Tag Archives: Publishing

New Books

Well, I finally have a new book out. Two, in fact: Startup, the first in my Rural Empires setting, and A Temporary Thing, which I wrote as a prequel to Startup (it’s complicated).

How do I feel? About the same as before. I don’t expect overnight greatness from this. I didn’t get it with my first novel, Spree, and I highly doubt it’ll happen with these two books. Just being pragmatic here. The so-called overnight success stories are exceptions to the rule, and are generally no as sudden as they might seem at first glance.

Take Stephen King. His first novel, Carrie, took off like a shot and catapulted him to fame and fortune. It was a novel he threw away and only gave a second chance because his wife urged him to. And he’s stated he still doesn’t really like the book.

Understandable. But he’s also cognizant of what it did for him, so he doesn’t exactly disown it, either.

Either way, Carrie was not his first published work. It was just his breakthrough work. He’d published short stories—a favorite medium of his and one I can’t do well at all—in magazines, most of them men’s magazines such as Cavalier. By the time Carrie came out, he’d been slaving away getting low pay for his work. And all this had honed his craft so that the success Carrie had was well-deserved.

And I’m sure if you read the back story of pretty much any successful author who’s worth reading, you’ll find the same narrative. We may be born with the talent to write—an arguable position—but we still have to work at it to make it better, and we have to keep working at it our whole lives.
And then we have to get noticed.

That’s never been easy. Back when Mr. King was first published, there were gatekeepers—i.e. editors and publishers—who decided whether or not you got noticed. And, quite often, despite the fact they might decide to publish your work, that didn’t necessarily mean they’d do their best to make sure it sold well. One of the many reasons the New York model is falling flat on its face.

Even still, there were lots of books published, and I find them in used bookstores all the time: books by authors I’ve never heard of, and when I crack them open, I see why. These days of self-publishing don’t have a corner on the market of bad writers, necessarily, it’s just that it’s easier for them to see the light of day.

But even when you’re good—and I’ve been told by several people that I am, so I suppose it’s true, at least to an extent—getting noticed is hard. It’s a big sea, and there are a lot of fish in it. Being the one who rises to the top isn’t an easy thing.

So. I have two new books out. They’re available on Amazon. And from me, if you happen to see me. It’s not like I sold out at my release party this past Sunday. That’s the reality of publishing these days, and I’m not looking to quit my day job anytime soon.

But it still feels good to finally have more books out, because that means I’m a bit closer to being able to quit my day job.

And that’s the goal: to tell that day job goodbye.


The Costs of Publishing

It seems strange to me, but people who’ll spend ten bucks to go to the latest explosion fest at the theater gripe about the cost of a book and tout it as one of the reasons they don’t read. Maybe our special effects budget isn’t high enough or something.

So let’s look at the math, in a general way.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you spend that same ten bucks for a book. Mass media paperbacks are getting really close to that now, so it’s a semi-valid argument.

If you’re an author with a New York publisher, your cut of that ten bucks is gonna be in the range of five to ten percent. That means for that book, you’re gonna make somewhere between fifty cents and a dollar. Now, if you have an agent, he’s gonna get fifteen percent (based on industry standard. Some may be lower), which means you lose anywhere from eight cents (it works out to 7.5, and I’m sure the agent will round up) to fifteen cents, leaving you with forty-two to eighty-five cents.

Doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

But that’s not all. Now you have to figure out how much you actually made. How long did it take to write the book? You’ll have to break it down into hours, but after you figure in the writing and multiple edits, my guess is, unless you’re someone like Stephen King, you’re not making anywhere near the national minimum wage, never mind what those, um, people in Seattle thought they’d be making with their fifteen dollar an hour minimum.

So where’s the rest of it go? To the publisher. It’s expensive to print books, and if you’re with one of the Big Five, they do print runs based on how many books they project you’ll sell. Most of the time they’re wrong, judging from everything I’ve been reading online, so if they gave you an advance—something that’s shrinking and even disappearing in today’s publishing world—you likely didn’t earn it back. Which is why the Big Five are mostly losing money and are happy to have surprise hits like Fifty Shades of Grey, regardless of actual quality.

Things are a little different on the indie/small publishing side of things. For instance, at Oghma Creative Media, our standard contract is a 60/40 split, and we’re able to offer the forty percent to authors because we’re basically print-on-demand (POD). Still, to set up a book with Lightning Source, the premium way to go when it comes to POD because using them makes you look far more legit to bookstores and libraries, costs well over two hundred dollars (I can’t remember the exact figure).

Granted, it’s still not great money. You’re getting four dollars of that ten-dollar book, but since we’re still a struggling company, you’re likely not selling many books. Yet. But would you do better with one of the Big Five? Unlikely. I’ve read and heard that ten percent of Big Five authors get ninety percent of the promotional budget. Which is to say, they’re really only betting on sure things. It’s a system set up to fail, made to fulfill their prediction that new authors are money pits. It’s a closed loop that accomplishes nothing.

So the next time you feel you’re paying too much for a book, keep all this in mind. And remember that the vast majority of us writers aren’t making money hand over fist like John Grisham and Stephen King.



Mixing It Up

There’s this idea in the publishing world that if you write, say, a mystery novel, it should be strictly a mystery novel. If you follow the tried and true formula, it shouldn’t cavesofsteeleven have a romance subplot. Or, if it does, the person the protagonist is interested in usually disappears between books. (Hmm. Should we be investigating these philandering sleuths to see what they’re doing with their mates when we’re not looking?) Of course, that rule only applies to series characters, for the most part, but it’s part of the genre.

But I digress.

The point is, if you write in a particular genre, you’re supposed to stick to the traditions (tropes?) of that genre. That’s the standard readers expect—according to the publishers, anyway—and if you color outside the lines, you’ll get a lower grade on your homework.

Or will you?

Let’s go back a bit, way back to something like the 1950s and the novel The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. Asimov wrote this novel in response to John W. Campbell’s assertion that science fiction and mysteries were incompatible, his argument being that, if the writer is already inventing facts the reader can’t know (i.e., a future where technology exists that can do pretty much anything the writer wants it to), then it can’t be a real mystery. Nothing is at stake. Asimov wrote The Caves of Steel, as well as several sequels, to prove his assertion that science fiction could be laid over any other genre and make a good story. On the whole, I’d say he was successful, but you have to keep one thing in mind: The Caves of Steel is still sold as science fiction (if you can find it in a bookstore, that is).

sword edged blondeThe Caves of Steel isn’t the only example, but it’s the one that always pops into my head when I think about mixing it up. I’m reading a fantasy/mystery mashup right now called The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe. I’m not sure if that’s the best title ever, but if you’re a fan of the old hard-boiled mysteries like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, but you also like your wizards and magic, check this one out. It’s the first in a series, and it’s shaping up to be a good read that successfully mixes elements from both genres into something new.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe that’s why publishers tend not like mashups like this: it results in something new. And we’re talking here about an industry that’s so bipolar it’s not funny. They want the next new thing, the next Twilight, the next Hunger Games, the next whatever-will-sell-like-crazy, and yet they’re always afraid to take chances on new authors. One of the chief reasons indie presses are doing so well right now.

As a reader, I like finding these new things. They aren’t always great discoveries, as I found out with this book (and I’m not the only one), but on the whole, it can be interesting to see how someone else does something like that, even if the end result isn’t always to our liking. You have to cheer them on for slipping one under the publishers’ noses, at the very least.

What about you? You like mixing it up? Or do you prefer your genres to stick to their traditions? Are their exceptions to the rule, or do you see these things as aberrations?


More Love/Hate

My friend—and fellow author—Pamela Foster recently wrote a blog post in which she talked about the love/hate relationship you’llsmall press undoubtedly run into with the publication of your first book by a small press. She’s right, you know. Small presses don’t have the resources to do PR for you. That’s all gonna be on your shoulders.

But I would add to what she had to say. Unless you’re a consistent New York Times bestseller, the big presses aren’t gonna do it, either. And you’re not gonna be able to have a personal relationship with your publisher. Your editor…maybe. But at a small press, the editor wears many hats. Make no mistake, though: they’re in it to make money for themselves. And to do that, all they have to get you to do is buy copies of your own book to sell. And you will, because you’re lost in a sea of books on Amazon. Trust me.

The big presses just do it…bigger.

Back when the Great Recession hit—and I could still stand to listen to what passes for news these days—I heard several stories on NPR about how the publishing industry was downsizing. Copy editors? Out the window. Technical editors? They’re in the bread line too. What’s that mean? It means even big press editors are wearing many hats these days.

Promotions isn’t one of those hats.

The major difference (besides royalty percentages) between big presses and small presses is the big presses invest a lot of money in your book before it ever hits the stands. Where small presses use print-on-demand services, the dinosaurs still make a print run of your book—and if it doesn’t sell all its copies, they have to eat it. The irony is, they’re not gonna invest a lot of money in promoting your book…just in case it doesn’t sell. Or maybe that’s more contradiction than irony.

Anyway, the point being, unless your name is Stephen King or Robert Crais or Tom Clancy, forget promo. That’s your job.

Now, once you start selling millions of copies, then we’ll revisit the idea of doing promotions for you. But not till then.

Even agents—about the only way you’re gonna get published by one of the big houses—want you to have the machinery in place to promote yourself. One of the first questions an agent is gonna ask if he accepts you is, “Do you have your platform in place?”

Ah, yes. The platform. Personally, I hate it. Why? Because they want me to spend time I should be using to write my next novel doing stupid stuff on Facebook and Twitter or writing my next blog post. Like I’m doing now.

There are ways around this. I write a blog post and have it publish to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I never get on Twitter, rarely visit LinkedIn (mostly just to approve connection requests), and shamefacedly admit to spending too much time perusing my personal page on Facebook. Using Facebook is like smoking: you know it’s a stupid habit, but you can’t help doing it.

Sometimes I’m tempted to get rid of my smartphone and go back to a normal cell phone. But I know I won’t.

So, if you get on with someone like Random House, congratulations. You’ve got an agent, and you’re hopefully on your way and won’t be another Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell. I hope your agent got you a good deal, and I hope it takes you far. In fact, I hope to join you someday. Just don’t be surprised when you have to do the same thing I’m doing over here at my small press: hiring a PR agency to do all my hollering for me.


Another “Stuff” Post

Okay, first of all, yes, I’ve changed my theme again. It’s not that I’m so much indecisive as I’m experimenting. I actually wanted to use this theme last time I switched but didn’t realize how versatile it is (for those of you who don’t use WordPress, you can sort of try on your themes before using them. Except they don’t always look like you can make ’em look when you activate them). Mostly I’m looking for something I can proof that’s easy on my eyes. I not only proof in my text box, I also proof after I publish the post because I sometimes spot mistakes there that I don’t see in the text box. My daughter liked the last theme I switched to, but it wasn’t my preferred one, so now I’ve switched to this one.

Besides, I’m kind of a gadget guy, so I like to change things up occasionally. I get bored leaving it one way. Heck, I tend to buy new watches (yes, I still wear one of those) just because I get bored with the one I’ve got.

Okay. Now that’s out of the way.

I just came from my writers’ group. I didn’t take anything to read tonight, which turned out to be just as well. This group has been around a long time, over twenty years, if I’m not mistaken. It’s run by Western author Dusty Richards and an old newspaper writer named Velda Brotherton. For those of you who read Westerns, as of this year Dusty has written 100 books. He has written some for the Ralph Compton estate as well as several under his own name. Considering that Westerns, as far as I can tell anyway, aren’t a real hot commodity in publishing right now (which is sad, in my opinion), I think that says something for him that he can get his stuff published.

Anyway, because our group is so old, attendance fluctuates. When I take reading material, I usually make twelve copies because that seems to be a happy medium. Some nights are like tonight in which I’d guess there were well over twenty people there, and others it’s more like ten or fifteen. You just never know from meeting to meeting. They’re a punctual group (they have to be), starting promptly at 6:30 P.M. and ending as close to 9:00 as possible. It rarely runs over that. Each participant can bring five pages of whatever work they want, and that includes poetry. We pass around copies, the author reads it aloud, and then everyone is free to comment on it. In other words, what we have is a critique group.

I like that. I mean, we joke and stuff, so it’s not 100% business 100% of the time, but we do keep our nose pretty close to the grindstone, simply because of time constraints. In order for everyone to read their material, it’s necessary.

We have a pretty diverse group, too. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I do sf/f and I’m starting to experiment with crime fiction. We have a couple of mystery writers, one other guy is doing a space opera, there are a couple of romance writers, and one who thought she was a romance writer but then evidently figured out she wrote chick lit. Nothing wrong with that. We have one woman named Jan Morril (I hope I spelled that name right) who’s writing what I guess you’d call a historical novel. If I understand her history correctly, she is originally from Hawaii and is at least part Japanese. Her book, which she’s calling Broken Dolls, is about a Japanese family from California interred in a camp in Arkansas during World War II and the people they meet. It’s excellent writing, and I don’t understand everything that’s happening because I’ve missed large chunks of it. But what I’ve read is impressive and I’d like to read the entire book. I hope she finds a publisher for it, because it deserves to be out there. Anyway, we also have  a couple of humor writers who tend to do sketches rather than full-blown novel-length pieces, but that’s okay, too. There’s room for all kinds.

The thing is, I thought that’s basically what all writers’ groups did: got together and critiqued one another’s work. It’s interesting to me because it lets me sample stuff I wouldn’t normally read (and some of it I never will), and it’s been interesting educating most of them in what goes and doesn’t in sf/f. They just weren’t that familiar with the genre.

It seems. though, that the group my daughter belongs to doesn’t do that. They do a prompt session where they spend five minutes writing some kind of little flash fiction thing, and they’re given five words to use in a story for the next meeting (please correct me if I’m wrong, Jesi). From what I understand, it’s a small group, about eight people if I remember right, and they meet once a week just like my group does.

Now, I’m not one to criticize another group. It’s not like I’ve got the ultimate wisdom on what a writers’ group should be and/or do. But, while I like the little prompts and such that my daughter’s group does, I have to wonder if they’d get more out of it if they did some critiquing. I say this because I have grown considerably as a writer since I started going to this group I’m in and, with the exception of sharing whatever good news there might be (I’m still waiting for someone to jump up and down screaming “I got an agent!” or something similar), critiquing one another’s work is all we do. Well, that and eat the wonderful desserts one of the women brings every week.

So is anyone out there reading this part of a writers’ group besides me, my daughter and Russell (I know he reads this because he’s commented a couple of times)? If you are, what does your group do? Do you think critiquing should be a vital part of what a group does, or are there other ways to help group members?

I ask these questions because, as I said, this is what I pictured writers’ groups doing before I joined this one, and I think  I would have been surprised if they’d done anything else. But maybe my exposure to such things is too limited or something, so it’s gotten me to wondering and I thought I’d ask.

Well, I believe that’s enough rambling this time around. Let me know what you think in the way of groups. Or my new theme. I want it to be different but easy to read at the same time.



Give It Time

I finally got up the nerve today to work on a synopsis of my urban fantasy, The First Born, in order to submit it to the Ethan Ellenberg Agency, but thought I’d give the ms one last look. And discovered that, to my utter dismay, I’m going to need to go over it one more time, at least (the submission rules at Ethan Ellenburg require a synopsis and approximately fifty pages of ms).

That’s good and bad. Bad, because, since I’ve never written a synopsis, it took me some time to work up the motivation to tackle the job. Most writers hate doing synopses because it means reducing all that hard work to ugly, bare-bones writing and leaving out all the wonderful nuances we’ve worked into the story. It’s good because, when you consider the fact that only the top 1% or so of writers are chosen for publication, getting a ms into the best shape it can be prior to submission is a good thing. And, since writing is an ongoing learning process, I’ve learned some things since last time I went through that ms that tells me I want to tighten it up even more.

Of course, the trick to all this is to know when to stop polishing and sending it out. It’s all too easy to just say, “Well, I think I need to give it one more going-over before I put it out there,” and using this as an excuse for not submitting. Just as you can’t win a lottery if you don’t enter, you can’t get published if you don’t submit. Publishers aren’t trolling around looking for your work. You have to go find them. Writing kinda sucks that way. Bummer.

The trick to polishing, as most writers know, is to put the ms aside and give it some emotional distance. Take a vacation. Go fishing. Maybe start another story. Whatever it takes to give yourself some distance from the ms. I’ve been able to do that, so my reason for going over this one another time isn’t emotional (in fact, I find it a little discouraging that I need to go over it again), but because I can see where it needs polishing to make it better. The First Born was written at least five years ago, before the current craze for urban fantasy exploded. When this fad first started, I decided I’d not submit it after all, even though I liked the story, because I didn’t want to be seen as just going with the fad. I have liked the idea of urban fantasy for a long time, and while I realize my novel is far from being the first to fit that category, it does pre-date the current fad. I have an aversion to fads, so I decided to shelve it.

Then it occurred to me that maybe I should just take advantage of the trend. After all, that’s what writers are supposed to do if they want to get published: anticipate what’s popular in their particular field. And while I’m not sure if I like the idea that urban fantasies are crowding sf off the shelves, I’ve decided to try and capitalize on the trend and get my foot in the door. Besides, The First Born was conceptualized as the first in a series that takes a slightly different direction than most of the urban fantasy I’m seeing so far, so maybe it will have an appeal that will make it stand out.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to say that future posts may be a bit more sparse. I intended to make daily posts when I started this blog, but I’m finding that hard to do, especially when I want to stick to the subject of writing and not wander off into political rants or gripes about life in general. I’ve watched a few other blogs to see how they do things, and not many of them make daily posts. I intend to make as many as possible, because a dead blog won’t appeal to people. I just need to learn to balance things a bit better.

However, in the meantime, if you will look at the links over on the top right, you will notice that I’ve added a page called “Crosstown Traffic.” This is a crime fiction short I wrote a couple weeks ago, and I decided to post it to give you something else to read. It’s written in a different voice than the writing sample page is, and I’d be interested to see what the reactions are to the different ways I do this. Hope you enjoy it. And let me know what you think.

Okay. Time to get back to editing.