Monday, August 21, 2006

From Amateur to Pro

In my mind, I'm now considered 'pro'. What triggered that change? My first royalty check. It ended up a bit bigger than I expected, even with the distribution hassles. It arrived via PayPal and so though I don't have a genuine check to fondle or photocopy and frame, it's still a FIRST.

Firsts, as I call them, should be savored. For most of you it's that first time with a lover, your first job, child, car, house, etc. Besides those (minus the child) for me it was my first book, my first contract, and now my very first check.

Validation comes in many forms. A stellar review, a reader who says, "I can't wait for the next book!" or a fellow author who remarks, "That book rocks, babe." And, of course, the $$.

I've always treated writing like a career. I love what I do, even though I can bitch like crazy when a story is playing hell with me. But at the bottom of it all, this is what I want to do with my life.

Now I have proof that others agree with that opinon. It's a strangely humbling experience.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

RWA Conference 2006 - A View from the Other Side

I promised to pen my thoughts abut the Romance Writers of American annual conference and so here they are:

RWA presents a dilemma for me. They are a strong and growing organization. They also are very inclusive. They have set certain standards that designate who is and isn't considered a published author. This is not unique. SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and MWA (Mystery Writers of America) do the same. RWA certifies publishers based on a number of criteria, including copies sold, etc. The upshot of this is that even though I have 4 published books to my name, I'm considered unpubbed because self-pub doesn't count and my current publisher isn't an "RWA Approved Publisher." (The time and expense required to achieve this status is not necessarily worth the effot for a small press. Better to be focusing on this year's book launches than doing tons of paperwork.)

Because of this arbitrary line, certain parts of the conference are off limits to me because of my status. I can't attend the meet-and-greet session with the booksellers or the librarians (an ideal way to increase book sales and my chance of moving 'up the ladder'.) I'm not allowed into some of the panels nor can I enter all of the contests. Of course, my dues and conference fees (nearly $400/year) pay for all this.

Which leads to the obvious question -- why am I a member of RWA and why do I attend their conference? The truth is, I'm stubborn. I am the odd duck -- a self-pubbed author who has won awards and now has moved 'up the ladder' to a tradional publisher. I want to be a reminder that not successful authors come from NY. (I've had a role model -- a good friend of mine came up through small press and now she's published by three NY houses.) My publishing path is no less viable than someone who took five years of rejections before they got their first 'call' from NY. Each result in a published book.

There are signs that the wall is cracking. 2 years ago the 'newbies' were told that if you self-pubbed your career was over, that no one would touch you. Fortunately, I wasn't in the same room with the agent who said this or there would been a heated discussion. Now they're saying that NY publishers are cherry-picking authors from small press (and self-pub). All of a sudden it's no longer the death knoll for your career. For those of us who work the SF&F convention circuit, we recognized this trend at least three years ago. RWA is just now catching up.

So the conference was mixed for me. I saw more small press authors win awards and evidence that the growth of the e-book industry continues. I also experienced some of the inclusiveness. Nowadays it doesn't get me as riled as it used to.

When I finally make the NY Times Bestseller list, I'll point to my unique career path and ask, "Hey guys, isn't it time to change the rules?"

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Course of True Publishing Never Doth Run Smooth

For those of you in the real world, the inner machinations of publishing are most likely not on your radar. For those who work in the field, the oddities can be extremely annoying and distracting. Such has been the case lately as my publisher (Dragon Moon Press) struggles to get my books to my readers.

Peace of cake, you say? In an ideal world it would be. You roam into your favorite bookstore, order a copy of my book and viola!, in about a week the tome is in your hands. What you don't see is how book orders are fulfilled. Your bookstore (let's call it Al's Books) does not contact my publisher directly. They go through a book wholesaler or distributor (the distinction between the two is minor) who collects all the orders for Sojourn for a week and then forwards them on to Dragon Moon Press. DMP boxes up the order and ships it to one of a number warehouses located around the country. Those warehouses break out the books according to the order and ship them to the appropriate bookstore in bulk lots. So not only would Al's Books receive a copy of my book, he'll also get a DiVinci Code, a How to Train Your Ferret Not to Bite Your Toes and Why Acid Rain is Good For You. The wholesaler/distributor is the ultimate middleman and gets a cut of the $$ for such services. The benefit to Al's Books is that he doesn't have to order directly from a squillion different publishers and all the books are on one bill. So far so good, providing all the above steps are in place.

The whole system comes to a grinding halt if the wholesaler doesn't show the book as in stock at their warehouse. The longer this shows on their database, the bookstores' own databases may flag the book as Not Available or worse yet, Out of Print even though books are piling up at the publisher. Such has been the case with my book. There are copies available. They're selling briskly on Amazon. But our wholesaler has shown the book as not in stock since the moment it was published. Why, you ask? Wouldn't it make sense to show a copy or two lying around their warehouse to stimulate orders? Ah, this is where it gets weird.

The wholesaler will not stock books unless there is demand. That's their bottom line. However, to generate demand it would be ideal that at least ONE copy of the book be shown as "In Stock". No books in stock, less likely it will be in demand. 'round and round we go. No demand. No stock. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, the book is not shown as available on B& (and other online retailers) because--you got it-- it's not in stock at my wholesaler. (Amazon stocks seperately). This not a new problem for me; I fought this mindset when I was self-pubbed. Fortunately, there are only a couple of DMP titles with this stocking issue. Unfortunately, one of them is mine.

So folks have been trudging into their local bookstore to order my book only to be told "Sorry, not available." Despite the awesome reviews, all the work my publicist and my publisher have been putting into make the book a success, it all hinges on the policies of the 'gatekeeper'. Until we crack that open and get 'through put', Sojourn will continue to fight an uphill battle. We continue to offer the book at other venues, but a goodly number of folks want to order at a bookstore. I respect that. I just wish my wholesaler understood that, as well.

I'm eagerly awaiting the day when you can walk into your local bookstore, peruse a sample tome, punch a code into a printing machine and it prints your book while you wait. (Yes, such technology exists. They're working out the bugs.) The upside? No middleman, less environmental damage for returned/pulped books, and no hassles for the reader. You get the book you want when you want it. The downside? I'm still working on that one (other than a lot of wholesalers' employees out of a job).

So we will continue our jousting with the monolith that is our wholesaler. I have faith my publisher will prevail, though I deeply regret the lost time and lost sales. However, once the book is in stock, we'll have to watch the levels very carefully. If it goes out of stock, we may have to start the whole process over again.