Monday, April 28, 2014

On Publishing vs. Self Publishing

Today, my thoughts are focused on a topic of great import to many writers in the modern age. I just completed what is potentially my third novel, and I don't know whether to self-publish it, or try to go the "for realsies" publishing route. It's not a Jake Price book, so I'm comfortable at least trying to go with a traditional publisher, but my head just keeps spinning around about it.

By focused, I really mean that while on the same topic my brain sounds a little like cats in a dryer right now.

Both sides have their pros and cons. Self Publishing has the allure of immediate gratification, more control, and a larger cut of the end product. Traditional publishing means that my books would reach a much larger market than I currently can with my meager resources. Even smaller presses manage to hit at least two conventions a month and are available to brick and mortar stores, whereas I tend to average a con every two months and am currently only available through the internet. I'd still have to do a fair amount of self promotion with either for the book to be successful.
Me, self-promoting at LA Sci-Fi festival. A fan added the "The" to my sign.

The real problems come in when I start thinking about where I want my career as a writer to take me. While I am one of those guys that's not really in it for the money, I do have bills to pay just like everyone else. I also have a few awards I'd like to be considered for some day, like the Nebula and the Hugo, and a long term goal of getting accepted into the Science Fiction Writers of America. Currently, most of these establishments look very poorly upon indie publisher types like me. The SFWA in particular, will not allow membership unless you have been published in "accepted markets" meaning high-end publishers and magazines. This means that even though I've sold six or so stories to small presses over my career, I do not qualify by a long shot. This means that if I'm serious about having "Hugo nominated author" in front of my name, or "SFWA member" on manuscripts I send out, I need to really consider going through the traditional route.

The big drawback to that is that it takes time. Most publishers on SFWA's list will not even look at unagented, unsolicited manuscripts. Those that do have turn around times that require multi-year calendars to keep track of, and get pissed if they find out you sent out multiple submissions (two year turn-arounds are common just to be rejected). The last thing I need is to get rejected after rising to the top of an editor's slush pile, only to be rejected by another publisher just for having been in said slush pile. As a writer, it's a frustrating and painful process at best. This is why my "for realsies" writer cred comes in the form of the short stories I've had published. The turn around times are much shorter, and if it's an anthology with a specific theme, my odds rise slightly as humor always grabs an editor's eye.

So I sit here printing up a copy of my latest manuscript for my beta readers, unsure if it will see the light of day anytime soon. I know full well that if I self-pub, it's an immediate windfall as I would likely sell at least fifty to a hundred books at the next con I attend, and because it's a departure from my other work, I would pick up a bunch of new readers as well. Would this advance my career in the direction I want it to? I'm not sure. More fans means more buzz, more popularity, and in a very real way these awards I covet so much are a popularity contest. The current controversy behind the Hugos shows that very clearly. I could probably go to a Worldcon and make enough of an impression as a person that I could conceivably get on the nomination ballot... but I don't want to be that guy. If I'm to be nominated, I want to know I deserve to be there.

Boy, after reading this all back to myself I realize that for a guy that writes comedy, I sure am taking this all very seriously. Maybe I should just bang out a book of fart jokes, publish it on kindle, and call it a day.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Fanboy- Sherlock

Today's Friday Fanboy is brought to you by the month of December.

December... where the kids are off of school for a month, and no work gets done till early February so your mind can recover.

So, to keep my sanity during the month of December, I always try to find a Netflix obsession that will last me a few weeks. It has to be engaging enough to keep me entertained, long enough that it will take me a few weeks, and just boring enough that I can comfortably pause it when the kids start chasing the dog around the house with a laundry basket and a nerf gun.

Sherlock fails on at least two of these accounts, but I have so many friends that enjoyed it that I felt like I should take a nice, long look at it. What I didn't know going in is that the first two seasons consist of only six episodes, so I burned through them in two days.

Damn you, BBC and your efficient storytelling! now I had to spend time with my family!

I will say right off that many things about the series surprised and delighted me. I had no idea that the story is set in modern day London, for instance... I fully expected Victorian London. I was also very impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch. As my only experience with his acting was in that god-awful Star Trek movie, It was a pleasant surprise to me that the man is actually a very talented actor.

This re-imagining of Sherlock and Watson as sometime police consultants and internet sensations was really intriguing. I found myself drawn in quickly and captivated by the buddy cop/ procedural tone of the series. I highly recommend it if you haven't watched it already. If I have one gripe about the series, it's that the episode titles give away the plot and often the ending if you are already familiar with the original works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle... but hang in there, bibliophiles... the series adds enough to the legend without taking away from the larger myth that you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday Tirade- On not getting paid.

If there's one thing about being a writer starting out in the modern age that kinda sucks it's the pay; by which I mean that there really isn't any.

I am generally comfortable with my role as a small fish in a big pond, but it really annoys me that people undervalue the hard work of people like myself that bust their fingers on their keyboard every day, trying to entertain the masses. Most people assume that I get paid well for my convention appearences, but I don't. I generally attend on my own dime in exchange for a place to sell my books and "exposure". I often just barely break even, but I justify it in newfound friends and networking opportunities. Sadly, this "exposure" is the case with authors way up the food chain from me as well, and it sometimes gives me pause about my chosen profession.

"Exposure". God, I hate that word with a passion that would give the devil blisters. Would you seriously look your mechanic in the face and tell him that you can't afford to pay him to replace your fuel pump, but he'll "generate great buzz" for doing it? Yet when I look for open calls to submit short stories and novels to, They generally only pay in "exposure" and copies. Not a lot of copies either... I generally get two books each time I publish.

My wife and I often talk about the financial viability of my career. It comes up at least once every six months or so, and it's always a very difficult conversation to have. We sit there and do the numbers, and more often than not, it works out that my writing and speaking career is sustaining itself, but not actually turning a profit. For a few months after these conversations, when I get approached about submitting to a new anthology, or writing a screenplay for a local filmmaker, I'll ask how much I can expect to be paid.

I swear, you would think I just asked them to sacrifice their first born on an altar to Zenu by their reactions. It just makes me want to grab them by the throat and explain to them that THEY approached ME because they see talent there, (or a skill they themselves do not possess) or they would just write it themselves. I really don't see why I should be considered greedy or a sellout for expecting to be paid for what I bring to a project.

okay... this is getting a little intense, and I'm not done. here's a picture of a baby hippo to help us all relax a little:
You see, all of this is leading up to the fact that I would like to be a card carrying member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, a guild that looks out for Sci-Fi authors, and mentors and advocates for its members. They host the Nebula awards each year, and it's a pretty big deal. Here are their membership requirements: (from

To become an Active member of SFWA, applicants must demonstrate either:
  1. Three Paid Sales of prose fiction (such as short stories) to Qualifying Professional Markets, with each paid at the rate of 5¢/word or higher (3¢/word before 1/1/2004), for a cumulative total of $250, minimum $50 apiece; or
  2. One Paid Sale of a prose fiction book to a Qualifying Professional Market, for which the author has been paid $2000 or more; or
  3. One professionally produced full length dramatic script, with credits acceptable to the Membership Committee.
Even though I have two novels and four sold and published short stories, I do not qualify for for membership because I haven't earned enough. The thing is, many of the smaller presses that will take submissions from a small fish like myself can't pay that much or aren't considered a 'qualifying market'. The larger ones won't even look my way until I have more serious publishing cred. It a classic catch-22 of you need to be a well known author to make a sale, but you're not a well known author until you've made a sale. Either way, until you're in the inner sanctum, SFWA doesn't want to know you.

I suppose I'm not much of a joiner anyway... but it would be nice to be able to say my writing pays a bill once a month.