Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trying To Decide

Almost Super, my middle grade superhero book, is nearly complete. My wonderful writing group has been giving excellent feedback, finding holes, and helping me really polish it up. I'm roughly 6 weeks from having it complete. It's now decision time. My book is done . . . what now?

Five years ago there wouldn't have been a decision to make. Brush off the ol' query letter, and start sending it out. But today, with Kindles, iPads, e-books, and the neo self-publishing movement, I'm torn.

Here are a few of the things I'm thinking about. I'd love your thoughts and opinions.

Print: E-books are in the news but print still rules the day. Amazon may sell more e-books than print books, but most of the money is still in paper. E-books only make up a little over 10 percent of total book sales. That percentage is growing, but no one seriously thinks that the printed book is going away.

The internet has helped with the two costs facing every author—up-front costs, and distributions. Print on demand means you don't need thousands of dollars to print your book. And e-books give you global distribution . . . sort of. In the end, you're still facing an uphill battle. You want your books to get into the hands of people who love to read, and where do those people hang out? The bookstore. You can sell your paper book online, but you'll never get the big sales until you're being pushed by Barnes and Noble, and you'll never get that until you have a publishing company behind you.

E-books and the internet are bringing about a lot of changes, but I think it's premature (and silly) to simply declare the old model dead. Changed? Yes. Dead? No.

Street Cred: Okay, I say this half in jest, but it's something that authors should consider. Finding an agent, and landing a good contract buys you credibility that is very difficult, if not impossible, to get if you self-publish. How important is this credibility? Six years ago I wrote a book. Writing a book did nothing for me. It wasn't until I landed a contract that things changed. I joined a writer's guild, I spoke at a local writers conference, and then was invited to emcee the event the following year. Now I'm doing  a podcast with two other awesome authors. None of this would have happened if I hadn't landed that publishing contract. The book would have been just as good, but I would have had none of those experiences.

What if I self-publish my book and sell 1,000 books a month. What does that mean? Do I have a good book, or did I just get lucky? Maybe I'm just good at marketing. Self-publishing has always had a stigma, and that is something you have to consider. If I land a contract with one of the big six, then that brings credibility.

It's kind of like a diploma. I know really smart people who never got a degree. And I know a lot of folks with degrees that could really benefit from a strong dose of common sense. But businesses still use the degree as a litmus test for who they hire. It's an easy way to measure. If I self-publish, it's not clear. If I land a traditional contract, it is.

Focus: If I land a contract, guess what I get to do? Write. I get to write more. I don't have to worry about covers, marketing, moving my book through the editing process. I can write the sequel I've already got outlined. My agent can negotiate rights, my publisher can work their magic, and I can continue to do what I love best--write fun and funny books.

If I self publish, I'll have less time to write. Or I'll have the same amount, but the other areas will suffer. I've written Almost Super and I want people to read it. I'd also like to make a little bit of money. I'll do neither if I neglect these other aspects of the process.

Rights: When you sign away your copyright, it's for a potentially long time. Technically, it's 70 years after my death. I don't think I'll be in much of a state to do anything with my rights when they enter the public domain. You have to remember that a publisher is not in the business of publishing good books. They are in the business of making money. Once they've thrown my book over the fence, there often is not a lot of incentive for them to do much more with it. They may print a few copies here and there to keep it "in print", and then pull in a few hundred dollars a year on e-books. If I want to try anything interested (drop the price, give away half the book for free, etc.), I have to get their permission. And if I get a small advance, the publisher may not really put that much effort into marketing my book. They'll do just enough to earn the money back, make a profit, and then they'll move on to the next big thing (Like Rob Well's book Variant, available for pre-order RIGHT NOW).

Royalties: Royalties for new authors are pretty low. 10-15%. Royalties for authors on Amazon are 70%. Big difference, but again, you must do your own marketing, cover, editing, etc. However, 70% royalties on a $2.99 book are better than 15% royalties on a $10 book. But 15% royalties on 10,000 sales are better than 70% royalties on 100 sales.

So there you have it. These are just a few of the thoughts I've had. I assume other authors out there are having similar issues. I'd love your thoughts and opinions.

I've commissioned a friend to make me a cover, so in some sense I've already taken the first step on the route of self-publishing. On the other hand, I keep itching to send this to agents. I want to find out if the book really is good enough to land a solid contract.

I guess I can keep polishing it, and then I don't have to make a decision.

In Flander's Fields

I forgot to blog about the fourth week of #PoetrySummer.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

I memorized this for two reasons. First, if I ever get around to playing my copy of Paths of Glory, I'll need a poem that I can quote to throw my opponent off his groove.

The second, is you realize what is in that last stanza, right? "If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep."

Sounds like a zombie apocalypse to me. And who doesn't like a good zombie apocalypse?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Poetry Summer Week Three

It's week three of #SummerPoetry. This week's poem is If, by Rudyard Kipling.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

I've always wanted to memorize this poem, mostly because I have five sons. But as I memorized it, I realized there are several good bits for writers in there.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

Early in my writing career, I met with triumph. I had several teachers--and of course my mother--who said I had a "talent" at writing. I started to believe that I was a born writer. I started to believe I'd have an easy road in my writing career. Work? That was for people who didn't have talent. And I had talent.

And then of course, I met with disaster. I realized that my writing wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be if I wanted success. I needed to work at my writing--to master the craft.

I should have met  both triumph and disaster the same. I was/am a writer with strengths and weaknesses. It doesn't really matter what others say about me, good or bad. I'm the same writer at the end of the day.

And then of course there are these lines:

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you want to be a writer, the first ten years will be spent watching the "things" you gave so much time to broken. A good critique group will tear them down, not because they are cruel, but because your work will not be good. A successful writer is the one who can bear to watch their work torn apart, and then stoop, and start again with wornout tools.

It should be noted that the "wornout tools" bit especially applies to those who are still using Word Perfect.

I've got some ideas for a few other poems to memorize, but if any of you have a favorite, I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Poemtry (pronounced Poem-Tree). That is what my kids called it when I pulled out Shel Silverstein and read to them, back in the day.

Dan Wells is memorizing a poem every week during the summer. He invited other folks to participate. Rob Wells, not to be outdone by his older brother, joined in. That wasn't enough to push me over the edge, but when Sarah Eden joined the club, I caved. When my two co-hosts on The Appendix are memorizing poems, it's time for me to suck it up and wade into the mental fray. Otherwise they will mock me during the breaks when we're recording. You think they are all nice by the way they talk on the podcast, but as soon as the microphone goes off, they start making fun of me. Mostly about my beard. Sometimes Sarah kicks me under the table.

But I digress.

I served an LDS mission. Our particular mission was big on scripture memorization. You had to memorize 30 scriptures before you could drive a car. I struggled with memorizing scriptures. I would read a verse over and over and over to no avail. When I finally did memorize a scripture, I woke up the next day and realized I'd forgotten it all.

But I pressed on. Mostly because I wanted to drive. You won't pick up girls if you can't drive the mission Ford Escort station wagon. The more I memorized, the more I found that it came easily. The first few scriptures would take me weeks before I finally got them. Toward the end of my mission, it become much easier. I remember very distinctly writing down a scripture I wanted to memorize. After I finished, I read the whole thing, line by line. I flipped the card over and realized that I could recite it after only one reading (and one writing). It's the closest I've ever come to a photographic memory. By the end of my mission, I had over 300 scriptures (over 500 verses) memorized. I kept them in a box, and would recite each one at least once a month.

I've gotten out of the habit, but I'm looking forward to a little exercise. I'm a week behind, but I've already memorized my "makeup" poem.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Why did I choose this one? I think it's obvious. It's a sixteen line poem but . . . THE LAST TWO LINES ARE IDENTICAL! I only had to memorize fifteen lines! I get all the glory of a sixteen line poem, but only had to memorize fifteen lines. I'm laughing all the way to the poem-memorizing glory bank.

For my second poem, I'm choosing a shorter one, but still a favorite. It's a Shel Silverstein, and the goal is to have it by Sunday.


Listen to the MUSTN'TS child,
Listen to the DON'TS
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me--
Anything can happen, child
ANYTHING can be.