Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zero Sum is Covered


Less blood. More fireworks. Zero Sum's cover has arrived. The new cover was a blast to work on. Jon Steller (editor) and I shot the fingers during our lunch break at the psych hospital. I owe a big thank you to You-Know-Who for finger-modeling instead of acquiring packets of mustard. I apologize for that miserably dry turkey sandwich you endured.

Jordan Kimura was in charge of graphic design for this cover as well. We sent her our over-saturated proofs. She let out a tired sigh (she claims it was a smile of delight), removed the nasty plaster background, and got to work.

As with Zero Sight's cover, meticulous detail was eschewed in favor of an image that popped as a thumbnail and remained vivid and readable when presented in greyscale. I've said it before on this site, but much of the gorgeous hardcover book art doesn't fare so well when converted to monitor spam. Fine detail can turn to blur. Meticulous lettering can become granulated. Some titles are entirely unreadable. Some beautiful drawings look like goop.

      
Same author. Same novel. The first cover I can't read. The second cover I can't help but click.

If you are an author and/or publisher, you really need to create two cover variants nowadays: one for print publishing and one for e-publishing. It is critical that we recognize the different needs of the mediums. A print cover must snag eyes under the lighting conditions of a bookstore. It may benefit from variations in texture and raised lettering. It's spine can serve as a selling point. An e-book cover must tread water as a few hundred black and white pixels in the left corner of a 8-inch screen full of vibrant text and moving images. Too much fine detail can actually be harmful. The whole concept might vanish in the noise. Few design concepts can hope to cover both needs. That's why I advocate two different cover variants—consistent in theme but distinct in execution.

What Jordan Kimura's Zero Sight cover continues to be able to do is snag tons of digital fly-bys that would otherwise never have given the series a shot. I can't tell you how many people have told me they clicked on the Zero Sight cover on a whim. I've had people tell me they didn't like it, but I've never had anyone tell me that they didn't click it. (I assume I will now ; P)

[Begin epic rant]

Some have charged that the Zero Sight cover is too simplistic. I understand the criticism, but do try and understand Jordan's objective. Her goal was to create a cover that is the first step in convincing a skeptical reader to try a free sample of some random novel by some nobody author. Jordan's covers deliver those clicks. They've been coming in by the bucket load. Those clicks bring prospective readers to Zero Sight's Amazon page this website. There I have a chance to make my pitch. I try to give readers an interesting blurb to read, I try to trumpet your generally positive reviews, and then Amazon helps us all by sharing similar books. Each page view is a chance to convert a prospective reader into a new fan of the series and/or author—but I'll never get to that point without that first click.

For the new Zero Sum cover, we're continuing the theme of pasty white hands in compromising positions. Jon Steller and I settled on using hands early on in the creative process. We liked hands because they are such a crucial factor in nonverbal communication. Think about it. If a person screams, "I hate you!" while clenching their fists, we worry for our safety; if a person screams, "I hate you!" while wringing their hands, we worry about their safety. Same words. Same intonations. Totally different implications. Hands can speak volumes, and when they are positioned in an odd manner, they create some serious dissonance in social animal's mind.

Generating a sense of dissonance is the goal of many advertising efforts. Think of the Budweiser frogs or the best commercial of all time. The dissonance presented in these ads generate curiosity. It kicks us out of our lazy heuristic processing into the more energy intensive analytical mode. It makes us pause for a moment before dismissing the stimuli. It makes us extract the message from the noise. That's the critical "hook" that marketers are always talking about. It gives the vendor a chance to make a more extended pitch. For a writer, this involves presenting a blurb, displaying some reviews, and maybe even handing out a free sample. For a cigarette salesman, it involves shoving a cancer stick in your mouth. And don't believe me about any of this stuff. Believe the billions of dollars companies across the globe dump into these ads.

[End Rant]

Now then, Zero Sight's cover uses an odd grabby motion to create dissonance:

  1. Is the blood-drenched hand hurting the other
  2. Is this some sort of weird handshake
  3. And who the heck is doing all that bleeding
  4. I must know more...I shall ze click!

Zero Sum's e-cover uses ambiguous finger-tip on finger-tip action to achieve a hopefully similar dissonential response:

  1. Are the two of them dancing?
  2. Or maybe one of them is slipping?
  3. Or maybe this is just overwrought pseudo hand-of-God imagery?"
  4. And what the heck is up with all those fireworks, did we just win a war?
  5. I must know more...I shall ze click!

With both covers, dissonance is the goal. We hope to hook ya'll with it. But as always, execution is everything. They could both stink. I think we're hitting the mark, but I can't be the one to judge.

If and when I ever get the print versions of these books out the door, I want to go full-on artistic with them. I'd like to work with a groovy illustrator like Aditya Ikranegara or Stanley Lau to flesh out Rei and Dieter's features [please see Update #1]. I'd like to create a cool brooding atmosphere that manages to capture both the mystery and humor of the novels. I'd also like to pour a whole bunch of blood all over the place. But that is then, and this is now.

Back to prodding the Beta-army. I've got a new cover to fill.

B.

P.S. I'd love to hear what you think about the designs. Don't worry about holding any punches, either. I've already been through my surgical rotation.

UPDATE #1: Jordan informs me that she does in fact also do illustrations, so you can stop urging her to study Illustrator and just hire her for your projects. Apparently, she has even been working on graphic novels in secret. (What the heck! You don't need an author amigo for that?!?) Still, since Jordan is playing hard to get and won't show me any of her illustrations, I am forced to wander the deviantART wilderness in search of inspirational character designs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Objective Analysis of Zero Sight by Fantasy Book Critic's Mihir Wanchoo


An incredibly exciting review of Zero Sight was just published on Fantasy Book Critic. I'm sorta in a state of shock. FBC is the site I go to for reviews of mainstream fantasy releases for my own reading pleasure. Seeing a review For Zero Sight up there is kinda freakin' me out.


My thanks go out to the staff at FBC for taking the time to review indies. They took the time to review David Dalgish's newest a bit further down the page. 


Now back to nagging Zero Sum's beta readers...


B.

About Fantasy Book Critic:

Fantasy Book Critic is a website dedicated to the promotion of Fantasy, Science fiction, Horror, YA/Children’s Books and other Speculative Fiction through Book Reviews, Interviews, Giveaways, Virtual Book Tours, Press Releases and more. Launched in 2007, Fantasy Book Critic currently works with the following publishers: Tor/ForgeDel ReyDoubledayHachette Book Group USABantam SpectraHarperCollinsDAWRoc/AceLittle, Brown and Co.BallantineSimon and SchusterScholasticTransworld Random House UKPan MacmillanHarperVoyagerGollancz/OrionWizards of the CoastSt. Martin's PressThe Overlook PressSolarisOrbitPyrAngry RobotMyrmidonNight ShadeSubterranean PressPS Publishing, etc. Fantasy Book Critic has also worked with independent publishers, print-on-demand publishers, self-published authors, and comic book publishers.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Announcing New Email List for Future Releases


Phew. Finally got this silly thing to work.

I've added an Email List to the site for folks interested in being updated when new B.J. Shier authored works are released. (I'll also let you know if there are any super deals or chances to get advanced/free copies.) For added security, I'm using Google Groups to manage this service. No one but I will send you anything, Emailing will be kept to a minimum, your addresses will not be shared with third parties, and you'll be able to unsubscribe at any time.

Email:

The first release to be announced via the new Email list will be Zero Sum. If you sign up, you can sit back, relax, and stop hitting the refresh button on Amazon.

B.

Zero Sum to-do list:
Finish writing Zero Sum
Mourn the heroic dead
Edit Zero Sum
Finish cover art
Set up Email list
Send off beta copies
Post new cover art
Harass beta readers
Add in their line edits
Harass beta readers
Insert the new map
Upload Zero Sum to web
Re-inspect proof
Release ze Kraken
Party vigorously
Sleep

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Respect the Rusch



    Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch had a great article the other day on the Business Rusch blog about her experiences with traditional publishers. At the end of the article, Ms. Rusch provided author Lee Allred's concise guide to the pros and cons of indie publishing. It's plain fantastic. I couldn't find the original post by Mr. Alred. If someone has seen it, please shoot me the link so I can properly credit him:

    ======================================
    Advantages with the traditional publishing/agent route
    ======================================
    • Up front money (advance)
    • Better placement in brick-and-mortar shelves (but Borders is gone and B&N is slashing shelf space)
    • Probably better sales volume per title (if better placement above holds up)
    • Cachet from being NY published (for now)
    • Possible promotional push (don’t hold your breath)
    • Commissioned cover art

    ======================================
    Downsides
    ======================================
    • Book contract mine fields
    • Peon-level royalty rates
    • High danger of publishing house bankruptcy
    • 15% to agents
    • Late/missing/stolen checks
    • Odd/offbeat projects/genres not wanted
    • They control cover art, deadline, publishing schedule
    • Good luck pitching a short fiction anthology of your work
    • Time and frustration spent on phone/email with publisher/editor/agent
    • No control over in print/out of print (Why is my 2nd book of 6 book series out of print?!?)
    • Backlist orphaned
    • Estate nightmares (contract, contract, who’s got the contract?)

    ======================================
    Advantages with indie publishing
    ======================================
    • Higher Royalties per sale, both ebooks and (POD) print.
    • Real sales numbers
    • No submissions bottleneck
    • Mulligans (you can insta-fix typos etc.)
    • Total Branding control
      • Cover
      • Layout
      • Typesetting
      • Publishing line “look and feel”
      • Back Cover Copy
      • Blurbs
    • Deadline control
    • Publishing Schedule control (no more mandatory just one book a year)
    • Distribution Channel control
    • Genre/subject/story control (want to write 1930s masked avenger pulps? Go for it!)
    • Control of in print/out of print (keep all of a series in print!)
    • Control of back list (“eternal backlist” — brand new readers can buy your earlier books)
    • Estate planning (heirs can simply continue to maintain already uploaded works and collect moneys; no contract sleuthing/battles)

    ======================================
    Downsides
    ======================================
    • Learning curve
    • No up front advance money; earn as you sell
    • Possible expenses (computer, software, artwork, CreateSpace pro fees, etc.)
    • Problematic placement in brick-and-mortar stores
    • Time spent formatting (less than agent/editor time, though)
    • The biggest downside (also the biggest advantage); YOU OWN YOUR CAREER — IN INDIE PUBLISHINGTHERE IS NOBODY ELSE TO BLAME THINGS ON.

    ======================================
    Conclusion
    ======================================

    With indie publishing, the money, the sales figures, 
    and the control flows to the writer.


    ======================================

    I've never said (and never will) that there are no good traditional publishing contracts out there. However, I do believe that the bar has been raised. Crummy contracts won't cut it anymore. More and more authors are getting wise to the game.

    In the past, publishers controlled all paths to the reader. An author did what the publishers said or they didn't get published. Ebooks stormed in and changed everything. Dominance over a single conduit no longer mattered, only quality production did. The publishing houses were re-introduced to the scrum. They now have to compete for the attention of both readers and content providers with tech giants like Amazon.

    We're still in the throws of this grand transition. Where the publishing industry will end up is unclear, but cracking the hegemony will be a net plus for the entire industry. There will be growing pains for sure. Some of publishing houses will crumble. Some authors might get buried in the rubble. Amazon is forcing innovation on an industry that has been stagnant for 500 years. Some brittle bones will break, but this change that is coming no matter what the fossilized factions try and do to stop it. We are all going have to adjust to new paradigms. We are all going to have to adapt to new formats and reading devicies. We are all going to have to compete on price and quality. These challenges are going to become the norm. And there is no harm in that, especially for the reader.

    B.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    80% in Two Years


    80%. That's the market share Mike Shatzkin, a well-known consultant in the book publishing industry, is predicting ebooks might garner in two years:
    Here’s an assumption that is not documentable; it is my own speculation. I think we’re going to see a US market that is 80% digital for narrative text reading in the pretty near future: could be as soon as two years from now but almost certainly within five. We have talked about the cycle that leads to that on this blog before: more digital reading leads to a decline in print purchasing which further thins out the number of bookstores and drives more people to online book purchasing which further fuels digital reading. Repeat. Etcetera.
    We’re already at the point where new narrative text units sold are well north of 25% digital (percent of publishers’ revenue is lower than that, of course) and we are still in a period that has lasted about five years (soon to end) where the penetration of digital has doubled or more annually. (I italicized that to emphasize that what I’m talking about doubling is the percentage of sales that are digital, not the absolute number of digital sales. Several people misinterpeted that when I made to it previously.)
    Of course, penetration will slow down before it reaches 100%. I’d imagine we get to 80% in 2 to 5 years, then then to 90% in another couple of years, with the last 10% stretching out a long time. How long did it take after the invention of the car before the last person rode their horse to town? - link
    I think Mr. Shatzkin's assessment is a tad aggressive; I'm more comfortable with 80% in three years. : P

    B.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    The Big Six: Who Owns The Gods?


    Whether it be on KindleBoards or in the mass media, there have been a whole lot of discussions about the Big Six of publishing. During these discussions, the pronouns 'they' and 'them' are used often. This is because most people don't know much about who and what the Big Six actually are. I was forced to figure all this out when I considered traditional publishing as an option. I hope to use this post to share what I've found.

    The Big Six are the six largest publishing houses in the book industry. They publish the majority of books in the USA and elsewhere. If you want to get a book into the major chains, a Big Six publishing contract remains your best bet. Here they are in alphabetical order:
    1. Hachette
    2. HarperCollins
    3. MacMillian
    4. Penguin
    5. Random House
    6. Simon & Schuster
    When discussing the publishing industry, we need to clarify what we actually mean by print publishing. Print publishing includes all fiction and non-fiction titles bearing those tiny ISBN numbers on their backsides. This excludes other forms of print media like newspapers and magazines. [Exception #1: comic books can have ISBN numbers too, but they aren't counted in the totals for the book publishing industry. Exception #2: some self-published novelists choose not to purchase ISBN numbers. They can get away with this by only e-publishing.]

    The confusion doesn't stop there, though. Each of the Big Six publishers has many smaller publishing 'imprints' that live under the larger publishing umbrella. The logos of these imprints are what you see when you examine the spines of books. Sometimes you'll see something like a penguin and immediately know which of the big house you're dealing with. Other times you'll see something like the Tor logo and be less than certain which house it is. You'll have to turn to the book's cover page or search the Internet. Some of these imprints will turn out to be subsidiaries of the Big Six (of which there are hundreds). Others will in fact be one of the many small to medium sized publishing houses that operative independently of the big houses.

    But why should we care about the Big Six?

    Because the Big Six strongly influence what you can read. Each of the Big Six has thousands of authors in their stables. A cursory look at the book spines will reveal their near total dominance. They talk to countless agents, read through countless manuscripts, and ink deals with the select few that manage to survive their gauntlet. The Big Six then decide what edits should be made. They hire artists to design the covers. They have other stabled authors provide reviews for the dust jacket: "Amazing!!" "ZOMG!" "Tell me where to throw my money!!" They decide how much of their collective budget will be allocated to the marketing of a single book. They decide which titles will get pride-of-place at the front of the retail stores (a privilege they pay through the nose for). The Big Six even decide which books you will see when you rush into a airport bookstore to grab a fresh piece of fiction for your flight. Their influence is pervasive. Their grip on the traditional paths of publishing are absolute.

    But who is running the show?

    Who own these gods of publishing?

    I put on my old business school cap and did a little digging...

    +

    Hachette Book Group
    • Notable imprints: Grand Central Publishing; Little, Brown and Company
    • owned by Hachette Livre 
    • which is owned by Lagardere SCA, a French media conglomerate
    • which is owned by MMB, perhaps a shell company (ticker:MMB)
    They publish notables James Patterson and Joel Osteen among others. They've aggressively pursued Indian authors. Aravind Adiga, who won the 2008 Booker Prize, is housed in their stable. I think they are pretty wise to have their eye and that evolving billion-person market. Oddly, Gary Paulsen's Hatchet isn't one of their books. It's published by Simon & Schuster.

    +

    HarperCollins
    • Notable imprints: William Morrow; Avon; Blue Door; Amistad; Walden Pond Press
    • owned by Ruper Murdoch's News Corp (ticker:NWS)
    for a Migraine, click here

    Lots of biographies and tell-alls here: Sarah Palin, Collin Powel, Courtney Love, Anthony Bourdain. Neal Stephenson, Terry Pratchett, and Paulo Coelho also call HarperCollins their home. If they want to keep it that way, they need to work on their editing. That wasn't Amazon's faulty, no matter what CNET said.

    +

    Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
    • Notable imprints: Tor; St. Martin's; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Nature
    • owned by McGraw-Hill
    • which appears to be owned by Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a German holding company. George von Holtzbrinck bought 70% of MHP's shares in 1994, and the remaining 30% in 1999, but I'm confused because MHP still retaining its own ticker (ticker:MHP)
    Of interest to fellow scientists, Georg von Holtzbrinck also owns the Nature Publishing Group. Arguably the most important academic journals in the world, I have a few colleagues that would sacrifice their family pet to get a single paper published in Nature.


    Ah, Nature...you know that I want you, and you know that I need you.

    +

    Penguin Group

    • Notable imprints: Roc; Ace; Putnam's Sons; Ladybird; Viking; Signet
    • owned by Penguin Global 
    • which is owned by Pearson PLC, a British media conglomerate (ticker:PSO)
    Penguin is now regarded as the largest of the big six, knocking Random House out of the top spot in 2009. They are best remembered by us indies as the latest publisher to go to war with Amazon. I don't really know how I feel about them. I appreciated their low-priced classics throughout my childhood, but their overpriced ebooks leave me frustrated.

    +

    • Notable imprints: Knopf Doubleday; Crown; Bantam; Del Rey
    • owned by Bertelsmann, a giant private company that share with us its good taste, but never talks numbers
    Random House is my personal favorite large publisher. Dr. Seuss, J.K Rowling, And Stefan Merill Block are among their authors. They're riding Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus to success at the moment. If they decide to market your book hard, they decide to market your book hard. You can't walk into a bookstore without tripping over a pile of Random House titles.

    +

    Simon & Schuster
    • Notable imprints: Pocket; Beyond Words; Aladdin; Threshold
    • owned by CBS Corporation (ticker:CBS)
    First off, I want you to know that Simon & Schuster published this. Second, does anyone else find it downright hilarious that the same people that bring us the CBS Nightly News also own Threshold Editions? Shenanigans like these are why I like to think of the Big Six as little gods. I picture them sitting up there in the rarefied air of Mount Olympus, chuckling as we puny humans squabble over the few tattered cobs of corn they deign to toss our way.

    +

    For a grouped analysis of all these holding companies, check out this composite chart. Random House is not included in the analysis because Bertelsmann is a privately held company. And I'd like to make this info as accurate as possible. If you note any mistakes, please drop me a comment and I'll fix them.

    B.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    RIP, Steve


    No one wants to die. 
    Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. 
    And yet death is the destination we all share. 
    No one has ever escaped it.

    Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011

    I will never forget that Christmas day when I got my first personal computer. It was an Apple IIGS. My dad and I loaded up Paintworks and drew our impression of the Christmas tree. Twenty or so years later I sat down in front of another Apple, loaded up a new program called Scrivener, and started to write my first novel.

    There has rarely been a day in my life where a Steve Jobs product hasn't played a minor role. How many people can make such a claim? What a life. What a loss.

    +

    My third story is about death.

    When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

    Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

    About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

    I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

    This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

    No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

    Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

    When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

    Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

    Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

    Thank you all very much.

    -from Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech [link]

    B.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    An Objective Analysis of Zero Sight by Leonardo Antezana, Chief Editor of J de Juegos

    I was honored to have Zero Sight reviewed by Leonardo Antezana of J de Juegos, a Spanish language site dedicated to all things awesome (read: video games). He writes a special op-ed column on the books he reads.


    Every author wants to believe his babies are perfect, but I think Mr. Antezana does a good job of pointing out both the strengths and weaknesses of the story. Mr. Antezana also provided me with some great pointers via Email which I am most grateful for. I also found myself reading his video game reviews. Nothing like a topic of true interest to brush up on the ole' castellano.

    I believe this is also my first foreign language review, although since I grew up in Las Vegas, Spanish never felt very foreign. In fact, that topic will be pondered rather heavily in Zero Sum, so I shall thusly refer to Mr. Antezana's article as my first non-English review instead. : )

    B.

    P.S. Mr. Massari, I'm sure you're happy to be bumped off the front page by a fellow hispanophone, but perhaps you should consider writing more reviews. Yours is the most visited post on this website, beating out "What is Komondor" for the top spot.

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    Top 5

    Wow. I'm gonna enjoy this while it lasts:


    I never expected to trip and fall into such rarefied air. Heck, Zero Sight is now in the Top 20 of ALL fantasy. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one. I also want to again thank everyone who took the time to review the book and/or send me an Email with feedback. It's my first go at this novel thing. There were quite a few things I was tone-deaf to and didn't realize. Thanks for lending me your eyes, ears, and minds. I really do appreciate it.

    A side note on the Top 5 in Contemporary Fantasy

    Debora Geary is an indie author.

    H.P. Mallory is an indie author.

    So is that Shier guy.

    In fact, eight out of ten of the top-rated contemporary fantasies are indie penned novels. And the current #1 rated fantasy novel on the Kindle?



    That's right. It's Debora Geary again. An indie.

    So where does this seismic shift leave us?

    According to the only metric that matters—reader opinion—the indie wave is now competing evenly with the traditional publishing industry on quality. I feel insane even writing that down, but you can't argue with the data set. Sure, I'm pretty certain that A Hidden Witch isn't "better" than The Hobbit. But that's not the point. The point is that Ms. Geary has figured out what a select segment of readers want to read, and she is consistently delivering them a fantastic product. Her books are fun. Her books are accessible. She speaks to her intended audience, and her audience is rewarding her with rave reviews and just under a gazillion purchases...and that's exactly what the traditional publishing industry claimed that they (and only they) could do.

    Turns out the reading public is capable of evaluating the quality of novels all by their lonesome. Dedicated indie spelunkers like Scott over at the Indie Book Blog rummage through the new releases and call out the gems. The core readership pays attention to these blogs. They snatch up copies of all the good ones. And then there is GoodReads. The service is invaluable if you are trying to cull through the many options. Or you could try Amazon's "also-bought" system. It suggests new titles based on the ones you've already read. And if you don't like those options, you can always turn to a more traditional review site like Fantasy Book Critic for detailed reviews and recommendations. The point I'm trying to make is that a whole new organic system has sprung up to replace the old gatekeepers. And IMHO, this system is better. None of the artificial barriers remain. You stand up on the stage and give it a shot. If the audience likes your first guitar solo, you keep playing. If not, it's back to the garage for some more practice.

    What a difference

    Three years ago, I couldn't have even told you what an indie novel was. The traditional publishing system was the only game in town. If you had a new novel, you sent a query letter off to twenty or so agents. You then waited up to six months. If they liked your concept, they asked for a draft. You then waited up to six months. If the agent liked your writing, they offered a few edits and started shopping it to publishers. You then waited up to six months. If a publisher liked the draft, they would offer you the standard contract. In fantasy land, the royalty rate was somewhere in the order of 6%-12%, plus a cash advance somewhere in the order of 1K to 6K. You took it or left it. A new author's negotiating power was minimal. After the contract was inked, the publisher re-edited the manuscript with you, generated the book's cover and layout, contacted the distributors, developed a marketing plan, and then slated a release date for the novel...one to two years in the future. Oh yea, and don't forget the book tours. I loved getting to see Jim Butcher in person too, but those months on the road could have been spent writing sequels. Imagine how many more Dresden novels we'd be enjoying if Mr. Butcher didn't need to complete a contractually obligated annual migration.

    The traditional publishing process did produce some fantastic works—but never forget that there were gatekeepers that decided what you could and could not read and that it took freakin' eons to get a book out. The publishing world is different now. An indie can publish the instant he or she decides their work is ready. When they do, the novel can be purchased by anyone around the globe. No more waiting for a book to hit your market. No more wishing you could get more foreign titles. And no more clubbing people to death with Neal Stephenson anvils. Paper books are dying out faster than the dinosaurs. The new Kindle costs 79 dollars. B&N's brick and mortars have turned into giant toy stores.

    But, indies! With great power comes great responsibility. As Kristine Rusch lays out in her excellent new polemic, the new rules are thus:

    • Writers Are Responsible For Their Own Careers.
    • Writers Are Professionals.
    • Writers Are In Business, And Should Behave Like Business People. 

    There will be no more coddling. There will be no more stoking of egos. You cannot write #@$^ and expect to get a paycheck. If your book is a stinker, or if it's full of typos and errors, your readership is gonna let you have it. Don't expect to receive quarter or mercy. Never forget that you are asking them for their hard earned money. Instead, listen carefully to all their feedback. Remain positive. Remain gracious. Nowadays you get unlimited restarts. Don't be afraid to use them.

    How have I fared?

    I never had the traditional publishing experience. By the time a good friend (and traditionally published author) told me that Zero Sight might be nifty enough to get published, the game was already changing. I came upon Konrath's blog, and I was never more thankful those college business courses. He didn't bother with flowery prose. He showed cold hard numbers. And I'd done enough case studies to recognize a crumbling distribution channel when I saw one. I never sent in a single query letter. The deals other writers in my genre were signing simply did not pencil out. Now, I did have serious concerns that self-publishing my work might place me on a blacklist. Those rumors were flying around like crazy. The Knight Agency, a firm that I respected greatly, was warning that self-publishing a novel would spoil ensure it never reached a bookstore. (They appear to have since changed their tune.) Fortunately, I had minimal aspirations to see my book in a store. What I wanted was my stories read, and e-publishing me offered me the easiest, fastest option.

    It's been a fantastic year for me as a person. I married my college sweetheart, I got to start working in the hospital, and my first novel has been read by thousands of people. Oh, yea. And a sequel. I managed to get that draft done too!

    What lies in the future?

    Who knows, but so far the kool-aid tastes great.

    B.