April 27, 2012

How Thick Is Your Skin?

So agent extrodinaire, Kristin Nelson, has a feature seminar she takes to conventions and the like. Participants bring their first two pages up to the mic and start reading. She tells them when, if they had submitted those pages to her, when she would stop reading and why. You might think, "How awesome! She's giving feedback!" but pause for a second and let it settle in. She tells you when she would stop reading. Not, she lets you finish and then tells you when she would stop reading.

What would it be like, to be up there in front of all those people and have an agent tell you stop after your first sentence? Not so exciting now, eh?

Oh, it is? Yeah, to me too. And how cool is it that she's offering that seminar directly through her new programs? Now you can knuckle down and muscle up even if you're not at a con. Payment is by paypal, so if you're set up to withdraw from your bank account, you won't have your payment processed in time. If you're linked to a credit card, you still could. It's this coming Wednesday at 8pm Eastern (6pm Mountain--I hope people realize the time is listed as Mountain). Submit two pages and see how you do!

I paused in my current wip and returned to PRINCE OF CATS. It's the only finished draft I have right now that I haven't previously queried. I have beta reader feedback, but I've been having difficulty figuring out how to incorporate it. Until Tuesday, which makes this seminar ideally timed. I've started revising the draft for querying AND for this seminar. I am both thrilled at the chance of getting great feedback (and maybe having all two pages read?!) while at the same time terrified at hearing stop after the first sentence. It's like bungee jumping, it's both terrifying and exhilarating.

So if you're interested, you should join in. Kristin rocks the house.

April 22, 2012

No. Do Better.

I am not in between drafts, but I've already started to see the critical weaknesses in the draft I'm writing. Perhaps the most challenging thing for a pantser is that so much of the first draft is spent getting to know your characters and your setting. Sometimes you know them right away. Sometimes it takes pages and pages to finally understand what makes them tick.

Granted, pantsers can do prep work just like plotters do. It's okay to sit down and write out what your main characters have, what they want, and what they fear. But sometimes the character you meet along the way is not the character you thought you were writing about. The second draft is so much better than the first because you're writing from a point where you finally understand the players involved and the setting. Really, it's almost like the first draft is the longest, most detailed outline one could write about your book and the second draft is really where you start.

I am anxious to get to the second draft of my wip. (Of course, I'm anxious to get to the second draft of a previous work as well, which is making for all kinds of internal conflict). :) Because of all that conflict (and because I recently finished reading Russell Brand's MY BOOKY WOOK), I've started a process I usually save for between drafts. I read a good book (in this case, Peter V. Brett's THE WARDED MAN), one I've read before, and I tear it apart. I read it as critically as one can. How often does he use dialogue tags? Why did he use that adjective? When does he describe people and when does he leave it to your imagination? And so on and so on. Question EVERYTHING!

The reason for this is because I pick up on what I think the author did right and then I compare it to what I'm doing. (I also don't use the same author for this process because then you can get fixated on a particular style rather than the commonalities of good writing.) Describing characters and places is my biggest weakness because I rarely care what they look like. It's the events that occur and the choices they make that matter to me. If they have curly or straight hair is inconsequential. Of course, not everyone agrees with me, so I have to make it a point to remind myself that that kind of thing should be included.

And in fact, as I read a good book so critically and see my own shortcomings, a sort of mantra emerges. "No. Do better." Those two sentences (or one sentence if I chose to use No as a clausal interjection) inform my entire self-editing process. I go over what I did and say, "No. Do better." Repeat and repeat and repeat until you can say, "Okay. That's better."

April 16, 2012

That's More Like It

So do you remember back on April 3rd, when I was complaining about how I hadn't been writing that much? Well, I hadn't, and it was frustrating. Work was sucking the creativity out of my brain. I worked late. I worked more when I got home. I worked on weekends. That's how publishing goes. Like the military, there's a lot of hurry up and wait, but once shit's on, shit's on. So all my delayed titles parachuted in at once and I had a few weeks to make them happen. WHILE at the same time being asked if I could publish early.

Want to work in publishing? Behold your fate. This kind of thing never changes. Turn over late, publish early. Glamorous, yes?

Anyway, so I do what I do because that's what I do and get my work done (and publish early, behold my awesomeness). This means I have time to do things other than work, which means I have time to write. It's amazing how hard it is to write when you're spending all your other time working. Even if I wasn't working on the train, I was so exhausted from working all the time, I typically just fell asleep or watched Stargate SG-1.

So, on April 3rd, I was hanging out at 68,000 words. Two weeks later? 98,000 words. That's much better. That's the kind of productivity I like to see! It's going to take a lot of work to get this thing up to snuff, it being a first draft and all. But the main goal of a first draft is to finish the first draft, and I'm glad to see that progress is being made in that regard.

And you? How is your writing coming along? I see Ted Cross is mad in March with his stories and Nate Wilson is blogging like no one else can and Livia Blackburne is on her bajillionth draft. Update the class, kiddies. Let us know how you're doing.

April 11, 2012

The Bell Rings

So unless you live under a log (in which case you have a secret base and I want to come visit), you heard that the Department of Justice sued Apple and 5/6 of the Big Six today (Random House was not included). Of the five publishers, three settled to avoid the legal costs. Two, Macmillain and Penguin, did not.

First, anti-trust investigations happen much more often than is generally spoken of. They just don't usually make it to court because court is expensive. So, in that regard, this is a big deal.

Second, barring a kangaroo court, I think Macmillain and Penguin will win their challenge.

Third, those in the traditional publishing verse on twitter were incredibly vocal today. I have pared away a lot of the self-publishers I used to follow (mostly because they failed at the social aspect of social media), so I did not get a good view of the opposite side of that spectrum.

Fourth, Twitter is an impossible place to discuss the intricacies of ebook pricing. Both sides of the argument are so complex and contain nuggets of truth that a proper conversation cannot be had in 140 characters.

Fifth, and here's the bulk of my topic today, my opinion on ebook pricing is changing. The reasons for this will take more than 140 characters. Quick recap for new readers, I've been making ebooks for a long time, like back when your choices were PDF or .MOBI (mmm mobipocket, you've grown up!). So here are the two cruxes of the argument and both are true.

ebooks are cheaper than other formats to make and manufacture.

The cost of making the actual book is a small fraction of the cost of making a book product.

The problem is, each side of the argument has latched onto one of these two truths to argue the other side. So both sides have taken 1/2 of the truth to argue the other half. It's like watching the heads-side of a quarter argue with the tails-side that only one side is a real quarter. Those watching the argument can do little but bang their head against a table.

When ebooks first went mainstream and Amazon set the bar at 9.99, I thought they were (and perhaps they were) playing to a familiar .99 value similar to that of an mp3 file on iTunes. I was outraged. 9.99? Are they crazy? That thing cost pennies to make. PENNIES!

9.99 was ridiculous. I wasn't going to pay that. Blah blah blah, grumble grumble grumble. Of course, I did pay it. I paid it a lot. That and 7.99 and 5.99. Sometimes 3.99 on special deals. I dipped my toes in the 99 cent self-pubbed market before I ran away screaming (Hocking being the best author by far I found in that pool). But then the agency model rolled out and all of a sudden I saw 11.99, 14.99, and 16.99. What? Are they crazy? That thing cost pennies to make. PENNIES!

16.99 was ridiculous. I wasn't going to pay that. Blah blah blah, grumble grumble grumble. I would not buy a book for more than 9.99. I've broken that rule twice, and both times in extenuating circumstances. First, me and my wife split the cost of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS when it was released, so really, I did not break my 9.99 rule except that the book was priced over 9.99. Second was Galen Beckett's THE MAGICIANS AND MRS QUENT, which was 11.99, but I bought it with a gift certificate I got for Christmas, so it wasn't like I used real money. I have not broken that rule elsewise, and that's so hard! THE MAGICIANS... was the first in a trilogy and they're all priced at 11.99. And Saladin Ahmed's THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON just came out and that's 11.99 as well. DAMMIT! I want to read that sucker, but I have principles.

Principles, dammit!

Having a discussion with a new Twitter friend, Lauren Panepinto, (who did the super duper awesome covers on Joe Abercrombie's novels--serious, I drool over those covers), I began to communicate what I had come to realize about ebooks and their pricing. I had originally expected ebooks to replace mass market paperbacks. As such, I always expected them to be priced like mass market paperbacks. $7.99? I'll scoop that shit up like crazy!

My evolving perception of pricing, however, could not be communicated in 140 characters, so I abandoned the discussion of books costing more than just manufacturing cost with a weak "I know, that's how I get a paycheck."

Kind of weak, it's true after all, but still. Weak.

If ebooks have to be priced so high because books cost more than just manufacturing, how do you justify trade paperbacks? Mass market paperbacks? They're all derived from the same product, and they're priced for what their platform is expected to be priced at (or thereabouts). So saying, we can't price ebooks that low because it costs so much more to make a book than just manufacturing! is crap. It's crap because you're not making ONLY ebooks. You're making other formats as well.

Or so I said. But I was wrong, at least somewhat. I was wrong because ebooks aren't released like other formats are. A publisher doesn't release a hardback at the same time as the trade. If you got the choice to buy a $25 hardback or a $8 mass market paperback, you'd have to really love that book or really love hardback to spring the $17 difference. Most people would go for the mass market. And publishing makes its money from most people.

The numbers are already in. ebooks are gouging mass market paperback sales, which is entirely expected, which only lends credence to my mmpb pricing. But they're cutting into all the platforms, so now where does that revenue come from instead of a hardback if the ebook is priced too low.

NOW, I will say, early numbers studies say that $7.99 is an ideal price point, and that companies will offset the reduced per title revenue with increased sales. It'll take some time for the market to bear that out, though.

Regardless, I'm starting to think that 11.99 for a new release isn't unreasonable. It's not the $25 for a hard cover, but it is, in a way, the cost that you pay to get a new release. Same goes for DVDs, so why shouldn't it be true with ebooks?

The problem where this all derails is when the ebook is priced higher than the available format print book. You know how I mentioned Galen Beckett above? Those 11.99 ebooks? Yeah, I could get a mass market trade of the same title for $6. THAT'S a problem. $11.99 for Saladin Ahmed instead of $16.95? I just saved five bucks. If I don't want to pay that, I can wait a couple years and it SHOULD drop in price and I can get it for an expense that I think is more appropriate. Those are the choices that the market makes. Things change so quickly that sometimes we forget that it takes time for things to work themselves out.

April 3, 2012

Up for Air

I have a blog? Oh that's right, I do! And here I am posting to it. Let me tell you, it's a sign of how much I love you that I'm spending my precious few minutes of free time to say hello.


All my December titles have already turned over. What's that? It's April? Yes, yes it is. Welcome to publishing.

I've been cranking it out lately. Ten-hour days plus four-hour commutes. Not the worst I've had in my career. I've done 15+ before, but still, 14 hours out of a 24-hour day doesn't leave a lot of leisure time.

Thankfully, this sort of thing will only last a few more weeks and then things settle back down. What distresses me most is not the amount of time spent working, but the drain it puts on me. Yesterday, trudging my way to the train station, I had to make a choice, write on the way home or watch Stargate SG-1 on my phone. Stargate won out. And it's been winning out a lot lately. Today is the first day I can remember in the last week where I had the energy to write both in the morning and the evening train ride home.

I'm not losing the rhythm of the story, which is great, but the word count is going up sooo slowly. I chopped out 20,000 words (a kick to the nuts but much needed). Then I rewrote the 20,000 words. I've only managed another 8,000 since then. Not bad, certainly, but normally I hit that number in four days.

I have no plans on being a full-time writer (in that full-time denotes having no other job). My benefits at my company are top notch, and I wouldn't want to give those up to be on my own. But there are times, times like this when I'm burning the candle on all ends, that I wish I had more time to devote to writing and less time to publish something in four weeks that would otherwise have eight.