Ok, so I’m super busy doing prep work for Geek Girl Con this weekend. If you’re going, please swing by my panel Saturday at 7pm, “Handmaid’s Tale, Bitch Planet and the Politics of Women’s Bodies.” I will also be demo-ing Blue Rose for Green Ronin on Sunday at 11am and 4pm.
For the blog, what this means is that things may show up a little later in the day, but they will be showing up. And I want to outline some of the things I plan on talking about.
Post convention, I’ll do a follow up of the panel. But also, in a similar vein, I want to talk about why, even when we are asking for people to be held accountable for their behavior, women do not name the men responsible, and why.
I also want to talk about what works about “making everyone feel welcome,” and what doesn’t, and the argument for curating spaces, and how you do that. As well as explaining why it doesn’t work like a lot of you think it does.
And I want to talk about how to hold people accountable, and that a big problem with this is that the people with real power in the industry rarely see the behavior first hand, and why.
I will also attempt to explain why “dang women and poc and queers keep bringing politics into it!” doesn’t actually mean what you think it means, and why.
So that is my blueprint for my next week or two. I’m sure you’ll also get at least one post squeeing about the majesty that GGC and some pictures, because I love cosplayers so much. Right now I’m trying to figure out what cosplay I could pull up last minute, because my co-panelists have informed me that they are cosplaying and that I will just look silly if I don’t as well.
This time last year, I had just wrapped up a month-long tour of Texas, eating chile con queso all over my home state. It was the greatest road trip of my life. Today, I celebrate the results of that delicious research and am thrilled to announce that my latest book, QUESO! Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile Cheese Dip has at last arrived!
While I spent most of last year eating, researching, and cooking all things related to chile con queso, my obsession with the dish actually began a few years ago when I first moved to New York.
As many of you know, the classic recipe for home-style queso is to melt together a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chiles and a brick of Velveeta cheese. At that time in New York, however, the proper tomatoes were as elusive as a crisp fall day in Texas. And while you could sometimes find the proper cheese, stores only sold the tiny bricks for a crazy expensive price. I had to make do and figured out how to make queso with alternative ingredients, which lead to an all-natural chile con queso recipe. That, however, was only the beginning of my obsession.
For instance, a friend from El Paso informed me that the queso in her hometown wasn’t like the processed cheese Tex-Mex liquid gold most people associate with the name, so I flew there to investigate. Then I read in one of Matt Martinez’s cookbooks (he’s the creator of Bob Armstrong dip), that instead of using Velveeta (or a similar brick processed cheese) in his queso, his family preferred regular American cheese. (Yes, there is a difference between the two, with American cheese having less stabilizers and more dairy, which makes it an actual cheese rather than simply a “cheese food,” as brick processed cheese is labelled by the FDA.)
More questions arose. Where did chile con queso come from and how did it evolve? What are the regional variations of chile con queso? Why the heck does Arkansas lay claim to this dish? Can chile con queso be considered a mother sauce? I could go on.
My curiosity fueled my quest and I spent my time reading articles; paging through old cookbooks; talking to queso cooks; and making a variety of different recipes. I ended up with a spreadsheet of 215 recipes, which when I pitched the book to my agent and publisher they requested that I narrow it down to 50—a difficult task when you’ve become a queso nerd!
In the end, however, I am over the moon with the finished book. Recipes include historical quesos such as the original Mexican incarnation of the dish and the first chile con queso recipe published in Texas; classic Tex-Mex queso recipes, such as ones inspired by Felix queso and Kerbey Lane; chile con queso as it’s found along the border, such as the white cheese and chile-rich El Paso style and an assortment of skillet queso fundidos.
The are recipes for quirky quesos, such as vegan queso, a smoked cheddar and sausage Hill Country queso, and one livened up with Indian chutney; and finally, recipes where queso makes an appearance such as enchiladas, huevos rancheros, and chicken-fried steak.
Besides all the cheesy goodness, there are also recipes for delicious queso add-ins such as salsas, fajitas, chili, pulled pork, bean dip, and more. If you’re curious, I even show you how to fry corn tortillas to make your own chips, and I cracked the code on the puffy tostada, too.
The mouth-watering photography was done by Aubrie Pick, and the packaging of the book is a charming size perfect for hostess gifts or stocking stuffers. (Speaking from experience, it also fits nicely into a purse or book bag if you wish to carry it around and show people how wonderful queso can be.)
Because I’ve become a queso nerd, I could continue but for now I will let you go so you can grab your own copy of QUESO! and start cooking. Though if you would like to discuss queso with me in person, please come see me on tour—I would love to visit with you!
As always, thank you for reading and for your encouraging words. You make this all worthwhile and I am so grateful. This project has brought me immense joy and I’m delighted to finally share that joy with you. So, grab your chips, your cheese, your chiles, and your loved ones, and enjoy the glory of queso!
You can buy QUESO! wherever books are sold, such as these fine establishments:
Barnes & Noble
If you're in New York, this Thursday, September 28, please join me at Bloomindales on 59th from 6-8. It's an evening of queso and cocktails with NY Times spirits writer Robert Simonson. We'll both be sharing food and drinks and doing demonstrations! This event is free.
My Big Idea schedule says I was supposed to run the Big Idea for Fran Wilde’s Horizon today, but I already ran it last week. Which means that I screwed up, because today is the release day. So: If you missed the Big Idea when I posted it early, here it is today. Also, congrats to Fran for the release of her third book!
Also, a small public service message: Hey, if you ever want to just see Big Idea posts, there’s a way to do that: Use the BigIdeaAuthors.com URL. It works! Try it!
Also, also: I’m sending out my final batch of October Big Idea slots today. If you sent me a request for October and have not yet heard from me, check your email accounts. If you haven’t heard from me by the end of the day, I’m all slotted out.
Tamaya is just stunning, and the food was amazing for a hotel banquet. The company was great as well. I love a good historical, and I was pleased to meet some of the people who write them. And my dear friend Melinda Snodgrass was the featured speaker after the feast.
And then they gave me an award: I'm the first (well, one of the first) recipient of the PastWords Award for Historical Fantasy. HWA had a rather handsome bronze trophy made up, with a writer and a reader flanking an hourglass. I'm told the award was designed by Gage Prentiss, the artist who designed the H.P. Lovecraft Statue that's to go up in Providence (for more info about that project, see here: http://www.weirdprovidence.org/statue.
The other winners of this year's PastWords Awards were a distinguished lot, whose number included Larry McMurtry and Congressman John Lewis, both of whom I would have loved to meet. Alas, neither one was able to attend.
Here's a shot of Melinda and me at the awards banquet with HWA founder Theresa Guzman Stokes (who goes by 'Soni'), and a close up of the award.
It was a fun evening.
If you'd like to know more about the Historical Writers of America, they have a website here: http://historicalwritersofamerica.org/
I do think they need to change their name, though. All these HWAs are confusing. Way back when, I was actually a founding member of the horror writers group under its original name: the Horror and Occult Writers League, or HOWL. A much more original and creative name, I thought, but they got stuffy and opted for 'dignity.' They should go back to HOWL, I say... and maybe one of the historical groups should call itself the Historical Authors instead of writers, which would make them HAA... but then they'd get confused with a comedy writers organization... oh, well, I don't know.
In any case, I appreciate the award, and all the kind words about my work. It's kind of cool to learn that even writers of honest to god real historical fiction and non-fiction enjoy my own fake histories.
No, not the historic old railroad town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Doc Holliday and Hoodoo Brown once prowled the streets, but that gaudy newcomer in the desert, Las Vegas, Nevada.
As part of the weekend festival called Life Is Beautiful, Meow Wolf took over an defunct motel and redid the courtyard and all the rooms in their own surreal and inimitable style.
You can see some of the rooms here:
Alas, alack, I gather that Life Is Beautiful only lasted the weekend (life, it would seem, must go back to being whatever it is the rest of the year), and the Meow Wolf installation was only temporary, so if you missed it, you're out of luck.
(I would have told you earlier, but I did not know myself).
There's still plenty of time to come to Santa Fe and see the original Meow Wolf, however.
And if you can't, well, cross your fingers -- Meow Wolf may soon be coming to a city near you.
There was thread over at Metafilter this week talking about book sales and author earnings, including a link to a study that purported to chart author earnings, based on sales at Amazon. I have to admit I had a bit of a giggle over it. Not because it was attempting to guess author incomes, which is fine, but because the methodology for estimating those earnings came almost entirely from trying to estimate sales of the authors’ books on Amazon, and extrapolating income from there.
Here’s the thing: For non-self-published authors, the correlation between annual book sales and annual “earnings” as a writer can be fairly low. As in, sometimes there is no correlation at all.
Confusing? Think how we feel!
But let me explain.
So, I’m a writer who works primarily with a “Big Five” publisher (Tor Books, which is part of Macmillan). For each of my books, I’m given an advance, which in my case is paid in four separate installments — when I sign the contract, when I turn in the manuscript and it’s accepted, when the book is published in hardcover and when the book is published in paperback. This is fairly typical for most writers working with a “traditional” publisher.
Once the advance is disbursed, my publisher owes me nothing until and unless my book “earns out” — which is to say, the amount I nominally earn for the sale of each unit (usually between 10% and 15% of each hardcover, and 25% of the net for eBook) exceeds cumulatively the amount I was offered for the advance. Once that happens, my publisher owes me for each book sold, and that amount is then usually disbursed semiannually…
… usually. There could be other complicating factors, such as if the royalties of the books are “basketed” (meaning the contract was for two or more books, and the royalties are not disbursed until the advance amount for every book in the “basket” is earned out), or if some percentage of the royalties are held back as a “reserve against returns” (meaning that some books listed as sold/distributed are actually returned, so the publisher holds back royalties for a payment period to compensate).
Bear in mind that most publishers try to offer as an advance a sum of money they think the book will earn, either over the first year in hardcover, or across the entire sales run of the work. Which means that if the publisher has guessed correctly, it will never have to shell out royalties. Sometimes they guess poorly, which means either they paid too much for an advance or not enough; in the latter case, that’s when the royalty checks come (please note that even if a publisher pays “too much” and the advance isn’t earned out, it doesn’t mean the book wasn’t profitable for the publisher — their bottom line is not necessarily heavily correlated to the author’s advance — nor does the author have to pay it back).
So what does this all mean? Well, it means that for a non-self-pubbed author, often none of their annual earnings from a book are directly related to how many of those books sell in a year (or any other specified time frame). In fact, depending on how the advance is paid out, three-quarters or more (even all!) of the author’s earnings from a book are disbursed before the book has sold a single unit.
Book is contracted: 40% of the advance (“signing installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0.
Book is turned in and accepted: 20% of the advance (“delivery and acceptance installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0
Book is published in hardcover: 20% of the advance (“hardcover installment”) goes to the author. Books sold to date: 0 (there may be pre-orders, but the sales don’t usually start being counted until this time).
Book is published in paperback: Final 20% of the advance goes to author. Books sold to date: Hopefully some! But even if the number is zero, the final installment gets paid out (if so few books are sold that the publisher foregoes the paperback release, there’s still usually the contractual obligation to pay out).
Note these advances can be paid out over more than one year — I once got a final installment for an advance roughly six years after I got the first installment (it was a complicated situation). Likewise, once the book starts selling, it can be years — if at all — before the author starts earning royalties, and even then, thanks to the reserve against returns, what the author gets in those semi-annual royalty checks is not 1:1 with sales for the period the check covers (note: this sometimes works to the benefit of the author). Also note: Those semi-annual checks? Often cover a period of time located in the previous fiscal or calendar year.
All of which is to say: For a “traditionally published” author, at almost no point do what an author’s yearly earnings for a book directly correspond to how the book is selling in that particular year.
(Is this bad? No, but it needs paying attention to. Authors tend to love advances because they’re not directly tied to sales — it’s money up front that doesn’t have to be immediately recouped and can help tide the author over during the writing and the wait for publication. But it also means, again, that it can be years — if at all — before money from royalties comes your way. Authors need to be aware of that.)
To move the discussion to me directly for a moment, if someone tried to guess my annual earnings based on my yearly unit sales on Amazon (or via Bookscan, or anywhere else for that matter), they would be likely be, well, wildly wrong. At any moment I have several books at various stages of advance disbursement — some contracted, some completed but not published, some published in hardcover and some published in paperback — a few all paid out in advances but not earned out, and several earned out and paying royalties.
Add to that audio sales (another set of advances and royalties) and foreign sales (yet another) and ancillary income like film/tv options (which are not tied to sales at all, but sales help get things optioned) and so on. Also note that not all my sales provide royalties at the same rate — a lot will depend on format and how many were previously sold (if they are in print or physical audio), unit price (if they are eBook or audio files), and on other various bits that are in contracts but not necessarily disclosed to the wide world. Oh, and don’t forget my short fiction and non-fiction!
Basically, my yearly earnings as an author are a delightful mess. I’m glad I have an accountant and an agent and a very smart life partner to help me stay on top of them. These earnings have almost nothing to do with unit sales in any calendar year, and more to the point, never have, even when I was a newbie book writer with a single book contract to my name. I signed my first book contract in 1999; since then I have yet to have a year when my earnings from being an author approach anything like a 1:1 parity with my book sales in that same year.
Does this matter? Well, it matters if you are, for example, trying to extrapolate what “traditionally published authors” make based on their annual sales, and are then comparing those “earnings” to the earnings of self-published authors. It’s ignoring that these are entirely different distribution systems which have implications for annual earnings. I don’t think one is particularly better than the other, but a direct comparison will give you poor results. Note also that’s true going the other way — applying “traditional publishing” income models to self-published authors will very likely tell you incorrect things about how they’re doing economically in any one year.
(And as a further note: Do likewise be aware of the caveats for anyone trying to extrapolate self-pub/indie annual author earnings from Amazon as well. It misses direct sales, which for authors who ply the convention circuits can be significant, and also may not fully incorporate how Amazon deals with payments in its subscription models, which are handled rather differently than actual sales, and which (unless it’s changed very recently) come from a pre-determined pot of payment rather than a straight percentage of sales. Hey, it’s complicated! Almost as complicated as the “traditional” model.)
Here’s one thing I suspect is true: It’s possible to make money (sometimes a lot of it) as a traditionally published author, or as an self-published/indie author — or as both, either in turn or simultaneously, since, as it happens, there’s no deep ideological chasm between the two, and generally speaking an author can do one or the other depending on their project needs, or their own (likewise, it’s possible to make almost no money either way, too. Alas). It’s not an either-or proposition.
But yes: Here is a grain of salt. Please apply it to anyone who tells you they know how much any author (traditional or self-pub/indie, but especially traditional) is earning in any year, based on Amazon sales, even if they’re limiting it to Amazon sales. They’re just guessing, and you have no idea how far off their guesses are. And neither, I strongly suspect, do they. Only the actual authors know, and most of the time, they’re not telling.
Wil Wheaton was a child star in Stand By Me, a regular on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a teenager, and has been trying to figure out his role in show business for a long time since then. He was dealing with the pressures of fame and the fickle tastes of Hollywood, all while dealing with a chemical imbalance in his brain that made him prone to anxiety and depression. Wil’s better now thanks to medication, but despite his long IMDb page and regular work on The Big Bang Theory, his hit YouTube show, and a thriving and varied career, he sees himself primarily as a failed actor.
It’s a good show, as they say. Go give it a listen.
I think this is what our grandparents call "a senior moment."
The best part?
THEY WROTE IT IN ALL CAPS.
[sad face here]
"Sprinkles All Over Momther" is the name of my Cake cover band.
Ahhh, NOW you're speaking my language.
(The language... OF WRECKS. [eyebrow waggle])
In a word?
Thanks to Lani T., Donna C., Patrick L., Anony M., & Rebecca P. for keeping those lines of communication nice and squiggly-like.
I'm not a morning person, but summer heat makes a girl desperate.
Because I was so cruelly tied to my armchair by this unnat'ral season, I've been working my way through a game called Oxenfree. XBoxLive has a free games perk if one subscribes to their monthly service, and this game was one of the freebies. I wish I'd paid money for it, because it's really enjoyable. And by enjoyable I mean I've been utterly creeped out and emotional over it, but it's really quite a good narrative and a well put-together experience overall.
And as the theme for this post is all about lost time, I lost nearly the whole day yesterday to plumbers tromping through my place and fixing every last plumbing thing - the leaky kitchen faucet, the leaky shower taps, and replacing the bathroom sink completely. They were in the apartment for hours upon hours, and because they sort of needed me to be there, I was trapped, thirsty, hungry, and increasingly needing to pee.
The upshot is, every faucet is working properly, my landlord is no longer paying for gallons of leaked water per day, and the new pedestal sink is shiny new and much smaller, making a tiny bathroom feel a bit more roomy. I can't complain too much, even though I was hangry by the time the plumbers left.
And now, the weekend is over before it really got started. Off to bed in an air-conditioned bedroom, and then off to work on a day that is forecast to hit 90F again.
One day at a time. I'll loop time and try to be patient. Life can begin again once the axial tilt cools us off a bit, right?