Archive for the ‘ Mark Williams on Writing ’ Category

Consumption – A Novel For Our Times

Another Sunday, another week gone.

It sure feels that the older we get, the quicker time flies by. Entire days just vanish, seemingly wasted.

Maybe they have been. Waste is often a subjective matter, especially where time is concerned. One person’s waste of time may be another person’s time well-spent.

The problem with time is, it’s the great leveller. We all get the same measly sixty minutes in an hour, and twenty-four hours in a day, whether rich or poor, old or young, male or female. The minute or so you spent reading this has now been lost to you forever. You can never get that back.

Everything else is quantifiable.  Most things can be regained. We can spend money and earn more later. We can eat food and eat more later.

We used to think that about things like oil and gas too. But most resources are finite. What was once bountiful is now scarce. What was once cheap is now expensive. And that makes us think about how we use, or waste, things.

In economics it’s called consumption. Today’s guest, Greg Johnston, has written a book by that name.  Not an economics text book. A novel.

He’s also written a brief post for MWi today, about the pipes in his home.  Nothing is off limits at MWi! And if Bill Bryson can do it, why not Greg Johnston?

Here’s Greg.

Glug, glug, glug.  

The water boiler in my parents’ house in Hobart, Tas-Mania, is some distance from the kitchen.  Hot water must rise through great lengths of uninsulated pipes enclosed in the double-brick wall cavity.  To draw hot water to the kitchen sink, one must run nearly 5 litres of water.  In winter, when the overnight temperatures sink to zero, it takes even longer as the cold pipes and wall cavity fight to cool the hot water.  Apart from time, it’s a wicked waste of water.  But above all this, it’s an horrendous waste of electrical energy used to heat the water.

For 55 years, at least five times a day, five litres of water have gone down the sink.  That’s well over half a million litres of once hot water.  And that’s only in the kitchen.  It’s worse in the bathrooms which are even further from the boiler.  And the same amount of hot water has been left to cool in the pipes.

As if to further this, the cold water pipes run up the outside of the building.  In fact, the main feedpipe comes from the street along the side of the driveway embankment down through the garden and up the side of the house, splitting and re-splitting to the various wet spots of the house.  Oddly, all these pipes face the sun till at least three o’clock in the afternoon.  The water from the cold tap runs warm, in summer it’s almost scalding hot.

The house was built in the mid 50s on the crashing enthusiasm of a new marriage and post-war conformity.  Whenever she speaks of its construction, my mother always adds a sting;

“The house was architect designed.”

I’m not sure what that means.  She has a healthy disrespect for any qualification who disagrees with her opinion and possibly she’s deriding the architect.  Or, as with most things in life, the plans were interfered with and otherwise well-planned concepts were destroyed, relegating the boiler to the far reaches of the house.  Both answers are possible.

After an absence of 30 years, in 2011 I had the unquestionable delight to spend six months in this house.  Each day as I waited for the hot water, I asked myself; what ideology can account this arrangement?

I guess the earth was seen as endlessly bountiful, that it would never stop giving.  The electricity came from renewable hydro dams, post-war government works to stimulate the economy and provide power for industry.  Patches of water litter the viscera and west coast of the state, tamed rivers engorged to drown all native vegetation and establish these “simulated lakes” with gross, “unnatural” shorelines and thousand year old trees standing like ghosts in their centres.  As these dams were endlessly replenished by the rains that washed in from Africa, so we could all consume endless amounts of water and endless amounts of electricity because they were all, indeed, endless.  And the boiler was discretely tucked away from sight.

Wouldn’t we all gasp if someone designed a house like this today?  Wouldn’t we hope that a planning council would scuttle it as unsustainable?  But I suspect that some of us would gasp at the bodacious wanton-ness of the design as we do at the piquant, un-sustainability of a place like Dubai.

“On our way to Europe last year we ski-ed in Dubai.  It was outrageous!  Darhling.”

Yes.  Waste is outrageous but somehow still socially sustainable.  (In)conspicuous consumption dictates that we are what we consume.  Consumption normalises.  The more we can flush around and through our bodies, the more interesting and complex we are seen as individuals.

When I published CONSUMPTION: A Novel, questions arose about where the idea came from; what was the germ?  Whilst all novels draw from life, rather than the novel being based on a particular person or event, CONSUMPTION was more based in a thousand situations like the pipes in my parents’ house where I am left to wonder at the ideology in present day design (an incredibly complex thing) and all the desire and folly of our consumption and our need to consume more and more.

So what to do with the pipes?  I’ve adapted, reversed the red and green symbols.  If I want warm to hot water during the day, I used the cold tap.  I keep cool water in the fridge.  I use the hot tap only to wash up.

CONSUMPTION: A Novel is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Some novels can be pure escapist entertainment. Others can be entertaining and thought-provoking too. Greg’s novel definitely falls into the latter category.

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Morning Sickness… Update from MWiDP.

Morning Sickness and Strange Cravings – the latest from MWiDP.

As MWiDP enters its second month of pregnancy the ultra-sound scans are in and the bulge is beginning to show. So time for a quick update for those who are in, and too for those who are watching and wondering.

Well, the good news is we now have over sixty titles live, and more pending, so a great start.

The bad news is, we would be much further ahead were it not for the nightmare that is KDP.

Longer term we hope to get full recognition by Amazon as a publisher and get better access, but that will take time. For now we’re stuck with KDP.

Because our Crossing The Pond authors are already published on amazon.com and are transferring rights to us for European distribution we  have the small problem of convincing Amazon’s anti-piracy police that we are not stealing these books without the authors’ knowledge.

In theory simple enough. We upload the title. KDP send us an alert asking to see the contracts. We send the contract. Title appears 24 hours later.

That’s the theory. And for 95% it works well. For the remaining five per cent one of two things happens.

Click here to read the rest on the MWiDP blog and see what MWiDP has in store for 2012.

On Safari to Find THE READER – Elizabeth Ann West Is Armed And Dangerous

Fear not. Despite the title, this isn’t another foray into my private life here in sunny West Africa. It’s about the all important issue of finding readers.

This is a subject over which I find myself in constant e-conversation with fellow authors, and since we’ve moved into publishing other writers as well as ourselves, it’s  a matter that is constantly on our minds.

Of course there are no end of ways we can find readers, and there’s no right or wrong way. But some are most definitely better than others. Today’s guest, Elizabeth Ann West, has identified one really simple and rather elegant approach to marketing: Be genuine.

I’ll leave her to explain, but for the new author trying to establish a brand and be seen in the ocean of anonymity it’s a great idea, and it’s working well for her. In fact, let’s bring Elizabeth Ann West in now:

Sssssssh! I’m hunting for those elusive creatures everyone insists exists called READERS. If I can find some, I’m going to quickly flash them my brand, spankin’ new ebook before they disappear again. As a newly published author, it’s rather difficult to find readers. The advice to find them in their natural habitat varies.

Okay, it contradicts.

Recently, the web buzzed about Wendy Lawton’s “What’s Not Working?” As a new author, I read it voraciously, but quickly became confused. According to Wendy, blogging doesn’t work. Blog tours don’t work. Twitter doesn’t work. Facebook doesn’t work. Print ads do not work.

Mark Coker

Also published this weekend was Mark Coker’s informal poll on Mobileread of what readers identify as the #1 influence for them to buy an ebook. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Mark is the founder of Smashwords.com. Guess what his poll of 206 responses found? Almost 30% of readers identified “Recommendations from fellow readers on online forums, blogs, and message boards.” Huh?

So I will find readers in the swamp AND the desert? That’s what the advice seems to say. However, I think the survey’s pie graph shows how little pockets of readers find ebooks in a variety of ways, and that’s why everyone’s marketing experiences are different.

So what is a new author to do? Be genuine. Yep, that simple. Pick a few ways to put yourself out there and be genuine in the interaction.

Networking with other authors. One of the biggest frustrated cries from people who claim blogs/social media don’t work is that we’re all just marketing to other authors. Yes, yes we are. And you know what? If you do that correctly, it’s NOT a bad thing. By building close relationships with other authors, you make friends that are willing to retweet your links without batting an eye. Friends who ask you to join their launch party of their new book with other authors in the Kindle Top 100 of their genre (yeah, happened to me without even asking!).

* * *

My little book with twenty copies sold in twelve days is going to rub elbows with titles by Terri Long, Karen Baney, and Tonya Kappes. All because I made a genuine friendship with Melissa Foster, who is releasing her third title, Come Back to Me, November 1st! I help everyone I can, and that’s how Melissa and I met online. My technical background for blogs and websites allowed me to help her on a new project: the WoMen’s Literary Cafe. I was excited to help because it’s a new site aimed at helping authors and bloggers to promote each other to readers, for free. I never expected anything in return, but when you help good people, they generally bring you along with them. It’s the only way we’re all going to make it!

Approaching reader blogs. Being genuine in your interactions with book bloggers is also important. As soon as a book blogger is put on a list as an indie book reviewer, the submissions pour in. Most of them are spammy, cold, form emails of an author flogging a book. I took the time to read sites, read the blogger’s About Me section and sent an email just thanking them for reviewing indie books and relating to some personal detail of the blogger. One had a toddler like I do. Another has a background in technical writing, and I used to volunteer for the Fedora documentation team.

Out of ten blogs I spent the time to get to know and write a personal email, three got right back to me. Two asked to review my book, and one told me she would let me know when her submissions open back up. That’s two more reviews than I had before I started!

Oh remember that networking with other authors? When I put out the call to make a book blog tour, author Melissa Foster also asked her book reviewers to give my book a look. And another four book bloggers were asking for review copies.

This posting here is because I asked for help and Mark Williams knew me from my regular visits to The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing.

You really never know who’s watching you, so you should always be yourself and treat others with kindness.

Be consistent. Gone are the days where a self-published author is a novelty for readers. More and more readers know to look for the ebook bargains. My mother-in-law, who hates technology with a passion and doesn’t even email, wants an ereader. It’s no secret in marketing that it takes a number of exposures to a brand or product for a customer to buy. For ebooks, this is even more true. Our customers don’t HAVE to buy us right away, we’re always available. One book blog can spark a reader to download a sample and that’s as far as the purchase goes until ANOTHER ad or author interview reminds the reader about the book. Oh yeah, I was going to finish that!

My own reader habits with my Nook are that way. I prune my samples on a weekly basis and buy what I like and delete what didn’t grab me. As a writer, I bet if you examined your own book buying behavior, you’d be a lot closer to those well-camouflaged readers!

So what about you, Mark Williams International readers? What are YOUR marketing best practices? And better yet, what part of marketing your book is fun for you? (I love responding to reader comments! After my free promotion with my first author interview one of the downloaders tweeted she was up until 1 AM reading my book. That makes my day!)

And rightly so!

Elizabeth Ann West describes herself as a Jane-of-all-trades, mistress to none. A military wife and Mom, she has previously published non-fiction articles. This year, she published her debut novel, CANCELLED. It’s available on amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and in all other major ebook formats. You can check her out at http://eawestwriting.com, where just this past week she was talking about Sibel Hodge’s faction novel Trafficked, and how being an indie writer opens up hitherto closed opportunities as a writer.

As Elizabeth says, she and I e-met over on WG2E, and since then she has joined us at MWiDP in the hope we can bring her book some extra exposure this side of the Atlantic. Time will tell. I suspect she’ll gain far more traction in the immediate future with the WoMen’s Literary Cafe, which sounds just wonderful. I’m hoping Melissa Foster will come and tell us more here at MWi in due course.

But what really comes from reading Elizabeth’s essay above is the need for writers to network on a genuine and friendly basis.

Which is part of the idea behind the cloud that is (or will be – early days yet) MWiDP.

What we’re beginning to see happen is MWiDP authors joining together and share the burden – not just marketing (retweeting, exchanging blog posts, recommending, offering reviews and all importantly reading the books and telling others you enjoyed them), but also in the pre-publication stages. Joining with other authors, proofreading for one another, offering critiques to one another, offering help and advice. Exchanging links and info about format and cover designers. Even joining up and co-writing!

This sort of team work is something pretty unique to indie writers. Can you imagine Big Six authors linking up with fellow writers in this way? It just ain’t gonna happen. You might like to think that by having a Big Six publisher you have the support of a team of  experts who will do their best for you. But that’s not always true. The only people who get involved will be on the payroll. They have a vested interest in maintaining things how they want them. If you have other ideas for your book you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

The corporate gatekeepers have strict control over what goes in and who gets involved. Which is fair enough if they’re footing the bill, I guess. But dont assume that means they know what they’re doing.

Here just to remind ourselves ninety per cent of corporate published books fail. Ninety per cent never sell a thousand copies, despite all that expertise, all those professionals, and all that money and muscle.

And maybe that’s because readers don’t really care for ninety per cent of what the trad guys publish. Because most of it is dull, unimaginative and predictable.

I’m over at WG2E today today discussing just this.

If you’re one of those the-glass-is-half-empty types worried that the trad publishers are going to bully, bribe and bluster their way back to a  monopoly on what people read, be sure to pop over to WG2E and see why that’s not going to happen. As ever, MWi and WG2E are here to inspire, not depress. If you want depressing, read an agent’s blog…

Stay positive!

Writing What Needs To Be Written – Sibel Hodge Leads The Way

Back in 2007, Britain celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the UK.

At the time I was co-author of a theater play that did the London circuit, and upset a few people who like to think slavery is history.

After all, it is history, right?

It’s something we aren’t proud of, of course, but it happened. And not so long ago.

Look at the date on that poster. For someone collecting their pension today, it is entirely possible their grandparents were alive while slavery was still a way of life in the US. It’s possible those grandparents might actually have been one of those slaves described here.

But we can at least stand tall now and say it doesn’t happen anymore, right?

If only…

Sadly, slavery is alive and well in many parts of the world to this day, including on our own doorsteps, whether we are in the  modern-day United States, modern-day Europe or wherever we may be. People are still today being captured and imprisoned, transported to other countries and sold as chattels.

Today’s guest says below,

In 2007 the US Department of State carried out a Trafficking in Persons report. The statistics shocked me to the core: 700,000-800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 80% of which are women and girls, and up to 50% are minors. The US Department of State estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States alone each year.

Our 2007 play was variously applauded or condemned for daring to suggest slavery still existed in the twenty-first century. One of the themes we touched upon was the trade in people-trafficking for sex that, as the above shows, is still rife across Europe, the US and much of the world as you read this.

So when I heard chicklit author Sibel Hodge had written a book on the subject I bought it immediately, and demanded Sibel come across to MWi and explain herself. How dare a best-selling chicklit author, purveyor of light and frothy humorous fiction, write about a dark subject like people-trafficking?! And based on real events!

What is the literary world coming to? This would never have happened in the old publishing world. Writers knew their place then.

* * *

If you’re coming here from WG2E you’ll know I’m on a revised schedule up-river in Africa. Ironically I’ll be not far from Juffereh, the village from where the young slave Kunte Kinte was abducted in the Roots story. The remnants of the slave fortress on james island is still there, a chilling reminder of  one of the darkest events in modern history.

If you’re reading this here on MWi first, be sure to pop across to WG2E and say hello. It will be worth it just for the opening photo!

But here at MWi, a departure from the usual text sprinkled with colourful images. Some subjects are best just told. The words need no extra illustration, and the images that would go with the text below are anyway best left to the imagination.

But don’t let that deter you from reading on. Some things need to be read.

Here’s Sibel:

About five years ago I watched a mini series about girls from Eastern Europe who’d been trafficked. It haunted me for a long time, and then gradually it faded from my mind and I got on with my life. Then a little while ago I was sitting in a doctor’s surgery waiting for an appointment and picked up a magazine. Inside, was the story of one women who’d been trafficked. It made a chill run through me, and I realized that in those five years, I’d never heard anything in the media about it.

That got me thinking, and I started researching other victim’s stories online. They were horrific, heart breaking, gut wrenching, and I knew this was a subject that, despite being such a global problem, a lot of people are unaware goes on. I really wanted to do something to raise awareness into the subject and Trafficked: The Diary of a Sex Slave was born.

Although the book is fictional, it’s inspired by these victim’s stories, and is a very sad global reality. In 2007 the US Department of State carried out a Trafficking in Persons report. The statistics shocked me to the core: 700,000-800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 80% of which are women and girls, and up to 50% are minors. The figures will be a lot higher four years on.

And one of the truly scary things is, most people think it only affects third world countries, but it’s going on right under your nose. The US Department of State estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States alone each year.

I wanted Trafficked to be gritty, hard hitting, and tear-jerking. And I wanted it to make people really stop and think about this subject. I chose to write it in the form of a diary so the reader really feels every emotion – the fear, beatings, horror, desperation, hope, and faith. I wanted them to experience the ordeal through her eyes. Sometimes it’s not what you say that’s the most effective; it’s what you don’t say. I think it has a more psychological impact on readers when they use their imagination about what she describes. For example, in one passage I write, “I have not written much because I do not want to describe the things they make me do. You can imagine every depravity and increase it a hundred times, then you will understand.” Hopefully readers can really feel the pain, shame, fear, and courage of Elena.

Trafficked was a completely different genre than my normal chick lit. Instead of writing something that cracked me up laughing, this brought tears to my eyes and chills down my spine. But the beauty of being an Indie is I have the freedom to jump genres. I can’t imagine a traditional publisher being too keen on me starting something so vastly different when I’d established myself as a quirky, screwball chick lit author.

I’ve always wanted to write a serious book and when the idea formed for Trafficked, I was excited, but worried I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. From the feedback, and reviews I’ve had so far, I think I’ve managed to do that. The Bornean Bookworm did a lovely review saying, “Elena is unquestionable in the line of my favourite inspiring characters.” Hope is an essential part of Elena’s character, because if we don’t have hope, the only way is down. Another review by a Doctor from Cambridge said,

“As someone who works in the field of criminology, I immediately recognized Elena’s plight in the real-life accounts of trafficking victims. Certainly, this book puts a human face on the nameless women (and men) that we, as a society, largely (and wrongfully) view as ‘throw aways’ who ‘made their own choice’. This book is an exceptional tool for raising awareness–not only for fiction readers but also for the classroom. I would recommend this as an accompanying text for any University course on victimology or the sex trade. Without hesitation, if I ever have the opportunity to teach a course on this subject, I will use Trafficked as a required text.”

Trafficked isn’t a read for the faint-hearted, but it’s a story that needs to be told. And if it makes you cry, or gets you pissed off, or makes you want to get even and do something about it, then, as a writer, I’ve done my job right.

As Sibel says, in the old publishing world this book would probably never have seen the light of day. But it’s s story that deserves to be read, and the story behind the story needs to be told.

Slavery didn’t end when Britain reluctantly abolished the trade in 1807, or when Lincoln was forced to abolish slavery in the USA in the 1860s.

Slavery, in slightly different guises, continues to blight the lives of millions of innocent people to this day. As Sibel says, if her book helps open the eyes of even other one person to the abominable trade in people that is happening right now in our so-called civilized world, then as a writer she has done her job right.

It would be trite to compare writers in the old world as slaves of the publishing industry, but to be honest that’s pretty close to how things were. No question the epublishing revolution has emancipated writers.

As writers in the new world we have untold opportunities to write what we want. To write what we think our readers want to read.

But we can also write what we think our readers need to read. To write what needs to be written.

Thanks, Sibel, for leading the way.

Sibel’s book can be bought on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

It won’t make you laugh, or brighten your day. It’s not something you’ll enjoy reading.

But buy it and read it anyway, and be reminded how lucky we all are to have our freedom.

Time to bring the headless chickens home to roost.

The New Renaissance

Way back in May I ran a post on MWi entitled Reformation and Renaissance: the Future of Publishing.

It was a period of gloom among many of the literati. Borders was in its death throes and sensible people were seriously talking about the demise of the publishing industry. That somehow the book world was going down the pan, and taking literature with it.

Books stores were closing almost daily. Prints runs were getting shorter. Writers couldn’t sell their latest scripts because agents were turning authors away, because publishers weren’t buying.

The only glimmer of hope on the horizon was digital.

But agents were running about like headless chickens scaremongering about e-books. Publishers were running about like headless chickens scaremongering about ebooks. Everyone, except us indies, were running about like headless chickens

There was no way ebooks could rescue the publishing industry. After all, how many people had ereaders? And what about the dreaded tsunami of crap we were all going to drown in?


Here at MWi I was having none of this nonsense.

No question there is a revolution in publishing taking place. It is a Reformation unparalleled in publishing history.

But far from seeing the death-throes of publishing I think we are seeing a painful rebirth. A revival – dare I say a Renaissance? – on an unprecedented scale, where every author who has a good quality book will, in the near future, have a chance to reach an audience.

The epublishing revolution opens up huge new opportunities for those willing and able to take advantage.

The future for readers, writers and those publishers willing and able to move with the times, is brighter than at any time in history.

And not just in the US and UK, I said in another post, but internationally.

The digital revolution will sweep the rest of the world far faster than it has the US and UK. Make sure you’ve got a ticket for the ride!

As I said back in May, largely to deaf ears,

With epublishing, there’s suddenly infinite shelf space for infinite categories and sub-categories, and the most intimate niche markets can be catered for with negligible outlay by the publisher.

Far from being less books, publishers can now reproduce their entire backlist of everything they’ve ever published (if they have the rights) and once that happens readers will be able to read that book they loved as a child, long since out of print, or a novel previously only available in some far off land.

A revolution is taking place that we are not just witnessing, but are participants in. It’s up to us how far we get involved, but burying our heads in the sand is no longer an option.

Fast forward October and Publishing Perspectives  has this headline:

Backlist Catalogue: The Backbone of Digital Publishing.

Check out the story. Agents fighting over one another to get the rights to authors’ backlists so they can turn them into ebooks. The exact same agents who six months ago were telling us all how ebooks were a fad.

You couldn’t make it up…

* * *

The other big stories from Publishing Perspectives?

Markets to Watch in 2012

The growth markets in 2011 include Russia — which, according to one agent, is “perking up” — as well as Eastern Europe, Spain and Latin America, especially Brazil. “Brazil is one of the most dynamic markets right now.”

As I said six months ago,

The digital revolution will sweep the rest of the world far faster than it has the US and UK.

Germany and France now have their own Kindle stores. Spain’s and Italy’s are imminent. Ebooks are growing worldwide faster than anyone anywhere expected, with Russia and Brazil marked as the bonanza markets for 2012. For the MWi record, add China, India, Thailand and east Europe for 2013. If things are slow…

Kobo is busy mopping up a huge portion of the European e-market that Amazon has been slow to grab. Across Europe sales of English-language ebooks are soaring (especially in Scandinavia and eastern Europe) and we can expect a similar picture to emerge worldwide given the dominance of the English language. Kobo has said that its English-language sales to non-English countries are up 300% this year over 2010, with Sweden leading the charge in Europe, up 359%.

All looks bright apart from Barnes & Noble, who are still playing the US card, crazy idiots that they are, and excluding international buyers. That said, they are making a killing with a huge collection of Spanish, German and Italian language ebooks for sale to their Spanish, German and Italian speaking American customers. Amazon missed a trick there!

* * *

Also in Publishing Perspectives yesterday:

Film: An “Emerging” Market

More than a quarter of all the films produced in the world come from books. Just think about the success of Harry Potter, Bridget Jones, Brokeback Mountain — all these films come from books. The publishing industry is getting closer and closer to the film industry, both of them start to work like a team. The cooperation between publishing, film and games is an even newer development, and it will be the next big thing in the course of the next two to five years.

Sounds familiar? At the weekend here at MWi  we were looking at Lee Chambers and how he was using his ebook to build support for the film he had already written. In the discussion that followed I said,

As with books, the future of film is in niche markets, not blockbusters. As technology brings down production costs and SFX remove the need for expensive studios and location shoots indie films will take off big time and with the KindleFire and iPad already able to play films it’s just a matter of time before we see Kindle film store and iFilms flooded with indie productions.

And of course these indie film-makers will all need scripts and books to take scripts from.

You heard it here first!

* * *

So the future is bright.

Yet there is still a pervasive air of pessimism, especially among the indie publishers. Bob Mayer summed up the issues in a post entitled The Sustaninability of an Indie Author – will self-publishers survive?

Bob knows the business well, from both sides, and it’s an article I commend to you.

But I don’t share his pessimism.

Bob is talking about the big names, like his own self, and he’s right – Things will get a whole lot more difficult to grab the top places in the charts as the trad publishers bully and bribe their way back into position.

But that was always going to happen. We were saying this on MWi way back in April.

Bob bemoans the inability of  indie publishers to advertise and buy space on Amazon. But for the average indie publisher, without a huge backlist and a twenty-year reputation like Bob has, that was never going to be an option anyway. It’s irrelevant to most of us.

I greatly respect Bob’s views, but his situation, like Joe Konrath’s and the other big names on the indie circuit, are not typical of 99% of indie authors, who have no print history, no backlists, and no loyal readers to carry with them.

What we’re seeing now is crunch time for the indie movement.

Trad-pubbed authors with no serious backlist, who have belatedly jumped on the indie bandwagon, seeing the 70% royalty and thinking it was a new job-for-life because the trad publishers were ignoring ebooks, are going to be sadly disappointed. Trad publishers have never been ignoring ebooks.

All the time their publicity departments were denouncing ebooks as a fad they were quietly throwing money into digitalization. The trad publishers are many things, but stupid is not one of them. Sure, they’ve just been slow to turn the ship around. But turning it is.

Bob says,

To think that the current business environment will stay the same and that traditional publishing will not morph into something that embraces eBooks is burying my hand in the sand.

Spot on, Bob. As I say constantly on MWi and WG2E, as indie authors we have to adapt to survive.  As indies we have to stay at least one step ahead of the game. Which is Bob’s philosophy too.

Where I depart from Bob’s view is on his attachment to the charts. As Bob says,

Traditional publishing had finite shelf space.  That’s not a problem with eBooks.  Infinite shelf space.  BUT:  finite room on lists and in placement.  So, while shelf space isn’t a choke point any more, placement is with eBooks.  There can be millions of books available on Amazon but only 100 titles can be in the top 100 in a genre or overall.  Only so many titles can be featured on a screen or in those emails Amazon and Barnes and Noble send out.  Just as shelf space was a choke point in trad publishing, placement is a choke point in eBooks.  Your eBook can be out there but if no one finds it, it does you no good.

And this is where the crunch comes. The trad publishers WILL regain control of the charts because they have the money and muscle to do so. It’s the reason why most major trad-published players will stay trad published, and why most indie authors who do make progress will join them.

It’s a trade off between the higher royalties available self-pubbed, against the chance the trad publisher will put their money and muscle behind your book and make sure it gets noticed.

As indies we cannot compete.

Sure Saffi and I have had two top 100 hits in succession, but we’re not banking on it happening again. If it does, great. It’s a bonus. But any indies  relying on chart success as the trad pubs regain their stranglehold is going to be seriously disappointed.

The big question is, does it matter?

Bob says,

So, while shelf space isn’t a choke point any more, placement is with eBooks. 

True, and for Bob, with his huge backlist and his established fanbase this will diminish his sales, which at the moment are phenomenal. Yes, Bob will inevitably see a drop in sales, because his level of success is unustainable in the current model.All ccredit to him for recognizing that and planning to deal with it.

But Bob’s success is pure fantasy for start-up indies who missed the start of the race, when it was shooting fish in a barrel,  or who don’t carry a much deserved reputation and backlist with them.

99% of indies, rightly, see selling in thousands as a major achievement. Bob’s sales numbers are pie in the sky for most of us. He will see it as failure if his sales drop below some magic number most of us would give our right arms to come remotely close to.

His pessimism is right. For him. It can’t last.

But for new writers to see this as some excuse to lurch into despondency is just crazy.

The pie is getting bigger, and for all except the top sellers in their field it’s good news.

Bob cites the choke point of placement as a major obstacle to sales.  But it is exactly the same as existed before with print.

Millions of  print books managed to sell in the olden days without ever getting into a top 100 chart. Millions of ebooks sell today without getting near the top 100. Millions more ebooks will tomorrow.

If we want the e-plinth and the accolade of top chart-positions in the future then we will need to have a huge backlist and reputation like Bob and Joe Konrath, sign-up with the money-and-muscle guys and compromise on royalties and control, or be extraordinarily lucky.

The indie honeymoon is over, sure. I said that back in April.

But the indie writer still has huge opportunities ahead, and staying nimble and thinking ahead is the key.

It’s never been a level playing field, and never will be.

But the current mood of doom and gloom is unwarranted. Indie writers just need to stay focused and be realistic.

Oh, and write good books.

Don’t Sign Your Rights Away. A Movie Deal Could Be Just Around The Corner.

No, we haven’t signed some major deal with some Hollywood mogul. But it’s part of the writing dream, right? Along with the coveted place on the plinth in the bookstore, the red carpet at the movie premiere is one of those little fantasies all writers indulge in.
     As wannabe writers penning those first few lines it’s not so much a dream as a future event waiting to happen. Not if, but when. We plan out future careers around the book tours and the TV chat shows. We idle away our spare moments looking at private jets and yachts.
     Later reality sets in.
* * *
It’s Sunday, so once again I’m over at WG2E, and have been desperately searching for someone foolish enough to stand in for me here at MWi.
     Today Lee Chambers drew the short straw.
     In fact Lee first submitted this post to me some months back, but it got lost in the mire of technical issues that bedevilled my summer, and has only now resurfaced. Lee has now updated the post with the latest developments, and it makes for fascinating reading.
     Lee says,

Your eBook is a creative property that may have multiple purposes. I believe most indie authors without a traditional publisher or not represented by an agent have no idea of the value of their work over the long term. While the majority of books don’t turn up as movies in your local cinema, be careful about signing away your rights.

Regulars will know Saffi and I have sent rejection letters to several high-flying agents who came knocking on our door. Why? Because when these agents came with their name-dropping contacts list and their swanky New York addresses we looked beyond the glitz, glamour and improbable promises, and asked awkward questions.
     You would not believe the kind of demands they made. As for the small print in the contracts… Sorry. Not for us.
     I’ll be coming back to the issue of rights, contracts and agencts’ deals in a future post. Here just to reiterate Lee’s words: You have no idea what your work may be worth in the future. Be very careful about signing away all your rights now. Especially to desperate agents staring oblivion in the face as their former job-for-life becomes daily more precarious.
     If an agent comes knocking at your door, ask just why they are turning received wisdom on its head and querying you! That’s not how it works, remember? Forget who they may have repped in the past. the past is history.
     Think about the future. If these agents are such hot-shots why the hell are they they trawling the Kindle charts, searching for new clients? You’ve done all the work. Don’t go handing over a future percentage just for the kudos of saying you “have an agent” if all they can do for you is waht you can do yourself.
* * *

David Wisehart

David Wisehart was over at WG2E yesterday, and in a fine example of serendipity at work David began his post by talking about his childhood dream of being a writer. He went on to work in film instead.

     I knew nothing about David’s post on WG2E until I belatedly saw it yesterday evening.  Well worth checking out.
     Today’s MWi guest, Lee Chambers, wrote this post for me back in the summer, and finally we caught up with it mid-week and scheduled it for today. Lee began his post by talking about his childhood dream of being a writer. He went on to work in film instead.
     As said, I had no idea David was guesting over at WG2E with such a similar opening. Pure and utter coincidence.
     The similarities with David’s post on WG2E are striking. So are the differences. Be sure to read both!
     Here’s Lee:
Years ago I tried doing something that most people dream about but only a few truly succeed. The goal: To write a novel.
     I made an honest effort and put pen to paper to write my book, but in the end I failed. To be honest, it was a long shot. Why? Because I was only ten years old.
     My book was a mystery about a Sheriff investigating a string of murders in Oklahoma. I didn’t have a lot of experience with crime scenes and had never even been to Oklahoma. I just had a story I wanted to tell but the practical issues of research, solid format and the way publishing worked seemed minor at the time.
     Everyone has a story in them. Good or bad, but a story nonetheless. Getting that first rough draft on paper is hurdle number one. Then comes the countless re-writes and re-working of the material to make sure it passes muster. Most aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to go through this process.
    I believe I was about 40 pages in with my first attempt. Then the playground and my friends were calling. I still had stories inside me but I decided to take a different route.  
     For me, I fell in love with making movies as a writer and director. I shifted to telling celluloid stories on film, with actors, props and unique shooting locations.
    

Lee Chambers In Action!

After more than a dozen short films under my belt, some made with support from Academy Award winners, I decided it was time I tackled the feature length script.

     Oddly enough I hate writing. I like collaboration and have a strong sense of story and character but to write for a solid eight hours doesn’t interest me. So I co-write with people that truly enjoy the process. I learned to respect my weaknesses, embrace them and work towards the positive. For me, I write because I want to direct.
     So three years ago I created another Sheriff tale and enlisted my trusted friend Todd Gordon to help me draft up the screenplay. Based on my premise and characters we drafted it up and cycled through numerous script and story consultants and editors to help us plug plot holes and strengthen up the drama and characters. The result was an engaging thriller that won us a Grand Prize for screenwriting at the 2011 Canada International Film Festival and attracted one of the stars of the Twilight saga for the leading role.
     All very exciting, but it was here that I realized that in the movie world, this was only the first battle. The war now shifted to finding the millions of dollars to make the movie. And this can take years – even with a good script. Finding the right players, supporters and funders can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
     So what do with myself while the script does the rounds?  The light bulb flashed on – I’ll turn the screenplay into novel format. Not the normal pattern for an independent filmmaker but as I planned to also direct the material, it made perfect sense. A screenplay is purely a “show” and “tell” blueprint. There’s no room or place to show emotions or back story.
     What better way to explore the deeper sides of the story than by writing it all out in more detail. It started as a simple document I could hand to my actors as research into their characters and motivations. Then as I moved along, the idea of sharing it with book readers became an obvious evolution.
     The first hurdle was my perception over self-publishing and the whole e-publishing idea. There is still something lovely about paper. To have something tangible in your hands. This expense and the distribution hassles make the traditional method of publishing almost impossible without solid backing. Then came the eBook wave.
     As recent as 3 months ago, I wasn’t sold. Then I did my research and found that this wave of publishing is rocking the big boys and outselling paper. Suddenly anyone, and I mean anyone could have a book for sale around the world with virtually no costs. That’s the good side of the market. The bad side is that, while everyone has a story inside them, most self-published books are not original or are poorly developed.
     So this past July, after an eight-month conversion process, I unleashed The Pineville Heist upon the eBook world.
    

Lee and Booboo

It is amazing that within only a few weeks I even had fans making their own YouTube videos on their dream cast for the movie version. Facebook and Twitter messages from teenage Booboo Stewart fans started pouring in (Booboo plays Seth Clearwater in the Twilight saga and he’s interested in lead role in the film).

     That’s a powerful display of communication. No longer did I need the approval of a publishing house to find room in their catalog for my story.  One publisher was interested but claimed it would be 2014 before they could even consider publishing it at the earliest. Wow! 2014. Really? Three years from now? Well that didn’t work for me.
     This new revolution of ePublishing is pretty spectacular. But I caution once again that time needs to be spent on ensuring the work writers launch into the eWorld is as top notch as can be. This influx of content also makes it harder for the good stuff to be noticed.  I spent three years developing my screenplay and book and believe it’s a solid book for the young adult market.
     It’s not perfect but it’s my voice. Written in my style, my way without a publisher forcing me to play it safe or conform to ideals that work for a larger demographic.
     As it stands my book has commercial appeal. Proof of this comes from me recently signing an international agreement to make the movie version in 2012.
     Your eBook is a creative property that may have multiple purposes. I believe most indie authors without a traditional publisher or not represented by an agent have no idea of the value of their work over the long term. While the majority of books don’t turn up as movies in your local cinema, be careful about signing away your rights.
     I am not limiting myself to just selling the eBook for The Pineville Heist. My marketing plan includes the paperback (even if only a limited release), a movie, an iPhone game, etc. I believe in my work so much, I even created a 30 second teaser trailer with special effects firm RennerVFX that took two months to create using the same computer programs that James Cameron used to make Avatar. The result is absolutely stunning.
     Of course I designed my story to be commercial from the get-go. I had the book cover and movie poster designed early. Reverse engineering. I was writing for an audience, not just for myself or family and friends. I took advice from many people smarter than me and then stuck to my guns and told my story.
     Along the way people try to force their creative will on your work. You need to decide if their views have merit. Does their view represent the audience for your book?  How valid is their point of view? You need thick skin to take the good reviews with the bad. Understand that you can’t please them all. Not even people in your target market. There are going to be readers that hate your story or the way you have captured it in words. It’s natural and the way of life. Take all reviews with a grain of salt and look for the patterns. Overall do people like it?
     The Pineville Heist is my first novel so I am moving into a new world. My only experience of exposing my creativity to the world comes through writing and directing short films over the years.  My last short film, When Life Gives You Lemons gained Executive Producer support from legendary producer Roger Corman and was selected by 45 film festivals in 9 countries around the world. It has won numerous awards and nominations. That same film was rejected by over 60 festivals, including one in Florida that thought it was dreadful. Oh my.
     At first I was rather annoyed, then I realized that, this little festival in Florida wasn’t really the demographic for my movie anyway.  So I moved on and accepted it.  Lesson learned, thick skin developed. It’s a numbers game.
     If you seriously have something good and you focus on finding your audience then you’ll make it in the long run. Tenacity and re-evaluating your work and marketing plan will get you there.  To date, not one film festival in Oklahoma has accepted my short film. Then again, I don’t think I ever applied to one. Maybe it’s time I did. I think they’d love it!

 Lee, thanks so much for sharing.

You can check out Lee in person at www.leechambers.com and find out more about The Pineville Heist at www.pinevilleheist.com.

The ebook can be found on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

* * *

Over the coming weeks I’ll be looking at how e-readers are changing the way we read and therefore changing the way we might want to write. As tablets become the norm we no longer have to consider film, TV, books, magazines, etc, as separate media. They can all be available on one device, and increasingly they can all become interactive.

Film changed the way books were written. Television in turn changed the way films were made and books were written. E-readers and tablets will change the way film, television and books are written and created.

For the elite few blessed with technical skills to take full advantage, the opportunies are endless. But for us – Saffi and I included – who prefer to simply write stories, still we cannot afford to ignore the changes happening around us. As indie writers we need to stay ahead of the game: to proact, not react.

As I’ve said before, the trad publishers think that by throwing money into ebooks they can somehow regain their stranglehold on the industry. They think that they can just convert a book to digital and that’s it.

Partly, they’re right. Indie authors cannot begin compete with the bribery and bullying that typifies traditional book marketing. Nor should we want to.

Our future success or failure will be determined by our ability to evolve as the reading experience evolves.

How do you see the reading experience evolving?

Hopefully not like this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Cop / Bad Cop – Believable Good Guys with Barbara Silkstone

If it’s Sunday, I’m not here. I’m over at WG2E, with a post called Indie Inbreeding and the Gene Pool of Diminishing Readers.

Standing in for me here at MWi is the only and only Barbara Silkstone, who mixes with the best. When not sharing a changing room with Elizabeth Taylor (haven’t we all?) or mixing it with Stephen King (see Barbara’s delightful blog, Barb’s Wire) she moves in equally illustrious circles meeting up with successful indie and Kindle authors on our behalf.

Last time Barbara was here you was looking at the plight of trans-Atlantic sales. This time she addresses the thorny issue of  the bad guys. No, not agents and publishers. The other villains – the ones in our books.

Here’s Barbara.

Jake Lassiter is back. Twenty years after the publication of To Speak for the Dead, the Lassiter novels have become the number one hardboiled crime fiction series on Kindle. In the past year, Night Vision, To Speak for the Dead, and Mortal Sin have been the number one bestselling hardboiled mysteries on Amazon Kindle, while the other Levine titles – Riptide, False Dawn, Fool Me Twice and Flesh and Bones have all hit the Top Ten.

Paul Levine is a former trial lawyer and the award-winning author of legal thrillers including Solomon vs. Lord (nominated for the Macavity Award and the James Thurber Prize,) The Deep Blue Alibi (nominated for the Edgar Award), and Kill All the Lawyers (a finalist for the International Thrill Writers Award.) He won the John D. MacDonald Award for his critically acclaimed Jake Lassiter novels, which are now available as ebooks. He’s also written more than twenty episodes for the CBS military drama JAG. Paul Levine lives in Lost Angeles, where he is working on his next Jake Lassiter thriller.

I caught up with Paul on the eve of the release of LASSITER… Bantam; Hardcover. Jake Lassiter is a courtroom hero unlike any other. We last saw him in 1997’s Flesh & Bones. He just made his triumphant return as the former Miami Dolphin linebacker-turned-lawyer on September 13, 2011 in Lassiter.  Curious as to what makes a believable good-guy I threw some questions at Levine and he threw ‘em back with answers.

BS:  How do you go about creating such realistic, gritty, but likeable heroes?
PL:  I believe, as John D. MacDonald said, there are no 100 per cent heroes. I’ve always been drawn to flawed protagonists, and conversely, villains are not all evil. Villains love their dogs, their children, their favorite baseball teams. I just try to make my heroes real…and fun. I have a somewhat sardonic view of the world, so it’s only natural that Jake Lassiter does, too. Same for Steve Solomon in the “Solomon vs. Lord” books.

BS:  What are some of the flubs you’ve read in other thrillers that jumped out at you?
PL:  Technical problems crop up once in a while. Putting a safety on a Glock 9 mm handgun. Wait!  I’ve done that! And I own a Glock, so the lesson here is that it’s really easy to mess up. I’ve seen mistakes in autopsies and many many mistakes in trial procedure.

BS:  What are some of your pet peeves – flawed details that would never work in real life?  Perhaps unrealistic representations of legal procedures?  (Names withheld to protect the authors)  🙂
PL:  I remember a novel written by a lawyer where the defense put on its case BEFORE the prosecution.  Often you hear this juicy one: “Objection, Counsel is badgering the witness!” Well, there’s no such objection in the law. (There is an objection on the grounds that the question is argumentative).  I have some fun with the bogus “badgering” objection in my new novel, “Lassiter.” When a prosecutor objects to Jake Lassiter’s tough questioning of a cop on the “badgering” ground, Lassiter says, “It’s my job to badger the witness. That’s what they pay me for.”

BS:  Jake Lassiter is irreverent and funny. How do you balance the humor with the drama?
PL:  “Balance” is the word. It’s a balancing act. Too much humor or over-the-top humor sucks the dramatic tension right out of a story. I just keep telling myself, “Keep it real.”

BS:  Lassiter delivers savvy, spot-on lines. Do they just come to you as you’re writing or did you keep a little black book when you were practicing law?
PL:   Memories come back to me. And imaginary lines just keep popping into my head.

BS:  LASSITER… The new Jake Lassiter book has just been published. It’s been fourteen years since FLESH & BONES. Is this a one-time shot or are you going to reignite the series?
PL:   I’m working on the next “Lassiter” right now.

BS:  I particularly loved SOLOMON AND LORD. You give great dialogue. Three marriages have given you a wicked sense of humor. *smile*  Who came up with that terrific cover design?
PL:  Ouch!  You had to bring up the marriages? Including one at age 21? That one shouldn’t even count!  The cover (a distraught Lady Justice about to shoot herself) really does capture the tone. It was the artist, not me. I do listen to women carefully, and that helps write the banter.

BS:  We recently had an enthusiastic discussion on Genre-Shifting on the Mark Williams international blog. You’ve done a bit of a shift with BALLISTIC going from legal thrillers to military action/adventure. You wrote for the hit television series JAG. I think readers will wonder how you accomplish such a great job of keeping the humanity in your characters when you step onto a larger canvas like military action/adventure?
PL:  Writing is writing! It doesn’t matter what the backdrop is. Make your characters and situations real, plan a logical plot, and you’re halfway home.

BS:  Paul, thank you for spending time chatting with me. We all really appreciate it! Good luck to Jake!

~

I devoured Lassiter last night. What a read! I can see why Lisa Scottoline said Jake Lassiter was one of her favorite characters of all time. I’d like to quote David Morrell as we step back and wish Lassiter a rocket to number one. “Paul Levine’s twisty, wonderful novel combines the legal excellence of a Grisham thriller with the highwire antics of Carol Hiaasen. A cover-to-cover triumph!”

Since I also enjoy a good action thriller I picked up Ballistic for this weekend’s read. I can’t imagine leaving the Miami-mob setting for an Air Force base in Wyoming under terrorist attack. I’ll keep you posted.

By the way… for those readers who enjoy a good Tom Clancy thriller… but better, I suggest you take a gander at indie author MH Sargent’s novels… Seven Days From Sunday, The Shot to Day For, Operation Spider Web, Yemen Connection… and more. For fun… I thought I’d throw some of the same questions at MH:

BS:  How do you go about creating such realistic, gritty, but likeable heroes?
MH:  Oh, boy. I could just picture my characters saying they’re not heroes. I think they would cringe if they heard that question being asked. But since they aren’t around, I’ll take a stab at answering that by saying that my characters are like any of us – they aren’t perfect. They have flaws, they make mistakes. I think that helps make them real to readers.

BS:   What are some of your pet peeves?
MH:  I would say when the story suddenly has a small hole that defies logic. I come from a screen writing background and years ago a writer friend wrote a wonderful TV movie. But when it aired, there was a story gap – it didn’t make sense how the main character suddenly figured out a crucial plot point. Well, it was in the script. It was filmed. But the network decided to trim 120 seconds to give themselves two more minutes of ad time. Her crucial plot point was left on the cutting room floor.
Now, that was not the screenwriter’s fault, obviously. But every once in a while, I’ll come across something like that in a novel, not a gaping hole, but something where a couple of lines would clarify the storyline for the reader. I think that this is really where a good editor comes in. Sometimes the writer has the story very clear in their head, but getting it down on paper, they might skip something, and never realize there is that tiny hole. But an editor will catch that.

BS: Your novels always feature some locals – in Iraq, or Afghanistan or even Yemen. Why did you do this?
MH: When the U.S. went to war in Iraq, I kept thinking, what are the people in Iraq thinking? What are their lives like? How have their lives changed? And I concluded that people the world over are much the same – we want the best for our family, our friends, our community and then our country. In that order. And that’s what I tried to show in Seven Days From Sunday.

BS:  Believable good guys?
MH:  In some cases, I think so. I’d like to add that it’s an honor to ride Paul Levine’s coattails in this interview and I would be happy to ride his coattails anytime. He’s just so, so entertaining. I love his work – he writes great page turners, knows the courtroom and mixes it all with a wonderful sense of humor. A great combination. Thanks for the opportunity!

Thanks to Paul Levine, MH Sargent, and Mark Williams!

But thanks most of all to Barbara Silkstone for making it all happen.

Barbara of course is author of the wonderful Wendy and the Lost Boys, which I was particularly enamored by as I read it on my Kindle while stranded on a ferry in barracuda infested waters (Regulars will know this is a common occurence here in West Africa – being stranded, that is, not reading Wendy!).

Barbara’s other books are The Secret Diary of Alice In Wonderland Aged 42 and Three Quarters and The Adventures of a Love Investigator, 527 Naked men and One Woman.

In Barbara’s books she plays for laughs, so the bad guys are flawed in the most delightful ways.  Take poor Hook in Wendy and the Lost Boys, for instance. He has a rather embarassing problem with…

Well, you’ll have to read it yourself. I have to consider the sensibilities of my young co-authors.

But writing good bad guys is an art. Without the villains, there’s no story, but for villains to be believable they have to have redeeming traits, or they end up little more than Freddy Kruger clones. What say you?

* * *

Wonderful as Elizabeth Taylor was, for me it was her child hood roles in Jane Eyre and National Velvet that are my fondest memories.  Elizabeth Taylor was one of the finest child actors of her generation. National Velvet is one of my favorite movies. And as someone that can’t stand horses that’s quite an achievement!

I leave you with this image of Elizabeth from National Velvet., the only horse film I’ve ever managed to sit through that didn’t have Clint in!

 

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