GREED: The Fine Art of Sticking It To Your Readers

As a writer, there is nothing more sacred to me than the connection between the teller of tales and those he tells them to. I write because I want to be read, and read by as many people as possible. There is, of course, a practical aspect to all of this, because to make a living at this craft requires a lot of readers. But there are far easier jobs to do which are generally a lot more lucrative, and the sharing of stories and ideas is the primary currency I crave.

Not everyone shares this philosophy. Samuel Johnson said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” and to a degree that’s solid advice, especially in a time when so many folks try to wrangle writers into writing for free in order to get “exposure.” But if cash itself is a writer’s raison d’être, their muse is a whore and there’s a good chance they’re a hack.

As a reader, I’ve always despised publishing tricks that create scarcity in order to squeeze more money out of some readers while keeping material out of most readers’ hands. For example, an expensive “exclusive limited edition” of an author’s book which includes a story that’s not in the generally available edition and won’t be available anywhere else. It’s true that this rewards devoted fans willing to spring for something special, but it also punishes devoted fans who may not be able to afford the book. “If you love me and want to read everything I write, o wonderful reader, you will buy this exclusive collectible. Otherwise, screw you.”

To be clear, I have no problem with cool collectibles. I love beautiful limited editions, all autographed and bound-in-cloth (like a real goddamned hardback) and illustrated and such. It’s the exclusivity of content that I take issue with. That’s disrespectful to your fans, the most important people in the world to a writer, the people who most want to read your work. Why cheat them of the chance?

This applies to pricing, too. While “what the market will bear” is a fine principle for corporate mercenaries, it can be a harsh metric when applied to the dynamic between writer and reader. A writer I know is writing a series of adventure novels about a popular character that I would love to have on my shelf, and support this author’s work, but the publisher prices the paperbacks at $25 and the hardbacks at $40 and I just can’t afford them. Such pricing is unnecessary; Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is fully illustrated and I published it at $12. Even allowing for licensing costs, the prices for my friend’s books err dramatically toward favoring the publisher over the reader.

The worst case of this sort of thing I have ever seen is a new book featuring a crowd of classic pulp heroes in a shared adventure, a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen kind of thing. As you all know, I love pulp and I’m innately interested in this sort of thing. The book looks to be huge and extravagant and loaded with illustrations, a gorgeous artifact for any library. But the lowest price for one of these volumes is $200. And the highest price?

$15,000.

How fucking ludicrous can you get?

I don’t begrudge the writer or publishers the extravagance of their book. If they want to sell an elite edition of it for fifteen grand, and someone wants to buy it, that’s awesome. And even the version at $200 may be worth the price for collectors if the book is beautifully (and expensively) made. But publishing it without a less expensive point of entry for the vast majority of possible readers, especially the very pulp fans this was presumably written for, is unfortunate. It also limits the potential size of the author’s fanbase to a small pool of folks willing and able to fork over a lot of cash.

When he wrote this book, did the writer do it because he loved the art of telling stories, and wanted to reach readers? Or did he just see an opportunity to squeeze money from the collectibles market? Because it really looks like the latter.

Me, I want to reach all the people I can. I want to treat my readers, and potential readers, with the sort of respect I hope to receive as a reader myself. I’d rather sell two thousand books at $12 each than a thousand at $25. I’d rather be read by a thousand people than a hundred. And I’d never participate in a stunt that kept my work from being accessible to most of the folks who might want to read it.

If your favorite book is a checkbook you may disagree.

TESS FOWLER Rips Off Another Fan

Soul Eater

Artist Tess Fowler’s dishonesty and lack of integrity are no secret to those who follow my blog, or to those who were looking forward to the book she took a lot of my money to do art for and then did not deliver. And I’m not the only poor, unfortunate soul who has fallen victim to her; as I’ve reported before, I’ve heard from several others whom she’s ripped off. Those folks chose not to go public with their accounts, for which they have their reasons, but it’s unfortunate because it contributes to the vulnerability of others who may hire her and be likewise victimized.

But another of her marks has finally come forward, eager to share his story.

I don’t know Wayne Bertrand, Jr. He lives in Texas, and is apparently into tattoos and motorcycles. He is also an avid activist for child welfare, and a member of BACA, Bikers Against Child Abuse.

Wayne was a big fan of Tess Fowler’s art, which is why he commissioned her to do a special painting for him, for which he paid her $300. Months passed and no painting was forthcoming. When Wayne contacted her, she deflected his queries saying she was working on it.

Ultimately, Wayne complained to PayPal to try to get his money back, but a lot of time had passed, and Tess promised the service she would honor the deal and throw in a couple of extra pieces for Wayne’s trouble.

Then she blocked Wayne on social media and ignored all further attempts at communication.

That was over two years ago. Wayne has never received any artwork, nor any of his money back.

Toward the end of his message to me, Wayne summed Tess up as well as anyone ever could:

She is a crook. Sad thing is I like her artwork.

It’s a shame that someone with Tess’s gifts chooses to use them as bait to steal money from her fans.

TESS FOWLER: I Let The Artist Have Her Say

As many visitors to my blog are aware, last year I had the misfortune of hiring artist Tess Fowler for art duties on my second Doc Wilde book. I paid her a thousand dollars and received nothing but a handful of rough character sketches, and I don’t even have the originals of those.

I detailed the disintegration of the deal and both my and Tess’s behavior in extreme detail, using our actual correspondence,  in this post.  It tells everything you need to know about our entire working relationship, and about Tess’s choices at the end.

As someone commented on the one followup post I wrote, there are two sides to every story. I agreed and stated, “Tess is completely welcome to share her side here.” Of course, she never took me up on the offer.

She did, however, post a lengthy diatribe on Facebook. I didn’t see it on her page because Tess has me blocked (and I have better things to do than monitor her behavior), but several of her friends sent me the information pretty much immediately. A couple even provided actual screenshots of the post and its resultant discussion.

I’m going to share those screenshots with you. This is the closest thing to Tess’s side of the story that she has provided, and I feel no compunction about showing it to you because it was posted publicly. I’ll offer commentary as we read it together.

1

First, everything I have ever posted on this matter is demonstrably true. There’s a reason I used our actual emails and was so thorough in my account; I wanted folks to have all the information they needed to come to their own conclusions about what happened. There are no emails I refuse to show publicly, and you may notice that she says there are but never shows them to anyone.

And yeah, based on my experiences, I’d definitely recommend nobody else hire her. I’m not running a smear campaign, but I damn sure can’t give her a good reference.

2

Bullshit. I stand by the post I linked to at the start of this one as a rebuttal of what she says here. I in no way abused Tess, and since my feeble attempts to contact her to ask that she resume work (attempts she completely ignored), I have made no other attempts to contact her. It’s easy for her to claim that I am “stalking” her, but I challenge her to prove that very libelous charge.

Further, since shutting me out as described in the original post, she has neither tried to discuss matters with me nor in any way offered in any way to continue the work. She blew me off entirely, kept my money, and I’ve had no contact with her of any sort since she did, not even these mythical emails she references yet again without producing them, except that the day I first saw these screenshots I emailed her, offering to get back to work whenever she was ready. She never replied.

I, however, was very public about the fact that I was willing to get back to work with her. She is a talented artist, I liked her take on my characters, and I was already out a thousand dollars so it was fully in my interest to try to get my money’s worth, even after the trauma I’d already suffered.

For the record, that offer no longer holds. I’ve accepted the loss of my money and the lessons learned and there’s no way in hell I’d work with her again.

3

Again, the emails she could produce, but doesn’t. Ever. Whereas I shared damn near every meaningful correspondence we ever had.

And again, bullshit that she ever offered to continue work after communications broke down.

And note here that I am “a madman.” What she means is that I suffer from depression, and she’s trying to use that against me. In a very libelous way.

4

I’d really like to see those emails. If called on it by someone, at most she could produce (and possibly misrepresent) emails I already quoted in my original post, because there has been nothing since. Again, I tried to sweet-talk her back to work after the communications breakdown, and then I’d have jumped on the chance to get back to work on the book because I had, after all, already paid her.

Now, the discussions began:

5

Again, portraying me as crazy because I’m depressed, and the continued insinuation that I’m stalking her via email and phone.

6

You know what? I do know exactly what I can get away with, because I’ve talked to a lawyer too. For something to be considered libel, it has certain criteria it needs to meet, chief among them the stated information has to be untrue. I’m not worried about her lawyers because I have no reason to be worried about her lawyers. And I’m pretty sure that the three different lawyers she spoke to all pretty much told her that.

7

I think that may be my favorite bit.

8

Ironically, the message I received from Tess blocking me and not responding to my emails or calls was very much “Sit down and shut up.”

9

Tess knew I suffered from depression the entirety of our working relationship. I’m very open about it, and about my battles with it. It’s even all over this blog.

And yes, Gary Chaloner, the original Doc Wilde artist, left the series (he didn’t think he could keep up with the workload), but he remains very much a part of the Wilde family, as well as a friend. Our working relationship was always professional, I was thrilled with the book we turned out together (Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom), and I have nothing but respect for him. We had delays and the book took longer to do than we’d planned, but Gary was never anything less than a trooper and I’d recommend him in a heartbeat to anyone who wants a talented, reliable artist. I invite anyone who thinks Gary left because of interpersonal dynamics to contact him directly and ask.

There was more discussion under Tess’s post, but the topics drifted away from me, so  there’s little point in sharing it. For the record, her post was made way back at the end of January, and there’s been no contact or any activity of any sort between Tess and me since. I intended to post this message ever since, but she’s no longer any sort of priority; the only reason I’m going ahead and posting now is because I want transparency for Doc Wilde supporters, so they know what happened and why the second book is delayed. This was also a way to let Tess tell her side of things.

I honestly wish things had gone differently, that Tess had actually been open to continuing the book. She’s a gifted draftswoman and I think the book we produced would have been beautiful.

Now, I wipe my hands of her.

UPDATE: Another of Tess’s victims has come forward and let me share his account. Read it here.

In Praise of Authors and Readers and No Gatekeepers: Some Counterpoints to a Piece in Publishers Weekly

Readers and Writers

Chris Pavone, an editor turned novelist whose entire career has played itself out in the traditional publishing world, has a few things to say about indie publishing in a piece over at Publishers Weekly. Spoiler: he’s agin it.

 In a market of unlimited book options, how does an audience make choices? At the moment, most of that burden is carried by the book business. The publicity and marketing campaigns and cover designs and flap copy—the things that publishers do—are not just methods of selling books; they’re also readers’ main tools for discovering books. The same is true of the curating and merchandising in stores, and book coverage in the media. Without reviews, staff recommendations, and endcap displays, unlimited choices aren’t narrowed down—they’re overwhelming.

You know what? There are already hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of books in what Chuck Wendig calls the “shit volcano” of self publishing. And yet, my job as a reader has gotten no more difficult. I have no trouble at all finding the books I wish to read, and the task of sorting through the crap to find the gold is precisely the same as it has always been. There are a lot of self-published books I don’t want to read, but there are also a hell of a lot of traditionally published books I don’t want to read.

And “unlimited book options” is a bad thing? More choices for the reader, more books in the world, is a bad thing? Many more good writers able to get their books published, and to make money from them, is a bad thing? I don’t think so.

 Second, if all books become cheap or free to readers, then writers are unlikely to earn much (if anything). Who will want to write if writing doesn’t pay?

 Ooooh, scary. But you know what? Writing pays about 10% when traditionally published books sell for their standard prices. But it pays 70% when independently published books sell. That’s seven times the royalty. So a $10 book from one of the huge publishing corporations will pay a writer a buck per sale; an indie book only has to sell for $2 to beat that (a much more attractive price to a buyer), paying the writer $1.40. If the indie book sells for $3, it nets the writer more than a 10% royalty on a traditionally published book selling for $20. At $5, the writer is getting a royalty of $3.50, three and a half times what he’d get for a ten dollar book from the traditional gatekeepers.

Who will want to write if writing pays better?

Third, without the gatekeepers, those who do write will create books that are worse—and not just authors whose dormant genius must be drawn out by patient editors, but all authors. Every book that doesn’t first have to get past a gatekeeper or two, or 10, before being put in front of the public will be worse.

What balderdash. Every book? Really? Even those by writers who’ve already been published by the big corporations and know their way around a gerund and a character arc? Even those by writers who hire professional editors to help them polish their material exactly the same way editors at traditional houses do? Even those by writers willing to do the work because it’s work they care deeply about, and work that may finally earn them a reasonable living?

I get what he’s saying, though. He’s saying, “I work in traditional publishing. Traditional publishing pays my bills [though probably not all of them]. Therefore, traditional publishing must prevail, lest I have to fend for myself and become more responsible for the quality of my own books, which is really scary when you’re as entrenched and calcified and hidebound as I am.”

HIRING ARTIST TESS FOWLER: GOOD IDEA OR BAD?

Tess Fowler, Artist

Hmm. Interesting.

For those who have been following the unfortunate tale of my wasting a thousand bucks on artist Tess Fowler and getting absolutely nothing but grief in return, there is some new information. This may be of particular interest to anyone who may consider hiring Tess for similar work.

I have been very open about my experience with Tess, how Ms. Fowler and I had a falling out and I lost a lot of cash. But I’d assumed that I was at least partially at fault, that even with her reactions to my criticisms and her hostility and refusal to negotiate and get back to work (or refund any of the money), that if I had somehow found the right words, perhaps we would have reconciled, and perhaps Tess Fowler would have then finished the job like a professional.

However, since posting my fully documented account of that experience, I have heard from not one, not two, but several others who have all started their messages with essentially the same statement:

It’s not you, it’s her.

Apparently, Tess Fowler is starting to be known for this sort of thing. While she promotes herself as a professional artist who is too cool for school to work for big companies, she is apparently leaving a chain of broken promises and unearned payments in her wake. It’s not my place to make public the specifics of what I’ve been told by the folks who’ve contacted me (though I wish they’d go public as I have, for the benefit of all the folks who may yet suffer as we have), but apparently Tess has a tendency to make big promises then react very, very badly at the first sign of disagreement or tough critique. She disavows even the tiniest bit of responsibility and turns very nasty very quickly, accusing her former collaborators of being horrible people of some sort (in my case, I was mentally unbalanced and potentially dangerous), and refusing to deal with them at all thereafter.

(Tess also publicly accused me of “stalking” her when I posted my full account of our disastrous collaboration. Apparently, if you hire someone, pay them a lot of money, then send them a few messages and try to call them to see if they’re going to do the job they hired on to do, that’s stalking.)

As I said, I have heard this from several independent sources over the past few weeks, and I’ve even been privy to the exact communications that passed between some of these folks and Tess. I am naturally interested in hearing from any others; I’ll keep your secrets, though I do encourage you to post a public, objective account of what happened. And my blog is available as a forum for all of you: feel free to comment below any of my posts on the matter, and if you need a place to post your full account, you can do it here with my blessing.

For the record: I am only passing on what I have been told here, and in some cases what I have seen in shared documentation. But that documentation was very convincing, and having been through what I went through hiring Tess Fowler as an artist, I’m convinced that it’s true.

UPDATE: Another victim has come forward and agreed to share his story. You can read about it here.

I Love Bookstores. But Do They Love Me?

Your book, here? HAHAHAHAHA

We hear a lot about how authors, and everyone else, should favor local, indie bookstores over Amazon and big chains. I love bookstores, especially cool little ones, and I even link to IndieBound on my site above Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and other larger vendors.

Well, I recently tested the waters at the two most prominent indies in my town to see if they’d sell my book, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom. (I should have done this months ago, but what with the crushing depression and electroshock therapy I just didn’t get around to it.)

The first I won’t name because I’m not looking to be personally contentious with them as they are very nice folks who run a great shop. It happens to be the very store where I debuted the novel in 2009, when I was with Putnam. I had a very successful signing with them, came in to sign books when they needed me to, and had what seemed to be a friendly relationship with the main folks there. I love this store. I showed it off to Nydia when she was visiting in the summer. I recommend it to folks all the time. I even used to link to their website from the Doc Wilde site, until I left Putnam and my book was temporarily out of print.

I walked in their door, an author who already ran the gantlet of traditional publishing, landing a multi-book contract with one of the largest publishers in the world, now carrying an improved, new, beautifully illustrated edition of my first book. A book with three pages of raves in the front from sources like Daniel Pinkwater, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and the screenwriter of Thor and X-Men First Class. A book, incidentally, with a 4.5 star rating from readers on Amazon. While I was waiting to speak to someone, I even helped a customer, selling her Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men (which is awesome and hilarious). Continue reading

The Legend of Bloggy Creek, or How I Return With Much Fanfare

The Beast of Bloggy Creek

In my last post, I wrote about last year’s ups and (more often) downs. As I struggled through the morass that was 2013, one of the things that fell to the wayside was this blog. Now I’m gonna fix that.

One of the big lessons of last year was that I need to write. I need to write a lot. I need to continue to build the Doc Wilde series to the high standards artist Gary Chaloner and I established, but I also need to work on some projects that don’t rely as much on other people to finish. Art takes time.

And I’ll be here, blogging my little heart out. I’ll write about whatever I feel like writing about, books, movies, humans, politics, nature, music, games, sex, religions, my favorite trees, whatever. And you’re invited to engage me, to talk back, to agree or not, to discuss, in the comments sections of the posts.

My “Song of the Week” will be returning. It didn’t always manage to be weekly, and I’m not sure many people paid it any attention, but I enjoyed doing it and think I share a nice, eclectic mix of tunes, often with some personal commentary. The videos I share also wind up on my YouTube playlist “Dancing Under An Outlaw Moon,” at least until YouTube fucks the list over by removing things without telling me. (I’ll make a point of at least mentioning the names of the song and the performer so you can seek it out even if YouTube attacks, and if someone lets me know when they see that one of the videos has gone missing, I’ll try to find a replacement.)

I’m also going to participate in a fun little exercise called “ABC Wednesdays.”  Every week, I (and a horde of other bloggers) will post a blog piece, working through the alphabet from start to finish. Each blogger writes a post based on a word they choose beginning with that week’s letter. This week, I’m jumping on board as the cycle starts over again at A. I haven’t decided what my A word is going to be yet, but it’ll probably be cool, and most likely it’ll start with the letter A.

I hope you’ll stop by. You can also subscribe to the blog so you get the posts fresh from the oven.

See you soon. And more often.