Writing Prompt: 05/31/10

"Your phone rings. When you answer it, you make a startling discovery: the person on the other end is dead. What does he/she say and why are they calling you?"

Write for 15-30 minutes. My response will be posted 6/02/10.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Essay: Ideas out of Chaos.

The World Wide Web is a very strange place.

I'm not talking about the porno, by the way. Look, I don't know how long that stuff has been there, but a) it's not my fault, and b) if I ever vanish for, like, a year, and you can't find me it's probably because someone got me a subscription to Girlz Gone Goofy or some crap.

Actually, the most scariest thing is that I just pulled the name "Girlz Gone Goofy" out of my ass just then-- and now I'm afraid to Google it. Somewhere out there is a website with that name, and someone out there is paying $19.99 a month to download whatever is on it.

So, you want to be an author, but you can't think of anything to write about? Are you frickin' serious?

The history of mankind is replete with borked up situations and compelling drama, if you only know where to look.

I'm going to give you just four short examples. You get to take those examples and run with them. Make them into something great.

1) The Battle of Rorke's Drift. In January of 1879 the British Army got their ass handed to them by a group of extremely pissed off Zulu warriors. Suddenly, the Zulu, who had largely been obliterated by the firepower the Brits could bring to battle, recognized that their discipline and training under Shaka could actually bring them victory.

And the British? They realized that a poorly defended fort with 139 soldiers was about to get swarmed by a human wave attack on a scale they'd never before imagined. On 22 January the Zulu steamrolled the British at the Battle of Isandlwana and kept going, arrowing straight at the fort-- with 3,900 Zulu warriors, most of whom were in a Bad Mood.

I'll say that again. 139 defenders standing their ground against four thousand irate Zulu attackers.

History records what happened next. After ten hours and after expending all but 900 rounds of shot out of the 20,000 the garrison started with, the defenders were relieved by a column of troops led by Lord Chelmsford. Unfortunately, the reinforcing British saw the Zulu as little more than animals, and slaughtered the wounded and battle ready alike.

Just so you know, The Battle of Rorke's Drift has been used by at least four Military Science Fiction authors in one manner or another. The basics of the plot are fairly straightforward: a numerically superior force is attacking a few, well-armed defenders in a defensible position. Relief is either not expected, or at the very least, not expected for some time. In fact, the original Starcraft mission "Desperate Alliance" hearkens back to this very concept. You are required to hold an outpost for thirty minutes against increasingly powerful wave attacks from an enemy that outnumbers you considerably, but is poorly armed compared to the firepower you can bring to bear. Unless you know what you're doing, trying to sally forth and take the battle to the Bloody Hun is a great way to get the absolute crap kicked out of you. (Dammit! Now I want to play Starcraft again... Must finish blog...)

2) The Wagon Box Fight. A few years before Rorke's Drift, just after the American Civil War, in fact, there was a lesser known battle of similar nature. In August of 1867 a force of three thousand Lakota, Sioux, and Cheyenne attacked thirty-one troops of the US Army's 9th Infantry near Fort Phil Kearny. In a battle that lasted for five hours, the defenders repulsed wave after wave of assaults, and credited their survival to a new piece of military hardware: a .50 caliber breech loading rifle that cut reload and refire time by more than twenty seconds. The defenders lost five killed and two wounded. Estimated casualties among the attackers were between 30-60 killed and 120 wounded, but some accounts claim the casualties were in the 1100-1300 range. (I find that difficult to believe. An assault force is generally considered combat ineffective at 7% casualties, combat routed at 9%, and combat destroyed at 13%. 30% casualties would be an unheard of number just to erase one small force of defenders.)

You can see examples of the Wagon Box Fight (and the next day's battle, the Hayfield Fight) in games such as HALO and the accompanying novels, where one significant advantage in technology provides a vastly smaller force (The 9th infantry was outnumbered 96 to 1!) with the means to not only stay in the fight, but to prevail.

Not everything is about combat and battles, though. Howzaboot we delve into the realm of mystery?

3) The Lead Masks Case. In August 20, 1966 two Brazilian electronics technicians were found in a field outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by a small boy flying a kite. Both men were wearing suits, waterproof coats, and lead masks. Near the bodies was an empty bottle of water and two towels. Also next to them was a note, written in Portuguese, that read, "16:30, be at agreed place. 18:30, swallow capsules. After effect protect metals wait for sign mask."

The police put together a timeline of their last hours based on witnesses who saw them in town, where they purchased the bottle of water and the waterproof coats. One of the men looked nervous and kept looking at his watch.

All right, storyteller, why were they there? What were these two men hoping to achieve with this "meeting" in a field? What did they take? (An autopsy found no trace of poison in their systems due to improper storage of their organs before the toxicology report could be made.)

Conspiracy theorists go batshit (batshit-er?) with this one. Was it aliens, demons, demonic aliens, or a suicide pact designed to leave the rest of the world scratching their heads and saying, "WTF?"

We'll probably never know-- but since you're an author, I'll leave you to tell their story.

4) The Taman Shud Case. Lest you think that all weird shit happens in the Americas, I'd like to introduce you to the Taman Shud Case. In 1948 in Adelaide, Australia (Somerton Beach, to be precise, so you can also look this up by searching for the Somerton Man.) a middle-aged male was found dead at 6:30am on December 1st. The description in the Wikipedia article referenced above seems to indicate someone in fairly good shape for his age, who did little to no manual labor, judging by the state of his hands.

He was dressed well, although for some reason he was dressed for a colder climate, wearing a "fashionable" pullover and suit. Oddly, he did not have a hat, which was particularly unusual given that he was wearing a suit at a time in history when they went together like Forrest and Jenny.

He not only had no identification on him, his clothing labels had been painstakingly removed. Throughout the month of December there were eight positive identifications of the man, one of which was recanted when a witness got a second look at the body and noted the absence of a particular scar.

Things took an interesting twist when the police discovered that a suitcase with its label removed had been checked into the cloak room of the Adelaide Railway Station on the evening of the 30th of November. The clothes in the bag had also had their labels removed, but oddly there were two names, "Keane" on a tie and "Kean" on a singlet. Police theorized that these names had been left because they were not the victim's, and therefore intended to lead the police astray.

It gets weirder. Inside a secret pocket in the man's trousers police found a scrap of paper with the words "Taman Shud." These is actually the last words written in the collection of poems called The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Also adding to the general sense of creep, the scrap of paper was traced to a book left in a man's unlocked car also on the 30th of November, the same night the bag was checked into the cloak room. In the back of the book was the following "coded" message:

You can see an actual picture of this HERE.
There were also two additional connections to other unexplained deaths in the area. I'll let you look them up, but they are the Mangnoson case and the Marshall case.

I'll also tell you that in 2009 a college professor named Derek Abbott at the University of Adelaide started working on solving the case by cracking the code and exhuming the body. He's made some progress, including discovering that the autopsy report and original investigation notes from 1948 have gone missing. Hmmmm...

Personally, I think the man conspired with Elvis to shoot JFK while exterminating the dinosaurs. He may also have been Kaspar Hauser.

In 2005, Stephen King published a book called Colorado Kid that has similarities to this case, which was also referenced in the novel Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr. Since my name is not Stephen, I don't know if I am allowed to write about this or not, but doesn't this sound like a fascinating start to a storyline-- or even an end to one?

With a few minutes research on the web, it's possible to discover dozens of storylines like this. Best of all-- they are all true!

Leaving only one question out of many: How are you going to explain them?

Write On!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!



Monday, July 19, 2010

Picking the Right Name

As I was fumbling about on the web the other day it occurred to me that Shakespeare was wrong.

Now, this isn't something I generally say about the Bard, but he said "The play's the thing." I think that, perhaps, the name may be the thing.

Eddie Izzard happens to be one of my favorite comedians. He has a bit on the album Dressed to Kill where he discusses the 1950's rocker Arnold George Dorsey, better known by the name of the German composer he adopted: Englebert Humperdinck. His bit includes a "discussion" between Dorsey and his manager:

"But I like being Gerry Dorsey. It's a good name!"
"But you need a better one. How about Hinkleburt Slapdiback?"
"What? NO!"
"Satliborg Fistibuns?"

And so on. It's a remarkably funny bit that also, like much of Eddie's comedy, tends to have two levels, including a level where it's no longer a parody and is actually quite true.

As writers, we need to seek out names that have some kind of connection to us, and to our characters. Names can demonstrate ethnicity, such as Jaime Tavala, the unfortunate soldier in the prologue to Counterattack.

Names can indicate power and strength, or be a source of amusement. Depending on what you're writing, you can place emphasis on either aspect. Terry Pratchett is a master of this. His characters include:

Sergeant Colon
Samuel Vimes
Captain Carrot
(Of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.)

Esmeralda "Grannie" Weatherwax
Gytha "Nanny" Ogg
(Of the Lancre Coven)

and of course:

Moist Von Lipwig. (Yes, his first name is "Moist." Is it there any doubt why he grew up to be a con man who changes names and identities like underwear?)

Names change based on time periods as well as ethnicity and location. Consider Larry Niven's excellent work, A World Out of Time. The basic premise is a man dying of cancer in 1970 has himself frozen until he can be safely revived and cured. Two hundred years later he is "revived" by the State and his personality is "injected" into the body of a mindwiped criminal. He is then sent on a lengthy star mission to expiate his debt to the State that brought him back to life.

The main representative of the State is a man who introduces himself to the main character as "Pierce, for the State." Later in the book, when the main character steals the spaceship and decides to chart his own course through the stars, we discover that over two hundred years the name "Pierce" has changed somewhat to "Peerssa."

I'm sure it takes only a few moments to consider which genres each of the following names should be placed into:

Vace Berakon
Ted Philson

If I were writing a fantasy fiction story, Tynust would be a good name for an aging smith. It seems to have a gravitas associated with it, like that of a master craftsman, with scarred and strong hands that are curiously gentle.

Vace Berakon almost has to be a hotshot starfighter pilot, probably too young to really comprehend the dangers of ship to ship combat in a vacuum, and convinced that he's immortal.

Ted Philson would make a good detective. Slightly corrupt, but only because he needs to be to get the job done, Ted's not above using "dropsy evidence" to gain a conviction when he knows the perp is guilty and he just can't prove it.

Each of these names were generated randomly from the following sites:

Tynust - http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/fnames.cgi?d=checked&f=3 (Reload the site to generate new names.)

Vace Berakon - http://donjon.bin.sh/scifi/name/ (This site also features a fantasy name generator, as well as some Star Wars and Star Trek name generation as well, if you're interested in writing fan fiction.)

Ted Philson - http://www.kleimo.com/random/name.cfm (This site uses census data to generate random names, and allows you to set an "obscurity level" to determine how uncommon the name you generate is. At last! A use for census data that doesn't involve seeking excuses to give our tax money away!)

I'd like you to take a moment and continue to work on your character development. Use the random name generators to generate one name from each genre: SciFi, Fantasy, and Modern, and write a brief description of the character you think the name describes.

I'll bet you end up using one or more of them down the road.

Write On!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!



Monday, July 5, 2010

Essay: Why You SHOULD Use Real People as Characters

Making believable characters is a difficult process for any writer. In previous essays I've discussed how important it is to know your characters, inside and out, but today I want to talk about something a little different.

I am of the mind that the most realistic characters come from life. The four tightly-knit characters of Crossed Swords are actually modeled on a semi-professional paintball team I played with from 1994 through 1999. Although it was actually a ten man team, there were four of us; Shawn and Mike (two brothers), my roommate Ted, and myself, who spent most of our off-the-field time together. In fact, in 1995 when my home was flooded thanks to a group of environmentalists whining so loudly that Pierce County decided not to dredge the river for gravel (causing a mere $122 million in property damage and rendering hundreds of families homeless-- but at least the Dolly Varden trout population had safe spawning grounds) I moved in with Shawn and Mike for three weeks, and then Ted and I got an apartment together.

It was during this time that the inspiration for Crossed Swords came to me-- literally in a dream-- and there was never the slightest bit of question who would be the "stars." They were in the dream after all.

Unfortunately, there's a certain Mary Sue element to this. The arguably "main" character is David, who is, for all intents and purposes, me. There are certain notable differences. I've never in my life wanted to be a ranger. While I've done the Boy Scouts thing, the idea of running around in the woods getting rained on, far from a gaming rig, copy of Unreal Tournament, high speed internet connection, and a bunch of geeks to headshot just isn't my bag, baby. I'm also not particularly attracted to elves (nor is Michael).

These things aside, if you can honestly look at the people around you, I think you'll find some great examples of characters to include in your writing. The problem is, you have to look honestly. Stephen King is a master of this. His characters are generally lifelike and multi-dimensional. They have hidden flaws and quirks of personality. They get horny. They eat McDonald's. They drive 2003 Nissan Sentras with dented fenders from that time when they pulled into the Lowe's parking lot and there was a cart out there that they didn't see.

There are hundreds and hundreds of little details that real people have in their lives, from the clothes they wear to the schools they attended and the activities they choose for hobbies. More than that, real people are consistently inconsistent. We all have things we do that are the opposite from what we believe. (I'm not talking about flat out lying. After all, there's only one Barack Obama-- thank God.)

Here are a couple of cliche' examples you've probably seen in your life:

1) The athletic coach or PE teacher constantly admonishing you to push harder or eat healthier or work out more-- while he munches a doughnut or simply looks like an egg with feet.

2) The parent who smokes/drinks/does drugs but tries to convince his kids these are bad habits.

3) The boss who pretends to know what you do and therefore micromanage it, while complaining all the while that the echelons above him meddle in his sandbox too often.

4) The bleach-blond bimbo gossiping that her friend is "two-faced and shallow."

These are just a few quickies out of the pageant that is life. We all have inconsistencies and gaps in our logic that cause us to react in certain manners to certain stimuli. It's part of what makes us human. The trick, when developing believable characters, is to find those inconsistencies and use them as the foundation for your characters.

A few months ago I found a copy of Fantastic Realms: How to Draw Fantasy Characters, Creatures, and Settings in a local discount store for $2.00. I was about to put it back on the shelf when I knocked over a book across the aisle and a $1.50 sketch pad landed at my feet-- with a package of pencils on top of it. Not one to piss off the gods when I don't have to, I decided that $3.50 was worth it to try something new and interesting that I'd never done before.

As I've been learning to draw (which is precisely as difficult as I thought it was-- and I wish I'd picked this up years ago, along with music and programming, instead of concentrating quite so hard on theater and drama in high school) I've discovered what most artists and authors knew all along: it's a hell of a lot harder to draw (or create a character) from scratch than it is to create one from a model.

I can generally duplicate most of the pencil sketches in the book, and I have a number of saved panels from webcomics that I particularly love and work on duplicating, such as Oasis from Sluggy Freelance and backgrounds and some characters from Pawn (Warning! Adult themes and artwork. May be NSFW!) However, to just sit down and say, "I think I'll draw a goblin..."

...Let's just say I'm not that good and leave it at that.

So what I'm recommending is that you look around you at the people you interact with. Think about why they are where they are, doing what they do. Why is it that your waitress at the Waffle House spends her break reading String Theory and M Theory: a Modern Introduction? (No kidding. I actually saw this!) Why does the painted Barbie-Bimbo in the mall carry a camera with her wherever she goes?

In another essay I advised taking your notebook out and just sitting somewhere to watch life go by while you wrote and made notes. This is an amplification of that concept. Go sit on a bench at the mall and observe one person that walks past. (Try not to stalk them. I am not bailing your ass out of jail!) Try and find one or more things that are directly observable and contradictory about your model: A business suit and a belt buckle with Spider-Man on it. A $50 pedicure on dirty feet. A hat that says "Fuck You!" and a rosary.

After you've observed these visual inconsistencies and written them down, write a brief backstory to explain them. Think deep. For example:

The business suit/Spidey belt could be a salesman who just likes comics and has to dress professionally.

Or, it could be an act of quiet rebellion against the authority that forced him to grow up and assume adult responsibilities. It could be an overt act to connect with a younger generation-- as a classroom teacher I believe that my students deserve the respect of having someone in the front of the room that looks their best every day. When I taught 6th grade social studies and 7th grade computers I wore a tie every day. However, those ties ran a gamut from Marvin the Martian to Dilbert to Grover to The Cat in the Hat. The tie was there to demonstrate respect for my students. The silliness was there to connect with them.

Which of these two brief inconsistencies would make for a more rounded character in a story about a divorced dad trying to regain custody of his kids?

The $50 pedicure on dirty feet could be a lady who was out working in her yard and had to run a quick errand before taking a shower.

Or, it could be a manifestation of a mild schizophrenic behavior because she was sexually abused as a child and therefore has a disjointed view of attraction and repulsion. On one level she wants to attract male attention, hence the desire to have pretty feet, and on the other she wants to drive them away so they don't further abuse her, hence the unconcern for keeping herself clean.

Which one makes a better character in a story about a group of students trying to survive life in a dysfunctional high school?

Where Stephen King is so great in his storytelling is that he could take either or both of those characters and stick them in an untenable situation. This is where the masterwork of narrative really shines. These little inconsistencies in our character may be considered flaws. Like any flaws-- such as the fault lines in the earth's crust-- enough pressure causes fractures along them.
Consider what might happen to our divorced dad if his children tell him they'd rather stay with mom because she let's them do whatever they want, while he is trying to teach them self-discipline and respect for authority. How might his character "fracture"? Would he devolve in a desperate attempt to reconnect to his children, abandoning the suits in favor of jeans and tee shirts? Would he ossify, moving further down the path to "adulthood"? Think about Tom Hanks's character in Big. If you watch carefully, you'll notice that he starts out as an adult child (which is what he is), dressing in tee shirts and jeans and not really knowing how to present a mature appearance. By the end of the movie, however, just before he returns to his childhood, he is wearing professional attire with the aplomb of an adult, even though he desperately longs to return to just being a kid.

What would happen to our young lady with the dirty toes if she were assaulted again? Would she continue to spiral into a hell of self-hatred? Begin drug abuse? Finally confide in her family what happened to her and seek help that would let her overcome what happened?

These inconsistencies in character that we have observed are purely physical and external in nature, but they give us insight into the internal workings of the characters we are creating. I can't tell you for certain whether the real Mona Lisa ever walked around with a smirk, but I can tell you that to Leonardo Da Vinci, there was a real and important reason to paint her with her famously enigmatic smile.

If you know someone well, you may be able to use aspects of their character in your writing with more success. Because I spent so much time with the other Three Horsemen, it becomes easy to write with their voices. Ted was a consummate smart ass who lived to play the guitar. Shawn is a bit of a clown and a relentless romantic as well as a computer whiz kid who now writes video games in Germany (and still can't grow a beard to save his life). Michael is a natural leader and takes responsibility very seriously. (He was a college graduate at age 21 with three majors, a business owner at age 24, and currently owns several mixed martial arts schools in Washington and Oregon.)

Mark and Steve are not just Michael and Shawn, they are different people in their own right, but as you read Crossed Swords I hope the realism of the characters will shine through.

I hope I'm slightly less of a screw up than Dave.

Next week we'll further examine the idea of characters from life, while we explore reasons to not use real people as character models.

Write On!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!



Monday, June 28, 2010

A Castigation of the Publishing Industry Part Four

Over the last three weeks I've bitched about the traditional publication methods and the way ignorant and sometimes damnfool editors and publishers crap on writers. I've complained about how badly they pay you for something that takes a large portion of your life to produce, and I've also shown where some of that money they don't pay you is used to make your book better through proofreading, graphics design, and other mechanical work, which is a worthwhile use of your money and time and something you should do yourself.

Last week I talked about self-publishing, and got you through the galley proof process. I left out a few things intentionally, because each self-publishing company has its own ways of doing things like cover art. When my friend Niki Morock published her book The Perfect Circle through Lulu.com she took her own cover art photo with her cell phone because she wanted a particular effect. When I submitted my non-fiction to Authorhouse, I had perfectly fine cover photos in place, but they substituted similar ones that I ended up liking more than the originals.

Go through all of this with the company before you commit to publish with them. A reputable publisher, even a "vanity press," will have someone available to speak to you at any time you have questions, and they should be able to tell you step-by-step what they are going to do to make the book come out right. In some cases-- Authorhouse, where I am published is one-- you can even ask for example books to be sent to you so you can check out bindings and print styles.

One thing I recommend right now: go grab a random book off your shelf and open it to any page with text. What font is that?

I'll tell you: it's Times New Roman or Garamond or another "oldstyle" font. Stay away from fonts like Comic Sans and Arial. While these look cute, they don't present a professional appearance in your work, and you're already combating the derision of the traditional publishing industry that thinks your writing sucks because you chose to self-publish. Plus, a lot of these fonts are harder to read and take up more page space, which means it can actually cost you money to use a different font because it kicks you from 230 pages for $450 to 260 pages for $475. That's not much, but it's one more thing to pay for that you don't have to.

Also, stick to no smaller than 11-point for trade paperback or 10-point for mass-market paperback. Honestly, I'd go 10.5 as the smallest size for paperback.

Note one more thing about that book: the text is fully justified on the page. Never let your publisher or book manufacturer print a book that is only left justified unless there's a specific reason for it. It looks like ass and it's unprofessional. I've seen traditionally published books that look worse than "vanity press" ones because someone thought it would be neat to single justify the print. While we're on the subject, double spacing is for term papers, not publication, unless, as I said, there's a specific reason for it.

But by now all the scutwork should be done. Your book is exhaustively proofed, the galleys are approved, and the only thing left is the go-live date, right?

Wrong. Now is where the real work begins. Now is where you need to start marketing.

The first thing you need is a website. This can either be a blog page, like this one, or it can be a traditional website, but it absolutely must feature examples of your work, and it must be updated regularly! (Says the guy what just took a two month hiatus!)

Search engines on the web are designed to look for relevant-- and current-- information. If you search for "science fiction author blogs" you will not see see blogs that haven't been updated in eight months. You may see some that were updated in the last week. Ideally, you need to update daily. You're going to want an archive of at least fifteen updates before anything you publish for profit goes live, so start writing now.

I've used both Livejournal and Blogger, and I have to say that I like Blogger the best. I particularly like how I can draft a post or set it to automatically publish at a date far down the road. I've also used a web site called Homepagenow. The problem with a lot of these free sites is that they tack advertisement banners all over your page that you don't necessarily want.

For example, I used a teaching blog specifically aimed at educators in order to link with parents. I posted assignments and class schedules and the like. I stopped using it because a parent called me and told me that advertisements to adult dating sites were popping up in the banners on the site-- banners I didn't see because I run Firefox with the Adblocker extension.

I dropped that blog site like a prom dress, I can tell you!

Some publishing companies, again, Authorhouse is one, will actually set up and maintain a web space for you. Since I already had my own I never bothered, but it may be worth the price, particularly since some of them also pay you click-through advertisement payments if you put one of their banners on the site. See what the publisher can do, and don't be afraid to negotiate for a better deal. Unlike traditional publication, "vanity" press is a business that needs the authors and sees them as customers. They work for you, not the other way around, so in a lot of cases you get to drive and sit in the big boy chair.

Even though I do not have published fiction for sale... and may never do so, since I'm toying with the idea of making Crossed Swords a completely free eBook series and I'm not sure what to do with Counterattack yet, one of the purposes of this blog is to get my fiction out there and read. In the event that I ever do decide to publish for profit, I want a readerbase that has successfully enjoyed a bunch of "try-before-you-buy" examples of my writing.

This is also why I post on Twitter. Not only have I built a number of followers and friends, like Julie Duck and Kimberly Vanderhoorst and JM Strother, but I've also used the site to market my blog posts and interest other writers and readers in my work, some of whom are professionally published and/or may even be publishers, agents, or editors. In fact, you probably came here because of twitter or a recommendation from another writer or you were running a search for "ravens" and screwed up the spelling. Why you're still here is a bit of a mystery, but I'm told I'm very good looking, so that's most likely it.

Although I rail against traditional publishing a lot, I also recognize it as an industry with a great deal of potential if they manage to overcome their current inertia. If an agent or editor were to contact me with an offer, or even a suggestion, I'd listen to whatever they have to say, but they're going to need to come to me... I'm not interested in going to them.

You need to build the brand. Think of your writing as a product and consider how you're going to get that product out there for the consumer to sample. Have faith in your talent and your skill, and take confidence in the fact that what you have to offer rocks balls!

As I mentioned before, it might be a good idea to make a short trailer for your book. Make it exciting and make it moving. Post this to your web site, your blog, and on every video site you can find.

Get the word out. Your paycheck depends on it! Link directly from your site to the purchase page at your publisher's site.

Another benefit of self-publication is that "vanity" presses don't try to tell you what to do with your book. Traditional publishers will decide for you if you're going to be e-published or not, based on what they think will work best. Screw that! This is your book. If you want to try e-publication, then try it! As I mentioned before, an author named Paul Coelho "pirated" his own work when his publisher wouldn't let him e-publish. His pirated work then outsold his traditionally marketed work by a 2:1 margin!

If you offer eBooks that you created yourself you can offer them for download directly from your site. By using Paypal you can set up an online marketplace. You might have to hire a webmaster for some of the coding to make sure everything is in the right place, but you're looking at about $250 to set up a checkout basket and download form-- and a really good webmaster can even help you set up a digital imprinting method to mark each download, so if you find later that 10,000 copies of your book popped up on a file sharing site, you know which buyer is giving away his copy.

This is all web marketing, which, truthfully, is the future of commerce. Books are a commodity that doesn't need to be tried on and doesn't need to be stored in a refrigerator, so unlike clothes, shoes, or celery, you don't need to go to the store to get one. This is especially true for eBooks that can be paid for and downloaded instantaneously.

But don't overlook the local bookseller market, either. You may or may not be able to break into Barnes and Noble or Waldenbooks or Wal-Mart. Those places have merchandisers whose sole job it is to purchase items to be sold in the stores. Talking to a store manager does you no good. You need to talk directly with the product buyer, and most of those cats don't talk to anyone other than a direct manufacturer or publishing house. However, that doesn't mean it's impossible. Stores like Wal-Mart, in particular, make a big deal out of supporting local townships-- they give away millions every year to local schools and have special funds set aside for sponsoring little league teams. Go to your local Wal-Mart and tell them, "Listen, I'm a local author. I'd like you to sell my books in your stores. Help me out and make money at the same time." The worst that can happen is that they reject you-- and weren't we willing to deal with that from a publisher already?

A better choice is the used bookstore or the mom-and-pop bookseller rather than a chain store. Most vanity press publishers will produce promotional materials for you, like signboards and those flatfront shelves that hold your books cover out instead of spine out. You have to buy them, but it's worth it. Take them into the mom-and-pop store and tell them, "Hey, I'm a local author. These are my books. Please let me put this signboard shelf in your store. I'll put ten books on it and come back in two weeks to restock it. The cover price is $5.99. If you sell any, you keep $4 and give me $1.99. I'll do everything except for ring up the customer. Also, here's an eleventh book for you to read and keep, free. If you think it's worth it, please recommend it to your customers."

Make sure that the sign board has your website address on it, or even a pocket for your business cards so people can take them home and look for your books online if the store runs out or if they just happen to also think you rock balls.

One bookstore isn't going to sell a lot, so find as many in your area as you can. Another idea is to take the multi-level-marketing approach. Find someone you can trust to also hit bookstores. Tell them that they get to keep $1 out of that $1.99. True, you only get 99 cents, but if you can get three people hitting twenty bookstores apiece selling ten copies of your book a week (that won't happen, but it makes the math easier) that's 3x20x10=$600 every week coming in while you sit at home and work on writing the sequel!

Get six people, quit your job, and work on marketing your book half time while you write half time.

On a small scale, this is exactly what traditional publishers do. They send out marketers and connect with retail buyers who buy books by the lot. They may have fifty marketers talking to book stores about buying lots of 100 books, but it boils down to the same thing. Plus, the nice part about this is that you don't get assraped by the buybacks if your book doesn't sell. you simply go pick up the extras, thank the store for their time and their expensive retail space, perhaps browse their fiction section while you're there, and then try a new location.

There are a lot of ways to market good fiction. One of my problems with traditional publication is that the editors and the agents want to "weed out" bad writing. What they are really doing is eliminating consumer choice. There are some books out there that I'll hate, but you will absolutely love. (Kevin J. Anderson has a following, after all. Admittedly, most of the people following him have horrified expressions on their faces because of what he's done to their beloved science fiction series...) Do I have the right to prevent you from ever reading that book that would change your life for the better simply because I "think" it's not marketable fiction?

I've heard the argument that the cumbersome and mercenary process of submission and rejection weeds out the books that aren't strong enough for publication. They are either returned and rewritten to become stronger, or they die out before they hit press.

Guess what? Basic economics does the same thing. Ever hear of HD DVD or New Coke? Neither of these products were strong enough to compete with their opponents, and so they failed.

Books are like any other product. Good ones will sell. Bad ones will vanish. If you put your time in the right places and make sure the mechanics of your book are strong-- there are no glaring errors of punctuation, spelling, or grammar in the text; it's in a readable font; it's professionally bound and printed ("manufactured" in a quality manner)-- then the only thing left is the quality of the writing and the strength of your creativity when it comes to marketing the book.

You seriously mean to tell me that you are creative enough to write a frickin' novel, disciplined enough to carry it through 280 pages and 65,000 words, but you're not disciplined enough to make sure it's proofread and copyedited properly or creative enough to come up with a marketing plan for it?

I doubt that. I doubt that very much. After all, as I said before; you rock balls!

Thanks for sticking with me through four weeks of this madness. We now return to our regularly scheduled erratic randomness punctuated by brief flashes of insight and emotional beauty. Plus, there may be a wet nightie contest by the pool at lunchtime!

Write on!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!



Monday, June 21, 2010

A Castigation of the Publishing Industry Part Three

Last week I talked about getting your manuscript ready for self-publication, and why traditional publication is more likely to screw you than to make you into the next Stephanie Meyer. This week I want to talk about what to do once you've completed the book, edited it with some help from your local critical writer's group, and hired proofreading help to stoppunch any grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors you may find.

Your next step is to look for a publisher that specializes in your preferred medium and has a reputation for making decent quality books. Let's not forget that you're also going to be paying for the publication, so you want a decent value.

I looked at a large number of publishers before I selected Authorhouse for my non-fiction. In addition to being reasonable on the front end (meaning that they only charged about $700 to publish my 420-page behemoth), they also offered great royalties on the back end, allowing me to set my own prices. Because I was aiming to assist a class of people without a lot of cash, I deliberately set my trade paperback price to about four dollars less than most comparable books of that subject matter and length. Despite this, I still ended up with a 50% royalty return!

Compare that to the 3-7% that traditional publishers will give you.

Another good thing about Authorhouse is that they don't require me to hold large amounts of overhead. Jack Reed, a non-fiction author and one of my mentors on several subjects, self-publishes his books, and has them manufactured by a company in Illinois. The problem is, he has to buy his books in job lots of 200 and store them himself. For a lot of people this isn't feasible.

Authorhouse uses print-on-demand publication. Need 200 books for a signing or for marketing? Great! They can do it. Or, you can link to their site from your home page and send buyers to their online purchasing section and they can print just one!

Best of all, my books are also available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites (and several smaller e-tailers. Instead of having to sell to bookstores, I am a bookstore!

On the right hand side of this blog you'll see another link to a publisher, in the guise of an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad application called Fastpencil. Although I link to it, I'm not particularly impressed with it so far. For one thing, the application doesn't offer landscape typing mode, which is just damnfool stupid in a writing application, and second, it crashes constantly on my iPod Touch.

I'm hoping that a new release will be pushed out soon and fix those problems. The Chief Technical Officer assures me that's the case, but I haven't seen it yet.

If you use Fastpencil, though, you'll find that they are also a self-publishing company. In fact, if you have a blog like this one, you could write your book in that and then import it directly into their engine for publication.

Unfortunately, their prices are steep. $1,200 to publish anything like the length of my non-fiction, and their royalties were much lower than Authorhouse.

Please note that these are for traditional publication on paper. You can self-publish an eBook using Adobe Acrobat in just a few minutes. If you're going to do this, I strongly, strongly, suggest that you obtain an ISBN number for your work.

By the way, don't worry too much about copyrights. By law, the moment you put anything down in permanent or semi-permanent form it's legally yours. Your only concern is proving that you are the original author of the non-derivative work. The easiest way to do this is take your rough draft and mail it to yourself. Don't open the envelop. Ten years from now, if someone says that they were the original author of your book, take that unopened envelop into court and hand it to the judge. Problem solved.

By the way, also by law, schools own the copyright to anything produced in the classroom. If you write a best-selling novel in your English class your school is legally allowed to sue you for a cut of the action. As I keep saying, there's a lot of stupid going around.

With the prevalence of eBook readers like the Amazon kindle and the new one that I think is going to be taking over, the Kobo, which is $150 and only reads books, without a lot of wasted electronics to use cellular or WiFi technology, and natively reads PDF format, you may be interested in making eBooks. If you are, there are a couple of things to consider:

EBooks are cheap to make. Make one and copy it and you're good to go. This means a lower overhead, but it also means you need to set a much lower price. (Another reason the Kindle is getting its ass kicked is the $10 price of books and the fact that it doesn't read books you may already have in PDF format, the most widely used document format on the web, without running it through a conversion software.)

The other downside of eBooks is piracy. One electronic copy becomes dozens... except, as I mentioned last week, that may not be a bad thing. If you offer both an electronic and a traditionally bound version of your book there's a nice chance that you could give away your eBook for free and only charge for the bound paper and make a tidy sum. It works for the books in the Baen eLibrary, all of which are on the Baen top-seller's list.

So you've finally sent your book off (emailed, generally, or otherwise uploaded to your publisher), and now it's time to review your galley and cover proofs to make sure that everything is the way you want it. Folks, please read every damn page. I promise you something will be buggered and neatly hidden-- like the repeating page that threw off my indexing. I also recommend that you have someone else review your galleys looking for any final errors.

Treat this like a second round of proofing. Pay someone another $50 to read it and $5 per error spotted now. There's a typo on one page of David Edding's Magician's Gambit, one of The Belgariad, that kicks me out of my willing disbelief every time I read it... it's even present in the blasted eBook! One of my college professors published a book called Don't Get Duped! about the nutritional supplement and exercise industry. Unfortunately, Dr. Forness has eye problems, so he usually dictates into a computer and he didn't have a good copyeditor to catch homonyms. As a result, there are dozens of typos and misspellings in his otherwise excellent book. (Although I believe it was recently reprinted and I think the most glaring errors were corrected.)

After all this work is done, then, and only then, can you sign off as ready for publishing. By the way, this is all work that the traditional publisher usually does for you, so is it going to be worth it?

We'll find out next week when we talk about marketing.

Write on!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!



Monday, June 14, 2010

A Castigation of the Publishing Industry Part Two

Last week I crapped all over the traditional publishing industry. I described them as a complete waste of skin and a complete mess as the leader of the most powerful country on earth.

Wait... sorry. That was my description of Obama once I saw that, despite his claims that the oil spill mess in the Gulf was his highest priority, he'd spent more time on vacation and fund raising for Barbara Boxer than actually making any effort to do anything. What do you expect of a man that orders $400 Kobe beef while everyone else suffers from a recession that he prolonged with idiot economic practices?

Anyway, last week I talked about how traditional publishers are out to get you. They aren't looking for good writing; they are looking for salable writing. They'll take a dismal book by a well-known author over a great book by a complete unknown in ten out of ten chances.

There are other things that traditional publishers do that irritate me as well. There's a little practice known as "buybacks" that ought to be outlawed. Here's the way they work: Publishers send booksellers to marketplace retailers like Barnes and Noble and Waldenbooks. These booksellers pitch your book and tell the retailers, "You should be able to sell 500 of these books by August 15th!" The retailers agree to purchase 500 books from the publisher.

August 15th rolls around and the retailer has only managed to sell 450 books. This means that 50 are still on the shelves. Since that's valuable retail space, someone has to "buy back" those unsold books from the retailer. Guess who does that?

For some reason the traditional contract between author and publisher makes the author responsible for buying back the books from the retailer, even though it was the publisher that got overzealous in convincing the retailer what they could sell! Even worse, the author doesn't even get the books himself. He gets covers that were torn off (for mass market paperbacks) or dust covers that were removed by way of keeping count, and the actual printed books themselves get thrown away!

One of my mentors, a guy named Jack Reed, commented in his book on self-publishing that when he traditionally published his first book on real estate investment and was forced to purchase buybacks he demanded the books he was paying for. As an "I'll show him for demanding his property be returned to him if he's paying for it!" method, his publisher deliberately left his books out in the rain before shipping, and then billed him for water-weighted, soggy, destroyed books!

Jack has been self-published ever since. He writes non-fiction, but Piers Anthony, bestselling author of the Magic of Xanth series (among others) has similar stories to tell on his blog.

For another entertaining read, pick up a copy of Anthony's But What of Earth?. Commissioned in 1976 by now defunct Laser Books, Anthony wrote the novel and sent it in for publication. Roger Elwood, his editor, called him and said, "There are a couple of things that need minor changes. I've got a copyeditor working on it so I don't waste your time." Imagine Anthony's astonishment when the book was published in 1977 and the copyeditor, Robert Coulson, was listed as co author! (Coulson was not to blame. Elwood told him he was working with Anthony's approval.)

In addition, Elwood promised Coulson 50% of the royalties. Anthony's response, particularly when he got his hands on the book again and republished it through Tor in 1989, is damn near legendary.

One of my issues with traditional publication is also that I'm a mercenary. I believe in being paid for my hard work. I'll put this very simply: money is a physical representation of actual time taken from your life. If you make ten dollars an hour, then spending ten dollars on a video game had better deliver at least one hour of entertainment just to break even on the deal, right? (What does sending 40% of your life in the form of your income to the government mean to you? Maybe you should stop voting democrat, eh? Not that Republicans have been much better lately...)

The standard publishing contract for a new author gives them 3-7% royalties on profits for fiction. (Nonfiction is closer to 20%.) This means that, for a book selling at $8.99, you would only make 62 cents-- if they gave you a percentage of the retail price!

Unfortunately, for you, they pay you based on the profit, so the book that cost about $1.75 to print and about $2.25 to "publish" (edit, copyedit, cover design, and typeset) rakes in about $4.99 in profit. You get 7% of that, which is about 34 cents.

To make the same salary as a teacher in North Carolina, $30,000, you must sell 88,236 copies of your book. For selling that many books, the publisher raked in $410,297.

Now, they aren't paying salaries out of that profit, by the way. Those were taken care of by the $1.75 in book printing charges and $2.25 in publication costs.

It doesn't seem right to me that you write a novel over the course of five to eight years, usually giving up your free time because damn few jobs will let you work on your own projects while working for them. (Although I know a long-haul trucker who wrote three novels while driving cross country, using a cigarette lighter-powered laptop and voice dictation software.) This expensive, non-returnable time from your life is represented by a series of words on paper.

These words are submitted to agents, who reject them, essentially telling you over and over again that your life is unimportant. Finally, when you find an agent who accepts you, they begin the submission process anew, sending your life to publishers.

Who also reject it. Again and again.

Finally, usually right before you give up hope and go back to waiting tables or turning in TPS reports, a publisher takes your life in. However, because you're a complete unknown and unable to negotiate a better deal for yourself, (because the publisher can always say "Piss off," and leave you out in the cold again) they give you 3-7% of the profits they make from your life.

Now, I don't feel that it's worth it. Others may disagree. One thing that money gets you is a vast and powerful marketing system. Twilight didn't become a hit overnight. Someone had to stick that stupid goth apple on a bunch of posters and cardboard standups at the local bookseller's. Marketing is very hard work, particularly in the world of entertainment.

Movies can be made or broken on the backs of a decent trailer. How many times have you seen a really atrocious flick because the "best parts were in the commercial?" DVD sales are largely dependent on how well the movie did in theaters (although some really, really bad movies gather cult followings, like Snakes on a Plane).

Book sales... what are those based on? I'm not completely certain that anyone knows. Eric Flint, Baen eLibrarian, commented in 2000 that his best selling books were the ones he posted for free download on the site.

An author by the name of Paul Coelho decided to pirate his own books and uploaded a Russian translation of his work to Bit-Torrent. He sold over a million copies of his books in Russia.

Harlan Ellison may be a cantankerous drunkard, but he's also an asshole. He really tries to rip into people that have asked that his books be electronically published. He's afraid of piracy and losing sales.

Okay, he's got that right. They're his words, after all, and that's time out of his life we're talking about. Except... honestly, I'm not going to buy his omnibus at $35.00 on the off chance that I'll enjoy his work! If I still made ten bucks an hour, that's three and a half hours out of my life!

Libraries may allow people to read books for free, which cuts into Harlan's profits, but they also allow people to try before they buy. My first exposure to my all-time favorite author, Terry Pratchett, was in 1991 when I found a copy of Pyramids in my local library. Since then, I've not only purchased Pyramids for myself, but also copies of every book he's ever published that I could possibly get my hands on, some of them multiple times thanks to a flood that destroyed my book collection or friends that failed to return them. Pratchett has probably made $3,000 off of me over the years, not counting the dozens and dozens of friends, relatives, acquaintances, and random boobs on the street I've cajoled into buying his books. Thank you, Bonney Lake Public Library!

Publishers do a lot of work for you on the back end. The problem is that they make you do a lot of work on the front end. While they typeset, copyedit, edit, occasionally rewrite, graphically design, and format your book before marketing, presenting and actively selling it to the retailer, they make you jump through an awful lot of hoops to get there.

What about another way? What about self-publishing?

Traditional publishers really don't want you to self-publish. They call it "vanity" press. They pretend that it doesn't matter. As long as they hold the hoops you have to jump through, then they also control the profits your leaps may generate.

Traditional publishers were one of the primary reasons why electronic publication took so long to take off. Amazon finally had to tell the largest publishing houses, "Listen, you arrogant asshats. We are the largest retailer of your products in the damn world. We are going to make an electronic book and make it marketable. You can either get on board with that or find someone else to sell your books."

Publishers still resisted. This is why there's so much stupid about the place. For example, an eBook of David Eddings's The Belgariad is available on Amazon for the Kindle. Unfortunately, someone thought it would be cute to only epublish the last two books in the series, not the first three. Then, when the series fails on the kindle, Del Ray can stand there and point and claim, "See! We told you eBooks wouldn't sell! That's one of our hottest books by an established author!"

That's sort of like refusing to allow an oil company to drill in shallow water or on land, and then blaming them when they're forced to drill in 5,000 feet of deep water and they have an industrial accident that causes an oil spill. As I said, there's a lot of stupid around.

Here's the main problem with self-publication: there aren't enough checks and filters. Traditional publishers are about half right. As I mentioned last week, getting into the King's Chamber of traditional publishing means that you're one of the best.

To self-publish, all you need is a few hundred bucks and enough discipline to finish a manuscript.

To successfully self-publish takes a bit more work. Here's how to do it right:

First, master your craft. Practice writing constantly. Write fiction and read fiction. Participate in writing groups and accept critiques gracefully, even when you don't agree with them. (The only acceptable response to a critique is "Thank you.") Learn how to use the blasted comma. Eliminate all forms of text-speak from your writing; no "LOL" or "ROFLMAO" or "C U L8R QT!"

Second, proofread constantly. Force yourself to read every word and not to skip anything. This won't be easy, but you'll catch letter drops like "an" in place of "and" and some of the more embarrassing mistakes, like accidentally typing "know" instead of "no" (which I have done on this very blog at least twice) or vice versa because your inner monologue was moving faster than your fingers.

Third, get someone else to proofread your work. Get friends to read it. Have your critique group read it with an eye towards proofreading rather than critiquing. Failing all else, seek out a college campus and post a sign on a bulletin board in the commons:

"Proofreader needed to read novel. Will pay $50 for read and $1 for each confirmed typo, grammatical, or punctuation error you find. Must have applicable knowledge of English rules and good spelling/grammar skills. Serious inquiries only."

You may be broke, but you'll have damn few spelling mistakes in your book.

That takes care of the front end. Your book is ready to go to the publisher and get printed. Next we'll talk about who to send it to and why, and how to make money from it.

Write on!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!



Monday, June 7, 2010

A Castigation of the Publishing Industry Part One

This month kicks off a four part series on self-publication versus traditional publication. I've had experience with both. In another life I'm a self-published non-fiction author whose work is actually rather well known and highly rated.

I also have the indistinct pleasure of being accepted for traditional publication twice, once without my knowledge or consent, but I've actually had everything I've submitted be accepted. (This sounds cooler than it is. One stolen short story submitted by a college professor against my will, and one young writer's award published in a magazine that went defunct three days before press is hardly a professional writing career!)

However, I do have experience in writing and publication, and most important, as we'll see in week four, also in published marketing. I think, if you're willing to put in some work, you might be able to not just publish your novel, but market it as well.

Let's begin.

Today I want to kick a few spokes out of your wheels. I know that most of the people reading this blog are writers who desire to become authors. Many of you look to JK Rowling and Stephen King and think, "I want to be like them!"

I am not that way.

For every King and Rowling, there are a thousand authors whose work doesn't take off. For every novel converted to screenplay, there are a million that languish in the mass-market paperback bin for 99-cents.

I'm going to share a dirty little secret with you today. I'm not going to label it like an infomercial, as the "SECRET PUBLISHING COMPANIES DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW!!!!" In all truth, they don't give a rat's ass whether you know or not.

Here's the secret: publishing companies, editors, and agents don't care one whit about you or your work. They're in it for the money and the money alone. An editor would rather buy a piss-poor book by a known name than a groundbreaking page-turner by a newcomer. (This is how Kevin J. Anderson keeps getting published despite his notable lack of talent. Well, that and his ability to con rightsholders into letting him rape beloved series like Star Wars and Dune.)

I mean no disrespect to the authors who are traditionally published. I know of at least two who read this blog on occasion and who I also call friend. I don't even mean disrespect to the editors and agents-- several of whom also read this blog regularly.

Here's the simple facts of product advertisement for you. Stephen King has published about a billion novels. Some are good (Eyes of the Dragon, IT), some are bad, (Gerald's Game, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon), and some are great, (Bag of Bones).

However, no matter how good a new book by King is, certain things are unassailable to the publisher:

1) There are people who will buy it just because it has his name on the front. They are rabid fans and love his work, or collect everything he's published.
2) There isn't a person in this country that hasn't heard of Stephen King.

This translates into simple terms for publishers: a certain number of guaranteed sales and no need to engage in expensive advertising to get the word out about a new author. It's vastly easier to promote an unknown new book by an author known to be excellent than it is to promote an excellent book by a new author who is unknown.

This is the uphill battle you need to fight. Anything you send in to a publisher or agent has to be of superior quality to whatever they have laying around the office at that moment!

It has to be good enough to overcome the reluctance of the publisher to write checks for marketing materials, and it has to be good enough to overcome the customer's desire for Stephen King. In fact, if you were to submit to King's publisher, whatever you send in must be good enough to guarantee more sales than a Stephen King novel!

Um. Good frickin' luck with that.

I mean, let's be realistic. You're here reading this blog because the writing of Christopher Rivan interests you for some reason. If you had a chance to publish my best book or Stephen King's worst book, which would you choose?

I know which one I'd pick if my business and my ability to feed my family were riding on the outcome. Chris Rivan is a great looking guy (word is, he's a hot biscuit!) but King's name puts asses in theater seats and eyes on pages. I'd publish him. Mama Rivan didn't raise no dummies. I'd publish Stephen King over my own work any time.

There's another way though. I've mentioned several times that I'm also a non-fiction author. My non-fiction is self-published (what traditional publishers derogatorily term "vanity" publishing). I'm going to explain a few things to you about both publication methods so you can make an informed choice.

To start with, in 2007 a writer's group I was participating in had some goob post a bunch of excerpts from the blogs of Robert Sawyer and some chick named "Rappaport". I haven't the faintest idea who either of these people are (Let's be fair, they probably don't know who I am, either.) and I'm so disinterested in their opinions that I can't be bothered to even Google them. (Although I think the Robert Sawyer in question is this one, author of Wake and Far Seer.)

I can tell you that they are involved in the traditional publication industry. They are emotionally validated, financially concerned, and personally involved in publishing professions.

Put it like this: I know there are crappy teachers out there. However, since I'm a teacher, I don't take kindly to people blaming life's problems or even school's problems on bad teachers. I am emotionally validated, financially concerned, and personally involved with the profession of educator, and I tend to turn green and rip out of my shirt when people start blaming bullying and school shootings and MySpace harassment on hardworking education professionals, most of whom work their asses off to teach the little bastards that mommy and daddy can't be bothered to correct or discipline.

Which is why when Rappaport and Sawyer both blogged in 2007 that self-publishing "hurts authors" I nearly hit the roof. Of course they want to deride and undermine the self-publication industry. Their personal fortunes are irrevocably tied to the self-publication industry's direct and most obvious opponent: traditional publishing.

Their claim was fairly simple, and if you streamline the weasel words out of it, it amounts to this:

"Don't tell me that your work was self-published. Only bad authors who write horrible books choose that route. I will automatically reject your work for publication, without even taking the time to read it and form an intelligent and informed opinion of my own."

Ms. Rappaport even went on to claim that she once rejected a novel based on a query letter because the author wrote that he liked bacon. Four lines down she then said, "But try not to make your query letter sound vanilla. We have to wade through dozens of these every day, so make it stand out by being a little quirky."

Um... didn't you just say that using that tactic resulted in a summary rejection of a 350-page novel, not based in any way on the content of its pages or the skill of the author, but on a single "quirky" line from his goddamn query letter?

Now, call me silly, but I still adhere to the concept that a submission editor's entire job revolves around finding good, marketable fiction to publish. If one of those clowns is going to reject me, is it too much to ask that it be on the strength (or lack of it) of the novel and not the damn letter of introduction?!

What's next? Do publishers reject otherwise outstanding novels because the submission envelope was the wrong color? Do they bash out "We're sorry to inform you..." letters simply because a manuscript was was 232 pages and not 235, or whatever today's magic number is?

And what business is it of yours-- Mister Publisher, Sir-- if I choose to self-publish my work? Rappaport and Sawyer both stated, "Don't put 'I'm self-published and have sold XXXX number of books...' in your query letter. That tells me immediately that your book isn't worth my time."

Really? Most people have to actually open a book to make a determination like that. Simply telling you that I self-published and there are 2,000 active readers out there who have already read and enjoyed my work is enough to tell you that it's no good? You must be maaaaaaagic, then, particularly since, in any other industry and with any other product, information like, "There are already XXXX number of happy users of this product!" would be a selling point!

You've probably guessed by now that I don't care for the traditional publishing industry as a whole, and you're absolutely correct. I read once that Harry Potter was rejected nine times. That's nothing. I know a guy who was rejected 130 times before finally self-publishing a great kid's book. Now he's up to four books in print! Here's a list of famous best-sellers that publishers and agents were too damnfool stupid to recognize at first glance--or even second, third, fourth, fifth...

By the way, one of the nine editors who rejected Harry Potter took the time to write a scathing letter of rejection in which he said it was "completely unmarketable drivel." I seem to recall he said she should go back to waiting tables.

I wonder where that moron is today? If I were Rowling, I'd hire that rank bastard to do nothing but wax my: Nestle Smarties Book Prize; British Book Award and Children's Book Award; ALA Notable Children's Books, 2000; ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2000; Booklist Editors' Choices, 1999; Booklist Top Ten Fantasy Novels for Youth, 1998-99; CCBC Choices 2000: Fiction for Children; International Reading Association: Children's Choices, 2000; International Reading Association: Young Adult Choices, 2000; Publishers Weekly: Best Books of 1999; School Library Journal: Best Books 1999; CBC Not Just for Children Anymore! List; British Book Awards 1998 Children's Book of the Year (NIBBY); Shortlisted for the 1998 Guardian Children's Award; Shortlisted for the 1998 Carnegie Award; Nestlé Smarties Book Prize 1998 Gold Medal 9-11 years; Scottish Arts Council Children's Book Award 1999; FCBG Children's Book Award 1998 Overall winner and Longer Novel Category; North East Book Award, 1999; North East Scotland Book Award 1998; The Booksellers Association / The Bookseller Author of the Year 1998; and my Whitaker's Platinum Book Award 2001.

There's more, but I didn't feel like going past the first two books! Besides, that's enough awards to keep someone with that particular editor's limited mental faculties busy for a while.

Here's the rest of the dirty little secret, folks: editors and agents reject about 90% of what they receive. publishers then reject about 95% of that. Never, and I mean never assume that the publisher is looking for good books to print. They are looking for marketable books to sell. They are seeking reasons to reject books, not reasons to accept them.

Now, the good news is that, if you make it past the dragon, across the moat, through the portcullis, around the guards, and into the King's Chamber, you're one of the elite-- the best of the best. (Or you're sleeping with the publication editor. I'm trying to use that method but Lee Boudreaux won't return my calls.) More than that, it means that the massive resources of the publisher to promote and market your book will then be brought to bear. Unfortunately, you'll pay much more for them than you would if you chose "vanity" press, but that's for another essay to explain.

Write on!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!