Friday, September 27, 2013's Political Action Committee

I received a very curious email this morning from Amazon Associates.  For those who don't know, the Amazon Associates program is basically a referral system, where Associates get a small percentage of sales made from links they post.  Examples can be found on my websites.  All of the Amazon ads on and are part of the associates program.  I don't make a lot of money from these referrals, but some people rake in some serious cash from the program—a few people even make their living this way.

As I said, I got a "curious" email.  It seems is summarily canceling all Associates accounts from people living in Maine.  Here is what they have to say:

Greetings from the Amazon Associates Program.

We're writing from the Amazon Associates Program to notify you that your Associates account will be closed and your Amazon Services LLC Associates Program Operating Agreement will be terminated effective October 6, 2013. This is a direct result of the unconstitutional Maine state tax collection legislation passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor LePage on June 5, 2013, with an effective date of October 9, 2013. As a result, we will no longer pay any advertising fees for customers referred to an Amazon Site after October 6, nor will we accept new applications for the Associates Program from Maine residents.

Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned prior to October 7, 2013, will be processed and paid in full in accordance with your regular advertising fee schedule.  Based on your account closure date of October 6, 2013, any final payments will be paid by December 31, 2013.

While we oppose this unconstitutional state legislation, we strongly support the federal Marketplace Fairness Act now pending before Congress. Congressional legislation is the only way to create a simplified, constitutional framework to resolve interstate sales tax issues and it would allow us to re-open our Associates program to Maine residents.

We thank you for being part of the Amazon Associates Program, and look forward to re-opening our program when Congress passes the Marketplace Fairness Act.


The Amazon Associates Team

When I asked Amazon about this issue, they were unable to cite the "unconstitutional" legislation in question, but I assume they are referring to LD346, which mandates that online retailers collect sales tax for any sale they make in Maine, even if said retailer is outside of Maine. Yes, this is in violation of the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution, so Amazon is correct to call it unconstitutional.  What they don't tell you is that this legislation does exactly what the Marketplace Fairness Act would do for every single State!  The MFA would mandate that every seller collect sales tax for interstate sales; a logistical nightmare for small sellers (like Martinus Publishing).

It is no secret that is a huge supporter of this so-called "Marketplace Fairness Act," as it will empower mega-businesses like them and place serious burdens on small retailers.  Its constitutionality is questionable, and it paves the way for a National Sales Tax, which is what some government officials have been salivating over for years.  It's more big-government BS in my opinion, and we don't need it.

I find it offensive that Amazon is attempting to terrorize Maine Associates into becoming lobbyists for their cause.  Their objective over this action is obvious to anyone who stops to think about it.  They want Maine-based Associates to now write politicians (like Senator Susan Collins) and beg them to support the MFA, aka the "Increase Amazon's Marketshare Act."

This is just the start.  If this political lobbying works with Maine-based Associates, it'll set a dangerous precedent, and Amazon will try it elsewhere.  It's disheartening when big business tries to bully the consumer this way, and we shouldn't support it.  As a retail business, Amazon should spend their resources trying to serve customers and sell products, not advance Federal legislation.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Write What You Like

I'd like to thank Ellie Garratt for inspiring me to write this particular commentary.  Her recent post debating the merits of writing what you love versus writing to sell reminded me of my own experiences with that very question, and now prompts me to share a little advice on the subject.

Of course, everyone who writes wants to make money doing it.  We all have dreams of being the next Stephen King, JK Rowling, or Robert A. Heinlein.  However, there just isn't a big enough marketplace to make us all rich and famous, so most of us will not be hitting the big-time.  In fact, most fiction writers will never be able to quit their day jobs and live entirely on their storytelling.  But don't let that grim reality discourage you.  The odds are always against us, no matter what we do (hell, your very existence is the result of a million to one genetic convergence, so never say a dream's not worth pursuing).

One question many fiction writers struggle with is "what should I write?"  This question naturally arises: what can you write that will increase your odds of success?  Well, when it comes to fiction, (and Sci-Fi & Fantasy in particular), there is no easy answer.  It's tempting to think that we can boost our sales if we write something based on what's popular today, but from my own experience, that doesn't necessarily work.

There are a few reasons that I would advise writers to not go after the pop-theme story.  One is the fact that there are a million other writers out there with the same idea; as in, they're going to write what's hip and cool today.  So, you'll find your pop story in amidst a sea of similar slush, and it will be increasingly hard to get it to stand out.  The second problem is timeframe.  Often, by the time a particular theme is hot in the marketplace, the publishing community is already growing cold on it.  It's been done before, and they've had enough of your teenage vampires and cookie-cutter zombies.  They aren't interested in what is hot; they're looking for what will be hot next.  Therefore, you're liable to miss the boat if you're playing catch-up and emulating yesterday's fashion trends.

As a writer, I've dabbled in trying to write stories "for today's market" before in the past, and it did not bring me any success.  In fact, it sucked the life out of my writing, and defeated the purpose of fiction, which is to entertain.  If the writer isn't enjoying the story, then the reader probably won't, either.  That's fictioneering 101.  Therefore, you need to like what you write, and write what you like.

As an editor, I've found that some of the best stories are those from writers who follow that entertainment model. They write something that they enjoy, in the genres they enjoy, and by doing so they create stories that have caught my attention and kept it.  Some of the stories I've had to reject over the past year have been clear examples of "pop" culture; stories that are nothing new and clearly designed to emulate preexisting story models.  I suspect these were written under the "business model" format, with an eye on marketing over creativity.  That isn't to say that every rejected story was created this way, or that I haven't accepted a few stories written by authors with the marketing in mind, but I'm saying that most good stories written these days are created by people who are looking to entertain, not those seeking a fast buck.

When it comes to making money and writing, fiction isn't the clear choice.  If you want to make a living with the written word, you might want to pursue a career in journalism, or write non-fiction books.  Those are the "day jobs" that pay.  Fiction is an art, and like most art forms it doesn't always pay.  For the aspiring, unknown author, the best course of action is to write what you like.  Only when you are better known and already making money can you increase your market share by selling out and writing what's popular.

With that said, there's no reason you can't find a magazine or anthology and write a short story based on their desired theme or prompt.  The whole point of that is to make the theme your own, creating your unique take on an idea.  And therein lies the comfortable middle ground between marketing and creativity.  If you can write something that is marketable, all the better, but don't go into it thinking about the bottom line.  The creation must be a purpose unto itself, or your passion will become a burden, and your chances for success may actually decrease.  Like it, or leave it; that's my writing philosophy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness (Review)

Okay, this is old news, and everyone else has already had their two cents worth about this movie release, but now I'd like to put it to bed with my own three cents worth overview.

First off, I'm an unashamed Trekkie, who grew up watching reruns of The Original Series, and saw the new episodes of TNG, DS9, and Voyager as they aired.  In 1998, however, the crappy Canadian broadcast station that aired DS9 and Voyager dropped them, so it wasn't until almost a decade later that I finally had the chance to see the last season of Deep Space Nine and the last three seasons of Voyager (when they came out on DVD), as well as the four existent seasons of Enterprise.  As a teenager, I also read a lot of Trek books, including those by William Shatner, himself.  Okay, Trekkie credentials established.

When they did the first "reboot" with the unimaginatively entitled "Star Trek," I had my doubts.  After watching the movie in 2009, I found it entertaining, but it definitely wasn't the Trek I had grown up with.  To be fair, it was more like Battlestartrek Galactica—a dark and gritty action adventure, which Gene Roddenberry would probably have found distasteful.  Mind you, DS9 was pretty dark at times, but it was flowers and roses compared to this thing that J.J. Abrams directed.

Now, jumping ahead to "Into Darkness," here we have a continuation of that dark and dreary "alternate" universe of Trek, with some familiar villains and a lot more bloodshed.  It was a wild, vicious ride, with a limited storyline that doesn't require a lot of thought from the viewer.  In other words, it's just your typical Hollywood shoot-em-up sci-fi flick. To be blunt, if it weren't branded "Star Trek," this film would be suited to little more than being a cheap made for tv movie they would air on SyFy on Saturday night.  I'm sorry if that comes off as harsh, but it's how I feel after watching this thing in its DVD release.  Of all the Star Trek movies, it had the weakest storyline, bar none.

Spoiler Paragraph:  Amidst that weak story are some pretty lame "revisions" to the franchise.  Since when is Khan's blood a magic healing elixir?  Didn't see that in TOS or Star Trek II.  A Klingon with piercings all along his ridges? A really ugly pop-culture homage mistake there!  Peter Weller as a psychotic, heartless Admiral?  I mean, he's a great actor, but this was a really poor role—his schemes came off as shallow and almost cartoonish.  He should have had a mustache to twirl as he bragged about planning to kill Kirk's entire crew all along.  And this new version of Spock is way too emotional.

Star Trek: Into Darkness is mildly amusing, but it really isn't Star Trek.  I dream of a day they actually bring back a real Star Trek television series; something that has substance, intelligent writing, and a future vision that isn't trying to look like some dark, gritty Star Wars/ BSG clone.  I want the old universe back so bad!  Hopefully, we'll get something going with Star Trek: Renegades!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fantasy Anthology Seeking Stories

Today I'd like to mention a story anthology that is seeking submissions.  It's being put together by Robert MacAnthony, a contributor to The Temporal Element.  While this project is not a Martinus Publishing anthology, he asked that I pass the word along, and I wish him the best of luck with it.  It's also a good opportunity for writers who would like to get more exposure and collect a few dollars in the process.

Shadows of a Fading World
-A Sword & Sorcery Anthology-

Shadows of a Fading World  is a classic sword-and-sorcery style fantasy e-Book anthology in the dying earth subgenre. Submissions should pay homage to the roots of the genre - adventure, romance, dark sorceries, mysterious locales, and the grit and grime of common life all have a role to play.

The "dying earth" aspect of the stories form a commonality for the anthology. This element should be present in all submissions. Authors may make this an integral part of the story, or simply use it to provide background and flavor.

We are looking for original stories, set in a world of the author's own creation. Stories should invoke visions of the classic tales of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock, and others., but authors should not feel bound by any particular style.

For more information, and to submit your story, visit the publisher's website here.

Of course, Martinus Publishing anthologies are also open at this time, and two more will be opening in December (Visit Martinus Publishing's Submissions Page for details).  Get your stories ready and submitted!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Best of Martinus Publishing 2013

September is already upon us.  Summer blew by so quickly, and before you know it, winter will be rearing its snowy head.  As always, the wheels are turning.

Now, for an announcement of some importance.

From the works Martinus Publishing has released in 2013 comes an eclectic collection of entertaining stories. Sample some of the best sci-fi & fantasy of the year for a bargain basement price:

Table of Contents:
1:  A Thursday Night at Doctor What's Time & Relative Dimensional Space Bar & Grill  –by Bruno Lombardi
2:  Quest through the Ages –by JL Mo
3:  Poetic Justice –by Edmund Wells
4:  Wipeout –by A.C. Hall
5:  Hooked on Questing –by Gerald Costlow
6:  Abducted –by Shawn Cook
7:  The Long View –by William R.D. Wood
8:  Into the Thick of It –by Martin T. Ingham
9:  The Vendetta Ride –by Martin T. Ingham
10:  Doing Time –by Barbara Austin
11:  Life or Death –by Stacey Jaine McIntosh
12:  Curse of the Bottle –by Nye Joell Hardy
13:  I'll Come Back for You –by A. C. Hall
14:  There's an App for That –by Chris Allinotte
15:  Odin's Spear –by Susan A. Royal
16:  AMR-17 –by Edmund Wells
17:  Burn It Up, Burn It Down –by Philip Overby
18:  But I Know We'll Meet Again Some Sunny Day –by Lauren A. Forry

This collection is designed  to entice new readers to check out Martinus Publishing.  The print price on the Martinus website will be $7.95, though I'm not sure what "minimum" price Amazon will want to sell it for.  As for the Kindle version, that will be priced at 99 cents.  This collection may also be available for the NOOK, but I can't be certain yet (I'm still looking into that, and weighing the pros and cons).

The official release date for this collection is December 1, 2013.  Pre-orders will be available in the next few weeks.

And to complete this official announcement, here is the exclusive cover artwork, illustrated by the highly talented Jessica Hale: