Thursday, July 28, 2016

Publishers in Trouble?

 This has been a very cruel Summer for all writers, and even agents. There has never been so many non-responses, nudges and slow contacts ever. I have talked with and written about this with dozens of other writers. In addition and in a general sense, it seems book sales have plummeted straight across the board. Of course, that depends on a lot of factors. It seems like some of the best brand name independent and medium sized publishers have changed policy, hit a wall or have gone under.

I'm going to welcome your thoughts on this this matter, rather than go off on a tangent and explain what I think is happening.

Give me your thoughts,


Ellora’s Cave (Dissolving--CEO backlash and mismanagement, fairly recent)
Samhein (Went bankrupt--awaiting buyout news, but it’s not happening yet, recent)
Sourcebooks (From un-agent to agent, recent)
Liquid Silver (Spiraled into buyout, neglected royalties--terrible sales from about 2013 on)
Kensington (Cut YA line, but no news on Lyrical doing the same)
Soho (No longer takes un-agented subs)
Spencer Hill (Dead--complaints about no royalty payments, recent)
Arctic Wolf (Dead--my very first indication that something was wrong with the big indies--late 2013. One of my first brand-name favorites)
Avalon (A Super-publisher. Some time ago but this hit me hard--absorbed by Amazon)
Helm Publishing, including Barkley ( Very recent self-destruct)
Juno Books (Dead—huge romance publisher--two years ago, imprint of Pocket Books—additional complaints about editorial staff—I won’t mention names)
Musa (Dead--negative publicity—producing too many books at once—fairly recent). 

Totally Entwined (Finch YA line has been cut, recent).                                                  
Entranced (Sponsored novel contest with decent cash prizes—blew up right afterward)    
Month9 Books (Tanking or tanked, royalty non-payment, staff-bullying)
Vinspire Press (No longer taking un-agented subs, recent)                                                                    
 Booktrop (Dead--very sudden collapse, recent)                                                                                                 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Celebrity Blurbs

You're not going to like what I say. It's not my job to make you like me. It's my job to warn you. That's the whole idea of this site. You know the title of this blog and what it means. I've been an admirer and student of the gutsy Harlan Ellison since the Ice Age. I fight back.

Celebrity blurbs can be a real minefield for the new-up-and-coming author who is about to release his/her prized tome. BTW, soliciting for a blurb should take place, at the earliest, about three months before release. These can be galleys or ARC copies of the book. Just make sure you leave enough time, to get the blurb on the finished book before it hits retail. The earlier the better, because this little admiration blip can be used to boost pre-order sales. Otherwise, post-release, it could cost you or you publisher a small fortune to send out trade or hardback copies. This has happened to me.

So who should be solicited for a solid blurb? Unless you know them, don't even bother with the current heavy hitters--Charlaine Harris, Stephanie Meyer, Veronica Roth, Susanne Collins--and stay away from King, Rice and Rowling. You aren't spit underneath their shoes (in a figurative sense--no one hates you). But...they don't know you; they haven't got time for you and you're a bother in the middle of their busy lives. That's the reality of it.

The self-published set definitely has to do it themselves. They might even be better at it than any trade-pubbed author! In fact, I think they get real good at it and have more success.

Who should send out copies for blurbs? Aside from some exceptions, NOT YOU (self-pubbed excluded). Successful mid-list and recent breakout novelists just might give you the time. If you personally know a fairly successful author, give it a shot. I can speak from experience and tell you that I've lost a half dozen hardback books that cost $30.00 apiece, countless trade paperbacks and a truckload of ARCs. I knew these high-profile authors in some form or another. They knew me. I think I've had about 35 non-responders (fairly recently) on two books. Not one single blurb was offered in a span of four years.

My friend, HH, of the W.o.o.L series asked me for a trade paperback copy and promised a blurb. He never got back to me. He just got more famous and more famous. Hardly his fault for the media attention.

In 1990, Ralph Nader agreed to do the foreword in my auto repair book. Little did I know that my publisher paid $4,000 for a page of comments and then they took that amount out of my royalties. DO NOT PAY-FOR-PLAY BLURBS. Ever. That goes for pre-order reviews, too.

Why shouldn't you solicit for blurbs?
They haven't got time to read your book--they're way too busy.
It could be construed as a sign of desperation coming from an author.
They might think your publisher is beneath them, or that your publisher trademark is really a disguised self-published book.
They read it and hated it.
You're a bothersome intrusion into their privacy, even if you're fan.
They can get free copies this way without payment or risk. It happens.
You've nudged them too often and pissed them off.

Your publisher should solicit blurbs. Seen in the eyes of the celebrity author (or whoever), it is more respectful. The publisher is not as obviously biased or as desperate as an inquiring author. There is more weight behind a publisher request--more status--more importance. You might get the email or home address of the author wrong. The publisher marketing team, not you, should know who to send copies or books to in advance.

If you are determined to be proactive, go ahead. If you have landed numerous celebrity blurbs by your own hand without your publisher's assistance, you need to tell the writing world how you did it. I doff my worn fedora to you. Never mind if you've bought a truckload of books and tossed them every which way in sundry. Why would you want to go into debt before your book is published?

Red-shifting out of here. Happy blurbs trails.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Trouble in Diversity Land?

I’m sorry about trying my hand at diversity in one case, but I was warned off writing about skin-walkers in Native American Indian lore and legend. I had a main skin-walker antagonist in my novel, The Shimmering Eye. I mentioned two warring tribes and the state setting, circa 1850 or so, and it got me into nothing but trouble with my critique group. These two tribes were the Ute’s and the Navaho. I'd written a fair amount on the subject, but something told me to go to the writer-help trenches and ask for some advice. It was there that I got warned for daring to portray any cultural lore, legends, historical facts or speculations about the subject from which I was not part of or affiliated with. I was told that I would/could cause an uproar among the tribal nations. Scared that I was on dangerous ground, I canned all of it that dealt with Indian history. I just didn’t want anyone to question me so sternly about this subject matter. It wasn't worth it. I didn’t know it was such a touchy subject and I found this out after some research.

I did keep my female MC, who is a half-blood Chippewa, and turned my interest and efforts into incorporating the Dream Catcher story and legend into the book, and two more books after that. I won't be bullied on this one. I’m pretty damn sure I got it right. I wanted some diversity in this series, and I saw nothing wrong with using a (half-blood) Native American female MC It worked out pretty well. I also used an African American in the story-line, but I received little or no condemnation on that.

I suppose it all boils down to the controversy of any such religious, color or ethnic group, where some are more sensitive than others. Maybe there could even be problems with portrayals of the Amish or Mormon community. And you never know who is sue-happy in this world. Direct threats might come from the Hell’s Angels, the KKK, even the American Rifle Association. It all depends doesn’t it? 
Take a little time out for research when you’re about to tackle a specific group, religion, organization—you know, all the race, creed and color denominations. If fact, go right to the reps and headquarters of those peoples and places and ask away. You want to, need to avoid being offensive or degrading them in any light. 

But I will never forget the insinuations I got from that critique group. They tried to be nice about it but the message was, to the effect "stop right there. You run the risk of causing a viral backlash and having the collective Native American Nations after your ass." Get one thing wrong and you’re toast.

Someone else who is delving into the subject of Indian lore and cultural history? Let me tell you something; I hope to God Jo Rowling does write about this subject like she intends to and gets it right. She is really made of stern stuff, in a very honest and dignified way--no guff. I think she can take on anything--her research skills are beyond measure. She also has the resourcefulness and expertise of qualified fact-checkers and editors behind her. Let them help her make the correct decisions and get through this boggy swamp with all the support she needs. Otherwise, she’ll just pull her lawyers out like a pistol and start shooting. God bless her heart.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Editing: What's Your Bag?

Once again, another topic arose at AW which I thought might be an interesting foray. The answers to proper editing technique is diverse—everyone has their own way—a technique that works best for them. There are two basic approaches and either one is fitting. There is no wrong or right way. There is a third, more complicated way that we can touch on. 


I really feel the fun and excitement in writing a first draft novel. I get totally zoned out and focus on my world. I demand to be left alone for three months when this happens. I don't outline--my next scene/scenes are popping in my head as I write the current one. The book leads me where it wants to flow. The characters make me take dictation--it seems they want to run the show and do what they want. I don't let my characters run rampant, but install little checks and balances for them. The plot wants to go where the conflict is heaviest. For my pace, I can't have any lengthily dinner scenes, shopping, walks in the park, with meaningless character dialogue--I'm very guilty of this in the past and it kills my pace. So once I'm in my new world, I'm trapped there until I find my way out. That means THE END.

First editing draft: I've taken Anne Rice's advice and adopted her writing ritual. I'll write in a fever then back up about four or five pages and edit the hell out of it. That means as much structural and copy-editing (and other areas) as I can stand. Structural problems mean I've made a big goof somewhere, but I'll still go to the source and try and fix it as best I can. Then I forge on and repeat. I'm simply accelerating and then hitting reverse. That way, the first editing draft doesn't fill me dread and I can still move along fairly fast. For me, storytelling is fun--editing is blistering work. I want the easiest transition I can get between the two. I've heard lots of people say that they edit while they write--I think it's the same thing.

There are some who might take this approach and go back to edit a chapter, or maybe two or three and then pick up again. That means a break in the writing and a chance that you could lose the momentum and thread. But it also means there will be less “work” in the following editing drafts. So you can relax a little more and not fret over the “monster that is to come.” Caveat: I’m still going to make several editing passes, but I’m knocking out as much as the hard stuff as possible in the backward pass.


That’s exactly what it sounds like—writing through the first draft as quickly as possible, staying filled with that white-hot fit of inspiration—blasting through. Some writers have to do this or else they’ll fall off their pace and let the story go static for even a short amount of time. They haven’t got the time or impetus to worry about editing at this stage. These people are sometimes loath to stop, believing that the first novel draft presents the most difficulty. It’s a great strategy, and I’m sure we’ve all heard the comment from the pros and instructors: “you have permission to write shit. It’ll be cleaned up in the editing process.” This is a very popular style, if not the most popular one. 

There’s no doubt that getting that first written novel draft completed deserves a medal valor, and it really does. These writers actually like/love the first (and subsequent) editing drafts because it gives them a great feeling of accomplishment in fashioning a diamond out of a lump of coal. This is also the time for them to cut or add words, chapters, characters, and scenes as they see fit or if it’s needed (structural). Writing the book is the difficult part for them. That’s where most of the doubts, foul-ups and blocks are experienced. Even if they’ve outlined, they view that first novel draft as a daunting task, wondering if they will ever finish it. If they decide to pull out and trunk the project after they’ve hit the end, hey! There was no harm done and certainly less work invested.


There has to be something said about concentrated editing in different areas and making those first, second, third, fourth and fifth editing passes, suffering through individual stages. Actually, “suffering” is kind of a strong word. I think we all make multiple editing passes. There are only a select few professionals who can edit as they go and come out with a shiny manuscript that is near perfect. Anne Rice is one of them. We’re not Anne.

What stages are important? Well, what’s important to you? Where are your weak spots? This can include passive/active, continuity, copy-editing, proofing, structural editing, pace and so on. I’ll make about three editing passes, taking up two of these areas in one pass. Or I’ll go right on down the line and hit all six each for six edits. But they will be very light and fast because I’ve already been there. You can really specialize and concentrate on one, and only one area from the very beginning, and I’ve done this before to really focus on special problems. I call it target editing. I have a problem with passive and active, so that one is a slow, precise go for me. Continuity is another.

With a large book, multiple stage editing can take a VERY long time. If you don’t mind the process, chances are your final copy is really going to shine with a high gloss finish. There are some writers who love this type of editing and they don’t mind the time invested.

Yeah, I hate to admit it but writing is rewriting. It’s my necessary evil and I hate it.

Whatever you decide, keep a positive attitude. Try not to listen to those little Debbie Downer muses that hang around and tell you that your story is nothing but a crock and you’re wasting your time. Always remember that another pair of eyes will see something totally different in what you’ve scribbled.     

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Guys Writing Gals

 The topic of males having difficulty writing about female characters came up in our writing group today. I thought I would touch on this issue, rather than go into a full in-depth analysis.
This is mostly for the guys who are stumbling over this issue.

Maybe for some of us older guys, and count me in as being a burly ex-cop who acted a little macho in his day, when we were brought up watching the likes of Lost in Space, Leave it to Beaver, Mary Tyler Moore, hearing the "furniture" remark in Soylent Green, and even Prin described as a "standard pleasure model" in Blade Runner, I don't think it's any wonder why women have had such a terrible time with equality and due respect as we've progressed through the decades. Most of those women, and so many more in T.V. and the movies, were portrayed as quiet, obedient, stupid, cowardly, over-emotional (prone to tears), ditzy, naive and truly, second class characters. They were always, given less airtime if the setting was male MC oriented. The WASP male was the default icon that solved everything and made all the decisions. Even as a teenager and young adult, I resented it. I could see right through the stereotype and into the human element. I think Ripley, in Alien, woke up a lot of the male populace to the fact that women could be strong and innovative without any help from a male, thank you very much.

If anybody (guys) have trouble writing female characters, or think they do, start asking them questions. Be their buddy. Try and understand their motives and thought process. I did a lot of this when I was young, especially with girlfriends, and it paid dividends later. You get those "aha" moments.

Sure, women have little quirks, (or positives) just like men do. Note: there's always exceptions. All you have to do is stop and think about some of the ways they are different and SPARINGLY apply them to your story. Be observant. They're natural-born dancers with an inborn rhythm, they are more nurturing, more inclined to follow directions, have a more acute sense of smell, are more observant (able to pick out a piece of lint at ten paces), more communicative (social skills), don't throw a real fit when they break a nail, generally bathe more often than males (concerned with appearance) eat more delicately and display better manners, do not need doors opened for them, can drive a nail with a hammer with the best of them, have tempers and fight back, are a bit more embarrassed when they fall down (concerned with grace and dignity), and the list goes on and on and on. You can use one of these traits in such in way as to peg the character's sex without having to name the gender. You have to do it skillfully and, again, sparingly.

Try not to describe women as body parts unless you're writing heavy romance or erotica. There are some male authors who do this masterfully. She's not a brunette, blond or a hot redhead, as an all inclusive tag. Perhaps she's the one who graduated Harvard and loves grapes. I like to describe women's physical attributes in metaphor and simile, painting an image rather than listing stats. Better still, show a male's reaction or inner monologue toward a woman, and you can just about nail her appearance. Let the reader imagine and fill in the gaps.  

Above all, these are very minor differences when put into the universal perspective. Generally speaking, all human beings think alike, react to stimuli similarly, suffer pain and frustration and experience joy the same way. You're just a human writing about a human.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Advance Money?

Certainly, your best advance deal would come from one of the imprints owned by the Big Five corps or houses. Although a great deal could come from a well-known independent like Kensington and others. (Disregard Publisher’s Market Place definitions for a moment) I would consider a substantial deal, or something I was very happy with, as an advance of five figures and over. I would not scoff at $2,000 to $5,000, provided they had reputable distribution for bookstore placement and library inclusion. And, department store and book club sales would be icing on the cake. A participating marketing team and publicity manager is always a plus, and automatically provided by the big guys. These larger houses also have a foreign rights team and go after those huge overseas markets.

In the prehistoric past, I asked Ray Bradbury, Alan Dean Foster and Poul Anderson the same question: "What's the best way to go; high advance, or no advance with higher royalties?" They were unanimous (and our own James D. McDonald will tell you the same thing): "fight for the highest advance because it's more than likely it will be all you will ever get." So, if the advance is high and the book doesn't earn out, you're in fairly good shape. The publishers may not be in very good shape but that depends. I just had that happen to me recently. The money was good but the book is a snail in sales. I don’t think I’ll ever earn out and I’ve done everything humanly possible to promote the title. Remember that you are the one who spent months, maybe years sweating and toiling over that book, possibly costing you some money to bring it up to high publishing standards.

Now, if your earn-out is fairly close to your advance payment, the publisher can/will make money. It also depends on the book—Manufacturing costs (for paper), editing, cover art and maybe shipping, might determine a break point outlay for the publisher until they make a profit. If sales are really dismal, it is possible that the publisher may lose some money, or maybe a lot.

About small press: It’s highly unlikely that you will get an advance from a small or independent press. They just don’t have the budget for it. There are exceptions—an agent can work a contract and obtain, at the very least, a token advance payment. What’s the typical advance range for a small publisher? This is also subjective, but climbing out on a wobbly limb that may break, I’ll say I’ve seen $50 to $1000. The sweet spot seems to be about $100 to $200, judging solely by the deals I and my agent have tried to wrangle in the past. If the small press has legitimate distribution like Perseus, IPG or Midpoint, there is a higher probability that they may cut loose with a small advance. It’s not a guarantee, it’s just more likely.    

To paraphrase: Go to the publisher (with agent or not) with a knife in one hand and a money bag in the other. Don't settle on a boilerplate contract—they are not written in your favor. Never be overwhelmed and giddy with the prospect of publication and sign a contract in haste and then swoon ohhhhhh...mighty God, it's Random House, or Tor, or Baen!

Never, ever be afraid to stand up for yourself and play hardball. State your wishes to your agent, if you have one. The juggernaut publishers have heard it all before--they are professional negotiators--they do not flinch. If they say no, you backtrack a bit and start over. Take your time. They will never say that your demands are unreasonable and that they've changed their mind about giving you print (small press has been known to do this, BTW). The largest publishers come from a place of power--you don't. That means you upscale your importance and worth. They will actually respect that attitude. Besides the talent, it means they have a serious business partner on their team. Business...sound familiar? That's what publishing is first and foremost.

Back in my day, the (stated rumor) average advance was about $5000. King got $2,500. Anne rice pulled an astonishing $12,000. So you can see the amounts can vary wildly, even today, depending upon the expectations of sales and the budget of the house. But we all thought that five grand was pretty cool back then. Anything over that, damn, we were rich and bragged it up! Takin' about the 1970s here.

Advances today? I'm going out again on that long limb that might break, but I'd say that $7,500 is a common, general average for most categories and genres from the advance-paying Big 5. Marketing has more say-so about this upfront money than any division of the publishing company. And never forget the importance of rights sales; they can often top out over everything, but it might take a little time. Case in point; Jo Rowling's reprint rights to America were $105,000, where her Bloomsbury advance was $1,275 pounds. King's paperback rights went for $400,000, giving him a 50/50 split. These are examples of big houses, big deals and what it could me to you.

Happy hunting.