Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to Save Big Publishing- Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

In the spirit of giving, here's a plan to save Big Publishing. How's that for generosity!

These days, traditional publishing in the U.S. is controlled by five multinational companies, with offices in Manhattan. Because they are profit-driven, they want big-selling books, and don't want to bother with the ones that don't sell much. Oh, they'll tell you how they're still the Guardians of Culture, but any look at their catalog shows their devotion to the bottom line.

And they say they're hurting, despite larger profits from the sale of ebooks. Because with ebooks, one doesn't need to mess about with printing, shipping, storage, or returns. So in many cases, they're actually making more. But they say it isn't enough, they want more.

A big part of the problem is that they want sure winners, all-blockbusters. But it's near impossible to accurately predict the big sellers, unless it's a Stephen King book. So their business plan is based on gambling- putting out enough big sellers every year to offset the losses from the books that didn't sell as well.

And they're notoriously bad at picking which books to publish. Part of this is that some years ago the publishing houses decided they didn't want to read submissions anymore, they'd let agents do the screening for them. An agent is supposedly someone who knows the book business and can help an author connect a manuscript with a publisher. They advise the author on the arcane publishing contracts- despite, in most cases, having no law experience. One does not need any sort of licensing or qualification to be called an agent, they can just stick up a shingle and begin business.

So the Big houses want good books to publish, but they're using a faulty system to find candidates. Here's a plan that will help them, and maybe save them bundles of money so they can keep their Manhattan offices. Hey, maybe they could even pay authors more!

In the Indie publishing world, authors are putting books out and letting readers decide if they want to buy it or not. They go direct to the readers, unlike Big Publishing, who deals with bookstores, not readers.

Follow this plan- crowdsource potential manuscripts. Get an x number of screeners, who would be happy to volunteer their opinion (see Goodreads). Manuscripts go out to the screeners electronically, who then vote to publish or not. Most of the cost is collating the data. Track the reader choices: reward the ones who consistently select better-selling books, and drop the ones with higher failure rates.

This way, a publishing house could screen a vast number of potential books for minimal cost, and have a better record of hits for the better ones. It's not one agent or one editor doing the screening, it's several hundred power-readers, who'll do a much better job.

So there's the plan- simple, easy, inexpensive, and win-win for everybody. How about it, New York? Then you can stop complaining about Amazon.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Interview With T. Stephens

Today we're meeting T. Stephens, talking about his book Dante's Cypher (DC for shorthand here), a chilling tale of evil in the Maine woods.


T. (His secret identity) kicks it off- "Thank you very much for having me today and for this interview. What can I answer for you?"

Q. So how did this novel come to be?  Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. Dante's Cypher came to me the same way Frankenstein came to Mary Shelly... in a dream.  However the setting of my dream was directly from the location I was sleeping the evening that it came to me. I woke up in the middle of the night with a rough concept of a story and etched the scribblings of a madman on the side of a Fedex box with a broken colored pencil (red by the way), and that was the impetus of my book. 

Q. Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea?

A. The story of Dante's Cypher (DC) expounded- not just expanded, from the original concept. The research begot multiple story lines and foundation from which the depth and breadth of the story grew. I always say that the story begot the research and the research begot the story with  DC. As a matter of fact, researching DC uncovered so many interesting story lines and topics... it gave me information for my next story that I have already written and am now going through the process of tightening up to approach publishers with.

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. Authors all use different processes for their writing. I am a staunch outline guy, but that's just what an outline is- an outline. A rough map to guide you in a general direction that you want your story to take. My outlines are very simple one or two sentences about the point I want to make in a particular chapter.
What I like about outlines is that mine are not rigidly-set and I have flexibility with it. I should really call them more of a guideline than an outline.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. For DC, the themes were to never quit and to keep thinking on your feet no matter how dire the consequences. Keep trying to think with clarity, and solutions will usually present themselves. It's a theme I try to live my life by.

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. As far as importance..I feel it is very important, it's my work, why wouldn't I?  But seriously, I don't know how important this is, but what I want readers to take away from the story behind DC, is to - STICK WITH IT! BELIEVE IN YOURSELVES! Dante's Cypher was 13 YEARS IN THE MAKING! It only took 1 month to write-- and 11 years to get published. I knew I had a good story, but no one was willing to take a chance on an unknown author until my publisher, Tate publishing, took me on. There were times of down and doubt, but re-acess  what you are doing, make adjustments, seek advice...and KEEP PUSHING FORWARD! I get just as much of a response from readers about the story of the book that equal the level of response that I get from the story in the book!

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. For me (and I wouldn't be surprised at all if I have undiagnosed ADD) a book has to catch me right at the beginning. I will know if I am going to finish a book in the first 20 pages. But I have to be teased, and kept wanting, in order to keep turning the pages. I tried to construct that into Dante's Cypher.
I also like a book that I learn something from- a factoid or historical occurrence that I was unaware of. I like that in a book. I feel it lends foundation and credibility.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. I would love to be able to sit here and tell you that I had completely new and fresh themes that were all my own and no one influenced me... but that would be a BALD-FACED LIE! These are the people who have influenced me and my writing- by category

WRITING-
Dan Brown- I love his unforeseen twists and turns, his history, and his mystery.

Stephen King- I am a fan of his writing obviously, but the trials and travails of his pre-published career helped me to stay motivated and focused in trying to get my book published for 11 years. Seeing what he had to go through helped keep me on task.

Michael Crichton- I like his research (Airframe) and how he would not limit his imagination (Sphere).

Pearl S. Buck- I Ioved her vivid descriptions of the different setting the story took place in. I could visualize the scenes easily.

Dean Koontz- I am a fan of how he weaves hidden unexpected surprises into his story lines.

Herman Melville- He wrote an epic American Tale, and died never realizing the true success that Moby Dick would come to be. I am not saying I wrote anything nearly as profound as Moby Dick, but knowing Melville's unrealized success helps me to keep pounding the pavement promoting my writing. I am such a fan of his that I named my dog, QueeQueg in honor of one of my favorite character in Moby Dick.

MUSIC-
Jimmy Hendrix-  Voodoo Child (my theme song) - To me its's a song about a man that believes he can accomplish anything!

PHILOSOPHY/ RELIGION-
Gandhi- One of the most powerful men in history, courageous, brilliant, understated.

Jesus- I am not very religious, but have read the bible a couple times trying to understand the impact of this book. I still don't understand it, but I am trying. If you read it; minus the miracles, he reached out to those that could not help themselves and tried to make their world a better place for them at a time when almost no one else was. Who wouldn't emulate that. However that being said I'm more of an Old Testament guy... you know... an eye for an eye ...and such.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. To me a good story has an education to it, if you will. A base, or a foundation that a reader will actually gain something from. A thought, a belief, a fact, something along those lines.
There are plenty of mindless "popcorn" types of entertainment that are fun at times... many times actually, when you just want to shut down and mentally ride the care free entertainment "Merry-go-round" for a break. But I prefer some foundation or to learn something when I am reading, or watching media.

Ancient Storytelling mainly served other functions or lessons. It passed on verbal histories or lessons, such as in Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, etc. This is how legends, lore, morality, religious beliefs were passed on from one generation to the next before the written word, or the mass ability to read and write. I am a fan of storytelling with a foundation.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. Yes, I will always have new goals. Or how do you keep pushing and striving through out this entire life? I hope that when I die, I have a whole bunch of new goals on my plate to accomplish, that way will know that I have tried until the end!
However that being said, I am going to keep my goals to myself. If any one that reads this and would like to discuss, please feel free to reach out to me directly at any of the contact info listed below and I would be more than happy to engage you in conversation.

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. Yes???-- to answer all of the above. I am guilty of all of those things at one instant or another. There are times when I revise waaayyy too much, and then there are times when I should have maybe looked at things again and reconsidered. I think that is part of the process of becoming a writer.
I do over-prepare to send off to publishers, though. I figure you have only one chance to get their attention.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. My very first editor was terrible! He came highly recommended and was an absolute joke! MY FREE ADVICE- If you are considering and editor, research their referrals first- a few of them, before you make a decision.
I have a group of people that edit for me. My thought is- the more people looking at it, the better.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. I'd tell them not to write. It's a sickness, that once it gets hold of you, it never lets you go. That they will never be truly satisfied with anything they put out and they will be amazed if any one else does. Then if they told me they still wanted to write after that, then my response would be...

...POUR YOUR HEART AND SOUL INTO IT, AND NEVER LISTEN TO THE NAYSAYERS!!!

PUT EVERYTHING YOU GOT INTO IT-- AND DO NOT EDIT YOURSELF!  By that I mean don't ever NOT put something out because you are afraid what others will think. Or that you will be embarrassed  or hurt by what people will say or think. FORGET THEM (and that is me saying it the nice way)! I am sure that there are more written pieces of artwork sitting in people's desk drawers across this world that could rival  ANYTHING that has been written so far, but writers lacked the courage or conviction to share their writing with the world. I call those "Desk-Drawer Tragedies." I wish more writers had the conviction to publish, no matter what the big publishing houses say. They are not the end-all, be-all of quality. They purely think in terms of marketability. Do not let rejections get you down! KEEP PUSHING!!!  Do you need me to elaborate my point any more?

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. I could definitely see my book being a movie, but I might be a little biased. Many, many of my readers tell me or email me that they can see Dante's Cypher as a movie... I hope they are right!  It really doesn't matter what I think. Some film exec has to see my story and think that. I just have to position it correctly so it gets in that film execs hands. Hopefully the story wouldn't be altered too much, but the movie is almost never the same as the book.
I would really like to hear an audio book of it. If the correct voice read it, it could be fantastic!

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. I have two projects that I am working on directly, and finding the time has been daunting. One is a story that I am trying to polish up that has already been written and has had its first editing draft. The other project, which has been challenging; being asked to cut Dante's Cypher into a screenplay. I have a Producer/Director contact that has read DC and wants a screenplay to float around to some of his movie contacts. This is fun, nerve-wracking, and exciting. There are no guarantees, but I want to put my best product out there. It's my responsibility to guide this wave of activity/ excitement correctly. If it crashes... I'll learn, or I will ride this wave to who knows where. It's been thrilling to say in the least!

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. Before all of this, I was a commercial fisherman on an off shore dragger.

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. NEVER...EVER...LISTEN TO THE NAYSAYERS AND GIVE UP ON YOURSELF!!

NEVER!!!!!

---

 


Web pages: https://www.facebook.com/tee.stephens.10  or

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dantes-Cypher/222356611273177  or

Twitter at:  Dantes_Cypher

Monday, November 10, 2014

Amazon vs. Big Pub vs.Writers- Who's David, Who's Goliath?

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath, made me think about the whole Amazon/Hachette spat as a parable. Hugh Howey started talking about David and Goliath again.

Because the big media companies continue to distribute falsehoods attacking Amazon, I've looked at this issue before:
Is Amazon Evil, With a Plan to Destroy the Universe?

Amazon and Hachette- Godzilla vs. Mothra

Up until recently, the Big 5’s control of commercial book distribution was near-monopolistic. So say they represent 5 Goliaths with a huge support system, the Philistine Army. They controlled what was sold, how it was sold, and prices. They stomped around and said that nothing was of value unless it went through them, and they took their massive cut for middle-manning. They justified this, because supplying such a huge empire and army was expensive.

Thousands of lyrical shepherds wished to sell their stories and songs, but few could effectively challenge so powerful an army. Some select and lucky shepherds who went begging to the Philistines got paid off with the chance to get their stories in places where others could discover them, so that they might be sold.

One day a caravan named for a river arrived and changed everything. They travelled to all ends of the earth, selling stories for any shepherd, for much more than the Philistines paid. No more begging was involved, and they even handed each shepherd a sling. And many shepherds sold stories which the people craved.

Since the shepherds didn’t have grand armies to support, they could live by selling fewer stories, so many didn’t bother getting permission from the Philistines, who raged at losing control and their cut of profits. The Philistines demanded battle, and lumbered to the field with heavy armor and weapons.

What happened was extraordinary. Whizzing stones peppered the Goliaths, as an army of speedy, lightly-clad Davids fired back in response. No slow Goliath could catch any of the nimble shepherds, they could only rail against the unfairness of it all. “That’s not how battles are fought!”

The shepherds don’t need the Philistines around anymore, they just want to sell stories however they can. But the dismayed Philistines need to support their huge army, and keep demanding battle, saying the caravan that sells is evil, and will someday hurt the shepherds.

The shepherds shrug and figure they’ll find another caravan if that happens. In the meantime, they’re doing rather well without any Philistine involvement.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insanity Tales Audio Now Out!

As of today, we have the professional audio book version of Insanity Tales up for sale on Audible.com. Woo-hoo!

 
It will soon be linked on Amazon with the print and Kindle version, all on one page, but you can get it now! Narrated by Fred Wolinsky, who's an Audible Approved narrator, meaning one of their best!

Though Halloween may be over, the frights don't have to stop. Give this a listen, but not just before bed- we wouldn't want you to lose sleep!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Boston Book Festival Fun and Communing With Poe

This weekend I signed books at the Sisters in Crime booth at the Boston Book Festival in downtown Copley Square, across from the Boston Public Library.


Huge event, with many publishers and writers showcasing their wares. We were the first author set of the day, with fellow sisters Judy Copek and Penny Goetjen.

 
Later came more: here are Edith Maxwell, Sheila Connolly, Connie Johnson Hambley (Connie was interviewed here)

 
Here are Leigh Perry, Ray Daniel (Ray was interviewed here), Edith, and Janis Bolster

 
Here are Leslie Wheeler, Elaine Anderson, and Leslie Meier
 
 
And Marian Lanouette (interviewed here) and Arlene Kay (interviewed here)
 

After my stint with the Sisters, I dropped by the IPNE booth to see T. Stephens show his debut book, Dante's Cypher
 
Here he's with Rachael McIntosh
 

T. and I found time to walk down Boylston St to see the new statue of the great Edgar Allan Poe, done by artist Stefanie Rocknak.
 



And we had a great lunch at P.F. Chang's, a long-time restaurant known to Bostonians. The food, ambiance and service were top-notch, so a shoutout here for them. When you go see Edgar's statue, pop on across the street for a bite of delicious Asian food.
 
 
And I also met Sean Tuohy and Daniel Ford, of the cool podcast Writer's Bone, where they tell about all the new badass writers... Will have to give them a call...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Interview With Arlene Kay

Today we're meeting Arlene Kay, mystery writer and fellow Sister in Crime. Arlene has 3 books out in the Swann series. 
 
Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. GILT TRIP is the third novel in the Swann Series (aka the Boston Uncommons Series). Oddly enough the genesis of the book came from one of those annoying television commercials that one hears ad nauseum during the dinner hour.
After hearing pseudo-celebrities hawking gold as the only safe form of currency, and urging listeners to buy it (complete with a free safe) etc., I asked myself this question: how would I even know that the bullion I received was actually gold? Then it was off to the races.

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. I already knew my protagonists, mystery writer Eja Kane, and her dazzling fiance Deming Swann, so my challenge was to develop other aspects of their characters and relationship. I have also been fascinated by martial arts since I was a kid watching the elegant Mrs. Peel in the Avengers. Like Eja, however, my spirit is willing but my uncoordinated self lags far behind. I wanted to integrate that element into the story and use it as a vehicle for bullion fraud, lust, and murder. It was fun contrasting the virtuous “Shaolin Way” with actual human frailty.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. My novels tend to explore the same themes: love, loyalty, avarice and most importantly the tension between the Law and Justice. The log line for the Swann Series says it all: sultry, snarky murder. Emphasis on the snarky part.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. Strong characters and clever plots elevate a story. I also love crisp dialogue that explicates the theme and humanizes the protagonists. Smart intriguing villains are a must and Nelson DeMille is a master of all this. I humbly prostrate myself at his literary feet.
As a reader, I insist on a logical mystery. After all, solving it is part of the fun.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Like most mystery writers I inhaled the classics: Sherlock, Poirot, Marple etc. The Brits are so elegant and economical in their use of language that I used them as benchmarks. My own writing was influenced by the late great Elizabeth Peters, Dorothy Sayres and the Thin Man duo (Nick and Nora) of Dashiel Hammet. Those authors really knew how to portray sleuthing duos. I also proudly confess to watching every episode of the television series Hart to Hart, and all 9 seasons of Murder She Wrote.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. My novels include a whopping dose of humor. I enjoy exposing the absurdities of life and puncturing the inflated egos of my characters. Personally I consider a highly developed sense of humor to be a hallmark of great intelligence.

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. I write quickly, revise the next day, and get on with it. No need to agonize or inflict pain on myself or others.That means producing 3 novels yearly with a word count around 75,000. Some writers enjoy making extensive outlines, using a network of beta-readers etc. That process wouldn’t work for me.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. Advice: Read in your genre—for your own pleasure and to learn which style attracts you.
Join a writing group—don’t rely on your relatives/friends or passers by. Critiques by knowledgeable peers are invaluable. Our writers group produced five published authors. That’s a pretty good record.
Be professional. Approach writing as your job as well as your joy. Stop using excuses and go for it.
Learn to give and accept informed criticism. Man—or woman—up and listen. You don’t have to accept every comment but you should at least process it.
Be brave. Submit your work to agents/publishers etc. and prepare for the inevitable rejection. Persistence and product will ultimately prevail. Don’t allow a fragile ego to derail your writing career.

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. Although I am one of the earth’s most ungainly creatures, my middle name actually is GRACE. A macabre joke by my mother.

Thank you, Arlene, and here's where to get the book.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Boston Book Fair and Brew'd Awakening- Busy Weekend Ahead


Saturday, I'll be downtown Boston, In Copley Square, at the Boston Book Festival, signing books with the Sisters in Crime. Come on down and say howdy.

Afterward, I plan on seeing the new Poe statue.

And on Sunday, we'll be in downtown Lowell, at the Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus, starting at 1, to promote Insanity Tales.