Wednesday 25 April 2018

I think I've discovered a portal


I think I've discovered a portal.  To idiocy.

You see, like most - actually, I assume virtually all - writers, I use the internet constantly and continually, not just to submit material, but to check facts, spellings, and names.  Not to do real research, mind.  A long time ago, having reluctantly revealed I wrote, I was asked what I wrote about.  I gave my stock answer: death.  Why?  Because it required no research.

And, whilst science fiction by no means defies research, I tend to see something worth knowing and riff off of that, rather than actually dig into, say, recombinant memetics or neuroparasitology.*

No, my fact checking is there to give a gloss of authenticity.  I think of it as finessing.  If a character can relate a couple of ideas about the Punic Wars, then he probably has a dozen, even if the author stopping reading the wikipedia entry when he'd collected his brace. 

I have a story that, like one or two houses I've owned, I've just finished extending.  It's called 'Knights of the Spherical Table'.  The story has existed as a flash piece for about three years and has been a near miss a couple of times.  Some really nice feedback from Avily Jerome at Havok Magazine included the thought that she'd really like to know what happens next.  As is my want, on reflection, the story fell into the trap of stopping after act 1, at the point the main character is just waking up to their predicament.

So, it's now a far more rounded 3000 word piece.  

As well as checking basics - in this instance, what postcode is Chingford in? what's the nearest hospital? - I always check my names to see if they actually exist; I'm quite capable of naming my protagonist or antagonist Britney Spears without realising the significance.

In this case I didn't expect 'Knights of the Spherical Table' to fail to register any hits; indeed, it's not even my phrase.  It came up in a sermon at church, as a a throwaway quip about taking King Arthur's Round Table to a whole new dimension.  But, putting the phrase into Google, I was surprised at how few hits there were, and how dumb most were: some tosh about role playing characters, some more similar tosh, and even more dwarf-tossing here, worth quoting in full:

A new King has taken the thrown and everyone in my Kingdom must like and obey me. IF you disrespect the King or question the King you shall have your head chopped off IMMEDIATELY by one of the Knights of my spherical table. I will also have Jester's, a Queen, Slaves, a Mighty Castle with a moat with crocodiles in it that eat people i don't like. I will have women beckoning to have intercourse with me, because i am the King. Anyone that try's to overtake the thrown will be killed immediately, or if i suspect a take-over incoming i will barricade my walls and my my Archers shoot you in the face, we will find you and if you live you will be banished from King Thilz's Kingdom forever.! 

Best is this hideousness, which puts any bad purchase around the $300 mark you've ever made into context.

All of this leaves me wondering whether these have been written by real people - who, somehow, know the more technical word 'spherical' but have somehow mistakenly used it for 'round' - or algorithms.  I had settled on code, possibly real English translated into Korean and back again, until I remembered (whisper it) that half of the population is of below average intelligence.  Scary, huh?

And that's the moral of this posting: without gatekeepers, what's out there represents the total spectrum of human intelligence.

Yes, of course, there are representatives of those above the arithmetic mean.  Okay, as far as I could see there's only this cartoon, which does show an understanding of the English language:

Image result for knights of the spherical table

and there's also this video, which I flicked through on mute, so there may a quip-a-minute commentary that puts it all in context, but otherwise it just seems to be children hitting each other.  Which we're all fully in favour of...

All of which implies that, maybe, the monarch above with jester's and women beckoning for intercourse may also be above average.  Even more scary.  Or, perhaps, this is just a phrase around which the dumb cluster.  Like 'President of the United States' or 'low-fat'.

I'll ponder on.

* Just to illustrate my whole big thing point, these phrases were gleaned just be Googling for lists of obscure scientific disciplines, not by any real knowledge on my part.  Just how shallow am I...

Friday 13 April 2018

And that's the worst that can happen?

I was thinking of titling this post 'Meditations on editorial correspondence III', or some such, as it seems to fit into that thread.  But, unlike earlier postings, nobody's wearing a black hat; everybody appears to be on the side of the angels.  And the worst that anybody can be accused of is over-complication.

It concerns my dealings with Vice Media and its web-based publishing venture, Terraform.  Which, on the whole, have been perfectly pleasurable.  If complicated.

I'd submitted four stories to them previously.  All of them were received with a wall of silence; but that's okay, they make it clear that they only respond in order to accept and you should assume the worst after four months.  It's not the typical way to run a publishing endeavour, but that's their privilege, and the important thing is that they make the process crystal clear up front.

My fifth story, A Second Opinion, hit the target.  A story that either is "difficult... quiet but fascinating" or "doesn't actually seem to do much", depending on which side of the critical bed you got out.  It was accepted in January and ran the next month, all without edits being asked for.  From the outside looking in, all very smooth.

But this hides a somewhat odd process, which ended up kicking up a bit of dust on Absolute Write.

You see, the way the contractual/purchasing (rather than editing) side typically works is that the writer gets an email accepting the work, followed by a contract, which will set out rights and payments.  Sign, scan and return, assuming all is well.

Not with Terraform.  Sure, they send out a contract but, as far as the bespoke bits particular to you and your story, it's blank.  Yep, blank.  You even get to fill in the payment amount.

And publication isn't dependent on signing and returning the contract.  Mine is still somewhere in a pile of papers on my desk.  Why?  Well, partially a stereotypical writer's way with paperwork, but mainly having been put through the wringer with Terraform's invoicing process.

They ask you to send an invoice - remember, after you, the writer, have specified the amount, even though they specify the payment per word.  Given virtually every small publisher I've dealt with insists on payment via PayPal, I sent a PayPal invoice.

No, no.  Not PayPal, they said, and sent me an email address specifically for invoices.  So I ran one up in the style of my non-writing working life.

Only at this point did they send me their invoicing requirements, needing IBAN numbers and W-8BEN forms.  So, a morning was spent finding out what an IBAN number was and, more specifically, what mine is.  Quite why they need to make matters so complicated is beyond me.  Are they paranoid lawyers, seeing litigation at every turn?  Have they been bruised by the IRS before and are playing it with an absolutely straight bat?  Maybe everybody else is getting it wrong?

That bureaucratic dragon slayed, the important thing to stress is that payment was made exactly as they said it would be.  My story was published, and I got paid - at $0.20 per word, well above the 'professional' minimum.  What's not to like?  Like I said, what's the worst that can happen?

Well, Victoria Strauss of the SFWA, gave me an answer:

Thanks for sharing the contract and the emails. I really appreciate it.

It's a poor contract, and not just because of the blanks. You were right to ask for something to be added to address the possibility that Vice wound up not publishing the story--as the contract is written, if that happens there is no provision at all for the grant of rights to terminate. They just kind of slid over that point without addressing it. They are also incorrect in stating that "all rights revert to you" three months after publication. After the three months, Vice retains non-exclusive rights "in perpetuity," which means they could produce any number of reprints or anthologies with your story in them and never pay you another penny.  They can also assign those rights to any third party they please. You're getting paid, and you retain copyright and the right to re-publish your story, but you are also losing control of it, given the wide-ranging publication and assignment rights that Vice retains.

I also find it bizarre, and not at all professional, that they would publish your story without a signed contract in hand. That's just foolish. Contracts also protect a publisher.

Obviously that is a worst case scenario, and what is much more likely to happen is that Vice displays your story, maybe puts it in an anthology somewhere down the road, and that's it. But in evaluating publishing contracts, you always need to consider the worst-case scenario that's presented by the literal contract language, and ask yourself if you're comfortable with that, even if it's a remote possibility.

I've already, after a great deal of thought, turned down an offer of publication of a story on the grounds that the publisher was so under the radar that I didn't believe anybody would get to read it.  It made me question my professional approach to writing short fiction, and I decided that it was to draw people to my longer works, such as '2084'.  Short fiction, I concluded after that experience, is merely a means to an end - did somebody say 'starvation' at the back? - no, I mean, drawing readers into your wider storyverse.

So, the worst that could happen is that... Vice Media may run it again and... more people may read it...

As long as it still has my name on it and, ideally, a bio and a mention of my other works, that sounds like wins all round to me.

PS - and, yes, that kill fee from Carrie Cuinn's still outstanding...