My new DIY short story collection With a Little Help has garnered a positive writeup and review in the Wall Street Journal, thanks to Tom Shippey:
So far so good, but “With a Little Help” shows that Mr. Doctorow isn’t starry-eyed about what will happen next. State bureaucracies can use technology as well as individuals, and a struggle has already started over who will control the Internet. The evil side of the IT revolution is that the state can check on everything, and its data-banks get bigger all the time. Who has not cracked a joke in an email, or made some electronic comment, that could be taken the wrong way? Once you’ve attracted attention, the story “Scroogled” points out, “scroogled” is exactly what you could be.
Another Doctorow thought: Computer-guided traffic could be much more efficient, right? But would it be fair, or would the road clear magically for government apparatchiks and guys with the right microchip, while all the lights turn mysteriously red for those on some secret gray-list? The story “Human Readable” puts both sides of the argument.
Whatever the future, here and now Mr. Doctorow’s stories offer compelling images of the way it’s going to be. Venture capitalists? Forget them, says “Other People’s Money.” Big money is dumb money. Much easier, says one old-lady manufacturer to a smart young gigafund manager, for her to make and market her own product, and keep the money (just like Mr. Doctorow), than for him to find and fund a hundred products and take a rake-off. He only deals in six-figure multiples, and that’s no good: not nimble enough. And he has to get a return on all those billions, poor outdated soul.
The Author as Agent of Change
ALA Booklist has posted a stonking review of With a Little Help:
Anyone who grooved to the counterculture vibe of Doctorow’s young-adult novels Little Brother (2008) and For the Win (2010) will embrace these stories heartily—no one can dole out technological cautionary tales while simultaneously celebrating technology as cunningly as Doctorow. This volume’s single never-before-published story, “Epoch,” is the standout, an ethically thorny but heartfelt update on the classic sf conceit of an AI that becomes too self-aware. Never one to avoid the jugular, Doctorow doesn’t bother to assign Google an alias in “Scroogled”; the depiction of a world where we’re all “Googlestalked” until we’re “guilty of something” feels chillingly immediate. It’s not always easy to warm up to Doctorow’s purposeful characters, but it’s easy to be swept up in their just-barely-futuristic travails of surveillance gone wrong and privacy shattered. Reading this on your iPhone? Then these stories are probably for you.
This reporting period:
- Special editions: $2,200.00 (all time $16,498.00)
- Lulu Paperbacks: $81.88 (all time $548.57)
- Amazon Paperbacks: $24.12 (all time $81.88)
- CDs: $6.80 (all time $50)
- Donations (62 donors): $646.00 (all time $1,305.98)
- Columns: $1,600.00 (all time $8,400.00)
Special editions: $2,206.27 (all time $11,503.21)
- Paypal fees: $86.86
- Special edition postage: $313.65
- Special edition printing and binding: $1,805.76
All editions: $58.91 (all time $4,444.99)
Donations:$51.79 (all time $92.20)
Hardcovers: 8 (all time 69)
Paperback (Leider cover): 5 (all time 36)
Paperback (Rucker cover): 8 (all time 32)
Paperback (Wu cover): 7 (all time 36)
Paperback (Defendini cover): 23 (all time 87)
MP3 CDs: 3 (all time 15)
Ogg CDs: 2 (all time 7)
Amazon paperbacks: 12 (all time 12)
- 13 hardcovers
- 50 review paperbacks
- 50 review boxes
- 50 review postage
One interesting thing about selling print-on-demand books is that they can be instantiated all over the world, close to where the orders are. For years, pundits have predicted corner store kiosks that can print any book every written, and though we’re nowhere near that stage today, there are the first inklings of what such a world might look like.
The University of Melbourne’s Custom Book Centre has a sophisticated, well-established print-on-demand service that can efficiently print, bind and ship books across Australia and New Zealand. They got in touch with me about my DIY short story collection With a Little Help, which is sold in the US via Lulu and Amazon‘s print-on-demand services.
I’ve got a lot of readers in Australia and New Zealand, at least judging by the sales figures from my Harper Collins titles, and from the attendance at my Austalian events (not to mention the disproportionate orders for the limited edition hardcover of With a Little Help). So I’m delighted to announce that these books are now on sale locally for AUD21.25 from the U Melbourne CBC, which is also wholesaling through the region (which means that Aussie and Kiwi bookstores can order the title for their shelves).
If you’ve got a similar set up in some other spot and want to try your hand at carrying With a Little Help, I’d love to hear from you!
Tor.com is running my short story Chicken Little, which originally appeared in the Frederick Pohl tribute anthology Gateways (a book that also includes work from Bear, Benford, Brin, Bova, Gaiman, Haldeman, and many other worthies). Chicken Little is the story of a product designer at a marketing company who is charged with coming up something to sell to an immortal, sovereign quadrillionaire living in a vat.
The ﬁrst lesson Leon learned at the ad agency was: nobody is your friend at the ad agency.
Take today: Brautigan was going to see an actual vat, at an actual clinic, which housed an actual target consumer, and he wasn’t taking Leon.
“Don’t sulk, it’s unbecoming,” Brautigan said, giving him one of those tight-lipped smiles where he barely got his mouth over those big, horsey, comical teeth of his. They were disarming, those pearly whites. “It’s out of the question. Getting clearance to visit a vat in person, that’s a one-month, two-month process. Background checks. Biometrics. Interviews with their psych staff. The physicals: they have to take a census of your microbial nation. It takes time, Leon. You might be a mayﬂy in a mayﬂy hurry, but the man in the vat, he’s got a lot of time on his hands. No skin off his dick if you get held up for a month or two.”
Chicken Little also appears in my DIY short story collection With a Little Help, and on the audio edition, in a reading by the amazing, multi-talented Emily Hurson (who also has a sideline as a zombie voice in the recent Romero movies!).
My new Publishers Weekly column has just gone up, documenting the progress with my DIY short story collection, With a Little Help. This month, I talk about the Baroque process of getting a book listed on both Lulu and Amazon:
Getting the book on Amazon was much harder than I anticipated. At first, I considered selling the book using Lulu’s wholesale channel, which can feed into Amazon. But once both Lulu and Amazon had taken their cut of the book, my net price would have been in nosebleed territory, somewhere in the $20 range. Add to that a $2 royalty for me and the book would be remembered as one of the most expensive short story collections in publishing history.
In order to list on Amazon at a decent price point, I needed fewer wholesale discounts. For me, that meant cutting out Lulu and listing directly on Amazon through CreateSpace, Amazon’s own POD program. But CreateSpace, frankly, is a pain in the ass. First, it refuses to print any book that already has an ISBN somewhere else, a very anticompetitive practice. To overcome this, I had to create an “Amazon edition” of the book with a slightly different cover and some additional text explaining the weird world of POD publishing.
But the fun was just beginning. CreateSpace also has a cumbersome “quality assurance” process that effectively throws away all the advantages of POD. For example, every time I change so much as one character in the setup file, CreateSpace pulls the book out of Amazon. A human being must recheck the book, and then I am notified that I have to order (and pay for) a new proof to be printed and shipped from the U.S. to London. I then have to approve the proof before CreateSpace will notify Amazon that the book is ready to be made available again. It can then take three to five days before the book is actually back for sale on Amazon. Practically speaking, this means that fixing a typo or adding an appendix with new financial information costs about $20 upfront, and takes the book off Amazon’s catalogue for two weeks.
With A Little Help: Hitting My Stride
Tor.com’s Steven Raets has a great write up on WITH A LITTLE HELP:
As for the stories, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who enjoyed Cory Doctorow’s novels will love them. Like his novels Little Brother, Makers and For the Win, they often start with a recognizable core: a present-day technological or sociological concept that Doctorow then pushes just a bit further than you could imagine, but in a way that’s so realistic and commonsensical that you’ll be considering “when” rather than “if” reality will catch up. Several of the stories play with one of Doctorow’s recurring themes: the relationship between information technology and personal freedom, with a special focus on privacy in the digital age. They range from hilarious (“Constitutional Crisis”) to deeply touching (“Visit the Sins”), and when Doctorow really gets going on how diminished our privacy has become (e.g. in “Scroogled”), they’re purely terrifying.
This month’s Locus magazine contains the annual “Locus Recommended Reading List,” a guide to the best science fiction and fantasy published in the preceding year, chosen by the magazine’s critics.
In addition to being a great primer for exploring the year in fiction, they’re also an excellent cheat-sheet for award-nominations — for example, the Hugo Award nomination deadline is fast approaching. You can nominate for the Hugo if you attended or supported last year’s World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne, or if you have registered to attend or support this year’s WorldCon in Reno.
I’m delighted to note that two of my stories were included in this year’s Locus List: my novella Chicken Little and my short story The Jammie Dodgers and the Adventure of the Leicester Square Screening. Here’s the full list of my eligible works, in case you’re interested:
* Novel: For the Win (Tor, 2010)
* Novella: Chicken Little (Gateways, edited by Jim Frenkel, Tor, 2010)
* Novella: Epoch (published in With a Little Help, Sweet Home Grindstone press, 2010)
* Novella: There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow Now is the Best Time of Your Life (published in Godlike Machines, edited by Jonathan Strahan, Science Fiction Book Club, 2010)
* Short story: The Jammie Dodgers and the Adventure of the Leicester Square Screening, (Shareable.net, 2010)
* Short story: Ghosts in My Head (Subterranean Press, 2010)
2010 Locus Recommended Reading List
This reporting period:
- Special editions: $14,298
- Paperbacks: $466.69
- CDs: $43.20
- Donations (50 donors): $659.98
- Columns: $6,800
Special editions: $9296.94
- Paypal fees: $1,007.55
- SD cards: $447.12
- Boxes for special editions: $64.80
- Shears for cutting packing material: $48
- Special edition postage: $1362.27
- Special edition printing and binding: $6367.20
All Editions: $4386.08
- Review copy postage: $2624.00
- Review copy boxes: $1762.08
Paperback (Leider cover): 31
Paperback (Rucker cover): 24
Paperback (Wu cover): 29
Paperback (Defendini cover): 64
MP3 CDs: 12
Ogg CDs: 5
- 19 hardcovers
- 70 review paperbacks
- 70 review boxes
- 70 review postages
- The current total reflects a large amount of on-hard inventory — More than $2,000 in stamps and boxes and more than $2,000 in hardcovers.
- This reporting period saw a substantial ($4386) investment in review copies.
My latest Publishers Weekly column documenting my DIY short story collection With a Little Help has just gone up. It documents the first six weeks after publication — what went right and what went wrong. The good news is that I’m heavily in the black, thanks, in large part, to the limited edition hardcovers. The bad news is that the paperback sales have been really lacklustre — due to a too-high pricetag, lack of Amazon availability, and a paucity of reviews. Thankfully, these problems can be fixed — and as always, I’m letting future experimenters know how and where I went wrong so that they can avoid the pitfalls that caught me.
First, the good news: I’ve made a ton of money on the $275 limited edition. I’ve already sold more than 50, and I get a new order every day or two, without news or advertising. The recipients have been universally delighted with their purchases and the packaging. The combination of a cardboard book mailer, a section of burlap coffee sack, and acid-free tissue paper is a huge hit, with some customers even producing lavish “unboxing” YouTube videos and Flickr sets.
The typo-hunting project has also been a smash success. My readers have sent in 123 typos to date, about the same as I turned in for the second printing of my first story collection, which was proofed by my editor. With a Little Help was proofed by my mother, who routinely scores on par with professional proofers who do my novels. The number of reported typos has slowed to a tiny trickle, which tempts me to believe I may, in fact, perfect the text of this book, possibly a first in the history of publishing.
Now for the mistakes: first, the minor ones. I blithely assumed that I would spot all the errors without outside help, forgetting a key lesson I’d learned as a software developer. I was wrong. Turns out that I failed to notice that the e-mail addresses for reporting typos and requesting copies for libraries and schools were both malfunctioning. The former took less than a day to fix, but the latter took a month. I also failed to notice that my e-commerce system (the free WordPress eShop plug-in) was adding $15 shipping charges to orders of the hardcover. Thankfully, I noticed this about a day in, but I still had to send refunds to about 10 people who hadn’t noticed they’d been billed for $290 instead of $275.
I’m also unconvinced that having multiple covers was worth the effort. I love all four of the covers that I sourced for the book, but overwhelmingly my readers have chosen the Pablo Defendini cover, which incidentally is the only one without a real painting. What’s more, having four covers has geometrically multiplied the complexity of updating the text (to fix typos). Having done about 100 re-uploads of the source file to Lulu’s system—which is decidedly not optimized for editing your books several times a day—I’ve probably lost a good five hours to maintaining the separate editions. If I was starting over right now, I’d probably go with one cover, though I’d solicit several sketches and try them out on my Twitter followers to pick the best. But now that I have four covers I can’t see any reason to eliminate any of them.
With A Little Help: The Early Returns