How about a nice, warm welcome hug for Linda Nagata, our newest member here at BVC! Linda is a Nebula and Locus award-winning author based in Hawaii. She’s our first member from that neck of the woods and we’re proud to have her. Do yourself a favor and check out her bookshelf where you can find her bio and samples of her work. Oh, and take advantage of the contest she’s got going on to win a free copy of The Bohr Maker. Today only!
Linda’s science fiction has a tech edge which I like. It makes me want to dig inside her head and uncover the secrets of pi and tau and where the world is headed. I figure an interview makes a pretty good shovel for digging and Linda was game, so here you go:
Sue: What kind of stuff do you write? I mean subject matter, genre, theme, that sort of thing.
Linda: That’s an evolving question. My first target was cutting edge science fiction, heavy on nanotechnology. The work ranged from near future, how-do-we-get-there-from-here stories, to very far future tales about space travel, the dangers we might find out there, and the evolving nature of both people and technology. Despite all the technology, though, these stories are about people–generally, decent people in extraordinary circumstances–and they can get pretty emotional. Recently, though, I’ve adopted the mantra “Try new stuff.” My latest novel reflects it. It’s a short, quirky, fast-paced, fantasy with a comical edge to it–something I’ve never tried before. But the one thing that ties all my books together is that they’re adventure stories. That’s what I’ve always loved best and I still haven’t grown out of it.
Sue: Speaking of cutting edge science fiction, where’s your head at, philosophically speaking?
Linda: My head is like the cat in Schrodinger’s Box, existing in some undetermined, in-between state, waiting for an opinion to crystallize when the box is opened…
Some writers, notably of non-fiction, seem very rah-rah, go-Singularity. Personally I find it all quite terrifying on some deep level, but does that matter? If it can be done, someone, somewhere, in this vast world is likely going to figure out how to do it eventually, whatever “it” is. So I see technology advancing whether we want it to or not, and presuming we as a species survive, what seems outrageous today could be commonplace a short step down the timeline–and the radicals in those times will still be shaking things up. That’s what I like to write about–pushing the envelope.
Philosophically, I like playing with ideas of complexity, individual choice, lots of different options across society–unpredictability, and the realization that no matter how powerful and “fail safe” and adaptive your technology is, stuff is still going to go wrong.
Sue: I get a sense of that in your book Tech-Heaven. You seem to give both sides of an issue, like life extension for example, equal time. I find it hard to form an opinion because I can see both arguments. When was Tech Heaven written? And how have we shaped up technology-wise compared to where we were headed when you wrote it?
Linda: Tech-Heaven was originally published at the end of 1995, so must have been written primarily in 1994. The book covers a thirty-year time span, so we’re a bit over halfway there. It doesn’t feature a lot of bio-nanotechnology (bionan?) until very late in the book, which in retrospect was a smart move on my part! What I found unsettling when I went through the book last fall, doing tiny revisions as I prepped it for conversion to ebook, was the divisiveness of the politics and the bitterness of the health care debate. It didn’t seem all that far off from where we are now.
I haven’t been keeping up with developments in nanotechnology lately. I suspect we’re probably a few steps closer to the experimental tech envisioned at the end of the book, though probably not a whole lot closer. In Tech-Heaven our protagonist, Katie, has a big advantage because she’s tech-savvy and a very successful investor, so she gets to drive history by putting her money into R&D for the sort of projects that will ultimately help her cause.
The concept in the book, as in a lot of other semi-near-future science fiction (I just made that term up) is the concept of the technological Singularity–that the development of technology rapidly builds on itself, so when change starts to happen, it could pile on with breath-taking speed. So check back with me again in another ten or twelve years.
Sue: Futurists often say that if you don’t accept what the Singularity brings, you will be left behind. Do you see society being ultimately split between those that embrace technology and those that do not at all, such that a new primitive culture develops?
Linda: Honestly, no. From what I’ve seen almost everyone loves technology or its fruit, especially in the medical field–though a lot of them don’t like to admit it. Some people like to flaunt their love of technology, many like to keep it subtle and hidden away, and a lot of people simply want someone else to handle it for them, especially in the medical field, but almost no one wants to give up the benefits.
What I do see is people picking and choosing their high-tech accessories to design the sort of life that appeals to them. After all, it’s a lot more comfortable to live “off the grid” when you’ve got a roof-full of photovoltaics and a nice water purifying system.
Sue: Exactly. You need to be high-tech to live raw. So, what is your background?
Linda: My degree is in zoology. After college, I worked briefly here on Maui for the National Park Service, and then turned to raising kids and writing for a number of years. The biology background came in handy time and again in my early books. After a time I took some programming classes and wound up working in web development for nine years. Now I’m back to writing again.
Sue: And you’ve embraced ebooks. Good girl! Will you eventually choose to not publish print versions and only write for the ebook market? And do you embrace ebooks as a reader?
Linda: I’ve already put out two original books in print-on-demand format–my latest The Dread Hammer and my one YA novel Skye Object 3270a. I’m also going to be bringing out four of my backlist titles for print-on-demand over the summer. So long as there’s a market for it, I’ll try to do a print version of any new books, though how long that market will last is a legitimate question. Most people I’ve talked to, once they’ve tried an ereader, don’t want to read any other way, at least if they’re reading fiction. Non-fiction is a different issue. If you’re accustomed to making notes in and around the text, hard copy is probably better. On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to tote around an ereader than a giant textbook.
That said, when it comes to being a reader, I’m definitely a fervent convert to ebooks. I love not having to hold a heavy book and not having to adjust my position every time a page needs turning, but mostly I love the ability to sample, to collect suggested titles on my ereader as soon as I hear about them, and to go through the samples when I’m in a reading mood–and then being able to grab the balance of the book instantly.
Sue: What’s the Linda Nagata prediction for print books then?
Linda: I think adult fiction will convert primarily to ebooks first. I suspect YA’s will take longer, and children’s books will be slowest–but then again, enhanced ebooks could change all that. I’m not even sure what enhanced ebooks are except they are *cool*–and cool sells.
Sue: Who are you working with for your PODs?
Linda: I’m printing them through Lightning Source and doing the InDesign layout myself, which I really enjoy. Years ago I used to dream that my alternate career was as a publisher, and lo, here I am, doing every stage of publishing.
Sue: I wonder if every author has the dream of being a publisher. I know I do. But then I think about all the various jobs a publisher has to do and how even if you farm them out, you have to oversee the work. For instance covers. Who designs your covers and what is the process?
Linda: Ah, the million dollar question (or thousand dollar, at least). Covers are an evolving issue that has consumed way too much time! When I first started the publishing process last fall, I was resolved to create print-ready covers of high resolution that could then be converted for ebooks, so that jacked up the cost right away, because high resolution stock images are expensive.
In the beginning I created my own covers, using stock photos and my own amusing Photoshop “skills.” I did the four covers for the Nanotech Succession books–and liked two of them, but despaired over them after awhile. Eventually I contacted Bruce Jensen, the cover artist for the Bantam version of the books. He owned the copyright on the cover art so he put together new covers for me, and that’s what I’m using now.
I also did the covers for Goddesses, Limit of Vision (due to be replaced), and Memory (which has just been replaced). So while my own cover work got me launched, I haven’t been happy with it, except for Goddesses–but that won’t see a print version anyway.
For my other two books–the YA Skye Object 3270a and my latest, The Dread Hammer–I did the cover concept, but turned the actual art over to Sarah Adams, an artist here on Maui. For these two books it was fairly easy to say “This is what I want.” The YA uses a stock image in the background and a custom digital painting of the protagonist in the foreground. The cover for The Dread Hammer is entirely a digital painting by Sarah.
After Sarah finished the cover art for these books, I took her Photoshop files and created the cover flats, that is the front, back, and spine of the book, all in one image file. To do this I put together everything but the back cover text in Photoshop, and then added the text in InDesign. Believe me, I’ve learned a lot since starting this process!
I greatly prefer my artist-generated covers over my own work. I’ve found the process goes smoothly when I know what I want. But when I don’t know, which is the case with the new cover for Memory, the process is a little harder–but I try very hard not to be an annoying client!
Sue: Wow and that’s just the work required for the cover. There are many other jobs required to get a book out. JA Konrath, among others, tell us we don’t need publishers anymore. I wonder about that considering the work involved, but you’ve done quite well. Do you foresee a time when all writers will do everything as Konrath suggests or will there always be big publishing houses? In other words how do you see the process of publishing evolving?
Linda: So far I’ve had a lot of fun putting my backlist out. I’ve enjoyed doing the different jobs. But I had some advantages. For one, I was working from the original copyedited manuscript, so I was able to plug those updates into my original files. For another, I’ve worked a lot with websites, programming, graphics programs and such, so I had a lot of the skills needed to put out ebooks. Even learning to use InDesign to do the layout for the print books was easier for me because I already knew a fair amount about Photoshop. For writers without this sort of technical experience, the whole process has to be far more intimidating, or more expensive if you have to hire someone else to do it. And if you don’t have the skills, or the interest in developing the skills, hiring someone at a flat rate is an alternative worth considering, because though the writing is the most important part, no one’s ever going to see the writing if the book doesn’t look at least a little professional.
On the two original books I’ve published, it’s a fair question to ask if I should have hired a professional editor. This time around I didn’t. In future, I might. Of course that introduces a whole new issue: how to select the right editor and how to persuade the right editor to work with me. I don’t have the answer to that one yet, but I’m taking notes as I go!
Do I think big publishing houses will always be around? Probably. Big books will always benefit from being handled by a big publishing house, but the fate of midlist books doesn’t seem quite so certain. My hopeful scenario is that the tremendous energy being generated by self-publishing will encourage more people to become regular readers, expanding the field for all of us, traditional and self published alike.
Sue: I agree. I think this whole ebook/Internet/blogging thing is creating readers as well as writers. So after a book is completed and reader-ready, what do you do to launch it?
Linda: What to do when launching a book? I wish I knew, but I’m still learning this one. Of course it’s very hard to get people to pay attention to yet-one-more-book. It’s even harder to get the attention of reviewers, who are as a rule swamped by all the books being put out these days. What I can’t do is create a blitzkrieg of publicity–but then again, the publicity efforts on all of my traditionally published books weren’t anything to brag about. The advantage traditionally published books still have is that reviewers are much more open to considering them, and their odds of getting a review are much higher. The advantage of publishing my own books is that they don’t have to burn up the market in the first couple weeks. They can build gradually. It’s hard to be patient, but patience and perseverance are both required.
Sue: From my perspective I think the thing that’s going to shake out is the difference between ebook reviewers and print book reviewers. The big reviewers are still not taking ebooks as far as I can tell. I think that means now is a good time to be a reviewer of ebooks if you’re looking to make a name that field. I envision some ebook reviewer’s blog developing into the NYTimes Book Review soon. Hopefully BVC will have this person’s email address in their rolodex. Speaking of Book View Café, how do you plan to utilize BVC in your overall authorial efforts as you get your work written, published, and out there?
Linda: Book View Cafe is a terrific concept focused on writers taking control of their work and promoting each other while providing quality books at a fair price for readers around the world. With literally thousands of new books being published everyday it’s extremely difficult, even for a professional writer with a track record, to get potential readers to pay attention, and it can be just as hard for readers to find the good books they’re hungry for. Book View Cafe makes life easier for all of us by eliminating a lot of the “noise” at the huge online bookstores. I’m hoping that will let me connect with a new audience who may never have seen my work before, while at the same time introducing my readers to the work of others.
The other really positive factor about BVC is that it offers a fair deal to readers around the world. Other online vendors either don’t sell internationally, or if they do, costs are much higher for readers outside certain countries. BVC allows my work to be read around the world at a fair price.
There is nothing more encouraging to a writer than connecting with an audience hungry for books. For me, that’s the best inspiration for writing more and better stories.
Sue: I couldn’t agree more. We write for the love of it, no doubt, but without readers, we probably couldn’t sustain that primal love. Thanks, Linda for letting me dig around in your skull. We’re so glad to have you here at BVC and I’m sure our friends and fans are too. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work and seeing you around here. Good luck with everything!
Sue Lange is a founding member of Book View Cafe.