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Friday, April 29, 2005

How to Become an Overnight Success

The question keeps coming up: How does one go about getting published?

Pure pig-headed determination has a lot to do with it. While I'd been puttering with stories for years and only showing the results to my close friends, once I finally took the notion that I could actually sell my scribblings, it took me another four years of half-hearted and half-witted marketing to make my first "sale," to a regional magazine that paid in contributor's copies.

With that stunning success under my belt, I got semi-serious, and while I continued to place pieces in minor markets now and then and receive ever more encouraging rejection letters from the pros, it still took me another four years to make my first professional sale.

Wow, I was on a roll now! After that story hit print (a year after it was accepted), it took me another two years or so to reach the point where I was selling most of the short fiction I wrote, and another three years after that to sell my first novel. So by the time I sold Headcrash in 1994, I'd already been trying for fifteen years and publishing professionally for ten, and it just cracked me up every time some clueless reviewer made reference to my being a "new" writer who'd "come out of nowhere."

Overnight success rarely happens overnight. While there have been a few cases of writers scoring big with their first stories, most writers I know have a whole box full of awful and unsalvageable early work squirreled away somewhere and face at least two counts of Attempted Novel.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Gedanke Experimentieren #3

First, if you haven't already done so, read the blogbit titled, Open Source Books.

Done that? Good. Then the next step is this: working collectively and cooperatively (the most unnatural possible state of human relations), in the Comments section of this blog item, start putting together source materials for a short story on the making of the greatest sci-fi novel in the history of the world. The form for this story is to be a series of increasingly testy emails back and forth between the members of the Science Fiction Standards Committee as they argue over -- well, I'm sure you'll think of plenty to argue over.

Ready? Steady? Go!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Left Behind for Atheists?

I just finished re-reading The Forge of God, by Greg Bear, and it occurs to me that what I've just read is a deity-free apocalyptic novel. To wit: in the beginning there are Signs that the end of the world is nigh, which only those with True Wisdom can see. Then there are made manifest many Wonders, which foretell terrible things to come. Then, as it begins to sink in that Armageddon is truly upon us, wondrous aliens reveal themselves to the Few Chosen, and explain that the Elect will be gathered up, taken bodily into the Heavens, and spared the Tribulation.

And then the last major chunk of the book is scene after scene of disaster upon slaughter upon ever more cataclysmic violence, ending with a beatific vision of the Elect living lives of peace and plenty in peaceful green unearthly fields.

Is that one of the true great appeals of "hard" sci-fi? That it provides a mechanism for writing horrific end-of-the-world stories without all that messy theology stuff?


Friday, April 22, 2005


cZja asks:
My copy of Rebel Moon arrived today...I knew that Vox signed it - I thought that was some gimmick like getting a free toaster when opening an account or something - but he co-wrote this with you?

How does that work? Did you guys take turns on chapters or something? I'm just curious - I can't imagine writing a novel with someone. Come to think about it - I guess it happens quite often. More and more examples are coming to mind as I type. But how exactly did the process break down with you two? I'd love to know...

Yes, Vox is a collaborator. How do you think he wound up with the shaved head?

Collaboration has been defined as doing twice the work for half the money. I don't think that's a fair assessment. Four times the work is more like it. In addition to using whatever talents it takes to write the book itself, you also have to employ or develop a host of communication and project management skills that fiction writers are normally exempt from using. Then, after the blessed thing is finished, and unless you and your co-author are either unusually sympatico or employing a narrative gimmick, one of you must rewrite the whole thing again from front to back, so that it actually reads as if it was written in one voice.

There are, I think, two valid reasons to collaborate. One is that you and your co-author actually work better as a team than you do individually, and if you're one of the fortunate few to whom that applies, then God love ya, go for it. The other (and more common) is that the publisher has a Big Name Author who isn't producing new titles as fast the publisher could sell 'em, and so one or more Little Name Authors are hired to sharecrop the BNA's turf. Having done the latter, I speak from sad experience when I tell you: don't do it unless you really, desperately, need the money. And even then, you're probably better off selling plasma.

I've actually been involved in quite a few collabortive projects and will relate some of my horror stories in the Comments. (I'm trying to learn to keep these initial blogbits short.) I'll just end the overture with a warning: too often, young or unsuccessful authors say, "Let's collaborate! We'll combine our strengths!" But without exceptionally strong project management skills, "Let's combine our strengths!" very rapidly morphs into, "Let's multiply our weaknesses!"

Let the ranting begin...

Friday, April 15, 2005

After Arthur C. Clarke: Recommended Reading

Nathan Bissonette asks:
When I was a kid, the SF biggies were Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Lower ranked biggies included Bradbury, Dickson, Niven, Anderson, Herbert.

Who are today's biggies?

Well, for starters, John Betancourt. I mean he's got to be about 6'6" and 300 pounds, at least...

Okay, seriously? I think most people's lists of Clarke's Children would start with the Killer B's: Greg Bear, Greg Benford, and David Brin. Make sure you check out Rob Sawyer as well, and I will as always put in a strong plug for my friend, Bob Metzger, who sometimes posts here. I just finished reading Bob's latest, Cusp, and while it is definitely not lite reading, it's packed to the gunwales with Big Ideas and a worthy successor to Childhood's End. (A lesser writer, such as myself, would already be thinking of all the fun he could have in the sequel with the Incubator.)

Your suggestions?


Thursday, April 14, 2005

ePublishing and Self-Publishing

An interesting discussion has developed in the Comments section of the Publishing in the 21st Century blogbit. Rather than replicate the entire thing here, I'll just refer you to the Comments thread in that item for the background thus far. The essence of it is that ZZTop has asked the question, "How can we as writers make money e-publishing our own work?"

This is an idea that has long fascinated me, and not only that, is one I've been experimenting with for at least 7 or 8 years now, ever since every last major publisher in North America assured me that my Cyberpunk novel is unpublishable as-is. (For reference, I will hurt the next editor who tells me, "It's a great story, Bruce, but you've got to make it more like The Matrix. Stick in lots of that wild VR stuff.")
At first I only sent the book file out to people I trusted, and as a result it took a good two or three months before the entire text showed up on usenet. Next I went to a rudimentary form of encryption, freely allowing downloads but only sending out the key after I received payment, and again, the updated file was soon on usenet. (Admit it: isn't cracking other people's encryption half the fun of the whole computer geek experience?)

After that I toyed briefly with the idea of embedding an ID code in each copy sold, so that I could trace it back to whoever was reposting it, but that idea quickly fell apart. Once you've identified the person who's decided to give it away to the world: what then? It's not like you can whack them with a rolled-up newspaper. "Bad reader! Naughty reader! I'm never going to sell you another book again!" Yeah, like that will discourage them.

So in the end I wound up posting the book on my site under the terms of a Shareware license -- I'm one of those strange people who actually pays for shareware he likes -- and actively encouraging people to repost the file on their own websites and servers. The ratio of payments to downloads is still running at right around 1%, but I figure I'll make that up on volume.

Yeah, right.

The problem I see with e-publishing is, the vast majority of the world's computer users see ink on paper as something that might be worth a few coins, but electronic files as intangible items that can be swapped freely without harm to anyone. Educating people in creator's rights isn't working (see Copyright, Copywrong); absent an obnoxious and intrusive digital rights management system, how do you sell more than one copy? If you've got an answer to that, I advise you to forget writing fiction, contact a patent lawyer, and get rich selling your idea to the RIAA and MPAA.

...which brings us, by skipping several steps in this already overlong explication in the interests of brevity, to self-publishing. I've long considered self-publishing to be only a short remove from self-pleasuring, but both technologies have come a long way in recent years. Lately I've been fascinated by, mostly because a co-worker's 11-year-old kid published his magnum opus via IP, and in all honesty the production quality of the book is as good as anything I've seen from a "real" publisher and better than many "small-press" publishers.

In the latest SFWA Forum, meanwhile, writer and sometime small-press publisher Darrell Schweitzer has a long rant about the evils of self-publishing as being the last refuge of the pathetic and talentless, which segues into a hymn of praise for small-press publishers. He then goes on to extoll the joys of taking his pay in the form of contributor's copies, which he hawks at conventions and on his web site. If I could abide Darrell's presence for more than a few minutes, I would ask him: what exactly is the difference between what you're doing and self-publishing?

The floor is now open for discussion.


Monday, April 11, 2005

Publishing in the 21st Century

Secret Agent #6 has just sent me the full text of an article that's apparently making the rounds as literary agent's samizdat. The original appears on the Backspace web site, which is an interesting site in its own right and well worth checking out, and the article takes the form of a three-part series by big-bucks literary agent Richard Curtis.

In Part 1: At the End of the Millennium, Curtis does an excellent job of explaining the historical and commercial forces that shaped publishing as we knew it, and this part serves as a good primer on The Way Things Used To Work.

In Part 2: Paperbacks: The Tail That Wagged The Dog, Curtis explains what has happened as a result of the The Great Distribution Implosion of 1996, which is a topic near and dear to my heart as I was caught up in the midst of it. This, better than anything else I've read, explains why The Way Things Used to Work don't work no more.

It's in Part 3: On The Road to Virtual, that Curtis becomes what to me is deeply discouraging:

Increasingly, agents pitching projects over the telephone can hear the editor’s fingernails clicking on a computer keyboard as they converse. The editor is googling the author, checking out his or her photo, web site, ranking, reviews and publication history, forming impressions (and perhaps even reaching conclusions) before reading a word of the author’s text...

For many jittery young people, printed texts on a stack of paper are, as one editor [emphasis added] said, “kind of boring.” “If all it is, is a book, merely words” he elaborated, “it’s hard to get excited. I ask myself, ‘What else is it besides a book? Is it a video game? A movie? A web site?’ It’s got to be more than a book to turn me on.”

Curtis ends the series with a paen to blogging, which strikes me as a somewhat strained attempt to end on a positive note. Apparently in his vision of the future, writers will no longer bother with novels or short stories, but will instead merely keep online journals and serve as facilitators of online conversations, and those who can keep sufficiently exciting discussions going will get rich by counting click-throughs and selling banner ads.

Or perhaps I'm merely reading Curtis's essay in an unusually bleak light. In any case, his article is highly recommended reading, and I look forward to the exciting discussion that no doubt will follow. Yeah, baby, let's get that click-through counter humming!


Friday, April 08, 2005

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion

The Anthology at the End of the Universe is now out in the stores. I had great fun writing my contribution to it and BenBella Books did a really nice job on the packaging and production, so if you've got a few bucks to spare and are a fellow fan of Douglas Adams, you might want to check it out.

I've been meaning to run a test to see if I can post images within blogbits, so this looks like as good a time as any to try it out. And while I'm at it, here's the marketing copy that BenBella's marketing director helpfully suggested adding to my web or blog site:

"In a collection as funny and insightful as the series itself, The Anthology at the End of the Universe takes a fresh look at the greatest comic series in the history of science fiction: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tools of the Trade: Computers

A personal computer is an essential tool for the writer, but which one to choose, what operating system, and which software? After 26 years of writing on PCs, I have concluded --

Well, first, let me give you a tour of the Bethke Museum of Obsolete Computers.

In 1979, I started out with a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1 and a program called "Electric Pencil," I believe. That was soon replaced by an Apple ][+ and a program called "Magic Window," then "WordHandler," which was one of those truly great, years ahead of its time, and completely forgotten products. I wrote and sold a lot of fiction using that old Apple ][+ and WordHandler, while simultaneously going through a lengthy succession of other Apples -- I believe I have 10 of them up in the loft of the garage -- before finally coming to the conclusion that there is nothing as worthless as last year's Macintosh. Every one of those other Apple hardware and software upgrades was made necessary by a client requirement, and none earned out. In the end, I decided that if a client required the work to be done on a Mac, I didn't want the project.

In the meantime, my dear old Apple ][+ kept chugging along, and I kept selling all the fiction I wrote using it.

On a parallel track, I went through a succession of CP/M, MP/M, and Xenix machines and their associated programs, and produced quite a lot of non-fiction work in WordStar, which was a real chore. At one point my "personal" computer consisted of an Altos Xenix minicomputer and a bunch of DEC VT-52 terminals, which if nothing else kept my otherwise poorly heated attic office warm, and I was producing entire sets of manuals using vi and ditroff, which is not unlike doing desktop publishing in cuneiform. The greatest virtue of this phase was that it made me quite conversant in operating systems, and the Xenix work naturally segued into Unix and Linux, which has been most beneficial to my career ever since. The next-greatest virtue was that I eventually wound up doing work for a client in this buggy new WYSIWYG program called "FrameMaker," which at the time was insanely expensive and ran only on SCO Unix, and to this day the later, cheaper, and much-improved versions of FrameMaker remain my tool of choice for complex publishing projects.

In the meantime, though, my dear old Apple ][+ still kept chugging along, and I still kept selling all the fiction I wrote using it.

But it was becoming embarassing, y'know? I mean, me being this cutting-edge cyber techno kinda guy, and here I am still pounding away on an Apple ][+? Especially when my fiction publishers started asking for my files, and I had to admit I was working in a proprietary binary format incompatible with everything else in the known universe? So I bought my first IBM-compatible PC. ("IBM-compatible." Does that expression even mean anything anymore?)

I've lost track of the number of PCs and programs I've gone through since. Desktops, laptops, 8088s, 80286s, 80486s, Pentiums, AMD K6-2s, Pentium IIs, Pentiums IIIs, AMD Athlons: at the moment, on the non-fiction side of the house, I'm up to my armpits in AMD Dual-Core Opteron work. But for all the various variants on PCs and associated software I've gone through over the years, just two truths have emerged:

1. I despise Microsoft Windows in all its many incarnations.

2. I absolutely loathe Microsoft Word, with a passion that defies description.

How ironic, then, that most fiction publishers now insist on getting work in Microsoft Word format.

I would love to be able to claim that my solution is to use OpenOffice on Linux, and in truth, I do have that combination and use it regularly for non-fiction and correspondence. But OpenOffice is still just a good emulation of an awful product, and when it comes to writing fiction, I spend far more time fighting it than writing. When I write fiction, what I want more than anything else is a word processing program that stays out of my way.

Which is why my current tool of choice is an old 486 laptop running DOS and WordPerfect. It does just one thing -- edit text -- it does it very well, and when I've hit "The End," then I can port the file to Microsoft Word format, if the publisher insists. In the meantime my dear old Apple ][+ resides in a place of honor in my office, and every now and then I dust off the keys and think, "Maybe, just one more time..."

And that's my story. Let the Computer Holy Wars begin.


Friday, April 01, 2005

How to Write Good

How to Write Dialogue: Just what it says.
Point of View: First person? Third person? What works when, and why.
Riding the Third Person Limited: Suggestions for learning how to write in 3rd person.
Naming Your Characters: Beyond picking random victims from the phone book.
Conflict and Character: Create dramatic tension without whining!
Help! My Characters are Revolting! What to do when your characters start talking back to you.
What to Write When: Sometimes it makes sense to start at the ending.
Collaboration: Pathway to success or to a shaved head and public humiliation?
Venue: When and where do you write best?
Vision: Without my glasses, my eyes are just useless green decorations on my face.
Computers: What's the best computer for a writer? Let the Holy Wars begin...

How to Sell What You Write

Okay, you wrote a story. Now what?

Marketing the Story: How to pitch your story to an editor.
The World's Worst Query Letters: The sad part is, they're all real.
How to Write a Query Letter: Some amazingly bad advice.
Schmoozing and Networking: Is it true that who you know is more important that what you've done?
Publishing in the 21st Century: Big Name Literary Agent Richard Curtis discusses his vision of the future of publishing. Perhaps it's time he retired.
Agent #6 Speaks: On condition of anonymity, another literary agent describes his slushpile.
To Be, Or To Be Somebody Else: The assembled multitude discusses the pros and cons of pseudonyms.
Everything You Want to Know About Literary Agents: Best-selling author Neil Gaiman shares his wisdom.
Predators & Editors: They may look human, but they're parasites that prey on writers.
Writer Beware: There's a sucker born every minute. Don't be one of them.
ePublishing and Self-Publishing: If you don't stop it, you'll go blind.
Marketing II: After It's In Print: Okay, you've sold it the book and it's in the bookstores. Now what?
ConVentional Wisdom: Sci-fi conventions; threat or menace?
The Curse of The Bad Numbers: Bob Metzger discusses how to keep your career afloat if your book sinks.

Market Lists and Other Useful Resources Bullfinch for the 21st Century!
The Postmodernism Generator: Boy, this would have made college a breeze. A peculiar idea generator.
Paula Fleming's Market List
Ralan's Market List
Robert Sawyer's List of Useful Links
F&SF: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction's list of resouces for writers.
Speculations Magazine & Writer's Resources
Clarion ex Machina: The Clarion Workshop's List of Resources for SF Writers.
SFWA: The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
Fantastic Fiction: A U.K. source for info on just about every writer publishing in the English language.
Backspace: The Writer's Place If you're wondering what agents say to each other when you're not around.
Analog SF Magazine
Asimov's SF Magazine
Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine
Tor Books

Writing Workshops

Rob Sawyer's Writing Workshop: Award-winning author Rob Sawyer shares his secrets.
Uncle Orson's Writing Class: Award-winning author Orson Scott Card shares his secrets.
Interested in a Writer's Workshop? Award-winning author Bruce Bethke decides his secrets aren't so hot and probably are not worth sharing.
Gedanke Experimentieren #1: But we had some fun with this idea.
Gedanke Experimentieren #2: This one, too. (Gedanke Experimentieren is German for "no funding available.")
Critters Writing Workshop
Online Writing Workshop
Google Search for "online+writing+workshop": Holy Cow, this thing returns over 4,000 hits!

Recommended Reading

The assembled multitude discuss what they like to read:

After Harry Potter: Recommended Fantasy
After Arthur C. Clarke: Recommended Hard Sci-Fi
Patricia Wrede's Recommended Reading for Writers: Writers writing about writing
George Scithers: On Writing Science Fiction: Four-time Hugo Award-winning Best Editor speaks his piece.

Recommended Reading on Writing

In the course of another discussion, Patricia Wrede gave ZZTop her recommended reading list for those who want to read books about writing:

"...if you're going to read how-to-write books at all, you read *at least* five or six of them, never just one or two. Because they disagree, sometimes vehemently, on the hows and whys and even whats of writing. This will either confuse you so much that you will ignore them, which is fine, or else lead you to the conclusion that there isn't one way that works for everyone, which is, of course, true."

"Care to recommend 5 or 6? So far I've read Jack Bickham's (I forget the title), and Evan Marshall's "Marshall Plan for Novel Writing". Both published by Writer's Digest. Oh, and I have Stephen King's "On Writing".

"I purely *hate* Bickham's how-to-write books (he has two), but there are some writers who find him useful. See disclaimer at end of post on learning something from anybody...

"The how-to books I like best, in no particular order and with the Stephen King book left off because you already read it, are:

"MAKING A GOOD SCRIPT GREAT, by Linda Seger. This one's about screenwriting, not novels, but it's one of the clearest treatments of the basic three-act and four-act structures I can think of. That's pretty much all it talks about, though, so if you already understand that and you don't have time to read how-to-write books for fun, you can skip it. Her second book, MAKING A GOOD WRITER GREAT, is a bit more diffuse and not, I think, quite as useful for novelists.

"The best general how-to-write book I think I've ever read is Lars Eighner's THE ELEMENTS OF AROUSAL, aka LAVENDER BLUE, which is, if you take it literally, a how-to-write-gay-men's-pornography book. His examples are all **extremely** explicit, and if this is going to bother you, you should probably look at some other how-to-write book; but they are also quite memorable. I defy anybody to mix up passive voice with the past progressive after reading his examples... He also talks about structure at the sentence and paragraph level, which I haven't seen anywhere else ever. The book is OOP, but it's available online.

"Anne LaMott's BIRD BY BIRD is what I think of as the general how-to-write book from the literary viewpoint; one of my friends pointed out that it's actually about half autobiography, given how often she explains things by telling stories about what she does and how. She has a whole lot of very good things to say, though (there's a whole chapter titled "Shitty First Drafts" that is a great comfort to practically every writer I know), and it's very entertaining. If I'm limited in the number of books I'm recommending, I start with Lars's, and follow up with this one and the following one as a sort of matched set of bookends to the process.

"TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by Lawrence Block is the other end of the writing spectrum from Anne LaMott -- this is an unabashed genre writer talking writing basics from his perspective. Essentially, it's a collection of some of his columns from Writer's Digest magazine; there are other collections, but I like to recommend this one because of the title.

"Josip Novakovich's FICTION WRITER'S WORKSHOP is a textbook, but very readable. I found him a bit off-putting on first read, but he grew on me(though not enough for me to have bought his later books in hardcover). This has one of the best sections on POV of anything I've read; it's the only source I've seen that covers stuff like plural viewpoints and mixed viewpoints. I don't like his exercises at all, though.

"In fact, the only "exercises" I ever *have* liked, or learned anything from doing, are the ones in Ursula le Guin's STEERING THE CRAFT. Each chapter has a bit where she talks about some writing topic, like adjectives or viewpoint or punctuation or background, and then provides a couple of exercises. Most of them are things you would not end up doing in the course of writing a bunch of stories or books (i.e., they aren't things you are going to get practice on by just writing a whole lot of stuff). Which is part of why I really like them; I always feel as if I can really learn something new by doing whatever she's suggesting.

WRITER'S MIND: CRAFTING FICTION by Richard Cohen is a good, solid, basic, overall how-to-write book. He's clear and entertaining, and to a large extent anti-prescriptive (that is, he reminds you a number of times throughout that whatever he's telling you is *one* way, but not the *only* way). He is another quite literary writer, so the opening and closing sections (the stuff on "why we write" at the start and the advice about when to go to grad school and how to get published at the end) are pretty much loopy from a genre writer's viewpoint. But the actual stuff about *writing* and the writing process is just fine. He suggests exercises, which, you guessed it, I don't like. But they're no worse than most of 'em.

I'm pretty sure that all of the above are currently, or at least recently, available, though I didn't go check Amazon to find out. Those are my short list of recommended how-to-write books. Some other good ones that really belong with those ones above but that I nearly always end up having to trim because most people don't *want* a list of more than ten books are:

IF YOU WANT TO WRITE by Brenda Ueland. Not really a book about technique; more about the emotional aspects, getting ideas, finding time to work, and so on. I fell in love with it and bought it when I read the table of contents in the bookstore and found "X. Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It For Their Writing." My kind of pilosophy. Originally published in 1938, but reissued in trade paperback by Graywolf Press in 1987.

CREATING SHORT FICTION by Damon Knight. One of the classics by one of the greatest teachers in the SF field, and most of what he says is just as useful for novelists. He uses a lot of diagrams to show what he's talking about, and they're really clear, so it's especially good for people who need to visualize things like circles and boxes and intersecting lines instead of always just reading paragraph after paragraph of explanation. This one
keeps getting reissued.

ONE CONTINUOUS MISTAKE by Gail Sher is more Zen Buddist philosophy as applied to the writing process than anything else, and if you are utterly unfamiliar with Zen, it'll probably be a tough slog. But it comes at the whole writing process from a *totally* different angle from anything except Ray Bradbury's ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING (which is also good). And if you are, like a couple of my friends, naturally coming from the same angle, these two books will be a revelation and a relief, because they'll be talking your language at last (at least, that's what those friends tell me. I dunno; I don't think like that.) So these go on the list for those sorts of folks.

There are lots of others that are OK, and quite a few that are good on one topic but that I think should come with warning labels as regards other topics. But you can learn something from just about anybody, as long as you don't swallow their advice whole and unexamined -- even if what you learn is "Boy, other writers do *really weird* things."

The Curse of the Bad Numbers

In the course of a discussion of pseudonyms, Robert Metzger offered up this advice:


"That can be a reason to change your name. For those of you not familiar with this wonderful curse, the way things work in bookstores is that they will typically only order as many of your new book as your old book sold - this is typically done by computer programs. If you have a book that tanks, then your next book gets a very small order. Your publisher knows this, so rather than waste the time and resources on you, knowing that the bookstores will not put many of your new book on the shelf, they will tell you to go away.

"This happened to me in 1991. Had a book called Quad World from Roc. Roc liked it and wanted me to do a series. I had written the second one and it was in editing when the first hit the bookstores. The month my book was released, Roc went from 3 to 5 titles, and the bookstores said that was great, but they only had the same amount of shelf space for Roc as when they were putting out 3 new titles. Since I was the new guy with a mass market book, they decided not to put my book in the big chain stores, needing to protect their investment on their more established writers.

"Several months later I got a call from my editor telling me that my sales numbers were horrible (strange how that happens when the books aren't in the stores), so they could not release the follow-on book and because I now had bad numbers in the computer they would publish NOTHING from me.

"At that point you have two choices. You can change your name and try to start over at another publisher (not easy when they ask why you changed your name and are changing publisher - bad numbers stick to you like crap to a blanket). Or you can quit.

"I quit.

"For four years I didn't write any fiction (I was a research scientist at the Huges Research Labs in Malibu California at the time, so focused all my energies on that).

"After those five years I came back and started writing a book called Picoverse, still using my own name. By the time I gave it to my agent (who was not too wild about seeing me resurface - those same bad numbers stick to the agent also) eight years had passed.

"Eight years was long enough for the bad numbers to have fallen off the computer, and I was able to start fresh. And then I raised the stakes. I told the agent that if the book couldn't be sold as a hardcover, that I'd throw it in the trash rather than let it go as mass market. I was certain that if it went mass market that I'd get dumped the moment that sales numbers didn't beat expectations, while if it was sold hard(cover), it would represent a bigger investment by the publisher, and they'd be less apt to dump me. Ace ended up buying it, and my editor told me that before she could make an offer, that she had to check to make sure that my bad numbers really had fallen out of the system (and they had). Picoverse came out in 2002, eleven years after Quad World tanked.

"The paranoia doesn't end there. I sold my next two books to ACE before the numbers came in on Picoverse. That is not the way to get a higher advance, but I wanted to make sure I had those contracts in hand.

"So it took me 10 years to beat the curse of bad numbers. 10 years and a good amount of luck. I would never suggest than anyone tell their agent to toss their book if it doesn't sell hardcover. It worked for me, but I beat the odds on that move."