Hatchette Book Group continues to gouge us.


They just made me pay $14.99 for the ebook of Career of Evil. There is no reason on Earth why a fiction ebook should cost that much. The only reason for Hatchette to charge that price for a novel is: “Because we can fucking get away with it.”

Come the revolution, the executives at Hatchette will be first against the wall.

Until then, I need to catch up with Cormoran and Robin. If some juicy filming news for Game of Thrones comes up, and I seem a bit distracted in responding to it, this is why.

An Apology to Self-Published Writers

Ms. Slager gets it. I appreciate her giving us a chance.

While I’m here, I would also like to point out that traditionally published authors are also not entirely above assholish behavior in the face of negative reviews. I’ve written about Julie Halpern embarrassing herself and Emily Giffin behaving irresponsibly. The publishing industry may filter out a lot of people who don’t respond well to criticism, but it doesn’t filter out all of them. Don’t assume an author is trustworthy just because she has a publishing contract with one of the big New York houses.

The Mad Reviewer

Remember one of my first articles I ever did?  It was exactly one year ago to this day and it was called Self-Publishing: A Reviewer’s Perspective.  While I didn’t exactly say self-publishing was a terrible thing that was ruining literature, my feelings about it were generally negative.

So, first off, let me say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for judging self-published writers before I really knew what self-publishing involved.  I’m sorry for judging self-published writers based on my very limited experience reading self-published books and a few big media incidents.  I’m sorry that I jumped to conclusions and pretty much lumped all self-published authors together.

You’ll probably be wondering how I came to my new perspective on self-publishing.  Let me say it wasn’t easy and it’s certainly not easy to admit on your public blog that you screwed up.  But it’s the right thing to do.  So here’s sort of…

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Signpost of Offensive Cluelessness

It appears that The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones isn’t doing so well at the box office. Monica Bartyzel at Yahoo! explores why that could be:

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on the YA series of the same name by Cassandra Clare — but its origins go back further than that, to a series of Harry Potter fan fiction stories collected under the title The Draco Trilogy. Though The Mortal Instruments has long been scrubbed of any direct references to the Harry Potter franchise, its suspiciously derivative narrative makes a lot more sense in its original context.


But The Mortal Instruments is even more derivative than E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy. This isn’t a specific universe, re-imagined and sold under new names; it’s a hybrid of elements cribbed from Clare’s favorite stories. Her work first became popular (and controversial) not because she took J.K. Rowling’s world and imagined all-new stories, but because she used it as a template in which she could fit in all of her other pop culture fandom — inserting quippy exchanges from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and passages from authors like Pamela Dean (as this expose detailed) with only minimal changes.

It’s no surprise that critics are down on the mishmash of elements in the new film. Clare may have stopped copying her favorite pop culture quotes into her work verbatim, but it’s still a variation of the same patchwork pop quilt.


The title “Mortal Instruments” was first used for a Ron and Ginny-focused Harry Potter fanfic in 2004, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones borrows from that story and Clare’s “The Draco Trilogy” to craft its heroes Clary — a carbon copy of Ginny Weasley whose name immediately echoes “Harry” — and Jace (a blatant carbon copy of Harry Potter villain Draco Malfoy). They enter a domain that’s hidden in plain sight in the muggle “mundane” world. Magic obscures their metropolitan residences, which lie far from their homelands, where The Clave — the governing body completely out of touch with the rising danger — reside. The Shadowhunters’ wands are called “steles”; many of their names echo names Harry Potter came across (Ravenclaw/Ravenscar); and they even suffer similar plagues (dragon pox/demon pox). They’re fighting against Voldemort Valentine, a powerful Shadowhunter with a circle of like-minded followers who were eager to purify the bloodline until a brief war seemed to kill the villain — right after he and his followers had the children who must now save the world. They hunt not for three “Deathly Hallows,” but three “Mortal Instruments,” which would bring great, catastrophic power to Valentine, who happens to have followers in some of the adults the now-grown children trust. Is any of this sounding familiar?

Before we start splitting hairs over where “inspiration” ends and derivation begins, Bartyzel acknowledges that the best creative works stand on the shoulders of giants, and that there is such a thing as stealing like an artist:

This kind of nakedly derivative fan fiction lacks the depth that makes reading and cinema worthwhile, and misses the heart of storytelling: Discovery. We don’t crack open books and go to movie theaters for the expected; we explore for the unexpected. J.K. Rowling didn’t become a billionaire by echoing someone else’s work. Harry Potter became a global phenomenon because she reimagined old tropes into a world readers and viewers had never seen before. Rowling crafted a world that piqued curiosity, rather than just relaying a world in which every scene is familiar, and every twist is obvious.

I will not take a position on whether The Mortal Instruments should be characterized as “plagiarism,” but it is transparently derivative. That Simon & Schuster signed it shows that they are not especially interested in creative honesty. However, they would not have bothered to give Cassandra Cla(i)re a book deal if they hadn’t expected to make a ton of money off her books, and Constantin Film Produktions wouldn’t have bothered to make a movie if Simon & Schuster hadn’t already succeeded. CC has made a career out of selling nakedly derivative fan fiction as original urban fantasy, but there’s a reason why she’s been so successful. There is a very healthy market for incredibly unoriginal fiction, just as long as it’s entertaining.

I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with playing in another writer’s sandbox. Fan fiction is totally fine as a hobby; I’ve done it myself and I don’t apologize. It’s a great way to have fun, make friends and exercise your creative muscles. That’s just the thing, though; fan fiction is a hobby, which is transparent about its source material, and you can read it online for free. When we pay money for books, we should demand that the authors do more creating and less copy-paste.

Also, this is tangential, but it’s still amusing. It could be argued that the movie is tanking because the filmmakers removed everything that made the book fun and engaging. Just a few days ago, the author assured The Hollywood Reporter that she was very pleased with the adaptation and that the filmmakers were “very good about asking for [her] input.” Only now that the shitty reviews are coming in does CC insist that authors have very little say in film adaptations of their books.

I love the smell of author insanity in the morning!

Every time you use a book as a crafting object, a beloved fictional character is erased from the canon.

That’s the impression one gets from reading the reactions one gets to using an old paperback for something other than reading.

Miss Articulate bought a used copy of Pandora by Anne Rice, wasn’t impressed with the story, and converted the pages into a cute (if mundane) little box with a lid.

Then two things happened. Maybe three?

1. Anne Rice saw the blog post and shared it on her Facebook page.

2a. Anne Rice’s fans descended on Miss Articulate’s blog to tell her how offensively wrong she is to criticize the book and trash the writing skills of The Great and Powerful Rice.

2b. Said fans also took the time to tell the blogger what a terrible human being she is for chopping up a book. Desecration! Removed a book from the world! Nazis destroyed books, too!

It was really, really unprofessional and irresponsible of Anne Rice to share that blog entry on her Facebook page, but the damage is done now.

What I find really amusing is that such a can of worms opens up whenever someone uses a printed book as craft material.

You want to know who destroys more books than anyone else? BOOKSTORES. Whatever doesn’t sell gets torn up. Libraries also trash books when they wear out. Them’s the breaks for the paper and ink.

A book is not a sacred object, nor is it a precious commodity. The world is in no danger of running low on reading material. If you pay for a book, it becomes your property and you’re not hurting anyone if you use the pages for decoupage. Yes, I include my own works in that rule. (It’s a different case if you’ve requested a copy for review, but once the review is posted, go nuts with that review copy.) This here author can tell you: the spirit of the writer does not live in the pages. No metaphysical damage is done when someone chops up a used paperback. If you don’t like to see precious resources go to waste, save your anger for people who waste food.

Amazon Will Help Kindle Authors Make Mediocre Covers

Whatever its faults, I’m sure it’ll be fun to play with.

Amazon is developing a cover creation tool for its Kindle Direct Publishing self-publishing platform, dubbed KDP Cover Creator. The tool is currently being tested by a limited number of KDP authors but the company expects to roll it out to all its KDP authors soon, an Amazon spokesperson told Digital Book World.

“The KDP Cover Creator [is] a free tool for fast and easy custom ebook cover designs,” said the spokesperson. “It’s currently in limited beta and we expect to roll it out to all KDP authors soon.”

Word about the tool was leaked by one of the beta testers to The Digital Reader blog, which published several screen shots of the interface and cover options.

According to the Amazon spokesperson, when the Cover Creator goes live, users will be able to quickly and easily create a cover design for their book and make updates at any time. The tool will come with access to thousands of royalty free images in an image gallery and will also allow for users to upload their own art. A variety of pre-programmed layouts, color schemes and fonts will also be included.

I have two expectations of this: 1. It’ll be a very handy, helpful tool for ebook authors, and 2. We will see a lot of crappy-looking covers from this.

CreateSpace, the print-format arm of Amazon’s self-publishing empire, has had a cover creator for years now. When I first released Charlinder’s Walk, I was seriously limited in my cover-design abilities (not to mention good sense) and I used the in-house cover creators at both Lulu and CreateSpace. The result was that I had two different print covers, both of which were different from the ebook cover, and neither of them looked especially elegant or artistic. They weren’t bad; they were appropriate for the book, and they were not an assault to the eyes. But they weren’t all that good, either. The orange cover with the world map is a more recent development; I designed it myself in Pixelmator.

Therefore, I expect that most users of KDP Cover Creator will be newbies like I was not too long ago: lacking the software and artistic ability to design their own covers and lacking the budget to hire a professional. The output on most of their books will be not-terrible. The templates will not be eyesores, the royalty-free images will be decent. Even with the best tools, there’s no accounting for taste. Some of those KDP-generated covers will be godawful because the authors don’t have the sense to make anything better.

With that in mind, I encourage new self-publishers to learn from my earlier mistakes. If you have some competence in composition and color, get a decent photo-editing program, make some mock-ups and run them by your friends until they approve. Learn all the e-tailers’ dimension requirements before you upload your book. Make JPEGs in the right sizes for your ebook versions and save a PDF for print. If you commission artwork, make sure to get it at a high resolution. If you lack the visual sense to self-design, hire a professional. If you cannot afford a professional…wait to publish until you’ve saved up enough.

Granted, some authors might say I’ve made a terrible mistake in designing my own cover and that I’m giving you bad advice in presenting that as an option. They’re entitled to their opinion. I made the orange cover of Charlinder’s Walk in Pixelmator with a $10 stock image and a few layer tricks. I’ve been told it’s a nice-looking cover.