Monthly Archives: April 2012

DRMGTFO

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Some stonkingly awesome news broke yesterday that folks might have missed given the current volume of the book blogosphere, so I’m going to reiterate it here:

Tor and Tor UK have announced that ALL their ebook content will become DRM free over the next three months.

This is huge, people. A day that should truly be celebrated as a victory of common sense and vision over narrow-sighted finger-in-the-dyke thinking.

Why? Glad you asked.

To begin with – What’s DRM?

From Wikipedia: Digital rights management (DRM) is a class of access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content and devices after sale.

In other words, it’s the shit on your CDs that stops you being able to play them on your PC. It’s the shit that means when you buy a new computer game like Skyrim, you have to download an 8 gig ‘patch’ before you can frackin’ play it, because the developers didn’t actually put the finished game on the DVDs you bought at the store. And it’s the shit that means if you were to go and buy an ebook from Amazon for your Kindle, you couldn’t read it on your Nook. Even though you BOUGHT THE BOOK and should be able to read it however the hells you want to.

DRM does not stop eBook piracy. This is simply a fallacy. A quick trawl of the dozens of massive online pirate coves will result in a hit on pretty much any titles you like, despite the publishers of those titles ‘protecting’ these e-titles with DRM. Meanwhile, the people who actually do the right thing and purchase their eBooks through legitimate sources get prison-sexed. By purchasing a title protected by DRM, these consumers become locked into a single e-reader format. If they decide to change formats at a later date, if the format becomes obsolete, if the retailer goes the way of Borders, those readers run the very real risk of being unable to read the words they already bought and paid for.

Furthermore, many pirates cite DRM as a ‘reason’ why they make DRM protected content available. “I’m doing a favor for the consumer,” goes the argument. “They just want to be able to use the content they already paid for. I’m not a bastard thief. I’m a service provider.”

Yes, this decision by Tor & Tor UK makes it easier for ebook piracy to occur. But the truth is, ebook piracy already occurs. If someone wants to steal your work badly enough, they will steal it. In many pirate/hacker/cracker circles, there’s a perverse kind of pride taken in cracking DRM, and derisive snorting when said DRM is cracked with relative ease. Breaking DRM is some people’s idea of fun. It doesn’t prevent theft, and it actually makes the idea of theft more attractive to some people. And honestly, publishers? The kind of DRM placed on e-books can be cracked by anyone with a yellow belt in google-fu. I can fucking do it, and I need to call my wife for help when I want to turn my Macbook on.

Many consumers consider DRM a fundamental violation of the spirit of their purchase. When I buy an album, I am not renting it. I am BUYING it. If I want to listen to it on my computer, I should be able to do so. If I want to copy the files into my iTunes so I don’t have to get off my lazy ass every time I want to listen to a particular song, I should be able to do that. And if I want to copy it from the CD that I bought and paid for onto my iphone, you’re goddamn right I should be able to do that too. I BOUGHT it. It’s MINE now. According to the law as it stands now, even backing up the content that you bought is illegal.

As a lad who grew up in the 80s, I went through the financial buggery of having to transfer my music collection from tape to CD. It’s outrageous to suggest people should have to do something like that again in an age of electronic media, simply because an e-reader format goes the way of the Sega Dreamcast.

Finally, this move allows publishers (publishers who follow Tor’s lead, that is) to get out from under the mighty thumb of That Which Is Amazon. In order for us to avoid a situation where Amazon has a complete monopoly over the eBook market (and a high-school economics student can tell you why monopolies are bad, m’kay, but Charlie Stross explains the intricacies of it here better than I ever could) publishers need to free their content from DRM and allow other vendors to retail it.

This is a visionary and dramatic step by Tom Doherty Associates (of which Tor and Tor UK are a part), a victory for consumers, and a red-letter day in the history of publishing. I for one am immensely proud that I’m soon-to-be published by the company that is taking this all important (and hopefully trend-setting) step into a world with just a tiiiiiiny bit less idiocy in it, and I urge everyone to show their support by buying as many Tor books as you can once the DRM wall comes down.

There’s this book called STORMDANCER coming out in September on Tor UK that I hear is pretty awesome….

OH COME ON, YOU DIDN’T THINK YOU’D GET AWAY WITHOUT A PLUG DID YOU?!?

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WTF is YA

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I was loitering at a bar with a writer colleague the other day, and at some point during my nonsensical mumblings about the dodgy shaky-cam work in the Hunger Games flick, this writer commented “I don’t read YA.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time – I’m not the quickest of cats when it comes to witty comebacks, soused or otherwise. I’m the fellow who wakes up at 4am, brainmeats burning with the riposte I should have launched eight hours previous when the snooty café waiter/part time lit student informs me I’m not a ‘real’ author because I write ‘genre’ (and let me assure you, the eventual riposte won’t be that witty, unless you consider middle fingers Elton-esque). But anyway, literally WEEKS later, I got to thinking about the comment and it struck me as odd for a couple of reasons:

a)      Declaring a blanket ban on any flavor of book strikes me as odd –a good book is a good book, to my mind.

b)      I’m not sure this colleague knew what YA fiction is. In fact, I’m not sure many people know what YA fiction is. I sure don’t.

That might be a strange thing to admit. But thinking about it, I really don’t. I have my suspicions about what it is, but it seems there should be some kind of concrete definition, given the amount of motion/noise being generated in YA lit atm, and for the life of me, I can’t come up with all but the loosest. A google search will land you with a hit parade of people telling you what time it is in the land of YA, but most of their tirades seem to fall flat, or are just flat out incorrect. But let’s try and break this shit down with a few of the defining traits I’ve seen online:

a. YA novels are books read by a Young Adult audience (someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen according to the American Library Association). Now this one is demonstrably wrong – the legion of adult YA fans out there are testament to that. Hells, I’ve been known to read YA, and while I might look like a fifteen year old when I shave off my facial hair, my days of acne, growth spurts and popping uncontrollable ‘happy pants’ three seconds before the teacher calls me up to the blackboard are OVER, my friends. YA is pretty much read by anyone with eyes.

b. YA novels have teenage protagonists. This is pretty much true. BUT, are all novels with teenage protagonists YA? Take The Lovely Bones for example. This is a story told through the eyes of a 14 year old girl, who after being murdered, watches her family and friends try with varying success to move on with their lives. And while some of the marketing for tLB was aimed at teenagers, it definitely wasn’t pushed solely on a YA platform, nor received as such by critics or the media. So while a YA novel needs a teenaged MC, not all books with teenaged MCs are YA. So insofar as nailing down our definition, I’m not sure how much this helps us.

c. YA novels feature the notion of ‘becoming an adult’ as a central theme. But is this really true? Let’s take a look at the goliath of YA properties out there atm – the Hunger Games. Now, I’m not talking about the trilogy here, I’m just talking about the first book, because a YA book should stand by itself as a YA book without the help of its buddies to prop it up.

Is ‘becoming an adult’ in any way part of Katniss’s story in HG? She’s already pretty much an adult in her mindset and worldview to my mind. She’s pragmatic, capable, possessed of empathy for her friends and family, yet perfectly capable of being apathetic to others. At the beginning of the novel, she hates the Capitol, by the end, she still hates them. She doesn’t appear to come to any dramatic conclusions about herself as a person – she knows who she is before the novel even begins. The only real change in mindset she undergoes is in regards to her feelings for Peeta (sort of), and her increased ability to ‘game the game’. Does this really constitute ‘coming of age’? Can it be truly said that Katniss begins the HG as a girl, and ends it a woman?

In my opinion? Helllllls no. And nobody out there is claiming HG to be anything other than YA.

d. YA novels deal with issues that are important to a YA audience – defining moral/ethical beliefs, acquiring social understanding/developing behaviour, finding emotional independence, sex, drugs, marriage, impending parenthood, claiming responsibility for oneself and one’s actions. This one is kiiiinda similar to “becoming an adult”. And again, I hold up tHG. Does Katniss do any of these things? She’s already responsible, mature, defined in her opinions. She already knows how she feels about most of the pressing issues in her life. Maybe she fails as a typical YA heroine? Maybe tHG isn’t really a YA book at all? Take a look at another YA novel (soon to be movie) I read recently – Ender’s Game. About the only teen issue Ender deals with through the book is peer acceptance, and it’s not really a running theme throughout the novel, more a source of conflict than anything else.

It would also seem logical that, if a book stars a teenage MC, that MC is going to be dealing with issues relating to teen life at some point. If you’ve fulfilled point b. then point d. is logically going to follow. Its kinda like saying if you write a vampire novel, you’re going to mention drinking blood. True, yes, but stating the obvious a little maybe? And it definitely doesn’t seem to be a rule.

e. YA novels are typically fast paced and deal with powerful emotions – Fast paced? No. One skim through Twilight will tell you that not all YA is running a mile a minute (and I know it’s the ‘done thing’ to shit on Twilight, but I suppose the biggest targets are easiest to hit). Powerful emotions? I think that should be true of any novel, right? At least any genre fiction novel. Novels are built around points of conflict – I can’t recall many novels I’ve read recently where the MCs weren’t experiencing powerful emotions at some point. Jealousy, rage, lust, joy, greed, hubris (Detectiiiiiive. You’re looking for me…” ) these are the tools that most narratives are built around. So yes, while it’s true that YA books contain them, I’m not sure they contain them in greater abundance than adult fiction. Certainly not genre fiction, anyway. Maybe I’m reading the wrong adult books…

f. Parents are usually not in the picture. This seems a logical outcome from point b. If you’re writing a story about a teenager going off and having adventures or saving the world, it’s gonna be a real short book if said teenager gets grounded in chapter 3 for coming home three nights in a row with demon blood all over their jeans. This doesn’t seem so much a defining trait of YA as a necessary construct within the narrative to allow the teenage MC to do whatever it is they have to do without Mother/Father getting all up in their grille. Saying you need the parents out of the picture in a YA book is kinda like saying you need terrorists in a Die Hard movie. Besides which, I’m sure there’s gotta be YA books out there with the parents still in the picture, right? (I obviously haven’t read enough) Wasn’t there a dad in Twilight?

So what are we left with? There are no real taboos (sex, drugs, whatever – Virginia Andrews was writing books aimed at teens with incest as a theme back in the 80s) that YA won’t deal with, so it can’t be something like ‘subject matter’. I’ve seen YA doorstoppers (with leading wide enough to drive a truck through, granted), so it can’t be about length. And in terms of complexity of plot or language, YA might be deemed ‘simple’ by some, but certainly no more simple than the average mass market adult bestseller. Or are you gonna tell me the plot for the DaVinci Code was complex?

So what is it?

Honestly, I think it’s Publishing House fiat more than anything else. A YA book is a YA book because it’s marketed that way. And having worked in marketing for a long time now, let me be the first to assure you that marketing ain’t an exact science. I think much of the decision to market a book as YA comes from ‘gut feel’ or ‘common sense’ or other processes just as nebulous. I’m not sure there ARE many hard and fast rules. I think Inigo Montoya said it best.

So given there are no real hard and fast rules, given there are so many books out there that break the mold of what YA ‘is’, I’m not sure declaring ‘I don’t read YA’ (or ANY kind of book, tbh) is such a smart move.

Especially for a writer.

Jus’ sayin’.


Good Stuff

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Just some quick updates this week. Sorry if I’m not my usual ranty-pantsed self. I’d tell you that I have no time for jibba-jabba, but only Mr T can say that shit without coming off like a twat.

My US publishers MacMillan have created an Advanced Reader Copy request form for STORMDANCER. It can be accessed by clicking HERE (It’s also available on the ABOUT STORMDANCER page).

In regard to ARCs, please be aware we have limited numbers, and I have very little/no say as to who gets them. I love that people are interested in the book, and I would love to have all you enthusiastic awesome folks get your hands on an ARC so you can spread the word (presuming you don’t think it sucks when you read it, of course, which is still 50/50) but I have very little control over this part of the process. If it were up to me, ARC winners would be chosen via one-handed knife fight, conducted in a massive flying arena, transmitted via Pay Per View and commentated by Jessie ‘the Body’ Ventura and ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund. So maybe it’s best that I actually don’t get much of a say.

If you don’t manage to get a physical ARC, STORMDANCER will be going up on Netgalley closer to release. And of course, I’ll be giving away copies on GR and whatnot as we edge closer to the launch date. So don’t get bummed out.

In other news:

Mr Patrick Rothfuss, #1 NYT Bestselling author of THE NAME OF THE WIND and THE WISE MAN’S FEAR has read STORMDANCER and he said some very nice things about it and told us we could put those very nice things on the cover. Yay us.

Ms Marissa Meyer, NYT Bestselling author of CINDER has also read it, and said some awesome things about it too. Double yay.

Ms Beth Revis, NYT bestselling author of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE read it too, and used words like ‘adored’ and ‘loved’ when describing it, so that’s pretty frackin’ cool.

Mr Scott Westerfeld, NYT bestselling authors of the UGLIES and LEVIATHAN series is still reading so STFU, you’ll break his concentration.

I don’t know any of these lovely peoples personally. We’re not on the same imprint, we don’t share the same editor. Patrick and I have the same agent, but believe me when I say he’s not the sort of fellow who would say he liked something if he didn’t. So initial unbiased feedback from some pretty awesome authors would seem to indicate that the book does not, in fact, suck. As you can imagine, this comes as something of a relief.

We’re building jaykristoff.com atm. A very talented buddy of mine is helping me (ie, doing all the real work) and it’s looking pretty great. I’ll be giving stuff away when we launch it in a month or so.

And finally, we’re designing the interiors and cover for the US edition of STORMDANCER. The US guys are giving me an extraordinary amount of input, which is very cool, and the book is looking swish. We’re having some kanji done for the interiors by the same uber-awesome artist who did my tattoo. In other happy-pants inducing news, the amaaaaaaaazingly talented Mr Jason Chan is doing our cover illustration for us. I’ve seen prelim sketches and the work he’s doing is… well, it’s kinda like this.

As a special treat, I wanted to show you a little piece of it. Just a tiiiiiiny piece for you folks who’ve been so cool along this road so far. Because you’re all fucking amazing, and I’m incredibly grateful anybody aside from my mum gives a toss about this little world that I’ve made.

But then my editor threatened to send the MacMillan Ninja Death Squad after me, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait just a little while longer.

But it’ll be worth it, I promise 🙂