Link Roundup – July 27th

Hello, all, and welcome to a new week!

This week, I am continuing to double down on Mahalia, but my main focus is clearing my schedule for the kickstarting craziness that will begin in the middle of next month. Character reveals, story line, demos, and more are on deck, and so I am completing a few projects up for clients in the meantime!

Meanwhile, here are some of my favorite links from last week:

What interesting things did you stumble across last week? What are you all reading?

Wishing you a lovely week,

M

Poll: Where do you find and buy ebooks?

Dear all –

A strange query for you today. As I look ahead in the year, I hope to learn more about how you, my readers, find and read my books. So let me know! Where do you buy, what e-readers do you use?

-M

Link Roundup!

Hello, Dear Readers!

What a week it was! Freelancing work took over the house, my husband returned from a weeks-long business trip (the puppy is over the moon happy, as you might expect – there are double the people to adore him), and I am currently beating the Mahalia draft into submission with a large bat. …I mean, I’m crafting it carefully out of well-picked words.

I tell you, sometimes writing feels like finding one’s way around a swamp, blindfolded. Ah, well. I’ll let you all know when there are beta opportunities!

In the meantime, here’s a round up of the most interesting things I read on the web last week. What were your favorite news stories, geeky or otherwise?

One last thing – we are still looking to gain support for our Thunderclap, and there are only a few days to go! If you think this is something your friends would like to hear about, you can sign up HERE!

-M

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5 Writing Lessons I Learned Ghostwriting for New York Times Bestsellers – a very interesting look into what makes a winning manuscript

The ESA wants to build a village on the moon – and I want to go

Video of the earth opening and closing during the 2011 earthquake in Japan – terrifying, but also incredibly interesting

A rundown of folk music themes from around the globe – I may have snorted beer up my nose reading this, and it was still worth it

Things Could Be Worse mugs – because who doesn’t want blue-and-white old school willow mugs … with rampaging robots, cthulhu, and alien invasions on them? (Answer: no one.)

“The Expanse is the show we’ve been wanting since BSG” – from iO9. Pretty psyched! Any book fans want to weigh in?

Caramelized peach and lavender scones – in case you want to throw up your hands, ignore your life problems for an hour or two, and have delicious baked goods. Sounds like a good plan to me, in any case.

In case you missed the New Horizons news last week, it completed a flyby of Pluto and took some jaw-dropping pictures. Or it might be an Illuminati plot. You know, one or the other.

…and a lovely quote to send you off into your week!

change your life

Writing Full Time: How I Did It

Recently, as you know, I took a step that terrifies me: I quit my 9-5 job, and to write full time (both for myself, and freelancing). Now each morning, I am in my little home office, surrounded by my notebooks, a steaming cup of tea beside me, and I feel the anticipation of being at the top of the roller coaster, in that exquisitely tailored pause before the cart goes hurtling down a hill.

So how did this happen? Did I get lucky?

Yes and no. When people ask me if I know how lucky I am, I can’t help but think, yes, but not in the way you mean. I was born without health complications that would keep me from writing as much as I do, I was born to a family affluent enough that I did not need to take care of younger siblings or get a job to help support us, I was born to a family that highly valued reading and education – and I am very, very sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg. So as it happens, yes, my success in writing can be attributed to a great deal of luck.

But if you mean, as I think most people do, that luck is responsible for what success I have had… I would have to say that, too, is an incorrect assumption. What I did was actually not all that special, and so what I would tell you is twofold:

  1. Success in any endeavor is often the result of luck, and those who succeed over the long term often do so by deliberately or inadvertently doing things that place them in the way of good luck; and
  2. In writing, as in everything else, this can be learned and achieved. Above all, continue to show up, continue to strive for quality, and make your books easy to find.
  3. The secret third thing is, don’t be a dick. We’ll come back to this at the end.

Let’s break this down.

Continue to show up. You’ve probably gone onto Amazon or a similar site at some point and seen “new releases.” In fact, that’s often how media is sold: what’s new, what’s just been released, what’s suddenly interesting to the public. What this means is that websites are primed to show off what’s new. And what is new, of course, is your new book. No, not the last one you wrote – the one you’re writing now. If you aren’t writing one now, go do your inspiration thing, be it running or reading or watching movies or digging through old Popular Science magazines, until you are struck with inspiration, and then start working again. Unlike other advertising, which you must pay for, a new book is an automatic boost to the old ones, and it’s like advertising that pays you. Which, I mean, is kind of the best thing ever.

But Moira, I just wrote a book… And now, if you want to keep being a writer, you must write more things. Indeed, if you are a writer, I promise that you will write more things. In fact, scratch what I said above about books. It doesn’t need to be books. Learn to listen for that little spark of inspiration and nurture it, allow yourself to daydream, and try to capture it. Writing exercises, short stories, mimicking style – write anything and everything you wish. What you can’t do anymore is allow your fear of failure to keep you from writing the next book that’s inside you. I know, the reception to the last book wasn’t quite as glowing as you hoped, and you’re worried that what comes next might be complete failure. That feeling, unfortunately, isn’t going to go away, so you might as well learn to write around it now. (Sorry. No one warns you about that one.)

It’s as simple as this: at any moment, the person who turns one of your books into a bestseller could stumble onto them. That person might not even know what it is they’re doing. They read the book, they like the book, they tell a few friends – the right friends, the friends who also like the book and tell their friends, and… But none of that is going to happen if there isn’t a book for them to stumble onto. And furthermore, your chances of them stumbling onto it are markedly higher if you have multiple books, any one of which might be that bestseller or which might lead them to that bestseller.

Continue to strive for quality. Getting better at writing is pretty much inevitable. As you continue to write, you will continue to grow in your writing. However, writing is a lot like running. Let me explain: when I began running, even going half a mile made me feel like I was going to throw up. Gradually, as I kept going to the point of wanting to throw up, that feeling receded. Now, even if I haven’t run in a couple of weeks, I can lace up my sneakers and run a 5k. Writing is similar: only by forging through the undergrowth and swampy recesses of unfinished drafts can you uncover the stamina and courage to keep doing that. It does take courage. Make no mistake about that. Also, however: you can do it. And if you strive for quality each time, you will do it, and your books will be better.

Make your books easy to find. Make it as easy as you can for people to stumble onto your books. Website, facebook, twitter, tumblr, heck, even instagram. Be there. And that leads us to the final point.

Don’t be a dick. Don’t be that person who does the tech equivalent of crashing through someone’s living room window, screaming, “buy my book!” Just don’t. Don’t do it. And don’t be that person who takes readers to task for not liking your book. That one’s also bad. In fact, it’s this simple: behave like a reader when you’re online. You like reading, watching shows, tap dancing, rock climbing, whatever – be that person. Don’t be a brand. …and don’t be a dick.

Can I guarantee you success in writing if you follow the steps above? I really can’t. Can I say that I whole-heartedly believe this is the best, surest way to success? I can. Go take the world by storm, authors! I believe in you. And as always, email me if you want to talk more about any of this.

-M

“Go Set a Watchman” & Reader Ownership of Characters

Today, the sequel to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been released. After the controversy, in which many alleged that Lee did not even wish to release Watchman, there has sprung up a new controversy entirely, over the identity of Atticus Finch.

Those who do not want to be spoiled on the novel should stop reading – and also probably not go on Facebook or read the NYTimes. This stuff is everywhere.

Still with me? Good. Atticus Finch is now…well, violently racist. Attends KKK meetings, rants to his daughter about desegregation, the whole nine yards. And this is causing some legitimate grief in the reader community. Finch has inspired generations to stand against injustice. Many say they attended law school because of him. How many, now, are braver and stronger people because they read “To Kill a Mockingbird”? And, to be frank, do they have a right to feel betrayed that Finch’s character is so changed in “Go Set a Watchman”?

No, and yes, and no again. The characters come from Lee. She created them, and their evolution is up to her. She is the final arbiter of how Atticus Finch changes over the course of his lifetime. And yet, at the same time, Finch has become a cultural force beyond Lee – because that is how art works. Art is not created in a vacuum of the creator and the work itself, it is created with the intent of being viewed, and of sparking something in the viewer’s soul. In this, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was wildly successful. Readers do not own Atticus Finch and his views in the way Lee does…but they own the cultural moment he sparked.

And yet again, we see the betrayal that comes from the fall of a hero. Those who are set on a pedestal often “fail” us, given none of the privacy that we would have to indulge in weakness, fear, cowardice, and greed. Because Atticus Finch is now so racist, we feel that our own bravery and pursuit of justice was built on a lie.

And that, dear readers, is up to us to fix. Characters can be an inspiration, and yet be terribly flawed. Characters can be an inspiration, and later act in ways we hope we never do. We are still the people we became because of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and we have the choice to remain those people no matter what occurs in “Go Set a Watchman.”

Yes, sometimes our heroes fail us. But isn’t the point of heroes to inspire us to be heroes ourselves?

-M

Writing Full Time: Early Lessons

champagne

Hello, Dear Readers!

As many of you know, I recently began writing full time, with a combination of freelance writing projects and my own work. It was an incredible opportunity, and I am so lucky to have gotten it. I know that many of you here are also hoping to be full-time writers, and I’m working on expanding the A to Z of Indie Writing to include my path to this – because it is doable. I swear. I hope to survey other authors so that you have an idea of how varied the path is for everyone.

We’re coming up on one month already, which doesn’t seem possible, but I did the math and there we are. So here, without further ado, are some of the best lessons I’ve learned and had passed along to me:

  • Do your own writing first. Or whenever your peak productivity is. If you’re splitting between freelancing and your work, do yours first.
  • You can only do so much. Actually a surprise. I thought I could work 15 hours per day, 7 days per week. But as it happens, that’s a LOT of writing. You’ll run out of brain if you try that. So, you know, take up a hobby. And don’t overbook.
  • Anything you do right now, you don’t have to do later. This is the only rule of freelancing, really. If you do it now, you don’t have to worry about getting it done. You don’t have to stress about it. You don’t have to keep slogging away. What will you do when you get done with it? I don’t know, but get it off your plate, even if it’s a job you want to be doing.
  • You’re going to have to try a few different schedules. I had a grand plan, which was to work on my own work until I burned out for the day, do some chore around the house, work on a client project, take the dog for a walk, work on another client project… And so on. And it turns out that that just doesn’t work for me. Since then I’ve pinpointed that focusing on one thing per day gets me much further, but I’m still trying to figure out how to structure breaks.
  • For reasons that won’t be apparent, you will occasionally discard all lessons you have learned and do things with wild inefficiency. Remember when I figured out that I need downtime and I should work on one project per day? Yeah. Remember when I inexplicably threw that lesson out the window last week? Yeah… Why? No idea. My brain is a mystery to me. You’ll probably do this, too.

Are any of you freelancers? How do you schedule your days? What would you like to share?

-M

 

 

Letting Go: Creating a Player-Driven Story

Dear readers,

This is cross-posted from the Abyssal Arts blog. As many of you know, we will be kickstarting City of the Shroud in August, and we are beyond thrilled with how the game looks, feels, and plays – it is like nothing we’ve played before, and one of the single coolest parts is the story. As an author, it has been incredibly fun to create a story that is truly a collaborative venture. I hope you’ll fall in love with Iskendrun the way I have, and follow along as we release City of the Shroud episode by episode!

M

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When we set out to make City of the Shroud, we found ourselves coming up against all of the issues we expected with funding…and one advantage we hadn’t seen coming. Games, I’m sure you’re aware, are a multibillion dollar industry. The big houses, the ones with teams numbering in the hundreds and thousands, have a great deal of potential income tied up in their projects—income their parent companies have already counted on, in some cases, and income their investors have contributed in others. Like movies, games can and do flop, with a LOT of money lost in the process. And something like this…well, it’s risky. It makes investors wary.

All of this meant that we had a considerable and unexpected advantage. Because, you know, we had no investors to make wary.

Ahem. In any case, we had plenty of freedom to do whatever we wanted with the story. We knew that we wanted to make the story responsive to the players, but how? There were games we loved that had many possible conclusions, such as Way of the Samurai. In Mass Effect, there were many different ways to reach the conclusion. In Dragon Age, both the conclusion and the “after the game” portions could be different depending on how you played.

But that had been done already, and quite well. We wanted to take it farther, stretch the medium to the very limits of what was possible. What if, we asked ourselves, the players themselves had a role in shaping the course of the story? What if, instead of us watching how they reacted to predetermined events, their reactions had a ripple effect on the story? After all, as a figure of some importance in this world, wouldn’t the player’s actions have considerable weight with the NPCs? To take it further, could the players themselves, working as a team, figure out who their true enemies were?

Once we had the idea in our heads, we couldn’t let it go. How could players shape the story when we alone knew who the true villain was, and what they were angling to have happen? We knew we didn’t want a never-ending plot of twists and turns. We wanted limits, an endpoint, a final battle. We broke down what we had for quests. What if, instead of being sent to fetch, or steal, or raid, the players could choose from options of what to fetch, whom to steal from, and where to raid? What if the faction leader with whom they were allied asked for their opinions?

And with that, the players became not only one leader, a hero rising up through Iskendrun’s ranks to protect the city during a desperate time, but the entire populace of Iskendrun itself. The players were now the mob. As each segment of the story drew to a close, we could tally their suspicions, their alliances, and their defections, if necessary unbalancing the city’s carefully-held ceasefire into chaos. Did a certain faction wish to stand alone, or change alliances? Did the city guard wish to raid Omar’s den, and did Omar wish to steal desperately-needed supplies from the priests? Every choice would be counted.

And, as in a city itself, news could spread—via the player forums, our players could compare notes, create strategies, and fight back against their puppetmasters (er, kind game developers, that would be). Bits of information leaked by one faction leader could be spread, votes could be tallied to extend offers of friendship from one faction leader to another. Mass defections could ensue. Whatever we threw at them, the players could fight back, every time having the chance to unlock Iskendrun’s secrets.

As we work feverishly towards launch, we are creating Iskendrun…that is, the Iskendrun we will begin with. By the time the story arc concludes, we will have reached the showdown in a way we could never have imagined, with the player base animating the entire city of Iskendrun. The faction dynamics, begun in the history we created between the leaders, will have evolved to spring from players’ deductions on the trustworthiness of their allies, from their willingness to share information and form alliances…or withhold what might fall into the wrong hands.

To be geeky for a moment? We can’t wait to see what happens.

Novels to Video Games: Taking the Leap

This post was originally published over at Abyssal Arts, where I am collaborating on world and story design for an upcoming game. If you haven’t yet done so, I encourage you to head on over HERE and sign up for updates – more story pieces will be released as our release date nears later this year!

-M

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Pick up a book on writing novels, and a significant number of chapters will be devoted to writing the character arc and pairing it with your world. Protagonist and world (or plot) will in a sense be foils, both uniquely suited to the other and diametrically opposed. The world and the protagonist play off of one another, leading the protagonist to struggle, fail, learn, and ultimately conquer. However clinical it may sound, I can assure you that as one gets down into the guts of the story, working out this interplay can be exquisitely frustrating,

Still, when Keaton White approached me about writing the story for Shroud, I felt confident. I had written characters from bored noblewomen to scientific researchers to trainee assassins—and I love video games. I began building a story with, in retrospect, a comical level of naiveté.

One of the first unexpected emotions to hit was guilt. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman once described visiting the set of the movie Stardust, and seeing the set crew building a flying pirate ship:

“I felt so guilty. I wasn’t saying how great it was; I was going, “I am so sorry I made it up!” Because it didn’t cost me anything, just the price of whatever tea I was drinking and some ink. And now 70 people have spent two months working to build this thing and you can dance on the deck. It was very, very strange.

I first read this quote years and years go, and thought it was amusing, but it really was very strange to dream up cities and settings, and watch artists spend hours upon hours creating sketches, coming humbly back to me to ask if this was what I had envisioned for the characters and the world. No matter how much they enjoyed their work or how much time they expected to spend working on a world, the experience was a wakeup call: I was no longer chewing on the end of a pen, sitting alone at my desk and dreaming up things I could change at a moment’s notice. Other people’s livelihoods hinged on me not only getting this right and creating an engaging world, but being respectful of their time meant that I must do so quickly and surely, with a minimum of rework. I went back to dreaming, but more seriously.

As I started to write the character, issues became plain: not only did I need to make a character arc largely without internal dialogue, but I needed to show the character in juxtaposition to the world without a great deal of external dialogue, either. This was an idea I had simply never faced before. The world would be shown as it was, not as my character perceived it, and my character’s main actions would need to be comprehensible, while allowing for the characters to feel they had an influence on the story. Oh, crap, would be a good assessment—if not quite a verbatim transcript—of my internal dialogue at this juncture.

And this was before we added in the game mechanics, cut scene limitations, and the opinions of the other game designers. Necessary changes began to accrue, shifting the storyline subtly in an increasing number of ways. I gave up and went to play Dragon Age, which only served to unnerve me even more. Dialogue wheels! Extensive character lists! Multiple writers!

It took a few weeks to click, but when it did we went full steam ahead…in the other direction. In retrospect, maybe this approach should have been obvious from the start: with one writer, there was no way we could recreate the vastness of a AAA game like Mass Effect, using dialogue options and motion-capture. Although it was obvious, as well, that we should not have thought of that as a failure: after all, Thatgamecompany had shown with Journey that it was entirely possible to create an outstanding game and a rich story by working within limitations instead of pushing for things that were not possible.

We considered what we had, and what we could do. Limited dialogue? Well, how about almost none at all? After all, video games are fundamentally directed by actions. Characters could mostly silent and still reflect the feelings of the player, if they were allowed outlets to choose their antagonists in quests, switch alliances, and suggest new ones. Our protagonist, being an outsider to the complex and vicious politics of Iskendrun, would naturally take time to become vocal, with much of their character shown in their choice of allies.

Just like structuring character development along the lines of action was an obvious choice in retrospect, writing these choices is infinitely easier in concept than it is in practice. As a novelist, there is the expectation that as soon as the work is out of one’s hands, readers will bring their own perspective to it. It is a new perspective entirely to plan for the engagement of the players to be ongoing, and to prepare for the possibility that it could shift the story in directions I had not originally planned—because once Season 1 begins, the players themselves will be the voice of Iskendrun’s politics. And that means setting them loose in the world our development team has brought to life…and letting the mechanics I set in advance play out.

Z is for Zealous

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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Rounding out the blogging challenge this month with Z for Zealous – or in other words, about as good a description of authors as I’ve ever met. No matter how difficult, authors continue on their course with joy and, well, zeal. Today, I want to celebrate a few things about you all, because I’ve never met one of you that didn’t impress the hell out of me. So let’s talk! Let’s talk about your:

  • Energy: human limits? What human limits? The sheer amount that any author handles on a daily basis is pretty incredible. I’m seeing authors writing on lunch breaks, on buses, while waiting to pick their kids up from school. I’m seeing people get up early to respond to fans on twitter, staying up late to incorporate editor feedback, ,and reading extensively to tweak listings. Always improving, always producing. Where the energy comes from, I don’t know.
  • Perseverance: Writing is hard. Authors try to turn a mirror on the core of the soul, and even the happy parts of that lie deep below the skin, difficult to see and difficult to bare to the world. Even were we to strip away the emotions, the craft itself is difficult. How long have we stared at manuscripts, searching for a word or wondering why no words seemed adequate? Writing is hard. But authors persevere.
  • Generosity: I have never met a single author who didn’t try to help me out if I asked – and sometimes even if I didn’t! I have seen people be snide with one another, it’s true, and go head to head about everything from book pricing to editing – but every author I’ve met has also been generous with their time, wisdom, and moral support.
  • Creativity: a no-brainer, right? And yet, it remains truly inspiring to watch. Authors spin tales out of memories and air, and let’s be honest, we could read them all day and still look for more books. Where it comes from, I don’t know, but these people are pretty cool. (See also: musicians, painters, sculptors, teachers, and so many more!)

So give yourself a pat on the back today, authors – and fans, go track down one of your faves and give a Like on Facebook, or a shout-out on Twitter (since authors are usually fans, this one applies to you all, too). Remember just how cool it is that storytelling is a thing, and that we get to take part in it. Remember how important it is, and how deep an impact writing and reading have had on your life – and be proud that you are part of a tradition that goes back so far into our history. Z is for Zealous, fellow authors, and you are nothing if not that.

Cheers!

-M

Y is for Yarrrrr …

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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Yarrrrr, piracy! Okay, to be serious for just a moment here, today’s topic is something that gets a lot of authors hopping mad (or sad), so I’m going to try to approach it with some gentleness as well as my usual…whatever it is. However, and I’ll be up front about this, my goal for today is to get you to take DRM off your books, and then deal with piracy the same way you deal with bad reviews: maybe have a good cry, cool down with some tea, go running or knit a bit or whatever it is you do to decompress, and move on with your life.

The thing about piracy, unfortunately, is that you have zero ways to prevent it beyond not writing and distributing books. However, fortunately, you have many options for how to feel about it. Because let’s be honest, initially it feels pretty terrible to see your work on pirating sites. And, yes, the internet does make it easier to pirate books, in connectivity and in bulk. It’s not like you’d have much luck leaving a note on a street corner saying, “if you have a copy of X…” It’s indubitably easier now to get copies of books you didn’t pay for. And so we look at internet piracy and we think, “I’m going to put that DRM stuff on my books because I don’t want people to steal them.”

But there’s a few problems with this. First, putting DRM on your books means you’re really treating everyone who buys them like they might be criminals, which is just rude, and it also creates some snags for people who want to shop on one site but read on a different e-reader, etc. Also, and this is important, the internet didn’t invent piracy, and the internet isn’t responsible for making it possible. If piracy means, “reading books without paying for them,” or, “buying books without giving the author a cut,” then libraries and used bookstores invented piracy. And librarians and bookstore owners both make a living from this, but we don’t call it piracy, and we don’t get angry about it.

Why not? Three reasons: first of all, we believe that (used) bookstores and libraries serve a greater public good; second, both libraries and used bookstores were part of the implicit contract when the author got published; and third, neither of these things makes use of a new technology. The first reason is, in my opinion, indubitably true, the second is something we should use to ground our reactions against piracy instead of inflate them, and the third is an unfortunate truth about how our minds work, wherein we get upset about new technology doing the same things humans always do.

Now, emphatically, my point today is not to defend piracy. Authors need to eat, too, and so do musicians and editors and cover artists and…and when you say Stephen King doesn’t need any more money, well, while he indisputably makes a handsome chunk of it, some of that money also goes to pay the rest of the people working on his books. Absolutely make use of your public libraries and your bookstores. Support your libraries! They provide a truly incalculable public service, and our society is far better for having them. I read voraciously as a child, and that is something my parents could afford because we had libraries and used bookstores in the mix. However, if you have the funds and you enjoy an author’s work, please consider buying copies. If you have the funds, please buy new, not used, copies of books and kick some royalties back to the authors. Thus ends my plea to give money to people who produce the things you love.

So, no, my point here is not that piracy is great. My point is that authors have a choice:

  • You can look at piracy, gnash your teeth, and then throw your hands up in the air and say, “sweet mother of krakens, I wish people wouldn’t do that, I spent a CRAPLOAD of time on that book,” and then go take a run or watch a movie or something, OR
  • You can look at piracy, gnash your teeth, put DRM on your books, and drive your blood pressure through the roof as you research ways to get your content taken down off of piracy sites, and otherwise spend time obsessing over it

Now, just to get the straw man arguments out of the way …

  • Stealing someone’s book and putting it back up for sale on a website as your own is NOT piracy, it is copyright infringement. Also bad, but a different problem
  • If you’re thinking, “but DRM seems reasonable,” please remember that DRM slows down the piracy effort by around a half an hour tops, and then read this comic

Yes, piracy sucks. No, I can’t make it any better that people read your book and then return it on ebook sites, or that they download it without paying you. I know that feels just terrible and unfair. What I will say, however, is that you can choose how to feel about it – mostly, you can choose whether you think about it or not. Almost anything under the sun that’s made, people will steal. This is not your target market. Your target market is the vast bulk of people who will pay for books in the genres they love, from authors who do good work. Aim for them, and for the sake of your blood pressure, let the rest go.

-M