Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Energizer bunnies of promotion

Two people who seem to be all over the Internet at any given time are Debbi Mack, author of Identity Crisis, and Zoe Winters , as well as the inimitable J.A. Konrath, the ubiquitous go-to Earl of E-Book or Wizard of Wazzup, whichever you prefer. What's fun is when people create their own success by being what they already are--I've noticed my favorite musicians are like this, too. They may not be the best-sellers, or the attention-grabbers, but they tend to hang around, earn respect, and broaden their scope as they take chances. As Johnny Depp says, "I just do what I do." No one is as universally cool as Depp. I hope more authors put a little Depp in their step.

It's not just about hype, either. It's about confidence, belief in the worth of your work, and the desire for other people to see and possibly share your vision. Now that's something worth getting juiced about.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Retreating advances and trench warfare

The Bookseller recently reported falling book advances, which is one of the predictions made by some authors as the rising digital market takes hold and publisher's profits slip. Presumably, one would expect this is the type of across-the-board cut made in any evolving industry as it adapts, and not just a cut to the most convenient line item of a book's cost.

There are only three advantages a traditional publisher currently has over self-publishing through a digital platform: 1) the ability and willingness to give the author money up front; 2) the ability to get your books on store shelves; and 3) whatever prestige remains in being "a real published author." It's clear that by choosing prestige you are likely to cost yourself dearly. In fact, I am almost willing to call taking a $500 (or pound) book advance "The New Vanity Publishing." Because even someone with limited marketing skills should be able to make $500 in five or six months off a self-published ebook and POD.

No, I am not saying "Traditional publishing is dead" just because I released some books through our small company. I am still connected to New York and think the industry is great at what it does and I'd love to route some of my projects there. It's just no longer a no-brainer decision to sign on the dotted line, because there are so many factors involved and the long-term income may prove more important than the short-term income. It's clear that declining advances will further widen the publishing classes--bestsellers and everyone else. Bestsellers are still profitable, even under the clunky and inefficient model of discounted hardcovers. I am just not sure whether most authors should be willing to subsidize the practice on the off chance they will punch a lottery ticket and join those rare ranks.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Digital Book World

Some great new developments about the changing industry at Digital Book World. I especially enjoyed the comics write-up and Jane Friedman's blog. There are so many levels to the changing industry, with the "top story" (the corporate-level ministrations published by the mainstream press and clearly biased toward whatever will keep it viable and relevant and please shareholders) being that Apple is saving altruistic, good-hearted publishers from Evil Amazon; the middle level is, "Which device should I buy when there are a million choices and I have no guarantee that every book will be available on any of them?"; and the lower level, where every kid is coming up with her own cool app and is being the content and entertainment instead of consuming it.

The notion of transmedia is also a bit intriguing--it almost seems as though this struggle to establish e-books will be entirely overwhelmed by the crashing wave of new media content, a hybridized book/comic/movie/audiobook. Or, as one iPad reviewer noted, while publishers are battling over whether ebooks should be $9.99 or $14.99, "I am finding lots of cool things that are a lot less than $9.99."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Coyote Con

If you like to attend conventions, then you figure dropping between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars to go talk about (a) Kirk/Spock, (b) writing, or (c) why you are dressed as a furry animal. The recession knocked a few con-goers out of the running, but the upcoming Coyote Con will have you howling in happiness.

I am not quite sure how it works, but it's billed as a month-long digital conference on a variety of writing and reading topics. I have a few slots on digital lit, scaring the reader, and "Survival tips for 21st century writers." From what I can tell, registration is free but you need to go in and register to reserve your "tickets" for the panels you want to attend. I'll post more as I find out but it's a cool idea with a couple of dozen writers involved.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Barbarians at the Gate

According to Publishers Weekly: "A staggering 764,448 titles were produced in 2009 by self-publishers and micro-niche publishers, according to statistics released this morning by R.R. Bowker. The number of 'nontraditional' titles dwarfed that of traditional books, whose output slipped to 288,355 last year from 289,729 in 2008. Taken together, total book output rose 87% last year, to over 1 million books."

And that's just the books that registered for ISBNs. When you consider e-books, chapbooks, books distributed free through various online outlets, and anything not even in the "nontraditional" system, it's quite staggering. Amazon now has 5 million print titles available, though only 480,000 or so e-books. I fully expect 10 million books to be available, in various formats, by 2020.

What does this mean for readers and writers? Niche audiences. The 288,000 industry titles will probably continue to decline, because the business model favors selling hundreds of thousands of copies of a single book over the hustling of many smaller titles. In the corporate world, economies of scale always make for a good quarterly report, all things being equal. Anyone bitter about the publishing industry should realize it must operate the way it does, and even then it's a difficult business. What's remarkable is that good books still get out there and writers can still have careers.

But a fracturing of the market is inevitable. The major limiting factor in audience building is not the readers' money, but time. Most people are only going to buy a certain amount of books, and many of the early adopters of e-book readers hoarded a bunch of content, much of it low-priced, and have enough reading material to last years. They have to be really persuaded to go out and find more authors, especially when a million titles are staring them in the face. A number of them appreciate what they consider a filter, the winnowing process of the publishing industry that supposedly rejects terrible books and protects readers. The only flaw in that thinking is the publishing industry will most certainly publish a terrible book if it will make money--I think most of us have read a few of them, or at least the first 30 pages.

But who will winnow the other 9 million books? Right now, it's a buyer's market, and people whose manuscripts used to languish in the bottom drawer now have computer files that can be uploaded in a matter of minutes. Over time, readers will churn the cream to the top--it has already happened in a few instances, where self-published e-books have been picked up by traditional publishers. These "success stories" make good campfire tales for those millions of unpublished writers out there. Except now they aren't unpublished.

Writers as brands is a staple of the modern industry, and it will become even more significant as the millions of new authors take the stage and compete on the electronic bookshelf. It's a beautiful, crazy time, and I understand how the traditional industry might feel invaded and pillaged--they had a good thing going, a nice little castle and a high turret from which to view and shape the landscape. Now, nobody knows which way the storms will blow, least of all me. Anyone who believes in her work should have the opportunity to find readers--it may only be a handful, it may be millions. It still comes down to one writer connecting to one reader. Not much has changed, yet everything has changed.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Write Good or Die freebie writing-advice download

The freebie writing download Write Good or Die is now available at multiple outlets in multiple ebook formats:



Amazon (99 cents)

A print edition is coming soon, and it should be available for Nook and iPad this month. Download it, pass it around to your friends and writing groups, write an awesome novel, and sell a million copies!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Shut Up and Type

It happens so often as to be a cliche--the only "success" in this business is to do a good job on the last sentence you wrote.

It doesn't matter how many books you sell, how many copies are in print, how glowing your reviews are, how big of an advance you got. It still comes down to that silent battle with yourself. Last night, I basically went backwards, feeling stuck, erasing the two pages I'd fought through. I went to bed wondering if I'd ever be able to finish the book. Or if I was cooked as a writer. An almost unbearable sense of despair came over me.

My greatest career fear is that somebody's going to tap me on the shoulder and say, "Who do you think you're fooling?" Despite over 100,000 copies of my books in print, some awards, decent success in e-books, several projects in the works, and a revived career, I feel like I am getting away with something. "You mean I get to sit here and daydream, letting these make-believe people do whatever I want? And people will give me MONEY for it?"

But, since it's ephemeral, it can all go away in an eyeblink. And then it can seem like it never existed. I'm a Cancer, so I know it's just a feeling. The external reality is pretty much the same. A hard day of writing when I feel like a loser has the basic end result of a day when the keys are flying and the walls of the room fall away. Mashed all together, you'd never be able to pick the good days from the bad days.

As I dozed off, I thought, "Okay, I'm stuck, it's ruined already, so I may as well go to the most absurd extreme possible." Sleep on it. Get up and type before going to work. Walls fall away. I am in their world. Success. I can do this. Or, probably more accurately, it can create itself. Shut up and type.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

the boy who loved Stephen King

I resisted The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon for a while because the premise sounded kind of dead-end--I imagined a "Blair Witch Project" without the witch, and I didn't enjoy that movie, and I love being in the woods.

So I was delighted to find not only was the Appalachian forest setting engaging and well drawn, it wasn't presented as just a hostile enemy--there is beauty and bounty and life, though some raw edges and danger exist. And the plucky little protagonist never got annoying (though she seemed far too wise and clever for her years, speaking as the dad of a gifted 10-year-old). The mix of pure adventure and the subtle suggestion of the supernatural hit a satisfying note. I am a big fan of Bachman's "The Long Walk," and this put me in the same place, though with a little baseball backstory. And it was also a journey of discovery for the young star. King reminded me yet again of his effortless genius in manipulating the tricks of the craft.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Thrillers: 100 Must Reads

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads is now available for pre-order. This groovy tome features essays by top writers on specific novels that are classics in the thriller fields. Edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner, it has contributions from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Tess Gerritsen and more. My contribution is an essay on Jim Thompson's "The Killer Inside Me." The book was influential to me because of its unreliable narrator, blunt writing, and the literary innovation of casual violence. Any fan of mystery, suspense, and thriller fiction should have this on the shelves or available e-reader!

My recent guest blog on exciting career changes is posted at Somebody Dies, operated by Craig Clarke. Thanks, Craig! A review of The Skull Ring is at A Reader's Thoughts.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Review: Simon Wood's "Working Stiffs"

As a fan of those old "Alfred Hitchock" anthologies, I think author Simon Wood would fit right in to that old-school pulp style, though his literary standards are high.

I've read some of Wood's short work in various magazines and anthologies but to have the Wood worldview collected under one umbrella gives a keen glimpse into the coldly brilliant mind's eye of the author. The collection Working Stiffs shows Wood in all his inglorious splendor. The novella "The Fall Guy" is representative of Wood's skill at taking what is seemingly a normal man in almost-normal circumstances, acting out of altruistic motives, before basic human motivations twist the knife and bring out the beast that hides in all of us. What's scary is how thin that veneer seems to be, and Wood's work leaves me unsettled about how easily I might join the ranks of the criminal-minded. Wood's character Todd is set off on an absolutely Hitchcockian spiral of events building from the smallest of incidents--a bumped fender--into a complex web of intrigue and action.

Wood can make the double-cross seem like the smart choice, and has the uncanny ability to get you pulling for manipulative, immoral, and utterly human characters. Wood is blazing a path out of the dark alleys of the heart and into the literary spotlight. Six more short stories, including an Anthony Award winner, round out this collection. Highly recommended.

iPad v. Kindle v. Mobipocket

Since Smashwords has added the Apple iBookstore to its list of associates, my books should be available for the iPad sooner or later (if they are not already). With the addition of Mobipocket, there aren't too many gadgets where you can't download my work. I don't expect many sales through cell phones and other objects, and I suspect the iPad will be better for digital comics than the Kindle will. These revolutionary changes have sparked a lot of discussion among writers--what is the "professional" route these days? Find a big publisher and hope it all works out? Throw everything up on Kindle right away and hope people find it? Roll the dice and be all in with an unknown future? I think it mostly depends upon you past experiences.

I have been with several different agencies, and back when I started, you could still send your books directly to publishers (and it wasn't that long ago). By the time I was at a point without publisher or agent, the industry had changed dramatically. Outside a couple of science fiction and fantasy publishers and the small press, almost no publisher wanted an unagented manuscript. That gave agents incredible power, and in some cases, a bit of smugness. The pitch seemed to have become more important than the words on the page (I don't even know if anyone is reading anymore, or simply spouting stuff at sales meetings). Worst of all was this insidious creeping toward rudeness and arrogance--now not only do agents send out form rejections, which is perfectly understandable, but a lot have stopped responding at all. You can spend several years without even knowing if you have a legitimate chance. A decade ago, you could figure out that what you were doing wasn't salable or you needed work, or simply that you were targeting the wrong agents. It's just not a genteel industry anymore, and I say that knowing some wonderful, passionate people in the business.

The bottom-line pressure is on them, they are buried under manuscripts, they are beholden to corporate policy way up top, and bookstores are failing. On top of that, major authors are defecting and signing exclusives with Amazon. Given the bookstore structure of returns, this industry could turn to sand in their fingers. On the other hand, the authors that are already in the system want to preserve the system, because change is scary for anyone. If your book is only "worth" a $5,000 advance, that means it's good enough to publish and you will make more on your own.

It makes sense for the industry to think "blockbuster," where the whole point is to drive readers to those mountains of discounted hardcover bestsellers. NY really only needs a few hundred authors, the airport kiosk brands. The rest are just window dressing to make it look like a store. It's far easier to sell a million Pattersons than 10,000 books by a hundred different authors.

But authors have been drinking the Kool-Aid and go to too many writing conferences and hang out in places where people pretend to know something in a business where nobody even knows what worked in the past, much less what works now or tomorrow. It's the outliers, the people who don't play by the rules, who make it--James Patterson met with his publisher and had mock charts made up showing his unwritten books on the top of the bestseller list, convinced them, and made it happen. Now he has his own wing in his publishing house. He could easily become the seventh branch of the Big Six. Because he made it happen.

It will be interesting to see how "professional advice" changes when a few big authors set up their own enterprises. No one laughed at King for self-publishing.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Day's work

So beautiful here (actually unsettlingly hot, considering there is still snow on the ground in places) that I kicked in on some chores yesterday. Put the roof on the chicken shed, fenced in the garden, and spread lime. Hopefully today I can get in those root crops while the moon is in the right sign--turnips, beets, onions, maybe some radishes. Eager for some greens.

Work continues apace on the YA series--while also continuing revisions. It's going to be an exciting month as I work up to the official launch of DRUMMER BOY and DISINTEGRATION. We're also getting ready to launch Write Good or Die.
I am quite pleased with the blend of conventional and subversive advice.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The e-book experience, April edition

MARCH UPDATE (from the Amazon kindle forum):
Now that March is finished, here are my indie sales totals for the month as of last night...

Novels at $1.99:
The Red Church 324
The Skull Ring 248

(rank for each usually between 3,000 and 6,000 on Amazon, with blips in either direction)

Novella at 99 cents
Burial To Follow-- 72 copies (generally ranks between 8,000-15,000)

Story collections at .99
Ashes-- 68 copies
Flowers-- 37 copies
The First--28 copies (currently ranked 41,000)

Mass-market novel from Major Publisher at $5.59:
They Hunger-- (currently ranked around 91,000). I don't have real-time sales figures, but I would guess 15 or fewer. Maybe as low as 6 or 8, judging by other accounts I manage for Ghostwriter Publications.

1. People greatly prefer cheaper e-books, and the lower price is far offset by the increased volume when considering its sustainability for the author (and maybe publisher, but they have a different economy right now).
2. Being independent may be a more practical, sustainable way for most authors to make a living. Sure, there will always be a need for stars and superstars, but the vanishing working class of writers can now have a reliable foundation from which to build an audience.
3. It's still better to be published in New York because it's easier to get one big check instead of hundreds or thousands of electronic quarters. And I now better understand why NY needs to keep their e-book prices high. Those reasons just don't hold much water here at ground level, where it's a direct line between writer and reader (with only an Amazon server in between).
4. I am ecstatic and very grateful for this new era, so much so that I will very shortly be releasing two new novels--the supernatural thriller DRUMMER BOY and the psychological thriller DISINTEGRATION. My numbers are by no means spectacular, but they are steady and reasonable.

I know there are plenty of cracks in my reasoning, other authors are having different experiences, and that I had the "advantage" of six books on the store shelves--but I don't think that has much at all to do with my new audience. And these numbers just take into account the Kindle, but it's by far the biggest and best e-book outlet. And it may be THEY HUNGER is just a crappy book. But I can't believe it's many, many times worse than the two novels people are buying on a regular basis (the story collections are just for comparison's sake--I expected them to sell about 10 percent of what the novels sell, so they are doing better than I projected.)

It's great to be part of this new era with you, and I can hardly wait to see what unfolds in the days, months, and years ahead. This must be what Gutenberg's gang felt like, though he probably had a lot more trouble finding people who could read...

I look forward to any thoughts you may have on ebook pricing, the viability of independent publishing, and the Kindle's role in better connecting readers and writers.

Scott Nicholson