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Starting a new trilogy

I have officially handed in The Outcast trilogy and will be starting on a new King Rolen’s Kin trilogy. About a month ago I woke up with the motivations of all the characters sorted in my mind, which is really weird because I hadn’t been consciously trying to come up with this.

I know who is going to betray/help who and why. I know the character flaws and strengths that will make these actions not only believeable, but perfectly reasonable. And, in fact, the character could not do otherwise, because their actions arise from the person that they are.

The time line is bit hazy and the details are also hazy. But I feel like I can start writing. For me it is this process of heading off on a journey, some of the sign posts are clear but not many, even so I’m willing to trust to my inner-story compass to get me to where I need to go.

There is also the wonderful sense of freedom and exhileration because it will be an exciting journey for me as the characters take the story where they want it to go. I know the world and the characters have grown in the course of the first trilogy, so they are more interesting people.

How much planning do you do for a novel/trilogy?

There, but for fortune, go you or I.

 On another authors-only list I belong to a few of members (let it be said, mostly younger or fairly minor) authors were whinging about bookstores response to their august presence. It seems that bookstores — especially the big chain ones did not roll out the red carpet, and, um, actually treated them at best with bland indifference and at worst with hostility. The fault, it appeared, were these dratted self-pubs. People boring clerks with asking them for books which were obviously by them or their friend/cousin, and telling them how good they were. And worst, having signings in indies, signings which were always full of people.

How was anyone supposed to know the difference between real books and self-pubbed ones? From this the discussion flowed onto the fact that authors were expected to do all this damned publicity and marketing stuff…

Hmm. There is– as any slush-reader will tell you– a difference between 90% of slush and ‘real books’. Some of that 90% will make it into self-published book ranks. Most of those are so bad, and so unprofessional, that 10 seconds will tell you that they’re rubbish. However… that leaves the other 10%. Now, given that Old Fashioned Publishing takes about 0.1% of that 10%, and, as we all know, their selection process is such that at times we all wonder if they took a particular book from the 90%… so for every 1 book old-fashioned publishing brings out… there are 99 that are as good, or quite possibly quite a lot better, that they don’t. There are enough proofs of runaway best-sellers that were rejected over and over and over by publishing, until they found the right person on the right day. It’s not (especially as a newly published author or one whose success is shall we say ‘tepid’) that actually, between you and the authors of those 99 books, there is a real difference, except that on a given day you were luckier or more persistent than they were. What’s worse, they are getting (outside of brick and mortar) precisely the same amount of that damned marketing and publicity stuff you are — which is to say none that the author doesn’t provide for him or herself. To make it yet more irritating still, these independent upstarts are getting 70% of the sales price… and given the screwy Hollyweird tricks that Old Fashioned Publishing seems in a hurry to imitate, the ‘real author’ will be very lucky to see 10%… for which they’ll put paper copies of your books in a slowly diminishing number of bookstores that are closed to the self-published author. And that is probably it. That’s the difference. Given the real numbers of sales from those – being 1-5K for a noob sans push (ie getting the normal 4-5K advance)…. and therefore 1-5K eyeballs and word of mouth) the Old Fashioned Publisher wants 55-60% of your e-book income for ‘advertising’ very passively to at most 5K of people, a percentage of which are going to recommend your book. It doesn’t seem a hell of a deal to me. Might be worth it to get those 1000-5000 to know your name. But it’s not really grounds for feeling superior to anyone… Unless it is say “I got screwed more than you did.”

My own feeling on this is that resentment is being focussed on the wrong target. It reminds of my own days as a boot, when the Instructor NCO’s would make our lives a misery and then some smart alec Lieutenant would come along and say (and I translate loosely) “This is all the fault of those black #$@*& terrorist scum. They’re one that make you have to sh!t off like this.” And some people were stupid enough to believe him. The real answer for ‘real author’ is not that it’s some self-published self-publiciser that is making them not get the support and respect of the bookstores and even the public. It’s their ‘real publisher’ who isn’t earning his keep. They SHOULD either pay a hell of a lot more, or DO a lot more for their share. Estimates vary, but the actual cost of putting an e-book on the shelf with a good cover, proof reading, and some editing come in at around $1000 according to Konrath et al. You want original art, proper professional graphic art direction, top notch proof reading and good editing? You’ll get change out of 5K unless you pick a major artist .  And trust me, if you’re a noob, you’re not getting that from your publisher. The 1000 dollar deal maybe…. or to put it another way, if your $9.99 e-book (typical oldfashoned publisher pricing) sells more than 835 copies it actually paid all its costs for the 5000 dollar job, and the paper version’s costs too. Oddly the accountants won’t show it as profitable. And their ‘real retailer’–who is getting 40-60% of the income generated by the book–who isn’t earning his share either, with display, availability and hard-selling. So there you go. Next time someone gets poncy (and it won’t be me) about being a ‘real author’ ask them what was so sweet about being ripped off?

There are of course things that Old Fashioned publishers can and should do to make themselves valuable to authors. The first is of course to stop thinking they’re the only game in town and realise that their ‘suppliers’–if they really are ANY good as authors–will need to become assets to be cultivated and not disposable things of infinite supply (because at the level things of infinite supply, there are tens of thousand self-published competitors- who are as good or better for those customers). This involves a change of mindset and will, per se, not add appreciably to costs (because every time they dump an author who has built a small audience – that’s customers and money wasted). Which leads directly to stage two: if you need a contract that says to the author ‘you are bound with chains of adamantine to me to the heat death of the sun…’ you’re doing it wrong. Authors need to be content to stay, or for every one you trap, 5000 will fly and tell everyone to stay away. You’re not the only game in town. Get over it. If you’re offering two year contracts with the potential for extensions… well, a)you have real incentive to keep the relationship happy, b)if things do change, it’s not impossible to change terms. Yep, I know. Much better to lock them into a deal offering new manacle every twenty years and a transfer to the upper deck of oars if they make you more than two million a year. That was yesterday. Get over it, it won’t work any more. Accept that you will have to offer better incentives than going directly to KDP or PubIt does, for a share of the income. The share will have to be balanced by what you can offer to do: If you are willing to accept 20% then the author will settle for fairly little: Good transparent accounting and statements (which no Old Fashioned Publisher offers at the moment (12-18 months after sales being normal for statements and ‘questionable’ being common too), but Amazon gives day by-day); Rapid, timeous, frequent payment, at least quarterly (which once again they get without you. No Old Fashioned Publisher is reliable and timeous, and six months late is barely late at all). Then you’ll need to provide all the formatting, submission to outlets, proof-reading and covers and some editorial input. And that’s the BASIC. If you want more than 20% you’re going to have to start providing real marketing and promotion. Authors DON’T in general have the time and skill for this. This is what they would be willing to give you a bigger cut for. If you can turn their 1000 readers it into 100 000 readers… you’re golden. But work it out: anyone with a decent book, at a reasonable price (say 2.99) can in time, with effort, and their own push, sell 1000 copies. Sooner-or-later. So if an OFP is to be worthwhile: they must increase the income the author would get off 1000 copies at 70%. So for 20% royalty the author is looking at 1400 copies at least. For the roughly 55% most Old Fashioned Publishers want …. 4700 copies and the author is barely breaking even. If they push the price up (standard modus operandi ATM) … the author gets there faster, but fails to build readership – more valuable than $2093 would be. And the downside is that Old Fashioned Publishers have some skills at selling to book chains or distributors. They don’t have any more than Joe-the-author at selling to the public (which is what publicity and marketing really amounts to in the ebook world). Right now, they can’t offer you a 370% increase on your own efforts. But that is what they need to do. There are levers — other authors, hiring professional publicity people, expenditure on websites authors use and are supported in and fed readers by (not authors who who feed the publisher by), and give-aways, links to other books in their catalogue. But soon, otherwise, it will be very easy to tell ‘real’ authors from self-published ones. The ‘real’ ones will be the ones living under bridges…

Sunday Morning Musings

by Amanda S. Green

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the States. This is the traditional beginning of summer and, most importantly, a time when we remember those men and women who have given their lives in the service of the country.  So, let me take a moment to thank them – and their families and friends – who have made this ultimate sacrifice.

Now, onto business.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about agents becoming publishers and the problems I foresaw with such an undertaking.  Let’s face it, when you sign a contract with an agent, it is with the understanding that they will go out and find you the best contract possible with a publisher.  They are your agent.  It is their responsibility to work for your best interest.  When the agent becomes a publishers, they are now wearing a hat that conflicts with their duty to represent your best interests.

Unfortunately, the trend is continuing.  It was announced earlier this week that Bloomsbury is forming a digital publishing arm that will partner with agents to publish their clients’ works.  Now, the announcement looks okay on the surface.  This enterprise is to focus  on those works where the author has died and the work is no longer in print.  But, it still begs the question of who is the agent working for.  If there is enough interest in the work to bring it out in digital format, then why isn’t the agent sending it out to digital publishers, both traditional (in this instance, meaning established publishers who regularly publish in both print and digital formats) and digital publishers?  How can they put the work up for auction and keep it fair without hiring a third party so the agent can blind bid on the publishing rights?

Now, I’ll admit that this announcement doesn’t come right out and say that agents are part of the “publishing” house.  But it specifically says it will be “partnering” with agencies.  Again, this partnership seems to be blurring, if not outright crossing, the line between representing the best interests of the author/client and the best interests of the agent.  I guess only time, and probably the courts, will tell.

Borders is back in the news.  Specifically, the creditors committee has objected to Borders’ request for an extension of 120 days to file its reorganization plan.  If granted, the deadline would be moved from June 16th to October 14th.  The objection notes some of the same concerns I wrote about last weekend.  But it basically comes down to the facts that Borders continues to bleed cash and isn’t cooperating with the creditors, leading to grave concerns about the future of the bookseller.  Considering the fact that Borders also wants to reject its “master licensing” agreement with Seattle’s Best Coffee in such a way it would allegedly infringe on SBC’s intellectual property, well, you can understand the creditors committee’s concerns.

Finally, I have to give a hat tip to one of the local newspapers here.  Imagine my surprise this morning when I was reading the Dallas Morning News and came across a book review and large excerpt on the front page of the entertainment section.  This is notable for a number of reasons.  The first is simply the placement.  Book reviews are usually relegated to the middle of the section on Sundays.  Second, this article and the accompanying snippet consisted of as much space as the entire book review section usually does — and did so without other reviews being deleted.  Third, as with so many papers across the country, the Morning News had stopped printing reviews and only recently (the last year or so) returned to doing so.  Finally, and this is the really exciting part for me, this front page treatment with snippet is the first in an ongoing series.  The paper is going to start spotlighting some of Texas’ best authors in this manner.  So, here’s a tip of the hat to the DMN and a heartfelt thanks from a grateful reader.

The floor is now yours.  What items in the publishing news have you seen this week that you want to discuss?  Or is there something from this past week or two that you’ve read that you think we need to talk more in-depth about?

The Pitfalls of Promotion. . .

or “How to Find Yourself Banished to the Hinterlands”.

by Amanda S. Green

Promotion is the bane of all writers.  I don’t know a writer who wouldn’t rather be writing than trying to figure out a new and better way to promote our books.  But it is a way of life these days and something we have to be aware of.  One of the easiest ways of promotion has been to take part on different discussion boards.  That not only gives name recognition but allows the opportunity to add a link to our book, Amazon Central page, etc.  It’s free and it also gives us the chance to interact with people who might just become fans.

However, this path is filled with pitfalls.  We’ve all seen it.  The author who jumps into a discussion and makes a complete ass out of himself.  It can be over politics, e-books v. hard copy books, does the sun rise in the east. . . you get my meaning.  It is so easy to rip off a response to something and hit send before we actually think about what we’ve just typed.  Then there’s that set of authors who never show up until someone says something they perceive as negative about their “baby” and then the author feels the need to defend, often with vulgarity, what they wrote.  All that does is hurt the author, even if does give a short term boost to whatever title they are dewfending.

Then there’s the drive-by posting.  This is where an author who hasn’t been part of an online community joins simply to be able to post a promo announcement or two and then disappears, never to be seen until their next book is about to be published.

Those examples can be annoying — and often entertaining, especially if you like flame wars — they pale in contrast to the fallout that can happen when enough authors hijack threads to promote their own work.  This is what happened this past week over on the Amazon kindle boards.

A little background:  When Amazon started the kindle boards, the terms of service (TOS) included a prohibition against self-promotion.  But, no one really worried about it as long as the authors used some common sense.  The community self-policed itself and, for the most part, authors kept their promotions to a single thread a week — if that often — and to adding the link to their book or their Amazon Central page under their name as part of the signature.  Then Amazon started the KDP program and publishing was suddenly opened to everyone.  The result was a sudden influx of self-published and small press published authors coming to the kindle community and using it to promote their books.

Mind you, most of them followed the “rules”.  But the few who didn’t soon turned threads into frequent areas of contention.  They’d post their promotions in the middle of threads that had nothing to do with their book, or books in general.  They’d start new threads with deceptive headers, quickly ticking off the regulars on the forum.  It got to the point where the frustration with these few boiled over to taint all indies (small press and self-published).  That’s when Amazon started hearing a number of complaints and finally took action.

This action impacts all authors, not just those who couldn’t be bothered to follow the “rules”.  As of now, there is no self-promotion allowed on the Amazon kindle board.  Instead, they’ve created a new community for just that purpose.  There are a couple of problems with this, imo.  The first is that it means we can no longer “sign” our posts with links to our books or our Amazon Central page.  That’s promotion, you see, so not allowed.  I’m hopeful Amazon will change that or, as in the past, simply turn a blind eye to it.  However, that isn’t guaranteed and it does remove one of the most effective ways of promotion on any of the Amazon boards from out arsenal.

The second issue is that the new community, like most of the other Amazon communities, isn’t easy to find.  Heck, it’s like trying to find the B&N communities.  If you don’t know where to find then, you won’t. And that hurts readers and authors alike.

This sort of behavior — and consequences — isn’t unique to the Amazon kindle boards.  I’ve seen it time and time again.  It’s just that the kindle community is one of the largest communities devoted to e-books and e-readers around.  To have that removed from our arsenal of free promotion tools is like shooting us in the leg and then telling us to run a marathon.  It can be done, but it will hurt like hell and be a whole lot harder.

So now we have to look for some other way to promote, one that will not cost us an arm or a leg and that won’t take even more time away from writing.  And this is where my questions to each of you come in.  What sort of promotion best gets your attention?  What makes you want to find out more about an author or a new book or short story, especially if it is an author you’ve never heard of before?


Sit For A Biscuit Fido (Training the Inner Writer)

by Chris McMahon

I’ve been trying to get back on the writing horse again after a really crappy period of work, external commitments and  injury (torn ligaments in my knee this time as a result of  a very slippery rock near a waterfall).  As usual my first attempts are to try to go back to the same pace I was maintaining before everything fell over, and as usual the results are proving to be a little inconsistent.

Then I remembered something that the dog trainer said at puppy pre-school (no I’m not kidding, we all went to dog training classes when we bought Kirra, our silky terrier X mini-poodle). We had reached that point in the class where we were demonstrating how well we had established the basic training, such as getting her to sit, stay etc. I was getting her to sit, then moving quite a distance across the room to see how far I could stretch the training in terms of getting her to stay. The trainer said, ‘No. Train for success. Don’t try to push the boundaries or ‘test’ the training. Reinforce the training from the point where you know you will succeed.’

I thought about this a lot at the time, and realised that I always do this to myself. I always establish something that works and immediately try to push the boundaries, to extend what I am doing or add something new. In a way I am always ‘testing’ myself, driving myself.

This little incident in training came back to me this morning as I was scribbling down some thoughts in my journal (I love using pen and paper – seems to provoke a different way of thinking). I realised that I needed to train myself for success. It sounds basic but I needed to gradually re-introduce myself back into the world I was creating, to build back up to the same sort of intensity I had achieved. In essence I had to give myself some ‘writer treats’ – Dog Biscuits for the Hungry Mind – to reward myself and reinforce my success.

How do you reward yourself for staying in the chair? Or is being in your world reward enough?

The Writer’s Toolbox – Stringing it together

by Kate Paulk

Obviously, words on their own aren’t much good. Particularly when they’re stripped of context and laid out on a page like slabs of meat waiting to be ogled by the next reader. Um. Okay. Maybe a little too colorful there.

Anyway. One of the joys and frustrations of language is that words can mean more than one thing, sometimes at the same time. Add in a bunch of homonyms and homophones, and you’ve got a whole lot of potential meanings in what you’re stringing together.

And of course, the primary purpose of writing is to convey meaning, in the form of emotion, to a reader.

There’s any number of ways to do that – more than I can remember the terminology for. I do have a fondness for inappropriate onomatapoia, though. I may be the only person who actually says “burp” when I burp – and not deliberately, either. It just sort of… happens.

So you’ve got similes, which I used in the first paragraph. Metaphors are usually more direct, and when I use them, turn into a kind of demented pot-pourri of weird. I think it may be the Aussie effect… Strine is a dialect that plays with words in ways that go beyond not work-safe. Entendre is… well… entended.

Satire tends to play better if your readers are cued to recognize it – how often do The Onion pieces get taken for the real thing? If you can get it just close enough that it feels right, you can go a long way – as the actress said to the bishop.

There’s irony and it’s harder (there are harder things than irony – I guess that would make them diamondy) cousin sarcasm. Both are best in small doses: too much and the piece gets too heavy, but a little can bring home a point that wouldn’t be nearly as effective done straight (as the actress… oh, never mind).

And of course, there’s the pun. Often indescribable, sometimes awful, and always interesting. English is loaded with multiple meanings, so the pun will inevitably raise its head and punctuate the topic at hand. I’d hesitate over the near certainty of restarting the punic wars, except that… I don’t think they ever stopped around here. It’s just that my native pun level is about 6 inches below the belt and about that long. Particularly when I’m tired, over-stressed or unwell.

(As a side note: there are people at the Mad Genius Club who have seen me in this state. I’m informed it’s rather scary – although I’m usually too busy with the evil giggle to notice. I wouldn’t be surprised if I giggle in my sleep.)

So there you have it – the super-quick cook’s tour through the pungent part of the writers kitchen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to unpun.

Musing — by Sarah

Yesterday I answered a series of interview questions for Literary Lunes Magazine. This happened with a lot of other “business catching up” which had to be done before I go to Portugal, since there I’ll only have intermittent internet access, when I visit my brother’s house. My mom appears to think the internet is the work of the devil or something.

Anyway, among those interviews there was one I’ve never been asked, and which UTTERLY baffled me. “What is you muse?”

I had no idea how to answer that, so I went flip – which, you know, is what I do when I have no clue what people are talking about. I said if I had a muse, she’d wear a toga and lift aloft a clothes iron, because I do most of my ideation while ironing or doing other boring, routine tasks.

I’m still bothered by what they mean. Perhaps they asked “who” (I don’t remember) but that only makes it more baffling. When I wrote poetry, this was easy, since I usually wrote series of poems to someone, normally my crush of the time. (Sigh. Time is the enemy of us all. The young man I wrote 200 sonnets for between the ages of 14 and 18 is now completely bald and looks… well, nothing like he used to. This hurts more than aging personally. Who was it who said something about time making a mockery of our loves?)

But I don’t write poetry and I don’t write straight romance (I don’t write gay romance, either – I mean, as you know very well that I don’t write romance on its own, not as part of a bigger plot.) So the question of a muse doesn’t arise. Or does it?

Of course I fall a little in love with my characters, but not that sort of love. It’s more the love of parent for child, or the love of creator for creation.

Sometimes a book does center around one character, though. It’s not – I think – so much a matter of “love” or even “muse” but more a matter of following the pain. I write to the pain. I go where the pain is.

I think this is because I write to resolve pain – to resolve conflicts within myself that can’t be resolved any other way, starting, inevitably, with the fight between mind and body, but twisting to a lot of other things. And if you’re scratching your head and wondering what I mean by pain – to take an example, I know that I’m not the only one who left her native land behind. Half the members of the Mad Genius Club have. And I’ll admit I wanted to be here, and I’m happy where I live and with my family and friends here. But at the same time, every time I go back, I remember I severed a piece of myself and left it behind – a whole parallel history that was more likely to happen, the person I’d be if I’d married someone there and lived there. It hurts a little not to be able to be in two places at once, no matter how much you love where you are.

But I’m not alone. Even if you never left your birth place and your birth family, I bet the world has changed so much around you that your childhood is as irretrievably lost as my own. It’s part of being a physical, mortal creature caught in the coils of advancing time. No human being deserves that, and all of us live through it. And there’s no way to resolve it, to come to terms with it. Except through art. At least for me. And my art is mostly my writing (the rest being on the lines of a hobby.)

So I go where the pain is. I find the pain in the character, the situation, the world, and the tension that comes from that pain, and I go in and wind the plot around the pain till catharsis happens.

This is the closest thing to a “muse” I can admit to, and it makes me sound like I keep a closet full of whips and chains. (I don’t, though the cats sometimes make me wish for a whip and a chair. Yeah, I know they’d just play with the leather strips.)

So what do you think they meant by “muse”? It made me feel completely out of step, like there was an entire world of writing out there that I not only didn’t know, but couldn’t fathom. After twenty six years of writing, that is a pretty scary idea.

Does everyone but me have a muse? What is a muse in this context? Do you have one?

*Crossposted at According To Hoyt *