Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: publishing (page 1 of 4)

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.

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Last week, in an event specified as education-related, Apple announced new software that enables authors to more easily create and publish media-rich digital content. They’re calling the sales app iBooks 2 and the creation app iBooks Author, but they seem to be making a very marked distinction that what has generally become known as an e-book is not what Apple has in mind when it talks about iBooks.

A lot of authors—especially independent authors—and other people in the publishing industry have been writing about the agreement that comes with the software, and complaining about how restrictive and evil it is. I’ve read the agreement in question, and I think that all the discussion around it is based on simple misunderstanding.

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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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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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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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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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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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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.

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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 slavesinterns to the slushpile. You hoped for a four figure advance you might see three of after everyone else had taken their shares.

You wrote private thoughts in your journal. If you had one. If not, you bored your friends.

I’m kidding.


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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:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

That’s exactly what all the writers entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award are doing.

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.

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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 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.

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?

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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.

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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.

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