Talking Tuesday: How to Make $2.38 per Mile

  1. While driving down the road at an average speed of 60 m.p.h., or 1 mile per minute.
  2. Dictate science fiction at an average rate of 50 words per minute.
  3. Transcribe that dictation at a cost of 1.25 cents per word.
  4. Sell that fiction at a professional rate (i.e., 6 or more cents per word).

Bingo! $2.375 per mile!

Of course, these are all averages. Some days, the weather and traffic conditions won’t let me average 60 m.p.h. (That might actually mean more minutes, more words, and more money per mile.) Some days I’m more talkative than others. 50 words per minute is about my minimum, and I often manage 100.

And of course, step 4 is the trickiest part: actually selling the words. If I can’t sell them, then I’m actually losing 63 cents per mile.

But selling is, in large part, a matter of craft, practice, and persistence. And belief: if I didn’t believe it were possible, I never would’ve made it this far in the business. Not that I’m claiming any sort of expertise. I’m very much still a new writer. But I’m a new writer with a lot of sales and a couple of awards; and almost all of those stories were dictated.

Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch (among others) talk of the importance of writing from your story brain, not your analytical brain. Your story brain has been absorbing stories – listening, watching, reading, playing – for decades. It knows what makes a decent story, if you can just get out of its way and let it work. I know this sounds like a load of pop psychology; but when I started listening to them, I started selling stories. And I haven’t stopped.

But “getting out of your brain’s way” is different for each of us. It means finding a place and building a habit where storytelling comes natural to you. For some, it’s their office, with their favorite music, and no distractions. For others, it’s their favorite coffee shop, with their favorite beverage and no distractions. For Kevin J. Anderson (who has dictated his work for years now, maybe decades), it’s his favorite hiking trails, with the Great Outdoors and no distractions. (You notice a theme here?)

For me, it’s my Jeep:

Not exactly no distractions, but minimal. Dictating is about the same as talking to a passenger. When traffic or weather is bad, I ignore the microphone. When conditions are favorable, I talk. At 50-100 words per minute.

It’s about habit. Once I’m in the habit (it’s easy to fall out), every day is the same. I listen to the last five minutes of yesterday’s recording, to remind myself where I was. Then I start my Jeep, start driving, and start talking. On a good day, I dictate 50 minutes, and wrap up as I pull into the parking lot at work. Then when I leave work, I repeat. So on a very good day, that’s 100 minutes at 100 words per minute. 10,000 words. Two weeks to a first draft of a novel.

Do I maintain that pace all the time? Heck, no! Weather and traffic and errands and moods all interfere. But if I stick with it, I can do at least half that. I’m pretty happy with it. And I’m ecstatic about the really good weeks.

In future installments of Talking Tuesday, I’ll discuss my process, as well as other approaches you might take.

Market Monday: Digital Science Fiction

Digital Science Fiction (part of Digital Fiction Publishing Corp.) is the first pro-paying market to print one of my works. That by itself is reason for me to be grateful to them; but that’s not why I’m recommending them to you. (Unfortunately they’re closed to all but flash submissions at the moment, but keep an eye on their submission status! Reprints only at this time.)

No, the reason why I recommend Digital SF and the whole Digital family is a two-word answer: Michael Wills.

Michael is the publisher, and he has a strong sense of personal and business ethics. His contracts are some of the most author-friendly that I have seen. (In fact, he had three pro authors help draft them.) But most important… When he started Digital, it was a pro-paying original market (a series of anthologies, essentially a magazine). He made his wife a promise: he would give the magazine a fair shot, but it had to be self-supporting. He would pay for it from internet ads and from sales of the anthology, but not a dime would come from the family budget. Before he would let that happen, he would shut it down.

And when the time came that it wasn’t self-supporting, that’s exactly what he did: he shut it down. He paid all creditors. He returned all rights for all stories he had “bought” but not yet published. He closed it down owing nothing to anyone, and keeping his promise to his wife. Digital survived, selling back issues and a few small novel projects, but the magazine was gone. He handled the whole thing honorably, and I never hesitated to tell people: Digital was my first pro sale, and Michael is a good man.

Then a little over a year ago, things changed, and Michael came up with a new business model to revive Digital Science Fiction: reprints only, published as online shorts, then collected into anthologies. It seems to be going better. Digital has been producing a lot of works.

But, oh, reprint only except for one thing: Michael went back to every one of the authors who had sold him stories that he had had to return and said, “If first rights for that story are still available, I would still like to pay you and print it.” He didn’t have to do that, but it was the honorable thing to do. These authors went through a sadly common experience: the thrill of selling a story, then the disappointment of the market closing before the check arrived and the story appeared. It’s a sad thing, but it happens. Only this time, Michael made it up to them.

So that’s three different actions that convinced me that Michael Wills is an honorable publisher: the author-friendly contracts, the promise kept to his wife, and going back to buy the stories he hadn’t been able to buy before. I trust this man, and I recommend this market.

Oh, and if he happens to reopen for originals, I’ll add three more words to my reasons to submit to Digital: Christine Clukey Reece, who edited the original anthologies, and who I hope will edit future original works for Digital. She was my first pro editor, and I didn’t know what to expect. She suggested only five changes: a couple of paragraph breaks added, a break removed, and a couple of word changes. And every single one of her changes made my protagonist’s voice sound more like the voice in my head. She picked up on what I was trying to do, and she found the places where I had failed to do it. Christine kinda spoiled me for future editors, and I will happily work with her in the future if I get the chance.

Writing Goals 2017

I guess the flip side of a Year in Review is setting out some writing goals to work toward. Dean and Kris talk about the difference between dreams and goals. A goal is something that is (mostly) within your power. If you work on it, you can make it happen. A dream is outside of your control. It might happen, but you can’t make it happen. Yet if you define your goals properly, they can make your dreams possible. “Win a major book award” is a dream. You can’t make the nominating committee or the voters like your work. But “Write a great book” is a goal: you can try and keep trying until you succeed. And if you never achieve that goal (great book), there’s no chance to achieve that dream (book award). Sell a story? Dream. That’s up to the editor to decide. Submit a story? That’s all up to you.

So with that clear, these are my 2017 writing goals:

  • Finish Today I Am Paul (The Novel), and get it to my agent.
  • Write something for the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award.
  • Finish “The Adventure of the Martian Tomb”, a science fiction mystery starring Nick Aames and Rosalia Morais.
  • Finish “The New Sheriff in Town”, the second Nick and Rosie mystery.
  • Write “The Horace Gale Affair”, the third Nick and Rosie mystery.
  • Finish “The Captain’s Tree”, the story of a generation ship.
  • Finish “Uncle Roy’s Computer Repair Shop and Used Robot Parts”, a humorous near-future story.
  • Write the next Milford Creek novel.
  • Finish Starchaser, a YA fantasy novel.
  • Finish Debts to the Fallen, a Military SF novel.
  • Write a story TBD for an undisclosed invitation-only anthology.
  • Finish For Want of a Sword, a fantasy mystery novel.
  • Write White Hart in the Headlights, a fantasy novel.
  • Write the train story (you’ll know it when you see it).
  • Write the story of the snowy road.
  • Write the story of the human cop and the dinosaur cop.
  • Write the next Fog story.
  • Write the next Buddy story.
  • Write the next Hamal story.
  • Write more short stories.
  • Write more novelettes.
  • Write more novellas.
  • Keep submitting. The Saturday rule: any story still on the shelf on Saturday has to go back out to another market.
  • Submit to more foreign markets.
  • Submit to more reprint markets.
  • Write The Daily Blog (almost) every day.
  • Write nonfiction articles for select markets.
  • Attend a workshop (in person or online).
  • Apply for the Schrodinger Sessions (assuming they’re held this year).
  • Attend ConFusion.
  • Attend CapriCon.
  • Attend the Writers of the Future gala and meet the class of V34.
  • Attend the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop.
  • Attend FenCon.

Too ambitious? Probably. That’s a schedule to make Gama Martinez weary! But…

Aim high, miss high.
Aim low, miss low.
Aim at nothing, hit nothing.

I prefer to aim high.

Science Sunday: Near Earth Objects

Inspired by this Sci-News article, I was going to write about Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and what would happen if one hit us.

But then Radiolab did it so much better than I could. Take a listen. Or watch it here, with dino-puppets!

So I want to take a different approach to the topic: deflecting a NEO. There’s a lot on the topic on Wikipedia, including links to sources. What I find interesting here are these crunchy bits:

  • “It has been estimated that a velocity change of just 3.5/t × 10−2 m·s−1 (where t is the number of years until potential impact) is needed to successfully deflect a body on a direct collision trajectory.” I don’t want to minimize the challenge here, but that’s not nearly as bad as I’d feared. 0.035 meters per second, divided by the number of years of warning. That’s 1.3 inches per second. Suddenly the task seems feasible. Except…
  • A typical NEO of interest is 140 meters in diameter. Assuming for simplicity that it’s a sphere, that’s 1.43676E+12 cubic centimeters. Assuming a density similar to Earth’s (5.5 grams per cubic centimeter), that’s 7,902,152,721 kilograms. For round numbers, call it 8 million tonnes. We don’t have to move it fast, but there’s a lot of it to move.
  • That means that with one year of warning, we need to impart 4.84E+06 joules of kinetic energy. If it’s one month, we need 6.97E+08 joules. Two years: 1.21E+06. In case it’s not obvious yet, early detection makes a big difference in the cost of deflection!
  • For those (like me) who aren’t accustomed to thinking in joules – especially large numbers of joules – here’s a comparison: “The terajoule (TJ) is equal to one trillion (10^12) joules. About 63 TJ of energy was released by the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima.” So that’s 6.3E+13 joules from a small, primitive atomic blast. That’s 90,000 times what we need for an average NEO with a month’s warning!

We can do this. It’s a matter of engineering, politics, diplomacy, commerce, logistics, and orbital mechanics, but we can do this.

Now for Science Sunday, I want to look at the story potential in the science, so here are some thoughts…

The figures above are for the smallest NEOs we’re currently tracking. They come larger – more rare, but they do. If I change my spreadsheet for a dinosaur killer (10km across), the energy requirement is 1.76E+12 joules (with one year warning). That’s a little bigger, about 3% of a Hiroshima blast. Still pretty feasible. But with one month warning, it gets a lot worse: 2.54E+14 joules… something like 4 Hiroshimas, assuming 100% of the energy went into moving the rock. It won’t. I’m not a nuclear engineer nor a rocket scientist, so I can’t guess what the actual efficiency would be. No better than 50%, I’m sure, since half the blast points away from the rock. A big nuclear blast ought to do it, if used right, so it’s still possible.

But when we talk about “warning”, what we’re really talking about is time between the blast and the possible impact. If we see that dinosaur killer two years out, but it takes us 22 months to decide to act, we are dead as the dinos. Somehow we have to get that nuclear device out to where the rock is. Right now we spend years – decades, even – planning relatively simple space missions. This one won’t be simple, and it has to be done right the first time. So a major source of story conflict can be the diplomatic and political effort to get people to act when they don’t believe they have to – until it’s too late.

Now I’ve been talking about nuclear deflection because it’s the simplest to calculate and explain, but that’s only one of many proposed methods. Kinetic impact, rocket engines, ion drives, gravity tractors, mass drivers… They’re all different ways to add that tiny delta V to that great big rock; and no matter which method you use, the required change in kinetic energy is the same: a lot, but not impossible.

Of course, as Carl Sagan warned, if you can deflect an asteroid away from the Earth, you can also direct it toward the Earth. That seems suicidal, but it might work for a doomsday weapon.

And always remember: this isn’t fiction, it’s probability. A dinosaur killer hit us before. If we take no action, one will hit us again. It’s only a question of when. We can’t answer that question without data, so watch the skies!