Archive for February, 2014

Some Quick Thoughts on Net Neutrality

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Last night I posted the following on Twitter:

Every anti-net-neutrality article said this would never happen: http://money.cnn.com/2014/02/23/technology/netflix-comcast-streaming-deal/index.html … THIS IS LITERALLY THE FIRST THING THAT HAPPENED

In the last 16 hours that’s been retweeted more than 350 times, and rising quickly. That’s not a huge deal, as famous people retweets go, but it’s a lot more than I typically get, and that’s kind of cool. The problem is, there’s so much more to the issue of net neutrality than can be contained in one snarky tweet, especially on an issue that continues to evolve. My own understanding of the issue continues to grow, even in the last 16 hours, and my thoughts are no longer perfectly aligned with the thing I keep getting quoted for. This post won’t be retweeted as much as really pithy thing I said last night, but I’ll feel better knowing it’s out there.

Net neutrality, put as simply as possible, is the idea that Internet Service Providers have to treat all net traffic the same, just like all phone service providers have to treat all calls the same: you can’t, for example, purposefully make one group’s service worse or less far-reaching than another’s, just because you don’t like them. This is a good thing, and none of us question it on phones, but when it comes to Internet some people (mostly ISPs) want the rules to work differently. In their defense, a lot of their rules already work differently, and when net neutrality was officially struck down last month it was because the FCC had pulled some classification shenanigans that made their version of it illegal. I’m not here to debate the legal grounds of the current situation, because I don’t understand it in full, and neither do almost any of you: we’re not tel-com lawyers or FCC officials, and while we may passionately defend the version of the story that we think is correct, that’s not the same thing as actually being correct. What I do believe is that net neutrality, whatever we have to do to make it work legally, is vital to the future of the Internet, which makes it vital to the future of everything. That’s not an exaggeration.

The people who support net neutrality often do it with some version of this: “If you let ISPs control the flow of information, they will do so in a way that serves their own ends, and not their customers.” That’s the basic version–most of the time it’s more of a scare tactic:

“Tel-com companies could hold certain websites hostage, demanding more money to let people access them.”
“Tel-com companies could influence elections by artificially hampering one candidate’s web traffic and availability.”
“Tel-com companies could artificially limit your access to certain web content unless you pay a premium fee.”

I call these scare tactics, but some of these things have already happened; the last one, in particular, started happening within hours of the net neutrality decision, with some ISPs purposefully throttling certain web services, including access to competitors. Let’s say you’re on ISP X and don’t like it, and want to switch to ISP Y; it’s now harder for you to get to ISP Y’s webpage through ISP X’s network, because they made it harder on purpose, because they don’t want you to leave and it’s legal to screw with you, so why not? To put that in perspective, imagine picking up an AT&T phone and trying to call Verizon, only to discover that AT&T decided your phone is not allowed to call a competitor. That sounds insane on a phone, but that’s where we’re headed with ISPs.

That’s why I freaked out when I read that article about Netflix, because it seemed like a clear case of an ISP (Comcast) shaking down a content provider (Netflix) for money: “you’ve got some really great content there, buddy, it’d be a real shame if nobody could access it over our network. Pay your protection money or we can’t be responsible for what happens next.” Let me reiterate: that kind of behavior is now legal, and it has already happened in small scale, and I full expect it to happen in large scale, probably sooner than we think. I suspect that I jumped the gun a little in this particular situation, though: Netflix is a massive force on the Internet, accounting for anywhere from 28-33% of all Internet traffic in America. Yes, you read that right. Let that sink in, and then ask yourself how a company like Comcast would possibly risk offending a company that powerful? They desperately want that traffic–providing service to Netflix is, in a very real sense, 33% of their business model. If they throttle it artificially, their customers will go somewhere else, somewhere their Internet access is not suddenly reduced by 33% for no good reason. So really, companies like Netflix are probably safe for now; this deal with Comcast is more likely an attempt by both companies to work together and try to get that 33% piece of the pie even bigger, though upgraded cables and servers and data centers. They need each other.

But they don’t need everybody, and I don’t think I’m being an alarmist when I say that we’re going to start seeing these big ISPs strong-arming smaller companies, and customers, in ways both subtle and direct. I don’t think this is a good thing. I want net neutrality reinstated, through whatever means are both legal and ethical. But I also wanted to clear up this particular point, since it irked me to have made such a broad generalization, including some facts I later learned were faulty, in such a public way.

The “Writing Advice” post that I’m just going to point people to from now on

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

A friend of a friend wrote to me today asking for advice about writing. I don’t typically have time to give personalized advice, as much as I’d love to, but this was a good friend, and I thought it might be a good chance to put my “aspiring author advice” thoughts down in one central place. If you’re a writer, or you want to be a writer, this is my very basic “how to get started” guide.

Note that some of this info, particularly the bit about cons, is specific to my home state of Utah, but the principles can be applied no matter where you live.

I wrote this for a man named Justin, who at the ripe old age of 32 decided he’d been wasting his time in marketing when his real love was writing. Whatever your age or gender or geographical location, it’s never too late for now.

Dear [insert your name here]:

The good news is, your story is common, and your solution is more or less what you already know it to be: write a lot until you’re good at it. I’ll be saying a bunch of other stuff in this post, but it all comes down to that. Write a lot until you’re good at it.

The other good news, and arguably the best news, is that you can make a living as an artist. Dave Wolverton told me that in college, and I realized–like you–that no one had ever told me that before. Our education system is not designed for artists, it’s designed for people who sit in cubicles and earn salaries and get retirement benefits, and that’s fine if that’s what you’re into, but artists have to make their own way. So let me reiterate: you can make your own way. It’s scary and it’s hard and it requires so much more effort than just going to work and getting a paycheck, but you can do it and it’s worth every hardship.

Don’t feel like you’ve wasted time in law and marketing and such, because there are very, very few writers in the world who got that way by studying writing academically. Anyone can learn writing just by reading a lot and then trying it on their own. By studying other things, you’ve filled your head with stuff to write about, which is often way harder. Look at how many “mainstream” novels are about literature professors who want to write books: there’s a ton of them, because those guys write what they know, and that’s all that they know. Take the time to study new things and learn new awesome stuff, and then you’ll have more to write about. I started in marketing and advertising, just like you, writing brochures and websites and stuff for a long parade of health and beauty companies (and one scrapbooking company), and right now my agent is shopping around a science fiction novel I wrote about a health and beauty company that destroys the world. The more you know, the better, so hooray. Particularly if you have a family and a house and all kinds of other stuff to pay for, having a “real” job before the writing takes off is pretty much requisite, and I worked that marketing career for eight years, writing in my off hours, before I finally started selling books at a level that allowed me to quit and start writing full time.

What advice can I give you? The first thing is to point you to my podcast, Writing Excuses, which I do with three other authors (Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Howard Tayler). It’s completely free–I’m not trying to sell you anything–and designed for aspiring writers, with fifteen-minute episodes on everything from dialogue and plot to editing and talking to agents. We’ve been doing it every week for years, and there’s hundreds of hours of it posted online, and frankly there’s not much I can tell you that isn’t already presented more usefully there. Jump in on the current episodes, cherry pick the archives for your favorite topics, or just start at the beginning and try not to get overwhelmed.

Second: check out your local writing scene, looking for conventions, conferences, writing groups, and so on. Depending on where you live, and what genre(s) you’re trying to write, there are a ton of options out there–far more than you think, I can almost guarantee. Go to your local bookstore or library and ask if there are any writing groups that meet there; if they have a bulletin board, start your own group and post a notice. Do a quick Internet search for writing conventions, or SF conventions that might have a writing track. If you’re in or near Utah you’re in luck, because there’s a ton of stuff: CONduit, LTUE, LDStorymakers, Writing for Charity, Salt Lake City ComicCon, and more are all fantastic places to meet other authors. Wherever you are, there’s bound to be some kind of local (or near-local) convention. If you’re writing SF or fantasy, also consider WorldCon, World Fantasy, and Writing Superstars, though those are going to involve much more expense and travel. If you’re really serious and have the time/money to spare, considering signing up for Clarion or Clarion West, or some of the similar conventions out there, which are intensive, multi-week writing workshops with big-name authors teaching the classes. A cheaper option, if you can’t make any of these in person, is to go online to a place like NaNoWriMo’s website and start clicking through their forum to find the one for your region; it might be kind of sparse this time of year, but in the fall it will fill up with like-minded aspiring authors, who often do local meet-ups and might be interested in joining a writing group.

Third, and this is a big one: allow yourself to write a bad book. Don’t insist that your first or second or even fifth book be perfect, because they won’t be–give yourself the chance to try new things and screw them up and learn from your mistakes and try again. Your first book will teach you how to write your second, which will teach you how to write your third, and so on and so on until your books are as awesome as you’ve always wanted them to be. I didn’t get published until my sixth book, and like I said earlier it took me eight years of working other jobs before I got to that point. Nothing worthwhile is free, and if you want to get good at something you need to work at it. The good news is, if you invest the time and effort, and really give it a sincere try, it will pay off. I see it happen every day.

I include this last section because I know people are going to ask about it: is it better to go traditional publishing, or self publishing? You’ll hear a lot of stuff on both sides, but the only true answer in my opinion is this: it’s better to not limit your options. They both have their ups and they both have their downs, so don’t worry about which one is better and just do everything. Write as much as you can, try different genres, try different publishing models, try all the new things you can find until you find something you love that works for you. “Write a lot until you’re good at it” applies to the business model just as much as the craft.

I hope this helps. Good luck, and please keep in touch. I can’t always write big advice essays, and I have a policy against reading people’s manuscripts–I used to do it, but I just don’t have the time and had to force myself to stop. What I can do, though, is cheer you on and exult in your successes. And if you have the chance to say hello at a con or a signing or whatever, please do. I’d love to shake your hand and share a…well, I don’t drink, so how about some hot wings?

Sincerely,

Dan

The RUINS book tour!

Monday, February 10th, 2014

These events have been in my calendar for a couple of weeks, but I thought it would be a good idea to collect them all here in a single post for ease of reference. RUINS is the climactic finale of the Partials Sequence, and probably my favorite book in the series, and it comes out March 11! My physical tour will be limited, because that’s also the same time FRAGMENTS comes out in Germany, and I’m kind of flying back and forth to cover both. I do have a handful of awesome US events planned, though, so if you’re in the neighborhood come say hi!

March 17: Atlanta, Georgia
Books For Less – North Point
6:30 pm
(I think this is technically Alpharetta. This is a new location for me, but it’s run by one of my favorite booksellers, and he always does a great job with events.)

March 19: San Diego, California
Mysterious Galaxy
7:00 pm
(My brother, fellow HarperTeen author Robison Wells, is joining me for this one. This is a great store, and I tend to get people from as far as LA at these events, so if you’re anywhere in southern California please drop by.)

March 21: San Francisco, California
Borderlands Books
7:00 pm
(How much do I love this store? It’s one of the best in the country. Rob’s joining me for this one, too.)

March 22: Portland, Oregon
Powell’s – Beaverton
2:00 pm
(Don’t forget, this is the one in Beaverton, not the one downtown. It’s also in the afternoon, not the evening, so don’t miss it! This is a great store and tends to have a pretty big turnout with great Q&A. Rob will be with me at this one as well.)

March 25: Orem, Utah
Barnes & Noble
7:00 pm
(This event will be a full blown authorpalooza, brimming over with some of Utah’s best SF, fantasy, and YA authors. I don’t know the full guest list, but it’s guaranteed to have plenty of awesome folks.)

March 26: Salt Lake City, Utah
Weller Book Works
7:00 pm
(The final, triumphant event of the tour. Rob will be with me, the crowd will be huge, and much awesomeness will be had by all.)

RUINS TOUR: Weller Book Works – SLC, UT

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

7PM
607 Trolley Square
Salt Lake City, UT

RUINS TOUR: Barnes & Noble – Orem, UT

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Barnes & Noble @ 7:00 PM

330 East 1300 South

Orem, UT 84058

RUINS TOUR: Powell’s – Beaverton, OR

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Powell’s @ 2:00 PM

3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton, OR 97005
(503) 228-4651

RUINS TOUR: Borderlands Books – San Fransisco, CA

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

7PM

Borderlands Books
866 Valencia St.
San Francisco CA 94110

RUINS TOUR: Mysterious Galaxy – San Diego, CA

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

March 19, 7:00pm: Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA

7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA

RUINS TOUR: Alpharetta, GA

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

6:30 PM

Books for Less
935 North Point Dr.
Alpharetta, GA