2016/12/30

Making a Living in the Arts Is Fiendishly Hard--By Design

Those who follow me here and on social media might be familiar with this graphic:

Writer Numbers

The takeaway is that of the roughly one million American authors, only 2500 earn a full-time income from their writing.

A lot of aspiring authors were discouraged by that figure, but it's actually an improvement over recent years, thanks to the rise of indie publishing. Authors are lucky to be working in the only art field where making a living is getting easier.

The empowerment and enrichment of authors is happening because the low cost and technical requirements of book publishing have allowed us to circumvent our former gatekeepers. Film makers, musicians, photographers, etc. don't have it so easy. Their gatekeepers are still firmly in control.

Gatekeepers purposefully made it hard for honest craftsmen to earn a living in the arts.
Over the course of the 20th century, every major media and entertainment outlet came to be dominated by radical Leftists. Not that I necessarily blame them. The Communists who infiltrated Hollywood and the socialists who took over NY publishing probably believed in their cause and thought they were doing the right thing by turning their industries into platforms for their ideology.

In most cases, the conservatives who used to run those operations handed them over without a fight. Leftists' idealism naturally disposes them to understanding the power of ideas, whereas conservatives' pragmatism inclines them to downplay the abstract and dismiss art itself as "not real".

The interplay of these opposing attitudes led to a cultural landscape where working artists mainly interested in pleasing audiences in return for just compensation lost out to useful idiots who would reliably parrot the Leftist party line. The gatekeepers to whom conservatives surrendered the field promoted artists who checked the right boxes, no matter how mediocre their actual work. This is because, as Nick Cole learned, the people in charge of NY publishing are zealots; not mercenaries.

To this day, women's studies majors writing dreary poetry are lavished with six-figure advances they'll never pay back. Meanwhile, those sweetheart deals are collectively funded by the ever-shrinking midlist of working writers whose draconian contracts leave them scrambling to earn out their $3,000 advances.

You're probably thinking that this arrangement is both stupid and unsustainable. You're right. But don't expect the gatekeepers to see their folly and mend their ways. These people aren't interested in turning a profit. They're propagandists who see ruining businesses as a twisted sort of ideological martyrdom--what Sarah Hoyt calls the Leftward Death Spiral.

The New York Publishing Death Spiral
Here is the process of degeneration that has killed legacy publishing and untold promising artists' careers:

  1. Leftist entryists invade publishing house. Politically disinterested executives capitulate.
  2. Entryist zealots fill the organization with more of their own. The publisher becomes a cultural Marxist propaganda organ.
  3. Conservative/moderate/apolitical authors must self-censor to get/keep book deals. As the only ones writing books that don't insult 70% of the populace, the burden of propping up the whole pyramid scheme falls on their shoulders.
  4. Publisher gives lion's share of advertising and co-op money to pet Leftist authors. Midlisters squeezed even tighter as lack of publisher support forces them to pull double duty marketing themselves.
  5. Constant stream of dull message fic alienates audience, shrinking the market. Midlisters suffer still more as their advances are cut to support industry-killing albatrosses.
  6. Buyouts and mergers rapidly whittle down the number of publishers. Readers and aspiring authors now faced with buying from/submitting to five ideologically monolithic publishing houses.
  7. Amazon invents the Kindle and launches KDP. Mass exodus of disgruntled midlist and aspiring authors to indie. The paper distribution monopoly that alone keeps the Big 5 afloat mortally threatened by eBooks.
  8. The Big 5 jack up prices on their eBooks in a desperate and foolish attempt to stifle the growing digital market.
  9. The Big 5's sales plummet as readers flock to indie and nontrad publishers. Each indie sale costs legacy publishing 2 sales.
  10. Hemorrhaging readers and new authors, the Big 5 are dead. They're just not broke...yet.
The gatekeepers are aware of the death spiral and don't care.
When Tor Books art director Irene Gallo libeled two of her company's own authors, and countless readers, as Neo-Nazis, she didn't lose her job. Sadly, it's become a cliche to say, "Imagine if she'd said that about [Protected Group X]." But we all know that if she'd been a conservative Christian who'd publicly taken exception to some of author Saladin Ahmed's controversial statements, she'd have been handed her walking papers within the hour.

If you are any combination of Christian, conservative, straight, white, or male, the NY publishing gatekeepers hate you. Unless you keep your head down and your opinions to yourself, they will not tolerate you writing for them. Even if you already have a Big 5 book deal, the act will get harder and harder to keep up unless you're a celebrity or a mega best seller. And due to rising Leftist zealotry, not even authors with huge, highly profitable platforms are safe from SJW outrage mobs.

The reason for this visceral, irrational hatred is simple. Art exists for its own sake. A work of art twisted to serve as a vehicle for ideology ceases to be art and becomes propaganda. Since the cultural Marxists in charge of the dying NY publishing industry are brazen ideologues incapable of producing anything but propaganda, they hate those who bring truth and beauty into their grey concrete world.

The ideologues know that their propaganda campaign is imperiled when true artists are free to create works that people actually like.

That's why I don't do business with the Big 5, and their increasingly frantic flailing is only making me happier about it. Thanks to the kind of Providence that always shatters diabolical schemes like the NY pub pyramid, there's an army of nontraditional authors who don't need the Big 5 to reach and entertain readers. Join the legion of satisfied readers who are helping indie authors escape the death spiral and earn a living writing stories for you.

2016/12/29

Should You Go to College?

Commenter anonme offers some sage advice to college-age readers in response to yesterday's post:
As someone who holds a useless humanities degree, I am firmly in the "college is a scam" category. With caveats. 
If there is some in the audience who are college age, I am going to attempt to address the question: "Should I go to college?" This is going to be an assessment made from opinions based off of personal experience, and should be taken with a grain of salt. My fellow commentators are more than welcome to agree, and point out errors. 
I would personally not recommend going into college unless you are planning on going into a STEM job (science, technology, engineering and math), Medicine, or a law degree. And even in those cases this might not be sound advice. It is essential you do some research before making your decision. Decide if you want a job in your state, or if you want to move. Find out demand, find employers, and what they are looking for. Again, just personal opinion, but DO NOT, enroll as undeclared. That will be an extremely expensive mistake. If you are having a hard making a decision now, you will most likely have a hard time making the decision years into it. Make up your mind while you can do so without a mountain of debt. 
Why do suggest only STEM, Medicine, etc? Because the vast majority of degrees outside of those fields are pretty much useless. With many of them you will only find teaching jobs, and competition for those jobs are fierce.I cannot stress this enough. You will not find a job with Gender Studies, Liberal Arts, or Fashion Studies. Forget the saying "you just need a degree, it doesn't matter which. Employers just want to know you can finish." It is hopelessly out of date. Also ignore aspersions against joining a trade, perhaps a trade really is right for you. Again do your research. 
Another aside for aspiring authors, with the question "should I get an English degree?" I would go with Larry Correia's answer. It's not really necessary. Those with English degrees seem subject to the same unpredictable formula of hard-work, luck and marketing that everyone else is subject to. In my creative writing classes the teachers did very, very little, instead relying on workshops with fellow students. You could get the same experience from joining a local writing group. Some colleges have science fiction classes taught by actual SF writers. Mine had one years ago, and cut them all before I enrolled. And even then, from what I can you can probably get the information elsewhere. Most SF writers will go into how to write on their blogs. Much of what Larry Correia taught in his college course was just recycled from his blogs. If you want to be an author, I would suggest saving up to get a kindle, and then downloading as many books as you can from project Gutenberg. Read. A great deal.
So for the "Should I go to college", the easy answer is "no, you shouldn't it's a waste of time and money." And like all easy answers it's insufficient, inadequate, full of exceptions, and completely subjective. Again, Research. I learned a ton in college. Unfortunately the thing I learned the most is how to be a good college student. Being able to guess the right answer based on how the multiple choice question is written, and sussing out the professor's biases so you can handcraft an essay aren't skills you can put on a resume. 
Again these are just my opinions, and plenty of counter opinions can be found. I'm just an anonymous aspiring writer on the internet. Some successful writers say college is important, and other just as successful writers, if not more so, say it's not. Look at both when doing your research.
He's right. Decide what kind of lifestyle you want to lead. Find out which career will a) provide sufficient income or personal freedom to maintain it, b) have openings when you're ready to go pro, and c) still be there in 20 years. Not all such jobs require college degrees. In fact, many don't. Thanks to the internet, it's easy to find all of this information before making your choice. Get informed or spend the rest of your life mired in regret.

Note: your teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators are in on the scam. They will feed you misinformation aimed at pushing you toward the government trough. If your parents are Baby Boomers, they will also misinform and pressure you in the same direction; not out of malice but out of blissfully ignorant adherence to woefully obsolete rules that only worked from 1946-1988.

This warning doubly applies to aspiring authors. An English degree is not only worthless, it has negative value since nontraditional publishing is now the name of the game. We don't have to impress failed lit-fic authors (but I repeat myself) given sinecures as SFF editors at Big 5 houses anymore. And if someone advises you to get an MFA; run.

I won't sugarcoat it. Making a living in the arts is diabolically hard--also by design, but that's another post. Authors rely on support from their readers and colleagues. If you found this information helpful and you enjoy fun, genre-bending SFF, consider supporting my fan-pleasing work.

2016/12/28

Free the Debt Slaves

TaxProf Blog shares a proposal by Sheila C. Bair to help relieve the unrepayable, and often unserviceable, student loan debt incurred by American college graduates.
Student debt now stands at $1.3 trillion. More than half of student borrowers are unable to repay their loans according to the original terms. In a well-intended but poorly executed effort to make college broadly accessible, the government has lent freely to students, with little attention to whether they can repay those loans. The result is millions of young people with debt they cannot afford. ...
The "well-intended" part is debatable. And when you consider the larger result: millions of young adults who left college dumber than when they started, indoctrinated into left-wing ideology, and financially dependent upon their government creditors, the case could be made that the effort went exactly according to plan.

But casting blame is beside the point right now. At least Bair is suggesting solutions.
Mr. Trump should scrap debt financing of higher education and make the transition to true income share arrangements. Borrowers would fulfill their obligations to taxpayers by paying a fixed percentage of their income over an extended period of years. Think of this change as a shift in the government’s role from creditor to equity investor. When you lend to a business, it is obligated to pay you back with interest, but with a stock investment, your returns derive from the success of the company.
Similarly, with a student loan, there is a fixed obligation to repay the loan amount with interest, but with income share, there is only a contractual obligation for the student to return to taxpayers a certain percentage of his or her future income. Higher earners will pay back more than lower earners (up to a limit), though all will have an affordable payment and all will have protection against life events — a health crisis, caring for an elderly parent — that reduce their income.
Replacing the current, unwieldy programs with a single repayment plan based on income would provide immediate relief for millions of young people while guaranteeing a steady source of revenue to taxpayer coffers, particularly if payments were built into the tax withholding system. It would also provide economic stimulus, as lower payments on student debt would translate into higher consumer spending. ...
You can read the rest here.

Bair also has a proposal for college administrators.
An additional measure to ease the student debt load would be tax law changes to require colleges to spend at least 5 percent of their endowments, as is required of other nonprofits. That’s what we do at Washington College. The law should also require that schools use a certain amount of this endowment spending for scholarships. ...
A noble effort, but Bair's proposal suffers from the same discredited assumptions that gave us the education bubble in the first place. But since a viable alternative is what separates criticism from heckling, here's my counter-proposal:

  • Forgive all $1.3 trillion of outstanding student debt. If multibillion-dollar insurance car companies and banks get bailouts, so should students who've effectively been reduced to indentured servitude.
  • Shut down the Department of Education.
  • No more federal money to colleges and universities
  • Close any institutions of higher learning that can't meet their operating costs without federal funds.
These measures may sound harsh, but only if you buy into the same false premise that underlies Bair's plan, viz. that college is for everyone, and everyone can benefit from going to college. The glut of grads who can't read at the high school level, exercise critical thinking skills, or find jobs outside of Starbucks demolishes that canard.

@BrianNiemeier

2016/12/27

Self-publishing Costs: One-time Payment or Percentage of Royalties?

As an indie author I wear two hats: writer and publisher. These two job roles involve complementary but markedly different responsibilities and mindsets.

A writer's job is to produce the best writing possible so that readers will be pleased.

A publisher's job is to get the author's writing into readers' hands in the most profitable manner possible so the writer can keep writing and the readers can keep being pleased.

I've been hearing certain publishing questions repeated by readers and fellow authors recently, so now seems like a good time and place to address these queries.

Should indie authors pay fixed, one-time fees for professional services or give collaborators a share of my royalties?
The main costs associated with bringing a book to market are cover art, editing, formatting, distribution, and, if you're doing audiobooks (which aren't really books, but that's a subject for another time), fees for a narrator and studio time.

Here is a vital lesson that many indie authors--especially those who are used to the Big 5 publishers' obsolete business model--have trouble wrapping their heads around.

Never give anyone a percentage of the royalties for one-time work on a self-published project.

The only exception to this rule is a retail/distribution partner like Amazon. The reason it's a valid exception is because, when you upload your book to KDP, B&N, etc., you are entering into a partnership that grants you ongoing access to their sales channel. Percentages are for partners, which is why you should never give a percentage of indie book royalties to:
  • Artists and illustrators
  • Editors
  • Agents
  • Formatting services
  • Narrators
  • Recording studios
  • Publicists
  • Ad agencies
Now, you might object, "But splitting my royalties 50/50 with somebody on that list still leaves me with a way bigger piece of the pie than the pittance afforded to authors by the Big Five."

I answer: Yes, that's one of the many reasons why the Big 5 are evil. And dying. As for why giving up a slice of your royalties for one-time work is a bad idea, consider the following analogy.

You want to add an extra bathroom to your house. You don't have the time or expertise to do it yourself, so you hire a plumber to install the tub, toilet, and sink for you.

When the time comes to settle the bill, do you:
  1. Pay the plumber a fixed, one-time fee based on parts, labor, and hours worked?
  2. Give the plumber part ownership of your house?
It's not so hard to see why I say that percentages are only for partners now, is it? (H/t Dean Wesley Smith.)

Short vs. long time preference
Another objection: "But giving up a share of my royalties means I don't have to pay for [one-time service X] up front. This way I get my book out there, and even though I'm earning less than if I kept all the royalties myself, at least I'm earning something."

I answer: You're thinking like an author; not a publisher. Do not, to the best of your ability, make business decisions in author mode.

The key here is short vs. long-term time preference. Yes, if you give up a share of your royalties now, your book will be released sooner, and you'll start making money sooner. You'll also be making less--in the case of ACX's royalty sharing deals, only half as much--forever.

Digital is forever. Giving up royalties now will affect you, your children, their children, etc. The chief principle in this calculus is ownership. You wrote this book, so you own it. Part with ownership of your work at your own peril.

By the way, I practice what I preach. These books' royalties don't go to nobody but me and Amazon.



P.S. thanks to my awesome readers, those royalties will be sufficient to pay all of my February bills ;)

2016/12/26

Amazon Reviewer Praise for The Secret Kings

For SFF fans who want fun and who don't want message fic in their space opera, consider the beta reader and early buyer reviews of The Secret Kings, Book III in my award-winning Soul Cycle.


A continuation of this beauty and horror of a story.
Brian Niemeier has a great talent for heroic contrast. At times the tale is dizzying, leaving the reader as breathless as the characters in their desperate struggle.


My new favorite of the series!
All I can say is, you can definitely see that Brian is grown as an author; Nethereal has been unseated as my favorite in the series. Pacing is definitely not a problem for this book as I can't remember a single point where there wasn't something exciting going on or building up.

I won't ruin the surprises, but the stakes have gone up as well. There's a real feeling of transcendence in the plot, which makes the cost of failure seem even more grim.

If you're looking for something good to read over the holidays, you can have a digital copy of all three books for about as much as a book and a small coffee at your local book store.


Secret Kings picks up from Souldancer and turns it up past 11.
A small band of heroes must battle against religious zealots, alien gods, demonic werewolves, mutant chaos jellyfish, a giant undead dragon and other threats in space, on land, in alternate dimensions and in their very minds and souls. Like it's predecessors, ″Secret Kings″ is a blend of sci-fi action, fantasy adventure, and macabre horror, on an epic scale.

It's hard to give a work like this a full review without spoilers, but ″Secret Kings″ continues to surprise with new ideas, expanding a sci-fi/fantasy world unlike any I've ever seen before. This is the must-have sequel to ″Souldancer″.

Disclosure: I was a beta reader for this book.


Thanks to everyone who helped make the Secret Kings launch a smashing success. The magnanimous souls who left reviews deserve special recognition in this regard. In the first week after its launch, SK has racked up a solid 5 star rating with seven reviews, a series first for number and overall rating of reviews this soon after release.

TL ; DR: my readers are awesome!

If you have a taste for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror--particularly if you like all three flavors in the same dish--the Soul Cycle is for you. Those who are new to the series are encouraged to begin with the first and second volumes: Nethereal and Dragon Award-winner Souldancer, which are both currently on sale.



@BrianNiemeier

2016/12/23

Big Men with Screwdrivers

Interocitor Assembly
See big men sticking screw drivers into things - turning them - AND ADJUSTING THEM!
Today's topic comes courtesy of a comment left on a previous post by anonme:
I mean this with all sincerity, but one of these days you are going to have to make a detailed blog post detailing what you think "big men with big screwdrivers" is, because to this day, I still have no idea what you mean by that.
I know you have gone into it on twitter, but twitter being twitter, it's a nutshell explanation that still uses me confused. I get that it's about characters trying to solve all problems with science, but that sounds more like a critique of stuff like Tom Swift, but the context you usually use it in is to comment on modern science fiction, or Cambellian SF, so I'm not really sure what you refer to.
 Anonme demonstrates that he pretty much has the gist of it. But since he asked, and my readers are the boss, I'll explain in greater detail.

Big Men with Screwdrivers is a term that I paraphrased from Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie as shorthand for Campbellian hard SF stories, or later stories that emulate those tropes.

That definition will suffice for some of you, but for those stuck on this side of the Appendix N generation gap who don't know what Campbellian science fiction is, let me turn the proceedings over to the eminently more qualified SF grandmaster John C. Wright.

According to Wright, Campbellian Hard SF consists of:
  • Speculation about how near-future technological advances might affect man on a social and metaphysical level
  • Scientific optimism combined with classical Liberalism
  • A naive love of theory (Which William M. Briggs has wisely called the root of all evil.)
  • Malleable human nature
  • Protagonists who tend to solve problems with their wits more than with brawn
  • Main characters guided by an ethical code of vague origin that holds up man as an inherently moral being
In sum, the general theme of a Big Men with Screwdrivers story is "The stars are humanity's for the taking once inevitable advances in technology and psychology correct all our problems!"

Anonme is also correct to imply that I'm critical of Campbellian SF. The reason I'm not a fan of this subgenre is simple. When a story written in 1955 predicts that we'll have moon colonies and flying cars by 1997, it's a bit hard to suspend one's disbelief--especially when a Facebook news feed or a window is close to hand.

Frankly, I have a hard time reading Campbellian fiction. It comes off as unintentionally funny or tragic.

The Achilles' heel of spec fic predicated on assurances of utopia ushered in by the triumph of scientific optimism, classical Liberalism, and infinite human malleability is that all of those ideas have been given centuries-long global field trials, and they all failed.

Perhaps we'd have a Mars colony by now if we hadn't wasted $20 trillion trying to make everybody the same.

Science can't fix broken human nature. We're not building O'Neill cylinders anytime soon. At this point, our efforts are better spent trying to avoid the future envisioned by George Miller instead of chasing the one envisioned by Heinlein. At least for now.

That's why I write stories set in alternate universes or in the far future. Those places still have room to grow.

To some people, this will sound weird coming from a professional science fiction author--and a Campbell nominee, to boot. It shouldn't. SF, especially in the pulp era, has always had stories inspired by escapism, and the lines between genres used to be as blurry as a Sasquatch photograph.

Right there on the soft, blurry line is where my stories are most at home.

@BrianNiemeier

2016/12/22

Esquire: Star Wars Should Be Fun. Rogue One Isn't.

Scathing criticism of Disney's $150 million disappointment comes from an unlikely source: Esquire magazine.
Let's start by stating plain facts: Rogue One is not good. It may even be bad, though it's hard to argue a film with a final 40 minutes that entertaining could be outright bad. It's the first two acts that sink it: muddled, lacking in character, and somehow too fast moving while simultaneously a real slog.
I give Esquire credit for having the audacity to swim against the prevailing Hollywood current. Their rationale for such a grim assessment of Rogue One bears consideration.
It'd be easy to look at these issues and blame a troubled production and the storied Tony Gilroy reshoots. The truth is we don't really know how those reshoots affected the final product, though an attempt to rescue a "product" was clearly the goal. Normally I'd defend director Gareth Edwards' original vision sight unseen, if only to stand with the artist over the corporation, but in watching Rogue One I was left with the sense that the suits at Disney may have had it right to attempt a salvage operation.
The problems with Rogue One certainly exist at a script and filmmaking level, but they also go far deeper than that, right down to the core concept of the film. This was supposed to be Star Wars as a true war movie, getting down and dirty with the complexities of war, the death, the horror, and the moral compromises involved in killing for a supposedly noble cause.
Readers who've been following the Pulp Revival will already know why this approach failed.
Where the original Star Wars films were pulpy serials that took inspiration from more romanticized Hollywood depictions of battle, Rogue One promised to use its status as a stand-alone entry to come at war from the darker, more realistic perspective of films from the Vietnam era. Bringing some complicated moral weight to Star Wars is a great idea in theory, but so was communism, as Homer Simpson once astutely pointed out. We know how that worked out.
The original Star Wars was a rollicking tale of swashbuckling and heroism pulled straight from the pulps and the old Republic serials. Apocalypse Now was a dark, morally ambiguous portrayal of the Vietnam War. One of those films grossed $36 million in its opening weekend and spawned a decades-long franchise. The other made about 100 grand in the same time frame and remains largely in the domain of film buffs.

As the article's title says, Star Wars is about fun. The fun of science fiction and fantasy is mostly derived from escapism. Therefore adding gritty realism to Star Wars is not a great idea, even in theory. It is a dumb idea perpetrated by people who have no idea how to manage the franchise they bought so dearly.

Ignorance about the proper nature and execution of SF isn't just limited to film makers inhabiting the Hollywood culture bubble. Shedding light on this issue, Jeffro Johnson, among others, has written at length about the memory hole that SF's pulp era has been stuffed into. The soul of science fiction isn't Big Men with Screwdrivers. It's an ordinary man torn away from his workaday life and hurled far afield on a mission to rescue a space princess. Sound familiar?

Sadly, this strange genre amnesia has spread to the general population, as this recent Twitter exchange shows:
Twitter Fun 1
Now, my Twitter friend can be forgiven for not knowing that classical opera a) almost immediately became popular with the masses and b) was and remains a great deal of fun. The depth of ignorance about space opera on public display is just embarrassing.

NB: space opera got its name from soap and horse operas; not any similarity to grand opera. If you're going to argue space opera on Twitter, check first to make sure that your opponent didn't just release the third book in his award-winning space opera series.

But wait. It gets better.

Twitter Fun 2

Got that? According to our friend here, depth and fun are mutually exclusive.

Nice job, Hollywood. You've screwed up movies so bad for so long that some people don't even know what fun is anymore. Steps must be taken to recover the arts from the tin horn propagandists who are driving Western culture off a cliff.

I've gotten started on my own small contribution to making SFF fun again.



Stick around, because much bigger steps will be taken soon.

2016/12/21

Vox Day Book Aims for Martin; Hits Closer to Tolkien

Multiple Higo-nominated editor Vox Day intimates that he wrote his latest book with the aim of improving on George R. R. Martin. If early reviews are to be believed, A Sea of Skulls not only surpassed Martin's recent work, it landed somewhere closer to Tolkien territory.

Quoth Vox:
When I began writing Arts of Dark and Light, I believed that I could do better than Martin did in A Dance With Dragons, which I found extremely disappointing given the earlier books in the series. I was naively optimistic that the decline in quality I perceived in the fifth book of ASOIAF was more the result of a foolish decision on Martin's part to fill in the blanks rather than skipping ahead to when the dragons were grown, as I understand was his original plan.
NB: I've read every ASOIAF book to date and consider the last two entries major disappointments. But I couldn't put my finger on exactly why until Vox subjected the series to his incisive editorial analysis. And yes, dwelling on the minutiae of secondary world politics instead of cutting straight to the dragon-led invasion of Westeros smacks of a writer putting what he wants to say ahead of what the readers want to hear.
After all, even though A Storm of Swords was not quite as good as its two predecessors, the introduction of the Ironborn and their religion was a spectacular scene, and it was entirely possible that its deficiencies were more related to middle-book syndrome than any incapacity or lack of imagination on Martin's part. And the problem with A Feast for Crows was obviously mere fat fantasy bloat, a problem easily resolved by stripping things down. But A Dance With Dragons was simply bad, with false characterizations and even the dread river journey; the surefire sign of an author who lacks for better ideas. Even given the signs that the decline was structural in nature, it never once occurred to me that I could write anything equal to the rest of the series.
By all accounts, Vox did. The only story I've read in his epic fantasy setting so far is the Hugo-nominated novella Opera Vita Aeterna, but on the strength of that story I plan to pick up A Throne of Bones and its sequel, so I have no reservations against encouraging you to do the same. Plus, Vox promoted my new book and no good deed should go unrewarded.


The ASOIAF postmortem continues:
However, as I struggled with the challenges of deciding how to proceed with all the various options presented by the perspective characters, and prospective new perspective characters in the second book, I began to realize how thoroughly Martin had ruined A Song of Ice and Fire when he expanded it from the original concept of a trilogy. What I realized was that as the story expanded, and as the characters separated, even more discipline and focus was required, not less. In other words, fewer perspective characters, but deeper engagement with their personal story, and therefore letting significant elements of the larger story go without more than tangential attention or description.
Here we have an excellent example of why content editing is so vital to a book's success. GRRM has clearly become one of those name authors that publishing houses don't bother to edit anymore. As Vox points out, knowing what to leave out is just as vital as knowing what to put in.
Martin's error, as I see it, is that he tried to describe too much of the larger story while failing to understand which of his characters are necessary to the larger story. His books increasingly read as if Tolkien had decided to devote as much of The Return of the King to Elrond in Rivendell, and to introducing the travails of a new female character from Bree, as he does to Aragorn and Frodo. Martin's error is compounded by his apparent compulsion to keep trying to shock the reader; the impact of the Red Wedding was considerably less than that of Ned's execution despite the greater quantity of blood shed, because the sophisticated reader can't help but see it coming. Moreover, Martin increasingly relies upon cheating the reader, engaging in increasingly transparent sleight-of-hand, and sabotaging his characters in order to try to achieve the effect he is foolishly seeking.
Vox has Martin dead to rights on the accusation of cheating. One sacred rule of writing fiction is that an author should never break a promise--explicit or otherwise--to the reader. The obvious fact that Martin not only has a penchant for breaking this rule, but, I suspect, derives glee from it, is the main reason I stopped reading him.
There is still a long and arduous road ahead. It is possible that my writing has peaked, it is possible that Martin will somehow manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat and reverse his apparent decline. Only time will tell. But what I can say is that it is no longer my object to write an epic that will be seen as being worthy of comparison to Martin's, but rather, one to which his series compares unfavorably. That may sound arrogant or it may sound insane. Nevertheless, that is my objective.
Setting a goal that you judge to be reasonable based on an honest assessment of your abilities isn't arrogant. It's actually an exercise of humility--something that Vox's more libelous detractors should keep in mind. Having read three of his major works, I'm confident in saying that the dude's got talent. The only people I've seen who dismiss his writing as third-rate hack work either a) haven't read anything he's written and/or b) are nursing personal grudges against his politics.

Can Vox back up his aspirations? You be the judge. A Sea of Skulls, Arts of Dark and Light Book 2, is available now for Kindle.

On a personal note, it looks like I've managed to avoid middle-book syndrome, too.

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III

2016/12/20

#DumpStarWars Makes a Dent: Razörfist's Twitter Autopsy of Rogue One

The novel concept that not paying people to insult you might disincentivize them from slinging insults may finally have penetrated conservatives' and libertarians' thick skulls. As evidence, I present choice excerpts from the autopsy of Rogue One's opening weekend performed before a live Twitter audience by the ever-perspicacious Razörfist.

Razorfist Rogue One 1

Razorfist Rogue One 2

Razorfist Rogue One 3

 If you're scratching your head over why $155 million is considered a disappointment, remember: this is a canonical entry in a franchise that Disney paid billions for. Word is that their initial projections were for a $130 million opening, but based on the bean counters' reactions, that was probably a low ball figure that Disney had hoped to significantly beat. For a Star Wars film, exceeding the minimum by $25 million likely falls short of the earnings trajectory that Disney's plans were riding on.
Razorfist Rogue One 4

Razorfist Rogue One 5

Razorfist Rogue One 6

Props to Razör for gathering evidence of the moviegoer backlash I've been predicting for months.

Nostalgia for the original trilogy doesn't matter. Pressure from friends and family doesn't matter. The relative quality of the film doesn't even matter. Let's grant that Rogue One is a cinematic masterpiece. It's a masterpiece that's being used as a platform to attack and insult you. The Ghostbusters 2016 debacle and #DumpStarWars have shown that Hollywood pays attention when they don't get paid. Stop paying them, and the smugly superior insults will stop.

@BrianNiemeier

Console Wars

I reviewed Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation previously on this blog. Having grown up in the 80s and 90s, I found the book to be a fascinating look behind the scenes of a corporate rivalry that shaped my childhood.

Console Wars, Blake J. Harris

It was therefore a pleasure to have Console Wars author Blake J. Harris as a special guest on Geek Gab. Blake discussed how a lack of well researched material on gaming led him to take matters into his own hands, and he shared a few choice anecdotes from the book itself.

If you're a gamer, you owe it to yourself to have a listen.



Update on yesterday's book launch: not only did The Secret Kings reach an Amazon rank in the 7,000s; Nethereal and Souldancer both made it into the top 1% of books in the Kindle Store. My readers deserve full credit for both achievements.

I'd also like to thank John and Jagi Wright, Vox Day, Jeffro Johnson, JD Cowan, Russell Newquist, Rawle Nyanzi, Declan Finn, and all of the other authors who supported the launch. I couldn't ask for better colleagues.

Since I'm my own publisher and thus get to decide these things, the Secret Kings launch is still underway. Nethereal and Souldancer are also still on sale. Now is the perfect time to get caught up on this award-winning SFF series.


@BrianNiemeier

2016/12/19

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III: Now Available for Amazon Kindle

I'm pleased to announce the official release of the third thrilling volume in the award-winning Soul Cycle, The Secret Kings.

About The Secret Kings

Campbell Award finalist Brian Niemeier’s highly acclaimed Soul Cycle speeds toward its climax in the thrilling sequel to Dragon Award winner Souldancer, The Secret Kings.

The god of the Void is free. Aided by a Night Gen fleet, Shaiel’s fanatical Lawbringers spread his Will throughout the Middle Stratum and beyond.

Teg Cross, whose mercenary career took him to hell and back, finds the old world replaced by a new order on the brink of total war. A fateful meeting with a friend from his past sets him on a crusade to defy Shaiel’s rule.

Meanwhile, Nakvin strives to muster a last-ditch resistance in Avalon. But can worldly kings and queens stand against divine wrath?

The Secret Kings cover - clean

Thanks to my international team of publishing experts, including my lovely and talented editor L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, my astounding cover artist Marcelo Orsi Blanco, and consummate professional formatters Jason and Marina Anderson from Polgarus Studio. This book wouldn't exist in its current wonderful form without you.

Special thanks to all of my outstanding beta readers for helping me to polish the manuscript and get the book out the door by Christmas. We made it!

On the subject of early readers, initial reviews have been unanimously positive. Just because they're beta readers, that doesn't mean they're sycophants. These guys have been some of my most rigorous and astute critics going back to Nethereal, so I'm inclined to trust their judgment.

To be completely honest with you, I wasn't expecting quite this kind of response to The Secret Kings. I knew that the book was good, but I'd expected a reception on par with Souldancer, which is still my personal favorite entry in the series. SK is actually shaping up to be the fan favorite, which is fine by me. I work to please my readers, and if you guys are finding yourselves increasingly entertained by each new book I write, it means I'm succeeding at my job.

The Secret Kings - Front and Back Covers

On further reflection, it's not surprising that this book resonates so well with audiences. There's a nigh-universal hunger for good space opera, and The Secret Kings definitely fits that genre--even more so than Nethereal did. Compared to both of its predecessors, SK features more space battles, more fight scenes, and more overall action, all tightly wrapped into a little over 400 print pages.

The most common reader observation about The Secret Kings is that the previous two books in the Soul Cycle make more sense in light of the revelations it contains. That's probably because SK ties together plot threads and character arcs from Nethereal and Souldancer in satisfying ways. In terms of things making more sense, it's not that I didn't give readers all the pieces in the prior two books; it's that I've now provided categories that help frame the puzzle. As a result, the answers can be seen more clearly.

I've also provided sword fights, space werewolves, another kind of space werewolves, disintegration rays, space jellyfish, multiple flavors of teleportation, true friendship. long-awaited revenge, and even a touch of heartbreak. Because a little bitterness gives contrast and context to sweetness.

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is available now from Amazon for Kindle. The trade paperback is currently undergoing review at Createspace and will be available any time now. I'll update you as soon as the print version goes live.

In the meantime, please enjoy The Secret Kings with my heartfelt thanks.

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III - Brian Niemeier

For those who haven't read the first two books in the Soul Cycle yet, I haven't forgotten about you. Nethereal and Dragon Award winner Souldancer are both on sale now for $3.99 each.


Get all three exciting novels today and get ready for the fourth and final Soul Cycle book, which you'll find a preview of in The Secret Kings.

UPDATE: The print version of The Secret Kings is now available as a trade paperback from Createspace.

2016/12/18

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

Larry Correia - Son of the Black Sword

Before we get started, I need to disclose a few things.

I can't claim to be a detached, disinterested critic going into this review. Larry Correia has been on the podcast that I co-host. He generously Book-Bombed! my first novel, Nethereal. A few months ago I got to hang out with Larry at the Salt Lake City Comic Con, where I gave him a signed copy of my second novel Souldancer (which, like Son of the Black Sword, is a Dragon Award winner).

Larry Correia is more than an author whose books I enjoy and whom I respect as a professional. Considering everything he's done for me, I consider Larry a personal friend. So keep in mind that this won't be an unbiased review, though it will be honest and informed by my experience as a reader and an author.

Let's begin.

Son of the Black Sword
A while back, I reviewed the first book of Larry's Grimnoire Chronicles, Hard Magic. In that review, I mentioned that I've also read Monster Hunter International, the first entry in the same author's flagship series. Before reading Monster Hunter or Grimnoire book 2, I decided to continue the trend and read Son of the Black Sword, Saga of the Forgotten Warrior Book I.

Son of the Black Sword has been called Larry's first work of fantasy. That claim is only superficially accurate, however, since the other two books of his that I've read contain fantastical elements. I also have suspicions about the origins of the magic in this latest series, but saying any more would risk spoilers.

SotBS does feature the most classic fantasy setting of any Larry Correia book so far. But in keeping with the author's penchant for the delightfully unorthodox, the land of Lok draws much more heavily from far Eastern tropes and imagery than the largely shopworn trappings of standard Western fantasy. In this world, a grim order of Protectors enforce the all-encompassing Law that has replaced religion and segregates the populace into rigid castes.

The central figure in this tale is Ashok Vadal, a senior Protector and the Bearer of Angruvadal--an ancient sword made of magical black steel that stores the collected knowledge and battle experience of its past wielders. Holding either office makes a man a force to be reckoned with. Being both a Protector and an ancestor blade Bearer at the same time makes Ashok the most dangerous man alive.

Let me pause here to address those who've stereotyped Larry as a crude writer of explosion porn, and who assume that Ashok Vadal is a humorless, invincible death machine that considers killing his go-to solution for every problem.

Your assumptions about Ashok are 100% correct.

But your assumptions about Larry are marvelously wrong.

Sure, Ashok has the personality of a wood chipper, but Larry makes him sympathetic anyway. Ashok can kill any man in the world with a soup spoon, but Larry never lets the dramatic tension drop. This is certainly no Gary Stu without flaws. Ashok's not even a munchkin-style character with "flaws" that either fail to be effective hindrances or are actually blessings in disguise. He is a profoundly broken character who is equally subjugated and empowered by the Law he serves.

Ashok may as well be a granite statue with "Magical Cop" chiseled into the base. And yet, Larry Correia makes you genuinely care about his problems through top shelf world building and the masterful characterization of everyone from the stalwart yet jealous brother in arms who was denied his own ancestor blade by a cruel turn of fate to the dedicated yet evil assassin who stalks the crowded streets of a bustling capitol. Anyone who accuses Son of the Black Sword of being hack work probably thinks that rednecks prefer drinking gin.

Going much deeper into the book's plot poses major spoiler risks, so I'll restrict myself to saying that several of the twists near the end genuinely and pleasantly surprised me, and that the author took fascinating risks with multiple characters that never came off as out of character. This book definitely left me wanting more.

Son of the Black Sword is impeccably written, unquestionably fun, and undoubtedly the best of Larry's books that I've had the pleasure of reading. SotBS is Larry's masterpiece. It deserved its Dragon Award win, and it puts paid to the ridiculous claims that Larry isn't a real writer. In addition to his superlative handling of his characters, he tackles complex themes like armed citizens as a check against tyranny and quandaries arising from conflicts between positive and natural law. Don't worry. You won't find any civics lectures or suspension of disbelief-destroying scoldings here. Despite his reputation as a bruiser, Larry has a light touch.

He also has a character named Thera--a coincidence that Soul Cycle fans will find amusing :)

In terms of negatives, I'm struggling to come up with something to demonstrate that I'm not just sucking up. Okay. There's a deus ex machina near the middle that probably could've used more setting up. The resolution of one supporting character's subplot felt a little anticlimactic. That's it, really. The only thing that outright bugged me about Son of the Black Sword wasn't Larry's fault at all, and that's the front cover. Offense is taken at the substitution of Larry Elmore's gorgeous cover with yet another dust jacket that's afraid to admit it contains a work of genre fiction.

Son of the Black Sword - Larry Elmore
For me, this will always be SotBS's cover.
But the book's good points shine so brilliantly it's not even fair. The magic system is brilliantly simple. The secondary world setting and social structure are wholly convincing. And I didn't mention this before, because Larry, but Son of the Black Sword has some of the best action scenes I've ever read.

I haven't even begun to do this book justice. Go ahead and buy it. You know you want to.


And as long as you're springing for Son of the Black Sword, you might as well pick up its fellow Dragon Award-winner Souldancer. Both books start with "s" and have characters named Thera, but Larry's book has nigh-unkillable shark-skinned demons, whereas mine has a girl made of animate, searing-hot brass.

On a related note, Souldancer's sequel The Secret Kings officially launches tomorrow. Early reader buzz has it that the series has come into its own with SK. Check back here on Monday for details.

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III

UPDATE: The Secret Kings is now available on Amazon for Kindle and in trade paperback from CreateSpace.

@BrianNiemeier

2016/12/14

MAGA Mindset by Mike Cernovich

MAGA Mindset: Making You and America Great Again is the latest book by best selling author Mike Cernovich and his first title to be published by Castalia House. Unlike the glut of other books by political commentators attempting to Monday morning quarterback the election, MAGA Mindset differentiates itself by shifting focus from dull presidential politics to an examination of Donald Trump's winning mindset and practical advice for applying that mindset to your life.

Mike is uniquely qualified to write an analysis of Trump's victory. He is one of a handful of people who predicted Trump's rise, and he called it back in July of 2015.
I knew Trump would do well because I read his books and had only watched a couple of episodes of The Apprentice over 10 years ago. I didn't have the same biases on Trump that others had. I read his books and saw a man who had a strong mindset, a track record of succeeding, and who would make strong and sometimes offensive comments as a way to get media attention.
Cernovich added:
Culturally, people were tired of politically correct culture. We live in an age of micro aggressions where people are deemed racist or sexist of phobic for making one wrong tweet. There will always be a counter-culture, and Trump, with his take no prisoners style of commentary, is that counter-culture.
Donald Trump Counterculture

Success as an author depends on adding value to readers' lives, be it information or entertainment. You may remember that I reviewed Mike's previous best selling mindset book, Gorilla Mindset. How does MAGA Mindset bring additional value to the table above and beyond its similarly themed predecessor?

  1. MAGA Mindset provides a highly visible, real-life case study in the successful use of mindset techniques in the form of none other than presidential election winner Donald Trump.
  2. Author Mike Cernovich succeeded where scores of professional pundits and pollsters failed. Whether you agree with him or not, his model correctly predicted events, so it deserves a fair hearing at the very least.
Even more impressively, Mike put his money where his mouth is and released MAGA Mindset before the election! Again, say what you will about him, Mike can't credibly be accused of cynically peddling advice he doesn't believe in. He lives his own philosophy and went so far as to stake his career on it.

Of course, the strength of an author's conviction alone isn't sufficient reason to take the advice in his book. How does MAGA Mindset's content measure up?

Predicting Trump's Rise

Mike Cernovich correctly called Donald Trump's candidacy, nomination, and presidency against the tide of prevailing expert opinion. He credits his accurate prediction to his observation of several cultural factors.

The weakness of the establishment GOP: For decades, the Left marched from victory to victory with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the republican party did nothing to protect college students from Title IX kangaroo courts, children from pedophiles and infanticide, or girls from having to share their bathrooms with mentally disturbed men. The GOP had willingly become a token opposition, allowing the democrats to get away with murder. Mike saw that normal Americans were fed up with feckless leaders conservative politicians who held them in contempt.

Political correctness: Purveyors of political correctness have dispensed with any pretense of civility and have become full-fledged thought police. The PC gestapo can no longer claim that they're enforcing "basic manners" when anything and everything that straight, white, Christian men do is now a "microaggression". As Mike points out, SJWs even claim that the American Dream is oppressive. Republicans habitually caved to the PC police's demands. Trump gleefully defies them.

Globalism vs. nationalism: Perhaps the most important predictor of Trump's rise, and one that Mike caught onto early, was the ideological shift in American politics from a liberal-conservative paradigm to a globalist vs. nationalist battle. Many of Trump's opponents--especially those on the Right--complained that he's not a true conservative. They were right. Trump isn't a conservative at all. He's a nationalist who puts the needs of his countrymen first. As Mike points out, working-class Americans have been waiting for someone to champion their interests when conservatives wouldn't.

The war on men: Related to the backlash against political correctness, American men have slowly come to realize that Leftist-driven culture doesn't have their best interests at heart. In fact, liberal and conservative elites alike frequently fall over themselves to show how much they hate men. From Title IX to tyrannically biased family courts; from a school system that treats boys as defective girls to the outsourcing of jobs that give men a sense of worth, men are under siege from both sides of the aisle. Mike predicted that they would turn to an outsider in this time of crisis.

Mindset

Mike Cernovich foresaw that millions of dispossessed Americans were looking for a champion to relieve their Leftist-imposed misery. Why did they find their champion in Donald Trump? Mike gives the credit to the winning mindset that Trump learned in childhood, honed in the cutthroat Manhattan real estate business, and perfected to pave his way to the presidency of the United States.

A few key factors in Trump's MAGA mindset are:
  • The most masculine man (or feminine woman) wins.
  • Be less apologetic. Most people lack self-respect.
  • Start fights. Conflict is a chance to win.
  • If you're going to think, you might as well think big.
  • Don't underestimate the power of affirmations. Write down your goals. Review them daily.
  • Visualize success. Imagine your perfect day. Use all of your senses.
  • Fail faster. Failure is nothing to fear. It's a chance to learn.
Of course, the book contains much more advice, in far greater depth. If you want to learn how to make yourself great again, visit Amazon.com and pick up MAGA Mindset by Mike Cernovich.


If you think MAGA Mindset is for you and you'd like some totally impractical and fun science fiction as a chaser to your mindset book, consider checking out my award-winning Soul Cycle series. Book III is coming out next week, so now's a great time to get the first two installments.

2016/12/12

Geek Gab Second Anniversary Celebration!

Where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that Daddy Warpig and Dorrinal invited me on Geek Gab as guest. Little did I know that their invitation would lead to a permanent hosting gig that would span two years and beyond.

Thanks to my redoubtable co-hosts and the loyal fans who've taken the time to listen in!

Join us for our anniversary celebration, where we talk about our favorite celebrity guests, Tim Burton, Ghostbusters 2016, and whatever else we feel like!


In book news, The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is complete on my end. The finished manuscript has been submitted for final formatting, which should be done by the end of this week. Long story short: the third installment in my award-winning SFF/horror series will be released within the next two weeks, with time to spare before Christmas.

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III

Thanks to my international team of publishing experts, including L. Jagi Lamplighter, Marcelo Orsi Blanco, and Jason and Marina Anderson for their timely and excellent work. Thanks to my valued beta readers for helping to make SK the best book it can be, and to everyone who voted in the cover A-B test. Pre-release consensus is that the Soul Cycle has come into its own with this book, and I can't wait to share this thrilling tale with my beloved readers.

Keep an eye on my social media channels for release details. Honestly, this launch will be hard to miss ;)

In the meantime, you'll definitely want to get the first two Soul Cycle books, for yourself or for an SFF lover on your Christmas list who hasn't yet been introduced to this fan favorite series.

Twitter @BrianNiemeier

The Sad Puppies Saga Explained

The most common reaction when people find out I was nominated for a Hugo Award is for them to ask "What's a Hugo Award?" So I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people who are vaguely aware of propaganda claiming that right-wing bigots tried to deny women and minorities the most prestigious award in SFF outnumber the people who know what the award in question is.

Thanks to establishment mouthpieces like Entertainment Weekly, Wired, and The Guardian, even fewer people know the easily demonstrable truth--that Sad Puppies was a corrective measure aimed at balancing the dreary political message fiction that had come to dominate the awards ballot by nominating popular works that people actually like to read.

Into the confusion swirling about the Hugos step the Qu Qu and @Azu_Rayn: two intrepid investigators who sifted through a mountain of information to produce the best video I have yet seen on the Sad and Rabid Puppies campaigns. My compliments to these gentlemen for doing the hard research so you don't have to.

Everything you wanted to know about the Hugo controversy but were afraid to ask is here:


Here's the Harlan Ellison segment that was referenced in the video above:


My comment: far be it from me to differ with Uncle Harlan, but the intervening years have shown that the internet itself has devalued the Hugos less than the self-interested machinations of Tor Books science fiction manager Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

@BrianNiemeier

2016/12/06

Adult Swim De-platforms Comedian Sam Hyde

Sam Hyde

Adult Swim has caved to internal pressure and announced the cancellation of Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace, a counter-cultural sketch comedy show helmed by notorious prankster and comedian Sam Hyde.
Three weeks after Brett Gelman announced that he was severing ties with Adult Swim due to their treatment of women and their promotion of the “alt-right” comedians and fans behind their new show Million Dollar Extreme, the network has finally responded in the form of a cancellation, confirming with us that the show — which aired its six-episode debut season over the summer — will not return for another season.
Courtesy of The Ralph Retort:
The show itself wasn’t even alt-right, if you ask me. Sam Hyde, the creator and star of MDE Presents, has said some alt-rightish things online, but so what? Do you know how much crazy, anti-American shit is said by some leftist TV actors? They don’t lose their gigs. And from everything I’ve seen, the show was a pretty big ratings success.
The cancellation is nothing more than retaliation against an artist because of his political leanings. BuzzFeed led the charge on this and they should be ashamed. Of course, they aren’t, and have since moved on to shaming people over what their pastor may or may not have said in church. That’s the kind of thuggish operation they run.
I've watched Hyde's show. And while it's not my cup of tea, Ralph is correct in his assessment that the subject matter was relatively tame. Its cancellation results solely from Hyde failing to genuflect before prevailing entertainment industry pieties,

Read the whole story here.

And Ralph has more.
UPDATE: Hyde had planned a free comedy show for tomorrow night in Boston. That’s now off after protests were lodged with the owner of the place where he was set to preform.
Sam Hyde Tweet

Here's Sam's response via Twitter:
Best way to get show back is to put pressure on Turner. I'll make an announcement vid soon, prob tmrw
While I'm certainly hoping for justice for Sam, this incident perfectly illustrates why we need to build new institutions to replace the corrupt legacy media.

Bonus content: for those who are unfamiliar with Sam Hyde's performance art, this video showcases his talent and sets the gold standard for how to deal with the dishonest press.



@BrianNiemeier