New Review for an Old Favorite

I recently found myself between books and decided to re-read an old favorite, Phule’s Company by Robert Asprin.

Originally published in 1990, I discovered this book during Middle School and fell in love with it.

The back cover:

The Few. The Proud.  The Stupid.  The Inept.

Meet the soldiers of Phule’s Company.

They do more damage before 9:00 A.M. than most people do all day…

And they’re mankind’s last hope.

It’s about a charismatic young Space Legion Lieutenant who breaks a few rules but also happens to be the rich son of a mega-billionaire.  The Legion can’t really punish him so they promote him and give him command over a “hopeless” company full of losers, criminals, and pacifists.  Much hilarity ensues.

I just have to say that Robert Asprin is a brilliant writer and that’s most evident in Phule’s Company.  His other books are good but this one is fantastic.  It’s smart, it’s funny, and he hits all the right points, and his descriptions are awesome.  He even breaks a few of my reader rules without losing me, like head jumping and switching perspectives, which is very uncommon.  It just works so well the way it’s written.

Even reading it now, some twenty years later, I still love the book and highly recommend it to others.  Other great series by Asprin include the Myth series, Time Scout, and Thieves World.

And as a writer, there are some other things that are interesting about Robert Asprin and Phule’s Company that don’t involve his skills.  In many ways, as fantastic of a writer as he was, there are several aspects of his life that could stand as lessons to the rest of us.

You see, Phule’s Company is one of the few books published by Robert Asprin without a co-author.

This went well until the late 1990’s, when RLA’s (Robert Lynn Asprin) career was disrupted by a converging set of circumstances. Firstly, Mr. Asprin ended up in extremely serious trouble with the American federal tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, over the supposed non-payment of income taxes, specifically in relation to his appearances at various science fiction conventions. The IRS is reported to have garnished RLA’s income, meaning that, while the garishment was in place, any income RLA made would go directly to the IRS. If he were to write and publish a book under these conditions, any and all profits would be automatically claimed by the IRS.

A way around this, evidently, was for RLA to sign off on officially ‘co-authored’ books. This is presumably one reason why the Phule and Time Scout series have continued to appear under co-authored bylines (Peter J. Heck and Linda Evans, respectively.) License Invoked (with Jody Lynn Nye) used the same scheme.

According to RLA’s own introduction to Myth-ion Improbable, as of April 2000, this dispute was finally “resolved.”

Another reason for the co-authoring as well as for the lack of new Myth books is that it appears RLA’s writer’s block, as discussed below, became terminal for several years. As noted elsewhere in this FAQ (Section 9.4), RLA has admitted for the record that he contributed very little to the writing of Wagers of Sin. The same is likely true of A Phule and His Money, Ripping Time, et al, although there has been no official confirmation of this. (Although the tax-agency subplots running through A Phule and His Money and Myth-Taken Identity must have been inspired by RLA’s real-life experiences in this area.)

Thirdly, there was the situation with Donning. While Mr. Asprin was still under contract, Donning’s “Starblaze” line, which published the original hardcover versions of the MythAdventure books, was shut down. Donning as a whole is now (more or less) defunct, having been bought out by another publishing company. The company went under amidst a storm of accusations of legal and financial chicanery, and so, for several years, if RLA was still under any contract to write Myth books, it was with this zombie of a company, an entity with whom he had no desire to conduct further business.

IRS and publisher issues almost derailed Robert Asprin’s career.  Around the same time these issues were first cropped up, writer’s block stopped him from writing for SEVEN YEARS.  That’s the official story at least.  I’m sure he did some writing during that time but was either unable or unwilling to publish because of those issues.  Thankfully, the disputes were eventually resolved and he went on to put out many more books before he passed away in 2008.

It’s a fascinating story all around, both the author and his work.  I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read Phule’s Company to go out and pick up a copy.  The rest of Robert Asprins work, especially Time Scout, are awesome too but Phule’s Company has a special place for me.

Free to Pirate

I had a thought today while reading through some posts.  One writer mentioned how he was playing with advertising his ebooks on various places and how the most success he had was when he broadcast the days his books were free.  That day he had a lot of new downloads from other countries, including a large number to India.

Hmmm…  That got me thinking.

Piracy has been a problem for a long time but it’s only recently, with the advent of the ebook, that authors have had to really worry about it.  It’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue, almost every week I read about how a writer googled their own work and found it on a pirate site.

Free books are a useful tool for gaining new readers, it gives them a chance to check out your work before paying anything.  Cool, right?  But I wonder whether those free days are giving pirates a chance to easily steal writers’ work.

Think about it like this, if you were going to pirate a hundred books… are you going to pay for them first?  A hundred books at $3 a pop?  Uh uh.  I wouldn’t, I’d go to amazon every day and download all the free books.  Every day.  Then convert them and put them up on my site.

So, are those five free days offered by KDP select (or other deals) making it easier for pirates?  They grab our work on one of those days without paying for it, then turn around and sell it.  It’s what I’d do if I were morally bankrupt and looking for easy money.  (It’s possible that Kindle Unlimited could also be a contributor, but I imagine anyone in the Unlimited program that downloaded too many books a day would get flagged really fast.  I don’t know though.)

That thought right there makes me hesitant to ever discount my books too much.  The only way I can see to avoid having our work vulnerable would be to never put it out for free, that way at least the pirates would have to pay for the first copy (which I doubt they’d do unless you’re top in your genre or something).

But what about getting your work out to readers before they have to pay for it?  Sample chapters would be one way.  But the best option I can think of is to put a single book perma-free, accept that it’ll probably be pirated (but it’s free already, so you’re not really losing anything), then keep all your other books at regular price.

Just a thought for the day.

The Future of Publishing

I read a fascinating post today about the difficulties all of us indie, or self published authors face.  If you just take the basic facts, how many books are being put out, how few copies sell well, how few authors are making a decent income, it looks really depressing.

However, and this was the comment I left on the post, it’s also a really exciting time.  We’re seeing the old system fail to evolve fast enough, unable to find a way to make money in this new landscape and struggle to maintain the status quo.  But all of us looking at them can see the writing on the wall, if they don’t adapt fast they’re going to lose all relevancy.

Right now, publishing is going through a massive shift.  Anyone who has ever wanted to write a book can do so and put it out.  Thousands of books are being published every single day, many of questionable quality, which means that while we’re able to put out books easily the supply far outweighs the demand and it’s only getting worse.

In some ways that’s scary, but in other ways this is the growing pains of all of us trying to figure out a new system.  That means there’s a lot of opportunity right now for all of us to try new things and the ideas that are successful will shape the future of publishing.

What I think is going to happen:

1. Traditional publishers will shrink.  Period.  Even those that can adapt, they’ll never be what they were before.  The self publishing age has come.

2. Working with a different model, new publishing companies will be very successful.  Enterprising, talented people will get together and form new publishing companies that operate in new ways.  They’ll take networking to a new level.  They’ll take lessons from what the traditional publishing companies used to do well, services that indie authors still require, like editing and promotion, and base themselves on providing those services.

3. Talented indies will band together.  Maybe they form a company like in #2, or maybe they just come up with a guild, whatever, but they’ll come together.  Mutual marketing, mutual promotion, advice and networking.  They’ll build a huge platform together out of their combined bases.  Instead of a million authors clamoring for a limited audience, those that band together will have a louder voice and as long as their work is solid the readers will follow them.

4. People complain about the lack of quality in some self published books.  Those authors will either join one of the guilds and improve their work, or they’ll be a solitary voice competing with the groups/guilds of solid writers.  Their books will not succeed in comparison.  The cream will rise to the top.

So, while traditional publishing will never be the same, there is tremendous opportunity right now.  Try new things, get together with other writers, we’re all in this together.  And personally, I’m excited to see how things evolve.

Choices, choices

This morning I asked for some feedback about a cover I’d been playing with.  I had some time today so I made up a second one.  I’m not sure if I like it better or not.  Huh.  So, I figured I’d put them up side by side and see if anyone has a preference, or different ideas I could try.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2             The apocalypse gazette 4.2

I think the reason I’m having trouble with these is that it’s like the camera is zoomed back too far, there’s too much to look at, not enough focus.  They’ll be even worse when shrunk down to thumbnail size.  Probably the simplest thing to do would just have the cover be the front page of the paper but that almost seems like a cop out.  So, feedback or ideas would be awesome.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2The apocalypse gazette 4.2

Something simple that sizes down well would probably be better.  Something like this, that is far less interesting -or complex.

cover_sepai_3

Even more choices.