Mark Terry

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


January 24, 2012
You've no doubt heard the statement that doing the same thing over and over again in hopes of a different outcome is the definition of insanity? I don't know who said. I seem to recall it credited to Albert Einstein, but I probably read it on Facebook, which has a bit of a credibility problem when it comes to passing on inaccurate information.

I don't know if it's the definition of insanity, but I think sometimes you have to step back and say, "So, how's that working for you?" (I've heard this credited to Dr. Phil, but then again, who cares?)

Which is a long ways of saying, er, I parted ways with my literary agent yesterday (again). Yes, again. We parted ways a year or two ago, and then about two days later I got an offer for which I needed her services. So we decided to give it a go (again) and frankly...

Well, as I told her yesterday, the publishing industry has changed so dramatically in the last two years that I just don't foresee writing anything in the next year (or even two) that that will be offered to her to market or, for that matter, offered to a legacy publisher.

Unlike, say, Joe Konrath, who argues you should never go to a legacy publisher (unless that "legacy" publisher is Amazon, but that's a discussion for another day), I think a more reasonable response is: It depends.

I think there are authors out there that have reasonably effective careers with legacy publishers. I think there are clearly some self-published authors these days who are breaking out in the new e-book self-publishing environment (not necessary as many as you might think, given the deluge of titles being e-self-published). And I believe there are many so-called mid-list authors who are doing at least as well, and oftentimes better, by self-publishing than they were with their legacy publishers.

If I fall into any of these categories, it's this last one. I've never particularly felt like I was successful enough to be called "mid-list," but the fact is, over the last several months I've made more money off my Kindle and other e-book sales than I've made off any of my other book sales. Enough, in fact, that I can conceive of it actually being a reasonable part of my yearly income, at least if it continues the way it has lately. Which prompted my wife, something of a publishing agnostic (or perhaps even fiction publishing atheist), to say, "E-books are the way to go." She also said, "When are you going to let your agent know?"

I think it's possible that in the future I will write something that I want to show to a legacy publisher, assuming that in that time frame there are any legacy publishers around whose contracts won't seem like a joke. A friend commented to me yesterday that he bought THE FALLEN for $1.98 and wondered what the royalty must be like, then joked that "they say publishing is a low-profit business." Well, let me put it this way.

If I had self-published THE FALLEN as an e-book and were pricing it not at $1.98, but at $2.99, my royalty would have been $2.04 per copy sold. If I had self-published it at $1.98, that would have qualified for the 30% royalty rate, which would come to 59 cents ($0.59) per copy. As it stands, due to the contract I had with the publisher (negotiated by my agent), and which fell into the nebulous period before anyone started to dig in on e-book royalty rates (or, perhaps, my agent just didn't know any better and neither did I), the e-book royalty rate is, I believe, identical to my hardcover royalty rate, i.e., 10%. That is to say, when it sells for $1.98, I get, well, $0.198, or about 20 cents per copy. (And for the hardcovers, which have only sold a few hundred copies, as far as I know, I get 10% of $25.95, or $2.595).

There's another factor, and it's not insignificant. My publisher writes royalty checks once a year. Last year I believe I got paid in May. That did not include sales from that year, but were for the previous year.  It also gets routed through my agent, who takes 15%. Then I get a check and pay the federal government 24% and Michigan 4%.

For the most part (not Smashwords), with Kindle and Barnes & Noble, I get money direct-deposited into my checking account at the end of each month. I'm not 100% sure with B&N if there's lag time, I'll have to check. With Kindle, the deposit into the account runs 60 days behind, so, for example, my payment at the end of January reflects sales from November.

So, there were financial reasons, for sure. There are plenty of marketing reasons as well.

There are creative reasons, too. Here's some truth. I've written any number of non-Derek Stillwater things over the last few years that my agent didn't like or even refused to market. And this goes to other issues of personality and approach to business, but sometimes the feedback I got was, "I hate it. Try something else."

Except you know what? I didn't hate it. I thought it was great. And I want to write them and complete them. Let the readers decide. And several of the projects I have planned for this year are works my agent didn't like, so I knew that even if I did want to market them, she wouldn't (which begs the question of who works for who, but this post is long enough already).

So, to get to the point. I've made some adjustments. I've tried not to burn any bridges. There's a film agent still dealing with my works and she would probably be interested in looking at any future ones I write and publish. If I get into a contract negotiation that is over my head, I'm going to take the advice of Dean Wesley Smith and hire an IP attorney to negotiate it - for a flat fee.

Times have changed. I expect they will continue to change. But I'm trying to adapt with those changes.


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Monday, January 16, 2012


January 16, 2012
I recently read a thriller by a bestselling thriller author. He's not a brand name, per se, but if you read a lot of thrillers you'd probably recognize the name. I've read several of his books in this series and I like his books a lot. We have very similar story-telling sensibilities, by which I mean if you like my books you'd like his and if you like his books you'd like mine. (Which sort of kills me, because he has a lot more readers than I do).

Let me say from the outset that when I finished the book I really enjoyed it. It was full of action, had a reasonably thought-provoking premise and it was, for the most part, an enjoyable read.

Why "for the most part", Mark?

Therein lies a problem. At one point in the book we get a chapter from the POV of a little girl who is Muslim. We are led to believe that she lives in the Detroit area. Her father drives her to school in Detroit. Much is made out of how where she lives has the highest density of Muslims in the U.S.

Then, it is indicated that they lived in Flint, Michigan.

Okay. I'm a life-long resident of the area. So there are some problems here.

First, Flint is not a suburb of Detroit. It's 60 or 70 miles away and although you might get commuters from one to the other, really, nobody who lives in Flint is taking their kids to school in Detroit. (And for god sakes, why would you want to? Detroit's got one of the worst school systems in the country).

No, the writer meant Dearborn, Michigan, which does have the largest Muslim population in the U.S., and in fact, is typically described as having the highest numbers of Arabs outside of the Middle East.

So another problem. Living in Dearborn and going to school in Detroit. Um... why? But that's not really the point, because Dearborn is never mentioned. Flint is.

In other words, I'm fairly convinced the writer remembered some news story about Dearborn and never bothered to double-check or, for that matter, even look at a map. And this mistake isn't an isolated mistake. It's pretty much ongoing for the first third of the book, repeated over and over again.

Okay. So is this writer a sloppy researcher? That's not my impression. The man knows a lot about weapons, bullets, hate groups, Delta Forces, special forces weapons and tactics, presidential security, etc. There may have been some "hand-waving" when it comes to the hacker stuff (there almost always is), but I know he wrote about his research on his blog and how he went to the Special Forces training program and they let him shoot guns and run through the obstacle course and watch them train and allowed him to ask questions.

So no. I don't think he's a particularly sloppy researcher. But man, he screwed up.

I think you can go overboard with the authenticity, or at least, worrying about it. I try to get things right, but there comes a time where I just have to write the damned thing.

I remember someone complaining about The Da Vinci Code because he had the character on the wrong side of the Seine in Paris. And although I think you can fault Dan Brown for a lot of things (like sloppy writing), I'm not sure I'd fault him for sloppy research.

It's just hard to get every single freakin' pesky detail right.

Just days ago Barry Eisler (who did not write the book I'm bitching about here) said he was going to Thailand or someplace to research a short story. Which definitely gives me a WTF moment. Clearly his self-publishing ventures with short stories are making him some money to justify that.

On the other hand, Dean Wesley Smith has said at least once on his blog that you can waste a lot of time on research and maybe you should just make stuff up and get on with writing the story. And Stephen King once made a comment about if you don't know the details of (for instance) Moscow, why don't you set the story in someplace you do know (like Derry, Maine, Stevie?).

I'm somewhere in between. Of course, the novel I'm writing now takes place mostly in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho) and I've never been there and these sorts of locations sort of drive me crazy because I want to get it right but I constantly ask myself if I should have just written a different story.

I will say this. Despite liking this guy's books a lot, I almost quit reading it with his repeated Flint, Michigan screw-up. I kept getting tossed right out of the story and it was pissing me off (and, alas, there may have been some sour grapes, because he sells a LOT more books than I do, mistake or not). So getting it right can make the difference between a satisfied reader and a non-reader.

What do you think? Ever been thrown out of a book by something you know is wrong? Are there levels of mistakes you're willing to forgive and some you're not?

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012


January 10, 2011
I've been looking for inspiration.

No, not looking for ideas for stories. I'm looking for a broader type of inspiration - the type that gets you up in the morning eager to get to work.

For seven years that's rarely been a problem, no matter what type of writing projects I've been working on. I always looked forward to getting into the office.

Starting this year, less so. Some of it is simply that it's winter and I'm not that eager to get out of a nice warm bed. Some of it, though, is a little more problematic.

I know some of you dream of being a full-time writer. I was for years. I spent most of my free time writing. At lunch, in the evenings, on the weekends.

Then I became a full-time writer and for the most part, I was still eager to write all the time. But that's hard to do. Really. And writing for a living often means you have to write things you're not really all that excited about writing. I'm careful to point out that I can often be interested about things intensely while I'm working on them, but they may not necessarily be intrinsically interesting to me. In other words, once I'm done working on them, I go off and pursue passions, rather than "interests."

I think I may have returned to a little earlier time now, a time when I wanted to focus more of my energies on fiction of one sort or another. I definitely find if I don't, the rest of the writing thing becomes work. If I just carve out some time to work on fiction, fit it in as a priority, then I get to my desk with enthusiasm.

I'm currently working on a short story, "Humanitarian Aid" and a novel, THE SINS OF THE FATHER. Both have been limping along for a while, but by pushing deeper into both of them, I seem to have found that enthusiasm for writing that seemed to be lacking. Perhaps it was all there to begin with, but I just wasn't giving it enough time to get into the zone. (Or I just really need a real vacation).

What do you do to find inspiration?

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