Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stuff They Never Told Me About Publishing #1

You know those video games where all of the unexplored portions of the map are covered in darkness—they call it “fog,” and you have to go there to reveal what’s hiding? And sometimes the stuff that’s hiding is freakin’ awesome (like a special weapon or nummy digital food or an extra life), and sometimes it’s an obstacle you can’t get around and you have to go another way, and sometimes it’s stuff that wants to slay you and splatter your viscera on the walls? Publishing is kind of like that, except for the splattering viscera. The sense of adventure is really honkin’ cool, so if you’d like to learn everything as you go, then by all means, stop reading now. But for those aspiring writers who’d like to know, I thought I’d share a few things I didn’t find out about publishing until after the deal was made and I started walking through the fog. This will be an ongoing series with absolutely zero splattered viscera.

Book tours aren’t cost effective.
I’ve been surprised at how many people ask me if I’m going on a book signing tour. There seems to be an assumption that all authors do it. I knew that couldn’t possibly be the case before I signed my deal, but I didn’t know the reason why. I discovered that, economically, it’s not sensible for a publisher to lay out that kind of bread—airfare, hotels, meals and so on—when you might get twenty to sixty people showing up to buy a book at any given site. The publisher’s money would be better spent on marketing and social media networks. Most authors you hear/see doing tours have established reputations or prior celebrity status and are sure to draw big crowds of fanboys and fangirls. But debut authors like me? Nah. It doesn’t make sense to expect people to skip their favorite TV show and go to Borders on a Wednesday night to meet a dude they’ve never heard of before. What I’ll probably do is a few signings in Arizona because the books are set here, but that will be it to begin with. I'll continue to appear locally as often as I can because it'll be on my own dime. But honestly, a large part of this process is still in the fog for me, because from what I understand signings don’t get arranged until a couple months from the release date, and I'm still four and half months out.

You need a platform.
You have to blog and tweet "and stuff." If you do it well, then you have this thing called a platform, and this is something you absolutely must have. Everybody says so. But here I must confess that I’m not too clear on why. It’s kind of like the importance of getting good grades in high school: all the adults tell you it’s vital for your future, and so you study for the quadratic equation test because you hope it will make sense someday.  That’s kind of what I’m doing with my blog. I try to provide some info for aspiring writers (because I know what it’s like to be one) and some entertainment as well (mostly for myself), but I’m sort of in a continuous cringe, waiting for someone to swoop in and say, “No, no, no, McFly, you’re doing it wrong!” And I’m also waiting for someone to explain exactly how x number of followers on my blog or on Twitter translates into x number of sales I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I don’t mind blogging or tweeting—I enjoy both quite a bit! But I don’t understand how the mechanics of this platform thing truly works. (Does anyone? I've heard of social media experts, but I don't know them socially, so how expert can they be, right?) This is one of those things that don’t get adequately explained to newbie authors and thus you might as well get used to it. You need a platform because everyone says so and everyone’s doing it. Now go and build one, and don’t forget to write your next book. ;)

There are many people involved in publishing a book, and they’re all awesome.
Agent. Editor. (Those are the two I knew about because those are the people aspiring writers are understandably obsessed with getting to.) But since the deal, I've played jokes on my Assistant Editor and have been pranked in return. And then there's the Copy Editor. Managing Editor. Marketing Dude. Publicity Dude. (Marketing and Publicity are two different departments and I didn’t know that before; I know who my marketing fella is, but I don’t know who’s in charge of my publicity yet—that’s still in the fog.) Typesetting House. Art Director. Photographer. Model. Digital Artist. A department of people who deal with Subsidiary Rights. The nice lady at the security checkpoint in the Random House building who prevented me from injuring myself. There’s somebody named Phil in Accounting and he sounds like a cool cat. And then there’s the printer, of course, and the people in Sales who take my book to the buyers for the bookstores and say LOOK, THIS BOOK IS FRICKIN’ RAD AND I WILL BE YOUR BEST FRIEND IF YOU MAKE YOUR EMPLOYEES TACKLE YOUR CUSTOMERS AND THRUST IT INTO THEIR HANDS! And we can’t forget the distributor, the warehouse workers, the nice guys who drive my books around, and the spiffy people who work in bookstores and never tackle their customers. I’m sure there are plenty more but I’m not aware of their existence yet. All those people have buttloads of work to do to make sure my book hits the shelves on time and calls to people with the lure of a siren. They come online at different stages of the process and I couldn’t possibly thank them all, but once you think about it, it makes sense why it takes about a year for a book to get “out there.” And it also makes sense why self-publishing often doesn’t work out so well; it’s because you’re trying to do all those jobs yourself and you can’t.

That's all for this installment. If you'd like to hear about something specific, let me know. :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Write more

When it comes to writing novels only one thing is easier—knowing I'll finish. I have a confidence there where there used to be gnawing uncertainty that I might be wasting my time. Now I know that I can probably crank out two a year if I have an outline for them. That's vastly comforting. But there are other parts to the writing process that will never get easier. 

1. Revising. There aren't any shortcuts. I revise quite a bit before my agent and editors take a peek, and then revise more after they give me their comments. I don't think anyone writes the Golden Draft...maybe I'll produce a copper or bronze one someday. :)
2. Waiting. Once I send work to my agent, he sends it out on submission...and I wait. Sometimes the wait isn't all that long, but sometimes it's months. I try to deal with it by writing more. And if there's a deal, then there's another wait on the contract (which is where your agent truly earns his money and is worth every penny of his commission). Sometimes that wait is only a month or so, but I've also had to wait close to a year because of problems with boilerplate contracts, and my agent had to take on Viking Death Ships full of lawyers. (Luckily, he ate his spinach.) And after the contract is finished and you sign it, there's another wait for the money to arrive—anywhere from a couple of weeks to three months, depending on where it's coming from. If there isn't a deal, well then...
3. Rejection. It still happens. Getting published once isn't a golden ticket to getting published again, and getting published in the U.S. doesn't mean other countries are going to hand over bags of money for translation rights. One market will look at my series and say "Gimme!" and another will look at it and say "Meh." The answer to rejection, like waiting, is to write more, because otherwise I might chew glass. 
4. Fear of #3. Even though I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm capable of writing publishable books, I still look at my writing at times and conclude that it isn't good enough. "Whine," I say to my wife, "whine whine this sucks whine whine." She tells me to shut up, I do, and write more. It's the only thing that can possibly make the sucking stop, after all.

Right now I'm enjoying coffee with this seasonal creamer in it—it's called marshmallow mocha. Mmm. Hope you're taking advantage of the season's opportunities for warm, comfy drinks. And writing more.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's piñata time

I've always enjoyed my family tradition for Thanksgiving, but didn't realize it was out of the mainstream at first. I thought with a certain naïveté that since everyone got the day off and everyone was talking turkey, everyone must celebrate it the same way too. Eventually, after seeing several movies of people indoors and not beating the shit out of a piñata, I hypothesized that maybe my family did things a bit differently. To test it, I asked a school friend after Thanksgiving, "So what did you get out of your piñata?" and received a look of complete bewilderment in return. That clinched it. My family was the strange one. But also very cool.

We go out to the desert and have Thanksgiving dinner outdoors. We can do that because it's Arizona, and nine years out of ten the weather is just fine on the fourth Thursday of November. Refusing to succumb to food comas, we then climb a hill with a beautiful view of Rio Verde and some almond orchards, snap a few pictures, then climb back down and ritualistically, mercilessly, joyfully thrash an innocent piñata to death. Don't judge; it's great fun and we bond over the shared violence, and besides, that papier mâché had it coming.

There is much to give thanks for this year. Hope you have many blessings to count and you enjoy lots of warm fuzzies, and maybe hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Release date moved up!

I have always wanted to time travel, and for a while I held on to a tiny dream that one day I would find someone like Doc Brown, and he'd have a flux capacitor in a blue Shelby Mustang, and once we got hold of 1.21 jigowatts of electricity (the movie's approximation of gigawatts), we'd be golden. We (the Doc and I) would go back and see Hamlet when it first debuted in Elizabethan England, and then we'd most likely catch the plague and die. Or get hanged as witches. Today that dream sort of came true.

I didn't find a Doc Brown, but I did receive notice that my long wait for publication has just been shortened by a week. The release date for Hounded has been moved up from April 26 to a NEW! EARLIER! date of April 19! So in a way it's like I skipped a week of time there. And so did everyone who pre-orders the book or buys it the first week! All those lucky people have become time travelers and probably would be justified in becoming a bit snooty about it. I'm a wee bit saddened that it didn't involve a tricked-out Mustang (or a ride in Dr. Who's TARDIS—bow ties are cool), but I'm certainly not going to complain. A shorter wait is just one more thing to give thanks for on Thursday.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekend Update

1. I'm frustrated that I can't seem to watch Sharktopus on demand. I've seen the trailers and it's chock full of ridiculous. The kind of movie where you just sit down with some friends and popcorn and laugh. I don't troll the TV enough to catch it when it's on the Syfy Channel, and it's a shame, because I think it has the potential to be a B (or C) movie classic.
2. My school's football team advanced in the state playoffs last night. They're in the final four; it's the best they've ever done. I won't get to announce anymore, though, since it must be in a neutral location and I'm not a neutral announcer.
3. Going to see Harry Potter at some point this weekend; kid is looking forward to it, to put it mildly.
4. Author Stacia Kane put up a great post about copyright and if you're a writer (or a reader) you should check it out.
5. My webmaster dude (IT term) is working on my site and what I've seen of it so far is pretty spiffy.
6. For two whole days this week, I had nothing to grade. It was awesome. But now I have a giant stack of essays to look over, so I'd better get to it.
7. All three books now have their cover art up at Amazon! And (ahem) they're available for preorder! :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Tidings

1. By this time tomorrow I will be caught up on my grading—only happens eight times a year! But I'm not quite caught up yet, so this will have to be quick.
2. Gaius Baltar is dead. He died in the Suvudu Cage Match at the hands of mouse-clicking George R.R. Martin fans, despite the fact that he had a gun and his opponent had a sword. The happy bit about this is that I had a wonderful time writing up those little scenarios.
3. The Iron Druid Chronicles will be translated into Thai and Russian! Very grateful to Tathata publishers in Thailand and Olma Press in Russia, and extremely excited to see the covers! 
4. It's just about marshmallow season. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #6

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but I finally scored a beer I've been looking for and I had to write it up. My writing/blogging friend Hillary Jacques told me about it and claimed it was to die for; I have taken her at her word because she's from Alaska, and people have died for stranger things than beer in the land of salmon and short summers.

The beer is Alaskan Smoked Porter, and it comes in big ol' dated bottles. For such an august brew I broke out the seminal autumn cuisine and a very serious dwarf to guard it.

That's a grilled brat with sauerkraut and mustard, accompanied by some kettle chips. The Alaskan Smoked Porter stands majestically to one side. And on duty today from the dwarf kingdom is Einar Ericksson, high atop the seeded bun, shining a light in the dark cave of tasteless beers and leading us to liquid gold.

Einar's motto ("I seek treasure and beer and often don't know the difference") is an example for us all. And in truth, he's something of an archetypal character, guiding us through menus of tasteless swill to find a brew with gustatory substance. Do you doubt his archetypal muscle? Behold:
See, they're really the same guy. The hermit is a bit longer in the femur, that's all. And maybe he could use a Snickers bar. But Einar is carryin' a freakin' GUN, son! That's because he can lead you through the mines past the Balrog to the legendary casks of Shaft-Aged Scrumptious Shit, brewed by the celebrated hopmaster Steinar Thorvaldsson. And if any demons from the old world show up to try to mooch a pint, Einar will pop the bastard between the eyes with a black powder ball! Ain't nobody gonna snake my Smoked Porter with Einar on the job.

Speaking of which: I can see why so many Alaskans have died for this noble brew. Jerry Hoffman of Fairbanks lost his life when he attacked a Kodiak bear trying to break into his cooler of Smoked Porter; he was armed with nothing but a pair of BBQ tongs. Fisherman John O'Bryan of Anchorage accidentally dropped an unopened bottle in the sea, dove after it, and got eaten by an orca that mistook him for wayward chum. ("Carry On, My Wayward Chum" is the unofficial anthem of Alaskan fishermen.) If you get a chance to snag a bottle, do—you can always age it in your silver mine for a few years if you don't have occasion to drink it right away. It's awesome.

And now for something neither here nor there. To the person who thought it would be a good idea to take one of the greatest rock songs of all time—"Sweet Child o' Mine" by G n' R—and chop out 16 measures here and there to make it more "radio friendly": You suck hairy goat sack! You mutilated a masterpiece and ruined the song's balance, removed its musical tension so that we're left with all yang and no yin. You even cut off half of Slash's epic solo. What possessed you? Did you wake up in the morning and say, "Today, I'm going to take someone's work of genius and turn it into shit!" or are you seriously so clueless that you thought this might be a good idea? Honestly, I'm never listening to that station again. If they don't want to respect the music—leave someone's creative vision as is—then I'm not going to give their advertisers a chance to reach my ears. This concludes my rant. I am going to let Einar help me find a happy place.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Don't know if you've ever checked out Goodreads.com or not, but I dig it and I'm "there" now as an author if you'd like to click over there and say howdy. You can friend me there or follow me as a fan (I think?) and my blog posts will update there too. I'm not going to attempt to rate all the books I've read because that would take a looong time, but I do enjoy putting some things up and comparing my ratings with others, especially my friend Alan, who tends not to like things as much as I do. He's a bit more critical than I am, and that's a good thing, believe me, because he's my alpha reader and I don't know what I'd do without his insights. Usually I'll give four or five stars to things or I won't rate it at all, proceeding on the maxim if you don't have anything nice to say...you know. The exception to this rule is Charles Dickens. I delight in giving his books one star. I might be the only person in the world who despises Charles Dickens, but I'm grateful to Goodreads for giving me a forum to express my wintry discontent with so little effort.

The other thing that's really cool about Goodreads is the ability to get some ideas on what to read next...and I'm almost to the point where I'll need something soon. I've been making progress through my pile o' books and I'm just about caught up. I think I have found a candidate for the next one...it's called Hunger by Jackie Kessler. It's about one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Know why I'm going to read it? Because of this picture right here:
That's Neil Gaiman holding Hunger. That's all I needed to know. Put that on my TBR pile.

Also, my cover is getting "out there" and I'm very happy to see that people tend to like it. A lot. Here's a blog where it appeared recently—she got the photos from my Twitter feed, so thanks to Persephone for following my tweets!

And today I will leave you with a gratuitous photo of my Boston Terrier, Sophie:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Shiny Covers!

They didn't tell me they would be shiny! I just got what they call sales proofs in the mail—these are what the sales folks take around to bookstores and say, "See, if you're going to judge a book by its cover, then THIS ONE WINS!"—and the title that was previously white text is now foil stamped and embossed! I had no idea they were going to do that until my editor told me they'd gone ahead and done it. My scan doesn't do it justice, but you'll get the idea:
As Patrick Rothfuss would say, click to embiggen

Well, my peeps at Del Rey outdid themselves with these covers. I love 'em! They are going to gleam on the shelves! Ginormous thanks to authors Ari Marmell, Kelly Meding, and Nicole Peeler for reading the book before the awesome cover existed and saying something nice about it. That truly means the most, because they didn't have to read it or say anything nice, yet they did.

Now here's a better look at the cover for book two in the series:
I really dig this one because you can see Atticus's tattoo much better; it wraps five times around his biceps and then falls down the top of his forearm, but you can't see that in the pose for Hounded. This cover has a couple more touch-ups to go before it's finalized, but it's 90% there and they needed to get a proof out for the sales team. I think it looks spectacular as is! Hope you dig 'em too.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Platform Building with a Pug

There's a pretty cool post over at SFWA by Victoria Strauss about gettin' published: It's not a crap shoot. She addresses three assumptions made by grumbling, rejected writers, and while I urge you to click over and read her original post, I'd like to piggyback on those assumptions based on my own recent experience.

1) First assumption: All manuscripts are on equal footing in the marketplace. As she says, that's completely untrue, and I'm not talking about anyone's writing but my own. The two books I wrote, submitted, and had rejected before I wrote Hounded were not all that great, though I thought they were okay at the time. Only with experience and hindsight did I see that they deserved to be rejected. Yet I don't regret writing them; I learned a lot in the process and they got me to a much better place in my craft. If you're on submission right now, write the next book while you're waiting; it'll probably be better than the one you're shopping around. (It worked for me.)
2) Second assumption: The industry doesn't want new writers. Not sure how anyone can believe this one. I just read a great debut by Mark Hodder called The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack. And my fellow inductees into The League of Reluctant Adults, Sonya Bateman and K.A. Stewart, came out with their debuts this year. I'm obviously a new writer, and there are plenty more on deck...so I think that one's wishful thinking, whoever thinks it.
3) Last one: No one wants a writer without a platform. Strauss says this assumption is more true for nonfiction writers than fiction...and she's right. I'm still trying to build my platform; I wrote and sold my book without knowing what a platform was. In fact, I'm still not sure about the whole platform-building thing, since I'm such a newb to this aspect of the business. What I probably need is some help from my pug, Manley (named after the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins). Come on: How can you not follow a guy who has the devotion of a pug like this?
Manley likes laser pens and long walks in the dog park.

My write-up of Baltar vs. The Mountain That Rides is up on Suvudu on Monday! Don't forget to vote for Baltar! :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mental Flotsam Purge #1

I'm currently marveling over the fact that there's a British actor by the name of Benedict Cumberbatch. I love that name. I think it's my new favorite, honestly. For many years, my favorite name was Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, but that's a fictional name courtesy of Douglas Adams. Benedict Cumberbatch is a real dude. He's now starring as Sherlock Holmes for the BBC.

Here is a silly one-verse parody I made up in the car while driving to work...can you guess the Zeppelin tune?

There's a barmaid who's sure
All that she pours is gold
And she's pulling the next draught
For Kevin.

I'm a fan of old spellings. "Draught" scores about four million style points over "draft."  Draught beers taste better to me than draft beers because they're spelled deliciously.

My next write-up of Gaius Baltar's adventures in the Suvudu Cage Match will appear Monday morning. He's taking on The Mountain That Rides from George R.R. Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire. I'll desperately need your help for Baltar to win...the fans of Martin's series are legion. Round up your kids and all your laptops and vote for Baltar! :)

Benedict F***ing Cumberbatch. That's a seriously epic name. It's right up there with Bilbo Baggins.

The sound of my dishwasher is oddly comforting to me. I am wondering if it was designed to mimic the pulsing whoosh and hiss of the womb.

Many folks doing NaNoWriMo, and I wish them the very best; I hope something publishable comes out of it. I cannot yoke myself to that particular plow, because it seems (and I stress the SEEMS because I don't know, having never done it) to prize quantity over quality. I do recognize its value for those who need to discipline themselves to a course of writing, and I'm absolutely positive that it works extremely well for many people; I'm just not one of them. I write somewhat sporadically while school is in session, but always try to get in a couple thousand words a week at minimum. Once I'm off school, I usually write 2-3K per day. Today I'm very pleased to have surpassed 10,000 words on my fourth book. Getting into five digits feels pretty good. What would feel completely awesome though is coming up with a name like Benedict Cumberbatch. Maybe I should just snag a British phone book...

Monday, November 1, 2010

HOUNDED cover revealed!

Though I suppose I could be accused of bias when I say "I LOVE IT!" it's true nonetheless. The cover for Hounded is awesome; Del Rey has captured Atticus perfectly!

When Tricia & Mike (my spiffy editors) told me that Advanced Reader's Editions were on their way, they made one request: have someone take pictures of me opening the box. They know I've been waiting to be published a long time, and to see my book bound and printed for the first time would be, in the words of our vice president,  "a big f#%!ing deal." I agreed readily, not knowing what torture it would be...

The box arrived on Friday; I arrived soon after. BUT NO ONE WAS AROUND TO TAKE PICTURES. I couldn't open it! I could have gone to a convenience store and made the clerk take pictures—I was thinking such things—but not seriously, because I wanted my family to be around when I opened it; they've been waiting a long time to see the book too. I had to wait three hours for my wife to get home, gnawing on my fingers the whole time, staring at the Box of Joy that I could not open.

It taunted me with its Random House return address and its priority overnightness:

Do not be alarmed by my strange expression in the next picture. I'm petting the box and purring, see. Well, okay, be alarmed if you'd like.
The Box of Joy finally surrendered its happy contents to me:
....Words fail. All I can say is that there's nothing like a dream coming true, and I couldn't be happier.
   Below is my photo of the ARE cover. I apologize for the wee bit of glare. Also, the icons on the charms aren't really coming through on this picture—all you see are black squares—but you'll see them "for reals" with your naked eye, and they're sublime. I'll have the cover art file later, but for now enjoy the ARE:
If Atticus looks at you like that and draws his sword, APOLOGIZE. It doesn't matter for what, just tell him you're sorry and you'll never do it again!

I've said it before and I'll say it lots more: Del Rey has been completely lovely to work with. Tricia and the art dept. deserve mad props for this cover, and for the Hexed and Hammered covers as well. They brought Atticus to life and they incorporated my suggestions beautifully; I will build them a shrine and make offerings of gummi worms and beer.

And whoa—Hounded is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Borders.com, and BN.com! They don't have the cover image up yet, but in case you're really itching to get a head start on buying the books you need to read in April, now you can!

In other news—yes, I have other news!—my Cage Match write-up of Gaius Baltar vs. Feyd Rautha-Harkonnen should be up sometime today on Suvudu.com, so I'd love it if you went over there and took a gander. And, should you be so inclined, please vote for Baltar! Not only is he a completely awesome villain that you love to hate, as long as he wins, I get to keep writing!

I wish you peace, if you're into that sort of thing. Otherwise, may you be swept suddenly into a world of intrigue and learn a rune-based magic system in only three days to prevent a demon apocolypse.