No Money Changed Hands

by wjw on September 28, 2011

I would like to salaam in the direction of author Jo Walton, who has once again defied Internet tradition by committing another unsolicited act of total niceness.   In other words, she wrote another discerning essay for about my work, in this case Metropolitan and City on Fire.

Honestly, I’m not paying this woman.

I’ll let you read the essay (or not) on your own, but I would like to quote just one line:   This is a world where when you’re caught up in a revolution your grandmother rings you with advice about hoarding.

I’m so glad somebody appreciated that detail.

Max Kaehn September 28, 2011 at 6:55 am

I still want to find out where the story goes after City on Fire, and would be happy to support a Kickstarter for the next book. And if you can get the first two books out as ebooks, I will happily tout them to all my friends.

Dave Bishop September 28, 2011 at 8:17 am

I recall that when I first read ‘Metropolitan’ it blew my mind – I would go as far as to say that this book and its sequel are the most original books that I have ever read. They are what started me reading your stuff, Walter – and I have not been disappointed (apart from the lack of a third volume in the series).

Stacy Garrett September 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I need to pull these out and reread them. I remember not being as wowed by them on my first reading as so many others were, but I’m sure the fault lay with me. I had just come off of reading (and being wowed by) Aristoi and wanted more of the same. A commenter at Tor said something similar. I wonder how many others had trouble with these due to pushing their expectations on this totally original book. Must remember to approach with a more open mind…

Barbara Webb September 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Tell me these are on your list to be converted to ebooks.

Erich Schneider September 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Of all of WJW’s books these two are my favorites. I like Aiah as a character because although she’s good at working her way through the problems she faces, she occasionally makes dumb mistakes or bumps into an obstacle that she just can’t work around. It makes her triumphs meaningful. And the way the revolution in Caraqui develops in the second book, where one group of players winds up creating problems leading to their replacement by a different group of players who wind up creating further problems, etc., rings very true with how that sort of upheaval plays out in our own world. I also like the whole “baroque efflorescence” aspect of it all, with hundreds of metropolises with different systems and quality of government, the wacky pop culture, the religions with their gods and spirits and Ascended Ones and theories about what’s beyond the Shield and why it’s there. I mourn the lack of the third volume in the same way I mourn the lack of the sequel to Delany’s “Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand”.

Brad DeLong September 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I’m still waiting for her to write an appreciative essay about David Brin’s “Startide Rising”…


wjw September 28, 2011 at 10:08 pm

I’ve been trying to get the rights back, but Harper has been quite evasive.

It’ll happen soon, though.

DensityDuck September 29, 2011 at 2:58 am

1) write the next story.
2) do a “search/replace” for all the names.
3) release the ebook.
4) when you get the rights back, fix the names and put out an updated file for the ebook.

Shash September 29, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Yes please to more Aiah.

Rebecca September 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I would like to join in the general love for those books. So many moments from Metropolitan are seared into my mind. I’ve reread CoF less often because I get frustrated by not knowing what comes next 🙂 but it’s an excellent follow-up.

I also think it would make *excellent* movie.

Francis October 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Seriously, is there any way we could crowdsource you the patronage you’d need to write the third volume? They are wonderful books. And if a thousand frustrated persons all ante’d up $50 each…

wjw October 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Francis, I have seriously considered it. There are mechanisms in existence now. If mainstream publishing continues its collapse, this may be my only way of earning a living.

James October 3, 2011 at 2:47 am

I’m in. Let me know how mate, and I will contribute. Daniel Keys Moran finally published (the first half of) AI War thanks to e-publishing, and so this has become the book I most want to get done…

I want to get through that window in the sky dammit!

Francis October 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm

And count me in too, please, if you ever decide to do it.

I know what you mean: I have a relatively comfortable set-up at the moment myself, with a half-time college job in London teaching writing that subsidises my output of peculiar non-fiction, but I have these fits of vertigo when I look at the brink the whole present-day model of publishing seems to be sliding over. Dammit, I like ‘writer’ existing as a full-time specialist occupation, rather than a hobby. And I can’t help thinking the books are a lot better that way, too…

DensityDuck October 4, 2011 at 12:05 am

If $50 is what it takes to get us a third Aiah/Constantine story then I consider that an entirely acceptable price, particularly considering that it’s all going to the author.

Albeit it won’t all be direct income the way that advances and royalties might; it’ll be business income for WJW I.G. and have to be spent on editors, proofreaders, cover artists, etcetera.

But then, cover art for “Metropolitan” is a picture of a city with the words “Walter Jon Williams – Metropolitan” on it.

Dave L October 4, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Yep, count me in too. I’d happily chip in to get a third Aiah story.

Thomas Lindgren October 23, 2011 at 9:01 am

I’d love a third part too. I seem to recall much the same discussion on Usenet way way back. I’d love to have another hardcover to complete the set, but that’s probably not the practical way to do it.

Here’s my view: it will probably be pretty tough to get to $50,000 of contributions as a starting goal, simply because you will have to reach perhaps 100,000 people, or more, to get 1000 of them to pay $50 each. Take a look at Kickstarter for a cheap way to try this, but note that most of those projects go for far less funding.

IMO it’s easier not to try to boil the ocean. As part of the project, you will probably also have to rekindle interest in the series, gain some buzz, and so on. So combine those goals.

I’d thus instead recommend starting out betting small with some new Metropolitan short stories to first gain some momentum. $0.99 each on Kindle, say, and the equivalent on the other platforms. Write guest posts on some of the bigger SF/F blogs to remind everyone how interesting SF can be. After a while, collect the short stories into a volume, price it at $3.99 or so. Keep some good free material in the Kindle store to get readers started. Keep some track of sales and what’s working, but don’t overinterpret the data since the random variation can be big. Perhaps write a longer story in $0.99 installments if there’s interest. The primary hurdle is probably not pricing but finding the ebook readers, getting attention and building a loyal ebook fan base.

Build interest, bootstrap, get the sales flowing, fund the bigger projects with the new money. The key seems to be having a solid backlist, since readers who like one of your stories will want more of them. (And I’d say you’re in a good position in this respect.) This is basically the conventional “new publishing” dictum.

Also, don’t build your own ebook store, it’s unlikely to be worth it. (Sorry Moran, Cherryh.) Spend the money on better ebook covers instead. And if you’re not reading it already, have a look at J.A. Konrath’s blog where most of this came from.

Thomas Lindgren October 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Haha, sorry, I got a bit carried away up there ^^^.

Kitts November 16, 2011 at 6:22 am

(Coming to this late, and I don’t know what the policy here is for comments on old entries, but hey, you can always delete this.)

I, like so many other people, would love a third book. City On Fire had a major impact on me, bringing me back into reading SF/fantasy again. I could easily write thousands of words on why I love the book so much, but Jo Walton touched on many of those, and anyway, comment fields are the wrong place for essays. Suffice to say that when I moved across the country for grad school, my ex-boyfriend gave me his battered paperback copy, saying, “I love this book, but it doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to you.” And while I read CoF first and love it best, I ended up buying a copy of Metropolitan when I realized that I’d checked out the library copy three times in one year. Anyway, enough gushing.

My actual point was to say that I would love a third book, but don’t think it’s necessary. Even with the Shield unexplained, the ending is satisfying in a way that many books aren’t. Write a third book if you have more to say, and if you can figure out the rights and the finances, and I will be right there putting the scrapings of my graduate student stipend into the Kickstarter pool. But in the meantime, I am content to let Aiah continue her much-needed and well-deserved nap.

That said, if it does end up being an e-book, please consider those of us who don’t own e-readers and have trouble reading on screens for whatever reasons. Maybe you could add a Lulu or similar Print on Demand option to order a physical copy of the ebook? Otherwise I’ll end up having to print the darn thing out and comb-binding it, which is fine for course readers but a hassle for novels.

drakes December 1, 2011 at 1:46 am

Of the many excellent things you’ve written City on Fire was the first I’d read and, together with Metropolitan, my favorite (also part of what make you my favorite writer, if you can stand the adulation). Nice essay too.

I’m not sure how I could say no to supporting development of a third volume, if it’s in the offing.

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