Oct 2 2012

Free Promotion Now Live

The Millennial Sword is now free to download from Amazon! Feel free to spread the link around; the launch promotion will run through Friday, after which the e-book will return to its normal price of $2.99.

Some of my early readers have been posting their reviews, which is lovely. Dom Camus called the novel a “vivid, elegant remix of a classic theme…a cleverly arranged story involving some classic themes from English mythology blended with some well-observed writing concerning the heroine’s life in modern day America.” And Jessie Bennett described it as “a love song to San Francisco, a San Francisco where there are goblins in the subway and were-panthers at cocktail parties,” which I think sums it up perfectly.

Reviews are going to be the lifeblood of this book, so I am very grateful to everyone who takes the time to spread word about it. Thanks so much!

Oct 1 2012

Announcing: The Millennial Sword (and free promotion)!

Big news! My first novel, The Millennial Sword, is now available from Amazon!


Isn’t the cover art amazing? It’s by my friend Jessie Bennett. She did such an incredible job, really, I can’t even begin to describe how much I love this. To my eyes Morgan le Fay has a gorgeous pre-Raphaelite quality to her face, and the way she’s rising out of the water is somehow both sinister and compelling. Hey Jessie, have you thought about taking the text off and selling prints?

Clicking the art will take you to the Amazon page for the book. It’s currently only available for the Kindle, although I’m working on putting up a paperback version, and there will also be other e-reader editions to follow. In the meantime, though, even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can read the book on your computer, iPad, or smartphone by using this app.

The e-book is priced at $2.99. But! Starting tomorrow, and continuing through Friday, I’m going to make it available as a free download. The reason I’m doing this is that e-published books rely on word of mouth and good reviews—that’s really the only way for a first-time author to build sales. So my four-day FREE launch promotion is designed to get some attention and pull in reviews. There’s no strings, but I would ask that if you read the book and like it, that you leave me a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever social media networks you use. I really can’t overstate the importance of Amazon reviews—it’s the main sales driver for indie publishers.

I’ll put up another announcement when the free promotion begins! I am just about vibrating with excitement, if you can’t tell!

Jun 23 2012

So Great

More sketches from The Big Booger Bubble:

Charlotte lifts off


How great? So great.

Jun 21 2012

Publishing Update

So this article is making quite a splash in the indie-publishing circles:

Publishers pay terribly and infrequently. They are shockingly dumb when it comes to pricing, and if I see one more friend’s NY-pubbed ebook priced at $12.99, I’m going to scream. They do minimal marketing and leave the vast majority of work up to the author. Unless, of course, you are already a big name author. Then they fly you around the country for signings and treat you like the precious moneymaking gem that you are. The rest of us get next to nothing in terms of promotion. If your book takes off, they get the credit. If it tanks, you get the blame.

No, thank you. I’m all set with that.

You know who I do like, though? Amazon. Well, all online ebook sites that let me self-publish, but Amazon is the true powerhouse right now. Say what you want about this company, but it’s because of them that I can continue writing.

Because of Amazon and other sites, I’m making enough money that I can continue writing. I’m averaging sales of 3,500 books a month, not including the month that Amazon featured Flat-Out Love in a list of books for $3.99 and under. That month I sold 45,000 Kindle copies, and sold over 10,000 the next month. Those numbers are insane to me. Absolutely insane. The fact that I continue to sell well a year after the book’s release is humbling.

There are more and more stories like this one, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that anyone who stands between author and reader—specifically the agent, and the publisher, who between them have traditionally taken the vast majority of any book’s profits—are now irrelevant. If you can write a book that people want to read—and if you can do that with some frequency—you can make a living as a writer. For a long time, this wasn’t the case. The ability for writers to connect with readers in an unmediated fashion is one of the great gifts the Internet has given us.

Although I still rank the Internet slightly under epidurals, as far as the achievements of civilization go.

Anyway, I’m still working on my second novel. My first should be coming out on Amazon soon (I’m waiting on the cover art, which is coming along great and is going to be amazing). Meanwhile, I’ve contracted with another wonderful artist to do illustrations for The Big Booger Bubble: I just got the first sketches today, and, oh man, I laughed and laughed.

Look, here’s the sketch for the “nose fruit”:

nose fruit

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Jan 28 2012

“The House of Aunts”

This short story is fantastic.

The first time she saw the boy across the classroom, Ah Lee knew she was in love because she tasted durian on her tongue. That was what happened–no poetry about it. She looked at a human boy one day and the creamy rank richness of durian filled her mouth. For a moment the ghost of its stench staggered on the edge of her teeth, and then it vanished.

She had not tasted fruit since before the baby came. Since before she was dead.

More from the author, Zen Cho, here. Thanks to Karen Healey for the link!

Dec 29 2011

Book Plans

So, Samhain—the big e-publisher—passed on my book. I’m not hurt; they mostly focus on romance titles, so it was kind of a stretch. And in turn, I decided after a lot of thought to decline the offer from Lyrical. They seem like a perfectly nice little shop but they simply don’t offer enough to justify giving up, not only forty percent of royalties, but also the chance to retain all rights and complete control over my work. For example audio rights, something most authors have basically ignored for a long time, are becoming much more important in the digital age—and retaining those rights can be huge for an author.

So I’ve contracted with one of my favorite artists to create a cover image for me, and I’m hoping to release The Millennial Sword as an e-book in the spring. Meanwhile, my New Year’s resolution is to resume progress on my new manuscript. From what I’ve been reading about authors building their careers through e-publishing, it’s important to have a “backlist” of titles—readers who like one book are likely to check out others by the same writer. Authors who are making a living through e-publishing rarely do it with one breakout bestseller, but rather by building up a number of titles that each sell steadily. After all, in the digital world, books don’t go “out of print” and they don’t have to jostle for space on a shelf with other, newer titles, so they can keep on earning a small but steady income pretty much forever.

On the subject of e-publishing, I thought this blog post from an agent was pretty interesting:

I’ve been an agent for almost a quarter of a century. I’ve had a lot of authors say they would do anything to make a good living as a writer, and then ask me what they should do. In the past, that answer had way too much to do with luck and timing, but today, a genre writer who puts in 40 hours a week can make a good living as a writer within two years of starting out through epub. The times they are a changing.

I believe we are entering a whole new world of publishing that resembles the pulp fiction heyday of the past. Readers want dependable books that they can devour, and authors who can deliver them consistently. This will be a renaissance of story telling. It’s quite exciting.

I think it’s exciting too.

Dec 1 2011

The Big Booger Bubble

Today at school, I was in the art room with a bunch of the older girls, one of whom—Charlotte, irrepressible scamp that she is—was making the whole table laugh hysterically by telling them about the big booger bubble she had blown out of her nose.

“The big booger bubble!” I said. “That sounds like it ought to be a story.”

“YES!” Charlotte commanded. “Make it. Right now. Make the story.”

So I did.


A Story for Charlotte

One time there was a girl who had SUCH a stuffed up nose…

…such a stuffy, snuffly, horky, honky, stopped-up snorker of a grotty snotty sniffer…

That when she took a deep breath in, and blew a deep breath out—


She sneezed!

And from out her left nostril came a big booger bubble!

She blew! Whew! and she blew! Phew! And that big booger bubble blew up too. It blew up just like a balloon, and SOON, the big booger bubble was the biggest thing for miles.

It was bigger than her nose. It was bigger than her face. It was big enough that astronauts could see it down from space.

The girl puffed and snuffed, sniffed and whiffed, and in no time at all she was flying through the air. She was pulled up in the clouds by the big booger bubble.

The wind blew her south, it blew her north, it blew her east-northwest by south-southeast until it blew her straight into a flock of geese flying down for the winter.



Those beaky geese popped the big booger bubble!

There was a LOT of SNOT and it fell down like rain. Snot in the fields, snot in the plains. Later in the spring snot-weeds grew in all the farms, bearing gloopy gloppy nose-fruit that sold poorly in the markets.

But as for the girl, she windskated down on the wings of the geese and landed soft and safe in her own backyard where she went off, searching for a hankie.

Oct 10 2011

E-Publication: Now I Have to Make a Decision

So I decided to submit my novel to some e-publishers, mostly in a spirit of keeping all my options open while I work out what I want to do with the novel. I chose three e-publishing houses to submit to:

Samhain is probably the biggest name in electronic publishing. They have some star writers in their roster (like Ilona Andrews, whose Magic Bites urban fantasy series is a print best-seller), and they regularly place titles on the New York Times Bestseller list for eBook Fiction. They’re well-established—they’ve been around since 2005—and they have a distribution deal with Ingrams, meaning that they can get the print versions of their books (all Samhain novels get a print run about ten months after the electronic version is released) into Barnes and Noble and other brick-and-mortar stores. They also promote at least some of their titles with ad campaigns, which is a level of marketing support that’s quite rare among e-publishers.

Carina Press is Harlequin’s e-book imprint, but unlike Harlequin they publish in genres other than romance. I submitted to Carina because they have the backing of a major traditional publisher, but after reading more about them I don’t think they offer authors a very good deal. Their royalty terms are substantially worse than the other e-publishers, kind of staggeringly bad actually, and the vast majority of their titles never get a print run.

Lyrical Press is an up-and-coming small e-publisher. They launched in 2008 and have been seeing strong year-over-year growth in sales: most of their titles only sold a few hundred copies in the first year, but now they’re reporting sales of up to ten thousand copies a year on their most popular titles. That’s an excellent sales figure in the e-book world and decent even for print. (The overall e-book market is still much smaller than the overall print market, although that’s rapidly changing: given the rate at which the digital publishing market is growing, and the print market contracting, digital is projected to overtake print within five years and maybe sooner). Lyrical Press also has good buzz in the author community and a way better website than most of their competitors. I dunno, maybe it’s not true, but I feel like for an e-publisher the quality of their website design is probably kinda correlated to the quality of their publications? Lyrical offers slightly better royalty terms than Samhain, and does print runs for “select titles” (presumably the ones that sell well as e-books).

So I sent my novel to these three e-publishing houses two weeks ago. Samhain and Carina quote a turn-around time of twelve to sixteen weeks; Lyrical tells authors to expect a response in four to six weeks.

Well, Lyrical just got back to me with an offer. So, yay! Only now I have to decide whether:

a) I want to jump on this opportunity, putting my chips behind the scrappy small press with the blazing fast response times;
b) I want to ask Lyrical for more time, in order to give Samhain a chance to make an offer;
c) I’d prefer to self-publish after all

I sent the editors at Lyrical back an e-mail thanking them for their consideration, and asking if they could give me any more specifics on what the publication schedule would be for my novel, and what sort of sales figures are required in order to get a print run. I think the answers to those questions will largely determine what I decide to do.

Update: Lyrical was very quick to respond to my e-mail. They say that if I’m contracted with them by November 1, my novel would be released in midsummer, and that “there is a minimum of $300.00 net digital sales for any book to be considered for print.” That is totally reasonable, in fact it’s a pretty low threshold. But I’m gathering that at Lyrical “print” doesn’t mean “on the shelves at Barnes and Noble,” but rather, “print-on-demand via Amazon.” Samhain can actually get books onto shelves. So, I’ve gone with option B. I sent back another e-mail saying: “Thank you so much for the very quick response! $300 of sales is a very reasonable threshold for print consideration. Would it be all right if I took two weeks to get in touch with the other publishers considering my manuscript, and make a final decision? I do very much appreciate your responsiveness and quick communication, which seems a big point in Lyrical’s favor.” Hopefully that comes off as nice and friendly and reasonable. (I also sent Carina an e-mail asking them to withdraw my novel from consideration, as I know that I’d go with Lyrical over Carina.)

I also know at this point that I’d accept an offer from Samhain, should they choose to make one. I probably should have simply submitted to them first and waited for them to give me an acceptance or rejection before submitting to any other e-publishers, but the truth is that I wasn’t at all sure of my way forward and just wanted to be making some kind of progress after spinning my wheels with agents for so long. But here I am, and now it’s tricky. I’ll have to send a follow-up message to Samhain, explaining that I have an offer on the table, and asking if they can provide me with an expedited response. If I wanted to maximize my chances with Samhain, I should simply say “thank you very much, but I’ve changed my mind” to Lyrical. The thing is, though, I’m not sure Samhain will take my novel on. While all of the big e-publishers are focused to some degree on the romance genre, because that’s where the money is in the digital market right now, Lyrical is actively seeking urban fantasy. Samhain, by contrast, is willing to consider urban fantasy only so long as it features “strong romance elements.” There is a love story in my book, but it’s really not primarily a romance, and I just don’t know if the “romance elements” are “strong” enough.

If Samhain says no thanks, then I have to decide whether to publish through Lyrical or to go the self-pub route. I’m still really torn on this one. Rationally, if we’re talking about an e-publisher that has no distribution deals with major bookstores, then I just don’t see how the services they offer can possibly be worth 30 percent of royalties. Yet I still feel a strong emotional desire to have “a publisher,” even if it’s a small e-press. I think this probably has to do with the lingering stigma of self-publishing—thinking of it as “indie publishing” definitely helps.

I dunno. I’ll just have to wrestle with it.

Update 2: Wow, Lyrical is super responsive. They say “Of course you can take the time you need. In fact, in our contract it states you have two months from time of issue before the offer expires.” Which, boo on me for skimming the contract, I guess! So yeah, I don’t have to nag Samhain right away—I can wait a bit to see what happens.

Sep 25 2011

Publishing: My Crystal Ball

So I’ve been reading a lot about e-publishing in the past few days, and it’s fascinating. The indie DIY hipster in me is just utterly charmed. There’s this whole new culture springing up (although in a lot of ways it isn’t new, it’s an extension of fandom and fan writing) where writers and readers are connecting with each other without any mediation. No gatekeepers, no arbiters of taste, no curators of art. This is back to some seriously old-school bardic/skald/traveling minstrel shit, yo. You tell your story right directly to the unwashed masses, and if the unwashed masses like it, they throw you their pennies. Otherwise they fling tomatoes and manure.

This is where publishing is going. This is how it’s going to work. I’m convinced of it. Literary agents are going the way of travel agents: in a few years most of them will not be employed in the same way. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be a few agent specialists who serve really big clients, but the vast majority of authors (like the vast majority of travelers) are not going to work through agents. Similarly, big publishers aren’t going to employ people to read through slush piles. Instead, stories will just be thrown out directly to the audience, and the ones that become popular will be picked up by publishing houses to get editing, distribution, and wider promotion. This is going to be great for publishers because instead of having to make expensive guesses about which books might become best-sellers, they’ll be able to simply monitor the swirling Internet slush-pool and skim the cream right off the top. It will be great for readers too: the voracious readers will have as many books available to them, in every possible genre, as they care to read, and all of it will be extremely cheap. Meanwhile, pickier readers will still be able to rely on having higher-quality material packaged for them by publishers.

Despite the doom-saying coming from some quarters, I’m convinced it will also be great for most writers. A certain class of writers—the MFA-bred, New York-refined, “literary” writer—will suffer. That self-sustaining and self-reinforcing world, where only writers of a very narrow stripe are printed in the prestigious magazines, given the prestigious literary awards, or reviewed in the prestigious journals, will survive, but its hegemony will shatter. In its place will be a million sub-communities of writers and reader-reviewers, each with their own ways of promoting work from within, and each of which will have their own particular standards of quality. The advantage for writers is that they’ll be able to access these audiences directly.

What’s happening right now in e-publishing is that an army of amateurs are becoming professionals. Writers who simply couldn’t get their work through the door of a New York publishing house—who in the old days would’ve been locked out of publishing forever because they couldn’t get past the first hurdle—now are learning their craft by doing: by writing books, publishing them, getting feedback, and improving. And they are making a living. I loved this post: “‘I like the feel of a book in my hands.’ Bullshit. I like the look of a royalty check in my bank account.”

Of course, as always, the money-making leader on the Internet is…porn. Most of the money in e-publishing right now is heavily tilted toward romance and erotica. But I think the other genres are going to follow. Romance is the commercial leader in e-publishing because that market was already online. I do suspect that it has a lot to do with fandom, where for many years now a lot of women have become very much accustomed to writing reams of shameless smut and sharing it with each other. Over the past decade I’ve watched these fan communities nurture and train new writers—I can name authors who started off churning out undisciplined purple prose and are now writing at a level of craft that easily surpasses what you would find by picking a random book off the shelf at your local bookstore. (If you have a local bookstore anymore.) And just as inspiring to me is the way fan communities have nurtured and trained their editors—they’re called “betas,” as in “beta testers,” a term borrowed from the software industry, but what they are is editors and they’re acknowledged to be invaluable.

Now that existing dynamic is being translated into the wider community of writers and readers. The key breakthrough, to me, is that a writer doesn’t have to learn her craft by toiling alone in a candle-lit garret, producing manuscript after manuscript that will never be read by anyone but her mom, until finally the Muses descend and in a feverish burst of creativity she writes Ulysses (only to be crestfallen when she learns that somebody else already wrote Ulysses). Instead, she can learn her craft by joining a community of readers who will give her feedback and encouragement and even money—not much at first, but if her stories are entertaining and her prose is competent, her audience will grow. This is a great thing for young writers.

Since I left the publishing world (I was in magazine publishing, but we were rocked by the same basic forces that are capsizing book publishers now) I’ve been vaguely aware of the e-publishing phenomenon, but I hadn’t bothered to investigate it in any depth. Now I’m looking into it from the viewpoint of someone trying to sell a product, and it’s really, really exciting. A lot of people are very upset and anxious about what’s happening to print publishing; I was upset too, hearing about editors being axed, well-established imprints folding, bookstores closing up shop, cherished magazines and newspapers dying. This transition is painful. But I think what’s on the other side is going to be kind of awesome.

Sep 24 2011

More Publishing-Biz Musings

Well, my ex-agent was quite snotty about getting fired. In truth, part of the reason I wasn’t very excited about working with him is that he has a reputation for being kind of a jerk. In pretty much all the advice for authors out there, it’s repeated over and over that having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all. So I feel really happy about ending that relationship. Getting detailed feedback from his reader-assistants was great, but ultimately he wanted to take the manuscript in a direction I didn’t want to go, and the incredibly long turnaround times made it pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to be a priority for him.

What I’m second-guessing now is whether I’m right to jump immediately to e-publishing. After all, while most big traditional publishers don’t accept unagented submissions, there are a handful that do—big names like Baen and Tor/Forge. It’s just that the odds of getting plucked out of the slush pile are so long, and the wait times involved are, again, huge (Baen quotes a turnaround time of 12 to 18 months). And meanwhile acquisition budgets at these places are contracting; editors are being laid off; entire imprints slashed.

By contrast, e-publishing is exciting right now. That market is growing at a phenomenal rate. So while it feels sort of wrong to leave mainstream avenues unexplored, every time I weigh the calculation in my head I still end up deciding in favor of e-publishing.

But the decision-making doesn’t end there, because there’s now such a thing as e-publishers—like Lyrical Press or Double Dragon—that are fairly well-established and can offer a certain amount of institutional support for the authors they take on. The thing is, I can’t decide whether it’s actually worth it for an author to go with an e-publisher. If you self-publish an e-book, you have to do the formatting yourself, and contract with an artist for a cover image, but you get 70 percent of the profits from every sale. E-publishers will take care of the formatting for you, and they have in-house artists to do the covers. They’ll also provide some editing, maybe even comparable to what’s going on at the traditional publishing houses these days. But they take 30 percent of the profits, leaving the author with only 40 percent royalties. This is still excellent compared to the 15 percent that a traditionally-published author might expect, but that print author is getting services (like the physical printing, and getting the book placed in stores) that are very difficult for an individual to provide themselves. Formatting an e-book and getting it on Amazon and the other e-marketplaces is just not that hard.

What e-publishers don’t do a lot of is marketing. And frankly traditional publishers don’t do a lot of marketing, either, not for their midlist books. Authors have been expected to do their own promotion for quite some time now. In the e-book world, “promotion” doesn’t mean advertising, it means networking: getting the bloggers to review your book, getting readers to post reviews to Amazon, that kind of thing. So going with an e-publisher doesn’t necessarily provide much of a sales boost.

On the other hand, if an e-book sells well, some of these publishing houses are prepared to do a small print run. That’s kind of nice.

So, I don’t know. I’m still mulling it over.