Thursday, December 26, 2013

Second Blatant Promotion In A Row

Those who received or gave Nooks, Kindles or iPads as gifts over the holidays might want to consider some highly praised, but inexpensive mysteries to go along with them.  Here are some suggestions — all $3.99 or less.
Good to the Last Kiss — San Francisco Inspector Vincent Gratelli is charged with finding the killer of young women – all murdered in the same way, all left with the with a mysterious mark. The most recent victim is beaten and raped in her weekend cabin. There appears to be only one difference – she is still alive. There are two questions. How can these murders be stopped and how does the killer feel about unfinished business?
“Tierney serves up a dark, twisty little gem…. Every year the genre has its Goliaths, bigger and better ballyhooed than this modest entry. Come Edgar time, however, Tierney’s well-written, tidily plotted, character-driven David of a book deserves to be remembered.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Bullet Beach — Seventy-one-year-old Indianapolis private investigator, Deets Shanahan, takes on the search of a lifetime. With only a snippet of news found on the Internet, he learns his brother — who disappeared when they were kids — could be somewhere in Thailand. Eager to tie up the loose ends of his life, Shanahan and lover, Maureen, embark on a journey to find the errant sibling. But this is more than a story of a missing person who wants to stay missing. Treasure, deceit and murder are at play on the streets of Bangkok and on the beaches of Phuket.
“Tierney is as entertaining as ever. In particular, thumbs up for the nice, understated septuagenarian love story.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Tierney... adds spice to the story with eccentric characters, wry humor, and a spare but compelling writing style. Engaging and entertaining.” — Booklist
Also available for e-book gifting are two mystery novellas — Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin and Death in the Haight.  San Francisco P.I. Noah Lang takes on missing person cases in these two legendary neighborhoods.  In both cases, things are not what they appear — and that is a serious understatement.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Blatant Promotion — For Those Last Minute Gifts

What’s Christmas if not a chance squeeze a few dollars from suspecting victims?  So, here’s the pitch: For less than the price of a greeting card, you can send a Kindle stuffer — an e-book book from the acclaimed Shanahan series to a friend or relative. It’s inexpensive — less than $4 and no shipping charges  It’s also instantaneous.  No shipping charges.  Target those who enjoy reading mysteries and who might like them even better if they were set in Indianapolis.  In these early “Shanahans, “ readers will get a glimpse of the city as it was.  If you want something more current, check out the most recent tale, Bullet Beach.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Open Letter From The Author’s Guild, Part II, Response

Reading on the Nook

The Author’s Guild, the premiere organization that represents writers’ interests, has engaged in noble battles with Google, Apple and Amazon and others when they feel professional writers are being gamed by these new, extremely powerful forces in the publishing world.  I believe they are right to be concerned.  From an individual writer’s perspective, we know that the battle of the Gods, which includes the aforementioned digital content giants, affects us immensely.  At the same time, there are now only five major U.S. Book publishers:  Hatchette Group, Harper Collins, MacMillan, Penguin-Random House and Simon & Schuster.  They too, giants all of them, are engaged in the rumble. These few still dominate the market place — that is they still determine who gets published and who doesn’t. However, it seems that everyone involved in book publishing is upset.

What caused the current turmoil are the seismic changes in technology that alter nearly every aspect of said industry.  The culprit is the e-book and its almost inevitable, eventual domination of the book world and all who play a role in it.  As romantic as we might wish to be about books on paper, we have to look at the cold, hard facts before we or the marketplace can recreate a lively, culturally rich profitable (or sustainable if you like), model for a thriving book market.  First, nearly everyone under 40 and many well over 40 have a hand-held digital device or two to connect them to everything they want to be connected to. That includes books. Second, e-books are relatively inexpensive to produce and nearly free to distribute. There are no returns. Thus the cost to purchase can and probably should be considerably less than the hard back.  This means the existing publisher will have to adjust their business accordingly, with writers in a just world taking a much larger percentage of a significantly lower retail price on e-books.  Writers may, in the end, be the least affected. On the other hand the writer’s burden is the only one that hasn’t been lightened or, sadly in some cases, eliminated.  Writing an e-book is no different — certainly not easier — than writing a regular book.  (I might add that the potentially interactive nature allowed by e-books may change the writer’s role in the near future.)

Independent bookshops will have a tougher time.  While many-mid-list writers were ditched by their publishers during the rise of the mega-bookstores*, many bookstores found a way to stay alive. Some innovative, independent stores survived the kind of thing that regularly happens in a capitalistic society, in this case the brutal onslaught of Borders and Barnes & Noble only, when the attack abruptly ended when big-box bookstores went down in flames, to come face to face with Amazon in the digital age. I have no doubt that paper & ink books will continue for a while and that many bookstores will find ways to survive, but the business itself is in deep trouble just as DVD rental places are turning off the lights, so too will bookstores if they can’t learn to think differently. Lawsuits filed against Amazon and Apple aren’t going to change our direction.  I’m not sure fighting the advance of e-books is anything other than an energy-draining, futile strategy. And so far, the Big Five sit like bumps on a log.  What are they waiting for?

Reading on the Kindle
As writers, I’m convinced we must find a way to embrace these changes, adapt to them, and take advantage of them.  That advice, I should suggest with more humility I suspect, applies to everyone involved:  Publishers, marketers, bookstores, and distributors. However the only one that has the potential to be all these things at once are writers.  It’s called self-publishing.  And while it has lost a little of its slimy “vanity press” reputation, in publishing and certainly literary circles, it is still the lowest of the low. And while writers hold the key because they control, or provide, the content, the problem is that it’s not likely that the writer is good at all aspects of the business. But even if they were, would they have any time left to write? The other thing that’s missing in self-publishing and especially e-book publishing is “the vetter.” We cannot review our own books.   Book buyers are (or were) often guided by reviewers.  With zillions of books being published each year, how are readers going to find us? In my genre, The New York Times reviews six to eight books most weeks.  A good percentage of those go to books by bestselling writers who produce at least one book a year. Few slots are left for introductions or surprising discoveries. There are very few reviews of paperbacks, or e-books, certainly not self-published books, e or otherwise. I don’t blame them.  Keeping track of the myriad unvetted books in the marketplace is an impossible task.  And we’ve learned not to trust the seemingly democratic reader reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, since they can be bought by the bushel. The entire reviewing process needs an overhaul or makeover, to put it in more contemporary terms.  It has all changed.  That person boarding the train to go from DC to NYC has 300 books in his breast pocket. And if he sees something even more compelling on a blog, he can download it in the time it takes him to get comfortable in his seat.  That is now.  He doesn’t have to wait for now.

Reading on the iPad
So what do we do?  How do we ”embrace” this new world?  If I knew the answer, I’d be rich.  And I’m not. And I’m not that bright or connected. However, I’d like to challenge the Author’s Guild to find ways to take advantage of what is inevitable in publishing rather than trying to stop it or slow it down.  Certainly, the deep pockets and experience of the five surviving mega publishers could be used to better advantage. An anecdote. Frustrated by my early books going out of print and not available electronically, coupled with my love of novellas (even though major publishers hold them in disdain), I set up an aka publishing company —Life Death And Fog Books— to address both of my frustrations.  But without a company like Amazon to help me set up at minimal expense, I’d be dead in the water. I self-published the first four in the Shanahan series and my first novella.  Later I sold a novella to what appeared to be a creative venture of a very highly respected traditional publisher.  They published it in a revived hard-boiled imprint with other novellas from new and established authors in the genre. They did a fantastic editing job. But from what I could see, after they created a logo and set up a small web site that amounted to little more than a billboard out in the Internet’s back-country, they did nothing. (I can do nothing quite well) No advertising. No reviews.  No marketing that I could find and I not only read blogs and web sites on the subject, I receive all sorts of announcements and promotions from and about e-book writers.  The first novella I published (excuse me,) self-published through my own company, Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin, outsold Death in the Haight, which was the novella published by the Big Five publisher as part of a brief e-book imprint launch.  There was a lot of criticism of B&N and Borders and their Wall Street CEOs for not seeing the e-book tsunami coming?  What about the Big Five? Shouldn’t they have figured this out even sooner and shouldn’t they do more than put their collective toes in the water?

My point is that instead of blaming an avaricious Amazon, perhaps the best support for writers might be convening a book congress determined to maximize its writer/members access to the marketplace in whatever format readers want through companies like Amazon or Hatchette or through new, not yet invented means. Bring in the pioneers from Silicon Valley. Introduce them to the suits at the stodgy publishing houses. Have a constitutional convention to reconfigure a stagnant system or develop dozens of new approaches to connect writers with readers. Perhaps only an organization like the Author’s Guild can find ways to adjust to a mammoth technological and cultural change as profitably and as painlessly as possible.

The Author’s Guild deals with many issues — copyrights, contracts, royalties, etc. — vital to writers.   While I urge them to help shape the future of publishing by making sure we are not petrified by and in the past, I am proud to be a member and urge other writers to join.  Click here for an application.

*This isn’t the first major shift in the publishing industry.  Not that long ago, the big box bookstore craze not only wiped out many independent bookstores, it inadvertently killed the careers of many midlist writers. Huge chains, like borders, ordered large quantities of books for each store only to return unsold copies. Publishers would up the print run of a book to meet the demand, but end up eating the excess.  Writers, who could and did survive with a book that sold five or six thousand copies, was still an asset to the publisher until publishers had to print 25 or 30 thousand to meet bookstore demands and have more than half returned.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Open Letter From The Author’s Guild, Part I

Below are two letters, one from Scott Turow, acclaimed author and outgoing president of The Author’s Guild, a fine writer’s support organization.  The purpose is to gain new members.   The second letter is from another highly respected author, Richard Russo, who tells us about the dangers of Netflix, Google, Amazon and the new digital world.  I certainly endorse their call to membership.  They do many things to support the profession.  However I disagree with their take on the state of publishing, which I’ll take up in the next post.  Mr. Russo makes an important contribution to the discussion, but as bestselling, established authors, they are looking at the current disarray in the publishing industry from a perspective not necessarily shared by emerging, midlist or struggling authors.  Here’s the first installment.

Dear colleague,
Scott Turow

As I enter the last few months of my time as Guild president, I have a favor to ask.

Richard Russo has written a letter that I'd like you to share with an author you know who isn't yet a member of the Guild. The letter follows, and speaks eloquently for itself. Simply forward this message on to a friend.

I'm happy to report that the Guild has never had more members in its 100-year history. Even so, we are beginning a process of self-renewal for the Guild. Rick's letter is the first step in that process, in which we are determined to explain our benefit to all authors in the U.S., and hopefully, draw in many more.

Many thanks, and best wishes for a warm holiday season.

Scott Turow

An Open Letter to My Fellow Authors

Richard Russo
It’s all changing, right before our eyes. Not just publishing, but the writing life itself, our ability to make a living from authorship. Even in the best of times, which these are not, most writers have to supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up sheet-rock, or cage fighting. It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.

Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here. Not everyone believes, as I do, that the writing life is endangered by the downward pressure of e-book pricing, by the relentless, ongoing erosion of copyright protection, by the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the “information wants to be free” crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to on-line sites that sell pirated (read “stolen”) books, and even by militant librarians who see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to “lend” our e-books without restriction. But those of us who are alarmed by these trends have a duty, I think, to defend and protect the writing life that’s been good to us, not just on behalf of younger writers who will not have our advantages if we don’t, but also on behalf of readers, whose imaginative lives will be diminished if authorship becomes untenable as a profession.

I know, I know. Some insist that there’s never been a better time to be an author. Self-publishing has democratized the process, they argue, and authors can now earn royalties of up to seventy percent, where once we had to settle for what traditional publishers told us was our share. Anecdotal evidence is marshaled in support of this view (statistical evidence to follow). Those of us who are alarmed, we’re told, are, well, alarmists. Time will tell who’s right, but surely it can’t be a good idea for writers to stand on the sidelines while our collective fate is decided by others. Especially when we consider who those others are. Entities like Google and Apple and Amazon are rich and powerful enough to influence governments, and every day they demonstrate their willingness to wield that enormous power. Books and authors are a tiny but not insignificant part of the larger battle being waged between these companies, a battleground that includes the movie, music, and newspaper industries. I think it’s fair to say that to a greater or lesser degree, those other industries have all gotten their asses kicked, just as we’re getting ours kicked now. And not just in the courts. Somehow, we’re even losing the war for hearts and minds. When we defend copyright, we’re seen as greedy. When we justly sue, we’re seen as litigious. When we attempt to defend the physical book and stores that sell them, we’re seen as Luddites. Our altruism, when we’re able to summon it, is too often seen as self-serving.

But here’s the thing. What the Apples and Googles and Amazons and Netflixes of the world all have in common (in addition to their quest for world domination), is that they’re all starved for content, and for that they need us. Which means we have a say in all this. Everything in the digital age may feel new and may seem to operate under new rules, but the conversation about the relationship between art and commerce is age-old, and artists must be part of it. To that end we’d do well to speak with one voice, though it’s here we demonstrate our greatest weakness. Writers are notoriously independent cusses, hard to wrangle. We spend our mostly solitary days filling up blank pieces of paper with words. We must like it that way, or we wouldn’t do it. But while it’s pretty to think that our odd way of life will endure, there’s no guarantee. The writing life is ours to defend. Protecting it also happens to be the mission of the Authors Guild, which I myself did not join until last year, when the light switch in my cave finally got tripped. Are you a member? If not, please consider becoming one. We’re badly outgunned and in need of reinforcements. If the writing life has done well by you, as it has by me, here’s your chance to return the favor. Do it now, because there’s such a thing as being too late.

Richard Russo
December 2013