Archive for September, 2011

As PG has read book contracts for his clients (Thank You!) and contracts contributed to his Contract Collection (Thank You!), one message keeps coming through loud and strong.

Contempt.

Contempt for authors.

Contempt from publishers for authors.

Contempt from agents for authors.

Passive Guy (PG), from The Passive Voice blog, is the alter ego of David P. Vandagriff, an attorney who works with contracts and his superpower is making contracts understandable, even interesting!

Many publishers have their version of a clause designed to capture new book rights that will be invented one hundred years from now.

Publishers were blind-sided by ebooks and have had to simply claim their contracts included ebooks even when the contract never mentioned anything but hardcovers and paperbacks.

Publishers know that if an author takes them to court, a judge will ask a question something like, “Where does it talk about ebooks in this contract?” Publisher’s counsel will respond by talking about emanations and penumbras floating around paragraph 15 and subparagraph 21(d). The judge’s well-honed BS meter will quickly be pegged in the red zone.

A contract is supposed to reflect the intentions of the parties at the time it is signed. Copyright law includes a presumption that any right not expressly granted by an author is deemed reserved to the author. If an author requests a standard reservation of rights clause, even a publisher may feel embarrassed by refusing to include it.

So, in the tradition of fighting the last war, we see a Rights Clause whereby the author grants the publisher the sole and exclusive right to create or produce or cause to magically appear any book or book-like object or book idea and beam the result into the sky in any form which is now or may in the future be stumbled-upon or imagined or hallucinated by the mind of man and/or machine in any conceivable or inconceivable way and anywhere throughout the world and the universe, whether presently mapped or unmapped.

In the reality-based business world, if PG received a contract including a clause like this, he would call opposing counsel and ask, “Sally, what are you smoking?”

In the traditional publishing world, the author is supposed to sign at the bottom of the page.

Contempt.

Finally (for this post), there are all the smarmy little attempts to put one over on an author. PG can appreciate well-crafted deviousness just for the art of it, but these are stupid deviousness.

How to choose between so many candidates for discussion?

Passive Guy will return to last July for this one, an audit clause:

Author may, with sixty (60) days’ written notice but not more than once a year, assign and designate a certified and independent public accountant to examine Publisher’s records as they relate to the Work. Such examination shall be at Author’s expense unless errors are found in excess of ten percent (10%) of royalties in Author’s favor, then Publisher shall pay amounts owing for the Work and the reasonable cost of the audit.

As a condition precedent to the exercise by Author of his/her right to examine the books and records of Publisher, Author’s duly authorized certified and independent public accountant shall execute an agreement to the effect that any information obtained as a result of such examination shall be held strictly confidential and shall not be revealed to any third party other than Author or her representative without written permission by Publisher. Author also hereby agrees to hold all information and statements provided to Author or her accountant in strictest confidence.

Do you see the smarmy deviousness?

In order to perform an audit to determine if the publisher is stealing from the author, the accountant hired by the author will have to sign an agreement, an agreement the publisher will create.

How hard is it for the publisher to create an agreement no accountant will ever sign? Not very.

No signature, no audit. You’ll just have to be satisfied with the numbers we decide to put on your royalty report, dearie.

To read the rest of PGs marvelous rant about contracts, click here: How to Read a Book Contract – Contempt

Advertisements

1. Recommendations from fellow readers on online message forums, blogs and message boards.

2. New books from a reader’s favorite authors.

3. Random browsing. Readers look at book covers, reviews, download free samples.

Mark Coker conducted a survey and the above is an abridged report of what he found. Interestingly, bestseller lists weren’t a major factor in how readers discovered new ebooks. (The graphic, above, expands if you click it. It lists the various ways ebook buyers discover ebooks.)

Read Mark Coker’s post here: How Ebook Buyers Discover Books

Heck yea! $79 dollars for an eReader? I have an iPad, am the cheapest person I know, and I’m tempted to get one. I think this will be the device that will knock a lot of people off the should-I-get-an-eReader fence. That means more people wanting ebooks, a lot more. Writers sold a lot of ebooks last year but I predict that this Christmas will make last year seem anemic by comparison.

Articles about Amazon’s announcement are all over the web, but here’s the news:

When Amazon gathered technology and publishing journalists for a press conference in New York on Wednesday, there was a buzz of excitement. The online bookseller was ready to debut its long-rumored tablet, the Kindle Fire.

The product itself wasn’t all that exciting: it’s a lot like the iPad, in that it can play movies and music. It retains its bookish roots by storing media on virtual shelves (pictured, right). The real news about the Kindle Fire is its bargain-basement price: $199.

That was the upshot of all the devices Amazon’s Jeff Bezos presented: familiar, but cheaper.

$79 Kindle: Like the established and popular Kindle, but lighter and without the keyboard across the bottom (photo, at left).

$99 Kindle Touch: Like the Nook or Kobo, control of the Kindle touch is on the screen. It’s an e-reader only, and, for a few dollars more, can be ad-free ($139) and connect with 3G ($159). See our Technology Blog for more info.

$199 Kindle Fire: A full-color multimedia tablet. Some say it’s positioned to be an iPad killer; others say its low price will crash the rest of the tablet market. See our Technology Blog’s report on the Kindle Fire.

The tactic Amazon seems to be taking is creating its own versions of established products and selling them for irresistibly low prices.

Read more here: Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, new e-readers target low-cost market

This blog started out being about book blogs and then it morphed into something slightly different. Is this post the better or the worse for it? I’ll let you, kind reader, be the judge.

Book blogs. I’ve considered starting a book blog on and off for some time. As far as I understand it, a book blog contains bits of a work in progress. Not posts about a work in progress, the work itself.

I think I would name the blog, “The Naked Writer,” after Jamie Oliver’s show “The Naked Chef” where the idea was to “strip food down to its bare essentials”[1]. I guarantee you the blog would be PG, no nudity except the intellectual kind.

To test the waters, I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post containing the rough draft of a horror story I’ve been working on for the past few days. I know, I know, horror isn’t my genre, I’m urban fantasy gal, but I wanted to challenge myself to do something different, something I’ve never tried before.

I’ve got the story more or less plotted out and have even started writing it but I feel like an extra little bit of motivation might be just what I need.

I want to skip out of the flow of this post for a moment (I told you about this!) to mention an incredible moment of … what? synchronicity? Basically something happened that I think is pretty darn cool. Sneak peek: it involves Stephen King.

A few minutes ago I got up to get a cup of coffee and (it’s a habit!) checked my email when I sat back down at my desk. One way I get content for my Twitter feed and this blog is though a bunch of Google Alters on a great many topics including Stephen King.

The latest Alert (I imagine them as spiders on a great web scuttling to and fro, juicy morsels of information grasped in their shiny chitinous jaws) contained a link to an interview. The article, “Stephen King: One of the best writers of all time?” was about King’s collaboration on Scott Snyder’s graphic novel series “American Vampire”.

Okay, bla, bla, bla, here’s what I’ve been leading up to. At one point in the interview Snyder is asked:

Q: Horror plays a big role in your books. Where did you get this wild imagination?

Synder’s answer is great, and I’d encourage you folks to read it in its entirety, but here’s the part of Snyder’s answer that made me catch my breath:

… for me, really, really good horror is a character being challenged by their greatest fear as it manifests itself in the form of either a monster or just a challenge. It really cuts to the heart of what that character is afraid of. The story matters in that way, especially in comics, where you are taking these characters that are so heroic and have so many amazing qualities, and then going for something that you think is a great quality but also going for the weak side of that thing.

Q: Can you give us some examples from the superhero world?

For Superman, it’s almost like the fact that he’s a god, or almost a god, in terms of his limitless power can also be something that you could write a story about in a way that really frightens him about being completely alienated and lonely and turned upon by everyone. Or, for Batman, his knowledge of Gotham, his pathological and obsessive needs to not have connections to people and just be the best there is. You could easily do a story where that’s thrown in his face by somebody like the Joker who’s calling him crazy and saying, “You should live in the Asylum with us.” At that point the Bat-world is like Stephen King; it puts you in a situation where you face your fears, where there are terrible things you did … or the things that you don’t want to tell anyone about, but that you’re frightened of that are coming from life and coming for you in some way. In that way, I’ve always been a big fan of psychological horror. Or, it might just be that I watched too many of those slasher films in the ’80s.

Wow! The horror writer puts you, the reader, in a situation where you face your fears, where the terrible things things you did, the things you didn’t want to tell anyone about, the things you’re afraid will come to life, those things are coming for you.

As a writer, that’s inspiring. I can see the ending for my short story. Gotta go write!

[1] From http://www.jamieoliver.com/tv-books/the-naked/chef

This is my first interview and I am thrilled to be able to introduce Martin Lastrapes to you, author of Inside the Outisde. Before we get into the interview, here is a bit about Martin:

My name is Martin Lastrapes and I’m a novelist. I grew up in the Inland Empire, an eclectic region of Southern California with a rich history that nobody knows about, including most of the people who live there. Despite growing up in the region that birthed the Hell’s Angels, housed the first McDonald’s restaurant and is one of the foremost manufacturers and suppliers of crystal meth, I spent the great majority of my childhood watching professional wrestling and reading comic books, when I wasn’t busy avoiding homework or wondering when I should begin my evolution of becoming Batman.

In 2003 I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Creative Writing and in 2006 I earned a Master’s Degree in Composition, both from California State University, San Bernardino. While I loved the time I spent as an undergrad, I often reflect on graduate school as three years I will never get back. But, despite the hellish experience of graduate school, I have happily parlayed my academic résumé into a career as an English professor.

My writing has been published in various literary journals and websites, such as The Pacific Review and L.A. Voice. In 2004, I won awards for my short fiction from the Cal Poly Writer’s Conference, as well as the California Writer’s Club. I’m also a professional blogger. But, in the end, where it concerns writing, my primary focus and passion is on being a novelist. My debut novel, Inside the Outside, was published in July of 2011.

Q: After I wrote my book, UNTIL DEATH, I had to formulate what some people call an elevator pitch and describe it in 50 words or less. Give me yours for INSIDE THE OUTSIDE. Also, what is your favorite scene in the book?

Oh, right, the dreaded elevator pitch. Let’s see…

Timber Marlow has lived her entire life within a cult of cannibals. After exploring the Outside—mainstream society—Timber sets into motion a series of events that culminate in her discovery of some unsettling truths about the world around her and the integral role she plays in it.

That was actually 46 words, so I suppose I have four to spare.  How about: She kills people, too.

As far as my favorite scene, there are quite a few that I like very much. But, if I had to pick one, it would probably be the first Sustenance Sacrifice in the story. Within the cult, the cannibals generally eat each other after a ritual they call the Sustenance Sacrifice, where one cult member is tied down and his (or her) head is chopped off by the cult leader. I remember finishing that scene and feeling like I’d done something really good, something that readers probably hadn’t seen before.  I also remember feeling very uneasy as I imagined the scene and I wondered if I should tone it down.  But, ultimately, I decided that if I could imagine a scene that made me uneasy, then I should definitely keep it in the book.  And, so far, in my conversations with folks who’ve read the book, it’s probably the scene that’s gotten the most reactions.

Q: So, what first drew you to writing about cannibalism?

Well, I’m a vegetarian, so this certainly played a role. But I think also I was drawn to the idea of cannibalism from about the age of 6 or 7 after I saw the Wes Craven film The Hills Have Eyes: Part II. My godfather, Willard Pugh, is an actor and was one of the stars in the film. Upon watching it, I think it was my dad or my brother wo explained to me what a cannibal was. Later, when I was in college and studying creative writing, I read a book about farming, which, among other things, described the life of farms animals. I was pretty horrified by most of it. I got to wondering if other people would be equally horrified, but decided that they probably wouldn’t be. Then the idea occurred to me of replacing the animals with people and writing a story about it. From that point on (which was about 10 years ago) I became obsessed with the idea of writing novel about cannibals. And the result of that obsession is my debut novel, Inside the Outside.

Q: In many quarters self-publishing is still viewed as an option of last resort and something that will forever besmirch a writer’s name. I agree with Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and many others that this is not the case. That said, many writers of my acquaintance are steadfastly committed to traditional publishing and view with horror, and perhaps even some hostility, the attempts of their fellow writers to become independent authors. I spent some years in university and emerged with a degree in philosophy and psychology and it was my experience that my fellow academics tended to be conservative. Here is my question: why did you decide to self-publish and what has been the response of your colleagues or your writerly friends and acquaintances? 

Like many (if not most) writers, I first tried to get published through the traditional route of getting a literary agent to represent me and have them shop my writing around to editors and publishers. I spent at least a year or so shopping Inside the Outside around to literary agents and small publishing presses and while there was plenty of rejection, I also got the occasional bit of interest that almost always culminated into some version of the following: “This sounds good, but I don’t think it’s right for me.” Because Inside the Outside touches on some controversial issues and presents graphic images, often of a violent or sexual nature, I knew that it might be a tough sell. But I also knew (or, at the very least, was very confident) that I had written a good book.  And, more than that, I knew, given a chance, there was an audience for my book. So the more rejections I collected, the more I realized I had two options: 1) I could keep playing the publishing lottery in the hopes of hitting the jackpot, or 2) I could take my fate into my own hands.  In the end, option #2 was more appealing, so I started Cannibal Press. The best part about being having my own publishing press is knowing that any book I decide to write will definitely get published. That’s a very liberating feeling as an author, because it means all I have to worry about is writing the best book possible.  And, really, that’s all any writer should have to worry about.

Q: Having self-published, how are you finding the experience and how is the reality of self-publishing different from your expectations?

The experience of self-publishing is extremely gratifying.  I expected it to be a lot of work and I suppose you can say I wasn’t disappointed.  The publishing process itself was challenging, but, in the end I enjoyed it.  And even in post-publication, there is still work to be done everyday, primarily in the form of marketing and promoting.  From posting on my website (martinlastrapes.com), Facebook (facebook.com/MartinLastrapes), and Twitter (@MartinLastrapes), there is always something to do.  And, of course, trying to balance all of that, while also working on my second novel, as well as a screenplay adaptation of Inside the Outside, is pretty tricky at times.  But, even if I were a traditionally published author, I imagine I’d still be working just as hard doing most, if not all, of the same things. 

Q: Writing a novel is such a complex exercise that I imagine no two authors do it exactly the same. Can you summarize your process for me?

For me, the most important part of a novel is the story, so I work out the story arc chapter by chapter.  I make sure all the primary characters have their own story arcs and that each of those story arcs coincides with the larger story.  Once all of that is worked out, then it’s just a matter of writing the chapters I’ve outlined.  Of course, I did things a little differently with the novel I’m currently working on.  The only thing I knew when I started was I wanted to write a vampire novel.  I’d actually been itching to write a vampire story of any sort for about seven or eight years, I just didn’t have any idea of what it would be about (plus I had my hands full writing Inside the Outside). Instead of waiting for an idea to come to me, I decided to just start writing. I began with the following sentence:

“Adam first sucked Olivia’s blood in the sandbox of Heritage Park, stopping briefly to yank the crucifix from her neck as it seared a red cross on the top of his hand.”

From there I just started writing, stream-of-consciousness style. My hope was that I would create some characters and put them in interesting situations and, with any luck, a larger story would present itself. By the time I finished the fourth chapter, I figured out what the story was about.  I spent about a solid week outlining the whole rest of the novel. Of course, the outline isn’t set in stone.  If, along the way, one character develops into something different than I imagined, then I simply go with it, while simultaneously making the necessary adjustments to my outline.  In this way, I give myself a structure to work within, without sacrificing any spontaneity or creative freedom.

Q: What is the best writing advice you ever received?

The best advice I ever received is to keep the writing simple.  Just tell the story. You never want to be so fancy or cute with your prose that you make it difficult for the reader to follow along. If you frustrate the reader, then you’ve defeated the purpose of writing your story at all. The other piece of advice that served me well was this: The only way to know if you’re ready to write a novel is you have to write a novel.

Q: What do you most enjoy about writing?

Storytelling.  More than anything, I love trying to tell a good story. This, of course, comes from my love of being told a good story – be it in a book, a film, or simply in conversation.  If readers come to think of me as a storyteller, rather than a writer, I wouldn’t complain.

Q: What advice would you give a new writer?

Read. Read, read, read. If you’re going to be a writer, you have to read and you have to read a lot. If you want to be a filmmaker, you watch as many movies as you can.  So, if you want to be a writer (novelist or otherwise), you must read as many books as you can.   

Q: What is the most important thing that you have learned through writing? This could be something about the craft of writing, but it could also be something about yourself.

There are any number of things that I’ve learned from writing, but, in the interest of keeping this answer to a reasonable length, I’d say writing has taught me about the discipline needed to complete large, overwhelming projects.  Nobody writes a novel in one sitting. A novel is written in pieces, large and small, over a period of time.  And if you’re not taking the time to produce those pieces, then it very simply won’t get done. This is something that not only implies to my writing, but also my life in general.

Q: What was the most difficult challenge you faced when putting your book together?

The most difficult part was writing the second half of the book. The first draft of the book contained a second half that I would just as soon like to forget. Luckily, I got some good constructive feedback from other writers whose opinions I trust. Following that, I decided to blow up the second half of the book (about 40,000 words) and start writing it over again from scratch. This was challenging because I had to re-think the story, the characters, and the overall narrative arc. And, on top of all that, I had to make sure it stayed consistant with the first half of the book.

Martin, thank you for being my first interviewee! Best of luck to you. To read more of Martin’s writing, drop by his website and blog at www.martinlastrapes.com.

Edit: I forgot to mention that Martin did an interview with me! You can read it here.

If you follow these steps will your blog be wildly popular? As Jay Baer, the author of, “12 Most Imperative Must-Dos for the Serious Blogger,” says, there’s no guarantee, but you’ll have decent shot at it. Here are three of Jay’s imperatives for a successful blog:

1. Be patient. Every blogger starts with the exact same audience… zero. Eventually, relatives will read your blog, followed by sympathetic friends and neighbors. And then you’ll be on your way. But this notion that you start a blog and it becomes “a big deal” overnight is as rare as Keanu Reeves nailing a Victorian British accent.

2. Be specific. You have to have a clear sense of what your blog is about, and for whom you’re writing. There are no shortage of blogs out there, and if you’re going to successfully compete with a site like 12 Most, you better have a sharp understanding of what role you play in the educational or entertainment panoply of your audience.

3. Be consistent. Imagine if you subscribed to a magazine and it showed up at your house only whenever they “felt like” publishing an issue? The surprise factor might add a sprinkle of delight for a time, but the unpredictability would become irksome. We prefer to consume content in a disciplined and patterned way. Your blog should not contradict that circumstance.

The hard truth is that not every blog post you craft will be your best work. Nor is every meal you create, sentence you utter, hug you lavish, or bed you make. Nobody is at their best at all times. So this notion that some bloggers cling to of only writing when they “have something important to say” wrongly values inspiration over predictability.

As long as your quality doesn’t suffer markedly, recognize that more = more. Seven posts a week are better for your business than five. Five is better than three. And if you can’t write two posts a week, you’re probably kidding yourself if you think you can drive real business results from your blog.

I encourage everyone interested in growing an audience for a blog to head on over to The 12 Most … and read the rest of Jay Bear’s article, 12 Most Imperative Must-Dos for the Serious Blogger.

We’ve all heard of writer’s block, so why not talker’s block? Questions like these are why I love Seth Godin’s blog.

No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.

Why then, is writer’s block endemic?

The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.

We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t, and if we’re insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice?

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly–you don’t need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. If you’re concerned with quality, of course, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.

I didn’t feel right copying and pasting Seth’s entire blog post, but I wanted to because it was so good! I encourage you all to go to Seth’s site and finish reading this most excellent article: Talker’s Block.