Writing as Adria Townsend and J. S. Laurenz

Thursday, March 31, 2011

This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Two of Us! Or is it?

Bufo Calvin tracks trends in his well-established blog I Love My Kindle.  http://ilmk.wordpress.com/ 

He recently ran some numbers for me for the month of February regarding Indie Publishing.  Here are his results:  “The total number of books added to the Kindle store was 36,494.  I think you are safe in estimating over 20,000 independent books a month.”

When I first heard about the Indie revolution, I thought I was getting in on the ground floor.  But from what I’ve experienced so far, and according to Mr. Calvin’s statistics, the ground floor is already hundreds of thousands of stories up.  Pun intended.  This is huge in so many ways.  But is it really new? 

Here’s what Mr. Calvin had to say:  “When Penguin and Pocket brought paperbacks to the masses, that was a huge sea change, because it brought major books to cheap, mass distribution.  I think what we are seeing now is similar to that.  Initially where you saw the successes were with genre titles...and classics.  Why is that?  Since you don't start out experimenting with your major authors, partially because neither side knows what is a fair compensation, you need something like a genre work that can immediately reach an audience, even with an unknown author.  With classics, compensation is not an issue, of course.  Once the market proves itself, then the majors can get into it.  That's happened now with e-books.”

Mr. Calvin was a manager of an honest to goodness brick and mortar bookstore.  He knows his books, but other industries as well and had this comparison to make:  “I think the best parallel with the tradpubs (traditional publishers) is the movie studio system.  For decades, that was the way movies were made and distributed.  It was court action that dismantled that...and then there was no going back.   I think tradpubs continue to be around, but there is similarly no going back...independents are also going to be part of e-book publishing.” 

So where does that leave us?  Is this town big enough for the two of us—Indies and Tradpubs?  He consoled me with this:  “The other important point, though, is that I think the total market for books is growing.  I think the rise of e-books means that people will read more.  That increases the size of the market, which means there is more room for both tradpub books and indies.”

Here at the Dime Store, I like to compare the publishing landscape right now to that of the late 1800s when dime novels were exploding onto the scene printed on inexpensive pulp paper.  Here's to pulp fiction in any form!!

And here’s what’s up next on the Cowgrrl Blog:  I’ll share a conversation I had with Al Hyslop, the Executive Producer of Captain Kangaroo.  And I’ll tell you why I keep dropping these names…besides the obvious answer which is to keep you reading. 
Thanks for stopping by. 

And here’s the answer to last week’s teaser:  What did Clint Eastwood’s agent tell me?  First of all why was I talking to his agent?  A few years back when the Clint Eastwood/Richard Burton movie Where Eagles Dare turned 40, I wrote a travel article about the Austrian castle of Hohenwerfen that was the setting for that classic.  I had scored a quote from the movie’s producer, and thought a quote from Mr. Eastwood would add even more color.  So I picked up the phone and called his agent, Leonard Hirshan.  How’d I get his number?  I googled him and called him at home.  His home number was out there on the internet?  It sure was!  Believe me, I was surprised too when he, and not an assistant, answered the call.  

“Listen, sweetheart,” he said, and his voice was as gruff as gravel yet he still managed to sound sympathetic to my query.  “Clint is filming with Angelina Jolie right now, and he wouldn’t really be interested in talking about a movie he did so long ago.” 

It might sound like I didn’t get anywhere; I disagree.  Sure, answers are important, preferably affirmative ones, but developing a skill for asking is even more important. 

So, if you’re headed for Austria and want to avoid the throngs of Sound of Music and Mozart fans in Salzburg, I'll send you a link to the travel article I wrote called How Hollywood Lost a Castle.  When I get that Eastwood quote, I’ll edit it in.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Same Old Same Old

Howdy!  Welcome back to the Dime Store.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to my radio interview on NHPR's Word of Mouth about my book, and the Wild West landscape of electronic publishing:  http://www.nhpr.org/kindling-flame-eromance

Last time I asked if the Indie revolution was headed for democracy or anarchy.  Maybe we’re headed for more of the same.  This week Barry Eisler, traditionally published best-selling author, turned down a $500,000 deal to go Indie.  At the same time news broke that Amanda Hocking, breakout Indie, is about to sign a million dollar deal with a tradpub.  In romance, Avon Books has just launched an e-line called Avon Impulse.  Right now it’s every man for himself.  [Though I have to say women’s fiction is extremely supportive and we’re all in it together.]

I don’t mind seeing the tradpubs get in on the action.  In the Indie revolution they’ve earned a bad reputation having formerly been the only sheriff in town.  Could it be, however, that they’re one of the good guys? 

Publishing is a risky business, especially for the publisher.  I talked to my former boss, Skip Fischer, who was the Chief Financial Officer of Henry Holt & Company, and then became the Chief Operating Officer for Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings.  I wanted to get a breakdown of costs behind a book.  The general argument is that tradpubbed books are expensive because they go through an extensive editorial process.  Was this really true, I wondered?  I asked Skip for an estimate.  He told me editorial expenses were probably less than 10%.  Here’s what shocked me though.  What is the greatest expense??  Author advances and royalties!  If a publisher is lucky, Skip told me, they’ll end up with 10% for themselves.  Sometimes, if the book doesn’t sell, they end up with nothing.  It’s the 80/20 model; the 20% top-grossing authors are supporting the other 80% who aren’t bringing much in.  The bestsellers are crucial to support the growth of less-known writers whose first books might not do well, but their second might be a bestseller.  It almost sounds like socialism to me. 

Sure, tradpubs aren’t charities, they’re in the business of entertaining.  But their business model doesn’t sound so bad. 

Speaking of entertainment, I’ll tell you next time what Clint Eastwood’s agent once said to me. 

And as promised here’s the answer to last blog’s teaser.  Chuck Palahniuk’s Aunt used to bring leftovers home from her job as a waitress in a seafood restaurant.  What did he find on a plate she once served him?  “The first prawns I ever ate had second-hand lipstick on them.”

See you next time. 

Curious as to how I know Chuck?  Read on: 

The author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, is my pen pal.  Or at least he was.  He promised to respond to every piece of fan mail he received for the month of November a few years back, and he kept that promise. 

Critics say his work is dark.  I’ve read Choke and Fight Club, and yeah, his writing is dark.  Like a chocolate truffle.  In a delicious, decadent way.  And like a chocolate truffle, Chuck Palahniuk has a very rich heart.  He responded to my initial letter with a package.  Like his books, it was unique and strange and surprising.  Enclosed literally were hearts and flowers (a plastic heart on a chain that lights up, and packets of Forget-me-nots seeds, money plant seed with the inscription:  “Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without a collective spark of enthusiasm.” and a “Spice up Your Life” herb garden mix).  Here is a list of the rest of the contents: 

Two bloody dismembered fingers (made of rubber)
A pocket knife
Birthday candles
A journal
A signed picture of Chuck and Brad Pitt
A temporary tattoo with a Chinese symbol
CDs of his tour stories
Whitman’s chocolate sampler
A power raccoon
A folding pocket comb
A postcard of Clowngirl, a novel by Monica Drake for which he wrote the intro
Sugarfree mints (cinnamon)
A nametag that says “Hello my name is:” on which he signed his name. 
A card with a bear that says, “You make life bearable”
Body jewelry
An harmonica
Poprocks, sour berry blast
A tube of neon green liquid on a string (glow in the dark?)
Bubble gum cigar (Mad Bull)
A tear-drop diamond crystally thing (plastic)
Plastic gold coins with imprint of Caesar’s bust and the words Veni, Vedi Vici

Opening the box was like peeking into Mary Poppins’ bottomless bag, or a pirate’s chest, or taking off the top of a genius’s skull and sticking my hands into the squishy gray matter.  I do believe this man is a genius.  On top of that he’s a great writer and a good person.  Why else would he do this?  To increase his fan base?  To sell books?  It would cost him money.  The postage on the package alone was $6.66.  Even if he gets the dismembered digits at bulk rate that still adds up.  I know from his website he sends packages to other fans. 

What struck me most about this was not what it cost him in dollars, but what it cost this best-selling author in time to respond to his fans.  The only thing he asked of us was to tell him of something we’d accomplished in the past year.   I told him about winning a prize (from NCPR) for a story about my father working as a dishwasher at a big resort and bringing home leftovers to feed the neighborhood and his family.  Chuck responded with an anecdote about his Aunt who brought seafood home from the restaurant in which she worked--from patrons’ plates.  “The first prawns I ever ate,” he wrote,” had second-hand lipstick on them.  So I love the idea of life with your father.”  He goes on to give advice on writing, responding to my questions.  How did he find his voice?  “I simply stole the voice of a better writer:  Amy Hempel.” 

He knows what a tough road it is to publication.  He’s been there and now that he’s made it, he can look back without looking down.  He wants to give a hand up to the rest of us.  Keep us on the writing path.  Point us in the right direction. . . with  a bloody dismembered finger.  To prove it doesn’t have to be a traditional direction. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Deputized by Kindle

In preparation for my radio appearance today (Tuesday at 12:30 ) on NHPR’s Word of Mouth show, I talked with Professor Robert Thompson at Syracuse University.  He is the go-to guy for all things popular culture and he said this: “I am ashamed at the way universities have become deputies to the promotional departments of organizations like Facebook and Twitter.”  He does not exclude his own Syracuse U from this. 

I, too, have volunteered to wear the badge especially for Kindle, but also for Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.  There is nothing I won’t do for them.  Publicity, advertising, customer outreach and end-user training.  I shoot down misconceptions left and right:  You don’t have to be online the whole time you read an e-book, you can download free software from Amazon to read ebooks on computers, iPhones, etc.  If I had a dime for every time I mentioned Kindle…  Actually the potential is there to earn money by adding advertisements to my blog.  Don’t worry, I’m not going there.  But the big question is:  where is publishing going? 

Are traditional publishers (tradpubs) on their last legs?  I’ve been talking to publishing insiders and the tradpubs may be down, like so many industries today, but they are certainly not out.  They stand to gain by shoring up their considerable bulk with a bionic leg in the ebook market.  I worked for Holtzbrinck Publishing for a few years just after they acquired St. Martin’s Press.  Tradpubs aren’t just companies.  They are holding companies.  There’s money behind them.  Maybe not as much in front of them in their future, but they are still giants.  They have strength.  They’re also not as light on their feet as an indie author. 

I enjoy this challenge of going up against the big guys, and to do that I’ve aligned myself with the big guns like Amazon and FaceBook.  But I don’t enjoy seeing the older giants stumble as they make the sometimes drastic cuts necessary to stay nimble enough to compete in the electronic age.  Some writers who get rejected think publishers and—in particular—editors are the enemy.  They’re not.  98% of the folks I worked with were extremely professional, friendly and (especially editors) overworked.  And they have families to support. 

But change is the only constant.  In economic turmoil there is plenty of misfortune, I know that firsthand.  But there are also opportunities, and I plan to try my hand at them.  Back in 1976, due to a mix of corruption and consolidation, the trucking company my father worked for in New York City went under taking his hopes of a pension with it.  We went west to Pennsylvania where he spent the next 25 years working as a dishwasher in a resort.  In his new “career,” he saw not a dead-end job, but an opportunity.  Not for economic gain, but for good.  He became a one-man food pantry, distributing quality resort leftovers to our rural neighborhood.  He saw value where others saw waste.  As an indie author, I am not about to waste an opportunity.  Thanks, Dad, for the business model!   
Here’s a link to The King of Crumbs, a piece I recorded about my Dad for public radio: http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/11570/20080613/commentary-the-king-of-crumbs    

Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club author) once told me my Dad’s story reminded him of his Aunt, a waitress in a seafood restaurant, who also used to bring home leftovers.  I’ll tell you next time what he found on a plate she served him…

Also, next up on the cowgrrl blog:  How the West was Undone.  Indie authors are calling for a revolution in publishing.  Are we headed for democracy or anarchy?  And hear why the traditional publishing model is so much more like socialism than I ever realized. 

Here's the link for today's radio interview: 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Borrowing from Yogi: A dime ain't worth a dollar anymore

On CBS Sunday Morning this week one of the commentators quoted Yogi Berra:  “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”  I just had to add that to my dime-store blog, and comment about the piece they did on business card designers.  They showcased one company that designed a fancy two-piece card for a lighting business.  The cost?  8 bucks a pop!  Meanwhile the CBS reporter had a card with CBS in large letters and his contact info underneath.  I prefer that!  I don’t want to (over)pay somebody to be creative; I want to use my own creativity.  And since I earn 35 cents from every book I sell, I better be creative as hell. 

I’m scheduled to appear on New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth show on March 15th to talk about my experiences going digital.   http://www.nhpr.org/wordofmouth
I'll keep you posted as things develop. 

To Conquer the Heart of a King will be one of the giveaways again today (Friday) at Barbara Vey’s Anniversary Bash on her Publisher’s Weekly blog.  http://www.BeyondHerBook.com
Her virtual party has been a huge success.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Publisher's Weekly Bash

I’m excited to be part of Barbara Vey’s Anniversary Bash on her Publisher’s Weekly blog.  http://www.BeyondHerBook.com
Visitors to her blog will be eligible for prizes including e-readers.  My book, To Conquer the Heart of a King, will be one of the giveaways on March 9th and 11th.

Here’s the schedule for the big bash:   

Barbara Vey is a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly and the voice behind the blog: Beyond Her Book, where she chats about industry happenings, posts tips for budding authors, and reports on fiction.

Monday, March 7th - Paranormal, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Urban Fantasy (Takes place in haunted house)
Tuesday March 8thThriller, Mystery, Suspense, Adventure (Takes place at a murder scene)
Wednesday March 9thPublishers, Editors, Bloggers, Librarians (takes place on an island)
Thursday March 10thInspirational, YA, Nonfiction (takes place at a shopping mall)
Friday March 11thContemporary/Historical/Erotica/E-Books/Audio (takes place at a castle)
Saturday March 12thRomance Blowout (takes place at Niagara Falls)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dime Store Cowgrrl

Dime Store Cowgrrl

The rush is on!  Publishing is like a Wild West town right now and I’m saddling up to enter the fray.  I picked Dime Store Cowgrrl to be my blog name because I like how it sounds like Drug Store Cowboy, but makes a historical reference to the inexpensive novels printed on pulp paper in the 1800s and sold at Five and Dime stores.  I’ve always wanted to be the next dime store novelist, and now, adjusting for inflation, I can be!  My historical romance novel, To Conquer the Heart of a King, is priced at 99 cents. 

“Dime Store Cowgirl” was already taken by an artist who has a western theme.  Succeeding in this market takes flexibility and so I changed the spelling to Cowgrrl.  Although my romance contains passion and sensitivity, I realize that to market it I’m going to need that grr factor.  True grrit to make it in this free-for-all that is the publishing industry where everybody wants to be sheriff. 

I’ll be blogging about my motivations, my inspirations and my progress.  Saddle up with me and come along for the ride!  You can ride shotgun. 

Here’s a link to information about dime novels:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dime_novel