2016/06/28

The Dragon Awards: Readers Suggest Souldancer

Dragon Con Logo

Among the many revelations of Larry Correia's Sad Puppies campaigns, one of the most eye-opening is the surprisingly small voter base of what used to be science fiction's most prestigious award. The Hugos' increasingly niche place in the exploding SF scene is readily apparent when you consider that last year's record-breaking turnout amounted to fewer than 6,000 ballots.

Many fans, noting the stark contrast between the SF movies, TV shows, and games that dominate popular culture and the kinds of stories that win Hugos these days, hailed Dragon Con's announcement of the first annual Dragon Awards as exactly the remedy our genre needs.

Unlike the Hugos, where one must buy a World Science Fiction Convention membership to nominate and vote, Dragon Con has made participation in the Dragon Awards free to anyone with an internet connection.


Size matters

With an annual reported attendance (many estimates nearly double those figures) at least an order of magnitude higher than World Con's record voter turnout, Dragon Con has the sheer numbers to host a true populist award. By making nominations and voting free, they encourage participation and eliminate the possibility of vote-buying.

The Dragons offer greater SF fandom an award that reflects its tastes, and not just the preferences of a relatively tiny clique.


To those who have, more shall be given.

It's only been two months since my readers nominated me for the 2016 Campbell Award. Honestly, I didn't expect any Dragon Award buzz. Nethereal, my first book, missed Dragon Con's eligibility window, anyway.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that fans and fellow authors alike are adding the sequel, Souldancer, to their Dragon Award recommendations lists.


I'm grateful for the love SD is getting. It's the book I most wanted to write. Moreover, it's my best book, as the near-perfect Amazon rating attests.

If you think Souldancer deserves a Dragon Award, by all means go ahead and nominate it. But first, a few caveats:
  • It's strictly one category per book. If you nominate the same book in multiple categories, Dragon Con will nullify your nomination. So you can only nominate Souldancer once.
  • I hate to differ with my loyal fans and colleagues, but SD doesn't seem to fit the science fiction category as well as fantasy or horror. If you have to pick one category--and you do--I'd go with fantasy. If there's a fantasy book you'd rather nominate, then go with horror. Sci-fi should probably be a last resort.
  • The deadline to nominate is July 25, 2016, so there's a little less than a month left to cast your nominations. There's no time like the present.
Once again, I'm up against Sad Puppies heavyweights like Larry, John C. Wright, and Declan Finn. If you want to see Souldancer nominated for a Dragon Award, vote today and recommend SD to a friend.

[UPDATE]: Leonidas in the comments offers the sound strategic advice of nominating Souldancer in the horror category.

2016/06/27

Author Earnings: Amazon a Majority of the Print Market; Indie Publishing Vindicated

author earnings - Amazon eBooks

My stance on indie publishing has changed significantly in just a few short years (not coincidentally, over almost the same period covered by the graph above).

I'm one of those rare folks whose minds can be changed by data. When I first set out to become a professional writer, I did my homework. Reading books, blog posts, articles, and reports on the publishing industry led me to the following conclusions:
  1. The Aspiring Author Who Works Hard to Land an Agent and Finally a Book Deal that Makes Him an Overnight Superstar is a pure fairy tale. Movies and TV shows perpetuate this false view of reality because audiences like a good Cinderella story. Also, it boosts the screenwriters' egos.
  2. Even if you're among the 1 percent of aspiring authors who do land agents and book deals, chances are all you'll get is a $3000 advance for giving up all rights to a book that will languish spine-out on Barnes & Noble's shelves for a few weeks before getting pitched to make way for next month's contestant. The circle of life goes on.
  3. Despite 1 & 2, traditional publishing is still the only viable game in town.
But I kept up on my research, and after a couple of years, my thinking shifted to the following position:
  • The publishing industry as a whole still sucks.
  • Amazon has now made indie publishing a viable option for certain people, e.g. traditionally published authors who've recovered the rights to their big midlist catalogs.
  • Either way, expecting to make money is the wrong reason to get into this business.
Rather recently, after reading all of Joe Konrath's eye-opening Newbie's Guide to Publishing, I further modified my opinion.
  • Traditional publishing is broken.
  • Some authors are actually starting to earn a living by self-publishing.
  • Indie publishing is the right choice for me, but that's a call each author needs to make based on his own circumstances.
I've been self-publishing for a year now, and the amazing results have more than vindicated my decision.

Sales of my first two books placed me among the top half of Amazon writers, even before Larry Correia's BOOK BOMB!

Enough people read and liked my writing to nominate me for science fiction's most prestigious award for new authors.

As for what I might've given up by rejecting the tradpub route, I've already out-earned the standard advance for a first-time author. Except I don't have to pay that money back before earning ongoing royalties.

Royalties which are 5.6 times higher than those earned by most traditionally published authors.

Yeah, going indie has worked out pretty well for me. But I still wasn't ready to recommend indie publishing to everybody until I read the latest Author Earnings report.


The Definitive Study of Author Earnings

The May 2016 Author Earnings Report expanded its scope to include 82% of Amazon's daily eBook sales. This study shed light on many dark corners of the market that had been hidden from the public--until now.

Here's what AE found, specifically in regard to indie vs. tradpub earnings.

Author Earnings May 2016 midlist

This graph shows the number of authors in the midlist (here defined as making at least $25,000 a year), divided into four categories based on date of first publication.

Not only do indie midlisters dominate every category, they do so even when pitted against traditionally published authors who've been working for decades and have substantial catalogs under their belts. We're talking everybody who's debuted since 1916, including Hemingway, Tolkien, Heinlein, Card, King, Martin, Patterson, and Rowling.

Then figure in the fact that Amazon has only been around since 1994 and the Kindle has only existed since 2007.

Yet indie authors have remained on top of the midlist regardless of when they started out, while the number of tradpub authors lucky enough to make even 25 grand per year keeps getting cut in half.

But 25k is chump change, I can hear the tradpub diehards say. Surely, if you want to make it big, a big deal from a big publisher is the only way to go!

Author Earnings May 2016 7 figures
Not so much.
The power of big New York publishers to hand out golden tickets capable of turning struggling authors into millionaires is an artifact of the 20th century. Now? As Moe Greene would say, they don't even have that kind of muscle anymore.

If you were an aspiring author trying to break in prior to the 1980s, New York publishers were your best shot at the big time. Since 2006, indie has stolen tradpub's thunder to the extent that you're now four times more likely to make seven figures by going indie than by signing with a traditional publisher.


The other side of the Coin: Dark Matter

Indie publishing might be going like gangbusters at the midlist and seven figure levels, but what about the low end? Are self-published authors also over represented in the shadow market of books that never make the category best seller lists?

In short, yes. But that's not the whole story.

Author Earnings May 2016 Dark Matter authors

Only 14% of authors on Amazon have eBooks on category best seller lists.

Author Earnings 2016 Dark Matter earnings

But authors with eBooks on Amazon's best seller lists earn 58%  of the Kindle pie.

Author Earnings May 2016 Dark Matter sales

And just as they account for a majority of best sellers, eBooks by indie authors make up 52% of Dark Matter sales.

It would appear at first glance that going indie gives authors a nearly equal likelihood of being totally invisible or becoming best sellers. But appearances can be deceiving. According to AE:
Once again, indies make up the bulk of these invisible sales and authors — an even higher proportion than in the other shades of Amazon sales matter. We even found a few dozen invisible authors here — mostly indies — who are earning six figures from titles that live entirely in this “pure” dark matter. But the majority of these 2,600,000 titles comes from the lowest-selling 750,000 authors on Amazon, and 900,000 of them belong to the lowest-selling 160,000 indies.
Even though a few indie authors are quietly making six figures in the Kindle Store's black hole, 160,000 indies are among the 750,000 worst sellers on Amazon.

But as tragic as that sounds, tradpub authors have it even worse.
It might be discouraging to consider the 300,000 lowest-selling Big Five titles that we find here in the “pure dark matter”, belonging to 86,000 invisible Big Five authors...Each of these authors successfully fought their way through the traditional-publishing slush pile, and secured themselves an agent and a publishing deal — even a Big Five deal. Those achievements appear to have granted them little career advantage, in either sales or visibility. Today, these several hundred thousand traditionally published authors find themselves earning even less than the very lowest-selling indies are.
[Emphasis mine]
In the past, when traditional publishing was the only real choice authors had, their manuscripts would have instead languished in traditional publishing’s slush pile, unpublished and unread. Instead, they are now collectively selling 150,000 copies a day, earning each of their authors, on average, $250/year — or roughly $100/title. And getting read, too, if not yet by many, and hopefully finding a few fans along the way.
The takeaway: the Big Five have lost their power to make winners and losers. A traditional book deal doesn't guarantee more sales or visibility than going indie. Even if your self-published book ends up among the lowest sellers on Amazon, you'll still average $250 a year instead of zero.

Several factors the AE study didn't take into account:
  • Of the highest/lowest earners, which authors commissioned effective covers?
  • Which of them had their books professionally edited?
  • How many made sure their books were formatted properly for Kindle?
  • Which authors published just one book, and how many have series?
  • How many authors treat publishing like a job?
  • Which of them do any marketing, e.g. blog regularly/release podcasts/engage fans on social media?
Publishing is still a gamble, but there are steps all authors can take to improve their chances. The AE report proves that self-publishing shifts the odds in your favor more than any other step.

Get off the manuscript submission carousel. Stop waiting for agents and editors to give you validation like a fat kid hoping to be picked for kickball. Seek validation from readers. Write good books, get professional editing, formatting, and covers. Then publish them yourself on Amazon.

And check out my category best selling books.

2016/06/26

Penny Dreadful: Geek Gab Episode 59

On this week's episode of Geek Gab, Daddy Warpig delivers a rousing dissertation on the decline of contemporary horror. Exhibit A: Showtime's Gothic horror series Penny Dreadful.


Has the horror genre lost its way in recent years? Listen in and find out!

When you're done listening, read my top 20 best selling horror/SF novel Nethereal.


And the sequel, Souldancer, which is even better than the first book judging by its unanimous rave reviews.

2016/06/21

Reader Mail: A Self-Publishing Primer

A new reader sends this request for help navigating the radically transformed publishing landscape:
First off, I'd like to congratulate you on the success of the book bomb a couple of weeks ago, and I hope you continue to be successful in your writing career. I have a huge amount of respect for people who can make self publishing work. I'm glad I was able to take part in the book bomb, and I'm happy to say I'm enjoying Nethereal so far.
Let me just chime in to say thanks and to remind readers that they too can start enjoying my breakout SFF novel Nethereal via the following link.


My cherished reader continues:
I currently find myself in the position in my writing career (having decided this is what I wanted to do several years back) where I've been querying my first book for a while, just started querying a second, and am reaching the point where I'm starting to lean more toward self or indie publishing as opposed to traditional publishing, both because I just completed my Master's degree & am currently unemployed and because it's become quite clear that I'd be found guilty of political wrongthink by the mainstream SF/F writing world even if I continue shying away from discussing political issues online (though, to be honest, I'm growing really tired of censoring myself for worry of online dogpiling and character assassination which could negatively impact my ability to make a living.)
However, probably unsurprisingly, the prospect of going self-pub is a bit intimidating, and I'm not completely sure what the best way to go about it is. To that end, I was wondering if you had any advice and/or know any good resources to help start the process.

Lots of food for thought, there--so much that I wrote a quick self-publishing primer in response.
My opinions on self-publishing have changed quite a lot. A few short years ago, I'd have said "never". That changed to "it makes sense in a few rare cases". When I took the leap and self-published Nethereal last year, developments in the industry led me to conclude that going indie was the right answer for most authors, but some would still be better served by traditional publishers.
Now? It's difficult to think of a situation in which trad pub is a better--or even a smart--move. I suppose if you're already famous, like a politician or a celebrity chef, and Hachette has someone all set to ghost write your biography and a seven figure advance. Then you take the money and run.
In your circumstances--and in practically everyone's at this point--the answer is to self-publish. Go for it. There's no reason not to anymore and plenty of reasons why indie is the better deal all around. Odds are you'll earn more, for one.
Here's how to get started:
  • Write a manuscript. I give it 2 drafts before step 2.
  • Have beta readers critique the manuscript. Choose people who will give you honest feedback. That usually rules out friends and family (I'm lucky to have both who reliably tell it like it is). Ask them to identify places in the story where they were a) bored and/or b) confused.
  • You can safely ignore complaints given by 1 or 2 beta readers. If 3 or more criticize the same thing, revise it.
  • Redraft based on beta reader feedback. A good rule of thumb is to take 25% of their advice.
  • Hire a professional editor to review draft 3. Unlike beta readers, take all editorial direction unless you really, really disagree with it and have a compelling reason not to make the edit.
  • Make sure your eBook is formatted to professional standards. Some authors who are more tech savvy than I am do it themselves. I use Polgarus Studio and couldn't be happier. 
  • Get a professionally designed cover. An effective cover conveys the genre, mood, theme, and hints at the plot of a book at a glance. IMPORTANT: your cover must be intelligible and the title and byline legible at thumbnail size and in greyscale. Most big name cover artists drastically overcharge. DeviantArt has a whole section devoted to book cover artists who don't.
  • Upload the finished book to KDP for the eBook and CreateSpace for the paperback. Price the paperback so as to earn at least a $2.00 royalty on every sale in every market. Price the eBook much lower than the paperback. Experiment with the eBook price regularly to find your book's sweet spot.

Follow those steps and you'll avoid the worst self-pub rookie mistakes.

And as a bonus...
Marketing:
There are various ways to market your books. The most vital element of any author's marketing strategy is visibility. Potential readers need to know your name, that you are an author, and that you have books for sale.
Having a high traffic blog sells books. Releasing new books frequently sells books. Blog often and be prolific.
That's your self-publishing primer. Now get out there and make your own luck.

2016/06/20

Applied Rhetoric: Fun with Trolls


Plato Aristotle - rhetoric

A close friend and I were discussing the relative merits of dialectic and rhetoric the other day. He spoke of the invective bafflingly spewed against Christians since the Muslim terrorist attack in Orlando and mentioned debating fellow members of certain online communities on the subject.

When I advised him that the most effective weapon against anyone caught up in the throes of so glaringly irrational a Narrative is a more visceral, rhetorical approach, he insisted that appeals to logic had in fact convinced the anti-Christian commenters to moderate their positions--or at least to make apologies.

While it's possible that my friend has stumbled upon the secluded valley, accessible only once every thousand years, where the fabled Rational Leftist unicorns ruminate on opposing viewpoints before logically refuting them or, perhaps, modifying their own, I submit that a Christian venturing onto the internet shouldn't expect the same warm welcome.

The first principle of online debate is simple: if your opponent argues logically, answer him with logic. If he argues from emotion, answer with rhetoric.


Dialectic vs. Rhetoric

If you're unfamiliar with the difference between these two concepts, the short version is that dialectic is logical argument wherein premises are put forward in order to arrive at true statements. If all of the premises are true, the argument is structured correctly, and the conclusion follows from the premises, then the argument is sound and the conclusion is true.

Rhetoric is the type of argument that primarily tries to convince people by appealing to their emotions. As you'd imagine, rhetoric is pretty informal, though good rhetoric mimics the structure of dialectical arguments. The most important difference is that rhetoric is completely unconcerned with fact. Its purpose is to produce conviction; not deduce truth.

The naturally dialectically inclined tend to look down on rhetoric, or even denounce it as evil. When they argue with natural rhetoric speakers--i.e. most of the population--they often balk at "stooping to the other side's level" and plug away citing statistics, quoting Scripture, and calling out logical fallacies.

Meanwhile, their opponents ignore them like Italians being lectured in Chinese and proceed to run rhetorical rings around the logicians.

Think back to a frustrating argument you've had online. Everybody's been there. You hammer away at the other guy's flimsy argument with meticulously researched facts and quotes from great thinkers. You call him out on his straw men and personal attacks.

But nothing works. All your best arguments roll off his back like water. He changes the definitions of words, down to prepositions and articles, and pinning him down is like nailing Jello to the wall.

You got owned by a rhetorician. It's frustrating. But it doesn't have to happen.

Rhetoric isn't evil. Like any tool, it can be put to good or bad use. Since most people make most of their decisions based on emotion, rhetoric can be a powerful force for good if you use it to move people toward wise action.

Consider smoking. Your kids' peers don't argue them into smoking with a risk/benefit analysis. Kids are pressured into it via social proof. Likewise, lengthy diatribes about higher incidence of lung cancer and how much money smokers waste on astronomical taxes are far less effective deterrents than having an admired member of a kid's peer group tell him he looks like a loser with that fag hanging out of his mouth.

Clerks - cigarette
"You're a cigarette!"

Case Study: Slaying Trolls at John C. Wright's Journal

Getting back to the talk I had with my friend, I only regretted that I lacked a counterexample to his successful use of dialectic. The very next day, Providence supplied the perfect live demonstration of dialectic vs. rhetoric in action.

The inestimable John C. Wright, Grand Inquisitor of the Evil Legion of Evil, recently published a partial list of jihadist attacks on American citizens during the current administration. You'd rightly expect such a post to draw a school of trolls nipping at this intellectual Leviathan's tail. On this occasion, John landed a marlin--a bigoted, feelz-spasming marlin.

Yes, in the wake of a tragic massacre committed by a terrorist who swore allegiance to ISIS, Captain Moral Equivalence busted in like Jonestown Kool-Aid Man to tell us all how his cherry-picked, torturously literalistic readings of the Bible prove that Christians are the real terrorists*.

*Excerpts repositioned for space and ease of reading.

Troll 1

Many strove valiantly to confound the troll with facts.

Troll 2

Pointing out the troll's rank irrationality likewise failed, but the rhetorical barb planted in the comment made the troll reveal his own weak point.


Intermission
Troll 2
Troll 2: still less shoddy and more coherent than the troll's arguments

Troll vs Rhetoric

I'd been hanging back and watching the bull in a china shop-style proceedings, observing the troll's virtuoso performance with awe and pity. The comment above gave me my cue to wade in.

Disclaimer: I normally maintain a principled stand against engaging with this kind of dirtbag. Unlike the philosopher kings my friend hangs with, trolls like Mike can't be reasoned with and can't be convinced. There are only two valid reasons for talking to them: 1) there are neutral observers on the fence who might be drawn to your side by a good troll-shellacking; 2) as an object lesson in rhetoric, which the troll readily served as, and which I now submit for your edification and enrichment.

Rule 1: don't meet trolls head-on. Talk about them with others to draw them in. That way, you set the terms and terrain of the exchange.

Troll4

That comment's just an example. It also didn't draw the troll in. For that job, I baited my hook with the sweeter meat which our dear troll himself provided.

Troll5

Instead of making inflammatory accusations and answering others' responses with insults, Mike is now compelled by his inner demons to answer me. Result: he cedes the initiative.

Troll6

Note how much wordier Mike's responses are than mine. He's also growing even more incoherent. This tells me he's experiencing cognitive dissonance, which tells me I've found which button to push.

Advantage: counter-troll.

Troll7

Dimly aware that he's lost ground, the troll flails about in a desperate attempt to justify himself. He musters an effort to regain control by leveling an insult at me that he thinks I have no choice but to refute. He's wrong.

Rule 2: trolls like this are all offense, so never let them put you on defense. Never answer their questions. Always answer their attacks with an attack.

Troll8

Though batting Mike around like a pinata was more fun than the law should allow, I had actual work to do. Since I could now lead him around by the nose, it was time to drag him onto my turf for a good old-fashioned clubbing.

Troll9

Evidence I can document: my major award-nominated, category best selling books



The troll takes the bait and is reeled into an alien, waterless world where he writhes, gasping.

TrollX

Mike's rantings have revealed him as a compulsive braggart and know-it-all who can't resist calling others ignorant to stroke his own ego. Now that pride has led him into an arena--publishing--where he knows precisely jack squat, it's time to jab my pen through his temple.

TrollXI
Want to really stick it to bigoted trolls like Mike? Increase that number of reviews by leaving your own.
Exit the troll, to seek less rhetorically fluent prey.

Far from inflating my own ego (to my knowledge, I have none to inflate), let this post serve as instruction and encouragement to rational folks who find their favorite online watering holes beset by periodic troll infestations.

Being treated with honor is a privilege exchanged among civilized men. Barbarians give, and should expect, no quarter.

The vast majority of the populace understands only rhetoric. Engaging them with dialectic won't get you anywhere. Debate them only if you must, and when you do, answer rhetoric with rhetoric.

2016/06/19

Geek Gab: Battle of the Iron Mans!

Daddy Warpig and I devoted the latest episode of Geek Gab to debating my best Iron Man movie post. The discussion was quite vigorous, to the extent that we broke the normal half hour time limit and did a double length episode.

I definitely think the subject merited the extra time. Take a listen and see what you think.


NB: though Daddy Warpig delivered a brilliant meditation on the first Iron Man in light of themes common to Greek and Shakespearean drama, I'm confident that my original argument stands. It's interesting to note that nearly every counterargument from the many commenters who've attempted rebuttals fall into one of the following categories:

  • Changing the subject from the films' objective merits to their subjective preferences
  • Insisting that Obadiah Stane is an effective, well-motivated antagonist (Full disclosure: I never denied the first premise and DW brought me around to affirming the second. However, most of my interlocutors ended up confirming that Iron Monger doesn't work nearly as well, which was always my main point.)
  • Armchair quarterbacking/fan saves: proposing complex script changes that would have improved Iron Man 2 as we find it no more proves the superiority of the first Iron Man than suggesting improvement to The Empire Strikes Back makes the original Star Wars the best entry in that franchise.
  • Plot hole nitpicks: for every one you can point out in Iron Man 2, I can find you one in the first Iron Man. I never claimed that either film is perfect. In fact, they're both quite flawed by later MCU standards. Again, the point of the exercise was to find the best of three imperfect films. Iron Man 2 still takes the tarnished crown.
Consider that a more proper closing statement than we had time for. Anyway, read the post that started it all, listen to the debate, and draw your own conclusions.

2016/06/14

The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2

With The Conjuring 2 dominating the weekend box office, now seems like a good time to expand on my short review from the most recent episode of Geek Gab.

The sequel to 2013's The Conjuring, also helmed by director James Wan, this installment features the dramatization of another case from the files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Though a couple of the Warrens' other famous investigations are referenced, the plot mostly revolves around the 1977 Enfield Poltergeist case.

Like all films "based on a true story", The Conjuring 2 takes copious amounts of dramatic license with the original source material. But James Wan's stated aim was to restore the reputation of studio horror films; not make a documentary.

Did he succeed? Let's examine the movie in light of the director's goal.


In case you're totally unfamiliar with The Conjuring 2

...here's the theatrical trailer.


Seeing as how the film's premise is based on a highly publicized haunting that's been in the media since 1977, I'm dispensing with spoiler warnings. I'll also restrain myself from discussing major fictionalized plot details.

The facts in the real life case, as in the film, are that a young girl and her family experience strange phenomena in their North London home after she plays with a Ouija board.

Obligatory pneumatology PSA: legends, folklore, and old wives' tales often contain a kernel of truth. The universally negative portrayal of Ouija boards and other methods of communicating with spirits is one nut that Hollywood's blind squirrels reliably manage to find. DO NOT play around with this stuff.

And to head off the skeptic's favorite sophomoric objection: it's not that a mass-produced toy is magic. It's that the chosen end of seeking undue power over preternatural beings and phenomena is inherently evil; not the specific means used.

The more you know

Back to the film review. When ongoing disturbances, including but not limited to strange noises, poltergeist activity, teleportation of people and objects, apparitions, spiritual oppression and possession drive the family from their home, paranormal investigators--including the Warrens--intervene. The ensuing case becomes one of the most well documented hauntings in history.


Analysis

The Conjuring 2 is an atmospheric, often smart, supernatural horror film with welcome thriller and mystery flourishes. James Wan set out to make a studio horror movie in the tradition of genre classics like Poltergeist and The Exorcist.

Although this movie doesn't quite rise to the level of those iconic films, Wan does prove that "studio horror" doesn't have to be synonymous with "lowest common denominator schlock" while producing a rare sequel that rivals the quality of the original.

This film's greatest successes lie in three areas"
  • Background and foreshadowing: The Conjuring 2 cleverly sets up its main plot through a properly terrifying introduction that scores bonus points by delivering on a promise made at the end of the first movie.
  • Mood, atmosphere, and tone: director James Wan strikes a superb balance between visceral scares, psychological horror, existential dread, and, refreshingly, scattered rays of hope. The main theme that God remains ever present even in the midst of seemingly unrelenting terror shines through strongly.
  • Character: the writers, director, and actors deserve high praise for avoiding the cliched cardboard cutouts seen in too many horror movies and instead populating this film with believable characters whose problems we easily and immediately care about.
As for the film's few drawbacks, the most egregious are a couple of scenes featuring obvious CG animation that's visually and tonally dissonant with the setting. If you've seen Wan's other, similarly themed series Insidious, you'll instantly recognize the scenes I've described, as well as the director's self-indulgence.

My other beef with the movie might be specific to those who are familiar with Catholic theology and ecclesiology, but in a movie that claims to be based on true events, this one sticks out.

The plot point in question--don't worry about spoilers; it's dumb, anyway--is the reason given for Ed and Lorraine's involvement in the Enfield case. In the movie, the Church gets ahold of taped conversations with a self-identified 72 year-old dead guy spoken by an 11 year-old girl.

The Conjuring 2 trailer
"Priests like me are sworn to serve others' spiritual needs hand and foot...but we don't want to look bad, so we'll just send a lay couple in case this one's a hoax."
The English hierarchy supposedly ask the American hierarchy to approach the Warrens about evaluating the goings-on  in Enfield, with the justification that the Church can't be seen to be directly involved if the story turns out to be a hoax, because besmirching their reputation would hinder their ability to help people.

Such as the people they're not helping already.

By sending proxies not empowered with the seal of Holy Orders into potential contact with demonic forces.

Proxies who publicly trade on their close affiliation with the Church anyway.

In real life, this isn't happening. The local diocese is responsible for investigating claims of possession. Enfield is under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Westminster, home of English Catholicism's mother church. The archbishop is unlikely to need assistance from a couple of Yanks.

Supporting this assessment, original Enfield Poltergeist investigator Guy Lyon Playfair said that in real life, the Warrens turned up uninvited.

Also contra the film version, it was a priest; not the Warrens, who helped the Hodgsons get their paranormal problems under control.

But in the finest movie tradition, The Conjuring 2 doesn't let real life get in the way of a brilliant, climactic ending.

@BrianNiemeier

2016/06/13

Why Indie Publishing Succeeded Where Indie Gaming Failed

Indie game developers' quandary

The topic of this post came to me after I happened upon a couple of videos on widely disparate subjects.

While making my way through The Rageaholic's Hugo-nominated vlog series, I came across this episode explaining why hopes that indie developers will pull the video game industry out of its current sales dive are woefully misplaced.

Caution: NSFW Language ahead

There are over 150 million gamers in the United States alone. AAA developers bank on creating blockbusters that sell millions of copies each. Since major games cost millions, or tens of millions, of dollars to make, the big developers' blockbuster-focused business model involves substantial risk. A major game that sells 400 thousand copies can be considered a failure.

To put the gulf between AAA and indie sales in context, let's look at Steam. The world's most popular PC game retail/distribution platform, Steam is to indie game developers what Amazon's KDP is for self-published authors.

How many copies does the average game sell on Steam?

32,000.

Keep in mind, that figure includes AAA games from big developers that sell millions of copies. No matter how you slice it, indie developers aren't yet in a position to challenge the big boys for game industry dominance.


The case of indie publishing

The second video that inspired today's post comes to us courtesy of Mike Cernovich, who recently interviewed author James Altucher after the two authors had a chance meeting.


Both Altucher and Cernovich are highly successful indie authors. Watch from the 9:00 mark to the 10:00 mark as they discuss the benefits of self-publishing compared to signing with a traditional publisher.

James specifically mentions that books by independent authors receive higher average review ratings than books sold through traditional publishers. He also points out the significant fact, reported by Hugh Howey's Author Earnings site, that indie authors as a group now out-earn their traditionally published colleagues.


Indie vs. indie performance

Amazon and the Kindle have turned the publishing industry on its head. Within a few short years, big New York publishers have gone from controlling a majority of the eBook market to less than 25%. At the same time, indie authors have captured over 40% of eBook sales.

Author Earnings unit sales
Source: Author Earnings
There are several reasons why self-published authors have come to dominate the eBook market: lower prices, higher quality, and faster release schedules are some significant advantages that indies have over the Big Five.

Then there's the fact that indie publishing doesn't have an ideological litmus test as a barrier to entry.

I'm not just speaking secondhand, here, since my self-publishing credentials are well established.

But if indie authors have managed to pick up failing trad publishers' slack, why haven't indie game developers enjoyed comparable success?

I'm less knowledgeable about video game publishing than novel publishing, but Razörfist's argument makes a lot of sense.

Print books are cheap to produce; eBooks even more so. As a consequence, anyone can self-publish a book at a level of quality rivaling any title released by the Big Five. But when state-of-the-art video game production costs routinely soar into the millions of dollars, coming up with the entry fee is a much taller order.


Predictions

AAA game studios' over-reliance on blockbuster games shows no signs of abating any time soon. Sadly, neither does indie gaming's relative underperformance.

On the flip side, predicting that big New York publishers will keep hemorrhaging market share looks like a pretty safe bet. Consequently, indie authors can expect business to keep booming in the foreseeable future.

@BrianNiemeier

2016/06/12

Geek Gab: Super Movie Episode

It's anything goes on this lively episode of Geek Gab.

Daddy Warpig discusses a couple of Disney kids' films: Zootopia and The Rescuers.

John talks about Overwatch. It's not a movie, but he didn't watch anything this week.

Finally, I review The Conjuring 2 form director James Wan. Did he succeed in reclaiming studio horror's fan cred? Is this sequel as good as the original? Why is the Catholic rite of exorcism featured in pretty much every demonic possession film?

Listen in and find out!



2016/06/10

Happy Anniversary, Nethereal!

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

My indie publishing adventure began one year ago today when my first novel, Nethereal, went live on Amazon.

It's been a wild ride, to say the least. In the past year, I've released my first book's sequel, Souldancer, put together a second edition of Nethereal based on your feedback, got nominated for a Campbell Award, and received a coveted BOOK BOMB from super author Larry Correia that you guys made the fourth most successful he's ever done!

Book Bomb
Do not underestimate the power of a Book Bomb!
It's been said that half of self-published authors only earn $500 a year and sell about 250 books.

When I started this little publishing enterprise, I had no idea what sort of outcome to expect. It was entirely possible that everyone would hate my writing--or worse, ignore it.

Thanks to you, my growing ranks of readers and my fellow author friends, my first year sales have crushed the numbers cited above. I can't thank you enough.

I now know that it's possible to self-publish for a living. There's still some altitude to gain before I reach that lofty peak, but it's now much closer than the ground.

No turning back now.

I hope you'll join me on the way up. And bring a friend.

What does the coming year hold? What's really exciting is that I have no more idea what to expect this year than I did last year. Anything could happen!

One thing I do know: Soul Cycle Book III, the penultimate entry in the series, is coming along quite well. I'm aiming for a late 2016 launch, so watch this blog for updates and release dates.

In the meantime, what's an anniversary without gifts?

Nethereal, the SFF book that started it all, is on sale today for $2.99 in the Kindle Store.



Already own Nethereal? Get the even better sequel Souldancer right now for the same low price!


Have you already read Nethereal and/or Souldancer but have been waiting to leave a review? What better time than on this auspicious day to share your informed opinions with me and Amazon's customers?

Honest Amazon reviews benefit authors in several ways. For one thing, they figure into the Kindle Store's ranking algorithm. Plus, Amazon ramps up their promotional efforts for books with 50 or more reviews. Last but not least, feedback is good. I read every review, and as Nethereal 2nd ed. shows, I listen to reviewer feedback.

Writing a review can seem daunting, but don't worry! It's perfectly fine to leave something as simple as, "I really liked this," or "The story wasn't to my taste." Every little bit helps.

Thanks to all the folks who have already left reviews. If you'd like to express your opinion, please consider leaving a review for Nethereal, Souldancer, or both today.


2016/06/07

Finding the Time to Blog with Russell Newquist

Author Russell Newquist is one of those ultra-productive people who seem to inhabit a time warp where there are 72 hours in a day. Here he shares his secrets for prolific blogging.
Sleep is for the weak. I honestly probably don’t sleep enough. I average six to seven hours of sleep a night. But this isn’t because I’m busy – it’s because I can’t sleep. I’ve had trouble with sleep for as long as I can remember.
Abnormal sleep habits are something Russell and I share. Although he suffers from insomnia, whereas my sleep schedule drifts constantly over the course of several weeks with no dependence on the earth's day/night cycle.

Still, turning your afflictions into strengths is a sound tactic, and more than one successful author has mentioned cutting back on sleep as one of the sacrifices he made for his art.

As George III said, six hours is sufficient sleep for a man, seven for a woman; eight for a fool.

If I don’t stay busy I get bored. This is actually true as stated and not just snark. My mind does not shut down, ever, except in two circumstances: when I finally manage to fall asleep or when I’m exercising with extreme intensity. Neither of those circumstances guarantees it, either. Those are just the only times it actually happens. I might as well put it to use. But that’s not the real truth. The real truth is that if I don’t stay busy I get depressed. And that’s far worse. Human beings are not meant to be idle. Most depressed people would be better served by six weeks of boot-camp style intensity than by medication. I know you feel tired, but that’s not because of too little rest: it’s because of too much. Get off your butt and do something real.
You know what really separates professional writers from amateurs? Every single pro I've heard comment on this has said that he simply can't not write. For some of us, not writing for 24 hours induces a downer effect similar to opiate withdrawal.

As any addict can tell you, a physical compulsion to do something is a great way to get good at it.

I don’t watch much TV. This is another one that’s generally true. The average American watches four hours of TV a day. I struggled to figure out where they find time for that; then I remember that 41% of the adult population doesn’t work… and what else are they going to do all day?
 Instructions for instantly doubling your productivity:
  1. Go to your TV.
  2. Unplug it.
  3. Go to the window.
  4. Make sure the ground is clear below.
  5. Defenestrate the TV.
On a serious note, sleeping 7 hours a night gains you 1 extra hour a day. Ditching TV gains you 4 more. That is a surplus of 5 hours a day for getting shit done--enough time to, say, write 2000 words.
More generally: I don’t do a lot of other things that people like to do for fun. I write blog posts and troll Twitter instead.
I spend a lot of time studying the habits of successful people. One of the more intriguing phenomena that keeps popping up is that folks at the top of their game tend to indulge in bread and circuses style distractions much less than average.

Self-aggrandizing testimonial: I've stopped watching TV altogether. I rarely go to the movies, and my Netflix subscription died of neglect. My video game habit has shrunk to a few hours per week, and my pen and paper RPG playing has been cut back to one night per week. Weeding out superfluous distractions has taken years.

How's it working out? One of my novels recently cracked the Kindle top 500 and was #4 in its category. As for me, I'm now a Campbell nominee and I made it into the top 30 horror authors on Amazon (the only Stephen King book in that category that outsold me was Misery).

Steven King Rulez!

Many people I know would probably react with horror and despair to the prospect of giving up their pet diversions. But the fact is, you can cut down on the lotus eating, and you won't even miss it when you've attained your dream.

I spend far less time on this than you might think. My average blog post is less than 1000 words. Many are less than 500. I rarely edit them. I never proofread them. I seldom even read them through when I’m finished. Half the time I know what I’m going to write before I start it. The typical post takes me about 10-15 minutes to write – tops. It’s a blog for crying out loud. If it takes you more time than that, you’re doing it wrong.
Here's one area where Russell and I part ways. It's not that I disagree with him. It's that I'm incorrigibly slow. Despite concerted effort, I read slow and I write even slower.

How slow? The example blog post that Russell says took him 10-15 minutes to write takes me 2-3 hours.

I know why, too. First, I'm highly sensitive to language use. Misspellings, comma splices, and incorrect apostrophe placement pain me like ice picks to the eyes.

And yes, going on the internet is excruciating. But I do it for you.

Also, I can't not edit. Remember that heroin withdrawal feeling that serious authors get when they don't write. Not proofreading/editing everything I write produces the same agony x10.

My output is going to be lower than some other bloggers'. I've come to accept that. On the other hand, my posts get lots of compliments, so when it comes to quantity vs. quality, I'll take the latter.

If you found Russell's advice edifying, there's more on his excellent blog.

And depending on when you read this, there might still be time to win a free copy of his new anthology, Between the Wall and the Fire.