Via The Passive Voice, which focuses on interesting articles related to publishing, I just saw this one, at Kirkus, in which Bob Mayer argues that to “self”-publish, you need a team. I love that Bob used quotes there, given my feelings for “self-publishing” and my desire for people to stop calling independence that, but I’m also intrigued by Bob’s suggestion that authors need teams, and even teams who have vested interest in authors’ work. It sounds a lot like what a publisher does, but I think it’s more complicated than that. I think it’s more about hybrid publishing.
I grew up in a small suburb of New Jersey I left in 1996 to attend college in Jersey City, where I stayed after I graduated while working in Manhattan. I left Manhattan at the end of 2001 to move back in with my family. During the time I’d been gone, Barnes & Noble built a store not far from the closest shopping mall, and after my return I often found myself frequenting that store like some people frequent the local bar. Rather than losing myself in a drink, I’d spend an hour in the newsstand, reading magazines I’d never buy, then browse the paperback racks all over the story. I was largely genre-agnostic, and found that categories often failed me, anyway (around that time I’d discovered the work of Jonathan Carroll. Generally a fantasist, but B&N held fast to stocking his books in the general Literature & Fiction section. I’d found Carroll’s work through Neil Gaiman, whose books were maybe a little less surreal than Carroll’s but in general not really that much more fantastic, and yet Gaiman was always in the Fantasy & Science Fiction section. So I generally took it upon myself to explore all the shelves I could).
After standing around with my head cocked enough to the right as to develop an almost permanent crick in it, I’d move on. Sometimes I’d have picked up a mass market paperback or two, always priced at $7.99. If I could find trade paperbacks–generally priced at $12.99 or more–on tables that include a “Buy Two Get One Free” promotion, I might pick up a few of those, but I generally bought and read way too many books to pay more than $10 for any one of them. I made exceptions to that rule solely for signed hardcovers I’d pick up from ABEBooks only after having borrowed the book, and enjoyed it, from my local library.
My next destination would be the bargain racks, where I might pick up a hardcover for $4.99 or so. If I found a particularly compelling one, I might be convinced up to $7.99, but that was rare; I found I thought most of those books had been remaindered for a reason. I might find two or three for less than $5, and I’d stick those under my arm, too, then make my way to the register.
It’s amazing how things have changed.
Just two days after I wrote about how KDP Select and free promotions seemed to be less effective than they used to be, my novel The Prodigal Hour became the #1 free bestseller on Amazon.com. Now, I’m cognizant that downloads are not sales; as I told my wife, I know many who argue that Amazon’s free rankings don’t count as bestselling because it’s not as though people are actually buying the book.
But I’m also cognizant that 45,000 readers have downloaded The Prodigal Hour in the past three days. I know, too, that a book needs to get more downloads to hit the free bestseller lists than it must get sales to hit the paid bestsellers lists; from experience, several hundred sales in a day are enough to get a book charting in its respective categories, and close to 1000 mean it might hit Amazon’s top 100 overall. I don’t know how many sales it takes for a book to hit the top of the paid list, but I now know that approximately 30k downloads can put it atop the free list, and from a promo with Meets Girl earlier in the year, I also know that 10k might get it into the top 10. (Meets Girl hit #8 and managed 12000 downloads over a week.)
And honestly, I couldn’t be happier. It couldn’t mean more to me. I love Meets Girl but The Prodigal Hour is, somewhat ironically, a more deeply personal book for me. I think people think Meets Girl is my story because it’s about a young Manhattan writer and it’s written in the first person, but in the end I think I identify more closely with Chance Sowin. He’s infuriatingly stubborn and often so wrapped up in his own head he neglects the bigger picture or at least its context, and I may know a thing or three about both.
Moreover, The Prodigal Hour challenged me in ways Meets Girl didn’t. It took me forever to get Meets Girl‘s ending right (if I might be so bold as to claim I did), but The Prodigal Hour required more attention and focus to handle bigger ideas and themes in ways I was afraid of. It’s no secret that the World Trade Center attacks of 2001 play a central role to the story, and it was as difficult to revisit my memories of that day as it was to portray them and ensure that day was honored and true.
I’ve been proud of the book since the moment I uploaded it. I really feel like it achieves something I hoped for but never dared attempt, focusing instead on writing a good story well. And of course now my hope is that all those readers who found it might enjoy it.
I always used to imagine a particular moment: the first time I saw a novel I’d written on a bookstore’s shelves. I imagined how I thought I’d feel, and back when I used to receive rejection letters regarding queries I’d sent to agents, I’d file those rejection letters away to focus instead on how I imagined it would feel, finally, in that mythical bookstore.
Eventually I stopped sending queries. Eventually I learned too much about business to want to get that bookdeal I’d always dreamed of, finally becoming aware of the rights and control I’d have to give up over work that would, ultimately, have my name on it. Eventually I got a Kindle and realized how much I preferred reading on it, and wondered how many other people might, too, and began to direct my attention there. To endeavors in my power and under my control.
My fantasy of that bookshelf-feeling never faded, even if I became uncertain about any possible replacements. I stopped thinking about it, really, because I got the idea that there would be no real feeling of either arrival or culmination; that the whole process of journey is the end in itself. Through Exciting Press, I’m doing work I couldn’t be prouder of nor believe more powerfully in. I’m working with authors who completely astound me, and when I see readers connect with their books, when I see a review of something by Nick Earls by a reader who mentions he or she had never heard of Nick before . . .
It’s all so brilliant, and yesterday brought that home to me. Because yesterday, in addition to all the new readers who discovered The Prodigal Hour, someone also mentioned they thought what I was doing with my authors is amazing.
Last night I was elated. It’s not a destination; it’s one more milestone on a journey that is continuously surprising and delighting me by being everything I ever wanted in ways I never expected. I know that, but I also know that yesterday I found my bookshelf moment.
And there aren’t any shelves in sight.
Today begins the final free promotion ever of my time travel novel The Prodigal Hour. This week, you can get it free from Amazon for its Kindle platform (which you can read on anything–iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Android tablet, Barnes and Noble’s Nook et al.), and with no DRM, which means you can convert the Kindle file you download to an ePub or html file or whatever you’d like, really. As always, you can find it right here.
And if you’d prefer the print version, you can purchase the paperback at that same link, and you’ll get a copy of the ebook free with Amazon’s brilliant new Matchbook program. Same goes for Meets Girl.
This is the last time you’ll be able to get The Prodigal Hour free, because at the end of October, it–along with all other Exciting Press titles–will move away from Amazon’s KDP Select program, at least for the foreseeable future. If you’re wondering why, head past the break to read some more publishing/Amazon/free discussion. If you just want the books, follow those links and have at them, and please enjoy.
Former USC classmate and fellow indie author Danny Gardina–author of the novel The Last Night and the collection The Lookout and Other Stories and founder of Kings Men Press–wrote in with a question about my last post, and LLCs, and how to set one up.
The easy answer: go to a lawyer.
No, really. I’ll tell you a bit about what I did (as I understand it), but ultimately, get thee to a lawyer. I’m not advising you to do anything (besides go to a lawyer). I’ve heard of people doing it online, clicking a button and paying $99, but I wouldn’t recommend it, mainly because a website can’t listen to your goals, understand your needs, and advise you accordingly. It’s obviously cheaper than going to a lawyer, but, well, as with so many other things, you get what you pay for.
Lately, I’ve been trying to focus my energies less on discussing disadvantages of the corporate system and more on taking fuller advantage of being independent. I’ve been focusing a lot on Exciting Press–trying to fill readers’ Kindles and iPads and Android devices with the very best stories we possibly can.
Which is why, last night, when Bibliocrunch’s Miral Sattar highlighted last evening’s Twitter #indiechat with Bowker to me, I intended to avoid it. Miral and Porter Anderson both highlighted Bowker’s product manager, LJN Dawson, as well as touted Bowker’s new “self-publishing services.” I saw some of it–I was on Twitter, decompressing–but didn’t figure to participate until a tweet from the Bibliocrunch account pulled me in. No one had yet mentioned that authors no longer need ISBNs. No one had mentioned how incomplete Bowker’s tracking data actually now is.
So I thought I would. Long and short: as an independent author publishing digitally, you’ll do better ignoring any of Bowker’s offerings–including its “self-publishing services” and investing instead in founding your own small press as an LLC and legal entity.
First: apologies for the headline. It’s totally a grab for attention. If you want to bail now knowing I was attempting deliberate manipulation, no one would hold it against you, but before you go, consider that’s what everyone else is doing lately, and know that, for the record, I would state that there is no “one true way” of anything–nor that I’ve ever read anyone else make that claim about independent publishing (or “self-publishing,” as corporate publishing and those associated with it tend to call it). I’ve read independent authors note that they’ve had positive experiences with places like Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords, and even encourage others to do so–often while noting the disadvantages of signing that corporate contract that so often gives away so many rights with little in the way of remuneration or benefit.
I think, sometimes, that such authors focus so much on being positive about the experience that others feel they have to highlight the disadvantages of not having corporate support for one’s book, and that’s fine. But sometimes I think that goes overboard, or maybe doesn’t consider the entire situation, and I think it’s important to.
Today–the last day of National Poetry Month–is the final day you’ll be able to get my poetry collection Bite Your Lip & other poems free at Amazon for Kindle–whether that Kindle is your Paperwhite or your iPad or your Android phone or whatever you’re using these days to read. Bite Your Lip & other poems contains 16 different pieces, some of which I wrote way the hell back in my undergrad days but more that I wrote far more recently, and even includes poems about both Doctor Who and Barack Obama. You can get it here.
I started this post as another press release in the same style and tone as the ones announcing when Exciting Press has signed authors, but I realized as I wrote it that it required a different approach. I need to tell a story, here, because while “self-publishing success stories” have become a common enough meme in publishing, I see fewer and fewer people pause to consider what success means, and I think I need to.
A few weeks ago, my soon-to-be wife and I went out to a local mall to catch the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. I’d mostly looked forward to the flick, but only “mostly”–I didn’t enjoy the same rush of breathless anticipation I saw many others experience. I largely avoided most discussion of the movie, as I didn’t want either the storyline or the experience to be ruined, but I went in with hopes higher than I perhaps should have, for a very simple reason: I hoped watching the final installment and seeing the full story would cast new light and understanding on the second installment, The Dark Knight, which I’d found problematic for several reasons.
Sequels are notoriously difficult movies to make–it’s the rare sequel that turns out to be better than its predecessor. And where sequels are difficult, second installments in trilogies are nearly impossible. The few shining examples–The Empire Strikes Back, for example–only highlight how difficult it is to make a proper second installment.
When publishing is a button, pretty much the only thing you really need to buy for access to that button is a computer, and chances are you don’t even really need a great one at that.
I published my first book, a self-titled debut collection no longer available, in 2007 during my first full year studying writing at USC. Back then, I had a Hewlett-Packard laptop, and I wrote the entire collection and laid it out in Microsoft Word. I used Photoshop for the cover.
I’d already had experience publishing by then; for the three years before, I’d been assistant editor of two nursing journals. I’d used programs like Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign. Working knowledge of those two programs was not just helpful but integral to making that book back then.
That’s no longer true, because publishing has changed so much. Honestly, I can’t imagine why anyone would want a PDF for digital publishing, which means several of those programs are no longer useful (a PDF is arguably necessary for CreateSpace, which I think is the best POD service available).
So you want to publish. What do you need?
So there went three months.
Funny thing: I never stop writing. Haven’t stopped now. Been busy. Since April, Exciting Press has published like a dozen titles. Some mine, most not. And that’s on top of the fact that I moved in late July, but spent all of June and July doing so (June was packing, July was preparing the new house to be lived in). My fiancee and I purchased a house we have to reno a bit, so that’s meant new floors and new paints and new fixtures.
It’s been a lot of fun work I’m proud of. Few things are as empowering as installing a new ceiling light fixture.
And when I get busy, blogging’s always the first thing to go. Probably because I hate the word (“blog”? Blech), but also because it feels like it requires way more effort to be way more ephemeral. Even the sites that attract millions of readers every month require new posts every day (if not every hour), which means older stuff falls by the wayside and disappears from immediacy. And given the choice, I’d rather focus on what doesn’t. The Prodigal Hour won’t fall by the wayside. It may languish in obscurity and one day be forgotten, but it’s a novel, whole on its own and always ready to be discovered.
Every time I start to think I want to post something, I lose interest or over-analyze it. I posted a lot about publishing and Amazon and Kindle and marketing, but those things are really only of interest to other authors, not readers. Those things are probably utterly boring to readers.
And I loathe the idea of boring people, and that’s why I stop.
Which I suppose is why I’ve begun to concentrate more on actually getting work out there. I’ve always liked the aphorism that one could be known by one’s work, and honestly, if I could be known for writing and Exciting Press, that’s all I’d want. I could talk more about craft and fiction and writing, but then, do I want to be known as a great writer, or a great teacher of writing?
Of course: why not aim at both?
Maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll ignore it. Again. Because there’s always renovation, and another story to code. Right now we’re fixing up the house while planning our wedding. And then there will come the holidays and the honeymoon. We’ll see.
I updated the look and the feel here, wondering if that’ll help encourage direction forward. And by that I mean help me figure out what I want to do with this site, if anything at all.
Over the past week, I’ve quietly updated two Exciting Press titles, my short stories “Blues’n How to Play’em” and “A Song for Bedtime,” the latter of which began its life as “Struck by the Light of the Son.” Both had been included in the Sparks anthology I published with Simon Smithson in December 2010, and both later became the first standalone stories published by Exciting Press.
Both have taught me a lot about the market for short stories, and why Kindle might just be the best way to target that market.
It’s amazing how much a simple sentence can change. Nine words. Nine simple words. How much and what it has changed . . . well, those things remain to be seen. But they’re the words that made me a no-longer-just-”self-published” author, and they’re the words that brought one of my favorite novels–as well as several others by its author–into the digital realm.
They’re the words that ended my review of Nick Earls’ Perfect Skin, and, in some part, they’re the words that are the reason I can link that title to the page on Amazon where you can purchase Perfect Skin for your Kindle (at the time of this writing, it’s still in process at Barnes & Noble, but you’ll soon be able to purchase it for Nook, too).
When the free promotion for The Prodigal Hour translated to decent sales, I was impressed. Enough that I started to consider free promotions more strategically with the desire to use them both better and more deliberately, and I think that doing so is increasing sales.
In fact, I’m sure of it. Sales have increased, bit by bit, every month. Not by a whole lot, yet, but considering where they started, they’re building steadily and seem on pace to continue to do so.
The other day, I talked a bit about my experiences using KDP Select as both an author and a publisher. I noted that I didn’t think timing made much difference and noted some things that hadn’t caught on in the way others had, but I’ve noticed some things I think do, and have some theories about some other elements besides.
This past weekend, my novel Meets Girl was free at Amazon. I shared a link on Facebook and tweeted about it late last night, and in both posts I’d mentioned I’d previously forgotten to, but that was only mostly true. I did, in fact, forget to mention it on Saturday morning (I was getting ready for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s 2012 Hat Luncheon, which was a blast). I remembered it later that day, but by then I’d realized it was a good opportunity to conduct an experiment.
I see a lot of authors, and especially independent ones, participating in Amazon’s KDP Select program and taking advantage of the five free days the 90-day period of Amazon exclusivity grants. The two most important participants in publishing are writers and readers, and I think the program is great for both; readers get access to a ton of free books by authors they might not have heard of before or tried, and authors get new readers.
I see enough authors doing so, in fact, that it seems like free books are no longer news. Every day, my Twitter stream is filled with another author linking to a free book. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes all they tweet, ever, but that’s another issue entirely.
I think “The Italian Job”–right now free–was the first Nick Earls short story I’d ever read. And I did so as his publisher.
I hadn’t been able to read much of Nick’s short work. I’m in America, and quite a bit of Nick’s work just hadn’t made it state-side, or, if it had, had gone out of print by the time I discovered his work via Perfect Skin. I’d managed a few of his adult novels–Zigzag Street and Bachelor Kisses, for two–but several others, including The Thompson Gunner, had remained elusive even through special, dedicated channels like Amazon’s marketplace and ABE books.
“The Italian Job” and The Thompson Gunner share a character, Meg Riddoch. I hadn’t been able to read Meg’s story until I started coding The Thompson Gunner for publication through Exciting Press–at which point the novel took on a new name, Tumble Turns. The story and the novel might share a universe, too–on that point I’m not entirely certain, given the ways Meg’s timeline in Tumble Turns digresses and flits back and forth.
You can read about how Nick conceived both novel and story right here.
Mal’s penile implant isn’t really as central to the story as his relationship with Meg, and the connection they build as he drives her around Australia, possibly at the tail end of her Tumble Turns media tour. Or maybe a different tour altogether. But I think it’s one of the first stories I ever read that used the verb “detumesce,” and for that alone it’s worth reading.
So do check it out. And wonderfully, Nick and Nick’s agent and I have arranged it that “The Italian Job” is one of five stories available globally, without restrictions with regard to territory. So no matter where you are, be it Canada, Australia, America, or Italy, if you have access to the Kindle platform, you can read the story. We think that’s pretty great.
It’s a way to help readers find new books.
Today, in keeping with celebrating National Poetry Month, The Inevitable Decay of Francis “Fitz-Pack” Fitzgerald is free, and will remain so for the week, but given that Exciting Press has more than 25 titles–at least 23 of which will be enrolled in free promotions over the next several months, and hopefully indefinitely, as well–it’s not really news that there’s a free title. Our hope is there will always be one, from here on out.
Beginning today, every day, some title from Exciting Press will be free.
We’re doing it with a schedule. For each title, Amazon allows us 5 days out of 90 to for giving away. With the right amount of titles and some advance planning, we can manage it every day.
So we are. But why, you ask?
As promised, ReGeneration & other poems is free today to kick off celebrating National Poetry Month. Every weekday in April, Exciting Press will have free, four-poem micro-collection available; next week, we’ll see The Inevitable Decay of Francis “Fitz-Pack” Fitzgerald & other poems.
But that’s not all. It’s not even the biggest. Our very own one more thing:
Exciting Press is totally thrilled to be able to offer five stories by Nick Earls . . . worldwide!
Because he’s an international bestseller, Nick’s got several sets of people and titles and publishers to juggle. He’s worked with all the giant names in publishing. Saint Martin’s Press. Penguin. Random House. And he’s worked with them across multiple continents in myriad regions. Here’s a guy whose novel Perfect Skin became an award-winning Italian motion picture (as Solo un Padre. Distributed in Italy by Warner Brothers). We’ll be publishing Perfect Skin in May in several territories, but excluding Australia and New Zealand because the e-book market is very different there, and Nick’s got a lot of options. To date, all the work Exciting Press has done with Nick has excluded his home region.
Now we have five short stories, one of which is live in all territories, with the others hopefully following its lead presently. All are just a dollar, and, even better: if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow them all for free through the end of September. Up first we’ve got “Headgames.”
And to celebrate this new global reach, we’re also offering “Problems With a Girl & a Unicorn” free. It appears it’s going to take a few hours for the availability to hit Australia and New Zealand (sorry to all Nick’s fans over there. We appreciate your patience and apologize for the delay. Write us if you have any problems and we’ll make it up to you).
We hope you enjoy these.
Back in February, using a free promotion through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select Program, my novel The Prodigal Hour attracted more than 8,000 downloads in a mere three and a half days. Enough to steadily climb Amazon’s rankings until it was the number one free science fiction novel on the site. And in the top five action & adventure novels. (You can get it, or any other title from Exciting Press, right here.)
Now, this was when it was free, but even after the $4.99 price tag returned, it stayed in the lists. Not as high, of course, but it sank rather slowly out of them. Moreover, its current ranking on Amazon is a couple hundred thousand higher than it used to be. More people have bought and borrowed it in the past month and a half than ever. The numbers aren’t astronomical, but they’re growing.
As many readers probably already know, April is National Poetry Month. Wikipedia notes:
National Poetry Month was inspired by the success of Black History Month, held each February, and Women’s History Month, held in March.
Neglecting for the moment that conflating poetry, as a genre, to either race or gender seems a little, well, off, celebrating poetry seems like a great idea. Perhaps due to its brevity or the fact that quality within it varies so greatly and is arguably so subjective, poetry is a difficult beast. Lots of people write it with varying degrees of success.
Like me, for example.
God, I love Kindle Select.
I know not everyone does. Barnes & Noble and IPG and the SFWA all have all used various methods–refusing distribution and bowing out of contract negotiations and, er, removing links to Amazon titles except where those titles are available only through Amazon, apparently, respectively–to express their distinct displeasure with Amazon and Kindle, but me, I’m a reader and a writer and a publisher and, to paraphrase a former colleague copywriting for one of the most famous advertising campaigns in history, I’m loving Amazon and Kindle Select.
But let’s focus on “For Cynthia” for the moment. When I was younger I always liked to read authors’ commentaries on their short stories, accounts of their geneses and executions. So here’s a bit about “For Cynthia.”
On March 1st, 2007, five years ago tomorrow, I published Entrekin, a self-titled debut collection of short stories, essays, and poetry. If you’ve ever been interested but put off picking up a copy, now’s the time to do so, as it’s your very final chance. I said that once, back when I pulled it from Lulu, but then Kindle made it more viable. And now, Kindle’s made a lot of other things more viable, too, which is why I’m pulling it from there, as well, finally. As of a few hours from now, Entrekin will no longer exist.
The stories and words, however, will. In new form.
As part of this celebration, Pitt created a website celebrating the breadth and diversity of its history, from its founding in 1787–the same year as the US Constitution–through to the present. Pitt’s history is fascinating. I’d tell you more about it, but that’s why the site’s there. For people to learn about Pitt, and discover its rich history.
Plus, I helped write the stories there. So I could tell you about it, or I could just point you to the stories I already helped write, and, really, the latter is far more interesting.
Contributing to the project has been a terrific experience, and I’m really proud to have been a part of it. I’m also thrilled to be able to talk a little more about it, now that it’s announced and launched and live.
What’s also been cool about this project, personally, is that I just moved to Pittsburgh. Well. By “just,” I now mean a year ago this month. And it was a new city in a decent-sized string of new cities, and yet another in a long series of moves, but it’s the move that finally found me settling in to a place that feels like home. It’s exactly the sort of burgh I’d always hoped I might find, and doing the research for it has helped me learn it in the best way possible. What’s interesting is that I didn’t learn my new home by eating out and exploring–though those were part of the process–but rather mostly by gaining a bigger picture view of the university and the city in the context of history and the world.
So it’s been fascinating. On myriad levels. Hope you enjoy the stories if you check them out. Please do.
Last week, after having enrolled several books in the Kindle Select program and taken advantage of a few free promotions for essays and short stories, I decided to see how my novel, The Prodigal Hour, would fare. And fare well it did, hitting high ranks, breaking into the top-1oo Kindle Bestsellers, and so far, at least, it’s been maintaining more sales than before. You can find it here, for $4.99.
In fact, it went so well Nick Earls and I decided to do something Exciting.
I’ve been thrilled to work so closely with Nick, an internationally bestselling author, and not just on the Kindle store. Nick’s books have hit many lists in more countries. He’s had books published by Saint Martin’s in the US and Random House in Australia and several other houses and publishers besides.
Now he’s partnered with Exciting Press to bring stories, novellas, and novels to Kindle. Today marks a new publication of a story, “Cabin Baggage,” and a new option:
For the first three days of its digital existence, “Cabin Baggage,” will be free. In addition, it includes a free excerpt of Nick’s novel Monica Bloom, which in its turn, and for the next week only, includes a bonus novella, Grass Valley.
And that’s not even all.
I know! A free short story from an international bestseller! For any other publisher, that’d be enough, wouldn’t it?
Exciting Press isn’t any other publisher, is it?
Well. We’re hoping not to be.
Which is why we’re also offering Meets Girl free, also for a limited time.
Two exciting stories. One lower-than-low price.
This Valentine’s Day, make romance Exciting.
I have to be honest with you: I have absolutely no idea how to feel about that.
I’m interested to see what will happen with a novel.
For anyone new (as I’m hoping such a promotion will attract), The Prodigal Hour might well be the world’s only pre-/post-9/11 novel. It’s about time travel and alternate histories and trying to change the world one moment at a time.
For anyone not new who hasn’t yet picked it up, now’s the time. Hope you enjoy it.
I’ve noted several times how much I dislike the phrase “self-publishing,” even going so far as to note there’s no such thing. I’ve spoken often enough (arguably too often?) against corporations and conglomerations and the oft-neglected complexity that has come to color storytelling and writing. I’ve noted that people who call the late-twentieth century business model of publishing and distribution “traditional” are badly misusing the word. I realize, however, I’ve never really talked about what independence means to me, or how I’ve come to it, or why. I thought I would.
It’s an interesting article with a strange, near-defeated tone. It goes out of its way not to lament the current state of affairs that is the bookselling business and the late-twentieth century distribution model of the corporate publishing industry, but it holds an undercurrent of resignation from paragraph to paragraph, as if its author isn’t quite certain whom she is trying to convince but knows she can convince herself least of all. It portrays Barnes & Noble as a compelling candidate for its own adjective: an honorable enterprise begun by one man selling used books in a great city that grew humbly until the late-1970s, when a young entrepreneur bought it and fueled growth and revenue.
It doesn’t mention the scores of independent bookstores that collapsed based on Barnes & Noble’s discount practices and corporate publishers support of them. It doesn’t mention the once-quaint shops who shuttered their windows because selling a book for list price could no longer attract foot traffic from anyone but the most dedicated of shop patrons; most readers were happy to spend the money the saved buying inexpensive hardcovers on coffee or cheap tchotchkes like bookmarks or novelty pens or sparkling journals. It doesn’t mention predators and their prey, and the collateral damage experienced by those caught between the two.
The other day, Inside the Outside author Martin Lastrapes asked me about Kindle Select (or Kindle Direct Publishing Select, or KDP Select, depending on the day and who’s typing, it seems). I’m now several weeks committed to being a Kindle-exclusive author, and I thought I’d share some of my experiences.
End of the year means time for lists. I’ve seen lots of book lists over the past few weeks, but they’ve hewed to conservative choices like the new Stephen King time-travel novel or Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. I’ll be honest: I tried both before I got distracted (Kindle’s make it easy to get distracted by another book. Just a few pages that don’t grab and suddenly button-click I’m back to my home library with all those other books I wanted to read . . .).
I’ve also seen lots of discussion about the top-selling indie (or “self-published”) books of 2011. Notable: two of the top ten bestselling books at Amazon this past year were independent novels (and fine books to boot).
But I haven’t seen any lists of terrific independent novels–and by independent, I mean what people with corporations would call “self-published.” And I thought, hey, I’ve read some great independent novels this year. Why not talk about them? Of course, I probably should be less declarative and more accommodating and title this something more generic like “My Favorite Indie Reads of 2011,” but none of the other lists I’ve seen have done so, so I figure why not?
I don’t really think in lists, so I’m not going to make one, but here are some independent books I thought highly of. A caveat: through social networking, I’ve “met” a lot of the authors on this list, as we run in the same circles, but they’re not here just because I follow them on Twitter. I follow them on Twitter because they’re here.
Lately, there’s been a price trick among independent authors using Smashwords and Amazon: if one made one’s ebook available to Smashwords’ distributors (like B&N and Kobo and Apple) free, Amazon might match that free price. It was the only way to offer a book for free at all, at least for independent authors.
This is no longer the case, and one of the reasons I went Amazon exclusive. In exchange for making my books exclusive to the Kindle platform, I also gained access to the ability to initiate promotions and could make my books free for five days out of every 90.
I did so this past weekend, over Christmas. Hoping to attract a few of all the new readers unwrapping and firing up their shiny new Kindles.
I think it worked.
After careful consideration, I’ve removed my collection from Smashwords and enrolled all my books in Amazon’s new KDP Select program. I did it for both professional and moral reasons that disagree with most everything else people say about Amazon, so I thought I’d tell you about why, but first I wanted to mention that one benefit of doing so means that, for a very limited time (until December 27th, in fact, so just five days including today), all my short stories, essays, and collections will be available free.
Totally free. No catch. No caveat. You don’t have to be a Prime member.
Now. Why am I going Amazon exclusive (if only for 90 days at a shot), when most people in the publishing industry are decrying the evil of the Seattle corporation–even though that’s kind of ironic, given that pretty much everyone who’s called them an evil corporation is either a corporation or deeply associated with one (or many)?
Because I don’t see them as evil. I’m a reader, first–I write because some of the books I want to read haven’t been written yet–and Amazon has done more for me as a reader than anyone else ever. It’s also done more for me as a writer than anyone save my editrix.
But let’s talk about Amazon. And evil. And corporations.
I’ve been sitting on some news for a while, but now that some books are up and things are moving forward, I feel more comfortable making a formal announcement: I’ve officially founded Exciting Press, a new independent digital publisher, and as director have signed bestselling author Nick Earls to a major digital distribution deal.
For a lot of years, I was pursuing what’s now called a “traditional book deal.” I wanted an advance and book tours. It was always my dream.
And I mention that because this feels like my dream come true even though it sort of isn’t. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this venture, and how deeply honored and humbled I am to be working with Nick, who is both a truly accomplished author and a truly cool guy. His agent, Pippa Masson of Curtis Brown Australia, has also been terrific to work with.
So what does it mean to found a press?
A new website for one. There will be more to come on the site.
For now, being a small start-up, I’m working to focus on Nick’s work–which at this point includes more than a dozen books. Our plan is to release them over the spring and summer of 2012, but we’ve also managed to publish a few in time for the holiday.
We’re going to work to make it all easily accessible; for now, the best way to find the work is to search for “Nick Earls” in the Kindle store. But a couple of stories might get you started:
Over the past few weeks, I’ve encountered several essays in which authors have enumerated reasons not to “self-publish.” I think that their use of the phrase implies some prejudice already–no lesser a source than Hachette (one of the big 6 publishers) notes in a leaked document that “Self-publishing is a misnomer.” When one major corporation acknowledges the phrase is misleading, another is tries to pawn off vanity services as “assisted self-publishing,” and more writers are discussing all the reasons not to do it, one possible implication is that it has become more viable.
That’s because it has.
Which means the big question is whether or not you should do it.
Just received an email that Amazon has made a special KDP Select option available on its Kindle Direct Publishing platform, which what many authors–including me–use to publish our work for Kindle. Which is awesome. I know a lot of corporate publishers, literary agents, retailers, and authors are wary of Amazon, its continued growth, and its possible dominance, but for many of us–again, myself included–it’s been uniquely empowering.
The new Select option is interesting; authors who agree to digital exclusivity with Amazon can both make their books available as part of Kindle’s new Lending Library and take advantage of free promotions.
I decided to try it out to see what I could see. I went ahead and enrolled “Jamais Plus: Explorations in the Curious Case of the Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”, while at the same time increasing its “normal” price to non-promotional level (and taking advantage of that free promotion). “Jamais Plus” is a choose-your-own-adventure noir, a twisting-winding throwback to the adventure novels so many of us grew up on, in which C. Auguste Dupin investigates the death of the man who made him an infamous detective. It required substantial and specialized coding to make it work on Kindle, and it’s sort of even more a reading experience than a story.
I am halfway to 34, and this coming December 24th will be my 34th Christmas Eve, which is how I measure Christmases. For me, Christmas has never been so much about lists and presents and trees as it has been about making those lists and anticipating those presents underneath that tree. Which means that, for me, the essence of Christmas is the breathless hope of wishing on the brightest star in the sky and believing it might come true. That singular moment of potential.
Christmas Eve occurs before the fire at my parents’ house, surrounded by my mother’s sister and her family, as well as any friends who happen to wassail their ways to our home. It’s full of egg nog and sugar cookies and chances are there’s enough nog it gets blurrier as the evening continues in fits of discarded wrapping paper and torn asunder envelopes, but one thing stands out. One thing always stands out.
Titles seem to be one of the elements of writing writers fret over most, and justifiably so. Chances are, titles are the first thing readers see, so they take on a lot of importance. Under ideal circumstances, they somehow carry the whole theme and story all in a quick phrase. My favorites include Needful Things, American Gods, Peace Like a River, and The Silence of the Lambs. All are not just effective but evocative; Stephen King’s Needful Things, in fact, begins with a character discussing the name of the new shop in town, which happens to be Needful Things–”What do you suppose something like that means? Why, a store like that might carry anything. Anything at all.”
And indeed it does. It’s where you can buy anything your heart desires–or at least the fantasy of it. For a price.
Knowing how important a title can be, I always fret over them. Which was why I was relieved when The Prodigal Hour finally came to me.
So what might a writer learn from Locke? You’ve written a “good enough” novel–whatever you’ve decided that means. Maybe you just finished it for NaNoWriMo (and in which case, congratulations!).
Maybe you’re an experienced indie author still frustrated when you see other authors selling crazy amounts of books while sales of yours trickle in.
Maybe you’re an author who got a corporate deal–advance and all!–but your publisher never really got around to marketing you. Maybe you signed with Simon & Schuster, and they’re too busy with uploading and then deleting Snooki YouTube videos.
In discussing Locke and How I Sold (as well as Hocking and Eisler et al.), I think one huge caveat that must be enumerated, and can’t be mentioned often enough, is that: there is no magic bullet. What’s worked for one writer might not–and probably will not–work for others.
I’m sure someone could make the argument that people don’t discuss that bit because it’s understood, but I don’t buy that.
In Malcolm Gladwells’ book “The Tipping Point,” Gladwell discusses myriad companies whose products tipped the industries they were in, changing them around them in such a way as to not simply be successful but even rewrite a paradigm. During the past several years, several different events have increasingly tipped publishing from being a business based on print and bookstores to transforming into one based on digital readers and online retailers; Amazon’s Kindle, which debuted in 2007, was a first step in a march of tipping points that has progressed inexorably since then.
Amazon’s announcement that independent author John Locke had sold a million Kindle downloads might have been the first real tip of independent publishing from a specific designator used in a specific way toward a more general appellation embraced by myriad creators operating outside of so-called “traditional” systems.
Over the weekend, I read Locke’s “How I Sold a Million Ebooks in Five Months!” The exclamation point is his (he has a propensity toward the punctuation. I don’t think a single page didn’t contain at least one). As I read his recounting of his experiences, I started to wonder how authors might use the knowledge, but I also started to wonder if the fact that Locke exists in the first place might be even more important than his techniques and books.
I never do anything today. Black Friday keeps me safely home, away from bargain-seeking crowds in the retail jungle.
Still, who doesn’t like a good deal, right?
This includes the essays and short stories, of course, “Jamais Plus” and “Struck by the Light of the Son,” and “Blues’n How to Play’em.”
But it also includes both:
Both of which have been consistently well received and so far well reviewed.
So if you’re looking for some Exciting books to give to people you love, filling up their digital readers or sending them a gift for their phone they can read during their morning commute, they make for a perfect gift. And just 99 cents for a very limited time only.
A long time ago, I dated (briefly) a girl whom I took out on the night before Thanksgiving. We went out with mutual friends to a bar, and we danced and drank and were young. At the end of the evening, I drove her home, and I kissed her goodnight. It was our first kiss, and I remember that cold November evening, the crunch of snow and crackle of ice, the sharp dark air full of possibility. I remember the feel of her lips against mine, the feel of her hair in my fingers, the skin of her cheek under my fingertips.
A brief kiss, as the universe goes. A defiant flicker in the darkness.
She told me, later, long after I’d turned and trudged back to my car and started it and driven home, that she’d melted against the door. Just like in the movies.
I’m grateful for that moment.
Funding has often been one of the most difficult elements of any artistic endeavor. Guys like Shakespeare and Marlowe got patrons, rich blokes who basically gave them a bunch of cash to write for them. Lots of authors nowadays hope to get funding from big corporations, as advances against the potential that the books they write might sell enough copies to turn a profit.
Now, there’s Kickstarter, which is a website that makes crowdfunding possible. Very interesting.
All the “versus” debates floating around recently have made me think about debates in the first place. Binary thinking.
Conceptual versus linear thinking. Which, of course, one could argue is just as binary.
Interesting: as I discussed words and their meanings and how the ways they influence ideas (good and bad), a development:
Giant corporate publisher Penguin announced “self-publishing services” through their Book Country site.
And yes, those words are in quotation marks because that is not what is meant. At all.
Last week, I caught a post by Angela Perry, in which she mentions she’s considering “self-publishing” but ultimately moves on to discuss writers and tone. I honestly think that tone is at the heart of why people think a “debate” exists, and why there are two sides to it. Some of the rhetoric recently used has been hyperbolic and not-so-helpful, but I’ll be honest: I can, in ways, see why it’s been used. Why some loud, brash independent authors have resorted to using somewhat shocking language.
Publishing never used to be so divided, but then, it was never really so conglomerated, either.
As Amazon takes on more roles and responsibilities in the book world, many wonder if that’s a great thing. I remember back when Amazon sold only books, before it was the retail powerhouse it has become, the online equivalent of big-box stores. Now, it’s refocused on books, first with Kindle and then with publishing-related endeavors, setting up imprints as it has become both retailer and publisher in some cases.
Lots of smaller, independent bookstores–by which one means bookstores that are privately held, and not part of a chain, which means anyone besides Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, basically–don’t like this. They see Amazon as they saw Barnes & Noble when it was first beginning. The big boy on the block who set up shop next door and ultimately drove them out of business.
As a reader, it saddens me. As guy with a business degree, it makes me wonder.
When I first heard about the Occupy Movement (which has now spread far beyond Wall Street), I was intrigued because I felt like I identified with the frustration behind it. I wasn’t sure what it stood for or wanted (and still, in ways, am not), but I was glad someone was acknowledging rampant injustice.
I still am, but I’m realizing everything’s a little more complicated than that.
Print versus digital. “Self-publishing” versus “traditional publishing.” “Plotters” versus “pantsers.”
Everything in publishing seems so binary lately and has a “debate,” and it’s starting to drive me crazy.
Tying the knot isn’t the only big change I’m making in my life. But, then, my life has been one enormous change after another for the past five or so years, so I guess it’s not really altogether new.
But man is it exciting.
Yesterday, I caught Chuck Wending’s post over at his Terrible Minds site, “Writers Are the 99%.” Interesting post about the marginalization of writers in industry and culture.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, and especially with regard to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
I often note that I realized I was a writer after I finished Stephen King’s Needful Things, and while that’s not untrue, it neglects all the other elements and stories and media that played a role and influenced me as a storyteller. Stuff like Where the Wild Things Are and The Hardy Boys. Don’t forget Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and Quantum Leap, and that’s not even mentioning Infocom games.
And that’s what Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is all about, and it’s brilliant.
A year ago today, I began to serialize Meets Girl, then published it in paperback and on Kindle over the Thanksgiving holiday, three weeks into its serialization. I refrained from writing about it for a couple of reasons, the most major being that I didn’t want to spoil anything for anyone. However, given that a year–give or take–has passed, I feel the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired.
So I thought I’d take a moment to write about it. If you haven’t read it yet, pick it up here, for Kindle or in paperback, and come back.
If you have, more after the jump.
The other day, amusingly obscene penmonkey Chuck Wendig posted a prompt about Terrible Minds nicknames to Google+. His note at the time was that one’s first name was the object immediately to one’s right, while one’s surname was one’s greatest fear.
Which is where the title of this post comes from, as mine was Remote Control Mediocrity.
Because it got me thinking about success and how we define it. Years ago, I thought six-figure (or any-figure) book contracts were required for validation, because I thought for sure that if one wrote a “good enough” book–meaning a book that is technically competent in all ways–one could get an agent and attract a corporate publisher like Random House.
There are lots of ways to share a book and, in doing so, improve as a writer. Not all those ways are created equal, and some work better than others.
I’m pretty sure there are various websites that basically serve as online writing workshops, and I’m nearly certain that part of Richard Nash’s Red Lemonade has some of that functionality, wherein writers post chapters and stories and the best rise to the top. I’ve participated in both writing groups and online writing workshops in the past, and they all share one thing in common: all are best with a smaller amount of material, and honestly most effective for short stories.
The other day I mentioned you have to decide for yourself what “good enough” means to you. I want to elaborate.
I opened this “Add New Post” page with the intention of noting that I don’t mean it’s okay to be mediocre.
But then I got to thinking, “What’s mediocre?” Just like we wonder “What’s ‘good enough’?”
Lately, I’ve noticed an uptick in the numbers of writers (and agents) discussing when it’s time to give up on a book. Not in the sense of beginning to write a story and then realizing, at some point, that the meat of it isn’t there and it’s not meant to be a novel, but rather in the moment when it’s time to look at the finished product of a novel, acknowledge it’s not good enough, and move on. Such moments inevitably come after a long, slow process of submission and rejection. Sometimes the thought seems to be that if enough literary agents pass on a novel, it must not be good enough for publication and is better off trunked or drawered, ignored but never quite forgotten, dismissed but never quite put out of mind.
Other times, the time to shelve or drawer or trash or bury a book comes later, after an agent has already accepted a project for representation and taken it out on submission to editors, all of whom read the book but scratch their heads because they can’t figure out how to sell it or don’t have room in their lists to do so.
I don’t think you should ever give up on a story just because someone else doesn’t get it, and between the condescension of agents purporting to know when to start a novel and the outright masochism of writers kowtowing to business and commerce and market and all the other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with either writing a good book or telling a good story, I’m just not sure which is worse.
Should you give up on a story? I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you how to make that difficult choice. I know. I’ve done it before.
When I was a child, one of my favorite things to read–besides the Hardy Boys series–was Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels. Mostly, now, I remember their covers, with their white backgrounds, colorful graphics, and red highlights, as well as the note included in the front of every one of them I can remember: that the books weren’t meant to be read like regular books.
If you don’t remember the novels, or if you’ve never seen them, basically, each had a particular premise–pirates, or a mysterious island, or a haunted house, or . . . whatever, really. There were aliens and space travel and underwater adventures and treasure hunting. And each book started out with you–because the books were written in the rare second-person perspective–getting acquainted with the set-up and the setting. After a few pages, you’d encounter your first choice. Sometimes there were two or even three choices for each particular decision, and each one would ask you to flip to a certain page of the book to continue with the story.
I loved them, but it didn’t take long to grow out of them. I was always fairly ahead of the curve, reading-wise (I read Needful Things in sixth grade), and as I remember the novels, they were skewed more toward middle-grade readers, which I was doing fairly well by second grade or so. I remember another book, too, that seemed more advanced, and just now some quick research leads me to Mystery of Atlantis, which is apparently the eighth installment of the Time Machine series. Seeing that cover . . . that book is on the shelves in my parents’ basement, along with my old Star Wars figures and Construx. From Wikipedia:
The main difference between the Choose Your Own Adventure series and the Time Machine series was that Time Machine books featured only one ending, forcing the reader to try many different choices until they discovered it. Also, the series taught children basic history about many diverse subjects, from dinosaurs to World War II. Only the sixth book in the series, The Rings of Saturn, departed from actual history; it is set in the future, and features educational content about the solar system. Some books gave the reader their choice from a small list of equipment at the beginning, and this choice would affect events later in the book (e.g. “If you brought the pen knife, turn to page 52, if not turn to page 45.”). Another main difference between the Time Machine novels and the Choose Your Own Adventure counterparts was hints offered at certain junctures, where the reader was advised to look at hints at the back of the book. An example was in Mission to World War II about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, where the reader was given the choice of starting the mission in the Jewish ghetto or the Aryan part of Warsaw, in which the hint read “Hitler may have had Jewish family members”, suggesting the reader should begin in the Jewish section of the city, but not ordering it, or it was possible for the hint to be missed.
I think maybe that’s why I remember that particular book as more advanced, but it’s also worth pointing out just how much things can influence you without your awareness. Meets Girl may be semi-autobiographical, but The Prodigal Hour is who I am.
But I digress.
My first was: shiny!
My second was: wow. I was so right.
I’m really pleased I nailed the pricing ($79 and $199, specifically). I had the feeling we’d see sub-$100 by year’s end, and I’d hoped it’d be sub-$80, because this paves the way for the continuing digital revolution. I think we’re going to look back and notice that the thing that finally made e-reading totally mainstream was the $70 Kindle. At that price, it’s nearly impossible to pass on it (and consider that by next summer, we’re probably looking at a sub-$50 Kindle).
Between a $79 Kindle and Apple’s iPad, this could well be the conquering moment for digital publishing. The death blow.
Can the big six maintain business-as-usual anymore? Heck, what is business as usual?
Everything we’ve previously reported on the hardware remains the same. It will be a 7-inch backlit display tablet that looks similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook. Gdgt’s Ryan Block was able to dig up a bit more about the connection. Apparently, the Kindle Fire looks like a PlayBook because it was designed and built by the same original design manufacturer (ODM), Quanta. Even though Amazon has their own team dedicated to Kindle design and development, Lab 126, they wanted to get the Fire out there in time for this holiday season so they outsourced most of it as a shortcut.
I get the feeling there’s more going on here.
Because at that gdgt link, Ryan Block notes:
Amazon’s own Kindle group (called Lab 126) apparently opted not to take on the project, in favor of continuing to work solely on next-gen E-Ink-based devices.
Me, I’m wondering if this new “Fire” isn’t a separate product. If I were Amazon, I think that’s what I might do; develop a media tablet separate from my e-reader, because the e-reader and tablet markets overlap but are, ultimately, disparate.
Then again, if I were Amazon, there are a lot of things I’d be doing.
After debuting at $2.99 and having a 99-cent pre-/post-9/11 sale, The Prodigal Hour is now on sale for $4.99 at Amazon.
Now that Kindle’s Direct Publishing platform has allowed so many authors to bypass both literary agents and corporations’ acquisitions editors in favor of connecting directly with readers, many conventions long simply rotely accepted are being questioned.
One is pricing.
In a corporate-type situation, it’s not difficult to determine pricing. Probably due to a confluence of complicated factors too boring to really contemplate, we all know about how much a trade paperback costs: usually between $12.99 and $14.99, right? I think that’s about the upper limit. Hardcovers are, what, $27-ish? Maybe $30?
(Which prompts a question: who pays full price for a hardcover? Don’t all hardcovers [and most trade paperbacks, nowadays] come with some discount or other? Back when I was a proud carrier of a Barnes & Noble card Members Receive An Extra 10% Off books already discounted by 30% or more.)
The very first essay I wrote at USC was called “What I Saw That Day (9/11/01).” It was an essay I’d been trying to write successfully for several years but never pulled off, and I thought bringing it to my first non-fiction class and submitting it for workshopping would help to improve it.
And I was right. Thanks to Madelyn Cain-Inglese and my classmates, I finally felt as though I’d written something worthy. I think that’s the only way I can describe it. So much has been (and continues to be) written about that day, and my feeling’s always been that if I don’t have something to contribute I’d rather leave the discussion to others.
“What I Saw That Day (9/11/01)” was something I wanted to contribute to the collective cultural memory.
I wrote “The Come Back” the first time I visited New York after writing that essay to my own satisfaction.
In May, when I heard the news that American Special Forces had killed Osama Bin Laden, I started a new essay. I started it with the intention of posting it here, but it ultimately became something rather more. It became something of a discussion of how my life had changed after September 11th.
And as it did, I thought it would be fitting to create a new book for Kindle. Something specifically honoring and chronicling that day and discussing my experiences and memories of it.
When I first published Entrekin, I dedicated a portion of its proceeds to charities, including the United Way and the Red Cross. I’m doing the same with this new collection.
All Our Yesterdays
“It is utterly beyond our power to measure the changes of things by time. Quite the contrary, time is an abstraction at which we arrive by means of the changes of things.”
“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change those I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
-Traditional Gaelic prayer
“The sole purpose of history is to be rewritten.”
-Oscar Wilde in “The Decay of Lying”
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession, a duty.”
-John D. Rockefeller
Every hair on Chance’s body had tensed as if it planned to jump from its follicle, and goosebumps singed up his back and around his arms and legs. Even his lips tingled.
The lightning blazed the sky around it electrostatic blue-white, which faded first to purple, then indigo, and then finally into darkness. Raindrops like crystal pebbles filled the air, and a giant smoke cloud, highlighted by orange flame, smudged the night where Chance’s house had been.
Hanley, Geisel, and Nazor all stood paused in the street like mannequins, pointing their guns at each like characters in comic-book panels, their faces stunned, angry. A tiny burst of white clung to the muzzle of Hanley’s gun, and a thin curlicue of smoke like a prehensile tail trailed upwards from it without ever moving at all.
Chance took everything in without ever moving his head. His gut had clenched, his hands bunched into frightened fists, and his whole body had locked up tight, not like it couldn’t move but rather like he was too petrified.
“What’d you do?” he whispered. He barely moved his lips when he did so, and he didn’t turn his head to look at her.
When she spoke, her voice shook between awed, desperate, defensive, and apologetic. “I had to. Everything you said would happen was—I needed to think.”
“So what, you paused time?” His attention focused on the millions of frozen raindrops, each like a glass bead. “Can we move? Is it safe?”
We discuss some thoughts about indie versus so-called “self-publishing,” but we also chat about writing advice, motivations, and beverage of choice.
Check it out.
Also, I’d be remiss not to mention Chuck’s Irregular Creatures, a short story collection. He’s got two collections of writing advice worth checking out, as well.
Things in the story are heating up while at the same time standing utterly still. Cassie just started up the time machine. Meanwhile, at CIRTN, Leonard and Race watched the September 11th terrorist attacks occur.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that the next installment, Chapter 11, begins our second act, which is about as it should be; while a first act is about set-up, the second act is complication (and the third is resolution). I feel like there’s an ‘-ion’ word for the first act, but for the moment it eludes me.
I’m not sure I’ve mentioned I intend to post the first twenty or so chapters here, on this site, and only those chapters, which bring the novel up to the midpoint of the second act.
So we’re about halfway there.
And here we are, at the end of summer, autumn in the near-distance already making her presence known. The air here in Pittsburgh is turning more mild. There’s a lot of autumn in The Prodigal Hour; it is–at least partly–set on October 31st, 2001. Only “at least partly” because, of course, it’s also set–
Well. Spoilers, as River Song would tell the Doctor.
But it’s worth noting that when I say The Prodigal Hour is a pre-/post-9/11 novel, I don’t just mean that it begins both afterward and in Elizabethan England. I mean “pre-/post-9/11″ in a very literal way, as we discovered last installment, when Leonard requested to travel to September 10th, 2001.
One of the major reasons I chose to publish The Prodigal Hour independently was that I wanted it to be available right now, so close to the tenth anniversary of that day. For me, personally, that felt important. Probably because of my experiences that day. I’m not sure, to be candid.
I’m also not sure, precisely, why it feels right to offer the novel on sale for the next two weeks, but it does. So I’m going to. For a limited time–probably the next two weeks–you can pick up The Prodigal Hour for just 99 cents on Kindle.
I mentioned the primary reason Inside the Outside came to my attention was that its author, Martin Lastrapes, contacted me personally after I commented on a post he wrote. His contact came at a serendipitous moment; I’ve never really run interviews with authors before, but I’ve been corresponding with pen monkey extraordinaire Chuck Wendig, who offered me an interview spot on his site to help with promoting The Prodigal Hour. In addition to writing a ridiculous amount of material and posting every day to his site, Chuck is also a new father, which is to say I sent him answers to the questions he posed but it’ll probably be a couple more weeks yet before he runs it.
Point being, given that Chuck’s generosity, when Martin emailed me, I decided to pay it forward. I downloaded his book and agreed to take part in his web tour. So without further ado, an exciting interview with Martin Lastrapes:
A couple weeks ago, I caught this article, “A Self-Publisher’s Manifesto,” by Martin Lastrapes and posted to the Self-Publishing Review. I thought it was a fairly good post, with a cogent argument presented, in which Lastrapes discussed the perceived “stigma” associated with so-called “self-publishing,” and made this claim:
So if the readers aren’t holding onto this stigma, then where exactly is it coming from? Unfortunately, the answer is it’s coming from the writers themselves.
Now, I disagreed, there; I remain of the mindset that the “stigma” associated with independent publishing is propagated mainly by the people who argue that independent publishing shouldn’t be called that, because IT’S DIFFERENT AND YOU ARE IGNORANT. Generally, the people who do so are agents and editors, or at the very least people who have some bias toward the late twentieth century distribution model as a result of being tied to it. I’ve also seen it from authors who have signed with corporate publishers after first finding some success via independence. MJ Rose, for example, has tweeted that authors should “own self-publishing.”
I think Lastrapes does have a point in that a lot of authors go indie first but yet never give up the hope of that elusive publication contract, that rockstar book tour, that etc. I’ve seen a lot of authors pursue independent publishing as a means to an end, rather than as an end itself; that is, that many seem to hope that rising up the Kindle charts will attract a corporate publisher.
But before I get off on too much of a tangent, the point of this post; shortly after I commented on Lastrapes’ article, to much the same effect as I elaborated above, he contacted me personally about the possibility of stopping by this site to do an interview.
I’ve never done that before. And I thought, well, okay. Why not? But, I thought, before I do anything, I should read his book. Which was just less than a buck.
So, Borders is closing. Gone. Kaputsky. 399 stores. 10,000 employees.
I feel bad for those employees.
I don’t, in general, feel bad about Borders.
I wish I did.
I grew up with books. My parents read Stephen King. I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been reading. I read enough books that I’m technically never actually between books; there’s always something I’ve started and probably mean to go back to at some point. The library has been my happy place.
But things change.
Geneva, Switzerland. October 31, 2001.
Conseil Internationale pour la Recherche Temporel et Nucleaire
(CIRTN, pronounced ‘certain’).
Hundreds of meters below the Operations Center, Leonard strode across the Schrodinger Chamber at the core of the Large Hadron Collider. Behind him, the Safe looked like a gunmetal cigar resting on its unlit tip, rising twenty feet before its tapered top intersected with the bottom of a down-pointing, porcelain white cone. Because the entire room was brilliant white as a laser-treated smile, its exact dimensions were elusive; its only visible feature besides the semi-cylindrical chamber was a small, dark-glassed screen next to a large door.
Leonard placed his palm on the screen, and a bright blue laser scanned his palm. It sped his fingerprints through CIRTN’s electronic databases before the door next to it whirred open. Leonard stepped through, into a long, white corridor where a man wearing the CIRTN uniform, khaki fatigues and dark shoes, waited.
The man half-raised his arm to salute, but paused at Leonard’s outfit. “Lieutenant Kensington,” he said, with an accent Leonard couldn’t identify.
“At ease,” Leonard said as he strode past.
The man fell into step behind him. “Grand Marshall Atropos asked me to brief you,” he said. “I’m Private Madison—.”
Leonard nodded. “There’s a problem.”
Chance awoke to bumps and shudders, a wailing, backward-rushing cacophony and the furtive rustle of crinkling plastic. Something clung over his nose and mouth, and pain throbbed in his head. His first thought was of his father and the gunman. His first emotion was panic. His first action was to sit up as he reached toward his face, where his fingertips brushed a mask.
Quick movement. A man to his left crouched over him. He wore a crisp, white shirt with a gold-and-black patch and put a latex-gloved hand on Chance’s chest. “Take it easy.”
“My dad.” Chance’s breath fogged the mask. His voice didn’t make it past the plastic.
“We’re taking you to County.”
Chance tried to rise, but the man pressed back against his chest, whispered something about sedation if necessary, and then, when Chance wouldn’t calm down, when Chance couldn’t calm down, made good on the warning. Chance felt a pinch near his elbow, looked down to see a clear plastic syringe with numbers on its side jammed to its hilt into his arm. He didn’t see the man depress the plunger, only felt calm, warm indifference spread like infection through his body before he sank slowly again into the darkness.
Happy Fourth of July!
On July 4th, 1776, the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence, a formal explanation of why it had declared itself independent of Britain on July 2. It was widely distributed and, most historians believe, fully and formally signed nearly a month later, on August 2nd. It is not the key document in the formation of the US; that distinction belongs to the Constitution, which formally founded our government, but it is arguable that the Declaration made the Constitution possible. It was issued near the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, which would last another 7 years.
Independence is a wonderful thing. And it should be celebrated.
There’s a new revolution in independence occurring, this time around in media and culture. The Internet has made possible instantaneous and widespread distribution of information, an unprecedented degree of sharing never before imagined. It’s a glorious thing, and many people are taking terrific advantage of it.
I’m one of those people, but I am not the only one.
This July 4th, I’ve made my novel The Prodigal Hour available on Amazon. It’s the world’s first pre-/post-9/11 novel, and Elizabeth Eslami, author of Bone Worship, called it “A thrilling head rush of a book.”
Again, however, I’m not the only one. This isn’t about sharing one novel. It’s about independence, and it’s about tellers of stories and makers of films and players of songs, all of whom are doing so because they love it and want to share it with the world. So it’s about helping to share those stories and films and songs. It’s about the beginning of a revolutionary new era, and one that can only be made better with support from each other.
So share this. You don’t have to buy anything; this isn’t about money, or destruction, to allude to the Beatles. Just tell your friends. Tell everyone about the most recent indie movie you saw. Tell your family about a new indie novel. Go to a bar and listen to a new indie band.
I’m Will Entrekin, and this is my declaration of independence:
When in the course of telling stories it becomes necessary for one author to eschew pursuing engagement with corporations and to assume among the powers of the word the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Stories and of Written Words entitle him, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind require that he should declare the causes which impel him to that decision.
I hold these truths to be self-evident: that all books are not created equal but deserve an equal chance among readers; that they are written by their creators with certain inalienable hopes; that among these are dreams, passion, and the pursuit of ideas.
I, therefore, but a single author among legion, do independently publish my work.
What’s yours? Feel free to share your work and link in the comments. In addition, I created a Facebook event page; feel free to attend it and share it among your friends.
Southwark, England. 1606.
The first public performance of Shakespeare’s
The Tragedy of Macbeth
The Globe Theater was exactly as Leonard Kensington had expected: an open-air amphitheatre with three levels of gallery seats looming up and over him. Crushed hazelnut shells on the ground didn’t quite mask the body odor of 2,000 people who lived in a society that hadn’t yet discovered underarm deodorant.
Onstage, Richard Burbage, as Macbeth, began the fifth act to conclude the play. “Hang out our banners on the outward walls,” he pointed out over the audience as if he were seeing Inverness, and so the Globe pretended it was a centuries-old castle in Scotland, the river Thames pretended it was Ness. “The cry is still, ‘They come.’ Our castle’s strength will laugh a siege to scorn. Here let them lie till famine and the ague eat them up. Were they not forced with those that should be ours, we might have met them dareful, beard to beard, and beat them backward home.”
The quantum implant in Leonard’s temporal lobe began to buzz. He squeezed his earlobe, quietly cleared his throat, which meant: wait. He looked around at the people standing beside him, all of whom were enthralled by that big man on the stage and his words.
Backstage, and so in the bowels of Castle Inverness, several women screamed. Macbeth turned toward the sound. “What is that noise?”
“It is the cry of women, my good lord,” Will Shakespeare, playing Macbeth’s attendant, Seyton, answered. Shakespeare was a small, pale man with fine features and quick, lively eyes. He hurried offstage to investigate.
The Prodigal Hour, the audacious genre-bending novel by author Will Entrekin, is a Rubik’s cube of delights. Equal parts sci-fi, thriller, coming-of-age, and love story, the novel hurtles readers along protagonist Chance Sowin’s intriguingly unpredictable journey – forward, backward, and inward. A thrilling head rush of a book.
Which . . . well, I can’t really adequately describe what it means to me. I honestly couldn’t have gotten a better one if I’d written it myself. And a big thank you to Elizabeth for both reading and the kind words. I really enjoy her writing, and I liked Bone Worship a lot.
“It is not unknown to me that many have been and still are of the opinion that the affairs of this world are so under the direction of Fortune and of God that man’s prudence cannot control them; in fact that man has no resource against them. For this reason, many think there is no use in sweating much over such matters, but that one might as well let Chance take control.”
-Niccolo Machiavelli, in The Prince
“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute, there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
-T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Chance Sowin hoped only for a new beginning.
Halloween 2001 found Chance driving the narrow streets of the development in which he’d grown up, headed home. Six weeks before, he’d hustled out the main entrance of the World Trade Center only an hour before it fell, taking all that business and life, along with Chance’s temp job at a law firm, down with it.
Chance hadn’t been sure what to do next. His father, Dennis, had suggested he come home. “Take some time,” his father had said. “Sort yourself out. All the time you need.”
Chance had been uncertain about it until he’d realized there was no longer anything keeping him in Manhattan, and familiar sounded good. Familiar sounded just about right. And so he’d packed everything he owned into a compact rental car and taken the Jersey Turnpike south, and now he pulled that car to the curb in front of his childhood home, a long, flat rancher. He squeezed the steering wheel as he took a deep breath, as if to steel himself, though for what he didn’t know, and then he got out of the car and stepped up the curb and was struck by déjà vu like sudden density goose-prickling up his neck: You’ve been here before.
Of course he had: he’d grown up here, after all, played stickball at the foot of the cul-de-sac, even tripped and busted his baby teeth on the very same curb he stepped up, but what crawled his skin was not simple familiarity. It was stronger, stranger, and it made the world seem hyper-intense, the October leaves speckling the lawn more vibrant, the afternoon light more glaring. It persisted as Chance crossed his lawn, until he saw the front door: brief space between the edge of the door and its jamb, wood splintered where the deadbolt had broken. Chance felt two simultaneous emotions collide.
First: uncanny familiarity—of infinite broken doors on infinite splintered days, over and over again—followed then, as lightning by thunder, by cold, brutal fear.
Read the rest of this entry »
Mark Coker’s Smashwords seems, ostensibly, a rather brilliant idea. It’s sort of the ebook equivalent of Amazon’s Author page; whereas Amazon’s page lists all the work an author has available on Amazon in one spot, Smashwords makes available a single title in myriad different digital formats, including the usual ePub and mobi formats (for pretty much all readers and for Kindle, respectively), as well as PDFs (people still read those?), html (for web viewing, I figure, whether by desktop, laptop, or tablet), Microsoft’s Word (er. For people who want to word process it?), and even text (for people who . . . I give up. You can tell me why people want text files).
I like the idea in theory. My job, as I see it, is to both write the story and make it accessible, and accessibility works on several levels. I want to make the story appeal to readers, but I also want it to be available in any way a reader wants. Even if I can’t imagine why a reader wants a certain story available in a certain way.
Nowadays, there are myriad ways for people to read stories. There are no fewer than four different Android tablets available right now, and that’s only Android. There’s also the iPad and now the new HP tablet running WebOS. In terms of ereaders, we’ve got Kindles and nooks, of course, but also Kobo and Sony’s efforts and several other somewhat generic readers all of which have e-ink displays and most of which display ePub files and etc.
So far as I can tell, Smashwords seeks to solve the actually legitimate problem of making one story available for every platform. Maybe that’s the reason for the txt file?
And it’s not a bad solution, by any means.
I should open this post by noting that Lulu made possible many of my achievements as an author, and for that I’m grateful. Back when I first decided I wanted to experiment with publishing and make an actual book people could actually buy, Lulu was the best way to do so. CreateSpace was, of course, another option, then, but from what I gathered from research, Lulu put more of an impetus on the author. Lulu seemed to give me more control. In addition, it was totally and completely free. There was no “pro” option. There were marketing and cover-design plans and offers, but for the most part, I could do absolutely everything myself, without interference.
I could make better mistakes, in other words. And boyhow, did I. But I also did a lot of cool things.
Lulu, for example, made it possible to offer digital singles of my stories, allowing me to implement what I called, back in 2007, the iTunes model of publishing. I priced those stories, to start with, at 99 cents each, with the full collection download priced at $10 for the digital version and $15 for the print.
Without that option, my collection never would have become the first ebook, ever, on the iPhone, just a week after that device was launched, at a time when Steve Jobs was claiming nobody reads books anymore.
I’m still proud of that. I’m still proud of that collection, in fact, because it’s a good snapshot of where I was at the time, both personally and professionally. I think it was Hemingway who said something like, “Fuck ‘em all. Let ‘em think you were born knowing how to write,” and my collection, I think, very much demonstrates that wasn’t the case. It’s very early work. Nascent, if you will.
I’ve discussed earning it, completing the coursework, etc.
One of the most interesting parts of this new job I’ve got (and believe me, there are many. I seriously can’t express how excited I am about this gig) is that I’m working on a special project that in many ways combines everything I’ve ever studied and written and challenges me to take it all up a notch. Writing? Better. Researching? Better. Reading? Better. Brainstorming? Better. Publishing? Better.
It’s totally exhilarating.
And it feels like every day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked a very simple question:
“What’s a story?”
I love this question. It so totally and completely summarizes–at least for me–the entire dilemma of the internet and new publishing and new writing and web 7.6 and social networking and connection and etc.
Used to be, there were such clear delineations.
You write a short story, you sent it off to a magazine. You knew The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Playboy, and Esquire were the most desirable markets, so you sent cold queries to them before you slunk off, rejected, to try out one of those smaller magazines nobody ever heard of that paid you in a copy and the prestige of being published.
You write a novel, you sent it off to agents. Because publishers and editors, of course, wouldn’t accept unagented manuscripts. Mainly because they hoped to use their collegiate, unpaid interns for esoteric tasks unrelated to managing the slush. Agents were okay assigning
You wrote private thoughts in your journal. If you had one. If not, you bored your friends.
The other day, I read, somewhere, about a new publishing technology that will supposedly allow people to use paper as a medium by printing words on what is essentially wood pulp—albeit, wood pulp distilled and refined and repackaged to be more amenable.
Some publishing companies are already courting writers in an attempt to embrace new technology, though not many actually can; it’s an expensive process that, in the long run, simply isn’t as cost-effective as using digital means for distribution. We all know paper pretty well—we carry it in our pockets as currency, use it to facilitate the exchange of goods with others in a way that allows indirect but possibly more objective valuation. It was always so difficult to figure out the price of a well-bred bison compared to that of a hand-hewn chair—nevermind the price of the transmission of data over the air to our electronic devices.
It seems to me, however, that the medium on which we print currency just isn’t suited for long-term narratives.
It should be noted here that the technology we’re discussing isn’t actually new; a couple of centuries ago, a man named Gutenberg tried to do the same thing with what he called a “press.”
It never took off. People liked to watch Shakespeare’s plays—not read them. It’s called “storytelling,” not “storywriting.” Why carry printed pamphlets and paper books when people could talk directly to each other to engage in social exchange?
Which isn’t to say there haven’t been instances that have required the recording of information in such form, but it’s never really taken off, in terms of general public consumption, until very recently, and now especially with adoption from these publishing companies.
(besides time travel)
I thought I’d share the as-it-stands cover copy:
“Chance Sowin hoped only for a new beginning.”
On October 31, 2001, six weeks after escaping the World Trade Center attacks, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary as his father, Dennis, is shot and killed.
What begins as a homicide investigation escalates when the Joint Terrorism Task Force arrrives. Where he hoped for solutions, Chance finds only more questions: who killed his father, and why? Was his father—a physicist at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study—working on dangerous research? Why did Dennis build a secret laboratory in his basement?
Chance might not know the answers, but Cassie Lackesis, Dennis’ research assistant, thinks she does. She isn’t certain that Dennis discovered a way to time travel, but she knows who told her: Chance.
Together with Cassie, Chance will go on a journey across time and space that will challenge his every notion of ideas like “right” and “good.” One young man’s desire to make a difference will become, instead, a race against time as he tries to prevent forces he could never understand from not just destroying the universe but rendering it nonexistent.
When every action has a reaction, every force its counter, Chance will find that the truest measure of his character is not what he wants but what he will do when the prodigal hour returns.”
My aim was concise, elegant, and hook-y. My aim was those people who, inspired by the WTC-Light tribute that is the cover, flipped over the book to scope the back cover.
What do you think? It’s not final, yet, after all. Still a month before it’s available.
Are you excited?
Because if you’re not, you’re gonna be.
In April 2006, I left the corporate world to go back to school. I didn’t know much, only that if I hoped to do what I wanted to do, I needed to be a better writer. For a long time, I had no idea how to go about becoming one. It’s not as though there are standards and qualifications and credentials, sadly. It’s not as though writing is the sort of thing one can study hard enough long enough and pass a test and be appointed one.
It’s not like law or medicine, in other words. It’s not like most things.
Still, I had, then, an inkling. I had a start. I had an idea that felt right, and so I left Jersey and went to USC. I was about to say I left everything I knew to embark on a new journey at the culmination of which–but let’s be honest, that’s overwritten, and I didn’t go to school to learn to overwrite.
Truthfully, I learned one of the best ways to be a better writer is to shut my trap.
USC felt galvanic, the sort of right decision that compels one to forget caution and take a chance. Any chance at all. So I did.
By then I had already joined MySpace, and this gets all wrapped up together, and sometimes I think is why I stop and start at this posting and maintenance thing.
Ah, MySpace. Sometimes I think that MySpace was the worst thing that ever happened to my writing, and it might be, but on the other hand it might simultaneously be the best thing, as well. MySpace is kind of like a zombie movie where so many of us had a dream vacation that went rapidly south because of some virulent outbreak that was caught–in opposition to dramatic theory–just in time, so we all left and quarantined the whole shebang, and now we smile about the memory of all those groups and a few of the bands that flashed there and then got a paragraph’s worth of coverage in Rolling Stone and some putz with a hat while simultaneously expressing relief that whew, thank goodness that’s over.
But boy did I lose sight of writing.
I think, in some ways, I realized it. When I think back, I remember I took a lot of breaks. I’d just check out for a couple weeks. I always have been sporadic when it comes to maintaining the sort of ever-constant vigilance building-a-readership-through-social-networking seems to require.
Yesterday, the Good eReader site broke the news that Amazon was telling publishers that they should start submitting their books in ePub format. Previously, submissions to Amazon were generally in the mobi format, which was a carryover from Mobipocket. This is both great and not so great.
Amazon’s use of mobi (or, more specifically, AZW, which was Amazon’s proprietary version of mobi) was kind of like Apple’s use of AAC for iTunes. There were a couple of different formats vying for widespread adoption (Windows had their Windows Media Audio, WMA, format, for example), and while MP3 was most widely used, there seemed to be some hope that there was room for contest. Nowadays, pretty much everyone uses MP3. The digital reading situation is somewhat analogous, where the format equivalent to the MP3 is, arguably, ePub–every reading device besides Kindle recognizes the format, and most of the other formats are based on it.
If you want to use Barnes & Noble’s Pubit platform, chances are you submit an ePub for best results. The iBookstore is based on the ePub format. Sony Readers display ePub.
So Amazon’s the odd man out. But it’s a rather large man, considering it basically owns the ereader market.
But they’re adopting the ePub format is not the biggest change this week.
About a week ago, I got the final edits of The Prodigal Hour from my editrix. Though her education and training are as an editor, her current job is unrelated, so this most recent round of edits took a little longer than before. I think she turned Meets Girl around in about a week, give or take.
There are reasons unrelated to work that this particular edit took longer.
The Prodigal Hour is her favorite novel. It’s the project I was working on when we met at USC, and I think my first work she ever saw. In a way, that made it as personal a project for her as it always has been for me, and that made her want to be really careful and make it ever better.
Now that I’ve gotten the edits back and finalized a revision, I think she’s right.
Yesterday, just the day after my birthday, I got the copy-edited manuscript of The Prodigal Hour back from my editrix.
She had let me see some of the pages before she’d finished, so I’ve already started the final polish–which is basically what this is. A couple outright grammatical errors–I think every manuscript has a few, and Gaiman’s law, of course, states that the first time you open your newly published novel you will do so to the page that contains the most egregious type–but otherwise it’s a fairly clean edit.
Makes sense, of course.
The Prodigal Hour was originally called A Different Tomorrow, and then All Our Yesterdays (which is referenced in Meets Girl) before I went to LA and USC and the title finally came to me. Up until then, I’d been working on a draft of it for several years, but it was only when I got into workshops and began adapting the novel into a screenplay that I really started to make headway on it and improve it.
Kersh helped me reduce the technical gobbledygook, which can become a problem when one is dealing with time travel and attempting to be, if not scientific, at least credible about it. My adviser, Sid Stebel, helped me figure out structure and beats and really carry it off, hewing closely to genre while at the same time allowing breathing room beyond it. It’s always tough when a project outright refuses a simple genre and starts crossing them and uncrossing them and meeting them back around again.
So this week, I’ll be revising, and then I’ll code the book for Kindle for proofreading.
And advanced copies.
Stay tuned for some news on that, and details on how you can get your very own Kindle copy of The Prodigal Hour weeks ahead of its release date.
This weekend, I turn 33 (seriously? 33? When did this happen?). Well. I have a lot of things planned this weekend, including a luncheon tomorrow and a Walk for the Cure on Sunday and various parties and destinations between, so I’m trying to figure out where I’ll pencil in the “Turn 33″ part, but I’m hoping to get to it.
Maybe next weekend.
This past week, I completed my MBA. I got the “Congratulations graduate!” email yesterday, and today found that my final grades had been posted. After acing this past semester, and solidly, I pulled my GPA up to a respectable 3.769. Not bad for a guy with a background in literature and science.
If you’d asked me, when I packed up my car to drive to Los Angeles for USC, where I saw myself in five years, I don’t think completing an MBA in Pittsburgh would have occurred to me, but then again, I never would have predicted much of the past decade.
So in celebration of completing my MBA, and probably turning 33 if I can get around to it, and everything else that’s been going on, I thought I’d have a big Exciting Writing sale. May has always been my favorite month, because finally it’s actually spring, now boubt adout it as my pop used to say, and flowers are in bloom and the world’s turning green again and pretty soon it’s going to be summer and that means bikinis and reading.
Two of my favorite things ever.
So you’ve got a novel, a collection, two short stories, and a long essay concerning literature and poetry and medical education to choose from. Heck, get it all for less than five bucks, and you’ll have enough reading material to last you a month or two.
At which time, The Prodigal Hour will be available.
Pretty cool how that’s gonna work, right?
I’m still unsure how much I want to talk about Meets Girl. I’m still unsure how much I want to talk about a lot of things, honestly. I read an article last year-ish, I think in either The Atlantic or Harper’s, in which the author discussed the temptation to write a book on writing. Apparently, books on writing sell tons of copies. It makes sense; I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t think he or she had a book–whether novel or memoir–in them.
I guess, for me, it comes down to a dilemma. I think, for a long time, I thought one should let the work speak for itself, but I wonder if that’s outmoded in a world of social networking, where everyone is not only a writer but a publisher, too.
And, of course, where everyone seems to have a position on how to write. Or how to market. Or how to fill-in-the-blank.
I guess maybe one aims at maintaining a balance. Here’s what I did, and here’s how I did it. Or something like that.
I’ve also always been the sort of writer who believes that the author’s role is finished once a reader opens the book. Up until that moment, the book itself is a vision of the author, but the moment a reader sees that first word, it becomes a mutual vision, and sometimes I wonder, when considering that mutual vision, how much authority an author has in it. When readers pick up, say, symbolism in Meets Girl, who am I to say that there isn’t any?
When writing, does an author really get to say whether a cigar is really just a cigar if readers think there’s more to the cigar than the cigar? Perhaps an author has intention, but if an author doesn’t fulfill that intention, well, the novel mightn’t either, right?
Yeah. You can tell I’m a writer because this is the shit I think about.
Last week, Meets Girl got a review from Nicole Ireland of The Evolution of Nikki, who called it “beautifully written” (aw, shucks).
This week, Nikki did an interview with me, which you can read here.
Gave me a chance to talk a little more about Meets Girl (and note that I think of it as The Colbert Report of debut literary novels, which I intend to elaborate on). Also, some more on The Prodigal Hour.
Which has been with my editrix for a few weeks now. I’ve put in a few of the revisions already, and I think it’s already gotten to be a better book (and I already, obviously, thought it was good).
I’m hoping to be finished all the revisions this week.
In other news, I think all the coursework for my MBA is finished. I have an email in to my most recent instructor. Just waiting for confirmation, I think.
More news to come.
They are both encouraging and daunting.
I think the most important trend is the simplest:
For the year to date (January/February 2011 vs January/February 2010), which encompasses this heavy post-holiday buying period, e-Books grew 169.4% to $164.1M while the combined categories of print books fell 24.8% to $441.7M.
Yesterday I posted about going to a going-out-of-business Borders, and included some thoughts about the future of the publishing industry. Which, I think, is very much up for grabs.
One thing I keep reading is people proclaiming that publishing is a business. It’s one of the first reasons people cite when corporate houses bestow ridiculous advances on unproven writers who have good otherwise platforms–by “otherwise platforms,” I mean they’re reality show stars, or actors, or political candidates. The overarching idea seems to be that publishers can use those platforms to make those unproven writers successful authors, and there are varying degrees of success achieved.
It is, however, a false assumption, on several levels, not least of which is that initial one of publishing as a business.
Because, you see, publishing is not, actually, a business.
Yesterday, I went to a 70%-OFF-WE’RE-CLOSING-GET-DEAD-TREES-NOW Borders location. It was big bold letters on Day-Glo yellow and Blood-Spatter red, empty shelves and fixture sales.
You know you’re in trouble when you have to sell the shelves as well as the books.
The books were all shelved like authors would ideally hope: each book with its own spot, title and author proudly (?) displayed. Islands of misfit books, the remnants and remainders and left-behinds. Three sections of romance bleeding over into science fiction and fantasy (which, let’s be honest, isn’t far from the truth sometimes). Lots of young adult, following previous publishing trends, and lots of titles and authors that make me feel a little less bad for Borders in the first place because it makes me think that when they’re publishing that, they’re asking for it: Twilight, Going Rogue, Glenn Beck.
And even despite the 70% off, even despite new titles steeply discounted, I browsed and, when I saw something interesting, thought, yeah, I’d pay seven bucks for this hardcover, or I could go home, pay the same-ish, and have it on my Kindle.
Let’s spoil this early: if I’d ever managed to put together a ten-best books of last decade list, this novel would have been on it. It’s just that good. I’ve read it several times, and every time, it devastates me in the best possible way. It is one of my very favorite novels.
Earls is Australian, and this was published several years ago–2002, so far as I can see by Amazon, but that may just be the American publication. I’m not sure.
I read this back when . . . what are we calling this sort of lit now? Used to be, when this sort of book was written by women about women for women, it was often called “chick lit,” a term I’m pretty sure I still see with somewhat regular frequency but am also pretty sure has fallen well out of fashion. When this sort of book was written by men about men for–men? . . . there I’ve heard it called several things, including but not limited to “dick lit” and “lad lit.”
Basically, if you think of Rob Gordon and John Cusack in High Fidelity (which might have been another book on that ten best list, except it might have been out before 2000), you get some idea of the sort of book this is.
Except it’s not.
You’ve known it’s coming.
I hope you’ve prepared.
I just went over the proof myself, and just handed it to my editrix, who’s informed me she’s attacked it with her red pen.
This summer, I’ll be releasing it to you.
I plan on a similar schedule as with Meets Girl, with some differences, the most notable being that The Prodigal Hour is a vastly different book with a vastly different structure, and I intend to post through to the end of the second act. That’ll be 30 chapters.
You won’t have to wait for each one, though.
I’m aiming to make it available in time for July 4th weekend. The Prodigal Hour has always been my huge, mainstream, uber-commercial, blockbuster of a time-travel novel, and with that in mind, at what better time to make it available than over a big summer weekend?
And for an independent author like myself, what better big summer weekend to do so than the one that celebrates independence?
To celebrate, I’m releasing the first teaser today:
First, it’s completely coincidental that my most recent review before this one was of Austin’s brother’s novel The Magicians. Truthfully, I read them several months apart, and it really doesn’t matter, anyway, because they’re so different.
I’ve read a few superhero novels lately. Superpowers disappointed; it started well, but then it failed to really come together, or even have much in the way of a plot. My friend Aaron Dietz recently published a sort-of novel called Super, which I call a “sort-of” novel because it’s not one in the sense of having a linear narrative or plot; it’s experimental fiction that tells its story (which is compelling) through clever uses of graphs and applications and forms. It’s a rather ingenious concept that might well make it impossible to reproduce for Kindle; so far, it’s available on Amazon (and from other fine booksellers) by way of Emergency Press (you can also read the work via Scribd on Aaron’s page there, which is totally rad).
I love superheroes. I grew up reading comic books. I’ve always wanted a cape. I’ve always wanted to fly.
I don’t have one, and cannot, and so the closest I can get is superhero fiction. Superman. Iron-Man. The Matrix (which might well be one of the finest superhero origin stories ever, after the movie version of Iron-Man).
Soon I Will Be Invincible is one of the finest examples of superhero fiction I’ve encountered.
Recently, a friend of mine, Nina Perez, who maintains Blog It Out B, decided to bite the bullet and publish her new novel without the backing of a major corporation or the “advocacy” of a literary agent. This coming Friday, her novel, The Twin Prophecies: Rebirth will launch, and I for one am looking forward to it. She’s been working with a guy named Steven Novak on design and illustration, as well as concentrating on formatting and lay-out.
Launching a novel, especially independently, is an anxiety-filled endeavor. Every author faces the stomach-churn that comes with the launch of a novel, but I’d stake a claim that anxiety is doubled for an independent author, who not only faces the daunting challenge of both reaching new readers and hoping those readers don’t respond negatively, but also faces the general negativity of the publishing industry–including literary agents and editors associated with corporate publishers–as a whole.
As Nina has been prepping her novel for publication, we–we being myself and several of her other friends–have been discussing writing and publishing. We’re a diverse group of writers still emerging, still building, still working, still aspiring. We don’t have contracts with big corporations. A couple of us don’t have books out. But we write, and that’s what counts.
And given that we write, and given that we’ve been discussing writing and publishing, lately, we’ve been discussing Amanda Hocking. How can an aspiring writer not, nevermind to what said writer aspires to. Regardless of whether a writer wants millions of dollars or millions of readers, Hocking seems exemplary of a case study of success.
(There’s always an “except,” isn’t there?)
Now, I’m going to break from discussion, because I’ll not put words in other writers’ mouths. But I’ve noticed Hocking, and her work, and her story, and I’ve gotten a couple samples of her work, and I’ve got to be honest: I don’t get it.
Then again, I didn’t get Twilight, either.
Still, a million teenage girls (and their moms) and the millions of dollars they spent can’t be wrong.
Or can they?
When I was 18 years old, I declared my college major even before I’d set foot in the first class. A lot of students hold off–and I knew many of my friends were–but at the time, there was only one thing I wanted to do with my life:
Be a doctor.
Looking back, I don’t know where the inspiration came from. I used to attribute it to having watched my grandfather lose a battle with prostate cancer when I was four years old, but I’m not so sure. It certainly sounds like a good story though, doesn’t it? Maybe even then I was telling them.
“Be a doctor” was what I told everyone I wanted to be when I grew up. Maybe I thought the question was more than just a thought experiment, and becoming a doctor was less about luck than, say, become a ball player or a firefighter–or even a writer. Becoming a doctor is one of those rare professions wherein you put in the time, dedication, and effort, and you emerge as what you set out to be. There’s no guarantee taking acting classes will make you a movie star (perhaps far from it); there’s no guarantee excelling on the college field is going to get you to the big leagues; there’s no guarantee that going to one of the most prestigious universities in the world to study the craft of writing is going to get you a publication contract with a giant conglomerate (trust me on that one).
But you go to college to study some science or other–often biology, which usually also requires semesters of chemistry (both general and organic), physics, and basic anatomy and physiology–and then you take the MCATs and go to medical school, and four years after that, you’ll be a doctor.
Well. A resident. Or a doctor. To be honest, I’m not sure how it all works. I never got that far.
This week, two publishing deals made big news, each for very different reasons.
Early this week, in an interview with Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler revealed he’d declined a six-figure deal from a major publisher. Instead, he will publish his books independently, on Kindle.
On the other end of the spectrum, Amanda Hocking scored a seven-figure deal with Saint Martin’s Press. Hocking made a well-recognized name for herself by publishing low-priced Kindle-exclusive novellas and novels. Recently, she’s mostly known for having sold more than one hundred thousand books in January, which isn’t surprising given that she published eleven books since, like, April of last year.
I’m sure many of them were in a trunk somewhere, and she didn’t write them all in eight months.
Actually, considering their quality, I’m not sure of that.
This particular pair of writers has created a total binary in terms of discussion with regard to so-called “self-publishing.” It’s an easy black and white to paint.
This one’s personal.
Many people seek meaning all their lives. Who are we, people ask, and why are we here.
I won’t say I understand it all fully, of course, but from the time I was eleven years old, I’ve known I’m here to tell stories, and I’ve known those stories must be exciting.
I remember reading Stephen King’s Needful Things; before then, I’d read the Hardy Boys and A Wrinkle in Time, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Novels and whatever superhero comic books I could get my hands on (I wanted to fly, like Superman, but identified way more with Spiderman and the X-Men. The ones who were different, and knew it, but felt responsibility to the world). Before I read Needful Things, books were just words on paper, images I created in my head. Sure, they were fun, and I loved reading, but not a single one caused me to experience so singular a moment of transcendence as Stephen King (aided and abetted, as he was, by Alan Pangborn and Leland Gaunt).
The climax of that book was a moment I’ll never, ever forget, and partly because I knew I wanted to create moments like that for others.
It’s never been enough for me to write adequate, competent books. Which is good, because for many years, I never did. For many years, I wrote and rewrote bad Dean Koontz rip-offs.
I want my books to change the world. Not the one out there, but this one, here.
I want people to read my books, and afterwards for their lives to have changed, however slightly. I don’t want people to set aside my books and stories like literary detritus, enjoyed but then forgotten when everyday life resumes; I want my stories to cling to people by heart-barbs and brain-catches. I want people to chat with their friends and to start relaying a story that happened to a friend-of-a-friend only to realize, mid-anecdote, that really, they don’t know anyone who had that experience but rather read about it in one of my stories.
That is what I aspire to when I come to a keyboard. One word after another, each one leading toward some moment of revelation, epiphany, and transcendence. One word after another until one world changes the perspective of whomever reads it, so deeply is it felt.
To that end: Exciting Books.
Books and stories that change your world.
It’s so easy to settle for adequate, competent books. There are so many adequate, competent books out there. There are so many books that get the job done, provide mere escapes, momentary distraction from the routine and mundane.
Those are not what Exciting Books aim to be.
Exciting Books aims to be the choice for discerning readers who want extraordinary literary experiences. Exciting Books are meant for readers who don’t want another vampire, another zombie, another mash-up, another spy; Exciting Books are meant for readers who want to read better than incompetent pundits, stoned actors, bedwetters, and sparkly vampires.
For now, Exciting Books is concentrated on the Kindle platform. Why? Because Amazon’s latest Kindle is the most exciting thing to happen to reading since an eleven-year-old boy finished Needful Things and realized he was a writer. Apple’s iPad and Barnes & Noble’s nook color don’t compete, for two reasons. The first is their LCD displays, which are great for just about everything except long-form reading; the second is that both devices can run Kindle apps, which makes the need for Apple’s iBookstore or Nook’s Bookstore exceedingly small (also, they use ePUB, which isn’t nearly as simple or intuitive to create/design/manipulate as Amazon’s format, which is based on the Mobipocket platform and basically comes down to html). By making something available via Kindle, one is effectively making it available on every smartphone/tablet/computing platform in existence.
Company: Exciting Books
Product: Digital books; also, some print for readers who still love paper and bookshelves
Service: Extraordinary literary experiences
What good is that glorious, high-contrast, anti-glare, e-ink display if you’re not reading Exciting Books?
Without Exciting Books, it’s really just a gadget
Pitch: Exciting Books is an independent publisher of high quality, extraordinary, digital literary experiences for discerning readers. It’s not about either elitism or snobbery; it’s about good books written well and easily distinguishable from those offered by corporate publishers who favor books by reality-show stars, political pundits, and screen personalities. Exciting Books are available across all digital platforms, and perfect for laptops, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones.
Back when I was in college, I had an idea for a campaign for Structure brand clothing. The ad would depict men wearing only Structure boxer briefs in various situations: in a bar, in a boardroom, etc.
The copy would be “Every man needs a little Structure in his life.”
Structure was a brand of Express. It was a spin-off, and later, was spun back in.
Which is sad, because I thought that copy was terrific.
On the other hand, I think Express lends itself to a great campaign.
Service: Confidence in dressing well for any situation
Express: Your Life
Express: Your Body
Express: Your Self
I’d probably make one or two others. Certainly an “Express: Your Work” depicting a guy in business attire.
Or a woman. Express is not an exclusively male brand.
Pitch: Express is not merely a clothing company, nor an apparel company. If clothes make the man, Express is the clothing that man can wear, for confidence and style, in any situation.
This requires background.
Mercury International was the (I’m fairly certain) imaginary company for whom I “consulted” to fulfill the requirements for my MBA capstone course. In January, I teamed with four other classmates to work as a group with the intention of helping Mercury International increase revenue and market share.
Mercury was a specialty athletic apparel company. The backstory was that a brother and sister had founded the company twenty years ago to bring to market the TrailStep, a specialty athletic shoe designed to handle “extreme” conditions like one might encounter on a nature trail, say, in the mountains of Colorado (Mercury’s home state). Later, it produced the SnowStep (for cold-weather conditions), and then SweatLess, which was apparel with those perspiration-wicking technologies that have become so popular.
You’ll notice here that there’s a lot of specialty, but nothing with broad appeal. My first thought was: “I’m a personal trainer and work out regular, but I have no need whatsoever for a trail shoe.” Though, admittedly, the SnowStep sounded useful for winters.
So our first strategy was to introduce the Mercury Wing. There were a few names brought up, but I suggested the Wing because I liked the reference to the winged talaria worn by Mercury, the god of commerce and trade. Who was known for being mercurial, traveling so quickly as he did from place to place. He was impossible to pin down.
He was, as they say, fleet of foot.
Which inspired the copy I suggested: “For the Fleet of Soul.” I liked it because I thought it captured both a quickness and a feeling of youth and enthusiasm. Those who are fleet of, say, heart or foot or mind are not just quick; there is an element of clever, as well as playfulness, I’ve always thought.
So that became the company’s tagline.
For the Forbes mock-up I did, I created some mock ads, as well. The first to introduce the Mercury Wing, and others to highlight already established brands.
If I were in this position, I’d do more to introduce the Wing, creating a solid campaign around it. I’d want to draft more copy to highlight its position. One I love: “Form follows function? With the Mercury Wing, you can stay ahead of both.”
Company: Mercury International
Product: Athletic Apparel
Service: Enhanced Athletic Performance/Experience
Copy: For the Fleet of Soul.
Introducing the All-New Mercury Wing
Happy Trails for You
Not Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Gloom of Night Will Keep You from Your Run
Pitch: Mercury International gained success as a specialty athletic apparel company targeting niche customers. By introducing a mass-market product with broad appeal to the casual athlete, Mercury can retain its core customers while increasing market share and revenue.
Company: Victoria’s Secret
Service: Support, intimacy, confidence
Best When Shared
These Are Victoria’s Secret. What’s Yours?
For All the Parts You Share
Pitch: Victoria’s Secret sells three things to women: anatomical support; intimacy enhancement; and confidence reinforcement. Ads focus on beautiful women wearing, in general, only Victoria’s Secret lingerie and a smile. To that end, the campaign centers around the sharing of intimacy (and secrets), as well as prompting women to claim characteristics that make them part of the Victoria’s Secret community of beautiful, powerful, confident women.
Note: Images are straight from the website for Victoria’s Secret (which you can find here, who in no way endorses this pitch (nor has even granted permission for their use. This post is merely a spec-pitch for possible non-commercial use as a creative portfolio.
A few days ago, I got the news that I’d officially aced both my MBA capstone course and its final. This is pretty big news, the culmination of three years of work in a field I never really thought I might find myself pursuing.
Now, I can’t imagine not having pursued it.
I remember the day I went to the open house at Regis University, in Denver. I knew I wanted to continue pursuing graduate education, but I had an entirely different idea about how; I’d recently had a huge idea for an enormous non-fiction project (so big I’m still working on it, in fact), and I thought I might pursue that. I though perhaps it would be a good idea to have university support for what otherwise might have been construed as something more akin to a thought experiment.
(At this point, of course, it’s still mainly a thought experiment.)
But I got to the open house and something changed. To pursue theology, or even anything in the liberal arts, I had to design my own curriculum. Which wouldn’t have been a problem; I’d already designed and implemented a syllabus at USC.
Rather, I didn’t feel at comfortable at the liberal arts information session. I can’t really explain it better, but I sat down in the classroom, and I looked around, and I realized I felt more comfortable in the bigger room with the business students in their suits and professional attire. Their demeanor had been different, as had their language.
Business, like science, is a realm mainly of objectivity, I think. I like science at least partly because it’s recordable, measurable, and it focuses mainly on tangibility. Same with business, focusing on things like revenue and earnings before etc., and market data and demographics.
Problem was, as I mentioned, my degrees were in literature and science. I had no background in finance and accounting and those sorts of things, so, to pursue an MBA, I had to fulfill some prerequisites, and start not just at the beginning but well before said beginning.
“Blues’n How to Play’em” is the second (other) of my stories from the Sparks collection I published with Simon Smithson that I’m now making available individually for anyone who missed that limited-edition collection.
It was one of the most challenging stories I’ve ever written for a couple of reasons, not least of which was that it’s written in a Blues-y patois.
I realized when writing about “Struck by the Light of the Son” that both it and “Blues’n How to Play’em” began their lives as two-page stories based on Janet Fitch’s writing prompts. I know that I wrote an early draft of “Struck by the Light of the Son” as a story for the “fret” prompt; I can no longer recall the word for which I handed in what later became “Blues’n How to Play’em.” I do remember that the prompt was just an excuse; I’d already started the story a couple of times.
Honestly, I no longer remember the inspiration for the story. I know I workshopped it a few times, both at USC and in one of the myriad writers’ groups I once-upon-a-time found and joined on MySpace.
Wow that seems like eons ago.
I first started using Kindle on my phone, a Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile’s network, last summer while commuting into Manhattan every morning. I’d had the app on my iPhone but never used it; cellular displays just aren’t really meant for long-form reading, and I don’t really read much besides books. Usually novels, but lately more non-fiction, too. But it was much better to read my phone than to lug around a paperback everywhere I went, and I quickly discovered the convenience of using a device that built-in bookmarks every time you close a book.
Which is awesome. I love that. I never used to use bookmarks, anyway, but I always used to end up thinking I was on a page ten before the last one I’d actually read.
When Amazon announced the third generation Kindle, I knew I was going to buy it, because I knew I wanted to put Meets Girl on it. I also knew I was lusting after it.
I went sort of nuts downloading samples via Amazon (on the web. Because the device purchasing side of Kindle sucks), and was enjoying a lot of what I was reading. Neil Gaiman’s were among the first books I bought, and Amazon, knowing my predilection for Gaiman, suggested Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. So I downloaded the sample and began to read.
And the thing about the samples are: it takes about as long to read one as to commute. Long-form reading of books on a device blows. But reading samples is about the same as reading short stories, and reading samples is awesome.
I had picked up the book to browse (I think at the Strand, maybe?), but never gotten past the first couple of pages. Now, with the sample and a train ride, I had the better part of two.
And the better part of two was good. The better part of two were so convincing that I decided to make The Magicians the first novel I actually read on my Kindle.
After several years in a will-they/wont-they purgatory, the digital revolution in publishing has finally become more a matter of when than if, where “when” seems to be 2010. Apple’s launch of the iPad–which featured five of the big six corporate publishers as partners and only ignored the sixth because someone within the company had outed the device the day before official launch–got the ball rolling and demonstrated that ebooks were not just a novel trend but rather new media for novels and all sorts of other forms of storytelling. In late August, Amazon’s third-generation Kindle, with its improved screen and form factor and its lower price, effectively killed the counterargument. The only thing left to really argue about is price.
But really, that’s fodder enough.
Since Apple got all those publishers on board and got its iBookstore rolling (or did it? Has anyone heard anything about the iBookstore? All I hear about are the devices–Kindles, nooks, iPads. Not so much about the stores), there’s been a debate about what’s a “good” price for ebooks. One common idea discussed when the iPad launched was the so-called “agency model,” which basically meant that publishers got to set their own price. Tech Eye mentions that this is in opposition to allowing, say, the vendor to decide the price. In other words, it’s the difference between, say, Harper setting the price of its books and Amazon doing so.
Publishers, of course, want high prices. This was why $10 ebooks were so common during the beginning of last year. Right after the iPad? Seems like publishers–corporate and otherwise–got a little high off the power of the partnership and suddenly decided that the right price for ebooks was between ten and fifteen bucks. The New York Times discussed the phenomenon.
To really get into the discussion, though, we have to consider factors regarding price. There are myriad.
When Simon Smithson and I published Sparks, the deal as we had discussed it always included a 6-week clause. When Sparks did so well at the outset–flying up the Amazon rankings in multiple categories and hanging in as a “Hot New Release” over Christmas–we briefly discussed keeping it live longer, but ultimately decided against it.
I think it was the right decision for Sparks. The 6-week window introduced an element of scarcity it didn’t otherwise have.
Digital publishing, however, seems to favor what many businessfolk call the long tail and I like to call the long game, mainly because even though I (mostly) have an MBA, I still like to play.
Now, just a week or so ago, Amazon announced a new Kindle Singles program, which Wired hailed as a beacon to “save long-form journalism.” Basically, it’s Kindle-original content that’s longer than a magazine piece but “much shorter than a novel,” clocking between 5,000 and 40,000 words, it seems. According to Wired. According to that press release, the lengths hew to approximately that midpoint.
I liked the idea. When I first published Entrekin, I used Lulu to implement what I called the iTunes publishing model; the collection was available, but each individual story was available as a 99-cent PDF.
It was a rousing success. It sold way more copies than I’d ever expected. When I made the digital content free, the downloads skyrocketed.
And now that Sparks‘ time has passed, and now that Amazon has announced this Kindle Singles–which is pretty much exactly the model I implemented nearly four years ago–well, it felt rather natural to published both of my Sparks stories the same way.
So I’m going to, and I’m going to start with “Struck by the Light of the Son,” and I thought, hey, what a great opportunity to talk about it a bit.
I‘ve been posting stuff online, in various forums, for more than five years. A couple of years ago, shortly after graduating from USC, I realized I needed a while to be quiet. I needed some time to figure out what “being a writer” meant for me.
I’ve realized this is part of it. That the trouble with blogging is not something that concerns me anymore. Don’t take me wrong; I still want to explore the dilemma there, but more in the sense of what marketing and writing mean nowadays.
I’ve nearly completed my marketing MBA. I enrolled in Regis University when I lived, for a time, in Denver several years ago, and it’s possible to complete the program online without any of the connotations of online degrees. It’s not University of Phoenix–with no offense intended to that online institution.
There is, however, an interesting point I stick to there, and I think it applies overall. Nowadays, it’s so easy for people, online, to not only pose as experts but to become them. You get a lot of people talking very loudly in a small community, and regardless of their backgrounds, knowledge bases, and levels of expertise, people start to look to them for advice when the advice they offer is not actually all that sound.
Let’s say you’re a business. You have a product that you dedicated a lot of time to. You’re not sure you can properly distribute that product on your own. Sure, you might be able to handsell your product door-to-door, but you realize that, maybe with some help, you can get your product distributed on a wider basis, and maybe even generate some great attention for the product. There are a few companies who specialize in distributing your product, companies who have a stranglehold on distribution, in fact–if you don’t partner with them, chances are you’ll never get that wide distribution.
Already it’s a problem.
Here’s the big question, though; say one of those specialty companies came to you and said they’d help you distribute your product. Would you enter into any business arrangement with them without reading a contract? Would you sign said contract without reading it?
Now, I’d mentioned I considered submitting Meets Girl to the contest. I think it would have a solid shot at winning on merit alone, and that’s not even to mention that I think it would probably be right up the alley of Lev Grossman, who wrote The Magicians and who is one of the major judges of the contest. The Magicians was the first full-length novel I read on my Kindle, and it was solid–if not great–in a genre-bending sort of way that crossed literary with fantasy, which is what I think Meets Girl does.
I mentioned, in passing, there are other, better contests writers could enter. And commenter Sid (the only Sid I know is my graduate writing advisor, Sid Stebel, but I can’t tell by the email address if the commenter and my advisor are the same person) asked after those contests.
So here are the top-five writing contests I’d submit Meets Girl to over the ABNA.
The other day, I mentioned a positive review from Shannon Yarbrough at the LL Book Review. Today, I’m going to mention a few others, and make an announcement about something I’m rather excited about.
Today, Raych at Books I Done Read gave it high-caterpillar review. A juicy blurb:
Silly and poignant and real … totally hilarious … basic love story meets
girlTarot card battle royale
Now, Raych disclaims: if you’ve finished Meets Girl, you know that Raych gets a shout-out at the conclusion. Some people might fear some lack of objectivity.
I don’t. I started reading Raych’s blog pretty much as soon as she started it, and I love what a fool she is, and by fool, I mean the n’uncle sort, who says perhaps many nonsensical things and who maybe distracts you with the bouncy jingle balls on his hat but is, often, the wisest person in the room. The canniest. The one who knows what’s what.
I felt the same thing about Veronica’s brother Tom, in the novel. I could see his band–Foolish–doing something silly and poignant and real. Some of what I think are exactly those moments in the novel–the ones that are silly and poignant and real–belong to Tom. When Tom handed our young hero-narrator Foolish’s CD, I saw him offering one with a jaunty, silly, hand-crayoned cover because leave it to the wise-fool to leave the name of the band off.
So it fit, and when I needed a title for that album, I cribbed Raych’s blog.
She doesn’t seem to have minded. Thank goodness. I’m glad she didn’t sue my ass. For cookies. Because who’d sue a broke-ass grad student/novelist/professor/personal trainer for money?
I do wonder about objectivity. Not Raych’s. Just in general. Like, is anyone objective anymore?
Pretty much every year for the past several, I’ve tended to get a note from a friend or loved one, right around Christmas, wishing me a happy one and asking if I’d seen all this information about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. They’ve known how intent I’ve been to be a writer, you see, and they figure it sounds like a promising contest for a novelist who hasn’t yet gotten a huge break.
And they’re right. It does.
The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award tends to attract a big-name judge from one of the major corporate publishers–usually an editor or author (or both); a big-name judge from a prestigious literary agency; and a lot of aspiring writers. No, no: a lot. Of various degrees of ability, too: some are young, just starting out at the writing thing, just penning their first drafts of their first novels; others have been writing for years, and have completed multiple drafts of multiple novels that perhaps haven’t gotten them offers of representation (which are, as every rejection letter that ever was reminds, completely subjective, and based solely on the tastes of the agents reading them. Agents, for their part, are also generally quick to remind that they base their decisions neither on quality of writing nor perceived saleability but rather on whether they “fell in love with” the manuscript).
The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (hereafter the ABNA) seems like a great idea, almost like an American Idol for books. Entrants submit their manuscripts, excerpts, pitches, synopses, and even a photo (if desired), and progress through multiple rounds of judging, some of which are merit based and others of which are popularity based.
This year, I thought about submitting Meets Girl. It’s gotten solid reviews across several venues, and the response has been positive. People seem to like it, for the most part, and even, like any good book, seem split on their reactions; some people think the opening drags before it gets to the story, while others have noted they loved the opening but sensed a shift of tone and execution later. The manuscript is obviously finished, and I’ve written a good enough pitch–though for a different project–it’s been a Galleycat finalist. And hey, new headshot!
The contest entry period for 2011 begins this coming Monday, January 24th.
But I’m not submitting my book. And I’ll tell you why.
So, how about Monday’s final chapter of Meets Girl? With the kissing and all? I don’t think I’m spoiling too much if I tell you that chapter thirteen is actually “Kissing Veronica Sawyer,” because how could our young hero narrator resist rhapsodizing about said making out?
Of course, if you want to read it, you’ll have to pick it up here. It’s still only $2.99. I’m keeping it there for the time being. I figure anyone who buys it right now has been following along, and keeping it inexpensive is my way of saying thanks for keeping up.
At this point, it doesn’t look like I’ll be posting any more of the story online. I mean, I won’t rule it out, if someone asks to run an excerpt or something, but here and now I like the cliffhanger, and really, three bucks for the rest of the story–which is really picking up–is a total bargain.
Already, it’s been a solidly positive experience. Reviews are good: Shannon Yarbrough of The LL Book Review said “So it’s romance and fairy tales. But it’s magic and whimsy too. It’s a writer’s lament and a coming-of-age tale (for lack of a better cliché.) It’s experimentation and taking chances. It’s poetry and music. It’s love and art. Boy says so himself…”
Which I thought was great. I liked that Shannon called it a coming-of-age tale, because while the hero-narrator of the story is in his mid-twenties, he still seems pretty immature, for the most part, for most of the story.
And there is a solid chunk left. Somewhere around twenty thousand words.
In which we skip ahead.
The astute among you will notice that we’re skipping chapter eleven (and the not-so-astute, of course, know it now). I debated how to convey the action that occurs therein, in fact—do I skip it without mentioning it? Do I include it and release all the tension?—and decided I was best off acknowledging the skip and noting the intention to return to it later, at which point I am reasonably certain that my reasons for skipping it will become clear. For that you will have to take my word.
For now to the following morning (so it’s not really a large jump, just a handful of hours), to my crummy apartment. I can’t quite explain why I suddenly want to block this scene like I would a movie, but I do, and so I’m going to, which means I’m going present-tense for a moment: no lights are on, but the sun shines through the windows and lights up the hardwood floor. The hard-drive on the XBOX360 spins next to the old, beat-up television in front of the slightly newer but no less beat-up couch (it was there when I moved in, but I assume somebody bought it fourth-hand if they didn’t simply pick it off the curb).
The doorbell rings.
Nothing moves besides that hard-drive, which continues to spin with a tiny electronic whir.
Cut to my bedroom. White walls and all, old bed. My sleeping form huddled beneath my Calvin Klein comforter.
The door bell rings again. Nothing continues to move.
I snore. When the doorbell rings a third time, I shift and pull the covers over my head, but the movement might be more subconscious than anything else.
Now: a quiet few seconds. Not too long, of course, because you can’t hold your movie audience hostage. That wouldn’t be nice at all. Just a beat.
Close on my cell phone as it rings, as its display lights up, but not close enough to see the caller ID.
I groan. Shift again. This time pulling the covers down. I reach for my phone, which I pull to my face and squint at, because I haven’t put on my glasses yet. And now you get to read the caller ID: VERONICA.
I drop the damned thing when I flip it open. I pat the comforter until my fingers find it, and then I pull it to my ear and croak into it. And not a real croak either: this is the croak of a deaf frog who’s never actually heard a croak and so can only produce a reasonable facsimile.
Now here’s a dilemma: do we want to stay inside, with me on the phone, and hear Veronica that way, or do we cut to the stoop of my apartment building, where she is even now standing, out there on a chilly Saturday morning? Movie-wise and drama-wise, it might be better to hold that revelation, but then again, given that her first words are, “Are you awake? Are you in bed? Can you get up and open your door?” it’s not like the dramatic tension would exist very long anyway. And yes, that’s what she said.
Which was the verbal equivalent of mainlining a double-shot espresso. Not that I know what that’s like, but I was trying to think of what would make a double-shot espresso more powerful than drinking it.
We can go back to past tense now, because I only wanted the movie thing for those moments I wasn’t actually awake (look, I told you at the start I was going to pull out every trick I knew, so you shouldn’t exactly be surprised if I make some up on the fly, should you? But hey, you trust me—
right?), because once I awoke, I can I stumbled out of bed, pulling on a pair of jeans I was even still buttoning as I padded across that same hardwood floor to the door of my apartment. Which I opened onto the little vestibule, then the lobby door, and finally the outer door of my apartment building, beyond which I found Veronica and her storm-black hair and her storm-blue eyes and her storm-grey coat. Or at least I was reasonably sure it was Veronica; I realized as I opened the door that I had left my glasses on my night table, so I started squinting like Mister Magoo, except with more hair.
I’ve had my Kindle since September, and it’s one of the few electronics devices that, even several months later, I’m completely satisfied by. (That’s rare for me. Usually I fall in love with a new gadget for about a month before I start wanting something later and greater. See also: Vibrant, Nexus S, etc.) I’ve been positively hyperbolic in my praise, really, but I can’t stop using it, which means I can’t stop talking about it.
Right now, I’m reading Frank: The Voice, a biography of Sinatra. I like reading about Frank when he was my age, and it’s a good book, written by James Kaplan, who’s usually a novelist, apparently. Which I suppose helps the dramatic build of the story.
Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which is a major event in which myriad companies display what will hopefully become next-gen technologies. New 3D LED televisions. Better wireless speeds for networks like T-Mobile and Verizon. New phones from just about everyone, including Motorola, Samsung, and even a new iPhone to work on Verizon’s wireless network.
Electronic readers–ereaders–are becoming trendy in gadgets. The category used to be niche, with little selection, but basically Amazon’s Kindle changed that. Not right away, of course, but now that Kindle’s on its third generation and selling strongly, pretty much everyone is getting in on the action. Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Sony’s been updating their line to match Amazon, and the devices are becoming more common. Apple’s iPad isn’t really in this category, though it can fulfill the functions of said category; as more companies release more tablet computers, we may see some decline in ereaders.
Which would be a shame. The nook color is in the same category as a Kindle–a dedicated digital reading device–and it’s got some impressive features, but it’s least good at the one thing it’s supposed to be for; it uses an LCD screen, and that sucks. One of the great features of the Kindle is its gorgeous screen, which uses e-ink for display.
Now, the Kindle doesn’t do any color whatsoever. And it’s merely adequate at pictures. And if you want to read a magazine, you’re probably better off, you know, buying a magazine.
But for reading books? It’s almost perfect.
In which certain things, which may or may not already have been obvious, are, if not revealed, at least made explicit
where I found waiting for me a letter. The envelope addressed to me in my own writing.
Crash course: back when the events of this story took place time, aspiring writers would query their aspiring manuscripts (whose dreams are to be bound into real, honest-to-goodness books that will be shipped to real, honest-to-goodness bookstores, where they will be placed on real, honest-to-goodness shelves from which they will one lucky day by plucked by real, honest-to-goodness readers) to prospective agents by mail. As I record this at this very moment, many agents have switched to using e-mail, and who knows what tomorrow will bring (hopefully this very story will have something to do with whatever happens next)? The first time I wrote all this, nobody’d ever heard of Kindle or digital distribution.
Nowadays, I can read books on my Android-powered smartphone.
Back then, however, was different. Back then, writers had to use the good ole’ United States Postal Service to send literary agents query letters, and given that many agencies received hundreds, if not thousands, of queries every week, they simply couldn’t possibly keep up with the price of return postage, so writers had to include self-addressed stamped envelopes with their paper queries.
(Quicker crash: a literary agent acts on behalf of authors to negotiate publishing contracts with publishing houses.)
I mention all this so you understand why I was so excited to receive a letter addressed to me in my own handwriting; I’d included that very same envelope in the query I’d sent to Merrilee Heiftetz only a week or so before.
It may not be possible to open one of those letters calmly. Too many of us writers associate too much of our identity with our words and the possibility of the publication, and each new letter brings with it the blackjack rush of a gambling high: not the euphoria of winning but rather the uncertain glee of going all-in on a straight flush. That gut-clenching, icy feeling of knowing how much rides on the current hand.
Me, my hands have always shaken. Every time I have one of those moments—which don’t come often—I try to remain calm but never succeed. I know they shook, then, as I withdrew from the envelope a single, twice-folded sheet of high quality paper, thick and off-white. Fountain pen letter head, business address, and, below—
I wrote this as a comment elsewhere, but I think it deserves a spot of its own.
Isn’t one giant issue with the entire substitution that students aren’t going to know Huck used the word if their teachers don’t tell them he did?
Because they’re going to have to do so. Otherwise, Twain’s novel is changed completely. Doesn’t it entirely change the nature of the relationship between Huck and Jim? Doesn’t it entirely change Jim’s character and his motivations?
Do we really trust teachers to prequel every reading of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with that information?
Teacher: “Now class, we’re about to read what was once a very controversial novel, but we’ve made it more appropriate for your reading pleasure.”
Student: “How did you do that?”
Teacher: “We changed a word.”
Student: “Just one? Which one? Did Twain drop the f-bomb? I didn’t realize they had the f-bomb back then.”
Teacher: “No, it’s more egregious than the f-bomb.”
Student: “What’s ‘egregious’ mean?”
Teacher: “Bad. It was worse than the f-bomb.”
Student: “Worse than the f-bomb? What’s worse than the f-bomb? Did he say the c-word?”
Teacher: “Er. What’s the c-word?”
Student: “You know. The c-word. Rhymes with bunt.”
Teacher: “Where did you learn that word?! Er. But no. Not that one.”
Student: “Well which one? What’s the first letter?”
Student: “N? Er. What begins with ‘n’? Nincompoop? That’s not so bad.”
Teacher: “It wasn’t nincompoop.”
Student: “Um. Nutcracker?”
Teacher: “No. It was a word people used to call black people.”
Student: “Oh. You mean ‘nigger’?”
Teacher: “Yes, precisely. That’s what Huck used to call Jim. Now he calls him a ’slave.’”
Student: “But then that whole description of Jim’s having been a ‘free slave’ doesn’t make much sense.”
Teacher: “Well. Perhaps not. But we’ve avoided using a terrible word.”
Student: “‘Nigger’? Well, yeah, it’s awful, but Kanye and Tupac say it all the time. Why not Twain? It’s just his book. He was writing, like, 100 years ago. It was a lot different then, wasn’t it? It’s not like white folks go around dropping the world all willy-nilly now, is it? Honestly, you’ve wasted a lot of valuable time doing something trivial when we could have been discussing race in American in the 1800s and how it’s evolved, both in publishing and in culture, over the past century and a half. Honestly. What are you getting paid for, anyway?”
“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
This past week, a publishing house called New South announced a new, combined edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn from which its editor had changed every appearance of the word “nigger” to “slave.” The editor is a so-called Twain scholar (I have some issues with calling anyone who supports such a move a “scholar”) who feels it’s a good option when encountering “a different kind of audience than a professor usually encounters; what we always called ‘the general reader.’”
That Publishers Weekly article continues:
The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”
Now, my aunt gave me Huckleberry Finn when I was a kid. I think it’s important to note I couldn’t read it for the first several years I owned it. Literally: couldn’t. Here’s the first paragraph of Huckleberry Finn:
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly — Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is — and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.
Not too difficult, but Huckleberry Finn speaks in dialect, and dialect is tough to read. At least, it was when you’re a kid who’s mostly been reading The Hardy Boys up until then. Not that you’ve ever been that kid, but I certainly was.
But that ain’t no matter right now. The matter right now is the censoring of a great book by a great author. And yes, that’s what I’d call it, so you can figure out where I stand on the subject.
It’s not a controversial stance. Lots of people have already written lots of pieces opining what a boneheaded move it is. And it’s totally boneheaded, for the record.
Haven’t read anyone discuss why it’s happening, though, or seen any other professors talk about it. Maybe I just haven’t read enough. Not sure, but I thought, being a sometimes professor myself, and having taught race and fiction myself, discussing it was worthwhile.
That was one of the search phrases that led someone here. The actual phrase was “is blogging worth it writer,” but it immediately rewrote itself as a question in my head. I’m going to figure the seeker in question found “The Trouble with Blogging,” which remains one of the most popular posts on this site.
That post discussed the dilemma sharing writing online, for free, poses to the professional writer–and by “professional,” I’m meaning both those writers who are aspiring toward bestsellerdom and those who have already achieved it. Actually, though, I’ve realized, more accurately, it’s really only a dilemma for aspiring authors, less so for ones who’ve gotten publication deals already; certainly, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Stephen King don’t really have to worry about any such dilemmas, given how much money they make from their books already.
Then again, none of them blog.
(Can I note, as an aside, how much I loathe the word? “Blog”? It sounds like the Internet drank too much. It sometimes reads that way, too.)
The prevailing dilemma I wrote about was a simple question often raised in other contexts: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? If I–as a guy who’s endeavored, over the past few years, to become a professional writer, and, indeed, has a master’s degree in it–continue to post good, well thought-out, well written essays on my site, why would readers want to buy my books?
Of course, the answer is right there; because my site is not my book. Because my books–while well written and well executed and occasionally full of essays–are mostly not what is on my site.
But is it worth it?
Which is the one you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it?
Because of course I got in touch with Angus. I mean, as much as I’ve built up his presence in this story? But first: I needed a job and had no idea what to do. I was lucky that my crummy Hoboken apartment was really just a room in the three-bedroom unit/ground floor of a house I shared with two other guys, which meant that my rent was ridiculous by most standards and positively ludicrous by those associated with Manhattan and its outer satellites. Still, I had a several hundred dollar rent bill due on the first of February, and while I had some money saved up, I’d still need a couple hundred besides.
I thought about calling my temp agency, Force One Entertainment, but decided to go to their office, instead; I liked everyone who worked there and was tired of spending time in my apartment. January might be cold, but walking in Manhattan tends to get one’s temperature up, and there are few more awesome places to be. So I took PATH up to Herald Square, where HMV gave way to the progress that is Victoria’s Secret, and headed uptown. Past glitzy-electronic shops with pocket calculator-sized laptops next to only slightly larger cell phones modified for web-surfing and e-mail receipt, because who needs a desk in the digital age? Up past Virgin Megastore, likely the last remaining on the entire island, then a few blocks East, to a building I only call non-descript because it was in the center of a Manhattan blockful of buildings nearly identical.
Elevator up to the fourth floor, with its two doors: directly opposite the elevator was the bookbinder, with a sweetsmell of glue and a sharper one of leather, then right to Force One.
I loved Force One, but didn’t often have occasion to visit their office, nor even to call it until very (then) recently; why would I, considering my long-term gig at the New Yorker? I got there in the middle of the afternoon, when it was full of both new graduates and the recently career-displaced, the former of whom wore, like their professional business attire, anxiety like puppies hoping for a treat. The latter tended to possess a more deliberate demeanor, their nerves less result of worry of not finding a job but rather the right job.
That first room looked as much like a doctor’s office as one associated with an employment agency: the same bad prints on the wall, the same particle-board furniture on which sat semi-recent Entertainment Weeklys and a few copies of the latest Village Voice, the same half-wall beyond which the receptionist, Joanne (Jo to her friends) sat at a desk to accept incoming candidates and juggle seven or eight different phone lines. I approached that half-wall, ready to greet Jo (who had become my friend shortly after I had broken up with my fiancée, when we went out for obligatory, post-break-up drinks), but I stopped up short and surprised.
Yesterday, JA Konrath posted an interesting essay titled, simply, “You Should Self-Publish.”
I agree with him, for the most part.
I just wish he would drop that modifier.
Because forget it. You should publish.
You should publish essays on your website, tweets to Twitter, status updates on Facebook. You should use your Kindle to share quotes from books everywhere. You should join online forums filled with people who have similar interests–Konrath mentions the KindleBoards and how great they are for writers but sort of neglects how amazing they are for readers.
Which we all are. And we’re active readers. We’re better readers. We’re exciting readers.
I thought, for a long time, that what was so game-changing, what was so paradigm-shifting, was that we’re all now creators. We’re all publishing all the time. We’re all contributing new information to the cloud and the world.
I don’t think I was necessarily wrong about that. All those things mostly hold true.
But then I got to thinking, that’s not really what’s changed. That’s a by-product of more activity on our parts.
The biggest companies in the world right now are Google and Facebook. The former is, I think, the more important because it signals a new service. It’s a search engine. It took away passive Internet browsing. No longer was the Internet a place of CD-ROMs and free subscriptions to AOL and “You’ve Got Mail.” What Google changed was our ability to seek new and more information (as well as our ability to sift through it). Remember before Google? Back when we had AltaVista and Hotbot and Metacrawler?
No longer do we wait for information. That’s pretty huge.
We Google things. I have a Google search function on my phone. We go on Wikipedia, though we know the information we find there might be erroneous, but maybe we do that because we know that even if the information is erroneous, we can find more information right away. We can find better information. We can find commentary on that information.
We can contribute to that information, and we can change it, and we can create it.
And the faster all that occurs, the less likely traditional modes of media can keep up with it all.
It used to be, in ways, that media created culture. Radio and television delivered sounds and images to our living rooms, and our only control over what we received came in the form of dials and switches; we could change the channel or turn off the set, but that was about it. If we wanted books, we had to wait to see what corporate publishers had deemed worthy of our attention two years before. Movies, too: from optioning of screenplays to delivery of celluloid, at least a year would pass.
The time it takes to create something worthwhile might not have changed (and continues to vary), but the time it takes to access and manipulate it has. Do any of us merely read when we come online anymore? Or do we all go to news sites we frequent, share posts on Twitter and Facebook, contribute to commentary?
When was the last time you got news from CNN or MSNBC? How about the last time you got it from Twitter?
It seems like we’re moving into times of cultural responsibility, and we’re taking such responsibilities away from the people who traditional took control of them as we notice that many of those institutions gave up their reins. One of the biggest arguments people tend to make against so-called “self-publishing” is that it’s not vetted, there’s no quality control, etc.
And then they buy and publish A Shore Thing by Snooki.
We’re the upstart crows. We’re the Johannes Factotums. We are the creators and contributors, channels of inspiration and information. And we’re not just living in exciting times.
We’re exciting them.
In which I demonstrate some initiative, not to mention: meet Angus (finally)
Conventional wisdom dictates that, upon completion of any first draft, a writer should step back. I think Stephen King noted (in On Writing?) that the magic number is six weeks; finish your first draft and then stick it in a drawer, and for six weeks do anything at all that doesn’t include reading that finished draft, after which time you may retrieve your manuscript from your drawer to mark it with your editor’s pen, and you may moan and groan and lament your general lack of creativity when you’re not admiring your own genius, though you may be in a spot if there don’t exist more moments of the former than of the latter (which may sound backward but, when revising, better to groan than preen). After all that time, you may proceed onto work on another draft, which, mathematically (at least according to Stephen King) should equal approximately your first draft minus ten percent.
I note all that because it’s so totally not what I did. After attending a brunch at my grandmother’s house, I spent part of Christmas evening polishing the first chapter of my manuscript, then wrote a single query to my dream agent—Merrilee Heifetz, an agent with Writers House, who represented Neil Gaiman, my own personal writing hero/mentor. Gaiman’s a guy who, since the events of this story took place, has topped nearly every bestseller’s list the New York Times can offer him, who’s not only had several novels and stories adapted into television series or movies but even written a few himself (including an adaptation of Beowulf directed by Robert Zemeckis). Neil maintains a blog in which he manages to refer to Zemeckis as “Bob” without its ever feeling like name-dropping, and of all the writers I can think of, I think I’d like a diverse, varied, and successful career most like his, which is why Heifetz was not just at the top of my list of agents to query but managed to be the list in its entirety, at least to start.
Because why not, right? What had I to lose?
(you’ll find out)
So I wrote up my query and polished up my first chapter, then printed both out. I signed the query with my lucky fountain pen, folded query and sample and a self-addressed, stamped envelope into another envelope, and headed down to the post office to mail it out. I wasn’t sure it was the best idea to send it out so fresh and new, but then again, I figured, most agents cite a response time of no fewer than two months, and many request two to three times that many before you even hear from then, and even then, that’s usually only in the case of a rejection. So if a rejection can take six months to arrive . . .
I haven’t yet mentioned here: Exciting Books is doing well. Like, really well.
Like, bestseller-dom well.
The still-new reality of Amazon and a current literary marketplace is staggering. Used to be, bestsellers were determined by pretty much one place, and one place only: the New York Times. The infamous grey (or is it gray?) lady? The venerated bastion of journalism and culture, the heights to which every author aspired. Theirs always was the list to be on.
I’m not saying this is changing.
Do you go to the paper for your news any more?
I don’t. I can’t remember the last time I even saw an actual newspaper I wasn’t picking up solely to throw away. Though I did download an issue of The Washington Post to my Kindle. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
If I want news–real, right now, happening-outside-my-window news–I come here. Well. Not here. Not to my site. I used to post, sometimes, about news, and mean to start again, but obviously not right here.
No, I come online. I come to dot-coms. CNN and MSNBC. I come, in fact, to Twitter, to see what’s trending.
Which is why I think cracking the Amazon bestsellers list may be even more relevant than hitting the grey lady. Especially considering Sparks, a Kindle-only publication.
I don’t know how the NYT ranks its list, nor what figures it bases its tabulation upon. I know that it doesn’t include every sale in America; that’d be impossible.
For a newspaper.
Not for Amazon, though.
When Sparks broke the top 50 on Amazon, it legitimately meant that, right then, Sparks was selling more at a faster rate than other books. It wasn’t select bookstores. It wasn’t a sampling. It wasn’t a pre-tabulated list merely being confirmed.
It was in real time and based on real sales.
And speaking of sales:
Did you just get a new Kindle? Do you have an iPhone? An iPad or iPod? Any Android device? How about a PC or Mac?
Most importantly, do you like good books? Or know someone who does?
If so, you can take advantage of the Winter 2010 Exciting Books Fire Sale. Because that’s what you get when you apply sparks to kindle.
For the next few days, while I’m sitting around a fire with my faithful friends who are dear to me gathered near to me once more, Exciting Books is slashing its Kindle prices. Are you looking for stories for your new Kindle? Are you looking for something to read on a long weekend off? Have you had your fill of nog and ham? Ready to kick back, relax, and fall asleep next to the fire with your Kindle in your lap?
You need Sparks. Every Kindle does.
You also need Entrekin and Meets Girl.
So for the next week, for the low-low price of just 99 cents, you can experience Exciting Books. You can read fiction that inspires and thrills. You can read the sort of book that isn’t just going to stay with you but is going to make you want to approach a friend and say, “Hey, you know, I read these cool stories the other day.”
Exciting Books has a mission, and that’s it: to be the stories you want to share.
So this holiday season, fill your Kindle with Sparks and Exciting Books. Share Sparks and Exciting Books with those same friends who are dear to you, whether they are gathered near or not. Because Amazon and Kindle have a great, new function: you can gift a book to your friends. Just use the one-click.
Christmas at the Sawyers
Comin’ on Christmas, people decorating their trees. I printed out my newly finished manuscript I had dedicated to Veronica and jammed it into the backpack I wore across midtown Manhattan as I made my way to Port Authority to catch a Greyhound home. One of those slate-grey, nondescript buses down the Jersey Turnpike blur the spindly trees along the side of the highway, all the way back to my hometown by way of connections and cars, at which point I called Veronica to ask if we could meet up, because I had a serious surprise for her. I guess she could hear in my voice how eager I was to see her, and perhaps even that I had specific reasons for being so eager. She told me she didn’t have much free time, but I could attend Christmas Eve mass with her family.
Perhaps that’s the most you need to know about Veronica: not that she is beautiful, though she is; nor what she studied; nor what she’s accomplished since college; nor any other thing, because perhaps nothing will tell you so much as that Veronica Sawyer is the kind of girl for whom you attend Christmas Eve Mass at midnight. It’s the crowded mass, full of not just the fervent but also all the people who go to church solely on Christmas and Easter. I can’t tell you I was among the faithful; by then, I’d swung closer to agnostic, which was a major step in my own spiritual evolution—finally accepting that I didn’t know all the answers was slightly out of character for me. I had grown up attending Catholic schools but had transferred out on the first day of my junior year, after which I’d swung hard enough the other way that other people might call it over-compensating, filling my days and studies with classes about cold, hard, rational science and the kind of philosophical discussions that excluded God in favor of morals and “quality.”
But Veronica told me I could meet her at the mass and then return, with her, to her family’s house, where she and Tom would be up until the wee hours, wrapping presents over hot chocolate and Christmas tree cookies. I wrapped the manuscript folder I’d bought in my mother’s leftover wrapping paper and set it on the front seat of my car as I drove to the church and then, afterward, her house.
Over at Amazon, Meets Girl gets its first-ever review. Five stars. “Catcher in the Rye meets Macbeth.” “Smart, unpretentious, and funny.”
I’m thrilled that the first review of my first novel came from a reader who gave it five stars. Hell of a way to begin one’s career as a novelist. Really, also, kind of appropriate given Meets Girl‘s themes.
The night I attended Galleycat’s Book Pitch Party, I stopped into Barnes & Noble Union Square, hoping to check out the nook color they’d recently announced. I had already purchased the newest Kindle, but I think part of being a writer in the new digital age includes a working knowledge of the platforms on which content is available. In other words, it’s important to know the medium on which you’re delivering a message, as the one can inherently affect the position and reception of the other.
Now, I declaim: I love my Kindle. I seriously haven’t loved a gadget this hard since I first jailbroke and unlocked my first iPhone. I think there might have been something about the tinkering with it, the feeling of empowerment, that really made the phone feel like mine in ways others haven’t. I’m using a Samsung Vibrant now, and I love it, but with some reservations (Dear Samsung: Get Gingerbread on it, hey?). In fact, my purchasing the Vibrant was what ultimately led me to getting a Kindle; the Vibrant comes with Amazon’s app preinstalled, and I’d had it on my iPhone, but hadn’t fully used it.
But I found myself working shite hours and riding the PATH train at 4am for a new gig, and so I did more reading on the Kindle app. And when Amazon announced its newest generation, I bought one sight unseen.
Mainly because I’d already seen the others and knew they weren’t what I was looking for.
What I was looking for: a digital reader.
The iPad is not a digital reader. It’s a tablet-form computer. It runs software, and that software is versatile enough it runs other software. It has apps, little programs that performs different functions like . . . well, mainly launching birds at targets, streaming music over a data connection, and display various media. There are apps for everything.
Some of those apps happen to display books. The main thing that demonstrates, in fact, that iPad is not really a digital reader is that it has not only the iBookstore, but also both nook and Kindle apps.
(This is extraordinarily important.)
From Simon’s copy:
A sleepless traveler; a blues player who ain’t got soul. A lovelorn young man; a rising son. In the four short stories of Sparks, writers Will Entrekin and Simon Smithson bring you these characters and their journeys, over and through the streets and cities of the USA. Sparks contains a quartet of literary tales; of chasing dark dreams and falling sick with love, of trying to keep a house together and hoping just to get back
Introducing Sparks! The collection of four pieces of short fiction from Simon Smithson and Will Entrekin, published by Exciting Books, available for six weeks only, on Amazon.com. It’s a collection of stories about travel and loneliness, music and blues, love and alcohol, and family and frustration. And I guarantee that it will fix anything you’ve ever been sad about, ever, although that’s by no means guaranteed.
You’ve read what we’ve said about paradigms shifting, the changing of publishing and distribution. We haven’t mentioned the fetishizing of dead wood bound in cloth. We haven’t talked much (lately) about how bassackwards the business model of most corporate publishers is. I’ve stopped talking about Sarahs and vampires.
Because this is bigger. This is better.
This is Sparks. This is six weeks, four stories, two authors, aiming at 1,111,111 ebooks.
Simon’s a great writer (and I hope he’d say the same of me). His two stories are terrific, redolent as they are of air travel and gin. He’s the sort of writer who doesn’t tell you a story so much as allow you entrance into a new experience, and that is such a rare and bold talent to have.
Because it’s on Kindle. Which is on everything. You don’t need a Kindle. Do you have an iPhone, or an iPod, or an iPad? You can get the Kindle app from iTunes. It’s in the Android Marketplace for your Android Device. It’s on Blackberry. It’s on PC and Mac.
And like any scout worth his salt knows, the one thing kindle needs is sparks.
That’s how you start the fire, after all.
We hope you like it, and we hope you’ll share it.
In the realm of the every day, the word “exciting” generally means something fun, something that gets the old ticker going, but in the realm of science, physics, and chemistry, excitation has a more specific meaning. In quantum mechanics, for example, excitation means any particle’s assumption of a higher state of energy.
When I think of excitation, I think of electrons. It’s been years since I formally studied chemistry and physics, but I remember electrons and their shells. Every electron has a nucleus: positive protons and neutral neutrons. Around this nucleus exists an electron cloud difficult to study because of the way it exists–in a quantum sense, only sporadically. Consider a city block, and imagine that some of the buildings exist only on days that begin with a T while others exist on days that begin with an S and others exist on all other days, mostly, you get a sense of quantum uncertainty and the existence of electrons–as particles and waves that are both only partially there simultaneously.
Most atoms–save those of the first few elements–have electron shells with multiple energy levels. The number of electrons is generally equal to the number of protons, but sometimes that leads to certain instability, or even propensity to react. Consider, for example, lithium, which has three protons and three electrons in its shell. Its first energy level is full, with two, but that leaves a third electron to react with just about anything it sees: imagine a horny, hyperactive dog who will hump any leg it finds and you’re thinking of lithium. On the other hand, back up one: helium has two protons, with two electrons in its shell, a full energy level. Helium also has a monocle and a top hat, and it wipes its white-gloved hands with disdain when it encounters any other elements. It will only speak to one under duress.
The thing about those energy levels is that, under the right circumstances, an electron can be induced to assume a higher state. This higher state of energy is called “excitation.” An excited electron is one that achieved a higher level than it had reached just a moment before.
Very exciting news around these parts. I’m thrilled, honored, privileged, and humbled (simultaneously) to be working with Simon Smithson.
During the past few months, I’ve found my excitement for all things stories and words and books rekindled. Which is a pun, mainly because Amazon’s Kindle might be the most significant source of my newfound enthusiasm. I swear, I haven’t had so much fun, nor read so much, nor bought so many books, since I don’t know when.
Perhaps the most brilliant thing about Kindle, though, is all it makes possible. It throws open the doors, kicks wide the gates.
There’s a new world of possibilities.
When I published my collection in 2007, neither Kindle nor iPhone actually yet existed. eReaders were niche gadgets, novelties at best and absurdities at worst, expensive and awkward and not really able to deliver a quality reading experience. The first Kindle was still six months away and would be expensive, even if its e-ink display would become (and remains) the best in the market.
Now Kindle is on every device out there. Jeff Bezos has been really smart to deliver the platform across devices, tying the reading experience to software, rather than hardware.
And it’s rather perfect for a couple of emerging authors to take advantage of.
Which is what Simon and I plan to do.
This week, we’re launching Sparks. He told you all the news with regard to the book.
What he didn’t really much go into was what it means for Exciting Books.
When I published my collection in 2007 and effectively founded Exciting Books, I’d already conceived of the model I aimed to ultimately follow with regard to writing and publishing. Back then, I wasn’t sure what sort of path my career would take, but I did know the sort of projects I ultimately hoped to work on: highly commercial, genre-busting blockbuster novels, which I’d intersperse with projects I saw as smaller.
Meets Girl for all intents and purposes, would fall into the latter category.
What I ultimately hoped to do was exactly what I’ve found myself doing, even if I wasn’t quite aware of it: leverage my experience and knowledge to bring publishing up to a new, and higher, energy level.
And now, with other authors.
Because this is how things change. A couple of blokes with a bold idea to excite things. Shake things up a bit while taking them up a notch. Which may mix metaphors, but hopefully doesn’t conceal my intention.
In the past year or so, I’ve reveled in quietude while trying to figure out how to do what I meant to do. I’ve moved to Manhattan, studied marketing, dedicated myself to writing better.
And now, I think it’s time to try some exciting things. In the spirit of which I figured it was time to redo the site header, retitling this here endeavor. In the spirit of which I intend to publish more often more exciting and interesting things, including but not limited to the stuff I’ve been learning over the past few years.
In other words, here goes everything.
Sparks marks the first Exciting Book that isn’t solely mine.
Exciting Books: When people talk about ebooks and epublishing, the ‘e’ they’re talking about is Exciting.
A New Act
I think I want some quotes here; writerly types call them ‘epigraphs,’ and I’ll even tell you I briefly considered opening this whole thing by quoting the first stanza of Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me,” but ultimately I decided against it, for the same reason there is no ‘Chapter One’ head—that ‘once upon a time’ opening.
Which I got.
Which means it’s okay to tell you that, as I begin this here brand new act, I’m thinking of lyrics of popular music. I would quote them, but doing so would require obtaining licenses from the artists’ record companies, which costs quite a lot of money I would presume the artists themselves rarely see—Neil Gaiman tells a story that he’d wanted to quote a song by the Brit band Blur, but their company demanded ludicrous remuneration that worked out to something like a hundred bucks per “ooo-wwo!”
So: do you remember City of Angels? That depressing movie with Nicolas Cage as a melancholy angel and Meg Ryan as a doctor? Because the Goo Goo Dolls wrote a song called “Iris” for it, and I can’t imagine it would be difficult for you to Google it to check out the lyrics, or even to bust up the iTunes store and download a copy. While you’re at it, check out the last few lines of their song “Name,” which was one of the earliest hits. Those are songs I’m listening to right now, plus one called “Driving With Your Brakes On,” which is by an Irish band named Del Amitri I would know only for its single “Roll to Me” had I not heard “Brakes” on a Greatest Hits CD I borrowed from my local library.
I mention all those not only because I’m listening to them right now but also because all those feelings those songs convey help set the mood for all the events about to occur. I’ll tell you now it’s going to be another chapter before I end up in the bar where I met Angus, and another chapter again before his nature in the story, or at least his function in it, becomes completely apparent, but suffice to say for now that Angus perhaps knew that I thought about Veronica all the time but wasn’t sure I needed to write. As for the offer he made . . . well, first Christmas at the Sawyers, and then Angus can enter stage right and you can see for yourself.
Wait, what? That’s it? A few song choices? But what did our narrator get Veronica for Christmas? And what will she give him?
Tune in next week for a very Exciting Christmas!
Please, allow me to introduce myself. I hope you guess my name.
If you don’t, it’s Simon Smithson. I’m a co-writer of Mr. Entrekin’s from The Nervous Breakdown.com, the online literary magazine that features authors from around the world. It’s a cool thing.
Will and I met on Myspace, originally, years back. We were part of a writing and editing group called Writers Who Don’t Suck, which, suffice to say, was a fairly ironic name. It was a busy hive of emo kids who wrote bad poetry about being tormented, misunderstood, and just waiting for the vampire who would see the real them, middle-aged sales reps who wrote bad fiction about assassins and snipers (so many assassins and snipers. You have no idea. If the assassin was a woman, it was a given that at some point she would survey her own breasts critically in the mirror), and twenty-somethings with a badly-disguised grudge against an ex or current (and soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend, girlfriend, or lover (and, on one memorable occasion, all three).
There was also, as a saving grace, a core group of writers who cared about literary merit, good editorial practice, and getting better at their craft. They were easy to pick, and Will was one of them. We tended to stick together, and one of the discussions we usually had was about the changing face of the business, and how the very existence of WWDS was something that would have been impossible in earlier times. This whole electronic world was undiscovered country, and the opportunities it yielded for networking, co-authorship, and writing groups were new and exciting.
Fast forward to 2010, and we’ve moved far beyond that. The Kindle and the iPad are grappling for a killer chokehold in the field of e-publishing, people are (once again, as they do every time anything happens in the world ever) predicting the death of the book, and the publishing industry, if reports are to be believed, is staffed entirely by a Keystone Kops-esque cabal of panicky idiots who are running shrieking through the halls of their golden palaces, terrified that Amazon is hiding in the closet and scrambling to steal all the computers before they go out of business forever.
In an era like this… two guys like Will and I can really clean up.
Which is why it’s my pleasure to introduce Sparks, the debut collection of stories by Messrs. Entrekin and Smithson from Exciting Books. Four pieces of short fiction, two apiece, available only on the Amazon Kindle platform, for six weeks only, from December 15, 2010, until January 26, 2011. It’s got a sale price of .99 cents. I think the stories are good, and if I were you and I had a Kindle, I’d pick up a copy.
Oh, and also, we’re going to be doing our damndest to sell 1,111,111 copies.
Why? Because we can.
The game has, officially, changed. Johannes Gutenburg never saw days like this coming; if he did, I would have asked him to write a foreword. These days, the role of the publisher is more dispensable than ever before. Authors can – and do – distribute their work directly to the reading public, because the delivery system has been put in place by Amazon, by iTunes, by this wonderful thing called the Internet. No one’s really sure which way is up at this point, but I believe there will always be a market for good fiction.
I’m also really curious to see if we can.
Our gameplan is this: the first day, we’re hoping to sell one copy. That’s it, that’s all, just one. The first week, ten. The second week, a hundred, and the third week, a thousand.
You can see where we’re going with this.
The stories are diverse in scope; music and travel and love and family are all themes, as is fate and choice and humanity. I’m proud of mine, as I hope Will is of his. What’s next is to see if we’ re right about the market – in this day and age where electronic dissemination has changed how we absorb music, news, TV, and gaming, what’s the next move for literature? Sparks is designed for the Kindle; the pieces are short fiction. Sparks is available only on the Kindle, and nowhere else. It’s the product of two guys who want to see what they can do in a world of exciting new opportunities, and we hope you’ll join us for the ride.
Chapter Six, in which I finish a novel, get drunk, fall in love with Veronica again, buy a tattoo, and finish up the first act, pretty much all at once (though perhaps not necessarily in that order)
Because that’s just about what happened. That woman brushed aside the curtain to allow me entrance back into the foyer, where Veronica looked up and asked: “Already? I thought you’d take longer.”
I didn’t think much of her question then.
The woman chuckled and ushered us out of her home as she admonished me that my fortune and reading were mine and mine alone; I could share them if I so chose, but nothing required me to do so. She told me, too, that if I chose to tell anyone, I should choose those people carefully.
Veronica and I walked back toward the mall, where my car was still parked, and I attempted to tell her about the reading, but she stopped me. “You heard her. That was yours. Maybe you should keep it for yourself for a while. Besides, what’s really important is what you’re going to do.”
I considered that, the woman’s talk of choices and changes. I would’ve given anything for that threesome.
“I think you should finish your novel.”
I didn’t respond.
“What else are you going to do? You’re just going to stick what you’ve written in some drawer and forget about it just because it’s a little tougher than you thought it was going to be? I think we both know that’s bullshit. You’re all paid at your apartment, so I think you should take the next couple of weeks to finish it. And when I say finish it, I mean do it right. I’m not talking about just writing on and on until you hit a spot where you can type ‘the end.’ I mean finishing it like a sprinter just totally shattering the world record at the Olympics, the kind of finishing where people aren’t like, ‘Well, he won,’ but where they’re like, ‘Sheeit, I didn’t realize a dude could go that fast.’ That’s the kind of finished I think you need. And you know your novel deserves it.”
Which may or may not reveal my fortune, or my heart’s content, but certainly contains a first-act gun above a mantle
It was like walking into an alternate dimension.
If you had asked me what I expected while I’d stood in the curio-foyer with Veronica, I’m not sure what I would have guessed. Nothing much after having seen that other room; mismatched furniture, a threadbare rug, an old coffee table. Something ordinary, the kind of sitting room you grew up in, the kind of living room your great-aunt had, perhaps with plastic covers on the furniture.
Instead: a hall grander than I would have imagined and larger than seemed possible, given the dimensions of the house Veronica and I had entered. A marble floor with a deep, dark rug that could only have come from Persia, so intricate I would have believed it had taken several generations to handweave. A large, rough-hewn stone fireplace, in which crackled away bright orange flame that smelled like autumn and above the mantle of which rested a large, antique rifle—
If a gun is on a mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third.—
with a coal-black barrel and mahogany finish. Solid, dark wood rafters decorated the high ceiling in even intervals; I could have believed we’d just crossed the pond to end up in a castle in Scotland.
“Wow, it’s—,” I started to say, turning back toward the beads, but the woman pulled me farther in. Two burgundy leather chairs in front of the fireplace, between them a small table that looked as if it had been carved centuries before.
“It’s home. Come, sit,” she ushered me toward one of the armchairs as she sat opposite me. “Let’s get to know each other,” she said, as reflections of orange flame danced in her eyes, so lucid that I could have believed they weren’t actually reflections at all.
The presale for Meets Girl went so successfully for physical copies I thought I would do one for the digital ones, as well.
At first, I wasn’t sure how. The presale copies were signed (and, where desired, inscribed), and included a tarot card. But it’s not like I can sign a digital copy. And including a bonus poem, or something?
But then I started seeing all the Black Friday deals. The door-busting events. We all know people will start lining up at 4 am to buy socks at Walmart.
Is it just me, or does door-busting sound frightening? And heck, don’t forget, I’m the writer who likes to blow shit up. I will be avoiding retail locations from now until Christmas. I’ll purchase any Christmas gifts online.
And then Amazon announced it was giving people the ability to give Kindle books as gifts to anyone they’d like.
I’m sure you see where this is going.
So, you early adopters, you better readers who want to give the people you love great books this holiday season, now you can: you can buy it right here, from Amazon, for the insanely low price of 99 cents.
That’s a full-length novel for less than a dollar.
The Kindle sample includes the first two chapters (or so).
So seriously, what are you waiting for? For one dollar, you can give a copy to everyone you love, resting assured in the knowledge that it’s a high quality, professionally edited, optimally designed novel written by a guy who knows prose well enough to have taught it in colleges. For, like, a third the price of a cup of coffee, you can give someone a book they’ll never forget.
Heck, for that price, you can buy a copy for everyone you know and not even feel bad about treating yourself to one, as well. Because it’s been a long year, after all, and you deserve it.
In which the trouble really starts, and which introduces a gun above a mantle, figuratively if not literally
Thanksgiving Eve, I saw Veronica at a Foolish gig, and we made plans to get coffee that Saturday at the local Barnes & Noble in the only strip-mall complex for miles, a classic-casual outing that on occasion flirts with being more than it is, date-wise, but never actually manages it. I don’t know what you’d call the fringe collar of the black suede coat she wore when she showed up, but it looked like short strands of fine, grey yarn all around her neck, which only brought out her green-blue eyes, lending to them the gravity of an imminent thunderstorm and all the ferocity of lightning. But still she smiled, and it made her float.
I don’t remember much about that conversation, but I’m sure it was like any conversation Veronica and I have ever had—long, digressing discussions of classes and life and movies and music, lyrics and dialogue. I’m sure it wasn’t long before conversation came back around to me and what I was doing, and when it did . . . well, it all just came out in one long, stream-of-consciousness soliloquy Kerouac would have needed Benzedrine and toilet-roll typing paper to keep speed with. I told her about how writing had ground down, how I just didn’t know if I had the juice left to say much of anything worthwhile, and that, at the worst possible time, when I thought about devoting my energy to something else, that was when there didn’t seem anything else to devote that energy to.
“So what’re you doing?” she asked.
I told her I’d paid rent through January. I told her I’d tried to find other ways to occupy my time, but Manhattan was expensive, and without a regular gig my financial resources were limited at best and running on fumes at worst.
“So what’re you going to do, then?”
And I stopped, because I had to admit, I didn’t have a damned clue. A few months, hell, a few weeks before, I would have had an answer ready even if that answer probably would have lacked any real specificity: “What am I going to do? Ah, I dunno. I’ll figure something out. Always do, right?”
Right then, though, I discovered I couldn’t find the confidence for words like that. I shrugged. “I don’t—you know, I don’t actually know. I’m trying to pretend I can make the best of it, really, but I don’t have a clue what the best of it is,” I told her as I pushed my waxed-plastic cup away. Talking about everything had made me restless.
“You want to get out of here?”
I tried to chuckle. “I’m probably not the best company at the moment, am I?”
“No, it’s not that,” she reached forward, squeezing my forearm. “It’s just—you seem anxious, and I figured sitting here, in the middle of a bookstore, glugging down caffeine while the loudspeakers play Christmas carols . . . makes you want to jump out of your own skin, doesn’t it?”
“That obvious, huh?”
“So I was just thinking, we’ve been sitting here, and we drank our coffee and all, so why not take a walk? Get out of the mall, away from crazy shoppers and discount crap?”
Meets Girl and its preorder is not the biggest news in books and writing this week.
I know! I’m as surprised as you are.
No, but seriously, I do hope you’ve been enjoying the serialization, and I hope you’re looking forward to launch day as much as I am. Or maybe even more; I’m looking forward to it with equal measures of excitement, hope, and terror. Especially considering that I’m a totally unknown writer, and especially especially given that what I’m doing flies against the conventional, the traditional, the Way Things Are Done.
Because let’s face it, this ain’t it.
The Way Things Are Done right now, really, is simple: if I wanted to go the conventional, traditional route I’d write up a nice, succinct query letter, and I’d go to Twitter and Agent Query dot com and literary agents’ websites, and I’d read their guidelines and I’d choose, say, ten agents to send that query letter, and the first chapter of Meets Girl, to. After which point, I’d hurry up and wait. I’d try to forget I’d sent anything out, because remembering so is a sure path to crazy, but mostly I’d be waiting for rejection emails if I got any responses at all, because so many agents, nowadays, don’t send them.
I’d do that because so many publishers–most especially the big six, but every day, others, too–don’t accept unagented manuscripts. Like there’s some sort of vetting. Kept gates, the theory goes.
Used to be–once upon a time–I followed that path, those rules. I queried out The Prodigal Hour, and before that Twilight Brilliance.
And maybe–onceuponatime–that system worked. It worked then, I sheepishly admit, because though I plan to do the same thing with The Prodigal Hour that I’m doing with Meets Girl, that’s only because I rewrote and revised and rewrote it again until it was actually a good novel.
You’ll probably never see Twilight Brilliance. Even my editrix had to wheedle and cajole it from my old hard drive.
Some great entries to the Meets Girl contest. Also, some private comments from people who would have entered but didn’t want to share their stories of unrequited love, whatever the reason.
Because it takes some guts to do it. Takes some guts to put yourself and your story out there like that, for all the world to see.
I might know a little something about that.
In the spirit of the moment, I decided that everyone who entered gets a signed copy of Meets Girl, as well as an exclusive Deviant Moon tarot card. Just one, from a deck that’s been used. A deck I’ve used myself, in fact.
The copies are ordered.
In fact, more than those copies are ordered.
(College and some years after)
I started college in August 2001, at Montclair State University, barely three weeks before those men flew those two planes into the World Trade Center. College, then, began in an initial, froshy blush of flusterment and excitement that turned too suddenly into something far too somber and solemn. When once we had been undecided, we declared majors in philosophy and theology and biology and physics, as if we believed we might study our stumbling ways to understanding. Montclair was close enough to Manhattan that, during the subsequent autumn, our campus smelled like a construction site when the wind blew just right, and we students made it a point to always be aware of the national threat level before we left for classes. I remember the Anthrax scares and the admonitions to stock up on duct tape and plastic covering.
I pitched myself into my studies like they could be my salvation, burying myself so deeply in extra credits that I had very little energy left over to devote to much else; one of the benefits of doing this was that I stopped pining after Veronica. I put my head down and got the grades and studied literature and science, and by the time I graduated, I was engaged to a girl I thought I loved, which prompted me to find a crummy little apartment in Hoboken. My fiancée was Polish and came from a very strict, very conservative, very traditional family, which strained our relationship until finally it cracked under her pressure. Just a few weeks after I had graduated, and not even a full week after I’d moved into an apartment I’d chosen mainly because it was within walking distance of her house, my fiancée told me our relationship wasn’t fair to me.
It came at first as a shock until, a few dark, empty-feeling days later, I discovered a newfound sense of something I can’t describe as anything besides immense possibility. I suddenly had no ties, no commitments, and I could do anything, go anywhere, be anyone.
I think I reacted like most people in any such situation might: by remaining resolutely me. Waking up in the same bed, studiously checking the same hairline, buttoning the same shirts and shaving the same cheeks, walking the same streets and entering the same building to climb the same stairs to sit in the same desk . . .
There is some degree of comfort in the familiar. It may not be much to subsist on, but for a while it can be enough. Just after I’d graduated, I’d applied at a temp agency that had placed me at the New Yorker as an assistant to the advertising sales director, and there I stayed, performing menial tasks like updating databases and collating business cards into a rolodex. I’d leave my desk in the afternoon, usually at 5:30 or so, just late enough to be noticed as I squeaked out an hour or so of overtime every week but never so much to actually accomplish anything. PATH train back to Hoboken, take-out, and then writing. I was working on my second novel by then, after having completed my first, the afore-mentioned Dean Koontz rip-off, while an undergrad. My second, back then, wasn’t much better; I’d had the idea while still in high school, and its origins showed through in places.
(I didn’t start with ‘Chapter One’ because I wanted to open with ‘Once upon a time’), in which we encounter the reason this story has a conflict (because a boy meeting a girl is not one)
What should come next, according to conventions of both literature and drama, is my eloquent recounting of the moment I first glimpsed Veronica Sawyer. I’m supposed to tell you that sunlight cast her in a halo that burned her very image onto my oh-so-sensitive soul; that the beautiful smile upon her perfect lips made mine quiver with want of her; that she stirred within me the calls of both wild and poet alike; that I, to put it simply and to paraphrase Eddie Izzard alluding to Albert Schweitzer, quite fancied her.
Unfortunately, I can’t, mainly because I don’t actually remember meeting her—
and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.—1
which is, perhaps, not the most romantic way to continue this story, but then again might be the most realistic. I played in a tee-ball league with Veronica’s brother, Tom, back when Tom and I were kids. The only things I remember about back then are the lopsided tees, the coach who would yell at me to ask what I was swinging at, and the Big League Chew. My teammates and I would stalk across the parking lot between innings to purchase from the snack-shack stale nachos smothered in half-melted Velveeta. My puking on second base became the highlight of an otherwise low season.
Quick and agile and preternaturally athletic, Tom was the shortstop for our team the Jacksonboro Bobcats, whereas I was small and uncoordinated and had instincts better suited to deep left. One day, Tom stopped Jacky Malone, the opposing team’s big, slow catcher, from beating the shit out of me, and from that moment forward, Tom and I became fast, if unlikely, friends. We were probably ten years old, and we wore cotton tee shirts as uniforms and hats that cost a dollar. Our folks and siblings came to our games, all of which were held on the field behind the local grade school, and I met Veronica for the first time at some point during the three seasons that Tom and I played in the league.
Three seasons of shredded gum and adolescent chaos, and the sole reason I’d ever joined was that I wanted to knock the stitches off a slowball. I think I believed that if I could just hit a single homerun, I might wake up the following morning taller and faster and better.
I spent three seasons playing deep left, and no ball I ever hit made it past the pitcher’s mound; hits fair and foul alike dribbled off the end of my bat.
Last week, I found out about Galleycat’s Book Pitch Party about an hour before its deadline. I like Galleycat; I haven’t been able to keep up with it as much, lately, but when I can, I’m not sure there’s a more valuable resource for publishing.
The Pitch Party, the contest post announced, was held in the W Union Square’s Underbar, which is one of the swanky-hip sorts of rooms Manhattan is famous for. Reminded me a lot, in fact, of the Happy Ending Lounge, on Broome Street, which is where I read for The Nervous Breakdown.
We can argue the real validity of writers reading in a bar. Most, unfortunately, can’t. It’s not writers’ fault; writing is held as a solitary sort of profession, and even I get nervous enough my stage presence isn’t yet where I’d like it to be. Probably takes a lot more practice than I have, even though I stand before classrooms all the time. There’s something, too, about reading in a dim lounge; there are always clinks and murmurs, and it’s obvious in a way it never is when a band’s on.
When I heard it was in New York, and it was for pitches, I had to submit. So I went through my email and basically lifted my usual query for The Prodigal Hour and sent it in.
The following day, I was congratulated to be a finalist. I was going to pitch!
Once upon a time I fell in love with a girl who didn’t love me in return.
And while that may not be, as openings go, altogether novel (for who among us hasn’t felt the sharp-barbed long-constant prick-pull of unrequited love?), still I’ve always known it’s how I need to begin this story. I’ve always known I’m going to eventually need the big guns if I intend to make my way through, and I’ve known that since before I even started, back when I was sitting next to Veronica—the girl with whom I fell in love but who did not love me in return—and across from Angus Silver, about whom I will tell you more as we go along, because Angus Silver is an idea you need to be eased into.
Back then, when I understood, finally, how to tell this story and thus redeem myself, I also realized it wasn’t going to be an easy story to tell, and even that I might not actually have the talent to pull it off.
Still, I understood, as well, I had to try.
Before Meets Girl.
I wanted to talk a bit more about the project before the launch, though. Because, honestly, I’m basically doing it completely backwards at this point. Ask any of the so-called or self-proclaimed writing gurus or marketing Internexperts or anyone else on Facebook and Twitter . . .
Look. Am I the only one completely exhausted by all the writers nobody’s ever heard of expounding their advice on how best to reach wider audiences? I can’t be, can I?
The situation is daunting at best. In terms of social media and networking, at least, never before have so many people said so little so loudly. The signal-to-noise ratio is crazily lopsided to the latter. There’s so much advice out there and so little of it actually sound. Anyone would tell you, if you want to become a successful author, you need a platform. You need a steady readership, which you gain from getting on Twitter and Facebook and updating your website and creating a fanpage and all those sorts of things.
In an ideal situation, of course, the implication is that all those things come after producing a solid novel, but I’m not sure how many people infer that fact, nor even that it’s true. In many cases, platform is the primary gauge of saleability. Indeed, corporate publishing is less a vehicle for writers and authors than for people with platforms who wrote books. There’s a huge distinction there.
According to most advice, I should have posted endlessly about how to write. How to structure. I should have reviewed more books so I could be a book blogger, and I should have posted links to other writers’ blogs. I should have done it daily, or nearly so, or even more frequently, an endless push of writers talking about writing and bloggers talking about blogging and let’s not forget about marketing and buzz and et cetera (and let’s be frank and call it ad nauseum).
A few years ago, back when I published my collection, I used to argue that doing the same thing with a novel didn’t make sense. The market for a novel is different from the market for a short story collection, I argued–and still maintain, as they’re very different forms. I’ve always preferred writing novels, but never realized just how much I preferred it until I practiced more at short stories and screenplays in grad school.
Grad school was good for me, as a writer. I’d spent years querying agents, moving beyond form rejections to requests for partials, but finally recognized a painful truth: I wasn’t yet as good a writer as I could be. So I sucked it up and decided I was going to learn how to be a better writer, and I applied to USC and got in. I took workshops with great teachers who read like a who’s who of contemporary American writing, and I remember how formative my first ever fiction workshop was. I learned a lot about the marketplace, and publishing, and did so on top of experience actually publishing, albeit in a trade versus commercial publication.
Toward the end of my first year, I realized that the market for short fiction sucked. Honestly, not much has changed since then. There are a handful of publications–like Esquire or The Atlantic or Playboy–that reach a lot of readers, but they’re nigh impossible to break into unless your last name is Moody or McEwan or Franco, and then there are the smaller literary journals, mostly affiliated with university-level writing programs. Easier, at times, but filled with often homogeneous writing that all pretty much sounds the same and is often about middle-class ennui or the dissatisfaction of getting drunk at parties. They don’t pay much, and usually in complimentary copies when they do, but writers who get stories published in them get publication credits, which look good on a query letter.
For me, frustrating. I don’t write for publication credits. I write to get to readers. And chances are most of the readers of those small literary journals are either the volunteer university staff who published them or the writers who hope to submit to them.
Maybe I should have. Maybe I should have played the game harder, written more stories with blank characters nobody cares about who live lives in which nothing much happened. Freedom seems to be doing pretty well, after all.
(Note: this post is stickied. Newer posts, I think, will appear below it. At least, that’s how it should work in theory. That’s how I’m meaning it to work. We’ll see how it ends up working.)
I’m really pleased people are already wanting to buy Meets Girl. In formatting the text for Kindle, I noticed a few details that needed cleaning up, so I’ll be making the necessary changes. I just want it to be perfect. Which I realize is probably impossible, but I can still do everything I can to get it as close as I can, anyway.
So I’m going to.
Because that’s the way you’ll get it.
I’ve spent the past week coding Meets Girl for Kindle.
(I think more writers should be able to say stuff like that, but that’s probably another discussion entirely.)
I’d originally considered making it a Kindle exclusive. Given that publishing for Kindle doesn’t actually restrict one to the device because Amazon’s app is available on pretty much every platform (PC, Mac, Android, iOS, etc.), I thought just going with Kindle was easiest for everyone.
But I’m rethinking that. Because I started thinking, wait. What if I were a reader who’d bought a nook because I liked Barnes & Noble?
In terms of digital distribution, exclusivity doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense.
Plus, Barnes & Noble’s Pubit platform went live last week. And you know the first thing I did when I got that particular email was sign up for a publisher account.
I’m not going to promise ubiquity to start with, but I am going to make as much available as I can as soon as I can. Meets Girl will go live on Lulu and Kindle on November 29th. I will begin serializing it four weeks before, on November 1st. I haven’t yet decided how much I’m going to ultimately post. I think the first nine or ten chapters, which will basically carry through into 2011.
More to come in the next few weeks.
Like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a contest?
Meets Girl: Sometimes the Greatest Love of All Is Unrequited.
I think I forgot to mention, here, I posted a new essay over at The Nervous Breakdown. In which I fawn hyperbolically over the new Kindle. In an era of totally undeserved hype (I’m looking at you, Jonathan Franzen), the Kindle is a magical device. I’ve been using it for about two weeks now.
First book: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which was a little like Harry Potter Goes to College, and started crazily strong, but then flopped in the final act, sadly. Disappointing, ultimately.
I like reading on it, and after a couple of weeks, I’m very glad I chose it over the iPad. It wasn’t merely a financial consideration. I just already have a laptop and a phone, and I wasn’t sure what I’d be using the iPad for. I need a keyboard to write (and I know I can get a bluetooth attachment, but that’s beside the point). Still, I understand why the iPad is overtaking the netbook category, mostly.
In terms of a dedicated digital reader, however, so far, the Kindle has been excellent. I like that it’s dedicated, too, like a book or a novel; when I’m reading a book, I’m reading the story. Not clicking around, not opening apps, not tweeting and Facebooking.
In the spirit of making Meets Girl available on it, I’ve been doing the necessary formatting and lay-out. It’s not difficult; Kindle mainly uses html. I’ll explain more about it at some point, when I’m done experimenting and learning it.
I think you’ll agree it looks fairly good already, though:
I should note that first image is not actually the Kindle file; it’s a PDF. Which the Kindle can display, natively. In terms of lay-out, though, the pagination and formatting both leave much to be desired.
Today, I woke up to an email from Barnes & Noble. Pubit, a program they had announced several months ago with the intention of going live over the summer, was finally implemented today. I’ve already signed up for an account and can start uploading files.
I’d originally planned to make Meets Girl a Kindle exclusive (given that Kindle is cross-platform and available, as an app, on pretty much anything), but then I started wondering why I wanted to limit choices. The whole point is to make the story available to anyone and everyone who wants it, including all the people who are getting a nook anytime soon.
So it will be. It may be a little while longer getting to the nook, but I’ll have it there, too.
“Once upon a time, I fell in love with a girl who didn’t love me in return.”
New York City, circa 2006. A young man lucking into any temp job he can while following his dream to be a writer. A dream girl and a bad case of unrequited love (is there any other kind?).
If the story ended there, it wouldn’t be extraordinary. It would be just another tale from the big, bad, glorious city; just another romance that never was; just another friendship that never got the chance to be anything more.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Good writers know that revising is best accomplished when they have achieved some distance from the work they are revising, and I’m inclined to agree with them. There’s also something about reading something concretely and tangibly that changes the reading experience. I’ve found that reading something on a page completely changes the nature of anything I’ve already written on a screen, and I’ve tried to use that distinction to my advantage. Whenever I’ve finished something new, when appropriate, I’ve formatted, designed, and laid out the work; uploaded it to Lulu; and had printed and shipped a copy I’ve taken a pen to.
I haven’t held back when I’ve done it. I’ve attempted to make whatever I’ve ordered as close to a fully realized product as it might be. Which is to say, it’s not just about having it printed and in my hands. It’s about doing my best to make it what I’d hope everyone would hold when they had it in their hands. Having what is basically a fully designed prototype–for lack of a better word–helps me.
When I finished Meets Girl, as a manuscript, I let it sit for several weeks while working on other projects (namely, Certainty, a new curriculum, and a new job). I knew I wanted to revise it, one last time. I knew I’d hit it, for real, but I also knew that hitting it, for real, didn’t mean it was perfect. There was more to polish. Some spots, I knew, were going to be rough. Heck, a couple I’d written to hold a place because I knew telling the story for real was going to be my highest priority.
Still, I knew I’d nailed the execution, for the most part, and all that was left was the polish. In the meantime, I continued to query The Prodigal Hour. I thought about querying Meets Girl, but I held off, as I wasn’t sure it fit either corporate or independent publishers.
I posted that picture of edited pages on the day I got the book back from my editor. This week, in between training clients and completing MBA coursework, I’ve revised.
Like crazy. The novel now clocks in around 77,000 words, which means my editor and I hacked off 7,000. Which is not bad, considering Stephen King’s once-maxim that the final draft = first draft minus 10%.
My editrix? Awesome. She gets it and, more importantly, doesn’t let me get away with anything (and Lord knows I’m always trying). I think a good editor makes sure you’ve got nothing up your sleeve when you go out onstage, which just makes the magic even better when the writer carries it off.
I’m excited. I won’t say I nailed it, or it’s great–that’ll be left for you to decide–but I am proud of it. I’d want a copy on my bookshelves.
The plan is Meets Girl will be available for reading in November 2010 and for purchase over the holidays.
This was taken last September, actually, but it’s still reasonably accurate. There’s still very little there, considering what once was.
The former director of USC’s writing program, Jim Ragan, wrote a poem called “Church and Liberty,” after two of the streets that intersected around the World Trade Center.
Imagine no religion. It’s easy if you try. No Hell below us, above us only sky.
Sadly, that’s not what he meant by “only sky.”
I will be avoiding that area today. Too many “9/11 Truthers” and people protesting a mosque planned for a site several blocks away.
I started working at Equinox Greenwich Avenue on June 1st of this year. After a few weeks of training and corporate policy, I got cleared to do fitness analyses and complimentary personal training sessions.
Ramping up a personal training business isn’t exactly easy. One starts from scratch, basically, in a new gym. The first few weeks are spent less meeting members than meeting colleagues, after which one becomes more comfortable and can start talking to more people. Offering to do sessions, bringing people in to establish fitness foundations and help them reach their goals.
I didn’t train my first actual client until mid-July, but after that I started to gain more traction, and just about two months later, I’ve had nearly a dozen clients. Several have come twice a week pretty consistently, even with vacation time off, and already we’re getting great results.
Totally thrilled to spend my holiday weekend revising.
I love having an editor who will mark a paragraph as “Too long. Didn’t read.” Ah, our Internet generation and reading habits.
In Manhattan, and perhaps especially this past year, September comes as a relief from sweltering August and its smother-you humidity. Manhattan is city where humidity gathers in pockets; walk down into a subway platform and you’ll know the feeling instantly as oppression wraps around your head. It truly can be that bad, especially when you consider the smell and the tangibility of it.
I’ve heard this summer has been the hottest on record in a ridiculous number of years. No source there, though, besides walking outside, which I think I’ve done enough of to say, brother, if it ain’t, it’s got to be close. This past summer has been the sort that makes me want to invite climate-change deniers to my apartment, where I’d plan to shut off my window-box air conditioner units except that might be construed as cruel and unusual punishment.
This time last year, I was a month into comeback. This time this year, I feel like I’ve made Manhattan home.
Completing the MBA homework I needed those laddering interviews for made me think a lot about attention. How we get it and to whom we give it, and why. Every once in a while, I’ll make disparaging comments about some author or other–usually Stephenie Meyer or Sarah Palin. Lately, James Franco.
I make those remarks, of course, because I’m jealous. It’s the frustration of a still-emerging writer scared shitless of never making it, for whatever ‘it’ means. The fear of a newb that all the fancy education and writing learning and multiple novels will never get the attention I’ve always thought they deserve.
And of course they don’t. Because nothing really deserves attention. Attention has to be earned.
Which, I think, is where a lot of the frustration with Meyer and Palin and Franco comes in. As a writer, I don’t get the fascination, the quality people find, but maybe I’m approaching it with the wrong idea. Do Meyer’s and Palin’s readers go to those women’s books seeking depth of thought and lucidity of prose?
Yesterday, I talked about how I thought a bookstore like Barnes & Noble might survive. How the retail model seems busted to some extent.
I fear my solutions to the problem seemed vague. I thought I’d fix that.
I think we need to remember that books are not stories, and vice versa. That reading is as much about the experience as the object being sold, and as such, retail publishing must change to meet new needs of the market.
The market needs a few things, based on what is changing. The biggest change is the proliferation of digital in an almost completely analog environment, but that provides both challenges and opportunities.
As I see it, what the market really needs is simple:
Big publishing news: Barnes & Noble, as a corporate entity, has put itself up for sale. It’s probably not big news to anyone watching the publishing industry in general, lately. B&N’s nook has a more aesthetically pleasing form factor than the Kindle, but its interface–which runs a version of Google’s Android–is clunky at best, its input system awkward, its overall experience lacking.
The only other experience it offers, unfortunately, is coffee, really.
No, seriously, consider a Barnes & Noble. Or a Borders, for that matter. With so many new books published at such an incredible rate, do you really think that’s where they make their coin?
I live in Manhattan, basically. There are a bunch of Barnes & Noble stores. Why do I go to them?
For the bargain-priced hardcovers (which are mostly remainders, and which I’m pretty sure B&N makes no money on), for the free wifi, and for the author events.
Other than that, I’ll find someplace else. If I want to buy a book, I either go to Amazon’s Marketplace or the Strand.
The reason Barnes & Noble is floundering is because the business model of selling books is starting to make less sense as more retailers find new ways of doing it. iTunes is now the nation’s leading retailer for music, purchases from which, by extension, must be digital.
One wonders if we’re on our way there now.
First, a big thanks to anyone who filled out a survey. It helped me out a great deal, both in terms of my class and in terms of my plans.
Second, if you haven’t by now watched the teaser video for Meets Girl in the previous post, go ahead and do so now.
I tweeted a picture of the cover, and then posted this video. A lot of questions came up, most of which boiled down to “All right, it’s pretty, and I’m excited, now how do I get the damned thing, Will? You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”
The answer is simple:
So, I’m doing my MBA. This semester focuses on consumer behavior and requires a laddering interview. Which is about decisions and finding out why people do what, and all that kind of thing.
So here’s the deal: I need your responses. I’m going to paste the interview after the jump. Think of it as one of those surveys everyone always used to love to do.
I think I’d most like to work this as an e-mail thing. Unless you want to post your response after the comments.
To sweeten the pot: anyone who responds will receive a copy of the first chapter of “Meets Girl,” by e-mail. If you comment, I’ll send it to the e-mail used in the form. If you email it to me (at willentrekin at gmail dot com), I’ll respond to the survey with the chapter.
I’ll appreciate every response I get. I’d love to deluge the course’s submission box with reader responses.
Thanks in advance. Survey after the jump:
It helps explain why I went quiet for so many months, and stopped posting here altogether.
The life of a writer, despite what you may have heard, is not exactly glamorous (though some writers look way better living one than others), and it’s often full of hustling and scrambling to reach certain goals, not the least of which is getting paid. Several months ago, while seeking freelance opportunities to supplement the meager income of being an adjunct professor at a small college, I found an opportunity to write online for a growing website I will leave nameless, both for purposes of professionalism and discussion but also because it’s not actually relevant to my purposes.
The ad I saw looked interesting and sought a writer interested in a monthly column. So I dropped a note to the supplied e-mail and, when I got a positive response, checked out the site, which was actually pretty awesome. I looked over some of the articles and pitched to the editor an idea I’d been kicking around for a few months (and still am).
The editor was encouraging and liked my style but thought the topic to specific and narrow, too relevant to writers and not relevant enough to their readers.
Ah, the dichotomy.
Last week, I had a few hours’ break at work. I’m now working at the Equinox gym on 12th and Greenwich, which may well be the premier and largest, most active gym in America; I think we get thousands of members coming through every day. It’s a really nice gym, too; I worked at Easton Gym Hollywood while I lived in LA, and it was a small, private, boutique gym–Equinox has that same private, boutique feel but is probably four times as large.
Working on 12th and Greenwich puts me in the heart of the Village, and so, with a few hours off, I made my way just a bit north and east, to Barnes & Noble Union Square, which is even larger than the B&N at the Grove in Hollywood.
Going there made me think a lot about books. Not just because I was surrounded by them.
Used to be, if I went to a B&N, I couldn’t leave without an armful of books. Last week, I had no inclination to buy any at all, and not just due to lack of fundage. Lots of books getting some buzz: I know I need to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo relatively soon, but otherwise? I heard a lot about The Imperfectionists, but I browsed it and didn’t make it past the first half-dozen pages, after which I gave up out of boredom.
This troubles me.
I used to read a copious amount of books, read books the way some people chainsmoke, beginning a new one even before I’d finished the previous one, letting the last few pages of one blur into the first few of the next.
Lately, I haven’t been so interested.
When I took that USC Business of the Business course, our final project was a business plan. It included all the sections necessary for reasons of profession and information: executive summary, financials, market survey et al..
I’m not going to pretend I can make that interesting.
It was the first business plan I ever conceived, and I tried hard but had difficulty with the course overall, which translated to difficulty with the final project. I knew how to query; I got requests for partials and polite rejections all the time. I’m reasonably good at pitching when I’m not so nervous my heart flutters. When it came time to name competition, I had trouble; I’m a writer, and don’t tend to think in terms of competition. Are Meyer and Brown competition? Part of me hopes so, because I’m about a thousand times better than either, but sometimes the market seems not to care about quality.
That’s a digression.
Part of what was hard for me was thinking of my writing so specifically as a product. Comparing my books to others. For me, it doesn’t; I write them because nobody else did and I wanted to read them.
That’s not what a business plan wants to hear.
During my final semester at USC, I took a course called “The Business of the Business” with Paula Brancato. Paula is, I think, mainly a writer/producer/entrepreneur. She had an MBA from Harvard Business School, and she’s a small, attractive woman with a quick bob and big, dark eyes. She’s both insightful and incisive.
When I took that course, it was small; by the end of the semester, I think there were only a few students still in it. Part of it was, I think, that the course had been structurally changed; rather than meeting once per week, on a weeknight, like most other courses in the MPW program, we had to truncate the schedule so that we met one Friday evening and all of one Saturday one weekend per month. Paula traveled back and forth to attend.
To back up just a bit, one of the main reasons I chose USC among scores of MFA programs I considered was that it wasn’t an MFA. While it offered fiction workshops for beginning and advanced writers alike, it also offered courses that concerned themselves with publishing as a business endeavor. Each workshop I took, at least to start, not only got us to produce two solid short stories during a brief summer semester but also required us to research markets and write query letters and submit letter and story to editors for publication. I’m sure a lot of my colleagues got their first sales that way.
I didn’t. My first sale was directly to readers.
A few weeks ago, big news around publishing was that The New Yorker had come up with a Twenty under Forty list, which was ostensibly meant to increase commenting by increasing controver–er. I mean, it was supposed to tip the New Yorker’s top hat at a small group of writers the illustrious, uber-prestigious publication deemed worth mentioning as either writers to watch or writers who were having some effect on literature. I can’t find the list, but I located some commentary on it on their website.
It’s full of the usual names of the young-ish literati. Jonathan Safran Foer, of course, as well as his wife, Nicole Krauss. Gary Shteyngart and Joshua Ferris. Lots of others.
Not really an interesting list. The mag might as well have said “Here’s a random list of forty young writers whose short stories we’ve published over the last decade, or whose books we’ve breathlessly reviewed. Now allow us to pat ourselves on the back for honoring the new literati.”
I know, I know: I said I was going to return to consistent form, managed several posts, and then disappeared for months. I mean, I’ve been on Twitter and writing monthly for The Nervous Breakdown, but haven’t really been here since early February, looks like.
Lots of stuff going on these past several months. Early on, much of my attention was focused on my mom, who was sick.
One day I’ll write about all that.
Today is not that day.
Today I want to write about turning 32.
It was nice to see Drew Brees and the Saints go marching into the end zone so many times last night, and terrific to see the Saints’ owner declare that New Orleans is back, just a few years after having been so devastated by Katrina. Part of the reason was that they’re a fine team, but another was the narrative: their city devastated, the Saints nursed their wounds and worked hard for three years to come into a game as underdogs–I think only that Coach guy predicted they might win, and even he said “My head is going with Indianapolis, but my heart says New Orleans.”
And they pulled off a solid victory after a nail-biting first half and then one of the most brilliant second halves in Superbowl history. Seriously, I’ve never seen an onside kick like that in a regular game, much less the big one that counts.
We like our narratives. We always have.
Of course, the other reason everyone was watching the game was the commercials. We love them. While watching the game I heard someone say that half the people tuning in were only doing so for the commercials. And we can learn a lot more from them than simply that Intel has a new processor and Geico still saves you fifteen percent or more.
Crash-course preamble: before Apple announced the iPad, it spoke to many publishers about providing content for its new device, which it hoped could be used as an e-reader. Perhaps hoping that the iPad could somehow do for books what the iPod did for music, many publishers–including the six largest corporate publishers, who include companies like Harper Collins and Penguin–made arrangements to distribute content via the new device at a price point of $14.99, 30% of which Apple retained. This seemed a coup for publishers, and flush with excitement over the deal, Macmillan decided it was going to use its new leveraging power to re-negotiate terms with Amazon and its Kindle, where e-books tended to run $9.99 when published by the big six. Why, Macmillan figured, should it accept $9.99 when it could charge $14.99 (nevermind that $14.99 is, at this point, mythical, given that the iPad right now only exists on Steve Jobs desk. So far as I know, we can’t even pre-order it yet)?
Amazon held firm to its price, and then a couple of old white guys fought like only the knew how, by digging in their heels and refusing to budge. If John Sargent and Macmillan were going to refuse their pricing scheme, Jeff Bezos and Amazon decided, well, they no longer needed to sell Macmillan books. Which included a lot of imprints, like TOR, Forge, ROC, and myriad others.
And readers, who tend not to care so much who publishes their favorite authors so long as they can buy the books, got hurt. Collateral damage.
Writers? Hurt too. Because most authors have no control over those sorts of things. Certainly not over how much their books cost.
The resulting mess and its Twitstorm highlighted the bigger issue, which is digital distribution, pricing, and information. The appropriate cost of an e-book is endlessly debated because the market is still nascent and nothing has yet emerged as the “right” price point. When Apple’s iPod came out, it established price points: 99 cents per song, $9.99 for most albums, with some bargains thrown in.
Apple came late to the e-book party because Steve Jobs didn’t want to admit he was wrong when he declared “Nobody reads anymore” several years ago. Also because, of course, he wanted to get it perfectly right. That’s what Apple tends to aim for (whether the iPad manages the feat is still anyone’s guess. My thought is close, but not yet). Amazon got to set a price–$9.99–that was widely but not universally adopted. I didn’t hear much about publishers grumbling over the price; all I really heard then, mostly, was publishers hoping to be saved by the Kindle.
For my money, I think even $9.99 is too high. I tend to think e-books’ price should fall around the price we’ve always paid for mass market paperbacks: ~$7.99 or so. Over here, Jeff Vandermeer notes why he thinks the mass market paperback analogy doesn’t work, but I’m not convinced by his argument, if only for the fact that he bases his argument on the mass market paperback business model–i.e., that a book needs to sell a lot of hardcover copies to justify the bulk order of paperbacks–which for me doesn’t make sense because why are we talking about printing books?
I understand why the publishing industry feels the need to justify its own existence. I’m just not sure it can.
Read the rest of this entry »
Those of you who’ve read my “The Trouble with Blogging post know that this is something I’ve been thinking about. Hell, it’s part of the reason I’m doing an MBA.
Right now, I’m teaching my students about structure and plot using Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone as a demonstration of a Hero’s Journey plot archetype. Reading it, I’m rediscovering just how excellently Rowling hits every plot point and necessary element note for note, from the Call to Adventure to the Crossing of the First Threshold etc. Harry Potter is really an excellent example of someone who becomes a hero; he certainly doesn’t start out that way. Yesterday, while teaching, I was asking my students what makes people heroes. What do we look for as a demonstration of heroism?
One mentioned worthwhile purpose, and intention.
So if I’m now doing what I want to do when I grow up, does that mean I have?
When I got the call that offered me a position teaching fiction, I was staring down a fork in the road. After this semester, I’ll be a mere few courses shy of an MBA, and one of those courses is a capstone, which I get the impression is a demonstration of the proficiency I have acquired by way of my courses.
I decided to earn the MBA because while I learned some great things about craft and writing in USC’s MPW program, the courses I took concerning the business side of things really set me thinking and made me want to learn more. I hear too many stories of too many writers who concentrate solely on one word after another with no concern for audience and how to reach it. And while I think that strong writing and good stories must be one’s primary concern, the thing about strong writing is that writing is a form of communication. It is meant to convey a particular idea from one party to another. It’s not just about the words, but what those words are conveying, and by extension, to whom.
I think it’s detrimental to a story to neglect that. Any story. Writers must consider to whom and for whom they are writing, as those aspects, I think, must be part of the why they are writing; if not to convey information, if not to transport a reader, if not to entertain and excite, what, precisely, is the point? Don’t take me wrong; the ideas conveyed may be for some purpose, to convince the reader, but still, both reader and purpose must be considered.
Which is why marketing and branding fascinate me. I have always liked stories that strike on a visceral level, stories that, for some reason or other, somehow transcend the words and the pages so that the stories take on lives beyond both writer and reader; stories are the halfway point in culture where tellers and their audiences meet, and like all halfway points, there is much power in them.
Before I digress too far, however, my dilemma: three courses left for a general degree, only a couple more than that for specialization–I’ll be done by next May at the latest, and probably sooner.
And what to do then?
I haven’t had a corporate job since I stopped working at a small publishing company in South Jersey a month before I left for USC, and one of the myriad reasons I had to stop working was that I could no longer fulfill my end of the employee contract. I would say the corporate lifestyle of set hours and salaried wages doesn’t appeal to me, but really, to whom does it?
I love marketing and branding and advertising, though. I thought I might be able to usefully apply what I’ve learned in my business courses beyond my own writing career by trying to find work as a copywriter in ad agency, eventually working my way up to creative director. Of course, a position like that requires much experience, which requires many long hours working for clients. I’ve been in that position before, working with Kraft and Sony and Campbell’s. I won’t say it’s not fun. I can’t say it’s not fulfilling.
But there’s writing.
There’s always writing. I tried for years not to do it. I tried to find other things I liked to do as much.
And then, at USC, I did. I still remember the moment I was standing at the reception desk as the gym where I was working, mostly folding towels, when I realized I’d like to stand in front of a class. When I considered how interesting it might be to teach. At the time I envisioned a fiction workshop.
In four semesters, I’ve gone from teaching freshman composition to teaching core fiction. And this fiction course? It’s a dream. I walked out of the meeting during which I talked to the chair about the books I hoped to use, and I was giddy. I literally jumped and clicked my heels. Because I always heard that’s what people do when they’re happy, and so I made it a habit to do so when I get great news.
I’m only a few days in. I’m still teaching Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which I’m using as an introduction to elements of story like structure and plot, as well as to outline the Hero’s Journey as explored by guys like Joseph Campbell and George Lucas. So far, I’ve been relating it not only to Star Wars and The Matrix but also to the big myths, the real myths, like the stories about Baldur and Christ.
So far, I’m having a great time. I’m hoping my students will ultimately say the same. I’m hoping they’ll learn some new things about fiction.
It’s been validating enough that I’m realizing I need to retake the general GREs and then take the subject one, too, because, okay, fine, yes, I want to get my PhD. I always avoided it because I never thought I’d find a place in academia, but maybe I don’t need to. Maybe it’s worth enough that I feel like I can say the same thing about a chalkboard and a roomful of students that I always said about a keyboard and a screen.
Give me those things, and I’m home.
Not a book deal. Yet. Hopefully soon there. Querying and such.
Sitting there in Miami airport, which currently has free Google wifi that doesn’t actually work, or didn’t on my iPhone. My phone goes off with a number I don’t have stored in my contacts. Usually I let such calls go straight to voicemail. Usually it’s a creditor or something. I’m a writer, so payment due dates are like deadlines, both of which I love for the whooshing sound they make as they shoot past.
I’m glad I didn’t. It was the chair of the English department at the college where I’m currently teaching composition. Or was teaching composition last semester. There’s been a lot of alteration to my schedule; when they asked me onboard, they offered me two classes, but they only had one for me by the time the semester started. I took it anyway. This semester around, they’ve switched me out of not one but two classes. I get it, of course; there are a lot of other faculty members who have been there for ages, so seniority gets dibs. I’m still a new guy, only having been there for a semester, and it’s not like I’m tenured or anything. Technically, in fact, I’m still an adjunct instructor, and not a professor, even though they still call me a professor.
The chair told me there was good news and bad news. The bad was that they had shuffled me out of the composition class. I was disappointed by this; they had begun me in one only to shuffle me into the second-half of my first semester class, which I was actually looking forward to as a challenge; I’ve never taught a two-semester course. Never had any student for more than one semester.
The good news, though, was that they had a prose fiction course offered. Which is, like the composition course, a part of the core curriculum, but which is an actual literature course.
This is ludicrously exciting for me. Then again, I’m a giant geek, so of course it is.
I’m leaving in a moment to discuss the syllabus and book choice with the chair. So far I’m hoping to use a few stories by Poe, one by Hawthorne, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Stephen King’s Night Shift and Different Seasons collection (for my money, the finest collections ever published, in any language), and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I think this will work. I know Gatsby will fly, and I saw a few other syllabi include both A Thousand Splendid Suns and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, both of which are rather contemporary and the former of which is decidedly popular (if not exactly genre), but I have a good feeling.
I have a great feeling, in fact. This is gonna be fun.
Edit to add: All books approved. Also given a big book of short stories I can select from. So there’s my week/end.
What a difficult list to compile. Especially since, glancing down at my iTunes running, there are 33,773 songs in my library. According to iTunes, it will take me more than 100 days of continuous listening (with no sleep, now I realize) to listen to them all. It’s rather extensive, and it’s the sort of collection that makes my taste in music suspect at best, beginning as it does with A-Ha (because any collection without “Take On Me” is incomplete) and ending (before it reaches songs without proper ID3 tags and lumps them all) with “Skin Up Pin Up” by 808 State/Mansun from Spawn: The Album (iTunes is the first organization system I’ve seen that puts numbers after letters, rather than before; if it did, the first songs would be by 1 Giant Leap or 12 Rounds). In between those few, there’s everything from Rick Astley, Belinda Carlisle, and Bon Jovi to all of Clapton, the Beatles, and Sinatra.
So it’s pretty expansive.
But expansive as it is, I tend to stick to some favorites. Lately it’s been a lot of Wolfmother (and Jet; what is it about Australia that inspires such great rock music from its bands?), Vanessa Mae, and, as always, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. Also, Adam Lambert and Matt Wertz.
So there’s a lot. But I winnowed. I winnowed after I kept reading other lists that fawned over, like, Radiohead and such. I mean, has Radiohead ever managed to be as good as Pablo, Honey? They’re like Pearl Jam and Matchbox Twenty, with fantastic debut CDs but output that has gotten subsequently less terrific with each title. For me, anyway. Your listening may vary. Also, dear Rolling Stone: The Strokes and Wilco in number 2 and number 3 spots, respectively. No offense, but seriously? No wonder people debate the continued relevance of the magazine. I mean, how safe.
Why not stretch a bit? Why not reach for some choices few people would expect? Then again, this from a guy who doesn’t really enjoy any of those three bands. I know lots of reviewers fell over themselves to heap a lot of praise on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but there wasn’t a single song on it that made me want to listen to the CD again. I get the impression it’s all just, like, hey, everyone else likes it, so we should, too, but to cite one of the artists who earned a spot on my list by way of a great CD, “You don’t know what love is, you just do as you’re told.”
So, suspect taste noted, shall we? My top ten albums of the last ten years, in order:
This past decade may have been the one that most changed music, both as an industry and in general (will we even have albums anymore, at the close of our new decade?). Apple introduced its iPod in 2001 and then its iPhone in 2007, both of which helped the Cupertino-based company located at One Infinite Loop become the largest music retailer in the industry. Before we go on, let that sink in a moment: iTunes Store is a larger retailer of music than Wal-Mart or Amazon. Part of it is convenience—the iPod dominates the digital music player category, while the iPhone continues to grow as a cell phone—but there’s more to it than simply that people just want something to plug in and forget. It’s changed browsing, publishing, and exclusivity, not to mention access; more musicians have more access to put up their music. It no longer takes the likes of Sony and BMG to reach an audience; now, anyone with a microphone and a guitar can record their music in their basement and charge a buck a track to anyone who wants them.
Which is not to say that anyone with a microphone and a guitar should (although at times it’s sounds like many have and still are); as with movies and books, few people ever want to believe they’re just not that good at what they want to do. Most publishers, be they of music, movies, or books, want the general public to believe they act something like gatekeepers, which may be one of the biggest PR con jobs in the history of people making stuff up for other people to enjoy.
But the past ten years have been really good to music. Spectacular, even, with introductions to fantastic new bands and new releases from ones we hadn’t heard from in a lot of years. So good a top-ten list is tough, and again, filled with lots of CDs that very nearly make it but either way certainly deserve a mention as elevens. In no particular order:
I know the list of number elevens, of also-rans, of honorable mentions, probably already implies my taste in movies. Which many people have called suspect over the years, but which I can never help; I always want to love movies. Sometimes I get my expectations too high and then get disappointed when I’m not blown away.
Admittedly, being blown away shouldn’t be the measure of movies. Lots of great movies don’t blow people away.
But I still think the best do. Personally, I think the best movies are the ones you feel in your gut. I’m not interested in analysis, commentary, and socio-critical context; I don’t really give a flying flip what any particular movie says about society, for the most part. What I care about are movies that fulfill what I believe should be the primary objective of any story: to entertain.
Education is great. Information is awesome. Awareness is admirable, and enlightenment valuable.
But I still believe those things come after entertainment. I was not entertained by There Will Be Blood, nor No Country for Old Man; I thought both interminably slow and, worst of all, boring. Sure, some pretty images. Sure, a weird haircut. But pretty images and weird haircuts do not a movie make.
Everyone’s doing decade-end top-ten lists, and I keep reading them and not seeing anything I thought was awesome, so I decided to do my own, one each for movies, music, and books. I’ve decided to post them in that order, if only because the book one will probably be the most difficult. Always is. Love books, after all.
Rolling Stone named There Will Be Blood as its number-one movie of the first decade of the millennium, which I think disqualifies the rest of the list (which, in addition, ends with the mind-numbingly endless Lord of the Rings trilogy, or, as I like to refer to it, “That Fucking Day I’ll Never Get Back”). It’s filled with the usual suspects, No Country for Old Men and A History of Violence and Mulholland Drive; lots of, you know, arty sort of movies people always mistake the boringness of for things like subtlety and craft.
Gag me with a spork.
This past decade was pretty awesome for movies, though you wouldn’t know it from most top ten lists. There was a lot of stuff blowing up in ways we’d never seen shit blown up before. There was a whole lot of being really, really ridiculously good looking (spoiler spot!). We didn’t just believe a man could fly; we believed a man could build a suit that would enable him to fly.
Which was totally rad.
So I started to think about a top-ten list. I started to make up a top-ten list, in fact. And then it got long, when I realized how many absolutely awesome movies had been made in the last decade, and how many were going to go ignored. So I’m going with two top-ten movies of the past decade list: the absolute top ten, and then the top ten movies that didn’t make the top-ten list itself. I figured I’d start with the latter, all of which you can call number eleven.
Just read a post by Jane over at dearauthor.com: “Books as a Business”. It’s a mostly good article with some interesting analysis, though I would change the title, at least; books are what we read, while publishing is a business.
Which aligns with my previous couple of posts, staying on the theme of writing as creative endeavor and publishing as business endeavor. The other day, I was chided on Twitter by dietpopstar for using the word “monetizing” with regard to writing, and who told me I’d “lost my way” as I’m supposed to be “a fucking artist,” and such considerations were “vulgar.” She’s arguably right about my using the word “monetize,” I admit; I probably should have chosen a different word or phrase, like maybe “I gotsta get myself paid, too, yo.” Which, at least, is funnier.
And that’s the trouble with blogging. Not the funnier part. The part about having to get paid.
In the spirit of continuing discussion begun yesterday, as I had planned to, today I found this article at Publishing Perspectives, which muses about whether famous authors should even bother with traditional publishers anymore. It cites as examples authors including Steven Covey, of whom I’ve not yet heard and will research more shortly, as well as Timothy Ferris (The Four-Hour Workweek) and Seth Godin. I’m very familiar with Godin; I’ve read a lot of his blog, and he’s primarily a businessman concerned with marketing and branding but also has myriad interesting thoughts about how to harness the power of social networking and tribes.
All three seem to be businessmen of some nature, and all three seem to make their income primarily through speaking engagements and presentations. Their books are extensions of their content, and not vice versa, which I think is an extraordinary distinction to make.
I think this is precisely the sort of practice that may help us rethink publishing. Let’s face it: in the age of the Internet and at the advent of a new paradigm of digital distribution and consumption, the model as has been used since the Great Depression no longer seems appropriate. Does it make sense, in nearly 2010, to use a content distribution model that has existed since before television?
In taking business classes to earn my MBA in international business and strategic marketing, I have had to come up with a lot of plans. Plans for businesses, plans for marketing, plans for management teams. My latest course required a leadership profile; I had to analyze my three major leadership traits (I chose service, participation, and charisma), as well as create an action plan to not only maintain but also enhance those traits. Those traits weren’t difficult to choose: all my life, I’ve pursued leadership, mainly because I tend to think that leading can often be the best way of serving (which is why service was my first and primary trait). The plans–especially the marketing and business plans–required a lot of research into specific industries we had to choose for ourselves.
Now, I’m pursuing an MBA as an extension of my master’s degree in writing, which I earned in 2008 from USC. Among my most valuable classes (and in some ways my most difficult) were courses with Shelly Lowenkopf and Paula Brancato; I studied the Literary Marketplace with the former and the Business of the Business with the latter. In that former, I learned lots about the differences between book formats, genres, and etc., while in the latter I had to write my first business plan. I struggled there with Paula, because I used the novel I was writing as my thesis, The Prodigal Hour, as my example for marketing and promotions, which was difficult both because I was still writing the damned thing as well as because it’s a difficult piece to sell/market/promote (it’s main plot device is a time machine, but it’s not really a science fiction novel). After graduating from USC, I realized that I was a good writer but still had a lot to learn about the business side of things, so I set about figuring out how to learn what I still needed to know. Given living situations and the state of the economoy, I also wanted to put off student loans, so I enrolled at Regis.
Been a long, long time, hasn’t it? How are you?
I’m good. Great, in fact. Well. Mostly.
If you’re wondering whatever happened to me, don’t feel bad; there are days I wonder the same thing. If only because some days you look up and around you and you wonder, my, where did the time go?
The past six months went a lot of places. I visited gorgeous San Francisco. By all accounts, it was supposed to be cool and foggy in the middle of June, but there was nary a cloud in the sky, and boy did I have a fantastic time, drinking horchata and riding trolley cars and visiting ruins. Eating Ghirardelli chocolate and Mission burritos.
October 2001 was difficult for me in a lot of ways, and I remember much of it in particular moments; the one when, while striding down Madison Avenue on my way home from the advertising agency, I first floated to my father the idea of moving back in with my family. Not long after that, I sat in the office of the business manager of my department and pegged the 26th as my final day with their firm.
That latter wasn’t difficult, exactly, but certainly occurred with some finality.
Over the following few weeks, I caught up with old friends as a sort of last huzzah before I left the City. And during one of those evenings, I went out with a group of girls in Hell’s Kitchen. I always was lucky to find myself surrounded by beautiful and intelligent women and privy to conversations I was lucky to hear (always cognizant that I was being allowed to hear them, and only allowed to hear what they chose), and that night was no exception; the girls I went out with had worked at the Firehouse up on the Upper West Side, somewhere around Columbus and 84th or Amsterdam and 85th, I can never remember which. Back then, we would meet up there for drinks, then go out to another bar to continue dancing and drinking, and then return to the Firehouse, which would by then be closed. I’m not sure I ever saw the sunrise through its windows, but there were several occasions I think I came pretty close.
Holy Hell it’s been a while, hasn’t it?
I didn’t plan on that; if I had, I probably would have said something.
I’ve been otherwise occupied, obviously. For myriad reasons. Thinking less and getting on with things, which is generally a fine way to go about it. This past year was difficult in several ways, including two major moves, the end of a long relationship, and overall a lot of change and flux. I think it culminated a few weeks ago when I didn’t get into NYU; I’d looked forward to going back up to Manhattan to attend school there. There have been false starts and falser hopes, but in the end you live and learn and I’m still, in ways, absorbing some lessons. It is, in ways, like that moment in The Matrix when Neo mainlines kung fu, except for the fact that there’s a steeper learning curve, and more time necessary with new knowledge before the application thereof.
The reason for the actual break from blogging was simple, though: I was getting deep into a project called Meets Girl, which is going really well, lately, and which came alive to me in ways previous drafts didn’t. It’s the first thing I’ve retried since I got my Master’s; I started this new draft not long after I graduated, if I’m not mistaken. Which means it’s taken a long time, but the nature of the story and the telling of it have challenged me in ways I haven’t expected. Which you’ll understand when you read it, and which may come sooner than later.
I didn’t expect it to take so long as it has, but then I had an idea for a screenplay I had to go with. It was one of those 6 a.m. ideas so powerful it leaves you no chance of getting back to sleep, and I wrote the first act in a two-day mad rush of ideas and fun and laughing at myself.
It has since slowed down, but I’m about midway through, now, and it’s going well.
It’s all going well. I can’t complain, I’ve realized. Not in this lifetime.
But that’s not the whole explanation. The whole explanation and the whole reason I haven’t posted is because I suddenly started to feel very ambivalent about blogging. I think I was eleven when I realized I wanted to be a writer, and the only thing I ever wanted to write, growing up, was novels; they’re all I read, besides a handful of short stories. When I started blogging a few years ago, I thought it might be a good way to somehow become a better writer, but, I’ve realized I think that’s rather a bit like trying to become a better golfer by playing pool–sure, there’s a ball and a hole and a stick, but that’s now how you–no, don’t–what’re you–?
That’s not how it works, sir.
That’s not to say there’s no room for a pool table in the golf clubhouse, of course. Just, priorities; nobody’s in the clubhouse for the felt. The felt is an afterthought.
I’ve now arguably belabored the metaphor, and I don’t even like golf.
So I’m finishing a novel and a screenplay. In the meantime, I’ve been doing more on Twitter, which you can see right there in the sidebar. I plan to come back here at some point. I plan to post more. But I plan to use it differently than I was before. Best laid plans etc., but then again, sometimes it’s good to have one if only so there’s something to aim for, even if you finally miss.
Not long ago, I went to a Philly bar called Eulogy with my best friend. This bar is a Belgian sort of pub one feature of which is a private room with a table like a coffin, and this best friend is a guy earning his master’s in literature but who also moonlights as a keyboardist in one band and a lead guitarist in another, which I hope will intimate the overall atmosphere. If only because my buddy and I have the conversation where we discuss Derrida but totally admit to neither ever reading or understanding the guy.
Over the course of (several) fine Belgian beers (Rochefort 10 ftw!), we started talking about Heath Ledger and The Dark Knight. Now, what you have to know, straight off, is that while we’re good buddies, he and I rarely agree on anything related to either music or movies. We both like music in general and good music in particular, but we have very different definitions as to what that exactly means.
So, Heath Ledger. The Dark Knight.
Read the rest of this entry »
Apparently, those allergies I battled the other week? Either the prelude to a cold or the set-up for one, which came hard and fast and knocked me right the hell off my feet. It was like a rope-a-dope, or something. Tuesday I started getting cranky and achy, and then Wednesday and Thursday just outright sucked.
So that’s what I did this week.
On the plus side, I got a loan that should carry me a while, and went to my first eye exam in several years. I studied hard and passed with flying colors (ha!).
While sick, I watched the so-criminally-underrated-it-was-canceled-after-eight-episodes Love Monkey, which starred Tom Cavanagh in the titular role and concerns days in the life of an A&R rep for an indie music label. Really, really great show based on an actually decent book with the same name by Kyle Smith. Then again, it was one of the single instances when the adaptation was better than the source material, and those eight episodes became one of the most perfectly executed television series I’ve ever watched. Doesn’t seem to be available on DVD yet, but I’m sure some resourcefulness and good ole’ fashioned Google fu can help.
This is the first part of the first episode:
With February just around the corner, there’s lots to do, but then again, I feel like I’m always saying that, so I think I’m going to stop and just, you know, do them. I fear this blog became a bit too much like a journal and a bit too little like . . . well, something really awesome.
Anyway, more after I can fully clear the glue out of my head. And maybe beer and venison tonight with my best buddy in the world. Sounds therapeutic to me, even if it is, like, two degrees out there.
I’ll pretend this ship’s not sinking.
Because, really, it’s not.
As expected, I’ve had Go West in my head for a few days now. As also expected, I haven’t minded much.
So here’s the thing: one of the reasons I came back to Jersey and with the intention of moving back to Manhattan was that I thought I had to figure some things out. It’s a phrase I used several times. I expected some deep self-analysis and introspection, perhaps? I’m not sure, exactly, if only because such phrases have always inspired me to eye-rolls. Like the whole “I need to find myself thing.”
(I thought I had to find myself once. So I started looking, and after not long at all, I did. Find myself, I mean. I was under my bed, and boy was I surprised to see me)
And so I’ve been thinking. As I’ve been writing. I’ve been thinking about MAs and MBAs. I’ve been thinking about NYU and Regis. I’ve been thinking about What I Want to Do With My Life.
As though I hadn’t been already.
It’s been a joke among my friends lately that I’ve become a bit of an academic gypsy, except without the whole eyeliner thing. The word “nomadic” has come up. A few people–including my own mother, in fact–remarked further upon the idea: that I can’t “keep running from” . . . well, I don’t know. People say “things,” but nobody’s exactly specific.
But the thing I’m realizing is that I’ve been doing what I want to do with my life. I’ve been talking about Hollywood and LA to people, and how much I disliked the “city” itself, but I loved USC. I went to Denver because I knew I sought city life but also missed nature; I thought Denver would be a good place, but after only a few months, I started missing home and Manhattan. And I really missed home. I missed my family and friends. And I was thinking of here, of Jersey, as home.
So I came home.
All those things, I wanted to do. I wanted to be here right now, and here I am.
Saturday night, I went out to see my buddies play. This was a common activity when I lived here a few years ago; I would go out to Philly usually at least once a month. I would knock a few back. I would dance. I would smile and hug my friends and laugh.
Which basically describes this past Saturday night. I did all those things.
I was just talking to my sister, telling her I felt anxious. Telling her I didn’t know what I was doing. She asked me how much thought I’d given it, and I told her: “A decent amount.” To which she replied: “Well, then, why don’t you stop? You’ve got too much time on your hands. Get on with it.”
I keep hoping for clarity from confusion, self-knowledge like some beatific epiphany–but if I heard someone say something even remotely like that, my first response would be simple:
“What does that even mean?”
The other night, I dreamt I danced twice, once in practice and then again as performance. The following evening, though, I knocked one back and I smiled and I danced for the simple sake of dancing, because, really, what other reason would one need? Is this anxiety I keep feeling just the universe’s way of telling me to stop trying to control everything and just let life happen?
I don’t know, but I’m not sure I should give it much thought, either.
After all, there’s dancin’ to be done.
Feets don’t fail me now.
Just four days after GM received a $5 billion dollar loan as a bailout from the federal government, the company announced today it would lay off 2,000 workers and slow production across nine plants.
I hate to say that it seems as always that the rich get richer while the poor get laid off, because that’s way more cynical than I generally tend toward, but, well, it really does seem that way, lately.
But I don’t know; you’d think maybe GM would use some of those workers it’s laying off to work on fuel/energy efficiency standards Obama is targeting.
It’s kind of a shame Obama can’t just step in and say, “Guys, we just gave you $5 billion. You’re not slowing production or laying anyone off. What you’re going to do is give free cars to all the customers your banks/dealerships are denying new car loans to.”