24 November 2015

Julian Barkin

Thank you.

What I learned from my research into self publishing, etc.

(I wasn't going to publish this today, because distant events make anything I have to say trivial in comparison-  or, more trivial than usual, at least- but then I changed my mind.   Trivia is a welcome relief from the horrible news of the world.  This is not burying my head in the sand; it is more like taking a break from matters over which I have absolutely no control.)

My foray into the world of self- publishing has set the world on fire.  I have, as of this moment, sold a grand total of three copies!  Huzzah.  My royalties currently amount to about $0.90 American right now, however, I will not see any of those royalties until my royalties reach $100, also in USD.  No reviews, either positive or negative.   Don't know what that means.  I do know my humour doesn't travel well, so.... it can go either way. Also, all sales were on the 22nd. Since then, nothing.  That ninety cents may be the sum total of my royalties.   

Not what I had hoped for, but not entirely unexpected, either.  Maybe more will read it and it may take off.  Maybe it will die the death and remain where it is for all eternity.   As I said, I had known abject failure was a possibility, however, unlike my previous abject failures, this one had the virtue of costing me nothing.

So, why go into self publishing, rather than seek the traditional route?

Many reasons.  First, I got turned down several times when I tried to go traditional.  It is, more and more, becoming a closed circle.  Most publishing houses no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts, which constituted what they used to call 'the slush pile'.  Many great books from the past, including "Gone with the Wind", "Anne of Green Gables" began life on the slush pile (for publishing house in Boston- where else would a Canadian Classic be published?), as did, or so it is rumoured, "Mein Kampf"  the publishing houses have decided on the whole that they want only solicited manuscripts, or manuscripts that have and agent representing them.  In other words, they have shifted the slush pile to someone else.

One of the few exceptions to this is in the romance field.  Many Romance publishing houses still take in slush, because Romance is the single most popular and best selling genre.  They need to keep the stories flowing, so slush it is.  It is not without its dangers, however.  Some publishing houses (notably Harlequin) have attempted to start vanity publishing branches, where you pay them to have your novel published.  Among authors, real ones, not pseuds like me, this is a  a cardinal sin.  They are playing on the weakness and insecurities of would be authors.  This is not how publishing is supposed to work.  The author offers their work to the publisher, the publisher accepts or rejects it based on whether or not they believe they can make money from it.  Money is supposed to flow towards the author, or not at all.  It never, ever flows from the author to the publisher.

So to publish you must have an agent, so you send off you work to an agent, right?  Not exactly.  Many agents are no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts.  They have shifted the slush pile to.... someone else.  I actually have no idea to whom.   So how do you get an agent, then?  Good question.  Some agents comb the literary periodicals to try and find the Next Big Thing.  So you send in to a big periodical?  No.  They don't accept- you guessed it- unsolicited manuscripts.  So the little ones, then.  Great idea, except they are incestuous.  For several periodicals I have read  the list of editors and the list of contributors is the same.  They are simply publishing their own work, possibly with the aid of government grants set up to promote the 'arts'.  Believe me, they won't look at your work either.  That leaves...?

Oh, and one other potential problem.  Some of you may have heard of the Sad Puppies movement and the fiasco that was the Hugos this summer past.  One of the claims of the Puppies- vehemently denied by the other side, but maintained nonetheless by the Puppies- is that politics have crawled into the publishing houses, and unless you share the politics of the publishers, which, according to the Puppies are overwhelmingly Left- you may find yourself unpublished, or even anathematized.  I can't answer this for certain, but I do know that at many universities, the fields from which an editor or a literary agent are most likely to come are overwhelmingly dominated by the Left.  The Right in these places is ostracized, and conservatism itself becomes the punchline to a joke no one bothers, or is even required, to make.  So if you are a right winger whose work reflects even subconsciously your political persuasion, you may find it very, very difficult to get published at the major New York publishing houses.

 But say you do get an agent.  You're in, right?  No.  Your chances have just improved dramatically, but that's it.  Your chances. they have gone from infinitesimally small to just really, really, really small.  The reality can often be quite painful.  There was a documentary on a bunch of gamers that I saw some time ago.  one of the gamers was working on a manuscript.  He got an agent.  The agent got a sub-editor at a publishing house to look at it, and the editor got excited.  The editor and the author got together and worked hard on the manuscript for a year.  Then, when it was ready, they presented it to the main editor.  He read about half the first paragraph and tossed the manuscript aside, along with the writer's hopes for publication.

The publishers and editors believe that they and they alone know what will sell to the public despite all evidence to the contrary, which includes the fact that many of them rejected and were later blindsided by the most successful books of the last few decades.  Harry Potter and Twilight were publishing phenomena that came, as it were, out of absolutely nowhere, as did Fifty Shades of Grey.  Their success left the publishing houses scrambling to find knock offs and similar titles to cash  in on this fad absolutely none of them saw coming.  yet they still believe they know what will sell and what will not.

OK, let's say you get published.  Congratulations.  You are now in a profession where the vast majority are below the poverty line- and that's with megastars like Rowling and King boosting the average by earning billions.  The publishing houses invest money in publishing your book, but then, get this, they don't push it, and they won't push it unless it becomes a proven seller, or, in short, until it proves that it will succeed without the push.  No other industry works according to this model.

So, you are published,  and you have been working on the next book, or perhaps a series.  things get even messier.  In my research, I have found many very successful authors who claim that the real money is in the backlist- the books you have already published, more so than in the new releases.  New releases sell well, but they have a halo effect on all the previous writing.  People read the new release, decide they like this author, and start looking into what else this author has published, and sometimes end up buying everything the author has ever written.  For prolific authors, this is windfall money.

But here's the problem:  you don't control your back list.  The publishing house decides whether or not they will print more copies of your books to coincide with the release of your new one.  Often, they decide not to, so all the money you might have made will be gone.  But remember what I said earlier:  They know what will sell, you stupid peasant.

E-publishing bypasses all of that.  You decide if you will be published or not.  It is up to you to promote your own work.  Your backlist will never go out of print.  While some are claiming that the e-revolution is killing publishing, there are quite a few authors who believe we are entering a new golden age of publishing: one where the power has been placed in the hands of the author, where it should have been from the beginning.

So it's all sunshine and daisies at this point, write?  Well, no.  Every one of those good points has a drawback.

The fact that we no longer have to work through agents, sub editors and editors means that we and we alone are responsible for the quality of our work.  No author, I am afraid, is objective about their own work.  They are in for a rude awakening when their works encounters someone other than their mother or their spouse.   

As for promoting your own work- well, this is where I am practically doomed to fail.  It is a lesson I learned when trying to sell my own woodworking:  I have no talent and no skill- none whatsoever- at marketing and self-promotion.  My attempts are so pathetically feeble and backwards I   generally end up shooting myself in the foot.  For example, the work I just published has a blah cover, and the cover is perhaps the single most important marketing tool, and it is not to be underestimated.  The cover art exists for one and one purpose only: to catch the potential reader's eye long enough to get them to take the book off the shelf and read the blurb on the back.  That's all. So it is important to have an eye-catching cover. I have little skill in creating eye-catching images, so I used Amazon's cover design program, and the result was bland.   I had hoped the title would be eye catching and make up for the  blahness of the cover.  had I any skill at designing my own cover, I would have  a cover with Shakespeare in the Conan the Barbarian pose, only holding aloft his quill rather than a sword, and I would have him surrounded by busty babes wearing gold foil chain mail bikinis.  However, alas.

As for your backlist never going out of print- that's actually a bonus.  I don't see any downside to that one, although there may be one.

It is my belief that the publishing houses are in turmoil at the moment, and that the changes they are facing will destroy many of them.  What will be left, I cannot say.  Right now, it seems that e-publishing is the way to go.  Many are doing it.  Some are doing well at it.  Many are not.  I'll probably be in the latter category, rather than the former.

But you never know, unless you try. 

22 November 2015

I'm a writer. Release the pigeons.

At about 11:45 last night, while lying in bed, I tapped 'publish' on my tablet, and poof! Just like that, I was a published author.

I then lay down my tablet, rolled over, and attempted sleep. That was my launch party.

A lot of research into the business of publishing lead up to that moment, but, in the end, it was still a 'what the heck, let's just do it' sort of moment. There are pros and cons to this, ultimately you hope is more of the former, less of the latter. One way or the other, it has been a learning experience.
So, the book: it's really a short play, it would run about half an hour in real time. It's called "27 and 1/2 Short Plays About William Shakespeare.". Its e-blurb says describes it as a lecturer, with some help from Will and a few friends, explains a little bit about this phenomena we call Shakespeare.

That's the tl;dr version. The long version is more like this: the idea came to me years ago, when I was frequently attending lectures on Bill, about how weird this Shakespeare fellow must have been for all the contradictory gibberish these profs are spewing to be true. And the idea came to me of a professor giving a lecture, while Shakespeare in background acts out the utter nonsense of what the professor is saying. The result was 27.5 short vignettes.

But wait, there's more! I tacked on another unrelated short vignette called How (Not) To Write a Film Noire. In it a would-be author struggles with writer's block and interruptions, and ends up only frustrating both himself and his main character.

These are both things I wrote years ago, but now I am sending them into the wild to flourish or perish as the public sees fit. If anyone reads using Kindle and is interested, leave a comment.

20 November 2015

Talent vs Skill.

I've been spending whatever free time I had in my shop recently. I've been getting ready for the next craft show, plus I'm working hard on filling an order from the last show.

One of the comments I commonly get at the craft shows is "My, you are so talented!" I know it Is meant as a compliment, and I thank them politely for saying so, but it is inaccurate. I do have some talent, but what you see on my table is not the product of talent, but of long and hard earned skill.  Talent is a nice beginning, but a poor ending, I am skilled.

There is an old Chinese story. A man asks the local ink painter for a painting of a crane. The painter agrees to do the work, and tells him the painting will be ready soon.

A week or so later, the man accosts the painter and asks when the painting will be ready. "Not yet," answers the painter. "But soon."

More weeks pass, and the man accosts the painter time and again. "It is almost ready," says the painter. "Soon."

Finally, after months of waiting, the painter tells the man to come and collect his painting. The man comes to the studio and the painter asks him to take a seat. The painter then pulls out his pot of ink and his brushes, pulls out a fresh sheet of paper and spreads it flat upon the table. Then, with sure, confident strokes, the painter executes a perfect drawing of a crane.

The man, aghast, sputtered at the painter. "But you could have done that at any time! Why did you make me wait so long?"

Silently, the painter rose from his seat and went to his cabinet, and opened it for the man. There, in the cabinet, were hundreds and hundreds of flawed crane drawings the painter did as practice.

At my table at the shows, you are seeing the end product. What you are not seeing is the thirty some odd years I spent learning how to make these things.

19 November 2015

Conversation at work

Coworker, to me:  What day is Christmas this year?

Me:  December 25th.

18 November 2015

Repost: Conversations with mother.

Something humorous for our dark days:  a phone conversation with mother on a hot, steamy night a few years back.


I often have peculiar phone conversations with my mother and other members of my family.  Last night, I had one that was a little more odd than usual.  The following is a transcript of the conversation.

Warning:  If you're a member of PETA, or otherwise care about furry critters, don't read any of what follows.

Puff, to me, while I am working in the garage, at about 10:30 at night:  Your mother's on the phone.  She says there's raccoon in her house.

Me:  I'm two hours away by transit.  What does she want me to do about it?

Puff:  Just try and calm her down.

Me, kissing any more of my precious shop time good-bye in Yosemite Sam fashion:  razzle fracking mumblemumblemumble.  I go upstairs to the phone.  Hi Mom, How are you doing?

Mom:  There's a raccoon in the house.

Me:  Where?

Mom:  In the basement.

Me:  Did you shut the door to keep it there?

Mom:  I'm not that senile.  Yet.

Me:  That's good. Well, you seem to have the situation well in hand, and since there's nothing I can do I'll just...

Mom:  There is something you can do.

Me, kissing goodbye at any chance at a quick return to the the shop: What do you want me to do?

Mom: I need you to seal up the old milk box.  I think that's how he came in.

Me:  Tonight?

Mom:  No. The next time you're here.  I don't know where your bat is.

Me:  What bat?

Mom:  Sorry.  I was talking to your brother.

Me:  What's he doing?

Mom:  He was looking for the raccoon earlier, but he couldn't find it anywhere.

Me:  Are you sure it came in through the milk box?

Mom:  It must have.  They have paws like hands, you know.  He could open it.

Me:  Could he then close it from the inside so it locks on the outside?

Mom:  How else could he have come in?

Me:  You may have a hole in your wall down there somewhere.

Mom:  Don't say that.  I've so many troubles lately, and everything costs so much money.  I hope you're wearing thick gloves.

Me:  Why would I wear gloves?  It's hotter than heck out there.

Mom:  Not you.  Your brother.  If you think there's a hole down there, I want you to fix that too, the next time you're out here.

Me:  Argh.

Mom:  For now, I just want it out of my house.  He gave me such a fright when I saw him.  I screamed so loud your brother came running to see if I had been hurt.

Me:  If you can stand a shock like that, at least we know your heart's okay.

Mom:  Laughs.  That's not funny.

muffled bangs followed by muffled shouting.

Me:  Is that brother?

Mom:  Yes.  I wish he wouldn't use such language.

More shouting. 

Mom:  I hope you're praying for him.

Me:  You mean right now, or generally?

More shouting.  More banging.

Mom:  Both.  I think I need to go.   He's saying something about a box.

Me:  Mom, stay away from (click).

Puff:  How is she?

Me:  That's an interesting question.

Ten minutes later, the phone rings.

My brother, breathless:  Don't worry.  I've taken care of it.

Me:  What happened?

Him:  I killed it with my bat.  It took a while.  He didn't want to die.

Me:  (Inwardly: O crap) outwardly:  What are you going to do with it, now?

Him:  What do you mean?

Me:  Remember that guy a few weeks ago who killed a raccoon in his yard with a shovel and got charged for cruelty to animals?

Him:  It's different when it's in the house.  (pauses for a moment)  But to be safe, I'll wait until about 2 in the morning, then throw it in the road and drive over it a few times.  What do you think?

Me:  I didn't hear that.

At the end of it all, I feel sorry for the raccoon.

17 November 2015

The Scarecrow explains the internet to Dorothy

Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?

 Scarecrow: I don't know...But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they?