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.

Getting On Track (Help Wanted!)

On Track...

It’s been an interesting week. Largely in that “Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times” sorta way, but interesting.

And this post has been a pain in the ass. The main idea is to talk about things I’ve done this week to get my life back on track, and the plans I have going forward, and also to ask for some help.

But I’ve started several times, each time digressing as I tried to establish context and discuss what got me to this point, until the post becomes more  a rehash of recent history than a plan of action. If you need such a rehash, I’ve covered most of that ground here already and you can easily catch up. In the notes below, I will briefly cover some pertinent details.

I don’t want to make the mistake I’ve made at times in the past and cook up a huge plan of action that is too much to take on, only to inevitably (and quickly) falter. So I’ll focus on certain areas, and commit to a few definite tasks in those areas, allowing for the plan to grow more complex over time as appropriate.

And, as I said, I’m asking for help. I want friends to help me stay on track by holding me accountable. If you’re interested, I’m looking into ways to post my progress day to day (probably on Facebook) so you’ll know if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and you can alternately cheer me or badger me. I think it’ll help me a lot. As I figure the tracking system out, I’ll post more info.

Now, the foundation… Continue reading

Free, Easy Ways You Can Help Authors (Please Do These Things!)

Writing has always been a questionable way to make a living.

Yeah, occasionally one of us gets lucky and makes millions, but you may as well plan around winning the lottery. It’s not even a matter of talent…while the bestseller lists are often ruled by writers whose output is an insult to paper and ink, ungodly talents struggle to pay the rent and have to work other jobs to support their families.

But you, as a reader, have the power to help writers you like. Your most basic use of this power, of course, is simply spending money on their work, which is a sacred act. You can take that further by buying additional copies as gifts for others. You can even make a point of actually buying books new, rather than nabbing used copies or reading them at the library.

(Neither of which, I have to tell you, I really have much issue with. As a writer, I write to be read, so the more people reading my work, wherever they get it, the happier I am, on a certain overarching level. And it’s true that someone who reads one of your books for free or cheap may like it so much that they’ll buy your next one fresh off the shelf, where the sale does you the most good. All the same, it’s indisputable that succeeding as a writer is tough, and as a reader your decision to buy new is a powerful act and can make all the difference. I want most of all to be read…but the more sales I get, the better able I am to stay in print and publish even more stuff and make a living at all.)

So yeah, buying is very important. But it’s not all you can do to help struggling scribes, and there are easy things you can do that don’t even cost you anything.

Back in April, author G.P. Ching (who apparently kicks patootie at Guitar Hero) blogged about this very topic, and did such a good job, I don’t think I can improve on it. Her full post is here. In it she offers five ways readers can help writers “that cost absolutely nothing but go a long way toward helping to foster their potential.”

As a struggling mid-lister, I assure you that if you do these things not only will they help, they will be enormously appreciated.

Here are G.P.’s suggestions on free ways to help writers:

5.  Forward their press 
Whether it is a tweet, post, or status message, someone who follows you might be interested. Retweeting or sharing a post only takes a second but could mean connecting a potential reader with an author they’ll love.
4. Tell a friend
If you like someone’s work, there’s no better way than word of mouth to promote their cause. Even if you haven’t read the specific book yet, your comment can inform someone of the book’s availability.  And, of course, if you have read the book, let others know you liked it.  Indie authors don’t have large publicity budgets and rely on personal connections more than anything else for promotion.
3.  Tag and “like” their book on the bookseller’s site
At the bottom of a book’s page on Amazon, there are check boxes to tag a book.  When you check one, it strengthens the association between the book and that category. So, when someone else searches on the category, books with more tags appear higher in the search results.  This increases exposure for the work.
When you “like” a book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, it adds a message on your Facebook newsfeed and is good promotion for the title.
2.  Add the author’s book to your To-Be-Read pile on Goodreads
All of your Goodreads followers get a glimpse of the cover and can see that you added it. Plus, it increases the number of people associated with the book which can garner interest in the title.
1.  Write a review
Often if your intention is to write a review, an author will provide you with a free copy of the book.  Whether on a blog or on a bookseller’s site, reviews help authors sell more books and are greatly appreciated.
All great suggestions.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer

As of today, I am one year late on delivery of my second book.

I’ve been writing lately about my depression and its roots, and about the past year being really rough. Like hanging off the edge of a giant razor blade by your fingers rough.

The manuscript I’m so long overdue on is no great massive volume. I’ve not floundered halfway through my War and Peace. It’s just the second Doc Wilde book, which at editorial decree is to be about the same length as the first, #30-40,000 words. I should’ve been able to write it in a couple of months. That was, indeed, the plan that led to the original deadline.

But, depression. And some major health issues related to it. Continue reading