Wednesday, October 5, 2011

OMFG BRIDGE DAY!!


There's a reason my last post was in May. Nothing's happened. Nothing you would want to hear about. I've been working the best damn job in the world here. I've been chiseling away at Book II (now officially subtitled The Exodus thanks to contest winner Tiffany Milam). I wrote a guest post for the fabulous Her Book Self Blog. I lost six pounds, watched an ass-ton of Battlestar Galactica, and at some point, I wound up with a boyfriend. All these things have taken their toll on the blog. I'll apologize later.

But NOW, stuff is HAPPENING. Most pertinently, BRIDGE DAY. No, not your grandmother's weekly game (who the fuck even knows someone who's actually played bridge? I don't). THIS Bridge Day:


Or if you've read Vessel, Book I: The Advent, you'll remember it this way:



Bridge Day is Saturday, October 15th, on the New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville, WV. I don't know what to expect (this event is HUGE), but I'm excited. I'll have a whole table loaded with copies of Book I*, and I'll be giving away a $50 Amazon gift certificate (plus a few copies of the book). And though I will not be displaying them (the typical WV family frowns upon hot pink gay statements abbreviated with cum splats), I will have a whole heap of the SEXODUS TOUR T-SHIRTS available on my person throughout my 10-day stay in the home state. So if you want one free of shipping, there's your chance.

* This is all assuming I'm not detained between then and now for the above image, which could be mistaken as some kind of poorly photoshopped terrorist threat. Here's to hoping that's not the message coming across.

More on Bridge Day here: officialbridgeday.com

I'll be in the Charleston area from Oct. 16th-23rd. So if you can't make it to the Bridge, chances are I'll be easy to catch if you want a book/t-shirt, of if you just want to get some Tudor's Biscuit World with me. Sweet lord, I cannot wait to get my hands on a big hot Peppy biscuit. My path of destruction will be a short one. There is a Tudor's Biscuit World in the mothereffing Yeager Airport. It is the only restaurant in our airport, I kid you not, and it will be my first stop.

In parting, just wanted to share these photos of a few people (self included) rocking out their Sexodus shirts. If you have a photo to add, send it along. Money you can't out-sex the pantless snake guy, though. Still want a shirt? Snag it here.


That's all for now, friends. See you in West by God Virginia!!!!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Or I will punch you in the mouth--a review of 'Born This Way'



I've already devoted an entire post to my love affair with Lady Gaga. Suffice it to say that no fiber of my being will tolerate a bad word said in her direction. I have hovered over Facebook comments, cleared house party dance floors, and attempted to break a man's toes with my ass (long but true story) to defend this woman. Happily, she needs little defense. The toes of the nonbelievers are safe for now.

Today is May 23rd, 2011. I got up at 5am, cooked breakfast for fifteen people at a bed & breakfast, put on my favorite jacket, walked directly to Everyday Music in Seattle to purchase 'Born This Way' (the deluxe 2-disc set), walked home, listened to it in full, went back to work for two more hours, came home and lay on the floor to listen to it again, and then slept for four hours.

Here is my review.
(Disclaimers:
1: I have little else to post about this week.
2: It was FUCKING FABULOUS.)

To be honest, I was scared. 'The Fame', Gaga's first album, was nothing but fun. It was the only pop music I'd noticed since 10th grade, after which my tastes matured to other genres. Its 8-track follow-up, 'The Fame Monster', instantly reduced me to a happy puddle of awe, and still does (each and every song of it). Musically, I'm no student. I couldn't tell a firing squad what a 'hook' or a 'key change' is. I just know what my ears, heart, and brain tell me. My ears tell me that Gaga's music is fantastic. My heart tells me that she is positive, compassionate, and in love with her fellow man. My brain tells me that she is involved in every possible facet of her sound and brand/image: Look what I wrote! Hear what I say! I want to wear that! I'll co-direct that! I'll design the cover, bitch! My brain understands a woman in control like that, because my brain is a woman in control.

After months of watching Gaga gush proudly about what was to come, my in-control woman brain was skittish. Could 'Born This Way' stand up to something as holy to me as 'The Fame Monster'? I say with joy that it can and did.

'Born This Way' is eclectically electric. It's mod. It's flashy. It's powerful. It's personal. It's uplifting. It has HUGE hair. A few of Judas's body parts hearken back to 'Bad Romance' (one of my personal favorites), but other than that, this album is entirely new. It's entirely Gaga--there's no mistaking her voice or her commitment to all beats dancetastic--but I never saw it coming. There are a few tracks I'm indifferent about, and one I admittedly don't care for. But overall, after listening to the album in full, I felt like the Lady herself just kissed my mouth and slapped me sideways. Or, as I put it on Facebook, like I'd had "anonymous sex with a rainbow in a euro dance club". Told you it was personal.

And now, the track list:

1. Marry The Night
"I'm a soldier to my own emptiness / I'm a winner." Very hard early 90s vibe. Operatic rock! Go, go, go!

2. Born This Way
No need for a description: you've heard this one. I woke myself up at 3am February 13th to listen this track the moment it debuted. I was shocked by and initially turned off by how happy it was. Now I can't hear it without envisioning myself surrounded by drag queens and flashing lights. Sounds like Madonna's 'Express Yourself'? Yeah, well, Madonna sounded like someone else, I'm sure. The wheel goes around one more time; I'm still grinning and coated in glitter.

3. Government Hooker
A good, chic cat-walk song. Uncouth moments, good n' dirty throughout.

4. Judas
Power chords and cat wails. I'm satisfied.

5. Americano
HOLY OBAMA, not only is this Spanish/Mexican/Mariachi stomp-fest crazy wonderful, it's got the best message on the entire album.
"She sang in eights and barrio chords / We fell in love but not in court.
I don't speak your Language / I don't speak your Jesus Christo / I don't speak your Americano.
I will cry for / I have fought for / how I love you / I have cried for / I will die for /  How I care."
Fascism is never in fashionable. Gays/Hispanics/Liberals are Americans and Christians, too. Proud ones. I assumed 'Americano' would be too literal and in-your-face political, but it meaning is true and powerful. Grandioso!

6. Hair
Made me feel like I was thirteen again--in a good way. And not just because it's about fighting your parents over your wardrobe. It just has this kick-ass late 90s beat. Just sit back and pretend you're riding an eagle with Bruce Springstien. Better yet, you ARE an eagle. A glorious, thirteen-year-old eagle. Also: SAXAPHONE BREAKDOWN.

7. ScheiBe
Sexy sexy sexy sexy sexy sexy monotone German fashion house number--with a high-octane feminist theme!
"When I'm on a mission / I rebuke my condition / If you're a strong female / You don't need permission"

8. Bloody Mary
Dark and beautiful and deeply dance-able. Still trying to figure out the meaning, but in the meantime: YES YES YES IT'S INCREDIBLE.

9. Black Jesus
No real opinion on this one, but I do fancy the chorus:
"On the runway / Dressed in his best / On the runway / Work it, Black Jesus"
I mean, why not?

10. Bad Kids
This is the one I'm not crazy about. It's Gaga's shout-out to all the rifraff fans she's met along the road. Which is nice and all, but the song itself is a let down--and a weird fit. The chorus is some kind of Ace of Base/Paula Abdul sunshine routine--not what comes to mind when I'm coming out to my parents or trying to find my place as an overweight/drug-addicted/insecure/unloveable high school kid.

11. Fashion of His Love
For Alexander McQueen, Gaga's recently suicided favorite designer. High-energy and sweet, but not my favorite.

12. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
Oh MAN! It's like the Killers meets Thunder Road! Anthemic and unabashed. Get your eagle saddle back out.

13. Heavy Metal Lover
Once again, Gaga gives us BDSM identifiers a song to hurt to (others have included Poker Face, Teeth, and I Like It Rough). Lyrics mention whipping, slapping, group sex and include such gems as:
"Dirty pony / I can't wait to hose you down / You have to earn your leather / In this part of town"
 . . . and . . .
"I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south"
Sophisticated, synthy euro smut. I love it.

14. Electric Chapel
ROCK! I was expecting more from this one, but I do like the electric guitar and the 'doot-doo-doo's.

15. The Queen
Bit of a let-down. The lyrics promise a lot, but the song sounds like a first draft of Edge of Glory (track 17).

16. YOU And I
The album's decided power ballad. Bit of a jukebox, slow-slap country beat to it.

17. Edge of Glory
An honest to god bathroom-mirror-lip-sync-with-your-face-screwed up kind of song. Really gives Gaga's vocal talents the pedestal they deserve, and the saxophone makes another appearance. If you haven't hopped on that eagle yet, now's your chance. That sunset is blazing and ready for your iconic fist-pumping silhouette. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Conclusion
Love it or hate it, you have to be a sad sack of cold butt-nuggets not to feel the genuine love and excitement Gaga poured into every part of this thing. This thing which is entirely hers, and entirely ours. 'Born This Way' is intimate, direct, brave, and superbly executed. It's fun when it means to be, and contemplative when it needs to be. It is in no way the self-absorbed artgasm I secretly feared it would be. Way to go, Lady. I am so proud of you.



In celebration, here are two of my favorite Gaga YouTube clips:
Don't Touch Gaga's Hair (the cutest moment ever)
Gaga Visits Farmville (she's not in it, but her effect on the farming community is hilarious)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Name That Book! (and die a gruesome death)


You've heard it from me, and you may have heard it from the last page of Vessel: The Advent, but now I'm officially announcing it on the blog. And you are officially hearing it here.

Vessel's "Name The Book, Claim A Character" Contest

Vessel is slated to be a five-book series, and they all have working subtitles . . . with the gut-gnawing exception of Book II, which is due out in December. A fitting subtitle just will not come to me, so I'm hoping and praying that one will come to one of you fine people.

So here's the deal: I'm collecting your subtitle ideas, now through August 1st. And if your subtitle winds up on the cover of Book II, here's what you get:

 - a $50 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice,
 - all five books in the Vessel series (as they are subsequently published),
 - and . . .   . . . are you ready?

a doomed character named after YOU. A character who will likely die a disgusting and awful death. It's like getting to be an extra in a zombie movie, only less messy.

To help give you some ideas, here are the working titles for the rest of the series:


Book I: The Advent
Book II: ZOMG I DON'T KNOW HELP ME.
Book III: The Tribulation (maybe)
Book IV: The Wrath
Book V: I'm not telling, because it's too awesome.

The subtitles clearly have an epic/biblical theme going, so I'll be looking for suggestions which fit that vibe. You may also notice that the above titles all consist of "The", followed by another word (just sayin'). Additionally, Book II will feature the Arabian desert, rival cults, prosthesis humor, the bloody return of a certain not-quite-dead princess and her flesh-eating horse, and, naturally, a gay disco club. That should be all you need to get started. Go nuts.

To enter, you must send an email (subject line: "Vessel Book II") to vessel.tom@gmail.com with your your subtitle suggestion, your name, and an email address where you can be notified. Contest ends August 1st, and a winner will be announced by August 15th, 2011. There is no limit to how many titles you can submit. The rest of the fine print is on the contest page

BEFORE YOU START! Here are the entries so far. They are fabulous beyond belief (and a few of them have been hilarious enough to cause coffee spills):

The Acts
The Anathema
The Ascension
The Baptism
The Bitch is Back
The Burning Bush
The Body
The Canon of Jesse
The Contact
The Covenant
The Crusade
The Cult of Personality
The Days
The Defilement
The Descent
The Diaspora
The Epistle
The End of Day
The Eternal Judgement
The Events
The Exile
The Exodus
The Gay Disco Club
The Gnosis
The Gods Must Be Crazy!
The Hallowing
The Happenings
The Illuminaughty
The Incarnation
The Lost Tribe
The Motions
The Night
The Oath
The Parable
The Pariah
The Path
The Pentecost
The Plague of Egypt
The Plight
The Prophet
The Rapture
The Schism
The Second Coming
The Signs
The Story
The Struggle
The Times
The Trial
The Way


UPDATE: And the winner is . . . Tiffany Milam Edwards of North Carolina! Keep an eye out for her in Vessel, Book II: The Exodus . . . 

Monday, May 16, 2011

What I did. (A book marketing strategy shortlist.)

A book travels only as far as its readers. Assuming that you've written, polished, and published a book that will appeal to some quantifiable group of readers--be they fantasy fans, middle-aged divorcees, lolcat enthusiasts, or dolphin fetishists--how will your book reach them?

Marketing. It's called marketing. I know, it's a scary, ugly word, especially for all us special snowflake creative types. Fear not! Marketing does not require a turtleneck sweater or 'synergy', no matter what your course syllabus told you. Marketing is simply the process of uniting product and consumer--and since those words are too sales-oriented for some, we'll just call them "book" and "reader".

There are ENDLESS resources for authors of all sizes hoping to reach readers of all shapes. To learn about most of them, you must first cut your day job hours by half, arrange for some form of intravenous caffeine delivery, and spend the next year perusing and auto-refreshing handy sources like:
And many, many more . . .

OR you can just figure out a few resources and strategies that sound both effective and feasible, given your skills and budget. Make a shortlist, and put your full effort into that shortlist. Experiment, see what works, change things up, and continue the marketing activities which seem to work the best for you and your book.

Here are the things which have worked best for me:

Galley Copies
Bound galleys are imperfect copies of your book printed prior to publication (more on how to produce galley copies here.) Sometime amid the editing process (ideally 3 months before publication), have some galleys printed--I did 40 copies. You will use these to send to reviewers, for giveaways, and to give to your proofreaders.
Success? I've used all 40, and gotten great reviews.

GoodReads
GoodReads is like Facebook for avid readers. Make SURE your book is listed on GoodReads. Users rate and review books, and see constant updates of what their friends are reading. Authors can set up an Author Page and connect with current and potential readers in all kinds of ways: book club forums, Author Q&A's, polls, quizzes, and a fabulous self-serve advertising system.
Success? Vessel currently has 21 reviews on GR. 280 people have added it to their 'to-read' list.

GoodReads First Reads Giveaways
Remember those galley copies? This is an excellent place to use at least half of them. List the number available, and readers can request a free copy. GR will automatically choose winners and give you the addresses.
Success? I've done two giveaways. In the first one, about 260 people requested Vessel. Out of the 10 winners, half got around to posting reviews--highly positive ones--both to GoodReads and their personal blogs. The second giveaway? Over 800 people requested Vessel, because of those reviews. The gift keeps giving. Trust me.

Reviews
People love a good book review. If a blog review of your book goes up, then someone out there will read it and download your book, easy as pie. So how do you get reviewers? Focus on reviews by actual readers, not magazines, newspapers, or online equivalents. The best place to start is a GoodReads giveaway, and also your own friends and reading circle. Then, search for book review blogs written by people who enjoy your genre, and email them. Send free copies to those who respond, or offer them a free e-book download when you run out of galley copies (any serious bookaholic has an e-reader by now!). If someone emails you to tell you how much they loved your book, thank them, and tell them that a quick Amazon or GoodReads review may draw in others who might love the book just as much. People love giving their opinions--I know I do!
Success? Several readers have kindly posted some badass reviews of Vessel on their blogs, which include World of Words, Emma Book Blogger, the Book Sniper, and Her Book Self. There is no doubt in my mind that these reviews brought Vessel to more people's attention.

Facebook
Seriously planning on publishing that book? Make a Facebook Page for it. Now. 
Success? I created Vessel's Facebook Page two years before the book was published. By the time the publication date rolled around, the book had over 300 fans. Without them, I would not have had the encouragement which pushed me to follow through with publication. And I would not have had such a dedicated (and large!) first wave of readers.

Twitter
I'm still figuring this one out, but I know that it works. Twitter gives people a quick look at you. If that quick look reveals that you're an author, then it gives your book that much more visibility. Don't sell, sell, sell. Just be yourself. Share. Participate. If you find something useful or funny online, serve it up. In that same vein, you'll see lots of tips/helpful articles posted by others.
Success? 58 followers and counting. And when Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots tweeted about Vessel, I instantly got orders for the book. 

Blog
Same as Twitter. Offer what you have to give, even if it's just your thoughts on underwear sizing. Blog, and they will come. And when they come, they might just check out your book.

Website
Bottom line: your book (or books) needs a website, one that is updated frequently. If you can't design one yourself, and if you can't afford a web designer, buy a hosting plan and use an updatable website template that works for you. 

Not Giving Up
Sales may suck one month, then pick up the next. Don't get discouraged. Keep trying new things, stay confident, stay visible, and keep producing quality work while you're at it. This isn't a race; you've indie-published, so there's no limit to how long your book will be available. Whatever you're doing, you're doing it great because you're still at it.

Like I said, those are the things that have proven effective for me. You may only have time or energy for a few of them, or you may find that other things that work for you. Here are some things that didn't work for me (and things which you may not want to waste your time with, either):

Shelf life. Thug life.
1. Bookstores. I know. I KNOW. You're a writer; it's your dream to see your book on the store shelves, but believe me. I've fought this battle, and it's not worth the craploads of time it takes to reach these people individually, however awesome they are. My advice: Focus on a select handful of independent stores in your hometown or current city, play hard but professionally, and they may take you in. Vessel is stocked at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, and at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, WV, and that's good enough for me. At this stage in the game, you need readers. Readers readers readers readers readers, you hear me? Calling and emailing bookstores is just time you're spending not reaching out to your readers. 

2. Contests. Do you know how many people enter these things? And they want you to pay to enter? Hah. Hah, hah.

3. Mailings (to bookstores, libraries, book clubs, etc). Costly, and you're competing with so many other titles.

4. Publicist's/Marketing Gurus. Until I find one who will accept commission based on sales directly driven by their handiwork, then I'm staying faaaaar away from these people.

And there you have it. Why I did it, how I did it, and what I did. I realize these posts are ass-tastically long, and I don't expect anyone to read them unless they've first e-mailed me asking for publishing advice, at which point I will point them this way (so I will not have to write them an ass-tastically long e-mail). So if you've made it this far, my hat's off to you. And if you're a Vessel reader, then my entire hat rack just hit the deck. Thank you for keeping me going.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How I did it. (bare bones publishing)

So I've told you WHY I did it--indie-published, that is. Here's the HOW (Disclaimer: contains work, complications, and immense satisfaction).

I'm just going to go over the steps I was able to take, steps which have given me some pretty decent mileage so far. Also, this post is going to focus on the publishing end of things. My next post will focus on book marketing.

But before I get started, I need to get something out of the way. Aspiring writers, this is where the passion comes in. Think indies only care about selling their books? Think they don't care about the art of writing? Do you have any idea how hard this is? You can bet your ass I care about my writing. I care about it enough to make sure that it has an audience, and I won't let anything stop meNo man, no woman, no animal, vegetable, mineral, literary agent, or breakfast cereal. Care about your art? Want people to read it? Then consider the non-art tasks ahead of you. Indie-publishing is a big, wild, messy meat storm. There are a lot of us out here. And actually, it's kind of fun. (Really, what meat storm isn't?)

Here goes:

My Bible
My journey to indie-publishing started by devouring and taking notes on every word of "The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing" by Marylin Ross and Sue Collier. I didn't follow all its advice, but reading this book before I published saved me a lot of bullshit, hassle, and heartache. It is concise, up-to-date, and covers everything from getting your work edited to how Oprah takes her coffee. Read it.

Get Legit! The ISBN
What: The ISBN is like your book's social security number. Once assigned, it allows your book to be instantly recognized by booksellers, libraries, and sites like Amazon and GoodReads. It is also the definitive element of a published book. When you're book is assigned an ISBN . . . bam! it's published material, baby. If you own that ISBN, then you are the publisher.
How: ISBNs are available for purchase at Bowker.com. Single ISBNs are $125. I bought a block of 10 for $250. Here's why:
    1. The paperback, hard cover, and ebook versions will each need their own ISBN.
    2. Single ISBNs have a digit sequence which booksellers and everyone else in the industry recognize. It's like code for "I'm cheap and I'm doing this alone and I only have one book!" Just buy a block of 10 and sell your remaining ISBNs.
Other considerations: Self-publishing sites like Lulu offer "publishing packages", which include your book's ISBN with design, book-printing, distribution, and marketing services. Tempting? Yes. Why didn't I use it? Well:
    1. They severely limit book size, paper types, and other things that I wanted to be in control of.
    2. They print their logo on your book. No thanks.
    3.  It's more expensive--and only marginally less work than doing all this stuff myself.
    4. Using Lulu kind of screams "SELF-PUBLISHED!", and booksellers/literary agents turn their noses up at the stigmatic scent of it. NOTE: It's actually really cool if you're looking for limited distribution (family memoir, cookbook, local/community-interest books), but I had my sights way high.

Other Fancy Numbers I Needed
1. The LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number), which I got here
2. A copyright from the US Copyright Office, who, for their own sick pleasure I guess, will require two free copies of your book after publication. Also, their website hasn't been updated since Savage Garden broke up. Good luck.
3. A barcode (unless you're publishing only e-books). Most POD (Print-On-Demand) distributors will provide one. We'll get to them later.


I miss them like I miss chatroom RPGs (a lot).

Business Considerations
I started a publishing imprint for two reasons: a) I needed a nifty logo for the book's spine, and b) I sincerely want to publish quality work--yours and mine--and be taken seriously. So:
1. I obtained a business license (<$20 in most states)
2. I came up with some branding and created a landing site.
3. I began recording and categorizing every last dime of expense toward publication.
4. I saved my tips for months, deep-cleaned an apartment that had enough windowsill grime to drown Artax, and put $600 in a new bank account. I also started a new PayPal account.

Pace Yourself
When indie-publishing, there's a lot of stuff to take care of between finished manuscript and published, hot-off-the-press books. About six months of careful work, actually. Here are the things I found most important:
1. Editing. Yes, you've edited and re-edited. But pay someone, barter with an experienced editor, or swap manuscripts with another serious author. An editor will find not only weird grammar mistakes and funky phrases--they'll also find plot/character discrepancies, overused elements, and plot holes that YOU WILL HAVE. You cannot do this yourself. 
2. Proofreading. Again, someone other than you will be vital in finding all the spelling mistakes and double-typed words. I printed out my edited manuscript and distributed it in manageable chunks to a small group of fine, well-read friends. That worked for me. Note: No matter how many times your work is proofread, it will go to print with errors in it. It's inevitable. Forgive thyself.
3. Design. Design and typesetting I'll save for the next post. It's kind of a big deal.
4. Ebooks. Formatting for e-readers is a bitch, but anyone with MS Word can figure it out if they read Mark Coker's free guide. After formatting, I released Vessel as an ebook via Smashwords (which automatically distributes to B&N, Nook, iPad, iTunes, Kobo, and Diesel) and Amazon (for Kindle). Both sites are user-friendly and easy to manage.
5. Pricing.
     --I priced my book at 14.99, an average price for a novel-sized paperback. It's enough to cover printing and shipping (to me), and to chip away at the publication expenses I've piled up ($3,000 and counting).
     --I priced the ebook at $2.99 because that is the lowest price Amazon will allow for a 70% royalty. Anything below that gets a 35% royalty. I can easily sell more copies for 99 cents (while making 35 cents a pop), but I will not be taking the price down. I strongly feel that Vessel's quality and length--plus my humble obscurity--make $2.99 a very appropriate price.
6. Galleys. Bound galleys are pre-publication, unproofed copies of your book. They give you a feel for what your book will physically look like. They will also be handy for sending to reviewers a few weeks before the publication date. I ordered 40 and have used them all. I'll talk about reviewing in my next post.

THE FUN PART!!!
You've made it, and now it's time to get your books printed and make them available to readers! I used Lightning Source, which is the best thing since the discovery of bacon. Lightning Source is a high quality Print-On-Demand/Distribution powerhouse. Here is what Lightning Source does:
- They print my book, only when I order copies, or only when they are purchased by someone online.
- They make my book available on Amazon, B&N, and other online retailers--and they handle order fulfillment.
- They allow me to choose my wholesaler/distributor price (the price Amazon and others pay for my books to resell them). More on that in the next post.
- They list my book in Ingram's database. IMPORANT: Ingram is the only book distributor that bookstores want to hear about. "This book is listed with Ingram." = "I'm not fucking around here."
- They give you incredible customer service. No robo-calls. No half-literate teenager reading some company-enforced troubleshooting list. I have not one, but six specialists available to me, whatever the crisis. My account manager is Jonathan. Jonathan is in control. Jonathan has my back. These people rock, and when their clients have a problem, they are on it like special ops. You need a rush-order of 50 but your author photo is fuzzy? My man Jonathan is locked and loaded.
- Oh, and they're affordable. (Note: Lulu uses Lightning Source to print your books)

The catch? Lightning Source will only deal with publishers, so you must own and hold the rights to your book's ISBN. Also, you'll need some basic knowledge of book printing and publishing basics--nothing a thorough read of  "The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing" (mentioned above) or some dedicated internet research won't tell you.

And there we have it: the bare bones of publishing. That's about as basic as it gets, and you can take it as far as you want from there. There are many things I didn't do, or can't do as one person. For more ideas, check out sites like publetariat.comSPANnet.org, and the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers of America). There, you will find friends and higher ground in the meat storm. Next up: the cheapest and most effective book-marketing strategies I've found. Broke! Obscure! Exhausted! But for $2.99, sugar, I'll make you forget your name! 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why I did it. (self indie-publishing vs. traditional publishing)

Hang in there, folks. This is going to be a long one.

In the past couple of months, I've received the occasional message from a friend or acquaintance asking how to get published. And since publishing is the biggest "new favorite thing" I've developed since Jurassic Park introduced me to velociraptors, I am happy to respond--and at length. Sometimes, I get so excited about the topic of publishing that I'll spend the better part of an hour on a response. So, in order to save my keyboard and provide more thorough information to you, I'm just going to get it all out in a short series of posts.

I say 'series', because again, it's a subject I can wax long on. (Ew, that sounds dirty.)

So this first post is going to be about WHY I decided to indie-publish. I feel like there's no need discussing how to publish your work unless I first explain the options we all have prior to publishing. In theory, I could just call this post "How to GET your work published, and why it's not worth your time", but then you'd probably stop reading.

These are my sincere opinions, but they are opinions made after much research, physical sampling, actual application, and frequent eating of cake (cake erases all the bitterness). But seriously, no bitterness here. This is just publishing, as it is viewed by one author. Me.

Traditional Publishing
Up until about two or three years ago, this was the only chance you had at selling your book anywhere beyond your local bookstore and your own personal website. Getting a publisher is a very strict, formal process, and no one gets around it. You don't just mail a manuscript to the publisher like they do in the movies. To get a publisher, you need an agent. To get an agent, you have to pitch to multiple agents in your genre with a query letter. Just Google "query letter", or visit the blogs of either J. A. Konrath or Nathan Bransford, and you will find more information on this process than you can ever possibly read. But I won't waste more of this post explaining how that's done.

Because--and is your alligator onesie zipped up?--it's not going to work. Bottom line: there are too few agents, and too many of us.  Luck and timing factors in, even for the best novel you can chuck at these patient people. A typical, respectable agent views 12,000 or more query letters a year, and they generally pick up less than four new clients a year. And though you may be absolutely certain that your work is good enough to make you one of those four, your odds still SUCK. You have about the same chances of getting anally raped by an office chair at the speed of sound. Which is great news for your anus, but not so much for your book.

If you do find an agent (expect to query at least 40 of them individually, on their own individual terms), and that agent is able to get you a publishing deal, your book won't hit the shelves for at least another year. If the marketing efforts allotted to your book do not create projected sales, you may wind up paying back part of your author's advance (usually a couple thousand dollars). If projected sales are exceeded, you start earning at a 10% royalty (on average). The publisher can take the book out of print anytime, and unless you've got another book lined up to publish, you're done. Yes, there are tons of perks to getting published by an established house. For one, they are able to spend more time and money than you have on marketing--not only to retailers, but to booksellers, wholesalers, and libraries. That alone frees up A LOT of time for you to actually write, which is well worth the effort.

If your efforts could get you published.

For realsies, no bitterness here. Agents are nice people. This is just reality---if you're a first-time author with 1) no previously published work, 2) no money, and 3) no author/publisher inside connections. Are you? Then this is the obstacle course you are looking at. I ran through it, and it was a good learning experience, but somewhere between the revolving bridge and the gladiator with the giant padded Q-tip, I realized it wasn't going to work. It may work for you, and if you give it a try, then I wish you the best of luck and extra padding.

This guy didn't even send a form rejection letter.

And when you're done with that . . .

Indie Publishing
Welcome. How was that? Your face looks swollen. Did you try the traditional publishing route? You did, didn't you? Slap some meat on it. Your trials are far from over.

So if traditional publishing is so tough and risky, indie-publishing must be a cakewalk, right? Wrong. Publishing independently is a quantifiable ass-ton of solid work. It's also relatively expensive; you foot the bill for editing, web hosting, graphic design, printing, shipping, marketing, all of it. You spend hours emailing, researching, adding your book to listings, creating web content, and building your reader base. And eventually--as long as you've written something appealing--it starts to work. (PS, you still don't earn a dime, but you're not here to make money). 

How then, did I personally decide which large pile of work to dive into? Why publish on my own, if it's just as hard, if not harder, than finding an agent?
1. The work itself is progressive. It goes somewhere. Instead of bleating day after day for agents' attention, my efforts go directly toward reaching readers.
2. It's stuff I'd have to do anyway. Authors who sign on with established publishers must still do a lot of marketing legwork if they expect their work to sell. 
3. Higher royalties. Because I'd be lying if I said that wasn't nice.
4. More control. If the book fails, it's on me.
4. I was relatively certain Vessel would do okay. . . and so far, it's holding its own, thanks to all of you who've read it.

Why I don't call it 'Self-Publishing'.
I prefer to call it indie-publishing. To me, 'self-publishing' sounds like a one-track pursuit--one individual, one book, one mantra, gotta publish it, gotta publish it, gotta publish it. Indie-publishing implies an approach which is much harder to stigmatize. I am not publishing my self. And I may be publishing for myself, but not solely. I also publish to honor a project that is years in the making. I publish for the 200+ people who got behind Vessel prior to publication. I publish because I want to eventually publish the works of others. And I publish to say SUCK IT to anyone who's ever thought that writing was an unprofitable waste of my time. Unprofitable? Yes. A waste? A waste is what I would be if I didn't power up and do it anyway.

Good lord, I love it.

So that's WHY I did it, and why I hope you'll consider doing the same for yourself. Next up is HOW I did it, a magical tale of hope, ISBN blocks, and windowsill sludge. It will probably contain more practical information than this post, which is as earnest and gentle as I could possibly make it.



Friday, April 8, 2011

This week, in dreams...

Something is surely in my oatmeal. I tend to have memorable, epic dreams, but not every night in a row for a week. Just listen to the stuff my head is doing:

Monday. I am in a laboratory in which a formidable witch has covered me in small bird tattoos. She decrees that I have to get rid of them before she sees me again, or something terrible will happen. I then find myself at my parents' house, where they cheerfully hang around as I try to scrape my tattoos off with a series of butter knives--all too dull for the job. Eventually, because this is a great idea, I cut a fist-sized hole in my stomach. My appendix promptly pops out and proceeds to dangle. "Oh!" says my dad. "Just pop it back in, you'll be fine." I pop it back in, and am fine. We visit my grandmother, who is (in my dream only) a cat veterinarian, and we make a few house calls to her feline clients. While I am waiting for her in the woods and trying to keep additional guts from falling out of the gigantic hole in my abdomen, the tattoos fade and come flying out of said hole as actual birds. The hole then heals into a sort of gross, fleshy horn on my stomach. Pretty disgusting stuff, but if that's not as cool as any Kelly Link short I've ever read, then I will eat my own sawed-off tattoo.

Tuesday. Here we go again: another zombie apocalypse dream. Apparently, I'm doomed to have at least one of these every month for the rest of my life. For the first time, however, I am confident in a zombie-infected world. In this dream, I'm not running or hiding or having my feet tugged at by rotting corpses. I've got this down, and I am not afraid. I and my real-life but all too dreamy beau are like this badass Pony Express, hopping from abandoned car to abandoned car as each one runs out of gas, and making deliveries to people along the way. Delivering what? I don't know. Awesomeness, I imagine.

Wednesday. Okay seriously? Where did this one come from? I am along on some Tokein-esque quest with a psychic woman, a Legolas-lookalike, and SANTA CLAUS. I don't remember what we were after, or anything else....just....Santa? And he was so mean. He lost his temper at every turn, and at one point he broke a table in a drunken rage. I repeat: Santa.

People of Earth: is it the radiation? Is it my thyroid? Are you having wacky dreams this week, too? It's bedtime, and I'm honestly ready for more action, but what now? Zombie Santa: Veterinarian. Lord. I can't wait.

Goodnight!
Tom

Oh! And just a reminder: Vessel the e-book is FREE FOR ONE MORE WEEK at Smashwords! No Zombie Santa, but plenty of living-dead horror (and humor).


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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Late but Great

Ever heard of killing your darlings? If you write, and you intend for your writing to entertain, provoke, or teach any sort of public audience, then you ought to get acquainted with that phrase. "Killing your darlings" refers to the deletion of select word acrobatics. All those tasty landscape descriptions, poetic statements, even that awesome line where you liken the protagonist's mother's sweater to two harp seals in heat--some of them have to go. Not all of them. But some. Because no matter how awesome they are, or how meaningful they are to you, some of them will get in the readers way. They will stand up like big, fat, jarring (but so beautiful!) speed bumps in your narrative. 

Evelyn Lafont of Keyboard Hussy says it well in this blog post:
"When you like what you write, you run the risk of writing too much . . . I can think of about 50 ways to describe the tree outside my window, and each of the descriptions is so good it makes my nipples hard, but that doesn’t mean I need to shove all of them in."

My method? Don't think about it as you are writing. Make your magic, then go back and hack it up later. Just don't get too attached to your darlings on the way, because some of them must end up on the killing floor later on. 

Oh well. 

In other news this week: I finished Lamb by Christopher Moore. Since it took me two and a half months to read it, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I know that it has some hilarious zingers about Buddhism, sex, angels, and bacon, and I know that I'd recommend it to others. I also know that I should have brushed up on some New Testament before taking it on. Those unfamiliar with the Bible in general probably won't have much fun with Lamb. I myself wondered: "Why is Moore adding so many seemingly pointless characters and seaward journeys all of a sudden?" And then I remembered: "Oh, duh, he has to, because Jesus had like 12 apostles and he went sailing a lot." Anyway, if you've got a Christian background like me, and you're sick of how most Christians seem to miss our Lord's main point entirely ("Be nice to everyone, even creeps"), then you're likely to enjoy it.

Next up: Freedomland by Anne Bean, The Unnamed (Joshua Ferris, hubba, hubba), and The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffeneggar)--my first attempt at enjoying an audiobook! Hey, if NPR loses its funding, I have to have something to listen to on my lunch break, right? Right?!



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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

HUNGA GAMES. A review.

It's 8:36pm. We haven't seen our waitress in over 40 minutes. What is she trying to tell us? We've displeased her somehow, and the wait is our punishment. I look across the table at my girlfriends, Steph and Addison. None of us is going to last much longer, so I take the risk. I dart to the next table, and even with a bad case of "Kindle thumb", am able to latch my chopsticks onto two strips of sesame chicken that the departed party left behind. I hurry it back and fling it onto a napkin. It's mostly gristle. And cold. But it'll sustain us. "Want some?" I ask, but my girlfriends just stare. It's just as well that we're not amiable. We know what this will come to, we're all thinking it. Even now, waiting for a meal we will all share, I'm thinking of just how I might do it. Steph will be easy enough. She's close to the bannister, and already so fatigued. I could flip her over, just like that. Easy. It's Addison who will be trouble. She's small, but precise. I've seen her play bocce ball. But I'm good with a chopstick. So long as she's in range, I'm positive I can jab it at just the right angle and . . . oh god! What kind of monster has this game made of me? Hana Sushi, what has your cruel reign done to us all?

Okay, first of all: I loved The Hunger Games. I give it four stars. I pulled the sample up on my brand spankin' new Kindle, got to the end, and was totally sold. Couldn't put it down. Protagonist Katniss Everdeen is fantastically developed and her intent on survival is real stuff. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the Games was fun (thought I found the need for stylists a little odd), as well as the denizens of District 12 and their black market methods of community sustainability. Surprises! Twists and turns! Feigned alliances! I loved the story and I will read the rest of them and love them, too, I'm sure. That said, I hit some major, teeth-grinding peeves that I must share. Here they are. Please validate me.

Peeta, the male lead, is flatter than Michael Phelps's abs (damn, son!). I couldn't get a feel for his personality at all, if there happened to be one. Maybe because his name is Peeta, and every time he is mentioned, all I could think of was Lois from Family Guy saying "Peeetaaaaaaaah." And pitas. And peat moss. All at once.

Sleep Talk. The footage of Peeta uttering Katniss's name in his fevered sleep. Overdone. Makes me want to die. Made me want to die when Ron Weasley did it. This shit never happens in real life. The last thing I said in my sleep to a lover was so weird and embarrassing that my face caught fire. It was not his name.

Clover taunting Katniss with a knife. Honey, this is the Hunger Games. Just stab the bitch.

Special abilities! This is a character crutch that drives me crazy. Stephanie Meyers did this to death. (Edward can read minds! Alice can see the future! Zafrina can make you hallucinate that you're in a jungle but only if she's within 30 feet of you and there are no werewolves around to block her senses!) Ahem. Peeta is a baker's son. He's iced a ton of cakes, so obviously, he must be very good at painting himself with camouflage. I don't call that a special ability. I call that a big fucking stretch. Luckily, none of the other Tributes had such singular skills. Except for the cunning Foxface, who was alright. Foxface, you should have won. Or escaped. I want to see you again.

Surprise! Mutant dog pack! Mrs. Collins! What the hell was that?

Romance trumps Rebellion: I know this series bends toward revolution, but I see none of that in this book. We know that Katniss blames the Capitol for her poverty, that she fears what the Capitol can do to her and her family. But we never get to see her resentment go any further. She doesn't ponder what a rebellion would be like, or dream of what life could be like after. The closest thing we see to defiance is the Peeta/Katniss double suicide threat, and (apparently?) the decoration of Rue's body, which I just didn't get. Placing flowers on a poor dead child hardly feels all that defiant to me. Instead of defiance, we get to see Katniss preoccupy herself with pretending a romance with Peeta in order to get more sponsors. This felt predictable, boring, and beside the point. Why is Katniss lending so much thought to a boy who's about as interesting as the mud he hides under when she should be stewing with serious revolutionary rage?

Courtesy of INKNOSE at deviantart.


So there you have it. My biggest criticism of The Hunger Games, I suppose, is actually a compliment: I wish there was more of it. I like a fast read, but I feel like this story has the potential to be three times longer, piled with cultural detail and political savagery, a real sci-fi classic. But then I remember that it's YA, and I need not be so hard on it. I may want it to be a generation-defining novel, but what I really wanted when I bought it was a good story. And The Hunger Games delivered!