Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Category: publishing (page 2 of 6)

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.

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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.

You can find them all right here.

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.

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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:

“Problems With a Girl & a Unicorn”

“The Secret Life of Veal”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Which is why, for a limited time only, all my books for Kindle are just 99 cents.

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:

Meets Girl

and

The Prodigal Hour

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It’s that time of year again!

I’m surprised to realize I wrote “A Writer’s Alternative to NaNoWriMo” two years ago now.

Looking back, it’s fun, but I realize I’ve been reconsidering my opinion of it, especially in light of recent posts and novels.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’?”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Tech Crunch reports that Amazon will announce its new Kindle “Fire” tablet at the press conference it is holding tomorrow.

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.

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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.)

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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.

So I did. Here’s the link. It’s a dollar.

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.

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