Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I Have an Agent--Why am I submitting?


I’ve been asked this questions until my head spins, but I’ve brought it on myself. Once again, my writing group peers have asked for an answer, including publishers that don’t feel like working with agents. 

I expect that there are a lot more publishers out there that want to avoid agents. Most publishers will straight up tell you that they'll deal with agents or un-agented authors--that's the majority. The gun-shy publishers will often not put that kind of information in their guidelines--I didn't see both options with this one publisher who offered me a contract until after I re-visited their site. That was an "Aha" moment. There was little or no mention of agents. Note: This is a pink or full-on red flag that the publisher really doesn’t have the advance money for the author, nor do they want their boilerplate contract shredded by a literary contract professional.

My Double Tap Procedure:
When any of my books start to wind down with my agent's submissions, I have permission to get proactive and query the smaller presses and independents. Primarily, I go after those who offer a token or small advance. This takes the workload off my agent. But I must swap info with her and give her my list so we don't have any head-on crashes (double submissions). If I make a sale--she gets notified and then examines the contract. If she can work/mold it for us, and we are down to the dregs as far as publishers, she'll make contact with them. On the other hand, if she advises against it, we both strike them from our list and politely decline. Then the search continues.


In some cases we find we're on the fence with a potential publisher, and we ask them to be put on their back-burner for future consideration on down the road--this tactic has worked remarkably well--we're not promising, but we're not declining either and it doesn't tie up the publisher. I'm on a few back-burners right now. So I know this book will be published no matter what. It’s just that I’m not signing a contract that I'm really searching for—mostly an advance in the $300 and up range.

Again, this only works well when the sub trail begins to dry up for the agent. I call it a "double tap" when I jump in to help out. I've got a blog post about this back in my archives and it explains the theory and process more thoroughly. It worked out well with my last book--I found a potentially good publisher and then my agent came in and doctored the contact and garnered a nice advance.

I can’t say that I recommend doing this. It's a fine balancing act that requires calm under fire and tactical negotiation. Try it out if you like, but get permission from your agent and hammer out the logistics first. All three of my past agents since 1989 have enthusiastically agreed and welcomed my participation. All you have to do is ask them. Even if you’ve just acquired an agent, bring the topic up and see what the agent’s opinion is on the matter.

Write on...and don't stop....

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Poor Or No Sales?

So what's up with this? I can't be the only one in the literary world experiencing abysmal sales. I suspected this started in late 2009 (this date is important) for me, and then it really slowed and went almost dead calm in 2012. It hasn't changed much today, and that's with a total of seven full-length novels, two non-fiction books and two long shorts, all of them percolating in the millions rank on Amazon. This was not the case prior to 2012, where I could expect to sell at least one copy a week, maybe two or three. It was enough to keep my rank down to respectable numbers. Other retail sites showed the same lethargic numbers, Sony, Kobo, etc.

I belong to the basic social media groups--FB, Twitter, this blog and about 25 other displays sites, groups, sub-groups and writing forums, including the Kindle boards. I've stayed up-to-date with all of them to some degree, participating and promoting when I found a conservative opening (and if you don't think that's an expensive time sink, think again). I've spent as much as eight to twelve hours per day on promoting that lasts for weeks or months for one book only. I've done blog tours, have had dozens of articles, interviews, and hundreds of book reviews. I have not spent a dime on marketing--I just won't do that, nor have I ever.

Physical book signings? New Authors? You better have a huge family and peers' list to chalk up some sales there. If you sell a dozen or more paperbacks, pull out and laugh your way to the bank. If you sell two to five, consider it normal. 

It seems that no mater what effort I put into the promotional end the positive results are not forthcoming. This even goes for a new release. Of course it does depend on your publisher's efforts as well, and I can't say that really any of them have failed, even with the lacking resources, time and contacts they have. My current publisher is a promotion and marketing tiger--no complaints there. The larger NYC trade publishers might be a different story. I am, and have been since the past ten years, published by independents and small press. So I can't speak for the larger outfits and their vast promo and marketing resources.  

This slump is not exclusive to me--aside for the breakout exceptions, a large contingent of my fellow writers are all surprised by their low numbers. I've been watching this happen with award-winning books and very long series. The blurbs and back-copy are dead on. The artwork is spectacular. The format and word construction is to be envied. There is not one thing that is causing this lackluster sales slump. Except maybe one.

A few comments from the Gardian: 

Self-published books' share of the UK market grew by 79% in 2013, with 18m self-published books bought by UK readers last year, according to new statistics. 

Price Waterhousecoopers predicted that the consumer market for digital books would almost triple from £380m to £1bn over the next four years.

 "As authors are becoming more established, they get followings, just like mainstream authors, so the self-published market is becoming more like the traditionally published market," he said. "Self-published ebooks tend to be impulse buys, discovered by browsing in genre, or in the recommendation or offer sections. However, they are increasingly planned, via author. [So] price and blurb are the top prompts to buy self-published ebooks, but series and characters are increasingly important. The 99 cent price point is impossible to beat by the larger publishing outfits.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this publishing trend/option began in 2009 with the writers known as the "O'niners" and completely flooded the market place.
There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. (incidentally, it has been estimated that small press publication will produce about 75 sales during the book's lifetime).

So what's the main-lying fault here as far as dismal sales? It's not the self-published authors, they're only taking advantage of a new publishing trend/option, along with previously trade published authors getting their back-list out. Hell, I'm self-published--it was a back-list title. It's not the price for small press books--they're running steady and competing with the SP books.

Two things I believe might be contributing culprits: We are diluted, besieged and overwhelmed by the sheer number of books that we have in inventory. It's a literary runaway of titles--books, noveletts and shorts. You just can't get noticed if you're a lowly drop in the vast ocean today. The self-publishers, for the most part, are supporting each other by making purchases of their self-published titles. These same self-published writers were purchasing small press and large trade books before the advent of SP--they really had no choice or other outlet. The SP group is a very loyal and exclusive club--not to mention, the Kindle Boards is a massive writing forum.

Small press and large trade has inevitably lost a huge chunk of fans and readers to the SP sector. The SPers are no longer customers of the trade published. They are ultra prolific and putting out a cheap product that has quality merit. They are now being officially recognized, have their own awards and can garner professional reviews from some of the distinguished trade reviewers.

I cannot account for any other reason why sales have been on a continual slump from late 2009. Can you, in general terms? I know everything is subjective and no two books are alike. But what else could account for this downward sales spiral?

I'd love to hear your reasoning or theories. For all that is Holy and decent, do you think that anything can be done about it--lifting sales, I mean? Uh...other than becoming a full-time self-published author, hah!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Flashbacks--Alive and well?

I'm going to attempt a chapter flashback to get things moving in the opening scenes. My agent suggested it and I kind of went along with it. Flashbacks were really profuse 30 or so years ago. We were told to use them if absolutely needed and there's no way out of the jam but to use one as a last resort. I've had luck twice before using them. In fact the publisher of my sci-fi book asked for one and I guess I pulled it off.. I've always thought of them as adrenaline shots. Trouble is, that they are so damn obvious.

My 1rst chapter flashbacks are rather short and I only use them to get the steam up.  I'll go to an intriguing action scene somewhere in the book that shows some kind of obvious conflict, cut and past that over my old first chapter. I have to lead in and lead out, making sure my reader doesn't get confused. I like the "How in the hell did I ever get into this mess? opener because it belays a future scene. I then have to sew up or patch the gap I left which had the action. This wouldn't have been necessary if I hadn't had such a sluggish first act. Too much lead-up frustrates the reader--you know? Where nothing significant is really happening? I have to use a flashback because I've got three to four lethargic chapters that are clever, but contain too much dialog. If you have a slow first or even second chapter you can usually go in there and speed things up with a rewrite. You can also cut from the front, but how much are you taking away from the storyline?

Poul Anderson used an effective flashback in Virgin Planet that went straight to the problem, and then left it with a tease. It was a pretty nifty hook.

Have you ever tried a flashback, and how did it work or turn out for you?

I still believe there's some stigma or taboo attached to the flashback. I also know that a slow start out of the gate can be handled with a montage, but that requires really tight writing that covers a LOT of ground fast. Prologues also raise a lot of stink with editors and agents unless they are done very well. Two to three decades ago, prologues had their rightful place--not to sure about that today. 

This is one jam that always makes me nervous and ill at ease.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Again, sorry for the delay. I was terminally ill for a very long time and am now just starting to recover. I knew the consequences of having a pulmonary embolism which produced multiple clots in both lungs. But, shit, nobody warned me about being crippled or nearly bed-ridden. I even have memory loss and have to re-learn the keyboard. I'm making godawful mistakes with words and key positions. So, I'm typing this real slow.


Since 2001 the amount of Zombie books and films has doubled. It's still going incredibly strong with no letup.  I can't help thinking that this trend will continue or morph into something very similar. Plagues, bugs, viruses, strains, more of the same--pandemics. I guess we owe it all to Romero, although it was alive in culture thousands of years before that. I know some of the self-publishers who got on this trope years ago and are still profiting from it. Me? never wrote one. I just can't ascribe a thorough characterization to a foe/protag that either is fast or slow and eats flesh. Oh, and many of them need head-shots, fire or complete dismemberment. 

Zombies are so ill-struck, deteriorated, limited in agility and function, it's a wonder they're alive at all. They attack in shear numbers and are usually brought down by gunfire or other instruments of mayhem and destruction. For the life of me I can't see a complex plot in any of these movies. I'm sure some of the books (I haven't read yet) have a semblance of motivation and diversity--but I wonder what, other than wiping the hoard out, surviving or finding a cure, is the statement or solution to this. I mean, how much better could one Z flick be from the next? Do we add sparkles or really smart zombies who can mask their identities? Shape-shifting zombies--really pretty or handsome ones. We've got them on ships/boats, grocery stores, in the forest and in desolate cities and townships. Just keep changing the environments and locations?

I'm agog at running through the TV listings and finding Z movies in the droves. The science and nature channels are running series and special programs. I think the only Z movie that made me laugh and pay attention was Zombieland. That one had some personality.

What say you? Is this Zombie thing a tiresome, worked over trope or trend, or are we headed for more of this for the next couple years? I wish I had a crystal ball--As far as trends go--this one's got me stymied and a little bit fed up.

I had two editors tell me that Michael Crichtonish type strain and plague books were as dead as ever. This was four years ago. I'd like to ask them about that now and see what they're buying.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Writer's Heath

Sorry it's been such a long time for a post but I do have a legit excuse. I've been in and out of three hospitals lately over a period of 2 months, plus. It took forever for a cardio specialist to find out why I was nearly suffocating. In short, A blood clot in my leg traveled up and plowed into my heart, nearly wrecking it and producing an A-fib condition. The clot exploded and traveled to both lungs, where it shut down my breathing. I'm currently on heavy and precise meds and oxygen, trying to recoup slowly every day. It's been a critical time for me to say the least. 

Warning to all writers out there: Get up out of that typing chair and exercise those legs. I'd been idle for the past eight years, ignoring cardio exercise. Now I'm paying the piper for it. Force yourself to take at least a swift 45-minute walk every day if you are shackled to a desk. 

I'm going to hang in there and obey the doc's commandments, hoping I pull through this or at least recovery enough to lead a normal life.

Love to all who have e-mailed on the social media sites. 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Well, It finally happened:

The Girl They Sold to the Moon is finally here in e-book format on Amazon for $2.99! Don’t miss this award-winner—it’s fast and furious—a dark and edgy Burlesque in space.

Eighteen-year-old Tilly Breedlove's father has just pawned his daughter for a huge cash advance to escape a penitentiary sentence. She’s whisked away to Luna-the Tranquility Harbor Mining Company, 240,000 miles from home. Family Trade and Loan, an unscrupulous company, is more than willing to take her on and exploit her talent. Forced to be an exotic dancer, she performs risqué shows for the filthy, but filthy rich ore miners--a far cry from her classical and modern dance training. If she isn't resisting obscene advances from bearded "Prairie Dogs", she's fending off jealous head-liner acts who view her as a threat to their status-and when those jealous showgirls say "break a leg", they aim to cause it.

The only reprieve she finds in this shop of horrors is a few close ward friends, a sympathetic dance coach/choreographer, and Buddy Gunner Bell, who just might become the love of her life. It's just enough to stem her psychological meltdown. A tragedy on the Moon base lands Tilly back on Earth. Tilly plots a daring escape plan with her friends. Their plan requires split-second timing and a daring dash. If she can just get past the corporation's airtight security.


5.0 out of 5 stars Great soft Science Fiction for those who like it easy over, June 19, 2014

Kindle Customer (okemos, mi United States) - See all my reviews

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The Girl They Sold to the Moon by Chris Stevenson

I wanted the ARC to this book but they never got back to me; so I had to buy a copy and wait patiently for it to arrive in the mail, which was all well and good because I had other things to do anyway. Finding myself with an extra day, where I wanted to read something just a bit on the light side, I picked it up and read the boldfaced type all the way from the front right through to the finish. This book reminded me some of the old science fiction I read some thirty years ago. Some of the Robert Heinlein juvenile Science Fiction series. I enjoyed reading it and I want to give it high marks, but I'm going to be brutally honest about a few things.

Chris Stevenson has created a sort of sassy character in Tilly Breedlove who is sold into a sort of slavery in order to keep her father out of prison. Her mother has some few years earlier passed away and without her influence her father has fallen prey to all his vices and she has no delusions, going into this whole arrangement, that he will change his ways. In this dystopic future that sounds like a throwback to the times Charles Dickens wrote of; we have a society that allows parents to sell their children into some sort of work camp slavery while parents try to pay off their debts to stay out of prison through a loan which they must then pay off before their children can be released.

That whole arraignment lends itself toward some real potential for failure.

The Girl They Sold to the Moon bears some strong resemblance to the one other book I have read by this author: The War Gate. By this I mean that it has several threads running through it that make up a whole bunch of mini plots that revolve around the main plot that seems to be a soft science fiction light weight which is why I call this light reading. It is a good Young Adult novel and it almost seems like a twisted merging of Dickens' David Copperfield and Oliver Twist and Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars staged in the environment of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But the whole thing diverges into it's own world because of that potential for the slave workers to become permanent property of the company when someone defaults on the loan.

Of The Girl They Sold to the Moon and The War Gate similarities there is that striking male character that is a magician. And both books delve into the world of entertainment while striking off in slightly divergent directions of Science Fiction in the one and Magic in the other. If I have any complaints at all it's that there sometime is a difficulty for me to zero in on which plot is the prime plot of the novel.

The most likely candidate is the dystopic society's inhumane treatment of these young family members who are traded off and sometimes left to pay their own way out of a system that seems to have the cards stacked against them. But I get confused about this very plot when the potential evil motives of the company are often glossed over too quickly in favor of the sub plot of the infighting between the chatteled entertainers vying for the top position; a position that only serves to make the company richer through their success. Then there is the moon-crossed love story hindered by the presence of rules prohibiting the girls from fraternizing with anyone in any close manner on or off work. Along with all of this we have a thread about Tilly's desire to be in the very work she is now in and the frustration in the knowledge that her unexpected success is all going to someone else benefit until she gets released.

This is a great light read of soft SFF with some romance and a couple of good cat-fights.

J.L. Dobias

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique idea!, June 12, 2014
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This is a well written, very unique book. I have never come across and idea like this in all my reading and I very much enjoyed it. The writer has given his heroine everything she needs to make it through the rough times in her life. You have great empathy for her and her friends.The writer also brings to life the places he takes his readers to, so you feel as if you are right at those locations.I would certainly recommend this book. It is a fast read and very enjoyable!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful

5.0 out of 5 stars The Girl They Sold To The Moon ARC copy review, June 10, 2014

The Girl They Sold To The Moon Review
Review by: Naila Gutierrez
Author: Chris Stevenson
Publisher: Intrigue Publishing
Rating: 5 Stars
*This book was given to me as an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review*
This book is basically about an 18 year old girl named Tilly Breedlove, her father sells her into a form of slavery on the Tranquility Harbor Mining Company located on the Moon. She is forced to be an exotic dancer for filthy rich ore miners. After a disastrous explosion on the Moon, they send her back to Earth, imprisoned to the Las Vegas-Henderson Gambling Complex. Her father fails to pay the loan and goes into hiding, exiling Tilly to be temporary property of FTAL. Tilly plots a rebellious escape plan with friend Fia, and also with the help of blossoming love Buddy Gunner Bell, to break out of FTAL.

To me this dystopian read was exuberant, imaginative and creative. From start to finish this book grabbed me in for one wild ride and didn’t let go, for such a short book it was certainly delightful and whimsical. The plot in this was very well put together and it flowed with the story quite nicely, from when her journey began in FTAL, to the meteor shower that hit the Moon base at Tranquility Harbor , to the very ending where she escaped and finally got to fulfill her friend’s wish as well as hers. From the beginning when her father turned her in for FTAL I could feel how scared Tilly’s character was towards the situation of leaving her home to work in an entertainment division for 6 consecutive months. But then you can really notice the change in her character as the story progresses, she becomes more confident in going through all these obstacles, I really admire her character. Although I really did feel connected to Tilly’s character the most I did however appreciate Buddy’s and Dorothy’s characters. I did quite enjoy the growing romance and feelings between Tilly and Buddy growing feelings and a relationship from friends to lovers, their romance was just right as to not be sappy and come off as a desperate and rushed romance, like you see in so many books. Their growing relationship blossomed in just the right way, starting off when they met in the book and started talking I could feel chemistry between them, and it left me wanting more of their romance.

In a way, I have to say there was a bit of suspense sprinkled within the many wonders of this book, for example; when you found out that Fia Bluestone, supposed friend of Tilly’s was actually her long lost birth mother. Also when Tilly stood there and had to witness the suicide of her best friend, Dorothy, I have to say that scene was so wickedly crafted that it got to me. Then there are those well thought out action scenes of Tilly and fellow refugees scrambling about to find shelter from the meteor shower, and also when Tilly, Buddy, and Fia were escaping the Vegas Gambling Complex in search of freedom from the so well manipulated form of slavery.

Overall, I gave this book 5 stars because I like the well written, professional use of vocabulary, well thought out and procedure that was this lovely book. I personally am a HUGE fan of dystopian and post-apocalyptic worlds and this was one of the best I have read so far. I’m not going to say it’s the best I have read because I still have a lot more to read, but I can safely say that this was an extraordinary book, it was refreshing, action-packed, suspenful, and not bad in the romance department either. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a short yet giving book that hooks you in once you indulge in it and who enjoys books in the dystopian and apocalyptic category.
*thanks so much to the author for sending me an ARC*


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sinister Motives in Big Publishing?

Hello, writers, authors and fiends for punishment. I’m sorry I’ve been away for a long stint, but it was necessary to take immediate care of some major writing contracts and assignments. You know, really getting paid a lot of money to turn in work assignments for a change. I promise to finish and post a 2nd part to the previous post; The Hottest Promo/Marketing Tips I know (Part 1). So please forgive the slight derail and have mercy on me because I haven’t compiled my research notes yet on that topic. And it has to be accurate.

In one of our group writing discussions today, a poster offered some questions/theories about why Harper Collins and Random House seem to be driving deeper into the market share by producing new imprints that make submitting to the editors possible without agent rep. He wondered if there was any hidden or disguised motives for branching out like this. He proposed three basic questions:

1.      Is it possible these major houses are interested in re-branding their image, as well as marketing strategy, and that in doing so it allows them to open up more social media opportunities and gain a better footing with the reading public and writers alike.

2.      Could it be a response to the huge influx and success of self-publishing? And is it possible that they consider SP a serious threat and believe, like a wound, it must be staunched?

3.      Could it be an attempt to lessen the value and use of literary agents by offering all of these open call windows and direct submissions; hence opening up their doors for a more favorable and easier submission process?

I’ve included my answers to his questions in this blog post as well as responding on the writing site. Don’t hold back. I need your opinions about this subject and what’s on your mind about motivations and conspiracy theories.  

My response:

Well, dear writer, it isn't really ground breaking news that these imprints and open sub windows (calls) have suddenly sprang up out of nowhere. They began to show up in what, about the past three-four-five years or so? We've had a few threads on this very topic and we also have many of those imprints listed on watchdog and report status in our Bewares forum. I don't even remember which publisher started this new trend/paradigm, but it didn't take long for the other major houses to follow in lockstep with their own versions.

If a publishing juggernaut marketing manager told me that it wasn't a financial decision to start up these little sister imprints with lenient submission protocols (sans agents) I would have told them to slither back into their little offices (lairs) and practice lying better. But, hey, publishing is a business with precariously low profit margins and laborious spreadsheets that outline how they're going to keep the lights on, pay the rent, staff, writers and everybody else in sundry.

Since the ease and accessibility of self-publishing has come into play, the major houses, slowly at first, had to devise a way of capturing a piece of that market. I've heard via the Kindle Boards that self-publishing really started to get its wings around 2009, (the original indie crew call themselves the O-Niners) and that's when some major notoriety became evident with some of the breakout indie books and a new author cheering section reared its head (WatPad and Booksie, to name a few).


 Self-publishing through Amazon or any other similar platform = a substantial amount of sales that do not belong to any of the trade publishers. Not only that, the likes of Harper C. Penguin-Random, S & S, Little Brown and others could ill afford their cash cow celeb writers going off into independent land in search of better royalties and complete product control. The major publishers are not panicking or beset with fear--they're really in need of adapting to the changing publishing environment and they know this all too well.

So what had to be done? Make publishing with a large trade publisher more attractive, easy, safe, dignified and accessible. I also had a gut feeling that the so-called large, mean, greedy, imperialistic Big Five/Six wanted to change their image and soften their stance. Hey, we're for the little guy writer, dontcha know. Please don't call us Gatekeepers, we hate that. Sure, in the beginning these little sister imprints, most of them e-book platforms, had some predatory contracts--rights grabs, no advance, reduced royalties and other snafus. The writing community at large cried foul and many writer's orgs went on the defensive--The Bewares board of the SFWA right out in front. Things have nearly straightened out in that sense.

I don't think the major houses believe that agents are passe or a dying breed or they're trying to bury them. Agents are the BEST go-between sources for major editors and writers. An inconsiderate writer can really phuck up an editor's day with phone calls and non-stop emails. A writer couldn't negotiate his own contract if his/her life dependend on it, sans a little legal advice and help. Is it part of their strategy to cleave off a couple hundred or thousand agent subs to stick it to the writers for contract deals that MIGHT be nonnegotiable or certainly less beneficial to writers?--we're talking about business here again and it could be part of it, but I don't think it would make a major dent in profits.

I think the majors want to fish the ocean for some potential, already talented authors who might be thinking about self-publishing or have landed there due to frustration and staked out a nice claim for themselves. So if you think this might be a media ploy you could be right. Partially. I don't think chicanery is involved.

So truth be told, I think the majors had some legitimate reasons for offering these new, innovative (or nonstandard) imprints and opportunities. Just another form of branching out to deal with the competition; there is competition for readers and book dollars. Make no mistake about that.

But I must say, it's a little queer that these imprints starting really showing up when major self-publishing stars began popping out of the woodwork. And Gawd help me, I think I might have forgiven Twilight, but I'll never concede that 50 Shades deserved print in the first place. It makes me ill when publishers become ambulance chasers, picking up prepackaged stars and giving them new brand and legitimacy. I think I have an old post about ambulance chasing in a “Publishing Fraud” post.