Coming Soon

Is this sweet, or what?

It’s in final editing and should be ready for Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com in time for Christmas. If all goes well, both e-book and paperback versions will be available.

If you’re looking for cover art, I highly recommend JT Lindroos. A pleasure to work with and terrific results, as you can see.

PERIGEE: Almost There!

Except for the final 30 pages, Perigee is finished and with my editor. The rest needs some clean-up for continuity’s sake and will be easily completed this weekend.

That means it’s time for cover art. These aren’t final selections, but an idea of what I’m toying with in terms of imagery and lettering:

So it’s reader input time: if you were browsing through Amazon, which image would make you want to have a look?

And One More Thing…

Every time I say I’m not going to do something on this blog, events conspire to force me into doing that which was denied. Namely, updating the blog…

In other words, Sarah Hoyt has once again posted a couple of essays that are just screaming to be shared. If you’re like me and are just now wading into the e-pub universe, they’re especially worthwhile.

From Quick, Get Me a Flashlight:

Until recently, if you wanted to be read by the largest number of people, the path was easy.  First, you had to impress the gatekeepers.  Fortunately the gatekeepers were a small clique living mostly in NYC and all attending the same parties and reading the same books or – more likely – watching the same movies.  And they weren’t shy with their opinions, either.  They talked all the time, because you see, living in an echo chamber, they viewed their tastes and opinion as symbols of their status and intelligence.  So, attend one or two conventions, and you could psyche them.

Failing that, there were slews of books, seminars and workshops that taught you how to think the way they did, for the purpose of creating stories they’d love.

Finally, from We Band of Writers:

Of course, editors and publishers couldn’t have you killed and all your wealth confiscated, but they could block you from publishing, which for a lot of writers is worse than death, and make sure no one saw your books, ever.

And while some of the books that made it to the top were good, no one who saw how the sausage factory worked on the other side, can have the slightest belief that these workings are in fact even vaguely “fair” or that traditional publishing is in any way a meritocracy.

In fact it was more like a “Meritrocracy” in which we meretriciously tried to ingratiate ourselves with the powers at the top, who could make or break our career even while resenting their power and often insane decisions.

Which fully explains the bad taste left in my mouth after over a year of querying. Yuck. I finally gave up on that path after an otherwise reputable agency that was interested in my work decided to follow the crowd and open their own e-pub “imprint”. I subsequently decided they didn’t need to see the manuscript revisions they’d asked for, if they can’t get the whole “conflict of interest” concept.

No way to know yet if that was the right decision, but it certainly feels better to actually be doing something on my own terms. Call me a control freak, but that’s business.

Which is what this is, by the way. What, ya’ll thought I was doing this for fun?

Okay, well, that too…

About Perigee

It’s almost done. Really. I promise. In fact, that’s the reason why you haven’t seen a lot of activity here in blog-land lately. With a job and family, there’s only so much time in each day left for writing (which I’ve complained about enough).

If I’m to have the slightest chance of having this book ready for Christmas, the next month will be a little intense. So there won’t be much activity here unless something really catches my eye for a quick posting…like the Camaro Hot Wheels edition, for instance. Maybe Dodge will step up and do the same thing for the Challenger, which is already pretty Hot-Wheelsy.

I’ll try and update at least once a week, and post a few more sample chapters for your test-reading pleasure.

In the meantime, here’s an example of what I’m thinking about for cover art:

One Link to Rule Them All

Here’s a great New York Times story on how Amazon is disrupting traditional publishing by signing authors to their own imprints. From the article:

Amazon executives, interviewed at the company’s headquarters here, declined to say how many editors the company employed, or how many books it had under contract. But they played down Amazon’s power and said publishers were in love with their own demise.

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.”

He pointed out, though, that the landscape was in some ways changing for the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said.

Author Michael Stackpole has more: Is Amazon the Sauron of Publishing?

Publishers really can’t ignore that this is a shot across their bows—though I imagine they will. Just the fact that Amazon pays on a monthly basis makes authors look on them favorably. Their willingness to promote is another plus. The fact that they’re willing to let authors publish what they want when they want, regardless of whether or not a committee thinks it will be a blockbuster, is a third factor in their favor.

Plus this perspective on fears of Amazon becoming a monopoly:

For authors, Amazon (and electronic publishing), looks very good. We earn 70% of a retail price we set, and we get the money in sixty days. Amazon spends a lot of money convincing people to buy empty boxes and allows me to supply the stuff they’ll put in those boxes. While some might fear that Amazon—once it establishes its monopoly—will cut the pay rate or otherwise upset the apple-cart, I believe that worry is premature. Amazon’s plan for complete vertical integration requires the compliance of authors. They need what we supply.

Emphasis mine. Not much more to say here, the links are worth reading in full.

The Pain Train is Coming…

And it’s headed for the publishing companies. At The Bookseller, an interesting report from Publishers Launch Frankfurt:

Robert Gottlieb, chairman of the US literary agency Trident Media Group [pictured], said publishers were still fixed in their traditional models. “American publishers have to get beyond the point when they are doing it the same way, over and over again,” he said. “It means cutting overheads, and changing their dynamics, and welcoming as opposed to resisting or being frightened of this new e-book arena.”

He said publishers should “embrace” the changes, and “then they’ll be able to look at what they are paying their authors in a knowledgeable way, and we will then see the rate moving up”. Gottlieb warned that new players such as Amazon had no such constraints and were “offering a higher e-book rate, and advances that are comparable with what others publishers are willing to pay”. He warned that publishers’ grip on the business was “starting to change in favour of the author”. He added: “Publishers are frightened to death of the e-book market, because they see the opportunity for authors, that they did not have before.”

Emphasis mine.

An attitude I’d heard expressed at a writer’s conference is that we shouldn’t base our decisions on the success stories of self-pubbers, because they’re outliers. Their success is the exception, not the rule. It’s serendipity and nothing else.

All things being equal, sure, I get that. But all things are not equal. Isn’t success in traditional publishing just as much of an exception? Isn’t it just as much from luck as anything else?

Think about it. You spend years pouring your soul into that first novel – or at least you’d better be. Then, you spend weeks researching agents and crafting the perfect query letter. This is followed by more weeks, stretching into months, of sending those queries out in the hopes of getting their attention. And if you’re smart, you’ve tailored each one of those letters for each agent.

A few get favorable attention. After months of watching your email and waiting by the phone, you finally get picked up. Hallelujah!

But you still have a lot more work ahead in order to make your manuscript presentable. At which point the process repeats itself once they start pitching your book.

In my case, I made it through the first couple of steps and then the agency that wanted my work went and opened up their own e-pub business. So I wrote them off, since they apparently couldn’t grasp the whole “conflict of interest” thing. And this was a fairly big agency.

The whole experience felt way too much like high school dating. And I don’t buy the “if you can’t get a deal, your writing just isn’t ready” argument any more than I believed I wasn’t good enough for the Popular Crowd in school. When I see some of the horrible writing that made it through the traditional process, it becomes very obvious that most of that process is about personal taste and little else.

And for the icing on the cake: at the end of all this you get an advance that in most cases is not enough to live on. But doesn’t that book look nice on the shelf at Barnes & Noble?

Screw that. Success found on someone else’s terms isn’t real in my book.

So how is that any different than the traditional route? With all of the middlemen and management layers involved before a finished product hits the shelves, how is that not any less dependent on luck?

The common denominator is quality writing. You might sell a few crappy ebooks on Amazon, but you’re not going to make a living from it. And you certainly won’t land an agent and a Big Six deal with crap. But if you write well and can tell a good story, your chances are better now than ever before.

It used to be that publishers groomed promising writers through the “pulp” system to prepare them for the big leagues. Seems to me that’s what is happening now with Amazon. Their latest imprint, 47North, is a perfect example. The ebook marketplace is their farm team.

It’s a great time to be a new author. I’m enjoying the freedom to approach writing as an independent businessman, instead of begging for attention from strangers whose tastes may or may not mesh with mine.

But make no mistake: it’s a lot of work. Even with hard work, it may not happen at all. I have no illusions about that. But getting a pub deal the old-fashioned way carries the same risks. So the question is, which approach do you believe will yield the best return on your investment?

Hmm…that sounds almost like…a business decision!

A Self-Publishing Dissident

From Big Hollywood, a different take on self-publishing. Sarah Hoyt has touched on similar themes in the past, so I reckon that’s just how it is in big publishing.

Chances are I won’t get to experience that, since I’ve made the decision to go indie. Economically it makes a whole lot more sense given the rapid changes underway. No one really knows how this will end up, but I suspect that new authors could easily get screwed if they’re signing contracts right now.

“Indie” is not the same thing as “alone”, by the way. I’m working with an editor on Perigee right now, a very good friend of mine from way back who possesses a couple of important qualities: 1) experience editing fiction, and 2) is a fan of the genre. So far, so good.

I’m still searching for cover art and have found a couple of good prospects. More on that later.

As usual, I’ve found myself meandering amongst topics.

I hadn’t thought much about the politics of the business, other than the tea leaves editors and marketers read to guess at which titles might sell big. One would expect personal preferences to weigh quite a bit, though they may say otherwise. It’s a crying shame that a writer’s politics matter at all.

Though after attending my first writer’s conference, it’s not that surprising. I overheard a lot of people talking politics, most of them left of center. Being a newbie, I kept my trap shut just like the author of the post linked above. If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know I’m not shy about standing up for what I believe in. And there are ways to do that forcefully without flat-out insulting your opposition.

It comes down to asking yourself, “will my piping up make any difference at this moment?” Sometimes, it’s just better to let them prattle on.

I’ll never forget an experience we had the night before the 2000 election, which you may recall was a mite contentious. My wife and I were browsing around our local Barnes & Noble, when a group of Gore drones voters began loudly carrying on about how excited they were and how a Great New Day awaited. Or something.

The longer they talked, the more obnoxious they became. It was obvious they were trolling for an argument. My wife was right behind them and took the bait. I watched in fascination as they became more agitated. She kept her cool and stood her ground, but they just couldn’t cope with the idea that someone might have legitimate disagreements with them. One guy finally looked right at her and said, “I can’t believe anybody with a brain would be a Republican.”

To which I replied: “I can’t believe anybody with a brain would say that to my wife while I’m standing right here. Perhaps we should discuss this outside.”

Which he wasn’t interested in, of course. Which leads me to another thought: it’s funny how the far Left is frequently picking fights and agitating for revolutionary change against the Right. Yet we own all the guns.

UPDATE: First-person account of more of this kind of treatment from a well-connected individual in Chicago, the heart of machine politics.

Why Self-Publish?

Why, indeed?

This has been eating me up for a while, and by coincidence there was a lot of discussion about it today at some favorite writing blogs. Many, many links follow.

For now, a few points to consider:

  • During one of last weekend’s author discussion panels, I asked the participants about sales they could attribute to online outlets like Amazon. Without a hitch, they all said it was the overwhelming majority. And these were traditionally-published authors.
  • The latest check of Amazon’s Top 10 Sci-Fi shows that 4 of the 10 are self-published, including the current Numero Uno. This changes daily, so your mileage may vary.
  • Recall from my previous post, those self-pubbed authors are pocketing 70% of the gross from Amazon. The traditionally-published authors are getting 25% of net for e-books, of which their agents also get their percentage. And remember, “net” is apparently a very elastic term in the publisher’s eyes.

None of this would be happening if the industry was still dominated by physical books sold in brick-and-mortar stores.

John Scalzi made an interesting prediction: mass-market paperbacks will be replaced by e-books within 10 years. Hardbacks will always be around, but the production and distribution costs mean they’ll remain the domain of the surefire bestselling authors.

I’d wager that it happens even faster once Amazon gets the Kindle down below $100. That will be to publishers what iPods were to the recording industry. But here’s the problem for most of us noobs: mass-market paperbacks are typically where we’d end up. If we’re being driven to e-books, well then…where does that leave us? Lemmings being herded over the cliff, that’s where.

Former agent/current author/apparent surfer dude Nathan Bransford chimes in with an excellent post on this subject (via Passive Voice, another great resource):

“I think publishers are going to have to think long and hard about what exactly they will actually be providing authors in an e-book world. There needs to be a major mindset shift from a gatekeeper-oriented “You’re lucky to be with us” mentality where authors are treated on a need-to-know and your-check-will-arrive-when-it-arrives basis to a service-oriented “What else could we possibly do for you” mentality.”

Yep.

Now, I’m still quite open to a traditional publishing deal because it’d be nice to see my work in hardback on a shelf at Barnes & Noble. One agency is still interested in seeing the revisions to Perigee, so I’ll send it along and see what happens. Who knows, maybe they’ll find a sucker publisher who thinks I’m the next Crichton and forks over a seven-figure advance. Or monkeys might fly out of my butt.

However, I’ve also worked for a couple of businesses that were irreversibly sliding towards bankruptcy, and can tell you that ordinarily upright executives will make some shockingly crooked decisions out of sheer desperation. You’ve got to think that at least a couple of publishers are going down the tubes in the next few years. It would be a nightmare to have the rights to my novels tied up in that environment.

At the risk of being repetitious, the internet has broken down tremendous barriers in distribution, sales, and marketing that have dominated publishing until recently. Now, as long you have a good story that’s well-written and professionally edited, the readers don’t care whose imprint is on the title page. They’re accessing the DIYers just as easily as the big names. More on this phenomenon at Daily Pundit.

Marketing is, of course, the real trick. I could write the next Lord of the Rings and it wouldn’t make one cent if nobody’s aware of it. More on that later, as I figure it out for myself…

UPDATE: This is a popular subject this week! Vodkapundit Stephen Green weighs in at PJ Media. Also recommend following his link to a righteous rant by Sarah Hoyt.

Gut-Check Time

Spent the weekend at the Context 24 convention, which was also my first sort-of writer’s conference. There were several good workshops and info panels, plus some noteworthy authors (most notably, John Scalzi. Nice guy).

One thing that I couldn’t escape noticing is how few attendees (that is, other aspiring novelists) were on board with the whole self-pubbing thing. Not sure what I expected, but it was surprising nonetheless.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. During any major paradigm shift, the first people to recognize it as such are probably going to be in the minority. I was absolutely clueless about it until very recently, and am still uncertain.

Is the new normal asserting itself, or will this be just another internet fad? Is it the right thing to do, or is it still career suicide?

I dunno. The big publishers are not doing well in the current environment, and neither are bookstores. This is reflected in the increasingly common stories of brazen rights grabs and agency contracts that are awfully close to indentured servitude.

It sounds like agents are freaking out more than publishers. As intermediaries, their business models are inextricably tied to getting a percentage of author income. If advances are dwindling, and more writers are going it alone with Amazon, then they have to be asking themselves where they’ll fit in once the dust settles. My guess is not many of them are liking the answer to that question.

Thus, more and more agencies are venturing into the e-publishing business. This is a bad, bad, bad idea, which was brought up during an author panel this weekend. Oddly enough, I don’t recall hearing anyone come right out and say “conflict of interest.” An author cannot know if his agent has truly done all he can to pitch his manuscript to the pub houses if the answer is, “I tried, they wouldn’t bite, but hey…you can always publish with us.”

Did I mention it’s a bad idea?

Periodically checking Amazon’s sci-fi and thriller lists, one can easily find a few do-it-yourselfers in the top 20. Making the NY Times top 20 would be better (I think), but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. Especially considering that just a few years ago, self-pubbing meant you laid out a ton of money to produce a garage full of comparatively cheap-looking books, most of which never left said garage.

These days, the DIY’ers are pocketing 70% of gross versus 25% of net for the traditional authors. Assuming you’ve produced good work (professionally edited, of course) and can successfully market it, that’s the difference between full-time authorship and keeping your day job.

But it’s still scary. And exciting. I like the idea of essentially setting up my own business as a writer. The idea of control over my career is particularly attractive, because the query-wait-reject rollercoaster eats away at one’s psyche. The thought of leaving all that behind to chart my own way is hard to ignore.

Granted, a lot of people have traveled that road and failed. A few have done very well in the last 18 months. Electronic media has broken down an enormous barrier to entry, because I wouldn’t dream of doing this all by vanity press and having a garage full of unsold books.

More thoughts on this soon. Yes, I’m done with my current-events rants for now. Back to writing and all that goes along with it.