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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Score One More for Self-Publishing

To civilians – folks outside of publishing for the purposes of this piece – hear the phrase “self-published,” they are likely to be of the mind that you publish some sort of worthless marketing materials, porn or schlock. 

Certainly a lot of crap is self-published, but the same can be said of traditional publishing. I defy you to go through a bargain bin at any of the major booksellers, indie bookstore or flea market without rolling your eyes at least once (and for every ten books you set aside the higher the probability there will be a face palm too).

I think that the establishment has a vested interested in keeping this idea firmly in the mind of the reading public.

Obviously, the reading public is getting enough quality in self-published titled that they continue to purchase and download and spend. Those of us in the know realized that the traditional model is broken and took our writing careers in our own hands for a variety of reasons. We may not end up writing the Great American Novel or getting millions of dollars in royalties, but we are forging new ground here. We are pioneers in the new frontier, in so many ways.

This conversation has been had by dozens over the last few years… There just isn’t much more that I can add, that I haven’t already stated.

What I am pondering about the civilians. When I tell people that I write, most of by friends have been through this journey with me and I have been pretty open about it. Recently while speaking with former colleagues, some seemed a little perplexed by the idea. They are not particularly e-readers today, but are likely to become late adopters.

Their only knowledge of this “phenomenon” comes from the media.

On the one hand, unless you can claim you’re making Amanda Hocking money, they’ll think you are not successful. By the same token, they are likely to think it is a pipe dream because most self-publishers do not sell books in the thousands, and as it stands, self-publishers don’t get much respect either.

Our books are rarely reviewed by the establishment and although the New York Times now has a list of best selling e-books, the likelihood is that these are not self-published titles.

All this would have been absolute if not for Kerry Wilkinson, who just eliminated another hurdle for self-published authors by becoming the best-selling author in the Kindle Store UK. With over 250,000 units sold, he killed in the last quarter.

For him, this is an experiment and he has no expectations for his endeavors. He is not giving up his day job, but his success will certainly tweak the conversation and tip it in our favor again. 

This is not to say that crap will stop being published. No, we will always have tons of crap! But Kerry’s and Amanda’s success have already given notice to traditional publishers. Amanda accepted a contract regarding printed books and Kerry has not considered the traditional route yet.

Two things, in my opinion, will be influenced by these two:

  1. Publishers will start paying closer attention to self-publishers (for self-serving purposes, but this is not entirely a bad thing).
  2. Writers who have not committed to the process might see it as less daunting and try to share their work with us, with a few increasing the quality of the work.
The next big hurdle will be fought in the film-rights front. The first self-published title (or series) that gets a feature film will go a long way in making the industry rethink its current model and incorporate us crazy kids.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writing in Circles

I like circular references the same way I love palindromes. There’s a certain lyrical beauty in symmetry. It isn’t so much about repetition but the possibilities of funky reiterations.

Not surprisingly, I decided that all my crime novels will have some variation of the concept of justice in the title.

The first one, Justified, revolved around the guilty party and while I worked on it for a long time, I ended up scrapping most of it and wrote the bulk of it in one month during NaNoWriMo 2010.

The second one, now in progress, will be titled Poetic Justice, revolves around the crime fighter and one of the suspects.

I don’t recommend writing this way because it is entirely intuitive and I have not written any of it in chronological order. The first scene I wrote was the book’s climax. The second scene was the crime that precipitates the investigation. I also wrote a scene that precedes the story by 25 years that sets the political climate for the story. Another scene introduces the main character in a theme that I know will be repeated throughout, but which I can't yet place in the context of what I have written.

There’s a chapter that is not quite complete that may not quite make it to the final version, and another that will make it but is likely to undergo a few changes.

For the past few days, after months of inactivity, I started writing again. The difference is that these four chapters are relatively chronological, or at least I am fairly sure they will follow each other when the book is finished.

The latest writing includes putting the task force together and starting the surveillance and intelligence towards the conclusion (which is already written).

My method, apparently, is deconstructing a forgone conclusion, but with the joy of not knowing all the details that got us there, and the delicious restriction of knowing the story must serve the master than is that final scene.

Obviously, I aim for a book that is fun to read, but I also want to write a challenge for myself. Will it work? Who knows?! This is but one of the many experiments I am willing to expose myself to in the effort to build a portfolio and get better at the craft.

It’s a highly schizophrenic way to write a book. Yet, some of it is so clear in my head that once I take one of its parts and run with it, the writing just flows. Because that is what it has been so far, a series of concepts building on each other to elicit an epic thriller.

There’s a character that is pretty much an archetype, but he has a very distinct voice – which is more a predatory feeling than a voice as such. Another character made it into the book because, in service of symmetry, an authority figure will always be loosely based on an old friend. He’s like a lucky charm/writer’s crutch. He’s there because I like to channel him and his introduction chapter is certainly a lot of fun.

Only two characters were clearly delineated in my head as I started writing and it is them that grace the cover. I have no need for a cover when the novel is not yet finished, but somehow it helps me to picture it as a poster that tells me the story in subtle details. It may not mean the same to the readers later, this is for me.

I had been playing with cover ideas since last summer and none quite worked. I was enamored with conveying a concept and it finally occurred to me that while the concept was intriguing, this is a story about two people. They should be on the cover. The concepts, whatever form they may take within the plot, are secondary to the characters. Concepts drive their actions but don't become them.

In brief, this is a story about black and white and lots of gray areas, where some things are more obvious than others but never just quite what they seem.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Another Bad Review!

In the midst of my landmark where I found myself selling units across international markets, I found a bad review for the little volume of the cookbook series, Fruits of the Family Tree. A one-star review: Ouch.

I respect everyone’s right to make their voices heard, and certainly we all have opinions. I don’t expect everyone to love what I do. When someone truly dislikes my work, I want to know why and see if there is anything in their criticism that I can use to improve my process.

After all, remember that it was a bad review that prompted me to put together the little cookbook to begin with. It was a simple idea and perhaps will become the foundation for a larger project as I move forward. All I wanted was a culinary list of the things my ancestors may have enjoyed, ingredients and cooking methods from each of the places my people come from and, failing that, something that I personally would eat based on their influence.

Do you remember that scene on Good Morning, Vietnam? Robin Williams and the late Bruno Kirby are butting heads after Cronauer had tweaked the press conference comments of Richard Nixon and made it all about a physical description of his genitals (on air). Bruno’s character, in his tight-assed way declared that what Adrian had done was not humor. “Humor,” he deadpans, “I get.”

Of course, he did not.

In the intro to the book, and its description, I deadpanned that if you happen to be a white supremacist and a foodie, my book might make you very conflicted. It was this that began my readers’ attack.

Kali is very clear: if you are white or English she does not want you to read her book. Obviously this author has not yet learned that racism is not restricted to whites.” 

I think she missed the section dedicated to England, but that’s beside the point. I want; no I NEED TO defend myself. I don’t mind white supremacists buying my book so long as they realize there’s foodstuff in it that represents a bunch of people of color. I want them fairly warned, that’s all. I am not a complete bitch, for God’s sake!

The next line is priceless:

“…this screed contains a mere handful of completely unrelated recipes, made all the more unattractive by the chip the size of Mt. Everest on Kali's shoulder.”

It can’t hardly be both a screed and a mere handful, but let’s not dwell on semantics. I loved that she used the word screed. That word doesn’t get bandied about much these days and I like that she threw it in there like a tiny hand-grenade. There was something dainty about it. A certain gentility that said "bless her heart" but gave me the mental finger. Passive aggressive but quaint at the same time.

For those of you who haven’t yet bought your own copy of my personal cooking screed, it is a little more than a handful of recipes. "A mere handful" implies around 5 (4 or 6, depending where in the country you live, the average level of education in the general area, and whether it’s croc or alligator country). There are 11 countries of origin and 11 discussions of food. Most of these countries get one recipe, and several have a series of alternatives for the ingredients discussed.  

It is certainly not a Bible of international cuisine, but it is slightly more substantive than a leaflet to the next regional Klan meeting with a map to the swamp…

As for the race card, it’s pretty funny. Am I a racist? Not a card-carrying one, no. Of course, given my multicultural background, being a racist would just boil down to self-hate considering that my make-up includes all three major races.

Have I ever been guilty of racial prejudice? Oh yes. Yes, I have. Anyone who tells you they have never in their lives been guilty of this is lying to you. Prejudice is based on lack of education, a misguided impression based on a negative experience, or a stubborn adherence to bullshit handed down for generations. An intelligent person, nay an adult, outgrows this and transcends it. I believe I have.

As for the chip on my shoulder, I feel compelled to disclose that I have this sexy birthmark over my right shoulder that just gives that come hither look an extra humph!

Buy the ebook if you are interested in a tiny collection of recipes that are very personal to me. It’s okay if it’s not the kind of thing you care about. However, I repeat: if you are a white supremacist and a foodie, this might make you deeply conflicted. You’ve been warned.

Friday, February 10, 2012

New Landmark!

January 2012 I hit another landmark. My books have now sold in the US, UK, Germany, Italy France and Italy. I suppose that technically “international bookseller” can be added as a description. Not a bestseller yet, but the precedent has been set. Maybe soon day, right?

Whatever! I will celebrate this moment. Yay, me.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Busy Little B

Very productive few days around these parts, as I just finished an abridged translation of “Life, Dreams and Magical Landscapes,” titled “Recuerdos de Antes y Entonces.” (Available for sale now here.)

The phrase is both nonsense and evocative, as most memories tend to be especially as we sometimes reedit them in our heads as the years pass us by.

“Antes” means before or then (in the past) and “entonces” means then (at the time). So the title, translated is “Memories of Then and Then” or my own cheeky way to say these are memories of then and then some.

A literal translation was impractical as well as impossible, and I admit employing the Google translate tool to start, but I went in and rewrote as necessary, line by line. In some cases, and because the language lends itself to it, I think the result in a far more poetic Spanish version of events.

Then I found out that if you ever get stuck working on a novel, all you have to do is publish two or three other books, sleep two hours and that cures your writer’s block! Six hours and 15 pages later, I have an important chapter in the novel and a clear idea of another (not consecutive, because that would be the easy way to write it).

In the meantime, I enrolled the new title in the KDP Select program to better gauge the experiment. I cannot see a downside to the program just yet, but only time will tell if it is worth the exclusivity.

I believe that even with a three-month commitment to sell exclusively in the Kindle store, once that period is over, you can just relaunch the title and ran whatever promotion you find appropriate for other online retailers.

I certainly did see an immediate and large number of downloads the day the fist ebook when on the program and was published. The proof, however, will be in the royalty checks…

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I am my own logo

Sometimes inspiration hits you and you have to obey its call.

I am grateful for the reviewer who took me to task for using the image of Kali-ma and it occurred to me that the best way to deal with it was to make my own logo. An original, not a logo based on a 12th century silkscreen. Something relevant, with pans and spatulas, knives and a garland of garlic heads (instead of tiny heads).

It is done.

The new excerpt has been loaded.