Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

The time work takes

The links in this post are all now broken. I unpublished these books a long time ago, even though the series was completed, as I wasn’t happy with their quality. The domain name has since lapsed and is now owned by somebody else.

Original post follows

A week ago me and Jenný launched Studio Tendra, which going to be the central hub of our publishing experiments.

The first project is Heartpunk, a series of sword and sorcery books on the travels of a musician and a martial artist through a world still recovering from massive war.

My sister does the cover illustrations. I do the writing, design, and markup.

The first responses have all been promising and positive but a few of them have made me chuckle.

Judging by the responses I get – not just to Studio Tendra – half of you think I’m a writerly type who doesn’t do enough coding to understand the issues surrounding ebooks properly, and the other half thinks I’m a coder who doesn’t do enough real writing to understand the issues properly.

Which I find quite funny.

Most people also don’t get how much lead time there has been to this project even though I mentioned this in the post on the design of the Heartpunk covers. This isn’t a project that I just started this spring. This has been more than two years in the making. Six novellas completed (almost 240 000 words). Six covers illustrated. Two websites designed. And that’s without getting into the iBooks self-publishing rigmarole.

I’ve been working on this for about as long as I have on this incarnation of this blog and I touched on part of my motivation for doing this work in the introductory Studio Tendra blog post. Upton Sinclair’s quote says it quite neatly: “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.

Namely, I am always going to be biased in favour of web tech because I get paid to do web work. An editor is always going to argue for a strong role for editors in publishing. An acquisition editor will always think their arbitrage is essential to publishing. Somebody who works for an ebook platform vendor whose job it is to implement ever more complex file formats isn’t going to see the damage they’re doing. These aren’t cases of people being wilfully stubborn. To critically examine their own roles like that would engender cognitive dissonance at a scale most people find extremely uncomfortable.

The easiest way to get out of that bind is to do other work, build that into your self-identity, and in that way give yourself some psychological leeway to criticise some of your roles because they are not your only role.

So, start a project and use it as a tool for adjusting your perspective. Bonus: having a project is an excellent way of focusing your learning efforts.

Of course, over the past two years I’ve ended up doing a lot of other ebook work, but Heartpunk is actually where the current incarnation of my ebook work began.

I did get pulled away from it back in February, into file format discussions. For some bizarre reason ebook file formats is the subject area people seem the most interested in hearing me cover, even though it’s incredibly depressing (ebook formats are much too complex, vaguely specced, and incompatibly implemented, there are no good news in the subject area, none whatsoever).

I could almost feel my web format biases switching on as I pulled away from the Heartpunk project. And the widening of perspective that hit me as I dove back in was almost as vivid.

One lesson you can draw from the ideas of John Dewey and similar philosophers is that you are what you do. Which means that the only reliable way to change who you are is to change what you do, or widen the scope of what you do.

Like most people who write or design, I’m personally extremely embarrassed by anything and everything I’ve done. I see so many flaws that I can’t see the strong points.

But, despite that, I think some of the Heartpunk novellas, especially the later ones, are almost quite okay. That may sound like a lukewarm recommendation but, considering what I think of most of what I’ve done, it’s about as enthusiastic as a praise for my own work can get.

On Friday I managed to pull together an interesting conversation on how to approach marketing for ebooks. My personal criteria is that it should be fun for me to do, in and of itself, and it should be something that adds value to the project as a whole even if it flops as a marketing effort.

I have an idea for what to do, taken almost straight from my PhD, which I’ll explain once I’ve got it more fleshed out in my mind. (Tom Abba hated it when I pitched it to him on Saturday, so don’t set your expectations too high.)

Given that I have utterly failed to tease people into some level of curiosity about the name Studio Tendra, I figure I might as well spell it out for you.

Tendra in Icelandic is generally translated as ignite or arouse but the most accurate translation is… well… kindle.

You can also find me on Mastodon and Bluesky