Mark Terry

Friday, April 29, 2011

Full Disclosure

April 29, 2011
I'm tired today and fairly annoyed with the publishing industry, traditional or self, so in a fit of whatever, I thought I'd expose myself.

A couple days ago I got a direct deposit from Amazon UK for all the sales of my e-books from the beginning of the year in the UK. The check was for $12.51.

Today, I got notice of a direct deposit of more or less the month's sales for my e-books (except The Fallen) from Amazon. The deposit was $129.90.

Here's the breakdown of units sold per book from 4/1/11 to 4/29/11. Yes, I'm a masochist.

Deadly By The Dozen ........................ 3


Freelance Writing For A Living .......1

Hot Money ........................................... 2

Monster Seeker .................................. 3

The Battle For Atlantis ..................... 14

The Devil's Pitchfork ........................ 24

The Serpent's Kiss ............................. 6

I would point out that Freelance Writing For A Living has only been up for about a week. I would also point out that the one copy sold was to me for my Kindle. I would also point out that a single sale (by the author) put the book on the #24 spot on the Amazon Kindle bestseller list for Nonfiction Reference Journalism and somewhere around #84 or so on one of the other lists. (Do not believe the significance of Amazon bestseller lists).

And because no one's around to give me 40 lashes for being a real masochist today, I would point out that since the beginning of the year I have made a total of $395.19 on e-book royalties. I made $709 in royalties for the nonfiction book I co-wrote/ghosted that came out in October.

To-date my expenses for my e-books have totaled $425. So I'll probably be into profit for this year for e-books by the end of May, although unless sales do something remarkable I don't think it's much worth bragging about.

I also know that the royalty check, such as it is, for The Fallen sales in 2010 (1/1/10 to 12/31/10) is on its way and unfortunately, once you subtract the advance and my agent's commission, the check will very similar to the amount of money I've made to-date this year on all my e-books. And I'm not quite masochistic enough to break this down further by subtracting taxes.

Anyway, for everyone who wonders about these things and are enamored by the numbers fed us by Joe Konrath, etc., I had a discussion with another writer friend of mine who also handles the e-book sales for a very successful small publisher of science fiction and fantasy, and he commented that my numbers were pretty consistent with what he saw with their 30 or 40 authors.

Lottery tickets anyone?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Money and Writing

April 28, 2011
Discovering I wanted to be a writer in about 1985 or so and eventually getting published in 1993 or so and then making a full-time living as a writer starting in 2004, I am constantly amazed by misconceptions - often my own - about the true nature of book advances and royalties and earnings in general. I'm a far better judge of nonfiction magazine and corporate work fees than I am of books, although I'm better at it now than I used to be. However, I'm regularly reminded by various writers of the, er, modestly of financial returns on various writing projects.

Kelly James-Enger's blog about freelance writing has a very honest breakdown of her finances and advance and royalties and year-over-year earnings on her book Six-Figure Freelancing, which she presents here.

It's illuminating:

Today, average advances are shrinking, in part due to the economy (publishing’s a business like any other) and to the ghe glut of “celebrity” books hitting the shelves. When Snooki and The Situation (both of Jersey Shore “fame”) get book deals, that’s bad news for midlist authors like me. The more money publishers shell out for these kinds of titles, the less they have to spend on non-celebrity authors like myself.

The Happiest Man On Earth

April 28, 2011
It occurred to me that, by and large, I don't have a clue what to do.

That's largely a "don't have a clue what to do" in terms of the direction I wish to aim my current writing career.

Oh, I keep doing the things I've been doing - writing fiction, some of which gets traditionally published, some of which gets self-published; writing nonfiction; editing a technical journal; etc.

Some of it seems to be working out okay and some of it seems to be going nowhere. I've been frittering a fair amount of mental energy and time on a website for a publishing venture, all the while thinking of my 2009 experience with publishing that didn't work out.

I keep putting time and money into e-book self-publishing hoping I'll hit some sort of tipping point and sales will take off. Gee, I don't have to have a JA Konrath or Amanda Hocking type sales, but I'd like to do more than just cover my expenses (actually, I'd like to cover my expenses, too, although I seem to be doing that long term).

I wrote a nonfiction book proposal earlier this year, found an agent who liked it but wanted a specific type of person to write a foreword for it and it's taken me 4 months to find that person. Hopefully that'll be taken care of and my agent can start marketing it and hopefully we'll get some sort of book deal that has some sort of advance. I'd be very happy with that (the bigger the better at this stage of the game).

I've been applying for tons of writing gigs with very little response, which is unusual. Often this sort of thing kicks in at unexpected moments, but I'm finding this year's writing job market to be irritating, to say the least - a lot of crap-paying work, and by crap-paying work I mean stuff that would turn out to be $2 or $3 per hour pay! Yeah, that bad. And yet, they insist they want a high-level professional writer.

Fact is. I don't know what's going on or which direction to go. I'll keep doing my thing and I'll keep trying different things, and I've got money coming in, just not as much as I want (keeping in mind, of course, that 2010 doubled my income from 2009, which was my worst year). This writing biz can be a very, very strange thing and it's sure as hell unpredictable. Faith and persistence plays a huge role. I'm convinced something good will come along. I just wish it would.

How about y'all? How's 2011 treating you?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Battle For Atlantis

April 27, 2011
I've been looking at my e-book sales a lot (no kidding, at least once a day) and an interesting thing has been happening. My dominant sales have been THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT'S KISS, and I find it interesting how there seems to be a trailing effect, although I'm not anal enough to graph it out. What I mean is, PITCHFORK tends to sell relatively high numbers, and then the next couple weeks' numbers for SERPENT seem to be a close match. That makes sense. PITCHFORK is the first Derek Stillwater novel and SERPENT is the second, so if people liked PITCHFORK presumably they will turn around and purchase SERPENT.

I have other titles up and there's no particular pattern of sales yet, except one.

THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS continues to grow. In fact, its sales seem to rival THE SERPENT'S KISS and, I find it interesting, is starting to sell on the Amazon UK site. Now that the Amazon Germany site is part of the deal, I'll be curious to see what, if any, of my titles sell there.

Anyway, THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS was originally intended as a 5-book series featuring Peter Namaka, who discovers he is the son of the Hawaiian goddess of the sea and, as it turns out, the Heir of Ar'Tur, with more than a nod to Arthurian legends. (And more than a nod to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson novels).

The growth of sales for ATLANTIS has convinced me to start working on the follow-up, which was originally going to be titled THE SPECTER OF AVALON, although I think perhaps THE GHOST OF AVALON might be a more appropriate title for a middle grade fantasy novel.

This might, in its own way, be one of the more useful and interesting aspects of the e-book phenomenon: writers can judge reader interest in their titles and do follow-ups that go in that direction. Of course, a year ago that wouldn't have made much sense because it's only been recently that ATLANTIS has started growing in sales (the last couple months), still ... I wasn't inclined to write the follow-up if ATLANTIS only sold 1 or 2 copies a month. Unless I really, really wanted to.

So that's interesting, I think, and pretty cool. I sure had a good time writing ATLANTIS and look forward to seeing what adventures Peter and his friends have. I guess I should also get my act together and make sure ATLANTIS is available on other platforms.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Valley of Shadows

April 26, 2011
Hey, a box of these showed up on my front porch yesterday. Pretty! And shiny!

More info to follow.

Monday, April 25, 2011


April 25, 2011
My latest book, FREELANCE WRITING FOR A LIVING, is now available for the Kindle. Earlier versions of some of the chapters are available on my blog, but I have refined, updated and added material. It will be available for the Barnes & Noble Nook soon, and I will be making it available on Smashwords shortly as well.



A Day In The Life, November 12

Chapter 1: What Types of Writing Jobs Are There?

A Day In The Life, November 6

Chapter 2: What To Write About

A Day In The Life, July 26

Chapter 3: Where To Find Jobs

A Day In The Life, September 13

Chapter 4: On Research and Interviews

A Day In The Life, January 3

Chapter 5: How Much To Charge

A Day In The Life, January 5

Chapter 6: Treat It Like A Business

A Day In The Life, January 6

Chapter 7: The Attitude Of A Freelance Writer

A Day In The Life, March 1

Chapter 8: Evolution

A Day In The Life, March 8

Chapter 9: Long or Short, Fiction or Non-Fiction

A Day In The Life, March 9

Chapter 10: Contracts

A Day In The Life, March 10

Chapter 11: What’s A Living?


April 25, 2011
My writing career is strange. It always has been, I think. I started out wanting to be a novelist, then got successfully sidetracked into nonfiction, now I write damn near everything and make a living at it.

I know a fair number of writers who started out with nonfiction and shifted to fiction. Some who started in fiction and stayed there, and just about every variation possible.

There have been some recent blog posts by John Scalzi and Tobias S. Buckell where they put up graphs showing the mix of their revenue, where it's coming from. Then I compare to what Kristin Luna does for a living - primarily a travel writer, whose blog, Camels & Chocolate wears me out just reading it (in a sorta jealous sorta way). And I look at my friends Erica Orloff, with her mix of mostly fiction and some ghostwriting and nonfiction, and Jon VanZile, who does a lot of paid blogging and editing and ghostwriting, and...

I know an awful lot of writers and one of the things that occurs to me is I get into trouble when I try to emulate someone else's writing career. We're all unique in our writing careers and because writing is such an individual thing that comes out of our experiences, personality and skill set, it's tough to look at, say, JA Konrath, and say, "Hey, I'm going to duplicate his career."

Be yourself, pursue things your own way, and enjoy the twists and turns. I had a good discussion with my brother this weekend - he's a composer and musician and college professor - and his son is pursuing a degree in creative writing and my oldest son is interested in filmmaking and creative writing and digital media arts with the idea of working in TV or film - and I commented that most creative careers don't go in a straight line. My brother commented, "Mine's been more of a spiral and I can't always tell if it's an upward spiral or a downward spiral."

Yeah, no kidding. I often do find myself returning to things I didn't think I would. And going after new things that don't necessarily work out. Some do, some don't.

That's a creative career.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Strengths And Weaknesses

April 22, 2011
I've been thinking a lot lately about the various components of my writing career. The novel writing, the magazine writing, the business writing, the technical editing, the general editing, the website content, etc.

I was also thinking of a comment John Scalzi made in an interview recently, in that he told his daughter that you shouldn't just do the things you're good at, or that's the only thing you'll do and you'll never find out if you can do other things better. Or words to that effect.

I think that's a good enough reason to experiment with things in your life and I think often that we should do things simply because we enjoy doing them, not because we're terribly good at them or they make money for us.

That said, in terms of writing a business, there also is a lot to be said about concentrating on your areas of success.

What am I talking about?

As mentioned, I'm looking at various components of my writing career. A couple years ago I tried publishing an e-newsletter for physicians who run their own laboratories. I had to fold it after a couple months, primarily because subscription growth was far slower than expected and it was sucking up a lot of my time. I still think, if I had deeper pockets and more time to give to it, that POL Bulletin would have been some sort of success. (It might have been better not to try it during the worst economic crisis in 70 years, too).

Now I'm considering a slightly different publishing venture of sorts and I'm approaching it far slower and far more deliberately. I intend to let it grow rather than to try an explosion of launched success, having learned a lesson from 2009 when I had to abandon POL Bulletin. I'm thinking far more about marketing and social media. Interestingly, when I was working up that deal, I had several lengthy conversation with Jon VanZile and the new idea was in there, too, and I've had an opportunity to go back over those conversations with different eyes.

All of which is kind of vague, isn't it? That's because nothing's concrete yet. But I've been spending time thinking it through, deciding exactly what I want this entity to be and what I want it to do. I wish I knew more about website design. I wish I had more capital to draw on.

I also wonder a bit at my motivations, if I would be that interested in doing this if I were otherwise very busy and some of my other projects were taking off instead of lying fallow. Know thyself, I guess.

The point here, I think, is sometimes you have to take risks as a writer, but hopefully calculated risks. I often look back at POL Bulletin and realize that the only regret I have about it is that I didn't have the resources to give it more time. And, oddly enough, one of the fallouts from that gig was I linked up with a guy who's gone on to open his own secondary business and has thrown a lot of work my way as a result. You just never know.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Like NY As A Friend - Part 4

April 21, 2011
And our trip more or less wraps up with Saturday April 16th...

We got up slightly later, closer to 7:00 AM, and Leanne and I did room checks to make sure the kids hadn't trashed their rooms or left anything in them (one of the guys almost walked out without his duffel bag). Then breakfast, then loading all our luggage onto the bus.

We got into NYC around 9:30 or so, landing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we stood around for a while before we could go wander. I was a little concerned about the Met with my group, given that they were a bunch of teenage boys whose interest in art was suspect. I'd talked to the tour provider about this earlier and he suggested we start with the Armory, which was a good call. The Armory is filled with suits of armor and samurai swords and weapons. We had to stay in our groups, more or less (Museum policy, actually, otherwise I would have let them go off on their own). My favorite thing was a room filled with maple inlay murals. Astonishing. Then into the American sculpture exhibit, which many of the boys seemed to like because there were a lot of nudes there, then into Egyptian art, walked through some Renaissance art, into the musical instrument section, the gift shop, then done.

Not nearly long enough. This is the day and the first location where the tiredness factor started to influence everyone. One of my group, who's a pretty good kid but a bit on the whiney side on a good day, got into it with me a bit because "I don't get to spend enough time on the cool stuff." I said, "You're just going to have to come back." He said, "We're not coming back." I said, "Not on this trip, but in your life. Trust me, I want to come back without 12 teenagers to follow around." In that you could probably spend 10 years in the Met and not see everything, I have some sympathy, but learning to compromise is part of what this trip is about.

We finally made it out of the Met and drove up (down?) to Harlem and had lunch at Sylvia's Soul Food. Our band directors had been raving about this restaurant. I think they oversold it, frankly. It's family style (for at least one of the band directors I'm sure that was the appeal - all you can eat!), and we had fried chicken, BBQ ribs, fried catfish, rice, corn bread, collard greens, potato salad and banana bread pudding. We all ate too much, which is easy to do there. I thought it was good, wish I'd eaten less, but didn't think it was the Second Coming of Southern Cooking like it was being sold to me as.

From Sylvia's we drove back down to 5th Avenue and unloaded at Rockefeller Center. This was also a part of the trip that I had some concerns with, because we were essentially spending the next 4 hours or so on 5th Avenue. 5th Avenue, for those who don't know, is home of a lot of high-end shops, most selling things none of us can afford. I was fairly ambivalent about how well a dozen teenagers (we picked up a girl in our group on this day) would do window shopping. Plus the weather sucked, cold and rainy. Had it been nicer I think we might have done a quick run up 5th Avenue, then rented bicycles in Central Park. I know at least one chaperone who had a smaller group took the subway over to Times Square.

We spent some time in St. Patrick's Cathedral. I lit a candle, figuring the world can use all the help it can get. I enjoyed St. Pat's a lot, then we headed out on 5th (getting more grumbles from my whiner who wanted to spend the rest of the day in the church, I guess). We stopped at Trump Tower to use the public bathrooms and to wander around for a while. There's a Nike store there and some other things. Then we headed further up to the Apple Store, which is just like every other Apple store, except bigger, more crowded, and hotter. As one of the kids said, "That was sort of anticlimactic." Yeah, I thought so, too. The Apple Store is next door to FAO Schwartz, and the kids all went in while Leanne and I stayed outside. Leanne was fielding calls from home about some band booster things and I and another chaperone were venting about how some of our kids were starting to annoy us (hey, I'd been good the whole trip, but I was tired, too, and 5th Avenue in the rain is hardly my idea of a good time). Determined to have a thorough New York City experience, I gave a homeless person my spare change (hey, I worked in Detroit for 18 years, this is not a new experience for me).

We then crossed the street, hit the Lindt chocolate store and bought chocolate. We forgot one of our kids when we left, but no panic this time. Her reaction was more like, "WTF?" and we caught up to her. We wandered back to Rockefeller Center and found out that this was where my whiner wanted to be because there was a Nintendo store there. We all split up and let them run amuck at Rockefeller Center, so Leanne and I and some of the chaperones and my kids basically got drinks and ate chocolate and found a place to sit and hang out.

[Just a story here. We found out that one of the chaperones took her group of girls to Tiffany's and asked the store person to see the most expensive ring there. It was $1.2 million. Each of the girls took a picture with the ring on their finger. I had to look at the male chaperone who told me that and said, "That should give every male hearing this chills." He said, "Yeah, early indoctrination."]

We loaded back on the bus and went to the jazz club Birdland and had an early dinner and listened to a jazz set provided by a trio. They were great and I liked Birdland a lot. (We'd had to pre-order food there. Unfortunately, we'd pre-ordered fried chicken for Sean, not knowing we'd have friend chicken for lunch).

By this time the rain had turned into a downpour with thunder and lightning. Our final event was going to the Top of the Rock (the observation deck on Rockefeller Center). Now, I must say, I've been to the top of the World Trade Towers (in 1987) and up in the CN Tower in Toronto and to the top of the Hancock Tower in Chicago. It's very cool. But there's something fairly unique about stepping out on the 67th floor of the Rockefeller and getting slammed with 40 mile per hour winds and rain and not being able to see a damned thing. Memorable, even if the experience isn't quite what you expected.

We finally got everybody together, back on the buses and headed home. Within about 30 minutes Sean said, "I think I'm going to throw up." Then he did. (Definitely too much fried food).

[Here's a little anecdote. One of the girls on the trip had accidentally left her camera in a store on Times Square earlier that day. The band director and her went back during the peak of the storm and actually found the camera, but he was totally soaking wet. He was trying to figure out how to change his clothes on the bus (the bathroom might have been tricky, in that he's about 6-foot-5 and god knows how much he weighs) and he was saying, "Would anybody mind if I took off my pants," which got a lot of responses from people around him like, "Oh my God, my eyes are burning!" And then Sean said, "I think I'm going to throw up" and did.]

We got that cleaned up. Luckily the bus driver (we were in the 2nd row) heard and flung a plastic bag at him, so we got most of it. Plus there was a lot of cleaning supplies, which is good. The school's Drama Club took a trip to NYC in the fall and several people had the stomach flu and apparently that was also a memorable trip with a dozen people vomiting on the bus for 12 or 14 hours. How much of that was psychosomatic (as my wife says, "see vomit, want to vomit."), I don't know, but I can't imagine a much worse trip. Sean immediately felt better and for the most part handled the teasing well.

We all settled in for a long drive. This, by the way, was during the weather system that slammed the country with all the storms and tornadoes. We were blown all over the road. For me this part of the trip was misery, simply because it's so damned hard to sleep on a bus. They also, after our first rest stop around midnight, split up the boys and girls (to a fair amount of complaining). I ended up sharing a seat with Ian and I sort of slept for a couple hours leaning my head against my bundled up coat against the window. But my legs were horribly cramped. Then we switched seats and I could stretch my legs into the aisle, but...

Anyway, we finally made it home around 10:00 AM (we stopped in Ohio for breakfast at a rest stop around 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning. Time was limited, as were food options, so I had a fruit pie from a vending machine). We unloaded, cleaned up the buses, returned the swords to the kids in our group who bought them, and went home.

I unpacked and around 11:00 AM said, "Gee, I'm tired, I'll lay down for a while." And woke up at 4:00 PM.

Overall, a great (although exhausting) trip.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Only Like NY As A Friend - Part 3

April 20, 2011
The trip continued with the big day, Friday April 15th...

I was up around 6:00 or so and making sure the boys in our group were up. They were - in fact, most weren't in their rooms, they were downstairs eating breakfast because we had an early start. Today was the day we were performing on Liberty Island. Everyone needed to be downstairs getting their instruments off the trailer and putting on their marching band uniforms by 7:30, so we could get on the bus at 8:00 and leave.

We used the ferry launch at Liberty Park, NJ. In previous trips they've used the one in Battery Park, but the NYC police don't have a lot of tolerance (or space) for unloading high school marching bands from buses, so NJ worked out better. There was a fair amount of standing around waiting, then we had to pass through security to rival an airport (I'm not kidding), then the ferry stopped at Ellis Island (which I would love to come back and explore), then to Liberty Island.

I stayed and guarded the instruments while the band and everyone else went around to the front of the statue for a group photograph and the tour host tracked down the photographer. It was a little cold on the island, but you can't knock the view of Manhattan or the statue. Around 11:00 the band regrouped and performed - as you can see, behind Lady Liberty in a little plaza. They performed for about a half hour. The photograph of that is my favorite from the trip, not because it's such a great photo, but because you can see where the band was performing.

Later the band director commented to the kids that although they may not appreciate this right at the moment, at some point in their life they're going to look back and realize, "Wow, I performed on Liberty Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in front of people from all over the world." And there definitely were people from all over the world. Some from Australia and some French-speaking and some Asians. (I had a brief period of wandering and realized someone had accidentally left their tour book of NYC on a park bench. I was thinking, "Cool, that would be useful." It was written in French).

We then had some time to grab lunch on the island (which, as this type of food goes, wasn't too bad, actually), and hit the gift shop (I got a T-shirt and a hat) then caught the ferry back to New Jersey. We returned to the hotel room to pack away the instruments and uniforms and change into dress clothes for the rest of the day.

Around 2:30 we headed back into the city, primarily to Broadway and Times Square. On the way a couple of our kids noted a comic book store (one of them said, "It's, like, on my bucket list, you know?") on, I think it was 30th Avenue or maybe 40th. Anyway, trying to accommodate everyone, we hit the Hershey's Store and the M&M Store so a couple kids could buy either chocolate or T-shirts, then went back and found the comic store. A handful of the kids loved it. I wasn't sure I was going to get the bucket list guy out of the store without dynamite. So after about 30 minutes there Leanne stayed at the store with the hardcore kids and I took the rest back into Times Square where we milled around debating what to do. Finally one of our other kids from a different group came by and said, "Hey, the Naked Cowboy's down in front of..." so we went down there and got photographs. Then they did some T-shirt shopping, then back on the bus around 5:00 or so.

We then drove to Little Italy (one of my favorite parts of Manhattan actually, but it appears to be getting smaller and smaller, being overtaken by Chinatown, I guess) and ate at an excellent Italian restaurant, SPQR.

Then back to Broadway to see The Addams Family (with Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia and Roger Rees as Gomez). Most of the kids absolutely loved The Addams Family, which was very, very funny (in a cudgel to the head sort of way; it ain't subtle). A few of the kids didn't like it, partly, we understand, because "it isn't 'Wicked,' which is absolutely correct. It isn't. But it was a great change of pace, particularly for the part of the group that didn't like 'Wicked' much (mostly boys). One girl, arms clenched across her chest, said, "I don't like comedies." Hard to say what's going on there, but a life without laughter is going to suck, so hopefully she'll get over it.

We left the theater, picked up the buses fairly quickly, drove back to the hotel. After making sure our little ducklings were in bed, some of the chaperones had a "debriefing" in the bar. Around 1:00 AM I went to bed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I Only Like New York As A Friend - Part 2

April 19, 2011
And so our tour of New York City continued on Thursday, April 14th...

6:00 AM. Alarm goes off and I stagger out of bed to shower.

6:30 AM. I'm knocking on student doors to make sure they're awake. Our group, spread out in 3 rooms, are, for the most part, already up. Some want to go down to breakfast early - it's a continental breakfast - and I tell them to go ahead.

7:00 AM. Get breakfast.

By 8:00 AM we're on the bus and rolling toward NYC, where we promptly get stuck in commuter traffic into the Lincoln Tunnel. Now, a moment to mention clothing, because I brought it up yesterday. Today is the most intense day in a lot of ways, and we won't be returning to the hotel until we're done around 11:15 PM or so. AND, not only are we wandering all over the city, but we're going to a broadway show, so dressy clothes were either worn or brought with us (or both, as I wore Dockers and a dress shirt, but wore tennis shoes and brought dress shoes with me).

Around 9:00 or so we picked up Jane Marx, the tour guide for our bus. Jane is a professional NYC tour guide, writer, actress, standup comedian, and I would highly recommend her to anyone who wants to see NYC with a tour guide. We were all over the damned city, starting with the Dakota and Central Park.

From Central Park we took the bus around the city a bit and landed at Ground Zero and the Winter Garden of World Financial Center. What's most disconcerting about this - for me, anyway - is that it's basically a construction site. There's no particular memorial for September 11 and, as I mentioned to Jane, I wonder what business wants to set their offices on the site where 3000 people were murdered. Not to mention that they're building an enormous skyscraper that might as well have a bull's-eye on it for future terrorists. I totally understand that in this case the high price of Manhattan real estate trumped (no pun intended) sentimentality (or common decency), but it's quite disconcerting. There will be some memorial space within the site when it's done. Anyway...

From there over to St. Paul's Chapel, which overlooks Ground Zero from a different perspective and is where the firefighters staged body retrieval. We spent a chunk of time there, then regrouped and drove around Soho, Hell's Kitchen, etc., landing in Greenwich Village, where we parked and scattered with our groups for lunch. Most of my group was interested in seeing the pizza place where Peter Parker worked in the second Spider Man movie. Conveniently, it was next door to a deli, so some picked up pizza and others of us hit the deli. Also conveniently, there was a little park across the street and the weather was nice enough that we could eat there.

Then we wandered a bit more checking out the stores that sold water pipes (hookas), a bakery (where my sons got cheesecake and I chose to skip dessert), etc., then went on the always popular search for a public restroom, which we never did find in Greenwich Village. (The Barnes & Noble didn't have one). Jane commented that she had a book about public restrooms in NYC titled "Where To Go" and it was a very slim book. No kidding.

After lunch we got back on the bus and did more driving tours, getting off in China Town to do shopping. Leanne bought a sword in a store, which prompted a couple of our kids to buy one, too, the caveat being that we would keep their swords in our room until we got home (thus preventing mayhem). This is where we briefly lost a student, who got caught at an intersection, and, being a very sweet spacecase, was probably texting her mother instead of paying attention to where she was. Also, I might argue, her chaperones did a piss-poor job of checking that all their little ducklings were on the bus before we started rolling again (something I was fairly obsessive about. Most of my boys were high school juniors and seniors, so it was less of a problem). We found her quickly, although she was freaking out, and it got smoothed out. And I would add that she did everything right, actually. On our badges we had to wear all the time was an 800 number for emergencies, and you called it to contact the tour providers, who would communicate with the tour host, etc. As it turned out, she was only about 40 yards from us, but the buses had to move because of parking issues, and she got confused.

Canal and China Town are kind of fun - sort of like institutionalized flea markets from Florida and Arizona... hey, come buy our cheap chunk and bargain us down - fifty dolla!, no?, get outta sto'... fifty dolla!, and they had the advantage of being within the kids' budgets. Leanne bought a sword. Sean bought a gilt frog statue and a hat, Ian bought a hat and I bought a pair of $5 sunglasses to replace the pair I lost earlier in the tour.

Then we drove down 5th Avenue (where we would spend too much time on Saturday), then over to Rockefeller Center (public restrooms!) where we wandered around a bit. We also changed clothes for a dressier evening. By that time we said goodbye to Jane, met up with the other bus (who had a different guide), then went over to Broadway and Times Square where we went to Dallas BBQ on 42nd Street for an early dinner.

Dallas BBQ is a chain and it was fine (french fries sucked), but it was loud and large, which it had to be to accommodate 112 or so people in our group, and we all had BBQ chicken and ribs, and relaxed.

After an hour or so there, we walked into Times Square to the theater where we would be seeing WICKED. This was a headache, primarily because it was the first time we took 100 or so kids into crowds and tried to keep them semi-together, which is almost impossible in Times Square, even early. The theater was on 56th, I believe, and we got totally separated. (A tip for anyone who has never been to NYC. Take the Walk signals seriously. If you don't, you'll get run over. New Yorkers don't stop (or even slow down) for pedestrians. I suppose if they did the city would be entirely gridlocked, but walking is a contact sport in the city). It worked out in that everyone made it where they were supposed to get. Then, we laid out a strategy of where to be around 7:30, and our groups were sent back out into Times Square to wander around.

We did all the usual gawking and hit the Hershey's store, the M&M Store, etc., wandered around for a while, bought some overpriced tourist crap, then got to the theater around 7:30 or so, got our tickets from the tour guide, went in and watched the musical (which I've seen before), which was great. Good seats, too, on the main floor with a surprisingly decent amount of legroom (a miracle).

Once the play was done we regrouped outside, walked to the buses which were around the corner, did our headcount, then drove back to the hotel. I did a bedcheck, then went to bed around midnight or so. A very long day and almost physically grueling.

I would say I liked Greenwich Village a lot, wanted to spend more time in SoHo, thought Times Square, though fun, is wildly overrated (totally touristy), and wanted to spend more time on the piers, which we basically just drove by. Also, I liked Central Park a lot, although, really, it's probably smaller then the location of the 2 or 3 subdivisions I routinely walk around near my house. But in a city filled with noise - really, I think all the background noise explains why New Yorkers all seem a little nuts - Central Park is a little bit of an oasis.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I Only Like NY As A Friend - Part 1

April 18, 2011
I'm back! Yes, last week I went to New York City with 100 high school marching band students. Leanne and I chaperoned and our group was typically about 12 or 13 people, two of them our own kids. All boys until we picked up a girl on the last day. This was my first extended trip to NYC - I'd been there once in 1987 with friends, so I was long overdue. I don't love NYC. In fact, I was rather hoping to find a T-shirt that had the heart crossed out and LIKE scrawled across it. If I loved it, I'd move there. I just like it and hope to visit again soon (without a group of high school students).

I'll spend the next couple days covering our adventures in NYC. It was fun, the sort of fun that grows larger in your memory, partly because we cram so much in that you're totally exhausted by the time you get home.

Day 1 (Wednesday, April 13th).
Get up at 4:30 in the morning, shower, try to gag down some cereal, the four of us tidy our packing, load up the truck and leave. Only to return a minute later because Leanne forgot something. I don't even remember what it was. Hit Tim Horton's for some donuts and coffee (and they managed to screw up our order).

Get to the high school band room at 7:00 AM, check in, get the official luggage tag, our lanyards and ID card. I wander around getting the phone numbers of all the kids in my group, then we stand around a while. Finally we load the buses and we leave a little after 8:00 AM.

Traffic sucked, it took a couple hours just to get south of Detroit. No rush, though, because if you get to a hotel too early with 100 teenagers, only headaches follow.

We were in a brand new bus, only about 6 months old, so it had electrical, wi-fi, and DVD players. Kids had brought movies. The first one we watched was RUSH HOUR 1. I like Jackie Chan fine, but the band director asked me if it was appropriate and I sort of mumbled, "Um, sort of." And Chris Tucker is just about as annoying as an actor can get.

We stopped somewhere in Ohio to trade drivers, picking up Ivan, who would be our driver for the entire time we were in NYC. Did the bathroom break thing, then loaded back on the bus and continued the trip. I had been sitting with one of the other chaperones during the first leg, then Leanne and I switched places and I sat next to Sean. I read magazines and books on my Kindle and chatted with people. I did watch the 3rd episode of THE KILLING on my phone somewhere along the line.

Around noon we stopped at a town for lunch and everyone pretty much scattered. Leanne, Sean and I and one of the band directors walked down to a Pizza Hut that had a lunch buffet, had lunch, then back on the bus. Drove for a couple more hours, bathroom break, couple more hours, then lunch at a mall area in New Jersey (I think), although it could have been Pennsylvania. During this time we watched RUSH HOUR1, THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE, and STAR TREK. A cadre of loudmouths in the back of the bus continually pushed to see RUSH HOUR 2 and 3, but were constantly shot down by the band director.

We got into Secaucus, New Jersey, where our hotel (Hyatt, a very nice hotel, actually) was, around 9:45 or so, unloaded, checked in, then did bed checks to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and to remind the kids what time to get up the next morning and what type of clothes to wear (I'll get into that tomorrow).

Having accomplished that, Leanne and I and another couple of chaperones visited the hotel lounge for a drink, chatted for a while, then back to our rooms around midnight to go to sleep, the alarms set for 6:00 AM.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

April 12, 2011
I'm actually heading out of town to New York City for the rest of the week, traveling with about 100 marching band students as a chaperone. I'm sure I'll have plenty to blog about next week.

In the meantime, chew on this for a while.

Mark Terry

Monday, April 11, 2011

Content Providers

April 11, 2011
I had a fairly unpleasant experience this week (and a lot of cool things, too). Unfortunately, it's an experience I've been having a bit too much lately.

Earlier in the year I did an editing job on a memoir. The writer's son contacted me this weekend. He does a lot of website work and he was doing work for a neurosurgeon and wanted me to write about 30 articles in the doc's voice that would be used for search engine optimization (SEO) and posted at various placed around the 'net. They would be between 500 and 1000 words. What did I charge?

I essentially put a mid-range bid down, while explaining that I typically charged per word for magazine articles and was more likely to work hourly or per project rate for website content, but I laid things out for him and the gist of it was the entire project would probably cost him $9000, in other words, about $300 per article. Which, trust me, is a very modest rate for 30 articles of that length, but I was offering a "package deal" sort of thing, too.

Here is part of his response:

Unfortunately, it seems like we're in completely different universes with regards to the pricing - Being an SEO guy who's used to working with India and paying $4 per article, I was thinking that I could have paid you about $10.

Well. I'm sure he is paying that much and I'm sure he gets what he pays for, and if I was a neurosurgeon (presumably a person with a very high income, pretty much no matter where in the world he's working), I'd really want these expertly done.

I was annoyed, but not angry, because there's a lot of this going on these days. And it's ridiculous. It may also be why I'm seeing more and more Craigslist and and other postings that have a line in the ad that says "Must be Native English speaker." I suspect those folks got burned.

But the gist of his response was he wanted me, a professional writer, to do anywhere from 150 to 450 hours of work for about $300. It's almost so bizarre I can't be insulted. I'm not amused, but I'm not really insulted either. I'm trying to envision someone going to a neurosurgeon and asking that they be paid 85 cents an hour. Or hell, going to a website developer and suggesting they be paid 85 cents an hour.

Professional writing has value. The people who are willing to do this work at that price are either living and working where the exchange rate is pathetic, or they don't value the services they're offering. I suspect it's both. Once upon a time web-based project bidding sites like and were the sites of decent gigs, but now they're ridiculous. This job will get filled at that rate by someone somewhere in the world. And I hope the neurosurgeon chokes on the results, frankly.

I remind myself that I'm an expert content provider. Not only am I an expert on certain types of content (medical writing, clinical diagnostics, business of healthcare, medical practice management), but I'm an expert at providing content on other areas as well. And that, as an expert, I can charge "expert" rates. And the client will get their money's worth.

But ultimately these sorts of rates make me mad because they cheapen the value of expert content providers. And I don't think it's necessarily a byproduct of a global economy, although that's part of it. I was reading a blog by a very experience travel writer (and celebrity news person) who was asked by a rock band's promotional people to come to the festival and write about it. They would pay for her ticket. When she asked for money for the writing, they turned her down. Which is bullshit, because they're making money, but they're not willing to spend it to have something done by one of the best in the business.

My only concluding thought is that expert content providers need to insist that their work and expertise has value. That's the only way that potential clients will value the work and realize they get what they pay for.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Uncertain Footing

April 7, 2011
I'm currently reading several books simultaneously, but one of them is The Freelancer's Survival Guide: How to Be Your Own Best Boss by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I recommend it for everyone who's self-employed. I may not agree 100% with everything she says, but that may be because I haven't had every situation she discusses come crashing into my life. I was reading the chapter on Goals and Dreams, which you can read entirely on her website if you're so inclined. (You can read the entire thing on her website if you want to, or buy it for about $10 on Amazon as an e-book).

In part she says:

I don’t think a freelancer can survive long without a dream. I think the more impossible the dream the better. See those posts on success. If you don’t set that impossible dream high enough, you’ll achieve your dream, and stop striving.

When students apply for the Master Class that Dean and I teach (along with four other established professional writers), we ask those students what their goals are and what their secret, most impossible dream is. The only students we take for the Master Class are those with either a professional career that has stalled (for some reason) or those with a strong work ethic who are having trouble breaking into publishing (and have excellent, professional level skills).

We look at the goals and the secret dream more than any other part of the application. Because if the goals and the secret dream are non-existent, we have learned that the writers often don’t have the capability to survive the Master Class, let alone the business of writing itself.

What does an impossible dream add to a career? Purpose. Plain and simple. That dream is like the shining city on a hill, the one you can see in the distance, and you might never reach. But until your dying day, you’ll head for that hill.

I wasn't sure I was going to write about this today. I'm trying to do less navel-gazing and stay away from writing about writing and publishing (and oh boy, I was thinking about writing a rant-like letter to the publishing industry), but this maybe is more about life. Also, this particular chapter got into my head in a way few areas of the book did and I can honestly say, Gee, Kris, I'm not sure I appreciate you in my head like this.


Well, I think that if you'd asked me 5 years ago or 10 years ago, or 15 or even 20 or 25 years ago, that the impossible dream might have been fairly straightforward: the awesome #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Dream, the one where my career was like James Patterson's or Stephen King, the brand name author with the movie deals and the big money.

Kris has a lot of interesting things to say about this. One of the ones I found fairly interesting was how when she was younger in her career she wanted a career like Nora Roberts, but now she realizes she'd go nuts if she had to write just romance, even with all its variations - romantic suspense, etc. Kris writes mysteries and SF and romance and nonfiction and damn near everything else. Sure, she'd take the money (who wouldn't?), but that Nora's career wouldn't suit her.

I've come to the conclusion that being so famous that you can't walk around town or eat in a restaurant without someone recognizing you and coming to talk to you (and suing you for stealing their ideas and asking you to read their manuscripts and...) would be like living in hell for me. And one of the things she mentions is how people like King or Patterson ... well, publishers and all their respective employees live or die by the success of some of those books. I've often wondered what JK Rowling's publishers feel about the fact she no longer seems to be publishing. A new book in that world, maybe even if it didn't involve Harry, say going back to write about a young Dumbledore or Moody, Wormtail, etc., would assure the publishing company - and a lot of bookstores - had a really good year or two. Bonuses, raises, stock going up, you name it. Are these writers oblivious to that? I doubt it. I have a friend who runs his own company with 5 or 6 employees and I know that there can be a lot of pressure being responsible for others' livelihoods and lives.

I realized I didn't know what my wildest dreams were any more. That had changed. In fact, where I am today, I'm not even sure of the attainable goals, which ones I want to make, what direction exactly I want to go in. That wasn't true a year ago. Things have changed. Things have changed in the publishing industry, things have changed in my life, things have changed in my career, and apparently things have changed in my head.

Some of it may have to do with last year I set out a financial goal and I hit it. So this year I thought I'll leave it the same, because I have yet to make the same amount of money twice in a row, so maybe that should be the goal. And I've got some other goals, areas I want to explore, but it's not clear to me exactly where I want to go within my career. Odd. Also, some of the realities of publishing have kicked me around so much the last ten years or so - differently than the trying-to-get-published realities - that I'm struggling with the "suspension of disbelief" that having a wildass dream requires.

Which is fine, really. It's interesting. And reading Kris's chapter did make me realize I should probably spend some time thinking about what I want so I can work toward it.


p.s. This was a worthwhile exercise. By really thinking about it over the day, I think I figured out what it was. A variation on the first one, but taking into consideration new publishing paradigms.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Midget Ninja Army

April 6, 2011
I received a phone call from one of the Chief Instructors of Sanchin-Ryu, the karate style I've been studying for 6 or 7 years and in which I hold a black belt. He asked if Ian (my oldest son, also a black belt), would be interested in co-teaching a class. This is a terrific honor and I said yes.

I knew this particular class site was open. The first instructor I was aware of is a great guy, but he was just finishing up college to be a chef and got a job in a chi-chi restaurant, and my guess is it's going to be a while before he knows or gets to a point where any of his evenings are free on a regular basis.

Then one of the chief instructors took the class, but that was a temporary situation because he was a couple hours away from the site. Then it was filled in by one of my friends, who already has a class (with an enviable, for the most part, Saturday morning time), and she was just filling in until the next session started. So I knew it was available, but didn't think Ian or I were likely to be asked, although I suspected it was possible. It was just that we are both fairly new black belts and they generally prefer to have people with at least a year's experience and/or apprenticeship take over a class. But Ian has been apprenticing and one or both of us has been substituting for a number of classes as instructors, so it's not completely out of the blue.

It sort of officially makes me a sensei, which loosely translates to "teacher" although a more accurate translation is "one who went before" which I actually like bit more, because it's more nuanced. At some point in the future, hopefully, I'll become a "certified sensei," whatever that entails, but in the meantime I'll just teach what I know and keep learning and studying.

Essentially we'll be co-teaching two classes, one which is all kids and one which is "family" i.e., may or may not have some parents and adults in it. I'm really excited about this and think it'll be a lot of fun.

So just in case you were wondering, yes, we're training our own Midget Ninja Army with plans for World Domination. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

(And I'd really like that photo better if there wasn't a grammatical error in it. I suppose that makes me a Grammar Ninja!)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Anything But

April 5, 2011
Yes, today and yesterday's posts are both about politics. Does that mean I'm going to turn this blog over to politics?

No. Not entirely.

What's happened is I've been going back through my blog posts since 2005 and 2006, looking for essays that might be repurposed. What I have discovered is there's a lot of repetitive whining and a huge focus on what's going on in the publishing business. And it's boring me right now.

I suspect this blog's at its best when I'm actually offering useful information about writing and the writing business, like my FREELANCE WRITING FOR A LIVING series, which will soon be out in an expanded e-book format.

But going through the posts I thought I was sounding rather Johnny One-Note, so I'm going to try for a while to write about ANYTHING BUT writing and publishing, so expect current events, politics, history, archaeology, business, etc.

Or not. But I'm going to try very hard not to go back and whine about my writing fiction - a recurring theme over 6 years - and my frustrations with the publishing industry, because it makes me feel a lot like an animal with its foot caught in a trap that's trying to chew its leg off.

GOP Wants To Slash Budget by $5 Trillion

April 5, 2011
Yeah, that's $5 trillion. You know, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money. This particular budget, spread out over 10 years, and slammed in our faces by Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis) has presented what an MSNBC articles refers to as "a nonbinding, theoretical framework for future action in Congress." Which I suppose means: We can talk all we want to, but nobody's going to expect us to actually do anything.

Keeping in mind that the Dems budget is to decrease the deficit by $400 billion over six years.

Of course, it all comes down to: What are YOU willing to cut?

The GOP plan plans for no increased taxes and no changes to federal retirement benefits for people 55 and over (gonna have to get me one of them). I've never understood how you can balance a budget through only spending cuts, but I realized a long time ago that government budgets - of both parties - are extremely creative works of fiction anyway, so perhaps they don't bear much scrutiny.

Of course, they're talking about a possible government shutdown, an idea that doesn't exactly fill me with dread. They can shut it down and it probably won't effect me personally too much, although people expecting federal retirement checks, social security checks and other various things probably will find them delayed. Also note, of course, that although most - not all - federal employees will get sent home without pay, Congress keeps getting their checks. I think perhaps sending all of Congress on an unpaid 3-month vacation would probably solve at least as many problems as it created.

For a few more details about this GOP budget, Ryan plans to convert Medicare health plans into one in which the government makes payments for private health insurance plans (unless you're a current Medicare beneficiary or age 55 and older, in which case you stay in the existing system). This would make Medicare into a sort of voucher system. In other words, the government gives you $X dollars to go toward paying for your insurance plan, say, HAP or AETNA. The problem with this, is of course, that HAP or AETNA or whomever, will continue to increase their rates while the government will continue to give you the same number of dollars. Don't believe it? Oh, you should.

I write a lot about the clinical lab industry and Medicare and how physicians get reimbursed and the physician fee schedule reimbursement is just plain stupid. Basically, physicians are supposed to be reimbursed on a fairly complicated formula related to the economy, but since its creation it's never worked out to where it covers costs even remotely, so every year Congress votes to overrule it (temporarily, of course) and adjust it. Nothing gets done to change the system, they just slap a Band-Aid on it every year and move on. It's a political hot potato and Congress, as we've come to realize, doesn't do anything difficult that might result in them losing their jobs come next election.

Now THERE'S a concept.

Monday, April 04, 2011

President Obama Announces Re-Election Bid

April 4, 2011
President Barack Obama announced he'll run for re-election in 2012, which is hardly a surprise. Has there ever been a president who hasn't run for re-election?

I suspect his ability to win the election will - shocking, I know - depend on the economy. As of today the jobs report was unexpectedly good, the housing market still sucks, economic growth is a little slow, we're involved in essentially 3 wars - Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. I personally think we shouldn't have gotten involved in Libya (or Iraq, for that matter).

But if people don't perceive that the economy has gotten better, they'll blame Obama and he probably won't get re-elected.

I confess, that as a knee-jerk, bleeding heart liberal, I voted for Obama. During the campaign I was a Hilary Clinton supporter, despite my feelings that she was polarizing. Once Barack Obama won the nomination, I supported him fully. He'll need to energize his grassroots backers like he did the first time around and I think that's going to be extremely difficult, because there are a lot of people like me who supported him before but aren't dazzled by his performance. And need it be said, but I'm not a young African-American, and it's an open question of that demographic will come out in support a second time.

I confess to being slightly disappointed in him. I think McCain/Palin would have been a train wreck of epic proportions, but to me Obama seems unconvincing sometimes - like he's too willing to negotiate instead of lead. Granted, inheriting one of the worst economies in 60 years isn't an easy thing to deal with and since it's rather difficult to prove a negative - i.e., that without the bailout and his policies, the economy would have crashed even more - he's a fairly easy target. For a great communicator, sometimes his message seems a little weak.

Of course, who will run against him? Nobody knows for sure, but Romney? I sort of like Romney, but how's he going to battle Obama? (Not enough to vote for him. Note the knee-jerk, bleeding heart reference earlier). Healthcare reform was practically modeled after his own state healthcare reform initiatives. Newt Gingrich? Too much baggage, and if you're the type that thinks Barack Obama is the dull college professor, imagine what having Newt in office for 4 to 8 years would be like. Newt Gingrich is just not likable. Sara Palin? Yeesh! Where's my passport?

It's probably too early to get going on the 2012 election. I sort of dread the 24-hour nonstop election cycle. But it ought to be interesting. If only they wouldn't start so early.

Friday, April 01, 2011


April 1, 2011
The anthology I organized and edited, DEADLY BY THE DOZEN, has been "in print" now for about 5 weeks, maybe 6. Today marked the day that I did that most important of publisher duties, doled out the checks and payments. I won't discuss details here except to say nobody got rich and I feel like they were, Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking notwithstanding, fairly typical sales of an e-book.

One of the interesting aspects of e-book sales, at least at this point in time, is how they seem to continue to sell or even grow in sales. That tends to be quite different than a typical paper book, which typically sells well (if at all) in the first couple weeks, then dribbles off to nothing, then is pulled from the shelves and pulped, never to be heard from again.

Barring Armageddon or some new paradigm of publishing (always a possibility), DEADLY BY THE DOZEN, will remain on sale forever in a variety of formats. Forever would seem to be a very long time.

But, as the title of today's post suggests, I just want to point out that this was, for me, an interesting project and very satisfying and enjoyable in its own way. I got to focus on the art of things, on a sort of strange collaborative process, directing an anthology to publication. I was so pleased with the content and the creativity of everyone involved and satisfied, as I said, in an unexpected way. If you haven't picked this up, I hope you'll check it out. Lots of cool stuff there.