Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
A Day In The Life Of A Writer?
Not a typical day for a writer at all (thank god!)
6:30:Get up & keep Ian company while he gets off to school
6:50: Shower, etc.
7:30: Check e-mail.
7:45: Wake up Sean & get breakfast around. Leanne's home this week, so she took Frodo for a walk.
9:10: Left for airport.
10:30: Get to long-term parking at Detroit Metro.
10:50: Get boarding pass and shuffle through security.
11:10: Pick up some lunch--pizza. Poke around the bookstore, then settle down to read for a while.
11:55: Board plane
12:35ish: Leave the ground for Denver.
1:30 Mountain Time (3:30 EST): Land.
There is a lightning storm and the airport is shut down. They're not letting any crews get out on the tarmac to bring the planes on. Check voicemail. Call one of my clients and have this conversation about Medicare data. So we sit on the runway for...
3:00 MT: Get off the f***ing plane.
3:20 MT: Finally get the f***ing suitcase.
3:45: Shuttle to hotel. Traffic is a mess due to the storm and tornadoes, etc., in Denver. (Hail, electrical storm, tornadoes, you know, Northwest Airlines is starting to feel like the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse (Oh, never mind... that's Dick Cheney)).
4:45: Get to hotel. Check in. Say hi to my friend Joyce who is running the meeting. I'm invited to dinner at the hotel's expense with Joyce and Stephanie and Kristy, the staff of the management company that runs the association.
5:00: Get in room. Unpack. Plug in computer. Go online. Bunch of e-mail. Another movie producer is interested in THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. Another publisher had rejected my children's novel. Back-and-forthing with Medicare/Medicaid, etc. E-mail from my sister about my aunt, who had a massive stroke this weekend.
6:05: Head downstairs to meet Joyce and Stephanie and try to find the fitness center. Run into Maryann and Francine, who owe me a drink from when I gave them my complementary bottle of wine from last year's meeting. We chat.
6:15: Go to seafood restaurant. Food's excellent, but the service (or at least the kitchen) was sloooooowwwwww.
8:20: Back to the hotel. Call my wife. Note that it is 10:20 back home. I've been on the go since 9 this morning. Running out of steam. Check e-mail again because it looks like my sister called while I was gone.
8:50: Decide I'd better glance through the agenda for tomorrow's meeting so I know when I'm supposed to give my update on the journal. Decide to blog. Need to either place a wake-up call or try to figure out the alarm clock here in the room.
9:00: Time to crash. Need to get up at 6:30 tomorrow.
Monday, May 28, 2007
I'm leaving tomorrow for Denver, where I'll be until Sunday. It's a business trip. The Association of Genetic Technologists is holding their annual meeting there. I am the editor of The Journal of the Association of Genetic Technologists, and as such, get paid to be there and the price of that is basically to sit through the board meeting on Wednesday, attend various technical meetings, and otherwise get wined and dined and meet up with old friends.
It don't suck.
Still, I'm always of two minds about this sort of thing. Because of the timing, I can't take the kids out of school, so they're not going with me. In the last year I have been on business trips (writing related) to Baltimore, Washington DC, Tampa, and now Denver. I also flew to Austin for my nephew's wedding. I used to hate travel, but now I enjoy it. Probably because someone else is paying the way and also because my kids are older and I don't feel particularly guilty about leaving them at home with my wife, who is taking time off from work for it. I also have a different mindset now than I used to have, and I look at these at adventures rather than chores. I took my family with me to DC and we had a blast.
It's probably a good antidote for a job that keeps you behind a computer screen most of the time. I've started to really enjoy visiting other cities (especially on other people's dime). Nice hotels are, well, nice, and they're typically in areas where there's lot of things to do and plenty of good restaurants to eat at. Baltimore was fun. We were right on the Inner Harbor, and there was an aquarium, a submarine, water taxis, restaurants, shopping, and historical sites and marinas, all within walking distance. The Mall in DC was a short Metro ride from our hotel in Alexandria, and Tampa, well, Tampa was Tampa in February. What can I say? It was 80 degrees in Tampa and 15 degrees in Michigan.
So anyway, I'll try to stay in touch and post on what's going on in Denver.
Now, what to read on the 3-hour plane flight. Hmmm....
Friday, May 25, 2007
If I Only Had A Brain
From time to time I look at this novel-writing thing and think: you're nuts.
Okay. Not from time to time.
All the time!
It's not that I don't love it. In fact, I do. It's an addiction, and if you're an aspiring novelist and you don't understand that, there's a good chance you're in the wrong field.
Novel writing, except for a select few, can be creatively satisfying, no doubt about it. Of course, for some people, carving zoo animals out of bars of soap and constructing replicas of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks and creating images of the Supreme Court judges out of broken CDs is creatively satisfying as well.
Part of the problem, I think, is that people who carve zoo animals out of soap probably don't expect to make a living at it. They don't, in fact, probably expect much of anything out of it except, ultimately, a bar of soap in the shape of an elephant. Maybe it tickles their children, but more likely it amuses them, kills some time, and provides some satisfaction--intrinsic satisfaction--along the way.
Probably soap carvers et al., don't repeatedly look for people to represent their work, don't send it out to carved soap manufacturers who might sell their soap elephants, or in most cases, even hustle their creations in booths at art fairs. (I say in most cases; seems to me damn near everything gets sold at arts and crafts fairs. Americans' ability and willingness to clutter up their houses with shit is endlessly amazing to me).
Yeah, I'm in the writing business. From a completely rational, thinking point of view, I should just ditch the novel writing and concentrate on the lucrative end of writing for me. That's what most business books would tell you to do, right? Nurture the lucrative part of your business and prune the less lucrative.
But I won't. Instead, I'll do what most novelists do--keep writing, keep nurturing this particularly beautiful part of my writing garden in hopes it will take off and live up to its potential.
In the meantime, good advice would be to try very hard to enjoy the process.
And, you know, get a brain.
Happy Memorial Day!
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
6 Myths of Publishing
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
In The Moment
I've got classical guitar playing on iTunes on my computer: Mesut Ozgen on his album Troubadour playing "Fantasie Hongroise Op. 65, No.1."
I'm wearing tennis shoes (my office is still cold), jeans, a yellow T-shirt.
I'm working on Chapter 52 of The Valley of Shadows. Derek Stillwater is in a rented Nissan Pathfinder with Agent Sandra O'Reilly. They're driving around in L.A. They've just received a phone call from an FBI agent inquiring about an illegal wiretap that overheard a phone conversation between an L.A. Imam and a terrorist called Kalakar, that they're going to meet at 8:30. They just don't know where.
There's a red Ace hardware driving mug on my desk filled with ice and Diet Pepsi.
It's time to get back to Derek and O'Reilly.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Welcome to My Gerbil Ball
Saturday, May 19, 2007
The Beloved and Inspirational Forward-Thinking and Righteous Leader Amongst the Scribes
Author John Scalzi had declared himself The Dictator of Writing (for our own good) and set forth decrees on his May 14th blog entry (and oddly enough, I agree with them). Read on!
"Certain events of the past few days have convinced me that most of writerdom has trouble finding its own ass without a claque of workshop buddies to comment on the journey ("I like the way you used your hands to search, but did you really need to use the flashlight?"). So in the interest of all writers, who I feel crave strong, confident demogoguery, I have staged a coup, and am now The Beloved and Inspirational Forward-Thinking and Righteous Leader Amongst the Scribes, or, more colloquially, The Dictator of Writing. Having "remaindered" all those who oppose me (or, even worse, sidelined them into SFWA board slots), I am now ready to issue decrees, which all writers must henceforth follow, on penalty of death and/or being eternally blue-pencilled by the sort of officiously tone-deaf copy editor who ate the Chicago Manual of Style when she was 14 and has been barfing it up ever since."
Friday, May 18, 2007
Contemplating Publishing Numbers & Dollars
May 18, 2007
I was perusing blogs a bit yesterday and swung by the blog of Dystel & Goderich Literary Agency. Agent Lauren Abramo had a piece containing a whole bunch of statistics about the publishing industry. Here's a sample:
"And do they sell well? The standards for success really do change from book to book based on any number of factors—category, author’s platform, size of the advance, size of the marketing budget—but everyone agrees that the majority of books fail to earn out their advances (meaning that the author’s royalties never accrue to the point that they actually earn more than they were paid up front). What percentage? An exact number is probably impossible to pin down, but it’s said that 80-85% of books published don’t earn out."
I'm just thrilled (facetiously) that nobody really knows. I'm trying to pin down these sorts of numbers for the clinical lab industry and it's no easier to find hard data on that either. But when I read that particular paragraph, the question that popped into my head was: "So what?"
Now, before business-savvy writers and my editor get all fired up to tell me that earning back your advance is a big freaking deal, that you don't get royalties until that advance is paid off, that your publisher pays real attention to whether--whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on to that last thing I was starting to say for a second.
Disclaimer: As a businessman writer I want to earn out my advances. This makes my publisher happy. It makes me happy. It suggests that my editor/publisher made an intelligent and accurate guess (er, calculation) as to how many copies of my book would be ordered and sell (ignoring the fact that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy most of the time; if they give you a $1000 advance and print 800 copies, most of the time you won't sell 80,000 copies because, well, they don't exist and they can't be found even if someone wanted them, and your publisher had very little to lose so they didn't go all hellbent to make sure they sold so they could earn back their investment, and booksellers weren't hearing buzz about how hot this book was and it had a first printing of 80,000 copies, which is stamped all over every Advanced Reading Copy and promotional material crowing: Yes, we're hot on this book, we think it's going to sell tons, we threw a lot of money at it...).
Anyway, my "So what?" question's follow-up was this: The book needs to earn back its advance and all of the publishers investment. In other words, the publisher paid, say, $1500 advance, then they printed up 2000 copies which cost them X dollars, say just for grins, $3 per copy which we'll say includes layout, printing and cover art, which comes to $6000. So they've got an upfront investment of $7500, not including whatever promotion expenses they might do, which in most cases would be a catalogue that includes your book and all the other books in that selling period, which they then mail to bookstores and distributors. Warehousing, UPS, blah, blah, blah, before you start adding in their editors' paychecks, the secretary's paychecks, the publishers mistress's condo in Barbados and the electric bill for the publisher's offices.
So, assume those 2000 books sell for, say, the price of a trade paperback, about $12.95. If you only sold 50%, in other words, 1000 copies, there is, above the line, $12,950 coming in. Of course, some of that is sucked up by the bookstores, some of it by the distributors. How much does the publisher actually get? I honestly don't know. I'm guessing 40% (and if someone actually knows, please let me know). So 40% of $12,950 is $5180.
See, the publisher actually is in the red, if that 40% number is even close. Of course, from the writer's point of view, we could argue that the books actually have earned back their advance, it's the publisher that hasn't earned back their expenses yet.
The point isn't that I'm shirking my responsibility as an author or bemoaning the woeful state of the publishing industry. I'm just trying to be precise in my thinking about the economics. You get some journalist at the New York Times or Publishers Weekly saying, hey, 85% of books don't earn back their advance, and I'm thinking, as a guy who's spent the last year writing intensively about business issues and reading dozens of SEC filings and company annual reports (yes, I love to read fiction), maybe they're asking the wrong question. They're saying that the author who's getting as 12% royalty and was paid an advance of $1500 didn't sell enough copies of his book that earns $1.40 a copy to pay off that $1500 advance (in most cases they're talking about authors who earned advances that run about $150,000 anyway, aren't they, because the average newspaper reader doesn't give a damn about a writer earning a $1500 advance, Christ, why doesn't that fool go work at McDonald's, he'll make more money).
But from a business point of view, the publisher may not necessarily be looking at things that way. They may be looking at the overall picture, including the money they pull in off foreign sales if their contracts run that way, or the money they get on a split for movie deals, or audio sales, etc. Just looking at: "authors don't earn back their advance" may quite well be the story of blind men and the elephant. Describe an elephant: the blind man holding the trunk concludes the elephant is like a snake; the blind man holding the leg assumes it's like a tree; the blind man holding the ear assumes it's like a bat; the blind man holding the tail assumes it's like a vine, etc.
And for god sakes, if you've got real data here, share it with me. I'd love to know.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Random Thoughts On A Random Day
May 17, 2007
I thought that image was way cool for a mystery or thriller writer. What do you think?
No theme today and besides, it's not my regular day to blog. I'm just avoiding starting work, so I thought I'd throw out some random thoughts as they filtered through my brain.
--a big storm knocked down one of our trees Tuesday night. I got a tree service out early Wednesday to take a look at it. It's gotta go. They filled out an invoice, told me they'd be back later, and haven't been seen since. I'm still irritated by this, since I rearranged my routine so I'd be home yesterday. Today, I'm doing more of the same, although when it's time to go out, I'll probably go out and leave a note.
--It's 50 degrees with drizzle today. Ah, a lovely spring day in Michigan.
--I'm stressing, trying to complete a major report before I head to Denver for the annual meeting of the Association of Genetic Technologists. This report has put me at the mercy of the federal government (Medicare and Medicaid, who lived up to their reputation by selling my publisher and myself $3000 of useless data) and state bureaucrats, who can sometimes fill in the holes, although getting them to is an astonishingly annoying experience. I'm reminded repeatedly that it is a rare individual that does more than they are forced to do. That is to say, many of these people apparently interpret the request in a way that requires them to do the absolute minimum (or nothing) rather than what is actually requested. (All together now, boys and girls: "Public service is good.")
--Sometimes my brain just burbles with ideas for novels. That's the issue right now. I'm sure this is because I'm still struggling with the 4th Derek Stillwater novel so my brain keeps saying, "Hey, here's something that would be more fun to work on!" Some of these ideas are pretty cool, though. So many ideas, so little time...
--promotion money is on my mind a lot lately. I've already spent my advance for The Serpent's Kiss on promotion for it and it hasn't even come out yet and I haven't even paid for the postage for the next 1400 postcards (and postage rates just went up on Monday, yippee). Nor have I gotten my web maven's bill for e-newsletters and I haven't gotten the bill for the case of books I'm going to send out to various people, and... So I'm sitting here thinking about going to Magna cum Murder in October, noting that I'll probably be in Washington DC for a business trip most of the week just before, and thinking, "Hmmmm, already in the red..."
--Guess it's time to get back to work. That report's not getting written while I'm musing away the morning.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
My blog for today--Patience, Grasshopper--is over at the Inkspot blog. Pop on over and tell me what book you discovered your favorite authors on.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
On Your Reading Radar: Critical Space by Greg Rucka
May 14, 2007
by Greg Rucka
I've commented here how much I like the two "Queen & Country" novels by Greg Rucka. Those would be "Private Wars" and "A Gentleman's Game." If anything, Rucka's novels featuring high-level bodyguard Atticus Kodiak are even better, although to be fair, they're quite different books with very different characters.
In "Critical Space," Atticus and his partners in his security firm are pretty much going about their booming business. In the past, they encountered a female assassin of the highest calibre, code-named Drama, and she scared the hell out of all of them. Drama, it seems, is one of what is dubbed The Ten, although The Ten aren't necessarily connected, they are several world-class assassins, the highest level professionals in a very cold game indeed. Because Atticus is one of the few people to have encountered Drama and lived--through no particular skill on his part--various government agencies constantly grill Atticus on what he knows about Drama (almost nothing) and keep him loosely informed (very loosely) as to her whereabouts.
Atticus and his team are preparing to do a job for one of their favorite clients when he is informed the Drama may be in the U.S. In addition, he is told, they think another assassin, this one dubbed Oxford, may also be in the U.S.
Well, as you can imagine, everything goes to hell.
How much more should I tell you? Would it ruin the surprise? Probably not, because the back cover crap pretty much gives it away. So if you want to be totally surprised, skip down a bit.
*********************** SKIP THIS HERE*******************************************
Drama kidnaps their client and exchanges her for Atticus. She then kidnaps Atticus and convinces him to bodyguard her--from Oxford. Is he now the poster child for Stockholm Syndrome, when he agrees? Things, naturally, don't go as well as Drama and Atticus plan, and when they narrowly escape with their lives, Atticus manages to dig up one of Oxford's bankers and steals his money in an attempt to have leverage on the assassin--but Oxford's response is to start killing everybody close to Atticus. The plot unwinds in many unexpected ways with a tense standoff and not completely unexpected climax.
I was fairly blown away by this book, as I was by the other two I've read by him. There's something about Rucka's writing and plotting and characterization that really works for me. His pacing is a bit slow compared to some thrillers, but no less engrossing. There's a degree of detail that really suggests this guy does his research, but it doesn't bog things down. If you're into this type of thriller, Rucka's your man. I for one am thrilled there are 4 other Atticus Kodiak books with a fifth coming out this summer. He's also got a couple stand-alones I haven't read. They're definitely on my buy-soon list.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Writing A Publishable Book
Jessica Faust (of the faustian bargain, one wonders?) of BookEnds Literary Agency had this to say yesterday on her blog:
Publishing is not about selling a good book. Publishing is about selling a book that will sell, and rarely does that have to do entirely with how good the book is. Usually it has a lot more to do with how marketable it is. Sure that has a lot to do with how the book is written, but it also has a lot to do with plotting, characterization, and hook.
This was pretty much the final thing she had to say in the post, which was in response to a letter she received by an aspiring author who had 100 rejections and a seemingly endless number of rewrites, and couldn't decide whether to keep tweaking or bail out on the project. Jessica told him he should bail. Then she pretty much wrapped it up with the above post, which I thought was an interesting comment that all aspiring novelists should think about.
I've always concentrated on "good writing" which by my definition means "effective, efficient, vivid and economical" writing. I suppose if I wanted to teach a course I'd just shorten it to the Three Es. I could add elegant, but I don't think my writing is terribly elegant, poetic or even beautiful. It's serviceable, it's immediate (that's important to me and my editor told me it was what she liked about my books, so I'm doing something right) and, what I feel is most important: it's effective. In other words, it does what I want it to do.
All of which is apparently important to getting published, but probably not as important as writing a marketable manuscript that tells an effective story. (There's that word again).
I admit to a long failure at figuring out the "hook." Only now am I getting the hang of that (sort of), but I can see how that must make the whole book easier for your agent to sell to an editor and the editor to then sell to the marketing staff and publisher. Here we go: female private eye works northern California; loaner ex-military cop wanders the country getting involved in adventures and helping people; female Chicago cop chases serial killers and her name is Jacquelyn "Jack" Daniels and each book is named after a cocktail; 5th century Byzantium mysteries featuring the Emperor's chief councelor as detective; female forensic pathologist; female forensic anthropologist; Homeland Security expert on biological and chemical terrorism; well, you get the idea.
Once you get that "hook" and that's not necessarily as easy at it sounds, you have to execute the story in a reasonably effective manner. Then you have to have a character that is reasonably memorable.
Then you have to get lucky.
But yeah, I would agree with Jessica that the success of a book doesn't necessarily depend on how great a writer (or stylist) you are. There are other factors and those can be harder to learn than learning to write well. But I do believe that learning to write well (or good, if you'll excuse the tiny joke) can solve a lot of problems and move you on your way.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Ebb & Flow
I'm blogging over at Michigan Murder & Mayhem today. Pop on over and enjoy!
Friday, May 04, 2007
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
On Your Reading Radar: The Last Secret by Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore
May 2, 2007
The Last Secret
by Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore
Trade Paperback. $14.95
I asked Joe Moore once how he would describe his and Lynn's books. They aren't exactly science fiction or fantasy, and although there were elements of the technothriller, that didn't quite cover it. Although my own books can be cleanly described as "action thrillers," that's not quite right for their Cotten Stone novels. Joe said, "apocalyptic thrillers," and that seems to me to be right on target.
Their two books to-date, "The Grail Conspiracy" and "The Last Secret", feature Satellite News Network (SNN, and I wish I'd thought of it) reporter Cotten Stone. Cotten, as it turns out, is the daughter of a nephilim, or fallen angel. Her father repented, but God made a deal with him. Of his twin daughters, one would return to heaven with HIM; the other--Cotten--would remain on earth, HE had plans for her.
In "The Last Secret", Cotten has found her reputation as a hotshot SNN reporter on the rocks due to a spectacular fraud that she bought into and reported on. Scrambling for work, she takes on an assignment in Peru to report on an archaeological dig. While near Macchu Picu, the dig team uncovers a fabulous crystal tablet marked with unusual etchings, some of which appears to be dots and lines, as if a version of kippu, a version of ancient Peruvian record keeping (usually done on strings and linens with knots) that some archaeologists believe is also a complicated written language. The top half of the writing suggests there will be a great flood, and gives directions on how to survive it. The second half remains incomprehensible except for a line suggesting the "cleansing would be led by the daughter of an angel."
Before they can get going on that much further, a swarm of strange fireflies attacks the encampment, and destroys the tablet. Everyone is driven crazy and commits bizarre acts of suicide, except Cotten who barely escapes into the jungle.
The suicides in Peru are only the beginning of a worldwide phenomenon of strange mass suicides, often of spectacular vintage--the British Royal family, the crew of the International Space Station...
It turns out that there is at least one more tablet, and Cotten tries to rally her strength, along with the help of the Catholic Church, to locate the tablet before Satan's minions, in this case the remaining nephilim, can find it first and destroy it. The inscriptions involve mathematical formulas related to "string theory" and "quantum mechanics," and I for one am glad that Lynn and Joe didn't belabor either. I've read quite a bit about both, both in fiction and nonfiction, and it's one topic in physics that doesn't necessarily get clearer the more you study it.
Overall "The Last Secret" is an entertaining novel, full of exotic locations, esoteric archaeology, physics and theology, and an engaging main character. There's a more mystical element to it than, say, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" or the novels of Steve Berry ("The Alexandria Link" and "The Templar Legacy."), but equally entertaining with a dollop of thought-provoking material.