Friday, June 01, 2012

No Pictures, Please

Imagine my surprise when my cover artist reminds me that we need permission from a vendor prominently displayed on the cover of the new novel, Among Men, and in the bulk of the story, much of which happens around a hot dog cart in New Orleans. I found a great picture and negotiated with the photographer for its use as the background for the cover, which is coming along beautifully, thanks to Michael R. Reighn, my cover artist, and now I might have to take out the hot dog cart.

I'm a take the bull by the horns kind of writer, so I took the bull by the horns, looked up the number, and called the vendor. I asked to speak to the manager and ended up with Jerry, who I assume is the manager. I can't possibly be the guy I worked for over 30 years ago because he was probably 40 or 50 then and Jerry didn't sound that old. He sounded positively friendly -- at first -- when he said, "Sure, go ahead and use it. It will be great advertising for us." When I responded in a similar friendly manner, his tone changed immediately. "We need to deal with this in a more professional manner," he said, a note of we are not going to laugh and have a good time in his tone. And he got professional on me.

He said I could not use the logo or the cart or mention the company after he found out it was for a novel, a fictionalized version of my own experiences in New Orleans and working for the company 30 years ago. He suggested I fictionalize the name as well, as John Kennedy Toole did when he called the company Paradise Dogs in his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, which, Jerry told me, is being made into a movie with a sequel already planned. I began to see what was really on Jerry's mind.

Jerry wrote a book about the company in Managing Ignatius, which was published in February 1999, and is now experiencing a resurgence of sales due to the focus on Confederacy, which is why he is coming out with a sequel to his own nonfiction offering about the company. I own the book, by the way, as I also own a copy of Confederacy. I bought my copy of Jerry's book for a penny and there are lots more available for a penny, too. I imagine the price will go up once the movie and the sequel to Jerry's book are released. I wish him luck with his second book. 

At any rate, we settled on a compromise of sorts. I will send him a finished copy of the novel and a copy of the cover so he can look it over and decide that my use is in no way defamatory and I can continue with it as planned. I do not foresee any problems and I hope I won't find the photo I bought royalty-free rights to isn't a costly mistake, though not as costly as it could have been. The photographer and I were able to negotiate a compromise that benefited us both and I will rely on my talent with talking my way out of or into whatever crops up in my path. I do not want to have to change the book that drastically or dilute the story, especially since I may have mentioned the company in the first novel, a copy of which I have sent to Jerry to scan for defamatory remarks and misuse of the company's good name.

I know one thing. The company is as much a part of New Orleans and the French Quarter with the carts on nearly every corner up and down Bourbon Street and along the Riverwalk. They can be found all over New Orleans and everywhere there is a gathering of hungry people, each vendor in the red and white striped shirt that marks him or her as a vendor for the company and purveyor of 8 inches of meat in a bun with whatever condiments will draw the hungry crowds. I ate a few of them before and after I worked for the company, but never when I was working with the company. Here's to indie publishing, even without lawyers and a high powered publisher's name to shock and awe companies willing to have their logo displayed prominently in novels the world over.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

For Fame& Fortune - Write Here

Turn over a rock or open a Writer's Market and find writing contests. All over the Internet the word travels at the rate of speeding electrons about the latest and greatest writing contest. Plunk down the money, write a story, and grasp fame and fortune -- and publication.

Why not enter a contest, throw a story into the ring, and take a chance on what you know you do better than anyone else -- write? It is that easy -- and it is that hard. Is it worth it?

I remember the first contest I entered in a writer's newsletter I subscribed to. Short story, any genre, and, while sitting in the bathroom, I came up with what I felt was the perfect story. I dashed to the computer and wrote it down, checked it twice, and sent it off speeding along the electron highway to its final destination. I went back to work and back to writing and completely forgot that I had entered. I didn't haunt the email box hitting the button and hoping the news was good. I simply forgot about it. I was after all writing my first novel, a romance because the odds were better of getting a romance published, and there was more money to be had. Mostly, I just wanted to be published, to know that I had made it.

As I got to the middle of the novel, an email arrived. I had won the contest with a first person vampire story that was like no vampire story out there. I had won.

It took a few moments for the squee of joy to rise up through my shocked body and emerge out my mouth, terrifying children and pets and sending birds racing for the skies to get away from whatever was making that obnoxious and loud noise that sounded suspiciously like a jaguar making a monumental kill for the first time. I had won.

I don't remember the prize, but I do remember the feeling -- and the story -- and the knowledge that dawned that day. It was satisfaction and pride and not a little shock.

I've entered writing contests since then and I always get a frisson of fear/pride that shudders through me and a smile that stretches from ear to ear as I read the email or open the envelope with my certificate, check, whatever inside. It feels good to win, but that isn't the reason I do it. I enter contests with the hope of being noticed by the publishing industry and readers, mostly by readers. It doesn't hurt to have a string of awards to add to my writing resume either, or to my biography.

Since I am an indie published writer you may think that entering a contest with the hope that I will end up in the contest seems disingenuous. Not at all. I would accept a contract from a publisher, but it would be on my terms and have all the things I deserve and need to make my books a success. After all, all roads lead to Rome. In this case, all roads lead to readers, and readers buy anthologies with contest winners, the best of the best. I have a few on my bookshelves. It's nice to know the competition and what kinds of stories are considered the best, if only as a measuring stick. I also enjoy reading contest anthologies because I often find a writer I didn't know about or a story that delights and surprises me for a few moments, takes me out of the working day and the struggle to string together enough words to create a story or novel. Besides, I love to read.

Why, you ask, do I mention contests today? What is the big deal? There are new contests and old favorite contests every single day of the year. Why now?

Because I came across a contest looking for the next J. K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. Whether you like or don't like the named authors (I like one of them), you cannot dismiss the fact that these writers, these women writers, are successful. On that score alone, being chosen as the next writer to step into the limelight is worth the effort. At the end of the contest, the winner will be published in an anthology and get a publishing contract with the bells and whistles the likes of which turned Amanda Hocking's head when she signed on the dotted line. That kind of treatment would turn anyone's head.

So, without further ado, on to the contest. Click the link, read, and then write your own prize winning story. And, if you don't win the contest, you will have at least written something you can publish indie style. There are no losers, except those unwilling to place their tuchus in a chair and write. Good luck and good writing.

Writer's Toybox Contest

Deadline:  September 30, 2012

Netherworld Books: Horror, science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The End of Feudaism

Insight often comes from strange places. At least it does for me.

I was watching Cranford and one of the characters, Lady Ludlow, was opposed to young Harry being taught to read and write. She didn't want to end up like her cousins across the channel in France with her head lying in a revolutionary's basket beneath a guillotine because she had allowed her serfs, or retainers, to learn to read and realize they could have a better life with an education. Slaves, serfs, peons, and servants who could read could topple her from playing Lady Largesse, the magnanimous and gentle tyrant that allowed then to work for her for tuppence and have regular meals, wear nice clothes, and wait to serve her at her pleasure -- or be dismissed to a life of poverty without a reference.

Of course, all of this is going on in my head in about 2 seconds and I realized how much like feudalism is publishing, especially now that the masses who want to publish their own books have gained control of the presses --  virtual and real. How the aristocracy must have cringed when the printing press became a reality and religious institutions no longer had to illuminate manuscripts and keep safe the written word, often for monarchs and landed gentry that couldn't read. They had servants to do that sort of thing in the good old days.

As books became cheaper and easily available, revolutions began. The Catholic church, once a nearly global power and anxious to convert newly discovered savages to the worship of the Trinity and Jesus Christ, began to topple as people learned to read and question the status quo. Why should the clergy be the last word on who does and does not go to heaven? Why should the poor pay the wealthy to pray for their souls and sell candles to light so a loved one would spend little time in purgatory and ascend to heaven?

Feudalism is built on the backs of the working classes, the serfs, peons, and slaves, a lesson that Rome learned at the point of a sword when Spartacus, and several other slave leaders, rose and threw off their chains. Even when a slave is treated well, he remains a slave, the person who does all the work and gets none, or few, of the benefits. How is that different from publishing? Oh, that's right. It is no different.

Publishing has been the gatekeeper for centuries, built on the words and hard work of every person who ever wanted to write a book and was found worthwhile to promote. It's much like allowing a slave to serve in the main house instead of in the fields, as long as the slave learned his place -- beholden to the whims of his master.

Publishing is feudalistic. Think not? The feudal system is based on a 3-tiered pyramid. A lord, king, or ruler is at the top and determines the fate of everyone beneath him. Knights, mercenaries, and retainers keep the peace and protect the lord. Serfs, servants, and peons, the poor working class, do all the work and tend the land, livestock, and businesses that supply the lord; they are the base of the pyramid, without which the lord would be a deluded aristocrat ruling nothing and unable to work for his bread or even know how to mill and bake it into cake or bread.

In publishing, the publishers are the lords. Agents are the knights, the strong arm of the lord that protect the publisher's business and vet the more acceptable serfs (writers) to work as servants to the publisher, those chosen from among the poor who have some talent and ability that can be exploited to make more money for the publisher. And then there are the remaining slaves/serfs who buy the books produced by the servants for the publishers and pay for the lavish lifestyle to which the publishers have become so accustomed. Better to live on Park Avenue with a view of the park than to live in Alphabet City or Harlem among the poor.

Contracts that keep the lion's share of earnings in publishers's pockets so they can maintain their vast wealth polished and intact, are part of the chains that bind the writer in servitude. There are certainly writers that have made millions, even hundreds of billions, but who has stopped to ask how much the publisher made on the deal. If a writer is worth $200 billion and they get 12-15% royalties on net profit, what the publisher keeps is an obscene amount of money, even after they pay employees, marketing staff, and the cost of creating books, something much more profitable since the advent of pulp wood paper instead of the more expensive and longer lasting rag and hemp paper. Paper that crumbles and turns to dust in 5 years means selling more copies as readers replace worn out books. More books means more sales and more profit for the publisher, most of which the writer will never see.

With the introduction of POD (Print On Demand) publishing and electronic books, the game changed. Publishers continued to denigrate the vanity presses, but e-books changed things forever. A book that never goes out of style, takes up no warehouse space, and can be kept virtually forever undermines the whole structure upon which publishing was built. Writers finally had control and could strike out on their own and rise above the masses by writing and selling good books that had a shelf life beyond 3 months. No more remaindering. No more binding contracts to greedy publishers. No more supporting someone else's lavish lifestyle when a lavish lifestyle, or at least publication of books publishers turned down. The gatekeepers are out of a job, which is why publishers and Apple decided to fix prices on e-books at near or above the cost of paperback books. If a paperback book is cheaper or the hardback, when discounted, was not much more expensive, then books were safe and the e-book revolution would go away. Writers would get tired of doing all the work of producing a book, from cover art to marketing and sales. I'm sure the aristocrats felt the same way before the French revolutionaries arrested and led them up to Lady Guillotine. Look where it got them.

The revolution has come and the class war between the people who produce the books -- writers -- and the people who have profited the most from books -- publishers -- are at war. What we need is a truce and a coalition of forces that benefits everyone, just not with the 90/10 split that has ruled publishing for so long, or 88/12 split that currently passes for business as usual. Not everyone is J. K. Rowling or Danielle Steel. Most people have been relegated to the middle ranks, writers that produced good quality books in genres that sold well, but not spectacularly, the mid list writers that have been the bread and butter of the publishing industry, writers that never got fabulously wealthy but were upper middle class with a solid back list that still sold books decades after they were published.

Instead of struggling to the bitter end, publishers would be better served to give a hand up and offer their services as book packagers, marketing specialists, and sales teams to up and coming writers instead of trying to maintain a crumbling edifice. Publishers have vast resources that could benefit revolutionaries without all the rancor, price fixing, and game playing that currently exists. It's a choice of adapting or dying, and dying is a distinct option right now as more and more published authors are fleeing publishers for more lucrative deals that offer better benefits and more freedom creatively and financially. It's the choice of 12-15% or 35-70% of sales, and not net sales but gross sales.

The class war is waging with no end in sight. Emotions are high and at this point the results are volatile. Better to work with writers, those hard working people who dream in prose and are the only reason for publishers to exist, than to fight to maintain a system that no longer works.

The slaves, serfs, and servants have learned how to read. They have educated themselves and now know the score. I wonder if publishers have gotten the message yet or if they are still in denial as they climb the stairs to the guillotine while the masses surrounding them howl for blood and their heads.