Welcome to Biting-Edge, a blog shared by authors and vampire experts, Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein. We’ll cover urban fantasy, vampires, pop culture, and all things Joss Whedon. Unlike other fantasy blogs, we don’t insist on body cavity searches (unless you ask politely). Snarkiness is most welcome...though we won't promise not to bite back!
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Money, money, money
What I'm reading: Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter.
The book biz buzz this week: Publishing house sues writers to pay back their advances.
The most famous case of a writer being sued to return their advance involved actress Joan Collins. She had been paid a $1.2 million advance on a $4 million two-book deal. Her manuscript for the first book was rejected by Random House for being of unacceptable quality. But with millions of dollars at stake, high-priced legal talent piled on. Collins' lawyer argued that her contract only specified that she turn in a completed manuscript, not an acceptable one. The suit went to court and Collins counter sued, contending that she did not receive the editorial help she required, and since she had turned in two manuscripts, she was due the remaining $2.8 million offered in the original deal. In 1996, the court awarded her another million but the publisher did not have to pay for the second manuscript since it was not much different than the first. Where can I get a piece of this action?
1. All the writers mentioned had been contracted to write non-fiction, and some may not have written a book before and sold on proposal. Once they had to put their asses in a chair and produce, the words and ideas didn't flow quite so smoothly. Heh, heh, heh. While I don't feel much sympathy for the writers, I also have to point the finger of shame at Penguin. It doesn't help that one of the writers, Elizabeth Wurtzel, has made a cottage industry out of her personality disorders and drug addiction, so if she spaced out, the publisher can't say they didn't see it coming.
2. Playing the devil's advocate (for us writers, yeah!) Robert Gottlieb, the head of Trident Media Group (Jeanne's literary reps), provided a caveat to the issue of writers having contracted work rejected by their publishers, mentioning reasons the author has no control over. He stresses that good representation helps protect a writer's rights.
I don't personally know of any writers who have had their work rejected for quality reasons or have had to return their advance. I do know of authors whose work did not sell well (for various reasons--among them, the publishers doing squat for marketing) and their contracts were terminated. But the writers were allowed to keep the advances already paid out. And I know of other writers who have returned the advance to buy back the rights for their work. When you sign a contract, three butts should be on the line: Yours. Your agent's. And the acquiring editor. Your success reflects the agent's ability to cull through the chaff of submissions and deliver a good read. The acquiring editor is the one who championed your manuscript to their editorial review board. Too many missteps, and said editor could be sent packing for a new job. In my case, before I submitted my contracted manuscript to the publisher, my agent wanted a first look so there would be only good surprises.
How do advances work? A book deal represents the entire amount to be advanced, that is, paid to you in advance of the royalties of expected sales, usually sales within the first year after publication.
Every advance is structured differently. For small advances, generally $5000 and less, you will get the entire amount upon signing the contract. As advance amounts increase, then you will get half upon signing the contract and the other half upon the publisher accepting the manuscript. For big amounts, say over $100,000, the money might come in thirds. $33,000 upon signing. Another 1/3 upon acceptance, and the remainder upon publication (which you the author have no control over).
For multiple book contracts, say a two-book deal for $50,000, you'd get half for each book upon signing, $25,000. Then $12,500 upon acceptance of the first, and another $12,500 for the second. So in that first year, you'd pocket $37,500, living expenses for most writers. The second year will be rather lean unless you have a sugar daddy or a day job.
Plus, advances are shrinking, even for proven NYT bestsellers. In many cases, advances are half, or as low as a quarter of what they were five years ago. Reverse inflation! If the industry is losing money, it's not because they're paying good authors too much.
The key to publication success is to earn out your advance within the first year, and the sooner the better. That means your book sales have paid back the advance. You'll start earning royalties and you've proven yourself to be a winning horse to bet on. But so many factors are out of your control that any outstanding writers are not given the opportunity to earn out.
Writers Police Academy
Want to see what goes on at a Writers Police Academy? Organizer Lee Lofland gives you a taste on his Graveyard Shift blog here . If you scan down to the first day of pictures, you'll see a familiar face second in line in the building searches exercise. Equipped with rubber guns and gun belts, we conducted a search of a suspected drug house. Unfortunately, "bad guy" CJ Lyons was laying in wait and when my partner and I entered an "empty" kitchen pantry, she got both of us!! Subsequent attempts went much better!!!
Below are a few of my own pictures. First, from the "jaws of life" demonstration. These guys took a car apart in about twelve minutes!! Amazing...
Next time, a real time demonstration of a high speed chase and apprehension. Unfortunately, the blog only allows so many pics so I have to do this in increments.
Anyway, one last pic-- Lee Childs was the guest speaker at Saturday night's banquet. He's as nice as Jack Reacher is nasty.
I filled the critique group in on some of the great things we got to experience--talks with real life undercover ops about street and outlaw motorcycle gangs, the realities of cold cases, live demonstrations by Police K9 SWAT, bomb teams and robots, underwater evidence recovery, handcuffing and arrest techniques, jail searches, police gunfighting. All fodder for the writing mill. I'd recommend this academy to anyone who wants to get the details right in their books. Next year, I'm hoping we'll all go. There's much too much to take in one year. When the website opens for 2013, I'll let you know.
Another benefit was hanging out with pals Jaye Wells, CJ Lyons, Jenna Black, Rick Gustafson (hometown boy from CO), and a bunch of other great writers. We had some interesting talks. Seems most are in agreement--the publishing business is changing radically and the end is not in sight. CJ Lyons shared she hit the million mark in July-- she has sold a MILLION books. It boggles the mind, doesn't it?
If you're a writer, you are about deafened by all the shouting and caterwauling regarding ebooks and the future of publishing (always expressed in Apocalyptic simpering). There's no doubt that publishing has definitely changed, both bad and good for us writers.
On the bad side: For most novelists, the multiple book contract is dead, and a series limps along based on the sales of the last book. Advances for even established, bestselling authors are shrinking, often to half or a quarter of what they were five years ago.
On the plus side: The continuing growth of ebooks allows the writer to circumvent the previous roadblock for self-publishing--the distributor. Before ebooks, if you self-published you had to fork over tens of thousands for hard copies of the books and then find a distributor to market them (and a bookstore willing to shelf them). Now you don't need any hard copies and through Amazon, Barnes & Noble's Nook, etc., your book has the potential to reach a huge and growing audience.
The big however for self-published ebooks remains that you still have to market them.
One golden marketing tactic was Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. The premise behind this tactic was that you'd offer free downloads of your book for a day or two to build buzz, and thousands of free downloads later, you'd put the book back on sale, then Ka-Ching! those thousands of freebies would translate into thousands of sales. But the ease of self-publishing means there's a glut of manuscripts available that should have never gone further than the trash folder. Now offering free downloads doesn't always work, and with the glut of bad free books, seems to work even less.
Forbes provides a welcome and factual analysis of how well free downloads have worked to market a book. Read the article here.
The most sobering statistic?
Weekly average a book sold before free loads--5. Weekly average AFTER free downloads--49.
Hardly day job quitting money.
But not so fast. I personally know two writers who have earned enough from ebooks to quit their day jobs. And several others who have rejuvenated their careers after getting jerked around in traditional publishing.
One commonly repeated tenet is that the best marketing tool is to write a good book. But what does that mean? I have writer friends who have written splendid books, and those books simply not have gained the attention and sales they deserve.
And so to pimp two deserving writer pals we have:
From Publishers Lunch:
"New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author CJ Lyons's BROKEN,
where a critically ill teenage girl discovers that other teens are
coming down with the same sickness, and the illness may not be what it
seems to Leah Hultenschmidt at Sourcebooks by Barbara Poelle at Irene
Goodman Agency. (world English) Foreign Rights: Heather Shapiro at Baror International."
Mario has been putting me to shame with his excellent blogs about books and writing. I wondered what I could do to add my own offerings since lately I've been immersed in promo for Haunted. So I started thinking about a blog piece I did earlier in the year as a guest post--answering a question that is often asked writers--what inspires me as a writer.
Maybe this is a good time to share how I answered that question, especially since so many of us are fresh from Colorado Gold and filled with enthusiasm for the writing process. And with NaNoWriMo just around the corner, it may be the push some of us need to get serious about our writing.
So when asked me what inspires me as a writer and a person, my first response was everything. But then I realized I was confusing inspiration with the process of taking an idea and developing it into a story.
Two different things.
The muse that sparks an idea can be anything. I get ideas for my books from newspapers, television shows, eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations, other books. Ideas float on the air like dandelion snow. You only have to hold out your hand to grab one.
Inspiration is something else.
Inspiration is what makes me sit down at the computer everyday. It’s what helps me through the dark days when it seems I’m fighting a losing battle against the indifference of critics and sometimes even my agent and editor. It’s fighting the urge to give up when a brand new writer comes out of nowhere and wins that huge contract complete with movie and TV rights and a six-figure advance. And then reading the book and realizing, it is that good.
Inspiration is that voice inside you that says keep going. It’s the message of a character like Anna Strong that I want women to hear. It’s the voice that says women are strong and clever and capable of great bravery—with or without super powers.
I need to be my own inspiration. I need to have faith in my abilities and the determination to persevere. I can and do take strength from those around me--my husband, my daughter, my writing partners, my friends. Ultimately, though, I am responsible for myself.
As a writer I tell wanna-be scribes to read...a lot. And deciding that it would be a good idea to follow my own advice, last year I had promised that I would read a book a week. Recently I tried a little contest to test my reading tastes by comparing genre versus literary.
In this corner, the genre heavyweight:
Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn. Years ago I had met Vince Flynn at the Men of Mystery con in Orange County, CA. I didn't have a chance to talk with him during the con as he was mobbed by fans. Then by chance, he and I were near the same gate for our flights home. He turned out to be very friendly and approachable. And very tall. Flynn is famous for his hard-driving potboiler political thrillers and you can't get more genre than him.
Consent is from Flynn's Mitch Rapp CIA super agent books. I chose this book because I wanted to see how Flynn handled backstory in a story from the middle of a series, and I wanted to analyze his writing style.
After a couple of chapters of setup, the plot gets into gear when an Arab billionaire petitions a Saudi prince to assassinate Mitch Rapp as punishment for killing the Arab's son (who had been targeted by the Americans for being a terrorist). The prince contacts an ex-Stasi agent who in turn hires a hit team--a former French Legionnaire officer and his girlfriend. The villains know that Mitch Rapp is the most dangerous of all prey, and if they botch his murder, he will ruthlessly hunt them all.
Whenever I read a novel I have to work to turn off my critique filter, but there was little trouble doing that in this book. Flynn's prose is uncomplicated and direct, and I couldn't find one example of what writing coach Margie Lawson calls a NYT bestselling phrase.
"It's all about story. Everything else is technique." Diana Gabaldon
Flynn delivered a well-crafted tale that forced me to keep the book handy so I could get to the story at every chance. At first, Mitch Rapp struck me as Batman without the cape. But Flynn knocked the props from under Rapp and about took everything from him. Once the villains heard that Rapp was dead (a planted rumor) they began to double-cross each other, then switched course when they discovered Rapp was alive. Rapp and the CIA tightened the screws in a way that made me cheer but Flynn is too clever of a storyteller to give the reader a predictable ending. This finale involved a surprising twist yet remained true to Rapp's character.
In this corner, the literary middleweight: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter. I don't mean to imply that Walter lacks any talent when compared to Flynn. It's that Walter hasn't hit it as commercially big as Flynn.
Though Walter is described as a literary mystery writer, he has won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Novel for Citizen Vince.
The hero in this book is Matt Prior, an unemployed journalist facing foreclosure. He and his wife are ass deep in debt and she's started an affair with someone she's met on Facebook. His live-in senile dad lost everything to a thieving stripper and her boyfriend. Matt's money troubles began when he bankrolled an Internet start-up that offered financial advice in poetic form. He befriends some slackers, scores pot, sells it for a nice profit, and decides he's found the way out of his quagmire.
What carries the narrative is Walter's witty prose, a hallmark of a literary read. Here are a couple of examples:
"The clouds hung low, like a drop ceiling suffused with light from the city."
Matt's appointment with his financial advisor is described:
"The appointment is a predictable as coffin shopping."
The story is a catalog of fresh literary gems. But as the plot unfolds, the narrative veers into mystery genre with a scene as hard-boiled and tense as anything from Breaking Bad.
If Walter's writing chops aren't enough to stoke my envy, this book is being adapted into The Bailout starring Jack Black. Consent is also in movie development.
So what's the verdict? Sorry, but it's a tie.
Wait, there's more:
Writer pal Cat Rambo has a collection of science fiction short stories out, Near + Far. Do yourself a favor and treat your mind to this book. It'll be like a brain massage with a happy ending.
You're in the right place for Biting Edge Thursday edition so don't touch that dial. The problem is I, Jeanne, did not have a chance to put anything together. Why? Many reasons: illness, out of town visitors, brain fatigue.
Next week I'll be back. In the meantime, check out Mario's post on Monday if you haven't already. It's a good one. Or drop into Facebook and catch up on what I'm doing. I have some fun things coming up including speaking to the Denver SciFi/Fantasy group on Saturday night at the Broadway Book Mall and leaving to attend a Writers Police Academy next Thursday in North Carolina. All grist for the mill.
Have a good week and stay away from that awful bug that's going around. I promise I washed my hands before posting this!
Another Colorado Gold conference is in the rear view mirror. Gold conference number 30 to be exact. It was another welcome opportunity to reunite with writer friends and get all wonky about writing commercial fiction. The Saturday keynote speaker, NYT romance author Jodi Thomas, had us laughing as she spun her tale of going from rejected wannabe to making the "List." Sunday's farewell speaker, Debra Dixon, shared her stories of getting published, dealing with a rotten review, and making the transition from author to publisher.
There's no doubt that the growing phenomenon of eBooks is changing the structure of the publishing industry. One concern among both writers and readers is the trend to rush a manuscript into epublication before the book is ready. The big question is: How can you tell? If you've been through the ordeal of submitting query letters and getting rejections, then it's tempting to avoid that heartache by publishing the work yourself. After all, there are plenty of writers who've done rather well self-publishing on Amazon and Nook. Hugh Howey, Elle Lothlorien, and Lynda Hilburn are three good examples.
2. You haven't researched your market or genre: This
is another biggie and oddly enough, very often overlooked. Do you know
what's selling in your industry? Who else is writing about your topic?
Have you bought or read their books? It's important to know what's
trending in your market, what's selling and what isn't. It's always good
to read other people's work because you really want to know how others
are addressing the topic that you're going to be writing about. Not only
that, but these could be great people to network with.
If you're a novelist, chasing trends will lead you nowhere. Writing a novel can take months or even years. Unless your book is gonna get fast-tracked by the publisher, expect at least a year between submitting the manuscript to your editor and seeing the book on the shelf. Remember the zombie mash-ups a few years back? The pipeline for the first of those books was greased before the initial word doc was created. But the market dried up in a hurry and I know of one author who got burned in the process. Right now we're in the middle of Fifty Shades mania and it'll be interesting to see how hot that market remains.
Years ago, we were told that Anne Rice had written everything the public wanted about vampires. The market for undead bloodsuckers was, well, dead. Then Twilight and True Blood kicked that idea in the ass.
I've attended a few How-To-Market-Your-Book-Using-Social-Media workshops and what was missing from every seminar was the most crucial aspect about writing a book. Which is: Write a Good Book. Nowhere in Sanvieri's blog does she mention the importance of writing a good book, or more simply, writing something worth reading. You could say that's an obvious assumption, but we writers know that there's a reason that writing is called opening a vein. Putting words together to make a coherent and compelling story is hard work. If it was as easy as pulling the marketing levers and getting your fiction onto the bestseller list, then every novel would be a winner.
Why do marketers harp so much on marketing your book? First of all, marketing is what they know best and that's the prism through which they see the world. Two, it's easy to set up a marketing plan and quantify your efforts. Do A. Then B. C. etc., and pretend you're doing something useful for your writing career. But no one has yet to quantify what makes a book "a good book" before it is written. Amanda Hocking is touted as a writer who marketed her way to success. But all her work wouldn't have mattered if her books hadn't resonated with her readers. You may go down the Write-A-Bestseller-Checklist and still end up with a turkey.
Remember what W. Somerset Maugham said about writing:
"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
Don't let the marketing experts make you spin your wheels when your most important function as a writer is to write a good book. And forget that stupid 80/20 advice that you should spend 80 percent of your time marketing and 20 percent actually writing.
Does this mean you ignore marketing? Of course not. There's no point in publishing a book if no one hears about it.
But the best way to promote your current book is to write the next one.
So write and write well.
Don't forget, if you're in L.A. next weekend, catch me at ComiKaze Expo.
10 – 10:50WOTY
panel – with Mario, Pamela Nowak, Robin Owens – BIG THOMPSON
3:30 – 4:20 Violence in Fiction – with Carol Berg, Warren Hammond – PLATTE
Friday evening is a signing open to the public so if you're in the neighborhood of the Renaissance Hotel, 3801 Quebec St, Denver, stop by and say hello.
After a weekend of non-stop action at Dragon*Con, I don't have more than a couple of brain cells to rub together. So here's what I've got for you this week. It ain't much, but it's better than nothing!
Some good news from Cinemablend.com:
Joss Whedon signs three year deal with Marvel Studios
Joss Whedon has plenty of experience as a showrunner. During his years in television he brought worlds like Firefly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel to life, and even managed to the connect the arcs of the last two together. And now it looks like Whedon will have to take that same experience and talent to the big screen as he is basically becoming the showrunner for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Following news from earlier this afternoon, when it was announced that Whedon would be writing and directing The Avengers 2 and working on a television show set within the MCU, Marvel Studios has told the Los Angeles Times that Whedon has actually signed a three year exclusive deal with the studio that will have him working under the company’s roof until June 2015.
In addition to the projects announced earlier today, Whedon will also be contributing creatively to the Marvel universe as a whole, but that actually isn’t really new ground for the filmmaker. After being hired to write and direct The Avengers, Marvel had him do some work on the script for Captain America : The First Avenger and he also directed the tag scene at the end of Thor. While it’s unlikely that Whedon will have any role in the development of Iron Man 3 or Thor : The Dark World, as one is already months into production and the other is just a few weeks away from it, he could very well play a crucial role in Captain America : The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, which are the two films that Marvel is currently developing for 2014.
This is honestly the greatest thing Marvel could have done. Company President Kevin Feige did an absolutely brilliant job with developing Phase One, introducing audiences to the characters and getting them ready for a larger life on screen, but putting Whedon as the man at the helm is perfection. His years on television have shown that he is a genius when it comes to character development and gradual personality shifts, and that’s exactly what the Marvel Cinematic Universe will need in the years ahead. There is not a piece of bad news to be found in this developing story.
Amen to that. We can't have too much Whedon magic!!
posted by Jeanne Stein @ 4:05 AM0 comments
Sunday, September 02, 2012
Mood music and Comikaze Expo
One thing we writers strive to create in our stories is mood, especially in noir fiction. I like the murky ambiance surrounding sketchy characters with dubious motives. Musicians also like to create mood and if there is one singer who can conjure the type of shadowed emotions that I like to color my stories with, it would have to be Tom Waits. Listen to his songs and you can almost smell the discarded cigarettes, spilled beer, and desperation.
Another crooner who also does a great job striking the moody chord is Kathy Kosins.
When I listen to her croon "Don't Wait Up For Me" I want to lie back at night and ease my regrets with a glass of scotch (the plume from a lit cigarette catching the intermittent glow of a neon sign down the street would complete the romantic image but I don't smoke).
If you write, then you can't help but deal with bouts of melancholia, and when that happens, there is a remedy for you. Next week is Colorado Gold, the annual writers conference of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and catch Jeanne Stein, Warren Hammond, and me presenting the workshop, How to Keep Writing While the World is Kicking Your Ass. Believe me, all three of us have mighty big bruises on our trim little butts and yet we keep on writing.
The following week I'll be a guest at the ComiKaze-Comic, Anime, Gaming, Sci-Fi, Fanatsy and Horror Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Judging from the line-up, I seem to be a token novelist. (A book? Not a graphic novel? There are no pictures. Is it like a screenplay? What's with all the extra words?) The con will be packed with guest artists, graphic novel writers, screenwriters, animators, all schmoozing under the benevolent eye of the comic god hisself, Stan Lee. Zomie! Bam! Pow! Still not impressed?Then check out this partial list of Featured Guests:
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark