Nov 162011

In my last post, I was pretty much gushing about how excited I was about the cover art for Half Past Midnight.  After all, the cover is the last real obstacle between me, and publication.  This morning, I got the final version, and I was wowed.  The artist that is working with me through Telemachus Press is named Johnny Breeze.  Cool name, eh?  Sounds like a rock star, or super hero, doesn’t it?  As far as I’m concerned, he is a rock star.  The cover he did is awesome.  And as excited as I was with the cover, and with the initial reaction to it, I thought I was about ready to press “go” on the novel. 

I found out this morning that this is probably not going to happen for a bit.  You see, once I got the cover, I sent it to a few people to test reactions.  Those reactions were overwhelmingly positive – until they found out that the book was post-apocalyptic.

Now, since this blog is supposed to be about what I learn along the way, here’s a big lesson.  If you are here to learn from my mistakes, or even if you just want to laugh at me as I make them, pay attention the rest of this post.

The first call was from my editor, Lynn O’Dell.  I had posted the cover in the Writer’s Cafe in KindleBoards, and one of Lynn’s clients saw it and commented.  That client was Imogen Rose, best-selling YA author – (thanks, Imogen).  At any rate, Imogen seemed to really like the cover, but as she and Lynn discussed it, it quickly became apparent that she had assumed the book was YA.  I had specified a great cover IF my book was a YA vampire story.  Once pointed out, it was obvious.  There is a young girl in the woods, in the moonlight, looking weary, and carrying a crossbow, and a title of “Half Past Midnight“.  Doh!!

Once I began asking others more detailed questions, it became readily apparent that this was their take as well.  Yep, I have a fantastic looking cover for a young adult vampire slayer book.  It’s entirely my fault.  Johnny and Telemachus did exactly what I told them to do.   I just told them to do it wrong. 

Luckily for me, the folks at Telemachus have evidently dealt with rookies like me before.  They were very understanding, and Steve Himes was able to talk me down from the ledge.  We talked it over a bit, and I finally realized I have to own the project.  I told him what I would like to see, and he is going to see if they can do it.  I should have a mockup in a few days. :)

So learn from my mistakes. When whoever is going to create your cover asks if you have any idea what you want to see on that cover, do NOT just say something like “no, you’re the expert”.  Own the project.  No one knows your book as well as you do.

Nov 032011

Just finished sending the edited story back to the editors for The Anthology.  Ironically enough, I am more concerned with this one than I was with the edits on Half Past Midnight.  At least with HPM, I knew going into it that the process was going to be a lengthy one.  With The Anthology, I know the editors are under the gun, and are feeling the pressure to get all the various submissions edited, completed, and then turned in for formatting so the final book can be done.

The thing I’m really worried about though, is the fear that I may be alienating one of the editors.  It’s not intentional, but there were a few key points that this editor missed in the story, and one in particular that we simply disagree on.  I’m really not trying to be difficult, but when the editor tells you that you need to clarify something that was pointed out twice before in the story, you have to say so.  Then of course, you have the doubts circling about in your head – am I being some kind of a diva; was my explanation not clear enough?  But no matter how many times I re-read it, I come up with “there were four widgets, two got broke, two still function”.  It’s in there twice – once when the two break, and once during a conversation afterwards.  I guess I’m just too new to the writer schtuff and am concerned that the editor is going to have a thin skin, and that’s unfair of me.  We’re all trying to be professionals here.  I shouldn’t worry about them being less professional than I would be, so what am I worrying about?

The other thing is (I think) simply a stylistic difference.  I’ve had three beta readers go over the story, and gotten compliments on a particular passage.  Two of the three editors for The Anthology had no problem with it, either – or at least, they made no comment on it one way or the other.  However, this third editor indicated that it was too confusing and wanted to remove the section from the story entirely.  I’m going to have to push back on that one… diplomatically, of course, but IMHO the story looses some of its flavor with the removal of that section.  I added comments to that effect into my edited manuscript when I sent it back, and I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what they say. 

The thing is, I have all the respect in the world for these guys.  I just think there may be a difference in styles here, and I hope it doesn’t get in the way of my story getting published.  If it does though, I have to remember that it’s their anthology, and if they ultimately decide that my writing isn’t right for it, then it’s their prerogative.

Hopefully, I’m just worrying too much about nothing.  So it’s time to stop worrying, and start back to writing.  I’ve done all I can at the moment on Half Past Midnight, and it’s undergoing its transformation from manuscript to final product at Telemachus Press.  And for today at least, The Burning Land is in the hands of the editors, so it’s also out of my hands.  Looks to me like it’s time to either concentrate on The Road to Rejas, or get back to recording the podcast version of HPM.  Guess I’ll get with R2R at lunch today, and then see what the recording environment is like at home when I get off work.  If things are quiet enough, I can (hopefully) get some recording done.  If not, I can possibly do some more writing on R2R

Ah, well.  Back to work.  Keep reading, keep writing, and keep safe.

Oct 312011

Things are finally moving on the book cover front.  The first round of concept pieces with which I was presented were interesting.  One of them I even liked.  Unfortunately, none of them had anything at all to do with my book.  However, what they did was get me thinking more about what I would be interested in seeing on the cover.  I spent some time on a couple of stock photo sites and put together a few lightboxes.  I’d never heard of lightboxes before Steve Jackson at Telemachus Press recommended them, and I have to admit, they are pretty handy for collaboration on projects like these.

If you’re curious, all you have to do is go to one of the stock photo sites and look for pictures that you think you might be able to use.  In my case, I found a few pictures of people wearing the type clothing I felt was appropriate for characters in my novel, with poses I though conveyed the attitude I wanted, and I found other pictures that I thought might work well as a background for them, and I saved the whole group in a lightbox.  So let’s say you’ve done the same thing.  At that point, you send the link for your lightbox to whomever you may be working with on the project so they can see the same pictures and you can discuss what you like and don’t like about them, and why you do or don’t like certain aspects of them.  For instance, I found a picture of a young woman wearing cammo pants and a tank top, holding a Kalashnikov draped over her shoulder.  Her eyes were downcast, looking exhausted, and forlorn, and she reminded me very much of the Megan character in my novel.  However, the picture was done in such subdued colors that it looked almost like it was done in black and white.  I also found some pictures of various backgrounds that I thought fitting for the novel – some deep woodland settings, a few abandoned playgrounds, etc.  My thinking on this was that I would like the “sad soldier” picture to be colorized (if possible) and superimposed onto one or more of the other backgrounds.

Of course, there is also the chance that we’ll be using a photo I took some time back on my own.  Before I had any idea what I was doing, I thought I would use my kids as models for possible cover art, and snapped several pictures of them in various poses, holding a few weapons.  One of those pictures has my daughter in a kneeling position, aiming a home-made crossbow directly at the camera.  Telemachus has sent me a concept piece using this photo in one of the deep woodland backgrounds.  I’m tempted to post it here, but I’m not sure of the legalities involved, since I haven’t yet bought the rights to the background artwork.  Guess I should play it safe for now.  :-?

ITMT, Telemachus also got the manuscript back to me on Saturday (October 29) for formatting review.  I just finished it late last night, and I have a few questions that I’ll have to call them about this afternoon, but for the most part it looks really good.  Of course, I also found a couple of minor mistakes that got past me during editing, so I’ll have to figure out what (if anything) I need to do about them.  I’m pretty sure I know what changes I need to make, but would like to run it past Lynn O’Dell just in case.  (Damn, I’ve grown dependent on her!  :)   )

Between format checking, and working on cover ideas, I really didn’t get much done on the writing front this weekend.  On the one hand, I feel like I’m still not making the kind of progress I need to, but on the other, I am still making progress.

Well, that’s it for now — short and sweet this week.  So until next time, keep reading, keep writing, and keep safe.

Oct 102011

If anyone is actually reading this, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in almost two weeks, and that’s unusual for me.  I do apologize.  As anyone who’s not a full-time writer knows, life has a way of intruding.

You’ll note that the progress meter on “The Road to Rejas” is still moving.  I’m just over 7500 words into it and at this point I believe I can say with a bit of confidence that this puppy is going to surpass the projected 10k wordcount by a considerable percentage. Of course, I can’t predict how much of a percentage that may be, but I’ve found that the characters seem to have a lot more to say than I thought they did.

In the meantime, I spoke to Steve Jackson at Telemachus Press this weekend.  He tells me that Half Past Midnight has completed the formatting phase and is moving through the process.  I try not to bug him about it, but I’m afraid it’s difficult for me to leave things alone.  Luckily for me, Steve seems to be a very patient guy and doesn’t seem to mind my nagging.  (Thanks, Steve!)  :)

During the course of our discussion, I asked him about the current battle between Amazon (CreateSpace) vs. other print on demand (POD) companies.

First some background —  For those of you that may not be aware, CreateSpace is Amazon’s in-house POD distributor.  There are really only two big players in the POD industry; CreateSpace (CS) and Lightning Source (LS).  Nearly all other POD companies actually use these two for their print runs.

So what is POD?  Let’s say a small author (such as yours truly) decides to offer up their book in written format, and they don’t have the benefit of a publishing house to handle the print runs.  They then turn to CS or LS to offer the book as a POD.  That allows them to sell the book on Amazon without actually having the book printed.  The reader then sees the book offered, orders it, and it gets printed on a small press when it is ordered.

Only lately, that isn’t the case.  Lately, if you have your book printed by Lightning Source, you are likely to find that your book is “out of stock” with a 1 – 3 week wait time.  Needless to say, there has been considerable consternation over this situation.  Most people seem to feel that Amazon is using this tactic to force authors to use CS, where Amazon can get a larger cut of the author’s profits, and control a larger piece of the industry in general.

Now, as a newbie to this industry, I’m pretty concerned when I see something going on that can change the playing field in a realm wherein I haven’t even fully gotten myself established yet.  I thought Steve might have something to say about it, since Telemachus Press uses LS for their POD books.  So I asked him, fully expecting a little bit of a rant on how Amazon is trying to overstep, or strong-arm the industry, as I’ve seen posted at so many other sites.  Needless to say, I was a little surprised when all I got from him was a chuckle. 

It turns out that this isn’t the first time Amazon has done something like this.  It seems that in 2008, Amazon simply removed the “Buy” buttons on books that weren’t printed through their in-house POD company (at that time it was called BookSurge, and later changed to CreateSpace – I don’t know why, but I don’t think I would want the abbreviation for BookSurge associated with my company either. ;-) )  I’ve gone back and read through several articles and blog posts on the 2008 situation, and while I can’t find anything in writing on what actually ended it, Steve pointed out to me that while CS is owned and operated by Amazon, LS is owned and operated by Ingram Content Group, who currently has the industry’s largest active book inventory, with access to 7.5 million titles, and is absolutely HUGE when it comes to getting into brick and mortar stores.  I would think that Amazon would take a major hickey if LS were to shut off access of their books to Amazon.

So it’s two giants facing off, waiting to see who’ll blink first.  And us little guys who are trying to offer our product who are caught in the middle. 

How do we choose?  In my case, I’m a big proponent of finding the provider who offers the better quality.  Steve Jackson, of Telemachus Press, is firmly in the LS camp.  He claims that the quality of the product LS offers is far superior to CS, and tells stories of books with spines misalligned and pages curling in the air when left lying flat on the table.

I have read other blogs that say just the opposite, claiming that the paper quality of CS is better, thicker, and the color quality of the book covers is better in CS.

Robin Sullivan, who you already know is a guru in this business if you’ve ever read any of my other posts, or have read her blog itself, posted on this subject back in July.  She did a comparison of Create Space Vs Lightning Source that is well worth a read.  She compares the quality (among other things) and according to her, there is very little difference in the two.  As for the problems that Amazon has with LS and how it affects us little guys? Robin recommends examing your goals for distribution before making up your mind.  Both LS and CS have pros and cons under certain circumstances.  Are you going to sell in brick and mortars?  Are you going to sell directly through your website?  Are you going to sell only on Amazon?

Lots of things to consider.  Go read Robin’s blog if you want to see what else she has to say on the  matter.  For now, I’m just glad I’m only going ebook.  :)

In the meantime, keep safe, keep reading, and keep writing.

Sep 282011

As mentioned in the comment section of my “Gatekeepers?” post, as well at the bottom of my post earlier today entitled “Some interesting posts regarding self- and small press- publishing“, I was treated to an interesting comment from Steve Jackson, one of the partner/owners of Telemachus Press.  In the interests of full disclosure (or if this is the first of my blog posts that you’re reading) I will start out with a disclaimer.  I am currently using Telemachus Press for the ebook formatting and distribution services for my upcoming novel, Half Past Midnight.

That being said, I want to say how impressed I was with Steve’s comments in response to the “Gatekeepers?” post.  I was so impressed, that I asked him for permission to put it up as its own post, and he has graciously agreed.  So without further ado, here is Steve Jackson, in his own words – (my first guest post!) 8-)

I have recently had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Brackett and come to know him as a thoughtful author and blogger about these issues.  Jeff is 100% right on the money in his perspective about the transition in publishing.  The old supply chain with its gatekeepers is coming apart due to a change in technology and the frustrations built up over time by so many authors unable to get past systemic obstacles into the publishing process.

The transition from legacy publishing to self-publishing is exactly like the upheaval experience by other supply chains that for so many years had remained well-defined.  The participants become entrenched in their roles and jealously guard any disruption because change will most probably upset the flow of money to them in their part of the chain.  That is, of course, unless they reengineer.  And, that is the sad part of this story.  Literary agents and traditional publishers have so much to offer and can still play significant roles in publishing.  They need to learn from some not-too-distant history and work to maintain their relevance – it is no longer a function of their gatekeeper position, they are no longer entitled simply due to position in the chain.

Some decades ago, people and freight were moved about on railroads.  A change in technology occurred and along came the airplane.  The railroad emperors were not amused.  They stomped their feed and yelled at the skies.  They employed every tactic they could from legislation to fears over safety to prevent air travel.  Next time you are at the airport, look around for the Chesapeake and Ohio Airline; their efforts did not succeed.  What they forgot was that they were in the people and freight moving business, not the railroad business.  No organizations were better poised to launch commercial air service than the railroads and they plain and simply blew it.

More recently, say ten to fifteen years ago, when you got off of your airline flight and walked into the gate area at the airport, you were confronted by banks of pay phones.  The same situation existed at large convention center hotels.  Row after row of pay phones on walls or in cubicles.  Another change in technology upset this supply chain – the cell phone.  Aren’t you glad that you are not holding long-term leases on airport floorspace and paying for pay phones all now  unused?

The legacy publishing world can no more push back on advances in technology than airport concessions could stop cell phones or the railroads could have prevented airplanes.  They have a choice, reengineer or perish.

I have met with many of the world’s largest and most famous literary agencies.  Just about all of them are a mix of anger and fear about their future.  Some are wallowing in denial.  Most hide their true fears in resentment and proclamations of self-importance and entitlement .  Hiding underneath all of it is a fear about cash flow.

Wake up people!  I very truly believe that there is a new and maybe even more important role for you.  Learn to follow the successful in the self-published marketplace.  Encourage them to enter only into agreements with self-publishing companies where they can move to a tractional model without reversion of rights.  Put new authors showing actual success in front of major publishers.  Edit.  Design. Encourage. Shape careers.  You do these things very well.

Or, if not, we will miss you.