On Self-Publishing and the Hugh Howey / Data Guy January 2015 Report

(Parts of this post originally appeared on my Google+ page and in the comments on Mike Reeves-McMillan's post on the report.)

You may be aware that Author Earnings, a data analysis site run by Hugh Howey and someone called Data Guy, recently released a report on ebook sales and the market share of those sales by the various publishing methods.  There is a lot of interesting information here, so I do recommend checking it out if you have the time.

As you may expect, I have some issues with the report and with responses to the report -- and to my questions regarding the report.  I should start by saying that I haven't bothered with the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing debate in any serious sense for years because I find the entrenched positions on either side to be, in light of the current publishing climate, monstrously stupid.  There are too many pundits out there trying to prescribe the "right" path for publishing while rejecting any alternative as viable; yet, so few of them have much in the way of hard, objective data to back up their arguments.  As it stands, most of the debates about which method is better are based almost entirely on anecdotes or reports like the one I'm going to talk about here.  Unfortunately, that invariably means these arguments are fundamentally faulty.
While I don't doubt that a lot of the data here is accurate (and interesting), there are two immediate problems that come to mind:

1) As a statistical study, it does a poor job of maintaining objectivity.  From the start, it is clear where the author's biases lie, and it's hard not to think that that perspective affects how the authors interpret and compare the data.  Given that Hugh Howey, a fairly staunch pro-self-publishing pundit, is involved here, that's not surprising.* That's a serious issue for me, because I find the debates concerning traditional publishing and self-publishing to be largely fought on ideological grounds.  When that ideology creeps into the data we're using to talk about either side, it will invariably change the way data is perceived either by the reader or the one doing the analysis.

2) The data doesn't actually tell us much in any usable sense.  Honestly, I don't know why data regarding sales is a valid metric for determining who is better off:  a self-published author or a traditionally-published one.  Short of instances where one author or another is clearly getting a raw deal (bad publisher or Amazon contract terms, for example), sales figures really don't paint a clear enough picture of the writing life for either group -- or the hybrids that arise from either end.  There are more factors than sales here.  How money is allocated, whether literally in the case of a traditional publisher or based on effort (or via a hire of some kind) for a self-publisher, is actually a more useful application of the data.  If the average self-publisher makes less / the same / more per hour on average than a traditional publisher, that tells us something useful.

I just want hard data without the bias.  Objective data analysis.  Given how long these industries have been in play, you wouldn't think that would be so hard.  But it is...

Obviously, part of this argument didn't go over well with everyone.  As I noted on Mike's original post:
There are very VERY successful people in either camp, and some VERY successful people who do it both ways.  Some have to do PR.  Some don't.  Some like to.  Some don't.  Some spend more time doing PR than they do writing -- to little effect; some have great success for the effort.

But basic sales data and market share doesn't divulge that kind of information.  I don't know if anybody actually knows how the two publishing lives compare, except via anecdote.  But I think we desperately need that data so we can have actual useful conversations about both forms of publishing.
Mike was receptive, stating that he thought that data would be of interest, too.   Another commenter by the name of Brian Rush was less enthused:
It's not valid to assume that indies spend more marketing time than the traditionally published. That's almost certainly not true.

Indies do spend more time and/or more of their own money on editing, cover design, and formatting than the trads, because all of that is handled by the publisher. However, for successful authors it's a trivial difference, because it's a fixed per-title cost, not a per-volume cost.

Look at it in dollars (although in fact you can trade time for money for a lot of it, dollars make it easier to calculate). If you go full-on professional in all three categories, you're probably talking about $2000 on the average.

If you sell 10,000 copies, that's 20 cents per copy. If you sell 100,000 copies, it's 2 cents per copy. See what I mean? Trivial, unless the book doesn't sell well.
I pointed out that unless you have hard data to back these claims, you have no way beyond anecdote and self-reported information to know how hours are allocated based on publishing method, nor how those hours change depending on publisher, format, sites used, etc.  Hours worked ≠ fixed per-title cost.  There's no available data to compare the average SP to the big name examples that are pointed to as "the successes," nor the same for the alternative OR for hybrids.

Without that information, any claim about either method that offers an analysis of its efficacy is faulty. We cannot use sales numbers alone to assess anything but the size and health of an "industry" in totally superficial terms. That would be like using touchdown numbers to determine how good your football team is.

Brian disagreed, resorting to tactics that are probably pretty tame by comparison to the kinds of verbal abuse faced on the traditional publishing vs. self-publishing debate:
Everything I said is easy to know, and you're just dumping out empty verbiage.

Anyone who's been in the self-publishing business for long knows ballpark figures for what it costs to get a book edited and formatted and a cover designed, That's not controversial and if you call that part into question you're just looking for excuses. The rest is just plain math, and again, if you're calling that into question you're just looking for excuses.

Which it's quite obvious that you are. You are trying to defend traditional publishing by making a very simple question more obtuse than it really is. And frankly, that's dishonest, and a bit contemptible.
This is, of course, an ignorant claim, since Brian does not know me from Adam.  If he did, he would know that in the past, I was staunchly anti-self-publishing, but that in recent years I've not only softened but become quite amenable to the idea of self-publishing, in part because the industry has changed so much that it actually seems a viable option.  It is also a far more honest industry today than it was six years ago, with more authors openly and proudly admitting that they self-publish and more people like Hugh Howey trying to put together the hard data on the industry.  
I have also supported numerous self-published projects and intend to nominate S.L. Huang, whose novels are self-published, for a Campbell Award (you should, too, because her novels are freaking amazing).  So the assertion that I joined the discussion just to defend traditional publishing is absurd; it is also a rhetorical tactic designed to make discussion impossible, since it implies that being pro-traditional publishing necessarily makes my points invalid.

I also noted that while it is easy to know the ballpark cost to produce a book, that only takes into account costs that are easily measurable in dollars, such as the cost to hire an editor or a cover designer or whatever. But without knowing how man hours translate into the cost of production for either side of the publishing aisle, the data about sales only tells us the sales. It tells us nothing about the efficacy of one format or the other, or the combination thereof. Self-publishers make a lot of money (sometimes), but does that money compare equally or better to traditional or hybrid publishing based on the total cost of production including man hours?  I don't know.  I desperately want that data.  Talking only about sales and earnings is a smokescreen.  It looks nice on paper, but it obscures the reality of writing life:  it's not just about gross sales.  
That said, any such data would not tell us whether any method is subjectively better than another. Some people might very well prefer to let someone else front the cost of production of a book. Another might prefer to do everything themselves. My take on publishing based on the data in hand is simple:   do what works for you, and don't moralize the decisions others make.

That's where I am on all of this.  The data is interesting, but without a more accurate assessment of the average writer for each publishing camp, it's difficult to make an honest assessment of either method.  In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that anyone using this data as objective support for one absolutist position or another is either deluding themselves to fulfill an agenda or patently dishonest.  The only options available here are subjective ones.  For someone like me -- the kind of person who publicized a fit about the lack of long term reliability studies of cars -- that's a serious problem.


*Howey is not nearly as staunch as someone like Konrath, though, which may explain why I'm much more willing to listen to Howey than I am the latter.  Hence this post...

Reader Entitlement Syndrome: Stacey Jay and the Windmill Full of Corpses

I would like to begin this post with a disclaimer:  what will follow is unlikely to be pleasant; it will be filled with profanity and angry ranting.  If that's not your thing, then you can find a happy home next door where ponies dance in the moonlight and authors get shit all over for no good fucking reason and just have to smile and take it because they're the modern equivalent of the court jester now.  Yeah.

So, if you didn't know that a thing happened over the last few days, then you should probably read this less angry post on Chuck Wendig's blog.  In short, due to poor sales, an author named Stacey Jay (author of Princess of Thorns) was let go by her publisher, Delacorte Press, and decided to start a Kickstarter for the sequel  to her novel.  Among the things she included in her target goal were funds for living expenses ($7,000, to be exact).  Apparently, some people really didn't like that, and even less so the idea that Jay might not release the novel if she couldn't reach her goal.  And so they threw a fit about it.  Jay eventually took down the Kickstarter and threw in the towel, saying she'd continue writing under other pen names.  And still more people threw a fit.

That's where I come in.  The moment I saw the post on Wendig's blog, the rage monster rose up.  I was so pissed off.  I thought:  Holy fucking hell; the people throwing fits are entitled pieces of shit.  What the fuck is this garbage?  And so I decided to hold off on the Twitter rant that I wanted to write at that moment so I could rant like a madman here.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when this mentality of "what readers want is more important than the needs of the writer" became so embedded into the writing landscape.  Regardless, it's a mentality that needs to fucking die, not only because it's toxic, but also because it derives from a series of totally bullshit premises about how writers earn their keep and what we as consumers should be asked to provide.  There are few other classes of workers in this country that people would actually point to and say "you get paid when I damn well tell you" than writers.  Even fucking employees at fucking McDonald's are treated with more respect than writers, and they're probably some of the most unloved workers in the whole of the Western world other than IRS agents (who everyone hates, but everyone still thinks should be paid more money than the guy who could be putting his boogers in their food).  I'm not saying that McDonald's workers deserve to be treated like shit.  I'm just saying that we treat that guy a lot better than we do writers.  Well, unless they're writers we love and they make a shit ton of money and never have to ask for anything because publishers will toss $500K at them or their books sell so fucking much that it's never an issue.  Oh, wait.  No.  If a writer who sells a ton of books ever says "gosh, being a writer is tough," someone will step up on the balcony over their heads and take a steaming shit all over them.  Because NYT Best Selling Authors are as rich as Bill fucking Gates (lies).

Writers are one of the few classes of worker to whom you can say "you write that thing and then I'll pay you to live later" and almost nobody bats an eye.

Now, it turns out that the mechanics of publishing demand this to a degree.  After all, how the hell is a publisher supposed to know which book to publish if the damned thing hasn't been written yet?  But we're not talking about a new writer.  We're talking about an established one, to a certain degree.  And even so, that's why good publishers pay this little thing called an advance.  As you probably know, that's the sad chunk of cash a publisher gives an author when they decide to publish a work, as if to say (not really), "Well, you did all that friggin work, so now we'll give you something so you don't have to starve anymore."  And some authors get paid those things even if the book isn't fucking done, because they've built a relationship with their agent or publisher or whatever through writing other shit -- as I'm sure Stacey Jay has.

So the idea that Stacey Jay would say, "hey, you all liked my books, but the publisher wanted to sell 4,000,000 copies, and I'm never going to do that, so I thought, since a bunch of you liked the darn thing, maybe we could do this whole bit where you help me live for a few months so I can write the book without interruption, and then you'll have it and we'll all be happy" is really not that out there.  Presumably, her publisher would have paid her that money anyway.

The entitlement of those who think this is absurd is no more apparent than in the tweets from shitheads who seem to think writers are some kind of new class of serf.  Take this shit, for example:
Again, the question:  since when does buying groceries and gas count specifically for the project?


Why, yes.  It is entirely ridiculous for an author who wants to eat to include groceries as part of their writing expenses.  Because no other person on this fucking planet factors the cost of living into their salary needs.  No person who has moved to a new city has thought "Gee, I can just go to work any time and buy a million dollar mansion" who didn't already have a million dollars to throw around like nothing.  No person in the history of ever who has to actually think about the money they spend -- which means almost everyone -- has ignored the cost of living when it comes to how much time and energy they will devote into anything else.  Me?  I'm just going to walk out of my job tomorrow and come back when I feel like it, because apparently I don't have to worry about paying for my groceries anymore.  Since the people who pay writers (ahem, READERS) aren't required, as a consequence of purchasing or funding writers, to cover their living expenses, then clearly those things will be paid for by imaginary fairy people who come down from the heavens on chariots made of gilded donkeycorns (a new species; the FDA is considering whether their meat is edible right now -- I'm told it's delicious) and handed down on sticks of the most expensive cheese in the history of mankind.

But back in reality land, I will go to work, because I want to eat, and Stacey Jay will probably go back to work writing something under a different name, because she wants to eat, too.  And all these shitheads who think authors should just sit down and write for free will go back to work, too, so they can eat.

Because food IS PART OF THE EXPENSE OF WRITING, folks.  You can't write if you don't have food.  You can't write if you don't have the tools, either.  Hell, it's probably really hard to write without a roof over your head, too, and since Jay wants to write a novel in 3 months and release it shortly after, she's basically saying, "I'd rather get it to you before a regular publisher would, but I can't do that if I'm working on other things."  That means, "I can either write this project, or I can write the one that lets me eat.  Up to you."  There's nothing fishy about it.  There's nothing awkward about it.  It's just a fact of life.

So each and every person who has pissed and moaned on Twitter about how Jay is just so off base here is full of shit.  How many of these people would honestly put in 3 months of work at Job A with no pay (and only the hope of pay...maybe...if you're lucky -- cause that's what readers are:  maybe pay) rather than dedicate those same hours to Job B, which will pay right away (or even, to be realistic to "normal" jobs, pay as you go)?  I'd be surprised if any of them could honestly say they would.  Because only writers are expected to work for free and just be happy if we give them scraps at the end.  Not that this is about the scraps.  Jay is asking for a continuation of her normal environment.  Readers who like her work can give her money so she can write it without issue (ahem:  she and her family doesn't starve).

Meanwhile, there's this gem:
Noooooope.  The ones with entitlement are all these shitheads who have decided that authors shouldn't be paid for their efforts.  They've long rejected the "money flows to the writer" concept in favor of a tacit endorsement of a serfdom which puts writers at the bottom, readers immediately above them, and everyone else at the top.  Writers don't work when they write.  Writers only work when they're doing something else.  And to ask for compensation for writing itself is just entitled!

But it's not "entitled."  Entitlement is saying "the author gets paid when I buy the book."  Entitlement is saying "writing is not work, and even if it is, it's not work that deserves compensation."

Entitlement is telling a writer this:
A PSA:  authors are not your fucking serfs.  If George fucking R.R. Martin is not required by the Law of the Reader to produce books like some kind of stringed up monkey, then no author is required to work for nothing just because they get "royalties" from book sales.

Another PSA for Ms. Liz Anderson:  I know, right?  It's not like every reader who actually pays money for a book doesn't already do this.  That would be lunacy.  What are these fucking entitled writer people on about with all this money?  Let's keep them down there in the dirt where they belong.  We'll pay them to live when we fucking damn well please!  YEAH!

Oh, right.  Yeah, no.  Every time you buy a book, you're paying the author to live.  Those royalties?  For eating.  For housing.  For everything a writer needs to survive, and then some.  Every reader who buys a book is already fucking paying the writer to live.  Why do you think writers throw a shitfit when a publisher says they won't pay advances?  Why do you think they throw a shitfit when one of their books is pulled from publication or a publisher doesn't pay their royalties?  Cause that money is for fucking living, fool.  That money is what writers need to keep doing what they do.  This isn't some kind of weird medieval fantasy land where writers just bend over and shit out fantastic books like any other normal morning shit, and then hop off to work with happiness in their eyes because they can shit out great books whenever they like -- isn't that quaint?  We live in reality, kid.

Also: hats off to all the people on Twitter telling Stacey Jay that the right way to handle your writing career is to write for free even if it doesn't sell, because after all, the only way to be a real writer is to do it while licking the feet of your readers. Mmm. Just lick them good. Nomnomnom that toe jam. Maybe there's a quarter buried in there and you can get something from the gumball jar to suck on for a while. That plus the toe jam and you're in nutrients city!

Meanwhile, in reality land, we have Stacey Jay, who makes money writing under various names, and who is basically saying "I have a family to support, and I can't support them by writing books that don't make money, so either this makes money or I'm going to write something else." Because writing is a business. Because she would rather write books and make a living than work another job and hope she can sell enough books to make a living writing books...But that makes her an entitled turdbasket, because only an entitled person would want to make a living doing what they do. You can't do that! How fucking dare you, Stacey Jay?! You would ask us to help you make a living doing something you love doing? No fucking way. You get off your lazy shit ass and you go get a real job and maybe we'll let you be a writer who makes a living later, but only when you've figure out that writing is just about the art of it all, and money is just some kind of special prize we readers give you after we've felt sorry enough for eating all that toe jam to think maybe you deserve a break. Bend over, dear writer serf. Lick those toes like a good peasant!
In short, this rambling, angry, bitter post is about the entitlement of readers, and the people who serve as them (but may be writers themselves).  It's about the bullshit theory that readers should be able to dictate the terms, and that writers should accept them (I'm dubious of anyone who tries to dictate terms when it comes to art in this manner).  It's about the equally bullshit theory that other writers can tell you what qualifies as work, what deserves pay, and how authors should be paid.  It's about the windmill full of corpses that is the publishing market, with people flinging their speckled shit on people who aren't actually asking for too much.  After all, what was Jay asking for?  $7,000.  For her and her family.  Let's break down down, shall we?

[Edit:  the section below is based on a bio in which Jay says she lived in California.  Apparently, she actually lives in Hawaii, which isn't much better that Cali in terms of living costs.  In fact, it's basically the same.]

$7,000 / 3 months = $2,333 per month.

Without digging too deep (because that's creepy as fuck), Jay lives in California with her two children.  Since she does not mention a significant other, I will assume she lives by herself and provides for her two children on her own (holy shit, that's impressive -- go you!).  The Lending Tree conducted a study in 2012 on average mortgage payments in each of the U.S. states.  In California, you could expect to pay roughly $1445 per month.  Ouch!

MIT's Living Wage calculator says that Jay has to make $3,660 per month just to meet basic living expenses in California for her and her two children.  I used "Sacramento County" as the baseline, though Jay may live in a region of the state with cheaper or more expensive living costs.  Add in the additional cost of a mortgage, which Jay explicitly references as one of her costs, and you tack on an additional $400 per month.  That means Jay needs to pull in roughly $4,060 a month just to make sure she and her family are comfortable.  That's a fuckton of money, by the way.  Me?  I make less than $2,000 a month working two jobs, and I'm cutting it pretty close half of the year...by my fucking self...in Florida.

All of this is guess work, of course, but I doubt Jay's expenses are drastically different.  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that she needs $3,000 a month.  That means asking for $2,333 per month doesn't even meet her basic fucking needs.  Granted, Jay probably has royalty income coming in from her other books, but is it really that unreasonable for her to say, "Yeah, I could write this book, but that other book will make sure I can keep feeding my family every month"?  No fucking way.  That's what we call reasonable.  She's being smart.  She knows where she can make money for sure, but she really wants to do this.  But she can't do it, because she has a family to feed.  Fuck her for trying to feed her family.  FUCK YOU STACEY JAY FOR BEING A GOOD MOM.

No.  FUCK EVERYONE WHO SHIT ON A WRITER.  Writers are not your fucking serfs.  They deserve to be paid for their work.  They deserve to eat.  We can haggle over how much they deserve to be paid, but at the end of the day, Stacey Jay didn't do a single fucking thing wrong (except maybe break a Kickstarter rule -- I don't know).  And if you think she did, you're an asshole.


Note:  "Readers" is rhetorical here.  Obviously, a lot of readers are awesomesauce.  I'm referring to a particular kind of reader throughout the post.

5 Annoying Author Habits on Twitter

I spend far too much time on Twitter, which means I read a lot of tweets from a lot of authors.  Some authors are great at interacting, carving out their little niche and creating a kind of Twitter persona to represent them.  Others, however, are kind of like social media bacterial infections who must do everything they possibly can to sell their own work; they basically turn into walking spam monkeys.  And still others present themselves as bitter, rage-infested monsters fit for the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars.  Neither of these latter two groups are particularly fun to engage, which might explain why the five things I've listed here haven't actually helped many of these individuals develop a steady writing career.

Here goes:

Constantly Complaining About Your Career
There are two kinds of career complaints:

  1. Legitimate grievances which occasionally happen and need to be addressed in a public forum (or privately in a different context)
  2. Unsubstantiated complaints about why your work isn't doing as well as you'd like

Whether or not it is actually true that there's a conspiracy to keep you from being successful, constantly harping about such things makes you look less like a victim and more like a bitter failure.  I have seen authors rant and rant about how their careers aren't going the way they want, but it's not their fault; someone else is responsible for the fact that their books don't sell.  It's certainly possible that you're being sabotaged by individuals or an -ism, but it is more likely your work isn't selling for reasons within and beyond your control:  your writing isn't good enough, you don't know how to market your work, you are writing X when the market is tired of it, nobody actually knows who you are because you're published by a nobody, the previous book sold better than the second because it got into more bookstores, many of which are now closed, and so on an so forth.

A lot of the times, the first two are the most likely culprits.  Not everyone is a great writer.  Some authors have pushed ahead too soon, expecting that their writing will meet the demands of the market.  There's no easy way to tell these folks that they need to spend more time developing their writing style and learning the craft.  If you say anything, they'll go back to the conspiracy theories about how you're out to ruin their career or whatever.  I've yet to see one of these conversations go well on Twitter, which I suppose is to be expected.  Regardless, this perspective on the world of publishing is an annoying one, as the individual who believes it tends to become engrossed in the conspiracy against themselves, turning bitter, angry, and sometimes rude.

Inserting Yourself Into Every Vaguely "Relevant" Hashtag
Hashtags are a great Twitter tool.  They're useful for spreading opinions about a topic among a wider range of users.  I've started running a hashtag called #monthlyreads, which is designed for a once-a-month sharing of the things you read.  I expect this hashtag to get abused.

Most people are pretty good about hashtags.  They understand that they are for having a conversation or sharing information, and so they use it for that single purpose.  But then there is that minority of people who believe every hashtag that is vaguely related to their work is a perfect place to insert said work.  This happens most often in hashtags for sharing works of literature that fit within a category (diversity, for example).  Everyone else shares their favorite books while some random author pops up to suggest their own work.

There's nothing inherently wrong with mentioning your own work on Twitter, but there is something tacky and downright annoying about constantly inserting said work into these hashtag conversations.  Hashtags are not exclusively promotional in attitude, and so it is blatantly obvious that an author is trying to hawk their work when they join these conversations.  Authors who do this are also rarely good writers.  There's something off about their work, either because it is substandard and has been self-published on the cheap or it is released through questionable means or the author is simply desperate and doesn't know how to properly advertise.

Hashtags are not about you.  They are communal.  Using them incorrectly is, frankly, irritating.  It doesn't bode well for you as an author if a portion of your potential readers identify you and your work with negative emotions.

Constantly Being Angry About Stuff
It doesn't matter what you're angry about:  local politicians, racism, bad food, the fact that monkeys stole your wallet, sexism, liberals, how much you hate Country X, conservatives, gerbils, people who tweet about their cats...doesn't matter.  If your Twitter account is a long stream of angry tweets about anything in particular, it gives me the impression that you are an insanely angry person and, therefore, unapproachable.  In my mind, that's a bad thing.  I'm an aspiring author and a podcaster.  If I have little interest in interviewing you because you seem bitter and angry all the time, then I can assume other podcasters, interviewers, and so on might feel the same way.

This isn't to suggest that you shouldn't complain about things that bug you.  Twitter is a social network, after all, and that means you should use it to, well, be social.  Anger is part of our social culture.  But it should be clear that you also like things.  Movies, hamburgers, recycling, the smell of new books...whatever.  If the entire world pisses you off all the time, maybe you need to re-evaluate your entire life.  There are good things on this planet, and your social network presence should show more than just the things that drive you up the wall.

There's also a separate issue here:  people who are bitter and angry all the time (or most of the time) are also more likely to fall into the confirmation bias bubble.  This can lead to a kind of absolutist bandwagon wherein anything vaguely related to your anger trigger, well, triggers you.  Most of us get trapped in a confirmation bias bubble at some point, but those who are truly embedded within one are almost impossible to extricate.  There are plenty of examples in our community of this very thing, on both sides of the political aisle.  Everything is about X and Y, and A, B, R, Q, and Z all confirm it.  Also J, K, and P.  And G, I, and O.  And on and on and on.

Sometimes, it's best to take a break and try to explore the things you love.

Complaining That People Aren't Helping You and That People Suck For Not Doing So
I have seen authors complain on Twitter that somehow it's our fault that they didn't raise enough money for that thing they were doing.  Another author once claimed that because not enough of us would support then through Patreon, it was somehow our fault that there isn't enough diversity in genre (a specious claim, for sure).

In both cases, the author has translated "failure" into an attack on potential readers, which is rarely a good thing.  Brian Bendis can get away with calling some of his readers sexist turds because he has a lot of readers; losing one jackass who thinks comics shouldn't include women as the protagonists isn't going to hurt his career.  But not all authors have his readership, and so any attempt to blame the reader for the failures of the author in their attempts to fund or promote a work is akin to blaming the nurse for your heart condition.

There are all kinds of reasons why a Kickstarter or Patreon thing didn't work.  Maybe your project wasn't interesting enough.  Maybe it was poorly put together or too expensive.  Maybe you caught potential readers in a time of financial scarcity, which you couldn't have predicted.  Maybe not enough people know about you to give their money, or they don't feel like they know your work well enough to warrant donation.  After all, short of a medical condition, the fact is that people support Kickstarters or Patreon accounts either because they like the project, the person in question, or the person's work.  Exceptions exist, but let's not pretend that dozens of people will randomly come out of the wood works to support a project on the basis of having heard about it.  They have to have a reason.

When I see an author using Twitter to bash readers for their own failures, it puts a bad taste in my proverbial mouth.  How dare you blame me for the fact that not enough people supported your Patreon thing... I know for a fact I didn't have the spare change to toss in $50 to your "fund my writing for a month" cause, so the idea that it is somehow my fault that you didn't raise enough is patently absurd.  It is equally absurd to claim that my inability to fund your thing means I am somehow against diversity or gender parity or whatever.  What incentive do I have to support you in the future if I will be accused of horrible things when I'm unable to help?  None.  Don't bite the hand that feeds you, as they say.

To sit there and blame everyone but yourself is disgusting on so many levels.  Grow up.  You know what I did when my Worldcon fundraiser didn't have the success I had hoped?  I asked some of my friends (three of whom had been involved in a crowdfunding adventure before) for advice.  I looked at the way the thing was set up and considered whether I needed to make changes.  I consider, per a note from a friend, that maybe I had caught people in a time of financial scarcity (the U.S. still being in a sort-of-recession).  I thought about all the ways I might have failed instead of blaming everyone on Twitter for the lack of interest.  The fact of the matter is that it's more likely I had failed than random people on Twitter had decided to vindictively screw me over.

Auto-DMs or DMs of Any Kind for Promotional Purposes
Most of us who use Twitter have faced this thing before.  I don't need to explain how annoying auto-DMs are.  You probably know.  They are also lazy.  An author who uses an auto-DMing system to peddle their work to a new follower is an author who just wants to sell books, not interact with potential readers.  That will always rub me the wrong way.  My response:  I immediately unfollow that person.  I'm on Twitter for the social aspect.  I'm not there just to buy your stuff.  An author who doesn't get that is an author who doesn't deserve my attention.

What about you?  What Twitter habits bug the hell out of you?

Self-Published Books vs. Literary Awards: A Logistical Problem?

Back in August, The Guardian posted a column by Liz Bury entitled "Why is self-publishing still scorned by literary awards?"  The article doesn't exactly make an argument about the apparent snubbing of SPed books in the literary awards circuit, but Bury does essentially imply in the body of the article that the inability of these awards to address the widespread consumption of SPed books will not work on their favor.  I'm not sure that's true either, to be honest.  These same literary awards are just as relevant as they were before SPing became normal (lots of relevance or no relevance whatsoever -- depends on your view).

I, however, have a different perspective on this problem.  As a podcaster (The Skiffy and Fanty Show) and blogger, I get a lot of requests for reviews, interviews, guest posts, and so on.  On the
blog, I'm a little more lenient when it comes to everything but reviews.  But the podcast is an entirely different matter.  Throughout the year, we have maybe 25-26 slots for proper interviews, and perhaps another 25-26 slots for discussion episodes.  With the addition of a steady blog for the podcast, that jumps the number from 50ish slots to about 100.  One hundred slots for tens of thousands of SF/F authors.

Understandably, we're extremely selective on the show.  We have to be.  There aren't enough slots for everyone, so we have to think hard about who we want to interview, what we want to talk about on the show, and so on and so forth.  Inevitably, that means we tend to avoid self-published books; for me, it's for the same reason as always:  how exactly are we to wade through the drivel to find those good SPed books?

This is a similar problem, I imagine, for the literary awards circuit.  Granted, there may be a bigger agenda in place there, but they must be aware of the impossibly large field of published works out there, and so they make the decision, like us at The Skiffy and Fanty Show, to cut that field down to a more stable pool.  There's crap in traditional publishing, too, but my experience has always been that it's much easier to find good things in traditional publishing, whereas the inverse is still true in the self-publishing world.

There's also another question here:  cost.  On the podcast, it costs us nothing (mostly) to interview or host authors of any sort.  Even when there are costs, they are astronomically low and infrequent (a couple bucks here or there).  But the literary award circuit has to hire judges, whom they sometimes (or usually) pay.  Even if they're not paying those judges, the request for their time is high, since they have to read dozens of books or short stories, etc.  If you open the field further, you can imagine how much time (or money) would be lost just on going through the onslaught of TPed and SPed books sent their way.

Let's also assume that there might be a way to get around that by narrowing the field with various new criteria.  In the end, those criteria will be flawed and, in some cases, controversial.  They're not going to base things on sales, since popularity is never an indicator of quality anyway.  Personally, I can't imagine any valid criteria that would weed out the trash from the legitimately quality books.  In the end, it just makes more sense to cut the field in half.  In a game of numbers, the easiest criteria is the one that makes the job a lot easier.

But there's also one more question I have:  why would SPed authors want to win these awards anyway?  The field is large enough that they could easily create equally valid awards just for SPed books.  And if they did that, it might make the task of including SPed books easier, since you could use those other awards as a mandatory criterion for the selection process:  if your book was nominated for X award, it is eligible for Y award.  It may not be the best criteria, but it's a start.

In any case, the point is this:  it's a numbers game.  It's a logistical problem.  There are just too many damned books out there just in the traditional publishing world alone.  Expecting these awards to toss out their arbitrary standards to include another massive pool of literature seems counter-productive to me.  You won't end up with a better awards system, but an overburdened one.  And you may end up doing more damage than would happen if one were to leave it alone.

That's my two cents.  What about you?

Speculation Station: Worlds Without Gunpowder

Liz Bourke foisted this question upon me on Twitter using her profound ability of psychic suggestion and the promise of free alcohol.[1]  The question is this:  what would the world look like if gunpowder had never been discovered?

First, a few caveats:
  1. I'm only going to consider worlds like our own in which the materials for gunpowder exist.  I feel inadequate to the task of arguing the science involved in imagining the absence of gunpowder materials.
  2. I'm only going to consider worlds like our own in which the inhabitants didn't discover gunpowder until much later -- up to about when the early modern period began.  I find it unlikely that gunpowder would go undiscovered indefinitely.
  3. Due to my limited knowledge of other gunpowder-using cultures, most of what I will say below will come from a largely Western perspective.  It will likely be somewhat reductive primarily because I can't write a 200-page book about the subject and expect anyone to read it.  However, if you can shine some light on how the above question might have affected different cultures before (or after?) colonization or contact w/ other cultures, please write a post in response.  I don't have that expertise, and so I will refrain from making too many assumptions.
My understanding of gunpowder is that it was discovered by the Chinese sometime between the 9th and 11th centuries (the Tang and Song Dynasties, respectively).  Its explosive potential, however, wasn't fully realized until many centuries later -- somewhere around the 13th century in China.  The rest of the world more less caught on after the powder's discovery, using it eventually to make weapons at roughly the same time as the Chinese.[2]  Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the formula was perfected and put to use in weaponry on a wide scale.[3]

But if a world were to exist where gunpowder did not get discovered by the Chinese (or anyone) in the 9th/11th century and did not change the course of history until some centuries after the 200 year period mentioned above, wouldn't the world we know now be a drastically different place?  Obviously.  For one, the course of warfare would have to change considerably to meet the demands of battle.  More advanced form of crossbows would likely fill the gap as medieval technicians created better ways to load and fire bolts.  I suspect we'd see widespread use of ballistas and crossbows with the ability to fire multiple shots before the need for reloading.  Some of these weapons already existed in the day, but they were inefficient and were eventually supplanted by better forms of weaponry (the musket, cannons, etc.).  The Chinese, for example, had a repeater crossbow as early as the 4th century BC, and the Greeks had designed a repeating ballista in the century afterwards.  These devices were certainly difficult to create and expensive, but without the explosive power of gunpowder, the need for more accurate, efficient, and speedy forms of these devices would become necessary.[6]  Over time, the adaptations of warfare would include changes in armor, greater use of castle defenses, and perhaps the development of other forms of explosives or flammable liquids for use in catapults and other siege machines.  Personally, I like the idea of Greek fire becoming a common tool used in warfare, though this would eventually become less useful over time as everyone began to prep their defenses against such things.
While I'm no expert on medieval sea warfare, I imagine the absence of gunpowder-based cannons would mean greater need for well-trained soldiers on the decks of ships and a frequent use of flammables either in the trapping of enemy ships or as a matter of the boat siege process.  In my mind, I imagine balanced crews of soldiers, sailors, and chemical experts, each in place in just the right numbers to combat the onslaught of chemicals and soldiers trying to crash or take over enemy ships full of supplies or ground troops.  And don't forget the crossbows and ballistas.  A ballista whose tip contains a pouch of flammable liquid could be launched through the wooden hull of an enemy ship, and fire-tipped bolts or arrows could be used to light the enemy ship on fire.  In a weird way, I just imagine warfare to be a more violent, flammable, terrifying endeavor, such that it might actually be against the better judgment of monarchic leaders to consistently wage war against their enemies.  At some point, the cost would become too great to constantly grab for territory.

The more interesting part, for me, is the impact all of this would have on the colonization of the Americas.[7]  Because muskets and cannons were such a strategic advantage for the Europeans who eventually took the Americas for themselves, it is curious to think about the ability of the Native Americans to actually combat the invasion.  Though Native American weapons would have to adapt to the needs of warfare, there wouldn't be as large a difference in terms of the technology between European projectiles and Native American ones.  The Europeans could certainly outmatch Native American warriors in terms of firing range and speed, but I wonder if they would still have the advantage in hand to hand combat or in dealing with guerrilla tactics, particularly with reduced ability to deploy explosives at long distances (cannons, etc.).  In particular, I imagine the Europeans would have kept to their armor-based marching style, which might work in a frontal assault, but against a non-traditional fighting force, such as that deployed by Native Americans at various stages of the conflict in our own world, I don't think it would help in the long term.

Unfortunately, I still think the Europeans would come out on top, but that's largely because the inevitable bio-warfare would become a center piece.  There's nothing to be done about the introduction of smallpox and other diseases into the Americans that the Native Americans simply hadn't survived yet.  And I imagine the Europeans would eventually figure out, as they did in our own world, that one could infect the natives with diseases that would kill a lot of them off.  However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the movement West (after the formation of America in our world, but perhaps without that expansion in this imaginary one for this post), would have been halted or at least severely delayed due to the weaker advantage on the part of the Europeans.
All of this, however, assumes that the Europeans would have arrived in the New World at roughly the same time as they did in our own world.  Imagine, if you will, what the New World might have looked like if the Spanish hadn't arrived in Central and South America until 200 years later.  Imagine if the British and French had been delayed in their colonization of the New World, too.  I can't say whether there would have been any enormous technological advances among the Native American populations with that extra time.  Certainly, some things would have changed, but would those changes have been warfare based?  I don't know.  However, I do think it's fair to say that the advancement of Europeans across the Americas would have been considerably slower, and perhaps far less violent.  Conflict was probably inevitable, but it's much more difficult to justify the mass extermination of another people when you are not, in fact, that advanced in warfare technology OR in numbers.  There would be a greater necessity for cooperation.  And that cooperation would, I think, work partially in the favor of the Native Americans, if only because the cultural transmission would have been measured and more open.  That, in my mind, produces the conditions necessary for organic adaptation within cultural groups.

But all of this is loose, strange speculation on a topic about which I know considerably little.  On that note, I'll end with a question:  What are some short stories or novels which imagine a world without gunpowder (or a world where someone else discovered gunpowder and Europe didn't become a super power)?  

[1]:  Most of this sentence is not true.
[2]:  I'm not a historian, so a lot of the dates I have given here are loose.
[3]:  Gunpowder had been used in explosives and other forms of weapons after its discovery, but it didn't completely alter warfare, as I understand it, until that 200 year period.  I'm getting much of this loose information from the source list on this Wikipedia page (many of which come from a fellow by the name of John Merton Patrick, who wrote an essay for a University of Michigan academic journal).  So, yes, I'm using Wikipedia, but only as a nice pointer for better sources.
[6]:  I also imagine a world where assassinations are more frequent as a method for avoiding physical conflict.
[7]:  I hope readers will forgive me for the somewhat reductive view of the Native Americans here.  Most of what I've written is fairly reductive, so my focus is less on the particularities of these real world conflicts than on basic concerns as they relate to the topic.  If one were to actually use the idea of a gunpowder-free society to create an alternate history, they would have to do far more research than I have done here.  This is a scratching-the-surface type thing.

Writing Question: Best Method for Introducing People of Color?

I'm currently writing a relatively far future military SF novel (or revolutionary military SF, since it involves revolution).  One thing that I want to indicate about this future and its wide-reaching human empire is its relative inclusiveness.  Race is not as much an issue there as it is today, which means that the cast of characters I intend to show will embody a mixed world.

To make that clear in the story, I feel as though I need to identify several characters by their race (or everyone by their race, really).  But I don't want to in part because I really don't know how to go about doing so without essentializing or reducing characters to their race (or even identifying them by something that I personally feel has no say on one's character).  What exactly is the best method for introducing the race of a character (any race)?

I honestly don't know...and I'd much rather have an idea on how to go about it before shoving my foot in my mouth.

The comments are yours.

Professional Writer = No Day Job?

On a recent episode of the Functional Nerds podcast, Patrick Hester posited that based on the prefix "professional" in "professional writer," those writers who do not make a living as writers technically don't count as pros.  I'm paraphrasing, of course, so I recommend actually listening to the podcast here (the comment appears around the 30-minute mark).  The idea is not a new one.  It falls within the same discussions about who gets to call themselves "writers" or "authors," and who has to suck a bag of too-bads and accept that they don't get to use a fancy label.  And it's likewise tied into the longstanding discussions about the term "professional" within our field, most notably in the fact that what the SFWA considers a "professional" publication has very little to do with whether one actually makes a living as a published writer.

It's from that last line that I'd like to suggest that while it's perhaps accurate to apply "professional writer" only to those who make a living as writers, the material realities of the writing life
make such a determination numerically meaningless.  So few writers actually make a living as writers, and of those that do make a living as such, most of them do so via a variety of writing avenues.  A midlist author of science fiction novels, for example, may fill in the enormous gaps from fiction publications with freelance work (essays, editing, etc.).  The number of authors who actually get to live off a single form of writing (Stephen King, for example, or Neil Gaiman...) comprises such a small number of all published writers out there that using "professional writer" on them alone wouldn't really tell us anything other than "these are the authors who sell enough books to pay a mortgage."  Since a great deal of non-writer folks likewise wouldn't fall within the domain of a "professional" based on how well they do in a given field, I just don't see why the term provides any use value if we apply so selectively.

And that's perhaps the big problem here.  What the hell is a professional writer anyway?  Would Harper Lee count as a professional writer?  She only wrote one book:  To Kill a Mockingbird.  But it sells so many copies every year that I suspect she could live quite comfortably off the various royalties and rights purchases associated with it.  Is she a professional writer?  By the standard of financial value:  yes.  By any other standard of professionalism?  Nope.  Most uses of the term professional apply to those who actually participate in the production of a "thing."  A doctor who has a practice or works at a hospital is a professional.  A practicing lawyer is a professional.  An author who sells one book and nothing else?  Well...

I suppose all of this is essentially a reflection about the state of the field of authorship.  In other fields, one can become a professional by "doing," but in the world of writing, I'm not sure there's an easy measurement for "professional" and "not."  Harper Lee is probably a professional writer, but the standards by which her professionalism would be measured wouldn't apply to someone like, say, Tobias S. Buckell, who still splits his salary between fiction sales and freelance work (I'm not sure how true that is today, though; he used to do these in-depth analyses of his yearly salary, but he's been quite busy lately).  In Hester's assessment, the former is instantly a professional writer; the latter is not.  Why?  What makes the distinction here?  Money can't be the only valuable distinction between the two.  There have to be other factors, too; otherwise, what's the point of calling anyone a professional writer if all you need to do to become one is publish one book and sell millions of copies?

Any thoughts?

Postcolonialism 101: Misery Tourism (or, How the Genre Community Still Essentializes Africa)

"What is misery tourism?" you might ask.  At its most basic, "misery tourism" refers to the ways peoples from wealthy, usually Western nations "tour" the "developing" or "undeveloped" world in order to "learn" something.  The process is almost always attached to an assumption of superiority, whether directly acknowledged or buried in the subconscious.  To partake in misery tourism is to justify the superior position of your culture by intentionally subjecting yourself to "lesser" cultures (as a means of justifying the bias embedded in the notion of "lesser" cultures).  To put it another way, misery tourism is what (mostly white) Westerners do to make themselves feel better about their own circumstances.

I bring this up because of the following, which is taken from Bryan Thomas Schmidt's blog post entitled "Broadening the Toolbox Through Cross-Cultural Encounters:  On Resnick, Africa, and Opportunity":

When I spent time volunteering in prisons, I came away telling people that everyone should go and experience that for themselves because “the inmates are a lot more like us than you’d imagine.” For me, it was a scary and yet sobering reminder that human beings no matter their backgrounds, etc. have more in common than different. The same held true of my experiences in other cultures. I tell everyone to visit a developing world country at least once. See for yourselves what you’ve only imagined from the pages of National Geographic or TV specials about starvation, etc. Go there and experience it and be forever changed. If you’re not changed, you’re doing something wrong. I don’t see how you couldn’t be. Don’t fear this kind of change. It’s the good kind–the kind that makes you smarter, wiser, more aware and more appreciative. It’s the kind that makes you a better person and inspires you to write better stories and live better lives. That kind of change can’t be a bad thing, can it?
This appears after Schmidt reminds us how important it is not to fall into the trap of stereotyping other peoples and cultures (by way of getting into their heads to push our boundaries).

Schmidt, unfortunately, falls prey to a number of common intellectual traps when it comes to the subject of the African continent.  For example, rather than trying to explore a particular African culture, he reduces them all to "Africans," as if talking about "Africans" actually means something.  He might have identified specific nations (Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Mali, Chad, Sudan, etc.) or specific peoples (Igbo, Sua, Kikuyu, Tutsi, Oromo, Afrikaner, Egyptian, Bemba, Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Fulani, Yoruba, etc.), having spent so much time in Africa (says he).  But instead, he makes them all one.  They are Africans -- not in the sense that they are all "from Africa," but in the sense that they are all more or less the same, like Americans (except we're not all the same either).  Doing so allows him to make grand assumptions about what they are all like (they are communal and find joy in little things).  There are other traps, too, but this is, I think, the most obvious and most damaging.

What shocks me most about these statements is that Schmidt wants us to believe he has learned something both from his experiences as a traveler and from reading genre fiction written by people who are non-white, mostly non-Christian, and mostly non-American.  Yet in essentializing the plethora of African cultures, as so many people do, he exposes his own narrow view of the continent.  I suspect he does not believe this of himself, but most Westerners don't want to believe that their privilege blinds them to the narratives of neo-imperialism which control the discourse surrounding the African continent.  In fact, Schmidt obviously means well, and makes many valid points.  But this doesn't excuse the central problem, which Binyavanga Wainaina perhaps best explores in "How to Write About Africa."  His humorous-but-not-really "story" exposes many of the myths peddled about the African continent. Two quotes of relevance here include:
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.
Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering.
That pretty much sums it up.  Becoming better writers is simply a justification for misery tourism.  Its only purpose is to validate ethnocentric views of the world and the perpetuation of stereotypes and myths still held by so many Westerners today.  I'm not sure there's a way to combat this behavior, as we're all guilty of it to a certain degree.  One would think education about the history of the various now-countries of the African continent would do it, but that requires people to take the wax out of their ears and actually listen.  In other words, so long as you see the African continent as little more than a monolithic culture of inferior peoples, you cannot possibly challenge the ethnocentric assumptions that pepper our cultural perceptions of the world.

That's not to say genre fiction is hopeless.  Far from it.  But it's not enough to say "look, there are some brown people talking about different stuff over there" or "look, I went to Africa and learned stuff, which makes me culturally enlightened."  True respect of other cultures would look beyond the superficial; such a task may be difficult, however, once you realize that the linguistic, cultural, and political toolbox we have all been given in the West participates as much in the colonial project as colonialism in its most visible forms.  Perhaps this is why I have trouble finding Western aid, missionary work, and so on anything but suspicious.  These acts, like everything else, cannot be disentangled from the colonial project.  Just like language, ideology, and misery tourism.

Writing Wonders: Are Flashbacks Evil?

I think with all writing concepts, there are no simple answers.  Flashbacks are no different.  Just as you can ruin a book with poorly constructed multiple POVs, so too can you ruin a book with flashbacks.  It all comes down to how and when you do it.

Case in point:  I am currently reading Tobias Buckell's The Apocalypse Ocean, the fourth book in his Xenowealth series.  One of the POVs in the book is of a woman born from genetically augmented stock by an alien race known as the Nesaru.  But the only way we can really understand what her past means to her in the present of the novel (after the events in Ragamuffin, in which a human revolution against alien control had its first and most important victory) is by flashback.  Buckell could tell us her history in an infodump, but the result would lack the emotional impact we need in order to sympathize with the character.  

Thus, Buckell uses the flashback.  Only rather than shove it in the middle of an important sequence, he uses it as a way to further the plot point (specifically, her plot) -- it occurs in a chapter devoted specifically to her reaction to a previous scene; we know something will happen in this chapter, but we don't know what, and so Buckell uses this flashback as a way to show her motivations as an individual.  It's a smart move, I think, since it avoids all the problems that can come with flashbacks -- pulling the audience out of the story, destroying pace, etc.  It also helps that readers of Buckell's work will recognize familiar themes in this flashback, which might not be something to be expected in other works with such devices.

That's really all it comes down to.  If you're going to use a flashback, you have to use it with the awareness of its impact on the rest of the narrative.  If inserting a flashback will hurt the pacing or if it appears in a pointless moment in the story, then you're probably going to run into problems.

What I'm curious about are those books which experiment with the flashback form.  One example that comes to mind is Brian Francis Slattery's Lost Everything, in which much of the story meanders through different points in the character's lives.  Think of it as a long series of interconnected flashbacks.  Much of his writing follows this format, including Spaceman Blues.  But what other kinds of experimentations are there?  Do they work?

Feel free to leave a comment!

(Question suggested by Paul Weimer on Google+.)

P.S.:  One might also consider The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers as a kind of flashback-infused text, though that's difficult to argue since most of the book takes place in the flashback, rather than in the "present."

Bad Worlds, Bad Language, and Worldbuilding Gone Bad

Recently, I've been reading Star Carrier Book One:  Earth Strike by Ian Douglas.  I was intrigued by the epic military SF setting and decided to plow into it.  What begins as a solid piece of action writing, however, quickly dissolves into a linguistic nightmare in the first chapter written from an alien POV.  In this chapter, Douglas stops using standard words for time or distance and instead opts for a series of nearly incomprehensible terms:  mr'uum, g'nyuu'm, g'nya, g'nyurm, and lurm'm. 

I'm not sure what these terms actually mean, nor do I care to find out.  What annoys me about them isn't just that they are incomprehensible, but that no other vaguely scientific (or intensely scientific, for that matter) elements are written in this way.  Douglas is careful to avoid turning all
scientific references into alien gibberish, and yet chooses to turn the simplest of these concepts into words that have no inherent meaning.
For me, this is an utter failure to properly worldbuild.  If you are going to maintain all the other scientific references so that your audience can understand what the aliens are talking about, then it is absolutely necessary not to disengage that audience from the spatial and temporal logics of the narrative's world.  It is worse still if there is no logical reason for these linguistic invasions.  What purpose does providing alien terminology as replacements for human terminology serve?  To alienate us?  Isn't that accomplished by providing the perspective of the alien itself?  Of course it is.  Since we're already in a futuristic society, taking us into the alien means we can still relate to something.  But "mr'uum" has no obvious relation.  It is not derived from a language English speakers would be familiar with.
After two or three pages of these terms, I decided to read something else.  I may not go back.  The linguistic intrusions served as barriers to entry for me as a reader.  I became overly aware that I was reading a fiction, and especially that I was reading a fiction comprised of words on a page.  In other words, escape became impossible.  Each new intrusion meant severing me from the imaginative realm of the novel.  Once you do that to me a few times in a row, you've likely lost me for good.

These choices are best avoided.  There are better ways to convey the alien; one need not use linguistic trickery to get the job done.  Aliens have different physical features, different cultures, and different worldviews.  Any of those elements could serve to heighten the reader's sense of alienation without pulling them from the story.  Ultimately, however, there must be a reference, a "thing" for us to cling to so that we don't get lost in the alien.  But more on that another day...