Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Waiting Game

For most writers it is a waiting game. We wait to get an idea into our head. We wait for the idea to jell into a story. We wait the requisite month or two to get back to the rewrite. We wait for the editor’s work to be done. We wait for the agent’s response. Wait, wait, wait. And then—when the agent does respond—there’s waiting for the publisher, then the final edits, then the galley proof, then for your name to be announced at the first book signing. Wait, wait, wait.

It’s my take that some of the reasons for the serious amount of dysfunctional mental attitudes as well as bad personal habits of writers is due to this waiting. We are just fine as we write and even rewrite. It is the waiting that eventually takes the toll.

I also believe that is why the self-publishing process is helping the sanity of writers—there’s simply less waiting. At every stage of the process the author has greater control over the steps of writing and production. This control does come at a price. We pay for editors, we pay for formatting, covers, and publicity. We pay for printing, distribution, and travel. But we also can keep up to 100% of the sales (70% at Amazon). Profit is left to the quality of your management.

Consider these:
The Traditional Road
  • Writing the manuscript           6 months
  • Editing             3 months
  • Publisher’s queue        3 – 6 months
  • Publication, pre-marketing, distribution   3 months
  • Total Time                  2 to 3 years


Self-Publishing Road
  • Writing the manuscript           6 months
  • Editing      2-3 weeks
  • Publisher’s queue        none
  • Publication, marketing, distribution    1 week
  • Total Time      7-8 months


I realize that this is simplified and there are a lot of other issues to deal with as a self-publisher. Marketing and publicity are significant consumers of time–but these can happen after the book is published. It is companies such as Amazon and Smashwords that enable the writer to become an author quickly, efficiently, and at minimal cost.

This is the battle that is being fought between Amazon and Hachette (and by proxy the other big publishers as well). For ninety percent of the writers it’s a battle that doesn’t affect them. But there is one area where the soot from this fire-fight may be rubbing
off – Amazon sales of its ebooks are reportedly dropping. No one knows whether this is due to Amazon’s very open outreach, its hardline stance on the whole process, its arrogance, or just a seasonal dip. Only time will tell.


More later . . . . . . . . . .

Friday, August 15, 2014

I Got A Dog In This Hunt!


VS


For most of the reading public the very public negotiations between Hachette and Amazon over pricing and control of ebooks is a big yawn. The number of readers who use ebooks (iPads, Kindle, Nook, etc.) is relatively small compared to the reading public as a whole. And even though this is the future for most popular fiction and some non-fiction, in general the public just rolls its eyes over the kerfuffle. But there are other more dire and ominous conversations being held in the writer’s universe over this subject that are beginning to develop into serious discussions and finger pointing between authors.

There is a growing and rancorous conversation between writers and authors totally outside the Amazon-Hachette negotiations. This conversation being held in lively conversations within social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It is also becoming quite divisive.

Last Sunday a full page add was placed in the New York Times supporting Hachette and their stance that the publisher should determine and control the price of ebooks. Over 900 authors supported this ad that sold for more than $100,000. Most Indie authors see this as the continuing battle between the haves and the have-nots of the publishing world. The primary voice is author Douglas Preston and Authors United. Noted authors Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, and Donna Tartt are just three of the signers. It was paid for by the authors (nice to have that semi-annual royalty check arrive just a few weeks ago—just saying).

Amazon has made direct offers to the authors under contract to Hachette to continue to sell their work (and they would get to keep all the profits) if they just tell Hachette to settle. It has turned into a letter writing campaign between Amazon telling its supporters to email Hachette and Hachette through Authors United to email Jeff Bezos. Amazon tells its people to mention things like “illegal Collusion” and other tasty bits in the letters. They also reference the coming of the cheap paperback book as analogous to the current revolution with ebooks. Even George Orwell is cited (the Orwell estate was not pleased).

The New York Times wrote this last weekend: Click Here. 

Most of the Hachette authors have taken a hit in both sales of traditional books and ebooks.

On the self-publishing front mega-sellers such as Barry Eisler and Hugh Howey have been able to sign up over 7,600 signatures in their response. All is not well in the publishing business. Click Here for the Guardian's look at the issues.

Eisler says that the big name writers are in it for themselves. The Guardian article says:
He (Esiler) added that "beyond that, maybe the most notable thing about the New York Times ad is that it demonstrates how the top one percent of authors are able to buy their desired media access. For them, a New York Times ad is about the equivalent of a cup of coffee for anyone else, the difference being that the ad leads to a ton of follow-on media coverage."

It’s also a way of paying back homage to the NYT and their advantageous best seller placements.

It would be simple for me to say that the traditional publishing houses are dinosaurs and Amazon is the meteor speeding toward earth and their extinction, but none of this is that simple. Amazon needs traditional publishers and the block-buster novelist that populate the best seller lists and provide a significant number of dollars to Amazon’s bottom line (this may be one reason why Amazon now has it’s own publishing division beyond the ebook KDP and Createspace POD). There’s money to be made in paper and electrons.

There is much to blame for both sides. Neither understands where the world of publishing is going—in fact no one has known since Gutenberg when the written word was wrenched from the cold hands of the religious clergies and nobility. Authors are taking more control of their work and their distribution—even the traditional houses see this and are becoming a lot more flexible in their negotiations with authors—or so I have been told.

More later . . . . . . . .


Thursday, August 7, 2014

….and how did you get that idea?


IMPORTANT MESSAGE:
The current battle between Hachette and Amazon is over what YOU will likely pay for ebooks. This letter from Amazon is important and should be read.

And now back to our program:
Most writers have a process they go through as they try to develop the plot and story for their next book. Some wait for divine intervention or inspiration. They scribble notes in spiral binders, draw fascinating diagrams that only they can understand, talk their muse (whomever that is), and some even keep old newspaper articles that might suggest an idea for a story. I’m reminded of Jack Lemmon in his movie How to Murder Your Wife (I know, I know, he was a cartoonist in the movie, bear with me) where he had to act out every scene of his strip while being photographed by Terry-Thomas. A confirmed bachelor, he gets in trouble when during a drunken bachelor party for a friend, Lemon falls in love with the girl who came out of the cake—and marries her. The rest of the story is simple, she comes up missing, his attempts to make up a story of bumping her off in his strip (with photos by Thomas) gets him charged with her murder.

The cool part is the acting out of the story before doing the cartoon strip. How many authors do that? There you are lost for a plot with your latest James Bond-like character and you decide: Hey I can go to Ukraine, I can become a faux CIA operative, I can sneak my way into the rebel camp, yeah and what army. You are more likely to end up against a wall and shot. Authors are known for their imaginations and creativity, not sneaking into war zones (Sebastian Junger excluded). Most, if not all, stories have been told in one form or another. It is how you, the author, puts your own personal spotlight on the plot that makes it your own.

The best writers are known for creating fascinating characters—full-blooded and very real. Then they put bizarre obstacles in their way in an effort to see what the character can do to extract themselves or save the day. This is the way I work. My goal is to find that character, make him real to me, then throw him/her from an airplane without a parachute. Sometime during the fall they will find a way to survive and get back onto the plane and save the world (never thinking small is a good plot plan).

With a series, such as my O’Mara Chronicles, I have two people who must continually be put in difficult spots. After five books my characters are now fully developed, so it is imperative to get them to act differently, change their environment, throw them from a plane. It’s these changes that: 1) create an interesting story, 2) allow the characters to continue to grow, 3) allow the author to expand the character’s worlds, and 4) lay the ground for the next in the series. It all comes from the development of the character.

For a new character I start with a number of simple questions.
  • Will they be a man or a woman (or something else?)
  • What is his age?
  • What is her job? This can drive the whole story.
  • What was their past like—did it shape their character?
  • Are they someone you like—or despise? Remember you also have to have a villain or two.
  • Where do they sit economically? Those with money troubles act differently then those with a few bucks in their pocket.
  • What is their moral compass? Big item here—think loyalty, honor, never lie—or does their compass not work at all.
  • Quirks? Habits? Social Skills? 
Then write up a few paragraphs about the character. Can you make them real? Can they be someone you can build a story around? Jack Lemmon’s character was envied due to his projection of successful bachelorhood. He was envied by all the married men. He was suave, rich, owned a New York townhome, had all the finest things in life—and was boring. But getting him hitched to Virna Lisi while drunk changes his whole life. Things begin to fall apart, his compass goes screwy, and the story begins.


More later . . . . . . . . . .