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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

On The Hugo Kerfuffle

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Hugonaut, by Vincent Villafranca

That is the closest I'll probably ever get to having my own Hugo Award. Above is Vincent Villafranca's Hugonaut, a lovely little bronze that is based on a piece of the Hugo base he created for LoneStarCon 3 in 2013. I purchased that at a convention art show. If it seems I'm whining that I'll probably never have one of these on my mantle, it's not out of any conspiracy theory. Frankly, I'm not getting any younger, and the odds of producing something spectacular enough to even get nominated diminishes every year. I'm not whining, as much as I'm whipping myself. I'm not producing as much as I'd like, and well, that's on me, isn't it? (I also ran the ceremony at LSC3, which has nothing to do with voting, so I hope that gets the disclaimer out of the way.) (Also, this is my own opinion. I'm part of the conrunning community, but I own what I say here, and I fully expect I'll tick off part of that community. Whether or not you agree with me, just read through to the end before you hit that "comment" button.)

Every year when the award shortlist is announced, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Yes, some deserving people don't make the cut. Some people decided to do something about it and put together their own slate and publicize the hell out of it. While I have nothing against that in principle, what does bother me is that the slate (well, two this year) came wrapped in a blanket of us-vs.-them politics. Liberal or conservative, politics ain't the way to honor deserving writers and artists. 

How do you fix this? Well, I don't know if there's an easy answer, but I'm of the opinion that this ship will right itself eventually. Let's start with a little background, for those of you unaware of how all this works.

The Hugo Awards are fan-run. Visit the link for a history of the awards and a list of nominees and winners from past years. In order to nominate, you have to have at least a supporting membership in the current, previous, or past World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). Only members of the current Worldcon can vote. A supporting membership costs around $40. It's not a terribly high bar, but it's not something one might do casually. IMO, the fee is designed partly to help fight gaming the process, but it also benefits the convention. Those things ain't cheap to run. 

If you'll look at the list of nominations over the years, you'll see that names shifted from "old school" writers and artists to newer, younger people. Well, part of that is attrition. Asimov and Heinlein aren't exactly putting out books these days. Part of that is a shift to a younger readership, and, perhaps, part of it is that the younger authors and artists are more savvy at social media.

A big complaint I've seen by the people that put together the slates is that nominations are dominated by big publishers. I see a lot of finger pointing in the direction of Tor, but if you look at nominations, they aren't the dominant publisher. I think the finger pointing is more personal at an editor or two at Tor than the publisher.

Anyway.

The big publishers have traditionally had the money and the distribution engines to get their works in front of the public better than small presses. So the average reader is more likely to have read a book from one of the Big 5 imprints than from a small press. 

This is changing. But you must consider that it took several years for self-publishing and electronic distribution of books to gain a foothold. I strongly suspect the awards are going to be running behind that curve, but they'll eventually catch up. 

And gaming the nominations for political purposes isn't going to help. It's only going to serve to drive away fans who have discovered in the last few years that they can vote for these awards.

This is sad, because politics are tearing apart the community.

Forget the SMOFs. (Well, for a moment, at least.) They're a smallish community and their influence on nominations is really a drop in the proverbial bucket. Yes, they set the rules, but like many organizations, WSFS is volunteer-run and it seems a small group of core volunteers ends up making the rules. The process for making and changing rules is convoluted. In part it's to help keep a small faction from taking over the organization. (You're not paying attention to fannish history if you don't think that's ever happened to any fan group in the past.) However, most all-volunteer organizations are run by a core group of people who are passionate about the cause or the organization, or whatever. 

What can you do?

If you vote, do what you always do. Vote (and nominate) for those who you think are the most deserving. If you don't see someone you think is deserving, or if you're unfamiliar with any of the works in a given category, there's no shame in voting for Noah Ward. (Think about it. Say it out loud.) Read up on how votes are counted (they use Aussie rules), and cast your vote to make what you hope will do the most good. (And by "good" I mean "good" by your definition.)

Get involved with conrunning at the local level. Hell, volunteer to help at Worldcon if you're going. There's nothing like seeing how the sausage gets made to make you want to either dig in and help or run away screaming. If your beef is that the same insular group of people are running things, that's not going to change until you - and others - get involved. Starting at the local level is the way to do it. But you say, those SMOFs are all old! Well, think about it for just a minute. By the time you're 50-60, your child-rearing and tuition-paying days are behind you, and you (generally speaking) have more time to travel and get involved with things. This is why the group skews to middle age and up. Get involved in the local level and work your way up. Goodness knows local cons can use a lot of help.

Seek out and promote lesser-known writers and artists on social media. You don't have to be a promotion machine (or a self-promotion machine), but no one is going to nominate someone they've never heard of. If you're a writer or artist pimping your own stuff at the start of awards season, recommend deserving candidates in other categories, or even your own. The more of us who make recommendations, the more good names will get put forward.

This is how it starts. Change doesn't happen overnight, and giving up because someone gamed the process isn't going to help. If the Hugos are to be awards of the fans and by the fans, then the fans need to take them back. It doesn't require slates, and it certainly shouldn't involve politics. 

Thanks for reading through this. Please see the comment policy if you're new here before you post a comment. And I'll be monitoring Facebook comments as well. I know a lot of people are passionate about this topic, but keep it civil. Or as we say in Texas, what would your momma think if you said that?

Tags: Writing

Filed under: Writing   Conventions   Hugos      
4/9/2015 8:05:34 AM
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Bring Back The Weekends Project: Where The Rubber Meets The Road

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


So far, my quest to reclaim my weekends has been going swimmingly. I'm less stressed. I actually can do things I'd like to do over the weekend instead of stuff people dump on me.

This weekend is where it gets tough. I have two meetings over the weekend, and only a couple of people have given me things I've repeatedly asked for. Deadline for some was yesterday. Deadline for the rest was this morning.

If you got your stuff to me by the deadline, thank you. Thank you. Did I say thank you? Because I really mean it.

For the rest, the tough part for me is going to be sticking to my principles. Do I cave and and make myself look good? Or do I show up with a sloppy presentation? It's gonna be the latter. I'm not going to name and shame. I will name and praise, and that will definitely happen this weekend.



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3/20/2015 12:44:11 PM
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Publishing Myths, Part 11: I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday...

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Ah, payment. We all like to be paid for our hard work, make no mistake. We all like to be paid on time, too. One of the more worrying trends in the publishing industry is shifting payments to a purely royalty-based system. Sometimes this includes editors and cover artists along with the writers. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, it seems. Over the last year and a half I've seen more reports of publishers with payment problems than I have in a long time. Several small publishers have gone under owing money to authors and others. Some of those have had a good reputation for payment in the past, which makes this all the more worrying.

Now there are lots of small publishers that are doing well and paying royalties on time. Obviously, those are the ones you want to try to work with. 

So what do you do? First, do your virtual legwork. What is the publisher's reputation? Have you seen any verifiable stories of late or missed payments recently? 

How are royalties calculated? When will you see your first payment, and how often after that? Will you get a statement if no royalties are due? You should be able to find these things out from most publishers.

You should also see if you can find out some details on how they hire and pay editors and cover artists. Small presses often hire those positions on a contract basis, which is not a red flag. There may not be enough work for full time positions. You don't need to know what they pay, but whether the payment is on a flat rate or hourly basis or a royalty basis. 

For me, paying staff on a royalty basis is a red flag. It suggests to me that the business is very under-capitalized. If, as a writer, you don't get paid for 90 days until after publication, then it's a fair assumption that others who work on a royalty won't get paid for 90 days, either. This is just my opinion, but editing, layout, and cover art are items that should be paid by the job (or on a salary basis) rather than payment being dependent on how well the book sells. 

And how are royalties calculated? Royalty on the net is becoming more and more common, so it's important that a publisher be absolutely transparent in how that royalty is determined. See Writer Beware's excellent write up on this for more information.

How can you protect yourself?*

As a contractor, I can tell you entering into an agreement always carries a certain amount of risk. But hey, many people with day jobs run the risk that they'll be laid off tomorrow. Nothing is free of risk. If I follow my end of the contract to the letter and the client runs into financial problems, I can get an attorney to write a Strongly Worded Letter. I can sue. But there's the old blood from a turnip thing. And it would probably cost me more money to sue than I'm owed in the first place. So I can give you some ideas, and it's up to you to decide your level of risk.

1. Get a contract. If there's a royalty payment involved, have the contract vetted by a literary agent or someone versed in publishing law. That goes double if your an author or artist assigning rights. 

1.a. If intellectual property is involved, make sure your contract explicitly sets a threshold for return of rights. It may be a set period of time or it may be a sales level. If this is a work for hire job (where the rights belong to the publisher or other entity) then that should be explicitly laid out as well. (A TV or movie tie-in book is an example of a work for hire job.) 

2. Don't be afraid to ask for something up front. You probably won't get it, but ask anyway. 

3. For editors and cover artists, try to negotiate a flat payment, due on completion of the job (also #2 above). You may be taking a risk that the payment is less than royalties turn out to be, but a payment in hand now might be uh, handy if the publisher runs into trouble down the road. 

4. Keep good records. Keep copies of contracts. Keep your invoices. Keep copies of royalty statements. If you keep all of your records electronically, make backups. Use whatever method works best for you, but just be sure you keep up with it so you know what's going on at a glance.

5. If you have to produce invoices, add a line to your invoice to reflect when payment is expected. An invoice is a bill. Your own bills have a deadline, and so should your invoices. Consider tacking on a late payment fee. This is tough to do, but that should be part of your policies that prospective clients need to know up front, and you should try to get it written into the contract. Like any item in a contract, that can be negotiated and you could waive the fee on a case-by-case basis, but you have to show that you mean business.

As yourself this: Would you go to work flippng burgers if the manager promised to pay you at the end of the week a net share of profits based on how many burgers sold? Would you go to work for a company developing a product with the promise of payment after the product started to sell? I don't know about you, but my bills won't wait that long.

Yes, there's always a risk, but do your due diligence and minimize your exposure. You can't always count on the other party following through.

Thanks for stopping by. 



*Standard Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or an accountant, and I don't play one on TV. Please seek professional advice from you know, a professional.

Tags: Publishing Myths Writing Publishing


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3/12/2015 12:58:53 PM
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Publishing Myths Series, Updated

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


About once a year I try to go back and update my Publishing Myths series. I'm kind of surprised at how well things have held up since 2009. (2011 update) (2014 update)

I've gone through and added a few updates plus rechecked and updated broken links.

There are some major trends I've noticed in the last few years:

  • Ebooks continue to gain popularity. It's also getting easier for authors to produce their own ebooks. Some of the caveats still apply. You need a good cover. (If you think you can just throw together any old art and typeface, check out the Lousy Bookcovers feed.)
  • The rise - and fall in some cases - of small publishers. I kind of figured there would be some shakeout, but some good publishers have folded or are in trouble. I have an anthology story stuck at a struggling publisher. I'm a little reticent to share details as I don't have anything solid to share. They just appear to be struggling right now. 
  • And the scammers just don't go away.

Which reminds me, I do have one more item I need to add to the series. Maybe after lunch.

But thanks for reading!

Tags: Publishing Writing  Publishing Myths

Filed under: Publishing   Writing   Publishing Myths      
3/12/2015 10:50:53 AM
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It's Friday. Have A Cat.

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett



Waiting on Slave One to get home from work so the Treating may begin.

Have a great weekend!
Tags: Pictures  Cats

Filed under: Pictures   Cats         
3/6/2015 5:36:37 PM
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Snow Day

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


03052015_3_web.jpg

Here's the album on Flickr.

Hey, we had some snow last night! And some ice.

Is it ever a snow day for people like me who work from home? Sadly, no. I have a lot to do today. More on that later...

Filed under: Weather            
3/5/2015 11:45:30 AM
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Here Comes The Snow Again...

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett



The snow has started to fall at the Manor. The forecast calls for 1-3 inches. We'll see what we get...



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2/27/2015 10:52:28 AM
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Taking My Time Back, Step One

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


If I had anything approaching a resolution for this year, it was to try to carve out more free time. My definition of a weekend seems to be "catching up on stuff people dump in my lap at the last minute." I push myself to get things finished, and then I get to work on Monday cranky and with no rest. To channel Winston Churchill, this is something up with which I shall no longer put. 

Well, this is something I've brought on myself, and I have to take the initiative and put my foot down like Bronzino's cupid crushing a comedy troupe logo.

So it starts now. If you owe me something, I need it by Friday morning. Conversely, if I owe you something, let me know ASAP so I can get it done. Chances are I've forgotten about it or I'm waiting on someone else to get me something so I can finish my thing for you. In either case, ping me and I'll let you know.

Yes, I know there are weekend meetings and previously set deadlines that must be made. That's different. What I'm talking about is getting stuff dumped on me at the last minute. As the old cliche goes, lack of planning on your part will no longer constitute an emergency on my part.

The weekend starts as soon as Paul walks in the door, or I drop everything at 5ish to start dinner. 

This is going to be hard. I'll probably twitch all weekend knowing something isn't getting done, but it's a start on carving out more time for family. And for me.


Filed under: Life            
2/26/2015 9:54:58 AM
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ConDFW Report

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Better late than never, I suppose. I spent most of last week trying to fight off the crud, and just wasn't up to writing.

This year I was a vendor as well as a program participant at ConDFW. Thursday night I checked in...and managed one of my patent pending klutzy moves, meaning I spent the weekend limping around and with a wrist in brace for most of the time. 

Friday's alternate history panel was fun, even though I had an asthma attack. Then we went down for dinner. One thing this hotel needs is some lower-priced food options in the evening.$46 before tip for two people (no alcohol) is kinda high. They did have a reasonably priced food station going during the day, and I did take advantage of it. But I really wasn't keen on leaving to go find food because the half the freeway interchange was shut down for construction. Not ConDFW's fault, but the last thing I wanted to do after a long day was to fight construction traffic.

Saturday Lorretta Morgan and I tag-teamed the Wearable Electronics panel. It went over well, and I was pleased with the response. I think the tag-team format worked well. While one of us talked, the other was passing stuff around or prepping the next part of the presentation. It kept things moving nicely. 

Sunday was the fascinator demo. I was really looking forward to that, and only a couple of people attended, which was disappointing. I hope they learned something. The Mad Hatters panel later in the day was better attended.

Sadly, the dealer room was dead. I did do well in the art show this year, but I didn't sell enough to cover my dealer table fees. My table partner got the viral stomach crud that was going around and had to back out Saturday and Sunday, which meant there were times the table was unattended. I'll give it one more year and see if it improves. When a con moves hotels attendance is generally off the first year. 

I spent last week doing a whole lot of nothing, and it was good. Well, it would have been better if I hadn't been fighting off the crud, but I can't have everything. 

Above all, it was great to see old friends, and I do hope to be back next year!

Filed under: Life            
2/23/2015 10:46:05 AM
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My ConDFW Schedule

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Forgot to post this. Pardon the typos, but I made one of my patent-pending klutzy moves last night, and I'm still waiting on the sodium naproxen to kick in. 

In addition to the programming, I'll have stuff in the Art Show, and I'll also have a table in the Dealers Room. Please stop by and say hi, and if you want to buy stuff, I won't stop you. ;-)


Friday 3 PM, Programming 2 (Madison): For Want of a Nail
Alternate history geeks talk ... you know, alternate history. 
With: Lou Antonelli (M0), Melanie Fletcher, Rie Sheridan Rose.

Saturday 11 AM in the Art Show: Demystifying Wearable Electronics
Lorretta Morgan and I will talk about how to enhance your costumes - or every day wear - with wearable electronics. We'll also show you where to find parts. Bring along your own projects to show or get troubleshooting help.
(Update: I'm told Steve Liptak will be joining us. I'm sure he'll have some awesome stuff to share.)

Sunday 11 AM in the Art Show: Easy Fascinator Fabrication
I'll be showing how to make a buckram base fascinator using items you can find at the craft store. No ordering expensive supplies or hat blocks!

Sunday 2 PM, Programming 3 (Hamilton): Screenplays for Dummies
What it says on the tin.
With: David L. Gray (M), Dan Bernardo, Teresa Patterson, Mary Gearhart-Gray

Sunday, 3 PM in the Art Show: The REAL Mad Hatters
Yes, it's the return of the mad hatters. We'll show you some hats we've made and discuss construction, sourcing, and so on. (Maybe I'll bring the Infamous Three Ferret Hat!)
With: Peggy Dee Haslbauer, Steve Liptak, Dan Bernadro, Lorretta Morgan.

See you this weekend!


Filed under: Conventions            
2/13/2015 9:27:19 AM
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