Striving Toward Perfection

There's some substantial discussion going on right now about... you know, I can't even explain it. But there are important questions being raised about activism, about trying to do better, about whether trying is enough, whether being a good person is enough, even when you set a foot wrong.

I have expressed terrible opinions in my life, because I did not know better.

These opinions have been grossly homophobic (because the newspapers told me about the pervy gay people and AIDS.) They've been about trans people (because also pervy, I guess? That one sort of folded in with gay people back then.) They've been about how fat people are lazy and greedy, about gender roles and how I was a superior girl because I was much more like a boy, about Christians and rigid, repressive fundamentalism. Don't even get me started about the racist "knowledge" I learned and repeated about Filipinos when I lived on a military base in the Philippines.

But I know better now, I think. I have aged and grown more compassionate, more experienced at life. I've come to understand that my life is just a small fraction of all the possible lives to be lived, and many are more difficult than mine. Or just different than mine. But other experiences than mine have merit and value. Other choices than mine have value. I'm not the center of the freaking universe, nor are people like me. I know that now.

None of that erases the fact that I started off so horribly, cruelly wrong, a product of my time and environment. All of those horrible thoughts and opinions have been in my head. They were mine. Over time, I try to find the bad patterns, the awful judgey opinions that hurt people, and wear them away with something newer and kinder, something that lets me see and hear more people. It's an ongoing process. And yet I feel it might be unfair, unjust, unkind, to judge me for not having already arrived at the ultimate destination.

In twenty years' time I expect to find with horror that I've been even more wrong about other groups. Because I cannot be perfect, and I will never be perfect.

All I have is trying. And if trying isn't enough, then what hope is there for any of us?

Revision Sales Projections

When I embark on any big, new undertaking, I like to do a little bit of expectation management. Some of that is outward -- it's important to describe to your audience what the thing is you're about to do, so the people who won't enjoy it know they can safely ignore it, and so the people who will enjoy it know the intended tone and boundaries of your experience and start out on the right foot.

But it's just as important to look inside yourself and establish what your expected and desired outcomes are. If you don't set a benchmark for success or failure, you'll move your goalposts around so much that it becomes difficult to tell what's working and what isn't. And I consider it a mitzvah to tell you, too. There's a lot of speculation going on regarding sales and money, but very little hard public data about specific, real books and authors. And it's better for all of us who write or want to write to have a clear-eyed and brutally honest view of what to expect. So I'm here to share what I expect in sales for Revision and why. 

I figure my baseline floor is about 300 copies; anything less than this would be a shocking and humiliating failure. This is based on my experience with the Lucy Smokeheart Kickstarter. Lucy had roughly 250 backers, and I've made a lot of new friends since then, some of whom are likely book buyers. So I squint my eyes and think 300 is what I'll get in vegetable sales: copies moved because people like me personally, because they want to support my work, or because they've liked past work enough to take a chance on this next one, not because they think they'll like this one.

My royalty rate should give me roughly $2.45 per ebook sold, so that means I'm expecting to walk away with no less than $735 in my pocket, unless something truly catastrophic happens. This is not money to sneeze at; that means a trip to a con, or groceries for a few weeks, or a few car payments. That's not bad, but it also works out to a lousy hourly, because I promise you I've spent more than 100 hours working on this book. Hell, I'll probably spend more time than that just promoting it.

So I'm hoping to do better than that. I'm hoping the book doesn't stay hidden, known only among the circle of people who already know and like me well enough; that it is recommended, that word is passed on, that people read it and actually like it. So the most-reasonable forecast for books sold if the book does well but still doesn't quite light the world on fire is, say, 1,000 to 2,000 copies. We'll call it 1,500 for our purposes, which would earn me $3,675. That's a family vacation to Disney world, several months of car payments, and -- perhaps dearest to my heart -- a number that qualifies for SFWA membership. Not bad! Nothing to live on, and the hourly is still extremely unfavorable, but... not bad.

And if it does catch on and sell like hotcakes, what then? Let's cast aside the illusion of Hugh Howey numbers, here, or JK Rowling figures. Let's not think about numbers in the millions; we're just trying to make a living, not a killing. In my dearest possible imaginings, the book sells, mmm, let's call it 30,000 copies. That would net me $73,500, a princely sum with which I could remodel my bathrooms, cruise the Mediterranean, buy an Apple Watch, and still have money left over to pay the mortgage. And wouldn't that be lovely?

It's not impossible I'd sell that much, but if it happens, it'll be the result of a lot of things I have little control over: luck in striking readers the right way at the right moment; word of mouth based on that good impression; and nothing more important coming along and devouring my potential audience and their pocket change in the few weeks the book will be top of mind.

But my work here is almost done. I've written the book. I'll spend the next few months telling people it's there to buy, if they're so inclined. And as for the rest of it... well, it's out of my hands now. So we'll see how my predictions pan out, and you can count on me to let you know how it goes.

And while I'm at it... if you want to preorder, the links are right there in the sidebar. Out May 5. Maybe you'll like it?

The McKinnon Account

I made a thing! And I'd like to share the thing with you!  It's called The McKinnon Account, and it's a story told over the course of a morning via several emails and a few text messages. The fabulous and warmhearted Ben Scofield wrote the platform, and one day I'd like to make it open-source.

You can sign up for this little story at Hunter, Brown & Shen. Once you've registered, it begins for you at 9am the next day. (For extra verisimilitude, sign up on a Sunday so it plays out while you're at work of a Monday morning.) Just to be clear, it's not a game, just a story, and you can't do anything but read it. Call it an ARG without the G? 

This is just a tiny prototype for a larger project I'm hoping to make later this year, assuming I find the time to write it. That one is called The Attachment Study, and it's an experiment with a few things I'd like to try: single-player replayable immersive narrative; the illusion of interaction, where no real branching or player agency is actually possible; and for the real thing later in the year, the emotional texture of a character in the story falling in love with an audience member. The McKinnon Account does two out of three, and along the way incorporates some of the narrative techniques I plan to use in The Attachment Study  -- attributing actions to the player, for example. 

One more thing! Services to send email and text messages aren't entirely free, so running this story is likely to cost us a (very small) amount of money. If you think The McKinnon Account is super cool and you enjoy your time working for Hunter, Brown & Shen, maybe buy us a cup of coffee? I've set up a Gumroad product where you can pay what you like, if you are so moved. (The downloadable is a photo I recently took in Vienna, just so's there's something there. It is not actually related to the story of The McKinnon Account.)

So! That's the thing! Since this is a prototype, it's important I find out how this actually works for you. Please, please tell me how the story plays out for you; what you liked, what didn't work for you, thoughts on how it could be improved or modified to be better. Comment here if you can, or on Facebook or on Twitter, or reach out to me privately by email through my contact form. Even if you don't like it, that's valuable information I can use before I spend some months working on a story that everyone will hate.

Thank you! And congratulations on your new job at Hunter, Brown & Shen. Good luck!

UPDATED: If your phone number isn't in the U.S., alas you'll only receive the texts as emails and not to your phone -- but you will still get them, no worries!

Revision Cover Reveal

My debut novel, Revision, now has a cover and preorder links and a release date! The date is May 5 of 2015, you can get preorder links from Fireside Fiction, and the cover is... well.... let me just show you.


Meanwhile, I've gone through a very complicated reaction to the cover design process, and I thought I'd share it with you. The original cover designs were very much like this final cover; basically we combined the visual treatment of one with the text treatment of another, and BAM. Magic.

This is a very serious cover, I think. This is the cover for a book that lays a hard claim to being a science fiction novel. And that's what I wanted -- in fact, my most heartfelt addition to the cover brief was "no girl cooties." Revision is indeed a book upon which you could put an engagement ring on the cover and it wouldn't be... entirely misleading. Except that it would mean I couldn't get the kind of attention for this book that in my secret heart I want to get, because hahaha chicklit amirite?

And yet, and yet, I had a bit of panic at the idea of having such a serious cover for this book. When I drilled deep down into my psyche, I found fear, as one always does, and this time the fear took this shape: "What if they find out this is a GIRL BOOK about GIRL THINGS and they get angry? Because this is not a serious book."

Let's unpack this a little.

"This is not a serious book" is something I tell myself so it won't hurt if people dismiss it, but under the snarky, funny candy shell, this is to its core a book about privilege, about human nature, about trying and failing and trying again. It's not a serious book in that it's not The Handmaid's Tale, but it's not NOT a serious book, either. So why am I afraid of presenting myself as a serious author?

It's because we've created a false dichotomy where a book about a woman, where the core relationship is a friendship between women, where the most important plot drivers are to do with relationships and trust -- everything else falls away, and suddenly that book can't be serious. I can't be serious. So that cover is misleading.

In the interests of feminism, I've decided to stomp the hell out of that voice telling me it's too serious, too misleading -- because Revision is no more nor less serious a book than, say, Wool is, and I don't blink at that equally serious cover for a second.

But I doubt, and I worry. The fear is always there. Because that's what it is to be a woman author; to always be threading the needle between "woman" and "author." Let's hope this time we got it right.

In Loco Parentis and Doing Solo Work

Last week, my story In Loco Parentis went up on Escape Pod. OH MY GOD, you guys. It's happening! For real!

I wrote this piece originally as a sub for Women Destroy Science Fiction (though obviously they declined it) so it's about a teen girl and a crush and mothers and daughters and relationships. And AI that lives in your head. But it's also about how we use new technologies to do the same human things we've always done... maybe more efficiently, but always for the same ends. Read it! And I hope you like it!

It's been fairly well-received so far, or at least nobody has said anything mean to me about it? This is a tremendous relief. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I think I was expecting something terrible to happen.

See, this counts as my first-ever professional science fiction publication, which is simultaneously hilarious and overwhelming. I've been writing science fiction and fantasy professionally for several years, of course, but always in the context of a team, or work-for-hire, or else one-off goofy experimental projects. Lucy Smokeheart is a lot of fun, but it's not putting my heart on the line. I'm not trying to say anything. But this is the year I'm showing the world what's inside of my heart, as opposed to what comes out of my brain when I'm given a particular writing problem to solve.

So the other night I took to Twitters to talk a bit about what it's like to write for games vs. books (and solo short stories!) and why the latter feels much more frightening to me. Annnnnnd here's the Storify. You know, in case you missed it.