Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Choices made: sexism, racism, and self-publishers

Arguments about sexism and racism in science fiction (and, by extension, fantasy) have been smoldering along and occasionally breaking out into wildfires for the last couple years. It's not a discussion I've felt like I had much to contribute to, aside from planting my flag firmly on the all-inclusive side of the line.

And these are not issues I've wanted to write about in any sort of activist sense -- but at the same time, when I was writing Disciple it crossed my mind that someday somebody may loudly object to the gender- and race-related choices I made therein. It's not likely, since I'm a self-publisher, but you never know. The advice I got at Viable Paradise -- do nothing accidentally -- is well taken, though, and I'm willing to explain and defend my choices should I ever need to.

These sexism and racism arguments apply to book covers, also. I've followed (with amusement) Jim Hines' attempts to mimic women's poses on various book covers, and the re-drawing of comic book heroines with male characters to point out how ridiculous the poses are. Recently, it was brought up that the publishers of Throne of the Crescent Moon made an explicit commitment to not whitewashing the cover... which is all well and good, but it's frustrating that this needed to be explicitly stated.

Added later -- this is the cover!
More about
Disciple, Part III here.
That note about Throne, and all of the racism/sexism posts of late, combined with the weekly discussions of "to self-publish or not to self-publish?" over at Absolute Write, combined with my own discussions with my cover artist about the cover of Disciple, Part III, led me to ponder: 

I'm putting an "Arabic" man on my book cover, and I can do that because I'm self-publishing. 

Arabic is in quotes because there is no Arabia in Disciple's universe. He's ethnically equivalent, though, and yes it was intentional -- I put a brown guy in a position of tremendous power to steer these blonde, white-bread kids through the perils of war. Why? Because he's the one with the intellect, motivation, and experience to do it. And he kicks some ass along the way, which was fun...

(There's a post in here about designing your own cover art. I'll talk about it in the next Indie Life installment)

Would Saint Qadeem have been on a cover, if Disciple's six parts were published by one of the big houses? Would the marketing department have objected to his role in the story? The editor? Would they have also objected to the fact that my main character, Kate, is a 16-year-old girl who is not only deflowered in full view of the reader, but also does it:
  • without being married
  • without angsting about it
  • without being raped
  • in fact, let me spoil this for you: Kate isn't raped in any of the six parts of Disciple
Would they have put Kate on the cover in a lovely banquet gown, twisted into some pose that can show off her butt and boobs? (eyeroll.) Maybe she can be clinging to Kiefan's arm while he heroically keeps shadowy monsters at bay. (shirtless, of course he'd go into battle shirtless, isn't that as logical as her silly dress...?)

I was the only person pressuring myself, when it came to Disciple's content and packaging. Admittedly, I'm quite capable of pressuring myself -- but I'm also free to avoid sexism and racism both on the book cover and in the story itself.  To the best of my ability, at least.

I decided what the consequences of Kate's sexual experiences were, and nobody pressured me to make them more draconian so as to avoid scandalizing the more prudish side of the audience. I decided the skin color of everyone in the book, and some of the "good guys" are brown, some of the "bad guys" are pasty-white -- and they all have their reasons for being what they are.

In a roundabout way, I'm trying to say this is one advantage of self-publishing: not having to fit into a publisher's preconceived notions about salability or what the audience wants. Yes, it cuts both ways and maybe I will lose readers by putting Saint Qadeem on my book cover, or by not slut-shaming Kate.

It's a risk I'm willing to take. Is there some controversial aspect of your story that you might have to defend, in the future?  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Antagonist POVs

I'm close to the end of Hawks & Rams and I already know that I'm going to need to put it down and think for a while before I get into good enough shape to call it a first draft. (For me, first draft = first draft that I'm willing to show to anybody.)

One of the things I need to think about is my antagonist. I've had a habit, for some time, of my antagonists being organizations rather than individuals. In Disciple, it's a whole empire -- though one person does emerge to take point, eventually. In my science fiction novels, the "enemy" is also nonspecific. One of them is a heist, in essence, so the characters are up against a system rather than a person.

But in Hawks & Rams the antagonist is, most definitely, one person. And because I tend to under-write my first drafts, on my to-fix list is a proper introduction of the antagonist. I need to be sure the reader is clear on:
  • Why he must be dealt with
  • What he's capable of
  • His motivations
Because antagonists are characters, just like any other. The tricky part will be getting this across through the interactions he has with my two POV characters.

There's a certain tradition of using the antagonist as a POV character... which works if you want the antagonist to be sympathetic and the story's dealing in shades of grey rather than clear lines of good and bad.

I've been leery of doing that myself because -- heh, this is kinda funny -- long ago I read The Shining, which includes the dad-who-goes-crazy as a POV character. Thing was, by the end of the book I thought his wife was a bitch and his kid was a brat and when he picked up an axe I was glad.

Yeah, the ending was a disappointment for me. I wasn't a very sympathetic character myself, as a teenager.

I doubt there's much chance readers would be upset by what happens to the antagonist in Hawks & Rams, admittedly. Maybe I should consider including him as a POV character. What are your experiences with antagonist POVs?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Indie life: lessons in self-promoting

Welcome to Indie Life -- the second Wednesday of the month! Time to talk about the realities of self-publishing in the middle of the ongoing sea change that ebooks have wrought.

It's not easy. I've been self-publishing since November 2012 and I've learned this much, so far:

Blog tours
Now that I've done several of them -- one through a paid service, the rest on my own -- I have to say that their effectiveness is questionable. I've only had one or two sales that I'm fairly certain were because of my blog touring.

Neither were because of the paid service, either. I am very skeptical of those. The one I used posted my interviews on public-reporting sites that generate metric tons of mediocre journalism daily -- sure, big name news agencies occasionally glean something from there, and sure there's a tiny chance somebody would stumble across me. But, seriously?

I am a member of both the Magic Appreciation Tour and the Blog Tour Exchange. Through them, I get contacts to blogs of people with similar interests to mine. The exposure is good, and meeting fellow writers is even better.

Review sites and book bloggers
Many of them will not accept self-published books. Those that do are often overwhelmed and put up a "Not accepting submissions" note.

If you find one that's accepting self-published books, read the submission guidelines carefully and follow them just as you would when submitting to an agent or editor. Use your query letter or back cover blurb (which you have lovingly polished through many revisions and beta feedback, right?) in your submission email.

I've found a few indexes of reviewers and book bloggers, which might be helpful:

New Releases
It's true: your new book release is excellent promotion for the rest of your books. I saw a little sales bump when I released Disciple, Part II. Soon I'll be making announcements about Part III.

So when I heard the idea of a multi-writer crossover anthology over at the Magic Appreciation Tour, I jumped on the chance. Fifteen of us sent our main characters to a besieged fantasy city to defend the last remnants of humanity. I'd say they were kicking ass and taking names, but who cares about the names.

The Battle of Ebulon is now available at Smashwords for FREE! I sent Kate (from Disciple) to help however she could.

Fifty thousand orcs at the city gate and they sent us a f***ing handmaid...?! You know she showed them what for. No spoilers -- go read it. There's a sample of my story over at my book blog.

Google Hangout tonight!
Yup, I'm still going to do it regardless of whether anybody shows up. 10 - 11:30 pm, Eastern (US), open to anybody to talk about anything writing-related. My webcam will be on, but don't feel like you have to turn yours on. We can just chat in the sidebar if you prefer. I will practice reading aloud from Disciple, since everyone talks about enjoying author readings and I have never done one. (I'm too chicken.)

It'll be a public hangout, and if I'm not in your circles on Google+ you can find the hangout on my profile page.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Liebster award: 11 random facts

I've got that sinking it's Tuesday and I don't have a post drafted feeling... there may be a post coming about the dreaded "saggy middle" of a story as I have recently been suffering that, but I haven't written it yet.

Meanwhile, Crystal Collier gave me an award! Thank you!

I've gotten this once before, but the icon has greatly improved since then. Here are eleven random facts about me: 
  1. I've been living near DC for 15 years now, and I still hate the summers.
  2. Perhaps as a result of that, a large chunk of Disciple happens during wintertime! I didn't do it on purpose. Really. 
  3. Lately, I've been finding new music through Noisetrade -- they feature a wide variety of styles,  and you can download albums for free with the option of leaving a tip for the artists.
  4. I feel really bad that I can't afford to leave tips, but money's been tight for a long time. 
  5. Partly because of that, when one of the musicians whose sample album I downloaded announced a Kickstarter, I pledged. (He's almost to his goal and there's only three days left!)
  6. Having run two Kickstarters myself, I have this bit of advice: always have a Plan B.
  7. I drink iced coffee -- with half-and-half, no sugar -- every day, but I don't need to.
  8. I'm an early bird, and one of these people who can just roll out of bed and be wide awake.
  9. Because of that, I tend to turn into a pumpkin at midnight. 
  10. I'm ashamed to say it, but I don't read enough. My own stories are always horning in and distracting me from what I'm reading, so I have trouble fully engaging. Since I'm not fully engaged, I have no trouble putting books down and forgetting about them. 
  11. That's why I rarely post reviews here. 

If you've gotten this far in reading, consider yourself tagged. Fact #12: I'm not so good at "rules."

We're almost halfway through 2013 already: what exciting developments are you looking forward to in the second half?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...