Kicking an Opportunity Till It’s Dead

[Atomic Blonde]
Photo courtesy of MovieWeb

Several months ago, I entered a contest that offered as the first prize the opportunity for my latest novel to be taken on by a reputable publishing company. Of course, at the time, I was pretty excited. Who wouldn’t be? A chance to have your book published professionally with everything that entails—great editing, eye-popping cover, and a brilliant marketing campaign? So, now imagine reading an email that just hit your inbox saying you are a finalist! Wow, am I dreaming?

Before I go any further, this isn’t one of those stories that go from fairy tale to nightmare. Everything was on the up-and-up. Along with the email, I received a well-written critique and was given a short timeframe to produce a new version for consideration. Presumably, they would read the draft, and if they felt the changes were what they were looking for, I would continue on in the process. And after reading the critique, I have to say I really thought I had a shot. Anyway, soon, a winner will be chosen…but I can say with certainty it won’t be me. Why?

Because I dropped out.

The Dilemma
Look, there was nothing wrong with the critique. In fact, the editor made lots of good points about things I might want to address. But in reading the comments, I got the sense that somehow my book hadn’t fully resonated with them. They just weren’t on board with what I was doing. The things I had intentionally chosen to do—the tone, the protagonist, and all the rest—was somehow not right for them. To be fair to the publisher, my story doesn’t fall neatly into a single genre. It’s what they’re calling these days a genre-bender. Also, I’ve mixed first-person narration with third-person—not unheard of in today’s fiction. Finally, the way I have written the fourteen-year-old protagonist makes her seem impossibly wise for her age. But that was the point! She is, in fact, incredibly precocious.

So, I was left with two choices: Make the appropriate changes and hope I won. Or walk away. Obviously, I’ve chosen the latter path.

But, dude, this was your shot! you’re probably thinking. You could have had a publishing contract! What are you, nuts?

Well, I probably am. But hear me out. In looking at the terms of the contract, I realized that I don’t want someone else owning my book’s copyright. Yeah, I know. This is standard for publishing. But I’m new to the game, okay? And another thing. I imagined myself watching as another company took control of my book and basically did what they thought was best regarding promotion. Okay, so they are probably way better at marketing than I am, I will admit. But I would be losing the one thing I have come to love about being an indie author these past few years—control.

A Silver Lining
Even after what may yet prove to be a bone-headed move on my part, there is one bright spot. The combination of the critique and the fact that I was a finalist in a reputable contest, for me, add up to a huge validation of my work. I am immensely proud of what I wrote, and apparently, there are others out there who feel it has value.

Now, it’s back to my world. The novel is going through a final edit, and my cover designer is hard at work creating something magical—I hope! I plan to publish in the spring. Stay tuned.

Here’s to opportunity!

What in the World Is “Family Fiction”?

[Arrested Development]
Photo courtesy of Deadline | Hollywood

A while ago, I told you about a novel I had adapted from one of my old screenplays (see “Adapting a Screenplay—Fun Times”). As I was writing the book, I thought my biggest challenge would be making a decent novel out of what is essentially a blueprint for a movie, which is what a screenplay is. The good news? I showed a recent draft to a few trusted friends, and the consensus is that the story works. Now for the bad news.

Finding Your Genre
Typically, when writing a novel you have pretty good idea about which genre you’re in. We’ve been trained to think this way, and it’s my view that this is mostly due to the influence of movies and television. What’s the first thing an agent asks you (after “Who are you again?”)—what is it? And they’re not talking about the story, my friend. No, they are asking whether it’s rom-com, horror, thriller, period, coming-of-age, etc. In other words, they want to know how to market it.

And here’s the thing—because we as writers are already trained, we will write according to these predefined genres, or categories. Of course, Amazon makes it easy too. When you publish your book, you are asked to select up to three categories. Here’s one—Fiction->Romance->Contemporary.

But what if your story doesn’t fall neatly into a pigeon hole?

Genre Benders
This is where I found myself after finishing my novel. And I will tell you in all honesty, this is precisely why I had struggled with the screenplay. In my mind, I had a great story, but it wasn’t targeted at a particular audience (kids, millennials, older adults, etc.). So, now what?

Well, I had a great conversation with my friend Melodie Ramone, who I interviewed recently. Melodie is not only a brilliant writer, but she knows the publishing world well—particularly when it comes to what publishers want from fiction. And what they want is apparently no different than what those pesky Hollywood agents want—they want to categorize the book so they can market it in the same tired way they do all the others that fall into your particular genre.

Sadly, my book is what Melodie calls a “genre bender.” And, bless her, she didn’t discourage me from publishing it. Sure, I’ll probably never get a literary agent to look at it, but who cares? I’m focused on indie publishing anyway. Of course, I still have to figure out how to market the damned thing, and that is still the problem.

Family Fiction
In researching genre-bending types of fiction, I ran across a term I wasn’t familiar with—family fiction. I tried looking it up, and guess what—there is no definition. I found items as diverse as “Christian fiction,” “family saga” and “domestic fiction.” In fact, there’s a site called FamilyFiction.com that appears to try and own the brand, categorizing itself as a purveyor of Christian fiction.

When I searched Amazon’s Kindle store, I found that “family fiction” is a recognized search term. The first book that popped up on the list at the time of this writing was The Doctor’s Unexpected Family by Kristen Ethridge. You got it—Christian fiction. The second was A Legacy of Secrets by Jean Reinhardt, which is listed as a family saga. Then there’s Alone by Holly Hook, which appears to be targeted to the YA/Sci-Fi/Fantasy crowd. I saw other titles with “family” in them, which unfortunately means that Mario Puzo’s The Family is included. Now, most people are aware that Amazon is great at leveraging big data, but the fact that Christian fiction-themed books appear alongside stories about La Cosa Nostra tells me that family fiction is not a true genre, at least as far as they’re concerned.

Alternatively, if you visit Goodreads, you’ll find a list of family fiction that features books as diverse as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle (which is part of her “A Wrinkle in Time” series). Now granted, the only reason the list contains these books is because readers shelved them that way, which tells me that readers themselves don’t really understand what family fiction is. They probably figure, hey, if it’s about a family, then it must be family fiction. So wait, could it be that simple?

Bringing It Home
Back to my story. My book is told mostly in the first person by a thirteen-year-old girl. But occasionally, I use third-person omniscient because there are important scenes that don’t include her but drive the other characters—her mother and father, for example.

I still haven’t figured out how I am going to market this thing, but Melodie gave me some great suggestions. I will keep you informed as to my progress. In the meantime, I would love to see some comments about what you consider to be family fiction.

Authors and the Indie Supply Chain

Photo Courtesy of Ford Motor Company via Creative Commons
[Ford Europe]I’m really hoping that this post isn’t as boring as the title suggests. I wanted to accomplish two things today—tell you where I am with Book Three and talk a little about indie authors who are responsible for controlling their own publishing supply chain. I’ll keep it short, I promise.

If you are a longtime visitor to the site, you’ll know that a couple of years ago I wrote a horror-thriller called Tell Me When I’m Dead. Last year, I followed that up with Book Two, Dead Is All You Get. I’m happy to report that both novels have been getting excellent reviews. This year, I plan to publish the third and final book in the series. Sorry, no title today. I will let you know that when I do the cover reveal in the next month or so.

What Is a Supply Chain, Anyway?
Investopedia defines a supply chain as …

The network created amongst different companies producing, handling and/or distributing a specific product. Specifically, the supply chain encompasses the steps it takes to get a good or service from the supplier to the customer.

In publishing, the supply chain is made up of all of the steps involved in bringing out a book. For print, that includes the actual manufacturing and distribution. For eBooks, it’s mostly focused on editing, formatting and cover design.

Does Self-Publishing Mean Faster?
You bet. I’ve heard other traditionally published authors squawk about the lag between submitting their manuscript to the publisher and actually seeing the thing appear on the book store shelves. We’re talking eighteen months to two years, people. Unacceptable!

Aside from the fact that, potentially, I can make more money selling my own books, shrinking the window from pen to Amazon is a huge plus.

But …
It’s not all chocolate and roses, though. As an indie author, I am essentially in business for myself. And until I can afford to hire an intern, I am pretty much doing everything myself—including marketing. What does that mean? Well, I am a terrible artist. And I don’t know jack about PhotoShop. So I must rely on a cover designer. My choice is Deborah Bradseth over at Tugboat Design.

When it comes to editing, my manuscripts are generally in pretty good shape when I am finished. But editors are a critical and necessary part of the supply chain. They always find things you missed. I’m not talking typos—I mean problems having to do with consistency in character behavior, unresolved storylines, and just plain clunky sentence structure. Currently, I work with a number of editors.

Then there’s the formatting. I tried doing this myself, but there are so many subtleties around eBooks and the devices that display them, it’s not worth it to me to mess with that crap. So I use a professional formatter, JW Manus. She’s smart and efficient, and she delivers a quality product every time.

What’s in It for You?
Back to my new novel. I plan to get Book Three out before the end of the year. In addition, I have asked my artist friend, Kevin Asmus, to create new images for all three books. These will be more cohesive, series-wise, and I really hope you like them. And as if that isn’t enough, I am rebranding the series. Whew!

Sometime in the spring, I plan to finally publish the print versions of these books. Yay! But that is yet another step in the supply chain that requires even more planning. I’ll be doing this through CreateSpace. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I am currently offering Books One and Two for 99 cents. They normally sell for $3.99 each. If you haven’t picked them up yet, now’s your chance to save a little cash. Happy reading!

Tell Me When I’m Dead

[Tell Me When I’m Dead Cover]

Available at Amazon

Thanks to his wife, Holly, recovering alcoholic Dave Pulaski is getting his life back. Then a contagion decimates the town, turning its victims into shrieking flesh-eaters. Now Dave and Holly must find a way to survive. But Dave is this close to drinking again. A woman he cheated with—and no longer human—is after him. The hordes of undead are growing and security forces are outnumbered. Hell has arrived in Tres Marias.

Tell Me When I’m Dead (Book One of THE DEAD SERIES) is about an antihero haunted by all the mistakes of his life. Facing a terrifying future, Dave must decide whether to die drunk or fight for those he cares about most. And strength alone won’t be enough—he’ll need Faith. If you like your thrillers dark and fast-paced, then follow Dave and Holly as they fight against looters, paramilitary crazies and the undead. “A hard-hitting splattergore zombie thriller, told by the ultimate antihero” (Travis Luedke).

Dead Is All You Get

[Dead Is All You Get Cover]

Available at Amazon

After months of fighting the undead ravaging the town of Tres Marias, Dave Pulaski and his wife, Holly, catch a break when Black Dragon Security suddenly shows up to rescue them. But things are about to get worse. The virus is mutating. Now, driven to discover the truth behind the contagion while struggling to protect Holly and those closest to him, Dave is pushed beyond the limits of faith and reason.

Dead Is All You Get (Book Two of THE DEAD SERIES) combines the best elements of horror, dark fantasy and sci-fi, taking the reader on a relentless, tortured journey of survival that tests the strength of one man’s character and delves into the role Faith plays when he is confronted by the worst kind of evil—the evil in humans. If you like your thrillers dark and fast-paced, then read this mind-blowing sequel. And leave the lights on. “A shoot first then shoot again horror thriller of the highest order” (Simon Oneill).

Newsflash—Amazon Isn’t Evil After All

Photo Courtesy of Jason Scragz via Creative Commons
[Evil Monkey]Thanks to our friends over at Authors United, there’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Amazon’s business practices as they relate to bookselling. Apparently, the kerfuffle began with the tense negotiations between Amazon and Hachette and has escalated to a letter from Authors United to the DOJ, demanding that they investigate the monopoly that is Amazon.

For the record, I agree with Joe Konrath. These folks appear to be a bunch of “whiny little babies” who are not at all pleased with the direction bookselling has taken—especially concerning independent publishing. Thanks to Amazon, readers are—wait for it—saving money on books. How dare Jeff Bezos put his customers first! And also thanks to Amazon, indie authors like me get a chance to be heard without relying on traditional publishers.

Rather than rehash the debate, I thought I would provide a couple of links. Enjoy!

Joe’s Letter to the Assistant Attorney General
“For the past fifty years, a handful of big publishers have functioned as a cartel, controlling the majority of what has been published. They did this by having an oligopoly over paper distribution. If a writer wanted to get their work into a bookstore, the only way to do so was to sign a contract with them.

“My best guess is that out of every 1000 books written, only 1 was published. That meant 999 out of 1000 books were effectively deep-sixed, prevented from ever reaching the public.”

A Message from the Amazon Books Team
“The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.”

Authors United founder says Amazon’s control of the book industry is “about the same as Standard Oil’s when it was broken up”
“Amazon is like any other corporation; it has two goals. One is to increase market share, and the other is to increase profits. So anyone who thinks that Amazon is their friend is deluded. Is Exxon the friend of everyone who fills up their tank with gas? I don’t think so. Anti-trust laws are to prevent the natural growth of companies to grow to a monopoly status, and then use that monopoly power to stifle competition. And that’s what Amazon has been doing.”

Hugh Howey on Author’s United Letter to the DOJ: “I think it’s hilarious!”
“Amazon has done more good for literature than any other organization in my lifetime. They make books available to people without bookstores nearby, and at great prices. And they pay authors nearly 6 times what publishers do.”

And Now A Word About Professionalism

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Haslam via Creative Commons
[Pro Yo Buff Professional Volleyball]Well, kiddies, it’s almost time for Dead Is All You Get: Book Two of THE DEAD SERIES to go live. And it’s been a journey, let me tell you. Recently, I did a cover reveal, signaling the approaching publishing date. Now, we’re really close. I’m getting the manuscript back from the proofreader and, once the book is formatted by the amazing and inimitable JW Manus, it’s saving humanity one book at a time. Okay, that’s overstated. But, hey, I’m excited!

In the meantime, I wanted to talk a little about the publishing process from the point-of-view of a moderately experienced indie author. Because I write, I read. A lot. And I have to say that indie publishing is a blessing and a curse. First, let’s talk about the blessing part.

Amazon and the Masses
Like Gutenberg, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others have brought publishing to the masses. If you’ve paid any attention to the debate raging now between Amazon and Hachette, you’ll understand that this is a pretty big deal. No longer must authors be at the mercy of powerful literary agents and publishers. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can publish a book. Anyone.

This new reality has brought about a titanic transformation of publishing—with the reader at the center. New voices—authors who for the most part would never have gotten a shot—are now able to be read. All good stuff. But, as in most things in life, there’s a downside.

Up to Our Necks in Dreck
It’s precisely because anyone can hit the “Publish” button that there’s a lot of garbage out there. I’m talking bad writing, bad covers, no editing and no formatting. So what does this mean for the reader? Well, they have to wade through the dreck to get to the good stuff. And with way more than a million titles, that’s not easy. “What about reviews?” you say. Ever heard of sock puppets?

The major publishers have put forth this argument for years—implying that the only way to get your hands on quality books is to purchase them from The Big Five. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is a load of crap. Don’t believe me? Check out Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings site sometime and you’ll find that indie publishing is growing at a pace that’s alarming to The Big Five.

But enough of this. Let’s talk about making your indie book the best it can be.

The Cover Matters
Whether or not you like my book cover, it’s professional. I not only hired an artist to create it, but I used a professional cover designer. As many others have said ad nauseam, at least when it comes to eBooks, you can judge a book by its cover. And if the thing is rubbish, readers can probably assume the book is as well.

Editors Matter
You cannot hope to build an audience without entrusting your book to a professional editor and proofreader (often not the same person). Editors see things you don’t—gaps in logic, klunky language and bad grammar, to name a few. And a proofreader sees things editors don’t—missing commas, extra spaces after periods, etc.

Again, you may find that you don’t care for THE DEAD SERIES—I hope you do, though—but it’s professional. Unfortunately, typos will always make their way through. And I can tell you that I’ve found plenty of them in books from The Big Five. Nothing against these guys. It’s because we’re human—we miss things. What’s nice about eBooks is, you can easily fix the typo and republish.

Formatting Matters
I’m talking strictly about eBooks here. Yes, you can leave it to the Smashwords Meatgrinder to handle the formatting. Mark Coker has done an amazing job with that program, doing his best to automate the process of self-publishing. But it’s still a program. I prefer to work with a human.

The point is, don’t just upload your Microsoft Word document to KDP and hope for the best. You’ll be disappointed—and so will your readers.

A Good Synopsis Matters
When I say “synopsis,” I am also referring to the book blurb that appears under your book’s title on Amazon. It should be as professional as your book. And if you don’t know how to write an effective one, seek the help of other writers. You won’t be sorry.

Brand Matters
So what am I really talking about? Brand. This is all about your brand, people. Get the book wrong and readers will be done with you. And it will be hard to get them back. And I didn’t mean to imply that doing all of the above is cheap—it’s not. But if you’re serious about your work, you must do everything you can to produce a professional-looking product.

Of course, I am assuming that your writing rocks. That’s a given. All the more reason you should give it the respect it deserves.