Why do you want to be published?

I was reading a discussion on Writerface the other day where the poster wondered about getting published. He was having quite an ordeal, having received numerous rejection letters and the like, and as I read through the forum thread I received confirmation that everyone deals with the same issues. It has always been difficult to get published, but with the current state of the economy and the decline of print media in general, publishers are even more hesitant to put work into print, especially for untested authors.

Being the sort of Internet-junkie I am, though, I couldn’t help but wonder why people want to get published so much. Yeah, I fancy myself an author, or at least I will do once I finally finish writing a book, but I’m doing it because I like to write. As I read through the forum, the fight to be published was portrayed as a fierce struggle, but for what?

Why do people want to be published? I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who not only intends to self-publish but who gives his work away for free online, so my thoughts are probably more cynical than accurate, but I could only come up with the following two reasons.

1) For the money

Shakespeare got to get paid, son, and I recognize that. I also recognize that publishing companies have far greater marketing capabilities than an individual, and one shouldn’t expect any marking from a Print-on-Demand (POD) Publisher. It’s hard to get your name out there and get noticed, and having a real publisher pick up your book and print/advertise it makes a huge difference.

But I can’t help but notice all the independent online businesses that are doing pretty damn well, and in particular I look at webcomic artists for a lot of my business inspiration. They put their work online for free, sell art and merchandise, and I read a great many who make a living off it. But even if you don’t make a living from the work, you can at least supplement your income. They do their own advertising, their own work, and most of the webcomics I read have visitor counts in the tens of thousands every day.

2) For the recognition

Maybe it’s just gratifying for a publisher to select you for publication. I could see feeling like you’ve really made it as an author when someone gives you the external feedback of publication + money, and that pat on the head would go a long way towards legitimizing one’s work. After being published, you can be secure in knowing that you don’t just think you’re a good writer. You’re good enough that someone else was willing to pay you for it and stake their own name, money, and time on your writing.

Part of me can’t help but point out that you can get that same recognition by working independently, if that’s what you really want, but seriously… if that’s your motivation, you should probably close your laptop and stop turning out crap just to make people like you. Write what you want because you want to write it. Communicate something you’re passionate about, and if it’s good, people will read it. If it’s not, well, at least you tried, I guess. Maybe learn to write better?

Recognition will come if you deserve it.

There’s no Rhyme or Reason, or is there?

Part of me can see the following logic. You wrote this because you want to communicate something, so you want that to get to the most people possible, and a publishing company can do that a lot better/easier/faster than self-publishing. Most self-published work gets read by only a few dozen people due to lack of advertisement, so if you really want to get your words out there, you have to go through a publishing company. Self-publishing, either through POD or on the Internet, just makes your message part of the noise, and you’ll get lost in it.

That’s a valid argument, but I don’t think it’s true. There are more books published in a single year now than in all of history, so being in print doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get noticed. Obviously, advertising makes a huge difference (do you really think Twilight would have been a hit if it had been POD published with no marketing?), but there are plenty of examples of run-away-hits (such as The Shack, apparently) that spread due to word-of-mouth.

You can’t account for what Makes It and what doesn’t, so I’m inclined to think that good work will be rewarded. If what you write happens to be good and liked by people, you’ll get noticed regardless of where you are or how you’re publishing. Just make sure you’re enjoying yourself along the way and the rest will fall into line.

What One Man Can Do, Another Man Can Do

I’m sure I’ve seen the phrase elsewhere, but it first entered my lexicon after reading this page of Dr. McNinja. The alt text to the image is the title phrase of this blog post, and it has been surprisingly inspiring for me.

Something exciting about our house is that it’s already wired for Ethernet. Therefore, there’s an Ethernet jack in the living room, but it’s in the corner adjacent to where we placed the TV and, subsequently, the XBox 360. There were holes drilled in the floor for speaker cables (the previous owners had surround sound in the living room), but those holes weren’t big enough for an Ethernet cable. So I bought a drill.

In the course of this exercise, I had to crawl under the house (into the crawlspace; the basement only goes up under the formal dining room, and the living room, office, and front porch have just a crawl space under them). The “door,” if you could call it that, to the crawlspace was tiny, maybe just a foot and a half square, and loose rock and dirt and spider webs were poised to greet me on the other side. It was daunting, but I knew that I wanted this wired properly, and since I’d already drilled the holes…

The home inspector went into there (weeks ago, when we had the home inspection done), a more portly fellow than I am (though not by much anymore, much to my chagrin), so I knew it could be done. What one man can do, another man can do, I kept repeating to myself. I crawled in.

And it was OK. I got the cable through, though I had to go back into the house and drop a straightened hanger through the hole in the floor, go back outside to twist it around the cable, and then return to the living room to pull it up through the floor. I also went to Ace Hardware and purchased some wood filler to seal up the gap around the cable. I was crafty, and as someone who sucks at working with his hands (on anything other than computers, with which I’m practically magical), I was pretty pleased with the outcome.

Now, if AT&T could just get our freaking DSL straightened out and working, all of that work and effort would actually have a point to it…

Updated – Why Chrome Concerns Me

Google has recently announced their web browser, Google Chrome, and while a variety of bloggers and news sites have begun reporting on and hypothesizing about Google’s motivation and the browser’s functionality, nobody seems to have any negative concerns regarding Chrome other than its competition with Mozilla Firefox. Some have shared their concern that this will kill Firefox as well as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which is a fine concern to have, but one I think isn’t major. People who care more about privacy will look at Google’s continuous data mining and give Chrome a miss. Firefox will still be used, and it’s Open Source, so it’ll continue being developed (unless Google buys it…). But again, not my main issue.

My concern is where Google states that Chrome is more than a web browser. Rather, it’s “a modern platform for web pages and applications,” with the word application mentioned 5 times in three paragraphs there. While Mozilla Firefox uses Gecko as its application engine, Chrome will use Webkit (along with Safari and Konquerer), just as Google’s mobile operating system (Android) will use Webkit.

Application compatibility and development could certainly put a dent in Mozilla Firefox’s usage statistics, but more importantly, it sends up a red flag to me. I fear we’ll return to the lack of standardization that was a hallmark of the browser wars in the early to mid 90s. As webapps become more prevalent, I fear web developers will have to begin writing apps to be compatible with Gecko, Webkit, and Microsoft, and that’s simply ludicrous. We are finally achieving standardization when it comes to HTML, and with Javascript, PHP, and ASP we’ve got languages that are understood equally by all browsers.

With Google entering the browser wars and choosing Webkit, it appears that we are establishing a lack of standardization for the future, which bothers me. Moreover, as Google moves more towards web development, with their own web browser in place I fear that they will build something akin to Microsoft’s ActiveX, where their web applications will be even more advanced and powerful, but will require their web browser to achieve that full functionality. I am concerned that Chrome will encourage Google to create proprietary web applications.

Of course, they may stick to their creed of “Do No Evil,” and my concerns may be completely unfounded. But as Google gains more power and popularity, I wonder how far they can push the definition of “Good” before losing the favour of their users. Regardless, I’ll check out Chrome so I can support it, but I doubt I’ll be switching to it full time. I already give Google my email and contacts, but adding my browsing into that… I like to pretend to have at least a little bit of privacy.

Addendum:: Google Chrome is Open Source, as is Webkit, so it’s not like THE END OF THE WORLD if they develop stuff that’s Webkit-only. It would just make me a little sad, and be a step in the wrong direction, I would think. Unless Webkit became a standard (and I’m sure someone will make the argument that Mozilla could always switch from Gecko to Webkit), and no news or rumours have arisen yet that such a move is likely in the web development community… though with both Android and the iPhone using Webkit, it certainly wouldn’t be absurd for Webkit to become so prevalent it became a standard…

Regarding Privacy:: Another update, since I mentioned this earlier. Since I’m in meetings all day, I haven’t downloaded, installed, and tried Chrome yet, but CNet takes a closer look at the Terms of Service attached to Chrome. Of particular concern to me is:

By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through, the services.

Since my own content is copylefted under Creative Commons, I don’t particularly like the idea of Google serving up my content in any sort of advertisement and potentially making money from it.

Their most diabolical plan yet

A few weeks ago, this panel appeared on the Facebook home profile page, taking their “mutual friends” information to a new level by suggesting people you might know yet aren’t friends with yet on Facebook.

In a sense, this is kind of nice. It lets me find people I might want to be friends with, add them or simply remove them from the list, and it’s constantly got new people displayed… but then I began actually trying to use the panel.

Every person I removed from the list was immediately replaced by someone else I “might know,” as if attempting to remove the degrees of separation between me and everyone else in the world. I kept clicking, removing all the people I didn’t know, examining profiles of people I might know, just have forgotten temporarily, and adding a few I was pleasantly surprised to find. And I kept clicking. And kept clicking.

It never ends. Every profile removed from this panel is immediately replaced by another. There seems to be no point at which Facebook says, “Yeah, there’s no real way you know any of these people, but I need this panel full. For your consideration, I present Amali Poutankalishe from Bangladesh.”

It is difficult to tear myself away. I want it to be done, over, finished. I want to lay that panel to rest, to hide all the smiling faces, and assure myself that there’s not anyone on Facebook I’m not friends but would like to be. I want to sort through them all.

Do you think it’s possible to hire someone to act out your OCD tendencies on your behalf?

Computer Setup – Then and Now

This article is a reply to Lorelle’s Blog Challenge: Describe Your Computer Setup – Then and Now

It is difficult to think back to our first computer, because my first experience with them was when I was three years old. These days, that’s nothing uncommon–my boss’s kids use Edubuntu exclusively and were typing at two and hacking at three–but in 1988, our household was rather uncommon. I grew up “playing” with DOS, and we had just upgraded to a 486/33 (which was upgraded to a 486/66 when I was 4).

I had been introduced to the Internet in seventh grade by my friend Justin, who helped me pick my first screenname and shared his ORION (Ozarks Regional Internet Online Network) account with me so I could connect from home. With a brand new 28.8 baud modem, we would chat via telnet and, on a few exciting occasions, connect Doom over TCP/IP for some multiplayer gaming. My father shelled out the cash for a Prodigy account, and suddenly we had a graphical web browser… but the Internet seemed small back then. It was all Yahoo!, Angelfire, and Geocities. Businesses ruled the web, and there wasn’t much I was interested in beyond interacting with my friends. These were my father’s computers, though, and I didn’t get my first until high school.

My freshman year of high school, my mother purchased me an HP mini-tower and CRT monitor for Christmas of 1999. Back then, Napster and ScourExchange ruled my time, and downloading music was just an everyday thing. I mixed CDs for myself and my friends, discovering a wide range of music I hadn’t known existed outside my little country-radio-station world. The world hadn’t turned dark and scary yet, and TOR was just an interesting idea rather than a potential necessity.

My little HP box ran Windows 98, and ran quite fast for at least a few months at a time. I don’t even recall the specs on it, but it was pretty generic, and I didn’t really care back then anyways. Our operating systems didn’t demand much, and I spent most of my time on telnet. We were still on dial-up (though some of my friends who lived either in town or in subdivisions had cable), so my access was limited, and so was our budget. Buying software wasn’t really an option, so I pirated a copy of Norton AntiVirus, ran ZoneAlarm, and used IE without thinking about it. I was grossly ignorant about computer security, but it didn’t seem to matter as much just yet. The great virus outbreaks of the early 2000s were still to come.

My mom got me a separate phone line sometime around my sophomore year of high school, and I spent the vast majority of my time at home on the Internet. Eventually, my time went from downloading music to movies, from ScourExchange and telnet to IRC, and from browsing for MUDs to researching evidence for my speech & debate team. The RIAA began making more noise about music downloads and announced that they were targeting anyone with more than 1000-3000 songs. I deleted everything I had pirated, but I still had my Norton AV and my copy of Windows XP that I had acquired from someone. When it came time for college, it was time for a new machine.

I purchased a Compaq laptop, which died so often in my first year of college that Best Buy gave me a new HP to compensate for the lemon they had originally sold me. I used the laptop to take notes in class, but it also doubled as a gaming laptop (freshman year was Star Wars Galaxies, a far cry from the Ultima Online I had begun playing in high school), and its 64mb video card blew away everything I had seen until then. The Compaq had 1gb of RAM and a 40gb hard drive, so I was pretty stoked; when I upgraded to the HP, I suddenly had 80gb of HD space, filled rapidly with games from LAN parties. I still have that HP, but last year I built a new desktop.

From spending my evenings on telnet and IRC growing up, I have now transitioned to being connected to the Internet almost 24/7, both for work and play. I wear a smartphone that picks up all my email, almost all of the games I play are either MMORPGS or multiplayer over XBox Live, and I do almost all of my writing online. I don’t download music, which means my collection (all legal now) is many years out of date, but I’m OK with that. I do still download software all the time, but that’s also all legit. When I got my current job (Centralized User Support Specialist for Computer Services at Missouri State University), I decided to take the plunge and switch entirely to Open Source.

My home computer has a 400gb SATA drive with a DVD-burner, a far cry from the few hundred meg of storage space I once had. A 19″ LCD has replaced the 15″ CRT, and 2gb of 1000mhz RAM is certainly a change from the 128mb in my first machine. I ditched Windows, both at work and at home, and run Linux everywhere. OpenSUSE 10 at work for a long time, recently replaced by Linux Mint, and either Ubuntu or Linux Mint at home, depending on the release cycles. I have a video card and a sound card now, neither of which I had on that old HP (instead using the onboard devices) and, of course, a DSL modem rather than a 28.8 dial-up device.

I still live on the Internet, but most of that time is spent at work. At home, rather than MUDding, I sometimes play World of Warcraft with my wife. Just over a year since I built my most recent box, I built her a new computer that was half the price of mine and already superior. And yes, it runs Linux.