Taking time out from working on Hackett’s War to pass on that sales for The Gathering Dead are really zooming. I’m approaching the 70 downloads per week mark, which leaves all my other offerings in the dust. And it looks like it’s got great momentum; I haven’t seen any downturn, but of course, it’s only been up since March 21.
I did get one review that made me giggle, though:
It may not be much, but I did notice that out of all the other products this reader has reviewed, I’m the only one to get five stars. And this guy/gal looks like a real tough grader! But thanks for noticing the book was edited, I appreciate that. And thanks to all that bought the book! I hope it was just what you were looking for. If so, leave a review! If not–leave a review! If you hated it, I can take it like a man. Which means I’ll cry and rage in private.
And now… back to the war and Hackett.
I’ve been quiet lately, and for good reason. The first is that it’s spring cleanup here at Casa Knight, and I’m decisively engaged in all-out warfare against crabgrass. Not terribly exciting, but not everything in life is wrapped up in gold lamé and served on silver platters. This year though, I plan on being victorious, and vanquishing my nemesis from my lawn for at least this summer.
The second is that I’m also decisively engaged on a second front, banging out the first draft of Hackett’s War, a novella that I mentioned some time ago. I’ve based it very loosely on the organization formerly known as Blackwater (now Xe) and a hostage rescue operation they embark upon. This is no horror story; it’s all about a special breed of warriors who launch into action when bigger, better equipped governments cannot. I’ve just passed the 16,000 word mark, with a final end target range of 25,000-30,000. And once Hackett and his amigos are put to bed, I return to a formerly stalled collaboration with the rather polished Derek Paterson, a murder mystery/police procedural/thriller that revolves around a shady Chinese businessman and his ties to both criminal gangs and the bad old days of Communist China. It promises to be fun, and part of that fun is coming up with a title that doesn’t have the word “Dragon” in it. (Or “Tiger”, either.)
More later, folks. In the meantime, keep the faith, and keep leaning forward in the foxhole.
Ah the hate, it burns, it burns!
Lots of folks are up in arms over Amanda Hocking’s “defection” to the dark side, in this case the Sith Lords who reign over at St. Martin’s Press. She’s at least been offered a four book deal for more than $2 million, and this has driven at least a small segment of the e-pub community into a minor rage. She made about that much dough in the self-pub world, so a lot of folks are asking the perennial question:
Why did she sign with a traditional publishing house?
As she herself explains:
Here are the two considerations I made in my decision: what’s best for my career, and what’s best for my reader. (Notice I didn’t say what was best for my wallet).
It boils down to these points:
1. Readers inability to find my books when they want them. I am getting an increasing number of emails from people who go into bookstores to buy my books for themselves or friends or family members, and not only does Barnes & Noble not carry my book, they can’t even order it for them. People are requesting my books, and they can’t get them.
2. Readers complaints about the editing of my books. I have hired editors. Many, many editors. And I know that I can outsource editing, but I’m clearly doing a really shitty job of picking editors.
3. The amount of books I’ve written and the rate of speed that I write books. If it took me five years to write a book, and I only had one book written, I’d be thinking long and hard about this deal. But right now, I have 19 books currently written. By the time the Watersong series goes to print, I’ll still have 19-24 titles at least that I can self-publish.
So at the end of the day, she’s going to do both.
I would too.
I’d take MacMillan’s money and give them the best product I could. At the same time, I’d continue to launch other products on my own. There’s no reason I couldn’t, and I would refuse to sign any non-compete contracts that came my way. (My father signed a slew of non-compete contracts, and it meant that when he lost one radio gig, we’d have to move. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m smart enough to never sign a non-compete.) So Ms. Hocking is going to do things this way, and more power to her.
One side effect of this announcement is that it’s seen as an “antidote” to Barry Eisler going the opposite route. Eisler’s been in the biz a lot longer than a few other folks, and he obviously feels he’s going to do better on his own. That being said, I’m pretty sure that if the right deal came along, he’d go back to traditional publishing. For $2,000,000, I’m pretty sure Joe Konrath would too. (But they’d probably insist on getting paid in three installments, not the ridiculous four, five, or six installment plans that have been born from the economy.)
I don’t think Ms. Hocking’s journey with MacMillan will be all smooth sailing, but hey, what is? If things don’t work out, she’ll have self-pub to turn back to. Because it seems she’s never going to leave it, at least for now.
So naysayers, stop acting like a bunch of peckers. Let the lady go and do what she needs to do. If you like her stuff, if you like her, then turn in your Indignation Society card and come to grips with the fact that she raised the bar for all of us. And she’s responsible for a lot of activity in the self-pub sector, and that’s only a good thing.
Don’t bitch at her for taking a really, really good deal. Thank her for what she’s done in the past, and what she’ll likely accomplish in the future.
There are a couple of different ways to “make it” as a fiction writer. Excluding Hollywood and converting an article or other non-fiction endeavor into a product of fiction, they are:
Going the traditional publishing route;
The former is a long, drawn out process that moves at a leisurely pace–well, actually it moves at a glacial pace, but I was trying to be kind. The normal sequence of events is: writer finishes product, writer rewrites product, writer spends weeks, months, or even years trying to find representation via literary agent, agent then spends weeks, months, or even years trying to find an agreeable editor at one of the publishing houses for the work, the editor reads and decides to buy, the editor then goes and makes the case for the purchase to the publisher’s marketing department, the marketeers decide they actually know how to sell the product, and checks get written.
The latter is something like this: writer finishes product, writer rewrites product, writer either edits the product him/herself or pays an editor to do it, writer secures cover art appropriate for the work, writer puts the product up on Kindle or Nook or Smashwords. (Or all three.)
Time delta: three years, give or take.
And oh yeah, if the writer goes the self-pub route with an e-book, sales begin pretty much right out of the gate. No waiting for a print run to be scheduled, no waiting for product to be shipped and stocked in stores, no dealing with those filthy remainders which will be the bane of the writer’s existence forever with the traditional publishers.
And one last important point: in the new e-pub world, the writer gets the lion’s share of the royalties, and doesn’t have to dole out 15% to his representative, or get dry-humped out of the sale of any ancillary rights. If someone wants to buy the rights of a property to turn it into a film, why does the publisher get paid too?
It seems all so simple.
But what the writer will not get by striking out on his own is the usual marketing support a traditional publisher might give. This support can run the gamut of nothing to a full court press, especially if the author is established and has a record. Of course, greater minds than mine disagree constantly about the value of this kind or marketing. James Patterson made his own book trailer for Along Came a Spider for TV because even he couldn’t get his publisher to spring for it. According to him, this trailer gave his book a big sales kick, which is great for him, though it is telling that a guy who can move that much paper had to strike out on his own.
Which leads me to believe that a lot of the time, traditional publishing is not just inept… but kind of stupid, which I guess should not surprise me anymore.
So what’s a writer to do? Well, the first thing is to forget about traditional publishing being a “safer” bet. To quote Rutger Hauer’s character Wolfgar in the film Nighthawks, “There is no security.” If one thinks that securing a traditional publishing deal is going to pave the way to Easy Street, I can only offer the following, courtesy of Dean Wesley Smith:
Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: The Myth of Security, which is chock full of the usual good info. Here’s a sweet quote:
Myth: Selling to Traditional Publishing Means Safety and Security.
As a person who has been a freelance writer for over 25 years and sold my first short story in 1975, that just makes me laugh. But sadly, I believed it early on, and then came to understand that there was no other choice but the crap game I call traditional publishing if I wanted to be a full-time writer.
But safety and security in traditional publishing? Never.
Yet I discovered over and over the last few days as Barry Eisler turned down a half-million dollar deal and Amanda Hocking, a young writer, is thinking of taking a deal, that the myth of security and safety in traditional publishing is as strong as ever. And being played up big time by traditional publishers as one of their advantages over indie or small publishing.
Security in publishing is a huge myth, a very large sacred cow. Hang on, this could get bloody.
A sobering read indeed. Though after I read it, I really wanted a few dozen shots of tequila.
As you likely know by now, unless you’ve been living under a rock–or are a reanimated corpse, and don’t care about such things–a great “dialog” on indie publishing was revealed to the rest of the universe by Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler. While Konrath has been one of the major motivators for many folks to go indie and turn their back on traditional publishing, Eisler has gone one further: he’s turned down $500,000 to self-publish his next addition to the rather good John Rain series.
He turned down $500,000, you say? Why yes, yes he did. And in the discussion with Konrath, he’s not only revealed he’s not an idiot for doing so, but that he has balls of steel. A rational person does not take a step back from that kind of dough, and Eisler never comes across as anything but rational. So check out the dialog between these two guys, and you’ll likely come away informed and encouraged. A rare combination in this business.
But just in case you want to take a deeper dive into the growing standoff between indie publishing and traditional publishing, writing brainiac Dean Wesley Smith examines some of the finer complexities of the relationship. It’s no less encouraging than the Konrath/Eisler matchup, but Smith’s analysis is both sober and sound. I have to agree with one of his core arguments, and that is that Big Publishing isn’t going to puke all over itself and die. Some of the major houses may realign their business model to survive, while others face lingering diminishment and eventual implosion. But at the end of the game, both indie publishing and traditional publishing will coexist, though it remains to be seen who will be the senior partner.
Go ahead, read the blog posts. It’s time well-spent… unless you’re giving up time writing.
The Gathering Dead is now available!
Here’s the product description:
The zombie apocalypse has begun, and Major Cordell McDaniels is given the most important mission of his career: lead a Special Forces Operational Detachment into New York City to rescue the one man who can stop the army of the dead from reigning supreme. But one of the team’s helicopters goes down as the Big Apple is overrun by legions of the dead, an enemy with which there is no possibility of negotiation. McDaniels must find a way to get the remainder of his team and their high-value charge to safety… without being devoured by the gathering dead.
But as members of McDaniels’ team reanimate, themselves turning into flesh-eating ghouls, the rules of the game suddenly change… for the worse.
The description is one of those things that will likely go through a different iterations as I try to find the proper balance between advertising and editorial impact. Descriptions such as this have always been extremely difficult for me; I’ve always wrestled with the concept of distilling a story down to its most basic components, yet present the reader with a quick insight into the main character’s core challenge. In The Gathering Dead, that challenge isn’t just to avoid being eaten. It’s how to get himself, the man who holds the scientific key to reversing the plague of the dead, and those who depend on both of them, out of New York City alive. I’m not convinced I’ve fully delivered, but one of the great things about digital formats is that I can recast and retool without pulling the product off the market.
And so far? The Gathering Dead has already sold copies, even though it only went live on Kindle ten minutes ago! I imagine the .99¢ introductory price has a great deal to do with that, as well as Jared Rackler’s rather arresting cover art. And of course, I hope the novel itself offers its own particular inspiration!
I must confess, I’m a so-called genre hack.
Definition of GENRE
1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular STYLE, form, or content
A lot of writers–probably many more than readers!–look down their noses at genre endeavors. “It’s all the same,” they’ll say. “They don’t challenge me intellectually.” “Only hacks write genre; literary fiction is so much more formidable, and takes real talent.”
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Back in my senior year of high school, I finally moved to a town where creative writing was on the syllabus. I’d already tried my hand at writing by then, and knew this was something I wanted to pursue. But the high school I went to in Ohio (Copley High School, for those who must know) didn’t have such offerings. The closest thing they had as a journalism class, which I took and enjoyed, but it did very little for me creatively. So I was thrilled to finally land in a school that had writing classes, real writing classes, where we the student body could write our own stuff, as opposed to reading the anointed “classics” and the like.
I took two classes, one in the fall semester, the second in the spring semester. The first class was run by Joe Ball, the sort of late 1970s teacher who favored corderouy jackets with the elbow patches, jeans, casual shoes, and of course, the always scholarly accoutrement in those non-PC days, a pipe. Joe would sit behind his desk at the front of the class, behind his pipe and behind his mustache, and would listen to us as we read our stories aloud. (Think you’ve written a real winner? Take it from me, when you read it out loud in a room full of strangers, it will invariably suck.) Not only did reading the pieces aloud go toward making the stories better if they were ever rewritten, it was a great way to get a sense of how good your “competition” was. And as I say this, I am trying to contain my ego: there was only one person in that class who was a better at writing than I was.
And this person wrote “literary” fiction. Joe Ball adored literary fiction. I was referred to as “science fiction corner” because, yep, I was riding the SF wave back then. Joe didn’t outright deride my chosen genre, but he absolutely favored the offerings of lesser-capable students, lauding them for “daring to take risks” and the like. He noted that my output was polished; yet the momentary elation was dashed when he added, “If you ever get published, I’ll certainly read a free copy.”
The second teacher was another Joe, Joe Lieberman. This Joe was a middle-aged denizen of New York City, a fellow who commuted from the Big Apple to Connecticut every day. Lieberman was an odd cat, eccentric to a degree, but much more approachable than his counterpart, Mr. Ball. But Lieberman hated genre offerings as well, especially science fiction. “It’s all the same, with ray guns and space ships!”
But Lieberman did rate my work quite well, at the end of the year; “as professional as the professionals,” he wrote on my final. And unlike his peer earlier in the year, he didn’t qualify that assessment. So I’ll consider that a win for the genre camp.
But really. The most famous authors today are genre guys. Stephen King. Dean Koontz. John Grisham. Stephanie Meyer. J.K. Rowling. Even (dare I write his name, as writers across the world revile him so) James Patterson is a genre guy, and without a doubt one of the most successful.
But if you don’t write the next Kite Runner or Memoirs of a Geisha, both of which were amazing books, then its almost like you’re… what? A failure? A pretender? An also-ran?
Well then. A hack I am, and damned proud of it.
I guess it’s time for a little round of cheerleading.
Thankfully, I have the mainstream media in my corner on this one, which is an usual circumstance. It seems that in January 2011, sales of e-books trounced hard cover releases by a surprising margin, as detailed in a story by the Associated Press. To wit:
Helped by millions of Kindles, Nooks and other digital devices… e-sales doubled from $32.4 million in January 2010 to $69.9 million in January 2011.
Hardcover sales fell from $55.4 million to $49.1 million, and mass market paperbacks, a format that’s declined as baby boomers seek books with larger print, fell from $56.4 million to $39 million.
All I can say is… yowza! But it gets even better, when one of the seniors in the sacred hallways of Big Publishing whips out this bon mot:
The new numbers “pretty much reflect reality,” Simon and Shuster CEO and President Carolyn Reidy said Thursday, though she cautioned that e-sales tend to be especially high in January as customers test the new format.
Sounds like a bit of prevarication at the end of her quote to me, but hey, I’m biased. It’ll be interesting to see how the numbers continue to pan out, especially after Amazon lowers the price of its Kindle platform. Seems only likely that as the platform becomes cheaper to own, more and more folks will catch the electronic bug and start replacing paper with electrons.
I’m all for it, baby. Bring it on!
Well, despite everything, I’m happy to report that the edits on The Gathering Dead are complete! It was a Herculean effort on my part–well, not really–but I’ve finished my pass. Now I’m in loiter mode waiting for my beta readers to come back with comments, and then I’ll integrate their feedback and release this one into the wild. Won’t be this week, though; will happen next week.
In the meantime, I’m working on the novella Hackett’s War, which will be the first of a trilogy. Can’t stop, go to keep moving forward. After all, a bigger backlist makes for mo’ money, baby!
Speaking of money, I had a great day yesterday. Two sales of City of the Damned, two sales of Ghosts (thanks, Amazon.uk!), and one of Family Ties. Every sale is a step in the right direction, and if it helps, I’ll go out and find religion to make it happen.
Even though this itty, bitty corner of cyberspace isn’t really reserved for coverage of current events, it seems heartless of me not to give another shout out to the fair folks of Japan, who are going through more than a tiny bit of pain and suffering right now.
My good pal Catherine Ling has some great links on her post over at Camemberu. I hope you’ll take the time to click some of them; I did, and am now fiscally poorer for it, but perhaps morally enriched.
For myself, I’ve heard from a good 80% of my friends in Japan, and all who have reported in are well. The remainder will doubtless get in touch when they can, but in the meantime, the waiting and watching is stressful. Hopefully those of you with friends and family in the Home Islands are doing well, and tragedy has not tapped you on the shoulder.
I’m heartened by the fact that the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard are surging into the zone and doing what they can. Boys and girls in uniform, you continue to impress, and there are none better than you. Keep at it.