Saturday, August 27, 2011

Look to the Future, Part 2

There was a very interesting post on Joe Konrath's blog yesterday. I'm still in the process of absorbing all the implications it raised.

In a nutshell, the only constants in this publishing dance we're all engaged in are writers and readers. Everything else is variable.

That had already occurred to me, actually.

It's perfectly true that things are always changing. Two months ago I had only the very faint hope that I might someday sell something to Tor or Baen. Today I already have my first e-book out, and it's just been approved for the Smashwords Premium Catalogue. Which means it'll be available on quite a few websites other than Smashwords soon, including Apple, Sony, Barnes and Noble, and a number of others. If Borders was still in business it would be available there, too, and by the end of the year it will also be available on Amazon. I don't have to do anything further to facilitate any of this. It's already a done deal.

Now, some writers are apparently afraid that all this great new stuff will change suddenly or go away entirely.

Well, yeah, things always go away. We don't have any control over that. Smashwords could go bust tomorrow. Amazon could drop their royalty rate from 70% to, let us say, 10%. There aren't any guarantees. Like I said, that had already occurred to me.

I don't think any of that is very likely right now. But what do I know? Let's just say nothing would surprise me.

I do think it's silly for writers to wring their hands and worry themselves over stuff they can't change. I think they're fixating on the wrong thing. They're focusing on how they get published, when they should actually be focusing on how they find, build, and continue to reach their potential readership.

It's not too soon to prepare for change, of course. That's why I'll be going back to Joe Konrath's blog today and trying to fully absorb all that was said there yesterday.

I'm a huge beneficiary of the largesse of strangers right now. Smashwords has let me put out my e-book, my way (that's their slogan, in fact) to occupy virtual shelf-space alongside everybody from Stephen King and John Grisham to Mary Shelley and Katherine Stockett. For free. Blogspot has given me this very website, also for free, where I could even sell things if I wanted (like e-books—mine, and maybe yours; someday we might not even need Smashwords or Amazon).

These things are assets. I'm grateful for them. And as long as I've got them, I intend to take advantage of them.

That's all for now. Thanks for dropping by.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Look to the Future

Let me repeat something that's already been said elsewhere: publishing is moving into the future at lightspeed velocity.

Writing and storytelling? Not so much. These ancient and honorable arts remain durable, though they may soon take radical new forms—but if you're a practiced practitioner thereof, trust me, you're still gonna be in demand—even if you ain't that all that radical.

But on the business side, wow, I feel like a spectator at an insanely rapid sporting match where the rules keep changing daily and new players can join the game at any moment. You may not even notice them until you collide with them unexpectedly.

A heck of a lot of stuff has happened this week.

John Locke, of whom I'd never heard before a month ago, and whose work I have not yet had a chance to read, just got an Indie writer's dream deal. He keeps all of his e-rights, and all of his more traditional other rights, and Simon and Schuster will print, distribute, and promote his books in paper form. I don't actually know if he got an advance (probably), or has to submit to editing (that's optional, I'm guessing, but he might want to take advantage of that), or if they'll supply the cover art (almost certainly, but he probably retains the final say-so), but any way you slice it, that seems like a really good deal to me.

It's just that I really didn't think such a thing was possible. I thought we were all lined up over here, and they were all dug in over there.

Just shows what I know.

But I'll damn sure be keeping it in mind. I'd like to have a print publisher someday, but I don't want to give up my e-rights. And I'll bet I'm not the only one who feels that way.

I'm reminded of an interview with musician Steve Miller that I saw in Guitar Player magazine back in the 1970s:

"--but what we did was we really revolutionized the contract. Everybody wanted us; we had we had three major companies really bidding for us. They could see that we were better than most of the bands that were around at that time. So we negotiated for about ten months, and we got all of our studio costs, half the advance, a five album contract; we were given complete control over pictures, advertising, anything they did on us. It had to be approved by us, which was unheard of then. Plus, we got a really hot royalty. We were making twice what the Beatles or the [Jefferson] Airplane were making on royalties. Then we turned around and just gave it away to Quicksilver [Messenger Service] and everybody else--[we] said, "Hey, this is what a contract is." Because it was my attitude that record companies had always historically cheated musicians."

In other news, Smashwords has finally announced that they'll be distributing to Amazon by the end of this year.

For me, these are welcome tidings. The next item on my agenda was going to be investigating what it would take to publish on Amazon—I'm aware of their "Amazon Direct" option, but I don't yet know the specifics (though I'll certainly investigate the matter when I can find the time)—but my gut tells me I'm better off just focusing on my writing now, because there's no way I can have my next book ready for publication any sooner than late November anyway, and if Smashwords is at last ready to put my books on Amazon, I'm just as happy to let them.

So for now, I'm thinking, the future looks bright.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Left Brain, Right Brain

I'm adopting a several new approaches to my writing—or at least I'm thinking about doing so.

In the past, I've always just jumped right in and started writing. This is the approach Stephen King recommends in his book, On Writing, and it seems to be the way Robert A. Heinlein worked, as well, as documented in Grumbles from the Grave—but it's certainly not the way every writer works, and it may not even be the way most writers work. I wonder if anyone's ever taken a survey?

Sometimes, in my case, there has been a kind of pre-planning document that came first, where I sort of told myself a bit about the story in order to get it clear in my mind (or at least enough about it to get started), and sometimes, later on, when I've gotten stuck I've had to do a similar bit of writing about the next part— the part I was having trouble focusing on—in order to continue.

More often, though, I've actually started with worldbuilding and exposition and so forth before I even had much of a story.

Saviors of the Galaxy is a case in point. In the first draft, the conversation between the human and the alien he meets in a bar was considerably longer then what it wound up being because the human was explaining what the hell he was doing way out in that part of the galaxy to me, as well as to the alien. Once I had it all straight, I was able to cut that scene considerably.

And it may still be too long—it just might be a little too much infodumping to lay on a reader all at once. In the end, I decided to keep it because I felt it was interesting infodumping, and because I felt I had whittled it down to a bare minimum, but I don't think I'll be doing much of that sort of thing in the future.

If you want to see what I'm talking about first-hand, the first 35% of my book Incident on Sugar Sand Roand and other stories is free for anyone to sample, and it includes the scene I'm talking about. If you care to take the time, I'd love to hear what you think.

Anyway, what I think I'll be doing from now on is making the pre-planning document (a sort of mutant hybrid between a synopsis and an outline, with lots of cryptic notes to myself) a definite first stage of any serious project, and putting a little more work into it.

I did just exactly this recently, during the week I was without a computer. First I wrote (on paper, with a pen) quite a bit about the universe the story was going to be set in. This was satisfying to the creative side of my brain, and I generally did this at night.

The next morning I would look at what I had come up with, and if I felt that warm creative glow I would continue—but if I didn't, I would look at what I had with a more critical eye, checking for lapses in logic or continuity or whatever. This was satisfying to the analytical side of my brain, and it's something you have to do at some point anyway. Better to do it before you've gone too far down a wrong turn, I've come to think.

Next I wrote a bit about my characters. I had hazy, vague notions about them, but they came into sharp focus once I'd written a little bit about them—a cave girl and a barbarian swordsman, from two different cultures—and three or four paragraphs apiece was all I needed to write.

Then came the story itself, and this is really the first time I've tried to think one through in advance. I'm not talking about plotting, a story, or structuring it so much as discovering it for myself for the first time—in essence, it's a really abbreviated, condensed first draft that I'm talking about here. Writing is creative, in my way of looking at things, and plotting is more analytical—and I agree with Stephen King that it's not exactly trustworthy.

Thinking about it all and setting it down, though—telling myself the story, in other words—was again satisfying to my creative half.

But toward the end I got a little stuck for a bit. The girl, Teshua, and the barbarian, Denegor, had reached Denegor's home city, and Teshua was out of the predicament that had driven the tale up until then.

At this point I started to flounder a bit. What came next?

I flirted with the idea of having Denegor sell Teshua to a brothel—but really, I wondered, what was the point? He's a barbarian, to be sure, but he's not really such a bad guy...

That was when I found myself involuntarily switching gears again from creative to analytical. It's not something you want to do in the same writing session, usually, or at least that's how I feel about it, but this time it was helpful; I was able to clear the blockage that was stopping me. The theme of the story, I realized, was hope. Poor Teshua has been driven from her home into a big wide scary universe she has some mistaken notions about, but she never gives in to despair. Why not?

Because she has hope. It's internal, and the loss of everything else in her life doesn't take it away. Of course she can never rely on anything outside herself again, and that does include Denegor—but it's also true for him; and Teshua realizes this whether he does or not.

At that point I was able to come up with a much more satisfying conclusion to the whole segment.

What I'm going to do next is transcribe the story in detail from the notes I've written so far. There will be enough new things to discover, I believe, that it will be fun. I think it will go fast and that I'll probably be able to do it in a warmly creative sort of mood.

And then I'll just leave it alone for a bit.

See, that's another thing I'm changing about the way I work. No more endless tinkering. I still have some early drafts of Saviors of the Galaxy and they're not really that much tighter or better than the finished product, in spite of the fact that I've been fiddling with that story for years. This is in itself a sort of revelation. There are passages I altered a dozen times, to the point where I probably wound up changing it back to what I had in the first place. That's just silly.

As far as I'm able, I've come to think it will be a good idea to keep the two halves of my mind separate, and work on different stages of the work on different days.

So that's what I plan to do. Thanks for taking the time to read, and thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Having Passion for Something You Do

Way back in 1976, as I recall, I read an article in Guitar Player magazine about the founding of Alligator Records.

 It was a Blues label, and at that time Blues as a musical form was at its lowest ebb ever. African-American music was still alive and kicking, but it had grown slick and commercial. There weren’t that many black musicians back then who wanted to be involved even with 1960s-style R&B--much less the blues—because they mostly wanted to be part of that polished “Philadelphia Sound” (think of The Commodores, featuring Lionel Ritchie—or of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes). Or, failing that, they all wanted to jump on the Disco bandwagon, God help us.

Young white American musicians of the era weren’t too keen on the Blues, either. The Ramones from NYC were the prototype, but Punk Rock--imported from the UK—was all the rage, as I remember, and the blues-based psychedelic hippie jam bands of the 1960s were scorned and abandoned.

Alligator Records, based out of Chicago—for many years itself a bastion of the Blues—was formed when its founder, Bruce Iglauer,  noticed that there were still a lot of Blues cats practicing their craft at small clubs in the Windy City even though their music wasn’t “trendy” any more. They were playing out every night for small audiences because they loved it, and they didn’t care about “making it big”. They just wanted to play their music.

They had a passion for what they were doing.

Blues music is of course much healthier these days (as is the jam band scene, now that I think of it), and some of those musicians are still going strong. They’ve had respectable careers doing something they loved because they followed their hearts.

Fast-forward to the present.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the blogosphere of late, checking out the blogs of indie writers like myself. One refrain I’ve heard repeated over and over again is how excited so many of us are about the opportunities that now lie before us.

Some writers are overjoyed to release their work to the world for free. That’s a beautiful thing right there, and I’m glad for them.

Others of us are hoping to derive some income from our work somewhere down the line, but one thing we all share is a passion for what we’re doing.

But those are topics for another day. Because, right now, I’d like to introduce you to my favorite computer tech—the guy who just saved my ass--a young man named Jesse Warne.

Here’s somebody else who’s got a passion for what he does. When I asked him how he got started in computer repair, he told me he read a big thick book about A+ Computer certification when he was 14 years old.

And never looked back.

He installed the hard drive from my old computer into a slightly newer computer that was light-years ahead of what I’d had before. He offered me so many options that my head grew dizzy. Any glitch in the path was promptly countered by a wizardly click into an obscure corner and some well-placed lines of type. I was very impressed.

If you live in Western North Carolina, Jesse’s services are available for hire. Overnight service or in-home, virus removals, custom PCs, upgrades, networks, and consultation. This is a very articulate young man who really knows his stuff, and I highly recommend him.

His business slogan is Best Rates; Guaranteed Services; Fast. Marvelous, don’t you think?

A lot of computer repair people are just in the business because they completed a course, or it seemed like a good direction to follow, or they thought it might be a good career path.

Jesse’s a computer tech because it’s a calling of his heart. That’s the sort of person you want fixing your computer, because he knows way more solutions then somebody who’s just going through the motions. 

Visit his website at                     

And do tell him that I sent you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My book is available at Smashwords!

Finally! Looks like my little roadside pop stand is open for business at last.

Take a peek at my book here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Decisions, decisions

I've been making quite a few of them lately, most of them connected with my ongoing journey as a writer.

Earlier this year I was just a lifelong writer with a number of unfinished works-in-progress. There was one in particular I felt pretty good about, a novel called Saviors of the Galaxy that was about two-thirds of the way done.

I was in no particular hurry to finish it, although I'm sure I'd have gotten around to it eventually.

Because--according to the 2010 Writer’s Market--there were only 3 major SF publishers that would look at an unagented manuscript anyway.

I had tried to get a novel published once before, in the mid 90s (when there were many more places where you could submit your work) and I had found the process to be somewhat discouraging, even then.

You sent your novel off to the first publisher on your list. And then you waited.

(Actually, even then few of them would look at a complete manuscript--they wanted to see a "proposal": three chapters and a synopsis. Or, wait a minute, some of them wanted to see a query letter first.

All the writers whose work I admired had lived in a world where you could submit your stuff "over the transom" (so to speak) with some reasonable expectation that it would be given a cursory glance, at least, so the query letter thing and the synopsis thing didn't sit too well with me--but I figured, hey, that's what we're faced with these days, so I'll just have to deal with it.)

The waiting was something you simply had to accept. It would be "unprofessional", you were told, to call them up after six weeks had gone by and politely  ask them if they'd even gotten the thing.

And we all bought into that. We had no choice.

Publishers were "inundated", we were told. It was like we content providers were inflicting some sort of plague on them.

Only when you finally got your manuscript (or proposal) back were you free to then try the next publisher on your list. And start the whole dreary waiting process anew. Because you had to try them one at a time, you see. Simultaneous submissions were not only frowned on, they could get you blacklisted.

In his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card, bless him, tried to make a distinction between simultaneous submissions (not okay, as he admitted) and simultaneous proposals (perfectly all right, he opined), but I was told in no uncertain terms at an SF convention by an editor for Baen that the publishers didn't see it that way. And that you could get a bad name in what was really a pretty small community (New York SF publishing) if you took Card's advice.

When you exhausted all the possibilities on your list, you could start submitting to smaller publishing houses, or try to find an agent (but we were repeatedly told not to bother an agent unless you'd had something accepted somewhere).

I saw all of this as my only path to publication.

Now fast forward to June 17, 2011. That was the day I first learned about indie publishing, when I discovered a new indie publishing board on a writer's forum I frequently visit.

That was when I made my first decision, to forget about traditional publishing and go the indie route. As I said in my very first blog post here, that decision took all of five minutes to make.

My next decisions were to release my first e-book as soon as I humanly could, and to make it an anthology of short pieces I had written over the years.

I'm perfectly well aware that no traditional publisher will release a book of short stories by an unknown writer these days. But I decided to go with what I had on hand, and that decision felt right to me.

Next was my decision to do my own cover. That wasn't so much a decision as a forced necessity--I don't know any artists and I have very little money. But I do have a bit of artistic ability, I think, and I actually rather like what I finally came up with.

Some people may think it's laughable, or that it sucks, but them's the breaks. I'm satisfied with it for now, at least, and nobody has any veto power in the matter.

Then I had to make a decision about the price.

There's been a lot of discussion about price on various blogs, and I was mainly interested in it because it wasn't an abstract debate to me, it was a real actual decision I was going to have to make.

The topic has been more or less beaten to death at this point, so I'll spare you the details of my ruminations. I finally settled on $1.99  as an introductory price, but I'm keeping my options open.

It's been a great deal of fun, this whole journey. And I'll be releasing my first e-book very soon, just as soon as I can get certain computer issues ironed out.

Meantime, thanks for dropping by. 


Friday, August 5, 2011

Disaster Strikes!

I'll look back on it as a bump in the road, I'm sure, but my old computer crashed the other night, and apparently no other computer in existence can read the backup floppies I made on it periodically. Talk about your unpleasant surprises.

The Word file of my first book is on its hard drive, the anthology that I was going to submit to Smashwords, as are the 40,000 words or so of the novel I was going to resume working on, and the cover I had already created for it.

On reflection, those are the only things I truly need to retrieve, and my niece's boyfriend is a computer whiz who assures my sister-in-law it shouldn't be much trouble to sort things out.

In the meantime I'm taking the advice of the several indie publishing gurus I admire, and continuing to write. On paper. With a pen.

(I'm able to continue blogging using the computers at my local public library.)

 Oddly enough, I'm enjoying myself.

I went through something like this once before, actually. I used to write on a Brother WP3700 Word Processor with a monochrome monitor, and about a year and a half ago, the cable between the monitor and the main unit went flooey.

No question of replacing it. Have you tried to buy a monochrome monitor lately?

I lost a great deal of the work saved on floppies in its proprietary format that I had done over the years.

Now I'm recreating one of the projects I regretted losing the most. It's all coming back to me, and that's exciting.

It won't be the book it would have been then, I don't think. It will be a better one.

So, all things considered, I'm not unhappy with the situation.