Unleash The Flying Monkeys!
April 30, 2007
What can I say? Sometimes professionalism sucks.
I'm in the midst of a professional crisis involving, well, a bunch of business shit, and I want to just Scccrrreeaaaaammmmmm!
I want to...
You know? Off with their heads! I want to start making phone calls and begin screaming. I want to yell. I want to hit something. I want to fire someone!
What good is all this martial arts training if you can't go pound someone from time to time, you know?
Take a deep breath, Mark. Oh wait, this is a recurring trend with this particular person, isn't it?
Okay, never mind. Go about your business, citizens. I'll be feeding and training my angry spider monkey legions for their next mission.
That Author Thing
April 27, 2007
I remember having a conversation with my editor at my previous publisher (High Country), Judy Geary. I don't remember the details, but she commented how one of her other authors "really enjoyed playing author." This was in the context of promotion, and Judy was suggesting that this writer really enjoyed the process of doing book signings and author events, that she really liked that aspect of being a novelist.
I desperately wanted to be an author. I started my senior year in college, having been bitten hard by the writing bug, and I was convinced that first miserable piece of shit novel was a thing of beauty that would be snatched up by the first publisher to read it, who would throw bushels of bucks on my head and I would be well on my way to fame and fortune, baby! I was, in other words, clueless.
Many, many years followed and I wrote regularly. Some of those manuscripts even got read by editors and/or agents. (Oh, you thought you were the only one who wrote things and then couldn't even get the damned things read by anybody in the business?) I had at least one near-miss, had an agent, then another...
I was pretty much latched onto this fantasy of being the author. Yet, it was clear to me, that what I liked was writing.
Somewhere in there I started getting some book reviews published, then the occasional article. Eventually, as you know, I started really getting articles published as well as some book-length fiction, and this led eventually to me quitting my day job to write fulltime.
I remember once commenting to someone (I know who, but I won't bother with that detail) that I always thought I wanted writing to change my life, which it did; but what I really wanted was for it to change my lifestyle.
It did. Eventually.
From time to time it occurs to me that what I wanted out of my writing I got from freelance writing, and what I thought I wanted out of my writing I did not get from my fiction. I wanted to write. I wanted to make my living as a writer. I didn't want bosses or commutes. I actually wanted to stay at home and write.
And it further occurs to me--often with the force of a sledgehammer to the forehead--that I probably didn't, in reality, wish to be an "author" per se, but a "writer." I'm sure I would be glad to make the same amount of money writing fiction as I do nonfiction (very much so), but that the so-called trapping of being an "author," the fantasy of fan letters, book signings and going to conferences and being introduced as an "author," all of which I have experienced, really pale to the reality of being able to sit down at your computer every day and write and know that it's not a hobby, it's a job, that an editor will read your work, that it will get published, that you will get paid for the privilege.
I can take or leave "playing author." But I can't quit being a writer. And the longer I'm in this business, the more important I think the distinction is.
I Can't Expand On This
April 26, 2007
"But I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex. He was my father's kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.' So I say that now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"
Welcome Back My Friends...
April 24, 2007
"...to the show that never ends, come inside, come inside."
Yeah, I'm a fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. What can I say? I'm a fan of 1970s pretentious rock-and-roll. I like Kansas, too.
I just wanted to take a moment here. Yesterday marked the Official Start of Mark Terry's Book Marketing Season 2007. Yes, the MTBMS07 has begun. (Otherwise known as Mark's Mystical Dog-And-Pony Show: come see the elephant stand on the beachball... It's not that we expect to see it done well, we're just surprised to see it done at all!)
I kicked off the MTBMS07 with a mass e-mail (some call it SPAM, but we call it an e-newsletter, ain't the Internet great?) sent out to my mailing list. It announced the impending publication of the second Derek Stillwater novel, THE SERPENT'S KISS, which is to be published July 1, 2007.
We followed this up with with AuthorBuzz. This bit appeared in an online newsletter called ShelfAwareness, and also appears in separate mailings.
In addition, I got about 700 postcards out late last week aimed at libraries. I've got a couple thousand more waiting me aimed primarily at independent bookstores.
Once THE SERPENT'S KISS comes out, I'll be hitting bookstores to sign stock and whatever other promotional in-person opportunities present themselves.
If you're new to this blog as the result of one of these devious marketing ploys, welcome. There's a Derek Stillwater short story for free on the site called "11 Minutes" as well as another short story, "Just As Dead," that features consulting forensic toxicologist Dr. Theo MacGreggor, as well as sample chapters from my four books.
If you're an old friend and visitor, hello. Step right up, have a seat, Mark's Amazing Dog-And-Pony Show is about to begin.
Hurry, hurry, hurry! Boyzzzz and girlzzzz, see the Amazing Mark Terry and his Dancing Elephant!
On Your Reading Radar: Capitol Threat by William Bernhardt
April 23, 2007
I'd never read anything by William Bernhardt
--or even heard of him before, which is odd given he's written something like 23 books--when Capitol Threat crossed my desk. I liked the cover (see my cover for The Devil's Pitchfork) and I liked the description of the book, focused as it was on the WONK-ish delights of a Supreme Court judge nomination. So...
by William Bernhardt
A Republican President nominated Thaddeus Roush to the Supreme Court. Roush seems appropriately conservative and he's passed his apparently lame background checks. During a White House rose garden press conference presenting his nomination, Roush announces he's gay on live TV. Suddenly the Republican President isn't very interested in Roush as a judge, although he can't very well back out now, but he can try to kill the nomination via his party. The Democrats, on the other hand, find themselves in the unusual situation of wanting to sponsor and support a Republican Supreme Court nominee. The case, already rather sticky, gets even stickier--or weirder--when during a press conference a dead body shows up in Roush's backyard.
In steps Senator Ben Kincaid from Oklahoma. Most of Bernhardt's novels have featured defense attorney Ben Kincaid, but now we find him the very, very junior senator, appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma after the death of the sitting senator. Since he has the least to lose out of all of the Democratic senators, he is chosen by the Democratic leadership to be Roush's consultant/lawyer/representative during the Senate hearings.
The book then pretty much alternates between the hearings, which are the most enjoyable part of the book, and Kincaid's investigator, Loving's, search for the identity of the dead woman. I loved the political part of the book and was entertained by Loving's investigation, although the tone seems wildly different to me. The hearings are all political wordplay and dueling ideologies, while Loving's investigation borders on the ... well, the word that keeps coming to mind is burlesque. Anyway, the plot is convoluted and improbable (like most crime novels aren't?), but I really enjoyed the hell out of this book. It has any number of twists and turns and plenty of drama, action and adventure and intrigue. I thought it worked far better as a political thriller than as a murder mystery, but there's enough of both to satisfy most readers of either genre. Highly recommended.
Guess What We Get To Do Today, Boys and Girls?
April 20, 2007
I'm a little busy today. I've got three articles due for the same client. I wrote a draft of one yesterday, but I also conducted three interviews so I could finish all these assignments. The materials for the second issue of the technical journal I edit, The Journal of the Association of Genetic Technologists, is due on Monday, although everything is ready--that I've received so far (sigh). I'm still waiting on a couple things, but I might send it off to my layout person today anyway with a note to "leave a hole for so-and-so's piece... as usual."
Anyway, I was thinking this morning, despite being behind schedule on this (and damn near everything else), "Hey, I get to write today."
Not conduct interviews. Not transcribe interviews. Not do research. Not promote my novels. Not travel. Not do bookkeeping or pay taxes or vacuum my office floor (well, it needs it). Nope, today, I focus on writing.
It made me think of a scene from the movie, "The Rookie" with Dennis Quaid. If you aren't familiar with it, it's the more-or-less true story of a guy who was a hotshot baseball player--a pitcher--in college who blew out his arm. He's a chemistry teacher in the middle of nowhere in Texas and he also coaches the baseball team. The team gets him pitching to them for practice and makes a deal with him that if they win the regionals, he'll go to the open audition for the major leagues. He agrees in order to motivate the team, they go all the way, and he goes down to the audition--I believe he was in his 30s around this time--and throws some pitches, convinced it was all a waste of time. But he was throwing fastballs in the high 90s and they call him into the minor leagues.
He eventually ends up in the major leagues as a relief pitcher for a few years.
Anyway, the scene I was thinking about involves when he and his fellow minor leaguers are kind of in the dumps, and Quaid shows up kind of perky the next morning (and he wasn't usually) and said something along the lines of, "Guess what we get to do today, boys and girls? We get to play baseball!"
Guess what I get to do today, boys and girls?
The Turpentine Diaries?
April 19, 2007
I just want to refer you to Eric Mayer's
blog post today, where he discusses the tendency of writers to talk about technique rather than other things....writers who persist and achieve some success seem to get caught up in technique. I believe it was Picasso who once said that when artists get together they talk about turpentine. No doubt, technique is something that can be discussed more easily than ideas...
Ain't that the truth?
April 18, 2007
I'm over at the Inkspot
blog today. I'm writing about my friend Tobias Buckell's new novel and exploiting your writing skills. Check it out.
April 16, 2007
I've been thinking about this quite a bit recently myself. Some of it is my own version of "spring fever" that I seem to get this time of year re. my blog. Same time last year I considered shutting it down.
I've also felt like I've been struggling not to repeat myself.
But mostly it's a matter of balance. I have a big project due June 1, except I'll be in Denver for a meeting hosted by one of my long-time clients, so I really need to get this project done the week before. And, unfortunately, I'm waiting for CMS (Medicare & Medicaid) to cough up a ton of data we've paid for that I can't complete this project without, so I expect the whole thing to be done in a near-panic close to the end. I'm doing what I can ahead of time, but it's tough. And I've got other big projects and small ones due, too, including the 4th Derek Stillwater novel. And I'm pulling together marketing things for the July publication of THE SERPENT'S KISS.
No, I'm not quitting the blog. But I am, I think, going to post less often. At the moment the plan is for Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
An even bigger time-killer for me is commenting on other people's blogs, then obsessively checking back every hour or two to see if anyone's commented on my comments. Some of this obsessive-compulsive tendency is what makes me successful as a writer; some of it also comes from working alone and finding human contact via e-mail and blogs. So with any luck I'll get a grip on that, too.
It's all a matter of balance, I think. I like the blog and I like checking out other blogs, but I've got work to do, and it seems to me I can do more of it if I get this blog-thing under control. I'm also all-too-aware that if I trim back on the blogging, I might use that time to write another novel that doesn't involve Derek Stillwater. But at the moment all my time and energy is aimed at Derek's 4th book, the promotion for the 2nd book, and my writing business.
So, I'll see you on Wednesday.
Should You Quit Your Day Job?
April 14, 2007
Who doesn't want a fulltime writer's lifestyle? After all, we can go to work in our pajamas, work when we want to, shave or not shave, or, in general, have all the personal hygiene and social skills of a rabid wolverine, and nobody will care except possibly our spouses or family.
Well, oddly enough, I don't do any of those things. I dress casual, but that usually means jeans and a sweatshirt in winter, shorts and a T-shirt in summer. I shave every day except Saturday, and I value my personal hygiene, if not my social skills.
I was thinking about this because of John Scalzi's blogpost
about taxes and quitting your day job. As John notes, his wife makes a very good living that includes health insurance. Amen, brother. I am so there.
In addition, John writes quite articulately about Q1 of the new year, in which you may possibly owe the government additional monies from the previous year (I got some back from the federal government, but owed the state several hundred--it never seems to matter how much I pay the state. Every year I increase my quarterly payouts to the state, and every year I still owe them money), just about the same time you owe them for your first quarter. As Ross Perot said, "Hear that giant sucking sound?" For a freelancer, it's all your savings going whoosh.
As John comments as well, he's owed a lot of money by a lot of people.
I'm not too bad in that regard. Still, on the fiction front, I'm still awaiting money from my agent from part of an advance (that by rights should have come months ago, but the first check to my agent disappeared somewhere in the mail), and hopefully will be receiving a royalty check soon. I've got money coming from a magazine I write for regularly, whenever they get around the publishing the last article I wrote for them. It didn't get pubbed this month, so if it gets pubbed in May, I'll get the money sometime in May or even later. On the other hand, I signed a contract early in January for three big writing gigs and received 50% up front. Now I have to complete these things in order to get the rest. Hopefully I'll be on target with the first one so I can get $6000 or so in June, and the second one is smaller, but I can't do it until they complete their surveys, and the third one isn't due until September. And I'm trying to complete the manuscripts of the 4th Derek Stillwater novel so I can turn it in for the remainder of the advance, assuming the check doesn't get lost in the mail somewhere between my publisher, my agent and myself.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying a freelance writer's life isn't all pajamas and late nights. In fact, primarily what we give up (bosses and benefits and commutes, oh my) is the security of regular income. Yes, I actually make more money as a writer than I did as a cytogenetics technologist, but one of the positive things about working for "da man" was that every two weeks I knew how much money I had coming in.
So should you give up your day job?
Hey, if you wanted to make $40,000 a year and you suddenly got a book contract for one book for $40,000 (congratulations, you're doing great), I would suggest you don't give up your day job. Your agent will get a cut, the government will get its cut (boy will they) and the money will be split up into 2 or 3 chunks, most likely, and although you may know when it's coming generally, you sure as hell don't know when it's coming specifically. And there's a really big assumption that you'll get a second contract and even if you do, that you'll get it exactly 12 months after the money from your first one runs out. (Good luck with that. I don't know any writers who live that way).
Although I love being a freelancer, I've discovered that for my psychological survival I need to develop a sort of faith-based approach to money. I let Leanne handle it and I keep the faith that checks will come in when I need them to (more or less). It helps to have more than one source of income (or at least one that is very reliable and regular), although too many revenue streams can become a headache (I've been there, too--nothing like having 8 deadlines in one week to convince you you need to restructure).
When I think about my writing income, I often think about Rockefeller's response when asked what the stock market was going to do. When asked, he said, "Fluctuate."
Writing As Chess
April 13, 2007
So, I'm working on book #4 of the Derek Stillwater series, and I write this:Derek spun, sprinted around the side of the Malibu house and suddenly found himself in mid-air. Popovitch’s beach house rested on the top of a high, steep bluff above the Pacific Ocean.“Sssshhhhiiiiiiittttttt!”He dropped into the scrub and sand on the side of the bluff, tried to stop his fall, and tumbled. Derek dug into the hillside with his heels and hands, trying to stop from rolling all the way to the bottom of the bluff. Each time he hit the ground, a cloud of dirt and dust churned upward, surrounding him. It got in his eyes and his nose and mouth. He couldn’t see.Heart hammering, scrabbling at the rocks and brush, Derek was able to stop from somersaulting to the bottom, but down he went. In a barely controlled fall, he lunged from brush to brush and rock to rock, gaining speed. Thirty feet from the sandy beach he lost his balance and fell, spinning the remaining distance to the sand, where he thudded to a halt.I am so fucking stupid, he thought.
Here's the problem. It's not going to work. You see, I wrote this chapter, and I thought, "You know, I love this, but it doesn't take me where I want to go." So I decided to rewrite it. Only I didn't, I told myself, "Leave it in, maybe it'll lead you to something interesting." So I did. Now, this morning, I'm realizing that it probably needs to go. (Although I like it, so I need to think about this a bit).
I'm maybe halfway through the story. This has happened to me before and when it does, this is typically where it does. I think I've reached that point where the whole novel becomes a chess game. I know where I want to go. There are a pile of leads for the characters to follow, complications are set up, the plot is in motion, and I just have to figure out how to follow the path I've laid to the end.
To me this is like a chess game. I'm thinking a good four or five moves ahead. If Derek does this (if I write this), then this will happen and this will happen, which will lead me to this. If Derek does this, then this will happen and that will happen, but that might night take me where I want to go.
I'm sure that novelists who outline don't have this problem. I've tried working with an outline and it just plain doesn't work for me. I wish it did, but it doesn't, so I don't. I recently read Tess Gerritsen's blog about her method and ours is similar, although even by my follow-where-it-goes style she seems crazy. She might change a character's name or gender halfway through, and she just leaves it, figuring she'll fix it during rewrite. If I do that I'll miss something. When things go awry like that I need to go back and fix it. Usually they don't, but sometimes.
Am I worried? No. I don't even think it's like a car stuck in the snow, back-and-forthing to get out, although sometimes it seems like that. I'm auditioning scenes, actually, trying to do something dramatic and fun and hopefully unexpected--if it's unexpected to me, hopefully it will be for the readers--that will nonetheless advance my plot. Now, in the scene above, Derek and his partner are confronted by an LA cop who has every reason to be pissed off at Derek and intends to lock him up for an extended period of time for questioning, meanwhile there's a terrorist with a... well, never mind. But the fact is, although I want the LA cops nipping at Derek's heels, I don't want him locked up, which would sort of kill the point of the book, wouldn't it?
Hmmm, maybe this works after all.
April 12, 2007
My oldest son, Ian, is a writer. Not wants
to be a writer--is
a writer. He sits down either with the laptop or with a notebook (one of many scattered around the house) and writes stories. I don't know how many he's got going at once. Too many, probably, and both my wife and I suggest he needs to finish them. Some of them he does finish and that's good.
He has some notion of being a writer when he's an adult. He's 13, so it's possible he'll decide he wants to do something else. He's also a musician and he's expressed an interest in being a band director or music teacher, as well. In addition to playing guitar and bassoon, he composes little songs and they're pretty damned good for a 13-year-old. Also he talks about writing screenplays and directing.
The point is, Ian has a million-and-one ideas. He's always throwing out some title or concept and saying, "How does that sound?"
Most of the time I say, "Sounds cool," or something like that. I try to be the supportive parent. He's got one story idea he calls Shadow Fish. I'm not sure what it is, but whenever he mentions it, his younger brother, Sean, starts laughing. Sean doesn't think Shadow Fish sounds cool, he thinks it sounds silly and doesn't hesitate to tell his older brother so. (One son a writer, the other a studio head or editor?)
As a result, Ian keeps coming back to me with, "What do you think of Shadow Fish?" Finally, after the fifth or sixth time I got frustrated and said, "Ian, it doesn't matter what I think of a title or even an idea. It's what you do with it that matters."
No truer words have been spoken about creativity, I don't think. Here's some examples:
A cop chases a serial killer.
Well, as an idea, it's fine. But it covers "Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs" and all of John Sandford's novels, Joe Konrath's novels and a few billion others. It's what they've done with those ideas that makes them work. It's the impact of their characters--from Hannibal Lechter to Lucas Davenport to Jack Daniels--and the way the story is structured that matters.
A fisherman chases a whale.
"Moby Dick" of course, but that hardly covers the story, any more than "a fisherman battles with a big fish" covers "The Old Man and the Sea."
My own books tend to plow pretty well-tilled soil. The Derek Stillwater novels are classic thrillers in that he's trying to stop some awful event from happening and there are a lot of obstacles in his way and there's a ticking clock to help give suspense.
Most mysteries of one sort or another are: somebody dies and somebody tries to find out who and why.
In fact, that description of a mystery is so fundamental to the form, that it describes Agatha Christie and Ed McBain and Sue Grafton and just about everybody else, including my own books. The twist to a thriller tends to be that "somebody dies and somebody tries to find out who and why before they kill somebody else."
It's what you do with these ideas that matter. It's what you do with these ideas that involve creativity and craft and, dare I say it, art.
Anything But Writing
April 11, 2007
In which I ponder many things, but none of them are writing.
--more or less took yesterday off to spend with my kids. Took them bowling. I suck, but I got on a mini-streak in the first game and bowled five strikes--three of them in the last frame!--for a score of 137. Anything over 100 is a good score for me. Second game--97.
--took the kids, also, to see "Meet the Robinsons." I'm wildly lukewarm about this film (and when there are 7 credited scriptwriters, that's typically a warning sign), but I did like the concept of "a brilliant failure." Ie., we learn from our failures, not our successes. Liked it better than "Bridge to Terabithia," which I hated. Actually, the problem with Terabithia was false-advertising, since we went to watch what we thought was going to be a fun fantasy movie, but instead turned out to be about a little girl's death, grief, guilt and the healing power of imagination.
--Don Imus is in trouble for referring, apparently, to the Rutger's women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." As usual, I am alternately appalled and impressed by Reverend Al Sharpton's ability to put himself front and center on any potential news story involving race. Call me an ignorant white guy (which I am), but shouldn't the women be more pissed off about being called "hos" than for being called "nappy-headed"? (which, although yes, I understand that is a perjorative term, does seem, er, to be an accurate description of most of the women on the team). And what of the Caucasian women (woman?) on the team. Does she say, "Hey, I'm not nappy-headed"? My wife thinks the press ought to ask the women what they think and ask Sharpton and everybody else to butt out.
--Nancy Pelosi goes to Syria (a day after three Republican colleagues, I might add) and the media can't make up their mind whether to cover whether she's stepping out of line or her fashion sense. In defense of Pelosi, Syria and everybody else in the Middle East seems aware that the Republicans no longer have much say in what the hell is going on in U.S. government today, let alone in two years, so they're treating it as a meet-the-new-boss kind of thing and George I'll-defend-my-stupid-decisions-until-YOUR-dying-day Bush should have much bigger problems to concentrate on--in my opinion.
--We introduced our kids to the glories of "MacGyver" last night, thanks to NetFlix. It holds up pretty well; the cars and some of the clothes are dated, but the concept works very well for them.
--broke off part of a molar eating some nuts Sunday night. Doesn't hurt, although it's sensitive to cold. My wife thinks that means there's a root canal in my near future. Root canal, cap, or just pull the damn thing. Anything they do, though, I'm sure is going to hurt more than actually breaking the tooth did. I'll find out on Thursday.
The Numbers Game
April 10, 2007
For your elucidation, entertainment and probably dismay, I'm going to show you a bunch of numbers. Now bear with me, they're interesting numbers. They're mostly from a Publishers Weekly article that listed how many copies many bestsellers sold in 2006. These all seem to be hardcovers. They were just 2006 sales. They were supposed to include returns into January 2007, but the article admits they probably didn't in all cases. They also excluded book club sales and foreign sales.
The number 1 book in 2006.
For One More Day by Mitch Albom--sold 2,735,232 copies. (The article points out that in 2004, Mitch only made it to #2 or #3 because The Da Vinci Code held the #1 spot with over 4 million copies).
The number 2 book: Cross by James Patterson--sold 1,325,197 (And you need to think about that for just a moment. The #1 fiction book--I'm just dealing with fiction here--sold 1.4 million copies MORE than the #2 book!)
Lisey's Story by Stephen King--1,200,000
Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich--1,050,397
Now, Lisey's Story ranked #6 and Twelve Sharp ranked #7. Let's drop down just a bit to another well-known crime novelist, Patricia Cornwell, at #12.
At Risk by Patricia Cornwell--702,800 (Whoooaaaa! She sold almost HALF of Lisey's Story!)
Oh, let's throw in one nonfiction title, just for grins.
You: On A Diet by Michael Roisen and Mehmet Oz.--1,297,000
Now let's jump way down the list.
Echo Park by Michael Connelly--389,614. (Think about that. Mitch Albom's novel sold almost 8 times the numbers of Michael Connellys' latest Harry Bosch novel)
Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich--356,024
Act of Treason by Vince Flynn--354,000
Dead Watch by John Sandford--344,516
Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen--275,000
Gone by Jonathan Kellerman--221,335
Under Orders by Dick Francis--219,630
Hundred Dollar Baby by Robert B. Parker--180,017
Well, the list goes on.
Here's a bit from the Nielsen Bookscan regarding 2004 sales:
In 2004, Nielsen Bookscan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books in the United States and here’s what they came up with:
Of those 1.2 million, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies.
Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies.
Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies.
Only 10 books sold more than a million copies each.
The average book in the United States sells about 500 copies.
Those numbers are probably a bit skewed (as are the PW numbers--if there's one truism in publishing, it's that nobody knows how many copies have sold on any given day), but let's call them illustrative.
Take home message? Well, there's a big freakin' difference between the top of the bestsellers list and the bottom. These are just hardcovers. Apparently the 300,000,000 people in the United States don't buy a lot of hardcovers. Mass market paperback numbers are significantly higher. I'm sure there's others--why don't you tell me.
Oh, and I couldn't resist.
Number of viewers who watched the "American Idol" 2006 premier: 37,400,000
Number of viewers who watched this year's Academy Awards: 39,900,000.
Either makes you feel humble or nauseated, doesn't it?
Dealing With Rejection
April 9, 2007
I got slapped down a little bit by the moderator of the eMWA listserv yesterday. There had been a number of posts complaining about Poison Pen Press's slow response (it is very, very slow). I agree that PPP is slow, but if you send stuff to them, it's to be expected. My response was to someone complaining that after waiting over a year to be rejected, there were no comments. (Been there). I wrote:For the person who complained that PPP didn't give you comments.Uh, get over it. I'm sorry, but editors may or may not comment, but even when they do, so what? Rarely-if ever--is it useful. My agent and I laugh about editor comments because they're rarely useful. "Doesn't meet my needs." "Didn't think the character was strong enough." "Just didn't grip me." "Loved the pace, but wanted more character development." "Loved the character, didn't like the pace." Blah, blah, blah.Look, all a rejection typically means is that on this particular day, this particular editor didn't respond to your work. Period. It's possible you're just not writing well enough yet, but it's also possible that, well, what I just said. An editor/agent reads hundreds of manuscripts a week and they're looking for something that grabs them, for whatever reason. They're programmed to turn you down. What one editor will respond to another one won't; what one editor won't respond to on Thursday, might respond to it on Tuesday, or when the moon is full, or when they didn't have a hangover from the office party the night before, or they're going through a divorce, or their dog barfed on the carpet, or their boss chewed them out, or they missed their subway stop, or their allergies/hemorrhoids/herpes is flaring up.This is just the business. You can either live with it and keep at it, or live without it. And if you throw up your hands and say, "Screw it, this is just wrong," well, I can guarantee you the publishing industry won't miss you. I see no worldwide shortage of reading material anytime in the near future.A little tough love from Mark on Easter Sunday.
Well, not terribly diplomatic. Still, was there, in anything I said, a lie? No, I don't think so. I was just declining to be the guy to hold your hand and pat you on the back and send out words of encouragement. I was just the guy saying, Yeah, it sucks, but it's part of the business, so get used to it.
Do you ever get past the rejection thing?
If you visit bestselling author John Sandford's website
, there is a section where he writes comments about each books. Here's a slightly edited version from his comments about his last novel, DEAD WATCH
.I was about 75,000 - 80,000 words, and sent what I'd written off to my editor at Putnam's. He came back with what I consider to be a classic editor's line: "I didn't like it nearly as much as I hoped I would."Translated into English, that means, "Your book sucks, pal."Part of the problem can be seen above, in the 'detour'. I was trying to write a political thriller, but I kept having to stop to explain some fairly complex political thoughts. In other words, I was killing the thriller aspect of the book, and in the opinion of my editor, who shall go unnamed, but whose name is Neil Nyren, neither did it work as a more literary adventure. I was sort of stuck in a bog in the middle.After a fairly agonizing week of review, I decided that I had two choices: pass on a book for this year (the original really didn't work that well) or rework what I had into a thriller. I decided to go for the thriller and started ripping things up.
There are 2 things I find most interesting about this. One is, even at Sandford's level, his editor told him he didn't like the book. That's gotta be tough to do, because Sandford brings in boodles of bucks to the publisher and who wants to insult the cash cow? And two, Sandford didn't go all prima donna and insist on its publication. He rethought things and went to work. Sandford's a pro, through and through, and although I imagine he wasn't happy about this, he did it.
And if you go through Sandford's comments for other books, this was not the first time. He did this for his second Lucas Davenport novel as well. The editor said it was okay, but Sandford didn't want to settle for "okay," so he reworked it.
So, how do we deal with rejection? Hey, it sucks. Grow a thick skin. Stay busy, so you don't think too much about it. Try to learn from it, if at all possible. Don't take it personal. And trust me, eventual acceptance makes dealing with rejection easier.
Last 10 Books I've Read
April 8, 2007
I guess I've been reading a lot lately. Here's my latest 10, with a few comments.
Stealing the Dragon by Tim Maleeny
Already reviewed it here, but it's a terrific debut novel.
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
The first in the YA Alex Rider novels. Pretty much James Bond as a teenager. Good fun.
The Watchman by Robert Crais
Crais focuses on Joe Pike. I really enjoyed this, though I like the Elvis Cole-focused novels better.
Plug Your Book by Steve Weber
I didn't care for this much. Focuses too much on Amazon rankings.
The Side Effect by Bob Reiss
A rather odd biotech thriller. I thought it ran on a bit long and felt padded by the end, but I liked the premise and the main character's voice quite a bit.
Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman
Another fine Alex Delaware novel.
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by JK Rowling
Had to re-read this one. Really terrific, as have been all her books. I'll be sad to read the 7th and final book this summer.
Trial & Error by Paul Levine
Hasn't come out yet. I'll review it when it does, but it was a lot of fun.
Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz
The 2nd in the Alex Rider books. Quite a bit of fun. As good as the first? Maybe not, but pretty consistent.
Fear by Jeff Abbott
I like Abbott quite a bit, but I had problems with this one. It's overly convoluted and by the time I got to the end I wasn't sure what the hell had happened. Still, Jeff's a good writer and his portrayals of PTSD in this novel are intriguing.
How about you?
April 6, 2007
As Joe Moore pointed out yesterday, for every novelist whining about his life, there's another thousand aspiring writers who would gladly take his or her place. (What, Joe? That's not what you said? All that talk about hoofbeats and herds of writers? Well, I'm paraphrasing.)
If there is any comment or defense I should make about my relative lack of celebration upon receiving a book contract, it's that when you're a fulltime writer, your reaction to these things gets a little complicated. For instance, I signed a nonfiction contract early this year for three projects, whose total is 20 times more than what I received as an advance for my last novel. Did I celebrate? Well, I was pleased. I didn't dance around in my underwear to Bob Seeger tunes (or run naked through the streets screaming, "Eureka!" for which the neighbors are thankful). I don't know this for a fact, but I kind of doubt that most businesses throw a party when they receive a contract for work. I'm just envisioning road construction crew cracking open the champagne and caviar, saying, "Yee-ha, we get to refinish I-75 from 14 Mile Road to 7 Mile Road!" They probably say, "All right, let's get to work."
That said, I was walking Frodo yesterday and--this happens to me rather often--I had the thought, "You are one lucky bastard, you know that?"
I'm making a living as a writer, something I've wanted to do for a very long time. Not only that, I'm making a pretty good living. Bill Gates is safe, but I'm doing well. Generally speaking, I like what I'm writing. I love working out of the house. Let me emphasize that: I LOVE WORKING OUT OF THE HOUSE. It wouldn't be for everybody, but it works well for me. I can justify writing novels during my workday. It's not something I have to squeeze in during my lunch hour (been there, done that), early in the morning or late at night (for years, I did that). Sometimes I still do write in the evenings. The kids' book I wrote was pretty much written in the evenings. I often still work on the weekends.
But the fact is, I'm doing what I love and getting paid for it. It's a license to steal.
So yeah, Officer Callahan, I do feel lucky. Go ahead, make my day!
How Do You Celebrate?
April 4, 2007
Over on the Inkspots
blog (which I can honestly say is becoming one of the more interesting blogs I check daily), Julia Buckley posted about her reaction to the news that she was getting published and wondered how others celebrated?
My experiences with publication have been so quirky, with deals falling through, self-pubbing, and such, that I'm afraid I never did crack open a champagne bottle or even give a shout of "Yippee." Or maybe that's just me.
Now that I'm a fulltime freelancer and novel contracts seem to be part of the business, I tend to not get overly excited about the whole thing, fretting instead over contractual details and the eventual contract fulfillment and marketing issues that await me. I do, though, think of Mike Noonan's routine, from Stephen King's "Bag of Bones." Mike would leave the last line unfinished, open a bottle of champagne, pour two glasses, and have his wife Joanna type the last line and The End. She would say, "Well, that's all right then," and they would drink champagne.
When I complete a manuscript sometimes I think, "Well, that's all right then." (It most definitely is, isn't it?) No champagne. (Don't really like it, anyway). And come to think about it, I did recently complete a kids' novel and I primarily celebrated by mailing it off to my agent. Maybe there's something ritualistic about the visit to the Lake Orion or Oxford Post Office. (There is at the Oxford PO--my blood pressure goes up; chronically understaffed and reliably surly. Certainly seems ritualistic). Occasionally I send a little prayer to the Creator or the gods or whatever whimsical forces bestow blessings in the universe wishing this creation's financial success. But otherwise my publication notification, contracts and eventual book release (if books were Klingons, they would escape! my friend Andy tells me) remain relatively celebration free.
Maybe I've taken all the fun out of it.
Of course, I get excited over all this, but there may be a bit of a Puritan or superstitious freak in me that says, "Shhh, don't get too excited over this, if you get too excited, it won't happen."
For those of you who are having your fiction regularly published, how do you celebrate, if you do?
And for those of you who hope to be published, how do you think you'll celebrate?
Bestsellers Losing Money
April 4, 2007
From today's Shelf Awareness:
Robert Gray: Harry Potter & the Deathly Loss Leader
Yes, kids, it's scary. It's mysterious. It's not for the faint of heart. It can be a dramatic sales builder and a profit killer, but it is also one of the inescapable facts of retail life.
It is that fiercest of villains, the Loss Leader.
And the fate of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with a 12 million copy first printing and pre-order discounting in extremis, seems to be to reign forever as loss leader king of the publishing underworld.
In February, Marc Perton noted in a Consumer Reports
piece that he'd already fended off early sorties by Loss Leader, cleverly disguised as Barnes & Noble (40% off on a pre-order of Harry Potter #7) and Amazon (46% off). That was just a warning shot over the bow.
I received an e-mail recently from a very good bookseller expressing frustration with the extreme discounting techniques currently being deployed for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by online and chain bookstores, big box discount stores and warehouse clubs, grocery chains, convenience stores, gas stations--the list, as they say, goes on.
The bookseller reasonably asked how many--or how few--of those millions of copies being printed would be "sold at a fair price by hard-working independent booksellers, who will work extra hard producing Harry Potter parties in the hopes of selling some books."
It's a good question, and one too easily answered. Most of those millions of copies will be sold as loss leaders, and few will be sold at full retail by independent bookstores.
It is also a classic biblio-philosophical conundrum: If 12 million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sell in the magic forest, do they make any sound in terms of profitability?
The answer is complicated.
And how much will it matter to the nine-year-old who has already pre-ordered a copy from somewhere and is eagerly counting the endless days until July 21?
Still, indie booksellers live in this world and must find ways to deal with Harry Potter and the Deathly Loss Leader. Whether they sacrifice margin for sales or sell at full retail and sacrifice total units, HP7 will still play a critical role in their summer business plans.
So how are independent bookstores preparing both to welcome Harry and to do noble battle with the evil Loss Leader?
A quick broomstick flight among bookstore websites provides some intriguing early clues. Hang on to your hats, kids; this will be a fast and bumpy hyperlinked ride.
By definition, loss leader implies sacrificial price breaks, but some indies are offering pre-order reserves for no discount whatsoever, including the Reading Grounds
, Diane's Books
, Books on First
, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza
and Bunch of Grapes Bookstore
Other booksellers have chosen to sell the novel at substantial discounts. Among those already offering reduced prices for pre-orders are Saturn Booksellers
, Toadstool Bookshops
, the Book Vault
. R.J. Julia Booksellers
, Millrace Bookshop at the Gristmill
and Bookland & Café
, which adds a 25% off coupon for a second book "so you can find something to read while you wait for July to come!" Yankee Bookshop
an features an interesting mathematical alternative.Tattered Cover Book Store
has opted for a modest discount and a number of promotional activities and events for the community. Events have traditionally been a way for independent bookstores to counter the discounting wave, and both King's English Bookstore
and the Bookloft
are showcasing their celebrations online. Queen Anne Books
is posting occasional 'missives" to keep loyal and impatient Harry Potter readers primed.
Combining events and discounting is a popular strategy. Titcomb's Bookshop
, Quail Ridge Books
and Left Bank Books
offer variations on the theme.
Perhaps the most intriguing strategy I've found online has been the one taken by indie booksellers who've chosen to employ good wizardry by turning a loss leader into a charitable donation. This option has been employed by Odyssey Bookshop
, Orinda Books
and Capitola Book Café
, which gives its customers a choice between a 30% full discount, or 20% off the book and a 10% donation to the local literacy program. The website's challenge: "What would Harry do?"
Our final stop on the broomstick tour will be Learned Owl Bookshop
, which offers not only an irresistible Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows release date countdown clock, but a creative, charitable answer to the loss leader blues.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Loss Leader is coming to retailers near you. What's your plan?--Robert Gray
(column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now
Food for thought, ey?
Writers & Money
April 3, 2007Tobias Buckell
has an interesting and altogether too honest blog entry about money, novels and freelance writing.
In it, he references John Scalzi's blog
, who has a long and interesting and honest post about how much money he made off his fiction in 2006.
John further links to a similar post he wrote the year before
where he breaks down his writing income.
All three are quite fascinating. John Scalzi's doing very, very well as a freelance writer and novelist. So is Toby, for that matter, though it sort of pales to Scalzi's income. But, then again, Toby's just getting started. I'm somewhere inbetween the two of them.
Anyway, can writer's make money writing? Read and decide for yourself.
April 2, 2007
Well, I've spent much of the day in a flurry of e-mails back-and-forth between one of my clients and a researcher for the government. I could swear, at times, that the government I was communicating with was for another country, because we didn't seem to be speaking the same language.
And, I'll be gone most of the day tomorrow, visiting my mother with my bro & sis. My mom's b-day is today, and if my math is correct, she's 80. Due to Alzheimer's, most of the time she's not really sure who I am, although she tries to fake it. It's pretty clear when she starts talking about her 12-year-old son Mark that she's not sure who she's talking to, though. Anyway...
I'm wishing I was in that picture, right about now.
April 1, 2007
I wrote a column for another blog (yes, cheating behind your back) called Michigan Mayem & Murder.
Check it out.