Greetings and Happy New Year! I haven’t been very active on this blog due to holiday travels, a nasty cold that one of my co-workers gave the entire office right before Christmas, and general laziness.
Right now, Portland is bracing for a “big” snowstorm that probably won’t happen – but if it does, I can actually devote some time to focused writing. I’m still polishing up a “short” story with the working title of Reset. The first draft topped out just north of 21,000 words, which is definitely out of short story range and more like a novella. I had originally thought about wielding a fierce editorial pen to try and trim it down to ~10,000 words, but at this point I don’t think that will happen. There are two reasons for this: 1) my aforementioned laziness, and 2) the way the story wound up left it as a possible springboard for a series. And we all love series, don’t we, gang?
I’m still trying to get my head around further promotion for Jackrabbit (more on that later, perhaps), as well as trying to clean up an older novel manuscript for a story called Fester. Tat is going to require a few bucks for the editor, cover design, etc. – so maybe after we get past tax season (and we get a refund).
I’ve also started research for a story I’ve been kicking around in the basement for a long, long time. It’s about stand-up comedians, and based on the careers of such humor luminaries as Bill Hicks, Andy Kaufman, Lenny Bruce and Doug Kenney. This is a monumental undertaking, and I’d guess that even the first draft would be two years in the making…so, we’ll see.
While I’m still trying to ramp up my creative activities in the new year, I have been able to post an old short story I cranked out while writing the first draft of Jackrabbit. It’s kinda weird and very silly – basically, it’s John Dillinger and his gang going up against a very unusual foe. It’s called Encounter in the North Woods, and you can check it out here.
Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I’ve been busy channeling the spirit of Jim Anchower.
Actually, I’ve been doing doodley-squat, which has not lent itself to creation of a post. So, since it’s been several weeks that I haven’t posted – or done much of anything else – I figured I could slap together some half-assed post about why I haven’t done anything.
Fist, I’ve almost completely stalled out on promoting Jackrabbit. This lack of activity shows: my last royalty payment was $5.62. Whoopee-ding-dong! I’ve agonized over the process before, and will not belabor the point now. Suffice it to say that indie book promotion is a time-consuming pain in the ass, and I am a lazy sumbitch – a suboptimal combination if ever there was one. Now that we’re past the Thanksgiving holiday and into prime American consumption season, I would be well-advised to get off my keister and try to wave the book around in the face of the book-buying public in the hope of a sale or two. Absolutely. First thing, tomorrow.
And while I might have been acting like a blockhead writer, I don’t actually have writer’s block per se. I just finished up the first draft of a short story called “Reset.” Although at nearly 22,000 words, the story is well past the “short” stage and well into novella territory. That was definitely not my intention; it took a long time (~4 months) for the story to find its rhythm. My goal is to trim that puppy down to about 10K words by January.
Or maybe March.
“Reset” is the result of a very intense dream I had back around April of this year, where I woke up to find that I was back in eight grade, but with all of my adult memories. I know, this is hardly an original notion, and has been covered extensively in films such as “Big” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Still, it was fun to write, and bey drastically wielding the editorial pen, I hope to make it fun to read, and eventually post it on the Short Stories section.
As for 2020, I’m not sure in which direction I intend to go. There are a couple of novel ideas I’ve been kicking around, but also perhaps a few more short stories that need to be dispatched first. We shall see.
The purpose of this blog is two-fold: 1) provide me a forum in which I can piss and moan, and 2) provide some advice so that others may not have to piss and moan as much as I. Also, I guess – 1.5) provide s repository of useful information for myself that I can use as a reference, as my memory is like a cloth bag full of water.
One piece of advice that I deliberately blew off in the runup to the release of Jackrabbit is thus: plan your book release. Give it at least three months, and preferably more. I didn’t do this for a couple of reasons. The first was that I realized late in the game that I was coming up on the 85th anniversary of the event that was a major plot point in the book, so I rushed to get the book out on that date. The other reason is that I am a lazy bastard, and really didn’t want to think about marketing and promotion ahead of time.
Well, live and learn. If I ever do it again (and I probably will), I’ll spend more time planning how, where and under what circumstances I will release the book.
One of the more interesting lessons learned has to do with the distribution channels through which the book is distributed. Based on my overall need to rush to get the book out, coupled with my inherent laziness, I decided to go with Amazon KDP for the complete publishing service. This saved a fair amount of up-front decision-making, but it did cause some problems later on. So far, the biggest of these is that many indie bookstores hate Amazon with a passion and will not carry self-published books produced through Amazon KDP – an issue I groused about in a previous post.
When I was bandying with a representative from one of those stores, he suggested that I create an account with IngramSpark to contend with the anti-Amazon bias. The issue with that is that I’d already sold my soul to Amazon and signed up for their Expanded Distribution option. This nominally provided more outlets for potential sales – allegedly large booksellers and libraries. Of course, as with most anything in American consumer culture, Some Restrictions Apply. In this case, that meant that I wouldn’t be able to use IngramSpark to distribute the book to finicky indie stores.
This begs the question: what the hell is IngramSpark anyway? IngramSpark is a subdivision of the massive Ingram Content Group, which is a huge book distributor and publishing service provider (whatever the hell that means).
Here’s the interesting part: by signing up for Amazon’s Expnded Distribution option, I’m actually having some books distributed through Ingram anyway. I found this out recently in my ongoing struggle to get Jackrabbit some shelf space in local indie bookstore behemoth Powell’s Books (as I griped about here and here). I looked into the possibility of ditching Expanded Distribution and signing up for IngramSpark, but the whole thing smacked of effort. It’s possible, apparently, but there was a whole rigamarole about relisting the ISBN number and so forth, and I don’t really see how it would necessarily boost my sales at this point. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m definitely lazy. I did, however, find a good article about why self-published authors should use both:
This has gotten wordy/whiny enough, so I am just going to sum up the important things I think I’ve learned so far:
Always Buy Your Own ISBN Numbers – This is one of the few things I got right out of the gate. Amazon KDP and other services will give you free ISBN numbers, be then they own your ass. The Bowker’s monopoly on ISBN number sales in North America results in a scammy pricing structure, but it beats the restrictions that come with a “free” number.
Use Amazon KDP for Early Production – You don’t have to shell out at all, meaning you can tweak the design, upload revisions to your heart’s content, and get it OCD-perfect before you shell out a dime. The author copies are more reasonably priced, as well.
Don’t Sign Up for Amazon; Expanded Distribution; Get an Ingram Spark Account – IngramSpark will get your books to bookstores and libraries that hate Amazon with a passion and won’t buy books from them. There are also more printing options, including more paper choices and hardback versions (Amazon KDP is paperback-only). To be fair, the Expanded Distribution network might slip a few copies to self-same Amazon-haters, but IngramSpark is probably better.
Amazon’s KDP Select Ain’t All That and a Bag of Chips – KDP Select is a program that offers expanded worldwide distribution for your eBook, as well as periodic special offers you can make on your book. However, KDP Select restricts your ability to sell your eBook through other channels (WordSmash, Draft2Digital, etc.) The offers are restricted to a handful of days within a 90-day window, so not so hotso. I’d advise going with the other ePublishers.
There: all of my recent kvetching boiled down into four pithy bullet points. My next novel is gonna go so smooooooooooth!
A week or so ago, someone suggested that I approach a small but iconic bookstore in town about getting Jackrabbit on the shelves and perhaps doing a reading. For the sake of not alienating myself further, I’m going to call the place Arnie Bang’s Books. Arnie Bang’s isn’t a local colossus like Powell’s, but has been around for awhile and has a good reputation. It’s kinda like the “Cheers” of Portland bookstores.
I called Arnie Bang’s about carrying the book and possibly scheduling a reading, and the person I talked to was very friendly receptive …until I let slip that I had published the book through Amazon KDP. At that point, she became quite frosty and cut the conversation short. When I asked as to why, I was told “Amazon is the competition!” End of conversation.
I was, as I mentioned earlier, butt-hurt. I totally understand hating on Amazon’s monstrous global retail monopoly…because I hate on it, too. So does everybody…but it’s just so fucking convenient. I try to buy local where I can – Powell’s for books, Music Millennium for tunage, Fred Meyer for groceries, etc. (The last one’s a bit of a stretch – Fred Meyer was bought out by Kroger in ’98, and they’ve really been acting corporate as hell lately. But I digress…) But if the local stores don’t have what I’m looking for, I’m shopping online the next day.
So I get the hating on Amazon bit, but the part that peeved me was that Amazon’s cut comes out of my pocket. Amazon makes their money on their markup on the author copies it sells me. Arnie Bloom’s would get their 40% of the cover price, regardless if it had been published by Amazon, Lulu Press or even freakin’ Kinko’s.
I took a look at the book, and there is absolutely nothing that indicates where it was printed. I was tempted to just go back to Arnie Bang’s and trying bullshit them into carrying the book, but at that point I figured that my integrity was more important than the handful of bucks I’d potentially make. Besides, Arnie Bang’s would end up making more per copy than I would, so fuck ’em.
I did a little research, and apparently it is not uncommon for indy book stores to refuse to carry books published through Amazon KDP. Hey, it’s their business and they’re free to run it how they see fit. And I’m free to think that refusing to stock a book based on where it’s printed is a self-defeating move. I doubt Jeff Bezos is losing sleep over Arnie Bang’s business practices, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna go back there.
I’ll admit up front that this post is going to suffer from a marked lack of graciousness on the part of yours truly. Anyone who I offend can contact me directly, and I’ll buy you a Mr. Pibb.
This has been a frustrating week for me personally, for a variety of reasons – but instead of barfing them out in one whiny blog post, I figure I can stretch them out to two or three bitch-specific posts that will perhaps in some small way boost the Google search ranking of this site. It’s called providing content, people!
Today’s gripe: getting reviews on Jackrabbit’s Amazon site. From my research into the wild and wooly world of self-publishing, getting a variety of reviews on your book’s Amazon listing is the key to sales. If you look at a book listing, and it has half a dozen five-star reviews, and most of the reviewers have the same last name as the author, then you know you’re probably looking at a real snoozer with horrible punctuation and probably no verbs. No one’s going to want to buy that book.
Here’s where the lack of graciousness comes in: I am fortunate in that I have many friends and relatives who very generously bought Jackrabbit when it came out. To them I offer much gratitude, as well as much frustration – because getting a significant number of them to actually go on Amazon and leave a review has been like pulling teeth!
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that,” they say. “But I just really haven’t had the time lately. Maybe next week.” All this spoken in a weary tone, as if I’d cajoled them into cleaning out my basement. It makes me want to holler, “Hey, it’s just a quick review! It will take approximately the same amount of time as it did for you to post to Facebook that picture of the basket of Buffalo wings you got at the Cleveland airport!” I mean, really.
So, I keep wheedling, hinting and make veiled threats about kidnapping beloved pets or stuffed animals. It occurs to me that maybe they haven’t actually read the book. That’s a distinct possibility for the people that downloaded it for free during one of the Amazon eBook giveaways. When something cost nothing, then it’s never a high-priority. On the other hand, maybe they read it, but think it stinks. I hope not, but even so, I rather have a raft of brutally honest reviews rather.
All right, so I just try to stay patient and avoid getting too pushy (but still a little pushy, maybe). What else is there to do?
Fuggit. I’m gonna get myself a basket of Buffalo wings.
I was especially flattered as CrimeReads is a well-respected crime book blog; an offshoot of the uber-respected LiteraryHub website. Big love to them for giving me a chance to show off my writing (and, of course, flog Jackrabbit), while other, less-prestigious book review sites gave me the cold shoulder. Take that, “Uncle Bubba’s Best Bad Guy Book and Monster Truck Video Reviews”! You missed out.
Four-plus years’ worth of (occasionally) hard work has finally paid off! This week, I got my first royalty payment for Jackrabbit – a whopping forty-one dollars and forty-eight cents! Woo-hoo! Not complaining, not complaining – well, not really. It’s good to see something in the “credits” column of the Sweet Weasel Words balance sheet. The last time something showed up there was when I signed up for a PayPal account, and they deposited 39 cents – then promptly withdrew it.
So, they way I’m looking at the situation vis-a-vis trying to market and promote the book: I’ve spent nearly five years writing this book and getting it published. Now, in my foolishness, I thought that that was going to be the bulk of the effort. I realize now that it was only the preliminary effort. So the choice is to suck it up and get on with the unpleasant (for me) matter of marketing, or just walk away and start working on another novel.
This is tempting, very tempting. I’ve got at least three big-time story ideas I’d really like to explore. On the other hand, after all the effort I’ve put into Jackrabbit, I’d really like to get it the exposure I think it deserves, and maybe make a few bucks in the process. Of course, I’m under no illusion that this book is a prize-winner, or that I’ll be able to retire on the proceeds. Still, if I want people to be able to read and enjoy it (and I’ll be honest, to stroke my ego in the process), I guess I’ll have to put put off the next big writing project and start selling.
From what I’ve been able to tell, the most effective way to do this is through Facebook advertising. And I really hate the idea of giving money to Face book – hell, I resent just having to have a Facebook account at all. So be it. Needs must when the devil drives, and so forth.
At this point, I’ve got $41.48 that I didn’t have last week, so I might as well hand it over to Mr. Zuckerberg and see if he can’t turn that into at least $42 worth of additional sales. It will be fairly easy to measure the success of this endeavor, given the current sales figures. So what the hell, guess I’ll see what I can make of this.
I was reminded recently about how I came to the decision to self-publish Jackrabbit. Basically, I didn’t want to beat my head against the wall trying to go the traditional publishing route. It was summed up pretty well in a recent episode of the Simpsons (S30E05; yeah, I’m a huge Simpsons geek). I the episode, a salesman is trying to sell Homer on the merits of a self-driving car:
Salesman: Yeah, you’re free to do whatever you like, Homer.
Homer: Can I text while it’s driving?
Salesman: You can write a novel while you’re driving.
Homer: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! In today’s publishing environment?
The Simpsons, “Baby You Can’t Drive My Car”
I laughed my ass off at that line, and had to explain to my wife why I thought it was so funny: because today’s publishing environment sucks.
Shortly after the first draft, I made a semi-concerted effort to find an agent to sell the manuscript. I quickly ran up against two obstacles: the query letter, and the literary agents themselves.
The query letter is the letter you send to a prospective agent to get them interested in flogging your book to a publisher. Apparently, they get a ton of these things a day, and you really have to put together something compelling to get them to read past the first sentence or two.
In fact, I found a website run by an agent that does nothing but critique people’s query letters. However, in order to get your query letter considered for a crit on the site, there were a whole buncha hoops you had to jump through first. So, in order to supplicate an agent to get help so you could supplicate another agent, you had to write and re-write. Good practice, but the whole process was too “meta” for me. My interest in this fizzled quickly.
The thing that put the nail in the coffin was when I actually met a couple of literary agents. I’ll tread softly here, since it would be counterproductive to alienate some of the parties involved.
There is a fairly prominent writers group in the area, that hosts an annual conference here in town. The admission price is pretty steep, but if you volunteer to work there, they’ll knock 50% off the price. Being a cheapskate, I went the volunteer route. The only drawback was that I had to work four hours a day as part of the commitment.
It became pretty obvious to me that one of the main focuses of the convention – if not THE main focus – was the paid pitches. For twenty-five bucks, you got eight (8) minutes of face time with an agent to pitch your book or screenplay. There was an extensive catalog of agents, and you could pick ones that repped your genre, etc. This went on all day long throughout the conference. Then every ten minutes, they would usher a herd of would-be authors into the same room they used for the lunches, you would find your agent’s table, and give your pitch.
At that point, I did not have a whole lot of extra cash to throw around, so I was reluctant to spend more money than I already had. Still, it seemed like a good thing to at least try, so I found an agent who seemed like a likely bet (repped crime fiction, specifically), signed up and waited my turn.
In the meantime, there were other sessions where people would help you refine your pitch I went to a couple of these, and came up with what I thought was a pretty good pitch. (It ended up being the basis for the blurb for Jackrabbit, actually.) So I was psyched to go and pitch my book, as any agent who was worth half a damn would immediately recognize my brilliance and the book’s sales potential and sign me on the spot.
So I rolled in and gave my pitch, and the agent responded by saying, “Why should I care about John Dillinger? He was a killer.”
I was so blown out by this response, that I really didn’t know what to say. I think we ended up arguing for the rest of the eight minutes, although the details are still hazy. I just remember leaving the session in a stuttering rage.
It was one of those situations where you come up with the perfect response ages after it’s too late to employ it. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. My response was, basically: “Yeah, people hate reading about killers and criminals. That’s why the bookstore shelves are crammed with bios of Mother Teresa and Albert Schweizer! Not a single book about Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy to be found!”
I mean, this person was an agent that allegedly repped crime books; she should know good and damn well that murderers sell, big time. This realization made me even angrier – she had gotten me with a “gotcha” question that was completely counterproductive. Fuck that noise! I was paying for her time to the tune of $150/hour. I should not have been treated like I was a student at an MFA crit. If she wasn’t interested in representing that book, she should have at least had the professionalism to say so, and perhaps recommended me to another agent who knew that killers sold books.
Also, Dillinger was never convicted of murder. Accused, yes – but not convicted.
Anyway, that episode pretty much poured piss on the last ember of my desire to pursue a traditional publishing route. Perhaps it was for the best, although I sometimes have to forcibly remind myself of that when I’m going through the promotional paces required get a self-published book in front of readers’ noses. Then again, if it means I don’t have to deal with literary agents, it’s probably worth it.