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Local Author's, Chris McKitterick, innovative fight against on-line piracy of TRANSCENDENCE: live chat and give away at 10:00 a.m

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Chris McKitterick was as excited as any aspiring author when publisher Eric Reynolds of Hadley Rille-books decided they'd buy his book TRANSCENDENCE and put it in both print and Kindle format - his excitement was short lived when within a matter of hours the book was pirated by on-line file sharing sites.

McKitterick is a creative thinker though, so it didn't take him long to come up with a unique way to circumvent what would have stopped others in their tracks.

Chris will be joining us live at ten a.m. to tell about his idea, and there's something in it for everyone! Chris, Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction - University of Kansas, has had work appear in a variety of magazines and anthologies. This past year, he was chosen to edit the special science fiction issue of World Literature Today.

Comments

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Good morning everyone. Chris, I hope you're ready to answer some questions.

Tell us a bit about your recent experience and how you're coping. :)

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Also, if you'd share a brief summary of your book topic and characters. I understand you actually wrote the book over ten years ago?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Ah, yes, what's it about? It's a near-future science fiction story about several people learning to live in a world where instantaneous and ubiquitous communication prevents any real human interaction. There's a teenage boy dealing with "feedrapture addiction," basically advanced internet addiction. A few actors aboard a spaceship engaged in what turns out to be real war (they thought it was just a show...); same sort of deal for a soldier fighting a war in Africa that's not really the war he thinks it is. An artificial intelligence - who's responsible for much communication and commerce in our part of the world - experiencing a sort of mental breakdown. And a scientist on Neptune's moon Triton who has discovered an alien artifact. Plus many more characters who come and go throughout the book.

If you want to check out the official blurb-ey comments and download the book yourself, just bop over to my website: http://www.sff.net/people/mckitterick/me/chrisnovels.htm

I finished it a while back, yes! Since then, I went through a number of setbacks: Editors turning into agents, editors sitting on the book for a long time (think YEARS), other editors and agents concerned about the length and "intelligence" of it as being too much for a debut novel (one of whom wanted my second book first), and so forth. Oh, and my agent got sick and died during this time. It was all very disheartening, and I almost gave up. But then no one would have read it! Thankfully, Eric Reynolds of Hadley Rille Books and I connected (I've published a number of stories in his anthologies), and he asked if TRANSCENDENCE was still available to publish. And now it's for sale in bookstores at last! And free on the web... including from pirates.

If nothing else, I hope other novelist-hopefuls out there discover that persistance and conviction can lead to success in the end.

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

The book sounds involved and quite fascinating. Is this something you see yourself doing a sequel to? It sounds as though it could easily be several books, movies - television series.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Well, I'm not opposed to it, but I have several other projects in the works now! The next thing I plan to write is a young-adult science fiction book about a brother and sister who discover that they're part of something much bigger than the world they thought they lived in... and that, perhaps, they're the only people who can save the human species. Plus I'm revising my next novel right now to get it sent out!

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

The story about the siblings sounds interesting.

I'm curious, Chris, I find when I'm writing something that another story, or poem, will present itself quite strongly. I've known other writers who share this experience. Is this something you experience and have your students asked how best to handle it should it occur?

By that I'm not sure if I should allow the new story to push the other one to the side for the time. How do you deal with that process?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Thanks, Ronda - it interests me a lot, which is why I'm working on it now! I've been thinking about it for many years.

With a novel, I think it's important to finish it while you're still full of beans to do the work. I'll still work on short pieces while working on a novel, but I only work on one novel at a time. It's hard enough to finish a book without having your focus divided by two!

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Good morning, Ronda and everyone!

Well, my novel launched on November 5 (launch party at the Jayhawk Ink bookstore here in town), and the Kindle edition went on sale about a week later. Last week, I ran a search of the book title and my last name, and every link I saw on the first few pages of results went to various file-sharing and bit-torrent sites! When I checked the posting dates of those links, it turns out that pirates must have cracked the DRM (digital rights management) on the Kindle edition within a day or so of the ebook release!

I went through the traditional stages of grief: disbelief, denial, anger, sadness... then acceptance as I realized that I had at least one fan (who just happened to be an ebook pirate). Then I realized I could fight back: I made a post to my blog (http://mckitterick.livejournal.com/653156.html), asking friends to post links to "official" sites where they could get copies of the print book and the free ebook from me.

That's the important part: I was most bothered by people not being able to find my website, blog, or publisher's site (http://www.hadleyrillebooks.com/), or so forth, because all the pirate sites are the top hits. So then I put out a request for help in converting the .pdf I had just uploaded into proper ebook formats, and right now I have a fan (computer guru Ben Trafford) who's converting it into a book-markable HTML document I can post on my site and a downloaded EPUB version (open-source ebook) that can run on ebook readers.

I've decided to fight the pirates using their own weapon: free ebooks! And mine is a nicer version, because it has color art ;-)

JSeraphim 4 years ago

Chris - what's the difference between a pirate snatching a copy or a pirate (or non-pirate, I guess), getting it for free from your site?

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

So if I understand you correctly, Chris, everyone who wants to read your book can?

And the direct link is?

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Good question, JS. I'm not very familiar with on-line sites, besides basic ones I go to.

Anyone have an idea how commonplace this type of thing has become and does it happen to all books or just Kindle? Excuse me in advance if that is a dumb question.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

JSeraphim, god question! A pirate breaks DRM (digital rights management) and gives it away to others - without asking, illegally. I don't care about that so much, myself, but if they don't link back to the source (my site, Amazon, wherever they got it) that people don't know where it came from.

It affects others who aren't giving away their books much more! Most writers and publishers are afraid of free as a marketing tool; they feel it takes away from ebook sales. This might be true, but I (and a few vocal and important authors in my field) feel that finding new fans is much more valuable than losing a few ebook sales.

Advantages of getting it directly from my site: For the reader, they get a nicer edition. They can also see what I request in return for the free download (reviewing it, blogging it, maybe making a donation), and they don't see that from a bittorrent site.

troll 4 years ago

Hi Chris! I just downloaded your book in pdf format from your website and it looks great. How do you think making your book available online for free will effect its sales numbers?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Ronda, right: People can download my book directly from my website:

It's only .pdf right now, but by tomorrow I'll have a full-featured HTML version of the whole book that can be bookmarked, plus an EPUB version (open-source ebook format) that can be downloaded. Here's the link:

http://www.sff.net/people/mckitterick/me/Transcendence1.htm

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Did you receive any acknowledgement from the pirates - name, publisher, or is it just the ability to read the book. How obvious is it if a book is pirated. Meaning, are there obvious signals for those of us out there surfing?

I'm asking so I can avoid them, seriously. I don't want to be a party to this.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Hi Troll (ha!). I hope you enjoy!

Because it's my debut novel, I am certain it will increase print sales. A much greater danger to new novelists than theft or piracty is obscurity. I don't know how many fans I had out there before I started offering the book online (and people started blogging about it), but since internet-freedom guru Cory Doctorow and others began linking to my essay on piracy, freedom, and making a living as a writer (here: http://mckitterick.livejournal.com/653743.html), I've enjoyed thousands of visits to my blog and website, and hundreds of downloads of my book.

That can only mean good things for future sales! Unless they all hate the book, of course ;-)

lonelane_1 4 years ago

Thanks for the give away. Free things are hard to come by these days. If someone wanted to pay, could they? If so, how would they go about it?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Sorry, I responded a bit below. There are lots of ways to pay or "pay in kind."

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Ronda, the only acknowledgement from the pirates that I've seen is my name, the book title, and (interestingly) the cover blurb by Jack McDevitt. Go figure! I don't know how one could tell the pirated book apart from real places to find it. This right here is why I find it so frustrating, and why I really look forward to the day when my website or my publisher's website or any book dealer's website show up on the first page of a search!

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

lonelane_1, you're welcome! If people want to give something in return, I ask for one or more of the following:

Buy a copy from your favorite bookstore or online vendor - or get it directly from the publisher at a discount! Rate or review it on your favorite online book place. It's on Alibris, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, and so forth, and there's a Goodreads page, too. Tell your friends! Blog about it. Send me an email ( cmckit@gmail.com ) or drop by my blog or Facebook page telling me what you think of it. Or make a donation of whatever you can afford by clicking the PayPal "Donate" link I include on the sample and download page.

Several wonderful people have already made donations, clearly before even reading it. Most are for $5, but one was for full hardcover price, and a self-proclaimed pirate donated $40! It's an unexpected and touching response.

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

That is odd. Is this message for getting your book out via give away something you'll consider suggesting to SciFi students?

How does this affect the publisher? Who else does it bypass and shortchange?

What is in place to prevent this type of thing from occurring again?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Oh, and to answer your third question (interestingly, the "Reply" buttons are coming and going for me - sorry for the spread-out responses!), nothing can be done to prevent this!

DRM is only security theater. In fact, it's nothing but a detriment to honest folks. If a hacker wants to break security, it'll get broken. DRM serves as chum in the water to those folks! Seriously: Adding DRM to something only encourages the hackers.

If we increase security to the point that nothing can be stolen, we'll be living in a world that I, for one, sure don't want to live in. And no matter how brutal your efforts to prevent piracy, the pirates will overcome it anyway. Look at the Great Internet Firewall of China. Hopeless against determined hackers. So embrace 'em, I say!

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Chris, am I able to buy it at The Raven? How many pages, btw? It sounds involved!!!

cjl777 4 years ago

Did you have to get the approval of the publisher to offer the digital copy of your book at no charge? Did they have any objections?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Yes, absolutely. If not, I'm just another pirate! Seriously, anyone thinking of giving it away for free - be it a book or movie or album or whatever - check your contract first. You could be getting yourself into legal trouble otherwise. I made sure my contract allowed for this.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Ronda, I've been advocating giving it away as part of publicizing work for a long time! I've been giving away my poetry for a long time, and that's led to tens of thousands of readers seeing my work who would never have seen it before - and one got turned into song lyrics!

I became convinced to giving away ebooks to help publicize a novel when Cory Doctorow came to Lawrence last year for the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's annual Campbell Conference (http://www2.ku.edu/~sfcenter/2009conf.htm). He gave a talk about an experiment he was running, where he was self-publishing an anthology of his work. He was giving it away plus selling various increasingly nice editions of the book, and he's been writing about the results ever since. Now, lots of people poo-poo'd his ideas because "he's Cory Doctorow," that his fame means he'll sell books regardless. But he became famous by being an advocate of free and freedom in the first place!

Another great example is SF writer John Scalzi, who published "Agent to the Stars" on his website in 1999, asking for donations of a dollar if readers liked it. It was then published in small press 2005, then powerhouse Tor Books published it in 2008. He serialized "Old Man's War" on his website in 2002, which got him an offer from Tor Books, who published it - and now he's a very popular author. It's important to note that his blog, Whatever, gets tens of thousands of visitors per day.

But these are powerful examples that I share with my students. And now I'll have my own experience to share!

stealcloud 4 years ago

How do you plan on doing future releases for your media? Wont direct support of authors scare publishers of being obsolete?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Oh, and I'll let my publisher, Eric T Reynolds, answer how it affects his publishing house.

All I know is that he's totally behind me on giving it away, and he's PO'd at the pirates for doing it before I had a chance to give it away, myself. We put it into the contract that I retain the right to sell or give away electronic editions of the book. My editor was very supportive of the idea, because Hadley Rille Books (http://www.hadleyrillebooks.com) is a smaller press with a limited marketing budget, so any publicity = good publicity! I was planning to give it away in the first place, which is why I retained those rights. I wanted to run an experiment to see if a new novelist could enjoy increased sales by giving away books, as have well-established authors like Scalzi and Doctorow.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Not sure where it's available locally beyond Jayhawk Ink, but I hope local places carry it! It's always a challenge for debut books to make it into brick-and-mortar stores. But I know some folks have been able to pick it up in independent stores all across the country.

Tina_Black 4 years ago

Does your publisher plan to sell a Kindle edition of future books? Do you want further offerings to have DRM (that doesn't seem to manage anything) or do you and your publisher wish to more directy do e-offerings?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Tina, I've partially responded to this in various posts below, but my answer: Yes, I want those editions to continue to appear! Plenty of people use devices that load DRM (sometimes ONLY DRM) content, and the convenience is worth the tradeoff for them. If someone wants my ebook on that kind of device, I want them to be able to find it.

Unfortunately, there's no way to control whether or not a Kindle, Nook, or other ebook contains DRM or not.

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

On the surface, one would think that making the ebook version available for free would affect sales on the publishing side, but as Chris says, we're getting a lot of publicity from it. I have seen several posts out there from anonymous people who are sympathetic to Chris, who have said they are downloading the free version and are then going to buy the hardcover.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

stealcloud, I intend to give away my books in the future, too. In fact, one thing I've learned is that I had better have the ebook versions ready to go simultaneously with the print book!

Smart publishers should see authors giving it away as a good sign that they're involved in promoting their work. Rusty publishers and some big online booksellers are freaked out by it. I'm afraid they're the ones who'll lose in the end, and flexible publishers - and authors - will come out the winners.

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

We at Hadley Rille Books work directly with a lot of indie bookstores. I have been interested in establishing a relationship with The Raven, particularly now since we've released Chris's book, with him being a local author, and anthologies we've published with short stories by Chris and James Gunn.

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Eric, I forwarded your comment above to The Raven. Hopefully they'll decide it's good business for all parties!

I'd like them to order it so I can buy it from them! I like to support local bookstores.

Thanks for coming on board and answering questions too since this affects so many.

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

Thanks, Ronda, glad to be here. I like supporting local bookstores as well, and local businesses in general.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

By the way, stealacloud, classic SF author Mack Reynolds had an interesting, utopian notion that everyone, including artists of all kinds, receive a minimum annual income (Minimum Basic Allowance"), and that art, literature, and so forth be deposited in a government computer from which it can be downloaded for a small fee. Reynolds, a socialist-libertarian, used the idea in a number of works in the 1960s.

I doubt we'll see this, but I think giving it away coupled with an ability to receive donations will have much the same result.

ButchC 4 years ago

If you could get a direct message out to those that would pirate your work, what would you say to them?

And I grabbed a copy of your book from your website....love good Science Fiction, looks like a great read! Thank you!

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Thanks, Butch! And sorry I didn't respond directly here. See below for full response.

RoeDapple 4 years ago

Chris, as someone who is very new to writing scifi short stories but with 50 plus years of reading scifi I find it difficult to come up with a storyline/plot that doesn't have an "all been done before" ring to it. Even from your brief description of your book, and a quick glance of the online copy I get a feeling of having read something that it reminds me of. Or maybe a compilation of events and character from several other stories. This isn't meant to be an accusation by any means as my own limited writings affect me the same way. Is it possible it's all been said, and all we can do is say it again in our own words?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Tina, yes, the book (and others by Hadley Rille) is available in Kindle edition - that's where it was pirated from! I'm happy to continue offering that edition, and I think people will continue to buy it even if it's available for free, because of the convenience of its availibility via the Kindle method. Same for other ebook readers. This is why they're so popular: Convenience! And it's not much more expensive than the typical donation I've been seeing.

itmightbemiles 4 years ago

Chris: Do you think pirates who go after Science Fiction material are more likely to pay for it than, say, people who pirate music or video games? Since arguably more thought and effort is going to go into productively pirating a novel, does that give people more incentive to support the creator of a novel (through guilt or otherwise) than it would give them to pay for a computer game?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Well, I'd argue that music and video-game pirates also buy work from the artists from whom they steal, as well! Musicians have no hope of getting rich from selling CDs, but clever musicians recognize how the world has changed and can make a living by selling things for people to take home from shows: T-shirts, CDs, other memorabilia.

As Doctorow points out, in an age of "free," the experience is what matters most to the consumer, not the product itself. We all want a memento: a book, a shirt, a piece of art, whatever. And one must hope that it's enough to support the artist who creates the stuff and gives away his or her creative work!

itmightbemiles 4 years ago

Ronda, I work for a publisher that prints hardcover books. One of our studios has adapted the same strategy as Chris when it comes to piracy. The studio has found that by giving away digital copies of their book for free, they've generated more interest in their product, which has given them increased sales, and at the very least, better publicity and awareness. This hasn't harmed us as a publisher at all. Many people are so impressed with it that they end up buying a hard copy, or paying for a digital copy. Both sides win.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

This is great to hear! And congratulations on seeing reward for your risk.

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Thanks. Itmightbe. That's facsinating. I would never have believed something like this could be such a positive.

Imightjustbe dragged kicking and screaming into a whole new area.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

ButchC, if I could talk to the pirates, I'd ask that they simply include a link to my site rather than to a bittorrent site! That way, people get a better copy, they get to know me a little, and they get to see how I'd like readers to pay me back, either via reviews or blogs or donations, whatever! But that way, I get to establish a relationship with readers. I don't care if they take the book - heck, I'm giving it away, too! - I just want some acknowledgement. That's the basis of my discussion in that essay (http://mckitterick.livejournal.com/653743.html) I wrote on the topic.

Hope you enjoy it!

teradactyl 4 years ago

Also, I'd like to point out that several files that are on bittorrent sites have viruses! It's not fair, but someone downloading it and then getting a virus could link that negatively in their head back to Chris and his work.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Oh, geez, I know - and I should have pointed that out! This is why I haven't downloaded any of those to see what they're offering. I'm not taking that risk. My computer doesn't want any social diseases ;-)

teradactyl 4 years ago

Hi Chris! What was the hardest thing about the writing process of this book? And how did you overcome it?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Getting it written! No, seriously: A novel is a huge project, especially one of this scope. It took me more than a year of hard work to write it, plus even longer to revise it. What got it done:

Planning. Lots of outlining and planning. Support from fellow writers - my writing group was incredible. Support from other writers for reviewing. Plus a passion for what I had to say.

If you have all that, you're golden!

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

Chris, if I may chime in and address RoeDapple's question...

There will always be new subjects, so definitely not everything has been said. There can sometimes be some familiar themes and one great thing about that is that people can relate to those, and when an author addresses them in a new way, it brings new life and an updated view of those. Human problems and goals have changed little over thousands or millions of years, and a lot of literature addresses those in new ways as time goes on.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

RoeDapple - I know exactly what you mean! After reading Olaf Stapledon's "Star Maker" and "Last and First Men," I realized that there was nothing left to write about. OS had said it all. Over time I got past this, because the interstices between each concept in his books leave universes of things to say! And what about the story of a particular Flying Man, say? He had love, joy, sadness, loss... so many billions of stories remain to be told.

In fact, my book is in part a response to all the SF that has come before. Each storyline is a bit of an homage to prior subgenres of SF; it's also why I have such a broad scope and variety of characters: This is a book about the human species facing change, so I wanted to connect at as many levels as possible - not just to the human condition, but to SF itself, the literature of change.

RoeDapple 4 years ago

Thank you. Your response helps free me of the uneasiness I am having with a story I have been stuck on. The main character has slowly developed into a compilation of scifi/action adven/Huck Finn hero that I feel I'm making too complex for the story. Now to decide whether to dress him down or try for novel length book!

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

I remember being told in one fiction writing class that there are only about five or six actual stories to be told - all the test are variations. Made sense at the time! :)

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

True! The classic plot-forms:

Boy meets girl (or girl meets boy, or boy meets boy, or so forth). The Little Tailor. The quest. The man who learned better. School days. Stranger in a strange land. Revenge.

And their variations!

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Heck, in the movie industry (and much of the advertising world), you'll hear stuff like, "Think Huck Finn meets Lady Godiva!"

Seriously. Don't let it frighten you off of telling the story that you can't not tell!

Tina_Black 4 years ago

I understand that you are collaborating on a book with James Gunn. Any idea when it will be done?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Yes, though I'm only a very minor partner on the project. Jim doesn't write as quickly as he used to, but it's coming along: He just sent me the newest chapter - a very unique alien's history - so it's nearing the end!

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Great question, Tina. I've been hoping for Gunn's memoir - tell me if there is one. He's known so many of the greats and he's tops as far as I'm concerned.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

That is such a super idea, but I don't think he's working on it. Hmmm... must apply some motivation....

Gunn is one of the The Greats. He's a SFWA Grand Master of science fiction whose influence has been felt across every aspect of the genre through his teaching, speaking, and writing.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

By the way, on the topic of incentive to pay for something or making a donation related to something you got for free: "Giving it away" is a powerful model for building goodwill. If you DRM the heck out of things (as one sees in the movie industry) or sue the heck out of your potential customers (as one sees in the music industry), you active burn up goodwill.

On the other hand, if you give it away and rely on honesty and integrity, I believe you'll see rewards arising from the goodwill that generates. At least, that's what I'm hoping! And I'm seeing some evidence for that of my own in the form of donations. If that translates into more book sales, then my publisher sees the results, too. At the very least, more people will have heard about the book and Hadley Rille Books' other books by giving it away than otherwise!

salamisang 4 years ago

Chris, what other projects are you currently working on?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Thanks for asking! Right now, I'm working on a young-adult science fiction book about a brother and sister who discover that they're part of something much bigger than the world they thought they lived in... and that, perhaps, they're the only people who can save the human species.

Simultaneously, I'm revising my next novel - "Empire Ship" - right now to get it sent out! It's a far-future SF book about a menace from the ancient past that threatens galactic civilization. Here's a little description: Aboard a world-sized Empire Ship, a boy comes of age in a society that sharpens men into weapons while the ship's Captain plans to resurrect the Empire. Meanwhile, a woman launches a mission to destroy the threat and must decide how best to save the human species. Along the way, she works to save her father from her boss while teaching a couple of borderline-psychopaths about loyalty and love... sorta.

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

I agree about not DRMing the heck out of things. It's almost like a barrier that limits the number of readers. We, as a publisher, want to make money, of course, but we like to think long term, and there's a positive long term affect for both publisher and author from an author gaining as many readers as s/he can.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Not only that, but DRM simply doesn't work. I mean, geez, they cracked my book's DRM within a day of the Kindle release! That's all the evidence one needs, I think. And I think that people are basically good and fair, so if they don't feel they're being ripped off, they'll seek to make things right. As evidence, I'll point out that one self-proclaimed hacker donated $40! Now, it's doubtful either of us would have seen anything from such a person if it'd only been a DRM'd Kindle edition and print book, but it's also possible that he would have bought a print book if he liked it. The only thing acting against such a possible result from this customer? DRM. Free meant a positive result.

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

Definitely. It's always a challenge among hackers to see who can crack a new DRM method first. Sometimes it takes a little while, sometimes only hours.

teradactyl 4 years ago

Is there a "message" you'd like to get across with this book? (If that's a plot/story/whole book spoiler feel free to disregard this question!)

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Perhaps the most fundamental thing I'm saying is that we need to get to know one another better or we risk losing that which makes us human. It's easy to dehumanize someone whom we don't understand. The stranger is the enemy. In a world where everyone is a stranger - even where everyone is in constant contact with each other, but no one has real human contact - we are all lonely and isolated.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Let's not do that.

stealcloud 4 years ago

As a science fiction writer how do you expect it to play out with everything going digital? Soon it seems that there will be no need for cds, dvds, games will be downloadable directly. How will that impact society when there is no need for blockbusters, games stores, cd stores etc? The upcoming generations wont have that nostalgia of buying a record or holding a book. Im not sure of specific numbers but what will these displaced people be left doing?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

That's a great question, stealacloud, and one I can't answer definitively. Science fiction is just about asking the next question, as Theodore Sturgeon said. It's about considering how change will affect everything; change is not one thing, it's a cascade.

What'll the digital revolution mean to creativity? In the short term, it'll mean bad things for those who seek to use DRM as a tool to retain market share. It'll mean good things for reviewers and bloggers who'll have easier access to work. It'll also mean we'll see more places like Goodreads (here's my book there: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9406791-transcendence), where everyone can share their responses - and where people can download ebooks and find links to print books. It'll mean more authors can self-publish, because it's free (sites like Smashwords do this) to do so - in money, but it still requires a lot of effort to write a book.

What'll it mean beyond that? I doubt we'll see a "Minimum Basic Allowance" ala Reynolds, but maybe we'll see a standardized structure where people make honor payments for things they get for free. Heck, maybe we'll encounter the Technological Singularity before that, so all information is free, and all currency is information. Who knows! But I'm excited to see what happens.

teradactyl 4 years ago

There is a small plus side to everything being digitized! Less trash being made. As much as I hate to think of people trashing books, CD's, DVD's, etc away instead of giving them to somebody to use, I know it happens :(

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

I know a lot of people who no longer buy those things. A friend of mine gave me his CD collection when he put it all on his mp3 player. You know what? A lot of those CDs I got from him have gotten me to buy more from those artists. And he keeps buying from the creators, too, because he's a good person. Then gives away his CDs as gifts.

Successful bands now often give away their new releases in hopes that people will make a donation. Me, I'm old-fashioned. I like to look at a shelf of books or CDs or movies and decide what I want to enjoy. There are digital tools that provide a similar interface with one's collection, though, so this is changing for lots of people.

The Digital Age = less garbage, one could hope!

Tina_Black 4 years ago

And all that will be left are HeeChee prayer fans. :)

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

OMG, that would be awesome! See, this is what I mean: Coming up with creative ways to make one's work worth the effort to create it. But I think things like this are best left to others: Fred is probably best left to writing while his fans are probably best at coming up with products that serve this need.

What writers need to do is develop a fan base and then make requests for cool mementos people would like, then find a producer to make them. It's why we have Cafe Press and such!

teradactyl 4 years ago

I also enjoy looking at my book collection! However, I no longer buy CD's. Mainly because I don't have anything to play them on! In any case, I think it will be a long time before books and the ilk are completely digital. Too many people like to hold their favorite authors, bands etc in their hands.

If they stopped printing books, I'd riot!

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Yeah, I think we interact with books differently than we do with music or movies. But I know a lot of people who prefer comics or graphic novels over movies because of the same things that make us prefer books to ebooks!

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

I'm taking lunch break but I'll be coming on and off to learn more. Please continue asking and answering questions.

I encourage all of you to copy this to your facebook and or tweet about it to beat the pirates at their own game!

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

I'll keep checking in all day as folks have questions.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

By the way, there are lots of ways to fight digital pirates. Perhaps the best is to post links of your own to your favorite authors, musicians, artists, and so forth. This pushes the pirates' links down when someone does a search for those people! So if you have a favorite creator out there, you can help by writing blog posts, reviews, and emails to others about those creative types. Include links to their websites!

teradactyl 4 years ago

Who is your favorite character from this book?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Are you asking me, the writer, about my favorite character from my own book? That's dangerous! That's like having to pick a favorite child ;-)

I'm perhaps most sympathetic with Jonathan, because he's still trying to find his place in a world that's been tough on him. But I'm also sympathetic toward Liu Miru, because for him exploring new and exciting places and seeking knowledge is worth facing ultimate dangers. I like Nadir, because it's an all-action story. I also really like the Brain (an artificial intelligence), because it's having to deal with the same kinds of problems we all have to deal with... only it doesn't have the tools we acquire growing up as human beings. What would it be like to be the only one of your kind? To have no one to talk to? To have no basis for calculating your sanity?

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

stealcloud, I think we're just being presented with more options as we move foreword. There's been a debate for a while whether printed books will become obsolete. I think digital books in all forms and delivery methods will continue to increase, and maybe eventually take over. But there are still a lot of people--including most kids--who prefer printed books, which would seem to indicate that there's at least another generation of printed-book readers. In fact, I know a lot more older readers with ebook readers than kids. So the question will be if kids will still continue to prefer printed books or if they will convert as they have with music, etc. There will probably always be some room for printed books even if they end up being more for collectors someday. They're great for getting autographed...but then at the World Fantasy Convention I attended a few weeks ago, some people with ipads were collecting autographs by way of Sharpies on the backs of their pads.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Autographed iPads! The drawback is that one can only collect so many... and they'll eventually wear off.

Cory's hypothesis is that even people who read mostly in digital form want some form of memento of the reading experience. If a nice hardcover is available, or a leather-bound edition, or something else - these are the physical memories of the work, souvenirs. Some people will always want those, despite how they first encountered the content. If most people read exclusively on electronic devices, do we (creators, publishers) need to start offering things besides books for readers to purchase? Perhaps! Time to start thinking creatively....

bcartwright 4 years ago

This is a question for both Chris and Eric. What do you think the presence of digital copies of books (pirated or otherwise) does to the potential audience for a text? Does it allow different kinds of people to read the books? Who do you think the big readers of digital texts are? People fascinated with technology? People who travel a lot? Legal digital copies of texts seem to be generally priced lower than their physical counterparts, on the one hand, but e-readers are still pricey little objects, on the other.

I remember vividly the class arguments being made about computer use and computer access in the early nineties--the fear that lower-income segments of the population would be left behind in the digital revolution. Now, though, it seems that computer access is standard in public libraries and other facilities. Is it easier for lower-income people to access digital versions of texts than it once was?

I thought about this issue a lot when I was living in China, actually. I lugged over one 70 lb. suitcase full of books and rapidly burned through them in my first six months. I then turned to digital copies of Interzone and other science fiction magazines, for new reading material. Access to computers was definitely NOT free for the average citizen when I was in China. China is also home to science fiction magazine with the largest circulation in the world. This got me wondering about what kinds of audiences read digital texts, and if, from a publisher's standpoint, or a new author's standpoint, either of you feel like the presence of digital copies (or even pirated copies) widens your audience in interesting ways. Do digital texts "internationalize" the audience for a new book?

Sorry for the barrage of questions. Great essay, Chris. Also, great responses from people. Your essay and this thread have really started me thinking about these issues.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Also, yes! I believe digitizing work internationalizes it. Unless my book is for sale in China, I don't expect many can buy it or even discover it. However, if my work finds just one ambitious fan in China, I could end up with thousands or millions of new fans, some of whom might buy other work of mine. Readership is what drives writers, so finding an audience is key - though income is what keeps us alive ;-)

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Something else to point out is that digitally enabled devices and ebook readers will soon become so cheap as to become disposable. When that happens, we'll truly see the democratization of information. We're still a couple years from seeing that, though not as long as one might imagine!

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

Yes, I agree with that. And then the question will be what to do with the ebook file itself from the reader. Do books become disposable themselves rather than end up on a shelf?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

I think people will do as I do now: Keep those you love (or need to be read), give away those you've finished and don't love (I give away some I like plenty to make room for new ones).

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Thanks for the thoughtful questions, bcartwright! You hit on some really important themes:

Yes, I think digitizing work democratizes the world a little bit more. Anyone with access to an internet-capable computer can find unheard-of riches, information and entertainment on any topic one could hope to ponder. We live in an age of wonders! The Information Age has begun, and when it's fully here, everyone will be able to acquire whatever knowledge they seek.

But right now, in many parts of the world (or our country, or even our city), there are plenty of people who have no internet access. Yes, even today, right here. In places like China, well... that's where we never want to go. I'd rather never get paid for anything I write ever again than live in a totalitarian state, and if we edge that direction, you can bet that the majority of my creative output will be efforts to throw off the dictatorship.

One side-effect of digitizing work I'd like to see is for more analog copies to become available to the poor. As we acquire more things digitally, more books and CDs and DVDs end up at thrift stores and libraries and Boys and Girls Clubs and so forth. We're more likely to give away physical books if we prefer to read them digitally, much as my friend gave me his CDs once he put them in his mp3 player. Plus I know a lot of people who got something for free (music, movie, TV show, book...), they liked it, and then they bought copies for friends. This system of free works! Now will it work for reaching those who cannot access things? Only if we make an effort to reach those people.

stealcloud 4 years ago

Speaking of thinking of creativity, do you plan on doing any collaborations with other artists? Such as Murder by Death doing a instrumental sountrack for Jeff Vandermeer's Finch, or Dogfish releasing a beer alongside Miles Davis's albumn.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Yes, I know about VanderMeer's collaboration with them, and it sounds really cool! I can't afford to hire anyone to help in these ways, but I've considered finding an artist or musician who might like to collaborate on some kind of hybrid project or simple mutual support. This is one way that the Web really enables creativity and collaboration. It's called "hypertext" because words do so much more than share information on the Web; they open up vistas for the user. But less-Web-intensive collaborations could be really fun, too, and mutually beneficial.

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

I'm sending this comment to my friend Mike Calzone. He's a terrific musician and he just might be the right one for you.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

That would rock! I'm always open to collaboration, especially cross-genre like that. Thanks, Ronda.

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

I'll let you know. I'm sure there are many local artists too, but Mike plays a great assortment of instruments as well as writing and singing his own material.

For some reason the sitar sounds like a fine sound for SciFi! :)

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

bcartwright, one thing to keep in mind about digital books is that ebook devices themselves don't last very long. Unless we start keeping a repository on-line somewhere you're faced with transferring books from your old device to a new one (and for DRM ones that's hard sometimes). I bought an ebook reader about two years ago and it'll need to be replaced soon. So when I get a new one, do I transfer all my books to the new device? Even the ones I might want to read again, do I take the time to make sure I still have them on the new device? Contrast that with printed books in my library, some of which I bought as a teenager. Occasionally, I'll browse through those old titles and pick one out to re-read. And I have much older books that those dating over 100 years old. Those are deteriorating, but nowadays most printers use acid-free paper and printed books could last much longer.

On the other hand, it's really nice to take many books with you on one device when traveling. And as devices continue to improve and the reading experience improves on them.

Digital devices aren't just being used by people who are fascinated by technology. In fact, ebook devices like Kindle, iPad, Nook, Sony, etc. are very easy to use and the convenience makes them attractive to anyone. It is true that there's an affordability issue and maybe someday there'll be a different pricing model. After all, you can buy a trade paperback for $15 where an iPad costs hundreds. The cheaper cost of downloading ebooks will eventually make up for the cost of an ebook reader. But when does that happen? Does that threshold occur well enough before the ebook device starts to wear out?

As for printed books, one thing I'm fairly sure about is that a large portion of printed books will be print-on-demand. With POD there is no waste, no left over books to pulp, etc. As far as printed books goes, POD is a much greener method than traditional offset methods. And POD books continue to improve in quality, to the point now where many are better than what comes from offset-printed presses.

So there are a lot of pros and cons...

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Great points, Eric! This is one of the things I love about the POD revolution in publishing: Not only do books remain in print (just make another run when there's demand), but they aren't wasted through over-production in the first runs. Bookstores perceive over-production in terms of returns, and no one's happy with those. So produce what's needed and make more when desired: Perfect! It's how most of the rest of the market works.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Speaking of price points (re: bcartwright's comment): I've already gotten several donations for my free book; the most-common donation is $5, though one reader gave full hardcover price and another donated $40. If we toss out those two, this suggests that ebooks are mostly over-costed, and why piracy exists in the first place.

The music industry tells that tale: Nowadays, most musicians only make a living by going on tour and selling t-shirts and other memorabilia. This is the case because pirates feel the need to "get back at the music labels" for over-pricing CDs. They don't consider the harm this does to the musicians; one could even argue that DRM caused the harm in the first place, but that's a little like blaming the victim.

One of my upcoming digital projects is a textbook that I intend to give away. Why? Because I'm ashamed by how much the primary textbook I use in my classes costs. I want my students (and students in other such courses or those teaching themselves) to have free access to the information. I'll include methods for people to make donations to me, and I'll probably include text-based ads (like context-based Google ads) to make the project worth the efforts needed to complete it. But part of my reward will be the knowledge that I helped democratize the world just a little bit more by making the information in my head free to others.

Tina_Black 4 years ago

When I was a student I could get a semester of books for about 50.00. Nowadays that would possibly cover one book. Look at US -vs- Thor Tool and Die for a good amount of the reason.

E-books and on-demand could make price gouging a thing of the past if new models of doing business succeed. I have no idea if any mainstream publisher will manage a transition.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

If I were a student buying books today, I'd be looking for ways to "screw the man" ;-) I mean, seriously: $200 for a textbook? This sort of business model drives ill-will toward the very people upon whom you rely to stay in business. You know that, right now, some students are looking for ways to give their books en masse to other students. One doesn't even need an ebook for that; scanning still works, and one can find a number of scanned books online. It's primitive and time-intensive, but it works.

A much better solution is saner costing in the first place. I hope a lot more mainstream publishers accept the free model.

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

It looks like Jayhawk Ink is getting their print-on-demand machine going. Some textbooks will be available from it right there in the bookstore, and I believe they will be much cheaper. And then, ebook versions of textbooks might be even cheaper still.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Good point! Textbook authors can charge whatever they want for those POD books. Many people still prefer to read in print.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Eric, I have a question for you as a publisher: How does your method of publication (printing on demand) work out over time? Are you able to nimbly respond to orders before they evaporate? Do booksellers keep enough books in stock to avoid losing orders?

Tina_Black 4 years ago

Heh. Bookstores do as well as they can, but there is no such thing as "not losing sales". If it is not there for the person, likely the sale is lost. Bow ordering -- if you can turn it around in 10 days that should work ok. Don't know if POD does it that fast. Yes, I spent 13 years as a bookseller -- the first five at the Oread, 3 as the SF buyer.

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

Tina, generally the printer fulfills POD orders within a 2-3 days and ships them out. Trade paperbacks have a faster turnaround than hardcovers, but even hardcovers will get to a bookstore within 10 days once the distributors have them.

Tina_Black 4 years ago

Eric, that is much faster than a regular publisher can turn an order around. Distributors made turnaround faster, but publishers gave better discounts. Of course, trade paper usually has a short discount, so the turnaround is a Good Thing.

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

Chris, generally with POD, a title can stay in print for as long as we want it to. And since the book's file stays with the printer indefinitely, then it's always available for a bookstore, whether on-line or bricks and mortar, to order it and get it within a few days. For example, I released the Ruins Extraterrestrial anthology with your great story "The Empty Utopia" in 2007. And yet, it's just as available today as it was then. Bookstores that keep our books on the shelves tend to keep ordering them as long as they're selling. If the demand for the book goes away, then they stop ordering new copies, and will maybe keep a couple on the shelves, or in stock. When those books sell, then they sometimes will order a couple more.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

That's interesting Eric, thanks. Huh - so it's almost better for a book to have greater demand than availability, because the bookstore sees the demand in a positive light but the dusty book on the shelf quite dimly....

EricTReynolds 4 years ago

That's true, especially for the small press books. But really, for any book. Bookstores have a constant guessing game for most of the books they stock: how many copies of a title to buy, how long to keep a current title on the shelf, what to do when a title doesn't sell as expected--whether to return it to the distributor or continue to try to sell it, maybe discount the price, what to do when a book continues to sell more than expected, and how that affects their decision for how many copies to buy of the next book from the same author. Every slot on the bookshelf costs them a certain amount to maintain.

Tina_Black 4 years ago

Chris, bookstores tend to have a recipe for "turn" -- that is, how many /how fast went out the door. A paperback is not earning its keep unless it turns 7 copies a year -- that is mass market, and the number is decades old. I used to require a 20 turn for mass market in SF because of space limitations.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Thanks for the insider's look, Tina and Eric!

bentrafford 4 years ago

Hi! McKitterick fan and ebook stalwart Ben here, with a few comments to other author types following this discussion.

If you can get your book into any format, use EPUB. And preferably, get someone to do it properly. There are conversion tools out there for all the formats, and a lot of what they produce looks awful. But if you start with a nice EPUB file, and do a bit of tweaking, you can get something that is true to the philosophy of your book's design, while still being more appropriate to a digital medium. EPUB has long been the delivery format from publishers to all of the major deliverers -- in other words, your EPUB file can be converted and encrypted into virtually any ebook platform (KIndle, Nook, etc.) as well as read natively (without conversion or encryption) on most of those platforms.

(Full disclosure: I was on the EPUB committee for several years. While a bit biased, I assure you that what I'm saying isn't just hype.)

I concur 100% with Chris' ideas in regards to piracy. Give it away. The people who are stealing it are not the people who would be buying it, anyhow. But the people who want to try it legally, for free, -are- the people who will buy it, if they like it enough. And even those who don't want to buy it may give you a donation for the experience.

More than that, they'll pass along your work to others. I'd never heard of Cory Doctorow before I got passed one of his free ebooks by a friend. And I likely wouldn't have bought it. But I did get a copy, and since it was free, I gave it a read, and that same book now sits, purchased, on my shelf. Giving it away is brilliant marketing.

On the topic of how to avoid the pirate sites: it's easy. If it isn't a name you recognize, or the author, or his publisher, then the site providing the book is probably a pirate site. And as people have pointed out, pirated material can be filled with all sorts of badness. Not to mention that the pirated copies won't be as high a quality as what Chris is giving away for free.

Oh, and since no one has mentioned it so far, "Transcendence" is a pretty awesome book. Don't let the discussion distract you from enjoying Chris' fine work. :)

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Thanks for joining the discussion, Ben! (And mucho thanks for working on the conversions: I'll get those onto my site ASAP - I feel I especially owe it to those who've already donated.)

Pirated copies are almost universally garbage. Ever watched a pirated movie? 'Nuff said. If you're a music afficianado, you know how bad mp3s are re: sound quality. And so forth. If you don't want a virus, stay away from pirated software, ebooks, and other digital material; if you don't want spyware, stay away from file-sharing sites, period.

Tina_Black 4 years ago

Chris, years ago you had a sample chapter or so of each of your works up on your web site. Did you take them down? One of them was so Bester-like I wanted the whole thing!

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Tina, I'm not sure which one you mean! Perhaps the opening of "Empire Ship"? I still have those sample chapters here, and will keep adding stuff when I can: http://www.sff.net/people/mckitterick/me/chrisnovels.htm

Tina_Black 4 years ago

I thought you had bits from books other than Empire Ship. I think I recall about five works with links to chapters, and now there is only one. Might be Empire Ship, but i don't think so.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Hm... maybe I had something from older, unsold, books that I grew ashamed to share in public...? I'll have to chat with you about this in person, I suspect. I'd be happy to show you the whole book (whatever it was) to get your feedback for revisions ;-)

Tina_Black 4 years ago

Well you can e-mail them to me :) One of them had enormous potential from my POV. I'd be happy to be a beta reader --

Tina_Black 4 years ago

How much do you think Golden Age SF has influenced your work?

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Golden Age SF was huge for me growing up. My local library and school library pretty much only carried work from before the 1970s, so I grew up on a diet of Asimov, Bester, Clarke, Clement, Heinlein, Pohl, Simak, and so forth. I read all the DAW year's best collections, too, and as many anthologies as I could find - which is how I became a fan of Gunn's. Surely they influenced everything I think about what is SF, and my earliest efforts were - as with most writers - attempts to re-create those reading expriences. Then I discovered Cyberpunk, and the New Wave, and all that's come along since, and that's added to my understanding of SF.

Eventually, I began to find my own voice, but science fiction - like all human endeavor - is an ongoing discussion between the creators and fans of the past and those working and experiencing it today!

Tina_Black 4 years ago

LOL -- Professor Gunn was Not Amused when I suggested that the dialog went back to at least the 15th or 16th Century. But I think you are right -- that the dialog is a part of human endeavor.

Marlo Angell 4 years ago

Great blog, Ronda & Chris! I look forward to reading this book (in one form or another).

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Hi, Marlo. What projects have you been working on?

Pease come back and leave a comment, or better yet critique, about the book once you've read it. I'm looking forward to reading it myself. It sounds terrific.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marlo Angell 4 years ago

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Ronda! I'm working on a new documentary on the evolution of soccer in Western Kansas and am 2/3 way through my nanowrimo novel- woo-hoo!

But back to subject, I am like you and would prefer a hard copy I could buy at The Raven. I am a fan of sci-fi and local authors so am looking forward to it!

Ronda Miller 4 years ago

Soccer evolved in Western Kansas? Wow, now that's worthy of a documentary. What area in w Kansas? I'll look forward to viewing it and let me know should you be open to doing an online discussion similar to this. Whitney, who I've still never met, said she's be able to set these up in a more professional manner which would be terrific. (thanks, Whitney - I'm hoping to evolve with the system)

I completed the writing part of a documentary on The 150 reenactment ride of the Pony Express. Man, you eat, breath, sleep projects like that! Quite the experience.

I'm calling The Raven tomorrow asking for the book! :). Enjoy!

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

By the way, last spring I was able to convince traditional publisher World Literature Today to publish not just another online "sampler" of their print magazine, but a full-featured online issue with unique content, which got them a lot more visitors than their prior online mags. Maybe even some new subscribers! Here's the special "International Science Fiction" website I put together for them (I was also honored to be the editor of that issue):

http://www.ou.edu/worldlit/onlinemagazine/2010may/webcontents.html

Lots of great stuff, including a wonderful and haunting story by Pamela Sargent - something that would have been too long for the print issue.

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

Okay, folks, I need to run off for a bit to help a friend with his car. I'll check back in a little while to see if there are any more questions.

Thanks so much for this opportunity to talk about writing and freedoms in the Digital Age! Lots of great questions and discussion here. It's been a lot of fun!

Best, Chris http://www.sff.net/people/mckitterick

Christopher McKitterick 4 years ago

I see what you're saying, and I've been offering a few sample chapters of a couple of my books for a while now. But I'm afraid that if I don't give away the full book, people seeking free ebooks would go straight to the (unsavory and unsafe) pirate sites rather than buy a book. So I see offering it for free download from my site is much preferable! You can't put a dollar value on goodwill.

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