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wilwheaton July 23 2014, 00:06

this is why i’m weird about comic-con



I’m packing for Comic-Con, finalizing my set for w00tstock, getting all kinds of excited for Syfy’s Sharknado 2 party on Friday night, and locking down my character choices for the Welcome to Night Vale / Thrilling Adventure Hour crossover show on Saturday night.

I fold some jeans and put them into my suitcase and think to myself, “this is weird. I don’t feel panicky about Comic-Con at all.”

So, of course, my brain goes, “well, let me fix that for you” and I feel the nauseating well of panic swell up in my chest. My arms feel fifty feet long, my hands get cold and numb, and I realize that I’ve been clenching my jaw for several minutes. My ears actually pop when I release it.

Depression and anxiety are awesome*.

So I’m genuinely excited for all the cool things I will get to do this year, and I’m genuinely excited to be, at least in some fashion, a representative for Syfy, Geek & Sundry, and myself. I’m excited to see neat cosplay, visit with friends who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like, and for some things to happen that I can’t talk about in public at the moment.

… but occasionally things like this happen at Comic-Con, and then I get scared and overwhelmed, and don’t want to go outside.

I’ll do my best to be awesome, but if you see me at Comic-con, and I seem a little weird or off to you, this is probably why.

*not actually awesome

writer_beware July 22 2014, 16:12

Warning: Green Shore Publishing


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you've encountered Green Shore Publishing, you might be intrigued by an enterprise that describes itself as "The UK and Ireland's New Standard in Book Publishing," and touts both its success and (in the little video on its home page) its extreme selectivity.

But wait: Green Shore Publishing isn't exactly what it seems.

First clue: the Packages page, where you learn that you must pay between £300 and £1,500 for the privilege of publication. OK, so not really a publisher, then.

Misgivings growing, you move on to the Testimonials page, where three video clips from authors who provide neither their surnames nor the titles of their books carry an unmistakable whiff of canned ad script.

On to the Catalog page to check out the books. But wait--there's no catalog page, even though the home page verbiage, as well as the "testimonials", suggest that GSP has been releasing books for several months, if not longer. The only books that are even referenced on GSP's website (on the Publish With GSP page, ostensibly in order to demonstrate GSP's superior cover design and innovative marketing skills...hmm, not so much) do not appear to exist. In fact, if you search on the various Amazons, you will find that there are no Green Shore Publishing books at all.

Pay-to-play. Unverifiable (and probably fake) testimonials. Nonexistent books. Ready to run away?

Good. But you still don't know the worst thing about Green Shore Publishing, and that is this: it's run by Adam Salviani, owner of "thumbs down" vanity publisher Raider Publishing International.

In 2012, I blogged about the Raider complaints I'd received, and the many more that could be found on the Web (see examples here, here, and here). Since then, complaints have continued to mount, both in my Inbox and online. Authors--many of whom have paid four figures--report loooooong publication delays (as much as 18 months), lousy quality of finished books, nonpayment of royalties due, broken marketing and other promises, and total silence when they try to get the company to address their concerns. Authors have tried taking legal action, contacting the FBI, sending petitions to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, filing local police reports (despite his fondness for giving his businesses London addresses, Salviani is rumored to live in Newark, NJ), and speaking out (there's a whole Facebook page devoted to warning about Raider). None of it has made a difference.

At the time of my 2012 post, Raider had an "A" rating from the BBB. Now, thankfully, it has an F. I don't put a lot of stock in BBB ratings--that "A" is a good example of why--but people do check them, so I'm glad to see a rating that matches reality.

There are no staff names or other identifying information anywhere on Green Shore Publishing's website to link it with Raider or Salviani. So how do I know that GSP is him? Well, I have copies of contracts from both publishers (the GSP one was supplied by the author who tipped me off to GSP's existence--thank you!), and there's fair bit of overlap in language and terms. But the kicker is the signatures:*

Identical, right down to the dotting of the "i's". You'd think, if you were going to start a new author-fleecing operation to dodge the bad publicity over your old author-fleecing operation, you'd have the sense not to use a) the exact same scan of your signature, or b) your real name.

Salviani is no stranger to new startups. Previous satellite publishing ventures include Purehaven Press (which acknowledged the connection with Raider) and Perimedes Publishing (which didn't). Both are now defunct. As for Raider, it may be in trouble. Over at TIPM, Mick Rooney--who has been covering Raider and its offshoots since 2008--reports that only one book has appeared under the Raider imprint since November 2013, likely because Ingram has de-listed Raider from its catalog.

* To see the full contracts with the signatures, click here (Green Shore Publishing) and here (Raider Publishing).
writer_beware July 18 2014, 22:40

On Trolls and Fake Bad Reviews


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

We've all read about the abuse of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I'm not talking about soliciting your friends to write glowing testimonials for your books, or buying five-star reviews in batches from paid review services. I'm talking about people who post bad reviews for revenge, punishment, or intimidation. And there's a lot of that kind of thing out there, from angry readers one-starring ebooks whose prices they deem too high, to academic authors employing fake names to slag their rivals, to (alleged) packs of bully reviewers on Goodreads (Goodreads actually changed its review policies in response to this perceived problem).

I recently had the chance to experience review abuse for myself.

On June 29, one- and two-star reviews started appearing on the Amazon page of my 2012 novel Passion Blue--nine in all, over a period of less than two weeks. (I've pasted in screenshots below.)

Beyond the unlikelihood of nine genuine one- and two-star reviews appearing in succession over such a short period of time (the most recent review before that was five months ago), my brand new reviews shared a number of characteristics that suggested fakery. None were from verified purchasers. Most were from accounts that never posted a review before or since. None included any details to suggest they'd read the book, but all were unanimous: it sucked horribly. I mean, it REALLY sucked. Two of the reviewers were so traumatized that they had to take to drink. One wished for death.

Before this, Passion Blue had two one-star reviews and two two-star reviews. One of the one-stars is kind of unfair, since the person admits they didn't read the book--but the reviews are all real, or appear to be. It never occurred to me to challenge them--or indeed, to respond to them at all.

Responding to genuine negative reviews is a mug's game. Bad reviews go with the territory; if you're going to put yourself out there for the reading public to judge, you've got to be prepared to deal with them--and that means letting them go and moving on. Authors who can't resist the urge to strike back are more likely than not to wind up looking like fools (there's a list of some of the more notorious incidences here.)

Fake bad reviews, though--that's another story.

Amazon's little "report abuse" button is useless, but if you contact customer service with a complaint (you can do that here), they are pretty responsive. I had an easier way to manage this than most, because I'm an Amazon Publishing author. The outcome wasn't totally satisfactory, since they left two of the reviews up--one that appeared after I made my complaint, and the first one, which is maybe the most over-the-top one ("[The book] would make the Devil himself cringe with horror") but also the only one that isn't obviously from a fake account (though most of this person's reviews certainly look fake).

So who's behind this review fakery?

Well, if you're a regular reader, you may know that I (along with other anti-writing scam advocates) have my very own troll. Trollbaby likes to target me directly, though lately they've been harassing my Twitter followers with spam tweets like this one:
I can't prove Trollbaby is my review faker, but fake reviews are certainly their style. (If I'm giving you too much credit, Trollbaby, please forgive me.)

Here's Trollbaby's "book," by the way. Aren't they clever punsters?

Product Details

EDITED TO ADD: Just hours after putting this post online, I heard from an author who was recently hit by a one-star attack very much like mine. She thinks that a scammer I did an expose on recently is behind the attacks, and what she says makes sense. I may have given Trollbaby too much credit after all.
wilwheaton July 15 2014, 23:10

this is how we do it



I’ve been getting up earlier than my body wants to on Monday mornings for almost two months, now, and I’m still not used to it. I mean, I don’t feel like I’m upside down in a pool filled with goo, but I’m still a little slow and easily confused until I get my CON and DEX bonuses from my morning coffee.

I don’t know if I’ve talked about this, but the way we put The Wil Wheaton Project together goes something like this:

We have a great staff of associate producers, researchers, and staff writers who are responsible for certain shows. We do our best to assign shows to each other that we wouldn’t normally be watching, so that we all bring different perspectives to the shows that we cover. All of us are constantly on the lookout for stories, videos, cats, and things that would probably be interesting and/or amusing to our audience, and we have a private mailing list for that.

We take all that research, and have a couple of creative meetings during the week that helps us narrow down what we’re going to do on the next episode (tonight, we air S01E08, which we call 108, so we’re working on 109 this week).

On Thursday, there’s a thing called a clip meeting, where everyone gets together to look at clips that have been gathered, along with some jokes or insights or other commentary that may go with those clips.

On Friday, I come into the office for a table read of the script with a the senior producers, and we all work on figuring out what sorts of jokes we’re going to do, and how the show is going to come together. We usually leave the office very, very late on Fridays.

Over the weekend, we watch all of our weekend shows, and keep looking for box office news for movies that are in our world. Then, at are-you-fucking-serious o’clock on Monday morning, the producers and editors put together material from those weekend shows. Around 8am, I head into the office and look at everything they’ve been working on, and we make a final decision on what’s going to fill out act one of the show.

Usually, we have three bits in act one that are more or less locked in, and we add up to three more based on that early Monday work.

After a bit of work on Monday morning, we all head to our studio and tape the show. It’s usually done in the very early afternoon, at which point the network executives and our executives get to work on putting together the final cut of the show, which is sent into space and then down to New York for broadcast about 30 hours after I walk out of the studio.

It’s not as harrowing as I imagine @Midnight must be, but we all work very hard without ever feeling like we have as much time as we want, and I’m super proud of the work we’ve been delivering since episode 104, which is when I think we finally found ourselves and started making the show that I hope we’ll get to make for at least another year.

So, I want you to know this about tonight’s episode: yesterday, we built act one from the ground up. We didn’t keep anything that we had planned to put there, and a few people — including our amazing editors — worked their asses off to build the longest act of the show, the most important act of the show, in just a few hours, when all of us are at our most exhausted. And get this: we ended up having to cut some things that we really liked from the first act, because it was too long! I’m intensely proud of the team I get to work with, and so grateful for the privilege of working with them, and what we did as a single unit yesterday is a very big reason why.


writer_beware July 15 2014, 18:04

Agenty Advice to a Hopeful Writer, From a Non-Agent


 Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Dear Hopeful Writer,

Today I received your snail mail query, beginning:
Dear agent,

I am seeking your representation on my [title redacted] novel. It has 600,000 word count, with the theme: betrayal, revenge, suspense, la femme Nikita, romance, mystery, women fiction, detective and blackmail.
Please consider this well-meant advice.

- Oh dear. You formatted your query (and the chapters included with it) in Lucida Italic. Perhaps you thought this would make you stand out. Well, it does--but not in a good way. Agents expect standard formatting--which means, among other things, a standard font (such as Times New Roman). One glance at your italic opus will cause most agents to toss it aside without even reading.

- Imagine that you're approaching your dream agent, the one you'd most love to represent you. Why would you not address him or her by name? Starting your query with "Dear agent" strongly suggests that you're blasting out a form letter, and agents hate form letters even more than they hate italics. Any agents who looked past your nonstandard formatting will likely stop reading at this point, just two words in.

- 600,000 words? No, no, no. That's the length of four books, not one. For those few, intrepid agents who've persisted this far, your query is now flying toward the recycle bin. (Here--have this handy guide to optimum word counts for fiction.)

- As you query, so do you write. Bad grammar, weird sentence construction, "women fiction": yet more reason for an agent to stop reading. I'm sorry to be blunt, but if you're not competent at this basic level, you aren't ready to be querying.

- Last but certainly not least--and please forgive me if this sounds overly obvious--do make sure that the person you're querying actually is an agent. Approaching a non-agent  (me, for instance) for representation is simply not productive. I hate to think of how many stamps you've wasted this way (and by the way, most agents are happy to accept email queries). Also, just out of curiosity: did "Writer Beware" really strike you as a plausible name for a literary agency?

I hope these observations will be of assistance in your future querying.


Not An Agent

P.S. Here are some links to help:
wilwheaton July 15 2014, 16:40

there are four things



We taped a great episode of The Wil Wheaton Project yesterday, that I’m super excited to see tonight. We wrote some stuff that I think is really funny, and I had all kinds of fun when we were in front of the audience. Tonight’s Wil Wheaton Project is on at 9pm Eastern on Syfy. Next week, the network is moving us back to 10pm, after Face Off, which I was disappointed to learn is not a show where puppets reenact the classic Nic Cage / John Travolta film.

Starting today, I’m working on the audiobook for John Scalzi’s Lock In, which is a really fantastic story, until the end of the week, when I get three days to prepare for everything I’m doing at Comicon next week, including W00tstock and Hop-Con.

Speaking of Hop-Con, Anne and I got our hands on a case of w00tstout 2.0 yesterday, and I’m happy to report that it’s just as good as we knew it would be. It also is a great way to ensure you don’t feel your face, if you’re not careful.

Finally, Anne wrote and produced a wonderful video for the Pasadena Humane Society, starring Marlowe and Seamus, which I think you’ll enjoy:




wilwheaton July 12 2014, 18:06

No, that’s not me on Instagram



Someone is impersonating me (or at least trying to mislead people into thinking he/she/it is me) on Instagram. This person is using my Twitter avatar, my bio, and generally causing a lot of confusion.

I tried to report the profile to Instagram, and Instagram told me that to complete the report, I would have to send a scan of my government-issued identification.

Fuck. That.

So: I can’t get the account taken down, but that’s not me on Instagram. Tell your friends. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you.

writer_beware July 10 2014, 19:01

Time to Bury the Hachette


 Posted by Michael Capobianco for Writer Beware

It’s a tough time to be an author advocacy organization. As you may or may not know, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has been catching a lot of flak about signing on to Douglas Preston’s letter asking Amazon to stop treating Hachette’s books differently from those of the other big publishers by refusing to accept pre-orders, refusing to discount prices, and slowing the delivery of Hachette books to Amazon customers.

SFWA wasn’t alone in signing the letter. Various prestigious authors, including Stephen King, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, at least two past SFWA presidents, and a few hundred other authors, many well known, also signed. Although the letter claims to not take sides in the Amazon/Hachette contractual negotiations, it is addressed only to Amazon, and several sentences seem decidedly biased toward Hachette.

The reaction, both inside the organization and outside, was fast and intense. The letter was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an attack on Amazon, in which Hachette comes across as an innocent victim.

I’ve read the letter several times now, and I can see how it could be taken as being on Hachette’s side, but in my opinion the interpretations of it from both sides have been extreme. It’s almost as if a reader’s pre-conceived biases completely overshadow what’s actually in the letter. For example, there’s nothing in the letter that talks about self-publishing, but it has been taken by some as an attack on self-publishers. Admittedly, SFWA’s participation can be seen as continuation of a long-standing policy of excluding self-publishers, but still, self-publishing is not there in the letter, which, at least on its face, is pleading only for Amazon to change its policy towards Hachette books.

The traditional media, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, have portrayed Amazon as the bad guy here, hurting Hachette’s sales and authors deliberately as part of a negotiating strategy to get a better deal from Hachette. In a recent leaked proposal from Amazon floating the idea of a program to compensate authors hurt by the stand-off, Amazon seems to admit that it actually is doing in most of the things the Preston letter accuses it of, and could stop doing them if it so chose. Even that proposal is subject to reader bias, though. Many read it as a genuine offer, but others see it as a disingenuous ploy.

Hugh Howey, an author who has become a spokesperson to the self-published and who has studied the actions of Amazon and Hachette extensively, has put forward a compelling case that Hachette, in fact, is the bad actor here, and makes his case even more convincing by listing the worst aspects of the way Hachette treats its authors--and there are a lot of them, most especially the 25% of net digital royalty that it and the other big publishers force on their authors. He contends that Hachette is actually in the catbird seat, here, and has much less to lose than Amazon if the negotiations are not concluded successfully. Howey is also at least partly responsible for a petition on Change.org supporting Amazon that has garnered several thousand signatures at this point.

I think it’s safe to say that so far the Board of SFWA has tended towards the pro-Hachette position, but the organization’s primary purpose is to advocate for the Hachette authors, especially Hachette authors who also happen to be members. As a first approximation, the Preston letter at least seems to be doing that. Does the Preston letter make unwarranted assumptions about the battle between Hachette and Amazon? Who knows? The fact is, very few people outside those two companies know what’s really going on. Hachette could be the good guy, Amazon the bad guy. Or they both could be bad guys. Or both good guys. There’s an infinite smorgasbord of possibilities. How do you advocate for Hachette’s authors and remain completely neutral?

As I mentioned earlier, Amazon has put forth a tentative proposal to fix the problems in their ordering system that disadvantage Hachette authors, and compensate those authors for the harm done to them during the negotiations. Amazon offered to join with Hachette to pay the authors 100% of its proceeds for their ebooks while the negotiations continue, but only if Hachette agrees to also give all of its proceeds to the authors.

It sounds good, right? Amazon is clearly thinking of the authors, and is even willing to forgo its profit on those books. What could be fairer? Unfortunately, a closer look reveals the flaw: while Amazon would be sacrificing a small profit on a small percentage of its ebook sales, Hachette would be sacrificing a large profit on all of its ebook sales through Amazon (estimated as 60% of its ebook sales total in the USA, and even more in the UK). Hachette, not surprisingly, refused this offer in a matter of hours. Pundits opined that Amazon just made the offer as a publicity stunt, as a way to sway opinion to their side, at the same time making Hachette look like pikers.

No matter how it looks, I’m convinced that the proper course for SFWA and other author advocacy groups is to urge Hachette to negotiate a better, more fairly determined payment to the authors who have been harmed, or, if Hachette stonewalls, to ask Amazon to make good the harm independently.

Here’s an analogy: if you saw the most recent Superman movie, Man of Steel, you undoubtedly noticed how Superman and General Zod destroyed much of Metropolis during their battle at the end of the film. Should the people whose homes and business were destroyed accept compensation for the damage, even if it's offered by General Zod? What if you can’t tell who demolished your apartment building, Zod or Superman? What if you didn’t even know that Superman was the good guy?

The Authors Guild, perhaps predictably, is firmly on the side of Hachette. They’ve been issuing warnings about Amazon for years now, and there’s some indication that their failed settlement with Google was at least partly aimed at addressing Amazon’s dominance. Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild, commented to the NYT: “If Amazon wants to have a constructive conversation about this, we’re ready to have one at any time,” she said in an email. “But this seems like a short-term solution that encourages authors to take sides against their publishers. It doesn’t get authors out of the middle of this — we’re still in the middle.”

If there is a better example of publisher-centric author advocacy, I haven’t seen it. Maybe Amazon’s offer doesn’t get the authors out of the middle, but at least it compensates them for the inconvenience. There are precedents for this type of compensation, too. Amazon and Macmillan reached a similar deal to pay authors a “Kindle Outage Adjustment” back in 2010, after Amazon temporarily disabled the “Buy” buttons on Macmillan books during a dispute over ebook pricing. SFWA’s approach to Amazon’s offer should be to urge Hachette to negotiate and do everything possible to facilitate such payments. It should insist that any compensatory payments will not be counted as royalty income and will be paid directly to the authors, above and beyond any unearned advance.

While the main thrust of this advocacy should be aimed at Hachette, at least initially, I can see also urging Amazon to make a fairer offer in which the payment to authors is more evenly shared, and, if Hachette doesn’t budge, it would be reasonable to approach Amazon about paying out these moneys directly to authors, bypassing Hachette entirely. If Amazon acknowledges that it has harmed these authors and wants to make them whole, surely it would have no problem paying them directly.

Wishful thinking? For over a year, Amazon’s subsidiary Audible directly paid authors one dollar for every audiobook of theirs sold if they signed up for the program. This was not a royalty. It was unrelated to whatever contractual arrangement the author had to his or her publisher. It was an honorarium; a gift. So Amazon definitely has the technical ability to do it again with Hachette authors. If some authors didn’t register for the program, either the Authors Registry (run by the Guild, so they might not be interested) or the Authors Coalition’s Individual Author Distribution system could be used to find and pay them.

I hope that this approach would be viewed as pro-author, neutral towards the combatants, and would help to reassure those who thought SFWA’s participation in the Preston letter was siding with Amazon.
wilwheaton July 10 2014, 17:35

Schrödinger’s Nielsen Box



The last three episodes of The Wil Wheaton Project (105, 106, 107) are pretty much what I wanted this show to be all along. I feel like it’s a good blend of irreverence, silliness, cleverness, and actual information that’s entertaining and interesting. We’ve had some great guests drop in, and our original creations (our silly TV theme songs, games like How Will They Bite It?) are landing on the audience exactly the way we hoped that they would.

As far as I can tell, the people who watch the show are having a good time with it, and the feedback I’ve been getting has been overwhelmingly positive. This makes me happy, because I’m making the show that I want to make, and the people who are watching it seem to enjoy that.

So, creatively, I’m very happy.

Our ratings are okay, but not great. We are building on our lead in, which is good, and people are watching the whole show, which is also good, but it’s discouraging that more people aren’t watching something that I’m really proud of.

I’ve done just about everything I can to convince the network to make it easier to watch online, but I’m just getting a runaround that ends with a whole lot of audience that probably would add to our ratings just going to YouTube or Pirate Bay to watch us. I’m happy that people are finding and enjoying the show, but I’m disappointed that our network isn’t making it easier for those people to be counted in a way that would help us get renewed for more episodes.

I made a decision two weeks ago, after 106 didn’t do as well as I hoped it would, to not care about the ratings any more. They matter only because it’s part of some inscrutable formula some people in a building in New York use to determine if we get to make more than 12 episodes, and those numbers are a distraction from the creative process for me.

As it stands right now, we’ll get to do at least five more episodes. After that, my long range sensors can’t get  a signal. I could spend a lot of time worrying about our ratings, but the fact is that people tune in or they don’t. The network has to promote the show in a smart way that gets people interested in us, and we have to make a show that those people enjoy enough to stick around and watch.

So I’m going to stay focused on the creative side of things, and work with an incredibly talented, smart, and funny team of writers and producers to make a show that we are proud of, that we can stand by.

Whether that’s for five more or thirty more is currently in Schrödinger’s Nielsen Box.


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