State of Writing

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I was able to sit down on a rare, uncommitted Saturday and finish the outlines for the Secret Rings cycle. I will probably go back over them again soon and rehash all of them now that it’s done. I kind of started with a planetary view and now I have a 20,000 foot cruising altitude. For the sake of really knowing the story I hope to catalogue the minor characters and finish fleshing out the profiles for my main characters now that I know more about them in the context of the story. If I can take that overview down to a low-fly-over before the new year I will be happy—that will probably happen next week.

On the business side, I did a thing in Minneapolis called pop-up bookstore which was pretty cool. however, I didn’t have many books since I had such a banner day at a Christmas event and my replacement books haven’t arrived yet from publishers. I will have them shortly, though, so if anyone wants to send autographed paperbacks for the holidays, just contact me through my website and we can set it up!

This is my last week at work for the year and I need to spend a ton of time in the office so I won’t log much time at my computer (in the middle of an office move before my Christmas vacation starts and I’ve got to complete it… end of the year switches our contract to new facility, so I must be out or I can’t take a break.)  That said, I’m not setting any goals this week, though I’d like to write a short story and one or two flash pieces before the end of the year, but I’ll set those goals next week when I have time to actually write.

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Congratulations, a Publisher Signed You—now wait for the other shoe to drop

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That moment that a publisher says yes is an emotional moment. You’re probably riding on cloud nine… even if it’s not a well-known publisher, it’s a deeply validating thing to be told “yes, we want you.” Some less than scrupulous “publishers” take advantage of that sentiment and offer really bad contracts. This is the very reason that literary agents are a thing, or at least part of the reason.

I signed with a traditional publisher and negotiated some better terms for myself, a better royalty rate and some nuances of the audio rights. I went through the contract in detail, knowing a few things about both contracts and sales from previous non-publishing experience. Shortly after signing, the company restructured some of their sales stuff, blah blah blah, and they wanted all authors to sign a contract addendum that promised to make them much more money. I did all the math on my original contract and liked where we’d arrived. I should have looked much closer at the addendum—I actually lost more than 50% of my royalties because I didn’t do the math—it only made me lots of money if books were purchased through the publisher’s website (who does that!? Nobody goes to the Simon & Shuster website to buy books—they go to a retailer’s site). Lesson learned: never take someone’s word for it—always double check. I now make about twenty-five cents per book sold.

The school of hard knocks is brutal. But at least I can make a bunch on person to person sales, right? Well… almost. My Indie books cost me about five bucks to produce and so I make about ten bucks each sale. My traditional publisher gives a smaller than normal discount. Unless I’m buying in bulk I do not get the market-norm of a 40-50% discount off retail price. I got 30%… plus shipping is high. Watching your bottom line on details like this is critical—but very easy to slip into the background. My $16.99 book (which cost’s less than $4 to print) cost me $11.87 to buy, plus a buck and a half to ship. My books cost me about thirteen and a half dollars apiece.  In the end, I felt like Lando Calrissian in Empire Strikes Back: “This deal is getting worse all the time.” I wanted to sell them for $15 each, but with a booth fee of $150 plus travel expenses, I’d have to sell more than a hundred books to break even. (This is the reason I always push my Indie titles at the same table… that number is more like 15 books, which is manageable.

Always do the math. Always read the fine print. If you have been offered a contract, many literary agents are willing to sign someone for a one-time, quick deal (although those bad publishers may put a short time limit to sign, making authors cave early under the false sense of urgency).

Following are some bad contract clauses that you should be on the lookout for in the event that you are offered a publishing deal. (I am not a literary agent nor a professional, so don’t take this as legal advice—but all contracts are negotiable, and these are aspects that can do you more harm than good, so beware!):

  1. The contract is forever (until you die+70 years)
  2. Right of first refusal on your next book (unless it’s a series—obviously)
  3. The option to match any other publisher’s bids on subsequent manuscripts (good luck ever getting published elsewhere!)
  4. A “net” royalty agreement/structure (that thing I signed in the above, tragic tale)
  5. Any requirement that an author purchases books
  6. Any requirement that the author purchase paid services from the publisher
  7. Author’s discount for personal copies is less than 40%
  8. Any mandatory marketing fees
  9. A Kill fee clause
  10. Clauses that make your contract automatically renew
  11. Noncompete clauses which
  12. Advances that must be paid back (how about we sign you up for this nice loan while we publish your book?)
  13. Royalty rates that drop when sales dip below a benchmark
  14. Indemnity clauses that mean only an author can be sued (and not the publisher)
  15. Copyright reservation is retained by the publisher and not the author (publisher usually registers them in author’s name and then gains specific rights for a specific time period.)

Review: Song of the Dark Crystal

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The Song of the Dark Crystal picks up where book 1 (Shadows of the Dark Crystal) leaves off: Naia and Kylan are traveling with Tavra and finally find Riann as they pursue a few goals, each in an effort to warn their kind of the Skeksis’ betrayal.  As with the book before it, the reading level closely matches the audience of Henson’s original film placing the book somewhere on the upper MG and lower YA spectrum.  Keeping that in mind, Lee writes masterfully and really drew me back into an earlier time when I was a young teen book enthusiast. His pacing, style, and the themes in the lives of the traveling companions threw me right into the grips of nostalgia. His story is on point—especially beginning about a third of the way through the book when I could no longer put it down, and I hadn’t read an honest-to-goodness page-turner in several months (I try to read a book a week, so that’s saying something.) Continue reading Review: Song of the Dark Crystal

State of Writing

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Most of last week was spent working on outlines for the Hidden Rings series. I only have one more book to outline in my rough, pre-written versions and then I can begin to work out some details and really sketch out my settings and characters. I did make a bunch of changes already and decided to move the 4th book all the way to the front. Hoods of the Red Order is going to be the big lead—the Red Order is important through the series’ continuity and so it made sense to move it to the front. It also feels like the particular storyline that I’m most excited about… I mean, who wouldn’t be stoked by Robin Hood recast as a paranormal investigator and sent by the Church to fight vampires instead of the moors?

Last week the new Dekker’s Dozen story dropped. Weeds of Eden is now out and available for download. I think I wrote briefly about it: it met a few of my writing goals and began as a bit of a test-project to complete while getting comfortable with Scrivener. It really rekindled my love of genre sci-fi/space opera and I’ve sketched out a total of 3 short stories, beginning with Weeds of Eden which shows an earlier version of the Dozen’s mercenary crew (with a few members changed out because of the timeline). The following two stories will take Dekker and his crew through the timeline break that happens at the end of Last Watchmen and establish a new chain of events (think X-men’s Days of Future Past) so it’s both a prequel and a sequel series; each one will weigh in around 20,000 words so it’s effectively an entire book written in a few segments. I also have a new novel planned to followed, tentatively titled Austicon’s Lockbox. I’m hoping to be working on SF again after the 1st draft of Hidden Rings is complete, though I might work on those short stories in between the 5 Hidden Rings books.

This week: hoping to finish that rough outline and begin filling in some blanks. I wouldn’t mind writing a piece of short fiction, too. I need to produce a few of those so I can pad Anthologies No.2 which I hope to unleash next year sometime. Plus, I’ve got so many ideas in my idea/hook notebook and I need to mold a few of them into reality.

Transgender Dwarves, BLM Hobbits, #Resist Elves, and the Publishing World Gone Mad.

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random Friday rant

I wanted to include some thoughts and an excerpt from fellow blogger/author Hannah Ross, but her recent post is perhaps the most perfect thing I’ve read all year on a sensitive topic. If the Hobbit were written today pinpoints the Orwellian doublespeak that exists in writing nowadays (which promotes an unrealistic expectation of “diversity” as some kind of modern, golden calf in fiction). I couldn’t cut it apart and will merely copy it in its entirety for you (but you should totally check it out then like/follow on her blog: Flight of Fantasy)

I think that if Tolkien had written The Hobbit today, he would have trouble pitching it to literary agents. Why, you ask?

Well, first off, what is the targeted age group? I can’t define The Hobbit as a book for adults, yet the main character is an adult, and how are kids or teens supposed to relate to someone outside their age range?! *eyeroll*

Second, women and girls are shockingly underrepresented in this book. Gandalf or Thorin Oakenshield should have been female to amend that. What’s up with the all-male dwarves, anyway? Time for a female dwarf protagonist, with or without a beard.

Three, diversity. Do you recall even one person of color in The Hobbit? Me neither. Why not make Bilbo the scion of the one black family in the WASP Shire, struggling against racism and bigotry? It would be a good thing if he has confused sexual identity, too, and finds himself entangled in a romance with Thorin (whether the latter is male or female).

What about some action in the beginning, huh? What is it with the pipe smoking and tea drinking? Give us a dragon falling out of the sky, or an earthquake that destroys half of the hobbit holes on the first page, or we’ll lose interest.

Finally, what about #ownvoices? How can Tolkien be trusted to represent dwarves in literature, when he was of average height himself? I say this is shameless cultural appropriation.

Bottom line: I’m thankful that Tolkien lived back in the time when one could simply tell a good story without worrying about social agendas, when one didn’t have to dance on eggshells trying to accommodate diversity, whatever that means, when it wasn’t a point of shame to be white, male and straight, and when readers were expected to have an attention span exceeding five milliseconds.

Continue reading Transgender Dwarves, BLM Hobbits, #Resist Elves, and the Publishing World Gone Mad.