Friday, March 25, 2011

One Man's Hope

So last week was something of a crazy one in this Brave New World of publishing. On the one hand, bestselling author Barry Eisler turned down a half-million dollar deal to self publish. On the other, million-dollar self publisher Amanda Hocking inked a two million dollar deal to get OUT of self publishing.

Folks all over the internet are trying to figure out what's going on. Things are changing, and in a big way, but none of us truly knows how.

I don't have answers. But I do have hope.

When I started writing, I knew what I was getting into. I knew I'd struggle to break in, to stand out in a crowded field. That I'd have to write my ass off to get an agent, to stand out in a field crowded with wannabes. That every year publishing houses face hundreds of agented submissions for fewer and fewer debut slots.

I knew that getting published was only the first step: The death of the midlist made the writing life a Darwinian struggle, brutal and fierce.

I knew I'd have to do my own promotion. That I'd have to turn in manuscripts polished to the point they barely required an editor's attention. That I'd have to take the cover and the title I was given or run the risk of being labeled 'difficult'.

And I knew that for all my own effort, my fate was still out of my hands. My publisher could spring for coop enough to make me a bestseller, or a negligent decision on sell-through could doom me to a life of declining sales. A title readers wanted could be allowed to go out of print.

I knew all this, and I went for it anyway. I danced around the room when I got my agent, and I took the hit calmly when my novel was ultimately rejected by marketing (that's right, marketing) for it's lack of American focus.

After all, the game was rigged, but it was the only game in town.

Ebooks are changing that game. And none of us quite knows how.

But I have my hopes.

I'm not hoping for the demise of Big 6 publishing. That's actually the last thing I want. Like JD Rhoades, I don't believe that a cabal of three (Amazon, Smashwords and B&N) is guaranteed to treat writers any better than the cabal of six.

Novelists have never been very good at collective bargaining. Screenwriters have a strong union that fights for pay rates, royalties, etc. Novelists, not so much. As long as the oligarchy hung together and enough of us were willing to take a bad deal, just so long as it was a deal, bad deals were going to be the rule.

I hope ebooks give us a real alternative. For a long time now, the Big 6 have acted like a bullying husband who treats his wife like dirt because what's she gonna do without him? She's got nowhere else to go.

Well, now we do have somewhere else to go. Ebooks are already a viable alternative, and the market's got a lot of room to grow yet. Some folks are making plenty of money. Some, like me, are growing an audience by word of mouth, something I wouldn't be able to do in today's mainstream climate. And yeah, most are still sinking beneath the waves. After all, success is never guaranteed.

My hope, my great hope for the future of our industry, is that the ebook revolution will reform the Big 6.

They can't expect to act they way they have and survive.

It won't happen overnight. Likely, there will be a lot more pain before they change their ways. As ebooks find their natural, lower price point (and they will, whether publishers like it or not), they'll need to offer a better deal. After all, why should an author like CS Harris (for whom ebooks are ALREADY a quarter of her sales) accept 14.5% of $2.99 or even $4.99 when she could self-publish and take 70%? Yeah, she'd lose a lot of print sales going POD-- enough that right now the move doesn't make sense.

But there is a tipping point there, and it's coming fast.

At the point mainstream authors can make more self-publishing, with accurate and up-to-date accounting and no 'reserves against return', publishers will have no choice but to change their game.

Of course, they probably won't. Not right away. I anticipate a bit of bullying, bluster and outright pleading to keep profitable authors in their stable, but when the losses get bad enough, I hope we see a change.

Equitable royalties on ebooks. Small-batch, POD-style printing to keep booksellers stocked without carrying extra inventory (like Toyota's just-in-time manufacturing). Term licenses for titles instead of the current 'forever and ever'. And services offered that actually add value.

Imagine a world where publishing houses changed their game to actually court writers, to offer us good reasons to go with them instead of going it alone...

I can hope.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fleeting and Fickle

Delay not; swift the flight of fortune's greatest favours.

So a month ago, February 21st, I had this life. I was the reasonably proud owner of one the biggest tattoo studios in Christchurch. I was booked out for a month and struggling to find time to keep up with my other commitments.

I had stopped smoking. Spent four nights a week swinging fists and sticks at the gym. My waistline thanked me.

My book Poison Door had somehow climbed to #23 on Amazon.UK's bestseller chart for 'Female Sleuths'. I still have no idea how that happened. Just, overnight, the Brits started buying the hell out of my book.

The next day, everything changed.

Ten minutes to one, I was waiting for the mobile espresso van to bring me my midday shot of Brain Enhancer before I went to bank the month's rent.

A minute later I was standing behind the counter, surfing one a floor that wouldn't hold still. The sounds were deafening: the building rattling, glass crashing, one of my artists screaming.

When it stopped I got the upset girl outside, went back in to start cleaning. Enough equipment was broken or damaged that I knew we'd have to close for the day.

More people started yelling. Something about 'flooding' and 'trapped'. A dark wet line appeared through the carpet. I went out front, pulled the sidewalk-sign in and locked the door. Brown water was rushing out from between sidewalk and building. On the other side of the wall, it was filling my front room. The building was still rumbling. Aftershocks made cracking sounds in the roof.

Out back, more water gushed from under the building. In the time it took to lock the front door and leave through the back, the nose of my car had been buried in wet brown mud.

I snatched a cigarette off the first smoker I saw.

I got three weeks off work. Unpaid.

Poison Door sank like a stone from the UK charts.

Now, it's a month later.

Zyban's cutting the smoking habit- in just over a week I've gone from a pack and a half to five. My gym's reopened, now almost an hour from my house. I'll travel that distance, just to lose the results of four weeks of fried food. (Most nights I'd just stare at the fridge, stare at the stove, and go buy fish and chips.)

My new shop is open. The new place is smaller, more intimate, and the rent isn't such an incredible stone around my neck. I can't help but be aware that in a city where half the storefronts fell down and competition for those still standing is fierce, I was wise to hustle and a little bit lucky too.

And in the UK, Poison Door has sold two copies. That's right, two. I don't know why, any more than I know why it sold so many in February. Sales in the US are steady and growing, but that weird spike in England... just baffling.

In times of trouble and times of joy, I read the Stoic philosophers. They help me 'meet with fortune and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.' And seeing as I opened with a quote from one of my favorites, I'm going to go out with him too. Especially poignant in light of the tragedy in Japan:

In the presence of death, we must continue to sing the song of life.

We must be able to accept death and go from its presence better able to bear our burdens and to lighten the load of others.

Out of our sorrows should come understanding.

Through our sorrows, we join with all of those before who have had to suffer and all of those who will yet have to do so.

Let us not be gripped by the fear of death. If another day be added to our lives, let us joyfully receive it, but let us not anxiously depend on our tomorrows.

Though we grieve the deaths of our loved ones, we accept them and hold on to our memories as precious gifts.

Let us make the best of our loved ones while they are with us, and let us not bury our love with death.


Thursday, March 3, 2011


I'll write a little something about my earthquake experience soon.

In the meantime , here's my very first interview, with Avery DeBow. Her book Resonance is a dark urban fantasy with plenty of action, cool magic and a totally kick-ass punk sensiblity. It belongs on the shelf right next to my favorites in the genre: Charles Lindt's The Blue Girl and the work of Jim Butcher. Without further ado, heeeeeeeere's Avery!

  1. One thing that really struck me about RESONANCE was the magic. You've go

    t this really well-developed worldview. Tell me, did you sit down with heaps of notebooks and map out all the 'rules' of your world, or did you make it up on the fly and smooth out the rough edges in editing?

I have lots of books on magic(k), demons, witchcraft, and any other supernatural/occult topic you can imagine. I spent a good deal of time reading through them, picking up bits of inspiration. The rules sort of solidified from the bits I liked best. I write everything on index cards, so I had a file box nearby for reference as I worked to keep me on track. Sometimes, though, an idea had to be scrapped or reworked because I’d get to a point where two of my rules contradicted one another. Thank all of the gods in the books I just mentioned for Search and Replace.

2. Resonance is one hell of an angry young woman. How much of her is in Avery, and vice versa?

Avery was once an unmanageably angry person. Then came the exorcism named Resonance. Now Avery is mostly a manageably angry person who is allowed to interact with others on a supervised basis. The addition of roller derby to her schedule of activities has helped greatly.

3. Tell us a little bit about your creative process.

First, I set a La-Z-Boy recliner on fire. Then, there’s the hula skirt, two forks, and poster of Johnny Depp...

Really, it’s just research books, index cards and playing the “What if” game with my husband until he’s ready to strangle me. Example: (As we’re making dinner) “What if Resonance has to join some freaky circus and walk the tightrope? And what if the tightrope is really some portal to another reality and she slips through? And what if the clowns over there carry these tiny dogs that bark in a key that makes you lose control of your body? And what if…?” This goes on until his shoulders slump and his eyes glaze and his soul shrivels into a tiny, hard raisin. I then lapse into chastised silence until it’s quarter past midnight and we’re lying in bed and I just can’t hold it in any longer and blurt out, “And what if…?”

4. So, Kindle... how did you find your publishing experience? Heartbreaks? Headaches? A pure joy?

A ridiculously long, poke-me-in-the-eye-with-a-hot-fork process (hmm, seems I’m really stuck on the forks this morning. Sorry. I haven’t had breakfast, yet). It was like running a marathon—horrible while I was doing it, and yet I’m somehow fondly looking back on it.

Despite the fact I knew next to nothing about coding, I wanted to code the book myself, so it would be as professional in appearance as possible. I bought an eBook on the subject, proceeded to understand not a word of it and then hit up my friend and author/coder Natasha Fondren for help. She was very supportive and kind the whole way through, and was able to force computery knowledge through the thick, technology-resistant coating on my brain, but I suspect she’s now bald and wearing a fancy white jacket with wraparound sleeves.

There were two moments in the whole process I cherish. The first was when we were talking about inserting images and I just couldn’t understand how one could “code” an image. Natasha had walked me through some related coding and told me to save my images inside the file’s folder. When I opened the document on Explorer to preview a chapter I had been working on, there the pictures were, right where they needed to be. In a heartbeat I went from Zoolander monkeying with the computer to actually understanding how those images were linked to the lines we’d written. Sad, I know, but a high point for me, nonetheless. The second was the moment I had the final PRC file. I opened it on my Kindle app. and it looked gorgeous. In an instant, my weeks of seemingly hopeless bumbling became proud gratification.

5. That first morning I saw someone bought my book, I cracked open a bottle of champagne. How did you feel when you saw those first sales? How did you celebrate?

Not too excited at first; I knew it was my dad. That’s not to say I wasn’t grateful, but his support wasn’t exactly a surprise. Then, I found a mystery sale, one I couldn’t track since I hadn’t announced the publication. That one made me pretty happy.

I haven’t celebrated, yet. I have a sales goal in mind. Once I reach that number, I will mark the occasion with the thing I’ve promised myself for these six or so years since I started writing Resonance—a very large tattoo.

You know, I think I might know some writer guy who does ink. I’ll have to check on that.

6. What's next for DeBow?

More. Hopefully, lots of the more. Harmony, the sequel to Resonance is underway. I’m looking at early next year as a release. There’s also the novelization of Junket City, which was my play-along, Mad-Lib style story I wrote in weekly segments on my blog for half of last year. After that, there are a couple of started manuscripts waiting in the wings I’d like to revisit and put out there. I’m really hoping for a DeBow blitzkrieg--my books flapping inescapably all over the Internet. I don’t know quite why they’d be flapping, but it sounds good.

  1. And finally, do you have any advice for other writers following in your footsteps?

I’m in driving-through-a-blizzard-at-night-mode. I’m creeping along until someone has the nerve to pass me and then I’ll just follow their tail lights to safety.

Go buy Resonance, right now. You can find it here! :)