Monthly Archives: January 2024

Information doesn’t necessarily want to be free

Note: I should have probably posted this two weeks ago, but I was still working things out when it came to Substack alternatives. I may still have more to do, but…here we are, the promised response to Yann LeCun’s December 31st/January 1st tweets. Working now on some horse blogs, as well as writing blogs.

One of the not-so-delightful parts of New Year’s Day 2024 was a series of postings by Yann LeCun (chief AI scientist at Meta) on Xitter saying that most book authors should release their books for free, because…oh, here’s the screenshot.

Needless to say, that sentiment didn’t go over well with a number of authors, including me. And because it was New Year’s Day, many of us had some time to express our opinions. LeCun kept focusing on the low dollar amounts most authors make as a justification for making their books available for free downloads, and that if authors aren’t expecting to make a lot of money off of their work, then they are motivated more by intellectual impact. Ergo, they should release their work for free if that is the case.

Sigh. Yet another example of how low the “information wants to be free” argument has devolved. LeCun’s argument has a number of flaws, including the reality that no one in publishing, including publishers, can tell you in advance whether a book is going to be a hit with the public or not. Oh, there’s a certain amount of sales that can happen given the right amount of money spent on promotion.

However, there is no tried-and-true formula for discerning what books will sell well. If there is, New York has yet to discover it. The same holds for a number of ambitious and aggressive self-published writers.

Granted, one has to keep in mind that LeCun is coming from an academic perspective and he is most likely thinking of nonfiction. Even at that, however, it’s somewhat saddening to read the implied notion that one either writes for intellectual impact or money (and the manner in which he repeatedly frames the argument as either/or strongly suggests he’s operating from a nonfiction point of view). There’s no room for entertainment or education (which I suppose could loosely be defined as “intellectual impact”) in this framework.

However, most of us who write, especially fiction, are not doing so as part of a day job. LeCun comes from an academic background where publication, either for free or requiring the author to pay for it, is part of the job requirement. He can afford to give away his creations because he’s already receiving compensation for them through his work. LeCun’s bias shows up in his own words:

Those of us who write fiction, whether we’re submitting to traditional publishing or self-publication, start laughing bitterly at this statement, because we don’t know how much we’re going to make from it unless the book is already under contract. This current work-in-progress could manage to hit the popularity-go-round on release—catching the wave of what’s currently popular. Or a major influencer on BookTok or other online venue suddenly discovers the book and promotes the heck out of it. Or…lots of possibilities exist, including the possibility that this book becomes a sleeper hit months or years after initial release.

The reality is that unless you have an advance in hand before you start writing the book (more common in nonfiction than fiction) you just won’t know before publication whether the book is a hit or not. That’s just the reality of publishing.

But let’s also look at the other piece of LeCun’s argument…the “intellectual impact” and “benefits to society” side. Again, this is more of a nonfiction writer’s position. “Intellectual impact” might fall more to the literary side, where the author is engaged with dialogue about theme. “Benefits to society”—I suppose that depends on how one approaches the concept of entertainment as either a frill or necessity.

That said, most fiction writers are writing to tell a story, with the primary purpose of entertainment, whether that be for the author or for the author’s hoped readers.

Then the question becomes, how does society benefit from free entertainment? Oooh, that’s a monstrous can of worms to consider, especially after all the years of apparently “free” entertainment provided by broadcast television and radio. Only said entertainment was not exactly “free.” Those radio and television shows had/have sponsors, advertising, and product placements within the story framework. “Free” periodicals have donors, advertisers, and sponsors.

And shall we discuss pop-up ads on websites?

The reality is that there is no such thing as “free” information. Someone pays for the creation and the distribution of such information, and someone pays for the receipt of such information. The purpose for the existence of such information can range from any sort of combination of product advertising to sharing a cool idea to entertainment to promotion of particular ideologies.

No matter what the purpose, at some point payment happens for the creation of the concepts, images, and words, both by the creators in the form of the efforts they perform (for which they will receive some sort of compensation, either by an employer or by selling the result of their creative endeavor) and by the recipients in the form of paying for the product through purchase, subscription, or exposure to advertising/ideologies.

It’s not free, to either creator or recipient of information. It only seems as if it is free.

And so, to return to LeCun’s assertion that most books should be freely available for download, I assert that his conclusion is based on a flawed assumption that information wants to be free. That the spread of information, whether through fiction or nonfiction, is free.

I assert that all information is paid, whether through effort or money. LeCun and others who assert information wants to be free conveniently overlook the cost of the effort it takes to create something.

Information doesn’t want to be free. It just makes you believe that it wants to be free.

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Just another random post–digging out of a slump

Yeah, yeah, I know, this doesn’t fit the current fashion to have your blog posts all neatly organized and corralled because I’m drafting this just before posting, and it’s not on the list of things to post. And I am getting to that place…slowly. But I keep getting mugged by ideas that I want to write, especially when I’m out working with the horses, or that infamous “ideas popping into my head just as I start going to sleep” moment.

Arrgh. It’s frustrating.

One issue is that I’ve been slowly thrashing around trying to dig myself out of a slump with the fiction work and that’s bled over into these casual essays. At first I thought this feeling was due exclusively to working within the same series, with the same characters, for over four years. Then I started thinking about the other, non-series work I’ve been drafting during this period, especially when I was posting work on Kindle Vella as well as Substack and—oh.

More than one thing going on.

First, I’ve spent the past few years hustling to post on Medium, Substack, and Kindle Vella. While some of that has been a crossover with my published fiction, a lot of it hasn’t been that. All three venues require a certain amount of time dedicated to them and/or associated social media as a participant in order to gain any attention to your own work. That ends up being a time suck, especially since the writing that gets done on social media doesn’t go into creative work. Or, if I have multiple notions to post, I have to stop and think about whether I want to spam people’s inboxes.

Which, honestly, causes me to freeze up when I think about it. Then it becomes a case of “oh no, I can’t post that because I posted already today.”

The hustle culture around those venues also ends up being a time suck that doesn’t necessarily show results. So it’s not at all surprising that I started sliding into a slump from just plain old burnout. While all those posts last year about writing accountability really helped me at the beginning, they eventually became just another millstone around my neck that interfered with writing production and choked me up.

Second, I realized that yes, writing these blogs helps with my writing production. I don’t draft them with an eye toward eventual publication because in order to do that, I need to spend more time polishing them. These are meant to be reflections more than anything else—basically, the classic blog.

Third, I want to write these blogs about a lot of things. Not just about writing but about horses, current events, and even a little political history. One thing that is coming clear from my current activity on social media is that I remember a lot of political history that is relevant to current events. I recently started rereading a history of Democratic party organizing in Oregon during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and came away with the reaction that not only are there many similarities between the current situation and that era, but that wow, if we think things are rather chaotic now, um, the way third parties rose and fell, and coalitions frequently shifted during that era (and some of those hijinks)….

Things can get worse. But they can also get better. I want to share some of those insights, but mixed in with horses, blathering about the outdoors, writing, and who knows what else.

So. Drafting this post today and putting it up today, but I am working on building up a backlog of posts. I’d like to put things up two or three times a week, without swarming the inboxes but providing variety.

We’ll see how it goes.

My next post this week will be “Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free,” a reaction to some tweets by Yann LeCun that, well, rubbed me the wrong way because of his attitude toward fiction. I have one post drafted about winter horses, and will be working on another shortly about a recent realization that this past year makes it twenty-seven years since I went back to riding horses as an adult. I also have some writing process posts in mind, one about converting a villain to a protagonist (Philip Martiniere, for those of you who are curious) and musings about organization.

But no more accountability posts. Damn, that was enough to send me into burnout just on its own.

Meanwhile—housekeeping issues. I’m not sure just yet how SendFox handles responses. Feel free to send me a note at [email protected] if you want to respond and you aren’t sure if responding in email works.

For those of you reading this someplace other than your inbox, this is how you get this newsletter in your inbox:

Hoping to see you around!

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Yay! I think things are resolved…and DUCKS!

Mallard ducks in snow-covered wheat stubblefield

This picture of mallard ducks in a snow-covered wheat stubblefield just amazes me. They moved in when subzero temperatures hit, creating these nests in the snow. The picture really doesn’t do it justice because I took it on the first day that temps rose above freezing and the ducks were starting to fly around rather than cluster in groups like the one I show here. There were hundreds of ducks in that field. Just…totally astonishing.

We’ve pretty much been riding through the winter weather here. Our little corner of the valley seems to keep avoiding the worst of the storms so far but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We got down to -18F one day and had multiple days where all I did with the horses was go out to the ranch, give them grain and treats, and look them over. Even with a young horse I’m reluctant to ask for much when the temps are less than 15F. Mocha got a neck hood added to her portable shed (aka the heaviest Weatherbeeta brand blanket on the market) and Marker got Ground Schooling With Cones. Which meant a lot of backing up with precise targeting* and lots of step, whoa, step, whoa.

*ahem, not-so-precise right now since he is a wiggly fidgety boy with ADHD elements and he’s not done this before. He’s better under saddle than on the ground so far. But it will come.

The resolution of things addresses not just this blog but my author newsletter. My monthly newsletter needed to find a new home since MailChimp was shutting down TinyLetter. I had considered moving to Substack because, well, it’s easier. I even started adding new subscriber lists to the Substack I made for the author newsletter. Then the whole kerfuffle over extremist content being monetized on Substack happened, and that was a big nope. I have newsletter subscribers who won’t use Substack. I started looking around at newsletter options, and started setup on Mailerlite only to realize that while the free program has a lot to offer, I could only run one thing from it. If I wanted to migrate my Substack blog subscribers there, I needed to run with a paid account.

Not gonna work.

I looked at other options, and either ran into list upload issues, or just didn’t have the room to grow, much less run two separate functions (blog and newsletter) from the same platform. Not unless I paid money, and given that I haven’t monetized any of this stuff, monthly payments didn’t seem like a great thing to do. However, I discovered that there was an option with a reasonable one-time payment, and started checking it out. I’m now working with SendFox. It’s not big but it has more tools than TinyLetter or Substack, really, without overwhelming me like Mailerlite did. If I ever make it big I’ll probably move the author letter to Mailerlite–or not. I have more tools to work with and figuring these tools out is going to take me some time.

I’m still tweaking and finalizing things. But how things stand right now is that content for the blog starts here, and is mirrored on SendFox and Dreamwidth.

Just creating the landing signup pages on SendFox this morning was a huge relief. I didn’t realize the degree to which worry about what I was going to do was piling up on me. Add that to the need to keep on top of the weather so I could react appropriately to what was happening and it’s been a wild start to 2024.

What can you expect to see from this blog coming up? Amongst other things, this is one of the few blogs where you’ll see me drafting directly in WordPress. I have several drafts in Word, some about horses, some about writing commentary, and I have a whole list of topics to work on. Upcoming blogs will include a reaction to statements by one of the bigwigs in A.I. about how authors should just upload our work for free, reflections on reforming a villain in one of my worlds, and as always, the occasional horse training and management update.

Meanwhile, if you want to follow me easily, here are a couple of links (note, if you are reading this in your email, you’re fine for the blog feed!):

Want to subscribe to my blog feed and read my musings about writing, life as a senior in the wide open spaces, and blathering about horses? Sign up here:

Want to subscribe to my monthly newsletter for more information about what I’m writing, what I’m publishing, and links/announcements of sales, appearances, and special programs? Sign up here:

And if you want to contribute to the Fund for Horses with Boopable Noses and the Old Grouch…here’s my Ko-fi link!

(Yes, I know I should make the links into cute buttons or so on. Work in progress and all that.)

Oh yeah…the Ko-fi link also allows you to buy ebooks directly from me rather than from the big distributors. I’m running a sale on The Heritage of Michael Martiniere and A Different Life: What If?

Deep breath. I’m baaaack. Watch out, world.



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One Year Ends, Another Begins

Well hello there. I haven’t written much on this blog of late, primarily because I’ve been wrestling with burnout and, for lack of a better word, depression over a number of factors, some of which I’ll talk about here. A lot of it is the realization that I need to change how I do the business side of writing, including communication and promotion. And…there are a lot of pieces I have to finagle.

One of the big reasons why I’ve been hanging back on writing much of anything here was the Substack Nazi blowup. I’ve been waiting to see what, if anything, would come of it. This isn’t my first go-round in dealing with a platform going problematic—Usenet, then LiveJournal are both pieces of my sordid internet past. However, it gets tiring to go through the steps. One thing I figured out very quickly was that I needed to ensure that I had a place to go for my author newsletter. I had planned to move it to Substack since TinyLetter is shutting down. Unfortunately, I still lost subscribers in the transition to Mailerlite.

Nonetheless, that particular issue had been nagging at me even before the blowup. Moving from TinyLetter to another venue was in the works for a while, simply because it’s a struggle to deal with at times. Links didn’t always want to work, pictures could be problematic. The move was inevitable even before MailChimp announced it was closing TinyLetter. It had just been a question of Mailerlite or Substack? Well, Substack decided to make that choice easier. Now I have to figure out this much more powerful communication tool. But that piece is taken care of.

When it comes to this blog, I already had strategies. The precept of “post first on a platform you control” has been a habit of mine for years, ever since early copyright discussions back in the ‘00s. I post first to my WordPress blog (which is the link which I will share from now on), then to Dreamwidth, then to Substack, at least until I figure out how to set up an easy transfer of my Substack followers to my WordPress blog with the ability to send out emails and gain visibility.

Another consideration is creating different income streams this year. I did not monetize my Substacks, fortunately, so that makes things much easier. I may set up a Patreon, and am looking into Kickstarter as well. Meanwhile, I’ve set up a Ko-fi (well, really, activated it) and am integrating it into my direct sales plan. I have a short story (Digital Clone Wars) and a novel available there (Federation Cowboy). More will be coming as I negotiate the narrow pathway with BookFunnel, PayPal, and Ko-fi. Buying my books there or donating, either one time or for an ongoing monthly contribution, will help a lot. Not only will this contribution go toward paying for editing and so on, but it will help with buying small horse things. Marker needs a new cinch, as well as hoof boots, so….

Straightforward link here since this old lady is still wrestling with the buttons.

So what else is going on besides major changes in platforms and wrestling with all of that stuff?

Well, Becoming Solo got booted out of the self-published novella competition on the verdict of one reviewer who openly admitted it was written in a style that didn’t work for them. That review hit hard for some reason, especially since the reviewer then turned around and posted it to Amazon. 3.8 rounded up to 4 stars, but the review itself…sigh. There are reasons not to read reviews and this situation was just one of them. Coupled with the reviews for other recent contest submissions where I get praised for writing style, then chucked out of the competition leaving the impression that it wasn’t well-written because it didn’t get past the first round….

Unlike other competitions, one drawback of these indie competitions is the visibility at all stages. People know if you’re part of the competition. Plus there’s a whole culture of freebies around them, which would be great if people went on to buy other books or request them from the library. However, I have my uncertainties about how many people actually read their free books.

I’ve already had doubts about two of the three major contests aimed at self-published authors, and my experiences this year just confirmed that I’m better off not wasting my time with them. I’m not writing what the reviewers want to reward. Rather than risk further backhanded praise with little gain, I’m directing my energy elsewhere.

What am I doing differently this year?

Well, last year I tried the weekly executive meeting with monthly summaries and weekly accountability posts. That was useful inasmuch as I identified one issue I’m having, that of needing to adjust when I write due to the seasons. During the winter I need to get out to the horses around midday because of the timing of sunset, which happens around 2:30 at the ranch. A fact of life in the mountains. But those posts contributed to my growing sensation of burnout.

Gaining the visible evidence (from my to-do tracking and the accountability posts) of the impact of the seasons on my productivity is huge. Now I can somewhat plan around seasons, regrouping on a quarterly basis.

The other thing I am doing is drafting these posts in Word, then cutting and pasting them into the WordPress blog, and going from there. I often have blog ideas while I’m out and about doing things, but if I’ve already posted for the day, I’m kinda reluctant to put up another one. So the notion drifts away and the essay doesn’t get written. I’m trying to change that situation because it feels like not getting those words out contributes to my sense of malaise.

I want to commit to a post a week, no particular day.

And finally, I’m trying to automate my promotional activities. If I don’t promote, no one buys a book. Since I’m not releasing any new work until midway through the year, I need to have sales of existing work and outreach to new readers. That means promotion. Ugh. But it’s gotta happen, so….

Getting long so that’s it for now. 2024 is a year of change.

How much change remains to be seen.

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