Indie Publishing and “Yog’s Law”: a Blast from the Past

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Back in the days of GEnie, an online service run by General Electric (thus the quirky capitalization) and before the spread of the Internet*, there was an SFRT (Science Fiction Round Table). By the time I had joined, the Science Fiction Roundtable had expanded beyond the one board to three:  SFRT, SFRT2, and SFRT3.

One of the sysops of the SFRT boards had the online handle of “Yog Sysop” (since then, he’s become one of the founders of sff.net, an online discussion group, web, and email host). He formulate what became known as “Yog’s law” which states “Money flows toward the writer”. An alternate formulation was “the only place a writer signs a check is on the back.” This was in the long-ago before the rise of indie and self publishing, of course, when traditional publishing was essentially the only game in town.

That rule was the way to differentiate between “legitimate” publications and vanity or outright scam “publications.”

Today, of course, it’s not so simple. Nevertheless, as a writer I try to adhere as closely to it as possible. After all, the idea is to makemoney writing, not spend it.

One of the things I’m trying to do with this “indie” thing is bootstrap my way up. Being incredibly insecure (what? You’ve never heard of an insecure writer before?) I’m really reluctant to spend much of my own money in prepping and publishing a work. Time? Well, I already spend time in writing the thing in the first place, but money? Money that I could use to do things like buy bacon? That, I’m more reluctant to spend.

So I started with a very small budget, basically $15 spent for Dreamstime credits most of which I used for the image for the cover for Live to Tell.

I was actually concerned that the $15 I allocated for cover art would be a write-off.  I’d sink that money and never recoup it.

Did I mention insecurity?

However, the insecurity turned out to be unjustified.  Initial sales of “Live to Tell” gave me enough accrued royalties that, even though they hadn’t reached a level to be paid out yet, were enough that I felt comfortable spending a bit more money (less than the accrued royalties) for more Dreamstime credits to get more cover art.  And so I paid a little more money for cover art for “EMT” and “FTI:  Beginnings.”**

Hopefully, I’ll continue to make sales, and be able to hire someone for things like professional editing, buying my own ISBN’s, or more tools for preparation so I can wean myself away from Smashwords. But I want to, if at all possible, pay for these things out of money made by earlier work so that, on net, I’ll follow Yog’s Law: Money flows towards the writer.

I may have to take off the writer hat from time to time, and put on the publisher hat.  And publishers, of course, pay for things.  But in the end, when you add up the ingo and outgo, the net flow of money must be towad the writer–me.

If that isn’t how it works out then I’m doing something very wrong indeed.

*The Internet existed, certainly, but it was, at that point, largely limited to the government and large schools.  Widespread access via various Internet Service Providers was still in the future.

**Those were the stories I had ready as of the first writing of this.  There have been others since then, not as many as I might like because I am not a fast writer but, see sidebar.

On this Memorial Day

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FLANDERS FIELDS
BY JOHN MCCRAE

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


To absent friends.

No, I do not Advocate Mandatory Vaccination.

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People have been criticizing me what they think is my position in favor of mandatory vaccination (whether for Winnie the Flu or other things).  That, however, is not my position.  Never has been.  I can see that folk calling for such have some valid points to make while still disagreeing with the conclusion.

Let me explain in more detail.

People should vaccinate, not just to protect themselves but to protect everyone around them. I’ve gone over that multiple times.  This does not, by itself, imply a government mandate but is just damn good advice. Indeed, anyone who can should be vaccinated against pretty much everything for which they are at all likely to come in contact.

Just because something’s a good idea, does not mean that government should force people to comply.  Like the joke: “Socialism, an idea so good it has to be forced on people at gunpoint.”

One of the keys there about vaccinating is “who can”. Some people can’t take certain vaccines because they have serious reactions to some component of it. (This is not as common as the Jenny McCarthy’s of the world would have you think and Wakefield lied about the autism thing, but it is, nevertheless a real thing for some people.  I do, however, know somebody in that situation, who suffers life-threatening reactions to the Pertussis vaccine.) The only way those people can be protected is to avoid exposure to the disease.

This is where “others around you” comes into play. When someone gets sick, they tend to “share the joy” with folk around them. In some cases that can be someone who can’t vaccinate against that particular illness (my friend when it comes to Pertussis). It can also include children who haven’t yet had their full course of vaccinations, folk who are immunocompromised and get sick easily even if vaccinated (again, personal knowledge of a person in this situation), or folk who are just unlucky and are the ones for whom the vaccine just happened to fail in there case. Nobody but anti-vaxers of the “if your vaccinated, then why should you care if…” type claim that vaccines are 100% effective. Sometimes, for some people, it just doesn’t work.  (And for this one I’m the person:  measles vaccine failed on me and I ended up getting measles.  Not the worst week in my life but right up there.)

Being sick is a cost. Even if you never miss a day of work, or a lose a dollar of pay, it’s still a cost. The key is, if you would pay to get make it go away (something called a “bad” on the first day of my Intro to Microeconomics class back in college–whereas a “good” is something you will pay to acquire) then it’s a cost. I don’t know about you, but I would pay to make the miserable symptoms of being sick go away.

Now, in economics there are internal and external costs. An “internal cost” is one a person directly involved in a transaction incur. If you don’t vaccinate and get sick, the “cost” of being sick is an internal cost, one you imposed on yourself by your choice. The person involved in the “transaction” of not vaccinating incurs that cost. Well, they made their choice and they can live (or not) with it. So far, so good.

Now, external costs. (This is a bit more advanced topic. I don’t think I it was covered in Intro to Microeconomics back in college and it took until I encountered Sowell and Friedman that I really started to “get” it.)

External costs are costs imposed on third parties, not party to the transaction. If you have a barbecue and throw your trash in your neighbor’s yard, he has the cost of cleaning it up as well as the reduced enjoyment he has of his own property until it is cleaned up. That’s a cost you would have imposed on your neighbor who is not a party to the “transaction” of your barbecue. (Now, if you invite him over to the barbecue and throwing trash into his yard is part of the deal, that’s now an internal cost and all is well, at least to that extent; we won’t go into other neighbors whose enjoyment of their own property is reduced because you’ve created an unsightly mess over there.

External costs are often subject to legal remedies. Throw your trash over in a neighbor’s yard and refuse to both clean it up and cease doing it and he can sue you. Break someone’s window while playing softball. And so on.

Now, in these cases it’s generally fairly easy to determine who imposed the “external cost” on whom. There might be some arguing on the magnitude of the cost. (You and your neighbor will likely disagree about the value of the lost enjoyment of his property from your trash.) But in general it’s fairly straightforward.

Now consider someone who’s ill infecting others. If you have a single “Typhoid Mary” infecting a lot of people, that’s one thing. In such cases the person can be identified and censured, perhaps held liable for what they’ve done to others. But what about a lot of people who could be of much reduced likelihood to infect others but choose action or inaction that gives them a higher chance of doing so. In most cases particularly when talking about something like vaccinated or not, each individual has a relatively small “expectation value” of cost imposed. (“Expectation value” is the magnitude of something that can happen multiplied by the probability of its happening. If you got a dime every time a fair flipped coin came up “heads”, the expectation value on a flip would be five cents.) However, when you start talking about larger populations, those small “expectation values” add up, particularly since the combination is not linear.

People who don’t vaccinate, as a group, impose a cost on other people, people who do choose to vaccinate. That’s an external cost, one that those making the decision don’t have to pay and yet which is imposed on people who had no part in the decision.

The point of all that is that the argument about those external costs, imposed on folk who had no say in the decisions that led to them is a valid one. In theory at least, it makes a case for some kind of government action (not a comprehensive list):

  1. One could hold those who impose the external costs liable for the costs imposed on others and require them to make restitution.
  2. One would be a kind of insurance/risk sharing. Folk who choose not to vaccinate would pay a small fee for each vaccine of a “standard list” foregone. If they have legitimate medical reasons to avoid that vaccine (documentable allergies to specific components for instance), the fee could perhaps be waived for that specific allergy. This fee would be aggregated and used to compensate those who do choose to vaccinate, or who cannot (including those with those documentable allergies), or are too young to have the full course should they fall ill to an illness against which they are not yet vaccinated.
  3. One could be simply to mandate vaccination to a standard list (exempting those with specific issues with specific vaccines as above) .

HOWEVER, Each of those has severe problems:

  1. How do you determine which unvaccinated person infected (imposed external costs on) which other person fell ill despite doing their best to vaccinate? I ran into a “screw you; I can do what” I want type of “Libertarian” when asked if he’d be willing to take responsibility for other people catching the disease he could have been vaccinated against responded “sure, if you can prove that I did it.” That, right there, sums up the problem. How do you “prove” to even a “preponderance of evidence” let alone “beyond a reasonable doubt” that this particular individual was the specific one who infected that particular individual?
  2. This is not too dissimilar to what Friedman recommended for dealing with polluting industries. Charge an “effluent fee” to cover the “external costs” that their pollutants impose on others. However, the problem I see is that the government does a very bad job of making fees it charges match the actual “cost” of what it’s being charged for. Fees rapidly shift to “money grab” with the value set to “all the traffic will bear” (until it becomes politically unprofitable to raise them higher).
  3. Government mandates, in addition to the simple moral problem of “how many people are you willing to kill to make this happen” (which all laws come down to in the end), tend to lead to cookie cutter “one size fits all” solutions. Well, people are not the same and one size does not fit all.

Every one of those is s deal breaker as far as I’m concerned. Every. Single. One.

Those can all be summed up in Sowell’s oft used expression: “Just because government can do better than the market in some areas doesn’t mean that it will.” And while I don’t recall Friedman expressing it that way, his book “Free to Choose” is filled with examples of the principle even if not explicitly stated that way.
So, there are valid arguments to be made in favor of something like mandating vaccines, but the problems attendant on them so outweigh them that I still fall on the “no mandatory vaccines” side.

That does not mean that I can’t recognize, and acknowledge the validity of those “pro-mandate” points. Indeed, I must if I’m going to be intellectually honest. So the argument is “well, you do have a point there, yes, but I think these other factors loom larger and take precedence over it.”

Or, as I am wont to say “There is no problem so bad that government can’t make it worse.”

Happy (Or not, as you prefer) World Goth Day

Normally I do these in the evening, but for today I’ll post early.

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For those unfamiliar, here’s a brief history of Goths, the Gothic subculture and why “Goth”  even though they, we, were nowhere about when Rome was being sacked. (I’ve got an alibi!)

And some pictures of Goths, being Goth (what can I say, I like couples):

If this interests you, Toxic Tears has some tips on getting started:

Winnie the Flu and Mandatory Vaccines.

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So there was this:

https://video.foxnews.com/v/embed.js?id=6158135199001&w=466&h=263

In this Adam Dershowitz warned that if a Coronavirus vaccine becomes available, it could be mandatory.

I admit to having very mixed feelings on this.  Readers of this blog should know my position of vaccination (Vaccinate your kids, people).  On the other hand, readers of this blog should also know my position on the use of the coercive power of government (I’m agin’ it; a few exceptions but outside that pretty much always).  Still, there is an argument to be made.

Public health is the very epitome of what economist call “External costs” or “neighborhood effects” (basically, where your choices affect not just you but everyone around you and it’s hard to tie the specific “cost” imposed on one person to the specific person imposing that cost). Not just costs but there’s also “external benefits”–where folk other than those directly involved in an economic transaction benefit from it. If something has significant external costs (the commonly used example is pollution, but spreading of illness also works), you’ll have more of it than if the costs were fully paid by those involved. Likewise, if something has external benefits, you’ll have less of it than if the benefits were fully realized by those involved.

Even quite libertarian folk like economists Thomas Sowell and the late Milton Friedman recognize that in such cases a government approach can improve on the free market. Friedman’s example was to use an “effluent fee” to be paid by businesses for waste discharge–“X dollars paid for every ton of Y pollutant”–thus internalizing the external costs.

Sowell, however, is quick to point out (perhaps Friedman did as well, but I don’t recall an example offhand) that just because government can improve on the market in such situations doesn’t mean that it will.  There are very few situations so bad that “well-intentioned” government intervention can’t make them worse.

Thus, I am…uncertain of the best course to chart here.  If there were some way to make folk who choose not to vaccinate responsible for any harm caused to others (see previous posts on why “if you trust vaccines…” is not a valid response to that), then I’d be all for letting people make their own choices.  Absent that, I don’t know.

Nowhere is it writ that I will always have a pat answer for any problem that comes up.

Tekhag Means War, a Snippet

From a new work in progress:

TEKHAG MEANS WAR
by
David L. Burkhead

Smoke rose in thick black plumes from beyond a low ridge of hills.  The breeze carried on it the scent of ash and burned meat.  Elara, queen of the elves of Greenwood, also called Talen in the old tongue, turned in her saddle and raised a questioning eyebrow at Witharin, Court Wizard and her closest advisor.

Witharin shook his head, his lips pressed together in a grim line. “Telaris, Majesty. The smoke comes from Telaris.  I fear…”

Elara nodded. “Reigning Duke Valles wastes no time.  Not even a formal declaration of war.”

Witharin snorted. “No doubt he considers the death of his son all the declaration needed.”

Elara sat silent for a moment before replying. “And should I, perhaps, have permitted him to slay me?”

Witharin sighed then opened his mouth to reply.  Elara held up a hand, forestalling what he was about to say.  A rider, one of the forward scouts, topped the ridge ahead of them, galloping back to the column.

Elara urged her horse forward, trotting past others in the company of elves that served as her escorts until she reached the front of the column.  Witharin followed in her wake.

The returning scout rode up to her and saluted. “Majesty.”

“Report.”

The scout, an older elf of at least three centuries, nodded. “Telaris burns.  According to a survivor, half a dozen ships landed two days ago and disgorged no less than three hundred elves.  They attacked the town without warning, slaughtering all they could find.  they then looted the town.  Yesterday, they set fire to the buildings and returned to the sea.”

The scout wiped his arm across his forehead. “I have left the bulk of my detail to gather and organize the few who survive and see what might be recovered from the ruin–” He licked his lips. “–and to see to the Rites for the bodies.”

Elara sat in silence, her own heart in a turmoil.  Mere days before she would have welcomed the news.  Elf killing elf would have brought her no end of joy, a just vengeance for the death of her adopted family, for the husband she had loved.

Now?  Now, as memories hit her, she did not know what she felt.

“You have done well,” Witharin said when her silence threatened to drag.

Elara dragged herself back to the present. “Yes, Scout.  Very well indeed.” She lifted a waterskin from its hook at the rear of her saddle and held it out. “Drink.  Then return to your detail.  Take this word with you, we come quickly to render what aid we can.”

The scout took the skin and poured a long stream of water down his throat before returning it. “My thanks, Majesty.  I go.”

The scout reined his horse around and headed back up the ridge in an easy canter.

Elara took a drink before hanging the skin back on its hook.  She stood in the stirrups and turned to look at the column of elven warriors behind her.  Spotting the commander, she beckoned him over.

Celedan, the elven commander, reined his horse up next to Elara and saluted.  His gray eyes burned as the studied her.  His hair spilled in silver waves from beneath the rim of his helm.  And while his face showed the subtle signs of age appropriate to an elf well into his fourth century, his body retained the lean hardness of a warrior.

“Majesty?”

“Telaris has been sacked.”

Celedan tilted his head to one side, his expression clearly, indicating that he knew this already.

Elara sighed. “I ride ahead to see what may be done.  Have your men make haste to follow.”

Celedan hesitated. “Majesty…”

Witharin interrupted whatever Celedan had been about to say. “Have a detail of bodyguards selected for her majesty, immediately.”

Celedan saluted, then looked at Elara.

Elara grimaced, then nodded. “Go, commander.  You have your orders.”

“As Your Majesty commands.” Celedan turned his horse and began barking orders.

Elara turned to Witharin and raised an eyebrow. “Bodyguards, Wizard?”

Witharin sighed. “You are the last survivor of the old royal house.  When your father was slain and you…lost, the kingdom nearly disintegrated.  I do not know if it would survive losing you again.”

Elara shrugged.  Truth be told, she did not care whether the kingdom survived or not.  A part of her still wished its destruction for what Elves of Greenwood had done to those she cared about.  But…Tanya.  She had promised Tanya’s spirit to try not to see only enemies among the elves.

And that meant, she had to preserve the kingdom…for Tanya’s sake.

Books vs. Movies

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The question was asked elsewhere of folk who consider listening to an audio presentation of a book to be “reading”, why don’t they also consider watching a movie to also be reading?

Generally speaking, the audio presentation is someone reading the text of the book. They may be dramatizing the voices, but they’re reading the actual text of the book as written. And descriptions of scenes and characters are the same verbal descriptions you would read in the text of the book, allowing you to use your own imagination to picture them and to flesh out the descriptions.

A movie doesn’t. You’re lucky if the dialog bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the book. The limitations of film generally mean that huge chunks of the book have to be glossed over or outright omitted. A relatively short book read as an audiobook, can be eight hours or more. Three hours is considered a pretty long movie.

And what you see on the screen isn’t your image of the world and the characters, but someone else’s. Indeed, many people feel the need to stick their oar in on the “creative process” of making a movie. They will “interpret” (read “change”) the story of the book in the process of taking it to the screen. Sometimes, the reason’s are legitimate–things that work well in a book won’t necessarily translate well to the screen. An example I use for that from Jackson’s Hobbit movies is his basically deleting much of the trek through Mirkwood. The walking, walking, walking worked well in the novel. It would be purely painful boredom on the screen. (Mind you, many of the other changes–like where in Hel’s Misty Halls did that love story come from–were abominable.)

So, the audio book will be, if not exactly the same story you get from reading the printed page, then very close to it. The movie won’t. The experience will be quite different and the image in your mind, put their because of the director’s and cinematographer’s visions, will generally be quite different.

That’s why “watching a movie” is different from “reading” with “Audio book” much closer to “reading” than to “watching a movie.”.