…And we walked uphill to school in snow this high

Hi, my name is Kirk and I like books.

(I will wait for the chorus of hellos.)

Hard copy books.

(Silence.)

At least that is what I imagine the response would be if you watch the trends of book sales and listen in on a lot of author/reader conversations.

oldmanbookBefore you think I am somebody who just doesn’t want to change, I am usually one of the first people in my group to try new technology so I do not consider myself a technophobe in any way. I read a lot of digital media, whether that be e-zines, newspapers, or research. I also understand the tremendous leap forward in convenience e-books have provided for both readers and people within the industry. I spoke with an agent in New York City a few years ago and she pointed out how big a change good e-readers made to her business. A long-time agent, she said the week after she purchased her e-reader she carried a purse to work on Friday.

What? Why is that a big deal?

She went on to say that like most agents, she did a lot of power reading of manuscripts, partials, and queries over the weekend. For years she had carried a large canvas bag into work on Fridays, filled it with paper printouts, and toted the whole load home. However, with the e-reader, she loaded everything she wanted to read digitally, slipped it into a normal purse, and traveled home without worrying about dislocating a shoulder.

That ease of use is just as important to regular readers. I understand how important it is for someone to just pack a Kindle when they hop onto the airplane or go to the beach on vacation. I understand how nice it is to have a great deal of their personal library with them wherever they carry their e-reader. I also understand the importance of privacy. During the initial rise of the sales of e-books, I read a publishing industry analyst who said without e-readers, the “Fifty Shades” books would never have been as huge a hit as they [roved to be. His reasoning was that while some women may not care if people noticed them reading the series, he opined that many women would have been hesitant to read books that others may find… slutty (His term, not mine.). Of course, once the “Fifty Shades” sales reached a certain point, a tipping point, they became more acceptable to a larger group and the stigma dissipated.

And I have not even started on the price difference. A voracious reader can fill their yearly habit for a fraction of the cost if they choose to purchase e-books over physical copies.

So, with all those benefits for e-books, why do I still choose to read exclusively hard copy?

Because I like the feel of a book in my hand when I am lying in bed reading. I like the texture of the pages and crackle of the spine the first time you read a book. I like being able to walk into my office without having any idea what I am interested in reading that day and scanning over row after row, title after title. I like being able to loan a good book to a friend – preferably a copy that is dog-eared and well-worn. I like knowing the books I have on the shelves will be there tomorrow and the next day for me, as well as down the road for my children and grandchildren. (If you think you can do that with e-books, you had better read your agreements again. Amazon reminded Kindle owners just last week that when you “purchase” a book, you are really only leasing it and they can take it away from you at any time under certain circumstances.)

So, even though a vast majority of my friends, readers and authors alike, like e-books as their first choice, I am going to stick to hard copies. In the end, I see reading as an entertainment experience. So just like the audiophile who insists on listening to music on vinyl or the movie watcher who insists on the 72-inch hi-definition television, I prefer to enjoy my recreation a certain way. In this case that means a three-pound, 500-page book on my chest as I lean back in the recliner and read.

Hi, my name is Kirk and I read hard copy books.

Why would I be a member of a club that would let me in?

For some time there has been a fracturing in the author community over the opportunities provided by technological advancements. Namely: self-publishing.

Twenty years ago, self-published books usually fell into one of three categories:

1) Written for such a small group of people that it was not viable to be commercially produced. A genealogical book about your family history, as an example.
2) Written in such a way that no agent or publishing house knew what to do with it. It could have been a terrific novel but how do you market a science fiction romance between a werewolf and an alien that takes place in 16th century Scotland?
3) Just a bad book.

Those were the reasons. That’s it, end of discussion. Go on, go ask someone in the publishing industry to remember back to that time and they will tell you that only unmarketable books were self-published. I’ll wait.

Okay, you’re back. But a funny thing happened in the past twenty years – a funny thing that has continued to pick up speed with every passing year. Ebooks came along and readers liked them. Suddenly the outlay cost to produce a book dropped dramatically. Then on-demand printers were able to print and ship small counts of books. Without the high cost of printing an initial run and stocking bookstores, independent publishers began popping up like weeds.

But the publishing industry shrugged, said “They’re still our cast offs so they can’t be any good” and went on their way.

But then that funny thing happened again. Readers stood up and said the publishing industry was wrong. They said that not everything that was self-published was crap. Authors like Hugh Howey and Sylvia Day sold a ton of self-published books. While those two and others are outliers, now there are hundreds, if not thousands, more who are making a few thousand dollars per book. And who knows how many they might have been able to sell with a publishing house marketing department behind them. Authors who could have gone through the big publishing houses decided not to wait on a 14-month publishing cycle and they put the book out themselves in three months. Independent publishers started selling more units with authors who did not want to hurry up and wait.

Recently a lot of the publishing industry has been taking notice of these authors. So have movie and television companies. Who does that leave languishing in the rear to recognize this sea change in the industry?

The authors’ own industry groups.

Go to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website and look up the qualifications for membership. Go to the Horror Writers Association and other industry groups and you will not find full voting membership requirements that make allowances for selling self-published or, in some cases, independent publisher works. (The HWA recently announced they are looking into changing their requirements so kudos to them.)

So why does this matter? Because a lot of small newspapers and magazines rely upon these industry groups for vetting. They receive dozens of press releases every month about author interviews and new books and generally speaking they do not have the manpower to check out all of these possible stories.

Do you want to interview Joe Smith who just wrote a sequel in his vampire series? Maybe, maybe not, but I don’t have time to research to discover if Smith’s last book sold three copies or 30,000 copies. Do you want to interview HWA Active member Joe Smith? That one addition is probably enough to make me take the time to check out Smith’s work.

So what really happens to authors who are selling a good number of units, making a good bit of money, is that they are probably being held back by the very groups who were started to encourage and help them. To return to one of our outliers, Hugh Howey sold tens of thousands of units of his Wool series online before he signed his print contract with Simon & Schuster and a movie contract with 20th Century Fox. Shouldn’t the tens of thousands of units sold have been enough for full membership into an industry group? Does it really take someone to bust out as big as Howey to make the grade? Why should someone who sold twice as many self-published books as a mid-list author who published through an industry house not be recognized for that work?

I am not talking about the industry groups lowering their standards, that would defeat the purpose. What I want the groups to think about is recognizing the changes in the publishing industry.

(The headline is a twist on the Groucho Marx quote: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”)

Will Flash Gordon escape the Pit of Doom?

Flash2When can one of the oldest forms of writing suddenly become one of the hot new trends?

Answer: When readers’ tastes and new product delivery methods mesh.

Despite what my kids think, I am not old enough to remember the days of serial radio shows or the Saturday movie shorts. However, when it comes to publishing fiction these days, what was once old is now new again when it comes to serializing stories.

SherlockSerializing stories goes back a lot farther than most people realize. Charles Dickens published a great deal of his work in smaller chunks long before they ever appeared in book form. “The Old Curiosity Shop” is an example of his using serialization. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published two of his Sherlock Holmes novels (“The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Valley of Fear”) first in monthly installments in magazines. A list of other well-known authors from decades past who used this method would more than fill a few pages. Serialization in writing remained popular until at least during the pulp magazine days of the 1950s before slowly fading into the background, never quite dying out but becoming more of a fringe product.

But now a whole new crop of authors are using serialized stories as a way of creating a reader base and (gasp!) making money. My first recent memory of an author doing this was Stephen King. He serialized “The Green Mile” in six small paperbacks over a five-month period in 1996. The experiment worked for him but he still sold a lot more copies when they were all compiled into novel form. But in my opinion, he was ahead of the time. He was hamstrung by the need for new technology.

Enter Amazon and Kindle (or similar products). Today’s new crop of writers who are using serialization are using the Internet and e-books to deliver the segments. In most cases a reader can purchase the whole story up front and then each chapter is delivered automatically to an electronic reading device, like a Kindle, on a regular schedule.

And who can argue with the success. Hugh Howey has become a worldwide, best-selling author in digital and print based largely upon the serialization phenomenon that became “Silo.” Also, don’t forget that the “50 Shades” franchise began life as serialized fan fiction. (Fan fiction is a different topic for a different day but I will admit that it is something that I just don’t understand.)

From a writer’s perspective, I can understand the lure of serialized stories. There is an immediacy to the process because you write on a deadline and then it is printed, sometimes within days of your finishing. Pay begins almost immediately and the product is lower priced, enticing a larger fan base.

Compare that to the traditional time frame of writing a novel, sending it out to publishing houses, getting accepted, being put on the publishing schedule, then waiting for royalty checks to arrive (very simplified). That process can take possibly two years. Even with the advent of self-publishing it can still be months invested. That is a lot of time spent working before the pennies start trickling in to your bank account. Serialization makes a lot of sense.

But on the consumer side of the coin, I also need to consider the way I like to read. I may not touch a book for two weeks because I am heavily into writing. Then, some Saturday evening, I may grab a book, plop down on the couch, and read until noon on Sunday, ripping through 500 pages in one shot. That would be tough to do if I need to wait for another week for the next story installment.

Plus, I do not think serialization makes sense for my writing style. One of my critique partners once told me I could make a novel out of a grocery list (Thanks, Michele.). I think it was a compliment? Anyway, her point was that I enjoyed producing longer works with deep character developments and intricate plots. You can certainly do this in segments but think back to Flash Gordon – every show ended with him in mortal danger, a cliffhanger that made the viewer want to come back the next Saturday and dish out another nickel to see how he escaped. I am not saying I won’t attempt the form some day, but for now I am still on the fence.

If anyone wants to read more on the whole serialization trend, Jane Friedman had an excellent blog post on the subject. You can read it by clicking here:

Serial Fiction Changing Publishing

The Process

I was recently texting back and forth with a friend of mine who also writes. At the end of the conversation, she said something to the effect that it was time to go review the “crap” she had written the day before.

I laughed when I read the text because it reminded me of the process I go through when I am writing a novel. Every writer is different in how their process moves along but these are typically the stages of my works. Think of it as the seven stages of grief of my writing:

1) The Idea – I have talked a little bit before about where I get my ideas so I will not go too far in depth here. Sometimes a book starts as a question. Sometimes it is a situation or a character that makes me think about their story. At this point, I usually have a guarded optimism about the project.

2) The Planning – At this stage I begin looking at the idea with the thought of how well it holds up to novel length. I have always been a plotter. Not all writers work this way and I have good friends who go into their writing and just let the story and the characters take them wherever they want to go. (Personal pet peeve – Some of these friends claim their characters sometimes “hijack” a story and take it off in different directions. I believe that I am the author and I am in control of the characters, not the other way around.) So I will sit down and loosely plot out the beginning of the book. And when I say “loosely,” I mean loosely. Each chapter of plotting may consist of only three or four bullet points or sentences or it could be much longer and more detailed. This is where I begin to see the structure and chronology of the story. I will often move chapters for better timing or add chapters because one of the storylines has been neglected. I typically plot out the first 15-20 chapters, half the book, or enough to give me a good idea of where it is going. I never plot the entire book at this point for a reason I will give later. This is also the point where I will do any research I need. For instance, when I was plotting out “Dreams of Ivory and Gold,” I realized I had several scenes that were taking place inside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City so I researched the layout of the church and incorporated some interesting tidbits about its construction. This is also where I decide if I am going forward with the idea in novel form. Sometimes the idea only stands up to short story length. Sometimes a character is only a character or a question/situation is only part of another book. But, if the idea holds up, I am usually very excited about the project by now.

3) The Beginning – Notice what I call this stage: The Beginning. Up until now I may have spent anywhere from several days to a couple of months on the project and I do not have one word down on the page yet. There is no book. This point is where that all starts. With the research and the original plotting still fresh in my mind I am only now beginning to write. I am usually so excited about the project the chapters just leap out and I often catch myself thinking about the book even when I am not writing. THIS is the fun time.

4) The Work – By the time I am halfway through writing a novel, I am hit by how much work it takes to put 70,000-100,000 words down on paper in a coherent manner that makes sense and is entertaining. At this point I have – hopefully – settled into a rhythm with the characters and the plot. The reason I did not plot out the whole book is that I have definitely found holes and I have added or deleted scenes or entire storylines. I usually alternate between writing and plotting, trying to stay several chapters ahead in my planning from the story on paper. The initial excitement has worn off but I love writing so I am happy.

5) The Crap – I suck as a writer. This story sucks. The characters I loved so much a few weeks ago are flat and uninteresting – and they suck, too. Everything about this story is just pure crap that needs to be destroyed before someone happens to read it and it sets back literature thousands of years. I don’t even want to write an email because that will probably suck, too. And all of that is how I feel on the good days when I am writing during this stage.

6) The Close – This stage takes place in the final few chapters of the book. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The twists and red herrings are settling into place. The final resolution makes sense. My protagonist is showing real development and growth. The book is completed and I am happy and excited – the sort of tired excited you get at the end of a race or a game.

7) The Return – This has always been one of the hardest parts for me to do. Take that book that I have worked on for months and…. do nothing. Put it in a corner. Hide it under the bed. Don’t read it, don’t look at it, don’t even think about it. Put your lovingly crafted masterpiece to the side and do nothing with it for three weeks, a month – however long it takes for me to have some distance between the work and the evaluation. The longest I have ever gone at this stage is almost a year. Then, one day, pull it out and read it. If I have waited long enough, then the book will almost feel like someone else wrote it. If everything has gone well, you will enjoy it. You will love the characters all over again. You will like the plot twists and the ending. Sure, I will be making notes in the margins as I read but these are for major plot points – rewrite this scene, how did I spell that character’s name three different ways?, this reference makes no sense because I pulled an earlier scene out – I am strictly looking for the flow of the story and not a grammatical editing. But that is only if the book works. I still have a Bottom Drawer Novel on my computer. Every writer has at least one of them. These are works that you get to this point and you realize that you were write in Stage 5 – this book really does suck and no amount of reworking is going to make it readable. If there is a writer out there who says they do not have one of these lying around somewhere, gathering dust, then they are not reading their own work with a critical eye. It just happens. But if I make it through this stage and still like it, then I have written a book.

There are plenty of things left to do before the book will see the light of day. Beta readers need to look at it and tell you if they also believe the plot and the characters work. It still needs a professional edit. And I mean professional. Pay someone you trust to do a line-by-line edit because I believe one of the hardest things to do in the world is to edit your own work. You can get it close but it will never be fully polished until someone else grabs the red pen and goes to work. Unfortunately, this is also the part that most writers skip and then they wonder why they are never able to be published.

Then, and only then, is my book ready to start the marketing process to either an agent or indie publishing house. With the rise of self-publishing through Amazon and others, those options are open as well.

But marketing is a story for a different day.

I’ve got an idea

Last year I spoke to a group of freshmen and sophomore high school students. The topic of discussion was the difference between writing for the newspaper and writing fiction for entertainment. I brought along some newspapers and a few books, including one of my own. I even wrote a lede and the beginning of a news article for “Star Wars,” going so far as to read the first page of the novel and the news article draft to demonstrate the differences.

We had a few minutes at the end of class and I opened it up for questions. As you could expect from young high school students, there were some pretty basic questions about being an author (How much do you make? Do you have an agent? etc.). But more than one student centered around the question:

Where do you get your story ideas?

It was a good question, one that I had never thought about myself but I had asked about some of my favorite authors.

I have a five-book series that I began based upon my envisioning the final line in the final scene of the last book. I also have one work that is based entirely upon the main protagonist’s faults and how he is trying to overcome them (based upon a person I saw at a shopping mall during Christmas).

“Dreams of Ivory and Gold,” which will be released in April, began very simply as a series of questions: Throw out conventional fiction ideas of living forever as a 30-year-old. What if being nearly immortal meant puberty lasted for decades? What if you were living forever in a job you hated? What would that do to a person’s mind? How would they live their life?

“Jacked” (YA currently being marketed) began as a very vivid dream where the protagonist was being chased down a crumbling city street and every time he touched an object, it turned on.

My current WIP started as the question: Which is a better life, one where a person is living in a fictional world but is happy, or one where they are miserably struggling through the real world?

Because I have such a love for reading, I have always tried to find ways to incorporate my kids into my novels as a way of exciting them about reading as well, even when the subject matter was too old for them at the time. I have used their personalities for characters, mentioned their names, and written for their age groups.

So it really should not have come as a surprise when my youngest daughter crawled up beside me on the couch the weekend after New Year’s and announced, “I’ve got an idea.”

(Those words from this daughter can send shivers down my spine because she tends to hold onto an idea for a long time. This is the same girl who came home from pre-school one day several years ago and said we should address her as Princess Toots. The “Princess” part has long since gone by the wayside but “Toots” is still her family nickname.)

So I listened to Toots’ idea which really consisted of about two sentences, most of which were blatant rip-offs of books that were already on the market. So I grabbed a notepad and began writing down ideas while we talked.

What if the main character was this? What if this happened to her? She needs help so what if her companions were these people? What is her ultimate goal?

We talked for about an hour and I put the notepad in my office. This past weekend, I saw it lying on the corner of my writing table and picked it up, smiling at the memory of Toots and I talking.

Then I started reading what I wrote down. It wasn’t bad. There was a strong protagonist who had enough faults to develop through the story. There was inner and outer conflict. There was a cast of supporting characters and an antagonist to defeat. Upon further reflection what I saw was not just one book but two Middle Grade books in a series.

My conclusion is that – at least for me – I never quite know where my ideas will come from.

Oh, and I should continue to listen when Toots says she has an idea.

(** By the way – the photo in the header for this website was taken by Toots. The idea for that began with, “I’ve got a vision…**)

They say you want a resolution, well, you know…

ResolutionIf it is the last day of the year, then it must be time to rejoice in all of the things that were accomplished in the past year and make resolutions to do even more in 2014.

Or in my case, wonder how any of last year’s resolutions made it past January 15th.

Last weekend I pulled out a dusty piece of paper from my desk and I was surprised how many of my 2013 resolutions I was able to achieve:

1) Write daily – Well, with my work schedule this was probably a stupid resolution and I am sure it was the first to fall by the wayside. However, the point of this goal was to write more often and I can honestly say I accomplished that this year.

2) Read 10 books – I actually read 11.

3) Put two books/stories into print – Yes and no. I was thrilled to have my short story, “Rev,” included in the Manifesto UF anthology. I also signed a contract to publish “Dreams of Ivory and Gold” with Angelic Knight Press and that will arrive in April. I am going to count this as a half a point.

4) Finish writing “Jacked” – Completed the manuscript in April, final edits were done by July and the full manuscript is currently with an agent. I hope to know something definitive by the end of January.

5) Finish writing “Alpis” – No and yes. I not only did not finish Alpis, I never got past the research and outlining stages. However, I did complete three short stories-I never write shorts anymore-and two of them were accepted into anthologies. Again, one half-point.

6) Finish writing “City” – I have not completed the novel but it is outlined and I have about 30,000 words on paper. This work will have a first draft done by the end of January and hopefully be ready for marketing by late spring. Half a point.

7) Start sequel to “Dreams” – Nope.

8) Start sequel to “Jacked” – Nope.

So, out of eight possible points, I made it to four. Not exactly stellar but considering how little I have been able to write over the past three or four years, this was a very good year for putting words to paper. As I sit down later tonight to work on a new list for 2014, that is what I will try to keep in mind – that my goal is to continue to write and publish more every year. If you check back with the site next year, hopefully that is exactly what I will be reporting.

Have a safe and happy new year!

Can I have a few more hours?

I thought I would take a quick opportunity to bring everyone up-to-date with what is going on. The cover art is still being created for “Dreams of Ivory and Gold.” As I discussed last time, this has been a very pleasant surprise that I have been asked for my opinion and kept in the loop on what is happening with the artwork. I am very excited to see what Rebecca comes up with at Angelic Knight.

I am also working as hard as possible on my WIP. I have been able to sit in the seat a couple of nights this week and produce some copy so that is good. It is just with the JOB this time of year – budgets, forecasts, meetings, etc. – I am still racking up the 60-hour weeks so most nights by the time I get home I am ready to eat and go to bed. But I have continued to make a concentrated effort to write at least a few words every night. The problem with that is that once I start typing, I often lose track of how tired I am and the clock so the next thing I know I have a short night of sleep staring at me. Which leads into the plea for just a few more hours (of sleep). The best news of all is that this book is coming together very nicely and, even though it is different than any other I have written before, I really like it and the characters. I hope to have the first draft done by mid-January. I will talk about it some more once I get closer to it being completed.

The timing is good because I talked briefly with the Angelic Knight folks this week about the second book in the Dreams series and they were excited about the prospect – no promises on publication – but excited about another book.

One work I have not spoken about recently is my YA novel, “Jacked.” It is with an agent in New York at the moment and I am waiting to hear about their plans. Hopefully I will know something after the holidays but New York really closes down for the next two weeks so I may need to wait longer.

A step forward for Dreams of Ivory and Gold

Last week I was in the office working late one night when a message popped into my phone. It was from my editor at Angelic Knight Press and she had several questions about “Dreams of Ivory and Gold” – very specific questions – about an item in the manuscript. It seems the artist assigned to my book was in the process of reading it and designing the cover art.

For those who are not involved with the publishing industry, this was very unusual on two different accounts:

1) A lot of artists create the cover art for a book from a one-to-two-page treatment or overview of the book. While I am sure there are some artists who read the books they have been hired to cover, I have found that is a minority. Just another reason why I am glad I chose to publish with Angelic Knight.

2) I have no say over the cover art and that is very common in the publishing industry (I know that for a fact. I was so surprised by the message I went back and checked my contract. I have no say over the cover art.). I have artist friends who say they have never even spoken to their cover artists while others tell me they might have been asked a question or two but just as often as not their answers were ignored to varying degrees when the final cover was produced. Do not think that I am criticizing the process. For the vast majority of authors, we are just that – authors. Font, print size, color schemes, placement – these are not what we deal with on a day-to-day basis and more likely than not we are much happier and proficient at working with words.

It was exciting to describe the object the artist wanted to know more about. When I write, I tend to see the scenes in my mind, imagining the objects, feeling the weather, maybe even taking in some of the odors. She may choose to go a completely different route with the cover art and I am okay with that. But for that night, “Dreams of Ivory and Gold” was very real to me and the chance to finally hold it in my hands as a published work was that much closer.

The reviews keep coming for Manifesto UF

ManifestoCoverWeb The reviews just keep coming for Manifesto UF. It was amazing to get to work with so many talented authors and Tim and Tyson did a great job of pulling all the stories together.

This review is from Fantasy Book Critic. If you like to read genre books, the FBC is a terrific place to go to learn about new books and authors.

Also, if you are still not quite sure about Manifesto UF, there are multiple reviews and comments on Amazon.com and Goodreads.

Fantasy Book Critic review of Manifesto UF