After a whole host of pandemic-related publishing setbacks, Phantasma, the third and final book in the Phaethon trilogy, is finally ready. It will be released on June 28, 2023. The pre-order is up now, so if you already know you want this book, go pre-order it! Pre-orders are extremely helpful for authors. The most important day of book sales is day one. Of course, if you haven’t read book one yet, it’s never too late.
This book is about Jack and Rosie, hacker couple, taking a relaxing vacation. Almost. Except for the reporters. And the labyrinthine fae underworld. And of course the nefarious cloven-hooved bimbo. Okay, maybe it gets a little wild.
We live in a moment of change regarding the idea of AI. Large language models are slightly better at impersonating thought than they were a year or five ago. The way we talk about robots and chatbots and panopticons is evolving. And yet, the actual digitized capitalist hellscape we live in continues to demonstrate every day, in every way, that robots are just playing stupid human games at 10x speed. The most innovative thing about technology is the errors it makes. A bot made to look at pictures thinks that hills and sheep are the same thing. If you ask “How many giraffes are in this picture?” it will always say one, because otherwise you wouldn’t be asking about giraffes. When we someday make an android that passes for human and stuff ChatGPT3000 inside, the effect will be that of someone given daily doses of ecstasy in utero who somehow survived to adulthood.
But we keep letting robots do things. Both humans and robots are going to learn a lot of things the hard way. We can only hope it’s going to be Tesla Fail hard and not Paperclip Maximizer hard.
Most of the time in this experimental year of 2023, it’s just silly, frustrating, or both.
I got an email this week that appears to legitimately be from Bytedance’s “publishing imprint.” Reading it, I wondered how much of it was written by a human. It certainly wasn’t aimed at me by a human, because a human would have taken one glance at my public existence and realized that I was the worst possible target. To be completely honest, I responded to it because I want to see if a human reads the responses, and if so, what their reaction might be. And I’m posting the exchange here because it contains some advice for writers. It might even be a good exercise in spotting red flags. I enumerated a few of them. How many do you see?
Edit to add: I received a response that I’m fairly confident came from a human. It says my concerns are valid, then makes no attempt to address or defend them. The overall vibe is “Whoops, sorry, wrong number.”
I think, from now on, I will respond to all such emails. Just to make a human think about what they’ve done and how well it’s going for them.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way; this bites. Twitter has been a major part of interacting with the world for more than a decade. There are a lot of reasons to want to stay there. Some of them are just little dopamine hits, but some of them are friends, news, and fun. So. This bites.
But Twitter isn’t a town square. It’s a company. And that company has been bought by a petty billionaire who may or may not be on a mission to put chips in everyone’s brains, and his ego is manifesting in ways that have destroyed the platform. Journalists are banned. Criticism is banned. Links to other social media made by people trying to flee are banned. Let me know when this starts sounding like an extremely weak cyberpunk dystopia to you. I’m ~50% certain at this point that Elon Musk is deliberately destroying Twitter out of spite for being forced to go through with buying it, but the result is the same either way.
So it’s time to walk away.
But you don’t wanna.
Let’s try some things:
Make an alternative. You don’t have to nuke your Twitter to do this; you’re just creating a different place you can go. Spend a little time there adding people you like and looking for people you already know. I’m using a Mastodon instance called eldritch.cafe (which the first 50 people can join with my invite link if a queer left flavor of server sounds good to you), but you can go wherever you want. This is the thing that Twitter is trying to stop you from doing, so now it’s more important than ever that you aren’t a captive of the hellbird. You can read about alternatives like Mastodon and Hive. If you choose Mastodon but you’re having trouble picking a server, remember that you can migrate your account to a different server later, and unless one server has blocked another, all servers can see each other, so you’re not limited to interacting with the community you pick.
Move the Twitter app icon off the home screen on your phone. Delete the bookmark in your browser. Make it one extra step for yourself to go there. Having to take that step will at least make sure you’re making a deliberate choice.
Use some of the tools you have to protect yourself from Twitter while you still can. Delete your phone number, if you gave it to them. Remove your real name, if it’s on there. There are arguments about deleting old tweets, but I’m doing so using Semiphemeral because I don’t want to keep them there are provide content, even if it’s old. Twitter has just banned all links to external social media platforms, but you might still be able to find some of your friends and port them over to Mastodon using a tool like FediFinder before the Twitter banhammer comes down.
You don’t have to delete your account. In fact, you probably shouldn’t, because that would free up your username for someone to impersonate you. You can change your name to Permanent Hiatus, or change your profile picture to all black (my favorite one I saw was a Spirit Halloween banner) and just leave the account there to collect dust.
If Elon Musk sells Twitter, maybe we can go back. Even if I feel like the Lorax for saying it. It’s possible.
But if nothing else, this whole thing should teach us that it’s good to have a back-up plan. Start on yours today.
This post has been updated several times and will continue to update if there are any major developments. I have left most of the original text intact, but I encourage you to read all the way to the end to see NaNoWriMo redeem itself.
I sequestered myself for the month of November and wrote the first 50k words of Hostis Humani Generis, the decopunk anarchist lesbian pirate farmer novel. So. Huzzah for me.
Unfortunately, it will probably be my last NaNoWriMo.
I’m going to finish the book! And using the same method, as well. But not using the NaNoWriMo website or hashtags, and maybe in a month with fewer holidays in it.
And now we’re going to talk about why.
I have been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2015. And winning. And publishing. I used to donate every year and get that little halo over my profile photo.
I believe in NaNo as a project.
I don’t actually believe, as they often say, that anyone can write a book. I think you need to read a lot and write a lot and think a lot, and on top of that, you need the freedom to section off a part of your life and say “This is where the book is happening. Nothing else is allowed.” Those things are a combination of privilege and choice. Not everyone has the privilege. Even fewer make the choice.
But I want EVERY ONE OF THEM to write a book. NaNo was the thing that finally let me dedicate myself to the work, and I want everyone to have that for themselves.
And NaNo does get bigger every year. This has come with some issues.
When they redesigned the website, I think they were just trying to modernize. And every big, complicated, public-facing website will have some bugs to iron out. But I think the website redesign suffered from the same issue outlined in one of my favorite books as a kid, Mrs. Armitage on Wheels, in which a woman adds bells and whistles and radios and baskets and umbrellas onto her bicycle until it becomes unridable. There were some strange design decisions in the new website, too, like turning the bar graph into a blob graph. It was at this point that I decided to stop donating until they sorted it out. It seemed like they had spent a lot of money to ruin a perfectly good website. But I kept doing NaNo, hoping it would get better.
Instead, I’m afraid they’ve done something much worse.
This year, when I punched in my final word count, I got the usual lovely confetti and charming winner video and the little heart reacts from the wonderful people in my local NaNo discord. I felt good. Until I clicked on the “winner goodies” section, which is a set of discounts available to winners for things like writing software, plotting software, and typing devices. Those are all great, even if they are a bit of free advertising for the companies offering the discounts.
But this year, I noticed that my winner goodies included a “chance to win publishing contracts, social media spotlights, and more!” from a company called Inkitt.
And THAT is not okay.
If you search “Inkitt” on social media, you will see a lot of authors begging people to read their story for free in Inkitt.
This is not a good sign.
If you click one, there is a very good chance you’ll find something minimally edited, or missing punctuation entirely.
This is also not a good sign.
As the long-standing among you may remember, I wrote about Inkitt in TWENTY GODDAMN SIXTEEN after they targeted me for an “invitation” using a fictional publishing house account on social media.
I was not the only one who wrote about them being a scam.
And, available by a quick search, reddit and quora posters.
There is bound to be some confusion if you read all of these, because Inkitt has drastically changed their business model several times, and each time it was going to be the Next Big Thing.
I learned about Inkitt because they replied to one of my tweets with an offer to ‘publish my book.’ (Which was, by the way, already published, but the bots didn’t know that.) I looked into them and found dozens of fake accounts spamming people with their single link. A little further and I found that if you give them an email address, they will hound you until you die.
When I wrote my initial blog post about them, the “co-founder” contacted me “to talk about it” but refused to discuss any of the actual issues unless I gave him my phone number, which, yeah, like hell, buddy. He then stalked me across multiple platforms to say that Inkitt was innocent. Inkitt is not innocent. Inkitt is a scam. Inkitt lures people into giving away their first publishing rights so they can’t sell the book to anyone else, and gives them “a chance to win” a contract. Or possibly be shopped around to real publishers, which is the job of an agent. Honestly, the whole thing is so screwy that I won’t try to lay it all out again here. You can read the posts above.
Here are some general pro tips about publishing: No publisher will ever reply to your casual post about writing on social media with an offer of publication. No publisher will sign a book that has already been published for free on the internet, unless that book has already proven that it can sell a million copies, and probably not even then. And no author should ever sign away their book for “a chance” or “exposure.”
Inkitt Meets NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo has dedicated forums. When I found Inkitt on my “winner goodies” page, I went to the forums to ask why this extremely disreputable company had been included and suggest that people google them before signing up.
(The following is edited and updated to reflect events of the 24 hours after this was originally written, because if I update this just to add the entirety of 24 hours of forum drama, this is going to be a long damn post.)
The highlights of the following day on the forums are as follows:
The mods panicked
I was banned for disparaging a sponsor
I wrote this post
Other authors joined me in saying that Inkitt was not okay
The mods presumably had a long and stressful meeting
The mods un-banned me (and others) and sent both public and personal apologies
I, for one, absolutely forgave them, because the core issue here is not their fault
We all settled down for a long talk in the forums about sponsors, forum moderation policies, and how to make sure all this never happens again, which is ongoing at time of writing.
But Inkitt remained on the Winner Goodies page.
I find it extremely distressing that NaNoWriMo, an organization that exists to encourage writers, is funneling those writers directly to a company that will take advantage of them. I hope it is an oversight (although typing two words into a search engine could have spared them that). I hope they will fix it. I am not going to assume that the org, or the mod, acted maliciously.
But I also can’t let authors fall for Inkitt if I can help it. You wrote a whole book! You should treasure that, and continue to work until it is perfect in your own eyes, and then share it in its best possible form, after close review, in a way that works for you, without signing it over to the first hand you see outstretched.
So spread the word. Do not put your work on Inkitt.
And hopefully that word will get around to NaNoWriMo as well.
And if it doesn’t…I think I’ll start writing books in June. June is nice.
NaNoWriMo really turned things around, and quickly. They have removed both Inkitt and Manuscript (a questionable vanity press) as sponsors and basically promised to make sure that none of this will ever happen again. Staff from all levels of the org descended into the forums to talk with us, saying that they had made a mistake and they were fixing it. To the extent that it is possible without use of a time machine, they have, in fact, fixed it. They bolted through the process of removing all favorable references to sketchy sponsors from the website, the social media posts, and the forums. They posted honestly about the issue in the forums.
Now all that remains to be seen is what they will do going forward. They’ve taken on Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware as a consultant (good move) and promised that the vetting process will change dramatically. They’re even letting people voice their issues with the website again. Is the disastrous NaNo of the last few years completely reformed? Of course not. But they’ve only had about 36 hours. But we’re all waiting to see what they do next, maybe even with a little restored faith.
Since the sharing rampage of both this post and the previous one relating to Inkitt, I’ve received feedback from quite a few people. Most of them were authors who appreciated the warning, whether or not they had already signed up for Inkitt. One person contacted me anonymously. They claim to be an ex-employee of Inkitt/Galatea (Galatea, not previously covered here, is an app run by Inkitt) and gave me permission to share their message. I am not a reporter, and I can not verify this person’s identity or employment history, so I share this with the caveat that you decide the veracity of it for yourself. I have very lightly redacted it, because in the event that this person really was an employee, I didn’t want to leave any hints about when and where they contacted me.
So, there’s that.
Since I didn’t mention Galatea before, some quick info about it: Galatea is Inkitt, in yet another “next big thing” form. For no reason at all, here is a screenshot of Galatea reviews from the Apple app store. If you look very closely, you might see something suspicious.
At this point, fake accounts and fake reviews appear to be the entirety of Inkitt’s business model.
If I personally raise $300 through my donation page, this is the bribe: I will create a repro-rights-themed body paint photo shoot and post it without watermarks or DRM, so anyone can use it for future fundraising or awareness campaigns.
If you’ve never needed an abortion, maybe you haven’t thought about what it’s like. Like all healthcare in America, it’s stressful. It’s expensive. Unlike most other healthcare, it’s also stigmatized, and people who will never need one have tried to outlaw it. This means that while facing the decision, the expense, and the stigma, you may also have to travel to another state and rely on strangers to get you through an unnecessarily complicated procedure. Abortion funds are trying to be good strangers.
If you or someone you love need an abortion but can’t afford the many associated costs, please contact the fund. They will help people until the money runs out.
Personal news: I will be having minor surgery tomorrow, so it may be a minute before I’m back to fully functional. Please be patient. Because of my health complexities, I never really know how I’m going to bounce back from things.
Author news: After much trial and even more error, my web presence is now in its final form. Aside from this website and my various social media, everything can now be found on Ko-Fi. My Patreon will close at the end of the month. Ditto all previous iterations of web store. Ko-Fi will be the place to support, buy, and read all things Sharp. Short stories will be posted periodically in the store for a minimum donation of $0, in effect allowing the people who donate (thank youuu) to subsidize the stories for everyone. Any purchase from my store will also grant you access to all the digital supporter content forever. You can also follow me there, but public news there will be much the same as public news here.
That’s all for now. I will hopefully be back online again soon.
Every fantasy lover knows the basic rules of magic. It always comes at a cost and it never quite gives the expected results. Then it should come as no surprise that the magic in our stories has many explosive consequences! Demolish your way through fourteen novels that span the sub-genres of fantasy while showcasing magic-induced mayhem, from the hilarious to the horrible and everything in between.
SFWA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting, advancing, and supporting science fiction and fantasy writing in the United States and elsewhere. This year the SFWA Self-Publishing Committee cast a wider net when seeking submissions and received substantially more novels to evaluate than ever before. We enjoyed sorting through so many excellent books but faced a doubly difficult task as we narrowed our selections down to these fourteen special stories.
Some of our favorites in this Bundle:
• Darkmage – ML Spencer’s award-winning debut novel filled with epic battles, flawed heroes, and a brutal struggle • Playing with Fire – R.J. Blain’s snarky romantic comedy with a body count, featuring a fire-breathing unicorn on a mission of destruction • Phaethon – Rachel Sharp’s tech fantasy that weaves computer hackers, faeries, and corporate greed into a twisted tale • Ragnarok Unwound – Kristin Jacques’s story of a young woman tangled up in a prophecy that sets her off to save the world with the help of a brownie, a Valkyrie, and the goddess of death herself • Cutie and the Beast – E.J. Russell’s novel pairing a former Queen’s Champion of Faerie’s Seelie Court with a cheeky yet adorable human temp worker, as they prove, once again, that when fae consort with humans, it never ends well • 9 Tales of Raffalon – Matthew Hughes’s intriguing mosaic novel combining nine stories of an enterprising thief as he grapples with crooked guild masters, ghosts, spies, ogres, and a talented amateur assassin
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so this entry will serve mainly to tell you that:
I am alive,
I am still actively writing on occasion, and
I have hope that we’re going to get out of this someday
If that checks all your boxes, you can stop reading here.
Otherwise, I’ve been doing some mask sewing and home renovating and activist organizing to pass the long year. Since I qualify for the vaccine (on multiple fronts, thanks to my complex disability), I’ve made an appointment to get my first jab. I expect that even after I’m fully vaccinated, I will have some difficulty adjusting. A year of conditioning is hard to shake. Maybe especially because this thing will have no one day of victory, no sirens suddenly falling silent, no declarative moment when the state of emergency is over. Getting back to normal is going to be like walking rolling hills in tall grass. But at least we’re on the path now.