Something new from Kindle (yeah, I know it’s Amazon. The world is not perfect.) They’ve got a new promotion called Kindle Countdown Deals.
And The Deal is this:
Both titles will sell for just .99, that’s less than a buck, folks, from early Saturday, August 30 to Sunday noon PDT. Then, the price goes up to $1.99 (still super cheap!) till Monday, Labor Day September 1, till 11:00 p.m. PDT when the price reverts back to $4.99 (which is also pretty cheap if you ask me, but hey. . .)
It’s not really the end of summer, it’s the end of August. At least here in California, there’s at least a month more of great beach days needing beach reads. An easy way to help fill up that e-book pipeline. At any rate, I hope you enjoy the stories.
I wanted to do an “if these walls could talk” kind of story. Originally I envisioned it quite literally, i.e. I’d tell the story of successive generations of renters at a single apartment (what became Shirley Knolls in the book). That pretty much morphed into a story of friendship over time, and how people change from youth to midlife. Also, a big part of the story is acceptance of where one finds oneself in midlife. You might say that’s an ongoing personal challenge, so it resonates with me.
Are your characters based on real people, such as yourself or others?
When I’ve written mid-life white gay male characters, like Ben Schmidt in “Benediction” or Noah Baldock in “The Forest Dark”, of course there’s a lot of me in those characters. With Noah in “Forest Dark,” I tried to model a lot of the character’s behavior on someone I knew in the past who died fairly young, and extrapolating what I thought that person would’ve ended up as in midlife. That process was actually easier than writing from what your own motivations and reactions would be. And how much more refreshing, it is, too, for the writer to be invested in someone outside of him or herself. My other main characters in both books are based on a conglomeration of friends and relatives—sometimes enemies, too.
Have you ever thought about writing a novel series?
I never did until recently. I’ve gotten a bunch of comments from fans of “Benediction” wondering what happens with Ben Schmidt after the end of that book. And, more recently, I’ve had a couple of people express interest in my character Louis Ronald Reagan von Eiff White—thinking there should be more. I think it would be fun to revisit the characters—but the story and the situations have to be compelling and stand on their own. I’ll likely make a decision soon on what to write once “Kept” is finished— later this year.
What is your best experience with self-publishing?
Seeing “Benediction” start selling quite a bit of time after its launch—which would never have happened in traditional publishing because it would have been pulled from bookstores early on for not selling. I think that’s one of the advantages of internet selling and publicity—you have a lot more time to make your case, so to speak. In fact you might have practically forever in some sense.
And your worst?
Honestly, it’s probably the realization that I have to do everything with my books—yes, writing them but also marketing them—and coming up with continuous and hopefully fresh and cheap ways to do that. There’s an incredible amount of noise out there and certainly no right answers for all of that. I think you just hope that occasionally something you do will attract a reader. When that happens, it’s worth all the sweat.
So many people left my earthly circle this year, whether it’s friends’ parents, friends of friends, or acquaintances — it sure seemed like death was hovering over us more than usual. Maybe not, maybe I just paid more attention to it.
There were a few people I want to remember here, even if I did it before in the blog, as we close out the year I want to say goodbye once more.
Dennis died unexpectedly in his sleep last March. It was a great shock to all who knew him, and so devastating for his partner Mark and his other family and close friends. Dennis was one of my first fiction fans – someone who reached out into that internet ether and not only complimented me on my book “Benediction,” but wanted to get together to talk about it. What a way to flatter an author! So eventually we did meet. Dennis had also suffered through prostate cancer (a main theme in that book) and went on to found a number of discussion and support groups for gay men with those health concerns. He was a TV producer, sure, but he also brought those skills to his passion as an activist. He was one of those people who knew how to make things happen, and he leaves a great void in Los Angeles. You can read more about Dennis here.
Whenever I think of Linda I just can’t help but smile. She was just the most fabulous, bubbly, interesting, smart and wonderful woman! I just adored her. She’d been a studio exec, a wildlife photographer, a teacher and a writer. Probably many more things I don’t even know about! I knew her best as a writing teacher and then a writing colleague. She had such a way with students, so supportive and encouraging. Just the right amount, and not sentimental. She was, in a sense, very girly, but also very strong and independent. She was also someone to live her life on her own terms — something that so resonates here.
Joan Helen Arnold
Finally, my aunt Joan Arnold, who died in August at 92. Here’s a link to her obituary on this blog that I wrote earlier this year. What more can I say about her? One of a kind. Another great example of someone who lived life on her own terms, fiercely independent, definitely a role model for me as yet another single person in a big city. She definitely proved that not only could you work and go to the theater and out to dinner and pretty much do everything you always did well into your 90s: She also seemed to prove, to me, anyway, that in a big way the numerical age we all have is just some “idea,” to which we ascribe certain prejudices of what we should or should not be doing. Whenever I think of myself as that weird old guy on the bike with the blue lights, I think of my aunt going to work everyday at 92 years of age (and being a respected and valued member of the staff while there).
“You are remembered for the rules you break.” — Douglas MacArthur
One of the nice things about the deal is that it’s retroactive – meaning, if you bought a print version of say, Benediction, back in 2009 and are just dying to have the e-book version of it in Kindle, you can get it for (I think) $1.99. Less than your morning latte, folks – and, there’s no tip jar.
Or, if you’re just buying The Forest Dark for the first time, you can get both a print book and the e-book together for under a sweet ten-spot. There might even be a few pennies change (which you can then use for that latte jar – – does anyone else think that those tip jars are getting a little out of hand?)
So you don’t have to wait, I mean, like I said above, it’s all retroactive, so you can go and buy the version you don’t have for the discount at any time. Amazon is all-knowing and they know what you paid for it before. (I’m sure you, like me, feel better knowing the NSA knows my book buying tastes, and hopefully Mr. Cheney has learned something from this book list.)
Oh and you DO know you don’t actually have to have a Kindle device to read Kindle books, right? I still don’t have one of the official Kindle contraptions — but I’ve got the FREE app on my laptop Macbook, on my Android phone, and now even on the Nook I inherited from my aunt. Amazing world, eh, where a Kindle app works on a Nook. But it does.
I have a book about the opposite methodology – turning a novel into a script. But I’m not sure a roadmap exists for this what – this expansion, I guess, is what it would be.
I’m in the process now, with a script I wrote a few years ago called “Kept.” The movie I envisioned is a steamy potboiler encompassing the wide diversity of the folks who live out in the Coachella Valley (the Palm Springs, CA area).
I want to elevate the tenor of all this a bit for the novel, so I have to make some small changes which I hope will have a profound effect on the feeling the finished product gives the reader.
Here are some of the things I know I must do, in no particular order. If you’re embarking on a script-to-novel conversion, as many screenwriters seem to be doing these days, hopefully this is helpful:
Go back to your character bios and make them real. I always have written biographies for my main (and often secondary, as well) characters, using Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing” as a guide (he furnishes an outline to follow). For a novel, it’s imperative that you can live and breathe your characters. In a screenplay, I know I’ve often cheated, using archetypes and gulp, cliches.
Go Back to Your Themes. Before writing a script (or any fictional thing, really) I list out my themes, the overarching ideas I want to have come through the work. The source I use to prod myself is an old copy of Eric Heath’s “Story Plotting Simplified,” which lists and explains the 36 Basic Plots. For “Kept,” Greed, Lust and Nihilism are essential themes. Your themes for a novel will be more internal than those you chose for your screenplay.
People often ask me why I decided to go the self-publishing route with Eureka Street Press – and now to continue along that path with my second novel (“The Forest Dark“). Here are the reasons. (If you have any questions, I’d love to respond to them – just put them in the comments.)
So, why Self-Publish? Here’s what happened with “Benediction” (2009):
Initially, I went the traditional approach looking for a book agent, specifically, one who had supported Gay Fiction in the past (this was for my first novel, Benediction)
I sent out 30 or so letters to agents and got back respectful rejections from all (all that I heard back from, which was most of them, if not all)
I also realized that the question of how to market this book (about a middle-aged gay man with prostate cancer) was equivalent to the question of the quality of the book itself – which struck a chord with me, as it was similar to my work experience in the entertainment industry, i.e., the questions we asked about film and TV projects, regardless of subjective “merit.”
It’s all about genre: to successfully market a book, you have to choose a genre. Even though I always felt the book (Benediction) had wide appeal, I chose to brand it Gay Fiction.
About the same time, I spoke with an acquaintance who had a good experience with self-publishing (Drew Banks, Able Was I) and took a seminar at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center on Self-Publishing (given by bestselling writer Nick Nolan).
I took the class, and his ideas really seemed to make tremendous sense, particularly from a niche marketing model
I’m also a big fan of Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail, and realized how the internet has basically changed the way we find out about and buy media (among other things), but especially music and books.
I had done this before – with a short documentary video, which is for sale VOD (video on demand) on amazon.com and has been for years. (Our Brothers, Our Sons, which was also an independently produced project from start to finish.)
My old day jobs (remember them?) have mostly been in marketing/PR, so doing that aspect of this process (and it is a significant part of the process) was not daunting to me.
The Basic Process
I chose a publishing company (originally BookSurge, now they’re CreateSpace), which is owned by amazon.com, and intimately connected to all the marketing strength of amazon. (This is also the company that distributes my video.)
I hired a copyeditor and a separate graphic designer for the cover.
I submitted text files once the book was edited, and then proofread, made changes, then approved galleys.
Once that was done, the title was ready to be printed P.O.D. (print on demand) model, i.e., there is no inventory, when a book is ordered, they print one, which makes this business model doable. It was also formatted to Kindle ebook, which have turned out to been the lion’s share of sales.
The Marketing Part
Challenge – you do have to find your audience, which is mainly people who not only buy their books online, but also find out about their books on the internet.
I committed to spending about an hour a day for a year (at least, gulp) doing marketing on this book, mostly online.
After the launch, then what?
Growing an online fan base is really slow – hopefully, these books will pay for themselves eventually, but there’s no guarantee.
You have to do all the marketing yourself – or pay someone to do it for you.
The whole issue of “returnable books” makes the economics of selling self-published or P.O.D. books in brick-and-mortar bookstores really difficult – so you do miss that audience, or they are harder to reach. (You tell people about it, but they don’t see it in bookstores, so out of sight, out of mind…)
There is still some prejudice against self-published books as being of inferior quality, though that is rapidly changing year over year.
My hunch is that self-publishing is best for books that have a real clear niche to them – probably the best for non-fiction (like a self-help or a finance book, for example), followed by really definable genre fiction books – such as mystery, romance, etc. It’s much harder with literary fiction unless there’s a great marketing hook or you’re already a well known writer with a platform (a blog, a following on Facebook, a YouTube sensation, an email list of thousands, etc.)
Online royalty structure is outstanding – up to about 35% of list price for paperbacks, 70% of list price for ebooks.
The book will never go out of print, unless I take it out of print.
Control, control, control! As the author, I have total control over this book and what happens to it – and with CreateSpace, it’s a non-exclusive arrangement, so I can pursue other sales channels (for instance, with Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc.) as well. (And I admit it, I’m pretty much a control freak.)
No need to share the royalties with an agent.
Timing – you can have a book out in the marketplace in a couple of months – vs. a year to 18 months or more with a traditional publishing deal.
A successful self-published book is also a frequent launching pad to a traditional publishing contract, should you want that. (Amazon Encore for successful self-published books, others.)
1. Content and design control. Self-publishers can control what’s in a book, how long it is, and how it looks. They only answer to themselves for most aspects of their books.
2. Time to market. Self-publishers can get their book to market in less than a week once it’s copyedited. Traditional publishers take six to nine months to get a printed book to market, and they will not release the ebook version earlier than the printed version.
3. Longevity. Self-publishers can keep their book in print forever—or at least as long as it takes for readers to discover it. Traditional publishers stop marketing a book once sales decline.
4. Revisions. Self-publishers can revise books immediately with online ebook resellers and printers that are working “on demand.” Traditional publishers can take months to fix errors because they print revisions after they’ve sold off current inventory.
5. Higher royalty. Self-publishers can make more money. Amazon pays a 35 percent or 70 percent royalty to ebook self-publishers. On a $2.99 ebook, most authors make approximately $2.00.
6. Price control. Self-publishers can change the price of their book at will. For example, they can set a lower price to try to sell more copies or set a higher price to communicate higher quality.
7. Global distribution. Self-publishers can achieve global distribution of their ebook on day one. For example, Kindle Direct Publishing will list an ebook in one hundred countries. Apple’s iBookstore reaches fifty countries.
8. Control of foreign rights. Self-publishers determine who buys foreign rights and for how much. They can make more money because they are not sharing foreign-rights revenues with a traditional publisher.
9. Analytics. Self-publishers can receive real-time or near real-time sales results. Traditional publishers provide twice-a-year royalty statements—imagine running a business with two sales reports a year.
10. Deal flexibility. Self-publishers can cut any kind of deal with any kind of organization. Traditional publishers only sell to resellers except for bulk sales of printed books to large organizations.
Linda was not just a great teacher, but a wonderful inspiration. I always thought of her as a kind of amazing renaissance woman, someone who found her bliss and along the way to that realization did a lot of really interesting things – and had a lot of fun.
She was part of Hollywood royalty, and then she was also a wildlife photographer in Africa; a passionate pet lover, and also a writer of popular mystery novels. I’ll always be grateful that she shared her love and knowledge of writing through UCLA. I remember she was an early champion of my main character “Ben” in my first book “Benediction” — when many in our class had opposite opinions. At that point I think I needed someone to say to me that “this is OK, proceed” — and Linda confidently provided that affirmation. I might have stopped otherwise.
The sad truth of the writerly life: probably, you’re not getting rich. Patrick Wensink lays it all out for you here in Salon.
I’m a firm believer in transparency — here, the transparency which seeks to eliminate wishful thinking and guesswork — both of which seem endemic to the arts.
Painters, dancers, actors — and indeed, writers — often let the magic of following the dream weigh heavily on the practical decisions to pursue the art. Not that it’s not worth pursuing – by all means, it is/they are – I just believe one should take that leap with a clear idea of why. (And a good line on a day job.)
And that “why” should not be about financial rewards. Sure, you may become the next Spielberg, Warhol, Baryshnikov, whoever — but chances are you won’t. Or it may take a really, really, really long time. So there has to be enough love in your heart and passion for the thing itself to enjoy it for its own sake. Otherwise, don’t do it.
Truly, the self-publishing model has turned the world of book publishing upside down, but it’s still going to be really hard work to not only write that masterpiece but also market it without the publicity machine of a big company. Novelists can do this, yes, but it’s not quick and it’s not easy. And it’s certainly not free.
Wensink even calls writing books a “fiscally idiotic quest.” I had a well-meaning friend actually laugh out loud when she asked me what the average monthly royalty check on my book “Benediction” is, and I told her (I’m not telling you – but it’s small – so much for transparency). Yes, it does make one feel like an idiot.
But still, we persevere. There’s some powerful drive there, the need to create, to tell stories, to transcend ourselves, whatever it may be. Then there’s always the hope that someday we’ll get Hollywood-sized paydays (that’s actually a place where writers can make some decent money, though when you average out lean years with spectacular ones, it may not be all that much different from other professions, at least for the vast majority).
So keep writing. You need to do it, and we need your dreams.
As a prostate cancer survivor, I can attest to the simple fact that a PSA test did indeed save my life. Prostate cancer runs in my family; I had it in my mid-forties (very early for this kind of cancer) and one of my younger brothers has unfortunately followed in my footsteps, so to speak. If I hadn’t had that test at 46, my doctor probably wouldn’t have ordered one until age 50, at which point it might have well been too late. Once prostate cancer metastasizes, it’s incurable.
With the proper treatment, which, in my case included surgery for prostate removal followed by two months of external beam radiation, I’ve now been (knock on wood) cancer-free for over ten years.
Also in my case, there was a support group for gay men with prostate cancer in San Francisco, where I lived at the time. Going to those bi-weekly meetings over the course of about a year was crucial for me to get a sense of how my recovery was progressing, as well as for firmly understanding that I was not alone — the sense of which can be absolutely crushing.
Prostate cancer is awful and people don’t want to talk about it. Even totally successful treatment for the disease often involves various levels of erectile dysfunction and incontinence that can linger for years or forever. It’s not a shock that no one wants to think about it – believe me, especially those of us who’ve had it.
That’s why it’s so great that these small support groups are there in Los Angeles, at the LA Gay Center at the Village. In a population that has a lot of other issues, not the least of which is the heterosexual assumption in medicine (as in, healthcare pros assume you’re straight until you tell them otherwise; many gay men never mention it) and the lack of any training to address this population.
As more of us “come out” about these aspects of our lives, one can only assume that the quality of our recovery will improve, as well as be an example for the world at large in discussing male cancers.
That simple blood test, once a year. PSA.
Oh, and by the way, I wrote a novel very loosely based on my experiences of that time. You can find out more about “Benediction” here.
* UPDATE March 26, 2013 – Very sad to report that Dennis unexpectedly passed away in his sleep on March 24. I’m honored to have known him and to have been a part of the important work he was doing around gay men’s health issues.