Digital Killed the Paperback Star…or did it?

time cover July 11.jpgNote: I wrote this article a year back, in the time since, independent book stores are continuing their resurgence. Don’t believe me? That’s fine, but please take the time to check out this compilation of reference articles from the American Booksellers Association. More than fifty articles are listed: Independent Bookstores are Thriving


July 3rd, 2016

My weekly Time magazine came in the mail a couple days ago. The cover shouted in red, white, and blue letters, “240 Reasons to Celebrate America Right Now.” I was holding Thor (my baby boy), so I ended up flopping it open on kitchen counter with my free hand. I read articles out loud to him; if he cries, I know the article is boring. Nestled in the centerfold was the title of the 64th reason to celebrate: The death of the bookstore was greatly exaggerated. I read it out loud, and Thor giggled. Okay, maybe he didn’t, but that would of been a nice hook, huh?

The article, written by Lev Grossman, provides a brief snapshot of how independent bookstores are doing. The outlook was pleasing. Here are some takeaways and why it should matter to you as writers and as readers.

Independent bookstores are doing better than some media sources reflect in their reporting. According to the article bookstores have been growing in numbers steadily for the last seven years. Climbing from 1,712 all the way to 2,311 (Grossman cited the American Booksellers Association for these numbers). The growth was attributed  largely to new technology making inventorying libraries easier for small businesses and social media allowing for low cost advertising.

The next reason for this growth jumped out at me; these independently ran bookstores operate in a niche market. Grossman provided a quote from one independent shop owner (Brian Lampkin, owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, N.C.) who stated, “We’re letting Amazon and Barnes & Noble take care of the best sellers. Where are you going to get poetry? Some Barnes & Nobles you walk into, you’re lucky to find Emily Dickinson.”

This quote brings me to my first point.

bookstoreamersterdam.jpgAs indie authors, citizen writers, and artists, why wouldn’t you go and support those who exist to support you? 

If you are a writer of any medium, you should be walking into the local bookstore and seeing what they have going on. You may not be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King (yet), but in your town or city, you might be the best thing since sliced bread. Even better, these struggling businesses want you to talk about your work with customers; they want poetry readings; they want the local flavor to come in and mix and mingle. It’s a powerful tool to reach out from beyond the glow of our computer screens.

I have indie author friends who made sure to go to local bookstores and get their work up on the shelves. I know from the Instagram photographs, Facebook posts, and conversations we’ve had, that seeing their work sitting in a bookstore shelf was one of the highlights in their journey.

print is dead.jpgPrint isn’t dead.  Digital may have punched it in the face, but it’s still in the game. Grossman provides an interesting statistic. “Last year the share of e-books
(at least the non-self published kind) actually receded to 24%. The book market appears to have rebalanced itself into a complex mix of paper and digital, with neither format completely dominating…”.

This is an important thing to consider when you decide what formats you are going to produce. I know plenty of indie authors who only sell e-copies of their work. The worry is they won’t be able to recuperate the costs of printing. But perhaps the tides are changing and there could be profit to go to print? Even if it is just a limited print. Especially if there are local stores who are willing to let you throw down a table, do readings, and toss your books up on the shelf. It is something to consider as you move through the process.

If you want to worship, go to the temple. I urge you to go check out your local book haunt. Plenty of these places aren’t making much money doing what they are doing. To them, that’s not the point. They do it because they have a passion for print. They love the look and smell of a wall of books.

Ask yourself this: are we so different from them? Are you making millions from your writing right now? Even if you are, is that the only driving force behind your stories? To be a successful writer, I assume an element of passion must be there. Surround yourself with those equally as passionate and see your fortune rise.

Final Words: To my fellow Americans, I hope your 4th of July is great and you are surrounded by those you love. To my friends outside of our borders, please enjoy the endless videos of us crazy Americans blowing ourselves to smithereens with pyrotechnics.

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Fear and Loathing at RavenCon 2017

Author Note: This article was lost when my author and editor sites were merged. A big thanks to Yudhanjaya Wijeratne for pointing out the broken link and wanting to read the article in the first place. Now, on to the shenanigans.


Fear and Loathing.jpg

I’m walking through the darkened courtyard of the DoubleTree Hotel in Williamsburg, Virginia, trailing just behind Chris Kennedy. The sun has dropped from the sky, much like my morale after sitting in on a panel where one panelist plugged their book eighteen times. I know this because I kept tally. Eighteen.

Putting this from my mind, I increase my pace and try not to slip on the water-soaked cement. Some kid splashing with a writhing knot of multi-colored pool noodles underneath him shouts up at me from the water, “I bet you didn’t think you’d see someone with seven pool noodles in their trunks!”

jawsIt’s true, kid. I didn’t think I’d see that. Who swims in the dark? That’s how you get eaten by the night sharks who dwell in shallow hotel pools! 

Of course I didn’t say any of that out loud. Careful to not get pulled into an existential conversation about the stuffing of pool noodles into bathing suits with no adult supervision around, I continue following Chris. He is navigating toward a suite being shared by a publishing house. I’m following like a lost puppy.

We’d communicated electronically, but this convention – Ravencon – was my first in-person meeting with him. We had joked about sharing a few beers. Him and I are both Navy vets, so a shared beer is sort of a sacred thing. It seemed Chris was making good on this promise. Unfortunately, the outside door that would give access to the suite is locked, a fatal flaw in his planning.

Undaunted, the quick-witted publisher/author stalks over to the fenced-in balcony where a collection of women puff on cigarettes. It’s the typical metal fencing you see at hotels of this type: waist high, blocky bars, not designed to keep your room from being ransacked, but meant to keep you from passing out and falling into the bushes or wandering into the pool for a final swim.

smoking skull.jpgChris asks the smoke-breathing women if they would mind opening the door to the wing from the inside. Instead, they tell us to jump the fence. Opting for a less acrobatic solution, we squeeze through a one-foot space against the wall, slide the glass door open, and step inside.

A collection of men and women are sitting around and meandering about. A fold-out, veneer table to my left is covered in half-emptied bottles of hard liquor. Despite the age of the occupants attending this venue, the room décor was like that of a college party: plastic trashcans overflowing with bottles and trash, fold out chairs, crappy lighting, hotel carpeting – the works.

Everyone stops talking, looks over at us, then one of the older men tells me to close the door behind me. After I complied with his orders, we walked over to a huddled circle of seated people. The Giver of Orders, a kindly man who didn’t want to be assaulted by cigarette smoke, produced a black cooler bag. It was packed with local craft beer. Happy and grateful to have obtained free social lubricant, I quickly empty the bottle while somewhat awkward conversation happens all around me.

ravencon.png

Everyone around me has titles under their belt, or have contributed to the production of multiple books. I have no published works to my name. As an editor, I’m mildly successful considering I’ve not been doing it professionally for long. But this is a room full of established editors, authors, and publishers. So, I did what I do best: drink, listen, drink, respond, drink, nod, drink, and smile.

drinking buddies.jpgI don’t pass out a single business card – despite having them made for the convention – and I didn’t tell a single person who I was or what I was doing there. I just play the fly-on-the-wall game until we all said our farewells. Chris headed home, and I wandered off to my room. Later that evening, I thought about what a missed opportunity that was while I worked my way through the beers I had stocked in my hotel fridge.

Less than a week later, while I was in the safety of my own home, Chris sent an offer to publish a series J.R. Handley and I have been outlining called The Odera Chronicles. A few weeks later, he informed me a short story I had co-authored will be showing up in an anthology he is releasing in September.

This, for me, is the purpose of something like RavenCon. It’s not about judging the merit of the panels (or panelists), or pimping your books to a room full of disinterested people. It’s certainly not about gloating about your successes and comparing yourself to others. Sometimes, it’s about wandering around, meeting people, pool noodles, jumping fences, and drinking the occasional beer. It’s about being present and open to a strange adventure.

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Free Books on Query Letters & Agents

A while back I wrote a post about looking for agents (Quest for the Holy Sale: Finding Agents). It was a whimsical bit of nonsense with an undertone of importance. I’ve had a lot of conversations, emails, and questions come my way about agents and query letters since then. My response was, “Dudes and dudettes, didn’t my post indicate my level of uselessness?”

Understanding my deficiency, I’ve been gathering all the info I can obtain about the subject. During this period of self-study, I uncovered a couple free gems (these might only be free for Kindle users).

The two books are both by Noah Lukeman:

How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success

How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent

Eating A Dash of StyleI was really excited to see these free books. I had read Lukeman’s book on punctuation (A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation) a few months back and really enjoyed the content. You know, eating my greens and all of that. In case you couldn’t picture what it looks like when I consume books, I added a picture.

Just wanted to take a minute to pass on these two awesome and free sources of information. I found the book on writing a great query letter to be extremely useful. Lukeman talks about what kind of paper to use (yeah, some people apparently write on cardboard to be clever), how to address the letter, how many paragraphs to write, how to structure those paragraphs, and more.

Good stuff!

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Short Stories: Places to Publish

query letter.jpgI’ve been reading more and more posts about the all-important query letter, fishing for representation from agents, and publishing.  Currently, I’ve drafted a book (Wastelander: The Drake Legacy).  I’m also working on a corresponding novella.  With all this considered, I really don’t have much else in the way of a fiction writing resume.

I wouldn’t go to a job interview without first preparing my resume, so why should I attempt to gain representation from an agent without beefing up a similar writing resume?  Right now my resume would consist of, well, nothing.  I can’t count the single novel and novella because they aren’t published.  They are the unproven products I want to get representation for and publish.

Masterpiece Written - No Agent

When you look at it this way, my resume is pretty weak.  After all, I think it’s fair to assume an agent wants to know if we have a future in writing, or if we are a one-and-done kind of writer.   My assumption is they are looking for repeat work.  I interpret this as, are you readable and prolific enough to make everyone involved money by pumping out work?

 

The problem is that it takes time to draft a book, more to polish it, and potentially longer to start the process of publishing.  If we rely solely on full-blown novels as the basis of our writing portfolios, then we are working on resumes that are years in the making.  In the meantime, we may be writing books very few people will stumble upon (depending on your Jedi marketing mind powers).

Got-an-idea.pngPotential solutions include (1) self-publish first book and novella, (2) write two or three books in the series prior to seeking representation, (3) say, “screw it,” and try to gain representation with current work, (4) roll myself into a ball and cry while rocking, and (5) publish a few short stories to bolster writing resume.

This post focuses on the short story option.  Specifically, finding legitimate publications to publish in.  If successful, the agent would have more than just a single example of what we can do.  Even better, the stories would be published examples by places that presumably value quality within our genres.

In researching the how and where, I came across a few sources of information I thought might be useful to share.

The List Server.jpg

The first is a website is called, Let’s Write a Short Story.  They wrote an article called, 46 Literary Magazines to Submit To.  This reference article lists outlets to submit to, provides hyperlinks to those websites, and breaks the list down into genre’s.

Another comes from the website, The Write Life.  The article I found most useful was, Where to Submit Short Stories: 25 Magazines and Websites That Want Your Work (that’s a long title).  While this list is a little shorter than the previous one, what I like about it is they provide a snippet about each, potential pay for works submitted, as well as rough estimates for word counts.

The Los Angeles Writers Group offers a more current listing: Nine Places to Submit Your Short Stories Right Now.  This one includes places to post poetry, as well as fiction.  I also like that they provide extra information regarding posting requirements.

According to these websites, there are more than 4000 places to publish short stories.  Happy hunting.  It should be noted this post is reblog.  Since this post was generated, some excellent folks have listed more great resources for you to check out!

reader-contributions

Kernerangelina (Where Dragons Reside) offered the following:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/
http://spawn.org/
http://www.bookmarketingworks.com/
http://www.publishedauthors.org/
http://www.writerspace.com/
http://pred-ed.com/pealc.ht

Philcharlesr (Phil Charles R) provided these gems:

http://www.forgelitmag.com/
http://www.inkshares.com

question mark.pngHave any of you published short stories?  If so, where?  I’d love to hear about it and add to our collective information.  Give this amateur yarn spinner some tips!  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Quest for the Holy Sale: Finding Agents

holy grail.jpgBased on the stories passed down to me, it would appear finding an agent is much like being one of Arthur’s knights and embarking on a quest for the Holy Grail.  While the call of Arthur’s war horn hasn’t reached my ears just yet, (there’s still plenty of time for this squire) I have already started strengthening my sword arm.  So today I will share the tools and resources I have been using to prepare for battle.

Slay the Hydra.  Yes, to lure an agent onto the battleground one must have a book.  Even better, more than one.   Working on multiple books is akin to battling a hydra.  You cut off one head, and another one sprouts up to spit in your face.

shine your armor.jpgShine your bloody armor!  If you wan’t to incite fear in the agents heart, you show up on the battlefield looking like the hand of God placed you before him/her.  For the purposes of agent slaying, this armor is my query letter.   When they read it, I need them to suffer from the kind of blindness you experience when glancing at an angel.

The local lore master offered me a scroll that spoke of a Writer’s Digest article.  I bartered my last jug of ale to get a mystic to add a glyph here.   This portal, if you choose to enter, lists a number of dusty, leather bound tomes focusing on crafting a query letter.  I have a stack of these tomes being delivered by the strongest steed in the land (I couldn’t afford the shipping costs of a griffin – maybe after I get the Grail).

I also met a warrioress in a cow pasture outside of the village (I got lost coming back from the tavern).  Her armor was brilliant and gleaming and she cleaved a tree in two with her bare hands.  I have since began spying on her – hiding in the tall grass to watch her train.  Judging by the quality of her armor, she is obviously skilled.

divining rod.jpgCompass?  Nay – use thine divining rod.  You can’t smite an agent with your query letter if you can’t find one.  After speaking to the wart-covered hag who lives in the Midnight Marsh, and going on a couple errands to collect bizarre herbs, she gave me a magical stick and said it was an Agent Divining Rod.  I jumped with joy.  When I came home and explained what it was to Heather (wife/shield maiden) she clobbered me and threw it into the hearth fire.  So I have decided to look at the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and Writer’s Market 2016 tomes for insight.  At least the house will stay warm.

To know thy enemy, one must study the lore.  The texts mentioned above are a start.  They contain enough pages to heat my hovel for many days.  I must spend more time going through them and recording potential targets.

The other night, while running important work related errands (if Heather asks), I met a bard at the Round Table Roadhouse who whispered of two locations of hidden lore.  The bard claimed agents could be found via scrying portals!  It took me three crystal ingots and one quart of mother’s milk (again, no need to mention this to Heather) to get a mage to inscribe those locations within the magical plane here and here.

knigt with villagers.jpg

Gather an angry mob of villagers!  Why do battle alone?  Get the villagers riled up and they will rally to you in droves.  The agent may think twice before questioning your honor when you have a mob of torch wielding village-folk at your back.

I‘ve been working on this.  I traded four cattle, two chickens, my lucky horseshoe, and a strand of baby Thor’s hair to Merlin’s apprentice (who was drunk at the time).  In return, she provided me some sort of magical mirror into the world (I believe it’s powered by a lightning elemental).  With this tool of mechromancy,  I work daily to gather a global mob to join me in battle.  It also allows me to view humorous videos of cats.  I have used this magic to hone my wit.

old warrior.jpgScrew Arthur, get the Grail on your own.  I met a warrior bard once who wore no banner.  His face was covered in scars, but there was a strange twinkle in his eyes.  I traded him two loaves of bread, a vial of djinn tears, and three of Thor’s dirty diapers (I didn’t ask why) for a leather bound chronicle of his journeys.

I told him of my desire to join Arthur, battle an agent, gain the Grail, and earn glory.  He just laughed and told me to not waste my time.  To my surprise, he claimed to have carved his own path to glory.  Judging by the scars, I believed him.  I will have to research this path more.  Perhaps I could convince my friend M.L.S. Weech, who is also a warrior bard, to share a tale of his journeys?

Do you hear that?  It’s not Arthur’s war horn, it’s something far more terrible – the growing cries of baby Thor (his anger can shake the foundations of our humble abode).  Come to think of it, I also need to explain to Heather why so many things are missing from the house…I will have to end this entry here.

Have your duties led you to hidden lore?  I would like to know!  Until the sun rises again, keep studying the lore, keep inscribing your tales, and as always – keep your quill sharp!

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