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 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.
In November 1913, Nils Granlund, a manager at a theater in Marcus Loew’s chain, produced a promotional video for an upcoming musical, which he intended to show after other movies had already finished, which was why such short promotional videos were called trailers. The Marcus Loew chain ultimately became Loew’s Theaters (now AMC), and savvy theater managers began to run trailers before movies, rather than after.
Now, of course, the trailers/previews/coming attractions are one of the highlights of going to the theater.
And they’re not just for movies anymore.
It was easy to appropriate the idea for television. Trailers were just commercials for movies, anyway, so previews for new and upcoming episodes and shows were just that. And then came MTV, which was basically trailers for albums in the form of music videos.
In recent years, authors and publishers have taken up the idea. James Patterson, who was successful in advertising before he became the brand-name author he has become, was pretty much the first author to use the idea successfully in 1993 to support the launch of Along Came a Spider. His publisher wasn’t exactly for it, but Patterson wrote, produced, and paid for the commercial himself, and if it wasn’t the first-ever commercial for a novel, it was certainly a milestone in the current big-name publishing landscape and brand-name authors. Now, the internet, YouTube, and digital cameras have made it simple for authors to make and distribute promotional videos for their books even more easily.
Now that the idea is more popular and more authors are using it, however, more people are wondering about how effective teasers are (I like to call them teasers. They’re not trailing after anything, after all). Should authors really be worrying about them, or are they a waste of time?
To answer those questions, we have to back up a ways.
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.
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.
Silly and poignant and real … totally hilarious … basic love story meets girl Tarot 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.
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?
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.
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.
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—
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.
Seems like this week is always rather retrospective. Years in review, all that. Lots of sites running “Top Stories of 2010″ posts, as though what wouldn’t have been news again last week suddenly is solely by virtue of when it was news. It’s like the East Coast blizzard froze the whole world, which is stuck hoping for thaw to begin tomorrow.
I thought about doing some best-of posts. The decade-best lists are some of the most popular posts on this site. Yesterday, however, I glanced through a list of movies that came out in 2011 and found precisely two I thought were remarkable: How to Train Your Dragon and The Social Network. The former was a surprise; it had a lot of heart and was a lot of fun, and it managed that rare thing of being a movie aimed at a younger audience that appealed across a wider age range without using irreverent humor and other such innuendo-based means. With Shrek, one of the things that increased its appeal was jokes that kids wouldn’t have gotten; it worked on multiple levels; Dragon, on the other hand, stuck mainly consistent in just trying to tell its story, and I think it was a better movie for it.
The Social Network demonstrates that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Panic Room were flukes from a guy who’s been getting better since the beginning, by which I mean that David Fincher had shown signs of improvement over his career and development as a director in years previous by making movies that were consistently better than the ones before. Se7en was fantastic after Alien3. The Game is underrated, and then there’s Fight Club, and then, just when you think that he’s got a style, signature shots, all that, Zodiac, which was the first time he just turned the camera on and followed the story (which isn’t to say his obvious style didn’t serve his other movies). And now The Social Network the rise and continued rise of Zuckerberg and Facebook, which was, on all levels, fantastic.
I read other movies people were raving about, but didn’t much like them when I sat down to check them out. Inception, in particular . . . just didn’t do it for me. Funny: I remember when The Matrix came out, and all the people who claimed not to “get it,” that it just never made sense to them, all that, and then watching Inception . . . my initial thought was “So it’s The Matrix but with dreams and less action?”
That thought never went away. It eventually became more negative, in fact, but one of my resolutions this year is to be more positive. Exciting is not about negativity, after all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe it’s because I worked for more than a year as a broadcast production assistant at Young & Rubicam, but I find the relatively new popularity of so-called “book trailers” in the publishing world fascinating. I bunny-quote “book trailers” because really, they’re not actually that, and neither are previews in front of movies. People called them “trailers,” originally, because they actually trailed movies and played at the end.
But then Hitchcock and Psycho came along. Hitchcock didn’t want the ending of Psycho spoiled, so he decided audiences couldn’t walk in halfway through the movie. Before then, one could buy a ticket, walk in to any showing, stick around for the end, and then wait until it started over to catch whatever you’d missed.
I like to call them teasers. Because I like to tease.
So here’s another tease of Meets Girl, a little more elaborate than the first one. Hope you dig it.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!”