Are Big Publishers Doing Their Jobs?

Writer Jami Gold has a provocative post on her blog about the fact that big publishers, often seen as the “gatekeepers” of literary quality, are more and more willing to allow books to appear under their auspices without proper quality control. “Who cares about quality writing anymore?” she asks, and uses as an example a current big release from Vintage Books which has been published in terrible need of a skilled editor’s guidance.

As she puts it in a comment below the post, “If publishers aren’t doing promotion or marketing, and now they aren’t doing editing and are ruining their reputation, what do they offer to writers that they can’t accomplish on their own?”

And there’s something to that.  Sloppy editing, celebrity books of hideous quality (contracted for ginormous amounts of money that could better be spent on worthy authors), ebooks released with major formatting errors, a tunnel vision mentality that leads them to release tons of the same ol’ same ol’ and not take risks…

Low or no advances. No promotional support. Lackluster editing. Fewer and fewer actual distribution channels and bookstores. And, of course, an institutionalized disdain for the authors, except those few who have become brand names.

If publishers are going to survive the Ebook Apocalypse, they really need to get their heads on straight and start thinking about what they can offer the folks who actually write their books, and how they can stay worthy of the trust that some people still have in them as gatekeepers. Because at the moment, they’re looking kinda bush league, while many capable self-publishers are looking more and more like the real deal.

Free Fiction Friday: SKULLDUGGERY, A TALE OF THIEVES (Prologue thru Chapter 10)

Welcome to Free Fiction Friday. This is a day, usually Friday, when I will post some free fiction for you, if time and energy allows. I’m going to try to post as close to weekly as I can.

Today, and for a while, Free Fiction Friday will focus on the second novel I ever wrote, way back when I was a callow-yet-dashing twenty-one, a gritty and dark fantasy epic titled Skullduggery, A Tale of Thieves. I started to post it a couple of years ago and didn’t get very far, but this time I’m going to make it a priority. (For the interesting history of the novel, you can read my original blog post or the Introduction page at the site I’ve built to give the book a home).

Drogarth.

The name alone conjures dark images of spilling blood, of blackest magiks, of lawlessness and chaos. Throughout the kingdom children hear stories of this evil city and are told they must never go there — and they wish with all their hearts that one day they will. For children are the custodians of wishes, of dreams; they know in their hearts, in their souls, that only in the darkest of pits can the brightest adventures be found…

As of today, the prologue (called “Exploratory”) and the first ten chapters of Skullduggery are posted. Click below to find yourself in the violent streets of Drogarth, the City of Thieves…

SKULLDUGGERY

While we’re talking about free fiction, you might also check out the excerpt I posted yesterday from my novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom. This is the first book of a series of adventures that I had been publishing with Penguin/Putnam, but have now taken independent and will be launching a Kickstarter project soon to restart the series in nicer, fully-illustrated editions (for more on that, go here). You can read the beginning of Frogs at the link below, and I’ll be posting excerpts from the two novels that follow it (Doc Wilde and The Mad Skull and Doc Wilde and The Dance of the Werewolf) in the next couple of weeks as we get closer to the March 30th beginning of the Kickstarter.

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

KICKSTARTER NEWS: DOC WILDE ADVENTURES

The fun with this book starts with the front cover and does not stop until the very last page!…It was perfect. Fast paced, fun, entertaining…There was also a touching family quality to the whole thing that was priceless. It was one of those rare books that leaves you feeling really good once it is done.    —Old Bat’s Belfry on Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

As I announced last month, I am no longer with G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and am instead taking my Doc Wilde adventure series independent (I go into the reasons and a lot more detail here). I have regained all rights to the work and will be relaunching the series with great new covers and interior art by comic book great Gary Chaloner. The first book, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, will see its re-release in improved form in June, the long-awaited Doc Wilde and The Mad Skull will follow in August, and Doc Wilde and The Dance of the Werewolf will appear in November or early December. More books will follow next year. The books will all be fully illustrated and available in both ebook and trade paperback formats.

I’m putting together a Kickstarter project which will allow supporters to get in on the ground floor and be a part of the Doc Wilde relaunch, and will be offering rewards ranging from a thank you on the acknowledgement pages of the books to signed and numbered limited editions to new additional Doc Wilde stories in exclusive editions. I’m still working out the details, but the plan is to begin the Kickstarter on Friday, March 30th and have it end on Saturday, April 28th.

Daring adventure! Dastardly villains! Climactic cliffhangers!…Byrd updates the old movie serials genre, populates his story with an adventure-seeking family that brings to mind superhero versions of Steve Irwin and his children, and dusts the whole thing with Indiana Jones–style searches for magical artifacts. Oh, and he adds frogs, lots and lots of frogs…     —Booklist on Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

For the unfamiliar, the Doc Wilde stories depict the adventures of a modern day pulp hero and his swashbuckling kids. They draw on my lifelong love of pulp fiction and are full of humor and action and literary allusion. They are meant for kids and grown-ups alike, in the vein of something like The Incredibles or Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As we approach the Kickstarter start at the end of this month, I’ll keep you updated, and will give you a taste of each of the three books. (To make sure you get the latest, you can click the “Follow” button in the sidebar to the right).  Later today, watch for an excerpt from Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

This is good, heady stuff. The writing flows beautifully, with occasional forays into laugh-out-loudness…The science is artfully articulated and seamlessly stitched into the fabric of the story. There are good guys and bad guys, car chases, cliffhangers, betrayals, action sequences to rival Indiana Jones, and an explosion of frogs that defies taxonomy…    —Ideomancer Speculative Fiction on Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

A Return to SKULLDUGGERY (A Free Serialized Novel by Tim Byrd)

Drogarth.

The name alone conjures dark images of spilling blood, of blackest magiks, of lawlessness and chaos. Throughout the kingdom children hear stories of this evil city and are told they must never go there — and they wish with all their hearts that one day they will. For children are the custodians of wishes, of dreams; they know in their hearts, in their souls, that only in the darkest of pits can the brightest adventures be found…

A couple of years ago (oddly enough, exactly two years ago, to the day, as I type this, now that I check), I started to post my novel Skullduggery, A Tale of Thievesas a free serialized novel at its own site. Then, life happened, and the project very quickly faltered.

Today, I’m pleased to renew my commitment to making this book available, and there are several new chapters up. I’m going to try to put up at least some new material weekly from now on, which I’ll announce here on my blog (probably on Fridays, click the “Follow” button in the sidebar to the right if you want to make sure to get updates).

Click below to join me on this dark adventure…

SKULLDUGGERY, A TALE OF THIEVES

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Third Doc Wilde Adventure Will Be…

In my post about this year’s Doc Wilde relaunch, I told you that Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom would be re-released in its deluxe improved edition in June, Doc Wilde and The Mad Skull would follow in August/September, and the third book, to be named later, would follow in November.

I’m ready to give you the third title…

Doc Wilde and The Dance of the Werewolf!!!

 I’d originally planned this to be the second book in the series, and wrote a chunk of it, but it was vetoed by my editor as “too scary.” And, indeed, it is a darker, bloodier tale than the first book (even considering Frogs of Doom’s Lovecraftian horrors), exactly as I intended it to be. I mean, it’s werewolves. It should be scary.

I wondered if I’d ever actually be allowed by Putnam to publish the book without toning down the scares and neutering it.

Well, now I get to write the book I want to write, and you get to read it.

“Past Imperfect,” A New Scorpion Story! (Review)

Back in 2009, I reviewed a modern pulp adventure titled The Sting of the Scorpion. As I said then (review here), I enjoyed the hell out of it, and ever since I’ve been hoping to see new Scorpion adventures. A second book has been due for a while, and looks to finally be coming soon, but in the meantime, the author has released a short story featuring the hero, called “Past Imperfect.”

As I wrote before:

As for the hero, in classic pulp fashion, The Scorpion by day is a wealthy paragon, living in the tallest building in the city, assisted by a mysterious Asian woman, dedicated to his mission against evil…but he’s not just a hero with a dark past, he’s a hero with a really dark past. And he’s not really human, in some very interesting and dangerous ways. Richard Wentworth dressed as The Spider to scare criminals into thinking he was a monster; Kurt Reinhardt becomes The Scorpion because he is a monster.

Reinhardt is a compelling protagonist, the action frequent and brutal, the city a violent and noirish place, and the plot interesting. Not only that, but Stockholm can actually write very well…I do have to warn readers of delicate tastes away, however, because this is a very grim and blood-splashed work.

 I just read it, and it’s understandably slighter than its longer predecessor, but still a lot of fun, and a good taste of Scorpion action and craziness. It needs a bit of editing (little things, like having a character “pouring” rather than “poring” over some documents), but is a sleek and clever read and easy to recommend at an ebook cost of 99¢.

You can buy it here. You can also buy The Sting of the Scorpion here for only $2.99 (and you should).

(Also, if you’re a fan of pulp adventure, make sure to check out the news about my Doc Wilde series!!!)

How A Writer Can Easily Make His Own Book Covers

Lately I’ve been trumpeting what I call the “Ebook Apocalypse” and detailing why I think it’s great for readers, writers, even bookstores…basically everybody but big publishers (though they have it within their ability, if not mindset, to seize the day and benefit too). Indeed, as I was thrilled to announce a few days ago, I’m no longer publishing with Penguin/Putnam and will be relaunching my Doc Wilde adventure series on my own later this year.

I already have two self-published ebooks for sale (my folksy supernatural tale “Dead Folks” and my exploration of nature, civilization, and the ecological spirit “Wild Soul,” both just 99¢), and publishing them was easy. Authors can do this. They don’t need someone to do it for them. If you’re smart enough to write a book, you’re smart enough to publish it yourself. (But please, in the names of all the sweet muses, have your work properly edited. Don’t be one of those assholes who publishes sub-literate diarrhea just because you can.)

Even covers are easy (though I have seen established writers put up books with terrible covers though they should know better). Continue reading

Small Bookstores and the Ebook Apocalypse

When both the big bookstores in her community folded, author Ann Patchett stepped forward and opened her own small bookstore.

In a very charming appearance on The Colbert Report, Patchett offers proof of my argument that the apocalypse brought to the bookstore industry by ebooks and Amazon is actually favorable to small local bookstores. Where Borders fell and B&N stumbles, small stores can now take root and give good old fashioned service to their communities.

In time, they’ll incorporate infrastructure allowing them to infinitely expand their stock by selling ebooks on-site and actually printing books on demand (as with the Espresso Book Machine, which is pretty amazing).

I wrote at length about how ebooks and digital distribution are good for readers, writers, and booksellers here, and if you have any interest in the topic, please give it a read.

You can watch Patchett and Colbert here.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Return of Doc Wilde!!!

In a young adult book market crowded with the depressing and the dour, Tim Byrd’s Doc Wilde swings in on a jungle vine to raise the flag high for adventure. Infused with pace, fun, and all the two-fisted action a reader could ask for, Wilde lovingly riffs on situations straight out of the old pulps, even while making them fresh for a new generation.
— Zack Stentz, screenwriter, ThorX-Men: First Class

In 2009, Penguin/Putnam released my book Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, an adventure novel for all ages, my homage to the great pulp adventure stories of the thirties and forties. I conceived it as the first of a series, but Putnam waited to see how it was received before committing to more books.

The reviews were great, and the sales very good. As a result, Putnam asked for two more books. But, as regular readers of this blog know, I went through some rough times that delayed completion of the second book, and in the time since Frogs was released there has been a great deal of change in publishing. Thanks to digital distribution, the rapid rise of ebooks, and print on demand, the options for authors are much better than they used to be.

So, today, I’m excited to announce that Doc Wilde is going indy.

Written in fast-paced, intelligent prose laced with humor and literary allusions ranging from Dante to Dr. Seuss, the story has all of the fun of old-fashioned pulp adventures. A tale ‘terrifying and dark, of indescribable horrors and eldritch mysteries,’ this is sure to be Wilde-ly popular, and readers will anxiously await future installments.
                                                     —Kirkus Reviews

Putnam treated me well enough, but I was largely underwhelmed with my experiences with them. The  money was relatively lousy (and usually delivered months after it was contractually supposed to be), they did no promotion, and I thought they failed to take advantage of important opportunities. At no point did I get the idea that my input was valued, except insofar as delivering a printable text was concerned. And they allowed the hardback to sell through its print run and fall out of print before even scheduling a paperback printing, meaning the book’s effective shelf life and opportunity to find new readers was less than two years. In other words, I was treated like most authors are treated by the Big 6.

The thing is, I want to make a living at this, and unless the series really took wing, I was never going to do that under standard publishing terms. Everybody in publishing makes a good living, with benefits, except the folks who write the books. Going independent is a gamble, but honestly, if it doesn’t work, I’m not out much income, and if it does (and I expect it will) I’ll at least be able to keep the roof over my head.

So this is the year of Doc Wilde.

Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom is an adventure yarn in the old tradition. It gets that reading is an intellectual activity, and that an adventure, to be really good, has to engage the reader’s brain. I love a smart book!
—Daniel Pinkwater, author of The Neddiad and The Yggyssey

The fact that Putnam allowed Frogs to fall out of print turned out to be a great thing, because it allowed me to retrieve the rights and I can start the series anew, the way I want to. There were things I wanted to do with the books that I wasn’t getting to do with Putnam, and now I can.

One of those things is working with Gary Chaloner. As I’ve written before, well before I finished writing Frogs, I tried to find the perfect artist to depict the Wildes, and Gary was my choice. Not only was he a gifted graphic storyteller with a distinctive style, he was also a huge fan of pulp adventure and had an instinctive understanding (and love) of the material. Together we decided to produce lavishly illustrated books, and he put a lot of time into honing his designs to match my vision of the characters. (To see some of his early designs, go here.)

The Wildes à la Chaloner

When I signed with Putnam, they completely disregarded my wishes. The resulting book had a really nice cover, but I never got so much as an email consultation from the artist and I have a few minor issues with some of its details. There were no lovely illustrations inside. Instead, there were some goofy typographical effects that (I felt) distracted the reader and made the book look like it was meant solely for very young readers, rather than for young and old as I intended.

Well, Gary’s back on board, and we’re doing the books the way we originally envisioned.

Here’s the plan:

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom will be released in its new edition in June, in both ebook and paper. It will offer my preferred edit of the novel, along with a new short Doc Wilde adventure, and (like future books) will have a new cover and be fully illustrated by maestro Gary Chaloner.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together a Kickstarter project so folks can help us with the relaunch and get assorted boons ranging from being named in the acknowledgments to autographed limited editions and other exclusives.

Then, in August or September, the long-awaited second adventure will finally appear, Doc Wilde and The Mad Skull, in which the Wildes face a mind-blowing mystery and a truly bizarre villain. Doc Wilde and The Dance of the Werewolf, a dark tale featuring lycanthropes and witchcraft, will follow in November.

Had I remained with Putnam, by year’s end there would have possibly been a paperback of Frogs of Doom, and The Mad Skull might have seen print some time next year, though more likely it would have been in 2014. Doing things this way, you get the first three books by Christmas, with more to follow next year.

This is all very exciting for me. Going indy will allow me not only to produce nicer books, not only to make more money (at less cost to readers), but to have a more organic and personal relationship with fans. It’s a great time to be a writer.

Stay tuned for more news, including the details of the Kickstarter project…

A true delight…Tim Byrd has taken Doc Savage, added in a pinch of Robert E. Howard, a liberal dose of H.P. Lovecraft, and mixed it all together in a well done, enchanting pastiche of the pulps that will appeal to the adult audience as well as the young adult readers. It is an over the top at times, rip roaring adventure that returns us to the days of yesteryear and leaves us wanting more.
—Barry Hunter, The Baryon Review

(Note: At the time I post this, Putnam’s ebook version of Frogs of Doom is still available online. The wheels of publishing grind slowly, and they haven’t yet gotten around to removing it as they’re supposed to. If you’re interested in the book, I encourage you to wait for the new version later this year. It will be a much better edition, will cost you less, and I’ll benefit a lot more from the sale.)

A New Definition of Writing Success

More on the “ebook apocalypse” front, and the self-publishing revolution, this time from writer James Scott Bell.

Here’s a bit (link at the bottom):

We all know the traditional model is shrinking. Advances on new contracts are at historic lows. With physical shelf-space disappearing, print revenues are down. While digital income is up for the publishers, the slice of that pie given to authors remains stagnated at 25% of net (or roughly 17.5% of retail). And new writers are finding publishers increasingly risk averse regarding debut authors.

Still, many writers remain focused on [getting published]. It represents some sort of “validation” even though it could very well mean less income…and fewer readers.

But now a new model of writing success has appeared. Writers, for the first time since the troubadour era (when you could go out on your own and make up stories in song and take in some coin), have it within their power to get their writing out there without a middleman (the fancy term is “disintermediation”).

And further, unlike self-published authors of yore, they actually have a chance to make real dough. Every day we are hearing more accounts of self-published writers who are earning significant income as independents.

Yet income alone is not the main draw of this new model, which looks like this:

Freedom is the invaluable commodity here. To be able to write what you truly want to write, and know that you can get it into the marketplace, is tremendously liberating. It is, in fact, the engine of happiness for a writer. It’s exhilarating to write for yourself, see what you’ve written, fix it, and keep on writing—and be assured that it will have a place in the stream of commerce, for as long as you live.

From The Kill Zone: A New Definition of Writing Success

Book Biz

Some supplementary info for anyone who was interested in my “Ebook Apocalypse” post…

  • Since 2002, about 500 independent bookstores have gone out of business, nearly 20% of them.
  • Independent bookstores currently account for less than 10% of book sales.
  • When Borders folded they closed nearly 650 stores.
  • There are around 700 Barnes & Noble stores, all drastically reducing the number of  books they actually stock.
  • Barnes & Noble is projecting huge losses in revenue for 2012.
  • Amazon holds 75% of the market for printed books online.
  • Roughly 90% of all ebook sales go through Amazon (60%) and Barnes & Noble (30%).
  • Ebook sales on Amazon outnumber printed book sales by roughly 50% and the ratio is growing sharper all the time.
  • According to Publishers Weekly, publishing insiders predict that within five years  ebooks will account for half of all book sales.

Clearly there’s a lot of change going on, and as I wrote earlier, I think it’s good for readers, writers, and independent booksellers (who have a better chance of holding their own in local markets with the crumbling of the big chains). The changes may be more dire for big publishing concerns, however, as more writers realize they can make more money and better handle their own careers by publishing themselves and as book prices fall, bringing less money in to pay for fancy Manhattan office space. Their edge as necessary distributors gets slimmer with each drop in physical stock made by hundreds of  Barnes & Nobles stores, every bookshop that closes, and each ebook that sells.

Writers need to seriously consider self-publishing, focusing mainly on the digital market, with hard copy books as an additional option they make available. And, at least for the foreseeable future, they’re going to reach the vast majority of the available market by dealing with Amazon and B&N, though there is much to gain by working with independent bookstores on a personal level.

Jon Mertz: “Ebooks ARE a Game Changer”

Even as I was posting my post about the “ebook apocalypse”  just now, author Jon Mertz posted his own, about his experiences self-publishing versus his experiences publishing with big publishing companies. Here’s a bit:

I’ve been writing since 1994; I’ve been a traditionally published author since 2002. In the ten years I tried to play the game by New York’s rules, I’ve seen so much ridiculousness, it amazes me the publishing industry has lasted as long as it has. Midlist writers (that is to say those who are not gifted with million-dollar advances and groomed for the supposed bestseller lists) are treated like indentured servants: crummy advances that New York insists are “livable,” crappy royalty rates, contract clauses that are meant to provide steady income for the publisher not the writer, and an accounting system woefully behind-the-times and deliberately complicated so as to render auditing it both costly and intimidating for the average writer.In the year since I’ve been publishing as an indie, I’ve made more money than at any other point in my writing career. I’ve sold more books than at any other point in my writing career (over 20,000 copies of my Lawson adventures JUST on the Amazon US marketplace). And I’ve been able to engage and meet more fans than at any other point in my writing career. And I’m not even as succesful as other indie ebook authors – some of them are making thousands of dollars every single DAY.

Traditional publishing loves to claim that they do a ton of stuff for writers – hence the low pay and royalty rates.

It’s BS.

He breaks things down in good detail, and if you’re interested in these matters, you should check it out.

Ebooks ARE A Game Changer

Ebook Apocalypse!!!

The night is coming. The night that will never end.

Board the windows. Lock the doors and push our beautiful, heavy bookshelves against them. Hopefully we prepared enough, we stocked up on canned peas and sacks of potatoes and stacks of mass market paperbacks and hardbacks, some of them used and old and bound in cloth rather than shitty cheap crappy cardboard.

Outside, the wind howls like a cliched banshee scream.

They are coming, and we fear it will not matter how well we prepared, for they come on silent wings, their numbers are legion, and they don’t use doors, or windows. Like dire fairies of data they come through the walls, through the very air itself, at the speed of light.

And they want to eat. “BOOOOOOKS….” they moan. Because they want to eat our books, all our beautiful books.

The ebooks have escaped the labs. OH. MY. GOD. Continue reading

“Dead Folks” Now Available

Click To Buy!

My story “Dead Folks” is now available from Amazon as a Kindle download for 99 cents. In the near future, it will be going up at other online venues, in other ebook formats. (If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still read Kindle books with free programs downloadable from Amazon, like Kindle for PC. I read Kindle books on my iPhone and desktop computer.)

Here’s the story’s description:

What do you do when your town is suddenly inundated with pesky corpses from various historical eras?

The problem turns personal for young Johnny when he and his sister find Franklin Delano Roosevelt floating dead in the lake. Then the stakes become more dire when he discovers the plague of dead folks might just be the least of his troubles.

Tim Byrd’s clever short story spins the sort of yarn that Mark Twain and Stephen King might produce if spacetime allowed them to collaborate. Join the creepy fun, but watch where you step.

If you read it, please consider leaving a short review on Amazon. It’s new and fresh and needs all the lovin’ it can get…