Writing as Adria Townsend and J. S. Laurenz

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. 

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