Thursday, July 29, 2010

don't fight it

I'm about 5000 words into a new novel.

It's not the one I was planning to start after we finished WILS (and we're still not finished with WILS). It's not even one I'd considered. But over the weekend, I awoke at 3 in the morning, and couldn't get back to sleep. I'm often composing in my head-- in the car, the shower, even sometimes while reading another book-- but sometimes I need to get the words out of my head and on to the page/screen, even if that means pulling over, drying hastily, or closing the book. And so, by 3:30 in the morning, I was scribbling into a journal. I didn't stop until about 5:15, figuring it was in my best interest to get some sleep (I didn't knock off until 6). When I awoke again at 10, I went right back to the journal and scribbled another 10 pages.

Later that day, when I'd transcribed everything onto my laptop, I'd written about 3500 words total. I've added another 1500 since. More, I think.

I can give you several reasons why it's not a good time to start a new novel--the fall semester is right around the corner (man, did that creep up fast!); a self-imposed deadline for WILS also quickly creeping up; I still really want to write this other novel that I've been thinking about for a couple of years now; and so on.

But here's the thing: you can't fight what wants/needs to be born.

So, for what it's worth. I'll keep working on WILS. I'll plan my fall course. I'll continue to sketch ideas for the other novel. But I'll work on this new first draft. I'll just get it on to the page. Go with the flow. Who knows where it'll take me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

why it's almost like being in love...

(I can hear Nat King Cole's wonderfully soothing, crooning voice as I write this post: What a day this has been/What a rare mood I'm in/Why it's almost like being in love...)

I've been shouting this from the social networking rooftops all day today: I'm so friggin' in love with our supporting character. Seriously, I wanna make out with him.

There are several reasons why this feeling is so, er, stimulating.

For one, it's a sign that the writing is working. The idea for the scene was my writing partner's. It's relatively simple in that it's not a love scene or crucial to a story arc or climactic in any way. It's two characters who see each other at an unexpected time and place and circumstance. She (my writing partner) called me yesterday morning with the idea, excited, and I could practically hear the percolating sounds her brain was making as she explained it to me. "Go write it!" I commanded. She sent me the draft this morning, and the more I read, the more I fell in love with him (our character) and the moment he was immersed in.

For another, it's a sign that the character is alive. He takes deep breaths, wipes the sweat and mist from his face. She smells the salt in the air. They have a casual conversation. No pretense, no flirting, not even the slightest physical contact. And yet, we can see just a hint of vulnerability in both of them. Just enough to make them real, to make us care.

Third, it's a sign that our collaboration is working. Actually, this has never been an issue. It's worked from day one. And while it's not a permanent partnership--I'm already sketching my next couple of novels and planning to write them solo, and I'm sure she'll move on to her next project w/out me, it's a once-in-a-lifetime alliance that has made writing this novel such a blast. We have had to make concessions, argue to keep things in or take things out. We've had to shift the balance of the workload, but we've almost always managed to share the vision. We've managed to stay on the same page, even when we're working on different scenes and chapters, or not working at all. A match made in heaven, I suppose.

So many times, the writer is immersed in the laborious part. The constant re-seeing, re-reading, re-thinking, and re-writing. I think the average reader doesn't see how much doubt goes into the process. A good writing day is essential to the process. A good writing day makes all the difference in the world.

So today I am in love. I'm in love with our character, I'm in love with our novel, and I'm in love with our process. I'm in love with writing.

Now, if we could just figure out how to bottle these days...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

growing pains

Not surprising, there's much hulabaloo going on about how ebook sales have surpassed hardcover sales on Amazon. What annoys me is the bashing of traditional publishing from those authors who have had great success with Kindle, and those in the traditional publishing industry who are bashing Amazon as the great Corporate Monster (along with Steve Jobs) out to kill publishing (and literature) as we know it. (And am I the only one that finds it problematic that the major publishers are reduced to the "Big 6"?) And then you've got some uninformed (and quite frankly, idiotic) consumers giving 1-star ratings to Kindle books simply because they're priced over $9.99, others trashing books priced under $1.99, and some who refuse to buy indie books priced over $1.99.

How's a writer supposed to make sense out of all of this?

The truth is this: There are some things that traditional publishing still does very well, and there are things that e-publishing does very well. The market is going through a price upheaval, however, as the result of low-priced ebooks. Of course a Kindle version of a book priced at $9.99 is going to sell more than a hardcover priced at $25.00. But that book is still selling. Isn't that a good thing? And isn't it possible that, thanks to that lower price, more readers are going to buy that book sooner than waiting for it to come out on paperback? Can't that be a good thing?

Then again, what do I know?

I'm not naive to think that Amazon hasn't been cut-throat with their competition--they're hated for a reason--but lamenting how things used to be and lambasting what is now isn't going to bring those times back. Call me idealistic, but I think the industry needs to come up with win-win scenarios for everyone involved. Not publishers-win, Amazon loses; or Amazon wins, publishers lose; or consumers win, author loses; etc. Everyone can benefit from new models of pricing, of distribution, of promotion, of royalty rates, of consumer and professional reviews, etc. The challenge is to come up with those all inclusive models.

Perhaps the biggest pill to swallow in all of this is that thanks to e-publishing, writing is no longer exclusive. Anyone can publish a book. That is perhaps the best and worst part of this new paradigm. What once got lost in the agents' slush pile has risen to the top of the Kindle Best-seller list (in some cases). The cream rises to the top, but that's a lot of muck the reader has to wade through in the meantime.

Perhaps what is most lamentable (is that a word?) from the writer's point of view is that the writer can no longer just write. They need to be competitive with fancy websites, appealing blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, fancy gimmicks, contests, and giveaways. They need to have all this established before they send in their first query letter. It's the Catch-22 of the aspiring hairdresser, who can't get work without a clientele following, and can't get a following if s/he has nowhere to work. I spend more time maintaining my brand than writing my novels. What happens to the gifted writer who also happens to be shy? What happens to the introverted writer who only wants to write? I know some of them. And I feel badly. They deserve as much attention as I do, w/out being required to jump through extroverted hoops.

My idealistic hope? This wave will ride itself out. I don't mean to suggest that e-publishing is a fad. But hopefully, a new model will prevail, a win-win model (yes, I am an eternal optimist), and agents, editors, small presses and large corporations, indies, PODs, bookstores owners, and even writers will be able to keep doing the work they love and want to do.

Because isn't that what this bashing is really all about? Doesn't it always come down to the fear of becoming obsolete?

Think about it. The indie author has become empowered by e-publishing, and doesn't want to lose that power. The agent has, conversely, lost some of their power and doesn't want to lose any more. The traditional author is complaining that s/he worked really hard to be noticed, only to be shown up by the indie who sells thousands of downloads at 99 cents. Likewise, the dollar amount of author advances are going down. Amazon, Apple, and the Big-6 are in their own power struggles. Indie bookstores don't want to close for good. Neither do Borders or Barnes&Noble.

No one wants to disappear.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

the bridge

I can almost see it: my seventeen-year-old self. Brown, frizzy hair. Black leggings and a painted black t-shirt of David Sylvian. Red Chuck Taylors (that I still own, so how pathetic am I?). I am listening to the radio in the car (Wang Chung, most likely), and my mother asks politely for me to turn it down, if not turn it off completely.

"You always liked The Beatles," I note, inferring that she preferred her older children's musical preferences, especially since they rehearsed day and night in the garage. "How come you don't like my music?"
"I like some of your music," she confesses. "Not all of it."

And here is where I make my declaration: I am never going to let the generation gap get in the way. I am going to like all of the music of the future.

Yeah. That expired in 1995, I think, with the exception of John Mayer. I stopped listening to the radio. I stopped paying attention. And somewhere along the way, I not only stopped liking the new music, but lost interest in it. I don't know why. Maybe because I'm a creature of habit. I read the same books, watch the same movies and TV shows. I surround myself with what I like, what I know. Always have. I do the same when I write, too. I write about coffeeshops and books and beaches and guys who look like former teen idols.

I've been hanging out in various coffeeshops, as is my summer custom (or rather, my year-round custom). One in particular has been playing music from the 70s and 80s, and it's like coming home for a homecooked meal. It struck me the other day that they're called "oldies". In my day, "oldies" included songs like "Rock Around the Clock" and basically any band with a member that played an upright bass. But now I belong to that generation. One that used phones with cords, record players, and computers when the floppy disks were really floppy. Mine is the generation who memorized Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" speech from Wall Street, which we now watch with sadness every time we see the Twin Towers standing tall and so seemingly untouchable. My incoming college freshman students, on the other hand, will be the first generation that has never known (or can't remember) a world without cellphones, without CDs, without email, without an MTV that actually featured music.

My students and I tease each other -- I chide them on "that stuff" they listen to, while they laugh in disgrace when I confess that I'd start dancing right there in the classroom if someone started playing "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go". Little do they know that the real reason I'm laughing is because somewhere, in the back of my memory, there is a seventeen-year-old girl shaking her head saying, "What happened to you? You promised!"

Yes. I failed my seventeen-year-old self. But those oldies I listen to are the fountain of youth without all the emotional upheaval that came with it. It's the way I get to go home even though my childhood house belongs to someone else now. It's a part of novel-writing I love--whether they are the inspiration, or the splashes of color that I include just for me, they are the bridge to a life of contentment.

I should really get rid of those Chuck Taylors, though. Especially since they have holes in them.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

the "less is more" price argument from two perspectives

We're a week into Amazon's new author royalty rate program, and some interesting threads have popped up on the Kindle discussion boards. On one hand, you've got readers insisting they'll not be spending "so much money" (when did $2.99 become "so much" for a book? that alone tells you what the ebook revolution has done to the market) on an unknown author. (Incidentally, you've also got readers who insist that if a book is priced at 99 cents, the writing's got to be just as cheap. Which just goes to show you that you'll never be able to please everyone.) On the other hand, you've got readers and authors alike who think the raised price will also raise the credibility of these same unknown authors.

In other words, less is more.

This argument can be made from two points of view. In the first case, you've got "a lower price leads to more sales." Yes. Absolutely. This was my experience late last year and earlier this year. It certainly got my book into the hands (er, Kindles) of those who otherwise wouldn't have given me a chance. What's more, Amazon has been discounting certain 99-cent titles even further (I picked one up for 79 cents the other day!), and those authors have been seeing significant spikes in their sales.

And who wouldn't want to spend 99 cents or less on a book, especially when you've shelled out 250 bucks (or, more recently, 190) on your Kindle device to begin with? You want to use your Kindle. I certainly do. I'm a bargain-hunter for sure.

Ever since I raised my price, my sales and rankings have dropped a bit. However, my numbers were already steadily decreasing at the 99-cent price, and if I maintain my current numbers for the remainder of the month, I'll still make twice as much as I did last month. Hence, the second case of less is more. Less sales, more residuals.

This tells me that a) people are willing to pay more for my product, and b) as indie authors, we may be selling ourselves short.

It all comes down to intent. What do you want? Do you want readers, rankings, or royalties? Do you want all three? Which is most important to you at what stage of your publishing career?

My experience is that these three things varies. I debuted Faking It on Kindle at 1.99 a year ago, and while it had a decent start, sales dropped so drastically that I barely made $25 in royalties in 2 months. Following Stacey Cochran's lead, I lowered the price to 99 cents (and debuted Ordinary World at that price), and lo and behold, sales picked up.

You know the rest. Six months and some 40,000 downloads later, I got what I wanted: readers. And, subsequently, the royalties and rankings followed. And, as you know, I briefly returned the price to $1.99, but hastily changed back to 99 cents because my intent shifted from readers to rankings. I had a following. I had favorable reviews. But I wanted to stay high in the rankings, and the low price was doing that.

But, as sales (and rankings) started to decrease, the 99-cent price seemed to have lost its luster on me. I decided I wanted to put royalties first. The time was right. My work spoke for itself, and everyone else spoke on behalf of my work.

If you're reading this blog and you've written a novel, congratulations! From here on in, it's all about intent: Which publishing route will you take, and why? Will you seek an agent? Why or why not? If you self-publish, will you do so in print, electronically, or both? Why? How will you price your books, and why? Do you know your audience? If you've honed your craft and written/revised/edited the best book you could, if can answer those questions clearly, then the road map will appear before you. No one said the journey is a straight line, but at least you'll know which direction you're headed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

guest blogger: Stacey Cochran, author of CLAWS 2

Stacey Cochran was one of the very first people I met when I moved to North Carolina four years ago. Little did I know back then how instrumental he would be in getting my career as a published novelist off the ground. Whether it was instructing me on the process of querying agents, or providing feedback on a draft of Faking It, or inviting me to be a guest on his show The Artist's Craft, Stacey is not only my friend, but a friend to aspiring authors everywhere. What's more, Stacey has seen the power of digital media when it comes to crafting, marketing, and distributing books, and has embraced technology to yield some impressive results.

Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University.

Please enjoy his post on the social life of a writer.

I never did do very well during high school prom season.

My junior year, I managed to muster up enough courage to ask the girl I had the biggest crush on and though she said “Yes” I generally freaked her out by having the worst possible hair week of my life (my older brother raked an electric razor over my head three days before prom).

My senior year, I asked four different girls who all said “No” for various reasons (lingering haircut anxieties, I think. They’d all seen what happened the previous year).

By my freshman year of college, my confidence was shaken, but I actually entertained asking a senior at my former high school to give the prom one last shot. She said “No” but (to make me feel better) it was because she’d already accepted a date.

Prom seemed like it could have been a lot of fun. I knew other people who had a good time.

I was not one of them. I was socially awkward. Never fit in.

To this day, I still feel the same way. I suppose it’s why I chose the life of being a writer. Not necessarily a smart move on my part, it seems. Sixteen years in, I still feel as socially awkward as I did back in high school. Only now, it’s with regard to my books… which are awkward, ill-conceived, poorly written, and (according to some reviewers) a personal waste of time on par with sitting at a series of stoplights when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

So why do I do it?

Why have I written close to two million words of fiction, eleven novels in sixteen years, and received somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 rejection letters?

“Self-improvement” feels like a half-truth to me. But couple it with an “undying hope” that one day I’ll get it right and hammer out a fine novel and maybe that’s the sum total. I do feel like writing and its lessons of character development have made me a better communicator and a more compassionate human being.

Still, I’m just a socially awkward human being. I’m the guy people love to stick it to.

Sometimes this hurts me deeply to realize. Other times it washes right off my shoulder.

For the next four weeks or so, I will be on a Blog Tour to promote my new thriller CLAWS 2. As Elisa can tell you, this is no easy task. What I really need are positive reviews of the book on and Also, other blogs to host me or at least spread the word about what you’re reading.

If you’d like to help, drop me a line at

And please do leave a comment. What was your worst dating experience? How was your prom? How did you find Mr. or Ms. Right?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy 4th, everyone

Be safe, be smart, and be well this weekend.

Stay tuned next week for a guest blog post from my good friend Stacey Cochran, author of such thrillers as The Colorado Sequence and Claws. Stacey launched his latest book, Claws 2, exclusively for the Kindle yesterday and is on a 30-day blog tour. His tour stops here on Tuesday. Check out his website for his remaining schedule.