Sunday, October 31, 2010

Well Boo!

To quote a chapter heading from Sweeps which is now for the time being called Love After Lunch (thanks J!)

Last day of the month. 

I was talking to someone about ebooks and they were stuck on the old model of once something's published, it's that way forever.  Most of my ebooks have undergone some kind of change after publication whether it's the cover or the title.  Why is this?  Because no one of are really sure how digital publishing works.  We don't know what sells and why.  Because we can change any or all the elements, we do.

I know I will be challenged on both of the what and why and I will even help do it.  For the most part the simpler the idea, the easier the sell.  The hotter the idea, the better it will sell.  No one buys a Joe Konrath book and wonders what it'll be about.  It's a known quantity already.  No one buy a vampire book and wonders what it's about.  The only question is what's going to happen.  Like an action movie.

A cover--let me interrupt myself here.  You can learn a lot about digital books by reading books on writing screenplays.  One of the cardinal rules of writing a movie is that the initial image tells you what the movie will be about.  This rule was never done better (that I've seen) than the movie The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner.  The opening scene is Costner standing over  the person he's protecting and there's a firefight in progress.  So that's great, we know he's a bodyguard, there's lots of violence and potential for death.  For me, I didn't have to see any more of the movie than that.  Didn't that just tell us everything?  Of course what it doesn't tell us is that the best part of the movie is Whitney Houston singing I Will Always Love You or whatever it's called (written by Dolly Parton, btw).

So in digital publishing we want to have a cover that's much like that first scene in a movie (as opposed to any artsy 20th century type covers which may be quite complicated visually).  We want it to be so bold and simple that it can be read like a billboard going past your car at 60 mph because it's a thumbnail.  Potential book buyers are scrolling through an almost endless list of books and they are all introduced to the public as a tiny little thumbnail and title.  Is this combination so compelling the buyer will stop to click?

Some people think they know.

Some people are so lucky.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Crime and Television

OJ Simpson was the first time, that I can remember, television viewers being treated to a soap opera like blow by blow account of a crime.  And then of course the circus/trial.

Since then it's become an industry and a madhouse full of violent criminals and kooky television pundits.  I admit to tuning in Nancy Grace now and then to see what's the latest story.  We went from Lacey Peterson to Stacey Peterson and an uncountable number of little girls who disappear and Nancy insists it's disappear when I think most sensible people know they've been killed.

We're still hanging on the Caylee Anthony story.  Haleigh Cummings hasn't been found.  I forget (sorry) the little Florida girl who was lured into the drug addicts' trailer and was murdered.  Florida seems a hotbed of such stories, altho no region of the country hasn't had the media descend on it.

The worst for me is the recent one in North Carolina, Zarah Baker.  This little 10 year old had osteosarcoma, had her leg amputated, went deaf and still seemed to smile, even though her stepmother abused her for not walking more gracefully on her prosthetic leg.

I'm not suggesting that such things never happened 50 or 100 years ago, but people do seem more unmoored than ever before.  Violence and abuse is validated.  It's everywhere.  It's approved. 

Someone gave me a book to read over the last week.  It was not violent, it was supposed to be funny but it tripped my perimeter defenses and I told the author I wasn't capable of giving it a fair reading because of some of the elements in the story.

Sometimes you just have to say no.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Giant Pumpkins

I don't understand the competitions to grow the largest anything.  The pumpkins are especially unnerving because they look like Adam Arkin playing that whale guy in the Mr Monk episode, a guy so huge, he can't get out of bed.
There are also competitions to grow the largest tomato.  I don't understand.  I already have trouble finishing a normal size tomato.  I don't grow large tomatoes for that reason.  If you can't put a tomato in the fridge to save it until later because the cold reduces the flavor quality, then I have to give it to the dogs.  Who are totally good with this, but still the point is I'm not finishing it.

This has nothing to do with writing.  Or does it?

Quality or quantity.  Life can be seen in a myriad of ways.  Will you grow a tomato so that it reaches 6 pounds and is aesthetically ugly or will you be pleased with a beautiful smaller tomato, which because of the size, all the goodness and taste is compressed?

It's all a contest and ultimately we are the only judges of ourselves while we're alive.  Good luck if there's something beyond this!  (I should throw in some commas because everyone has been accusing me--rightfully so-- of not using, enough, commas, in, my, writing.)

a Beauty King I grew from seeds from Brad Gates, Napa, California

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nothing Serious

Disconnected/Paige, Turning/Nothing Serious.

There's something about this book people are not getting.  It's a very cute story.  It was with a publisher before I asked for it back.  I'm not sorry I didn't let them go forward with it and I still think, eventually, it will find an audience.  I like the cover image.  So did an editor I sent it to.  I'm not sure how much difference a cover makes.  If it's attractive, shouldn't that work?  I don't have the answer.  Would I be better off with a naked male torso like someone assured me?

That brings up the question/problem I have.  Should a cover have ANYTHING to do with the book?  Yeah maybe naked men sell books but if there are no semi-nude men in the book, isn't that a misrepresentation?  I took the sex scene out for the publisher and I didn't bother to put it back.  It wasn't all hot and steamy anyway.  I'm rather embarrassed by these invasions of privacy.  (Which is why I'm not racing to deal with Fling.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I've been having an exchange over the last few days with an ebook writer who is doing massively better than I am.  This person writes commercial fiction and I think if you can do that it's very easy to find an audience.

I've never really done commercial fiction.  Whatever I've done is more on the quirky side.  Not in a good Bohemian type way that's all edgy and easily identifiable as being predictably quirky.  It's more along the lines of "Sheesh!  Was it this?  Is it action, romance, comedy, tragedy WHAT?"  No, it's just life reflected on your screen.

My great hope for ebooks was and is that people who are out of the mainstream can find a group of like-minded weirdos here in the virtual world. 

I renamed Sweeps and created a new cover.  I only put this version on B&N.  And yesterday the 1st copy sold at Amazon.  So as a test marketing adventure, I draw no conclusions.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Threshold Level

Just before I got my first job in television I was working closely with the team at Procter & Gamble (Hi, John, wherever you are!).  Since I had absolutely no previous experience in television writing my big concern was that I was at the same level as working writers whose material was airing.  To get confirmation of that was a big deal.  I felt I had achieved something significant.

Fast forward to nowish.  Over the weekend I emailed 2 chapters and the cover of Bad Apple to an agent who treated me with professional courtesy and who exhibited an excellent disposition.  She was in the editorial side of Big 6 publishing for many years until she retired and decided to do a little agenting on the side.  I suspect she was rapidly overwhelmed by people who want representation and she cut back to nonfiction only.  I would have loved to be represented by her because she was such a nice lady and has a ton of experience but it wasn't to be.  The reason I sent her the material was to thank her because something she had said about Sweet Cider was what pushed me into the clarity of Bad Apple. I appreciate that she took the time to say anything at all and wanted to let her know that tidbit was nurtured and bloomed.

Her reply reminded me of being on the brink of television work.  Was I threshold level then.  Now the question becomes can an independent author working completely on their own without paying for cover art reach a level equal to traditional publishing.

Here's the quote

"Amazing cover--it's definitely the creepiest apple I've ever seen!"

Things to feel good about.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Being Out There

We all want to think of ourselves as different and we are.  Some of us are just more different, we are out of the mainstream, there is something about us that sets us apart and keeps us there.

Lest you think I am speaking of myself, let me tell you about an actor I met at one of the soaps I worked on.  He was then and continues to be so handsome.  He is so almost beautiful in real life, that I could hardly speak coherently to him.  (Isn't that embarrassing!)  This man is so talented, has so much depth, so much in reserve to draw upon, he isn't interested in working all that much.  He already knows the truth about this business and intellectually it's a bore.  Whenever he decides he wants to work, someone will hire him between the first and second breath.  He's not like anyone else.  You know that standing next to him.  You know he is going places in his head, you couldn't follow with GPS on a fast motorcycle.  I wonder what he does during the day. 

I wonder if digital publishing will enable niche writers to find their niche readers or are we just going to have more vampire stories.  Having learned the lesson of homogenizing everything at the feet of big entertainment, will anyone be experimental or will we just wind up with exactly more of the same?

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I've been writing quite a long time now and time and distance have given me the opportunity to look back--

T. S. Eliot -
- We shall not cease from our exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

I'm not going to be arriving where I started anytime soon but I sure can know that place better than when I was there.

I wrote very fast.  Which did me in good stead in television, where you wouldn't be at all if you couldn't write really really fast.  The problem with writing fast is that most people don't think that fast.  I don't think I think fast at all. 

Some people, and I've written with them so I see how they do it, can write mechanically.  They say "Vicki becomes Niki and then Mitch Laurence shows up and we have them..."  And they'll mechanically move the pieces around until they have story.  I do very poorly at that.  I need things to come to me and often it's not on schedule.  Things come to you when they come to you, unbidden, a surprise.  Not good for television.

The real problem with speed is that like a speed skater, you're flying over the ice 1/16th of an inch deep.  There's no time to reflect.  You neglect the texture, the implications, the coloration, and the specificity in order to be done.

This works for an awful lot of writers, and many readers don't mind.  These days, people don't miss complications.  You don't have it in television or film.  You don't have it in music.  Why should it be in books.
I had to explain a shallow little love story to someone involved in the project.  She couldn't imbue the dialog with the meaning that was on the page.  (I wasn't specific enough!)
So my advice of the day is to take the time to be specific with your characters, make them complicated, make them detailed, make it possible to understand them. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

B&N--This Joint Is Jumping

First off, if anyone is visiting here from Ukraine, a big hello.

B&N is the place to be, and their royalties are better as well.  The drawback is there are no humans answering questions, all you get are cheery robo-replies to any question.  For instance, Not Low Maintenance went to B&N via Smashwords.  Smashwords only allows a 400 character description.  I unpublished from Smash and uploaded NLM to B&N myself complete with the same description from Kindle.  No change.  So I wrote Support to ask what could be done.  I got a welcome letter that had nothing to do with the issue.  I guess the lesson to be learned is don't try to change anything, get it right the first time.

"I heard Barnes is great but Noble is a real prick."--Billy Crystal in Analyze This.
Very good line even if completely untrue!

Here's the incomparable Fats Waller

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mr & Miss Mitnick Live

At B&N, it'll take a couple more days for Amazon.

Publishing in all its forms has become a scrying ball.  You look and see not what the future is but perhaps your past and the way you wish the future would be.

It's like anything, the personal experiences may be wonderful or they may be painful.  The fact is that digital books are gaining a foot-hold.  For every lament from a publisher of how terrible the situation is and how badly they're being treated by writers, there are 1000 laments from writers who have been abused in this business.

It's hard to feel sorry for those with the whiphand.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

PubIt is Really Live

I'm still working on the Mitnicks, I thought it would be done yesterday but I got overly involved with illustrations.

I uploaded the first books to B&N on the 6th.  I've already sold more there than I have at Smashwords for the last 6 months so that convinces me to forget about that venue for a good long time..  Very impressed with Nook readers and their perspicacity even if the cover images aren't visible. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fond of Fonts

I had a book designer look at one of my covers who thought it was fine except for the font.  The takeaway for those of us trying to get by with what's free and what we have, is to keep it simple.

I spent several hours looking for an Arts & Crafts style font and didn't turn up with anything I thought would work on a cover.  The one I thought would work carried a price tag.

The Art & Crafts movement  started in England with people like William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the 1800's, not stuff from China you buy at the hobby shop.  When it came to America, designers like Gustav Stickley, Elbert Hubbard and a whole host of others created a Craftsman style inspired by the California missions.  Hence Mission Oak furniture.  Square, simple and desperately uncomfortable.

That's what I wanted for my mystery set on the Central Coast of California with a mission in the center of the valley.  Couldn't find anything useful so went to a Celtic font which is close enough.

The question is--do you attempt to find a font that is somehow linked to the book or do you just go for an unadorned font that will convey only the title and stylistically recede into the background.  I don't know the answer this morning.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

PubIt Is Live At B&N

I signed up to be notified months ago but learned today it's live now.  So if you have only been at Amazon, you might was to stroll over.  They don't require an ISBN (yet, I'm sure at some point everyone will) and it's an easy to navigate form.

Because of the formatting issues with Smashwords, I haven't used them for the last few books.  There was a ton of information in the PubIt FAQ and I can only say it seemed that kindle style formatting would be acceptable at B&N.  There's a similar preview and the document looked as good as I could expect.

If we listen to Joe Konrath (and we should) the sales away from Amazon are a fraction for him, which is another reason why I haven't been bothering with Smashwords.  I don't want another afternoon spoiled by phone calls to my computer smart friend and struggling with obscure Unix commands trying to get the formatting right.  It's not always easy to understand what the problem Word is having.  Sometimes it's just easier to solve it in Open Office.  Googling doesn't always give you a good answer.

Get your books to the reading public.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Root Vegetables

I don't have anything clever to say about publishing.  This is my quick advice:  Be professional.  Realize it's not about you personally until you make it personal.   Realize there is something bigger going on always.  Be grateful.

Root vegetables are good this time of year.  Unless you live in Australia.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Swept Away On A Sea Of Soap

I've been working on this all week, mostly trying to perform certain Photoshop tasks (see how I'm not complaining anymore).  I had most of the pieces for a couple months knowing this book would finally rise to the top of the queue so it was just a matter of fitting everything together and getting the colors to be beshert.

I got the rights to the Wish You Were Here Series from Penguin yesterday but I don't know if I'll have the time or inclination to format them for Kindle.

I think I probably broke most of my own rules for this cover.  What say you?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Freebie Weekend

To celebrate Bad Apple going live, anyone who would like a nice freshly baked PDF of the novel, just send up a flare, or comment, flag me somehow.

I will try to remember to check back here before Monday but I'm working on Sweeps, so don't be alarmed if I don't notice you're trying to contact me.

And to all the traffic suddenly coming here looking for images, hi.