Back to previous post: Advent, 2006

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Why I blog

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

December 3, 2006

Forum fodder
Posted by Teresa at 05:06 PM *

Speaking of web developers who are always on the lookout for natural subjects of conversation, so they can start a self-perpetuating forum and sell ads on it:

The Frontlist was started by a small group of web developers with experience in developing community sites. Two years ago we recognised the potential of a community site that enables talented writers to expose writing to agents and publishers. We developed the Frontlist, with the aim of improving upon the way that unsolicited manuscripts are submitted and considered.

We wanted to do three things. First, we wanted to allow a community of writers to self-select promising work. Second we wanted writers to be able to gain detailed feedback on their work as part of the submissions process. Third, we wanted to tie in with agents and publishers to ensure that good quality work bypasses the slushpile to be considered seriously by an agent or publisher that specialised the work’s genre.

Notice that the proprietors do absolutely nothing.
Writers, upon signing up to The Frontlist, will be able to submit sample chapters of work that they are looking to publish. They will then be invited to provide detailed critiques on several pieces of work. Once they have finished this, their own work will go up for critique. Work that achieves a score above a threshold will be fast-tracked to the desk of a respected agent or publisher who specialises in the work’s genre.
Uh-huh. It’s YADS, a.k.a. Yet Another Display Site. (That trick never works.) Amateur writers will put up amateur writing and receive amateur critiques—which is not a bad way to start, but they don’t need this site to do it, and there’s no reason to think that editors and agents are going to want to watch.

Useless. Avoid.

Comments on Forum fodder:
#1 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 05:56 PM:

hmm, well it could of course be just as you seem to imply (or do I just infer) that they are somehow pulling the wool over their user's eyes and are not good people but I suppose that probably, as is often the case with developers, that they thought they saw a "problem" in the real world for which they could build a "solution".

I think this is more likely to be caused by a belief in technology rather than a belief in the gullibility of their fellow human beings.

Probably they could be helped by being shown or told by actual writers what such a site needs, a weakness of developers is always to think they know best. Feedback is good.

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 06:17 PM:

People have been building similar display sites since the early 1990s. They've failed every single time. Display sites seem to be the first thing that people who don't know the first thing about publishing think of when they try to come up with a way to "fix" publishing.

The simple fact is that editors and agents have enough slush already -- they don't need to go cruising the internet for yet more slush.

I don't think these guys are scammers -- just that they've reinvented a square wheel.

#3 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 06:17 PM:

"Amateur writers will put up amateur writing and receive amateur critiques..."

It seems a little worse than that, actually. In order to monitor the critiques of your piece, you need to submit five critiques yourself. That gives people an incentive to churn out those critiques as quickly as possible, ideally without even reading the pieces in the first place. "Loved it! 5 stars!" "Too long, didn't read."

That is, unless they have some sort of mechanism for critiquing the critiquing...

#4 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 06:30 PM:

You can sorta see the thinking behind this, though. "Gosh, there's got to be a way to harness technology to make going through the slush pile more efficient!" But in this area, how much more efficient can a fancy-schmantzy Web 2.0 social-networking AJAXified website ever be? I doubt it takes all that long for an intern at Publisher X to say, "Hmmm, here's another novel submission IN ALL CAPS WITH NO PUNCTUATION ARRRGH" (toss)

#5 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 06:30 PM:

I note they now claim a publisher and a literary agency part of their project. I've heard of neither of them, The Sunday Project and A M Heath. But that's not surprising. I've been researching markets for SF short fiction, not publishers and agents. So they may be highly prominent and I wouldn't know. However, the description of The Sunday Project rings alarm bells. If I may quote the first two sentences of their description:
The Friday Project is a completely new breed of publishing house, dedicated to combining everything that's great about traditional book publishing with the limitless possibilities offered by the Internet and emerging technologies. In short, they turn the best of the web into the finest books.

The Friday Project may be completely on the up and up. But they're not doing themselves any favors by co-opting the language of the likes of PublishAmerica.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 06:43 PM:

Why don't people think they have to know something about publishing before they try to reinvent it?

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 07:10 PM:

TNH #6: Because they're not trying to reinvent it. They're trying to scam as many hopeful chumps as possible.

#8 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 07:13 PM:

I especially liked, "...to ensure that good quality work bypasses the slushpile to be considered seriously..."

Of course, nothing in the slushpile is ever considered seriously.

Pfui.

#9 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 07:33 PM:

here's another novel submission IN ALL CAPS WITH NO PUNCTUATION ARRRGH

Maybe the author was a COBOL programmer, Evan.

#10 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 07:43 PM:

The Friday Project has its own Wikipedia entry.

#11 ::: Leah Bobet ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 08:47 PM:

And in Darkest Irony news: the Google ad sidebar for this thread contained ads for PublishAmerica, New York Literary Agency, and a pay publisher.

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 08:52 PM:

The Google ads for me, right now, are:

PublishAmerica (a vanity-press/scam)
Whitmore (Dorrance's answer to PublishAmerica)
Vantage, Tate, and iUniverse (all pay-to-play vanity presses)

There is a way to block Google Ads by URL, that the site's owner can deploy.

#13 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 09:34 PM:

Oh boy, I get an ad for the New York Literary Agency, as well as Vantage, Tate, and Whitmore. Is there a way to have Google block certain ad URLs except on specific pages? I love the idea of the NY Literary Agency getting pay-per-click ads, but only on the threads exposing them as spammers.

#14 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2006, 11:59 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden writes: "Why don't people think they have to know something about publishing before they try to reinvent it?"

Steven Brust writes: "I especially liked, '...to ensure that good quality work bypasses the slushpile to be considered seriously...' Of course, nothing in the slushpile is ever considered seriously. Pfui."

Of course, I could just be demonstrating my stupidity again, but it seems to me that the only way to "bypass the slushpile" is to be someone who has already earned a reputation. It's sorta the defining feature of slush: it comes from— oh hell, let's be charitable for once (it's the holiday season)— people who have yet to earn a reputation for selling well.

Never mind, as Mr. Brust implies, the problem that bypassing the slushpile isn't necessarily a good thing for an aspiring writer.

The problem here is that even the people who aren't particularly interested in scamming aspiring writers, just for using them to sell advertisements, are totally clueless about what a community site can and can't do, even a well-moderated one. They just aren't designed to buff reputations sufficiently to get writers out of the slushpile. It's like trying to launch a rocket to the moon fueled with Mentos and Diet Coke. Good luck achieving escape velocity with that rig, Buckaroo.

You think you're offended? Not only are they bad at reinventing publishing, they're worse at inventing new web applications. What are these people doing with my Internet, dammit?

#15 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:02 AM:

It's like trying to launch a rocket to the moon fueled with Mentos and Diet Coke.

You've been watching MythBusters, eh, j h?

#16 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:44 AM:

Actually, no. YouTube.Com, probably.

#17 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:48 AM:

j h woodyatt: I didn't mean to imply that bypassing the slush pile isn't a good thing; I meant to imply that bypassing the slush pile isn't necessary. It does get read. The good stuff publishes.

#18 ::: Kat Allen ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:08 AM:

http://www.amheath.com/

UK literary agent, UK small publisher... and actually UK publishing probably does need *something* to make it even vaguely approachable. AMHeath is one of the (few) UK literary agents I've run across with anything like the kind of web presence the majority of US agents have. Of course, they don't take SF.

And yes, one can believe that good fiction will get published... but that doesn't mean all the good fiction in any given slushpile gets published. I can certainly sympathise with any writer who wants a way to win their book more than a cursory glance. Even if I'm fairly sure they're doomed to failure.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:15 AM:

But they do get more than a cursory glance, if they're at all readable.

#20 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:37 AM:

...here's another novel submission IN ALL CAPS WITH NO PUNCTUATION ARRRGH

Maybe the author was a COBOL programmer, Evan.

I was thinking more along the lines of "off their meds." But you know, we could both be right.

#21 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:56 AM:

"here's another novel submission IN ALL CAPS WITH NO PUNCTUATION ARRRGH"

Egads! Some madman has reversed the e.e cummings dna and posted their formula straight upon the internet!

#22 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 02:03 AM:

"But they do get more than a cursory glance, if they're at all readable."

everyone always cuts me right out of the equation with their fancy technical metrics like 'readability', well I got something that none of your readable peoples have, I got haart.

#23 ::: Kat Allen ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 02:47 AM:

"But they do get more than a cursory glance, if they're at all readable."

I really wouldn't expect publishers/publishing house editors to be interested in trawling display sites -- they already have a system which brings post-slushed books to their attention. At least that's what I understood agents were for, and its agent slushpiles I was thinking about.

But I've made the terrible mistake of reading agent blogs :) 'Cursory glance' was a kind of balance between 'rejected unread because I'm five hundred queries behind and there are five MS's for clients I need to read and comment on within the week' and 'I hate anything with an amulet'.

#24 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 03:03 AM:

Steven Brust clarifies: "I didn't mean to imply that bypassing the slush pile isn't a good thing..."

I think it's reasonable to infer it anyway. As you just mentioned on your own blog recently, there is a lot of material that arrives in the slush that simply doesn't get read. A cursory glance of the first few paragraphs (sometimes even just sentences) is all that's frequently required for any sane reader to set aside the rest of the manuscript.

The point of not trying to bypass the slushpile is that every aspiring no-name literary giant has to start there— or, at least, ought to have. Using some trick for bypassing the slushpile, e.g. giving an assistant the blowjob of her lifetime, etc., only deprives you of the [negligible, but non-zero] points for having your manuscript/query lifted out of the slush solely on the merits of its naked black and white. It doesn't buy much, because your work still has to run the rest of the editorial gantlet, where it's more likely to get bounced out on its metaphorical ass if it's crap.

I think there are things that a lot of players in the publishing industry do that discourages good aspiring writers and rewards mediocrity and crap. (Purposefully publishing crap, because it sells better than good writing, is one of those things.) There are probably ways publishers could use the worldwide web to develop new talent more effectively, but I'm damned if I know that they are.

I know one thing, though: a scarcity of advertising vehicles is not a problem that anyone needs to be solving.

#25 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 03:29 AM:

I am not convinced the crap qua crap sells better than good writing qua good writing. In fact, I rather think the reverse is true.

#26 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 03:42 AM:

Speaking of slush...P&T, I would like to propose you put a permanent link to this post:
http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html

#27 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 04:02 AM:

Clifton, #13. the way that the GoogleAds seem to work, the PublishAmerica scams seem to come up when vanity publishing seems to be the topic. Which is still a weakness of GoogleAds, but it suggests the system could be gamed by bloggers, if they manage to use some key phrases.

Maybe our Ingenious Hosts can even throw in a line or two, that's not human-readable, as spider-bait.

But, the way they work, pushing up their advertising bill just means they'll charge their victims more.

#28 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 04:19 AM:

Jon, #10, I had a look at the Wikipedia entry on The Firday Project, and it's essentially an advert. Not surprising, but it hows one of the less-publicised Wikipedia problems.

Anyway, They were going on about how they're recruited the most powerful man in British publishing, and I thought, "Yeah, right...".

There's this guy, head book buyer for Waterstones, and his decisions can make or break a book. OK, so far. But if he changes his job, stops buying books abd starts trying to sell them, how much of his power is left to him?

Maybe he has some idea of what will sell, but was that what made him special, or was it the desk he sat at?

It's puffery.

#29 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 04:48 AM:

In re #25, following the sales of the books mentioned on Crooked Timber here and here might be illuminating.

On the non-fiction side, also at Crooked Timber, there's the marketing approach taken by Simon & Schuster versus the non-marketing approach taken by Oxford University Press.

#30 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 08:28 AM:

Our Esteemed Hostess said: Why don't people think they have to know something about publishing before they try to reinvent it?

But then they'd have come in contact with the Broken Publishing Model Cooties, and everybody knows you can only fix a system if you're an uncontaminated outsider to that system. They must maintain their purity.

Which is why dinosaurs and sodomy come as surprises to them, each and every time. You could almost feel sorry for them, except not really.

#31 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 09:04 AM:

#28: I'm not surprised at all. I was hoping that someone with more knowledge of the field than me would know whether or not the article was "legit" (as far as any Wikipedia article can be considered legit). Thanks.

#32 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 09:12 AM:

#30: the Broken Publishing Model Cooties

Standard scammer tactic: follow my system, pay me money, and you'll bypass the Evil Gatekeepers that prevent you from getting what is your due. Other examples: unemployment "networking" and "career counseling"; college admissions "counseling".

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 09:37 AM:

'I hate anything with an amulet'

Kat, I guess I won't be sending my manuscript of Amulet of the Deathworm's God to that agent.

#34 ::: Laramie ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:30 AM:

I second the vote for this permanent link:
http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html

(I was just about to try hunting it up.)

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:49 AM:

John Meltzer: "Standard scammer tactic: follow my system, pay me money, and you'll bypass the Evil Gatekeepers that prevent you from getting what is your due."

True. You commonly get scammers clustering around inobvious processes. As Jim pointed out some long while back, you don't see scammers offering to sell you the secrets of how to become a Machinist's Mate in the Navy.

#36 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 11:58 AM:

#30: Dinosaurs without sodomy are impossible.

Dinosaurs being therapsids, and birds being descended from them more or less directly, we may assume that dinosaur sex was similar to avian sex. This implies that dinosaurs used a cloaca, a common opening for defecation and reproduction (more stuff here). Bird sex is, by direct interpretation of the commonest definition -- anal sex -- sodomy; and so was dinosaur sex. No sodomy? No baby dinosaurs!

QED. It's no wonder the Anally-Obsessive Jolly Jesus People don't want to believe in them.

(Now, what was the question, again ...?)

#37 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:02 PM:

...we may assume that dinosaur sex was similar to avian sex...

You know, Charlie, it occurs to me that this subject never came up in those old Ray Harryhausen movies.

#38 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:06 PM:

Herewith: Workshop instructions for website owners to block ads from scammers from their Google Ads:

Go to www.google.com

Click "Advertising programs," then "Google AdSense."

Sign in with your username/password.

Then click "AdSense Setup." Under that, click "Competitive Ad Filter."

There, you can fill in any urls or IP addresses you want it to block.

-------------

At the very least, the URLs for the agents on Writer Beware's Twenty Worst list ought to be blocked from every writing-related site.

#39 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:17 PM:

I'm far, far from convinced that the defining characteristic of good writing is that it sells better than mediocre and crap writing. I suspect Mr. Brust and I are of like mind about that point.

I also think there are agents and houses who specialize in polishing turds for mass market consumption (and let us all praise Jeebus for them, too, because they serve an important function in the risk management operations of large publishers who also publish the higher quality work that many of us here like to buy).

I'm getting away from my main point here: these people aren't just screwing up by trying to reinvent publishing without knowing anything about it; they're also screwing up the Internet by littering the landscape of options for community interaction with ever towering heights of useless crap advertising.

I'll be very glad when the current cadre of capitalists all grow old and die, leaving their operations to a generation that might be better at not making huge bonfires of investment capital on the Internet.

#40 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:23 PM:

"His books suck but they sell by the metric ton" is itself a genre, and one of the most difficult ones to break in to.

#41 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:31 PM:

#40: Why would anyone want to break into that genre? Surely the one to aim for is "his books don't suck (and they sell by the metric ton)".

The most unforgivable sin in writing is to hold your readers in contempt.

#42 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:43 PM:

Charlie: "The most unforgivable sin in writing is to hold your readers in contempt."

Hear, hear! Loud applause and roar of trumpets.

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:44 PM:

Do people like Dale Brown actually hold their readers in contempt? Do they think their own writing is crap?

#44 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 12:50 PM:

Why don't people think they have to know something about publishing before they try to reinvent it?

First: same reason some people refuse to vote for anyone who is "a politician."

Second: because of one of the most peculiar things about people: their tendency to assume that if they know nothing about a topic, it must be simple.

Third: because normal people have an inflated view of their own abilities in general (depressives are more realistic). They think they're good, therefore any system where they don't do well must be unfair. Then along come the predators, selling exactly that concept.

People buy lottery tickets, too. Mystifies me.

#45 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:02 PM:

People buy lottery tickets, too. Mystifies me.

People demonstrably do win the lottery--I've seen them on the news, and likely so have you. What the lottery wants to keep quiet is what the odds are--that is, significantly worse than something like The DaVinci Code becoming a huge hit. :)

#46 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:05 PM:

#40: Why would anyone want to break into that genre? Surely the one to aim for is "his books don't suck (and they sell by the metric ton)".

Because they think crap is easier to write, I'll bet. Easier to write=more gets written=more profit for the writer.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:07 PM:

If you live in the United States, you're more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery.

And a very few books (I think there may be as many as three in the history of publishing) start out self-published and then get picked up. Likely an even smaller percentage of self-published books than the winners are of lottery tickets bought, though.

#48 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:07 PM:

People buy lottery tickets because they bring a tiny shred of hope to despair-driven personal finances. Why squander major chunks of cash in savings or "real" investments that will only need to be withdrawn that same month to pay for food, shelter, transportation and health care? A lottery ticket drives away despair a buck at a time.

#49 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:08 PM:

Earl, are you in effect saying that lottery tickets are the opiate of the masses?

#50 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:22 PM:

Serge: Do people like Dale Brown actually hold their readers in contempt? Do they think their own writing is crap?

There are a myriad of reasons for poor writing; holding your readers in contempt is but one of them.

Xopher: If you live in the United States, you're more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery.

You're more likely to be struck by lighting than to make a living as a writer, too. (But if you make a deliberate habit of climbing tall places in thunderstorms, flying kites with conductive wires, etcetera ...)

And a very few books (I think there may be as many as three in the history of publishing) start out self-published and then get picked up.

Cough, Scalzi, "Old Man's War", cough, edited by Patrick, cough, Paolini, "Eragon", cough ...

But it's not enough to publish yourself if you want to go that route: you've also got to be good, and to have a clue about how the real publishing business works, and that's just for starters. You've got to do all the work that a real publishing company would do for you, and write the bloody thing besides.

#51 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:40 PM:

And a very few books (I think there may be as many as three in the history of publishing) start out self-published and then get picked up.

Lord Dunsany started that way. But you're not him.

#52 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:43 PM:

The scam ads are now blocked. There is much rejoicing.

#53 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 01:45 PM:

Agh, they aren't. After a refresh they are back.

Time to get away from the computer.

#54 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 04:48 PM:

Without wanting to defend Dale Brown, who is more than big enough to defend himself, from my memory of his writing I would actually characterise it as mediocre and uninspired. It's also consistent. Throwing the word crap around hides a lot of sins; it's not that his writing is incoherent or especially boring, it's just... not that good. Compared to maybe 90% of things you can read on-line, he's actually competent.

Incidentally, here's what Dale Brown himself says you need to get published:

You have to assume some basic responsibilities to play this game. You have to be willing to study your craft: learn about writing, structure, grammar, character, plot, story, pace, and all the ingredients that go into a good novel or script. But more importantly, you must write. Nothing happens until your idea, imagination, art, and perspective is put down on paper and placed into the hands of someone willing to evaluate it and make a decision on its future.

from Dale Brown's website

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 05:24 PM:

So basically, Neil, Brown isn't contemptuous of his readers or of his craft even if, from what you and others have said, he just isn't very good at it.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 05:38 PM:

Who the heck is Dale Brown?

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 05:39 PM:

Brown is the author of The da Vinci Code, Xopher.

#58 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 05:43 PM:

Er, Dale Brown != Dan Brown.

Honest.

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 05:55 PM:

Oops. Wrong Brown. (Slinking away into darkness.)

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 06:06 PM:

Charlie?

#61 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 07:48 PM:

Dale Brown writes technothrillers. I have no idea how they stack up to the general run of the genre, because I've never read any, but he sells pretty well.

--Mary Aileen

#62 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 08:54 PM:

Any crap writer hoping to sell mindless drivel to the mass market has one hell-of-a-mindfsck of a problem: some (okay, a lot) of the books people buy are crap, but most of the crap people write will never sell.

Enter the whoremongers, stage right: people who are very skilled at producing, identifying and polishing the rare turd in the sewer that has the requisite piquancy to part the lowest common denominator from its hard-earned cash. These people seem to have the most opaque process in the industry, from a writer's point of view.

If you know you're not the next $AWARD_WINNING_AUTHOR, but you might be the next $BESTSELLING HACK, how do you craft your story for optimal craptacularity? Strangely, it's not as simple as, "Step 1: Collect best practices for writing stories; Step 2: Pick one at random, and violate as many of the rest as possible; Step 3: Profit!"

#63 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 09:13 PM:

j h woodyatt (#63): Enter the whoremongers, stage right: people who are very skilled at producing, identifying and polishing the rare turd in the sewer that has the requisite piquancy to part the lowest common denominator from its hard-earned cash....

I'm just a skosh uncomfortable with the quoted passage. Because if you were to make a list of books that are turds in the sewer, produced by whoremongers, that the lowest common denominator likes, you're likely to hit on more than a few that are, or have been, enjoyed by my wife.

And you better not be calling my wife "lowest common denominator," there, bub.

I've enjoyed reading Star Trek novelizations and Piers Anthony, and I'm certainly not LCD.

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 09:18 PM:

Not all Trek novelizations are unworthy. Some of them are pretty good novels, on their own (speaking as someone who will buy some authors' books without reading the reviews or the blurbs, because past experience can be a very good guide ).

#65 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 09:51 PM:

"past experience can be a very good guide"

Agreed, but there are exceptions. Alistair MacLean fell off horribly at the end of his career; the last four or five Dick Francis books weren't nearly as good as the first thirty, and even Elizabeth Peters' last Amelia Peabody book made me think she was dead tired of the series and wanted to tie up loose ends and go home.

John D. MacDonald, on the other hand, never lost a step.

#66 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:07 PM:

Charlie Stross (#41):

> The most unforgivable sin in writing is to hold your readers in contempt.

An old fave from Dorothy Parker:
"If you're going to write, don't pretend to write down. It's going to be the best you can do, and it's the fact that it's the best you can do that kills you."

#67 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 10:48 PM:

Mitch Wagner writes: "Because if you were to make a list of books that are turds in the sewer, produced by whoremongers, that the lowest common denominator likes..."

Perhaps you noticed I conveniently spaced-out and forgot to provide any examples. Oops. My apologies. (Oh, you wanted examples of genre fiction? I think I hear my mother calling me...)

I'm unlikely to be worried much about what your wife is reading, since I have an ever-expanding personal library full of crap in my own basement that my family [including me] has been collecting over the years. Fortunately, as I've grown older, the vectors by which crap writing gets inserted into my library have changed. Now, it's more likely to arrive because some family member has pressed into my hands the latest literary equivalent of a marian apparition manifesting on a stack of buttermilk pancakes.

I have been known to buy media tie-in novels from time to time. Some of my favorite lower-tier writers have gone on to great success writing tie-ins.

#68 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:10 AM:

j h woodyatt - OK, you had me at Ann Coulter.

#69 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 06:51 AM:

At the risk of looking stupid here's a few thoughts on technothrillers, and why crap writers can succeed in writing them:

Technothrillers have:

Cool hardware, described in painstaking detail
Cool scenes where the hardware is pushed beyond where it's supposed to go!
Cool scenes where the heroes are pushed etc.
Bad guys who do complex and evil things
Explosions
A plot that drives the heroes forward faster than they can normally cope with (leading to cool scenes where etc.)
Detailed logistics in organising travel and equipment


Technothrillers don't require:

Complex characterisation
Inspired writing
Character-driven plots
Dinosaurs*
Sodomy


This incomplete list shows how you can write technothrillers without being more than competent at writing, if your cool ideas are cool enough and your hardware detailed enough. Dale Brown's faults are the ones which map onto the technothriller blindspots. I'm guessing that other (sub)genres have their own musts and not-neededs (so if Dale Brown wrote a Romance novel...)

* Michael Crichton disagrees with me on this one

#70 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:37 AM:

Neill... Hasn't Greg Bear written technothrillers? I understand they're quite good. But, as far as I know, and even though he's an SF writer, I don't think he's included dinosaurs and sodomy, not in the same scene anyway.

#71 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:24 AM:

Neil Willcox (#69): (so if Dale Brown wrote a Romance novel...)

Surely, this should be a challenge to "Making Light" posters. Examples, anyone? (Sorry, but it's too early in the a.m. here for me to take a stab myself.)

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:32 AM:

How about a pastiche of Lovecraft writing Romance? I shudder just to think of if.

#73 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:36 AM:

Helpful hint: The words squamous, rugose, and tentacled horror should appear nowhere in a romance novel.

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:40 AM:

In that case, TexAnne, what does Lovecraft have left to work with? Abraham Merritt would have been better at Romance, from what I remember of The Ship of Ishtar. Anyway, if one is to pastiche Romance, should one look at the better stuff, or the not-so-good stuff? If the latter, it'd be like someone spoofing SF based on watching Irwin Allen's shows.

#75 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:31 AM:

TexAnne #73: what does the word hentai mean to you? (And are you really not familiar with Tentacle Porn?

(NB: those links are SFW, but sub-links from those pages may be NSFW.)

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:37 AM:

Charlie, has anyone ever described hentai or tentacle porn as "romance"?

#77 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:49 AM:

#70 Serge - Greg Bear wrote Dinosaur Summer although that was a sort-of-sequel to Arthur Conan Doyles The Lost World, and not a technothriller.

Completely off topic: I've often wondered what would happen if Sherlock Holmes were written by Conan the Barbarian rather than Conan Doyle, but only just now have I realised that Conan the Barbarian could have been written by Sherlock Holmes after he retired, moved to America and changed his name.

#78 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:49 AM:

I hope not, Teresa. My wife got in a bit of a fight on Digby's site because they referred to Romance as women's porn. There was something a bit puritanical in why they said that. I dread to think what they'd say about erotica.

#79 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:51 AM:

Dale Brown is an ex-Air Force officer. I know someone who knew him back in those days. His military social interactions in his books are pretty good, and better if you know how the real things works.

#80 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:03 AM:

Charlie, the one fundamental rule of modern romance is that the woman consents. (I said modern. Let's not mention those 70s bodice-rippers.)

#81 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:20 AM:

Here's an anecdote from someone who started off writing a pot-boiler, and halfway through decided to try to turn it into "literature." Then he got a chance to show it to an agent. Guess which half the agent liked.

The article also includes some interesting thoughts about self-publishing.

#82 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:27 AM:

Potboilers... I think I once read that E.E.Milne considered the Pooh stories to be potboilers. He apparently also wrote serious literature. Which is it that people still remember?

#83 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:18 PM:

Teresa, #76, and TexAnne, #80: please threaten to murder me if I take this as a challenge, m'kay?

(Actually, the romantic sub-plot of "Galaxy Quest" did involve tentacles, but that's the movies for you.)

#84 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:59 PM:

Serge #82: That's A.A. Milne!

#85 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:05 PM:

My apologies, Fragano. I must have been thinking of E.E. 'Doc' Smith when I wrote that. I mean, when people think of Winnie the Pooh, don't they often free-associate to Lensman Kinnison? Or is it just me?

#86 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:18 PM:

Serge #85: Now I have an image in my head of Kimball Kinnison with his hand stuck in a pot of honey.

#87 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:28 PM:

Serge #82

Milne also wrote at least one mystery (_The Red House_)that the only reason I finished it was that I'd downloaded it from Gutenberg to my Palm to read during waits for physical therapists. I wonder whether it would have worked better if I had read it in dead tree? (Note that I'm still stuck two years later on a download of Stanley Weyman's _A Gentleman of France_; I think I discern a trend.)

#88 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:44 PM:

In GalaxyQuest, the tentacles were attached to the consenting wo--er, female. Not the same.

If you write it, I'll proof it.

#89 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:46 PM:

Fragano at #86, The Grey Lensman is really Eeyore? And when does the Heffalump make its appearance?

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:48 PM:

What was the problem with Milne's mystery, joann? Characters, writing style, plotting? All of the above?

#91 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:57 PM:

Charlie, has anyone ever described hentai or tentacle porn as "romance"?

To be fair, I remember once reading a strange short love story between a girl and her cute "tentacle monster boyfriend", complete with going to the mall to buy new clothes with him.

It was in manga form, and I can't remember anything else.

#92 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:18 PM:

TNH@76: Charlie, has anyone ever described hentai or tentacle porn as "romance"?

Hentai is just a catch-all term for sexually explicit material. There is a distressing tendency within the genre for the female lead's dialogue to mainly consist of "No, please, I don't want to!", but it isn't always in the context of violent gang-rape; sometimes the objections are merely presented in the aggravating tradition of maidenly modesty without real conviction behind them, surrounded by tender bilateral declarations of love and commitment.

That said, most of the consensual (i.e., non-rape) naughty doujinshi I've seen still retain an element of token protest which cumulatively embitters me.

#93 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:40 PM:

Serge:

What was the problem with Milne's mystery, joann? Characters, writing style, plotting? All of the above?

Well, Alexander Wollcott called it "one of the three best mystery stories of all time." Unfortunately for Milne, Raymond Chandler happened to read it and featured it in one of the most famous essays on mystery fiction ever written: The Simple Art of Murder.

Chandler starts off by saying "It is an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not so easy as it looks." Then, like Twain with Fennimore Cooper, he gets out a baseball bat and beats Milne to death, the major difference being that Twain used humor with his examples of bad writing to do the maximum damage to Cooper, whereas Chandler uses an almost clinical tone in presenting why the plot makes no sense and the writer is totally ignorant of what happens in a murder investigation and probably lacks the intelligence to cross the street by himself. If you haven't read the essay I strongly urge you to do so.

#94 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:52 PM:

Linkmeister #89: The Heffalump is an agent of Boskone. Christopher Robin, on the other hand, is clearly an Arisian.

#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:58 PM:

I strongly urge you to do so

I consider myself urged, Bruce. I am printing the essay as we speak. Speaking of Chandler, If I had to read one single novel of his, which would you recommend? (No, I've never read him, but I enjoy the movie adaptations whenever they show up on TCM, even the weird one with Robert Montgomery that is literally from his point of view.)

#96 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:06 PM:

Teresa:

has anyone ever described hentai or tentacle porn as "romance"?

Hentai usually implies perverse sexual contact, so it's unlikely to be in the category of romance. (A certain OAV/Manga from the 80's involving a teenage phone-sex worker and a boy that transformed into the contents of an interstellar zoo comes close, but along with the romance there's a tone of Tom Swiftian "if I do this to him, he becomes that" on the part of the phone-sex worker that makes the romantic/happy ending not work too well for me.)

As far as tentacle porn goes, with the exception of one I once saw featuring the relationship between a woman and her giant squid, it usually involves rape, which only spills over into romance in the Rosemary Rogers universe. (Sorry, but my first quarter in college I took a course on the popular novel and we read "Sweet Savage Love," which for me set the gold standard in "I made her do it and now she LOVES it and ME" books.)

Sometimes you get odd variations. In the case of a copy of La Blue Girl that the video store mislabeled as being Ranma 1/2 and kindly rented to me so I could show it to my wife to be (hard to give a good impression under those circumstances), various robots had been outfitted with tentacles and, well, let's just say I'm glad that nobody at Marvel saw that episode and thought of Dr. Octopus.

#97 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:26 PM:

Serge:

Speaking of Chandler, If I had to read one single novel of his, which would you recommend?

Well, it's been years since I've read any Chandler novels--I tend towards Hammett--but I'd actually start with the short story collection The Simple Art of Murder to find out if you like his stuff. (It also has Pearl are a Nuisance which is so charming and funny a short story that I wish he'd gone ahead with his plan to use the leads in another novel instead of finally rewriting it for Marlowe.) If you choose The Big Sleep you can get some interesting insights into the studio censorship system in the 40's watching the Bogart/Bacall version: an entire subplot involving (as I remember it) a homosexual blackmailer is excised with the exception of a beaded curtain in his house that's supposed to show his sexual makeup. (I had a wonderful course in the English department where we read the novel and then watched the film that was based on the novel several times during the week and covered stuff like this. The Big Sleep, Wuthering Heights, Who Goes There?: it was great, although the screams of "Where's the rest of the book! Where's the kid!" from the class at the end of Wuthering Heights still ring in my ears...

#98 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:40 PM:

Thanks for the recommendations, Bruce.

#99 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Let's see.

Astroturfed blog comments discussion. Response?

Dinosaurs and sodomy? Check.

Hentai and tentacle porn? Check.

<sotto_voce>My work here is done. My sponsors will be pleased with me ...</sotto_voce>

#100 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:45 PM:

Serge:

Thanks for the recommendations, Bruce.

NP. I've got such a bad head cold I've had to stay home from work for two days and haven't been able to sleep much, so about the only thing I'm good for is doing cardboard and string imitations of Mike Ford--glad to have been of service.

#101 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:45 PM:

You tricked us, Charlie, you tricked us...

#102 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:48 PM:

cardboard and string imitations of Mike Ford

Bruce, is that like the cardboard cutouts that infested boosktores when the Lord of the Rings movies were coming out? (Me, I want one of Claudia Black.)

#103 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:34 PM:

Charlie Stross:

Dinosaurs and sodomy? Check.

Hentai and tentacle porn? Check.

Now if you can get Dinosaurs and tentacle porn you'll have something really new.

Serge:

cardboard and string imitations of Mike Ford

Bruce, is that like the cardboard cutouts that infested boosktores when the Lord of the Rings movies were coming out?

No, it's more like Ace Bluebottle, East Finchley Boy Scout and idiot. Willing to do almost anything for a quarter of dolly mixtures or jelly babies--they're a UK thing.

#104 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:57 PM:

Thanks, Bruce. As for Charlie, even though he tricked us, I am still planning to enjoy the Holidays by reading The Atrocity Archives. (I notice that the cover shows a cubicle-infested office, with tentacles sticking out of one cubicle.)

#105 ::: Emmy ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:23 PM:

I was reading through this thread and was very, very tempted to write a blurb for a potential sure-to-be-best-seller in one of the new genres you've created. So I did.

Tentacle Romance with Lovecraftian undertones:

Sassy single squid Coral Benchley has got a lot on her tentacles. Her career as a freelance writer is finally gaining momentum but her best friend Peter, a gay penguin, thinks she's just hiding her failed lovelife behind clouds of ink. He may be right, but what's a squid to do when she's gone crazy for an Elder God who keeps telling her the stars have to align before they can go on a real date? Find out this spring in F. W. Thurston's Call Me, Cthulhu!

#106 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 05:40 PM:

Emmy, that's near-as-dammit the plot of "The Jennifer Morgue".

Now I'm scared ...

#107 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 06:19 PM:

I'm way behind on this thread, but no one else seems to have noted that this is Garageband for writers, except without the "fan" input (because unpublished writers don't really have bands, whereas unsigned bands do (sometimes)).

#108 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 06:20 PM:

I meant "unpublished writers don't really have FANS."

#109 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 06:46 PM:

TexAnne@80 "the one fundamental rule of modern romance is that the woman consents."

There was a thread at Absolute Write earlier this week about how that is not in the least bit true, what with the way "forced seduction" stories have made a huge comeback of late. (And yes, I am well aware that my own publisher has contributed to this trend.)

#110 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 07:20 PM:

Serge #90:

Looks like Bruce D. already took care of the matter in far better fashion than I could have; I seem to have buried the details. What I remember is that it read like bad E. Phillips Oppenheim. Given that I treasure my EPO collection, you may gather I was not amused.

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 07:37 PM:

Indeed, joann. I just started reading the article Bruce D had mentionned, and it's quite good. I don't know when this was written, but even then they had serious writers decrying that the hacks were getting more attention and shelf space. Plus ca change, plus c'est pareil, eh?

#112 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:27 PM:

#109, Julia: Ye gods. Are you kidding me?! Who is your publisher, that I may avoid it like the plague? (Not that I buy romances these days; I quit cold turkey once I was done recovering from my comps. But still.)

#113 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:34 PM:

Jon Sobel (107), that's as good a summary as any I've seen.

#114 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:38 PM:

>>"one fundamental rule of modern romance is that the woman consents."

>what with the way "forced seduction"

ponders

ponders

ponders

nope. I'm not going there....

#115 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:36 PM:

why must itself up hundred of a wood
acre stuck some quote lunch unquote to
prove that a moose equals any bear
who was afraid to dare to answer "oh, bother"?

#116 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:53 PM:

Serge #82: Somebody (Gaiman?) pointed out that Milne had \5/ West End plays running at once; I'm not sure he considered himself a litterateur, but he certainly was known for more substantial material in his own lifetime. (It's possible the plays were too much of his own lifetime, while Pooh fits into some permanent fantasies about childhood....)

#117 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 03:13 AM:

I'm a fan of an unpublished writer. (I don't think she's going to remain unpublished forever, to be sure.)

#118 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 07:13 AM:

Thanks, CHip. I had read that comment about Milne something like 30 years ago. For all I know, I remembered it completely wrong.

#119 ::: Aruna ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 09:07 AM:

AM Heath used to be my agents. They are a very reputable agency, one of the oldest in London, with several bestselling authors, and are very keen on getting authors before other agencies using scouts and the like.

#120 ::: Aruna ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2006, 09:25 AM:

And Scott Pack, whom they quote in The Sunday Project information, used to be THE most influential man in the British Publishing scene as head of Waterstones.
Seems to be an all-British thing.

#121 ::: Scott Pack ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Ahhh, the memories of what I used to be!

I can understand people being sceptical of The Frontlist, I was when I first heard of it. But to denounce it as a scam without researching further is lazy.

If it were a scam then the owners, who have a strong background in local community sites, would be charging a lot more than they are.

As it stands they have The Friday Project (who I work for) and AM Heath checking submissions on a regular basis. We are both companies who want to give new authors a chance and this is one way of doing so.

#122 ::: veinglory ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2007, 07:42 PM:

If it wasn't a scam, it would be free. Then it would just be a waste of time. Not a waste of time + a waste of money = a scam.

#123 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2007, 08:43 PM:

Xopher, #44: We buy lottery tickets occasionally. Why? Not because we expect to win -- but what we're really buying is the right to indulge in pleasant little "when I win the lottery" fantasies. As such, lottery money comes out of the entertainment budget; you can buy 10 tickets for the price of the average movie, and we almost never buy more than 2 for a given drawing.

My favorite "when I win the lottery" fantasy is opening up a franchise of Calypso Cafe in Houston. Needless to say, I'd hire someone with actual restaurant-running experience to do the work; I'd just be the angel.

#124 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2008, 06:09 AM:

Spam from 193.188.105.230

#125 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2008, 11:04 AM:

Spam from 58.30.16.154

#126 ::: joann sees more spam @127 ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2008, 01:15 PM:

Sounds like a fetish-monger?

#127 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2008, 01:21 PM:

Spam from 203.162.2.137

#128 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2008, 03:13 PM:

Spam from 82.194.62.230

#129 ::: P J Evans sees another one ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2008, 03:17 PM:

Persistent, aren't they?

#130 ::: Serge sees wallpaper spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2008, 03:32 PM:

This HERE is a wonderful site too.

#132 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2008, 03:43 PM:

Mary Dell @ 135... That reminds me of the Far Side cartoon that showed what Dog Heaven looked like, with a caption at the bottom explaining that, every hour on the hour, they got to chase a truck made of spam.

#133 ::: Mary Aileen notes spam still at 131 ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2008, 04:17 PM:

Looks as if the spam at 131 was missed in the recent cleanup.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.