June 24, 2019

Why I'm Mad at the Library

While my in-laws were visiting from out of town, we decided to go to the public library. Our local library has been recently renovated and has tons of sitting areas, excellent AC, not much noise, and a fun children’s section complete with a playroom. Basically, everything needed to appease a crowd of all ages. As soon as we entered, my father-in-law asked, “Do they have your books here?”

A number of people have asked me if my titles were available through our library system. After the library ignored my requests to add one of my novels to their collection, I found on their website that they accept books donated from local authors. The books are placed on the shelves for a trial period of a year, and if there isn’t enough interest, they’re removed and added to the next rummage sale/fundraiser. All I had to do was fill in a form and bring it and the books to my local branch, drop them off with circulation, and let the library take care of the rest.

Naturally, when I brought my novels to be donated, the staff at the circulation desk had no idea what I was talking about and referred me to the research desk. The librarians at the research desk also had no idea what I was talking about and said, “I don’t think our library even does that.” I helped them navigate to the page on the library website which outlined the process. After much ado and many phone calls, the librarian reluctantly took my books and my contact info so they could update me once they figured out how to handle the situation.

After a few months and no word about my books, I called the administrative office to check if the books I had donated still existed. The acquisition manager had them on her desk and assured me they would get added to the collection. She added a reserve request on my account so I’d get an email once the titles were added. Great!

Several more months later, I finally got an email stating my books were available—six months after I had donated them. I told the members of my writing group that the books were now stocked at my branch. The next time I went to the library, I checked the collection of sci-fi books and fiction section, but I didn’t see my novels. I figured if they weren’t on the shelves, they were likely checked out and didn’t think about it after that.

But this time, I had family there who wanted to see my work on the shelves. This time, I checked the availability first. Both copies were listed as available at my branch, and they were located on the local author shelf. Satisfied that they were in the same building we were, I started my hunt for that specific shelf. I figured they would be located at the front along with the shelves of new books. There are also featured sections a little farther in and local interests just past circulation. However, none of those areas housed the section I was searching for.

Next, I went through the main collection. Biographies were tucked next to non-fiction, manga had its own aisle, some of the paperback genre books were separate from the rest of the fiction area, then were the music and videos, followed by encyclopedias. After exhausting the entire library, I still hadn’t found the shelf.

Clearly, I needed some help. I went up to the circulation desk and asked where the local author shelf was located, getting the response, “I didn’t know we have a local author shelf.” After assuring them that I learned about the shelf on the website and I was not just making shit up, I was directed to the research desk.

I asked my question again to the librarians at the research desk. One of them said, “Local authors? Is that in reference?”

The other one responded, saying, “I don’t know, they keep moving it!” After they laughed for a minute, she added, “It’s probably in reference, somewhere over there.” She gestured toward an entire quarter of the room.

“You’ll need to show me.”

The librarian led me to the back corner of the library. Each section had a large, clear sign on top of the bookcases stating what type of books were housed in the shelves underneath. Glancing around the shelves, she pointed to one at the floor and said, “There it is,” then briskly walked away.

I mumbled, “Thank you,” as I kneeled down to the ground. The shelf was marked with just a half-sheet of printer paper instead of an actual sign. Most of the books looked brand new, making me think none of them had ever been checked out. Around them were almanacs, algebra study guides, and dictionaries—all reference books which couldn’t even leave the building.

My father-in-law thought it was cool and snapped a few photos to post on social media, but I was (and still am) pretty miffed. Wouldn’t the library want to celebrate their local authors? Why take such great lengths to hide these books, moving them all the time so I’ll never know where to look and can’t accurately tell anyone where in the library my novels are located? Wasn’t the library supposed to support the local community, including those of us who’ve published books?

My city has an annual book festival which only got started a couple of years ago. The first time I heard about it was through the local newspaper. I was disappointed that I hadn’t been contacted about it since it seemed like a great opportunity to share my work with my community. I kept my ear out for the following year so I’d have a chance to volunteer in some of the programs for the event and schedule a book signing. However, the first news I got of the next festival included the full list of invited speakers and authors, all best-sellers in their genre—most of whom don’t even live in Maryland. I understand the desire to enrich the community, but yet again, I was sad that locals weren’t even given an opportunity to participate.

The reluctance to support local authors isn’t unique to my community. I recently read an article titled Solving the Local Author Dilemma. The author of the piece, a librarian in Canada, views local authors as a problem. She claims that hosting an event for a member of the community means the library loses out on having a big-name author come in instead. Her solution is to hold an annual three-hour event where local authors can mingle and sell a few books. This keeps the authors from attempting to schedule signings at the library during the rest of the year, and “the library comes across as the community-minded good guy that does not turn up its nose at unestablished writers.” Now, this article was written for other librarians, but her contempt for indie authors is clear.

On the other hand, getting a self-published book into a bookstore is an even greater uphill battle. Store owners claim self-published books don’t sell. They might reluctantly take a few copies on consignment and place them spine out on the highest shelf next to the employees-only area where no one can see them. Then, the books don’t sell, creating a self-fulfilling cycle that ‘self-published books don’t sell.’ I’ve frequently wondered if some books become best-sellers simply because they’re placed front and center in bookstores. But short of opening my own bookstore, I have no control over where my book might get placed.

Self-publishing has changed a ton in the past ten years, but several institutions have failed to recognize this. Before ebooks and digital printing, a writer had to invest serious cash into printing their own book, an endeavor only someone (over) confident in their work would pursue. Although the bar for self-publishing is even lower now, the space of self-published literature is no longer dominated by egomaniacs.

Yet ultimately, publishing is a business. Big publishers have the clout and authority to pick which books they believe will sell. Every new author is a gamble, so they only take on the ones which the most commercial appeal. However, there are more and more indie authors who also treat their writing as a business, and we’ve reached a point where there are tons of indie authors supporting themselves and their families with revenue from their books.

But don’t look for these successful indie author’s books in the library. They won’t be there, because libraries don’t like self-published books.

I told a friend recently that I haven’t held a signing or anything for my books at the library since people don’t normally go to the library to buy books, and I also haven’t done so at a bookstore because I use Amazon to print my books and Amazon and bookstores don’t get along. In one sentence, I shot down the two biggest sources of physical books. Even so, I desperately want my books to exist ‘in the real world’ and outside of the internet. I’ve used conventions and festivals to fill that void, and they’ve been so successful it’s made me wonder why I’ve shunned other physical-book outlets.

What’s the solution to getting indie authors recognized in brick-and-mortar book institutions? I don’t know. My goal in this post is simply to point out the disparity and encourage others to think about it too.

June 17, 2019

Some Things I Learned from Galactic Con

I had a really fun time on Saturday at Galactic Con. The event went pretty well, although I think there are some simple changes which could make the next one even better. But even though there wasn’t the turnout I’d hoped for, overall, the event was a pretty big success.

If you saw my Instagram story with the photo of my suitcase, you know I brought an obscene number of books—way more than I needed. I would have liked to sell more copies at the con, but I made back my table fee and then some, which in itself makes a local event well worth participating in. But beyond the purely financial aspects of tabling at an event, I also met a bunch of creators and a few other authors. After spending much of the day chatting with a number of creative minds, I took away a bunch of interesting ideas which I will likely apply to future events. Here are some:

Wear blue lipstick and a nerdy corset

I’ve already embraced this to an extent with my (currently green) hair and robot leggings. Conventions are a great opportunity to really stand out and make unorthodox fashion choices. Tees and jeans are boring (unless your teeshirt has a sick custom graphic of a character in your book series). Don’t be afraid to wear something original, silly, or over the top. Of course, make sure you’re comfortable, but beyond that, have fun.

Don’t be afraid to bring a lot of stuff

Somehow, it had become a point of pride that I was able to fit my whole setup in a single rolling suitcase which I could bring in by myself in one trip. For some events where I have to fly out, or there’s no parking or loading close to the vendor hall, the one-suitcase setup makes sense. However, I’ve attended a few cons where I did bring multiple boxes of books which were too heavy for me to carry, and I had to rely on help from other people who were bigger and stronger than I am.

I particularly dislike being the ‘damsel in distress,’ so naturally as I wheeled my insanely heavy suitcase into the exhibit hall for Galactic Con, the wheels on the suitcase broke. The staff had a dolly and helped me move my injured luggage to my table. Then as I left, although I got the wheels patched up enough to roll my stuff back to my car, I couldn’t actually lift the case into the trunk. Again, someone saw me struggling as they drove by, parked next to me, and helped me get everything back into my car.

Although it sounds like the solution would be to bring less stuff, there’s no getting around the fact that I’m selling books and books are heavy. Clearly, my one-suitcase system is no longer working for me.

My display was also much simpler than many of the others, mostly due to the space restraints of my self-imposed one-box limit. However, with just me in the car, I have tons of space to haul stuff, and I even have a hand truck somewhere in my basement. I can upgrade my setup just by allowing myself to use multiple boxes and taking a few trips between my car and my table.

Use KDP print

Several self-publishing blogs and forums state that to be a successful indie author, you must print with Ingram Spark as they are the most ‘professional’ option. But the other authors I spoke with at Galactic Con all use KDP print since the company doesn’t have any setup costs, and in many cases have lower prices per book. My fellow writers weren’t particularly concerned about getting their titles into bookstores and libraries since both have very little payoff for a lot of work.

Do it because you love it, not to make a quick buck!

There are a number of ways authors and creatives have been able to monetize their passion. Although it’s important to be cognizant of marketing techniques, there’s no one-size-fits-all business plan. And at something like a convention, nothing sells better than a love of your creations and shared passion over fun nerd culture.

The next event on my calendar isn’t until September, but I want to sign up for some more between now and then. Each convention I’ve done has been a learning experience, and I’m looking forward to growing even more as an indie author.

June 11, 2019

Release Day for my First Puzzle Book: Mystery of the Spaceship and the Missing Crew

As always, I’ve piled too many things into too small a time frame. I’m doing the big launch of my first Puzzling Escapes book at Galactic-Con on Saturday, June 15th, but I didn’t want to roll both the book launch and my post-mortem of the con into one mega post. And since I had to make my puzzle book available in advance in order to stock up copies for the convention this weekend, I thought I’d gush about my new book first!

While at a comic con last year, I stood at my table greeting attendees while also thinking about the kinds of things con-goers might enjoy. This particular con had an escape room, which I thought was a great idea since I love escape rooms. I’ve played a number of escape room board games and really enjoyed them. They are something that I imagine would sell well at a comic con. Then, the idea of making an escape room puzzle book hit me. I had never designed a board game before, but I do have experience publishing books.

I was so excited about this idea that I pushed aside the other projects I had planned to work on and focused on this one first. Coming up with puzzles and tying them together into a narrative was a ton of fun. The framework of how the book would flow was a lot of work to put together, but now that I’ve got all the pieces assembled, making another Puzzling Escapes book will be much faster.

The book is available now on Amazon. I’ll have signed copies for sale on my website soon, so keep your eyes out for that. I hope people really enjoy playing through this book. If you do, let me know and I’ll get to work on another installment.

As always, I have to give you, my readers, a heartfelt thank-you. Your love and encouragement have inspired me to keep writing and publishing, and with your continued support, I’ll get to keep doing what I love. Thank you!

May 27, 2019

Detroit: Become Human and the Future of Androids

I recently finished my first playthrough of Detroit: Becoming Human. Another writer recommended I check out the game when I told him the book I was working on had androids. However, the robots in my books are very different than the ones in Detroit. I really enjoyed the gameplay, and since David Cage created the game, the focus is on the ideas and story.

From the title alone, you get the notion of the central theme: at some point, androids are people too. I have thought a lot about this, but since I didn’t want to tackle such a huge philosophical question in my writing, I decided that the androids in the In the Lurch series would be strictly tools. Detroit, on the other hand, really makes players think.

In each sequence, you play as an android and are essentially forced to sympathize with this remarkably human-like machine. They have learned to feel emotions, to empathize, and to acutely fear death. They form bonds of friendship with humans and other androids, and can even have romantic feelings. These attributes, the game argues, make the robots human enough to be treated as people in society.

I could go on and on critiquing different aspects of this game, but I thought I’d focus on the “becoming human” part.

Androids are living beings

Before writing a single word in my robot series, I discussed the future of androids with my dad. He said he believes that with AI, robots would be indiscernible from living beings, and we would need to take care of them similar to how we would a pet or livestock He even quoted the Bible, saying that God wants us to take care of our animals and treat them with respect.
Proverbs 12:10
“Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
Considering society’s current stance on animal cruelty, I imagine most people would take the utmost care of their robot pets. I know vegans who won’t even eat items made with yeast, grouping the single-cell organisms in with animals. Surely an animated robot is more ‘living’ than that.

Of course, if we look at the biological definition of a living organism, androids would fail miserably. They don’t take in energy to grow and they can’t reproduce. On the other hand, if they’re so similar to life, shouldn’t we treat them the same?

Androids are Cognisant

One could argue a robot’s thoughts and feelings aren’t authentic and only resemble a human’s, but ultimately are only the execution or bits of code. On the other hand, isn’t the human mind just a mix of neurons firing electrical signals and chemical reaction? At what point will we say that a machine’s actions are authentic and not simply a ruse to appear lifelike? I personally don’t know, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Androids are Better than People

Back to the conversation with my dad: he believes that one day, androids may be so similar to people that they will have a role in society, including having a form of citizenship and representation in government. If they possess certain abilities that computers are better at performing than people, perhaps they’ll be more suited to some professions.

Naturally, that thought was what fueled the takeover of jobs by robots in In the Lurch. Already, automation has eliminated careers which were once performed by people. While I and other creators before me tend to support the take-over prediction, many people (including my dad) look forward to a more harmonious future.

Androids are Evil

The main fear most people have is that machines will become cognizant and take over the world or wipe out humanity. Is some stories, like the movie I, Robot, the robots are protecting people from the evils within humanity by exterminating all human. On the other hand, in The Matrix movies, robots enslave people and use them as fuel. Either way, it seems like the themes in these stories reflect more on the negative qualities of society rather than trying to accurately paint a future world.

I really appreciated that Detroit portrayed the burgeoning humanity of androids as being a positive movement for change (or maybe that’s just the ending I got?).

Spoilers for Origins by Dan Brown ahead:

The androids in Detroit reminded me of the technology Dan Brown featured in Origins. Throughout the book, Robert Langdon works with Winston, an AI which has been encouraged to make friendships with people. The big reveal at the end also showed Ed’s prediction of technology and humans evolving together to make a greater species than humans now. It’s rare to see technology as a force for positive change, so it’s refreshing when robots are cast in a good light in stories.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the topic. Do you believe machines will one day cross the threshold from lifelike to life-forms? Or will they always be just robots? Perhaps you think it’s too early to pore over this debate and you want to wait before forming an opinion. Let me know in the comments or share your thoughts on my post on Instagram.