Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Common Misconceptions About Publishing
May 2, 2010 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Charles Stross exposes some common misconceptions about publishing. How Charles Stross got into the writing game.
posted by Artw (48 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Retail psychology studies indicate that shoppers are more likely to buy a product if they physically handle it...

What a coincidence. My studies indicate that shoppers are more likely to physically handle a product if they buy it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:33 AM on May 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I still haven't bought Saturn's Children because of the cover. WTF were they thinking?
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:37 AM on May 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


If you put the time it takes to read those articles into writing a book of your own, you're halfway there!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:39 AM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I still haven't bought Saturn's Children because of the cover. WTF were they thinking?

Probably of Friday, which the book is patterned after.
posted by DU at 9:42 AM on May 2, 2010


I still haven't bought Saturn's Children because of the cover. WTF were they thinking?

It sort of makes sense if you read the thing.... but yeah. UK cover is more of a generic spaceship type thing - though technically i think it might be a dirigible in the upper atmosphere of Venus.
posted by Artw at 9:43 AM on May 2, 2010


thanks for the link, Artw, am going to read it when I have leisure (sooooon)

regarding sci fi covers, the best rule of thumb is simply to ignore them, especially the older ones with the obligatory half naked lady being saved by sword wielding spaceman and looming aliens in the background
posted by infini at 10:00 AM on May 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised the Saturn's Children did'nt turn up in the bad SF cover blog that turned up in a FFP recently... though what's always bugged me out the cover is not its pr0niness but that robobabe appears to be boss-eyed.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:12 AM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just went and looked up the cover. Yes, I can understand why the book might be given second thoughts regarding purchase. Do author's have any say about these things or do they simply stand helplessly by as people walk past their book, grimacing in pain?
posted by infini at 10:30 AM on May 2, 2010


Read TFA and find out!
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on May 2, 2010


Most authors, unless they are Stephen-King famous, don't get much say in how their books are marketed or what covers they have. I've HATED every single fucking cover of ever book I've had published, and mine are just computer books. If I was writing novels, I'd probably get arrested for going into bookstores and ripping the covers off my books.
posted by grumblebee at 10:35 AM on May 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Really? Over 23,000 words about the jobs he had before he got into publishing? Ye gods.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:40 AM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Really? Over 23,000 words about the jobs he had before he got into publishing?

So it would seem. Maybe, if you aren't interested, don't read them?
posted by kenko at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


The article actually talks about the book cover in question, as prime example of the author having no (or little) control over the appearance of the book.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:47 AM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not being a Stross reader, I just took a moment to look up the Saturn's Children cover, and I agreee that it is truly terrible.

I mean, sorry dude.

Fuck.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:50 AM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Stross: "And that's when I realized that looking for a job even one micron behind the bleeding edge of technology was a Bad Idea ..."

Oh crap. Now that explains everything in my recent career. I figured there was vast potential in bringing IT improvements to companies way behind the curve. It would be easy, I wouldn't even need to keep up with the leading edge. Alas, I forgot to think of one thing: WHY they were behind the curve. This would have nothing to do with technology, and would be beyond my capabilities to change. Oopsie.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:58 AM on May 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seriously? They put a dead-eyed fake-breasted poser model on the cover of a book? What, was furry Hitler in a diaper already taken?
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 11:02 AM on May 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just FYI, if you're unfamiliar with and would like to sample Stross' work, his (excellent, IMO) collection of linked short stories, Accelerando, is available as a free ebook from Feedbooks.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:44 AM on May 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Lovecraftian A Colder War gets a lot of linkage on the blue, and so I link it again.
posted by Artw at 12:13 PM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


a dead-eyed fake-breasted poser model

Yeah, and again you could say that's kind of what the book is about, but still...
posted by Artw at 12:14 PM on May 2, 2010


His novella 'Palimpsest' is shortlisted for the Hugo and he's posted to his web site (Vote early, vote often!)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:15 PM on May 2, 2010


Accelerando starts poorly, by the way. It's 100% buzzwords, and badly-used buzzwords at that. I found it eyeroll-worthy. That was my first exposure to Stross; I read only that first chapter, and dropped it in revulsion. If I hadn't been poked and prodded, I'd never have read him again. It's that bad.

The later book improves markedly, however. It gets quite good by the end. I eventually returned to it, after being exposed to some of his other stuff, and enjoyed it. But the first chapters were still a slog. Blech.
posted by Malor at 12:21 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just picked up Accelerando last night and I had precisely the same reaction, Malor; the style and language of the first N pages punched my "trying way too hard" button. But what will make me stay with a book is the sense that the author knows where he's going, and after a while I began to believe it. And the protagonist, who seems at first more like an overheated notion than a person, does start to become real, and you get interested in him.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:28 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I rather liked Friday though I found some of his later meandering ones a bit of an overkill on the freelove live forever and reincarnate to confuse us all bit

After this I'm tempted to buy Saturn's Children and read it. Has anyone got a good review they can recommend?
posted by infini at 1:16 PM on May 2, 2010


So it would seem. Maybe, if you aren't interested, don't read them?

Point taken. Sorry for letting my morning cranky spill onto the blue.
posted by mynameisluka at 1:19 PM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I wonder when he'll address the publishing misconception about malignant trolls?
posted by ShawnStruck at 1:43 PM on May 2, 2010


Heh, I just picked up a copy of Nick and the Glimmung (Philip K. Dick's long unpublished YA novel) from the local library, and read this today, which feels relevant--since we're on the subject of SF writers and desk jobs:
"I wish," [Nick's] father had said then, "that we could live in a world where real tasks, occupations of real importance, still existed. In the old days men called 'craftsmen' made beautiful objects with their hands; they made valuable things such as shoes and furniture. They fixed cars and TV sets. The hands of a man were important, once. Look at my hands." He had held up his hands for Nick and Mrs. Graham to see. "These hands," he had finished, "make nothing and fix nothing. I ask myself, What am i for? Do I exist to do a job? No. The job exists merely to give me the illusion that I am doing something. But what in fact do I really do? Ed St. James, at the desk to my right, examines documents and then, if they are correct, he signs them. After he has signed them he passes them to me. I make sure that he has not forgotten to sign them after seeing that they are correct. In four years Ed. St. James has never made a mistake; he has always signed the documents before passing them on to me [. . .] What if Ed St. James does not sign a document? Will our company collapse? Will terror reign in the streets? The documents don't mean anything. They exist to create jobs. One man dictates them. Another man or woman types them up. Ed St. James signs them and I make sure he has signed them. I then give them to Robert Hall, seated at the desk to my left, and he folds them. To his left someone sits whom I have never seen; that indistinct individual places the folded documents in envelopes, if they are to be mailed, or away in the file, if they are to be filed." Nick's father, at this point, had looked very glum indeed."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:46 PM on May 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I come from a middle-class background; I could expect to go to university, but not to rely indefinitely on parental hand-outs. "You'll need some kind of way to earn a living while you're trying to write,"

Pharmacy isn't a profession that fits my strengths: you need an excellent memory, focussed attentiveness to detail, and little enough imagination that the prospect of accidentally poisoning or killing people doesn't keep you awake at night.

I was 22, callow, had wasted the valuable socializing space you get at university by studying a hard technical subject I had little aptitude for for sixty hours a week

the local detectives got a hot tip-off and staked out my workplace for an armed robbery twice in one month.

By 1989 I was desperate to get out of pharmacy — in the end, I quit one summer locum job three weeks early, due to being physically unable to contemplate going in to work. (In ten weeks of that job I'd been driving roughly 150 miles a day and working nine hours on my feet; I lost 15 kilos and was on the edge of a nervous breakdown when I quit.)

But I had, finally, figured out that the whole idea of using a career as a state-licensed drug dealer to support the writing habit was a horrible mistake. And that's when I began to get serious about looking for a new career


Oh, hey, this is...pretty much my life. With slightly different details. I'd seen this already, but it's awesome and it makes me hopeful.

(I've accepted the risk of killing people, though. I think you actually need little enough imagination not to be bored out of your fucking mind.)
posted by little e at 2:22 PM on May 2, 2010


Really? Over 23,000 words about the jobs he had before he got into publishing? Ye gods.

Really? Over 15 words to say tl;dr? Ye gods.
posted by little e at 2:23 PM on May 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


the style and language of the first N pages punched my "trying way too hard" button. But what will make me stay with a book is the sense that the author knows where he's going,

Yeah, that's exactly my reaction, except I wasn't perceptive enough to read past the buzzwords and realize that there were some good stories waiting, later in the book.

Oddly, I wonder if my reaction was partially because it was free, and I was reading it online. My unspoken assumption was 'this must be crap', and the first chapter confirmed that for me, so I dropped it.

When I reread it, it was on real paper, meaning that someone out there thought it was good enough to kill trees for. And that got me through the first Manfred story.

It was, indeed, worth some tree death.
posted by Malor at 2:45 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Over 23,000 words about the jobs he had before he got into publishing?
It's more than that, it's a brief personal history of computer business in the 90s and worth reading if you have any interest in the subject.
posted by CCBC at 2:47 PM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I found Saturn's Children rather enjoyable and interesting. Some science fiction does not tackle any ethical issues, but this did. A little more sex than I care for in a book, but I have a pretty low threshold for "too much" in that regard. It left me thinking about some of the ideas in the book long after I was done with it. Go read, ignore the cover.
posted by adipocere at 4:05 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hah! The Saturn's Children cover is even better than the links in this thread since the image wraps all the way around the book. Here is the unfolded dust jacket in all its cheesy glory. Although, oddly, my copy has the bar code in a different place (vertically on the top of the spine) such that it doesn't cover any of the actual image.

I wonder if Charlie has a high resolution scan of the cover? I could make a truly kickass and monumentally cheesy widescreen desktop wallpaper at 1920x1200 or 1920x1080 if I had a high resolution image to start with. I can feel the pulpy goodness beaming out of my monitor.

This is where I wave my magic wand and cstross appears to reveal he, indeed, has such an image.
posted by Justinian at 5:19 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, so critical. I *enjoy* reading Stross, which is more than I can say about a lot of things I "have" to read. Jeez people, you don't like it, don't read it.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:33 PM on May 2, 2010


Stross is not one of those authors who, when you've enjoyed one of their books, you're guaranteed to enjoy the rest. I thought Accelerando had some interesting ideas, but I didn't enjoy it as a novel. On the other hand, I loved the Laundry books and Halting State. I'm currently about a quarter of the way through Saturn's Children, and so far I'm ambivalent about it. But I'll keep going and see how it evolves (I got the one with the UK cover; I don't think the US cover would have stopped me buying it, but I'm a fan rather than a generic browser).
posted by damonism at 6:55 PM on May 2, 2010


Not being a Stross reader, I just took a moment to look up the Saturn's Children cover, and I agreee that it is truly terrible.

But, but, but, the robot chick on the cover looks like she could feed all of Saturn's children, and Jupiter's children too.
posted by orthogonality at 7:45 PM on May 2, 2010


I had the opposite reaction to Accelerando; loved it from page one although I didn't think much of the story, but that was fine, because to me, the story existed purely to provide a framework for the five or so mindblowing ideas per page average. I found the characters themselves unsympathetic and largely interchangeable, but the setting was amazing.

IMO he did a far better job in terms of story and characters of Glasshouse, which remains my favorite of his books. A lower density of mind-blowing ideas (though it's still full of them), but better presentation and development of the protagonist and other characters as people.

I consider myself a fan of his work, I would recommend him as an author if you haven't read anything of his (especially if you are familiar with the Call of Cthulhu mythos and associated role-playing games) and I follow his blog but I'm not at the "must read everything he publishes" level. Still haven't gotten around to reading the Family Trade series.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:36 PM on May 2, 2010


I have very particular Stross tastes, which I have yet to fully figure out and codify-- I'm a hardcore, major Laundryverse fan, but barely made it through most of the first Merchant Princes book, and gave up on Halting State 60 pages in.

Basically, I guess I just played too much Delta Green and Paranoia in the indeterminate blur between my first and second college careers, and not enough Vampire or Shadowrun.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:58 PM on May 2, 2010


Hmm, maybe I'll give Accelerando another shot, someday. I had pretty much the exact same reaction to it as Malor (although I don't think it's really my job to be "perceptive" enough to realize that a nugget of gold is my reward for slogging through shit), and ended up putting it down about the time the kidcopies got sent off to into interstellar space.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:59 PM on May 2, 2010


I rather liked Friday though I found some of his later meandering ones a bit of an overkill on the freelove live forever and reincarnate to confuse us all bit

Could be worse, could be I Will Fear No Evil.

Bookclub of the Damned: prologue, 1, 2, 3
posted by Artw at 9:03 PM on May 2, 2010


Seriously? They put a dead-eyed fake-breasted poser model on the cover of a book? What, was furry Hitler in a diaper already taken?

They're probably saving that one for "Rule 34."
posted by Phssthpok at 9:13 PM on May 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


As others have implied they put a dead-eyed fake breasted poser model on the cover because the book is about a dead-eyed fake-breasted (and fake everything else) poser model. Which doesn't make it a good cover per se but does make it a lot more accurate than a lot of covers.
posted by Justinian at 9:38 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter's own.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:43 AM on May 3, 2010


Rewriting your own history is good and everything, but "How I became a writer" doesn't really explain how Stross became a writer. He became a writer by writing obsessively for 20 years. All that other stuff, interesting as it is, is sub-plot.

He was always going to be a writer.

btw. Off topic, and it sounds a little like bragging. But, I've read one of those early unpublished Stross novels, and although it was bad, it really wasn't *that* bad. If I remember correctly, it was set in the fantasy-world-which-is-really-the-moon-converted-to-a-giant-computer world which I believe he also used in some of his interzone published short stories. Yeah. Not great, but I've read worse.
posted by seanyboy at 4:35 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The thing to remember about Saturn's Children is it is a terribly heretical book. He takes Holy Saint Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics and shows that they are controls to enact a particularly nasty form of slavery, and then has the temerity to point out that a robot society formed in the context of those laws would be horribly twisted. He applies sociology and psychology to the mathematical and engineering based discipline of SF, and implies that libertarian space feudalism would be a horribly unjust and cruel form of government (meaning he will likely be targeted for internet death by Mils fans). He even shows that interplanetary travel would be slow and massively uncomfortable, even for robots.

In short, No True SF fan who is loyal to the tropes of SF will read Saturns Children. They'll go read David Webber or Jerry Pournelle writing about fighting space socialists instead.
posted by happyroach at 9:31 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I love everything Stross has written, and yeah, that includes his unpublishable dreck - the ideas are fantastic and he has that knack of writing nested stories, where the stage suddenly gets larger, the ideas wilder, the characters loster - much like his own life. His early stuff reads a lot like the stuff I write to amuse myself, and his later stuff is getting better and more polished every year. And his programming career is really not unlike mine; reading this "how I got to be a writer" was really nostalgic for me.

Anyway, Artw, I'm really glad you posted this.
posted by Michael Roberts at 9:47 AM on May 3, 2010


Oh, and Accelerando? I suggest that it was supposed to be buzzword bingo in the beginning — the frenetic mixing and matching of all kinds of technologies whapping up against one another in the Brownian motion version of Scrabble to generate bizarre outcomes we could not easily foresee. You know how your grand-relation of choice gets confused and switches up technological terms they do not understand in inappropriate fashions, resulting in even further flummoxing? That's going to be you, in twenty years, pelted relentlessly by technologies that make Twitter look like the telegraph, scrambling to make sense of a technological landscape which has outgrown you ... and you just want pictures of the grandkids, dammit.

The future is going to be weird.
posted by adipocere at 9:57 AM on May 3, 2010


There's some quality Stross action pertaining to publishing going on in this thread.
posted by Artw at 10:02 AM on May 3, 2010


The future is going to be weird.
posted by everichon at 11:35 AM on May 3, 2010


« Older President Barack Obama, and Jay Leno at the 2010 W...   |   Ever wonder how military aviat... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments