Monday, July 30, 2012

The Costliest Price for Ebooks is Free

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

My debut novel, ASHFALL, has become popular enough that it's being widely pirated. Oh. Joy.



For the last week or so, I've been having a remarkably civil conversation via email with the owner of one of the pirating sites. It's not so much that I think I'll change his mind--I'm pretty sure that the next time someone changes their mind due to the internet will be the first--I just want to understand what motivates him to take the considerable personal risk of owning a pirate site.



It turns out that he feels justified in what he does because he believes he is helping authors--he's tasked me with reading extensive selections from Cory Doctorow's writings about the benefits he gets from making his ebooks available for free. Now Doctorow is both smarter and a more accomplished author than I, and I have no doubt that making his ebooks free benefits him. But here's what he gets wrong about the ebook market: an environment in which the value of a book descends to zero hurts both authors and readers. In the long run, the costliest price for ebooks is free.


There's no doubt that copyright laws are in serious need of overhaul. As currently written, they excessively protect corporate interests at the expense of individual consumers and content creators. But the important part of copyright law--of any law, actually--isn't what's written down in the law books--it's the social norms and  habits that follow from the law.


I learned this viscerally during the year I was a foreign exchange student in Brazil. On my way out of the airport in Cuiaba, we slowed nearly to a stop at every green light. I tried to ask why, but my broken mix of Portuguese and Spanish wasn't up to the task. I had my answer soon enough though, as I saw cars ahead of us blowing through the reds at cross streets, full speed. Does Brazil have traffic laws? Yes, but the norm is that traffic lights are suggestions, not mandatory, so every intersection becomes a high-speed game of chicken. And to insure a car in Rio costs about a third of its purchase price every year. A similar phenomena applies to speed limits in the United States. The limit in Indiana, where I live, is 70 mph, but the norm is that people drive 75-80, and most of us tend to get annoyed at those going much slower or faster.


When laws work, they become a benchmark that sets a social norm and creates the habits that govern our day-to-day life. Right now, the social norm is that people who create and publish books deserve to get paid for their labor. Most people make sure the authors they enjoy do get paid, either by checking their books out from a library (which paid for the books) or by buying them.


Could I make more money giving ASHFALL away for free, like Cory Doctorow? Maybe, at least in the short-term. He's right when he says the biggest challenge facing new authors isn't piracy, it's obscurity. But my personal test for whether my behavior is moral or not is this question: If everyone behaved this way, what would the world be like? And if we all pirate books--or even give them away for free--the social norm becomes that books are free. And in a world where authors don't get paid for their work, I (and thousands of other authors) can't continue to write. Such a world would be considerably poorer for readers and writers alike. Which is why the costliest ebooks are free.


By the way, at least one of the sites pirating ASHFALL is charging for it. If you pay anything less than Amazon's price for ASHFALL, currently $8.98, I don't get even a penny.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Great News!

1) ASHFALL made the shortlist for NPR's 100 best young adult novels of all time! And YOU get to cull the list from the current 235 to the final 100. Go vote on NPR's site now.

2) I'm headed to Chicago for five presentations at various Chicago Public Library branches on Wednesday 7/25 and Thursday 7/26. If you're in the area, I hope to see you! Full schedule and details are on my website.

3) I'm still looking for schools, libraries, and bookstores in Las Vegas and Houston that would like to host FREE author events during my upcoming trips. I'll be in Las Vegas in late November and Houston in early February. If you're interested, email me asap.

4) I've got a new guest post up on Figment.com! It's the short version of how I researched ASHFALL--I had to squeeze it into a 600 word limit. Here's a link. Enjoy!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Authors Behaving Badly

(Originally Posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

Goodreads exploded in another of its periodic conflagrations this weekend. This time it was a self-published author whining in disturbing terms about bloggers who allegedly promised reviews in return for free e-books and allegedly failed to deliver. He even went so far as to post a list of said bloggers, describing them as "liars and thieves." In fact, one of the bloggers in question had never even heard of the author before the kerfuffle this weekend. If you'd like a more thorough review of this author's meltdown, Evie at Bookish has a recap.


As I've said before in other terms, 98% of authors are not cocoa-loco crazy like this guy. (We are, however, cocoa-loco crazy in more socially acceptable ways. We'll lock ourselves away with a computer on a perfectly nice day when we could be riding a bike, for example. Like today. Sigh.) Here's what I'd like to say to the other 2%: Book bloggers are not your prison bitches. They don't owe you anything. Not even if you send them a free book. Not even if you spend time doing an interview for them. They are doing a service to the literary community, promoting books, and in most cases they get paid absolutely nothing for that service.

We should nurture and thank book bloggers, not publicly call out their alleged failings or create lists of disfavored bloggers. They are helping to grow and support our industry, providing some of the milk we all suckle. They succeed or fail based on the services they provide to their readers, and their obligation is to their readers, not to authors.

Look, I like the current trend of inexpensive e-book self-publishing. One of the glories of it is that anyone can do it without being taken for ride on the multi-thousand dollar Ferris wheel of vanity presses. I'm on record saying that I would consider self-publishing at some point in my career. But one of the problems with it is also that anyone can do it, some of whom clearly aren't emotionally prepared for the considerable stress of publishing a book. If a traditionally published author behaved like this chap, he'd hear from his literary agent and editor tuit de suite, and soon join the ranks of self-publishers if he didn't get his behavior under control.

I also think this spat demonstrates something about the costs of cheap ebooks. The author in question was whinging over supplying a free e-book that retails for $2.99. His lost profit on that ebook (assuming the bloggers bought it instead of getting it free--an unlikely assumption, since I started the free sample of one of the fellow's books and put it down after the second sentence--yes, it was that bad) would have been $2.09. But the average person requires about 5 hours to read a 300 page book--even at minimum wage, that time is worth $36.25.

Cheap e-books are not cheap for the reader. You're investing at least $40 worth of time every time you pick up a book. Would you rather spend $42.99 on 5 hours of crappy reading or, say, $54.99 on five hours of thought-provoking entertainment? I prefer the latter.

The last thing I want to say is congratulations to Goodreads. They banned the badly behaving author fairly promptly. That bodes well for Goodreads--civility requires rules and an enforcement mechanism, and I applaud Goodreads for supplying both.

What do you think? Have you seen any other examples of authors behaving badly? Let me know in the comments, please.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Tragedy in Aurora

I've been following the news from Aurora all day, repeatedly swallowing on the lump of horror that seems determined to climb out of my gut. Both President Obama and Mr. Romney have offered messages of prayer and support to the victims and their families. Writers far better than I have appealed for kindness and offered poems of prayer. I join all Americans--people all over the world--in mourning the victims and praying for their families and loved ones.

But it's not enough.

After Columbine, we mourned and prayed and made appeals for civility. Yet the Amish School shooting happened.  And Virginia Tech. And Westroads Mall. And Tucson. And now, Aurora.

We need prayers and support and kindness, yes. Desperately need all three. But we must also take action. To understand why these shootings take place and to prevent or reduce them in the future. We didn't act after past shootings--at least not on a national scale, and so none of us should be surprised the problem persists.

What should we do? Let me offer two suggestions that I hope all but the most extreme among us--whether Democrat or Republican, whether gun owner or not--can support.

1) Fully fund studies of these types of incidents and violent crime in general conducted by the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention and eliminate political restrictions on that agency's research. Gun rights advocates argue that more gun ownership and easier concealed carry could help prevent tragedies like Aurora. Let's find out. Gun control advocates argue that restrictions on assault weapons and large-capacity clips would help. Let's study that, too. Why isn't this being done already? That's beyond the scope of my blog post, but this article in the New York Times sums the issues up nicely.

2) We should work to make mental health care more widely available. The Affordable Care Act takes important steps in that direction, and I call on Mr. Romney to pledge to protect the mental health provisions of that law from his promised repeal. Getting treatment to sick and potentially dangerous individuals benefits us all.

Will either of these steps prevent another Aurora? On their own, no. But freeing the scientific community to find the answers is an important first step. Treating the mentally ill won't end violence, but it's another step in the long staircase we must climb if we wish to leave the horror of that darkened theater in Aurora behind us forever.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An ASHFALL Dinner

(Originally Posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

Last year after ASHFALL got a starred review from Kirkus, my editor drove to my house in Indianapolis with a bottle of champagne to celebrate. I volunteered to cook dinner. Since we were celebrating ASHFALL, I decided to serve food based on some of the meals my protagonists, Alex and Darla, eat.

When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts again (the disaster I depict in ASHFALL), a lot of people are going to starve. Something like 20% of the world's grain is grown in the areas that will likely be buried in ash, and we have less than a 60 day supply of stored grain worldwide. So the central feature in any post-apocalyptic diet is scarcity. Those who survive will be eating almost anything that's available. (Some, no doubt, will eat absolutely anything that's available. Avoiding that group will be one of the tricks to surviving.)

Alex and Darla suffer through many days with not enough to eat. But at one point in the book, they wind up at a farm with goats, ducks, and a greenhouse kale garden. And occasionally they have access to pork. So here's the menu I came up with--I've made this several times now, so I'll give you two sets of recipes, one more accurate, and one that tastes better. These recipes feed four.

Kale . . . yum!
ASHFALL Menu (Accurate Version)

Ingredients:

10 slices side pork (check with a butcher to find this, it's uncured bacon)
A bunch of kale--about 12 large leaves.
Salt
4 duck eggs
Goat cheese

Instructions:

  1. Fry 10 slices of side pork in a large skillet. Salt heavily. Set aside 8 slices and half the grease. Crumble or chop the last two slices to cook with the kale.
  2. Wash the kale leaves and remove the stems. Save the stems to feed to your goats. Don't dry the leaves.
  3. Add kale to skillet and toss with grease and crumbled side pork. Cover skillet and cook until the kale turns a brighter shade of green--about 8 minutes.
  4. Set cooked kale aside and use the same skillet to cook two omelets. Make each omelet with 2 duck eggs, a slab of goat cheese, and a scoop of the cooked kale mixture. Salt to taste.
  5. Cut omelets in half and serve with 2 slices of side pork, 1/4 of the remaining cooked kale, and corn pone.
 ASHFALL Menu (Better-Tasting Version)

Ingredients:

10 slices thick-cut bacon
A bunch of kale--about 12 large leaves.
Salt
Pepper
2 cloves minced garlic
Small onion, diced
Red wine vinegar
4 duck eggs or 6 chicken eggs
Goat cheese

Instructions:

  1. Chop 2 slices of bacon and fry the bits in a large skillet until almost done. Add garlic and onion and fry a little more.
  2. Wash the kale leaves and remove the stems. Don't dry the leaves.
  3. Add kale to skillet and toss. Cover skillet and cook until the kale turns a brighter shade of green--about 8 minutes. Splash kale with red wine vinegar and set aside.
  4. Use the same skillet to cook two omelets. Make each omelet with 2 duck eggs or 3 chicken eggs, a slab of goat cheese, and a scoop of the cooked kale mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Microwave the other 8 slices of bacon.
  6. Cut omelets in half and serve with 2 slices of bacon, 1/4 of the remaining cooked kale, and cornbread.

So there's my post-apocalyptic dinner. Do you have any favorite recipes from books? Let me know in the comments, please.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thank You from Me and Hillsboro!

On Wednesday I posted an impromptu auction to raise money to open an new public library in Hillsboro, Missouri. The auction closed last night, and I'm thrilled that with one blog post and in only five days we were able to raise $855. One of the things I like best about being an author is that I can do things like this--support causes I believe in, reward fans with cool prizes, and make a contribution bigger than my personal finances would otherwise allow.


So here's a huge thank you to everyone who helped spread the word and/or contributed. If you've won something, you'll get an email in a few minutes with detailed instructions. Thanks again! --Mike

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bid to Win Tuckerization in the Final Book of the ASHFALL Trilogy!

Would you like to be immortalized in the third and final volume of the ASHFALL trilogy? Bid on this item!

I will put any name you choose (within reason) in the third and final book in the ASHFALL trilogy as a minor character. The title and publication date for this book are not set.

Winning bidders will make donations directly to the Hillsboro Library Campaign Committee. The minimum bid is $10 and all bids should be in increments of $1 or more. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Bidding ends at 9 pm EST on Sunday, July 8th. There's a full explanation of the auction and rules here. Good luck!

Edit: Thanks to the generous support of Deborah Johnson Horn, this prize will also include an invitation to a private dinner with me in St. Louis during the week of October 8th. Winner is responsible for their own travel costs to St. Louis, if any.

Bid to Win a Signed ARC of ASHEN WINTER!

Would you like to read ASHEN WINTER, the sequel to ASHFALL, 4 months before everyone else gets a chance? Sure you would. Bid in the comments below to win a signed advance reading copy (ARC).

I will mail a signed and personalized ARC to the winning bidder anywhere in the world at my expense.

Winning bidders will make donations directly to the Hillsboro Library Campaign Committee. The minimum bid is $10 and all bids should be in increments of $1 or more. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Bidding ends at 9 pm EST on Sunday, July 8th. There's a full explanation of the auction and rules here. Good luck!

Bid to Win a Rare, Signed ASHFALL Poster

Bid in the comments below to win a rare autographed ASHFALL poster from my personal stash!

The winning bidder will receive a signed ASHFALL poster with supervolcano survival tips. I'll ship your poster anywhere in the world at my expense. There are only nine of these posters left. Here's a picture:

Winning bidders will make donations directly to the Hillsboro Library Campaign Committee. The minimum bid is $10 and all bids should be in increments of $1 or more. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Bidding ends at 9 pm EST on Sunday, July 8th. There's a full explanation of the auction and rules here. Good luck!


Bid to Win a Signed First Edition of ASHFALL

Bid in the comments below to win a signed first edition of ASHFALL.

The first edition of ASHFALL has been sold out since November and is not available in bookstores, but I have about ten copies left. I will autograph and customize a copy any way you like and ship it to you anywhere in the world at my expense.

Winning bidders will make donations directly to the Hillsboro Library Campaign Committee. The minimum bid is $10 and all bids should be in increments of $1 or more. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Bidding ends at 9 pm EST on Sunday, July 8th. There's a full explanation of the auction and rules here. Good luck!

Help Build a Public Library in Hillsboro, MO!


There are 9,225 public libraries in the United States, in all 50 states and almost all of our 3,033 counties. But none in Hillsboro, the county seat of Jefferson County, Missouri.

I first became aware of this problem when Deborah Johnson Horn from Barnes & Noble and Karen Creech Huskey welcomed me to Hillsboro High School last November for a fun and exhausting presentation about my debut novel, ASHFALL.  Now Karen is spearheading the next step—her committee has succeeded in placing an initiative to build a public library on the ballot this fall. But ballot initiatives take money to pass (to buy yard signs, posters, newspaper advertising, mailings, etc.), and this is where you and I come in.



I’d like to support this effort in a bigger way than my personal finances allow. And I happen to have a bunch of ASHEN WINTER advanced reading copies (it won’t be out until October!), rare first editions of ASHFALL, and extremely rare ASHFALL  posters (only nine are left). And I'm in the middle of writing the third book of the ASHFALL trilogy, and I think your name should appear in that book, don't you? So I’m holding an impromptu auction. Simply click on the item you want to win, and place a bid in the comments. Top bidder when the auction closes on Sunday, July 8 at 9:00 p.m. EST wins.

1) A rare signed FIRST edition of ASHFALL. The first editions are no longer available in stores.  Includes shipping anywhere in the world at my expense. Bid here.

2) A rare signed, ASHFALL poster. There are only 9 of the ASHFALL posters left.  I'll ship the poster anywhere in the world at my expense. Bid here.

3) An Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of the forthcoming ASHEN WINTER. The book won't be out until October, so you'll get to read it 4 months early! I'll ship the ARC anywhere in the world at my expense. Bid here.

4) Tuckerization in the third and final ASHFALL book (title and release date TBD). I'll include any reasonable name of your choice as a minor character in the third and final ASHFALL book. Bid here.

Rules:

1) All three auctions will be open until 9 pm EST on Sunday, July 8th.

2) Bid by commenting on the item page with an amount and email address. High bid wins. Minimum bid is $10. Bid in increments of $1 or more, please. All bids should be in U.S. dollars.

3) If bids go high enough, I may award multiple copies of any of these prizes.

4) Winning bidders will be informed by email. The campaign to pass the ballot initiative is decidedly local and low tech, so we don’t have a PayPal account to donate to. Instead, if you win, you have to mail a check to:

Campaign Committee for Hillsboro District Branch
of the Jefferson County Library Committee
P.O. Box 176
Hillsboro, MO 63050

Make your check payable to the same--yes, the name is ridiculously long--write small. When they receive your check, they’ll email me, and I’ll mail your prize. 

Everything make sense? If not, email me at mike.mullin.writer at gmail dot com, or ask your questions in the comments on this post. Good luck and bid high—it’s for a good cause!

Monday, July 2, 2012

FREE Author Visit Available in Houston or Las Vegas

Teachers, Librarians, and Bookstore People: I'm planning a trip to Las Vegas this fall and to Houston in February. I'd like to do a couple of FREE author visits in each place while I'm in town. My various presentations and workshops are described in detail on my website. If you or someone you know is interested in hosting me in either town, please email me at mike.mullin.writer at gmail dot com asap.

Here's my availablility:

Las Vegas: Saturday, 11/17; Sunday 11/18; and/or Wednesday 11/21
Houston: Thursday, 1/31; Friday 2/1; and/or Sunday, 2/3

Thanks! Hope to see some of you in Las Vegas or Houston!