Monday, December 29, 2014

A silly game with just maybe an implication or two ...

I really do hate the idea of "high concept" and "elevator pitch" and all the other ways of saying "your book idea should be so reduced that no one needs to read the book, because we want people to buy books, not read them."

So as it happened I discovered that Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post, on her Twitter timeline (@petridishes) has invented a game that satirizes all that beautifully, under the self-explanatory hashtag #BooksInFourWords.

I was also appalled to find out how fast I could come up with them, and then it occurred to me that since they're sort of semicryptic, they might make a good guessing game.  So see how many of these you recognize from the four-word version (these are just the ones I thought of right away):
  1. Working class porking class
  2. Bad ring, long walk
  3.  Farmboy pirate snags princess
  4.  Gloria should return coat.
  5. No rabbits for Lenny 
  6. Jim gets boats wrong 
  7. Nobody groks Martian sex 
  8. One leg, one whale
  9. Nouveau riche? No Daisy.
  10. Picking fruit sucks too

    Highlight the answers below for any you didn't get. Mostly these are books I just thought of right away, not any special qualities for them other than familiarity.

    1. Lady Chatterley's Lover
    2. The Lord of the Rings
    3. The Princess Bride
    4. Heart of Darkness
    5. BUtterfield-8
    6. Of Mice and Men
    7. Lord Jim
    8. Stranger in a Strangel Land
    9. Moby-Dick
    10. The Great Gatsby
    11. The Grapes of Wrath

    Anyway, what this little game reallydemonstrates, as if anyone needed a demonstration, is that in four words, you are pretty much guaranteed to lose all the actual  meaning and everything worthwhile in the book. 

    Just like you do in a marketing slogan, or a "concept", or an elevator pitch.

    And that, my friends, is why books should not be sold like movies. In fact, if movies were not sold like movies, it might be worth going to the movies again. 

    And I hasten to add I do go to movies. Mostly to movies that aren't sold very aggressively, or where I don't know what's in the movie after I hear the pitch or see the trailer. But still, movies, books, plays ... if you can tell me what it's about and what happens in four words, or thirty seconds, or the time it takes to catch an elevator to another floor ... and tell me accurately and not obviously miss most of it .... what's the point in reading/writing/making/seeing it?

    If you felt like drifting on over to Twitter and tweeting more #BooksInFourWords, that might be fun, or not. After all, the whole point is to lose the point, somehow, in just four words.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

In Which I Shamelessly Copy and Extend Upon a Really Good Idea

The good folk at Open Road Media , of whom I've often spoken because they are rescuing literally hundreds of thousands of books from the backlists of thousands of writers*, have come up with another clever promotion: dropping the price on the first book in various series. In this case they're dropping the price on Patton's Spaceship, the first book in my old Timeline Wars series, of which I've said a few things recently.

So for those who like series and prefer to start them off cheaply, especially those who want Books To Put Hair On Your Chest, till January 8, 2015, Open Road is making getting into the Timeline Wars cheap. The buy button on their page for it has links to most of the major online ebook sellers.

The more I looked at that idea, the better I liked it. It occurred to me that I have launched six series in my much-checkered career, plus something I shall merrily call an un-series, and discounts for exploring them seem like a fine idea, especially at holiday time when so many people buy signed backlist books as gifts.** Quite by accident, I'm already doing that to some extent because I found a batch of excellent-condition Orbital Resonances, which allows me to do a signed-hardcover-firsts sale for the Century Next Door series (the one that Amazon keeps renaming Meme Wars) which you can find details about in my backlist catalog (scroll down to the Temporary offers).

But there are other ways to get into series than the most expensive/collectible, and other series to be gotten into, so here's a quick list of deals I'm able to offer (I'd do one or two for every series but, alas, so many of you nice people buy books from me that most series of my books are now missing a book or two).

Type of books
Special price till Jan 8 (for excellent condition)
Century Next Door (Orbital Resonance, Kaleidoscope Century, Candle, The Sky So Big and Black)
Signed 1st edition hardcovers
$64.25 ($10 off single copy prices)
Giraut Leones
(A Million Open Doors, Earth Made of Glass, The Merchants of Souls,  The Armies of Memory)
ARCs (advanced reading copies -- the things the publisher sends out before publication to reviewers.) I only have enough to do one set. Now you too can experience the cardstock covers and uncorrected typos and have the very-first-reader experience by pretending the books have not been out for years! Slightly more seriously, these would be highly collectible, especially since there's only one set, and it's probably a collector who will grab this up.
$45.00 ($34.00 off the single copy total price)
Jak Jinnaka, the origin trilogy (The Duke of Uranium, A Princess of the Aerie, In the Hall of the Martian King)
Mass market paperback first editions,  signed, dated, and personalized at no extra charge.
$20.00 ($5.50 off total single copy price)

Daybreak origin Trilogy (Directive 51, Daybreak Zero, The Last President)
Plain old mass market paperbacks to just read (but signed, dated, and personalized at no extra charge).
$17.50 ($5.00 off total single copy price)

If you are interested, drop me a note and we'll figure out shipping, personalization, and all those other details.


*most importantly including mine! Though upon looking at that page I do notice that my habit of using my actor headshots for author photos can have its drawbacks: I must've been auditioning for Lenny in Of Mice and Men that day.

**You didn't know people did that? Oh, my. Better do a lot of it so people won't realize you didn't know! You don't want to be the last one on the block!

Friday, December 5, 2014

In which other things lurch out of the past

TL;DR for this one: Forty-eight almost-like new (not yet certain about condition of all of them) hardcover first editions of Orbital Resonance (first pubbed in December 1991) have just emerged from storage, to my deep surprise. So I can offer a few dozen fans a chance at a really good condition signed first edition of one of my most popular novels. Go to catalog page (on right) for details.


This year I'm resuming the backlist signed editions business in earnest, which is why I've posted a catalog as a page off to the side of this blog (see listed pages at right, or I think below if you're reading this on mobile).

In December 2012 I was walled in finishing The Last President and in December 2013 I had a truly massive load of teaching, exam-giving, and grading to do, so for the two most recent Christmases,  I just couldn't handle the order taking, signing, packing, and shipping.  Therefore I let the business dwindle to only longtime customers (and people wise enough to subscribe to the newsletter ).

Newsletter, did I hear you say? Well, there was just a new edition of that, and if you didn't get it it's because you are not on the subscription list.  If you just tell me that you want to subscribe (use the email link at right, the same one people use to complain about my not maintaining a comments section) and I shall dispatch the newsletter to you forthwith.  Each newsletter contains some sales stuff and special offers, whatever publishing news about me there may be,  and an essay never to be published anywhere else.  (I think of it as successively flogging the product, the career, and my favorite dead horses).

The newsletter is free, very easy to unsubscribe from,  and will arrive whenever a combination of news and time permits, which is to say that the schedule is irregular beyond belief.  But if you think getting email from me now and then would be interesting, as opposed to "disturbing unfortunate electrons for no good reason," drop me a note, I'll send you the latest one, and you'll get the others whenever they come out from then on.

Now, back to the archeological find .... it came from the mists of time and an obscure warehouse near the Port of Los Angeles .... the first book of mine that ever got much attention beyond a few warm reviews and just enough sales to convince the publishers that my mother couldn't be all of them was Orbital Resonance, which is still the favorite Barnes sf novel of a largish fraction of Barnes fans. (Note: that's a largish fraction of a smallish absolute number). 

My agent at the time, Ashley Grayson, put a lot of effort into the book. He thought it was remaindered too early (because Tor somewhat hurried it into paperback even though it was a Nebula finalist -- in those long ago days, publishers were supposed to wait because if it won, there'd be a few months of elevated hardcover sales. Sigh. Those were the days, my friends...) So he bought up some copies in the pre-remainder sales, in hopes that a first edition might be worth some extra money some day.

Well, that's not quite how it turned out; it didn't win. But it did hold a special place in some people's hearts (in various guises as the last time Barnes wasn't a complete pervert, that Barnes book where the most violent act is a punch in the nose, the book Barnes did for people who like teenage girls with funny names, etc.) and Ashley was able to unload large numbers of first edition hardcovers.

More recently, as he's been clearing out his own storage, he's been sending me agent copies of my books, and in this case he hit a sort of jackpot: not only 48 copies of Orbital Resonance, but they were still all packed on 4 minipallets (that's a sheet of heavy cardboard with a pile of 12 books on it shrinkwrapped, and it preserves books beautifully), still in original boxes.

There are not going to be any more first editions in as good condition as these; a really good condition first edition of a 23-year-old book does not come along often. 

THEREFORE ... if you have any interest, now is the time to hasten over to the catalogue page (again, just off to your right) and drop me a note ordering one. When they're gone, they're gone (and I never expected them to exist in the first place). 

For those of you who would like to have the whole Century Next Door set -- Orbital Resonance, Kaleidoscope Century, Candle, and The Sky So Big and Black -- in first edition hardcover: Buy one Orbital Resonance 1st edn HC signed at full price, and I'll take off $3.00 from the price of any 1st edn HC of the other three in the same order.  Buy a complete set and I'll take off a total of $10.00 from the other three.

There were quite a few people who liked the Century Next Door books in their heyday; I'm going to try to come up with a blog entry about them someday soon (as in, sometime in the next very few days).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Another one from the vaults: what men's a/a was and how I happened to write some

Note: this used to appear as a short article in an online store I had, to explain my six men's a/a titles. (Men's action/adventure, as you will discover by reading on.) I closed that store -- I now do sales direct, details of which you can find in the catalog listed among the links to your right.  But this text was kind of useful for explaining those books, and besides, in a recent edition of the newsletter I'm referring to a page that used to link to this description, so .... here you are. For those of you who have bought books from me online, it may all be a rerun; for those who didn't, and have always wondered where all the manly books went, well, here's where.

What Men's A/A was

Sometimes genres vanish all but totally, leaving behind a few books, series, or authors; at various times Westerns, some kinds of horror, and some kinds of detective novels have done that for periods of decades.  Sometimes they vanish so completely that it's hard to imagine their ever reviving:  Gothic romances, nurse novels, or men's action/adventure. 

Somewhere in Daybreak Zero, by the way, I embedded the passing prediction that the chick-fic of today would be one such vanishing or generational genre, and that by the 2020s would be conventionalized the way English manor house murder mysteries ("Lord Blithering-Twit is dead on the priceless Tea-Carpet, a bloody mashie-niblick in hand!") or 1940s LA-noir hardboileds ("she was trouble in the shape of a dame, but I needed an income in the shape of cash, so I put the .45 in my pocket and the Packard in gear") are.

Anyway,  men's action/adventure flourished from the 1950s through the early 80s, and has disappeared except for a vestige in the Mack Bolan books and maybe the Deathlands series (heavily interbred there with postapocalyptic).  One of the main publishers for many years was the Gold Eagle division of Harlequin, and I did two men's a/a series launches for them during the years when they still thought they might be able to revive the genre.

Fundamentally, a men's a/a novel involves a hero who beats the absolute living snot out of a bunch of bad guys, preferably lots of them, until they are all gone,  which makes the world better till the next book.  It was widely believed in the industry that the readers were mostly blue-collar men in their thirties and forties, in some job that bored them and gave them time to read; the guy behind the counter at the auto-parts store or the plumbing dispatcher.  

Based on my fan mail, which is of course not representative at all, the readership was mostly high school boys who really wanted to leave home and join the Army, servicemen stuck on remote bases, and urban guys with dull jobs who took the bus to work.  Interestingly, too, the editors generally made a point of telling me that these guys just wanted stuff to blow up, daring escapes, and some not-very-repressed sadism, but the mail I got from readers of Dan Samson (which was marketed as men's a/a) actually talked very little about the violence, but quite a lot about the character of Samson, his moral dilemmas, and various points of history (more about facts than theory).  It is my guess that the thing that may have killed the genre was the dumbing down brought on by editorial contempt for the audience.

The basic plot of  a men's a/a is that one way or another the hero, who is highly competent with weapons and has unshakeable self-confidence, is quickly thrown into a situation where the bad guys are trying to kill him and he's mostly on his own.  He then fights his way through escalating battles till he confronts and beats the main bad guy for the book.  On the way through he acquires friends, sidekicks, and lovers, most of whom pass out of his life at the end, either because he does the equivalent of riding off into the sunset or  because in some earlier chapter they were  messily slaughtered to motivate him. 

All that was required was that super-simple ping-pong plot (bad pings, good pongs, bad pings harder, eventually on a desperation falling-over shot good pongs so hard it wins the game), which a lot of people could write, and quite a few writers learned craft turning out men's a/a, because if you wanted to put anything else in there, they didn't care as long as it still went ping-pong-ping-pong-ping-pong-PING-PONG and so on.  You could pretty much put in anything else you liked – anti-imperialist politics, New Age reincarnationism,  historical curiosities (as I did with Dan Samson); keen-o sci fi gadgets, a Marxist vision that capitalism is a temporary historical aberration, literary history, PTSD issues (as I did with Mark Strang).  And in fairness, nobody really said not to do that; it was just that the stock advice from every corner was "just have enough stuff blow up and be sure your guy is manly.")

Anyway, such were the glories of men's a/a, where I had a great deal of fun and made some survival money.  As it turned out, the first series launch (Dan Samson) was dead before publishing; they just ran out the copies to make some of the money spent on it back, because new management had already decided they didn't like the idea of launching new cross-genre men's a/a; and the second one (Mark Strang) not only suffered a similar fate, but went it one worse:  they decided not to print them and just write the money off.  Those books ended up at another publisher, and not published as men's a/a, mildly baffling some of the science fiction fans who picked them up.

A few astute readers with good memories will say "Isn't there a character named Dan Samson in the Daybreak books?"

Uh, well, yeah, there is. He even fits the physical description of the Dan Samson in the Timeraiders. 

And very conveniently, he could have been born right at the moment that that Dan Samson was killed in book 1 (it's a rule in the Timeraider universe: you are reincarnated at the moment of your death).  And since the new Dan Samson might very well be carrying out the cosmic mission of the old one, in a new life that leads into Daybreak .... when I realized what I'd done in the first draft, I laughed, shrugged, and left his name the same in the rest of the drafts. If any crazed fan ever starts to evolve a theory of how the whole Barnesiverse ties together, at least they'll have something to work with.

Would I ever write men's a/a  again?  I really don't know; probably if the money was good, and even more likely if I thought the marketing was being researched and handled well.  I really liked the Dan Samson audience and wouldn't mind working for them again.