Adjusting One’s Expectations

 being an author, self publishing, websites  Comments Off on Adjusting One’s Expectations
Feb 142015
 

By
Scott D. Parker

First off: have you read Alex’s post from Thursday? You should. My response boils down to this: I am a writer. End of story.

Two phrases have been going through my mind this week. The first is a tag line from the Self-Publishing Podcast: “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” The other is the more internal voice: when you’re just starting out, you have to understand your limitations and adjust your expectations.

The do-it-yourself mantra is pretty obvious. I’m on the final touches of readying WADING INTO WAR for publication this month. For all of you who have already done this, I’m now in the decidedly unsexy part of the process: reviewing, tweaking, checking the spelling and punctuation, and all the other stuff like that. I spent my off-day yesterday tinkering with Scrivener. I’ve used the program for years–and highly recommend it–but I have never had the reason to use all the compile features. It took me all morning yesterday but I finally, FINALLY!, figured out all the buttons and boxes to check and uncheck in order to produce the desired type of ebook. I ended up writing my own procedures that I am now able to follow with few headaches. I count that as a win.

Experience. The more you do something, the better at it you get. I had to remember that as I kept updating and building the website. It was in this arena where my second phrase really took hold.

There’s a website I see in my head. I know that I’ll ultimately get there. I’m not there yet. I very much want it to be where it’ll ultimately be in a few months’ time, but I simply don’t have the experience in HTML to do it right now. Moreover, I don’t have the time to learn right now. Day job. Home life. Reading some. Watching something. Writing new book. Editing next book. There’s a lot to do and only 24 hours in a day.

So I have had to adjust my expectations on how to structure the website. I’ve got it to a place where I’m okay with it, at least as a beta release. But it’s a tad frustrating to know where you want to go, know that you’ll eventually get there, but that the road will be long. At least, however, I’m on the road.

For that, I’m quite content.

Best Podcast of the Week

Simon Whistler’s Rocking Self-Publishing, Episode 81 with Chris Fox. This interview can make the dreams swell up big in your heart. Lots and lots of great material in this episode, especially on how you can apply the startup mentality to independent publishing.

Jan 262015
 

by Allan Leverone  @Allan Leverone

When I was very generously invited by Jodie Renner to share a post at The Kill Zone, my intention was to talk about career options for Indie writers. I was going to highlight my new novel, THE OMEGA CONNECTION, which had just been released by Kindle Press after being selected through the Kindle Scout program, and use it as an example of authors giving new opportunities a chance.

Well, the initial releases by Kindle Press have been delayed a couple of months, presumably because Amazon recognized the intense scrutiny those first Kindle Press releases will face, and they want to be certain each book is as polished and reader-ready as it can be.

I’m one hundred percent in favor of this.

However, that decision did leave a gigantic hole in my Kill Zone plans. So, instead of talking about options available to those who have already dedicated themselves to a writing career, I’ve decided to direct my post toward aspiring authors, and the whole “things are wonderful/things suck” debate that seems to be raging among Indies at the moment.

There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

It must be true, because more people than ever own e-readers.

It must be true, because reading as a pastime has been making a comeback over the past few years.

It must be true, because now, anyone with a story to tell and the self-discipline to pound it out on a keyboard can get that story out to the public, no agent or publisher necessary.

There’s never been a worse time to be a writer.

It must be true, because e-book sales have flattened out over the last year or so.

It must be true, because the glut of available material has made it increasingly difficult for new writers—traditionally published or Indie—to get their work noticed.

It must be true, because anyone with a story to tell and the self-discipline to pound it out on a keyboard can get that story out to the public, no ability or talent necessary.

So, which is it?

Is this the best of times or is this the worst of times? There are plenty of people on each side of the debate more than willing to hit you over the head with fact and opinion until you commit to their camp.

Here’s my take: it depends.

If you’re looking to throw some half-assed crap together, poorly written, unedited and formatted badly, stick a homemade cover on top of the whole mess and then wait for the cash to come rolling in, well, it might just be the worst of times for you.

There might have been a period when that was possible, way back in the prehistoric early days of the e-book/self-publishing phenomenon. But that train left the station a while ago, and hopefully it ran over you while it was pulling out. Readers are savvy, not stupid. They know what to look for and they’re not falling for amateurish junk cluttering up their e-reader.

Mostly.

Have all the charlatans disappeared? Of course not, and they never will. They spring up like poisonous mushrooms in every fast-growing industry, hucksters who think they’ve found a way to make a quick buck by circumventing hard work and offering an inferior product to a gullible public. These are the people who give Indie writers a bad name.

On the other hand, if you have some talent and a strong work ethic, if you approach writing as a craft as well as a job, if you’re willing to listen and learn and respond in a positive way to constructive criticism, this just might be the best of times.

I place myself firmly in the second camp. Am I making millions of dollars with my fiction? Hell, no. I’m nobody’s idea of an overnight success. But I am making money.

More importantly, I’m doing what I love and building an audience. With nine novels to my name and two more coming by April, I’m paying my dues, laying down a career foundation.

There’s nothing quick or easy about it.

But it’s extremely gratifying, and everything I was working toward when I was sending out dozens and dozens of agent queries over the course of several years. To no avail. Everything I was working toward when I attended Thrillerfest back in 2008 just so I could put myself through the torture chamber/learning opportunity that is Agentfest. Also to no avail.

For the record, I was never able to snag an agent, either through the query process or through the Agentfest meat market, or any other way.

But something happened along the way. I stopped actively seeking an agent years ago and now, as far as I’m concerned, the shoe is on the other foot. Any potential agent wishing to represent me would have to convince me of the value he or she could add to my career, not the other way around.

If you look at writing as some kind of get-rich-quick scheme, one where you can rake in lots of cash quickly, you’re probably considering the wrong profession, especially now. Not that it doesn’t happen, but it’s such a rare occurrence you can be virtually certain it isn’t going to happen for you.

You’ve got a better chance of getting struck by lightning. Twice.

On the other hand, if you start to feel a little…twitchy…when you go more than a day or two without writing, if you have the ability to tell stories and phrase things in interesting ways, if you are confident in that ability without being unrealistic in your expectations, if you recognize the value of hard work and you’re willing to take a chance on yourself while understanding there are no guarantees in this world, then by my estimation, there’s never been a better time to be a writer.

So as far as that debate over whether things are good or bad for writers is concerned, I suppose the real answer is: who cares? Worrying about it isn’t going to advance your career. Get writing.

Allan Leverone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nine novels, including PARALLAX VIEW and MR. MIDNIGHT, named by Suspense Magazine as one of the “Best Books of 2013.” Allan lives in Londonderry, NH with his wife of more than thirty years, three grown children and one beautiful granddaughter. Connect at AllanLeverone.com,  on Facebook or Allan Leverone (@AllanLeverone) | Twitter.

Is Writing Success Like a Lottery System?

 Hugh Howey, Luck, self publishing, the writing life  Comments Off on Is Writing Success Like a Lottery System?
Mar 302014
 

@jamesscottbell



There’s been a lot of blogosphere chatter about writing success being like a lottery. Something about that metaphor has always bothered me. For in a true lottery you can’t really affect your odds (except by buying more tickets, of course). But is that true for writers?
I don’t think it is. Just putting more books out there (“buying more tickets”) won’t help your chances if the books don’t generate reader interest and loyalty. Productivity and prolificacy are certainly virtues, but to them must be added value.
Hugh Howey had some interesting thoughts recently on timing and luck. Citing Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, Howey highlighted a fascinating factoid:
A list of the 75 wealthiest people in history, which goes all the way back to Cleopatra, shows that 20% were Americans born within 9 years of each other. Between 1831 to 1840, a group that includes Rockefeller, Carnegie, Armour, J.P. Morgan, George Pullman, Marshall Field, and Jay Gould were born. They all became fabulously wealthy in the United States in the 1860s and 1870s, just as the railroad and Wall Street and other industries were exploding.
From this Howey explains how he benefitted greatly from being in the right place at the right time, Kindle-wise. He had started writing in earnest in 2009, just as the neo-self-publishing movement was taking off. He did some things right, like early adoption of KDP Select and serialization. Look at him now.
But there is one thing he says I disagree with: “I know I’m not that good.”
Wrong. He is good. Very good. Woolwould not be what it is without the quality. Which Howey has worked hard to achieve.
Reminds me of the old adage, “Luck is where hard work meets opportunity.” I believe that wholeheartedly.
I went to school with a kid named Robin Yount. He was a natural athlete and an incredible Little League baseball player. In fact, my greatest athletic moment was the day Robin Yount intentionally walked me. Because Yount is now a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
But it wasn’t just his natural giftedness that made him what he was. He happened to have an older brother named Larry, who made it to the big show as a pitcher. I remember riding my bike down to the Little League field one day and seeing Larry pitching ball after ball to his little brother. Robin Yount was lucky in the body and brother he was given. But he still had to work hard. Because he did,he was ready when, at age 18, he got the call from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Hard work meeting opportunity.
So I wouldn’t call the publishing biz a lottery system. What metaphor would I use? It hit me the other day: writing success is more like my favorite game, backgammon.
Backgammon, which has been around for 5,000 years, is brilliantly conceived. Dice are involved, so there’s always an

element of chance. Someone who is way behind still might win if the dice give him a roll he needs at a crucial moment.

On the other hand, someone who knows how to think strategically, can calculate odds, and takes risks at the right time, will win more often than the average player who depends mostly on the rolling bones.
Early on I studied the game by reading books. I memorized the best opening moves for each roll. I learned how to think about what’s called the “back game,” what the best “points” are to cover, and when it might pay off to leave a “blot.”
And I played a lot of games with friends and, later, on a computer. I discovered a couple of killer, though risky, opening moves. I use them because they can pay off big time, though when they don’t I find myself behind. But I’m willing to take these early chances because they are not foolhardy and I’m confident enough in my skills that I can still come back.
This, it seems to me, is more analogous to the writing life than a lottery. Yes, there is chance involved. I sold my first novel because I happened to be at a convention with an author I had met on the plane. This new acquaintance showed me around the floor, introduced me to people. One of them was a publisher he knew. That publisher just happened to be starting a new publishing house and was looking for material. I pitched him my book and he bought it a few weeks later.
Chance.
But I was also ready for that moment. I had been studying the craft diligently for several years and was committed to a weekly quota of words. I’d written several screenplays and at least one messy novel before completing the project I had with me at the convention.
Work.
Thus, as in backgammon, the greater your skill, the better your chances. The harder you work, the more skill you acquire. Sure, there are different talent levels, and that’s not something we have any control over.
But biology is not destiny, as they say. Unrewarded genius is almost a cliché. Someone with less talent who works hard often outperforms the gifted.
Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll always win big in any one game. If the dice are not your friends, things might not turn out as planned. That book you thought was a sure winner might sink. Or even stink.
But that doesn’t mean you have to stop playing.
Don’t ever worry about the dice. You cannot control them, not even if you shake them hard and shout, “Baby needs a new pair of shoes!” The vagaries of the book market are out of your hands. You can, however, control your work ethic and awareness of opportunity.
Writing success is therefore not a lottery. It’s a game.
Play intelligently, play a lot and try to have some fun, too.

So what about you? Do you believe in pure luck? Or do you believe there is something you can do to goose it?

Write What You Love

 Irish Jimmy Gallagher, love, self publishing  Comments Off on Write What You Love
Sep 292013
 
And it don’t take money, don’t take fame. Don’t need no credit card to ride this train…That’s the power of love.
       – Huey Lewis and the News

I have a lot of writer friends in various career stages, and therefore considering various career moves. The nice thing these days is that there are moves, more options than ever before. This requires that writers not only know and understand the choices (in terms of possibilities and pitfalls). It also requires that writers know themselves.
One friend who has been writing steadily for many years for traditional publishers is a case in point. After receiving news that her publisher was dropping the last book in a contract, she took a break from writing and looked inside. She wrote about what she saw, and gave me permission to share it:
After taking a much-needed break when I learned in May that my third book with ____ wouldn’t be published (which was, perversely, good news for me, as I hated the story, the characters, and the obligation to write it—with 20k words and one month to deadline at the time), I finally got to the point at which I would literally get the shakes at night because I needed to be doing something creative (i.e., WRITING), but every time I pulled out a notebook or sat at the computer, I would feel even worse staring at that blank page because the only thing I could think of when trying to start something new was all of the pressure and pain (emotional and physical) of being under deadline to churn out two or three (usually three) books a year for the past four years.
But the urge to create something still existed and was driving me slightly batty. One day, when at my acupuncture appointment, I needed something to focus my mind on—something other than work, which I’d just left and had to go back to, since this was my lunch break. I decided that since I still love watching all the cooking shows on TV, I’d focus my mind on my chef character from my second contemporary. What would it be like if he were to go on Chopped or Top Chef? What if his restaurant (which he was in the process of opening at the end of his book) were featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show? So I closed my eyes to allow my mind to “play” for a while.
Then something shocking happened. That character’s sister-in-law, one of the main secondary characters in that series, stepped forward and reminded me that she, too, is a chef and restaurant owner, and has been for longer than her brother-in-law. Besides, he’s already had his story. It’s time for her to have hers. And she’s right—I’ve had readers asking me for her story for years. By the time I got back to the office, I had the entire first scene fully formed in my head.
At a conference last week, I had a chance to talk to both my agent and former editor about the story and my ideas for things I can do with the uniqueness of the ebook format, and I realized, after walking away from my meeting, that for the first time in years, I was not only interested in a story idea but actually excited about writing it.
I’m taking it slowly—I’ve finished the first chapter and figured out how I’m going to incorporate the “viewpoints” of the four potential romantic interests for the heroine, without actually making any of them a main POV character. The most fun part, however, has been revisiting the first three books to gather all of the information about this character and to update the stories of all three of the couples from those books to “where they are now” six or seven years later. 
It’s also been a great joy to return to the fictional city I “founded” and started building in 1992. As a writer who got completely burned out from having to write based on the need for money and not a passion for writing the stories I’d come up with, it’s been so wonderful to return to this setting, to these characters I’ve known for years and years. It’s a lot like going home after a long estrangement and being welcomed back with open arms and a fatted calf.
And the best part about this turn of events is that her writing will be the best it’s ever been. She’s a pro, she knows what she’s doing—but now she’s also recaptured the love.
We have to have that in our writing if we’re going to keep doing this for the long term. You’ve only got so much time. Give that time to the stories

you’re burning to tell. Do that first, and the money will follow. How much, no one can say. But joy tips the balance in your favor. For example, in addition to my novels and novellas, I’m writing short stories about a boxer in 1950s Los Angeles. I make some scratch every month on these. But more than that, I love writing them. It’s a different voice and genre than I normally write in, which has the added benefit of keeping my writing chops sharp. 

If you love what you do you’ll do more of it, and  you’ll do it better, and that will increase the odds of making a decent buck at this—either through self-publishing or finding a traditional publisher who believes in your voice and vision. Or some combination of the two. 

So my question for you today is, do you love what you’re writing? If not, why not?
May 202012
 

@jamesscottbell

        
So now you are either self-publishing or thinking about self-publishing.
         Yes, welcome to the world of everybody.
         I have a question for you. Do you actually want to make some money at it?
         Here’s the good news: your ficus can make money self-publishing. Your cat, Jingles, can make money self-publishing.
         Of course, by money we are talking about enough scratch to buy some Bazooka at your local 7-Eleven. Or maybe a Venti White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks. That’s not bad. It’s something.
         But if you want to make some real dime, and keep it coming, there are a few things you need to understand.
1. You are going into business
         The authors who are making significant money self-publishing operate with sound business principles. Which makes many other authors as nervous as Don Knotts.


         “I’m just not wired that way!” they’ll say. “I want to concentrate on my writing! I haven’t got the time or inclination to think about business decisions.”
         But guess what? Even if you have a traditional publishing contract, you’re going to have to give time and attention to business, namely marketing.
         What if you spent a little of that same time and effort learning the principles of successful self-publishing?
         Of course, a lot of authors now want to go right into digital. Well, don’t do it until you fully understand that it’s a business you’re going to be running. That business is you.
         Learn how. The basics are not that hard. In fact, I’ll have a book out soon that’ll help.
2. Your mileage will vary
No one can replicate another author’s record. Each author and body of work are unique. Innumerable factors play into the results, many of which are totally out of the control of the writer.
If you go into self-publishing expecting to do as well as author X, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Instead, concentrate on being the best provider of content you can be. See # 5, below.   
3. This isn’t get rich quick
         In the “early days” of the ebook era, those who jumped in with both feet (Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke) and those who had loads of backlist (Bob Mayer) or caffeinated series ideas (Lee Goldberg) got some nice returns.
         Now, the future for the overwhelming majority of writers is about quality production, consistently and over time. A long time. Which is fine if you love to write. 
4. You can’t just repeat “buy my stuff” and expect to sell any of it
        
         We have left the age of sales and are now in the age of social. The way you market today is not by hard sell but by relationship. Even if you’re putting together sales copy, you have to think about how it offers value to the potential reader.
         What isn’t valuable is a string of tweets that are little more than “buy my stuff” or “please RT this” messages. Some authors think it’s a numbers game and repeating these messages will work over time.
         They won’t. They’ll annoy more people than they’ll attract.
5. It is first, and always, about the book
         I don’t care if you can out promote and out market anyone on the internet.
         I don’t care if you can afford to spend $100,000 to place ads for your books.
         If your book fails to catch on with readers or, worse, turns them off, you’re not going to do well over the long haul.
         Which is how it should be, after all. The quality of the writing itself should be the main thing in this whole crazy process.
         So you should concentrate a good chunk of your time, even more than you do on marketing, on a writing self-improvement program alongside your actual writing output.
         One of the reasons I’m conducting intense, two-day writing workshops this year is to take each and every writer who attends to that next level, where green is earned year after year.
          Now is the best time in history to be a writer. No question about it. The barriers to entry have been destroyed and opportunities to generate income have taken their place. But you have to think strategically. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, puts it this way: The biggest challenge faced by self-published authors, it’s not marketing, it’s not discoverability, it’s adopting the best practices of the very best publishers. It’s about becoming a professional publisher.”
       Of course, if you have trouble with that, you can always partner with your cat Jingles. 
Updates
We’re fast closing in on the Austin, TX 2 day fiction workshop, June 16-17. To get the special room rate, sign up with the hotel before June 1. Details here.
I’ve posted a new writing video on Agents. If you want to know what a pitch session feels like, tune in

I Am Going to Let the Readers Decide

 Force of Habit, James Scott Bell, self publishing  Comments Off on I Am Going to Let the Readers Decide
Apr 292012
 


It’s being said all over the place that the new “gatekeepers” in publishing are the readers. Because of self-publishing, and new initiatives by traditional publishers to go direct to readers via revamped websites, that certainly seems to be the case.
So I have decided to put it to the test by letting readers decide if a new idea of mine will become a series.
About a year ago my son laughingly offered me an idea. He loves to make up titles and concepts, just for fun. “Hey Pop,” he said, “how about a thriller about a nun who is secretly a vigilante? She knows martial arts, and can kick butt when necessary?”
I looked at him quizzically, and then he gave me the (you’ll pardon the expression) kicker: “You can call it FORCE OF HABIT.”
I cracked up. So did he. But he stopped when I said, “I think I’ll do it.”
“I was only kidding,” he said.
“It’s a great concept,” I said. “Original, great title, and I think I can do something with it.”
What I did was start to write it. On the side, as I had traditional contracts to fulfill. But as I played with this story, I got pulled more and more into it.
My martial arts nun I named Sister Justicia Marie (or Sister J, as she’s known by those close to her). I thought up her backstory. She is a former child star who grew up into a drug-using actress who then hit bottom. That’s when she turned her life over to God and entered into the sacred life.
But during her time before the cameras, she studied martial arts (particularly for a Steven Seagal film she was in) and those skills have not left her.
And as I like to dig into themes in my books, I thought this raised a most intriguing question: could a devout nun actually justify violence if it was in the course of doing good, like stopping violent criminals?
When a cop asks her the same question, I heard her say this about the criminal element: “They are the knuckles. I am the ruler.”
I started adding a cast of characters. And then I thought of plotlines, and the idea of a series started to unfold. These would be in novelette form, around 15k words each. I think that’s a good pulp fiction value for the reading dollar.
I even went so far as to commission a talented young artist to do a series logo for me, a nun issuing a flying kick. And then the pitch:
When a nun is viciously attacked, Sister Justicia Marie takes it upon herself to find out what happened. The cops don’t like that. Neither does her Mother Superior at St. Cecelia’s school. But when a couple of hoods try to stick up a liquor store and Sister J brings them down, something is unleashed inside her, something that will either confirm her calling . . . or destroy it.
So now here it is. For KINDLE and NOOK, the first of the Rogue Nuns series featuring Sister Justicia Marie:

Here is my request: I’m asking you, the, readers to decide if the series will go on. By reading FORCE OF HABIT, and offering reviews, you will help me make the decision whether to continue.  
In this case, you are indeed the gatekeepers and the decision makers. So let me hear from you. Thanks!

It’s Matt Scudder and he’s back in print!

 matthew scudder, new trade paperbacks, self publishing  Comments Off on It’s Matt Scudder and he’s back in print!
Apr 142012
 

In a sense, he’s never been out of print. Mulholland’s hardcover edition of A Drop of the Hard Stuff is still selling well, and their trade paperback just joined it in the stores a month ago. HarperCollins have the rights to thirteen of the Scudder backlist novels and have kept them all in print (although, with fewer backlist titles in stores these days, they’re not always easy to find.)

But three of the Scudder novels, A Stab in the Dark, A Walk Among the Tombstones, and A Long Line of Dead Men, have been out of print for a while now. I managed to regain the rights, and earlier this year self-published them all as eBook editions.

But “print” sort of implies paper and ink, doesn’t it?

You know, that’s just what I was going to say. While I trust I’ve established my street cred as an eBook enthusiast, that doesn’t mean I’m eager for printed books to disappear—or for my books to cease to exist in that form. When I self-published The Night and the Music last fall, I was able to bring out a trade paperback edition close upon the heels of the eBook; both, I’m pleased to report, have enjoyed a very gratifying reception.

And now it’s my pleasure to offer the three books as trade paperbacks, in the same format as The Night and the Music. The same great team at Telemachus Press readied the books for production, and the good people at Lightning Source saw to the printing and binding, and here’s how they look:

Any questions? Ah, I see a few hands raised:

Will the books be in stores?

Not in brick-and-mortar stores. Online booksellers—Amazon and Barnes & Noble—will be able to supply them. And a handful of the leading mystery specialty booksellers are carrying the new books—and all of their copies are signed.

I was just about to ask how to get signed copies.

Great—go right ahead and ask.

Uh, how do I get signed copies?

You can order them online from LB’s Bookstore. They’re $16.99 apiece plus $5 shipping. But if you buy the three-book set, they’re yours for $54.99 postpaid. (That’s $49.99 plus $5, for a net savings to you of $10.98.)

Oh, I want a set! But I’m in school here in Toronto, and my sister’s back home in Taiwan, and my cousin’s in Sao Paulo, and my best friend’s in Stuttgart, and we’d all like to buy signed copies. And you only ship to U.S. addresses!

I know, but don’t despair. These fine stores have signed copies, and will cheerfully ship them anywhere in the world:

Murder by the Book
3210 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 232-9995

Murder on the Beach
273 Northeast 2nd Avenue
Delray Beach, FL 33444-3705
(561) 279-7790

Mysterious Bookshop
58 Warren Street
New York, NY 10007
(800) 352-2840

Mystery on Main Street
119 Main Street
Brattleboro, VT 05301
(802) 258-2211

The Poisoned Pen
4014 N Goldwater Blvd #101
Scottsdale AZ 85251
(888) 560-9919

Seattle Mystery Bookshop
117 Cherry St
Seattle, WA 98104-2205
(206) 587-5737

Any more questions?

I love the new covers, and they’ll look great on the shelf next to The Night and the Music. Any chance the rest of the series will be available in the same format?

Wouldn’t that be nice? Right now it’s not an option, but if things change I’ll be quick to carpe the old diem and hurry them into production.

Will you let us know if that happens?

Count on it. Meanwhile, just click on LB’s Bookstore and grab yourself a set of three. (And if you missed The Night and the Music, or someone swiped your copy, it’s right on the same page.)

LB

Get ready, cause here I come

 ebooks, P.D. Martin, PD Martin, self publishing  Comments Off on Get ready, cause here I come
Mar 152012
 

By PD Martin

In some ways I was quick getting on board the whole self-published ebook phenomenon but in other ways I’ve been a slow, dumb-ass! By the way, I’d never really heard the term dumb ass until I watched That 70s Show. Love it! Is that a term purely from the show, or was it in use in the US before That 70s Show?

 

You may remember that in the Australian summer holidays (January) I was away for quite some time and didn’t get much writing done. However, what I did do was a 2012 plan. I spent years working as a corporate writer and sometimes I think it’s extremely useful to bring some of the corporate tools to the creative world. One such thing is project planning (I have project plans with word targets and completion dates for pretty much everything I work on) and another thing that’s useful is a twelve-month strategy.

Anyway, the main realization from my strategy planning was that I needed to get on to the ebook bandwagon properly. I say properly, because in 2009/2010 I wrote a Sophie Anderson novella (Coming Home, the sixth book in the series) online. Literally online. Each week I’d write a chapter and then post a few multiple-choice questions for my readers to have a say in the direction of the book for the next chapter/week. It was a scary and exciting time. Scary because I didn’t know exactly what I’d write next and exciting because it was such a different way of writing and I felt like a pioneer. Once I was finished I organised cover art, got the book edited and posted it online as a free download. It was on my website (and nowhere else – big dumb ass!) for nearly a year before I became more aware of the whole self-published ebook revolution and got it up on Amazon and Smashwords for $2.99. Sales were modest, but there were sales without ANY publicity.

So, back to my New Year strategy planning. One of the key outcomes of my 2012 strategy is to get my (dumb)ass into gear with the ebook thing. First stop: Sophie. I’ve never been into short stories much, but in 2006 I was asked to write a Sophie Anderson short story for a magazine called Australian Women’s Weekly (it’s actually now published monthly, but they decided in the 1980s not to change it to Australian Women’s Monthly – for obvious reasons, I suspect). Anyway, I wrote a story called Missing and submitted it to my publicist and Aussie editor. However, I was concerned that the gist of it (child abduction) might not be appropriate for the magazine, plus it was set in Melbourne, before Sophie went to the FBI and wasn’t exactly indicative of a Sophie book. My hunch was right and I started from scratch, writing a story about a missing girl but with a very different tone and set after Body Count and in Washington DC. For that story, I had two different endings and after a discussion with my publishers we chose an ending and submitted it. The Weekly loved it and it appeared in the March 2006 edition.

So, these two stories had been sitting on my C drive for six years!!!! Why not do something with them? I gave them another round of editing, put them into Scrivener so I could output directly into an ebook, and paid a designer to create a cover. Last week, The Missing went up on Amazon, priced at 0.99! And just for fun, I included the alternate ending for the story set in DC.

Also sitting on my C drive were two true crime pieces that I wrote for a collection called Meaner than Fiction. I was asked to contribute to this collection and when I went looking for Aussie stories that I could get an ‘in’ to (e.g. could interview someone first hand) the two stories that came my way were actually stories of wrongful conviction. The first was about Andrew Mallard, a West Australian man with mental health issues who was charged with murder. The second story was about wrongful conviction in general, and I interviewed the director of one of Australia’s Innocence Projects. Again, fascinating stuff.

So, during my strategy session in January it occurred to me that I could package these two stories together as well. Last week, When Justice Fails, also went up on Amazon – also for 0.99.

So, stages 1 & 2 of my ebook strategy have been ticked off. Go me!

The next step in my ebook strategy rests on the idea that, like many writers, I have a draw full of finished but unpublished novels. Some of these should, and will, stay in my draw and archived on my computer. But there are others that I still believe in, including:

  1. the first book in a young adult trilogy; and
  2. a spy thriller I finished around this time last year but didn’t have any luck selling (apparently the spy thriller market is hard to break in to at the moment).

So, over the coming months you’ll be hearing about one more PD Martin self-published ebook, Hell Hath No Fury (at least I think that’s what I’m calling it) and the start of my YA ebook strategy (and the birth of a new pen name, Pippa Dee).

Have you joined the ebook revolution? 

Mar 112012
 

James Scott Bell
Twitter.com/jamesscottbell



His
father was a mudder. He loves the slop.
Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld




The
future of the book industry got a little murkier this week. The Department of Justice, no
less, thickened the soup with its announced
intent
to go after five of the “Big Six” publishers — plus Apple
— on charges of collusion. The alleged nefariousness dates back to the
wholesale versus agency controversy at Amazon.
Amazon was
setting e-book prices lower than the big publishers desired. The pubs were
afraid consumers would get used to lower prices, thus cutting into their
margins. Also, there was major concern about undercutting a big cash cow for traditional
publishing: hardcover frontlist titles. And, of course, they all worried about the future of brick-and-mortar stores as Amazon gobbled up more of the distribution pie. 

So Steve Jobs comes along (allegedly) with
a plan to take major e-book business away from Amazon. With the iPad just
getting fired up, Jobs (allegedly)
went to the Big Six and proposed going into an e-book agency model agreement with them
(Random House didn’t join the circle then, so is not part of the DOJ lawsuit). In return, the publishers would agree to keep their books off Amazon if it sold them at a lower price. In effect the five big publishers, as one, told Amazon You give us the agency model or you don’t get our books. 
The players, IOW, were jockeying for position with the future in mind. This is what
big business does. It’s understandable and even desirable in a free market
economy so long as the businesses are not running afoul of anti-trust laws.
Amazon, not
happy with being forced into agency, decided to take on the publishing industry
directly by mimicking it. So they went out and hired industry
veteran Larry Kirshbaum
to head up the effort. Amazon subsequently made some
big name signings – Deepak Chopra and Barry Eisler, for example.
More
jockeying.
And now comes a dark cloud dumping rain — the United
States Gummint. The track is suddenly soaked and the mud is kicking up all over
everybody.
Who is going
to be the best mudder? Who is going to be left behind?
That remains
to be seen. But right now it looks like agency pricing will be escorted off the track. If
publishers are forced back into wholesale, Amazon will be sitting even prettier
than it is now, prices will once again trend downward, and publishers’ margins
will shrink. There will be renewed howls of “predatory pricing,” but
the DOJ well knows that’s a much harder case to make. So Amazon goes back to
selling at loss-leader prices which, in turn, will trickle down to
brick-and-mortar stores where margins are razor thin anyway. More stores will
probably close. Your local Barnes & Noble, for instance. There is a whole
interlocking spiral here that is beyond the scope of this post.
My main
interest is in what this all means for writers. For the last couple of years
the self-publishing boom has been a net-gain for writers, especially those with
a track record. And a backlist. But even new writers who haven’t been able to
get inside the gates of the Forbidden City are seeing real money as
independents.
But in
gazing at the horizon in light of the DOJ’s action, some are saying that things don’t look so rosy. Here is what Mike Shatzkin, the Insightful One, has to say:
Over
time, the biggest losers here will be the authors. The independent authors will
feel the pain first. Agency pricing creates a zone of pricing they can occupy
without much competition from branded merchandise. When the known authors are
only available at $9.99 and up, the fledgling at $0.99-$2.99 looks very
attractive and worth a try. Ending agency will have the “desired” effect of
bringing all ebook prices down. As the big book prices are reduced, the ability
of the unknowns to use price as a discovery tool will diminish as well. In the
short run, it will be the independent authors who will pay the biggest price of
all. 
But,
in the long run, all authors will just get less. They will join the legion of
suppliers beholden to a retailer whose mission is to deliver the lowest
possible price to the consumer.

I am going to take issue with Mr. Shatzkin
on his characterization of writers as the “biggest losers” in all
this. Not so. This is simply another development in a long and ever changing
contest. Writers who produce, consistently and well, will always have a shot at the rewards of a race well run. 
We didn’t create the Big Six or Amazon. But
we will use them just like they use us. We will make strategic decisions, as
they do. It’s called doing business,
and writers are better positioned than ever to do it in creative ways.
So get on your horse, writer. Learn to ride
in the mud. Don’t trust your fate to anybody else. You are
responsible for your future, and you need to grab the reins and get into the thick
of it.
For example, if you pursue a traditional
contract, take a hand in negotiations. Learn what contract terms mean.
Negotiate a way to produce non-competing works on your own dime. Don’t just
blindly hand the reins of your very life and career to somebody else. Ever
again.
Have courage. There is a lot of bumping
going on in the turns. Don’t be timid. Bump back. Hang tough in the saddle. If
somebody tries to hit you with his riding crop, take it from him.
While the overall effect may be greater
challenges vis-à-vis “discoverability,” so what? Facing and
overcoming obstacles has always been the lot of the writer. Nothing’s different
now. You must produce quality, and a lot of it, for
the rest of your life to have a writing career. You must add a long tail to your
horse. If you do, you have a chance to cross the finish line and get
pelted with flowers.
And why, as a writer, wouldn’t you do this
anyway? We write. Even if some of the big publishers fall off their horses, we
writers will still be in the race. Even if bookstore shelf space continues to
dry up, we writers will still be coming at you.
Because we are creating stories, which is what people want and
need in this crazy world. We are weaving dreams, getting under your skin, keeping you up at night, making you laugh and cry and maybe sometimes throw our books across the room. 
We are storytellers. 

And we are not going away no matter how hard it rains.

You Don’t Have to be a Star

 Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit, Mark Capri, self publishing, success  Comments Off on You Don’t Have to be a Star
Mar 042012
 



You
don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show.

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.
A couple of years ago my lovely wife and I
were in New York and went to see Blithe
Spirit
on Broadway. We had only one reason to go, the best in fact: Angela Lansbury. She’s always been a fave of ours, and the chance to see her
onstage (in, it turned out, her Tony Award winning role) was too much to pass
up.
Sweetening the pot was that the male lead
was Rupert Everett in his Broadway debut. It would be two “names” in
a revival of  a famous play.
When the curtain was about to go up an
announcer told us that Mr. Everett would not be going on that night. His
understudy would play the part. There were a few sighs of disappointment. Cindy
and I comforted ourselves with the knowledge that the divine Angela, at least,
was still a go.
And she was stupendous. The production was a
hoot.
And that understudy for Everett? He was brilliant.
So good that I looked him up on IMDB after
the show. His name is Mark Capri.
Now, I was an actor for a time on the boards
of the Big Apple, and appreciate a fine theatrical turn. Especially from a guy
who the audience was initially disappointed to see (he won them over, however,
and got huge applause at the end). So I wrote Mr. Capri a note to thank him for
his performance.


I bring this up for writers because it
illustrates a point. Mark Capri no doubt went into acting, as all Thespians do,
hoping to become a star. He did what actors are supposed to do. He got training
(at no less than the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London). He was accepted
into the Royal Shakespeare Company and began his theatrical apprenticeship.
Over the years he’s played many roles in
theatre (in a serendipitous touch, he made his New York debut with the same theatre
company where I made mine, The Roundabout) and guest roles on TV.
In other words, he is a professional in
every sense of the term. And when he was needed for that performance in Blithe Spirit, he came through as a
consummate pro should.
We are, as we all know, in the midst of the
self-publishing revolution. More and more indie authors are making good money,
not because they are “stars,” but because they are professionals. The
ones who think just tossing up mediocre material into the digi-system is going
to make them rich are fooling themselves. I
posted a brief clip about this on YouTube
.
The ones who will make it will follow the
same path as Mark Capri. They will train, they will get some good direction,
they will write, they will keep writing. A miniscule number of them may even
gain “star status,” whatever that’s going to look like in the future.
But I suspect the era of the superstar
writer is coming to an end. The era of the solid professional is upon us. Those
who learn how to do it all well (and I’m doing my part
to help
) will increasingly be able to realize the dream of doing something
they love and making a living at it.
They will find their audience and please them
with good performances, just like the one Mr. Capri delivered that warm July evening on Broadway.