Monday, July 25, 2011
Thanks for following!
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Friday, June 3, 2011
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
I'm not going to whine here any more about dire publishing economics. The bottom line is that winning the commercial publishing lottery is not the bonanza many people think. Advances for debut authors are small, publishers expect the author to do all the marketing, time to publication is about two years, and shelf life is only two months. If I publish the book myself primarily as an e-book, I keep most of the sales proceeds (allowing me to price the book attractively for my readers), I still do all my own marketing, time to publication is almost instant, and shelf life is forever. (I will also have a trade paperback version of KING OF PAINE available for readers who prefer a hard copy, but printing and distribution costs will force me to price it higher.)
The biggest reason to go through the commercial process is prestige, which I do not discount lightly. I don't want you to think less of me or my book because it's self-published. I want you to buy my book and love it and recommend it to your friends proudly. Here's a few reasons why you should take a chance on me and select KING OF PAINE as one of the limited number of books you'll choose this year:
1. I self-published THE JINX in 2000 and received excellent reviews from many highly-respected sources, including Publishers Weekly and The Legal Times. See my website for review clips. As you might expect, I've learned much about the writing craft over the past eleven years, and I hope this shows in my second effort.
2. Despite the admittedly uneven quality of self-published works, KING OF PAINE is an intricately-plotted, well-edited book. I've work-shopped it ad nauseum with my writers group (ask them!) and have produced over a dozen drafts, even changing my main character midstream after winning an honorable mention in a prestigious novel contest. I take my writing seriously and, to quote Randy Jackson from American Idol, I'm in it to win it--honorable mention doesn't cut it.
3. You'll love the characters and plot. Poor Ben Kravner's bumbling passion played well as a neophyte legal eagle in THE JINX, but he came off a bit bland as a rookie FBI agent in the second book. So I went to the opposite extreme. Frank Paine is an ex-Hollywood stud with a kinky past, not your traditional Special Agent. He's flawed--a recovering sex addict who hurt the woman he loved--but his quest for redemption is littered with roadblocks--Bureau colleagues who shun him because of his celebrity, a vengeful ex-girlfriend, and a ruthless stalker who uses Frank's past transgressions to ensnare him in an erotic cat-and-mouse death match. Frank's history and flaws make the sexy story work, and I think you'll enjoy the intricate web of twists and turns that lead to a shocking climax. The clues are there, but I dare you to solve the mystery before Frank does...if he even lives to do it.
4. I'm going to make it easy for you to buy the book. My plan is to price the e-book at $2.99, well below the price of commercially-published e-books. I'll get about 80% of the proceeds as royalties compared to the 10% or so I'd get from a commercial publisher on hardcovers, so I can afford to share the wealth with you.
5. To run with the revolutionary theme of this blog, this is your chance to stick it to The Man. The commercial publishers and their lackeys guard the gates to publication with a privileged attitude. They are the self-selected few who decide what you read. With the advent of e-books and low-cost self-publishing, you can decide what to read and force publishers to compete in the wild and ultimately reduce prices to more reasonable levels. Damn The Man!
My hope is that many of you will take a chance on me, buy KING OF PAINE, love it and tell all your friends to read it, too. Successes in the book industry only comes about by word-of-mouth, and I'd truly appreciate the chance to earn your support when my novel goes live next month. Stay tuned, and thank you.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
No, this is not spam--although it's not a free iPad, either. But it is an invitation to join the ebook revolution at zero cost, using your existing electronic equipment. Free software programs by reputable providers are available to turn your home computer, laptop, netbook or smartphone into an ebook reader, and they work beautifully. In today's post I'll provide links to web pages where you can download the software and also offer some tips on finding free or low-cost ebooks.
Microsoft Reader was the first free ebook reader I noticed, but you'll find Adobe Digital Editions, Amazon's Kindle software, and Barnes and Noble's Nook software offer a more modern and user-friendly look and feel. Any ebooks you purchase for viewing in these programs should be transferable to a stand-alone ebook reader if you later buy or receive one as a gift, although you'll have to make a decision between the incompatible file formats used by the most popular readers. Amazon uses a proprietary .mobi file format for the Kindle, the most popular e-reader, but most others use the .epub format (including Nook, Ipad, Sony, and Kobo, among others).
To avoid investing time or money in ebooks you won't ultimately be able to transfer to an e-reader, consider taking a few minutes to evaluate whether you're likely to prefer the Kindle or Nook experience before downloading a library of ebooks. Consumer Reports recommends both the Kindle and the Nook, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each. So much of this choice is personal, and I suggest you read some reviews and test the readers at the store before deciding, but for me the deciding factors were (a) the Nook's compatibility with free library rentals, (b) the sheer beauty of the Nook Color, and (c) some residual loyalty to Barnes & Noble, which was very supportive of my book tour in 2000. At $249, the Nook Color is about $100 more expensive than each brand's low-cost readers, but it's got an Android touch screen that I found extremely easy to use, and with an impending firmware update it will have access to an app store. I was not nearly as impressed with the regular Nook and have not test-driven a Kindle.
Whichever file format choice you make, free software is available for your PC, Mac, Ipad, or smartphone. Adobe's offering, Digital Editions, is limited to PC and Mac computers, but may be needed if you're interested in borrowing ebooks from your local library (even if you own an ebook reader). Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook software are available across all platforms. If these links change, just search the Amazon store for "Kindle for PC" or the Barnes & Noble site for "free Nook apps."
New ebook releases by popular authors are generally available in the $8 to $12 range, significantly less expensive than hardcover editions. But ebooks offer mch more. Shopping from your own home, you can sample several chapters of a book for free before making a purchase decision. You can also find many books and short stories offered by authors and independent publishers for free or in the $1 to $3 range at major ebookstores and at Smashwords, which sells ebooks in multiple formats (you can download as many formats as you want for the same price). As I've noted in a prior post, the quality of these independent works varies widely, but the ability to sample for free and sort by customer rankings and download frequency offers some hope of exposing you to great reading material at a reasonable cost. Many previously published midlist authors are exploring independent publishing in these Wild, Wild West days of the revolution, and there's even something to be said for surfing your favorite genre for an undiscovered talent.
Also, check if your local library has started to offer ebooks yet. In the Atlanta area, the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library has an ebook collection, but the Dekalb County Public Library does not. You can get a nonresident library card at the Atlanta library for $40 per year.
Another fantastic source for free ebook classics is Project Gutenberg, which has digitized works for which the U.S. copyright has expired. You can spend hours browsing or focus on top 100 lists to quickly find popular titles. While most 20th century works are not yet available, you can download historical treatises (Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Marx) and classic fiction (Austen, Dickens, Melville, Swift, Twain, Wells). I've got enough reading material to last me beyond 2015!
To welcome you personally into the ebook revolution, I'm offering readers of this blog a free digital copy of my first novel, THE JINX (regulary $2.99). Use coupon code NG74R by April 30th to download your copy in epub and/or mobi format at www.smashwords.com. It will look great in your new ebook software!
Monday, April 11, 2011
Unbelievably, conservatives' solution to the looming deficit crisis continues to focus on cutting back social programs for the poor and middle class and leaving marginal tax rates in the highest brackets at historically low levels. Progressive taxation and wealth redistribution have become hot buttons conservatives press to denounce the liberal agenda, equating any interference with free market forces with socialism, an evil so obvious it requires no further argument. But attacks on wealth "redistribution" imply that the starting point is a "correct" distribution brought about by free markets, and my question for laissez faire capitalists is this: "Why do you only object to restraints on liberty that diminish your wealth?"
We are a society of laws that create the environment for wealth creation. Property rights do not exist in nature--there are no laws in the jungle, and without laws there are no property rights, and without property there can be no wealth. The right to own property to the exclusion of others is bestowed by governments--the people, in a democracy--as a way to maintain order and encourage productivity. It is the most fundamental right in a capitalist society.
Yet this fundamental right is itself an enormous restraint on liberty. In the jungle, "ownership" of property exists only for so long as it can be defended against others. The grant of property rights by law is thus the greatest redistribution of wealth in the history of mankind, shifting the natural right to possess land or things from the most powerful (whether by physical strength, weaponry or the ability to amass forces) to those who stake valid legal claims (the intelligent and crafty?). While this is a sound way to organize a productive society, let's not pretend there are not winners and losers; let's not pretend the baseline chosen by conservatives as the "correct" distribution is one produced by natural forces.
Laws are contracts among men, and no man would willingly enter a contract against self interest. In fact, even the law generally renders contracts entered into under duress unenforceable. It follows, then, that when men subject themselves to laws created at the societal level, there must be something of value exchanged in return. In the social contract that forms the basis of any government, I'd argue that the value received by the masses is equal opportunity and a safety net (defined by the relative wealth of the society) for those whose abilities do not permit them to compete effectively for a fair share of resources. Is a minimum quality of life for the masses--who have given up their freedom to take whatever nature offers--too great a price for the wealthy to pay for (relatively) free markets, which do not exist in nature?
The American conservative movement is trying to renegotiate this social contract at a time when resources have become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. The top 1% of households own about 35% of the national wealth; the top 20% control about 85% of wealth. (If you have net worth above $500,000, you're in the 20%.) This is the backdrop against which conservatives claim that our tax system is too progressive, that the wealthy bear too great a burden and the social safety net must be cut back to reduce the national debt. All these damn laws that effectively redistribute weath (hah!) are a restraint on free markets and the rights of the most productive members of society.
Apparently, there is little objection to the laws that allowed for this concentration of wealth, whether or not they interfere with free markets. Corporations, which provide the mechanism for amassing capital, exist only as legal fictions. Patents and copyrights place restraints on free market forces in favor of the creators of intellectual property. Expensive regulations maintain the fair and proper functioning of markets. Police forces and armed forces protect valuable property rights from criminals and foreign powers. Many men have died to protect our system of economic freedom, few who've had country club memberships. The wealthy benefit from these expenditures (in human life and national treasure) disproportionately, yet somehow this argument never comes up when conservatives urge a flat tax in lieu of progressive income taxation. (The flat tax is a particular peeve of mine, more on that in a later post, I'm sure.)
Don't get me wrong, I believe people should generally be allowed to operate under the belief that they will keep what they earn, but free markets are not gods to be blindly worshipped. They are a means of achieving the goals of society--maximization of total wealth (productivity) and fair distribution. When free markets fail to achieve the goals of society, interference is warranted. The principle that the great capitalists will raise the standard of living of the working class simply by pursuing their self interest is proving a flawed assumption. Besides just getting too greedy (grossly disproportionate exec pay, criminally reckless tax cuts for the wealthy), capitalists are not appropriately taking into account societal risks in calculating self-interest (climate change, systemic financial system risk), warranting government regulation.
But the one societal risk to which conservatives seem most blind is violent or nonviolent rebellion by a disenchanted working class. In a law-based society, when the rules start to favor an increasingly small minority, the majority will eventually abandon the rules. Ask George III or Louis XVI. Or if you prefer to speak with the living, ask Hosni Mubarak or Moammar Gadhafi. Even if conservatives don't buy into the moral imperative for a wealthy society to maintain a decent standard of living for its working class, it's in their economic self- interest to maintain that minimum standard. If the 20% doesn't start taking better care of the 80%, eventually the 80% will get organized enough to vote in politicians who recognize that the Constitution makes no promises about free markets or a "correct" distribution of wealth. Conservatives' greed will lead to the destruction of the economic system that allows them to create and maintain a very unnatural distribution of society's wealth.
My third novel, tentatively entitled HOSTILE TAKEOVER, will take a deeper look at how foreign powers might sew these seeds of revolution to their advantage. Could Asian forces use their rapidly accumulating wealth to influence U.S. elections and/or lay claims to America's resources? Stay tuned.
Monday, March 28, 2011
The world is indeed rapidly changing. In my first novel, THE JINX, published before the 2000 election, my characters dreamed about "revolutionary change, not evolutionary change." The main themes addressed revolved around racism, and one of my "revolutionary" twists was the nomination of an African-American woman as a vice-presidential candidate. Today, we have an African-American president. While perhaps not as revolutionary in its message, THE JINX is still a great page-turner and delves much deeper into the way racism is perpetuated, from father to son, in much the same way my featured conspiracy led to the deaths of seven presidents. The book sold nicely and got great reviews, and it's now available as an e-book for only $2.99 at Smashwords and (soon) at other fine online book retailers.
Despite revolution breaking out across The Middle East, the current revolution most on my mind is occurring in the publishing world. The ebook revolution is changing the way readers, writers and publishers think about buying and selling books. Borders is in bankruptcy, and I understand from sources inside the industry that publishers fear for their business model and their lives.
Readers and writers think about the publishing business in extraordinarily different ways. Readers have almost endless choices. Thousands of fiction and nonfiction books are published every year, and even the most prolific readers among us can only enjoy a few dozen of them. For the reader, narrowing those choices is the most difficult issue, and the market has evolved to make choices easier by creating gatekeepers, a network of publishing professionals and reviewers who select the best material generated by writers and guide the public towards the books that best suit individual tastes. Many of us devote our limited reading time to the latest and greatest from our favorite authors, so it's hard for a newly published author to develop an audience. Most published authors, those who have made it past the gatekeepers, cannot earn a living from their writing.
From a new writer's perspective, the publishing business is all about getting past the gatekeepers. There is a vast oversupply of unpublished work out there, and new authors face long odds to get published by a large, commercial house. The odds have become so great that an air of desperation pervades among the unpublished, or maybe it's an air of oppression, the feeling of unjust exclusion that is a precursor to revolution.
The civility that once marked the industry is vanishing. Publishers rarely look at direct submissions from authors these days. An unpublished writer first has to intrigue a literary agent with a one-page "query" letter and maybe a few sample pages. Every agent I've spoken to or have read about says they are swamped with hundreds of these letters every week. Authors spend an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about and perfecting these query letters. Agents are so overwhelmed many have taken to simply ignoring queries that don't interest them, which by most accounts is about 99% of them. Almost every published author has horror stories to tell about dozens of rejections before finally landing the coveted relationship; many have completed manuscripts that never cleared that bar. After spending months or years perfecting a 400-page novel, unpublished authors quickly become weary of being judged based on a two-paragraph summary, with no meaningful feedback and, most often, without even a response.
Agents are not completely to blame for this loss of civility. They are admittedly overwhelmed by material, and much of it is crap. Publishers don't do much editing, anymore, and it's the author's responsibility to present a completed, well-crafted manuscript. I've been on the receiving end of unsolicited manuscripts, and a lot of them were poorly constructed early drafts. Many query letters telegraph the writer's inexperience and poor storytelling craft. The deluge of this material has to be frustrating for agents, who are facing diminished demand from commercial publishers cutting their lists.
Unfortunately, the loss of civility impacts good writers and bad writers alike, and I'm guessing the bad writers, failing to recognize themselves, share in the frustration, the feeling that they are being unfairly excluded from the marketplace. Enter, the ebook revolution.
Self-publishing has always been an option for the most persistent of us, but print publishing can get expensive. My wife and I formed Redfield Publishers in 1999 to publish THE JINX (more on this in a future post, I'm sure), and produced the book (exclusive of marketing costs) for about $4 per copy with two print runs of 3,000 books each. Over the past two weeks I read up on ebooks and republished THE JINX on Smashwords for a total cost of, get this, zero. I don't know if I'll generate many new sales, maybe a few more when THE KING OF PAINE, goes online, but the book is back on the market for anyone interested and will remain there...forever.
Admittedly, a new author will need to invest something in a book cover design, which I already had, and may need to hire somebody to clean up the manuscript to make it ebook-ready, but the barriers to entry into the publishing market have been virtually eliminated. The gatekeepers have lost control of the gates. Thousands of unpublished authors are flooding the market with their shiny, new ebooks. The ebook revolution is here!
But before we all break out in song (I'd go with the Beatles' "Revolution" to stick with the theme, although Kumbaya is rattling around in my skull right now), let's take a lesson from The Middle East. Revolutions are messy. Sometimes the winners and losers are unclear. Sometimes the world might be better off with the tyrant even though the formerly oppressed are a lot better off. Now that writers have a cheap outlet for their books, readers have to wade through more crap to find material they like. On the other hand, authors have always had most of the responsibility for marketing their material to readers, and that won't change (except in the greater amount of marketing to be generated by online sources, like (ahem) new author blogs).
The publishing industry is not dead yet. They still act as gatekeepers for people with limited time, although readers must pay for that service. Even ebooks from commercial publishers still cost over ten bucks, and a reader with time to spare can find quality ebooks from newbies and midlist authors who have flown the coop for $1 to $3. Some are even offering their work for free to build an audience. Authors are banding together to create a form of branding, a system of gatekeeping by endorsement that might replace the agent/publisher model. Ebook reviewers will create another subsystem for identifying quality books.
What does the future of the ebook revolution hold? I'm not sure yet. A few well-marketed ebook authors are making a killing. Amanda Hocking has cleared a couple of million dollars hawking her YA series. Joe Konrath, a modestly successful published author in print, has become the voice of the revolution. I recommend his blog, A Newbies Guide to Publishing, for a compelling economic argument in favor of self-publishing for authors. Readers should enjoy the wealth of low cost material, but I fear that the oversupply of material may ultimately overwhelm readers. I haven't decided whether to self-publish my second novel, THE KING OF PAINE, as an ebook yet, but I'm getting close. Very, very close.
What are your thoughts on the ebook revolution?