Category Archives: publishing

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900

How Did I Get 14 Science Fiction Stories About Women in One Book?

I wrote them!

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900You can read stories about women in love, women’s problems, or women’s issues. Or you can read stories about the future of women…

Fourteen sci fi and fantasy stories all about women by FEMALE SCIENCE FICTION WRITER author Amy Sterling Casil. This collection contains the Nebula Award-nominated story “To Kiss the Star.”

In the Nebula Award-nominated “To Kiss the Star,” gravely disabled Mel Armstrong gets the chance to explore the stars, but doesn’t want to leave the man she loves behind.

In “The Renascence of Memory,” nanotechnology returns 80 year old Alzheimers patient Carol Meyers to her former youth and beauty — but everyone she knew and loved is dead, except her former young lover — he is now too old for her.

Famous female film director Helene Bacon will be the first woman to win an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award — but she’s dying of cancer and her daughter is the best donor. How will she choose?

The Lady, the only daughter of the last great ruler of Copan, wishes to be a man, so she can save her father and her city.

Dr. Vi Elliott believes she’s discovered Early Man in the Southern California Desert — maybe she has, and maybe she has not — but she does run across a couple of mint-addicted intergalactic eBay traders in this sequel to “Mad for the Mints.”

And lawyer Lori Johnston is happily married to insurance guy Jack — until he tells her he’s committed to gender reassignment to save his job. What Jack doesn’t know is that Lori appears and is female, but her biology is male: born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.

Available directly from Book View Café Publishing Cooperative (EPUB and Mobi), as well as Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple and GooglePlay.

“Amy writes like Ray Bradbury on real sci-fi …” Tom Easton, Analog Magazine

“‘To Kiss the Star’ was up for the Nebula Award, but didn’t win. I haven’t read the work that did win yet, but, again, it must have been absolutely unbelievably fabulous to beat out “To Kiss the Star.” This is a beautiful, poignant, moving story of a soaring mind trapped in a damaged body. Read it.” – Hugo, Campbell and Nebula award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, author of Flashforward and other bestsellers

This is my own personal website so I may answer this question: What did win? It was about teenage boys. One critic said about “To Kiss the Star,” — “It’s like a Lifetime movie.” Why YES – YES IT IS.

The Instrumentality of Women
First eBook Edition Book View Café 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61138-584-7
$4.99
Trade Paperback Chameleon Publishing 2016
356 pages
ISBN: 978-1-46380-239-4
$15.99

The Path to Publication May Take Many Forms

Shannon Page is putting a book together covering different writers’ “paths to publication” and I told her — I’ve got one!

If you’ve read my essays about the Writers of the Future Contest, you’ll recognize parts of this story, but I tell the complete tale here for the first time!

FSFJUN96I didn’t change any of “Jonny Punkinhead,” my first professional science fiction sale, which appeared in the “New Writers” issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1996. Yes – here it is – the infamous “Nazi Clown” issue. The painting is by my now-friend Kent Bash, who also did the cover for “Chromosome Circus” – somewhat of a sequel to “Jonny” (a much nicer clown!).

So here is a draft of my “Path to Publication” …

My path to publication would have been very different, and may never have happened, if I hadn’t entered the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest between 1995 and 1998. Eventually, I ended up winning two prizes and attending the Writers of the Future events in Hollywood in 1998 and 1999. But my first professional publication wasn’t a story entered in the contest, it came as a result of it, especially help from the head judge: Dave Wolverton (who also writes fantasy novels as David Farland). Another judge of this contest, Kathy Wentworth, was a writer and editor beloved by many. Kathy suffered from cancer and died in 2012. At that time, Dave Wolverton returned as the head judge, so he is also currently the judge of this contest, which continues to help new and aspiring writers and artists.

Back in those long-ago days, we still sent work in the mail, whether on submission to a print publisher, or to a contest like Writers of the Future. The idea of “simultaneous submissions” was very important. Most publications didn’t want them. What if you sent a physical story to six different publications, and more than one of them agreed to publish the work? You ran the risk of “being banned” if editors learned you were trying to save time and postage by taking a “simultaneous submission” shortcut.

The preferred method was to laboriously put the printed story in a manila envelope and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the response – you could either include a large manila envelope in which the editor could return the actual manuscript, or a small, regular white envelope, which would be big enough for a form letter response. The understanding with the small envelope was that the editor could throw away or recycle the manuscript you had sent and just return a note or form letter.

Think about the cost in time, effort, postage and paper!

So, why was I doing this? Starting in Junior High, I had the crazy idea I “wanted to be a science fiction writer.” By the time I was in college, I read an article in Asimov’s Magazine urging young writers to apply to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop – at the time held at Michigan State University. I completed a storylike document by mixing and matching what I understood (not very much!) of a literary story by the well-known author Paul Bowles with the plot of one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I sent this thing to the workshop and they let me in!

Many of the others at the Clarion Workshop were writing fantasy or horror, so I decided, “I want to be a horror writer!” Stephen King was very popular at the time – it seemed like the thing to do. This outstanding thought process resulted in my “Pudding I left in the refrigerator came alive and ate everyone!” phase.  One of my Clarion classmates convinced me to send my stories to the high-paying, and to me – very intimidating – Twilight Zone magazine. I sent three stories to them. I also sent several others to less-intimidating, low paying publications and all were rejected. Considering these tales were mostly about deadly pudding, I can’t blame these editors. I got used to seeing a big manila envelope in the mailbox that I had addressed to myself. Rejection, rejection, rejection.

Because I knew no other writers to talk to after Clarion, I didn’t know that I was “getting close” and receiving personal rejections even for malevolent pudding tales – so when I got a rejection card from Twilight Zone editor Alan Rodgers*, I decided, “You don’t have what it takes, Amy – just forget about it. Devote your time to a real paying job and your family.”

I quit writing for eight years.

After my daughter Meredith was born, her father Mike encouraged me to start writing again since it seemed like my life was consumed 100% by our daughter, my ailing father and grandmother, and job/household duties. I needed something to take my mind off of these heavy responsibilities. Mike reminded me, “Didn’t you want to be a science fiction writer?”

“Yes,” I told him – that was true. I had and did.

Mike pulled out some of his old paperbacks, including Tales of Known Space by Larry Niven. As I read, I realized I remembered reading most, if not all, of these stories from the old days. I discovered the ability to complete an actual story text – and I didn’t have to combine a literary writer’s tale with Star Trek, either. I plugged along, writing from 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. before it was time to take Meredith to school.

Rejection. Rejection. Rejection.  42 of them. But they were “personal” – i.e. written notes from various editors. I knew enough by this time to know that this meant my work wasn’t completely abominable.

I also learned about the Writers of the Future Contest, and the prizes looked great. A lot of writers I respected and admired were either judges, or had won the contest. So I developed a policy: I’d send a story to all the high-paying professional sci-fi markets in order of which ones I thought had the best potential of buying it. If, by the end of this laborious procedure, the story still hadn’t sold – then I’d enter it in the contest.

The first story that fit in this category was “Jonny Punkinhead.” This story is also my first professional science fiction and fantasy sale.  It appeared in the “New Writers Issue” of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in June, 1996.

When I finished “Jonny Punkinhead” in early 1995, I knew that I’d “done something.”  From what I could determine at that time, it was “publishable.”  Inside, I knew that I’d done the very best that I could do.  Through this story, I began to learn what I was really good at as a writer.  It was about a subject very close to my heart:  inspired by the homeless, desperately poor children I worked with through my day job at that time — the director of a charity devoted to helping people in need.  I invented the idea of “changed children,” and did much research on slow viruses and genetic mutations to come up with a scenario by which such a disaster might occur.  I left all of this “background information” out of the story and instead wrote about what might happen if somebody . . . oh, somebody like me . . . had to try to take care of these kids who were throwaways — the unwanted, the unloved, the bizarre.  Kids with heads like pumpkins and three eyes.  Kids like “Jonny Punkinhead.”

For reasons that are clear to me today (but unclear to me at the time) I made the protagonist a male doctor – Dr. Hedrick Arlan.  But at the time, I didn’t really understand what I was doing although I knew the doctor’s problems with “taking his job home” were similar to challenges I also faced in my real-world job with homeless, very low-income people.

I put “Jonny Punkinhead” in a big manila envelope, along with a self-addressed, folded large manila envelope for its return, and sent it out (one at a time) to every reputable science fiction and fantasy magazine that existed at that time.  Guess what happened?

Yeah – same as the Malevolent Pudding stories. Two of the editors, who shall forever remain nameless, actually used these words: “This is an award quality story, but . . .”

But – they still rejected it.

“Jonny” was rejected by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, at that time, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

After all these rejections, I entered it in the Writers of the Future contest. One day, I went to the mailbox and here was another big manila envelope.  I trudged back inside and put the envelope on the kitchen counter. I figured, “Another rejection.” The same thoughts I’d had eight years before flooded my mind. “Just quit. You’re no good. You’ll never sell a story.”

I cleaned the kitchen before opening the envelope, quickly recognizing “Jonny Punkinhead.”

Then a letter fell out. It was pretty long—several pages and typed, single-spaced!

The letter was from Dave Wolverton, head contest judge.  “Fred Pohl and I both thought that this was the first prize winner,” he wrote.  Dave went on to discuss my story in detail, my writing in detail, and by the time I finished, I could hardly breathe.  Even then, though, I was still thinking, “You didn’t win anything and they’re sending the story back, unpublished.”

Dave said that the story was “publishable.”  That was great! He urged me to send it to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where he felt it would be a “good fit.”

He had no way to know that the story had already been sent to that magazine and rejected.

Keep in mind this was before regular use of the internet and I didn’t know what to do. How could I send a story “back” that had already been rejected even if Dave Wolverton said it was good and right for the publication?  Then I read Fred Pohl’s letter.  You may not know who Fred Pohl is, but if you love science fiction, he was the author of The Space Merchants, Man Plus, and the Gateway novels. He was also the editor of Galaxy magazine, and considered to be the best editor in the field for many years.  As I read this letter, I knew that Fred Pohl had picked a number of incredibly successful, wonderful writers of short science fiction out of his editorial “slush pile.” Among them, he had “discovered” Cordwainer Smith — and as far as I was concerned, Cordwainer Smith (real name: Paul Linebarger) was a genius.

Fred Pohl’s letter was much shorter than Dave Wolverton’s, but he said, “Being able to read stories like this is why I have continued to judge this contest over the years.”  He called my story “award-quality” and my writing “beautiful,” and I believed him.  That was when I decided not to quit.

As far as my “but the story was already rejected” dilemma, I wrote Dave Wolverton back. Following his guidance, I put the story back in an envelope, wrote a new cover letter that said, “Dave Wolverton suggested I send this to you,” and sent “Jonny Punkinhead” back to the editor Kristine Rusch at the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Honestly, I didn’t change a word though the cover letter probably said “I revised this with Dave’s advice” (in fact, I’m certain I said that – he told me to!).

And this time, she bought it.

I kept writing.  It took me a long time — two years, probably — to recapture the feeling I had when I wrote “Jonny Punkinhead.”  I wrote competent, even moving stories in the meantime.  But stories like “Jonny” don’t come every day.  Stories like that come from heartfelt honesty, caring, and sincerity.  How many words had I written before I wrote “Jonny?”  I’m not sure.  It wasn’t the “million words” that I heard bestselling author Harry Turtledove speak of — he said that writers had to write “a million words” before they became publishable, professional writers.  I racked up a total of eighty rejections before my next professional sale.

No one can take “Jonny Punkinhead” from me, or tell me that he’s “not a winner,” because I know that little boy is a winner, even if he lost hope in his own story.  Even if he smashed his own head against the wall just the way I wanted to do back then.

My grandfather always told me, “You have to take the bad with the good.”  When I was growing up and reading science fiction, my ultimate dream was to be a part of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which was the place where all the writers I most loved and admired published their work.  Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Daniel Keyes, Walter M. Miller.  Writers like that.  My writing has been sandwiched in issues between writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Joyce Carol Oates.  That’s not “the bad.”  That’s “the good.”

And that *asterisk? *Alan Rodgers, the Twilight Zone editor? I met him in 1998, not realizing who he was until quite a while after he and I had fallen in love. We were either a couple, or very close friends, until his untimely death after a series of strokes in 2014. I had kept the little card he’d sent as a rejection – the one that convinced me to quit writing way back when.

When I showed it to him and told him the story of how the terse, small card had inspired me to quit, he said “Amy, I only wrote 6 or 7 of those the whole time I was at Twilight Zone. That was meant to encourage you.

If you had sent another story as good as that one, I probably would have bought it!”

Amazon Customer Help Unhelpful, Trollish and Bad

With Amazon, it’s not just troll reviews, it’s also their “customer help” that’s a problem.

Most of us who do business online may have asked ourselves more than once: “Just who is writing these online reviews?” Well – some see themselves as self-appointed “brand ambassadors,” according to a 2013 study of thousands of online reviews conducted by Eric Anderson and Duncan Simester—professors of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Anderson and Simester studied Expedia, Amazon and other companies, but of the group, no company is so associated with online reviews and the “5 star system” than Amazon.

Amazon-logo

I’ve told my friends, “YES there are some writers who pay for fake 5-star reviews,” and some who’ve probably paid people to put fake 1 star reviews for competitors. In the writing community, we go around and around about these problems. It makes legitimate writers question the reviews they receive. I have experienced a self-appointed “brand ambassador” who seems to have decided that a novella I published as an early experiment was the worst sort of self-published book (when it was not). I fought back. After my recent overview of many Nebula Award-nominated authors’ e-books, including single, standalone stories and collections (so, sorry online “Brand Ambassador” reviewer lady – I don’t think that other award-nominated authors you may not have heard of are as bad a writer as I am) — fighting back was better than sitting on my hands. I have more reviews and sales of Shakespeare in Hell than the majority of other single-story e-books or short story collections that I saw when I did the survey.

I didn’t realize until today that the problems in the online review system also extended to the “help community” for Amazon. Amazon’s Kindle message board help community is supposed to provide specific help to self-publishing authors: it’s nearly unusable, I discovered a couple of years ago. The Kindle message boards are dominated by trolls, weirdos and what-have-you. They seem to exist for some self-published Kindle formatting advice authors to troll and advertise their “How to” books, and for others to spam regarding their self published titles. For the average person seeking formatting answers: they’re a disaster!

The motive for this is obvious: most of the people who spend their time spamming others, slamming newcomers or exhibiting other forms of Web 1.0 behavior on these message boards make money from it. They sell their “How to” Kindle or other books by means of their online “help community” advertisement.

But what would the motive be for other commenters to be unhelpful, creepy and even abusive on the regular Amazon.com “community help” message boards? I recently experienced a double charge from Amazon. In attempting to rectify the problem, I clicked on the “Customer Help” message board option. It’s a lot easier to find than the customer service telephone option! Just one of the message threads I saw was this. I was motivated to respond because I’d seen answer after answer from the same small group of people saying “Click on the blue help button.” Well, there is no such button, it isn’t blue, and it isn’t located in the same place on mobile devices. In addition, the “help” link takes the customer to a page where a variety of help options (also web pages and FAQs) are located. There are no less than 3 clicks required to get to a page where the customer could answer questions and get to a telephone customer service option.

This may be a joke to these Amazon customer “help” weirdos making fun of or abusing average customers. But I saw one customer referring to overcharges on his bank account, and a second one referring to two $60 overdraft charges on her bank account. She stated she was a mother of two and they were only receiving small holiday gifts as a result. People like this guy like to inform others of exactly how their bank account works — instead of advising customers how to get duplicate or other wrong charges refunded. I finally broke and responded after seeing him and other commenters being downright rude or mean to regular customers one too many times.

These message boards aren’t hard to locate. They are listed before any paid Amazon customer service option, and long before the web page routine that will result in the telephone customer service. If people comment there, they get either repetitive, insulting or downright creepy and weird answers from a small group of “regulars.” It’s very similar to the same bizarre weirdos who go around clicking “unhelpful” on average or ordinary reviews of books or other products.

Amazon review seller

The only reason I’ll post an online review is if I think the product, restaurant or other business, or book, is really fantastic, or in very rare cases — really awful. I am reviewer #870,251 on Amazon and it is mostly books, dating back to 1998. I was tremendously tempted to review the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer, but I resisted.

I know that Amazon.com has its own problems with employee morale, and probably, its customer service message boards are far down on the list as compared to new product launch, driving advertising revenue, and convincing people that ordering online is better than in-person shopping, up to and including getting products within an hour of placing an order.

But I have a hard time thinking that putting the “Customer Help Message Board” button first in front of an actual Customer Service representative method of contact (phone, chat, email) is a great business strategy. The “help” customers would get is non-existent. One of these people informed me that she had been “helping” people on the Amazon customer service help message boards for seven years. Her “help” that I saw consisted of telling people who were complaining about a duplicate, triplicate or otherwise incorrect charge needing to be refunded was to “click on the blue help button.” She persisted in disputing with me approximately 4 hours today and I have no doubt the weirdo crew there is Googling me to their heart’s content, just like some of the others did with the Canadian businessman who had an unusual concern/complaint.

I do not think you have to be an internet, mobile or new media genius to figure out there is a problem when that is your go-to “customer service” method. Some of it is a sort of misperceived value on the commenter’s “reputation” — representing about 1% of people who comment. A very different 1% to the “one percent” we have heard about in the news, but a bullying 1% all the same.

Amazon recently made news for suing over 1,000 fake reviewers. It turns out that auto review website Edmunds.com preceded them by two years. But Edmunds doesn’t directly sell anything: Amazon does. They should take control of their help and advice sections. Misinformation, disinformation and abuse that is rewarded by the company’s ill-considered 5 star review system is not “customer service” or “help.”

How Will The World End? Is There a Clue From The Easter Island Heads? They Also Have Bodies!

Did you know? The Easter Island heads have giant bodies that are buried below the surface!

AH2B07The end of the world came sooner for the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) people than for the rest of us.

While people remain on the island today, all the trees of this once-tropical paradise are gone, and the secrets of making the giant statues are forgotten. This rare picture shows the size of the head compared to the buried body.

easter island head bodyThere are more mysteries on earth than we can possibly imagine!

I am often inspired by one of my favorite media personalities, Giorgio Tsoukalos. Giorgio’s open mind helps us to see many possibilities that we otherwise would not consider.

Aliens may very well have started the human race down the path of civilization. They may also have been a source of much ancient knowledge that has been forgotten today. From the ancient Mayans to the Easter Island Rapa Nui people to the ancient Greeks and Romans, many have predicted the end of the world or apocalypse.

Hundreds of predictions have not come to pass, but here are some of the threats coming up soon:

“There is an asteroid with our name on it,” British television astrophysicist Brian Cox told the Daily Mail. tv astrophysicist brian coxAn asteroid nearly impacted the earth in 2014. We almost died in a cataclysm similar to the one that destroyed the dinosaurs.

But, we didn’t.

Now, as many as six world-shattering asteroids could be headed our way, with reported impacts predicted for the days between coming between September 21 and 28 … less than a month from now!

The “Blood Moon Prophecy” originated with Rev. Efrain Rodriguez. Additional pastors, including the Revs. Mark Blitz and John Hagee, have told their followings of tens of thousands that the fourth “Blood Moon” this year will herald the arrival of a giant asteroid. This monster-sized rock the size of a city block, is supposed to hit the earth near Puerto Rico, causing a 300-foot tsunami, vaporization of Puerto Rico and surrounding areas, and a magnitude-12 earthquake.

jumbo jet sized asteroid

Asteroids “bigger than a jumbo jet” come close to earth on a monthly basis, according to NASA, which regularly updates the public on near-misses.

And guess what?

By anywhere from 1 to 2 billion years from now, the earth will for certain be burned to a cinder due to the inevitable expansion of our Sun. Some experts now predict that the end may come even sooner than that — as soon as 100 years from now. According to Reuters, children born today may live to see humanity’s end as a result of global warming above 2C.

Just in case …

You can read up on all of these doomsday scenarios and more!

For $15, you can get a bunch of classic disaster novels from StoryBundle, and donate to the Challenger Center for Science Education! Featuring FIRE by Alan Rodgers (there are some nuclear challenges in the book, but mostly a horrible virus that brings the dead back to life — including meat in freezers! — is on the rampage) and great books by Kevin J. Anderson, David Sakmyster, Laura Anne Gilman and more! If you have never heard of StoryBundle, check it out! You can get top-quality, best-selling books for a single low price, you can name your own price as well, and let them know how much of the proceeds you would like to go to the author, to StoryBundle, and to a designated charity!

 

 

Amazon is the Past, Not the Future

Amazon has made the self-publishing revolution possible; no question. They have also enabled a number of publishers, especially those in esoteric areas or those specializing in low-volume titles, to survive and potentially thrive.

They also provide a huge number and range of goods for sale and services, including data, cloud services, entertainment and shipping. It’s hard to visit their busy website and not think “Are they *everything* to everybody?”

The recent NY Times expose of working circumstances for the company’s white collar workers (tech, marketing, management) has raised a lot of questions. It’s certainly true that there are wretched companies to work for out there, many worse than Amazon. However, Amazon doesn’t appear anywhere on the top 50 companies for Executives from CEO Magazine in the past 5 years; numerous others do – and there’s high variability in rankings.  You will not find Amazon on any of Training Mag’s Top 125 awardees for 2015. You will find, from the tech and retail sector, Best Buy, CarMax, Cisco and Walgreens.

The people who so callously said that Amazon’s policies were fine used the excuse that the company earns a profit; indeed – according to Investopedia, “Amazon’s profits for its entire existence are still less than what ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) takes home every 2.5 weeks.” The company earned NO PROFIT AT ALL until 2009 (founded 1994).

According to BusinessInsider, which is partly owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, “Get it into your heads: Amazon is not going to become a big-margin company. Never has, never will — it’s not in the model.” Of course not. Most retail is not high profit margin; however, most retail cannot go for years with no profits.

The very day of the NY Times Amazon expose, a laudatory article about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos appeared in the UK Telegraph (a conservative or Tory publication). Last week, investment publications reported that Bezos sold over $550 million of his Amazon stock. Possibly, to buy the NY Times and prevent future negative articles.

Jet Amazon competitor

The company is not without competitors. Jet.com is just one of them.

WalMart also does more sales volume in books than Amazon does.

So, what’s the difference? Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re a writer or other professional. You’re an educated, sophisticated person and do not shop at stores like WalMart.

Therefore: no one does, right? Amazon may have advanced in revenue size but it’s still weak and tiny and resource-poor compared to WalMart. Amazon isn’t Apple. It’s not Microsoft. It’s not Cisco. It’s a retailer. An online retailer that ships and has realized it has resources that could compete with UPS or FedEx. It’s still using trucks and gasoline. It still has physical warehouses.

This extremely optimistic chart projects that Amazon will surpass WalMart in revenue by . . . 2024. Even with this hinky curve – there’s a better revenue curve there. It’s the blue one on top. If you’ll notice the raise there for the red one starts after 2015. It hasn’t happened yet.

Walmart vs AmazonSo to the people who work for Amazon, it’s a game with uncertain results.

To the rest of us, especially those of us who are creative professionals, in working with Amazon, we are working with … wait for it … and I *do* work with them and they are human beings just like everybody else. I am never discourteous to others in interactions, but let’s just say Apple customer service is celestial compared to Amazon’s.

If you read that NY Times article and didn’t come up with “crazier than a barrel of spider monkeys and a fifth of whisky,” then you should read it again. You should read Nick Ciubotariu’s “Data driven response” to the article. The only data in his long, full of hurt feelings response is “On average, the ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback was over 5:1.” That’s it. Thousands of words, ZERO data. Nick even says “I don’t know what the employee retention (or turnover/burn) rate is.”

Is it about good vs. evil?

It’s about poor management and decision making. I don’t care that Nick Ciubotariu’s “mentor” told him that Amazon was the “best company in the world.”

I can see from my own limited perspective that what impacts our publishing company and to a larger extent, our world that could benefit from better books (not more books – better books) that everything about Amazon’s e-book hardware, software, sales, delivery and marketing, is harmful to the product’s long-term growth and development of excellence. They are doing nothing but doubling and tripling down on that. For this customer growth.

Do you see the same growth curve in this chart of customer demographics as that optimistic “Amazon will surpass WalMart by 2028 chart”? Oh, those algorithms. There is a secret Amazon anti-aging project. It will deliver “instant youth” in one hour, guaranteed. Only to Amazon Prime members.

Amazon customer demographics

I don’t know how many times I can tell people, “The reason Amazon Kindle sales do not match ‘regular’ book sales is that the Kindle owner customer base doesn’t match everybody else/the general population.” Only about 10% of all books sold are via the Amazon e-book platform.

Now they’ve got Kindle Scout, which is basically another Kickstarter-type crowdsourcing for getting content for a whopping $1,500, some of which might end up being a great investment.

There’s not an original piece of work on the entire Kindle Scout page. People can upvote/downvote/game to their heart’s content. It’s crap made by people devoted to making crap they believe to be marvelous. Oldtimers know this as Sturgeon’s law (90% of everything is crap). Or – “imitation fast food.” Like this (Fast Food You Can Make at Home).

Kindle Scout Crap

Maybe a year from now if this keeps going, the titles will be better, the covers a little slicker. It will still be DIY Fast Food.

Am I saying independent authors only write crap?

No. I’m just saying schemes like Kindle Scout or various “author communities” have as much point as McDonalds opening its stores up to local cooks trying to duplicate dishes the restaurant has sold for years. It is the same whether Amazon does this or legacy publishers do it.

Ron Collins says that lots of big companies are using advanced math to determine the cost-benefit analysis of treating your employees as if they are worthless and interchangeable, and treating them as if they have some value to the business. Amazon’s math doesn’t add up all around. Low/no profits for years. High rate of employee turnover and burnout. Endless schemes, dozens of new business ventures, few of which pan out. Low growth in new business sectors.

All the algorithms and analysis in the world will not tell a business the truth about a customer who is remote (i.e. not “in the store”). And just because somebody buys something one day, does not mean they want or need the exact same thing the next.

Just because a reader stops reading a Kindle book on a certain page doesn’t mean they do not like, value or would not purchase a book by that author in the future.

And above all, these things cannot tell Amazon what people will want in the future. They cannot tell them why people didn’t adopt the Kindle Fire phone (I was told “it sucks” by the ATT representative – “Get the iPhone instead.”) An Apple and a GooglePlay store representative both said that the Amazon display in another office/tech store was “never attended.” One of them described how he bought his aunt a Kindle Fire this past Christmas. He said she returned it and used the money toward a new tablet. Her age and gender put her right in the middle of the Kindle demographic.

I had no negative feelings regarding Amazon until a few months ago. I just thought they were too fast-growing and somewhat impersonal. Then I noticed how nasty, unprofessional and a-creative many of the extreme self-publishing Amazon proponents were. They were not actual employees or executives. Yet their culture was horrifying. “This doesn’t go with creativity or good business,” I thought.

These vicious, rude, crude, unimaginative people are just unpaid versions of the brutes at Amazon HQ in Seattle. Maybe some people think this is winning.

ragnar lothbrok

I do not.

Let’s Do This Different

The Hitler Channel (AHC) has been showing documentaries about “The Evolution of Evil.” These cover such perennial favorites as Hitler and Stalin. Both gentlemen rose to power following the breakdown of monarchies in Europe/Russia and the first World War.

evolution of evil nazi brandBoth, interestingly, were young men from relatively impoverished backgrounds — “outsiders” who rose to power in the chaos following the fall of prior Imperial structures. Hitler was a German-speaking Austrian; Stalin a Russian-speaking Georgian. Both were educated in traditional religious schools prior to becoming involved in revolutionary movements.

Russia’s “Man of Steel,” Stalin, had a lot longer run than Germany’s Fuhrer, Hitler.

So in recent months I’ve had a bit of contact with younger people who desire change. Some reminds me of my great time working with Policymic. Others — maybe not so much.

I put my experience working with Policymic in the 100% positive column. I think many of the Policymic former and current writers are doing incredible things and that they want nothing but good for other people. They want, and are working, for positive change. I was really glad to see Laura Donovan writing for Attn:, for example.

I find a number of younger people who seem to be locked into a cycle of complaints, the same type of aggressive online attention-getting we see from many male media personalities, and the same lack of respect for older generations or diverse cultures and values that is typical of the Tsars, Kaisers or “American Titans” of the past.

Like Stalin became Tsar-Plus, worse than any Russian Tsar of prior generations, once his opportunity came. Like Hitler became Kaiser-Plus, worse than Kaiser Wilhelm ever thought of being.

Stalin has been commonly called a brute and a pig. What he was, was murderer to millions. He alone took the former Soviet Union back decades. People wanted freedom and opportunity after Imperial Russia and its abuses. They got the “Man of Steel.”

I now understand in all regards how and why my grandmother was one of the six founding members of the American Communist Party. It was at this time that women had barely achieved the right to vote in America. She was a first-time woman pharmacist in New York (Hell’s Kitchen) and California. She certainly would not have been welcomed by either U.S. established political party at that time; the Communists were the only ones who would have either welcomed, or listened to her.

My Grandma Mary was probably the most humane person I have ever met, and insightful enough about human nature to have easily repelled a serial rapist who broke into her small Fairfax District apartment when she was up in her 80s by saying, “Young man, if you touch me, you’ll get the worst disease you ever heard of!”

Like Stalin, some of these young militants today respect power — what they perceive of it. After watching the AHC documentary, which detailed some of Stalin’s consolidation of power — perhaps they are like Trotsky, who little understood the consequences of his snubbing Stalin. Average people “get” that you get back what you put into something, and the way you treat others is generally how you are yourself, treated in return (i.e. “The Golden Rule”).

These days, most people’s basic needs are met. They also get basic entertainment, comfort, and sexual needs met fairly easily.

Our intellectual and spiritual needs: not so much.

So, it is my hope that as we pass from one era to the next, we do not have the same circumstances as occurred with Hitler and Stalin, where higher-class hereditary monarchs and dictators were replaced by lower-class, non-hereditary, power-mongering ones who made their predecessors look like amateurs in oppression.

If you think you’re “left out” today and want to be the dominant voice of tomorrow, having no respect for those who came before you is hardly the way to make a change and make a difference.

What’s Wrong With Stuff Like #Pitchtopublication ?

Sometimes I feel like I’m in an endless, hopeless battle. As if no one will ever “get” what I’m talking about, even though I’ve given up everything and am doing only what must be done to move everything forward.

I try to follow stuff out there, and this a.m. saw #Pitchtopublication. This is another YA- and genre-dominated way to attract fresh aspirants into the editor (paid) / agent / publisher world.

This Twitter-fueled contest sucks up a big needlefull of Film/TV logline disease and mainlines it into the prose fiction world.

lindsay lohan so bored
This writer wanted to use the contest to judge how interesting his ideas are. To this group.

your comps should be recent

 

 

 

 

Most of the “comps” that I saw were from recent movies, not books. However, there were a few classics TV/book mashups like “Buffy meets Jekyll & Hyde.” There wasn’t enough in-depth information from any of the pitches to determine if there was any variability in age of character, gender of character or plot.

nail the comps

 

 

 

Sell your book to … whom?

I asked this question at the LA Writers Conference and got maybe 30% audience response (who got it). After the agents discussed the acquiring editor issue (they can say “no” but cannot say “yes” on their own) and described how editorial boards make decisions, I asked “but what reader input is considered in the process?”

This #Pitchtopublication process isn’t even about putting a basic, coherent brief pitch together about the writer’s work. It’s about creating something that will appeal to the participating agents and editors. They are asking for comparables from the past five years.

In what universe is working like that going to reach anything but a smaller audience of whatever the “comps” had?

It’s guaranteed, built in from the ground up, that anything created in a process like that is going to be similar to something that somebody else already did. Better.

So this is where we’re at. Yes, I watched Elon Musk’s battery wall pitch.

The threat: 20% of North American adults regularly buy and read books. This number is flat and may even be slightly shrinking each year. Nearly 100% of people are literate enough to buy and read at least some books. No one (other than us) seems to question that some people who would otherwise read regularly aren’t reading because they aren’t being presented with things that interest them in the market channels to which they’d respond.

The evidence that books have changed our world, and continue to change it, is overwhelming. Dickens’ stories of little orphan boys who overcame incredible adversity to “be the hero of their own lives” contributed to the dismantling of extreme classism. They instilled the basic idea that someone could “rise above” given enough hard work and natural gifts. Dickens himself was this person. He was telling his own story, over and over. Before Dickens, the only characters in fiction that left their “station” were those born noble, yet were unaware of it, like Fielding’s Tom Jones. People often look to “issue” books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin as things that encourage change. I think it’s popular stories that make the real change. Dickens’ work is the work I know the most about, but more recent books like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Catch-22 have had a huge influence. Most of the official lists of this type are made out of the “canon” so they overlook books like Peyton Place, which unveiled the way small town people really lived, including their sex lives — including women’s sex lives.

We are in a worse straitjacket now than anything Ken Kesey wrote about. This straitjacket involves figuring out what someone liked last week, last month, last year, and shoving more of the same down their throat. This is what is considered “marketing.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – with its signature female horror, Nurse Ratched – very doubtful it would be published today. What were its comps? For sure Stephen King’s Misery had a little Cuckoo’s Nest of a “comp” but … that wasn’t within five years, was it?

It isn’t just that “more of the same” is what’s being enforced and promoted, it’s that the people who can work in this type of straitjacket and confined space are the opposite of the Ken Keseys of the world. I’m using the Merry Prankster as the example. If a writer likes to work to “please” some “agent” who’s chasing dollars for themselves, work to attract the attention of an editor who may or may not have any audience connection, who judges what they do based on what their competitors are doing, then the chances they’ll be writing about something real are …

ragnar lothbrok

Like the chance that somebody’s going to kick Ragnar Lothbrok’s ass.

(Aside: Vikings jumped the shark … King Whazbo has a sex crush on Lagertha and she accepts him? Really?)

There is a movie out right now called Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a white boxer named Billy “The Great” Hope. Today’s young audiences may not remember “The Great White Hope” so they do not “get” that a movie of this nature that was pretty good was already made. Called Rocky.

YOU COULD NOT EVEN F-ING MAKE ROCKY TODAY. We would not have Rocky and Rambo today. Maybe the world won’t fall apart without Sylvester Stallone but the whole point of Stallone was “the Italian stallion.” Yes, that was an unknown movie hero type before the Italians overtook film in the 70s.

Let’s try making Shaft today, shall we?

Denzel Washington’s biggest recent role is a remake of an 80s TV show that was essentially a wish-fulfillment fantasy (what if an all-powerful ex-spy could fix everything and right all wrongs) starring a white British actor.

Right now everything on the bestseller list that isn’t James Patterson or E.L. James is Gone Girl clones. ___________________ did something (bad/wrong/secret) and ___________________ (outsmarts/tricks/hoodwinks) _____________________. This MadLib story is filled out with age (28-32), hair color (blonde/light brown), eye color (blue/blue-green/hazel), job (magazine writer, fashion editor, designer), husband/boyfriend (Ben Affleck/Jake Gyllenhaal/Jason Momoa (exotic/slated for death)). These are pop books.

Did anyone see the “the book had a blue cover” bookstore joke? It’s not a joke.

blue cover

So what was on the bestseller list before this misunderstanding of “marketing” took over? Like, 45 years ago?

1970 ny times bestseller list

Let’s see. I’ve actually read three of these books.

Love Story: the classic of its type. Great Lion of God is about St. Paul, by historical novelist Taylor Caldwell (PW noted it was written for a “sizeable and predictable market” – which is no longer being served very much by secular trade publishers). The French Lieutenant’s Woman, of which I have a copy signed to me by the author, is an unconventional, time-spanning narrative covering a clandestine, very sexy romance between a Victorian naturalist and a “woman of ill repute” combined with contemporary story by the author. It may well be published today – but it would absolutely not be #3 on the NY Times Bestseller list. Deliverance by James Dickey is the book origin of “squeal like a pig!” and the developmentally-disabled backwoods banjo player, as well as ultrahot Burt Reynolds and his hunting bow. It is in fact an incredibly well-written book by a great poet. In addition to having been made into a popular, award-winning film (as was The French Lieutenant’s Woman). Calico Palace is an historical novel about a young female protagonist who moves to San Francisco during the Gold Rush (’49). It was thus out of print and, although part of a “back in print” forgotten classics series – isn’t as well-remembered or preserved as Deliverance (“Squeal Like a Pig!” = top 100 books of 20th century). The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart … I now realize I’ve read four of these books. It is the first in Stewart’s Merlin trilogy: i.e. Arthurian legend. The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick is one of the first gay romance novels. Losing Battles is Eudora Welty’s fourth novel; it features the tales told at the 90th birthday of Granny Vaughn in northeast Mississippi. Made into a hilarious movie, The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight is columnist Jimmy Breslin’s tale of the Brooklyn mob. Such Good Friends by Lois Gould is the only one of the group that is out of print. Gould was the editor of Ladies Home Journal and wrote semi-autobiographical books that focused on womens’ inner lives. Such Good Friends is about a woman whose husband dies, whereupon she discovers he was a serial cheater.

So, before the “comps” took over (they did not do this type of thing in 1970) they looked at basic things like “What is this book about?” They recognized that some authors like Eudora Welty ran on place and voice. They knew that sophisticated writers like John Fowles worked in unique ways. They could “get” basic subjects like “Merlin” and “San Francisco Gold Rush” and “St. Paul” or “This Jimmy Breslin is hilarious and a great columnist — his story is a hoot!”

Are people really going to “comp” The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight? It’s a hilarious book. Jimmy Breslin is a funny, gifted writer. They certainly have comped The Lord Won’t Mind: but these books aren’t generally on the NY Times bestseller list (though may be bestsellers).

They didn’t have computers in 1970. There was no internet. No Twitter. No hashtags. No agents telling aspiring writers what to do and forcing them to spend hours “comping” their ideas … gee whiz –

It’s Deliverance crossed with Love Story . . . Kenton Pierce, a successful 45 year-old sports agent, falls in love with beautiful 23 year-old Samantha “Sam” Justice. After a whirlwind courtship and fairy-tale wedding, “Sam” convinces Kent to spend their honeymoon in the remote Northern Georgia wilderness where she was raised by her widowed mother. While canoeing down the last wild river in the area, Kent and “Sam” are kidnapped by a group of backwoods hunters. After a night of sheer horror, Kent learns that nothing is as it seems. Not only is the hunter who rapes “Sam” her own father, she’s also dying of a new, ultra-virulent form of AIDS! Kent and Cletus the deadly Bowie-knife wielding daddy-rapist now both have the disease.

See? Easy-peasy.

American Genius

I’ve gotten a lot of insight from Temple Grandin. Toward the end of the filmed version of her life, she (portrayed by Clare Danes) tells a group of all-male, highly skeptical chain-smoking slaughterhouse owners why her humane system, which one comments is “like an airport for cows,” is an improvement over previous brute-force systems. “I – I’m like Edison or Tesla,” Temple says. “I see the way it will work. I can run through it all in my head.”

Temple GrandinAlthough we all eat safely today thanks to Temple’s human animal processing systems, and millions of children with autism and their families have gained inspiration and real-world skills thanks to Temple’s education and advocacy, she’s not an “American Genius” according to National Geographic. No woman or non-white person is. This show irritated me, but not enough to say anything about it until today.

There is a small Tumblr which allows safe, anonymous reports of gender-biased comments to women writers; it’s a fraction of the size of the “Shit People Say to Women Directors” film industry Tumblr which has helped to support the ACLU investigation into hiring practices in Hollywood. So, today the Tumblr about bad comments toward women writers has a 2-year old pandering post* by male internet celebrity writer Chuck Wendig, which pushed a legit Twitter meme started by Chocolat author Joanne Harris into second place. Because most of the readers of this Tumblr are female, fortunately yet more coverage provided to Wendig was *not* as heavily shared as Joanne’s project (4 notes to 19 last time I checked).

*Pandering Post: As my best friend Cathy always said, “When you live in crazyland, crazy seems normal.” So therefore the tradition of white males getting tons of attention by “sponsoring” complaints of females seemed “normal” to me, until about a year ago, I had just plain had enough. I don’t read them, I do not share them. Some exemplars of this genre include Jim Hines’ crusading for anti-sexual harassment policies and of course, Wendig’s extremely lengthy post of who knows how many reasons why women endure gender bias in publishing and how wrong guys who disagree are. Hundreds of comments, most from gushing females. There’s no links here because these “right-doers” (AKA attention whores) don’t need extra boosts. Now that I’m aware of this, I see these *everywhere*. For every legitimate statement by a female entrepreneur, woman in tech, or author, there’s at least 2-3 of these “pandering posts” or videos where a man gets attention for being “cool” and on the woman’s side. The magnitude of attention/”sharing” is always like 10:1 – 10 to the male/1 to any female. These men are nowhere to be found whenever actual work, money or real projects are under consideration.

I want to say Temple Grandin is lucky because she doesn’t care about this stuff. But Temple is acutely sensitive to injustice. Her filmed life story illustrates this over and over, as does her own autobiography. Once she figured out that people were biased against her, she persevered, using her own steady, persistent gifts and talents and plenty of creativity, to accomplish her goals.

As to me, I was born with a sense of injustice … to others. Poor treatment of others always resonated with me. It’s only taken 53 years for me to “get” poor treatment of my self.

So, back to the “American Geniuses.” I wrote about Maria Goeppert Mayer in my first appearance in Analog this past month. Maria is the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. She identified the structure of the atom itself. She worked on the Manhattan Project and many other critical atomic projects, often for free. She wouldn’t have been able to do as she’d done without the support of her husband Joe Mayer, an accomplished chemist. Joe lost at least one position (University of Chicago) for his support of his wife’s research.

As far as this “American Geniuses” show is concerned, Maria holds not a candle to “real geniuses” like Colt and Smith & Wesson, the firearms competitors, or media magnates like Hearst and Pulitzer. Out of the group of “geniuses,” probably only Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (competitors, LOL) and Edison and Tesla quality as actual geniuses who accomplished something positive for others. Maybe Philo Farnsworth. The rest are like Thank You For Smoking’s “Merchants of Death”.

People say Tesla was crazy, he was a monomaniac. Edison, like Temple Grandin, had a disability that made his interactions with others more limited (he was hearing impaired). Temple, of course, has autism and yes she’s like Edison and Tesla — yes she’s a genius! So again, even though she is objectively, verifiably one of the most influential, positive people of the 20th century, there are a fraction of the articles about Temple than there are about someone like Steve Jobs or … Chuck Wendig. No joke. But this 2012 article describes how her work to change slaughterhouses and animal treatment was a “long term project.”

If I may speak for myself, I have never cared about “being famous” or “attention.” I shy from it. I was thrilled to be able to operate the laptop at Comic-Con Thursday. If cameras come around, I will run.

But I know what we are doing is important. Temple would say “nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be” to explain why it was important to design human animal slaughter facilities. She explained her autism to others by saying she “thought in pictures.” She spoke simply and straightforwardly at all times.

So.

The Problem With Books

Everybody who’s rotating around the current publishing industry is smack dab in the middle of the 20 percent and that is the way they like it. Everything they say is devoted to supporting themselves: the same as Edison and J.P. Morgan were stone-committed to direct current before Morgan threw Edison under the bus. Neither saw a problem with DC being able to serve only wealthy urban dwellers, whereas crazed Tesla’s AC could serve everybody.

When I thought about people who exclusively read certain authors, or who only read certain types of books, and are very reluctant to deviate, I would picture Temple in her aunt’s house or college cafeteria, announcing, “I only eat jello and yogurt! I – I only eat jello and yogurt!” Well, these are “Temple-Type Readers,” I would think.

So, there are all those folks who didn’t get to attend a wonderful country boarding school like Temple did. Whose wonderful, humane, brave mothers did not have the privilege of graduating from Harvard. There’s all those folks who don’t have internet platforms, who are not James Altucher, who could write fifty fantastic articles and get less than 5 views on “Medium.” There’s all the people who don’t “know anybody.” There’s people serving time for crimes they didn’t do, or for crimes that should not be crimes at all. There’s people working jobs they hate just to put food on the table, and people who work 2-3 jobs for minimum wage who can’t put food on the table at all.

There are people who’ll never get a vacation. There are people who will never leave their home state. There are people who will quietly work and serve their whole lives long.

I think an awful lot of those people are “American Geniuses” too.

And they deserve books made for them. Books that affirm, instead of deny. Books that uplift, instead of downgrade.

I found my 45+ heroine in a bestseller/not a romance this morning: “Jack” Daniels. She’s a 48-year old pregnant detective trapped by a serial killer. The book opens with a “popular” serial killer who’s been featured in prior books murdering an innocent young woman with impunity and cruelty. He tells her he’ll “make her famous.” Instant best seller.

And people think more of this is the answer. It never crosses their minds that it’s not just like it would never cross Chuck Wendig’s mind that he’s actually being a giant douchebag by writing another of his long “splaining” articles. It’s like the cattle in Temple Grandin’s dip system. You can’t hang things on the walls. They will walk smoothly down the steps into the water. No chains or shadows to alarm them.

 

This is a Book

Is She Available HardcoverSo, this is a book. Is SHE Available? by Igor Goldkind.

Not only could this book have not been made by an individual working in isolation, it wouldn’t be what it is without the musical and recording talents of Gilad Atzmon, the art talent of more than 26 internationally-acclaimed graphic novel, comic, and fine artists, including front and interior cover by Bill Sienkiewicz, and the world-class book and type design talent of Rian Hughes. Videos are by Madefire, which has invented a way to animate graphic novels and comics, and the e-book enhancements including movable type and animations were done in Southern California by Chameleon.

The book was more than a year in the making and it is indeed, our showpiece, along with the companion hardcover.

If it was just Igor’s poetry, it would be yet another book of poetry — a good one — but not what it is. This is why we are able to do Poetry, Jazz, Art, Comics — Really? at Comic-Con next week.

Darkness Poem back Love Is Poem back (1) Love is a Gun tshirt frontThese are 1) Rian Hughes type design for “The Darkness” poem; 2) Rian Hughes type design for “The Bullet From My Gun” poem; and 3) Art for “The Bullet From My Gun” by Shaky Kane. We will have t-shirts at Comic-Con with Shaky’s image on the front and the poem type design on the back.

The e-book uses every functionality of Adobe Creative Suite, including video, audio, animations, Illustrator, InDesign (obviously) and Photoshop. It uses every capability of the EPUB3 standards.

And although there is a GooglePlay version, the book is optimally experienced on iBooks and Apple devices.

There will probably never be a Kindle version of this book — at least not for the foreseeable future.

Did we go into it this way? No! We went into it with the idiotic assumption that it would be “easy” to convert and validate the EPUB for KF8. Aw no problemo … easy peasy! The Kindle plays movies and shows magazines and …

30 days later … every editing program out there used and re-used …

We also did not want an “app,” we wanted a book. It’s a book-plus. Apps are, and we have some agreement out there, at-best book-minus. That’s from the perspective of making the thing and using it — what can and cannot be included. That’s from the app format itself. That’s from down in the guts of what it is. The Kindle problem is down in the guts of the software itself, what it will and will not accept, what it will and will not do.

If you want an “enhanced” e-book like Stephen King’s 11/22/63, then there ya go. This goody includes a 13-minute video that is primarily Stephen King talking. It appears at the beginning of the book. Then the traditional book starts in flowable ePUB format. It’s no more enhancement than could be found on a web page; i.e. Stephen King’s or the publisher’s website. That’s because flowable ePUBS are web pages.

What flowable ePUBS and readers have caused is a diminution of the beauty of the book, making it extremely difficult to provide an optimal reader experience. There’s little type design to be done with an ePUB. When the user can make the font any one of the standard fonts they like, and make the letters bigger or smaller on the screen, and change the background and type color, that’s great for consuming text. It isn’t quite the same as reading a book like this:

jane eyre chapter 1 Fritz-Eichenberg-Jane-Eyre-Title-Page

 

The 1943 Random House edition of Jane Eyre with woodcut illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg is “book plus,” just as every illustrated children’s book is “book plus.” I always give this book as an example because it and its companion volume, Wuthering Heights, belonged to my mother — but they literally formed my life, along with the N.C. Wyeth illustrated editions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

When I asked Kirbi Fagan if she would like to work with me on illustrations for Like Fire, she immediately understood and made the characters come alive. Working as a team, here is the result:

Keile Bern by Kirbi FaganHull Krystofferson the Ice Rooster by Kirbi Asta_Kirbi_Fagan Broos_Kirbi Fagan Meria by Kirbi FaganLike Fire is not published, and it may never be.

I crossed a line — fully-crossed this April — where I realized that what was needed, was to combine the old with the new: really, a mini-version of these pictures and this illustration and collaborative work process.

Are writers paid horribly? Yes. So are illustrators and book designers. One well-known artist friend of mine has stopped working for a famous publication because not only were their requirements so stringent he felt it downgraded his creativity, they paid too little to make his work worthwhile.

Kirbi is young: there is no telling what fantastic, beautiful, evocative art she will make down the road, what stories she will help to come alive, what young readers’ minds she will help to activate, what imaginations she will inspire.

I wrote what I wrote about the “Author Earnings Report” based on talking to aspiring writers (and some not-so aspiring – people with published books, and more than one) at the Los Angeles Writers Conference last weekend. I didn’t care for the out-there attacks on Ursula Le Guin, because they seemed a-creative to me: ugly, negative, disrespectful and almost enthusiastically uncultured. I realized when talking to aspiring writers that there is so much misinformation and disinformation out there about the industry. Financially, even the most-successful, most-famous writer, if they are agented and with an established trade publisher, will be giving up money they can probably better-earn by selling their work directly — at least in e-book form.

Trade publishers may or may not market a writer’s work effectively to the current reading audience. Only the writer will be able to go beyond that set audience if happy circumstances intervene.  As to the work between writers, editors, designers, artists and book formatters that is the subject of this post, writers with established trade publishers are siloed from that, for the most part. Over the years, the siloing has taken the form of ongoing jokes about the wrong gender of character being on a book cover, or aliens and ray guns appearing on a traditional fantasy book.

As to self-publishing, doing it well takes time, money and resources. The argument is made that “anybody” can publish their own book and that is certainly true. These posts aren’t for the person who is happy just seeing their work out in public. Our writer survey showed that a pretty big percentage of current writers don’t want to work as part of a creative team, and some don’t want audience feedback at all. The majority were willing to listen to feedback after they’d finished a book, not before starting it, or as they were working. So that isn’t adding to the discourse, as Alan Rodgers famously used to ask other writers — including multiply-published ones (risking fistfights in the process).

growth in retail spendWe think this statistic is worth thinking about and paying attention to.

And this one:

 

 

 

The Problem With BooksThe problem with rotating around a small, limited market and basing your work and priorities on what that group has read or liked in the past is that whomever reads the new work that’s published will be that group-minus, not that group-plus.

Author Lisa Genova, previously mentioned, was successful in her area because there hadn’t been well-written books before about individuals or families struggling to cope with Alzheimers disease, and that group is growing, not declining. Lisa, I think, grew readership in a certain sense, because she came up with something new. I can tell readers right now why she had to do her path to publication her way: Still Alice is about a 50-year old woman, and even as I type, that’s going to be a small minority of books even considered by top agents, much less editorial boards (we are going to skip acquiring editors since this past weekend a truth was told to conference attendees — acquiring editors can always say “no” but they can never on their own, say “yes”).

A few months ago, I received some cool manuscripts from a talented writer. The very first one opened with a chapter about an 80 year old woman. The story skipped back in time and she wasn’t always 80 throughout the entire book, but as it started: yeah — 80. “You will not get this read in New York, much less published,” I had to sadly tell the writer.

Everything that’s rotating around the Kindle stack right now is based on what has been previously published and successful in the past, and those things were selected based in uncertain, unknown criteria — primarily personal taste or “commonly-held wisdom.” PLUS the books suffer from the KF8 restricted format, PLUS the only ones that have a chance of doing well will have at least two of these criteria: professional editing and proofreading, paid advertising, established publicity channels, professional cover and formatting.

A person who has to work to support a family, and who doesn’t have a lot of resources to pay for those things, isn’t going to be able to get all that done. That miracle isn’t any likelier to happen through self-publishing than it is through the person making it through the agent-acquiring editor-editorial board pipeline at a trade publisher.

No established trade publisher would do Is SHE Available? and even if they did, it wouldn’t be good because he would have been siloed off and the art and design handed to someone who’d likely never speak to him; sales might have some input but since they are almost always at war with editorial, it probably wouldn’t be helpful. It’s not only Igor’s book, it’s Igor’s life and it’s a direct transmission from the Igorverse. Igor is a first-time poet and author. He just happened to be good friends with all the people whose work went into the book. And us, at Chameleon.

 

New Writers: This is What’s Going on With “Author Earnings Report”

We wrote about how Barnes & Noble is a lonely, frightening place for a young book: and it is. Any retail consultant would be appalled by what goes on in most B & N stores. Crowded aisles, merchandise on the floor, dusty shelves, merchandise used as decoration, uninspiring displays, and we did not even go into the stockroom, where we have heard some book shipments are simply stored until it’s time to return the unopened boxes. Those books (midlist, usually) aren’t ever even shelved since clerks don’t think any customers will want them. That’s some broken sales pipeline. Much like the troubled businesses on Bar Rescue, Restaurant: Impossible, The Profit and the late, lamented Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares: nothing about the business itself could possibly contribute to flat or declining sales and profit. Barnes & Noble is in trouble because “no one reads any longer” and “young people don’t read” and a million other excuses.

So, a lot of people who love reading and writing think Amazon is the solution. The Amazon Kindle is an amazing device, and I personally use it extensively: I am right in the middle of that device’s sweet spot demographic. I’m a college-educated woman who appreciates the ability to make the e-book type any size and shape I like. I know how to quickly find books I’m interested in.

When we first started our four-part series on the Business of Books, responding to our first market validation survey (among writers), we caught some blowback because we supported Ursula Le Guin’s contention that Amazon’s system is causing a problem for books and readership by focusing on quick-selling, short-term books.

The blowback was from Hugh Howey adherents and enthusiasts. We were informed we should look at Author Earnings Report to find out what was really going on with books and readers. Some commenters suggested we were not aware of such options as Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or quality print on demand options like Amazon’s CreateSpace. Those were the nice folks. The other ones were getting a kick out of slagging on a National Book Award winner (Ursula Le Guin) and calling me names. author earnings report

So, here’s the deal, new writers. To you, this report means exactly nothing. This is heat, light, smoke, almost totally wasted time and effort. It covers Amazon Kindle book sales and nothing else. It covers pricing information and what it presents is pretty dubious. The report has simply proven that non-traditionally published e-books sell in the Kindle format on the Kindle device. It refers to a “shadow industry” of books without ISBNs – i.e. books with ASINs only, the Kindle identifier. Similarly, books can be sold via Smashwords without an ISBN.

About two years ago we started our business with a cookie analogy, because the value of a book isn’t its sales price, nor is it even its total volume sales. We talked about how there were various qualities associated with cookies that food manufacturers used to develop, test and market them. This concept inspired Chameleon’s “bookfeel” elements to be used in book marketing, development (YES WRITING AND EDITING AND PRODUCTION) and sales/promotion.

With recent developments in Amazon’s pricing and payment structure (Kindle Unlimited, payment per amount of book read) and today’s announcement that the book subscription service Scribd is eliminating 80 to 90 percent of its romance titles because romance readers were downloading and reading “too much” to make it economically feasible, new writers might be inspired to think they need to work even harder, and market their books even more, to be a success. “Oh, my gosh,” some writers may think. “What if Amazon decides to give only 5% royalties? What if they decide to pay only if the person finishes the book and gives a good review?”

When people talk about the large share of the book market that Amazon has, they are referring to their print sales plus their e-book sales. No one really knows what Amazon’s aggregate total really represents in terms of market share, except the overall trade publishing industry is a $27 billion industry in the U.S. and we recently determined that Amazon’s maximum revenue for books was about $7 billion last year and we’re being very generous about it: 26% of the market. That is a whole lot. But if e-books just overtook the paper book sales via Amazon less than a year ago (they did), that’s 13% of the book buying market — and that is stretching it.

If I deal with the numbers that “Author Earnings Report” is trying to use to represent the market opportunity for indy-published writers, I’ll just extrapolate the “1 day earnings” for indy-published writers it estimates for May 1 sales: $1.1 million USD x 365 days = $401.5 million. That is 1.4% of the total market. Amazon’s practices mean little good news for Amazon-only authors, that’s for certain. And Amazon does not seem to be growing readership.

It’s about who can and does buy books on the Kindle. I am too cheap to download this report. But it indicates that the same market research firm (Simba) that correctly projected slowing growth in e-book sales in general in 2012 also showed that Kindle users are older (55+), female (55%) and that there are very few – 2.3% – younger Kindle owners and users. kindle users by age

In contrast, tablet ownership is broadening, with over 34 percent of Americans owning or using a tablet computer. The Kindle Fire is counted among tablets, but its demographics do not match overall tablet ownership and usage.

All you have to do is walk into any tech/electronics store like Best Buy or mobile provider store like ATT or Verizon and talk to customer service reps about who is buying what. The Kindle Fire, despite all of Amazon’s efforts, isn’t being adopted at the high rate of Apple, Samsung or other products. Marcus Lemonis, the Profit, could easily tell you why; and Amazon’s policies regarding its book content and acquisition aren’t going to help the situation much. Right now, the Kindle is a tablet, but it didn’t start out that way and Amazon’s business was built on getting books — paper books — into the hands of 1995’s readers. Now it’s 2015.

People don’t read books much on tablets so far (overall), but they are starting to do it more and more. Students definitely want textbooks and resources on their mobile devices. They do, consistently, when questioned, say they prefer paper books.

E-readers basically make it easier for older folks such as me to read. When I got my Kindle, I found myself reading more: for practical reasons! But for reasons of information and quality, I do turn to paper books. Or, I download books that I also have in paper form.

That’s because a book isn’t just text dumped onto a screen. People who think it’s cool to make fun of and insult a National Book Award winner, and who think there’s much, if any, benefit in the extensive, ongoing, repetitive “Author Earnings Report” probably aren’t going to understand that.

The Kindle serves people who already liked to read before they got one and who were a particular type of book buyer and reader. It’s a secondary, downstream device and market. It will never be an upstream, introductory device and market unless it changes a vast number of things about how it acquires content.

Let’s try another analogy. Many people hate WalMart for a variety of reasons, but it remains the world’s largest retailer. WalMart is notorious for squeezing its vendors in a way that makes its employee policies look like the best in the world. As one example, Hormel was forced to sell some of its cured meats to WalMart at less than cost so it would not have all Hormel products taken off their shelves. This doesn’t make for a better ham. Customers are not better served by having NO ham or substandard ham — and in the long run, neither is WalMart. About 3.5% of WalMart’s sales were from books in 2014.

We’d Like Author Earnings Readers to Pay Particular Attention to:

Given WalMart’s reported $288 billion in US sales in 2014, 3.5% of that is $10.8 billion. Smart people reading here might be surprised this cash total is more than half the revenue done by their games and electronics departments: considering the price differences, this means they are selling a lot of books. This statistic alone provides somewhat of an indication of the problem in wrapping one’s head around the total book market. Barnes & Noble reported year-end sales of $6.7 billion in January 2015, which is probably similar to Amazon’s total (again, Amazon’s figures are so siloed, firewalled and distorted it’s very difficult to get a strong picture). These are some of WalMart’s current books and they absolutely do the same type of discounting and murderous vendor activities common with their food, furnishings and electronics suppliers ($5.31 for Chris Kyle’s American Sniper trade paperback). Walmart Books  

And a final word to Author Earnings Readers . . .

Boy is there a misunderstanding about “profits” and “earnings.” Trade publishers do well to run a 2% profit. Author Earnings readers might think “gee this is terrible.” They’re reading nonsense following statements like “protecting the paper book trade will not help publishers.” Nonsense like this:

  • Reduced publisher profits (only 20 cents of profit on each dollar versus 52.5 cents on ebooks). <– which publishers would that be? None of those we comped; I wonder why Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House and Macmillan didn’t report that type of profit to their shareholders! I’m thinking only medical and specialty publishers might be able to report such figures.
  •  Reduced author earnings (only 8-15 cents of each dollar goes to the author versus 17.5 cents on ebooks). <– nah, well, it’s really more like 3-7 cents overall, Author Earnings Report, which you’d know if you could read financial statements.

Now, let’s just say you’re a (formerly) self-published author like Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice and other bestselling books. Lisa herself reported that she paid $40,000 to publicize Still Alice prior to signing with Simon & Schuster to conventionally publish the book. There are now more than 2 million copies in print; it has been translated into 31 languages. Lisa, a Harvard Neuroscience Ph.D. is an expert in Alzheimers disease and other cognitive disorders. In addition to the time spent writing and the money she paid for editing and book production,  she initially sold the book directly to people in the Alzheimer community. When accumulated interest and in-person direct sales combined with Lisa’s expertise and the high-quality nature of the book itself, she initiated her relationship with Simon & Schuster, enabling her to publish additional bestselling books. I doubt that Lisa realized any profit per book when her time, efforts, direct funds paid for editing and that $40,000 PR payment were accounted for. Say what you like about publishers like Simon & Schuster: they made it possible for the 2.1 million copies to be in print, and for the book to be translated into 31 languages.

When we started out, we audited and analyzed a number of self-published bestsellers and successes. Most of these authors and books went on to achieve traditionally-published success, and Still Alice was one of them. Each of the books and authors fit into the “bookfeel” criteria that we were simultaneously developing. Another hallmark of these books and authors was the connection with readers. 50 Shades of Gray, for example, wasn’t just a “self-published” (paperback – small press) book. It started out as an online serial told to a huge Twilight fan community. Publicity being what it is, there are some reports that 50 Shades‘ series has outsold Twilight, but that’s probably unlikely. Even though Christian Grey’s story is now the #1 bestseller, Twilight overall is likely the more successful series. Both series satisfy their readers in the basics: plot, characters, pacing, “intellectual content.” And in particular, 50 Shades stands out because it had numerous readers suggesting improvements and giving feedback at every step of the way. So right now as it stands, even though it feels as though the entire situation consists of established trade publishers exploiting authors who had already done all the hard work of building an audience and interacting with readers, that’s not precisely the case.

What needs to happen is there to be a stronger way to include successful practices in the larger publishing industry: especially a connection with audience and reader. E.L. James was really into the Twilight fan community and had that connection right off. Lisa Genova is a Harvard neuroscientist who knew people affected by Alzheimers and who was committed to the community of families and individuals impacted by the devastating disease: she wrote Still Alice for them. Lifelong “space nerd” Andy Weir was devoted to all things space before he wrote The Martian.

I’m sorry to say, Author Earnings Readers: nobody ever did anything good based in insulting a National Book Award winner. It really is about what goes between the covers of a book or on a screen and those things are not best-made by individuals working alone, in isolation. There’s nothing easy or miraculous about it. It’s hard. If you can interact with readers as you write, if you have the funds to pay for professional editing and book design, and you can bankroll a print run and distribution, and you can pay for sales teams and work with all the vendors, then there ya go: instant book success. If you have the sense not to denigrate a great, fine author for no reason, then this has to help as well, as writing is about communication and respect for the reader.

* * * * XTRA * * * *

may-2015-stackedbarI used this chart to work with the “indy-published author earnings” one-day figure, to give it some context in terms of all books sold. Then I thought, “You know what . . . that just doesn’t . . .”

A lot of people have written VOLUMES about this report and people go over it like crazy. But I’m going to go with what it says and accept these figures here as they stand. If this is “55% of all Amazon e-book sales” on this one day, May 1, and I multiply the total on the chart by 365, then I get: $19.345 billion.

Go to this page: Amazon.com Investor Relations. Download the 2014 Year End Report. Go to page 27. Read the number directly under “2014” at the top of the chart representing North American media sales. It says “11,567.”  That means $11,567 million ($11.57 billion) for all media sales (e-books, movies, music, downloads, everything). It is quite unlikely that “55% of all e-book sales” would be almost twice as much as the company reports selling to its shareholders. So either May 1 was a monster, banner day for sales or.

Well, you know. You’re going to get rich tomorrow, selling your books on Kindle and insulting Ursula LeGuin.