The Price We Pay – Ten Year Edition!

You know, now that I’ve reached this point I almost don’t know what to say.

Technically I’m not at my ten year anniversary of publication just yet. But I’m long past it in writing. Even if one only counts my career as “starting” when I first wrote One Drink all those years ago, I’d be past the point of a ten-year anniversary there, and I was writing long before One Drink came along.

But … we’re close. February 20th, 2023, to be exact, will mark the ten-year anniversary of the publication of my first book, and my foray into making a living as an author.

It’s been a long road. But I’m not hear to talk about that today. Instead I’m here to talk about something else, actually. My pricing. See, here’s the thing … I sort of haven’t updated most of my prices since I started ten years ago.

Axtara reflects a more modern price point. As does Starforge. But the rest of my library? Well, if you remember the classic (and still quite popular) post on book prices, The Price We Pay – Are Book Prices Too Much? from a few years back, I broke down the pricing points of my books and showed how they were chosen to reflect a price point below that of a 1994 paperback book.

It’s a pretty popular post for a reason, since it not only discusses my prices, but also those of the book industry in general, showing how people’s memories of prices—especially with regards to how inflation and the changing value of the dollar fluctuate over time and impact the price of goods.

But here’s the thing: That post? It’s out of date. Especially in the wake of the last several years, which has seen the US economy—and the value of the dollar—fluctuate wildly as the economy did its best to represent a Six Flags roller coaster. Combined with the fact that I’d not bothered to modify my price points since One Drink came out ten years ago, plus the drop in price as the “long tail” goes into effect … and my books have been rapidly dropping below market value.

Which brings us to today. Starforge has just released, at a newer price point, and the time has finally come. Starting today, as of this post going up, I will be updating book prices for (hopefully) the next ten years alongside updating the usual manuscript updates and whatnot to the latest editions. The prices will then go live over the next day or so.

I’ve been talking about it for weeks, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to any of you. And if it is … well, I really can’t be blamed for that.

The big gist of it is that book prices are being updated today. But … if you want a more detailed breakdown of what the new prices are, what the values look like compared to their prior price, and how that is modeled compared to the prices from 1994 … then hit the jump.

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OP-ED: The Great Wheel of Greed Grinds on With No Backsies

Hey folks. Max here taking a time-out from the Starforge editing (which is coming along pretty nicely and will soon have some updates) with a small OP-ED post.

Also, Dead Silver is on sale! Grab this fun and spooky Halloween-appropriate adventure mystery for under a buck!

Last night, after repeatedly closing a new pop-up on the site’s stats page, I noticed a new button next to every single one of the posts listed there. A little megaphone. What was this little megaphone? Why, it was a “Promote this post with WordPress Advertising” button! It appeared to be a very straightforward process: I click the button, I check that the advertisement appearance meets my approval, I fill out payment information, and then the post gets advertised … somewhere. I couldn’t actually see that bit without putting in all the other details such as payment information. So I sdon’t know exactly where it would have been, though I assume from the wording it would have been on other’s WordPress-based posts.

Or perhaps they would have been elsewhere on the web? Again, I couldn’t see that information without confirming the ad and the payment information, so I can’t say for certain. I’m just extrapolating based on the most likely targets.

Point being, WordPress is the latest in what seems to be every web service ever trying to squeeze more money out of its userbase by stripping away a purpose of the service only to sell it back to the highest bidder.

Amazon was the first for me that I noticed engaging in this behavior. Sure, you could sell their products on their store. But then someone got the idea of charging for “premier shelf space” and Amazon Advertising was born. It wasn’t enough that they were carrying your product and making money each time a copy sold. They realized that they could double dip and get the creator to pay for each product sold as well by setting up a “bidding” advertising system. Sure, you could just have your product “on the shelves,” but if you paid Amazon for each eyeball that looked at your product, you could make sure that by default most eyeballs saw your stuff first. As long as you either had a lot of disposable income (advertising may be tax deductible, but it’s still money out of your pocket) or could make sure that a certain number of eyeballs could buy your product, that advertising would take your product from “the mass” to “everyone sees it.”

Bear in mind, this is for something that Amazon already makes money selling. If a supermarket operated off of this principle—and maybe they do, I don’t know—suppliers and distributors would pay not just for placement on shelves, but a fee for each person that picked up an item and looked at it … even if they didn’t buy it. All those items at the front of the supermarket or by the checkout, where the most eyes look at them? Those positions would cost $X per-item to be there and make the supermarket money anytime someone looked at them. Someone handled that Snickers bar but set it back down? Mars owes the supermarket 7 cents.

We’ll get into how this quickly becomes—to me, anyway—insane and unbalanced in a moment, but first let’s move on.

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Being a Better Writer: Reading VS Hearing

Welcome back writers! It’s Monday, and you know what that means. That, or this is your first time stumbling across this corner of the web and are just in awe or suspicion of what you’ve found. Maybe both.

Well, if you’re a writer or looking to do some writing, let me reassure you. This is Being a Better Writer, and you are in the right place.

Now, a quick aside before we dive into today’s promised topic, which is a … contentious one, to say the least. If you’ve not been on the site over the weekend, then you might have missed out on Saturday’s Starforge preview, which gave everyone their first look at what’s become of Annalyne Neres since the end of Jungle, plus her first steps in the finale of the UNSEC Space Trilogy. Action-packed steps, of course.

In related news, Starforge is getting closer to release with each passing day, but also now closer to a pre-order date. The Copy-Edit is nearing, and once the novel is in that phase, the pre-orders can go live. I’ll keep you all up to date on that as things progress.

Now, one more bit of spooky news before we head into today’s topic. Because it is the Halloween season, Dead Silver will be on sale starting tonight at midnight, and will remain on sale through October 31st. You can click that link there or find the book via the Books tab, but keep that in mind if you’ve not read it. It’s a perfect little spooky mystery for the Halloween weekend, so if you’re reading this after midnight, October 24th, do yourself a favor and snag a copy! It’s spooky good fun, and an enjoyable read.

All right, that’s all the news and whatnot taken care of. Now lets get down to business and talk about todays—as I warned—contentious topic.

This one I think is going to puzzle some, while being a revelation others. It’s one of those aspects of writing and publishing books that you really have to be immersed in some part of the production or output of to be aware of, but again as previously stated it’s also something that brings with it no small amount of controversy, especially among certain circles and with regards to both writing and editing a book.

You ready? Then hit the jump. Let’s talk about reading versus hearing.

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Being a Better Writer: The “Perfect” Book Is an Awful Read

Hello again writers! Welcome back, and welcome to Topic List #21! That’s right, we’re on a new list, with new concepts and ideas to explore! Writers, there is still time to make a request for additional topics to add to it over at the topic call post, but only for a few days more!

Anyway, how was your weekend, writers? Feeling recharged and reinvigorated? I am, and it was desperately needed. Not only was I able to get some relaxation and decompression in, but I also woke up today to some fantastic news: Axtara – Banking and Finance has cracked 50 reviews on Amazon.

Like I’ve said, she keeps sailing. I don’t doubt that before long Axtara will be neck-and-neck with Colony. Though the leader of the UNSEC Space Trilogy isn’t taking it lying down, especially as over the weekend we saw our first tease from Chapter 1 of Starforge. To applause, no less. It was clear to me from the number of hits that a lot of you were interested in that.

Banking dragon versus a Sci-Fi tale of empires old and new. Will Axtara tighten the race? Or will Colony pull ahead? I don’t know, but I’m thrilled either way as both take strong strides in bringing me toward that 10,000 copies sold milestone.

Anyway, that’s the news, writers. Keeping it short and sweet today so that I can dive into the first topic on our new list. Which is … a contentious one, to be sure. I already am aware that by the title alone there will be many who will be lighting their torches and gathering their pitchforks, ready to defend an incorrect philosophy that they themselves will likely never test.

Today, we’re going to talk about the “perfect” book. And why you’d never want to read it.

Hit the jump, folks. Let’s talk about writing.

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OP-ED: Why I Think Streaming Has Made a Mistake

Max here with an Op-Ed, people. Shouldn’t be a long one, but hey, it’ll give you some content while waiting for the cover reveal for Starforge! More on that later (it deserves its own post). For now, today’s Op-Ed.

So, if you haven’t heard, Disney has joined the ranks of streaming services announcing price hikes. In this case, it’s Disney+’s first while for others such as Hulu or ESPN it could just be written away as “yet another price hike.” In addition, Disney unveiled that Disney+ will now have advertising! Just like everyone wanted!

Of course, no one wanted this. But one thing has become clear over the last year or two of the so-called streaming wars: For many of the companies involved, the goal is merely to return to the most profitable section of entertainment they can think of, AKA cable.

Don’t believe it? Look at how they’re rolling out advertisements. Did you know that cable television was advertisement free originally? That’s right! Originally, you were paying to not have ads like broadcast television did. But once the audience was captured, the ads rolled in, until cable television became an advertising service more than an entertainment venue. After all, why collect money from one side of the equation when you can collect it from two sides of the equation? Double-dipping! American business ingenuity at its finest!

Disney very clearly has its sights set on the old ways, with how they excitedly push “bundling” Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN in one package for a “reduced” rate. Nevermind that there are advertisements now, look how good a deal you’re getting! Similar is happening with Netflix and other streaming services as CEOs seek to return to the golden age of captive television piggy banks.

The problem as I see it, however, is that it just won’t work. Because the market that let that golden piggy bank exist no longer does.

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An Illustrative Lesson on the Importance of Stories

I didn’t plan on making this post today, but then I saw the news and some social media from friends and family, hit a quick Google search because I was reminded of something … and well … Here we are. It’s definitely political in its own way, so far warning, but there’s a moral of its own by the end.

One of the Calvin and Hobbes story arcs that I remember very vividly from my youth is the story of Calvin and the Traffic Safety Slogan Contest (which starts at this link, and ran for several weeks in newspapers at the time). The story itself is amusing as any of Calvin’s adventures, the school opening up a contest with a $10 prize ($20 in today’s money) for coming up with the best traffic safety slogan on a poster, and Calvin sabotaging himself while being utterly convinced, as his six year-old mind often is, that everything about the contest is a forgone conclusion, especially his victory. The moral explored by the end—which utterly baffles and bounces off of Calvin, something Watterson himself noted in the anniversary collection—is that you may try your best, but victory is never assured, so gain confidence and satisfaction from having tried and put your best foot forward, not from winning and being declared better than everyone else.

Naturally, Calvin doesn’t win, his slogan of “Be Careful or Be Roadkill,” on a poster splattered with chunky spaghetti sauce for a “patent-pending 3D Gore-o-rama,” isn’t exactly a hit with classmates or the judges. However, when his poster doesn’t win, Calvin refuses to accept that he has lost, instead declaring the contest a “miscarriage of justice” and stating that the judges were “biased against us from the start.” He then goes to his father and tells him it was rigged and that “I want you to call the school board, have them declare fraud, and make them take the prize away from [the winner] and give it to me!”

Calvin, of course, refuses to accept or understand his father’s attempts to talk sense into him, mocking his father’s answer that winning and losing is part of life, to which his father dryly observes that Calvin’s been learning too many morals from ads for athletic shoes.

It’s a fun story, but it was also interesting to me decades later how absolutely directly—and here come the politics, which many of you probably already saw—it paralleled the 2020 election results, Calvin’s mocking words and dismissive attitude perfectly reflected by nearly an entire party who refused to believe that it was possible THEY could lose. Ever. “Take the prize away from [the winner] and give it to me! indeed.

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The Lessons Hollywood Won’t Learn From the Halo TV Show

Well, we’ve reached that point, now. The Halo TV show has run its course of a full season, the last episodes being in May, the public has had time to digest and deliberate, and now we see the trickle-down effect of how people refer to it in casual conversation.

Oh, my mistake. Did I say “refer to it?” I meant shred it without an ounce of remorse.

Yes, the consensus of the real world is in, and it is cruel. Past the paid critics, past the hopefuls who insisted that the absolutely awful first two episodes were just the show finding its feet, we now have the reaction of ordinary people online, gamers and non-gamers both, who have sort of settled into a common pattern for how the show is remembered.

To give another example of what I’m talking about, let’s look at another show with real cultural zeitgeist: Community. Community is very well-favored, as people will often quote the show, talk about it fondly, share jokes from the show, and harp on Netflix’s idiotic decision to censor the DnD episodes.

Zeitgeist reactions to things when they come up in casual conversation can be a pretty solid indicator of a bit of entertainment’s real value, impact, or staying power. Especially in a situation like the one around the Halo TV show, where the production clearly spent a vast amount of its budget on “selecting” reviewers for maximum praise as well as a solid amount on a legal department that would go after anyone saying anything negative (one reviewer repeatedly found their reviews taken down and hit with copyright strikes for using promotional footage Paramount had sent out, all because they rightfully criticized a frankly awful show).

So, in a situation where the creator has abused legal powers to make it as difficult as possible to determine if something is actually good or not, what’s been the public impact of the long-awaited Halo TV show?

Well, from those who’ve watched it … it’s another steaming pile of junk television that once again serves to checkbox Hollywood’s biggest flaws.

That may seem harsh, but have you seen this show? Even those with no familiarity with the source material online have constantly noted that it did nothing to feel exemplary, the story, characters, and plot were trite and inconsistent, even the most positive defenders giving it responses of ‘At best, it’s poor Sci-Fi television’ or ‘It’s a decent time-waster, but lacks any redeeming qualities.’

That’s at best. Many reactions seem fit to compare it to the utterly iconic 1993 “so bad it’s kind of good” adaptation Super Mario Brothers: The Movie. With some of those comparisons arguing which movie was more accurate or had the better similarity to the original product (which, if you know anything about that 1993 blunder, is not an act of praise). A lot of comparisons are also touted that at least Super Mario Bros: The Movie can be watched in a fun capacity, what with the actors being infamously drunk during shooting and the movie being worthy of a watch if you’re looking to laugh at how bad it is, while most seem to agree that the Halo show does not earn this distinction. There’s no “It’s so bad it’s good” moment for the Halo show, according to the internet. It’s just … bad. Even if the viewers happen to be drunk.

Sands, the watch group I initially saw the first two episodes with even fell apart for this reason. The majority of them were not players of the Halo games and knew little about the series, but when confronted with the TV show, none of them felt that watching something so poor even for the “fun” of mocking it was worth the time.

Okay, you get it. Halo, the TV show, is a pile of steaming streaming garbage. The consuming public has spoken, and reacted with a nigh-universal retching.

How? How did one of the most successful video-game properties of the last twenty years, one that has grown into successful books, comics, and other forms of entertainment, covering a sprawling universe that sees constant audience engagement, something that should have been a cinch to create a well-regarded TV show for … create this steaming pile of drek that’s now so thorough lambasted that users on social media feel the need to note that the regular Halo universe and story is fine, just the show is a pile of poo?

Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. But in a slightly different manner. We’re going to look at this from a learning perspective. What are all the common mistakes that the Halo TV show made that the show’s creators will refuse to learn from?

See, there’s the catch. Halo’s mistakes aren’t new in the slightest. In fact, they’re the same mistakes that plagued Super Mario Brothers: The Movie, almost thirty years ago. Once again, this is a case of Hollywood refusing to grow up, of making the same mistakes over and over again, which sure as the sun will rise once again on another day, they’ll make again because they refuse to believe they’re wrong.

So, let’s talk about some of the lessons we should learn—but won’t—from the utterly awful Halo TV show. Hit the jump.

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The Halo TV Show Embraces Everything Wrong with Hollywood Adaptations

Or, how I got my site canceled by CBS (that, if you’ve not heard, is a jab at CBS issuing takedown demands at Youtube reviews for their new show that were, shall we say, less than glowing).

Hollywood has a long, and shall we say, storied reputation when it comes to adaptive works. Particularly when it comes to adapting properties from the medium of video games. While there have been success stories they’ve both been few and far between as well as confined to the last few years (and often outside of Hollywood’s clutching grasp), leading to … Well, let’s just say I’ve had theories on how Hollywood has managed to take again and again something that seems like a sure bet and screw it up in a way that seems too inept to be anything but deliberate.

Now, with Paramount+’s (already a real fount of originality there) new Halo series, I must once again note that my theory seems more accurate than ever.

I’ll be open up front: This show is a mess.


Actually, let me start with something before that, simply to stave off CBS’s most common current defense, which has been ‘people just don’t like it because they’re desperate fanboys who can’t handle something not being 100% faithful to the original.’

Yes, I grew up playing video games (parents attempts otherwise notwithstanding). Halo came out when I was in high school, and I thoroughly enjoyed it in college and to date still have the Master Chief Collection installed on my PC. I put a ton of time into Halo 5, put my thoughts on Halo Inifinite right here on the site, and so yes, I’ve been a fan of the series for a long time.

However, I am also an author, and no stranger to the rule that yes, you do need to make some concessions when adapting things from one medium to another. I have no “demand” that video game adaptations in film or shows be one-to-one with their counterparts. For example, one of my favorite video game movies to date is Sonic the Hedgehog, which admittedly did have to roll back their utterly horrifying design, but after they did so delivered a great, fun film that was full of heart and laughs while also still being true to the series elements that spawned it. Where there changes? Yes. But those changes worked and we designed in conjunction with the elements that were kept in order to make both come together to a harmonious whole.

Detective Pikachu is another movie that handled this well, staying very true to the elements of Pokemon that could be put on the big screen, while telling a slightly different—but no less fun—plot from most of the games.

Point being, I know sometimes you need to change things to make a story work in a new medium. I also know that there are plenty of time people get their hands on something and change it just to try and make it their own, without regard for whether or not those changes enhance or detract from the final product.

In other words, I’m more than willing to set aside devotion to a “core” setting and embrace changes for a new medium provided those changes are for the betterment of what the audience recieve.

And the Halo show? Hoo boy … This … This is not that. The Halo show is full of changes, and none of them are good. In fact, they’re more on par with “narrative disaster” than anything else. These wholly feel about “change for the sake of change” with no thought or regard to even the show’s own setting and the impact the changes have on it. The end result is a mess of show full of poor direction, plot holes, narrative inconsistency, and changes to the plot that are frankly boggling in their foolishness.

Buckle up and hit the jump, because this is going to be rough.

But at least it won’t be as rough as actually watching an episode of this show.

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OP-ED: Merit and Accountability in the American Workplace

This post has been a while in coming, and I mean that to a degree most of you likely won’t expect. This, right here, these words you see before you, account for the third time I have written out my thoughts on this subject, the prior postings either being too disorganized or too negative and downbeat to ultimately find their way to the site.

Yet the topic kept circling back. Whether it was because of the constant barrage of, to put it kindly, angry or entitled posts I would see on social media from a particular group, or because I was in the opposing group those type of posts regularly attacked while also knowing (and seeing) firsthand what things were actually like, the topic kept coming back in my head. Though arguably, it also likely has much to do with firsthand experience I’ve had working at various jobs, seeing directly for myself how abysmal things have gotten … as well as how doggedly those who benefit from the current status quo fight to defend it.

Which I think is perhaps where things went wrong. Both the prior attempts to write out this post contained example after example, all first-hand, of how working in the US has become, well … awful. The problem was is that the post didn’t do anything constructive. It aired a litany of sins, pointed fingers … and then that was it. Not exactly great content. So after the second post had been a dud (which was last night), I stepped back and analyzed this latest attempt, and decided to come at things from a very different angle. Yes, I could throw stones, and there’s more than enough ammo to go around. But that won’t fix anything, because those who understand already know what’s gone wrong, while those who should understand have already insulated themselves from the issue and are often living a lifestyle dependent on never admitting the issue in the first place.

Ultimately then, there’s little reason to writing yet another post that airs the problems that are already there, whether or not they’re acknowledged. But a post that’s about the constructive, a post that is to those who will, slowly but surely, taking those same positions encouraging them to not dive into the same self-serving behavior and discussing how the US economy is harmed by such self-centered mindsets? Well … maybe that can do something. Just maybe.

So let’s talk about the idea of merit, the concept of accountability, and how both are vital to the US economy … despite being something that’s been largely ejected from the modern job market.

And look, I know there will be plenty of those that have, as noted above, insulated themselves from the reality of what’s going on out there. They’ll come at this post with torches and pitchforks, ignore most of it or attempt to leave a comment that’s effectively a giant strawman, or something else.

To all those posters: Tough. You’re welcome to go shout at your personal echo chambers about why “merit doesn’t matter” or “merit matters, but everyone else is just inferior” or whatever other cockamamie excuse you feel works. Knock yourself out. But don’t expect to be taken seriously here, or given a soap box to shout. Fair warning.

For the rest of you, let’s talk about merit.

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OP-ED: Labor and Ownership

Hello there readers! I’m taking a bit of a momentary break from Starforge editing to write this post and give myself a bit of time to decompress (though don’t worry, I’ll be back at Starforge shortly). This is a topic that’s been on my mind, coalescing, for several months now as shortages, particularly of the “worker” variety, have continued to make the news day after day.

Today’s particular musing comes from an actual—if short—conversation I had the other day with an individual who was very angry about the “worker shortage.”

A little bit of background for you; basically what they offered to me: This individual owned a local small coffee shop/kiosk, and was very angry about their current inability to have someone staff/work it. Apparently it was small enough that it could be run by just one worker, but they currently couldn’t find that worker. No one wanted to work for them.

Wait, it gets better. See, their little rant volunteered the information that they considered the job “minimum wage.” After all, they explained, it’s ‘just a coffee shop. No one should be making a lot of money from that. But now,’ they continued, ‘thanks to the laziness of entitled workers who think they should earn more, I’m not making my money from the coffee shop!’

As this was a group discussion, several people quickly asked questions which led to more information being offered—though based on the reactions that occurred, I believe this individual thought things were going to go very differently. Among this information we were given the following:

  • The owner made quite a bit more per hour just owning the shop than the lone worker did. In fact, they seemed to consider it a large portion—based on their wording, I’d guess at least half—of their yearly income, which was again, from their words, at least six digits.
  • Despite this, they refused to work in the shop itself, to the point that they would rather have the shop closed and be losing all that income than go work the position themselves because ‘it’s a low-tier position, I can’t be expected to degrade myself with that.’ It was also suggested among their words that they didn’t know how to do the job either: They’d just bought the setup and expected someone else to do it.
  • The owner themselves had no interaction with the shop other than paying the bills, the paycheck, and collecting the majority of the money.
  • They used the phrase ‘unAmerican’ to describe the concept of having to work at their own shop, and used the specific phrase of ‘it’s my right‘ to describe their relationship with employees and not being required to labor with the business.

After volunteering this information, they were both shocked and a little offended when few took their side. Instead of pity—though a few like minds did offer that—they instead found themselves challenged. My own voice was one of them calling out to the contrary to their claims, and I made a very pointed statement: Was it not entitled to own a store that they believed should only pay minimum level wage, that they themselves refused to work at, yet demand more than a minimum level wage for in essence, doing nothing other than throwing money at the place to start existing? I compared this to the concept of “The world owes me a living,” as this business owner believed it “beneath them” to be the one working the store, and yet wanted the majority of the reward for someone else doing that work.

I never got a response. The owner just left, apparently realizing that the particular audience they’d found was not sympathetic to his desire to be, in effect, the lazy grasshopper from The Ant and the Grasshopper.

But something they’d declared did stay with me. Not because I think it’s correct, but because I think it does serve as a source of so many of the problems facing the United Stated (and, by cultural extension, a lot of other countries). This concept that simply having “ownership” of a thing means that one is “owed” everything that comes from it … even if they’re not at all willing to put in any of the work or requisite knowledge.

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