A quick note to say that I’m currently running a giveaway on Goodreads for several signed copies of the paper edition of my award-winning novel OXYGEN, which I coauthored with John Olson.
A quick note to say that I’m currently running a giveaway on Goodreads for several signed copies of the paper edition of my award-winning novel OXYGEN, which I coauthored with John Olson.
“It’s a outrage!” my plumber Sam bellowed through the phone.
I held the phone as far from my ear as I could. “Um, Sam, what’s this about? I paid that invoice of yours.”
“I ain’t talking about that and you know it. You gone and double-crossed me!”
Given the massive amount of money Sam has overcharged me over the years for his dubious plumbing skills, I thought that was a bit ironic. “How have I double-crossed you?”
“I seen it just now on Goodreads! You went and … put up a free copy of that danged book of yers.”
“And that damages you how?”
“Ain’t it obvious? I paid good money fer that book three years ago when it first come out. Now yer giving it away like it’s dirt.”
“Sam, my publisher is providing some books to help me run a promotion. You know, to increase visibility.”
“Oh right, Mr. Bigshot Author. Yer book’s #1 in its category on Amazon, but you got to always be pushing fer more, more, more. When there’s other authors who got to do honest plumbing work just to put food on the table.”
“Honest plumbing work? Who might that be?”
Sam coughed. “What I meant was mostly honest plumbing work.”
“It’s been nice chatting with you, Sam, but I need to be –”
“Not so fast, Mr. Giving-Away-The-Farm. I want my money back on that book of yers that I bought.”
I walked out to the kitchen and turned on the faucet. “Hey, that reminds me. You remember that leak you fixed last month under the kitchen sink?”
“Terrible pipes you got in that rickety old house of yers. Wouldn’t be surprised if something breaks again. Real soon.”
“Sam, you must be psychic. I’m thinking I want my money back on that wretched excuse for a repair that you did. It’s leaking worse than ever and –”
“Whoa, look at the time!” Sam shouted. “Well, hey there, big feller. It’s been real nice chatting with you, but I got to be getting on to the next job. Busy, busy, busy! And congratulafications on that promotion yer running.” He hung up.
“Who was that?” my wife called from the family room.
I shrugged. “Sam the plumber. He called to congratulatify me on the nice promotion my publisher is helping me run right now on Goodreads.”
“That’s nice of him. Did you mention that the sink is leaking again?”
“And what he did he say?”
I sighed deeply. “It’s a outrage.”
Sunday night at 10:31 California time, NASA will be running a high-stakes thriller, live from Mars, with billions of dollars at stake.
There’s no room for error. The one-ton Mars rover Curiosity is traveling right now toward Mars at 13,000 miles per hour. Within a seven minute window of time, it has to come to a clean stop, exactly on the surface of Mars, at a precisely determined spot inside the Gale Crater.
How do you go from 13,000 to zero in seven minutes? It’s complicated.
The ship doesn’t carry enough fuel to slow it down, so it’s going to fly through the thin Martian atmosphere, using a heat-shield as a giant brake. At 13,000 mph, a ship flies like a brick, but it does fly — if you steer it on a needle-sharp course.
If you go in too steep, the atmosphere doesn’t bleed off enough speed and you go splat on the ground.
If you go in too shallow, you bounce off the atmosphere and skitter off into space, with no way to turn around and try again.
You must fly at exactly the right angle, letting the atmosphere bleed off your speed, using your heat shield to keep you from frying to a crisp.
But that only slows you down to 1000 mph. Seven miles above the ground, you open your parachute. The atmosphere of Mars is less than one percent the density of earth’s atmosphere, so the parachute has to be huge. Even so, it can only slow you down to about 200 mph. Still way too fast to land.
Now you release your parachute and fire off your rocket engines. You don’t have much fuel here, but you have enough to slow you down to 2 mph.
Can you land safely at 2 mph? Yes, if you happen to be inches above the planet when you reach that speed. But there’s a catch.
Those pesky rocket engines are blasting out hot gases to slow you down. If you’re a few inches above the ground, those hot gases are going to blow up a massive cloud of dust that will mess with your rover’s instruments. You can’t safely get inches away from the ground with your rockets.
Here’s where it gets crazy. You use your rocket engines to hold you steady a couple of dozen feet off the ground while you lower your rover on a cable down to the surface.
As soon as the rover touches down, you cut the cable and zoom your landing ship away to crash land somewhere safely far from the rover.
It’s never been done before. NASA has spent over $2 billion on this project, and now we get to find out if it succeeds. If everything goes right, the rover will be sending back photos and scientific data for the next decade.
And if it fails? Don’t even talk about failing. There was a mission planned in 2016, but it’s been cancelled. There was a mission planned in 2018, but that’s been cancelled too.
If the Curiosity mission fails, it’s going to be a long, long time before NASA gets the money to try again.
Here is a YouTube video, “7 Minutes of Terror,” showing how it’ll all play out:
And why spend all that money going to Mars?
It’s good science, for one thing. It’s great science, in fact. I’m a physicist, so don’t get me going on that or we’ll be here all day.
For another, the challenge of exploration always has unexpected benefits — from the 15th century exploration of the New World up to the Apollo missions to the moon that began in the 1960s.
More importantly, taking on difficult challenges gives mankind a vision. Yes, $2 billion is a lot of money. But the US government spends $2 billion every 4 hours and 52 minutes of every day. Vision is a precious commodity, and we need all we can get.
The rover Curiosity is a robot. Why send a robot? Why not send humans?
If a robotic mission fails, that’s bad but nobody dies.
With humans on board, everything changes. As Dave Akin noted many years ago, “Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, somebody dies (and there’s no partial credit because most of the analysis was right … ).”
Someday, we should send humans to Mars. It costs more, because humans need to take life-support systems with them and they need to return home. Every life-critical system needs a backup and a fail-operational option. That adds weight, and every pound you send to Mars costs money. Every extra system costs money and adds complexity.
As my Loyal Blog Readers know, back in 2001 and 2002, my buddy John Olson and I published a couple of novels about the first human mission to Mars. We set those missions during 2014 and 2015, the earliest time-point that we could envision for a human mission to Mars. But the first novel OXYGEN actually begins on August 14, 2012 — just a couple of weeks from now.
Why 2012? Because when you’re sending humans to Mars, one of the hardest tasks is finding people with the right psychological makeup. You’re sending people on a three year mission in which they might die, they might see their friends die, or they might have to make an agonizing decision using “the calculus of suffering.”
Not everybody’s head is screwed on right for that kind of a mission. If you send the wrong people, if you make just one mistake, you could kill everybody.
In our novel OXYGEN, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to the humans to make the hard choices about who gets to breathe. That is doubly hard when two of the four crew members are in love. Read more about OXYGEN on Amazon.
In the sequel THE FIFTH MAN, an unexpected hazard is waiting on Mars. NASA thought it sent a crew of four — but is it possible that a “fifth man” has come to Mars? How is that possible and what is his mission? Read more about THE FIFTH MAN on Amazon.
The virtue of sending humans to Mars is that humans are still much smarter than robots. If you have to make a split-second judgment call that weighs human values against each other or calls for imagination, then a human is still far better than a computer.
The virtue of sending a robot to Mars is that a robot doesn’t need oxygen, water, or toilet paper. Robotic brains are fast and never get tired. A robot is tough. Just don’t expect it to use imagination or make human value judgments.
Sunday night’s mission belongs to a robot named Curiosity. Good luck, Red Rover! May you arrive safely, make great discoveries, and pave the way for some of us to join you someday!
So you’ve finished writing your novel and now you want to get it published. How much should you pay a publisher?
Joan posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I am a first time writer who has just finished a novel. I am not sure where I go from here. A couple of publishers have contacted me but They are asking to much to Edit the novel. Can I edit this item myself. I always check your notes, but I am at aloss. Regards Joan.
Randy sez: Joan, you have several options, none of them good. The only consolation I have for you is that you aren’t alone here. You’re in the same boat as every other writer on the planet.
First, let me list the options for getting your novel published. Then I’ll write a paragraph or two on each one:
There is a lot to be said about all of these options. I’ll say only a little here, trying to give you the main pluses and the main minuses. There are whole books written on some of these options and whole web sites devoted to warning you about others. I will be much briefer than that.
Option 1: Sell your book to a traditional publisher. Most professional novelists choose this route. Typically, you find an agent and the agent sends a proposal to various acquisition editors at publishing houses. If an acquisition editor likes the proposal, she’ll ask for the full manuscript. If she likes that, she’ll take the proposal to her publishing committee and try to persuade them to buy the rights to your book. If the committee agrees, the editor will negotiate a deal with you via your agent. You then sell the exclusive rights to publish the book in exchange for royalties. Almost always, you get an upfront advance on those royalties. Your agent only gets paid when you get paid–15% of whatever you earn.
The pros are that this is a good deal when you can get it. You pay nothing for editing, cover design, marketing, printing, warehousing, and distribution. You get paid up front. If the book doesn’t earn its advance, then you don’t have to pay back any losses. The publisher takes most of the risk (and most of the reward). What’s not to like about this deal?
The cons are that you give over quite a lot of control to the publishing house. They require you to make revisions and if your revisions aren’t up to snuff, then you’ll be in breach of contract. They design the cover and if you don’t like it, you may have very little voice. The publisher typically takes at least a year and often much longer to get the book into stores. If they screw up the marketing, you get the blame. Yes, really. If the book doesn’t sell, everybody will think it’s your fault, even if the publisher blundered. Finally, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever find a publisher (or even an agent). You might slave for years on your novel and never sell it. That’s hard. That’s horrible. That’s reality.
Option 2: “Self-publish” your book with a custom publisher. I use the term “self-publish” in quotes here because the custom publisher is doing a lot of the work. They will generally provide editing, marketing, cover design, printing, warehousing, and distribution, just like with a traditional publisher. However, they aren’t paying for that work. You are.
The pros of self-pubbing with a custom publisher are that you are in control of the process. You don’t have to persuade an editor and committee to buy your book (because nobody is buying the rights from you.) You decide what services the custom publisher will provide you. You decide when the editing and cover design are done. You typically provide more of the marketing. You typically get paid a bigger cut of the pie (because you took more of the risk).
The cons are that you have to do more work and the onus is really on you to make the key decisions. No editor will tell you, “Sorry this is really a lousy book that will never sell.” If it’s a lousy book, that’s your problem. If it doesn’t sell, you eat the costs. If you don’t know how to market the book, then it dies.
Option 3: “Self-publish” your book with a vanity publisher. This generally looks exactly like Option 2 above, except that vanity publishers are crooks. They sell you services they aren’t competent to provide and they generally overcharge you.
The pros of this are . . . hmmm, can’t think of any. Don’t publish with a vanity publisher.
The cons are numerous. The final product will be inferior. You’ll spend a lot of money and probably will lose most of it. Worst of all, nobody will buy your book.
How do you spot a vanity publisher? You can ask professionals in the business and they’ll generally know the main offenders, but there are zillions of publishers. Many very small publishers are legit. Some big publishers aren’t. The web site Preditors & Editors is a well-known web site that can help you separate the sheep from the goats. It gives information on a large number of publishers, telling you which are recommended, which are not recommended, and which ones to avoid like fire ant infested underwear.
Option 4: Self-publish your book by acting as your own publisher. This option means that you hire your own freelance editor (or do the editing yourself). You hire your own freelance proofreader (or do it yourself). You hire the cover designer, the typesetter, the printer, the warehouse, the distribution system, the marketing (or you do them yourself). You take all the risks. You get all the glory.
The pros of this are that you are completely in control and stand to earn huge amounts of money if your book does enormously well. If you are knowledgable about publishing and have the skills to do most of the work and the ability to hire smart people to do what you can’t do, and if you can market yourself effectively, then this can be a very good option and you can do Xtremely well financially.
The cons are that you are completely in control. All the decisions are on you. All the financial risks are on you. And (for paper editions of books) the upfront costs can be quite a lot. If you work with a print-on-demand printer, then your production costs go down quite a bit. But you still need to pay for editing, cover design, marketing, shipping, and all that. It may be more headache and more cost than you can stomach. Go into this with your eyes open.
Option 5: Self-publish your book as an e-book-only edition through online retailers. This is a lot like Option 4. Again, you are responsible to hire or do the editing, proofreading, cover design, conversion to e-book formats, and marketing. You then upload the e-book directly to any online retailers you like (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple iBookStore, etc.) and/or to e-book distributors (like Smashwords, which can optionally get you into most of the online retailers for a share of the profits).
The pros of this are numerous, which is why many professional novelists are using this to republish their out-of-print novels they wrote years ago for traditional publishers. You’re in complete control of the process. If you’re republishing an out-of-print novel, it has already been edited and proofread, so you don’t have to pay for that again. You do still need to pay for a cover design, but that can be had fairly cheaply. Conversion to e-book formats is not hard, and it’s fairly cheap to hire out the process. The online retailers make it super simple to upload your e-book and it costs you nothing. You’re in control of your marketing. Your royalties can be amazingly high–65%, 70%, or even 85% of the retail price go to you.
The cons are that quality is on you. If your book is horrible, nobody will tell you that. If your cover is bad, nobody will tell you. If you have no marketing skills, that’s your problem. The costs may be fairly low–often a few hundred dollars–but they’re still on you.
Joan, you’re probably thinking right now, “Gack! Too many choices! Just tell me what to do!”
I wish I could tell you for sure what to do, but there is no best answer.
Until recently, the right answer was usually Option 1: sell to a traditional publisher. Most wannabe writers never sold a thing. But those who did sell their books got affirmation, got an advance, and had a chance at the gold ring.
For authors with a very strong marketing platform, Options 2 and 4 (legitimate self-publishing with or without a custom publisher) have been pretty good over the last couple of decades. The only problem is that most authors are terrible at marketing. (This is proof that the universe is unfair, because artists of all people need marketing the most desperately, but they’re the ones least likely to be able to market effectively.) But for those few artists who have great platforms, this is a strong ticket to the money.
Virtually everybody will tell you that Option 3 (vanity publishing) is horrible. The only people who disagree are the vanity publishers. Draw your own conclusions.
Option 5 is the new kid in town, and it’s become absolutely huge for professional writers. Authors with a large out-of-print backlist have put them back into print as e-books for little cost. Some of them have made huge money, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of them are earning tens of thousands of dollars per year. I would guess that most of them have at least paid back their initial investment.
HOWEVER, Option 5 is not necessarily that great of a plan for novice writers. A badly written book is not going to sell. Most books by authors at the Freshman or Sophomore level are not going to sell. (See my article Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Author! for definitions of these terms.) A Junior or Senior level writer might do well. Then again, they might not. A lot depends on how good the cover is and how good the marketing copy is.
So Joan, back to you. Those are the options. None of them are drenched in gold. Every one of them has some potential hazards, (and Option 3 is the poison pill from hell). What’s a writer to do?
I have given this advice many times, but it’s worth saying again. Learn your craft. Master your craft. You do that by studying from the experts, writing your tail off, getting critiqued by somebody who knows how fiction works. And then do it again, over and over for the rest of your life. That’s how I got published. Stephen King did it the exact same way.
That’s how you’ll do it if you succeed. I wish you good luck, and I hope that the information you find on this site will move you a little closer to your dreams. Have fun!
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
This is the sequel to Oxygen, a space adventure novel with a strong female lead character. Like Oxygen, The Fifth Man has a storyline that flies, full of suspense, humor, and romance.
Valkerie Jansen is tough, beautiful, and being pursued by every man on the planet. Literally. The planet in question is Mars, with a total population of four.
Days before a giant dust storm is projected to strike their camp, Valkerie is attacked by an unseen assailant.
Fortunately, there are only three suspects.
Unfortunately, all three of them . . . are innocent.
This is the second edition of The Fifth Man, released in May, 2012. This “Writer’s Journey” edition of The Fifth Man contains three bonus appendices (over 60 pages!) for fiction writers and anyone interested in getting the inside scoop on how John and Randy develop their stories. Learn some of their most powerful techniques, including story drivers, high concept, and scene structure.
John and Randy have been collaborating on one crazy project after another for the past fifteen years.
Not only are they novelists, Ph.D. scientists, and entrepreneurs who’ve founded four different corporations between them, but rumor has it that they prowl the night wearing steampunk battle gear to rid the streets of vampires, werewolves, and ducks that poop on your front lawn after it rains.
John and Randy deny all such tales as “vicious exaggeration.”
For writers (and for anyone who wants to know the story behind the story), John and I added some extras that I think my Loyal Blog Readers will find immensely valuable. We created three appendices for the novel, totaling more than 16,000 words:
I think you’ll find that second appendix Xtremely interesting. John has this technique he’s been using for years to take “high concept” story ideas to the next level. Editors love John’s ideas, and I could never quite figure out what he was doing to make that happen.
I suspect he’s been trying to explain his technique to me for a long time and I’ve been too dense to get it. But now I do. I always wondered why his novels sell better than mine. I think this is part of the answer.
You might also find that third appendix to be pretty cool. I’ve been teaching for years on the theory of “Scenes and Sequels” or what I prefer to call “Proactive and Reactive Scenes.”
In the third appendix, I had unlimited room for examples of those pesky Proactive and Reactive Scenes, so I packed them in. I analyzed the first 31 scenes from The Fifth Man, showing what made them work. In a few annoying cases, I showed what we could have done better if I’d known 10 years ago what I know now.
That price won’t last forever. In fact, we intend to increase it this coming Sunday night, June 3, 2012, at midnight California time.
Caveats: Be aware that the online retailers don’t always charge exactly the price we want them to. Amazon sometimes charges a higher price to some customers outside the US and they don’t sell in absolutely every country on the planet. Barnes & Noble sells only to the US (and I think also to Canada). We don’t have any control over where these folks sell and what exact price they charge. We have given them full world-wide distribution rights and we told them the price we want. If they don’t do exactly that, there are reasons, but they’re above our pay grade to understand.
Fortunately, Smashwords can sell to most countries in the world at pretty much the same price, and they make e-books available in the ten most common electronic formats.
Grab your e-book copy of The Fifth Man here on Amazon for $2.99.
Grab your e-book copy of The Fifth Man here on Barnes & Noble for $2.99.
Grab your e-book copy of The Fifth Man here on Smashwords for $2.99.
You can also get the PDF version fromSmashwords, and remember that a PDF file is readable on any computer.
If you prefer paper and you live in the US, you can order a paper copy here at Marcher Lord Press (the current price is $16.99, and I assume this is subject to change — again this is not under my control.)
The paper edition has the same content as the e-book, but it has a different cover because different publishers always have different covers for a given book.