January 3, 2003
Change of Plans
So, there's been a slight change of
plans. As you may remember (surely 2002 isn't too hazy yet), I
serialized my most recent science fiction novel, Old Man's War,
here in December, and this month I was going to put it up as shareware,
a la Agent to the Stars.
Well, I won't be doing that. The reason for this is that, well, I kind
of sold it. Instead of being available as shareware, Old Man's
War will be available either later this year or early next year in a
hardcover edition from Tor Books,
publishers of (among others) Orson Scott Card, Robert Jordan, Steven
Brust and Teddy Roosevelt. Yes, really, Teddy Roosevelt. It's a reissue,
I think, not one of those L. Ron Hubbard-eqsue "dictating from
beyond the grave" situations.
Am I happy? What a silly question. I'm just
glad this is a text medium, so you can't see the footprints on my desk
from where I was dancing on it (yes, I could make a little videocam
movie. But, no). And it's actually a two book deal, so I get to write at
least one more novel and have someone pay me for it. As they say, it
beats a sharp poke in the eye. Or in the groin. Or just about anywhere
else, for that matter. Sharp poking: Bad. Two book deal: Good.
I'm also pleased to say that the book deal
comes as a direct result of having the book up here on the Web site; the
editor who made the offer (Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who in addition to
being the Senior Editor of Tor is the author of the Electrolite
blog) did so after reading chapters on the site and then downloading
the complete book (and by doing so, Mr. Nielsen Hayden's ranking on my
list of People Who Can Ask For a Kidney and Not Be Dismissed Out of Hand
has shot up rather dramatically over the last few days. And I can assure
you, it's a very short list).
I'm not 100% positive on this, so please
don't hit me if I'm wrong. But I'm pretty sure it's the first time that
an SF novel that's been published on a personal Web site has been picked up
by a major publisher for traditional publication. It's not the
first book that's been derived from a personal Web site, of course -- James
Lileks, for one, turned part of his site into a successful
non-fiction book (and has another one coming), and Pamela Ribon's
upcoming novel is in part mined from her
Web site entries. But it might be the first time for a novel that
was presented in more or less completed form to make the jump. If this
is the case, then as you may imagine I'm rather pleased about it. One
always likes to be the first at something, or at least near the top of
that list. If it's not, of course, I'm still pleased for me.
Rose reminds me that she did it first, with her erotic-tinged novel
"Lip Service." In 1998, even. But it wasn't science fiction,
so I can still cling to being the first in that genre until someone
inevitably comes to knock me off that perch. Come and get me!)
a confirmation of something I wrote just prior to serializing the novel
on the site. I wrote:
There's also another
reason I'm putting it online, which is simply that I'd like to advance
the possibility that something like this -- self-published and online --
doesn't necessarily have to be automatically shoved into the
"loser" box. Over the last year, I've been spending a lot of
time listening to and reviewing independent music through my IndieCrit
site, and speaking out of a decade and a half of critical experience,
much of this independently-released (and indeed largely
"self-published") music is as good or better than the music
that is being shot out of the major music labels. Why shouldn't
independently-released novels have the same chance of reasonable
quality? Someone's got to start making the case for it, and why not me.
And indeed, the fact this sale was possible
at all is yet another example of the maturation of the online medium.
Many folks still see the online medium as the medium for people who
can't or won't get published any other way, but that hasn't been the
case for a while now. Over the last year in particular several of the
more prominent bloggers have seen their online bylines become useful in
transferring their writing into the mainstream media; by the same token
a number of old-line writers and journalists used the "blog"
format to ratchet up their reputations (my high school classmate Josh
Marshall being a fine example of that).
For talented and committed writers,
writing on one's own site is a true alternative medium which can be used
for one's overall gain, and not simply as a catchall for otherwise
unusable or unpublishable material. People who write well, and write
online, no longer need to feel at an inherent disadvantage to those who
write well, and write in a traditional medium (bad writers, alas for
them, are still stuck).
Now, before someone gets it into their head
that my publishing my novel online was some sort of controlled,
Machiavellian plan to forgo the SF publishing slush pile, and that Mr.
Nielsen Hayden fell right into my trap, bwa hah hah hah, I'd like
clear: I'm not nearly that organized, and I don't know that this sort of
thing is easily reproducible. Old Man's War is a good book, but
there are lots of good books out there waiting to be looked at, and typically
speaking, your book has a much better chance of getting bought if you
actually set it in front of an editor rather than waiting for an editor
to come on by.
So in short: Boy, did I ever get lucky. I really
cannot emphasize that enough, and to drive this point home, I'll note
that Agent has been online for going on four years and hasn't had
so much as a nibble, traditional publishing-wise. I don't want to
suggest we all ditch the traditional methods of getting work published.
They're traditional because they tend to work (also, if people start
hounding Mr. Nielsen Hayden or any other SF editor to swing by their
Web site and look at their novel, I don't want it said it's
because I said that's what they should do. Please, be nice to the
editors. Give them love. And jewelry).
What I am saying is clearly we've
gotten to the point where it's no longer the smart thing to
automatically dismiss writing online -- even an online novel -- as
"not good enough." Sometimes, it is good enough. It's
just that simple. I'm happy to be one of the guys who gets to be the
case in point for that.
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