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Authors, Shadow-Banning and Big Data

I follow the blogs of Steve Laube and his associates. Steve is a well-established agent and he and his associates represent many christian writers. As a service he and his associates frequently publish posts of interest to the writing community in general.

Last month, Thomas Umstattd, Jr. published a post entitled How to Protect Your Author Platform from Big Tech Censorship [link]. It’s an article well-worth reading and I wanted to talk about it.

Before I talk about big tech censorship, an apology, or perhaps, a disclaimer is necessary. On PeterKazmaier.com, I blog about writing, reading, topics that affect writers, and personal reflections on my own faith journey. I scrupulously avoid politics. The topic today, although it strongly affects writers, gets fairly close to the political line. I do not intend to comment on what makes people take offense at various writing points of view, I merely want to make writers aware of the danger for their own work and the social media platforms they use to publicize it.

So what is shadow-banning? Shadow-banning is the social media practice or condition in which the author of a post on a social media platform posts some information, assuming that it will be faithfully disseminated to the friends, followers, or others who have indicated they want to receive the authors content. However, usually unknown to the author, some kind of a filter has been interposed so the content does not reach some or all who have indicated they want to receive it.

A related problem can occur with free search engines or search commands on social media. One assumes the results are faithful to the search request, but it is possible to eliminate or downgrade priority on certain search results. This kind of search filter has a similar effect to shadow-banning in that search results that directly relate to the search request, are either eliminated or moved to say page 27 in the list of search results.

So what can I do to safe guard myself against this kind of censorship?

For my part, my core content is always located in my WordPress websites. I will refer to them using social media, but I will likely never know when those links are censored or why. Still if the core content is there, interested readers can still find it and often some social media pathways will still stay open.

As a reader, when I want to receive someone’s content, I keep a link to their blog, RSS their podcasts, and/or sign up for an email when new content appears. Several of the sites I follow have had their accounts frozen, deleted or have been shadow-banned. I had to go their website to see the content the social media provider wanted to keep me from seeing.

What do you do to protect yourself against big data censorship?

I’m often asked: “Can you make money as an indie author?”

When people ask me this question, they are usually asking because they or someone they know is active or will be active in writing a book, and they are wondering what to expect. Others ask it because they are skeptical that it is even possible to make money without going through a traditional publisher.

My answer is usually a qualified “yes” it is possible (but certainly not guaranteed) to make money through an indie or as I prefer to call it, a micro-publishing endeavor.

Why the qualification? There are three basic reasons.

Indie or Micro-Publishing is a Small Business Endeavor

The first thing that one has to remember: Micro-Publishing is a small business. Like other small businesses, this means you will likely not be making money out of the starting gate. Rather, like other small business start-ups, you will have to put in long hours with little remuneration, and finally there is significant risk that you will run out of money, patience, or interest before the business begins to pay off. This comes with the territory of starting something you own.

A case in point, many writers that try to find a traditional publisher also spend a great deal of time writing with no remuneration and then attempting to convince a publisher to take on their manuscript (also with no remuneration). This start-up time when taking the traditional route is often excluded from pay-back calculations. The writers who run out of money, patience, or interest choosing this route are ignored leading to a “survivor bias” when comparing traditionally published authors with indie authors.

Many writers augment their early cash flow with writing-related income, for example, editing, free-lance magazine submissions, contract writing for trade journal or instruction manuals. In my own case, since I write Science Fiction, I tutor in physics and chemistry, as well as provide chemistry consulting as a way of staying connected to science.

Indie or Micro-Publishing is an Annuity Business

Secondly, Micro-Publishing is an annuity-driven small business. When you publish your first book, there will be an initial flurry of interest and then slower sales over the long term. Long-term sales depend on how many people hear about your book and hear enough good things to take a chance to buy it. You may also get copyright remuneration or some remuneration for library usage. These long-term sales are your annuity.

The key point: as you write more books, this annuity stream will grow, but often in the initial stages, the up-front costs of writing and publishing more books will grow faster than the annuity stream.

Most Writers Care About the Art as Much or More than They Care About the Business

Finally, writers are artists as well as business-owners. They have a message or art they wish to develop which is often more important to them than the money. I’ve often been told, “If you wrote Science Fiction more like mainstream SF, you would sell more books.” I think that’s true, but I wanted to write Science Fiction that I would like to read but no one else has bothered to write. For me that means I explore worldview, spiritual, and philosophic questions as well as maintaining a strong science component in my novels. Not optimizing only for the money, probably puts one on a slower growth trajectory, but through it I hope to connect with kindred spirits who long for the same kind of story that I seek.

So What Should I Worry About as an Indie Writer?

1. Scalability

First, ask yourself what happens if my next book goes viral and hundreds, even thousands of readers want it at once? Can your distribution system handle it? If you only sell personal copies or mail them yourself, the answer is probably “no.” If some other organization handles the sales, then the answer is likely “yes.” In other words, make sure your distribution channel is scalable in case the breakthrough you hope for happens.

2. Marketing

Writers are often taught to market aggressively. I won’t do that for two reasons: (1) I don’t want to approach anyone in a way that I would not want to be approached. I don’t like aggressive tactics so I won’t use them. (2) I started to realize that when friends would see me, they would immediately think “I haven’t bought Peter’s book yet.” I don’t want that either. Their friendship is much more important to me than a sale. They need to know that they don’t have to like or buy my books to be my friend. That thought should not even come up.

As a consequence, most of my “advertising” or marketing is low-key on social media, by email signatures, or by magnetic signs on my vehicle. Word of mouth, without my intervention, is still the best form of advertising. Improving my writing craft so that readers will enjoy my books so much that they will give them as gifts or recommend them to friends and family is my long term objective.

3. Things Change Unexpectedly

When I published my first book, it was still possible to use Canada Post to mail books to customers at a reasonable shipping charge. Now so many surcharges, special charges have been added that even with a small-business discount, it can cost me $17.50 to ship one book to a nearby small town. Who can afford to pay that much on a book worth $20-30? the answer is “no one.”

This unexpected change has shut down one potential channel for reaching readers. These kinds of changes that are beyond a writer’s control have a major impact on the business. Like all small businesses, one has to adapt and make sure there are several ways to get your books to your readers.

Final Thoughts

Above all, keep writing, connect with like-minded readers, and connect with other writers who share your passion to communicate with others and bring a little beauty and inspiration into their lives.



Disclaimer

I do not offer publishing, small business, or other financial advice. I offer my own history, observations, and comments up in the hope they will stimulate thinking and discussion.



Do I Write Science Fiction or Fantasy?

I once asked a friend of mine who reads a great deal of Science Fiction and Fantasy what he saw as the essential difference between the two genres. He thought for a moment and said that Science Fiction “could happen” while Fantasy “could not.”

I think I know what he meant. In Science Fiction, the writer is cognizant of the physical laws operative within the story. If an SF writer were to describe space travel, Newton’s Laws of motion and gravity would be obeyed. Even here one enters a grey area: some writers would insist on using the speed of light as a fixed limitation while others would imagine a way around it.

In my high school years, I grew up on this genre and my love of science, in large measure, grew out of that reading. Several friends had urged me to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I resisted for a long time. When I did read it, it was as if a new world had opened up for me. It recaptured for me what I had experienced as a child on first reading The Chronicles of Narnia. There was a sense of nobility, beauty, and “rightness” about those imagined worlds that I had missed in my Science Fiction reading, which instead, seemed sterile in comparison.

The longer I thought about it, it came to me that I was encountering an unspoken presupposition that was embedded in most SF literature, that of a materialistic universe where all that mattered was atoms and molecules; chemistry and physics. In addition, I found that the more modern SF also grew more cynical, growing increasingly hostile to the very things that I loved in Fantasy. As a consequence, I read very few modern SF stories (although I do try them once in a while) and spend much more time reading Fantasy.

So how has this impacted my writing? I think, in The Halcyon Cycle, I write Science Fiction that reads like Fantasy. I spend a good deal of time thinking about the physics and chemistry behind my imagined world (I think some of my readers would argue too much, in fact), but I also have many of the elements of a Fantasy story (swords, nobility, right and wrong which transcends worlds and physical laws for example).

Check out The Halcyon Cycle Books … http://bit.ly/2qzzi4P-Author

 

Inspirational Writing Locales – Go With The Flow- Maurelle Island

Maurelle_Cropped

Imagery Copyright 2018 DigitalGlobe, DigitalGlobe, Map Data Copyright 2018 Google

As a writer I’m always looking for inspiration. I want my readers to “see” the scenes they are reading about and so I want to experience and even do my writing in places that help me describe beautiful locales. Furthermore, beautiful natural settings seem to inspire my imagination.

One place that helps me in this way is our cottage on the Rideau Canal System in Eastern Ontario. I have found that my kayaking adventure off British Columbia’s Maurelle Island is another place that has inspired my imagination.

I had opportunity with family to spend five glorious days with Go With The Flow near the Surge Narrows islands.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle Heriot Bay

We were a family group of four and were joined by another couple who began as strangers but rapidly became good friends. We had an absolutely wonderful, breath-taking time! The temperature on the ocean was perfect for summer. The kayaking instruction was helpful. The scenery was spectacular. We were able to see abundant marine life and our guides were very knowledgeable and provided interesting details about the plants and animals we were observing.
Although I have kayaked on lakes a few times, the kayaking instruction I received significantly improved my stroke and my endurance and confidence improved markedly.

Read Island View

The food was superb. It was well-presented and delicious. I so appreciated the early morning coffee enjoyed on the Cabana overlooking our bay, the Surge Narrows islands and Quadra Island.

With respect to my writing, I now have pictures embedded in my memory of tidal flats, rain forests, fern-filled glades, and brooks bubbling over moss-covered rocks or meandering through flower-filled meadows.

What a contrast to the lake country I love—the tang of ocean spray, seals, sea urchins, crabs, and cool air even in the midst of summer. And almost no mosquitoes!

Kayaks

Base Camp at Low tide

If, as a writer, you’re thinking of checking this out, you need to be aware of two things:
1. The days focus on kayaking. Your writing time (if you choose) will be in the late afternoon and evening.
2. The base camp, on a picturesque, secluded bay, is off-grid. For my part, I took six chapters of my latest manuscript for reading out loud and editing. You can charge your laptop, but there is no internet.

For my part, I have pictures in my mind’s eye and photographs that I think will enhance my writing for years to come.

If you’re interested in what Peter is writing, 
follow this link for his author page.

 

Writing Science Fiction and the “What If” Question in THE HALCYON DISLOCATION

Science Fiction often begins with a “What If” question. What if humans developed telepathy? What if we were visited by an alien race?

The Halcyon Dislocation is no exception. One of the prominent “What If” questions I asked as an author: “What if time were quantized and parallel worlds could exist side by side in these overlapping time intervals?” Here is how it was described in the book when one of the physics graduate students tries to explain how the island university of Halcyon was moved to a new world.

Tired and hungry, Dave and Glenn returned to their room and turned on the TV to see if broadcasting had resumed. To their surprise Jennifer McCowan, the blonde talk show host of Halcyon Music, was on the air.

“Even without social media,” said McCowan in her gentle, lilting voice, “I know that everyone is asking ‘where are we?’ and ‘what’s happened to us?’ To answer those questions I’ve asked a friend of mine to the studio. Please welcome Vlad Sowetsky.”

Canned applause welcomed Vlad.

“So, Vlad,” said McCowan, “please tell our viewers what you do.”

Vlad, a tall, big boned youth in his mid-twenties, had a long, narrow face and close-set eyes, so that the overall impression vaguely reminded one of a horse. He had shoulder length hair and stubble on his face.

“To cut to the chase, I’m a graduate student with Professor Hoffstetter, and I was in the control room when the dislocation occurred.”

“So what actually happened during the accident yesterday?”

“Well,” said Vlad, “we were running the largest test on the force field to date. The plan was to—”

“Whoa,” said McCowan, “I think you are going much too fast. Tell the audience how the Hoffstetter force field works, but no jargon, please!”

Vlad screwed up his face as if he were being asked the impossible. “The force field appears as a bubble about the size of a soccer ball when we first generate it. The time inside the bubble is slightly behind our time. When we first make the bubble, the time delay—or offset—is very, very small so that the field is thin. That is to say, anything can cross it. We expand the bubble to the desired size and then thicken it. By ‘thicken’ I mean that we increase the time offset so the field begins to have an effect. First it stops large objects. If we increase the time offset even more, we could theoretically stop air molecules or light from crossing the force field boundary.”

“Field boundary,” said McCowan. “Now you’re lapsing into jargon again and losing me.”

“By field boundary I mean the edge of the force field bubble. Shooting a missile through this barrier is, as Hoffstetter would say, ‘like trying to shoot into last week.’” Vlad was beginning to get exasperated.

“Okay,” said McCowan, “please go on. Even if I don’t understand all of the physics, I’m sure there are many listeners who will.”

“Well, we had intended to expand the force field so that it enclosed the central building in the experimental area. However, while we were expanding the bubble, the first lightning strike overloaded the equipment and the expansion continued unabated.”

This was followed by a momentary pause and a baffled look on McCowan’s face. “How big did the bubble get?” she finally asked.

“I think it expanded to a sphere about four miles in diameter,” said Vlad.

“Then what?”

“Then a second series of lightning strikes overloaded the offset controls, and the time offset increased enormously,” said Vlad. Beads of perspiration had appeared on his forehead.

McCowan uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. “Tell the audience what you think happened next,” she prompted.

Vlad took a deep breath. “I only have a half-baked theory. Do you know about quantization of energy?”

“Vaguely,” said McCowan, a blank look on her face.

“Let me see if I can make it as simple as possible. Macroscopically, that is, in the world of meter lengths and kilogram masses, energy seems to be continuous. It flows like a stream or a river. So if I ask how much energy it takes to lift this book,” he lifted a book from the table, “you can calculate the energy in joules to as many decimal places as you like. I can lift the book to any height and calculate the lift energy for each height. But when you go down in size, ten orders of magnitude to angstroms, the world changes. When lifting electrons away from the atomic nucleus, all the rules change, and one can only ‘lift’ the electron to discrete ‘heights,’ or energy levels. It’s like being able to lift this book in little jumps.” He demonstrated by rapidly lifting and stopping the book at various heights.

“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. You’re bringing back unpleasant memories of first year chemistry. But what has that got to do with the Hoffstetter field generators and the accident?”

“Everything!” said Vlad. “I think time is also quantized.”

“You’ve lost me again. How can time be quantized?” asked McCowan. “And if it is, what difference does it make?”

“Well, think about it in relation to the quantization of energy that you learned about in first year chemistry. We think of time flowing past us like a stream moving at a constant rate. That may appear true in our macroscopic world, but what happens if, at very short time intervals, one reaches a minimum time (I call it a mintival for minimum time interval)? What if our existence at the time interval of a mintival consists of little jumps, like a jump second hand rather than a sweep second hand? Or putting it another way, what if instead of a flowing stream, time consisted of a series of pools,” and here he paused to let his words sink in, “and our existence is a discontinuous series of jumps from one pool to the next?”

“Your theory is fascinating, Vlad, but what has that got to do with the Hoffstetter field generators?”

“I just told you that the Hoffstetter field generators cause the matter inside the field to lag normal time by a very small amount, say ten to the minus thirty-second of a second—that’s a decimal point with thirty-one zeros after and then a one. Now let’s suppose…” Sowetsky turned and kneeled on the sofa and drew three contiguous rectangles on a white board behind his seat “…that these three rectangles represent three sequential mintivals in our world, or universe, if you like. Another world can coexist with ours, as long as the mintivals of that world are offset from those of our time.” He drew three more rectangles adjacent but offset to the first three, like bricks on the side of a building. “It would be like a single reel of film containing two movies, with the odd numbered frames representing our world and the even numbered frames representing another world. If two protectors played this interlaced film with one displaying the odd numbered frames and the other the even numbered frames, one film could give rise to two motion pictures. Similarly, although two solid objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, they can occupy that space at different times, so to speak.”

“Keep going,” ventured McCowan doubtfully. “I hope our viewers are following you through all this.”

“Well, normally, when the Hoffstetter field generators shut down, they collapse back to the nearest quantized mintival. When the field generators overloaded, I believe we kicked over into the trailing mintival—hence the new world!”

“Well, I’ll be!” said McCowan, genuinely shocked. “Can we get back?”

“I don’t know,” said Sowetsky, frowning. “We only know how to make the Hoffstetter field lag time, not precede time. If we tried it again, we might jump into yet another world that lags this one!”

“You can’t be serious!” said McCowan.

“I’m deadly serious,” said Sowetsky evenly.

“We’re never going to get back, are we?” asked McCowan, her voice fading to a whisper as tears began to fill her eyes. She turned away from the camera for a moment. “I have one final question, Vlad,” she said, regaining her composure with obvious effort. “Did you tell Professor Hoffstetter about this possibility?”

“Of course! I told him not once but several times!” said Sowetsky. “That’s what burns me up so much.”

“What did he say when you told him?”

“At first he told me ‘science requires us to take risks,’ and finally he told me to stop raising the matter.”

Back in the dorm room there was brooding silence as the interview on the television drew to a close. Glenn suddenly got up and threw a magazine as hard as he could against the wall, cursed, and stomped out of the room. Within minutes, Dave heard the sound of an ominous rumble, like the growl of a giant beast being roused from a troubled slumber. He went out into the hall to investigate. Students were everywhere. Approaching the common room, he felt the air electric with tension. The fear and anger that had been building over the last two days was growing, and students were gathered in groups. Most had seen the television show, and they were loudly blaming Hoffstetter for their predicament.

How feasible is the quantization of time? More thoughts on this later. If you’re interested in reading more look here or check your library.