, but I took it as a spelling joke. While Fforde's not above puns, language meta-humor (or humor through meta-language) is much more his forte. Get and read his "The Eyre Affair", the title of which is not a pun but a correct description of the book. It just seems like a pun, which is his own little joke.

    And thank you for your polite reply. I'm not trying to make fun of you in the previous paragraph, but rather to lead you to a mutual fun experience.

    Sorry, some days it's really hard to talk about Fforde.
  11.  (9647.19)
    In honor of not personally wanting to read the work whose value as art despite artist-defacement I have defended in this thread (eventually realizing deja vu from that Brokencyde interview thread) I have picked up The Eyre Affair as an e-book.

    Also, caught me on the sloppy jab about puns.

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