Monday, 27 January 2014

Doctor Me

Well, not quite. I'm not technically a doctor until I graduate, and the ceremony isn't 'til July (and I won't be attending, but that's a story for another time). In fact, there's still some procedural stuff to do - a few bits of paperwork, and some corrections to my thesis requested by the examiners (this is fairly normal).

But in essence, I now know that I *will* be a doctor, it's just a matter of waiting for the bit of paper. I had my viva - the face-to-face, oral final exam where a world expert in my field flies in to grill me about my ideas for two hours - on Friday. It was actually rather less scary than that makes it sound, because philosophy academics tend to be a genial sort, but there were still a few nervous moments. In the end, though, I passed solidly.

Which means I've spent the last couple of days receiving enthusiastic congratulations from everyone I speak to, followed pretty consistently by the dreaded question 'So what will you do now?'

For reference, so that no-one else needs to ask me, the answer is 'Tell people to stop asking me that question!' I've been too busy spending my brainpower on passing a doctorate to think very much about what next. What I want to do is keep going in more or less the same vein, but with my fiction writing replacing my academic activities. I have a good (if rather financially tight) day-job that I love, relatively low costs of living and quite a lot of time for my own use. The idea of getting a bigger or more serious job just to make more money isn't terribly appealing, and anyway for the next few months I'm actually going to be too busy to really pause and think through any major life choices.

That's beside my main point, though. The main thing I've found about my reaction to finishing the doctorate is that I don't like being congratulated very much. It's a very strange thing to say, I know, but it bothers me. It makes me feel like people are rather overrating the achievement.

A PhD is a big achievement. It's a long project, it requires a lot of work and a high degree of ability in a very particular skill set. That skill set is a valuable one, but it's not the be-all and end-all of value, or even of intelligence. Having a PhD is a product of having had a bookish, intellectual childhood, a couple of excellent schools, and then spending almost a decade at university. It's not some mystical pinnacle of intellectual virtue, and I hate that sometimes when I say to people that I'm doing or just finishing a doctorate, they go 'Woah'. It's not a 'Woah' thing.

I could go into a whole range of reasons why it's a bad idea to treat purely academic intelligence as that magical and out of reach, but really it comes down to the fact that it isn't out of reach. You could argue that I've been training for this for twenty years, if not always deliberately. From this end of the process, I feel quite strongly that anyone who spent twenty years on this could get my PhD (which doesn't in any way mean that very many people should spend that much time on something so obscure).

There's another problem, as well, which is that, however impressive a philosophy PhD is, I know people with PhDs in other subjects who worked far, far harder than I ever did. A very good friend of mine did his PhD in biosciences a year ahead of me, often spending ten-plus hours a day in the lab, six days a week. Every time someone congratulates me on my achievement, I think of him - and how exhausted he looked the week of his viva - and cringe a little inside.

Again, I don't want to deny that it's an achievement - that would be pretty patronising and trite in its own right - but I do hope people lose interest quickly. Maybe my perspective is skewed by living in an academic bubble for half a decade, but I really do feel like I'm being overrated, and I feel like I have to say something, or I'm being dishonest through negligence.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Pricing and Giving Things Away

When Season 2 of The Second Realm launched, I decided to try releasing it on Smashwords' 'Pay What You Like' system, where users can choose any price (even free) to pay for a book. I thought of it as a sort of 'tip jar' - it's always been my intention that The Second Realm should exist primarily to be read, not to make money, but if people wanted to give me money for it, I wasn't going to say no.

Rather dishearteningly, no-one seems to have wanted to give me money for it. Worse than that, the number of people downloading Season 2 for free is much smaller than the number of people still downloading bits of Season 1 (which has always been and will remain free). While some season 1 episodes now have over 500 downloads, the early parts of season 2 have only even been *sampled* a handful of times each.

What this suggests is that most of the people accessing Season 1 are doing so out of curiosity, and then not coming back, or being put off by the fact that you do actually have to sign up for Smashwords to get at Season 2. I'd like to think that what's happening is that rather than click through a bunch of screens on Smashwords, people are coming here and reading The Second Realm on this blog, but that seems a little optimistic.

Anyway, the really nice thing about self-publishing is that there's no great faff involved in changing something that isn't working. This experiment has gone on for fifteen months now, with no positive results and some negative, so it's time to bring it to an end. As of now, Season 2 of The Second Realm is free on Smashwords.

I'm not recommending this as a universal strategy, by the way. As I said before, the purpose of The Second Realm has always been to get people reading stories by me, not to get them paying for stories by me (I'm of the opinion that I ought to have to prove myself - through something other than a blurb and marketing - before I can expect people to pay). Trying to put a tip jar system in place has ended up creating a barrier to that purpose, so I'm getting rid of the barrier.

It will be interesting to see whether anything very much changes in the performance of season 2. Episodes of Season 1 are still being downloaded at a pretty steady rate even two years after release, so unless the episodes of Season 2 have some sort of anti-downloading plague there should be quite a significant jump, but these things are always unpredictable.

Anyway, it's now even easier to get hold of Second Realm episodes. Go to! (And I hope you enjoy ;D)

Monday, 13 January 2014

Hardcopy (*snerk*)

Okay, in a couple of weeks I won't be a student any more and won't have the excuse of a PhD to hide away from pursuing my writing career. It's time to resurrect my plan to publish hardcopy collections of The Second Realm (my mother will buy one if no-one else ;D).

Anyway, that brings me back to the question that stymied me when I was initially trying to get this organised a year and a half ago; how much additional editing should I do for the hardcopy version?

There are two problems with writing a serial like The Second Realm. First, there's the simple fact that over the run, I've improved quite a lot as a writer. Some of the early episodes seem a little bit ropey and short on characterisation as I go back over them now. The second is that, inevitably, continuity mistakes creep in here and there. Sometimes I put something in an early episode that I forgot or couldn't stick to later on (at least one minor character's gender has changed at least once).

I think all of this stuff is still eminently fixable - there are no major changes needed. The question is whether or not I should make such changes. On the one hand, I want to put out the best book I can. I want to do right by these characters who've been with me for two and a half years now (and probably more by the time I get the damn books made up - also, Christ, that's nearly a tenth of my life 0.0). On the other, it feels a bit like cheating or rewriting history.

When I was in webcomics, I actually went back to the rather ropey first few chapters of my main comic and completely redid them; a full re-write in a much more recent version of my art style. I was very glad to have done it - the results, I felt, were worth it - but lots of the webcomic people I talked to thought it was a bad idea. The general viewpoint seemed to be that it was nice to see an artist's development over the course of a project (and I must admit, this is something I've liked about the print volumes of Gunnerkrigg Court that I've got).

However, that could be because most of the people I talked to about my webcomic were also webcomic artists, with a professional interest in the art. If I'm putting together hardcopy of The Second Realm, I want to sell mainly to non-writers (because there are a lot more non-writers than writers), and also, to a certain extent, to people who haven't necessarily been following the serialisation.

Either way, I'm not sure what to do, so I'm throwing open the question. Which would you rather see? A more polished book that's a little bit of historical revision, or a warts-and-all honest transfer (which may take a bit less time to produce, too). I should probably add that I have 'bonus materials' planned for the collections as well - extra stories, maybe some deleted scenes, that sort of thing.

Let me know what you think in the comments, or anywhere else you can get in touch with me for that matter. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

So... how does this 'Blogging' thing work, again?

Last year, I made it a New Year's resolution to make 100 blog posts in 2013. That went well...

It went OK after a fashion for about the first three months of the year. I was a little bit behind by the end of March, but all that effort was actually having the desired effect - download numbers for The Second Realm showed a steady rise through that part of the year (though since the trend continued long past the point I stopped blogging, the causal link may not be as strong as I thought at the time).

The problem, though, was that I was struggling to find things to write about twice a week. Topics didn't come along in an evenly-distributed fashion. Some weeks I'd have three things I wanted to talk about, some weeks none at all, and the spare things from previous weeks ceased to be topical too quickly for me to keep up with.

And I'm not sure I was actually blogging very well anyway; a couple of times, people whose judgement I hold in very high regard told me in no uncertain terms that I was making a fool of myself. Looking back over some of the things I talked about, I think I was probably not matching my tone of writing to my choice of topic - there were times when I was flippant where I should have been more formal, and times where I was rather po-faced about silly little ideas that I'd chosen partly out of trollishness.

Anyway, for a variety of reasons my self-esteem collapsed in about April, and that made getting back into anything writing-related rather difficult. By the time I was ready to start again, the summer had come round and it was time to finish my PhD thesis and get it submitted (which there are plenty of stories about, but for another time). There was barely enough time to keep The Second Realm ticking along, let alone think about promoting it or writing other things.

I'm not repeating the mistake this year. I do intend to keep this blog going, but it'll be stuff more like this - short posts about what's going on for me, my writing and so on. Fewer rants about the publishing industry, fewer ideological screeds (though I stand by some of the positions I've taken absolutely and without reserve). I want to write about where I'm coming from in my writing, and about the things I find interesting. These are, after all, the only things I'm likely to be able to write interestingly about.

I also want to plan this less, which means approaching it without so much structure. Last year, I had a big spider diagram covered in potential blog topics, about half of which I chickened out of ever using because I couldn't find an 'angle'. Thinking too hard about topics has given me cold feet about them too often over the last three years. Actually, I could probably fill this blog purely on stories about me getting cold feet due to over thinking things...

But I'm not going to, because that would be tedious. I'll probably do some writing about anxiety (if nothing else, one of the few new things I wrote last year was a short story about anxiety, depression and aliens), but not too much. For now, I think I'm done. Thanks for coming back to me :)