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Trouble at the Airport with the other Michael McPherson

The customs officer looked up and shrugged.  No, really, he truly looked apologetic.  “I’m sorry,” he said, “But I have to send you to immigration.  There’s a Michael McPherson with the same birth date wanted by the US police.”  He wouldn’t elaborate.

The last thing I wanted after a cramped plane flight was to line up at immigration in order to get back into my own country, and luckily I was pushed to the front of the line by the security guard because of my Canadian passport.  Membership has its privileges.

The immigration officer was just as baffled and called his manager, who stated that it was a long shot hit.  They let me go.  That was my first clue that there are just too many Michael McPhersons.

But it gets weirder.  I decided to go with Michael A. McPherson as my author name, but yesterday I read his obituary.  For the family’s sake I won’t link to it, but safe to say he’s African-American and from the south.  He was pretty close to my age too.  Eerie.

Another Google  result turned up a university professor named Michael S. McPherson, which is too close in the search to Michael A. McPherson, and because he has several published books it could cause a little confusion.

So how about M.A. McPherson?  Just forget the first name.  Then I discovered that there’s a poet, again of African-American heritage, who goes by Kuwme M. A. McPherson.  That’s going to cause a lot of confusion, because I’m definitely not a poet.  Even my mother laughed out loud at one of my poems.  It wasn’t meant to be funny.

So I’ve decided to re-brand as Michael Andre McPherson, using the full middle name.  A quick check of my birth certificate and passport show that I don’t need to worry about the accent over the last “e” in Andre, although I was taught to use it as a kid.

And since I’m re-branding: notice I’ve changed the name of the blog?  That’s where I’m going.  No more blind submissions to busy agents.  I’ll stand or fall on my e-book sales.  Besides, I really like the domain name.

Who Would Walk Away From a Seven Figure Book Deal?

Not Amanda Hocking.

Less than a week after Barry Eilser walked away from a $500,000 dollar contract with St Martin’s Press so that he could self-publish his next novel, Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing star who has sold over 2 million copies of her e-books, has signed a seven figure deal with St. Martin’s for her next four novels.

It will be fascinating to watch Eisler’s and Hocking’s careers to see which route will be more successful in the long run.  I know it’s not a very scientific study since Eisler writes thrillers and Hocking writes teen paranormal romances.  As the recent Twilight saga proves, that’s a very hot market.

I’m ready for the purists to roar in outrage that she has gone over to the dark side, but I’m with her when she says that she wants her novels to be available in every Walmart, Target and airport book kiosk.

Wide print distribution is one thing the traditional publishers can still give an author, although I am doubtful about how important that will be ten years from now.  Prominent placement on the front of Amazon’s website may be the ticket in 2021.  But right now, this year, wide print distribution is still the fast lane to big bucks.

A band was once accused of selling out to the big record labels. (The Offspring?  Green Day? I can’t remember) One of the band members replied to the journalist, “Dude!  That was always the plan.”  So I don’t judge Amanda Hocking for inking this deal.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still believe that self-publishing is the way to go for most authors since we won’t all be internet superstars.  That’s why I love self-publishing: the mid-list author can finally earn a living again.

But if I was offered a seven-figure book deal?  In the bank–as bloody fast as I can arrange the funds transfer.  It’s like winning the book lottery!

So who would walk away from a seven-figure book deal?  Not me, baby.

Front Matter, Back Matter, Meta Data?

So I’m working my way through the Smashwords Style Guide, and I’m surprised to discover that they want me to put a long warning about copyright infringement at the beginning of my e-books.

I’m reminded of the FBI warning at the beginning of video movies, the ones I used to fast-forward through before DVDs came along and made that impossible.  I’ve often wondered how many movie pirates read that warning and said, “Oh no!  Better not copy or sell this.  That’s against the law.”

So I put all this extended copyright stuff at the front of my short story, Fire Retardant, and all I’ve accomplished is cluttering up the story preview–you know, the sample the buyer can check out before they take the 99 cent plunge.  Potential purchasers spend more time reading a copyright notice than my brilliant words.  That’s gonna change.

A quick survey of other e-books on my Sony proves that even Random House puts this stuff at the back, but I’m wondering if there’s even a better way: how about in the meta-data?  I’m going to check out the mobi e-pub software and see if I can stick this into the meta data when I generate the stories in Kindle format.  I would still put a copyright date with my name at the beginning, but not a long notice.

I’m guessing that the whole concept of putting copyright at the front began because in print books the first page is on the right anyway, so you might as well stick all that copyright notice stuff on the left side.  But in e-books that makes it the first page, which is probably why most publishers are switching it to the last page.

Makes sense to me.  Hey Smashwords!  You guys getting this?

Who Would Walk Away From 500 Thousand Dollars?

Apparently Barry Eisler just did.  Why did he walk away from this lucrative book deal with St. Martin’s Press?  Because he believes he will make more self-publishing in the long run, particularly on e-book rights.

Eisler is joining a growing number of authors who are walking away from legacy publishers.  The problem is that the standard industry contract only gives the author  a 25% royalty on e-books, which comes off after Amazon or Smashwords has taken their cut.  Then the agent takes 15% off that 25% and it works out that the author is really only getting 17% of the e-book price.

Why accept that little crumb when an author can sell their novel through Kindle and get a 70% royalty?  No agent or publisher required.  In fact, how can publishers defend such a huge cut when they don’t need a printing press, trucks or a delivery network for e-books?

Up until now they’ve claimed that branding can save their publishing model–that readers will flock to a legacy publisher’s books because there are too many lousy self-published books to sort through.  But the truth is that the internet has its own filters, like the book bloggers who have made Amanda Hocking the new internet writing star.

Publishers are not obsolete, but they need to embrace the future and recognize that things have changed for the better.  E-readers have more people buying books than they have in a decade, and this should be a good thing.  Desperate attempts by legacy publishers to keep e-book prices high in order to stall the e-revolution will fail.  Refusing to give authors a fair cut will cost them content and market share.

Eilser wisely draws a parallel to railroads in the 1950s just as the interstates were under construction.  The railroads thought they were in the railroad business, but actually they were in the transportation business.  Once large trucks became a viable option, many railroads folded.  The smart railroads adapted, combining trucking and rail, adjusting prices and expectations and finding the niches they could still fill.

Because of my film industry background, I’m reminded of Kodak and Fuji film back in the 90s.  Even a camera assistant like me knew that high definition digital video was coming, but Kodak thought they were in the film stock business and tried to fight the change by producing better and better film stocks.  They achieved some amazing things with their 800 ASA film stock, but it couldn’t stop the slide to cheap digital.

Fuji knew they were in the image capture business and went aggressively after the digital video business.  Their CEO got an award a couple of years ago for keeping Fiji successful through this upheaval.

I was in Kodak’s home town–Rochester, NY–in 2006.  It’s the only time that I’ve seen an empty ten-story office building.  I’m talking about a modern glass and steel office building.  Kodak did follow Fuji’s lead into digital and has survived, but it was gut-wrenchingly painful to watch, and a lot of hard working people lost their jobs in the process.

Publishers should be in the business of selling books, not pulped dead trees.  Some publishers will recognize this and adapt to e-books and thrive.  Others will go down.  It doesn’t have to be this painful.

Don’t Buy My Short Story — Yet

So I’ve been crushed by an old version of Microsoft Word.  I knew I had paragraph formatting issues with my short story, Burning Moose, when I first uploaded it for sale as an Amazon e-book, but I thought I’d solved the problem with the short story Railroaded by saving it as an .rtf and going back to a .doc before uploading.

It turns out that did nothing.  Railroaded was MS from 2004, the others–well, I think I wrote Burning Moose on a MAC SE that I bought used from CPused, a great store that has since gone under.  You get the idea.  Very old technology.

Luckily Smashwords has a 73 page manual on how to format your MS word document so that it will upload nicely as an e-book.   So here I go again.  I’ve uploaded a new version of Fire Retardant but it’ll take 24 hours to publish.  I’ll check it out when it’s up to make sure it’s good and then I’ll relaunch.

I’m pretty sure this is going to get easier to do as new programs are written to solve these little formatting issues.  In the meantime: at least I learned a lot about MS word today.

Fire Retardant Launch

Cover for Fire Retardant--a Sioux Rock Falls Short Story

Forest fires regularly sweep through Northern Ontario during the summer months, and if a town is in the way it has no chance.  In 1979 the town of Cobalt, Ontario near Lake Tamiskaming lost a good chunk, with only the church, a few homes and a decaying strip plaza spared.

But when the Ministry of Natural Resources guy threatened to draft the bridge crew I was with to fight that forest fire, I got to thinking, talking with locals and hearing legends of fires past.  After a few more beers the short story Fire Retardant found a comfortable place in my brain.  It stayed there for years before I finally released it for Storyteller Magazine.

Fire Retardant is now available on Amazon.com for the Kindle.  This short story first appeared in Storyteller Magazine in their fall 2004 edition.

Soon I’ll have it for all e-pub format readers as well.

Kindle vs Sony: Pricing Divergence

I note this morning that Amanda Hocking’s Switched (see post below) is for sale on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents, but on the Sony Reader Store’s front page it’s $3.99.  While that’s not a horrible price, it’s four times out of line.

I like my Sony e-reader, but I’m getting the Kindle app for my i-phone, and the e-reader will idle for yet another novel.

A Warning for Self-e-published Authors

I prefer not to simply publish links to other people’s content on this blog, but this warning from Amanda Hocking was aimed right at me.

She’s done what I want to do: e-self-published through Amazon and Smashwords, and she’s making thousands a month doing it.  She’s snagged an agent.  She’s making a good living as an author.

But she warns here that she knows another author, J. L. Bryan, who doesn’t sell as well even though he is a good writer and performs the same marketing moves that she does.

The warning is clear.  Even if the writing, promotion and cover are all great, your book might languish simply because you didn’t strike a cord, hit the right topic or simply didn’t appeal to the reading public.

It’s all a big gamble.  Just ask a traditional publisher.  Luckily with e-books, the upfront costs aren’t as huge as print books.

I am now a Canadian Publisher

There are lot’s of ways to get an ISBN number for self-published books or e-books, but I chose to go all the way and become a Canadian publisher.  Since I’m already co-owner of a small media company this turned out to be amazingly easy.

I simply went to the Public Archives of Canada and clicked on join CISS and filled out the form with my company information.  Now when I e-publish I can enter the ISBN with Amazon Kindle.

Why the big deal? Cause all kinds of tracking can operate with an ISBN.  The draw back?  As a publisher I’m now required to provide copies of all my publications to Collections Canada.  I know this is a good thing, having my words stored somewhere forever.  What can I say?  I just don’t like paperwork.  Weird for a writer.

Now to think of a title for my anthology of shorts, all those bridge painting stories that were published by Storyteller Magazine between 2000 and 2006 when they folded.  How about Tales from the North?  Too Rudyard Kipling?

Rebecca Senese Seizes the Day

Rebecca Senese and I shared a strange place in the history of Storyteller Magazine before we even met. I’d finally snagged the cover of Storyteller in the winter 2006 edition after many attempts, so my mother proudly purchased a subscription for every member of the family, including my aunt.

Unfortunately, I had decided that for my story White Metal I’d let construction workers speak like construction workers.  The F-bomb fell more than a few times, and Storyteller chose to stick it right in one of the teaser lines.  My aunt, horrified by the profanity, refused to even read her nephew’s story and instead carried on to read the next story in the issue, Brother’s Under the Skin by Rebecca Senese.

It was like pouring gasoline on fire.  My aunt, the very committed Catholic anti-abortion activist, read a story about parents who clone their murdered son and try to relive his childhood through the clone.  Boom!

Terry Tyo, the owner of Storyteller, got a nasty phone call demanding that he cancel my aunt’s subscription and never send her a copy of his sick magazine again.  Terry was gun shy of controversial stories for months.  Between us, Rebecca and I had rocked Storyteller’s world.

Now Rebecca is out to rock your world.  She read my first post about planning to e-publish all my out of print short stories, but she ran where I walked.  I’m still trying to pull together the other stories, get them up with Smashwords for the Sony and Nook, and put together my anthology.  But in the last two months, while I was off in another world, Rebecca’s done it.

I’d better hurry.  A year ago I was in the middle of the e-book revolution, now I’m playing catch up.  So watch here for more announcements and e-publishing.  First my Storyteller stories, then my contest winners, then my novel and then…write till I die.  I finally have a market, however humble.  It’s there for the bold.