The Satisfaction of Print

Since I’m a big e-book guy who believes in sparing the trees and making electrons race instead, many will be surprised by the headline. Hey, so am I, but I had to do it. I had to go print.

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What I Learned About Kobo Writing Life

Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at kobo, didn’t just come to chat with us at The Toronto Indie Publishing Meetup, he brought us solid information about e-books sales, and he didn’t sugar coat it. Despite indie-publishing potentially throwing book sales wide open, a small number of authors still make a big chunk of the change, just like in the traditional publishing world.

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Worker gathers items for delivery at Amazon's distribution center in Phoenix

Not All Authors Hate Amazon

Author James Patterson thinks he hates e-books and that they’re destroying libraries and bookstores, but in my humble opinion what he really hates is that the new technology allows upstarts like me to sell books that are way cheaper than his novels.

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Today’s the Big Day

When I decided to form the Toronto Indie Publishing Meetup group, I was warned (by Meetup) to expect only two or three people to attend the inaugural meeting. I figured that would be okay, so I boldly took Meetup’s suggestion to have a get together within the month, and I booked the first event smack in the middle of summer. So what if our Meetup consisted of just two or three die-hard fans of indie publishing having a beer?

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Why I’m Starting an Indie-Publisher’s Meetup Group

Unknown-2The technophobia, true and angry anti-technology, the complete fear of new things, shocked me at Word on the Street in 2011. As part of my role as Regional Vice-President of the Crime Writers of Canada, I took a turn running our booth, and for fun, I put two e-readers on display so that people could do a side-by-side comparison.

I expected that people would comment on whether they preferred my brand new Kindle or my older Sony Reader. This was wa-a-ay back in the days before the Kindle Fire, and even the I-pad was so new that some pundits were still surprised it was turning into a success, counter to their predictions.

What I ran up against at WOTS was a visceral dislike of the new technology. One woman looked at e-readers curiously, and when I asked which she would prefer, she looked up with contempt and stated, “I’ll never own one of those.” The expression would have be more understandable if I had asked her which sex doll she would prefer to take home.

This, sadly, wasn’t an isolated incident. I turned up at an event sponsored by a different mystery writers organization (they shall remain nameless to protect me from their anger) and a panel turned ugly when I and another author suggested that some of these mystery authors should try indie-publishing. We were treated as the unknowing, upstart, young kids in the room, practically shouted down in defiance of change.

Fast forward three years and what a difference. I moderated a panel about indie-publishing at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention, and to my surprise there was a very good turn out. Even more surprising, established, traditionally-published authors attended and several eagerly came forward to collect my hand-out of links that can aid Indie-publishing authors. A sea change has taken place. It’s no longer rude to talk about indie-publishing, and as Hugh Howey suggested last week, you can even say self-published without cringing. In fact, you can say it with pride.

But what I have discovered is that there is a hunger for information about how to go about self/indie publishing without hiring a computer whiz kid to do it all for you. There’s also a need to connect writers with a support team: editors, cover artists, web designers and publicists. In fact, what we need is a community based publishing house–a wiki of independent publishing.

A lot of this is available out there in the ether, but what I want to start is a community that can meet face to face and share experiences, leads and ideas. I want authors, editors, and cover artists to be able to establish business relationships, make referrals, and generally make indie-publishing a better experience that produces more professional books.

So I’ve started the Toronto Indie-Publishing MeetUp group. My hope is that as this group grows, we’ll encourage other established and aspiring authors to take the plunge and independently publish their novels/cook books/fun books so that they can reap the maximum royalty and maintain the most control over their writing work of art.

If you’re local, join the group and come out to meet up. If you’re not, you can still join the group and I’ll keep you in the loop. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be in town.



What I Learned from Hugh Howey

In October of 2011, Hugh Howey noticed something odd when he looked up his sales reports in his Amazon account: a short story he’d uploaded, Wool, had sold twelve copies in the first week of the month. He was pleased and surprised that people would read a short story. By the end of the month, it had sold 1,018 copies. Hugh can be forgiven for thinking this was the pinnacle of his writing career. Who could imagine that it would go on to be a million copy, New York Times bestseller? Wool is now just part of the whole series that he wrote in frantic response to all the positive feedback.

Last night Howey gave us some insight into the journey that took him to this fantastic success. Here’s a quick list of some of the things I learned:

  • working on people’s pleasure boats in the Caribbean Islands is a great gig.
  • College graduates in Virginia work jobs shingling roofs. This one didn’t surprise me, since after university I worked with two other grads for a landscaper for a summer. Indeed, one day when we were planting flowers, the economics grad said to me, “Actually, Japan isn’t so much a capitalist society as a mercantilist society.” To which my brother responded, “What’s the matter with you guys? You’re hands are covered in sh*t! What are you, Monty Python peasants from the Holy Grail?”
  • Howey writes fast. 4000 words in a day is no big deal.
  • He wrote to order. When fans started saying they wanted to hear more about the Silo in Wool, he wrote more for them. He had no idea that this short story would take off, but he knew a good thing when he saw it, and he seized the day.
  • Trust your own judgment. He had already turned down one publishing contract to self-publish. Later, he had to turn down several agents until one talked about bigger issues than the 15% cut they had hoped to receive.
  • Value your fans. I already knew this one, because I can’t help myself. I love my fans. It awes me when people read my work, and it totally stuns me when they contact me to tell me they loved my novel, or better yet, write a positive review.

Howey also explained the work he and others did to determine author earnings, which showed that there are people making a living from their self-published writing even if they’re not million selling outliers like him.

His concluding advice to writers is write what you enjoy, don’t wait for miracles, just keep writing, and dare to hope that you’ll be surprised one day.

Why I Entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

scifi_150._V373831082_Don’t ever enter the Amazon Break Through Novel Award if you’re prone to anxiety. The contest starts with 10,000 entries in March and whittles them down through a series of cuts to one grand prize winner. The names of the five lucky semi-finalists in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror/Kitchen Sink category were announced today.

The first cut is based only on a three-hundred word pitch. Here was mine for Generation Apocalypse:

Orphaned at ten during the apocalypse, Tevy survived his teen years scrounging with the other Brat Pack kids through the ruins of Chicago’s suburbs, seeking out canned food and guns.

Rippers—humans infected with parasites that produce vampire-like side effects—control the Loop, but at eighteen, Tevy is bold enough to scout deep into downtown and discovers that the architect of the apocalypse, an ancient evil presumed dead for eight years, has reappeared and is building a new ripper army, one that threatens the human cantonments north of the Chicago River.

Tevy travels through a dangerous, sparsely populated world, short of gas and ammunition, where defending strong walls at night is essential to survival. His mission is to secure volunteers to aid the Chicago cantonments, but he’ll discover competing religions and old enmities among rival outposts will complicate his task.

Kayla, a woman who survived the apocalypse by abandoning her dorm in favor of a fortified college building, ventures with Tevy back to Chicago, along the way earning the respect of the volunteer militias during desperate engagements with marauding rippers.

But a dark secret and sectarian discord threaten to tear apart the human alliance in Chicago just as the rippers begin their offensive. Tevy and Kayla will need all their speed, fighting skill, and luck to survive chaotic nights of brave stands and frantic retreats.

They must learn to trust one another despite following different religions, and they need to keep their growing love a secret. But just as the battle nears the worst, they learn the greatest evil may not lurk with the rippers, but among fellow humans, and that their greatest challenge will be to save one little girl in the face of unspeakable betrayal.

It worked! Generation Apocalypse sailed through the first cut, which slashed the SF/F/H/Kitchen Sink category last March from roughly 2000 contestants to 400. I was delighted since I rank writing pitches on the fun scale right up there with going to the dentist for a root canal.

The next round is judged on the first 5,000 words of the novel, and the judges are Amazon Vine Reviewers: people who’ve been invited into the Amazon Vine Review program because so many customers have voted positively about their reviews. Many of my beta readers expressed certainty that Generation Apocalypse would make this cut because the opening is the strongest I’ve written to date. Alas, the bomb dropped in April: one of the two reviewers didn’t like the novel. Damn!

Viner One had lots to say, including great things like:

I loved the tension and excitement of your excerpt. The characters are complex and multi-dimensional and I couldn’t help being concerned about what would happen to them in the future.

Viner One also stated in the closing paragraph:

I would definitely want to read more of this book. Great characters well drawn, an interesting and believable setting, clear writing, and excellent use of tension. The world building isn’t over the top and doesn’t overpower the story. Well done.

But Viner Number Two had very little to say about the excerpt, panning it with comments like:

Whereas in the prologue, you’re rushing the pace of your story at the expense of sentence structure.

By the way, I didn’t cut that statement out of context. That was the first sentence of the paragraph that Viner Two wrote as a critique of the excerpt.

I’m happy to say that my editors, both of whom work full time jobs editing, disagree with Viner Two. There was nothing wrong with the sentence structure. Luckily, I was warned on the forums by previous contestants that, like submitting to an agent or editor, it’s all a subjective crap shoot. If you luck out and get two reviewers who like your work, you’re on to the quarter finals.

That was the cut I had hoped to make, because then Publisher’s Weekly reads the whole manuscript and offers a review. That’s why I entered the contest. That’s what I wanted to be able to put on the product page of Generation Apocalypse: a (hopefully) positive review from a trusted source.

Sure, it would have been fun to win the whole shebang (a $50,000 publishing contract with Amazon) but the odds of getting the PW review were pretty good, making the time and effort to put together my entry worthwhile.

I’ve been a bad boy over the last year. I haven’t promoted my novels at all, and I’m a year late finishing book three. My sales have crashed as a result. I admit that getting deep into the Amazon contest was one way to quickly get some reviews and publicity. In other words, I was being lazy, hoping for a long shot contest to drag me out of the sales doldrums.

The good news is I’m invigorated by finishing Heretics Fall, and I think I’ve found a new editor, who will get the work just as soon as the beta readers have finished commenting. I’m ready to start a program of self-promotion and marketing.

I tried a quick and easy path to publishing success, and it was educational, but now it’s time to get to work and find success on my own. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be satisfying.