How the three laws of robotics apply to writing and planning

Today is National Sci-Fi day, and while we’re not on Sci-fi this month (that’s later in the year) as our featured support genre, for advice Mondays, I thought I’d share a bit of a thought experiment.

First though…

Today would be Issac’s 100th birthday, and there’s little denying the impact he had on the world of sci-fi and writing. But the thing that always stuck with me the most was his three laws of robotics.

The three laws

(from Gismodo, who cites his story Runaround)

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Issac Asimov

Later, Asimov added a fourth, or zeroth law, that preceded the others in terms of priority:

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Issac Assimov

I have many theories on AI, given I’m eventually doing a Ph.D. on it (hence the combined STEM degree now), but I’m not going to address the fallacies and intricacies of why the three laws (and the additional zero law, which is almost the same, but not quite, as law 1) fail and cause problems. If you want to know why there’s a plethora of books out there exploring that and similar issues.

No, instead, I wanted to talk about how the three laws apply to writing.

But I’m not a robot…

As you’re quite right to observe, it’s highly unlikely that you are a robot. You might be, but then, that opens up questions, again, not for a writers’ blog. But when you look at the three laws of robotics and change the context to writing, something interesting happens.

  1. An author may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    I would argue this is common decency, but when there’s little of each online, it’s a good thing to bear in mind. It goes into a slightly broader concept though.
    While there’s no admonition to not harm our characters (cause we might), there is a duty in every community for the weakest to be cared for by the stronger. Writing is not a zero-sum game, so, if anything, I’d argue the first of the Writer’s three laws is that we need to work to prevent bullying. As we watch the mess with the RWA unfold and look back on Cockygate, I wonder why it isn’t a credo adopted by more.
    Beyond that, it also tells you not to hurt yourself. Planning and self-care are critical.
  2. An author must obey the rules of its community, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    I think the easiest way to explain this one is 1) Don’t pick on someone for upholding rules on a group, even if you personally think they’re not fair. It’s their group, you agreed and continue to agree when you joined, and to be frank, bullying a moderator is something that we’re going zero tolerance on – and that includes if we *hear* of it from a friend that’s a mod. Beyond that, mob mentality is dangerous online – there’s a difference between defending the downtrodden and forming a lynching mob, and I think this law aptly states that. If an author is unhappy with a review and asks their tribe to retaliate, maybe question the worth of that tribe, and the person leading it?
  3. An author must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
    Ah, you may say, doesn’t that mean if I don’t agree with people, I get to retaliate?
    Nope.
    You need to protect *your own existence*. What Jilly, Bob or Timmy does, as long as it’s not hurting you, isn’t important to you. I’m actually interpreting this one to be ‘don’t compare yourself to others, someone will get hurt’.

Law 1, Kindness. Law 2, fair play and Law 3, personal obligation. All three make for the best writers and the best communities. Personal obligation does mean sticking up for the rights of others if you’re sure you should, but it also means accepting that you ‘do you’. One of the hardest lessons I learned last year was that if I’m not careful, I will stay away for too long because I have nothing to give. My personal obligation became to me and only me for a while, and that was ok. But I have an obligation to you guys too. So, Law 3…it could also be read as ‘help yourself, help others’.

I don’t really agree that the zero law exists in the case of writers, but there is one final one I think all writers need to follow.

Law 4 – An author must ensure that everything they put out reflects the best of their work and the best of them.
Each and every one of the team knows
it’s hard to get things done in a budget, and we all sacrifice, but we are calling each and every one of our members to consider their reputations this year. Build good things, save and make things to the best of your ability, and only release books when they are professionally edited, covered and formatted. That way, you’re already ahead of a lot of people out there, who might see your example and follow suit (thereby helping you with the second and third laws ;)).

Yes, I belabored that one a bit, but I’m sure Asimov would forgive me.

Do you agree with my three laws of writing? What would you add?

January is National Braille month.
Check out January’s Posts to see what we’ve covered.

Coming soon….

  1. Why making a five-year plan *after* New Year might work better for you
  2. The ins and outs of organisation
  3. Calendars and the two radical ways to use them
  4. Bullet journal layouts for writers…
    And more….

The 2018 Anti-retrospective

Where the Benevolent Dictator consolidates all the 2018 ‘retrospectives’.

Okay, first, I know it’s fashionable to bash the ‘Zon, I love you guys, but really, get over it. Bashing doesn’t help. Amazon’s primary concern is its customers, NOT its suppliers. Readers not authors. At least they still pay better than traditional publishers.

On the other hand, some books do better on some sites than others. Amazon got burnt one too many times by authors who didn’t label their erotica books correctly – and a few parents got an eyeful when they searched books about Daddy and got daddy porn instead of children’s books. So they’ve been a lot more restrictive.
Write erotica or erotic romance – especially the type some sites won’t? Smashwords is the place to go. (However, as much as I love Mark Coker, as Smashwords is where I published my first indie book – and I made good money there for a while – but that site could still use some more work. Compare with D2D.)

Another caution – if you use Amazon be careful with the ‘like’ parties. In fact, to be honest, stop liking anyone you haven’t read. There’s a glut of books out there (Mr. Coker is right on that) – and some of them are absolute dreck. Great covers are no guarantee. I saw a book with a brilliant cover, a terrible and confusing blurb, and an absolute lack of editing.

Some good writers have given up because they can’t get their well-received and well-reviewed book seen.

So, why are you killing your own book sales by promoting authors who may not deserve it? Better yet, how do you know they’ll promote you in return? Quality counts more than quantity. Quantity looks good but doesn’t always help. I used to promote other authors – but only a few returned the favor. Now I have a rule – ask me to like your page after you’ve liked mine. Promote my book and I’ll promote yours.

Audio is your new best friend. Everyone is doing it – Amazon, Draft to Digital,

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Smashwords and iBooks. For busy people trying to squeeze in time to experience new authors or books they can listen to one on their commute, on long trips by car or plane, or while cooking or doing housework. One book, with a great narrator, can entertain for hours or days.

For promotion, expand beyond Facebook – but don’t abandon it entirely. Advertise elsewhere, too – like Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. There are inexpensive options to use those sites.
New Release – try Bookbub’s new release freebie.
Shop around to find other alternatives.

Good news/Bad News
Books have always been a refuge during times of economic uncertainty, and indie authors have always offered books at a better price than traditional publishers. Which makes us the more economical choice.

BTW – the new price point of choice may be $3.99 – $4.99 for most standard genre novels like romances, or shorter mysteries.

How to write a novel

W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Instead, take the advice of the pros:

Just write

How do you learn to write? Learn from the best – Read

Read in your genre and out of it. Read everything. Learn to love words.

Anyone who tells you how to write is lying.

There are many people, writers of all kinds, who write books and blogs about how to write, but all they can tell you is how they do it. 

Only one person can write your story, your way, with your unique voice – you.


Anyone who says there is one way to write is almost certainly wrong.

In other words, there’s no formula for success as an Indie writer. There will be plenty of people who will tell you different, some will even offer you solutions, software, or fixes, that they promise will make your book great. They will be wrong.

 

 

Somerset Maugham said,

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

That is the truth.

There is no magic wand (if there were more people would be using it) – the magic lies in you.  In your dreams, in your heart and soul. BUT, there is no substitute for the work, for the actual doing of the writing. As Neil Gaiman says, you sit down in a chair and you write, it’s both as easy and as hard as that. Do it for the love of it, to create characters that speak to you, to make worlds real or magical, or dark and terrifying, but that IS the truest magic – the writing. If you have the vision, you’ll make it happen.

There are many people out there who will say they have the crystal ball for making your book sing. They don’t and won’t. A great editor will help make your prose clearer and offer helpful suggetions. The so-called experts? They’ll tell you to write this way, write that style, write to the market, or write to their formula. They might even have software that will do it for you. And that’s exactly what you’ll wind up with – a machine-generated formulaic novel, boring and uninspired – that will lack your unique voice, your unique characters, your creation. Most of those who write to formula – like Harlequin or Mills and Boon Romances – disappear or are forced to reinvent themselves as writers, with varying levels of success. Romances are popular, but the best ones like Outlander, are unique.

Tell your truth, in your unique way, with your unique voice, and you’ll make magic.

There will be plenty of naysayers, doubt-sowers, and advisors – some of whom will charge a pretty penny with the promise of making your book a bestseller.

Any time someone tells you exactly what they think is wrong and what will fix it, it probably won’t. That’s their story, not yours.

For example, no one, when it was written, would have believed that a story about a reanimated corpse would be popular, but it was. The writer – Mary Shelley. She became the mother of science fiction. The book? Frankenstein.

How about a book about a magical world featuring peoples you almost recognize where a terrible force threatens to enslave them all? The Lord of the Rings series – Tolkien. Only Shakepeare had written anything close, but Tolkien created epic/heroic fantasy.

Or a tale of a angsty teenage girl with an ultra-religious mother and abilities she doesn’t understand. Carrie – Stephen King.

Or a suspense-filled, dystopian thriller about people living in silos. Wool/Hugh Howey.

Or a story about an astronaut stranded on Mars – told primarily from his POV.  The Martian by Andy Weir.

Both of those last, by the way, were originally indie/self-published.

In the end, no one can tell you how to write your story. Only you.

 

Four things indie writers need to stop doing right now

The Indie Author Community is a great place to be right now.  There’s never been a better time to be a writer, in my opinion, and there are some really smart and engaged people out there.
Unfortunately, there’s also a dark side.  And there are four things from the ‘dark side’ that I’m here to say that indie authors really need to stop.

Note and Pen1) Disavowing all professional help at any time – while I totally understand limited budgets and not being able to afford professional help, it’s really not right to then tell others that they do not need it.  You are not them, and I’ve yet to read a self-edited book that was as good as one that had other eyes on it.   And while some people *can* design their own covers, I’m the perfect example of why people should not – I can’t draw to save myself and I know it.
And while some of us (myself included) can format, if you’re not sure about styles nor how to deal with filtered HTML issues, perhaps you need to hire someone to help you.

Instead – Accept that indie author still need to hire outside of their own sphere of reference, and save for it. If you don’t have the necessary skills, find a helper! Your readers will  thank you for it later.  And you’ll learn from each of the processes.  Not sure who to hire, or struggling to find people?  We’ve got some really great lists of editors and other service providers on our group.

2) The phrase ‘if this isn’t allowed, admins please remove’. Not only is this at best, an ill-advised comment, it’s also a red flag to anyone that administrates or moderates a group that you’re not reading the rules, or don’t want to follow them, or are posting to too many groups at once.
At worst, it’s a sign that the poster is spamming everywhere with the same message – all of which generally amounts to ‘not really the sort of person active groups like to see’.
If you think that’s harsh, look at it another way.  I moderate several large groups who have a blanket ‘no ads, no exceptions’ rule and between the active moderators, we delete between 14 and 40 spam messages a day.  Someone saying ‘if this isn’t allowed, please delete’ just pushes people’s buttons.  And nine times out of ten, it’s still something that people shouldn’t post.

Instead – Take a minute to read the rules, or if it says ‘if in doubt, contact us’, do so.  If you don’t know who the moderators are, you can find them on Facebook under members then, ‘admins’.  Please do however, give them time to answer.
Please also bear in mind that the rules are there for a reason – whether y0u feel it unfair that others have ruined it for you in the past or that your post shouldn’t be considered advertising because of (x), then ask yourself why you should be allowed to and others aren’t. And remember too, though readers don’t know everything about how the indie author community works, if they see authors that don’t follow the rules, they’re bound to consider you less readable.

3) Private messaging lots of people with a request to read your book –  Not only is it against the rules of Facebook, it’s stupidly annoying to receive private messages from people that others barely know.  It’s also important to remember that mass use of the messaging system is not only spamming, but you’re likely to put off people, especially if they’ve just added you/that’s your only contact with them.
BONUS bad idea – messaging people and adding them to events, groups and other places without their permission.  It’s not OK to email your whole address book when you launch a book – it’s not OK to message people or post on their personal/professional walls.  It’s not to add people to your groups.  ASK, don’t assume.

Instead – consider actually using Facebook to interact with people – if you ASK for help instead of assuming it’s OK to message people and intrude (because that’s what messages are – you’re intruding on their personal space to ask for something, no matter how nicely) you’re more likely to get help.  You can’t just add someone and do it straight away.

4) Tell another writer they have to help you because you’re waiting to be discovered/ telling people who have added you that if you they don’t buy your book they’re not being supportive/to defriend you – if you can’t see a problem with this one, I’m here to break it to you that writing is not like the field of dreams.  We do not build it and they’ll come.  It’s more like build, decorate, share, open house THEN they’ll come.  And as above, using other authors to help you with your ‘open house’ is absolutely unfair.  It’s one thing to get help from friends, it’s another to spam others.  Accusing others of not helping when they don’t know how to help or expecting everyone that knows you to buy your book really is something that too many indie authors do, usually in desperation.  Not everyone is placed to read your book all at once.

Instead – the two things to bear in mind is it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and that if you’re not marketing and are instead wasting all your time collecting friends, posting to their walls/messaging them and repeating again and again, not only are you running the risk of  being banned from the networks you’re doing it on, you’re also driving people away instead of attracting them.

If you’re really struggling to promote, and you’re not sure what to do, there’s plenty of advice available in the indie author community – come join us, for example at the Indie Author Group and Indie Author Writing group on Facebook and join in – we’re strictly no ads, but there’s lots of great advice there and on our website!

The weekly roundup, week ending January 12th

IAG2weeklyIt’s been an interesting week for indie authors, and there’s been lots of inspiring and interesting discussions on IAG. With deepest thanks to the members that asked questions!
You can join IAG, if you’re not already a member, on Facebook. We also have our own Twitter account and Page.

The Indie Author group was founded by several prominent indie writers and is moderated to ensure that there is no spam, so that the board can remain helpful and discussion focussed. Continue reading

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