Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bookstores: Drive-thru or Drive-by?

Okay, book sales are up (4.1 percent last year, according to publishers), Barnes & Noble sales are down 2 to 4 percent, ebook markets will grow nearly 50 percent next year, and ebooks will be about 20 percent of the book market by 2015.

Numbers tend to get thrown around to suit whomever is doing the flinging--if you want to scare people into supporting their local bookstores, you tell them bookstores are in trouble, but this may or may not motivate them. I don't expect a "pity party" will sustain any business for long, and if those customers were in the habit of supporting the business, it wouldn't have been in trouble in the first place.

If you want to say bookstores are in trouble because everybody's staying at home and ordering ebooks, the data doesn't really support that yet, as ebooks are between 1 and 3 percent of the book market right now.

If you want to say publishers are adjusting despite the trouble bookstores are in, maybe the truth is in there somewhere. Paper has to be shipped, whether from Amazon to the front door or from a distributor to the store shelves, and you still have to drive to the bookstore, and you still have time invested.

There is an emotional and sometimes-hostile discussion on author Charles Stross' blog about the fate of publishing, the real cost of books, and consumer impact on the industry, among other things. I had nothing to add but, on getting some reflection, Charles seems adamant that a publisher adds 50 percent of the book's value by doing 50 percent of the production work (with the author doing the other 50 percent). He seems fine with the other workers deriving income from his creativity and their skills. That's a worthy model, but he continually downplays ebooks and believes, even with cheaper "distribution," those production costs will still be there. He also admits he hates Amazon and is doing well with his paper sales, so those factors color his opinion, too.

As with many authors deeply invested in the current model (and you can read their blogs all over the place; simply google "Amazon vs. Macmillan"), they are presenting information from their unique perspective--that is, as people whose work goes through the modern production process and has many hands involved. As someone who has created ebooks and done almost everything the producers do (except for cover art--tip of the hat to Neil Jackson of Ghostwriter), then I understand the real time invested in the work. I couldn't do an ebook if I had to pay an employee an hourly wage, much less offering a full-time job with benefits.

But the time I invest now is a long-term investment, with royalties hopefully accruing over many years. The single-most-common missing ingredient in these authors' defense of the status quo is that they fail to calculate the long-term income of an ebook versus the paper copy that may only be on the store shelves for three months. An ebook has a much longer lifespan in which to recoup production costs. And believe me, it's a trickle, not a stream, and certainly not a flood. Still, a cup dipped in a trickle will hold just as much as that same cup dipped in a flood.

With the help of Steven James Price, I just uploaded a print file of The Red Church at Amazon, so it will be available in trade paperback. But because of printing and shipping costs, to make even a slim profit (about the same I'd make on an ebook sale, in some instances), the book had to be priced at $14.95. I almost feel guilty trying to sell a book for that much, because it's a lot of money to me. I've been enjoying this idea of "working-class fiction," but a $1.99 ebook seems a lot closer to the mark than a book that costs as much as a discounted hardcover bestseller.

Of course, used copies of The Red Church can be bought for a penny (with nearly $4 in shipping costs), so I don't expect to sell many of the new trade paperbacks. Even if a major publisher decided to re-release The Red Church, it would make few store appearances and will still only earn me about a 10 percent royalty. In the economies of scale, it would be foolish for a publisher to take it on, barring some sort of looming Nicholson blockbuster that isn't on the map yet. (Well, I think that one is coming, but it might not be under the "Nicholson" name).

But for my economic scale, it is foolish not to publish it. So, in any debate in which I take my perspective, then major publishers and bookstores are in trouble because they don't have me on the shelves to save them...


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Paper or Plastic: Is an ebook still a book?


Reading paper books is an emotional experience for which many of us have developed nostalgia. We remember our Dr. Seuss books, our early school readers, our library adventures, then the teen years and really ranging into our individual tastes. Right now, most of us did that with paper books. Ten years from now? I think not.

My first music of my own was a scratchy Rod Stewart vinyl LP I found in a dumpster (yeah, we were poor and didn't have much besides my dad's old-school country 8-tracks). I have a cassette tape of that scratchy vinyl LP, and that is my version of the experience--right down to the skip in the middle of "I'd Rather Go Blind." Even if I hear the song on a CD, my brain puts in the skip, because that's the way I know the song. If I sing it to myself, the skip is in there. That's my experience and my nostalgia.

Have you ever tried to play a vinyl album for a kid? They think you're nuts. Some people get fighting mad over the very idea of ebooks, as if this were Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." Paper books are "real books" or "true books," they say. Yet they still call CDs and iPod downloads "records" or "albums," the same name they used when the format was a large vinyl disc. And music wasn't harmed in the least. In fact, most of us who aren't crotchety old fuddyduds will allow that music is vaster, broader, and more experimental than ever because it is more easily shared and experienced.

I remember in the 1990s when a few Chicken Littlers were warning about the death of paper books. I laughed at them. I remember in the early 21st century when writers first started wondering about whether they should protect their electronic rights. The industry laughed at them. On Christmas Day, Amazon sold more ebooks than paper books. I'm not laughing anymore. I am selling ebooks. And I am writing books with the expectation that they will be ebooks. And I am planning the long arc of my remaining career with the intention of staying "in print" and viable. And passing that to my heirs for the life of copyright. It's not only realistic, it's stupid not to do it.

And, as with the ease of music proliferation because of technological advancement, I see reading returning to the working class. You know, those people who can't afford $25 books and can barely afford time to read them because they are busting their chops to feed and house a family. A $2 ebook they can read in small chunks, and the convenience of carrying around 1,500 books at all times, will get more people peeking "between the pages."

Since I became interested in this issue, my research has shown that Kindle, Nook, and other ereader-device owners not only buy and read more books than they ever have before, they are trying genres and subject matter they never would have picked up otherwise. One man on the Kindle Boards hadn't read a book in 30 years because of visual impairment. Because he can now blow up the text size, he has read four books since Christmas. Teachers are taking their Kindles into classrooms and making reading cool again. Kids already have their own personal devices and are used to them. That's their nostalgia.

Publishers are trying mightily to stem the tide because they are invested in an old model in which they control and dole out content and lock up writers' rights for as long as possible. It's a central and overlooked element of the current ebook pricing wars. That's a side issue for readers but it's going to become critical if you believe the author is why we buy books, not the physical means or channel through which the story travels.

I fully appreciate those who defend the smell of pulp and ink, the tactile sensation of pages, the brilliance of a four-color paper cover and foil-stamped title logo. Many book bloggers fiercely defend paper books and most won't review ebooks at all. But if you look closely, the blogging phenomenon took over the role of "real newspapers" in reviewing and announcing books, to such a degree that many bloggers now are on the reviewer lists of major publishers, and obviously have a vested interest in preserving the current model because they are getting cases of free books. I don't blame them for not reviewing ebooks, because then they are left with nothing but the experience, and everyone loves free stuff. Already, there is a new model developing in which ebook bloggers may be readying to take over for "real book bloggers."

I love paper books, and I believe they will be around for the rest of my lifetime. There will still be bookstores, but they will be specialty shops and antiquaries instead of mainstream commerce centers. How much money have you spent at your local indie bookstore lately? Can you even find an indie within a two-hour radius? Here in my small university town, we have one indie bookstore and one specialty store that sells vinyl records. We no longer have a store that sells CDs, and only one chain video store. Are vinyl records the only "real music" or VHS tapes the only "real movies"?

I still have plenty of paper books. Some I keep because of nostalgia. I look at the object and feel that same attachment as I would with the old Rod Stewart album if it were still around. Other books I give away, but I still have the experience of the story. The "paper book" object is separate from the "book" experience of the story. Objects are ephemeral and paper crumbles to dust. The experience endures. The story lives on.

Scott Nicholson is the author of eight "real books" and six "fake books" (er, ebooks). Some of the real ones have the same stories as the fake ones. The difference is the "real books" have often been declared out of print by the publisher and removed from store shelves, so his dedicated readers must take extreme measures to find them, including prowling garage sales and stealing from the library. His ebooks are easily available and cheap. The Skull Ring and The Red Church are two such cheap books at under $2 each. But, as the commercials say, the experience is priceless. Visit Scott at
and Write Good or Die

Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Idiot Writer's Guide To Math

As the world's laziest hack, I'm too lazy to come up with a new entry today, so I'll just post what I'd plugged in at JA Konrath's newbie blog. I've learned that instead of wasting time on trying to win converts, I'll simply follow what I believe, based on the evidence I have at this point.

To wit:
1) I will make more on my backlist first novel THE RED CHURCH this year than I did from its original advance. In other words, in the year it took the book to get through "traditional production." And I can do whatever I want with it, forever.

2) My later publishing contracts tied up my rights for seven years even though the books were left for dead after a couple of years, therefore I am losing five years of potential income. In other words, I've actually lost money instead of earned money by publishing midlist books.

3) Many agents and publishers generally only want you to write one book a year, for their own reasons. You can sneak around it with a pen name, but unless you are JA Konrath/Joe Kimball/Jack Kilborn and display all the names, you have to work to get name rec for each. Now, NY won't COMPENSATE you for the books they don't want you to write. But you can certainly compensate yourself.

4) You are generally expected to write only one type of book and stick with it. Look how long it took Joe to break out as Jack Kilborn.

5) Instead of wondering about hundreds of elements beyond my control that will affect my career as a writer, I can now see the daily income and projected revenues and weigh that against the investment of time and passion. I can hope my NY lottery ticket gets plucked or I can publish 10 books and be making more than I do in my day job. I can do simple math. If I had the rights to my published books and released those I am shopping, I would have more than 10 books. And don't think I ain't thinking about it.

6) Any ebooks I publish on my own will give me 100 percent of net. Any book I publish through a major publisher will give me 50 percent net at best, 15 percent at worst, and that's even assuming an advance earns out. Giving away 85 percent for virtually an entire career doesn't inspire me.

7) Now that I know I can find whatever audience I deserve, judged on nothing but quality and talent and my willingness to connect with my audience, I am more inspired than I have ever been--to take chances, to try new things, to strive for art, to write without thought of what one or two people in New York will think. Working-class fiction is an idea I can get behind.

8) While I believe those who publish through traditional means will still fare the best overall, I can't help but wonder if getting published was the worst thing I ever did for my writing career.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Never take writing advice

Great article by Laura Miller at Salon on "Reader advice for writers." Writers do tend to flock to writers for advice and revising, but you'd probably be better off with readers, people who have no aspirations to art and won't pretend to be smarter than they really are. In other words, they'll be honest.

I love to hear from readers, especially younger readers. It doesn't happen often, but when someone says, "You're my new favorite writer," that is incredibly humbling. I don't know how "serious" I am. I did take some university writing classes but I was well out of them before I tried writing commercial fiction. Somewhere along the way, I stopped taking myself so seriously, though I still take the work seriously. Under the crown of "the world's laziest hack," I'm free to indulge in whatever detour I care to take. But I thought my lessons had value, so I wrote many articles about them.

That's sort of the theme involved in the Write Good or Die project. I've long tinkered with the idea of a writing book, since everybody thinks they know something on the subject. But the reality is, each writer only knows one way of doing things. And that way may not even be working for that writer. You see heads nod at the convention panels when someone says, "Find out what the trends are before they're trends." What the hell does that mean?

Most of the writing advice I've dispensed is not advice I've taken or followed. Sometimes it just sounds like the kind of thing a writer ought to say: "Write every day. Buy cheap paper. Have a wise-cracking, lovable tough guy as your protagonist, or a blonde lawyer. Be paranoid of the publishing industry." It's all a boatload of crap. I don't know very much, and in fact thought of calling the writing guide "Everything I Thought I Knew Was Wrong," which is the only advice I can deliver with a straight face. Some of my wisdom came from luck, other parts from circumstances that could never be reproduced. Some is hopelessly dated ("You need an agent. You'll find your audience if you keep working. Never self-publish.") Other bon mots were dumb even when they were fresh ("Read all the writing books you can find.")

Here's some advice: Never have more than four words in your book title. Unless you wrote "In The Electric Mists With the Confederate Dead." Or "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

Here's some more advice: Write what you know. Unless you're a science fiction writer, a thriller writer, a romance writer, a...well, never mind. If you write fiction, you're already a liar.

How about my second choice for a title?: "All Writing Advice is Wrong." Better, but still too long. So we go with "Write Good or Die." Four words. True words. That's all I got.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Kindle love stories

Some of the beautiful stories I've heard about e-readers...on the Amazon Kindle forums, there's a thread about mounting Kindles to wheelchairs so that people with limited mobility can more easily navigate pages (much more easily than a paper book). At KindleBoards, there's one thread by an elementary teacher who is showing her Kindle in the classroom and making reading cool. On another thread, a man who hasn't read for entertainment in 30 years because of visual limitations can now adjust his text size, and has read four books since getting his Kindle for Christmas. Combined with reports of people reading more than ever with their e-readers, and that they are trying books they never would have "picked up" otherwise, these inspiring stories affirm my belief that a new age of communication and literature are upon us.

Sure, many of us will still love our paper books, at least for a while, and paper is still the most viable means of recording information for the long term. I have my paper books, and I love seeing my name on the cover of a book (though I store them all away in a closet, not where I have to look at them all the time). But the experience of storytelling refuses to be stuck in any particular format or squeezed through a singular route. It's a new chapter, for sure.

Suspense novel The Skull Ring is now live for Kindle at Amazon and for Sony, ePub, Stanza, Palm, and other formats at Smashwords. Hope you will give it a look.

Julia Stone is piecing together childhood memories of the night her father vanished. When she discovers a strange silver ring, the past comes creeping back. She finds messages inside her house, the cop who investigated her father's disappearance has followed her to the mountain town of Elkwood, and the religious local handyman is trying to save her in more ways than one. And now a sinister cult is claiming ownership of her body and soul...

The official launch is still March 1, at which time giveaways will ensue based on the book's success that week at Amazon. Hope you'll chip in as a Microchip through Haunted Computer Books and support working-class fiction!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Idiot love will spark the fusion

After wrestling with the self-publishing dilemma for about three months, the only downside I see is that I waited too long. I should have done this at least a year ago, when I had back the rights to The Red Church and toyed with the idea of setting it up with Lightning Source. Of course, it would have cost me hundreds of dollars to purchase a new ISBN number, pay the various fees, and then get some books sent to me, and presumably they would magically show up on the Ingram's distribution list and be available for store orders (not that many stores would have reason to order them at the moment).

This ebook thing, well, it still seemed so far in the future. I knew no one personally who had a Kindle or other reading device, and as someone who stares at a computer about 12 hours a day, the thought of "recreational reading" on the computer gave me a headache. When I got curious about it, around December, I immediately jumped in with both feet. No overhead, just a little work to learn file formatting, and--BOOM--back in print and ready to meet a new audience. The trickle of money and new readers has been satisfying, but there are have been many other exciting and unexpected discoveries.

First and foremost, I am active in the literary community again, and I've come to appreciate those people buying those first ebook readers when a lot of people are still saying "print books or die." From reading their forum and blog posts and talking with them, I have learned they not only buy and read more books, they are trying genres and subjects they would never have tried in paper books, and are adapting their reading habits because of the new-found convenience. Now they can carry a library with them, and read something for five minutes waiting in line, or sit and enjoy a book at leisure.

This lesson seems to be lost on New York at the moment--ebook readers buy and read more books than they ever have before. Even with reduced prices, the volume of sales more than offsets the larger profit margin of high-priced ebooks. No need to rehash pros and cons of ebook prices, because it will be determined by consumers in the long run (which, in the case of emerging technology, usually means "one or two years"). I am more concerned with what it means to me personally, and to you lovely people who choose to explore my stories.

After a couple of dormant years while waiting to hear back on various projects, I have become more energized to believe in my work. I tell writers they should always care more than any agent, editor, publisher, critic, or other decision-maker. They have their own motives, and those are different from the writer's, though occasionally overlapping.

Because publishing my work is now just a few mouse clicks away instead of a couple of years through a production process, I know that every word I write can find its audience. It may only be five people, or it may be 5,000, or 50,000. Now I can find out, based on no other condition except my willingness to produce quality work that connects with readers, and to have them be aware of the work. Is it any harder than when your books are on a store shelf across the country? I believe it's easier. My audience and I are directly connected via electrons. You are right now connected to me.

Because I now know I can sell and make money myself, I have a baseline for what I am willing to accept with any publishing partner. I want good partners, as should everyone in this industry. But I also know I can go it alone and not only make it work, but have a realistic goal of income and audience size based on real numbers. I don't have to "write to market" or jump in a fading trend or "create a platform" or be the most likable guy at the writing convention (in other words, the guy who buys the most drinks at the bar). I don't have to be grateful if an agent bothers to respond to a query. I don't have to be crushed if no one likes a book in which I believe. I don't have to accept one person's opinion as representative of 30 million Americans, or the tens of millions of other English speakers in the world. I don't have to take "no" as the final answer. My heart says "Yes. YES, YES, YES, a thousand times YESSSSSSS!" And it's not just coffee speaking...

Oddly enough, self-publishing has also reignited my drive to be published in New York and succeed in that segment of the industry (and, yes, it is now only a segment, not the entire industry). Through lessons learned in the comics world, where you are pretty much self-publishing unless you are working with Marvel and DC's corporate characters, I've learned the value of vision and faith. I already had faith, but my vision had wavered, because I was thinking (and sometimes hearing from the industry) that my ideas were not the hot pitch or coherent log line needed to get sales approval. Maybe my writing is crap and everyone's too polite to say, even the 100,000 people who have bought my books.

But what you really tell me is "Scott, do what you do." Whether I end up as the Johnny Depp of weird fiction, the Deliverance banjo boy of horror, the Lao Tzu of suspense, or the world's laziest hack, I know that's cool with you. Now I know it's cool with me, too. Thank you very much.

Now off to finish that book that everybody's going to say, "I never expected Scott Nicholson to write this kind of thing."

P.S. entry title from David Bowie's "Soul Love"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Writing survival tips? Too late, you're already dead

After last night's writing session, I stayed up after midnight reading the blog of Dean Wesley Smith, a pro's pro and author of 70 or so books. His comments are stunning and eye-opening. I'm not saying the advice works for everyone, especially since he writes a lot of science fiction and fantasy, fields in which a few publishers will still look at unagented manuscripts. He talks about "Killing The Sacred Cows of the Publishing Industry." In fact, he's writing the book.

Since this is part of the goal of my collaboration Write Good or Die, I'm talking with Dean about using some of the material. I knew of him, of course, but didn't seek him out until finding the blog of his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch, herself a prolific writer with a bibliography as long as a river and also a wellspring of practical advice. In fact, her blog is about a "survival guide" for writers, eerily similar to Write Good's subhead of "Survival Tips for 21st Century writers." I think, between the two of them, they just might make it!

Throughout my career, I have paid attention to the small details while focusing on the big picture. I never felt my industry partners in the past cared as much about those details as I did. I understand, because they have different priorities and goals. As well they should. But I didn't adequately fight for what I believed to be right, and those details did turn out to matter. To me, not to them.

The old, broke, and sick living-legend author is practically a cliche now. Professional organizations, conventions, and communities rush to their rescue with fundraisers and benefits. That's heart-warming and inspiring, but also deeply sad at its core. Agents and editors and publishing corporations are not building pension funds for writers. In most cases, they go, "Here is a lump sum, buy your own insurance, pay your own taxes, and by the way, we'll control your content for X number of years and take 90 percent of everything. Oh, and the agent will take 15 percent of that remaining 10 percent. Be grateful. Now go out there and hustle this book for us at your own time and expense, or we'll dump you. And still tie up your rights."

It's insane. Even right now, the lure of "ooh, I have an agent," and "ooh, they really, really like me" is a heady tonic. And, even now, practically speaking, it's the absolute best way to be a "professional writer." That shows the sad state of this occupation, and the lowly fate of most writers. Even the people who love us don't treat us very well. Below the blockbusters, all the rest of us are bottom feeders.

I've always thought of my writing as products of my creation, products of my ownership, and that rightly I should wring income from them for as long as I live, and even pass that income on to my heirs for as long as the works are protected by copyright. I should be free to exploit those products, and achieve the majority of the profits. Dean Koontz refers to his books as "annuities," income-bearing properties. Obviously he's made mistakes, as admitted through his hilarious newsletter, and hasn't been afraid to change agents if things weren't working out.

A writer friend of mine was telling the story of one of his book deals, and when the agent was hemming and hawing a little, the acquiring editor said, "Let's just add a zero to the end." No matter the numbers, that is just plain stupid. A little hesitation automatically increases the property's value by a factor of ten? Would this have happened if the editor was spending her own money? And they say New York isn't broken? Hey, I am happy for this writer, and this writer deserves it.

But please spare me the whining about how major publishing needs to be preserved and protected with artificially high ebook prices so that we can "save the independent bookstores." I am willing to bet if corporate publishing and distribution were decentralized, there would be an explosion of independent bookstores. Of course, they'd better be selling decent coffee and have a POD kiosk, as well as some sort of digital catalog or library. They might even start having book signings again. You know, the part with the writers.

I guess the preservation of any culture depends upon your personal stake in it. If you are an agent getting easy deals, why should you care about the long-term well-being of your clients? If you're an editor who will probably get fired if you don't deliver a blockbuster, why should you risk your neck for a "small book" with a lot of heart? If business as usual is keeping you fed, why bother to change? If you're a writer, why not trust your career to the people who know how all this is supposed to work, for your own good?

Heck, look at me. I'm willing to trade words for magic beans. I'm as stupid as anybody.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Brave New Worlds

If you're a writer, it's very easy to be defeatist. In fact, it's the only easy thing about writing. I have encountered a couple of posts in various blogs or groups I follow that were decrying the "toughness" of the publishing industry. Well, it should be tough.

Show me Rembrandt, hands crippled by debilitating disease, still painting daily as his life unwound...what did he have to gain? Give me Stephen King, who was getting rejected as a 10-year-old, and nailing all his slips to a wall as he continued telling his stories. How about Clint Eastwood, who got only tiny parts until he was in his late 20s, and no doubt saw lots of younger, hunkier guys nabbing up all the juicy roles? Even Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, no matter your politics, who overcame all sorts of perceptions about a "man's world" to achieve influence?

I posted on JA Konrath's newbies blog about the beauty of this new age for creators. I was dubious myself, having had the lessons of "professional writing" drummed into my head for 15 years: get your 500 rejection slips, find an agent, be grateful if a publisher likes you, and then work your tail off hustling, under threat that if your sales aren't as good as the next gal's, then you will be dumped. And for all this, you'll get 8 to 15 percent of the cut.

Even now, most of the major writing organizations have "approved publisher" lists by which they measure the professionalism of a writer. "If you publish with X, then you are a pro." Even if that publisher only pays a $500 advance, totally mishandles your book, expects you to do all the marketing, and then ties up your rights for years, even if the book isn't available. Yet if you publish on your own and make $25,000 a year, you are NOT a professional.

That has never made sense to me. While I believe professionalism is an attitude than any writer could and should adopt from Day One and the typing of "It was a dark and stormy night," the point is to find readers and earn money. I'm usually the last one to take my own advice, but ultimately the crafting of a realistic career is my goal.

At DragonCon, I had the great good fortune to talk at length with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Gene Wolfe in the guest suite. I would have been far too intimidated to approach them, but my lovely, vivacious wife immediately engaged them in human conversation, having no idea who they were. Both were lamenting the state of the industry and how ephemeral a writer's career was, and both these legends were saying they were only as good as their last books, and despite tremendous contributions to their fields, they might easily see themselves set on the curb next year. And they expressed pity for the newer writers trying to break into this hostile environment.

Of course, every writer should say, "Well, I don't care about the odds. I'm going to make it anyway." But "making it" sure can look like many different things. For me, it was always to be able to tell my stories full time and put all my energy into spinning yarns and entertaining readers, while subtly expressing my worldview. I never aspired to be a bestseller, or launch a cult movement, or hang out in New York coffee shops. I wanted to be near family and enjoy the easy rhythms of the garden, the animals, the forests, and the weather. Why in the world would I ever want to leave the Blue Ridge Mountains?

Now, I can do that. "Can." I AM doing it. Not as fully as I like yet, but increasingly, it's within my grasp and power. I hope every writer feels as inspired, hopeful, and ecstatic as I do about this new era of communication. Not from bitterness or the idea of "revolution," but as a simple, direct line between writers and readers. Take heart, writers of the future. The world is at your command.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More Microchips needed

It's hard to build a haunted computer without lots of weird microchips. Since a lot of what I am doing now is through Haunted Computer Books, I invite you to sign up there, because we're going to be giving away a lot of stuff--not just files of HC Books, but paper books of writers you've actually heard of! As well as some DVDs, comics, and maybe even a toy or two. Think of it as an online pop-culture convention. All you have to do is email with "Microchip" in the subject line.

One immediate difference you can make is to post reviews at Amazon, which is our primary outlet at the moment (we should be in B&N, Horror Mall, and other outlets soon). Links to my books easy to reach from here.

More news just ahead, including some exciting comics. The comics projects, with concept art, etc., is blogged at The Digger. Today I'm working on my YA series. I also recently uploaded the first Ghostwriter Publications ebook, Guy N. Smith's Night of the Crabs, a pulp classic. Look for it to go live soon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Zombies have good taste

The Best of All Flesh is now out from Elder Signs Press, with my contributor copy showing up in the mail yesterday. I was fortunate to have stories in all three of the "All Flesh" books edited by James Lowder, and this collection grabs the best of these zombie-flavored tales, including my spiritual manifesto "Murdermouth." Do zombies have flavor? I don't know, but you will be exhibiting good taste by indulging.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

POD people

Review of The Red Church up at DigiScrapping. It's kind of cool to get reviews for an older book with a new leash on life. I'm working with Damien Navillus to do print layout and make it available in paper once again, like through a print-on-demand press. Since acquiring an ISBN, paying proof and set-up fees, and other overhead would run in the hundreds of dollars, and the ebooks are doing well with nothing more than time invested, it makes sense to do it directly through Amazon's Createspace, but I haven't made a final decision yet. I've been brainstorming ways to get the book back in print for at least a year, and, well, I'm not getting any younger.

If there's enough interest, I'll probably go ahead and release a print novel of The Skull Ring, probably in trade paperback size, and also work up a couple of graphic anthologies for the long-suffering DIRT series and GRAVE CONDITIONS. Let me know if you still like paper over plastic--I expect it will be three to five years before ebooks take a majority share of the reading market.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New interview

A new interview is up at the cool site Omega's Apple, compliments of Anthony Morgan. I'm starting on the Ghostwriter Publications ebooks, with Night of the Crabs by Guy N. Smith heading for the "little screen," a pulp creature classic.

Making the rounds of various digital sites like Mobile Reads, Kindle Boards and the Amazon forums, it seems opinions on digital book prices are still all over the map. I've been trying to approach the issue from a long-term view, notably in how authors will or won't control their long-term royalties, but few seem interested in that. In the meantime, I'm staying busy and going full steam ahead on the ebook effort, with The First going live on Amazon yesterday and soon to be headed for ePub, Sony Reader and other formats at Smashwords and Zulu Express. Work also continues on the freebie download, Write Good or Die, with Douglas Clegg and Alexandra Sokoloff contributing.

If you want to be a working-class hero, we're looking for more Microchips to join the Haunted Computer team--you'll get free advance reads and be in drawings for paper books as well. Email with "Microchip" in the subject line and let's cook some electrons!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Skull Ring

Ten years ago, anyone publishing a book themselves was either foolish or an unrealistic fanatic. Two years ago, you were still snubbed by the professional writer's organizations and labeled "vanity press." Today, if you don't do it at some level, you're almost assuredly going to be left behind or turning over control of your content to a major corporation. I know, because I was right there laughing at the writers who used Xlibris and Publish America and turned out awful books that lost them hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. I'm not laughing anymore. I am smiling all the way to a cottage industry.

Inspired by success stories like JA Konrath and Lee Goldberg, and thinking of all the different books I have on submission in traditional routes, and grasping this incredible moment in publishing history, the time has come to try an original ebook release. The Skull Ring will be out March 1 for Kindle at Amazon and in most other ereader formats at Smashwords. Because other writers have inspired me with their honest accounting and war stories, I am encouraged to tell the story of this novel.

I wrote this in 2000, and it actually got me my first agent at William Morris. Long story short, The Red Church sold through the slush, the agent liked The Skull Ring, but we were busy with other titles for Kensington and somehow THE SKULL RING never really came up again, because it was a suspense novel and didn't really fit the brand we were all trying to build. The other issue was it featured a Satanic cult, and Satan isn't exactly a hot topic these days--though in the book, Satan isn't assumed to be real, though the cult is real, just as in "real life" there are people who worship Satan and most of us have never seen much direct evidence that the pointy-tailed red dude exists. I even rewrote the novel several times, updating it because back in 2000 cell phones weren't ubiquitous. The Full Moon Press was supposed to publish it in hardcover but the press dissolved after I waited about three years.

Here we are, 10 years later. I love this character, Julia Stone, and if readers like it, I have other adventures planned. There's no way anyone can dismiss it as a "horror novel," because it's clearly suspense, it has a spiritual theme, romance, and no supernatural elements besides a little psychological mindplay that induces suggestion. Sure, readers can dismiss it because it's crappy, or dated, or any of the thousand wonderful reasons that make us all individual readers with perceptions and opinions.

As for my career, though I have been regularly submitting projects and I'm confident a new direction is ahead, I have felt out of the loop the last couple of years, waiting, waiting, waiting. I have five books finished, three more underway, and plenty of ideas. Even if I got a traditional publishing deal, I doubt if all of those books would ever come out, because editors and publishers rightfully like to shape the direction of their investments.

My ebook sales of The Red Church have not been spectacular, but they have been inspiring. The new ebook story collections ASHES and FLOWERS are finding readers while the print versions languished. With the increasing royalty rate for ebooks, it's now a viable way to a professional career, assuming you connect with readers--which still is and always will be the final payoff. If I had 10 books out right now, doing as well as The Red Church, I would be making more than I do in my day job as a newspaper reporter (health insurance aside).

Lastly, there is something satisfying about developing my own vision for my work. If you've known me for a while, you know I love my organic garden, my laying hens, my wood stove, and my simple, low-cost lifestyle. Today I can imagine a cover (with talented support from Neil Jackson, the incredible force behind Ghostwriter Publications in the UK), categorize the book myself, handle the format, do everything a major publisher would do, and take all the blame! I am not sure what the future looks like, and perhaps it will turn out I should have sat on The Skull Ring (there's an image for you...) for another 10 years. But right now, on March 1, I am stepping out onto the ice. I hope you stand by with a rope and a warm cup of joe.

Because this will require either caffeine or a noose...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Great Kindle Wars of 2010

One totally overlooked aspect of this is that the Big Six are actively nailing down authors for the Long Tail. I am intimately aware of several contracts that give the publisher eternal ebook rights as long as a laughable minimum royalty is achieved...$50 earned in six months in some cases, $200 or so seeming to become a new standard. Authors should be outraged. I have suspicion part of this high ebook pricing is to get more time to rope authors into these eternal deals and build up a huge catalog of ebooks while only paying authors 10-20 percent forever.

And it's an issue authors really don't want to talk about, and publishers certainly won't. Authors are getting screwed worse than anyone, however this goes. I understand many authors are reluctant to reveal contract details. But I can say with Kensington I simply licensed my work in the US for seven years, getting a shifting percentage for various formats. For ebooks, it's a 50/50 split of proceeds, which actually is fair if the publisher is backing you in print. It was fair to me at the time. I would certainly think differently now, especially about the seven years, and especially if the titles are not made easily available as ebooks at reasonable prices (only one is currently available for Kindle). The way I look at it, my partner publisher and I have lost (and are currently losing) a ton of easy money and potential audience. How can that be good for either of us?

We're taught to be so grateful when we get a book deal, and that we are so lucky, we shouldn't question anything. And, I know the delirium of getting accepted can leave one not worried about the fine print. Even as much as two years ago, I thought electronic rights were no big deal, and I think these are matters of personal perspective--because I read on a computer all day, the thought of doing it for leisure just gives me a headache. I didn't foresee screens without backlighting. I didn't grasp the convenience that would cause people to want a library of 1,500 titles on their hand-held, portable readers, or that they would vastly expand their subject areas, genres, and interests.

Authors who are signing pittance royalty deals on their ebooks are really going to regret it, and I think it's going to be a factor in the Great Kindle Wars of 2010 when a few megasellers break ranks. I still seek print deals and good partners because I believe that's the success model of the future. Yet I also value myself enough not to be a lifelong indentured servant who is not fairly compensated.

By the way, did I tell you I had a new ebook out?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Digital daze

After running myself ragged on various forums and blogs reading opinions on ebooks, I've come to several conclusions that work for me:

a) there is no conclusion and we may never know what it was if one ever happens to come along

b) most in the industry really believe low ebook prices mean the death of literature as a career field

c) people will just have to make their own decisions and embrace whatever principles they hold over the issue

It did give me food for thought on low-end prices, and how major publishers who carefully plot a promotional campaign, release date, store placement, and product hype must get really upset when some snot-nosed indie brat breaks the Kindle Top 20 with a 99 cent ebook. I say let the writers price them at whatever they want, which Amazon currently is happy to do.

Thus far, I am releasing previously published (on paper, for the most part) material, so any revenue is gravy to me. I don't think it's demeaning my craft or undercutting my value to sell at a couple of bucks. Indeed, I am honored people want to read my work, and I suspect cumulatively, over time, I will make more off these secondary appearances than I will from their original publication through professional publishers.

Yet my model is predicated on certain assumptions I can't control, any more than major publishers can bank on hardcover sales remaining their bread and butter: Amazon and other outlets will always be open to independent authors and publishers; the ebook market keeps expanding; and readers will still be able to find me once the floodgates are thrown wide and four million writers finally get their chance to be "authors."

Who knows, maybe we bottom feeders will soon be griping about all those writers willing to give their work away for free.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New digital publishing venture

This is really a no-brainer, given the rapid changes in the publishing world. I have launched Haunted Computer Productions as an ebook enterprise, working in collaboration with Ghostwriter Publications in the UK. Our plan right now is to take over the world on each side of the Big Pond. It's a perfect storm of conditions (and I promise we won't use many cliches like "perfect storm") to engage in this--there's a generation of authors who aren't as tech savvy but whose books have already been published, had their day on the shelves, and gone out of print. There is no reason for those books to be gone forever.

Right now we are talking with a couple of genre authors to get their ebooks up on a writer-friendly model. They can pull out at any time. I have been thinking about this a couple of months, having spent the time to learn about ebook formatting and having undergone the frustration of waiting for six months on a submission or two years for a book to hit the shelves. HCP is not about instant gratification by writers who aren't "good enough" to sell in New York. In fact, some of these authors have sold hundreds of thousands of print copies. I am considering a few select original titles, and my standards are as tough as anything in major publishing. The main difference is that I don't have a profit-margin sheet that guides decisions. All I need is passion and a few hours of time.

Personally, I am still pursuing major publishing deals because I still believe that's what authors should do if they want a professional career, and you'll benefit from the nurturing, editing, promotion, and bookstore presence. But there's a growing ebook audience whose needs are not fully met because they are only now realizing their hunger. I hope you will follow us at our new blog and support us if we look interesting.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Amazon-Macmillan Peace Treaty

Well, Amazon ceded the battle but the war was already over. Amazon, after pulling Macmillan titles for a couple of days over ebook prices, graciously relented and agreed to Macmillan's desired ebook prices of up to $14.99. I am surprised it was settled so quickly, but it actually makes sense. Amazon could certainly afford to hold out longer than Macmillan, but Amazon also risked its reputation as the world's top bookstore, a difficult claim to maintain when you don't carry one of the six major publishers in the United States. Macmillan risked almost everything, and I never believed the perceived threat of the Apple iPad carried much weight, because many consumers don't see it as a legitimate ebook reader. Instead, it's a computer you can read books on, just as you can your desktop.

Amazon wins by appearing gracious but it has already established the public perception of the value of an ebook, $9.99. No matter what happens from now on, the core foundation of ebook consumers has been presented the value of ebooks. Amazon gets to continue offering Macmillan products while making it clear they think the price is too high, but allowing consumers to make their own choice. Some consumers will pay the higher price for instant gratification. Others will wait for the ebook price to drop, as it inevitably will, in much the same way a paperback crowd bypasses a hardcover version.

Macmillan wins by getting its preferred price, though surely it is only temporary. When authors see they are getting only a tiny fraction of ebook royalties, and Amazon is waving a 70 percent royalty at them, it's clear that some authors will begin withholding their ebook rights unless the publisher is fairly compensating them overall (i.e., their paper sales are more than enough to offset this lost revenue.) Hopefully Macmillan will use the time it has bought to get a reasonable handle on ebooks and embrace the new market instead of trying to ignore the gorilla in the room.

Independent authors and small presses win because they have virtually no overhead and can offer their ebooks for a couple of bucks and compete for readers among value-minded consumers. True, they don't carry the name clout of major authors, but cumulatively they are a force that won't be ignored, because they have no stake in artificially high prices for ebooks.

Apple wins because it was all about promotion for its iPad. Apple and the publishing industry used the issue to get attention, and people who like Apple products will buy an iPad and all the assorted gimmicks, wireless plans, and other tethers that will keep them hooked to the Apple tree, and they will be happy. I don't think many of them will be reading books when they have so many other toys available. Either way, it expands the reality of ebooks.

And ebooks win, because this has been the single most-talked-about book news of the past few years, and brought ebooks to the mainstream. They undeniably exist now, and are important enough for corporations to war over. That is good news for readers everywhere, whether they go paper or plastic. More books, more diversity, more literacy, more stories, more education, and more joy.

Link to a good analysis by JA Konrath