Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Part II: Who Needs a Legacy Publisher, Anyway?

My post last week about the hedging legacy publishing houses are beginning to show over committing to print editions in author contracts was intended to be a one-off--until I saw a blog post by an aspiring author that motivated me to follow up on it with a second installment.

In the post (I'm keeping it anonymous because I have not contacted the author for permission to publish her name), the writer details her journey: crafting her work, query letters to agents and publishers, discouraging and encouraging rejection responses--the same story all of us have experienced or heard of a thousand times.

She receives a response from what looks to be a legitimate publisher that loves her work. They open a dialog, which initially appears encouraging, then the process bogs down when she has her legal resource review the offered contract and negotiate changes. The two sides begin to pull apart and negotiations break down, and the writer eventually rejects the offer. The details aren't as important as the core issue here (in my opinion).

I think the publishing world we've evolved is inverted now from the one we've seen in the past. The queries--to both agents and publishers--the rejections, the slush pile crushing your work--those are artifacts of the past, the legacy process.

Self-publishing should be the first option now. The go-to. Why should a writer with a well-crafted story spend months or likely years shopping his or her story around, experiencing the heartbreak, frustration, and rejection? What do the legacy houses have to offer anymore--and is it worth the price? In my post last week, I documented the dry-up of the one legitimate service they had to offer: getting your book into one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar bookstores.

"Hybrid" authors like Hugh Howey have turned the legacy process on its head. The reader base has become the new slush pile. Readers are the gatekeepers now. A writer can self-publish his work, and if it's good and gets discovered and the writer has deserved success, the traditional publishers come knock on the author's door expressing interest. Which, by the way, puts the writer at a distinct negotiating advantage.

Every day a story sits unpublished on your hard drive is a day wasted. Every day your work sits under a slush pile is a day lost. Why wait for the publishing house's overworked lackey to read and make a quick decision on your work when you have the the true judges of a story's viability--the readers, thousands of them--ready and willing to pass judgement? If you believe in your work, get it out there take that chance.

You have nothing to lose but time and money. That book could be earning you money as well as feedback. If your stuff is good, it will find a market. And it's something the legacy houses think will sell, they'll come knocking on your door.

Just ask Hugh.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Who Needs a Legacy Publisher, Anyway?

Lots of interesting things going on in the publishing world this week, both in the general industry and on the home front. This post wound up being pretty long.

Hang with me.

First up . . . (Steve climbs on his soapbox.)

An article by Rachel Deahl in Publisher's Weekly last Friday outlined a growing concern by literary agents that the legacy publishing houses were beginning to shy away from committing to print editions of authors books. Here's a summary excerpt:

". . . with some [agents] expressing concern that the big houses are starting to hedge on print editions in contracts.

While e-book-only agreements are nothing new—all large publishers have imprints that are exclusively dedicated to digital titles—a handful of agents, all of whom spoke to PW on the condition of anonymity, said they’re worried that contracts from print-first imprints will increasingly come with clauses indicating that the publisher makes no guarantee on format. The agents say this is a new twist to the standard way of doing business."

I'm not going to go into any more details or comment on the gist of the article; I encourage you to read it if you want more depth and context.


This sets the stage for the uncomfortable possibility that publishing houses will evolve their standard contract language to set up the scenario of releasing titles as (low-cost to produce) ebooks first, and only doing print runs if the book sales justify it.

I have to ask: why the f**k would we (authors) even consider signing a contract with a legacy publishing house at this point? The old guard claims to offer--for a typical royalty rate of about 17%--getting your book distributed to one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar bookstores, editorial,  artwork, and formatting services, and marketing.

Let's take a look at those.

Unless your name ends in Grisham, King or Koontz, and your first name is John, Stephen, or Dean, respectively  you do not get a pile of books prominently displayed at the the front of the store or in the window. If you're a "mid-list" author, which most are, you get one or two copies of your work stuck spine-out on a shelf in the appropriate genre section, where a reader on an expedition to those wilds may find it if they look hard enough, and your title or name intrigues them. I ask you, Legacy House, if you take that meager crumb away, what's left?

Editorial services. Have you looked in a legacy-published book lately? The work by the few remaining and over-tasked editors in the industry doesn't exactly shine. Take Dan Simmons or Stephen King's last few books. (Love you guys,  but did you even get read by an editor before going to print?) For a flat fee, an independent author can hook up with many of the excellent editors the death throes of the legacy publishing world is casting adrift. My editor, Rebecca Dickson, is not only a rock star of an editor, she cares about the story, about me and my career, about making me a stronger writer. I'm not just a cog in a machine to her, even though our relationship is contractual, book-by-book.

And that's also key: a flat rate / book contract. I pay her fairly for her time and work, and then I'm free to earn whatever I can from the book--no royalties, no percentages, no ties.

And another thing. It's my work, my book. I'm free to incorporate or discard her changes and suggestions (though I rarely reject any of her edits; I'd say I keep better than 99% of her markup.) With a legacy publishing arrangement, the publisher owns your work. You either write what they want, or your book doesn't get printed. And, again, your relationship is royalty-based; you get the scraps off their table when they say say (or their mystical bean-counters say) their up-front costs are recovered. (Of which you're likely to pay another 15% of that to the agent who negotiated the contract for you.)

Artwork. Again, you can make suggestions. You can hold your breath till you pass out. You can jump up and down and wave your arms and rant and rave. But the publisher will put out the cover they want, not the one you want. This is a big deal to writers, and I've seen a lot of discussions on a lot of forum boards that vent frustration over lack of control in this area, and pure joy and relief over the control and freedom of publishing your own work with your own cover brings.

For a few hundred bucks--or less--you can commission a very talented artist to create exactly the cover you want. Or you can do it yourself. I did the front and back cover for The Winds of Heaven and Earth myself. Will it win awards? Probably not. Does it convey the mood and theme of the book? I think it does. And it was a lot of fun to do. And if I decide in the future I want something different or that the cover is hurting book sales, I can change it. Or hire someone to do it for me.

Interior format, layout. Yeah, formatting for both print and Kindle is a pain, but once you learn to build and tweak templates in Word, it's cookie cutter. And again, at the end of the day, it's what I want.

So what's left? What do we get out of the 83% of the book's revenue that you guys collect?

Those two spine-out editions in the crumbling bookstore up the street. Or, at least, we used to.

Let's do it with some numbers. Just talking eBooks here, to make a point

Let's say I write a novel, and the publisher releases it in digital format, and in the first year it sells 5,000 copies (I wish.) Assume it's priced at $4.99, which is typical for a mid-list author. That's $25,000, of which the publisher gets 83% or more. That leaves me $4,250. My agent gets 15%. I'm left with $3,600. I pay a third in taxes. That leaves me $2,400. Less than 50 cents per copy sold. And, still, no distribution in a bookstore, no control of cover, little editorial leverage.

Now say I publish that on my own. Being transparent here, my royalty earnings from Amazon on that title price are 70% (yup, that's right. 70.) My take-home gross is now $17,500, over four times what the legacy house would pay. My agent's cut is,well, zero, since I don't need one to self-publish. Subtract two grand for editing and cover services, and I have about 15K left, and after taxes about ten.

Now we're talking two bucks a sale versus fifty cents. Even priced at $2.99, I'm making over a buck and a half a sale, for the brow-sweat of a half-year's work.

I feel a whole lot better about self-publishing now.

I ask again, why f**k would I sign with a legacy house?

Moving on.

I'm a big admirer of, not just for their estore and amazing customer service, but for the opportunity they provide for Independent authors to publish and sell their work--they were probably the main catalyst for the self-pub explosion and the death blows to the legacy publishing business. Jeff Bezos rocks.

Now Amazon has come out with an amazing program, a win-win for both readers and authors, called Kindle Matchbook. For authors and publishers that voluntarily opt-in to the program, readers who purchase or have purchased print editions of books can pick up the Kindle edition for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free.

I chose free for my books. Most Idie authors I discussed this with agree; the idea is that if you already paid for my work, I'm not going to charge you for the convenience of reading it in the medium of your choice. A few authors disagree, saying this is no different than charging for hardback and paperback editions of a book. I say that's bullshit; paper costs to print. eBooks cost almost nothing (literally, a penny or two depending on the size) to distribute. Make your digital stuff free if someone paid you. You need to keep the readers happy.

You can see a list of titles eligible for Matchbook on Amazon, so if you bought a print book through them in the past, check it out. (Waves hand in shameless marketing plug.) You can also discover the book's eligibility on that title's Amazon page as well.

Finally, on the home front. The Dark Paths of the World, the sequel to The Winds of Heaven and Earth, stands at about 72,000 first-draft words. It's shaping up nicely, though it's trending to be a lot longer than WHE. Still targeting early spring.

Have a great Halloween, keep it reasonable on the candy intake, and watch out for those Facebook giraffes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Importance of Being Earnest

This post isn't about Oscar Wilde--I don't really like his work, though I love many of the quotes attributed to him. Truth be told, I just wanted to use the play title for the post title because I always thought it was cool--and wanted to throw the factoid out there that there were even more puns and subtext in that play then most realize; circumstantial evidence has come to light that "earnest" was likely a slang term for "homosexual" back in the day, the day being the late 19th century. (Wilde was arrested for same; people were a bit touchier about those things back then. No, that wasn't a pun.)

But, as Arlo Guthrie would say, "That's not what I came here to talk about today." What I really want to do is toss down a few stone tablets from the mount about a reader's obligation to the independent or self-published author.

"Obligation" is a strong word, and it's not even the correct one; but it's the closest term I could think of in the fifteen-minute publishing deadline I give myself for these blogs. But there is something we (Indie authors) need from you (the readers).

Indie authors don't have the marketing machine of the Big Six (five, whatever) publishing houses behind them. We don't get posters on trains trumpeting out new work. (You know who you are, Dean.) We don't get a stack of books in the front window of the few remaining brick-and-mortar bookstores. (You know who you are, Steve.) We don't get many reviews from the top review sources that the BS-backed authors do.  We don't get much of anything, although to be fair to traditionally-published mid-list authors, they have to do almost the same amount of self-promotion we do, but at least they get a spine-out volume or two of their work on a genre shelf somewhere in the store.

What we Indie authors need are reviews. Word of mouth. Help with growing our fanbase. BS authors, at least the bigger ones, get some of that from the publisher. Indie authors do too--because we publish ourselves. But bad books don't sell and books people want to read do, so after the initial push the ball starts to roll on its own. For the indie author, the push has to be a bit louder and more sustained. A good work will find an audience, as long as it finds fertile ground and gets some water until it takes root.

All we're asking is to help spread the word about us. If you read something from me or another Indie, go on Amazon or Goodreads or both, and write a review. Tell your friends. Trumpet it on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone knows when the new Stephen King book gets published, but only a small group on my FB and Twitter and blog followers know when mine does. We-I need your help to expand our audience. If the book fell short, we need to know about it so we can make the next one stronger. If you like it, your friends and others you know that may enjoy that topic or genre need to know, because they're not going to see the ad on the train. Throw a recommendation their way.

It's a mutually-beneficial thing. You can help grow and sustain the base of Indie authors in your genre, giving you more choices and more great stories to read, and we get to reach a wider audience and expand our success--some very good writers may even stay the course who may be sitting on the fence ready to drop out because of discouraging sales numbers. There are many Indie authors that are as good or better than those published by the BS, but they don't get advances on contracts to sustain themselves. They need early-and-often word of mouth, and a bit more help passing the word than Steve King or Dean Koontz.

If you read a work by an Indie, I ask you to please fire up your browser before you forget, and leave a review to guide others on the merits of the story. And if you liked it, help the author pimp it a bit.

We really could use your help. Dean and Steve are doing okay, as far as I can tell.

On the home front,  The Dark Paths of the World, the sequel to The Winds of Heaven and Earth, is north of 60,000 words and looks like it's going to be a monster of a tale. Still targeting an early spring release.

On the Winds: this week is a heavy promotional week. I'll be sponsoring a promotion on Goodreads for an autographed print version from 10/24 through 10/31 (US and Canada only; overseas package mailing rates are a bit too steep for me. At least until I reach Steve and Dean's success levels.)

On 10/25. an interview with me will be featured on author and book reviewer / blogger Louise Wise's "Wise Words" site. And on 10/26 through 10/31, I'll be dropping the Winds Kindle edition price to 99 cents. Good time to grab it.

Now back to work. (That was for you as well as me.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Dark Paths of the World -- Cover Concept

Here's the rough front-back cover concepts  for The Dark Paths of the World, the sequel to The Winds of Heaven and Earth.

Yeah, yeah; I know we're a long way out--DPW just topped 45,000 words, so I'm not even a third of the way through the first draft, but it's starting to pick up steam and I'm pleased at the way the story's turning out.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

And a Cloud of Dust

Hey, remember me? Things are settling down now, but it's been a busy week or two. With the launch of The Winds of Heaven and Earth in the rear-view mirror, and a few promotions put to bed, I can take a breath and turn my full attention to The Dark Paths of the World, the second book in the Keystone, Lodestone, Clarion series.

As exciting as it was to see the book in print and watch the first sales and reviews trickle in, I'm looking forward to getting into a gentler rhythm and just letting the creative juices flow. I'd like to have DPW out by mid-spring, and as of this writing it's about one-fifth of the way through the first draft. I stated in an earlier post that picking up an in-flight story is a lot of fun: no world-building or character development to get bogged down in, since those elements have already been established and planted in the reader's mind; it's just pure action and movement. Even as early on as it is in the tale, the story rips.

And on the promotions: I put up A Fairy for Bin Laden as a free Kindle download for five days (with a preview of WHE as bonus materiel), and it did pretty well, but not as well as some of the previous giveaways of the novella.

But the promotion I'm really pleased about was the Goodreads giveaway. I put up a signed copy of the print version of WHE as a seven-day drawing, and over 750 people entered with about half of them adding the book to their "To Read" shelf on Goodreads. The exposure from that promotion was phenomenal  and based on the response from that I'm planning on making that a regular monthly item.

The winner was Stacey F from Bridgeville, Delaware. Congrats, Stacey--enjoy!

Remember: independent authors don't have the marketing machinery of the Big Six publishers behind them; we depend on word-of-mouth and reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. The biggest favor you can do me--or any Indie author--is to leave reviews and spread the word about books of ours that you like to your friends and fellow readers.

Happy reading!

Now back to work.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Exciting Day

Publication of a new book is exciting for any author. I can't imagine becoming so jaded that the blush is off the rose--insert your own mangled metaphor here--to the point where holding the initial printed copy of your work doesn't raise your heart rate. Even Stephen King and Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling and all those mega-selling authors still get a thrill when the stork drops in. At least I hope they do. If you don't, Steve, Dan, J.K., sit in my seat for a bit and remember what it's like.

The first one, though . . . that's gotta be up there with holding your baby for the first time.

All right--chill. Maybe it isn't, but in the moment . . .

I had that pleasure, that rush today when I tore open the package and inhaled the scent of paper and new ink. Ran my fingers over the cover. Flipped through the pages and skimmed words that are so familiar now I'm practically a walking audio book. Unless you've been there, you can't imagine the thrill.

The Winds of Heaven and Earth has physical form.

Everyone who's written a book will tell you how much work it is, how much dedication and commitment it takes to pull it off.  Even after you've typed "The End," there's a f-ton of work to do. The tunnel stays dark for a loooonnnnggg time, and just when you think you'll never come out, you see a stray photon or two, then a few more, and soon things brighten and you pop out the other end into clear bright sunlight and the world is fresh and new again.

Enough sentiment. Time to get back to work.  I've already downloaded .pdf proofs and made what I hope are the last revisions; with this print proof I need to go through and confirm structure: page breaks, headers, spacing, margins, page numbers, etc, and upload any corrections along with my revised materiel.  Then a day or two for the publisher review, and one more online pass as the final formatted work before I give approval for the book to be made available for print and distribution.

I'm still targeting next week, September 19th--International Talk Like a Pirate Day, (no, the novel is not about pirates, though it has a lot of nautical themes and there is a big battle between sailing ships, a la Master and Commander) for the formal launch though I'll release the Kindle Edition early on the 16th, and offer 5 days of a free download of A Fairy for Bin Laden to celebrate (with a generous excerpt of The Winds of Heaven and Earth as backmatter in that eBook) beginning on 9/19.

But . . . this. This thing I'm holding is me. My sweat, blood, guts. Train rides and late nights and weekends; time stolen from friends and family and self.

If you're a writer, you know it doesn't end here.  There's the new work in progress. Then the next book, and the next.

But now, for just a few more moments, I'm going to savor this.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Quickie

Ha! Title got your attention? Don't be ashamed; we're all weak.

Just a short post to keep my toe in the water. I'm heads-down with a lot of things, so my posts have been few and far between--but as a writer it's important to keep active and visible in social media.

The Winds of Heaven and Earth is wrapping. My editor and I are in the final stages on the final chapters, and all the formatting, cover art, back and front matter, blurbs, ISBN and all that fun peripheral stuff is done. Once the last chapters are added, the long pole in the tent will be ordering and receiving the proof copy of the print version for review and approval.  The Kindle version isn't dependent on that, so it may ship a week or two earlier.

I'm tentatively targeting September 19th--International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Why?  Because. Because the book has a lot of nautical themes and imagery, and just because I think it's fun. We'll see. Avast, ye hearties. Arrrrrr . . .

Work on the sequel, The Dark Paths of the World is coming along, slowly but steadily. (I saw the other day in my notes that the original title was Through the Dark Paths of the World. Hmm. Maybe. Have quite a while to decide; that's looking like a spring 2014 release. The title comes from the quote "“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.” And there's a lot of dark paths in the book.)

I launched another project to fill my infinite spare time. I went though a lot, and learned a lot while wrestling with the setup/ formatting / uploading / proofing for the different mediums (print and Kindle / eBook.) I decided that other Indie authors would benefit from my experiences, so I'll be publishing a step-by-step guide to this process, hopefully by the end of the year. No working title, but it will be something like "Self-Publishing Your Book to Amazon: A Step-by-Step Guide to Formatting and Publishing Your Work to CreateSpace and KDP."  I need a shorter WIP title. I think "SPP" works.(Self-Pub Project.)

The average price for an eBook, as reported today by Digital Book World, is an all time low: $6.33. Fist pump.

Have a safe and fun holiday weekend.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Big Reveal

Although I was sort of happy with the original cover of The Winds of Heaven and Earth, I felt it was too placid; it didn't convey the sense of fate-driven helplessness that the Moby Dick quote that inspired the book's title warranted:

Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?”

I also wanted to amplify the nautical themes that emerge in the work, and thematically link it with the look and feel I already developed for the second book.

So I changed it.

The front cover is below, and then a shot of the complete jacket.

My editor Rebecca and I are 40 chapters of the book's 55 through the editing, so we're about 75% done; I'm still targeting a September publication date.

Please visit my new website if you haven't,

Full jacket:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Big Announcements

I've launched a new author website, Not only can you find everything about me and my works, if you click on the book cover on the rotating widget or the link on the "Writing" page under the book, you can download a huge chunk of the upcoming novel--over 120 pages!

The first 100 people who email me through the site's Contact page will be placed into a drawing for an autographed, advance copy of the print version of the book. **Those of you who send me the promo code (again, via the website's Contact page) found at the end of the sample will be placed into the drawing TWICE.** Those of you who also correctly answer the question on the contact page will be placed in *THREE* times!

Links to and info about my other works can be found there, along with a bio and links back to this blog, as well as the above-described Contact page.

The cover, back jacket blurb, front materiel and print formatting for The Winds of Heaven and Earth is wrapped. My editor and I are roughly halfway through the editing pass, and the sample posted on my site is about 60% of the final edited materiel. If we stay on pace, we're still looking at a September launch for both the print and Kindle versions of the book.

And speaking of my amazing editor, Rebecca T. Dickson, a big congrats: Her book, The Definitive Guide to Writing on Your Terms, Using Your Own, Honest-to-God, Gut-Wrenching Voice  

has just hit #25 overall in Fiction and #1 in Writing Skills on Amazon. If you're a writer, you owe it to yourself to download this book. As of this writing, it's gathered 18 reviews on Amazon: 17 five-star and one 4-star. I'm pretty lucky to have an editor of her caliber, and the final polished product of the book will certainly reflect her skills and benefit you, the reader.

So do me a favor: checkout my site, read the sample, (and do yourself a favor--download the Beckster's book.) And be sure to get your name into the drawing for the free autographed copy of The Winds of Heaven and Earth

September will be here before we know it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


We're getting close, Peeps! The Winds of Heaven and Earth is about halfway through the editing process, and I'm wrapping up the formatting for the print version this week. Work on the sequel, The Dark Paths of the World--which stands at about 24,000 of the projected 150,000 words--is on hold while I put the finishing touches on WHE.  We're looking at a September launch date for both print and Kindle versions.

My big news is: I'm launching a website tomorrow. It will be my Grand Central Station for all my online author presences, like this blog, my Facebook Fan page, Twitter, etc. But it will also feature showcases of my writing, a bio, contact pages, and links to where you can find my work--and most importantly, a showcase and samples from my books and novellas. I'll post again tomorrow with the website address.

I will be providing a link to a sample excerpt from WHE--more than 100 pages from the beginning of the novel, free, in a pdf format.  If you like what you read, please start the buzz.  September is just around the corner.

Switching gears: I had the pleasure this past weekend to scuba certify (I'm a PADI intructor) local radio personality Preston Elliot and his family. Preston has been the anchor of the long-running morning show "Preston and Steve" on the iconic classic rock station WMMR (93.3 FM) in Philadelphia for as long as I can remember. On Monday morning. Preston and the other members of the show talked about his experiences and scuba for a good twenty minutes, and I got a nice plug.

You can hear the show's podcast here; the scuba discussion starts around the 1 hour 23 minute mark.

See you tomorrow when I launch the website.

Friday, July 12, 2013

On the Road and Going Deep

Just a short post; in the North Carolina Outer Banks on the road to Beaufort, NC for a long weekend of wreck diving.  For those of you who don't know--but could probably infer from my ubiquitous profile pic all over social media--I'm an avid scuba diver and a PADI instructor; I've been diving for over 25 years. (Yeah, since I was 10, right?) I love the thrill of seeing a wreck emerge from the gloom on a descent--it never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.  There's something about seeing a ship on the ocean floor and knowing the history behind her, and in the case of natural wrecks (there are many sunk deliberately as artificial reefs and scuba diver attractions), the story behind that particular ship's demise.

The Dark Paths of the World (DPW), the sequel to The Winds of Heaven and Earth (WHE), stands at 20,000 words, but I'm setting it aside for now. My editor, Rebecca T. Dickson, has started throwing chapter revisions for WHE back over the wall and I'm head-down on that incorporating her edits. We have 5 chapters in the can now (of 55), and I may post the first few chapters online in the near future as a teaser.

A publication date for WHE is hard to extrapolate, but a decent guess based on the current revision rate would put it around early September. I'll be doing a giveaway promotion for a free autographed paper copy (an Advanced Reader Copy, ARC) on Goodreads in the near future, so if you're not a Goodreads member, sign up for a free account.  (The book will be available on Amazon in 6" x 9" trade paperback and Kindle eBook format.)

If you're a reader, Goodreads is a great site to get and give book recommendations and stay plugged in on updates and news about your favorite authors and genre, and it's also a social media site where you rub elbows with friends with similar interests.

Now time to blow bubbles . . .

Help me build my audience and readership.  Please follow me on Twitter @StephenMHolak, and Like my Facebook page: For news about my releases visit my Amazon Author page and subscribe to the "Stay Up to Date" link in the right hand column; you'll be sent an email to notify you of new works as they're published.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Good Week Had

As I mentioned in my Independence Day blog post on the 4th, writing a sequel is fun. The words keep pouring out of me--and I think they're good words. Despite working three full days at my real job, taking a day to do some diving, the usual holiday cookout and fireworks oohing and aahing, and watching 14 one-hour episodes of Dexter on Saturday and Sunday (seasons 1 and 2; I'm hooked), I pounded out over 15,000 words on the sequel to The Winds of Heaven and Earth, (titled The Dark Paths of the World), last week. I seriously doubt I can hold that pace, especially with a road trip to do some wreck diving off North Carolina starting late this week, but let me fantasize for a minute: at an average pace of over 2100 words per day, I could hit the word count I kicked out for WHE of 163,000 in just two-and-a-half months.

I fully expect all that to come to a screeching halt when my editor Rebecca Dickson kicks back (covered in red ink and strike-through font) the first manuscript draft of WHE I turned in to her a week and half ago, and I have to turn my attention back to that. But it's fun to dream about that four-book-a-year pace, isn't it?

I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend.  Now back to work, Peeps.

Happy Monday.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

Just short posting this morning to check in, wave the flag a bit (yes, that was deliberate), and wish everyone a happy and safe holiday.

I sent the Winds of Heaven and Earth to my editor Rebecca Dickson last Friday, and took a few days break from writing over the weekend to do some local diving.

The second volume in the trilogy (God, I hope it's a trilogy; I don't want to pull a Robert Jordan), is titled The Dark Paths of the World, and I had already spent some time a few months ago outlining it.  On Monday I expanded the outline to scene-level, and started in. (The protagonist of WHE is Jordan Parish; Jordan is homage to the late Robert Jordan, author of the epic, and I mean epic, Wheel of Time fantasy series, a 14-volume story that entertained millions of readers and set a high bar for the rest of us writing in the genre.)

That mother is exploding out of me. I had no idea how much fun writing a sequel is. World building, character development, backstory not necessary; it already lives in the previous book and in the reader's mind. Just jump right in, im medias reis, (in the middle of things for those who think Latin is a dead language. Google it if you're stuck), and off we go. I've hammered out 2 to 3,000 words every day for the past few days, peaking yesterday at 3700 and scaling back for the holiday this morning with a quick 1,100 before calling it, well, a holiday. DPW stands already at 9,000-plus words and over 50 pages. DPW picks up about two-and-half months after the close of WHE.

Independence Day.  I avoid the label "Fourth of July" because that conjures images of fireworks, burgers, and slow-cooked ribs. (Well, it does for me.) Take a moment today to contemplate what that phrase actually means. Do a little research and understand what happened on that day and how those events and ones that followed led to where we are today, one of the greatest nations that's every graced the face of this planet (yeah, we have flaws and warts, but who doesn't?) The good ol' USA didn't spring forth from the primal ooze, it took a lot of hard work and sacrifice to gain independence and build this country  and then more of the same to defend it and grow to reach the state we're at now.  Before you fire up the barb-y, take a few and learn something.

Have a safe and happy holiday Peeps.

Try to wake up Friday morning with all your fingers intact, OK?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Postpartum Elation

There's a reason it's been over a month since I posted a blog entry: I've been head-down on The Winds of Heaven and Earth, shaping and redrafting and trying to get the thing to my editor Rebecca Dickson.

This afternoon, I shipped it.  My mid-June target slipped, but not by too much in the novelist world: only about two weeks or so.  I'm ecstatic. There's still a lot of work to be done as the Beckster and I cycle through revisions; but a big milestone has been passed.

It was hard.  Really hard. Not as physically hard as training for and running a marathon, but it took a hellava lot longer. I started WHE in 2007, picked it up and dropped it a few times, and really ramped up in earnest in February of this year, where I expanded the core 30,000 words into a full-length manuscript that came in at 163,000 words. a half-million word trilogy is staring me in the face, but I couldn't be happier: the elephant is one-third eaten already.

I had braced myself for a range of emotions, from postpartum depression to table-dancing, but in the end it was simply a mouse-click and a stretch, and a feeling of deep satisfaction.

There's something for all those needing inspiration out there, in this milestone.  I'm not a full-time writer. I have day job that takes me away from home for 13 hours each day, and I work long days and sometimes evening and the occasional weekend, and am on-call for issue resolution 24/7 x 365.  On weekends in the summer I certify wannabe scuba divers. I steal writing time on the train, in the evenings, on weekends--where ever I can.

If I can do this, anyone can.

What's next on my plate? I'm starting in on the second volume, The Dark Paths of the World, as I wait for Rebecca's spankings and nail-pulling.

There's still a lot of the elephant left to eat, Peeps.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Step Forward, a Step Back: On Stephen King's New Non-eBook

The publishing industry continues to change.  The ebb and flow of that change is nicely showcased in a few headlines lifted from today's Digital Book World's daily newsletter.

A step forward: Big-Sixer Simon and Schuster hired an ex-AOL-er to fill the newly created position of head of eBook business development and strategy.  Hard to criticize that move; it's an acknowledgement of the landscape change and an effort to get in step--or even ahead of--the paradigm shifts that digital publishing technology has triggered.  This is the same company that gave self-published dystopian science fiction writer Hugh Howey of Wool fame a print rights contract while allowing him to keep his eBook rights, a hybrid trend that's continuing to grow, but an admirable and forward-thinking step for one of the industry stalwarts.  I'll take one small potshot here: the digital publishing wave broke . . . when?

A step back: Stephen King announced in the Wall Street Journal that his new book, Joyland, will *not* be available as an eBook. This is presented as "an attempt to drive traffic to brick-and-mortar bookstores."  I watched  the WSJ newscast on the topic, and buried in the dialog is what appears to be a more valid reason: the book is published by a small crime and mystery press, and by Steve signing with them for this release, he can give a little guy a welcome shot in the arm.

Come on, Steve.  Nixing the digital version of the book in an effort to help bookstores is like buying tapes instead of DVDs or digital downloads in an effort to keep VCRs alive.  King is a big gorilla, but he's not going to save B & N or Mom and Pa's Books with this gesture.  The changing business model will force a marched evolution on those businesses; those that adapt will survive, if any survive at all.

This is coals to Newcastle, buddy.

And on the small-press-only gesture?  Admirable . . . but hey, don't you think they would reap enormous benefits if they went through the not-very-complicated effort of publishing a digital version of the book?  Help me out, Peeps; I'm scratching my head here.

On the home front: as I alluded to in my last post, I've settled on an editor for The Winds of Heaven and Earth.  This morning I ended my search and signed a contract with Rebecca T. Dickson, aka "the Beckster."  The feedback I received from the client list she supplied me with sealed the deal: not just high praise for her technical competence and vision, but how she brutally, honestly, relentlessly kicked their asses and forced them to dig deep and not just produce a better book, but to become a better writer while preserving each author's unique voice.  As I told the Beckster when I signed, I'm looking forward to our association like one looks forward to a visit to the dentist for a root canal: I know I'll be much better off afterwards . . .

I'm about halfway through the second draft now; I expect to ship it off for the first editorial pass in about three weeks.  Stay tuned.

Help me build my audience and readership.  Please follow me on Twitter @StephenMHolak, and Like my Facebook page:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Another Fist Pump--and an Editor

According to numbers complied by Digital Book World this week, not only are 6 of the top 10 bestselling eBooks in the .99 to 2.99 category self-published, 6 of the top 25 of *all* eBook price categories are self-published.  The landscape continues to evolve, and I predict that by this time next year 80% of the eBooks under 3.99 will be self-published, and perhaps a third of the overall digital bestsellers will be as well.  And I may be underestimating.

On the home front, revision work on The Winds of Heaven and Earth is still progressing smoothly, with about 40% of the first edit / second draft completed (which is also why my blogs are getting shorter and less frequent; I don't have any deadlines, other than a self-imposed one, but I'm in serious crunch mode.)  The manuscript is still hovering at around 160,000 words, but I expect that to change in the downward direction after another revision and a pass through professional editing.  Maybe.

Which leads me to the next item:

What I am really excited about is that I may have found my editor.  We're still discussing and feeling each other out,  but I've been looking for the right person for a while, a person who was not just a copy editor, but someone who understood my writing, who let me keep my voice, but at the same time saw the trees and the forests and would push me for not just a better book but to be a better writer.  And someone who I could work with for an entire career.

Serendipitously I stumbled across a gem, highly recommended by clients, and I reached out the other day and got a sample edit of my opening scene.  Bingo.  I'll release the name and more detail after we close the deal, but again, I could not be more excited over my discovery.

Later, Peeps, film at 11, all that.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Short and Sweet

Just checking in with a WIP update and a few comments on the industry.

The Winds of Heaven and Earth is coming along nicely, although at times I vacillate between "this is shit" and this is pretty good stuff."  I'm about a third of the way through editing the first draft into a second, and I'm busy in parallel with re-writing the first chapter; I was never completely happy with it.  I think the release date is going to slip from June to July, but that's OK--it'll be ready when it's  ready.

On the publishing front, I Tweeted a fist pump last week about the state of the top ten digital titles, but never followed up with a blog post: five of the top ten titles were self published.  Take that, gatekeepers!

This week, Digital Book World reports that six of the top twenty titles are self-published, still an amazing accomplishment, and something not many people would have bet on even a year ago (except for maybe Joe Konrath); that's hugely encouraging for writers toiling away on current projects.  Only a select few will have a shot at that measure of success, but that's true for any profession or endeavor.  The real take away is that the barriers formerly imposed by the Big Six no longer matter, and that readers are free to make their own judgements about the merit of your work. More and more readers and writers are discovering that the supposed value-add of the gatekeepers of the Big Six is nothing more than an illusion; authors create the product, not the industry.

 You can't win if you don't play.  Get cracking.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ball of Confusion

Even though the horse is still dead, I'm continuing to beat the hell out of it.  I'll keep this short, (or maybe not, come to think of it) because it's just a minor variation on the theme that J.A. Konrath, (in fact, he posted on this same subject this morning) Kristen Lamb, and a host of others have been bleating for a while: not only are legacy publishers getting hammered by the wave of change sweeping the book publishing industry, the best-selling name authors who are their bread and butter are clueless as well--panicked  and out of touch with the reality that the midlist and Indie writers experience down in the trenches. They are more concerned with protecting themselves and the publishers that feed them than they are in helping or supporting their fellow authors.  They're well-fed and fattened, and what they want most desperately is to turn back the clock to the status quo that existed for so long, a return to the days where the Big Six were the gatekeepers and books existed only on paper.  And maybe getting rid of that Internet thing that seems to be causing everyone a lot of trouble too.  Where did the god damned cheese go?  I want it back.

In Salon yesterday morning, best-selling author James Patterson was interviewed about his call for a government bailout of the book industry.  He doesn't seem to understand the issues; more than anything, he appears completely dazed and confused over what is  going on.  I'll let the article, which centers around the desperate ads Patterson placed in the New York Times Book Review and Publisher's Weekly last weekend, speak for itself.

What struck me was the sheer desperation of his plea.  But what struck me the most was this: he has no idea of what to ask for.  He has absolutely no solution, and he admits this several times in his post.

Dig this: "E-books are fine and dandy, but it’s all happening so quickly, and I don’t think anyone thought through the consequences of having many fewer bookstores, of libraries being shut down or limited, of publishers going out of business — possibly in the future, many publishers going out of business."

"I haven’t thought about it but I’m sure there are things that can be done. There might be tax breaks, there might be limitations on the monopolies in the book business. We haven’t gotten into laws that should or shouldn’t be done in terms of the internet. I’m not sure what needs to happen, but right now, nothing’s happening."

And the most pathetic piece: "My solutions to this point are the other things i’m doing, and it’s a lot. In terms of the big picture, yeah, if I’m gonna see Obama tomorrow — if i could see the president, I’m not sure what I’d say — because he’d say what do you want me to do? I think that’s the stage we’re at. The stage we need to get to, something needs to get done. Let’s go the next stage."

He states he believes it's the publishing industry that produces "enduring classics," (ironically forgetting the author), and says that "its power will be gravely foreshortened, and the number of classics limited, by  attenuated publishing and bookselling industries . . . I don’t think we can be the country we’d like to be without literature."

My gut reaction to all this isn't anger, but embarrassment and pity.  The poor Luddite somehow equates technology advance and the publishing industry paradigm shift to the end of literature of we know it.

The numbers show otherwise.  More people are reading today than ever before, and the recent best-selling successes of self-published authors shows what can happen when self-imposed gatekeepers get out of the way and let authors write what they want and connect to audiences that embrace what they have to say.

Coming on the heels of Authors' Guild president Scott Turow's idiotic and widely-panned Op-Ed article in the New York Times last week, it simply shows how insulated from reality the authors at the top of the food chain are.

I'll say it again: all the noise coming from the industry Big Names are in defense of the status quo that has taken care of them for so long; there isn't a single sincere note sounded anywhere by any of them supporting the authors outside of their exclusive country club.

Wanna take a guess on how much Jimmy-boy earned last year from his buddies in the ivory tower?

Try $94 million.  You think he has skin in the game?  Yo, James: why don't you fork up some dough to bailout your bed partners?

A government bailout?  Please.  James, you want to bail out a short-sighted, greedy self-serving industry that shows not only a history of myopic behavior, but one that still refuses to get its head out of its ass?

Maybe the problem is that there are too many heads stuck in that ass to remove, without some serious surgery.

Dude, get an Internet connection, will ya?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

First Draft Finished, Random Ramblings

The first draft of The Winds of Heaven and Earth is in the bag and weighs in at 160,000 words.  I'm spending the next few days going through and just reading it as a linear story (and correcting obvious typos and errors) before I start on the second draft.  It's an incredibly good feeling to reach this point, because I *love* editing and re-writing; in my mind the hard part is done, even though there is a lot to fix and work on.

And now for something completely different.

As a science fiction fan, a child of the space age, a fan of and a huge promoter of science and science education (my daughter is a PhD marine scientist), I noticed a trend coalesce last week with several announcements in the aerospace industry.

The move to space privatization is picking up steam, and NASA's role is becoming increasingly . . . not marginalized, but rather evolving into a supporting role in the manned flight and space industry.  Their primary role, now and in the future, is clearly in the slot of robotic science research and exploration, rather than cutting-edge trailblazing of human frontiers.

Private industry now launches satellites, supplies the International Space Station, will take the lead from Russia in the near future on shuttling humans back and forth to the Station, and will likely accomplish not only a human flyby of Mars first, but establish a colony there and on the Moon decades before any government agency on earth does, with deep-pockets former space tourist Denis Tito announcing a 2018 two-person flyby attempt, and Dutch startup Mars One planning a 2023 colonization initiative funded by reality TV income.

In addition, there are several corporations taking the lead in the potentially lucrative asteroid-mining business, with multiple startups announcing their future plans over the past few months.

NASA's role will--and should--be in the arena for scientific research, with continued programs like robotic probes of the outer solar system and space telescope programs to search for exoplanets around other stars and potential identification of life-bearing worlds around those distant suns.  Private, commercial companies will continue to transition to the human exploration and resource exploration roles, similar to the pattern from centuries ago as the New World and Asian spheres were opened up by private industry after the initial exploratory expeditions were launched and funded by European governments.

In other words, the government functions as scout and target-setter, and private initiatives follow through.  This is a model that has deep historical precedent, and it's encouraging that space exploration has reached this point.

As a member of the generation that watched Neil Armstrong's first steps onto the surface of the moon as a child, I'm am continually amazed that over forty years have passed (and Neil's death) without any forward progress; in my opinion, and the opinion of many, we've regressed.  It a sad fact that it was political willpower in the context of the Cold War with the Soviet Union that launched the Space Age and propelled man to the moon; once that goal was achieved and the war ended, that will flagged and the public and government lost interest.

Now, commercial interests have picked up the baton.  Is that the ideal?  Not really, but it has precedent and moves things forward; and although some of us may not see human footprints on Mars in our lifetimes, at least we're moving forward to the long-term need of getting humankind out of this fragile cradle we're living in, and dispersed among the stars.  That is the only way to ensure the long-term survival of our species.  If the world's governments and political leaders--and even the general public--don't have the will and the interest, at least, hopefully, we'll get there someday, somehow.

For first-liner updates from me, please follow me on Twitter and Facebook as StephenMHolak.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Trend: Another Self-Published Author Hits #1

A few weeks ago, I posted about Jennifer L. Armentrout's success with Wait for You, the first self-published book to hit number one on the digital bestseller list.

This morning, Digital Book World announced in their daily newsletter that The Bet by Rachel Van Dyken was the best-selling eBook in the U.S. last week.  The Bet is self-published.

Looks like a trend is kicking in here, Peeps.  Now that the Big Six gatekeepers no longer can bar the doors to publication, more and more readers are voting with their wallets about the quality of independently-published fiction.  We've all read a number of anecdotal success stories about authors rejected by traditional publishers having success in the self-publishing arena, but the success trend is not only growing in frequency, but in magnitude, which should be an inspiration to authors and aspiring authors everywhere.  Put in the hard work and let the readers be the judges.

On the home front, The Winds of Heaven and Earth is sitting just short of 160,000 words, and I *swear* I will wrap the first draft this week.

I've done some work on the next book in the trilogy, The Dark Paths of the World, and even have an early cover concept.

What I'm finding interesting is, even though The Winds of Heaven and Earth is in early draft, there are seeds taking root that's already propelling the plot and momentum of the next story.  I already have the first chapter of DPW written, even though its predecessor is still a work in progress.

One final note before I wrap. I've seen a recent spike in sales for A Fairy for Bin Laden, which I attribute to my growing Twitter (@StephenMHolak) audience.  If you don't already follow me there, please add me, and a Like on my Facebook Page would be appreciated as well.

Now back to work.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Best of Times . . .

Before I switch over to the main point of this post, I'll just throw out a little "works in progress" update.

The Winds of Heaven and Earth is flying off the pen; I'm north of 150,000 words now and expect to wrap the first draft of that in about a week or 10,000 more words or so.  That said, remember Hemingway's famous perspective on the state of an early manuscript: "The first draft of anything is shit."  True dat; when I look back at prose I wrote over a year ago, I cringe.  But it's raw materiel, and I force myself to think of it this way: I've just about finished excavating the marble that I'll now carve a statue of David from with my editing chisel. Or at least, his oversize penis.

(Clearly, this is a poor day for metaphor work, so maybe a bit of outlining is on the docket for the afternoon.)

I've also completed a detailed outline of the second book in the trilogy, The Dark Paths of the World, and written the first chapter of that installment (long story, but a scene I wrote near the end of The Winds of Heaven and Earth jumped all over me as the perfect opening for DPW, so I did some plot shuffling), and an rough outline for a children's book called Tinker's Chance, about a fifth-grader who discovers his principal is an evil robot who plans to replace the school's teachers with computers.  TC won't be a graphic novel, but I'm thinking heavily illustrated; we'll see.

Shifting back to our regularly scheduled program, Digital Book World's  daily newsletter (if you are an Indie author, or dabble at all in the eBook medium, I strongly urge you to subscribe to that free newsletter) showcased an interesting point / counterpoint today on the health of the current climate for authors, in light of all the tumultuous changes happening in the publishing industry..

On one side of the coin was lawyer, bestselling writer, and Author's Guild president Scott Turow.  In his April 7th Op-Ed article "The Slow Death of the American Author" in the  New York Times, Turow laments about (and somehow mixes): the recent Supreme Court decision to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, the minuscule eBook royalties doled out to authors already under contract to the Big Six, digital piracy, Google's actions ten years ago when it scanned and made available for free out-of-copyright or ambiguously copyrighted books, library book and eBook lending practices, and Amazon's recent patent to re-sell eBooks as a "sky is falling" invocation of doom and gloom.

Oh yeah.  He closes with: "Last October, I visited Moscow and met with a group of authors who described the sad fate of writing as a livelihood in Russia. There is only a handful of publishers left, while e-publishing is savaged by instantaneous piracy that goes almost completely unpoliced. As a result, in the country of Tolstoy and Chekhov, few Russians, let alone Westerners, can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation.

The Constitution’s framers had it right. Soviet-style repression is not necessary to diminish authors’ output and influence. Just devalue their copyrights."

Somebody, quick, hand me a tissue.  Scott, jeez, I'm sorry you contracted-to-big-publisher best-selling authors are getting screwed out of eBook royalties.  Take it up with your agent.  (Or have your agent call Hugh Howey or Bella Andre's agents.)

Or maybe as president of the Author's Guild it's time to crawl out of the Big Six's bed and use your clout to help the little guy, ya think?

On the sunny side of the street was Jeremy Greenfield's article in Forbes "How the Authors Guild Is Kind of Like the NRA and Why Scott Turow Is Wrong About Authors", which, as you might guess from the title, strongly disagrees with Turow.

He goes on to question (identically to an issue I also had with Turow's piece), "So, who is Turow defending with his New York Times editorial? The small percentage of authors who benefited the most from the old publishing paradigm and who have not found a way to benefit from the new and the equally small group of authors who would have been their successors if publishing had stayed the same."

Spot on, though to be fair I believe Greenfield's comparison of the Author's Guild to the NRA is a stretch, although clever.

Greenfield goes on to cover other stuff, namely the hit non-fiction authors are taking in the new climate, but his main takeaway is the perspective I agree with: now is probably the best time in the industry's history to be an author.  When paradigms shift, there are always winners and losers, but I believe in this case that the former heavily outweigh the latter.

The main barriers to club entrance--the artificial judgment practices of the old publishing industry stalwarts--are gone, and an author can write and publish with the confidence that if his work is good, it *will* find an audience.  No one, now, can keep that from you.  Except you.

Now stop reading blogs and online articles and go write.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Amazon Marries Goodreads: What does it Mean?

I'm usually not real savvy about figuring out what things like yesterday's Amazon acquisition of book review site Goodreads means--at least until somebody draws me a picture.  But after a day or so of watching the boards and reading blogs and getting the sense of the Twitter zeitgeist, a few things have become clear.

One consensus emerging is that Amazon will *probably* not mess with GR too much; this has been their M.O. in the past in the M & A space, and doing so will run counter to the spin that's been coming out of Amazon and GR in the past 24-plus hours, such as "It’s incredibly important to us that Goodreads remain a platform for all kinds of readers to use, whether they’re reading paper or on their Nook or Kindle or whatever." (GR CEO Otis Chandler)

Authors and readers on the Kindle Boards seem split about the union.  One powerful voice that falls squarely in the "this is a good thing for books" camp is ground-breaking best-selling Indie-turned-traditionally-published WOOL author Hugh Howey, who blogged on his site : "I can think of a dozen ways this acquisition might make my life better as both a reader and an author. Right now, I spend a lot of time on both sites in both capacities. My guess is that we won’t see many changes at all. I’m betting that the real acquisition here is all the data behind the scenes. The algorithms that tell me what to buy (and almost always nail it) are going to get better. The social networks that feed my reading habit are going to get stronger. The people who helped make Goodreads awesome are going to get richer. And the people at Amazon, who I have gotten to know this past year and who to a man and woman love the fuck out of some books, are going to keep trying to get the right ones in the hands of readers."

What this seems to be about is discovery.  Goodreads and Amazon were the top two web presences for both review and discovery, and now they've moved into the same house; the synergy should be powerful.

And another theme emerging is that this is another brilliant body-shot-to-the-gut at Barnes and Noble. Digital Book World passed on this assessment from a publishing consultant named Thad McIlroy this morning:  “Out of all the commenting about books, Goodreads was the most powerful ecosystem for recommending what you read next and Amazon was a close second. Now it’s just Amazon . . . [w]ith the collapse of the Nook [B&N's] lost the online game and we just have to count out the final steps.”

Big gorillas make people uneasy; rightly so.  But authors that have inside knowledge and long experience with Jeff Bezos and Amazon seem comfortable and assured that, yes, it's just business, and business is cold-hearted sometimes, but in the end the culture at Amazon is strongly pro-reader, pro-book, and pro-author, and unless you collect your paycheck from BN, the pluses will likely far outweigh the minuses.

Time will tell.  Film at 11.  All that good stuff.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

. . . That, and 3 Billion Will Buy You a Cuppa Joe

Random House's daddy Bertelsmann released its annual report today, which included a piece on the stunning success and corporate bottom-line impact of last year's runaway best seller Fifty Shades of Grey (you may have heard of it.)

The report served up three lessons learned from the Fifty Shades event: new strategies, speed, and, (I'm not making this up) "blocking and tackling" (“Instinct and intuition will continue to play a forward role in book publishing, but they go hand-in-hand with personal relationships, response time, maximizing digital and print delivery, operational excellence, and having strong creative teams.”) Whatever.

The "strategies" lesson acknowledges that the publisher must "look beyond traditional routes and consider different strategies when it comes to acquisitions.”   In other words, take a harder and closer look at up-and-coming Indie authors as they start to demonstrate some success--like Fifty Shades author E.L James did--and recruit them as corporate assets before their competitors do, or before all the profits go in the authors' pockets.

"Speed:" The report called this "an instance where a publisher acted swiftly to arrange a meeting with the author and her agent, and then just as quickly we structured a deal to bring the books to market as soon as possible.”  (Holy Shit!  This dirty little piece of Indie trash is selling like hotcakes and we want a piece of that!  Quick.  Git 'er, Ray.)

And we already covered the "blocking and tackling" corpo-jabber.  ("Personal Relationships."  Please.  That one cost me a nose full of Starbucks French Roast .)

It's important to note that these lessons were not humble acknowledgments of the paradigm shift taking place in the publishing world, and a bugle call for RH to lead the charge of the Big Six into a Brave New World, but rather a wake up, a strong cup of coffee intended to sober up the troops.

Peeps, Random House has raked in over three billion in revenue (four-hundred million profit) from Fifty Shades.  Imagine the corporate bottom line without that title and its sequels.  These lessons don't spring from concern for authors or an interest in making the publishing model more equitable for all the players in the industry.  Don't make it out to be anything more than it is.

Maybe I'm a cynic.  Maybe I'm the only one not eagerly watching for their "strong creative teams" to re-evaluate and establish warm and fuzzy "personal relationships" with authors with better contract terms for the writers who sweat blood to bring their marvelous stories to life for readers.

Yeah, like maybe the contract terms their new "digital imprints" tried to slip on us before John Scalzi told 'em where to stick 'em?

Sounds personal to me.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Other Side of the Coin

My last few blog posts have centered around the dark side of the new Indie publishing world, the predatory practices of the new imprints that are popping up and trying to lure aspiring Indie authors into the woods, notably Random House's new "digital imprints" whose horrible contract terms were called out by John Scalzi, head of the SFWA in an open letter that went viral and brought down an f-ton of public wrath on RH.  RH quickly capitulated, offering somewhat better terms, but I warned that we all need to stay vigilant for these sharks, have our heads on a swivel, and look out for ourselves and fellow authors.

In this post, I want to call out the other side of the coin, one of the inspiring success stories that the new publishing model facilitates: the stunning home run hit by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

Indie (well, hybrid) author Armentrout's Wait for You, a young adult book which she self-published under the pen name J. Lynn, hit number 1 on the best seller lists a few weeks ago, and kept that position for two consecutive weeks on Digital Book World's eBook best-seller list.

Peeps, if you don't know this you should: Armentrout's book is the first self-published work to hit number 1.

Riding that wave, she signed a "high six-figure" deal for three books with HarperCollins.

If that doesn't inspire, I don't know what will.  Her book was rejected as "too risky" by traditional publishers, but she knew in her heart an audience existed for it, and she plugged away on her own and now she reaps the rewards of that work and determination.

In a few guest blogs last year I wrote about the new publishing model, and the demise of the gatekeepers that stood between the author and the reader.  I urged then, and I urge now, to write for yourself, stick with it, finish your project, edit it, get a great cover and draft a great book blurb and put it out there.  With a little marketing and word-of-mouth, it will find its audience and it it's good you'll gather some success.  No one can stop the reader from judging your works anymore--except yourself, if you don't publish.

Not everyone is going to see the success of a JA Konrath, or an Amanda Hocking, or a Hugh Howey, or a Jen Armentrout.  But your writing will find an audience if you publish it.  And no one can stop you--but you.

Now, while that fire burns bright, go write.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Well, We Might Have Chopped Off *A* Head . . .

Earlier this week, I posted a blog about the public letter wars between Random House and the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) over RH's new "digital imprint" and their horrible contract terms for eBook authors. I had an opportunity to ask best-selling Wool author Hugh Howey his thoughts on the conflict on Reddit, where he was hosting an AMA--Ask Me Anything--and he replied "Scalzi is a badass. Those contracts were bullshit. Good to see the power of some internet outrage making a change."

The change he is referring to is the public capitulation of RH to the pressure brought forth by SFWA and other authors. (John Scalzi is an author and president of the SFWA.)

As reported on Thursday, "In the face of such upset, Random House announced on Tuesday that it would change its contracts, offering prospective authors a choice between a 50/50 profit share with no upfront money and a more traditional advance-plus-royalty model where authors receive some money prior to release, as well as 25 percent of whatever profits the title generates upon publication.

Whichever option is chosen, the Random House imprints will cover production and promotional costs  – although promotional costs above $10,000 will be shared between publisher and author in the profit-share model — and will receive publication rights throughout the world in all languages for the duration of copyright unless the digital release falls beneath a particular sales level — 300 copies in 12 months — in which case the author can request rights reversion."

Scalzi went on to say, "The goal here is not to be able to lift the bloodied head of Random House and boast we have taken a hit,” he said. “The goal here is to make sure that writers are being compensated fairly for work they have done and will do."

So this is good thing, right?  Yes it is.  Fist pump.


As I said in my post, Random House's foray is just one sample of the many predators looking to lunch on new authors anxious to break into digital print.  SFWA later in the week reposted YA author Victoria Strauss's similar salvo on Writer Beware against PublishAmerica.

No one has relaxed his or her guard.  And no one should.  It's going to get worse before it gets better, and authors need to continue to stand their ground and fight these battles for themselves and fellow authors.

These victories are a good beginning.

Or, to paraphrase the late Robert Jordan, it's not the beginning, but it's a beginning.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Many-Headed Beast Rises

Anyone in the writing or publishing business keeps a close eye on trending in the self publishing business (or "Indie" publishing, the current popular moniker), especially Indie authors like myself, and if they do, they should be aware of the disturbing events taking place in the past week or so, manifesting themselves in the public letter-war between the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and Random House.

To recap, RH has launched four new "digital imprints," dedicated to eBook publishing: Loveswept (romance), Alibi (mystery/suspense) Hydra (SF/fantasy) and Flirt (college-age readers).  This is the latest poisonous mushroom to pop up in the fertile grounds around eBooks, digital publishing, and the Indie writers' movement.  They propose to "partner" with authors to publish their eBooks, taking on the traditional publisher role of editorial services, cover art, promotion, etc. You supply the creative content, sit back, we'll do the rest.

Hey.  Here'a lollipop--wanna go for a ride?  Get in.

Reading more closely--and this is what SFWA and a growing mob of horrified authors are objecting to--RH offers no advance on sales, and proposes to split net profits 50/50 with the author . . . after production costs.  So the services they're "offering" actually come out of the author's pocket, and it's pretty well acknowledged in the industry that accounting practices on those and other publisher costs are pretty fluid and fuzzy.  In case you missed it, I'll say it again: RH's offering to provide the traditional publisher services, but it comes out of the author's sales.  They call that "sharing the risks."  As SFWA states it: "[your] attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher is, simply, outrageous and egregious."

Ya think?

SFWA goes on to say that RH's Hydra branch, despite its SF / F content, does not meet their requirements for a qualifying market for membership.

But wait, folks; there's more.  They are also proposing to basically keep the rights to the works for print life of the work.  Peeps, eBooks do not go out of print.  That means, they hold the rights to your stuff until you die, and after.  That means if they don't do a good job of promoting, or your sales lag, or the cover they stick you with sucks, you don't have the freedom you have now with KDP or CreateSpace or Smashwords or Kobo or any other self-publishing medium to revise, price, tinker, repackage, offer a free promo period, or publish in any way.  You do not own your work.  You have no say.  Rights never revert back to you.  Never.

Again, the Dick-and-Jane version: RH wants you to write a book for them, to pay them to edit, format, publish and promote it, and you will trust them to count the beans and split the profits with you after they skim out their costs.  And they keep the rights forever--your baby belongs to them.

Snake oil, anyone?

This may sound fair to an author aspiring to break into publication, but to those of us who have already gone the Indie route know that there it's not that hard to format your work using everyday word-processing software, that eBook conversion software is free, there are many artists eager to do a book cover for a reasonable fee, and good editorial services are becoming more and more economical as the traditional publishing houses continue to implode from poor decisions and the pressure of the eBook / Indie movement.

The costs of publishing an eBook are minimal, running at most to the hundreds of dollars--why on earth would you give up your child for that price?  And why would you give the publisher half--after costs--when Amazon lets you keep 70%, and you can do what the hell you want with your stuff whenever you want?

This looks like an isolated incident, but it's not.  It's part of the growing trend of predatory practices around the eBook and self-publishing explosion; everyone wants a slice of the pie, but not everyone wants to earn it.   Self-pub authors deserve every penny for their works, for as long as they live; they are doing the heavy lifting.  But new authors drawn into the business by the publicity of the industry's success may not be savvy enough to avoid the pitfalls that are starting to spring up, traps laid by greedy publishing houses that missed the first wave of success because they had their heads . . . in the sand, and want to get on the board now--at your expense.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  I urge all of you to mentor new authors entering the biz, and to watch your own backs as well.  There are some legitimate digital publishers out there, and some successful Indie authors have signed careful contracts with the publishing houses, and the so-called hybrids; but Hydra and friends ain't one of them.

Let's cut off every one of the monster's heads, before we're playing Whack-a-Mole

Friday, February 22, 2013


Yo.  Remember me?

I knew it had been a while since I posted, but I was shocked to see that the last post was dated September 18th, when I broadcast my guest post on author Louise Wise's site.

Without going into details, I had a personal life transition-and-upheaval period that sapped time, energy, and motivation away from my writing projects.  It's not quite over, but in the past few weeks, I've been slowly digging out from under, and I have the ship underway again.  In the last week I've really hit stride, and my per-day word output has hovered in the 1,000 - 2,000 range.  And I think it's good stuff.

Some of that I credit to Stephen King's memoir on the craft of writing, (brilliantly titled: On Writing).  It's been on my to-read list for a half-dozen years now, and when I saw it on the shelf of a used books store, I grabbed it and gobbled it up in a few days.  I think we've all had experiences with a precipitator or Gordian knot-cutter that inspired us and pulled us out of a rut (if you'll permit that clutter of mixed metaphors); although more than half the book was autobiography, it got me going again--with energy.

The novel has turned onto the home stretch and is headed into the last fifth to seventh.  I obviously missed my publication goal of mid-December, and don't want to reset expectations unrealistically, but I'm aiming for sometime before June.  There's a lot of re-writing, editing, subplot additions, and the formatting and grunt work to do after the first draft is finished in the next month or two, (oh, shit, a cover . . .!) but I can see light at the end of the tunnel, finally, and it's not a train.

I'm also looking for beta readers in about 30-60 days.

Although I have about 12 working titles, the one I'm (currently) favoring is The Winds of Heaven and Earth.  Those of you who are lit-savvy may pick up on the Melville reference out of the gate; the rest of you will will have to get Google do your heavy lifting.  (And those of you who just have to know more: I was researching for materiel that would make epigraphs that would fit with the themes emerging from the book, and I was struck by the resonance of that passage with my work's themes and imagery.)

I've been coy with details on the book's plot, other than it's the first volume in an epic fantasy trilogy; but I'm pretty settled on the tagline as well, which will give you some insight:

“A wealthy North Carolina aristocrat investigating the mysterious disappearance of his pregnant wife discovers that his family is central to a magical realm’s ancient prophecy.”

That's all for now; back to work.  I promise I'll drop by more often.