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.

UPDATE: Tess victimizes the creator of the comic Rat Queens and his wife. Read it here.

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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

Counting The Clock That Tells The Time

Clockwise

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night…

As far as I’m concerned, that’s William Shakespeare describing my 2013. For me, the year was a dark shawl of despair, laced with tiny threads of joy.

On the bright side of the equation, Gary Chaloner and I finally managed to release our deluxe, expanded, fully-illustrated edition of my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of DoomIf you’re new to our tale, I was originally contracted for three Doc Wilde books by Penguin/Putnam, with plans for the series to continue after those. They published Frogs in hardback in 2009, but I was disappointed  in various ways with the book and the publication process which produced it. During that time, I was watching the developments in self publishing with great interest, and I decided to regain the rights to my books and go indie. With the much appreciated help of a company of Kickstarter heroes, Gary and I started a process that was tougher and took more time than anticipated, but finally paid off with a gorgeous new book (written for all ages, available in both trade paperback and ebook; the hardback edition is still out there, mostly in used copies, but remember it’s nowhere near as nice a book as the new version).

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

Finally holding the deluxe Frogs of Doom was a relief and a delight. But dark times were coming for Doc Wilde, much more harrowing than any fight with world-threatening amphibians could ever be.

First, Gary Chaloner made the tough decision to resign as artist for the series. Working on Frogs had proved a hardship for him schedule-wise and he recognized that things were only going to get worse as he tried to balance his workload of other projects. To his incredible credit, and my even greater appreciation as both a fellow professional and a friend, he had finished the first book as he’d promised and, you might say, sort of spoiled me. As I hired a new artist for the second book, I expected a similar level of professionalism, and I paid what is for me some big bucks in advance to get it. Alas, I did not.

Hiring artist Tess Fowler was an enormous mistake. (The full craptastic tale can be read at this blog post).

Waiting for art that was just delayed and delayed and delayed only contributed to the weight of the depression I suffer, which was already rolling in like a tsunami on a night without stars, and the ultimate conflict with Tess Fowler when she produced nothing for the money she’d taken as a professional artist deepened my despair. I made repeated attempts to allow Tess to get back to work and live up to her promises, and she ignored every one of them. Continue reading

TESS FOWLER: Why She Is No Longer The Artist For Doc Wilde

I’d hoped this post would be very different.

I’d hoped to tell all of you that Tess Fowler had returned to work on Doc Wilde and The Mad Skull. That she and I had revisited the conflict between us and, like thoughtful, reasonable adults, had reconciled and gotten back to work.

Toward that end, I emailed and called her several times, with humility, ready to eat more than my fair share of crow in order to make peace, in order to allow her to make good on her promises. I did this not only because I’d paid her a great deal of money which was as good as flushed if she didn’t complete the job, but even more because I love her work and still think she might have produced a beautiful book. And that’s still my goal.

She simply ignored me.

Now, I already wrote a post about all this, a post full of anger and bile, and I’m sure some of you saw it. But I took it down soon after because that wasn’t how I wanted to be. I didn’t want to present myself that way.  I didn’t want to talk about Tess that way. She’s a fellow creator, and I don’t want to tear her down or hurt her.

But, because I wrote that post, I sort of feel the need to re-address the matter in a calmer, more objective way. I also feel a certain accountability to all the Kickstarter supporters who put their money toward the dream of these books, a lump of which I just lost. I’m deeply sorry this happened; it has set progress way back, but you will still get the books you were promised.

Below is a full account of Tess’s time on this job, and the unpleasantness that followed. It’s long, but I think it’s only fair to show our work relationship in detail to fully and accurately represent what happened. It is, at least, a good case study in how choosing the wrong person to work on a project can go very badly. For those unwilling to read the whole thing, here’s the short version:

I hired Tess Fowler in mid-May to do the cover, 20 pieces of interior art, and layout for a Doc Wilde book to be released by Christmas. She took a $1,000 advance from me.

I patiently worked around her scheduling needs, including an enforced break due to carpal tunnel syndrome. I repeatedly tried to get her to read the text and engage personally with the material, to find the things in it that excited her and contribute creatively rather than just drawing what I told her to. She refused. She did say, several times, she enjoyed working with me and liked that I gave her detailed notes on her work.

Tess did not devote much of her time to the project, working on it just a day or two per week, even after losing the weeks to her carpal tunnel injury. Most of her time went to other personal projects.

By late October, less than two months before the book’s release had been planned, Tess had produced just a handful of rough character sketches. She had also done a layout sketch for the cover that I liked a great deal, and had been trying to paint it, but it was turning out so badly that in a fit of frustration she literally ripped it to shreds without ever showing it to me.

She then accused me of being hard to please and denied the very terms she’d agreed to months earlier. She also insisted she was only supposed to do five illustrations, rather than twenty, and that she had never agreed to do layout “since that’s not even in my list of skills.” But the terms of the agreement are in the email I sent her, as very clear bullet points, and her agreement to those terms is just as clear (and enthusiastic) in her immediate reply.

While we were debating this, and our relationship was collapsing, she started trying to use my depression (which I’m very open about and have written of quite a bit on this blog) as a weapon against me, trying to portray me as irrational in order to make it appear our problems were all my fault.

Now, Tess Fowler has cut off all contact, despite my repeated efforts at reconciliation and to give her another chance, and refused to refund the advance, even though it is now past Christmas, the book is not out, and I have received not a single thing she’d agreed to provide for that money.

Now, the full story… Continue reading

News of the Wilde (An Update On The Doc Wilde Series)

Doc Wilde

There are several things for me to talk about today, including some very big news that affects the future of the Doc Wilde books…

First, we’re still in the process of fulfilling Kickstarter promises for Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom. Everyone has their ebooks who should have gotten them, and folks are starting to receive their printed copies. For those due autographs, we’re making bookplates that will print in Tasmania so that artist Gary Chaloner can sign them, then he’s sending them to me so that I can sign them and ship them out to the people who need them. The same goes for the posters of the book’s cover art and the handful of character sketches high level supporters are getting. This will take a bit more time, but rest assured we are on task.

The response to the book has been very gratifying. I’ve heard directly from quite a few people who love it, and there has been a great review posted at Goodreads and one at Amazon since the launch, and hopefully more to come. As a freelance writer and independent publisher, I don’t think I can overstate how important such word-of-mouth is: without it, the books will fail and I won’t be able to keep doing them. Or eat. So if you like the books please consider helping them gain visibility through such reviews.

As noted previously, the Kindle and EPUB versions of the book are on sale for $4.99 (reg. $6.99) at Amazon and Barnes & Noble through July 1st. The book is also available in trade paperback and is gradually making its way into distribution channels; it will ultimately be available for order by bookstores, it just takes a while.

Through Monday, the “Frogs of Doom Typo Challenge” is running. The full details are at that link, but the gist of it is that everyone who submits a valid typo or misspelling in the book before the deadline has a chance to win autographed copies of both the hardback first edition of Frogs originally published by Putnam and the new expanded and fully illustrated Outlaw Moon edition. So far, I’ve had a few entries that pointed out what the submitters thought were misspellings but weren’t (thinking that “gloam” was supposed to be “gloom” for instance), but there is only one entry from someone who has actually found an error. So not only is there at least one error to be found, if you find it and enter there’s a very good chance you might win.

And now, the big news…

Gary Chaloner has stepped down as artist for the Wildes.

In true pulp fashion, I’m going to leave that cliffhanger with you for the moment. More news soon, but rest assured that work continues on the books and the news isn’t as catastrophic as it might seem (though it did take me a bit of time to get my feet back under me after I found out).

Announcing: The Frogs of Doom Typo Challenge!!! [UPDATED! AGAIN!]

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM
When I left a multi-book contract at Putnam and decided to publish my Doc Wilde adventure series independently, it was for various reasons including getting the lion’s share of the profits from my work and full creative control. Part of the latter was a desire to produce books that were at least as professionally wrought as those coming out of a publishing house, and of which I could be proud.

We see a lot of insult hurled at the indie publishing community. The fact that it has become so easy to publish has undeniably opened the gates to a lot of lazy, shoddy, unedited books. Some people refuse to see the other side of the equation, that a great many very talented writers who have either not been fortunate enough to break in with a traditional publisher yet, or who have opted to leave the old system as I have, now have the chance to share their work and possibly even make a living from it.

I’m not the first to set out to do things right, by any stretch. But I wanted to be one of the writers who prove that indie publishing can result in wonderful books, a group that gets larger all the time.

One of the most common complaints I see about self-publishing is that the books are terribly edited, full of typos and bad spelling. As a writer who slaves over his prose with a goal of not needing to be edited, I was determined that no one be able to sling that particular brickbat my way. Which brings me to:

The Frogs of Doom Typo Challenge

From Monday, June 17, 2013 through Monday, June 24, 2013, everyone who emails  me (at docwildekickstarter@gmail.com) identifying a typo or misspelling in  Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom will be entered into a random drawing to win an autographed first edition hardback of the book, an autographed copy of the new deluxe second edition, and my thanks for pointing out something I can correct to make my book even better.

This applies only to the new edition from Outlaw Moon Books, and doesn’t include the excerpt from the next book in the back (that book is still being developed, so the text of the excerpt is essentially still in first draft form).

Any submissions which arrive prior to noon on Monday will be deleted. Likewise, any typos pointed out beforehand (in comments here or elsewhere) will disqualify you; I want people to have a fair shot at getting their entry in when the time is right.

If anyone wins the challenge, I will update this post with the news as well as writing a new post to announce it.

Good luck, intrepid readers!

UPDATE: It was pointed out to me that I really wasn’t allowing much time for the contest, so I’m adding a week and a few hours to the starting time. It will now begin Monday, June 17, 2013 at 5:00 pm EDT. I had also originally said the first person to identify a typo would win; now everyone who enters between 6/17/2013 and 6/24/2013 will have a chance to win.

On Unrealistic Expectations In Self-Publishing

Books, Books, Books

On his blog, author Tobias Buckell has posted an interesting counterpoint to some of the HUZZAH! of self-publishing out there:

I love this quote from the recent marketing guide that Smashwords published:

“we cannot promise you your book will sell well, even if you follow all the tips in this guide. In fact, most books, both traditionally published and self-published, don’t sell well. Whether your book is intended to inspire, inform or entertain, millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shrinking pie of attention.”

(From Smashwords — Smashwords Book Marketing Guide – A book by Mark Coker – page 7.)

This just does not get emphasized nearly enough. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal since I published The Apocalypse Ocean. One, because so many rah rah eBook advocates have been indicating to me that if I’d only just publish digitally first I’d keep 70% of the profits and *obviously* make more than I would with ‘traditional publishing.’

Since 2001, I’d been involved in selling eBooks…I lay down my bonafides, because usually the first thing I get is a lot of ‘booksplainin,’ by which I mean people lecturing me about what to do as if it’s self evident, obvious, and usually based entirely on their own anecdotal experience.

In fact, the self assured expertise of anecdotes drives me nuts…

I recommend reading the piece. Buckell makes some solid points, and his larger point — that big success in self publishing is rare, and we tend to hear only about the outliers who win big — is true. Of course, that’s also the case with traditional publishing. Even for those who score a publishing deal with a big New York corporation, most make relatively little when compared to “real” jobs that grown ups have. And the average result for them is skewed just as much by the big successes in traditional publishing.

His figures, provided by Smashwords, are interesting, but are themselves only anecdotal evidence because the numbers all come only from Smashwords, not from the far more successful ebook venues like Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and Kobo (all of whom are stingy with such data). And every self-published author I’ve talked to, or who I’ve seen write on the matter, has said that the number of books they sell on Smashwords, as compared to the other venues, is so small as to be nearly insignificant. Some of them say it’s barely worth publishing to Smashwords (I’ve only just begun this journey, so I have no opinion on that; I want my books up everywhere they can be).

Also, when looking at publishing figures like this, and comparing results between traditional and indie publishing, the comparison is meaningless unless the figures you run for traditional include all the authors who are attempting to publish traditionally and failing to do so. There are many traditionally focused authors who are making ZERO dollars, but they will never be counted. Their counterparts in self-publishing, however, *are* getting published, because they’re doing it themselves, so they get counted, and the vast majority of people who don’t actually make anything off their self-published book, for quality or whatever reasons, skew these figures just as much as the highly successful folk at the other end of the charts.  The extreme low-performers in traditional publishing don’t get counted in statistics like this, whereas the extreme low-performers in self-publishing do.

And if you have a thousand authors on the traditional path who make zilch, and a thousand authors on the indie path who publish their own book and make just a dollar, you know what? The indies are doing better. Something is better than nothing.