Indie-Pendence Blog Hop Day 1: Interview with Charles O’Keefe, author of The Newfoundland Vampire

Welcome to Shaggin the Muse’s first entry for the Indie-Pendence Blog Hop Week. Our goal this week is to not only raise awareness of indie authors but also discuss things like the state of our industry, how we got to where we are (no matter what part of the path we might be on), and just what “indie” is, anyway.

But that’s not all! We’re also going to be giving away copies of loads of books for free. I’ve started to take a general stance against gimmicky giveaways – though I know some guest posts recently have featured them. I think that indie authors need to get back to their roots and give away the things that matter most: books. That’s why I was thrilled to learn that we were expected to give away books.

That said, let’s see what you stand to win this week:

-eBooks of the Corridors of the Dead (limit 5)
-eBooks of the Kayson Cycle (limit 5)
-eBooks of the Station (limit 5)
-Advance eBook of Room 3 when it releases (limit 2)
-eBooks of the Newfoundland Vampire (limit 3)
-eBooks of Marie Loughin’s Valknut the Binding (limit 5)

That’s 25 free books ready for folks to win. And all you have to do is comment. Once you’ve commented, you’ll go into the drawing spreadsheet. On Friday, I’ll draw your number from the hat (a random number generator), and notify you of what you’ve won. Your odds are really, really good, and I know the involved authors would love your comments on our posts. I’m hoping this will be fun for everybody and spur some discussion.

So, my talk with Charles O’Keefe. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you should know Charles as the promising author of The Newfoundland Vampire, which I reviewed a week ago (incidentally, you can purchase his book on Amazon, if you’re so inclined). After reading his book, I thought Charles would be a perfect fit for Indie-Pendence week. Let’s see what he had to say…

  •  Where did you get the original idea for The Newfoundland Vampire?
I’ve always enjoyed vampire books, TV shows and movies. I think a friend said to me once (over 10 years ago) “you’d be a vampire if you could!”. He was kidding, but the idea was planted in my head: what if I was a vampire? What would it be like? What would I do? It was a fun exercise to imagine what my life would have been like at 23 if I had made different choices and if vampires were real (and I became one). I wrote a few pages, but then took a long time to get motivated and develop it further, as I’ll get to in my next answer. Continue reading

The Fall and Rise of the Mid-Lister

Yesterday I talked about Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella‘s tale of a man who builds a field blah blah, Field of Dreams. Today I want to talk about the author himself, and more specifically his ordeals as they relate to the publishing industry of the late 80s and 90s.

Kinsella’s bio as a child and young man is fairly standard: born to Irish American parents in Edmonton, Alberta, raised on a homestead then home-schooled by his mother. Didn’t read much literature growing up, etc. As a writer, he focused on baseball and Native Canadians, had a minor hit with Shoeless Joe, which was made into Field of Dreams, and the rest is history…or, well, not quite.

From Wikipedia:

W.P. Kinsella was involved in a car accident in 1997 which resulted in the end of his fiction writing career. He was struck by a car while out walking and suffered a head injury when he hit the ground.

In a 1999 interview with the University of Regina‘s student newspaper, Kinsella explained that he could no longer write as he lost his ability to concentrate. The injury also robbed him of his senses of taste and smell. Kinsella said he went from being a Type A Personality to Type B. After the accident, he didn’t feel like doing the things he had done in his normal routine and didn’t care. He did write book reviews to keep his name before the public.

That is just horrifying. And, frankly, one of my own personal fears. But that’s not quite what caught my attention. What did catch my attention was the following:

“He was cited as an archetypical victim of changes in the publishing industry during the late 1980s, which accelerated during the 1990s, that made it more difficult for well-regarded “mid-list” writers such as Kinsella to remain in print. Changes to the U.S. tax code affected by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 discouraged publishers from maintaining inventories of titles in their back lists, as they were taxed on warehoused books. This led to the thinning out of back lists and the more rapid remaindering of books. The publishing industry underwent a wave of consolidation in the 1990s, as publishers were acquired by big communications companies seeking marketing synergies. The new publishing houses poured more capital into higher-paid, best-selling writers and celebrities who could guarantee “hit” books. Mid-list writers with first-rate reputations but mid-range, non-spectacular sales suffered accordingly as they were ignored by the newly publishing conglomerates.”

This is the meat of what I wanted to discuss today – the death of the mid-lister. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, mid-listers provided the backbone of the publishing industry for quite some time. Publishers rely (or relied) on them to produce solid, salable books year in and year out, their works combining to bring in a sizable chunk of a publisher’s annual revenue. We all know not everyone can be a Tom Clancy or a Stephen King; hell, not everyone wants to be a best-selling author. Some authors are quite happy in their niche, as long as they get to write what they want. Mid-Listers may have made the jump from obscurity or a small press, but they’re not quite to the best-seller list. And may never be there. Or were there for a brief time and then fell off. It happens. Personally, I’d be quite satisfied to be a mid-lister.

But as we saw above, things started to change for the mid-lister in the late 80s. As noted above, the 1986 Tax Act and the publishing consolidations of the 1990s made life incredibly difficult for the mid-lister. How crazy did this consolidation get? Well, check out this passage from Encyclopedia.com:

In 1980, Random House was acquired by Advanced Communications and became part of the New house family’s media empire. During this time a number of publishers, including Crown, Fawcett, and Ballatine, were merged with Random House. In 1998 Random House was acquired by Bertelsmann AG, a German-based media conglomerate that, at the time of Random House’s purchase, already owned the Bantam Doubleday Dell Group.

Simon and Schuster was acquired by Gulf + Western in 1975. From 1984 to 1994, the company acquired more than sixty companies, including Prentice-Hall, Silver Burdett, and Macmillan Publishing Company.

Follow that? We’re looking at the consolidation of more than 60 companies into 2. Think about what that would mean for the mid-listers for each of those companies, now merely imprints in some conglomerate’s portfolio. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this had a lot to do with the surprising decline of some pretty damn great authors from back in those days, authors like Clive Barker, who doesn’t even have a publisher for his adult fiction anymore.

I wonder how many authors just dropped out of the business entirely, having reached those heights and not wanting to have to go through the whole process again. It saddens me to even consider it. And how many have reclaimed their works and are re-emerging with the eBook business? I’d love to find this out, but I’m not even sure how one would do such a thing. I’m not familiar enough with the mid-listers of that era to make a comparison.

What is interesting is that the mid-lister is back and doing fairly well; with the new self-publishing paradigm, it’s actually become a lot easier for mid-listers to make a living with their work rather than just having it as a second job, but the world that a mid-lister once faced has changed entirely. Today, a mid-lister, whether self-published or traditionally published, is going to have to do the bulk of his or her marketing and the heavy lifting of generating “brand recognition”. Of course, the traditionally published mid-lister has to continue to crank out the books, as before, but I think that passing through that dark gauntlet of the 90s has led to a brighter future for those who take the risk of self-publishing.

On a final note, check out Write to Publish’s great post about the numbers that a mid-lister can make now as a traditionally-published author versus a self-published author. The entire post is worth reading, but definitely check out her comparison between the trad-pubbed author and the self-pubbed author. Food for thought.

“Real” Writers and what Punk has to to teach us

Good morning, everyone. The last few days have been quiet ones for me, as I have suffered my annual ankle damage and have been trying to take it easy. This has meant lots of time on the computer but also time away from the story. No big deal, though, as I’m closing in on the next phase of the novel, and it’s good to have some leisurely time to decide where to go next.

Oh, one other item of business before I go into today’s discussion: my goal is now officially to have an ebook of my novel available before the Holiday season starts. That means that this novel will be available by Black Friday. Which means I need a real plan now – draft deadlines, etc. If I’m going to attempt to go-it-alone, I have to do it like a business would. That commences today. Watch this space for more information.

But the real meat of what’s on my mind. The other night I was reading a section in Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth about the definition of a “real” writer. I liked one of the definitions of a writer that he had shared, to wit:

Yeah, that works a lot for me – in fact, that’s pretty much the definition I have always used without even being aware of it. I’ve long considered myself a writer, almost from when I started putting concepts to paper, more than 25 years ago. To be honest, the question of what a “real” writer was – and when one has “permission” to use it – had never even occurred to me.

It seemed to me that a writer was something you just were, self-evident on the face of it. “People really feel the need to quantify this?” was my realization upon reading some of this. But indeed, they do, and think pretty deeply about it. That’s fine, though, it’s probably understandable to have a certain need to feel legitimate from an external point of view, even if I don’t agree. Some defined writer status by the acceptance of the publishing industry, or the number of books in publication. No problem there, even if I disagree.

But wow was there ever an visceral emotional response to those writers who not only defined themselves by external signposts but got very self-righteous about such things.

 No plans to out anyone here, you can read the book and discover more, but one even got to the point of calling writing a holy calling. My fiancee was laughing at me by this pointbecause I was enraged and talking back to the page. I mean please now – get over yourself, you’re not some religious leader because you wrote a story and sold it to Random House. I love writing and reading, and consider it very important to human development, but get off your high horse.

This response was ultimately a good thing, though, because I realized just how strongly I’ve come to embrace and admire the DIY ethic. It’s not just a question of personal control over works (though that is an important factor) – it’s a question of personal improvement and the authenticity of the artistic experience. Say what you will about punk music, but I think the greatest thing to come out of the movement is the embracing of this ethic. From Wikipedia, a wild definition appears:

Central to the ethic is the empowerment of individuals and communities, encouraging the employment of alternative approaches when faced with bureaucratic or societal obstacles to achieving their objectives.

Rather than belittling or showing disdain for knowledge or expertise, DIY champions the average individual seeking knowledge and expertise for him/herself. Instead of using the services of others who have expertise, a DIY oriented person would seek out the knowledge for him/herself.

Within that framework, how does the person seeking definition and validation as a writer define him or herself? Why, I would suppose, by internal goalposts. Rather than looking to an agent or publisher for acceptance, shouldn’t a writer be looking to his or herself for acceptance? To me, it seems that internal goalposts are the best, always knowing that you are a “real” writer because you have that drive and desire to get the words out onto the page. I think punk had it right all this time – the desire and the drive is the important thing, not the accolades, awards, or record contracts. To that end, I realized that I have always brought something of a punk attitude to my writing, and am now planning to do so even more – the time is ripe for writers to seize the means of production and have success on their own terms. I’m really happy to see so many doing it.

Today’s featured site is LM Preston’s blog. She’s a YA Sci-Fi author who’s also following the DIY approach, essentially running her own publishing company with her husband. She has some great reviews and tips. Check it out!

“Real” Writers and what Punk has to to teach us

Indie Publishing Looks More Appealing by the Day

Seriously, now.  Apple has instituted a 30% structure for booksellers that sucks big time (and they’ve been doing this in other services, too, leaving me disgusted enough that I chose to go with a PC when considering a new computer). It now turns out that iflowreader, a leading iTunes bookseller, is having to close down because of Apple’s greedy structure on top of the “agency” model that Apple instituted for any publishers who want to sell on iOS. What does that mean? I’ll let iFlow’s words speak for me:

Where did the agency model come from and what is it? The agency model was created by Apple who made it a requirement for any publisher who wished to sell books through Apple’s iBooks app. The agency model has three key points:

  • The publisher is now the retailer of record. The company selling the eBook to the end user is an “agent” of the retailer who receives a commission on the sale.
  • All sales agents are required to sell books at the same retail price, which is set by the publisher. No one can sell at a different price.
  • All sales agents get a 30% commission on the sale of a book. No one gets a different deal. Prior to the agency model, publishers typically offered retailers a 50% discount.
The key point here is that all sellers now get a 30% commission and Apple now wants a 30% fee, which is all of our gross margin and then some. The six largest publishers have now all adopted the agency model. These publishers account for nearly 90% of all ebooks sold. Random House was the last publisher to adopt the agency model, which they did on March 1 of this year. You may have noticed that all 17,000 Random House titles disappeared from our catalog on February 28. They appeared in Apple’s iBooks catalog the following day.  We, as well as all other small booksellers, have yet to complete an agency agreement with Random House. Up until February 28, these were our most profitable items because we were still getting a 50% discount on these ebooks. With an eight-hour notice, all of these titles disappeared from our store as well as the stores of all other small ebook sellers.

I’m shaking my head over here.  I suppose the Big Six are doing what they feel they have to do to survive on the platform with the biggest install base, but it feels like such a regressive move, the kind of stuff the RIAA pulled when it was trying to come to terms with the digital age (and failing miserably). I have high hopes for the publishing industry to come through this looking a lot better than the music industry, even now, but I am starting to seriously wonder if the old publishing house setup can be salvaged.

Let me clarify that I’m not that upset about the 30% margin the publishers are giving to the sellers (although the agent system sucks in not allowing sellers to offer discounts); 30% is pretty damn good on retail sales.  My concern with the publishers here is instead the way they went about this, bending to Apple’s demands without trying to negotiate a better deal and, in one particular case, pulling their entire library from iFlow with 8 hours notice.

I’m still trying to make it within the confines of the old system in the interest of a larger readership, but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe finding a nice little indie publisher or, hell, even self-publishing, might be the way to go. I know that self-publishing has a terrible reputation, and for pretty good reason, but that’s changing, and I sure as hell know that my own standards for quality are pretty high when it comes to writing and publishing.

Just to clarify, I’m not going on anti-publishing industry or anti-Apple rant here. It’s their businesses, they’re clearly free to do what they want within their market so long as it’s legal. I just find these methods pretty distasteful.