Cover for The Last Firewall

It’s a very exciting time in the lifecycle of a book.

Here’s a quick peek at the cover for The Last Firewall. We may make a few tweaks, but that’s the general layout.

We’re still targeting a mid-August release. I’m working with my designer, the wonderful Maureen Gately, on the interior pages right now.

I’ll soon start generating the ebook versions for Kindle, Kobo, and other ereaders.

In a few spare moments here and there, I’m reading Ramez Naam’s upcoming Crux, which is great, and will be out on August 27th. I’ll have a full review next month. It’s a sequel to his first novel, Nexus. If you haven’t read Nexus, go get a copy now.

I’m also getting ready to speak at Willamette Writers Convention on August 1st. If you’re attending, check out my session on Friday from 1:30 to 3pm (PDF of schedule).

I know I’ve gone dark over the last few months. I’m sure that’s left many people wondering about the status of The Last Firewall, my third Singularity novel.

I’m delighted to announce that The Last Firewall will be available this summer. I’m targeting an August launch. 
So why the long wait?

As you may know, my previous novels are all self-published. They’ve sold well, but I often wondered how many more readers might find my books if I went with a traditional publisher.
In addition, many folks have asked “When will we see the movie version?” about Avogadro Corp and A.I. Apocalypse, but very few self-published novels have made that leap. Hollywood often judges potential movie options by the interest publishers take in novels. That was another reason why I was interested in traditional publication.
I started working with a literary agent who saw great promise in The Last Firewall, but wanted substantial revisions. I subsequently worked on The Last Firewall for another eight months until it gleamed brighter than the titanium shell of a robot.
That’s where I’ve been for a while, and I think the results are great: I’m convinced it reads better than anything I’ve done before, and a few other folks have read the manuscript and agree.
However, traditional publishing is a tough nut to crack, and if I persist with that path, The Last Firewall will continue to languish on my computer when it really wants to be read.
So I’m self-publishing The Last Firewall, as I have my other novels. It’s worked great in the past, and I’m happy to be going this route again. I’m choosing cover images and working on cover design right now, even as the manuscript undergoes a final round of proofreading.

I think it’s going to be awesome, and can’t wait to get it in your hands. If you haven’t done so, sign up for the mailing list and I’ll let you know when it’s available. 

1. Diagram from Google’s patent
application for floating data centers.

The technology in Avogadro Corp and A.I. Apocalypse is frequently polarizing: readers either love it or believe it’s utterly implausible.

The intention is for the portrayal to be as realistic as possible. Anything I write about either exists today as a product, is in active research, or is extrapolated from current trends. The process I use to extrapolate tech trends is described in an article I wrote called How to Predict the Future. I’ve also drawn upon my twenty years as a software developer, my work on social media strategy, and a bit of experience in writing and using recommendation engines, including competing for the Netflix Prize.

Let’s examine a few specific ideas manifested in the books and see where those ideas originated.

    • Floating Data Centers: (Status: Research) Google filed a patent in 2007 for a floating data center based on a barge. The patent application was discovered and shared on Slashdot in 2008. Like many companies, filing a patent application doesn’t mean that Google will be deploying ocean-based data centers any time soon, but simply that the idea is feasible, and they’d like to own the right to do so in the future, if it becomes viable. And of course, there is the very real problem of piracy.
Pelamis Wave converter in action.
    • Portland Wave Converter: (Status: Real) In Avogadro Corp I describe the Portland Wave Converter as a machine that converts wave motion into electrical energy. This was also described as part of the Google patent application for a floating data center. (See diagram 1.) But Pelamis Wave Power is an existing commercialization of this technology. You can buy and use wave power converters today. Pelamis did a full-scale test in 2004, installed the first multi-machine farm in 2008 off the coast of Portugal, is doing testing off the coast of Scotland, and is actively working on installing up to 170MW in Scottish waters.
Pionen Data Center. (Src: Pingdom)
    • Underground Data Center: (Status: Real) The Swedish data center described as being in a converted underground bunker is in fact the Pionen data center owned by Bahnhof. Originally a nuclear bunker, it’s housed nearly a hundred feet underground and is capable of withstanding a nuclear attack. It has backup power provided by submarine engines and triple redundant backbone connections to the Internet and fifteen full-time employees on site.
    • Netflix Prize: (Status: Real) A real competition that took place from 2006 through 2009, the Netflix Prize was a one million dollar contest to develop a better recommendation than Netflix’s original Cinematch algorithm. Thousands of people participated, and hundreds of teams beat Netflix’s algorithm, but only one team was the first to better it by 10%, the required threshold for payout. I entered the competition and realized within a few weeks that there were many other ways recommendation engine technology could be put to use, including a never-before-done approach to customer support content that increased the helpfulness of support content by 25%.
    • Email-to-Web Bridge: (Status: Real) At the time I wrote Avogadro Corp, IBM had a technical paper describing how they build an email-to-web bridge as a research experiment. Five years later, I can’t seem to find the article anymore, but I did find some working examples of services that do the same thing. In fact, www4mail appears to have been working since 1998.
    • Decision-Making via Email: (Status: Real) From 2003 to 20011, I worked in a position where everyone I interacted with in my corporation was physically and organizationally remote. We interacted daily via email and weekly via phone meetings. Many decisions were communicated by email. They might later be discussed in a meeting, but if a communication came down by a manager, we’d just have to work within the constraints of that decision. Through social engineering, it possible to make those emails even more effective. For example, employee A, a manager, is about to go on vacation. ELOPe sends an from employee A to employee B, explaining a decision that was making, and asking employee B to handle any questions for that decision. Everyone else receives an email saying the decision was made, and ask employee B if there are questions. The combination of an official email announcement plus a very real human contact to act as point person becomes very persuasive. On the other hand, some Googlers have read Avogadro Corp, and they’ve said the culture at Google is very different. They are centrally located and therefore do much more in face to face meetings.
Foster-Miller Armed Robot
(Src: Wikipedia)
  • iRobot military robots: (Status: Real) iRobot has both military bots and maritime bots, although what I envisioned for the deck robots on the floating data centers is closer to the Foster-Miller Talon, an armed, tank-style robot. The Gavia is probably the closest equivalent to the underwater patrolling robots. It accepts modular payloads, and while it’s not clear if that could include an offensive capability, it seems possible.
  • Language optimization based on recommendation engines:  (Status: Made Up) Unfortunately, not real. It’s not impossible, but it’s also not a straightforward extrapolation. There’s hard problems to solve. Jacob Perkins, CTO of Weotta, wrote an excellent blog post analyzing ELOPe’s language optimization skills. He divides the language optimization into three parts: topic analysis, outcome analysis, and language generation. Although challenging, topic analysis is feasible, and there are off-the-shelf programming libraries to assist with this, as there also are for language generation. The really challenging part is the outcome analysis. He writes:

    “This sounds like next-generation sentiment analysis. You need to go deeper than simple failure vs. success, positive vs. negative, since you want to know which email chains within a given topic produced the best responses, and what language they have in common. In other words, you need a language model that weights successful outcome language much higher than failure outcome language. The only way I can think of doing this with a decent level of accuracy is massive amounts of human verified training data. Technically do-able, but very expensive in terms of time and effort.

    What really pushes the bounds of plausibility is that the language model can’t be universal. Everyone has their own likes, dislikes, biases, and preferences. So you need language models that are specific to individuals, or clusters of individuals that respond similarly on the same topic. Since these clusters are topic specific, every individual would belong to many (topic, cluster) pairs. Given N topics and an average of M clusters within each topic, that’s N*M language models that need to be created. And one of the major plot points of the book falls out naturally: ELOPe needs access to huge amounts of high end compute resources.”

    This is a case where it’s nice to be a science fiction author. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any other questions about the technology of Avogadro Corp, just let me know!

A.I. Apocalypse was nominated for the Prometheus Award for Best Novel for 2012.

It didn’t make the cut to the finalists, but other awesome novels, including Suarez’s Kill Decision, Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema, and the Kollins’s The Unincorporated Future, did make the finalists. As these were some of my favorite novels of last year, I can’t begrudge them a bit.

Read the full press release from the Libertarian Futurist Society.

Democratization of Publishing: Survive & Thrive
Aaron Rubenson, Director Amazon Appstore for Android, Amazon
John Densmore, Artist, @JohnDensmore
Libby Johnson Mckee, North America Director, Kindle Direct Publishing, @libbyjm3415
Steve Carpenter, author, creator of Grimm series on NBC, @GrimmStephen
Guy Kawasaki, @GuyKawasaki

·      LJM: All of these guests have had the opportunity to traditionally publish and chose to self-publish.
·      John Densmore
o   Had 6 figure deal from major publisher
o   Kept getting requests “more stories about Jim Morrison”, “we don’t like the title”.
§  They wanted “The Doors: The Inside Story”
o   Realized my baby was going to be morphed into something I didn’t want.
·      Steve Carpenter
o   Very similar story to John.
o   Wanted creative control.
o   No bar to entry.
o   I just had to figure out how to upload the book, and then I was published.
o   It was up to me to sink or swim.
o   After waiting 4 to 6 weeks just to get a phone call returned, I realized I would have to wait a year or more to see it in print.
o   And also realized I’d have to pay an agent 15%, which is more than the 10% I pay for movie agent.
o   So I decided to do it on a lark.
o   The first reviews all mentioned the lousy formatting. So I unpublished the book, hired a real person to reformat it.
o   Then the reviews mentioned they didn’t like the ending. So I unpublished it, rewrote the ending, and published it again.
o   I’d rather hear from thousand of people who paid money to read the book than to hear from one person to whom I am paying money.
·      Guy Kawasaki
o   I’ve published a lot of books, so I have more creative control.
o   But the speed of publishing: it’s less than 24 hours with KDP. With a traditional publisher, even the fastest is at least six months, and they lock the print and ebook together.
o   The royalties are great: If I had a $10 book, I make $7 with KDP, and I’d make maybe $1 traditionally published. That’s 7 times the revenue.
·      Rubenson:
o   Apps grew up in the a world that was self-publishing from the beginning.
o   There’s so many self-service options out there, which one to choose from? There are many different stores.
o   The challenge is where to publish and how to get discovered.
·      Q: This shift happening in publishing, where if everyone publishes, then there is so much out there. How do you stand out in a crowd? Is this a problem?
o   Guy:
§  You shouldn’t have gates up. If I have a choice between 6 large companies in NY picking what people can read and everyone can pick forthemselves, I would choose that everyone picks.
§  It doesn’t matter now who the publisher is. The proxy for quality isn’t the publisher, it’s the number of stars on the revenues.
§  Spend $1,000 and get a professional cover.
·      You have about a second to make people click.
o   Carpenter:
§  I struggled with this for a while.
§  Went to a panel this morning, speaker said: “The good news is that it’s a meritocracy. Be awesome.”
§  The tools for being discovered are way better now than four years ago.
§  Get into KDP Select. “Think like a drug dealer. Give away the stuff for free.”
o   Densmore:
§  Thanks to technology, everyone can make their own music, movie, book.
§  I hired –someone- to do my cover. The cover is hot. So hot that publishers are coming back to talk to me.
o   Carpenter: Made a tabletop display. Cost me $300. I put them in a friend’s coffeeshop, go into bookstores and put them into the books there.
·      Q: There’s a lot of conversation about how authors have to build their platform. But authors ask “How do I do that?” What are your platforms?
o   Guy:
§  Platform is the sum total of the number of people in the world who have heard of you.
§  Start today. It takes 6 to 9 months to build a platform.
§  Use the NPR model.
·      They make great content 365 days a year.
·      They have a telethon to raise money once a year.
·      They have earned the right to bother us during the telethon because they’ve shared such great stuff all year long.
§  As an author, you must share great content on a subject. You are establishing credibility and expertise in a given area.
o   Carpenter:
§  I asked my 16 year old son how to tweet.
·      He said “Just pretend you have a cool life.”
o   Rubenson:
§  The tools are often the same for app developers.
§  Developers spend a ton of effort to use one app to build the platform for future apps: by cross-merchandising other apps, by selling stuff within the next.
·      Their goal is to get to 100% adoption of their next app from the current app users.
o   Densmore:
§  I had to ask my son to turn on the television there were so many buttons. Now I tweet and use facebook.
§  There’s people who won’t admit that they want as many people as possible to see their baby. That’s the first step.
·      Q: There’s a shift from the business of writing to the business of publishing. Can you talk about the shift in your mindset?
o   Guy:
§  Everything that a traditional publisher does, you now have to do yourself. With total control comes total responsibility. You have to do it or hire people to do it.
o   Carpenter:
§  Don’t pass up any opportunity. Do they have a blogger with six followers? Do something with them. Don’t turn down an interview.
§  Guy: If they have one follower, don’t turn them down. They could be the next west coast director for Rolling Stone.
o   Rubenson:
§  Developers are looking at exploiting intellectual property across all of their properties. The Angry Bird folks have a cookbook, merchandise, etc. They want creative content that spawns everything.
o   Guy:
§  My 10th book was called Enchancement. I thought that was the pinnacle of my literary achievement. So I got a facebook page forenchancement. Now I have 35,000 people following that page. I can’t move them over. I should have done a fanpage for Guy the Author. Now what do I do? A page for each book? That doesn’t help me market the next book.
·      Q: Let’s talk about pricing. I get the most questions. What’s the role of free? How do you think about pricing?
o   Densmore:
§  I priced in the middle ground.
o   Carpenter:
§  Trial and error. I tried a bunch of different prices. Since you can choose yourself, why not try a bunch of different things?
§  I thought it was important to stay under $5. Because of the retail theory that anything under $5 people don’t think that much about.
§  I eventually settled on $3.99.
§  I love the free promotions. It allows the book to get up onto a list. It doesn’t matter that it’s the free list. It’s right there next to the paid list.
§  Let it ride, let it get out there. Get onto that first page.
§  People who get your book for free tend to write really positive reviews.
o   Guy:
§  We wanted APE to be taken very seriously. It’s not a get rich quick. I want it to the Chicago Manual of Style, not get-rich-quick.
§  We wanted the lowest price that still seem serious. That’s $9.99.
§  We also wanted to get the 70% royalty.
§  (We got blessed to be the Kindle Daily Deal one day, sold thousands of books.)
§  If you price your book too cheap, it sends the message it’s not good.
§  If I was a novice novelist, I might try 99 cents to get to $2.99.
§  But for non-fiction, pricing it too cheap sends a message that something is wrong.
§  I sent a message to 5 million of my closest friends, asking people to fill out a form, if they wanted a review copy.
·      We sent out a thousand or so full manuscripts.
·      Amazon won’t let people post reviews until the book is for sale.
·      So after the book went on sale, I sent a follow up message to those people with the manuscript, and told them to post their reviews.
·      And so the first day of sales started with 50 reviews.
·      Q: What have you learned? What shocked you?
o   Guy: It astonished me that to this day, people think that they need a kindle device to read a kindle book. I was stunned people didn’t know there is a kindle app for every platform.
o   Carpenter: The thing that shocked me is how many books I sold. I did it as a lark. I did no social media. It took about six months, and then something just kicked in.

Self-Publishing in the Age of E
Hugh Howey (Wool, @hughhowey),
Kirby Kim (William Morris Endeavor, @pantherfist)
Rachel Deahl (Publishers Weekly, @PW_Deals)
Erin Brown (Erin Edits)


·      Self-publishing not new. Anyone can publish, find an audience.
·      50 Shades of Gray, essentially self-published, fastest selling adult series of all time.
·      Number of books self-published has grown nearly 3x.
·      About 250K books self-published books per year.
·      Q: More projects start as self-published, and are they of higher quality?
o   Kim:
§  Authors trying to show that they have a sales platform, that they can get reviews.
§  But for quality, not necessarily. Even if someone puts something on Amazon, I am still looking at whether the project is appropriate for me, their query letter.
·      Q: Has 50 Shades changed things?
o   Kim:
§  At one time, it cost money to self-publish, and lots of barriers: hard to get books into stores.
§  It’s a natural result of more ereaders and ease of publishing that more works are self-published.
·      Q: Hugh, you went traditional, then self-published.
o   Howey: I saw my traditional publisher using the same tools for self-publishing any author would. When I looked at the royalties and the amount of work involved, it was obvious I could do it myself. It’s a startup with zero up front costs if you’re willing to do the work yourself.
·      Q: What about pricing?
o   Howey: I wanted to make them free, but Amazon wouldn’t let me, so I set them for 99 cents. Then readers would complain that they couldn’t find my books because they were underpriced, so I raised the price.
·      Q: When did you decide to get an agent?
o   Howey: I didn’t, I was too busy writing. I was pitched by Kristen (his future agent) that I was missing out on all these other markets.
o   My sales were a hundred thousand copies per month. Publishers were offering advances comparable to just a few months of royalties.
·      Q: When should people go self-published vs. traditionally published?
o   Brown:
§  I encourage people to go traditionally published first, including getting an agent who will protect their interests. Publishers are also useful feedback: if you get criticism, then maybe you need to address that feedback.
§  Success stories are still few and far between in self-publishing.
o   Howey: It’s hard in both paths. And I know hundreds of people online who are quitting their day jobs and earning a modest income from their self-publishing writing, and that is really hard to accomplish with traditional publication.
·      Q: “Amazon bestseller” is thrown around a lot, and it’s a slippery term.
o   Kim:
§  Agents have to decide that either they are going to work on books they have a passion for, or sometimes they’ll work outside their comfort zone. They’ll think “oh, there’s some money here.” The agent then is left focusing on the wrong thing: the numbers. It makes it hard for them to pick up the phone and call editors and pitch the book with enthusiasm.
§  Some people are successfully leveraging that sales platform.
·      Q: Is it harder to find success in either way, given that so many people are self-publishing, is there too much competition?
o   Howey:
§  We can’t possibly produce enough material to entertain all the readers.
§  I don’t worry about it. I write because I enjoy it, and I’d keep writing if I never sold a book.
§  Writers are not my competition. We’re all in it together.
o   Brown:
§  Finding quality material is about the same: you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. Readers are looking for so many different things. There are storytellers who are great writers, and great writers who aren’t good storytellers. Some people love 50 Shades, and some hate it.
o   Kim:
§  All boats rise with the tide. These are dark days in the industry. When you hear of any book working out, it’s good for everyone.
§  Publishers are learning about new markets, markets that were underserved.
·      Q: Howey did a unique deal with S&S. Can you tell us about that?
o   Howey:
§  It make be dark days for publishing, but publishers are making record profits. The upside for ebooks is huge.
§  I said to publishers, if you want the print rights, you can have them, but I’m keeping the e-rights. I get paid every month with ebooks, I can’t afford to give that up, and only get paid every six months.
§  S&S came to me with the deal I had wanted all along: they bought the print rights, and left all the erights with the Howey.
§  I still want to be an indie author. “I don’t want the stigma of being with a big publisher.”
o   Kim:
§  Ebooks are outselling print books now.
§  So it’s extremely rare for a publisher to give that up.
§  Howey had an a lot of leverage based on the strength of his sales.
o   Howey:
§  I’m not the first person to do this, and I’m not the last. Next year we’ll have a panel on how to do print-only negotiations.
§  The publisher sees the sales, and they’d rather have part of something, than nothing.
o   Kim:
§  It’s hard to bootstrap sales from nothing. Having sales is a big deal.
·      Q: What were you selling in digital versus print, and how did you sell those print copies?
o   Howey:
§  The up-front cost of producing physical books has gone to zero.
§  Fans will want them. You need to bring them to signings. They’re nice to have on your shelf. Some readers are always going to want print books.
§  When you sell hundreds of thousands of books, people are going to talk about it. When the coworker who doesn’t have an ereader wants it, they look for a print copy. When a Barnes and Noble gets 5 people who ask for a book, they’re going to stock it at a bookstore.
§  S&S has done a second print run of the hardback already. True fans want the ebook and then they also want the print copy too.
·      Q: The success stories (Amanda Hocking, Bella …, etc.) are genre writers with a lot of books self-published. Do you need to be writing genre fiction? And do you need a lot of books published?
o   Brown: It’s helpful to write that way. In traditional publishing, I dealt mostly with genre fiction. They have rapid fans who want to read a lot of books, at least a book or two a year. If a writer publishes a book every five years, they can’t sustain their fan base.
o   Kim.
§  Agree with above. Genre readers, who read a lot of books, have a particular affinity for the ebook form. They don’t want a stack of 100 physical books.
§  For commercial novels, you need to get into the 50,000 sales range before they are impressed. 5,000 sales doesn’t cut it anymore, unless you’re talking about a literary novel.
o   Howey: We have to remember what readers want. Look at TV, and what’s popular. People want fun, they want escapism. They want Twilight and 50 Shades.
o   Kim: You also see people coming out of MFA programs and they want to write a literary genre novel: it’s a science fiction setting, but it’s a sophisticated writing style. They’re elevating the entire category.
·      Q: Is Hollywood having a hunger for self-pubbed works, or are they just motivated by sales?
o   Kim: Hollywood wants commercial stories, and most self-pubbed successes are very commercial. Hollywood is looking for a good story.
o   Howey: Hollywood is dying for the next thing. They’ll option a twitter feed or a grocery list. The economics are different: $5,000 is a big deal for a publisher, and it’s a valet ticket for Hollywood.
·      Q: Is erotica tapped out after 50 Shades?
o   Brown: Romance and erotica has been around forever. It’s not changing.
o   Kim: We see 50 Shades and knockoffs on the racks even at airports now.
o   Howey: I think the anonymity of ereaders and reading online allowed it to expand. We’ll never see another 50 Shades, because you’ll never be able to brag about reading BDSM erotica again. Once is curiosity, and twice is perversion.
o   New Adult: It’s YA books, ramped up, and more explicit, with risqué sexual themes.
o   Howey: The books are following the readers. Harry Potter readers became Twilight readers.
·      Q: What’s the biggest misconceptions about traditional and self-publishing?
o   Brown:
§  MisCon: That traditional publishers are heartless corporations out to extract every last dime. But publishers are full of people who love and breath books, and want them and the authors to succeed.
§  MisCon: That you’re going to get a big advance and quit your day job. It’s not going to happen, and it’s split among four payments over a year or more.
§  MisCon: That, for self-publishing, that you don’t need an editor. And that success is easy or overnight.
o   Kim:
§  We’re all in it because we love it. Discovery is the best part of the job, championing and advocating for it.
§  MisCon: That your job is over once the publisher has the book. You have a lot of work ahead of you, lots of pounding the pavement, lots of work to get the word out.
§  MisCon: That self-pub is easy. The odds are still against you.
o   Howey:
§  Everyone I worked with at traditional publishing has been amazing, even the ones I had to say no to.
§  MisCon: That once you get an agent or a book out there, that you have a career ahead of you. The reality is that you have six months to prove yourself. In my case, it took three years for me to take off. I’ve had friends whose dreams has been crushed when the traditional publishing didn’t turn out the way they wanted.
§  MisCon: That self-pub and traditional pub is very different in quality. They aren’t, the only difference is that the self-pub slushpile is available for purchase. If you look at the top 1%, they are of roughly equal quality.
·      Questions from audience
o   Q: Why would an author who does the hard work to build an audience, why would you go with a traditional publisher?
§  Howey:
·      Publishers are doing e-only imprints to get authors into the stable early, because once a book becomes big, it is too expensive for them to acquire.
·      We will see more hybrid deals.
§  Kim:
·      Publishers can help you break out, reach new audiences, at a faster pace.
·      Publishers can help you get reviews, they can give you some financial security up front.
o   Q: From an editors point of view, do you have a preference for who to work with? What should selfpub authors do to not make their editors mad?
§  Brown: I’m never mad at my writers. I always work directly with writers. I get a clients manuscript in the best shape possible, whether they are pitching agents or self-publishing. I can’t make promises. It’s a collaborative relationship to make the best relationship possible.
o   Q: What are you seeing for kid’s books, especially with ereaders? Is there much talk in the industry about it?
§  Deahl:
·      All of the children’s publishers see apps as a major potential revenue stream. It’s not been the business they’ve been in, so it’s something new. Is it the product? It is ancillary? How do we price it? How do we link it to the book?
·      No obvious examples of anything that’s been big revenue generators.
o   Q: Are there any creative, outside the box examples of authors who were able to market their books?
§  Kim: John Green, his first thousand books he sold on Amazon were signed copies. He always had a fan base, so this was a big boost for that book. He also has done a lot of viral videos with his brother.
§  Howey: science fiction author did his own audiobooks serially.
o   Q: As a big six publisher, what can we do, within reason, to recruit new authors and keep them happy?
§  Howey: Pay us monthly, and show us real-time sales, so I can see the effects of the marketing I do.
§  Kim: We have full agency meetings about marketing. We have our own brainstorming meetings for marketing our authors. We want publishers to come to us early and have a candid conversation about marketing and trying new things. Too often we see the same old stuff.
o   Q: How can business founders who are writing business or self-help books market their books?
§  Howey: it’s easier for those kinds of books, you just need to get the meta-data right, so people can find it when they search for the topic.
o   Q: Lots of new digital marketing tools out there like goodreads. Are you using them, and what do you use?
§  Howey: My blog post this morning was thanking my goodread readers. It’s good to engage with your readers, rather than try to brow-beat other people into your books.

Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother, Makers, and many other other awesome books, came to Portland to promote his newest book Homeland. He spoke to a standing room only crowd at Powell’s Bookstore.

He started by asking if people wanted a reading or a presentation, and everyone picked the presentation. These are my raw notes from his talk. He is a fast talker, so these notes are unfortunately incomplete (especially when it comes to the names of people he was talking about), but they should give you the gist of his talk.

He was a passionate speaker, polite to the audience during questions, and emotional when talking about Aaron Swartz’s death.

Cory Doctorow
Homeland Reading at Powell’s Beaverton
  • “Show of hands: reading or presentation?”
    • all presentations
  • affluent school
    • all kids given macbook
    • they were the only computers allowed on the school
    • they had to be used for homework
    • student accused of taking drugs
    • he was actually eating candy
    • the laptops were equipped with software to covertly watch the student
    • they had taken thousands of pictures of students, awake and asleep, dressed and undressed.
  • thousands of school districts still use this software. they tell the students they will be covertly monitored.
  • group discovered the bulvarian government was infecting computers with software, and convert monitoring people; using camera, monitor, screenshots, read keystrokes.
    • the software was so badly secured it could be hijacked by anyone
  • carrier iq: installed on 141M phones
    • nominally used to discovered where there were weak spots in network
    • but it could be used to monitor where people were, their keystrokes, look at their photos.
    • eventually it was disabled, but only because people were able to investigate and discover what had happened.
  • laptop security software, under ftc investigation, admitted they used security software to monitor being having sex, to monitor confidential doctors conversations, recording their children having sex…
    • the ftc said “you must stop doing this… unless you disclose in the fine print that you are doing it, then it is fine”
  • us law made it a felony offense to violate authorized use on a computer; then prosecutors used that law to say that if anyone violate a EULA agreement or terms of service (which are usually absurdly one-sided), then you are violated authorizing use.
    • what would have merely been a breach of contract (a civil offense) then turned into a felony offense.
  • which brings us to Aaron Swartz
    • pacer
      • the system that holds case law (e.g. what judges have ruled)
      • which charges you 10 cents for every page.
      • the law itself is in the public domain.
      • there’s no copyright on it.
      • and the price comes from the days when computer time was expensive. not so today.
      • recap: is a web service and browser plugin
        • when someone used pacer to pay for case law, it made a legal copy, and put it in recap. 
        • when someone else requested a document already in recap, then it came from recap, saving them the money
    • jstore:
      • Aaron started to download lots and lots of documents from jstor.
      • aaron put a laptop into an open, unsecure closet (also used by a homeless person to store clothes), to download lots of documents
      • he was caught, released, and the process of law related to his case slowly ground on…
    • meanwhile, he went after a law called SOPA.
      • SOPA was a standard that nobody could rise to: if you ran a website that linked to Facebook, and anyone on Facebook shared something illegal, you’d be potentially libel. 
      • So Aaron went after SOPA with a series of activist moves…
    • Two years after being arrested, Aaron hung himself.
    • digital millenium copyright act: anticircumvention prevention. it’s a law that makes it illegal to change a device so that you access all of the programs and data on it.
      • if there’s software to limit access…
        • it’s against the law to disable that program
        • to give people the information to disable it
        • to help people disable it.
      • even if you own the device, you aren’t allowed to do what you want to do.
    • They revisit this every three years.
      • First they allowed phone unlocking
      • Then they revisited this, and decided not to allow unlocking phones
      • Now…
        • Five years or $500,000 penalty for first offense for unlocking your phone
        • Ten years or $1,000,000 penalty for second offense for unlocking your phone
      • It’s more illegal to change carriers than to make your phone into a bomb.
    • Barnaby Jones, security analyst…
      • Found a weakness in embedded heart devices with wireless access. Found that people could remotely access them, could potentially kill them, or distribute a virus to kill many people.
      • It’s vitally important to have a freedom to investigate and modify our own devices.
    • Cory asked Aaron Swartz how you would run an indie political campaign without being beholding to moneyed interests…
      • He replied back within an hour, with a whole design for how to do it.
  • Questions & Answers
    • Q: How the movie version of Little Brother going?
      • A: Hollywood is a black box. They say they want to make a movie right away. They mean it when they say it, they just say it about 100 more movies than they can really make. 
    • Q: What don’t people understand about Creative Commons licenses?
      • A: 
        • People tend to lump them all together into one, and that’s not true.
        • Other people also think that by merely doing that, it will be shared. But most stuff on the internet people don’t care enough to even pirate.
    • Q: Have you considered a collaboration with Neil Stephenson or Daniel Suarez?
      • I am doing a novella with Neil. Science fiction grounded in engineering that is plausible enough that people would try to build it.
    • Q: Is Facebook a paradigm shift or just another phenomenon?
      • A: Paraphrased comment from someone else: We made the internet very easy to read. But we didn’t make it very easy to write. And that was a mistake, because we let a man in a hoodie make an attack on all of humanity. 
      • It’s bad, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. All schools are violating students privacy, following them around, monitoring their keystrokes. When any step that a kid takes to protect their privacy is confounded by the software.
      • We tell kids: “you must protect your privacy, it’s like losing your virginity” –> but then we invade their privacy. we can’t teach them that their privacy is important if we show them we don’t give the privacy.
      • screening software isn’t perfect…
        • it will always let you see things you wish you hadn’t seen
        • and it will screen things that you should be able to see.
        • it’s particularly hard for kids to get access to sites for LGBT issues, sexual assault information, etc.
      • the solution we’re using to try to protect them is worse than doing nothing. we should just do nothing.
    • Q: In a world of creative commons, where everyone is participating in recreating books, but what if people start remixing works all the time, and the remixes diluted the value. how will you support your family?
      • A: I think the future will be weirder than that. Yes that will happen, but I’m more concerned about spywhere in our devices.
      • Artists already are on the edge…most can’t make it. What we have is a weird power law distribution, where a few people make most of the money. 
      • You bank a lot of karma, and hope that when the times comes, you can pay it forward.
    • Q: Are people organizing boycots for apple’s find my friends? 
      • A: Kevin Kelly: talks about being a technological gourmet vs. a technological glutton. don’t just shove it all in. be selective.
      • Amish communities are not techno-adverse. they are techno-selective. They have people in the community who are adventurish, who try out new things, and tell them how it makes them feel.
        • So they make a decision to have cell phones, but they keep it in the barn. because if they keep it in the house, they’ll always be listening for it. but in the barn, they can use it for a medical emergency or other issues.
      • we’re really good at understanding how things work, we’re less good at understanding how they fail. So we see the things that are good about Facebook, but not the ways that it hurts us.
    • Q: What are your thoughts on jailbreaking?
      • I don’t think it should be illegal to jailbreak a device.
      • The problem is that you don’t know what jailbreaking software is doing, because that software is illegal. 
      • We would be safer if jailbreaking was legal, because you wouldn’t have to go a weird, blackmarket place to get it.
      • it’s like cars: it’s legal to change your tires, and so tire shops are regulated. if changing car tires was illegal, you’d have to go to a shadowy, grey market and you wouldn’t know what your tires were made of.

I’ve just been tagged in The Next Big Thing, a way for writers to share their upcoming projects, by my friend and writing teacher Merridawn Duckler, an accomplished writer and senior fellow at The Attic. You can read her post about her upcoming work here.

What is your working title of your book?

The Last Firewall. For a long time it had a pretty generic working title, but then I had a contest on Facebook to name it. Given a three sentence summary, my niece came up with this title, which I’m quite happy with.
Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’m writing a series of novels set in the same universe. Each tells a unique story, but the books are set ten years apart. Part of my goal is to explore the future of technology: What will the work look like in 2030, 2040, 2050?
The idea for this particular story came from my love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Matrix. I wanted to blend the two in a cyberpunk story. 
What genre does your book fall under?

I called my first two books (Avogadro Corp and A.I. Apocalypse) science fiction, but readers labeled them technothrillers. There’s a fine line where the technology is believable and not too distant, where a book can cross from science fiction into a technothriller. The Last Firewall is set in a future where robots and artificial intelligence are commonplace, and although I think it’s a realistic prediction of what life will be like in twenty-five years, I suspect readers will label it science fiction.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This is a great question. The protagonist is a nineteen year old woman, who is smart, independent, and scrappy, but she gets in over her head. Whoever plays her has to be able to be strong and vulnerable at the same time, and because of the age, she’s doing to be someone who is just up and coming now. Any suggestions?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When a flawed nineteen year old girl is all that stands between a powerful AI and its quest for world domination, she must come to terms with the power she’s always had but never known.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Victoria Sanders & Associates. This is a change for me as my previous novels were self-published.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took about nine months from the time I started until I typed the closing line, and then I’ve had another year of editing since finishing the first draft.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It has elements in common with Ramez Naam’s Nexus, older cyberpunk like Hardwired and Neuromancer, and modern stories about artificial intelligence like Daemon and my own A.I. Apocalypse.  

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In fact, if you look at a lot of the classic cyberpunk stories, like NeuromancerHardwired, and Snow Crash, they have female sidekicks that are fascinating characters, but they just never get front-stage. I wanted to write a modern cyberpunk Buffy.

This week and next, please check out some other fantastic writers who will share their projects with you:
  • Brad Wheeler is the author of Fugitives from Earth, a classic space opera novel. Another indie writer here in Portland, he’s also one of the founders of NIWA, the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. Check out his website
  • Tonya Macalino is the author of The Shades of Venice series, and another local writer. She also teaches classes on marketing and platform building for authors. Check out her website
  • Gene Kim is the author of The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, a novel about business and IT that programmers and ops folks will love. Check out his website

I wrote my first novel in about fifteen months, and I didn’t even know what I was doing. I wrote my second novel faster: in a year.

But by the time I’m done, it will have taken me about two years to finish my third novel.

What changed?

My day job.

For eight years, I did a combination of strategy work, data analysis, and program management. I telecommuted most of the time, and although I had a painful number of 6am meetings, I was free to manage my own time. I kicked butt in that role too, delivering over fifty million dollars of value to the business.

Then I decided to switch jobs (even the best job can get repetitive over time), and went back into web development.

The roles themselves are very different. In the first role (strategy & management), the impact to the business is not in direct relationship to the hours invested in the job. Picking the right ideas and effectively executing them meant that I could have a tremendous impact in a very small number of hours.

Software development, on the other hand, is effectively a sweatshop for smart people. At a given level of effectiveness, twice as many hours will produce twice as much output, and half as many hours invested will produce half as much output.

The other major difference between the two jobs is that I telecommuted for the first with relatively flexible hours, and had to be in the office at set hours for the second.

Telecommuting saved me an hour a day of time not spending driving, getting gas, etc. A flexible start time meant I could start thirty minutes later. In my old job, between those two, I could get ninety minutes of writing time before I went to work. (Anyone who is writing knows that getting consistent, daily writing time is absolutely crucial.)

I recently polled people at the Codex Writers community about the effect their day job had on their writing. In particular, I wanted to know whether it was beneficial or not to have a writing job as your day job. It was a small sample size, and I interpreted open-ended to place them into these categories, but I still found the results interesting.

  • The respondents universally agreed that limited job hours and stress helps you as a writing, while having an all-consuming or soul-sucking job really hurts writing. 
  • Furthermore, for people who mentioned it, they found that menial jobs that allowed them to think while they worked, helped them significantly.
  • Respondents were split as to whether a writing job is helpful or harmful when it comes to creative writing projects.

Case Votes
Writing job drains you 6
Writing job helps you / is fine 8
All-consuming job drains you 5
Limiting job hours and stress helps you 7
Soul sucking job drains you 5
Menial jobs help you 6
Menial jobs hurt you 1

The lessons that I take from this:

  1. It’s tremendously helpful to be able to telecommute, because it puts time back in your pocket.
  2. It’s ideal to have a job where achieving business goals doesn’t have a 1:1 correlation with hours invested. Ideally you’d want to be able to be a star performer and still do it in less than full-time, freeing up time for writing.
  3. Short of that, limiting job hours is helpful, going to part-time if necessary, although it’s important to remember that what you really need are blocks of time to write. Freeing up thirty minutes here or there isn’t enough to get into flow.
  4. Stress and all-consuming mental jobs will drain you, such that even if you have the time to write, you still may not do it.
  5. The effect of writing in your day job is dependent on the person, and you need to experience it to know what effect it will have on you.
What are your thoughts?

Several years ago, before I’d published any of my books, I read Charles Stross’s essays on the publishing industry.

His essay on writing income, in particular, was quite discouraging to a new would-be writer. 
My favorite author, a good mid-list author, could just barely scrap by on his writing income. And it turned out the writers have the highest income inequality of nearly all professions. He quotes from a research article “The top 10% of authors earn more than 50% of total income, while the bottom 50% earn less than 10% of total income.”

Fast forward a few years. While the economics of the traditional publishing industry has stayed much the same, the economics of the indie publishing industry are very different. 
The ratio of inequality may still exist, as there are many people self-publishing, but in terms of absolute terms: the number of writers capable of being supported by writing as a full time career has grown.
Here’s why:
A Bigger Bite of Pie
Self-published authors get a bigger bite of piece with every book sold. The exact figures seem to vary, but on average, traditionally published authors get about 60 cents for every book sold.
By comparison, when selling indie-published ebooks at $2.99 (a common price point, and the medium that self-published authors tend to sell the most in — see my essay on pricing), authors get about $2.00 per book. 
A traditionally published author would need to sell 125,000 books to earn a $75,000 income, while a self-published author could earn the same income selling 37,500 books.

More Slices
The number of books many readers buy is limited to a portion of their disposable income. At $10 each, traditionally published books are expensive.
With the exception of non-fiction books that address a niche topic, most books are fungible. That is, a reader wants to read a book they’ll love in genre X, and any of thousands of different books will fulfill that need. (I differ from Stross in this regard, as he says books are non-fungible.)
If a reader who is budget limited can buy indie-published books at $2.99 as compared to traditionally published books $9.99, they will buy more of the less expensive books. 
They can afford to buy 3 times as many, therefore, the total number of books purchased is greater.
Not all readers are budget limited, but if we assume that half are, then we’re floating the entire book market by 50%.
Since the indie-author’s royalty per book is higher, and their books are priced such that readers can afford to buy more books, the total royalties available to indie writers are about 4 1/2 times greater than that available to traditionally published authors.
Even if indie authors are subject to the same income inequity as their traditionally published brethren,  the economics will still support five times as many writers being supported by writing indie books.
If the income inequity is better or worse, then this difference will be magnified or diminished. Also, to be fair, we should realize that the traditional publishing industry supports a great many jobs (editors, proofers, designers) that don’t exist or are greatly diminished in the indie portion of the field. So we can’t look at it and say the indie movement is growing jobs as a whole, merely that it’s growing writers as a portion of that industry.
If you dream of being a full-time writer, it’s never been a better time to do it.