Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Writing Life

Recently I was able to catch bestselling author Wayne Stinnett's videos on the writing life and goal setting. They are quite good. That said, I thought I would imprint my own brand on the topic. It's totally unscripted, and I try holding back the laughter at some points. Imagine the absurdity of it all. Me standing in the middle of a trout stream making a video. But here you go.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Observations by the Hybrid Author Thus Far

Back in the old days (I'm talking the late 1990s here), when I wrote my first book for Delacorte Press, there was only one way to publish. Traditionally. You submitted the manuscript you'd been agonizing over for the past two to three years (or in writing school, like I did) to an agent, and when and if they agreed to shop it, you'd then wait another period of months until it was sold.

More than likely however, it would have been rejected. But...Big ol' booty BUT here...if you were one of the lucky ones, said agent fielded an offer for you. Or two. The more the better because that meant the book was entering into an auction and that would drive the price up. That happened to me with that first book and I ended up with a pretty hefty advance.

However, the book pretty much tanked and after having left all that money on the table, no one wanted to offer me more money for more books. I was out of business for a while (but the joke was on them, because the second edition of that book would go on to sell well over 100,000 copies).

Fast forward to the early 2000s and the advent of indie publishing and suddenly authors have options like never before. We can publish the old fashioned way and hope, or we can publish with smaller more digitally based presses, or we can form our own publishing companies and self-publish our books (so long as they are rigorously edited...this of course, takes investment money). A fourth option is the one I prefer which is hybrid authorship, or a combination of all the above.

I've been at the hybrid game for about three years now, and at this point I've been able to make some interesting observations (these are personal observations and by no means the rule...what works/doesn't work for me, might be different for another author).

1. Small independent presses can't move units. Simple as that. In other words, if you sign with a small imprint, regardless of their quality, author stable, and distribution, it's hard for them to move as many units as a big publisher can. They simply don't have the resources to make it happen. Now if you're publishing with the small press for the honor of doing so (maybe you have another job or you teach), and not relying on the money, then by all means, indulge. Some beautiful books are being produced by more than a few of these companies. 

2. The big publishers, and I include Amazon Publishing imprints in this group, can indeed move a lot of units, but only when they are paying strict attention to you and your library pretty much all of the time, or at least, a lot of the time. Which, of course, is impossible. Big publishers have a ton of authors vying for their attention and not everyone can get a big bite of it all the time. Ironically, it's the authors who sell the best who are going to demand the most attention. That's the way it's always worked and that's the way it will remain. I personally like to use big publishers, especially Amazon Imprints like Thomas & Mercer, for my stand-alones since they have an aptitude for marketing like no other. 

2A. Big Publishers still move a lot of paper (I exclude Amazon Publishing imprints in this one, since they rely almost exclusively on Kindle and audio).

3. Indie or self-publishing is all about the math. What I mean is, having now been publishing one entire series, The Chase Baker action/adventure pulp series for three years now under my own imprint, Bear Media, I can see that the best marketing tool for succeeding independently is to write more books. Five books sell more than one book. 10 books sell more than 5, 20 books sell more than 10, and so on, rinse, repeat. However, to be a successful indie writer, you need to market aside from writing more books. This means paying for FB ads, BookBubs, KNDs, and any one of a multitude of advertising sites that are presently available. There are days I am so confused and overwhelmed by marketing opportunities that I find myself having to lie down and take a nap. Also, has anyone tried to figure out precisely how Facebook ads work? You need to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. But wait, you can now hire other outside firms to do this kind of thing for you. In turn you're free to write while they build up your subscriber list which in time, will result in increased sales.

To sum it up (this was supposed to be a short blog), numerous options still exist for all fiction writers, especially genre writers like me. It's all about personal choice and comfort and how much control you're willing or not willing to give up. If you make your living as a writer, like I do, you'll probably find yourself shying away from small presses and concentrating on bigger trades for certain books (like stand-alones for instance) while spending a significant amount of time building up your indie list of series books.

One day, I foresee one's own website acting as a one-stop bookshop for an author's personal list of subscribers who need only tap their smartphone (or wristwatch) for the books they wish to read, digitally, audibly, or in good old fashioned paper. That day is coming rather quickly. But not yet.

Note: I'll be speaking on this exact topic at the annual Writer's Digest Conference 2016 taking place August 12-14 in New York City. Click HERE for details. Please come, introduce yourself to me, and perhaps we can have a drink and chat it up.   




Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jerusalem's Melting Pot

Busy Old City market

At this point it's getting to be old writing about a hot, crowded, exotic locale that leaves me feeling entirely confused, physically bombarded, and emotionally overloaded. Jerusalem (thus far anyway...I've been here for four days), is nothing like I pictured it. Scratch that, it's somewhat like I pictured it. The Old City with its narrow passageways, ancient brick and stone entry and exit-ways one blending into the other so that even if you stuff the already torn and sweat-soaked map into your back pocket you'll need the benevolent blessings of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or God knows what or who else in order to find your way back out. I've been to a bunch of these markets in countries like Egypt, Morocco, West Africa, Turkey, Nepal, India, China, and as fascinating as I find them, I also end up feeling like I'm being swallowed up by a gigantic, long, coiled snake (No, that's not meant to be mind out of the gutter please).

Yesterday it took me nearly a half hour to walk from the Western Wall portion of the Old City to the Damascus Gate on the east Arabic side of the city, simply because the narrow passageway was so (over)crowded with people, it was like being stage-rushed at a Springsteen concert taking place inside a long tube. And being that we live in some fairly dangerous times, all I could think about was something going boom and a whole lot of body parts flying around. I need my hands and fingers to make my living, thank you very much.

But the old city is as diverse a home to religion as it is food, jewelry, rugs, spice, fruits, and just general junk vendors. It's got its beggars as well, and a never ending cascade of worshipers walking the Via Dolorosa in the path Jesus walked and struggled bearing the burden of His cross on the way to his crucifixion at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As an aside, I feel the true site of his execution is outside the city walls, at a place that's now called the Garden Tomb. A place that contains a small hill that literally looks like a skull and a nearby tomb which was sealed with a big wheel-like stone, and a garden with a cistern. It also overlooks a bus garage. Go figure.
The site of the Crucifixion? Almost maybe definitely

But there's far more to Israel and although I was going to avoid talking about anything political, I did spend some time driving around the West Bank with a Palestinian guide who offered up some interesting perspective. As a writer and a journalist I'm of course not only open to all sides of the story, but obligated to listen to them.

The story in this case is walls. The country is being divided up literally by concrete walls topped with razor wire. It's bizarre because a wall might spring up in the middle of what was once a well-traveled bit of asphalt roadway just a few months ago. Picture the road you take to your home to and from work each day suddenly being blocked off. You might now be forced to find an alternate route that takes you five or six times as long to reach your desired destination, such as work or the supermarket or your aging parents. In some cases, people have to leave their home and neighborhood altogether and find another place to live. Ghost towns are being created, literally.

Life in the West bank
It's a sad scene to be sure, but the political situation being what it is (and has been since 1948), I don't see anything improving in Jerusalem, but instead, getting worse. On one hand, the walls are succeeding at preventing the terrorist attacks that have been haunting this country for ages. On another hand, the collateral damage of walling in the innocents who don't care much about politics and only wish to live a simple life, is incalculable.

I mentioned to my guide Hamas, the tunnels, the rockets, the recent rash of stabbings and he became visibly upset and/or avoided the subjects altogether. But he did offer up his opinion on the stabbings. "These are young boys who have nothing," he said. "No job, no money, no future. So they give up their lives as a protest." In other words, out of desperation, these jerks stab and in some cases kill innocent people just to make a point and/or protest their sad living situation. I have sympathy for the latter, but no sympathy for the former. But then, I managed to keep my sentiments to myself. After all, my guide was driving at the time.

I won't comment anymore on the political situation here, because I simply don't know enough about it. All I know is that the people I've met are kind and friendly, be they Jewish, Arabic, Christian, or just plain nothing at all. For better or worse, Jerusalem is a melting pot filled with rich flavors that just wouldn't be the same if one of more of them were to disappear. 
A road to nowhere...An abandoned neighborhood

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How Writing Found Me: a Fathers and Sons Story

Last evening I delivered a talk to the Upper Hudson Phi Beta Kappa society, a collection of some very talented individuals whose goal, in part, is to support the advancement of college and university-bound students. My talk was originally to be centered around my search for the authentic in many different parts of the world, and then transcribing that authenticity onto the page. But instead, when preparing the talk, I found myself instead drawn to the subject of how I came to be a writer, and how difficult if not impossible it was for me to separate myself from a family business that was supposed to be handed down to me by my father, just like it was handed down to him (in a manner of speaking) by his father.

I'm also considering writing a memoir for writers and would-be writers based in part around the subject of this talk. 

Here's the talk in its entirety (Please excuse any typos or parenthetical interjections):

The old joke goes something like this: Three men are seated at a bar sipping on mugs of beer. Suddenly, just to break the silence, one of the men puts his beer down and says, "I'm a stockbroker. This year I'll bring in around nine hundred thousand dollars." The second guy perks up, says, "I'm a lawyer. I'm gonna make four hundred K this year, easy." But then the third guys nods, drinks some beer, says, "I'm gonna be lucky to scrape together ten thousand bucks." The other two guys immediately turn to him and say in unison, "What kind of stories do you write?" 

So you can imagine the horror that painted my dad's face when, twenty-plus years ago , I told him I was giving everything up to become a writer. The problem and the horror, didn't stem from my choosing a definite direction in life necessarily (because what parent doesn't want their child to have direction?). The problem stemmed from something different. Something very personal and as ingrained as the veins of rusted iron inside a chunk of granite.
By choosing to be a writer, I was not only about to enter into a career that was financially risky at best, but to make matters worse, I was giving up something that other people my age at the time would have killed for: a successful, long established family construction business.

All of my life up until I was 22 years old had been spent more or less in preparation to enter into a business that my grandfather and father built from the ground up (no  pun), beginning in the mid-1940s. Sure, I had other interests like music, and in particular drumming (I'd been in and out of rock bands since I was fifteen). But I also had taken to photography and writing while still in college. As much as I loved these pursuits, however, it was difficult to take them serious on any level. Because always, I understood that without question, my future…my prescribed place in life…would be standing beside my dad inside his business headquarters in Cohoes, NY.  Which for me meant that, while my friends hopped flights to Europe and Asia immediately upon graduation, I was told to report to work ASAP (I was actually given two weeks off, much of which I spent hiking in the Adirondacks). 

Like the good son, I didn’t argue with my father, nor challenge his wishes, nor toss a monkey wrench in what he considered a very deep financial and emotional investment. But that doesn’t mean I was conflicted over my career predicament from the get go. You see, even though I kept quiet about it, I knew early on that the construction business wasn't for me. Rather, I wasn't suited for it.  
First things first.
The construction business doesn’t require a degree in physics from MIT, but it does require a certain amount of engineering know-how, and engineering know-how takes math skills, of which I had zero. All my life I had trouble passing even the most basic of math courses. That right there should have been a red flag for my dad. But still, he persisted with trying to steer me towards taking over the helm of the Zandri Construction Corp. Although I “technically” had a choice in what path to take in my life’s pursuits, the choice was a very difficult one to make. If I chose not to enter into the business, then I ran the risk not only of disappointing my family, I ran the risk of ending what promised to be a three generation business legacy. Add into the mix a strong Italian heritage and the powerful concept of familia and you get the picture. Think, Godfather meets the Sopranos meets The World According to Garp.

In other words, I basically had no choice.

From the moment I started...and I mean, from the moment I punched my proverbial time card...I was like wet paper bag filled with glum sprinkled with despair. While I had spent many summers working for the business in the field as a laborer, I was now expected to work in the office as a project manager and estimator. My duties pretty much revolved around reading blueprints and trying to determine how much a prospective project would cost (You’ll remember that little math problem). Price a project too high and you risk missing out on the successful low bid. Price a project too low, and risk losing your financial shirt.

Other duties included managing the costs on existing jobs. Also expediting them. Checking up on when the carpeting, doors, and windows would arrive on site. Stuff like that. There was a lot of time spent on the phone asking for lumber prices and delivery dates. For a guy or a gal who’d just graduated Babson College or a similar trade school, whose sole interest in life was building up a business….any kind of business…it could be exciting stuff. Maybe even the most fun you could have with your clothes on. But for me…the dreamer, the would-be Ernest Hemingway or Joseph Conrad, the arm-chair traveler…the work was tedious, and as dry as work could get.

Still, I stuck it out, with the understanding that much like a bad, pre-arranged marriage, I might learn to at least like the job.

A few years went by.
By the time I turned 25, I was a Junior executive in a thriving commercial construction business. I had a house, a company vehicle,  a steady paycheck, a country club membership, one week's paid vacation, the promise of wealth, a new wife and a child on the way (did I mention I'd gotten married at the ripe old age of 24?), and had more stability than anyone could ask for.
But I was suicidal.

Then something happened that changed everything.
I'd seen somewhere that the Albany Times Union newspaper was looking for stringers to cover local high school football games on the weekends. I'd read in one of the many Ernest Hemingway biographies that I'd been devouring in my spare time, that the master started out his writing career as a cub reporter. So naturally I thought, what's good for Papa might just be the right thing for me. It might also be my ticket out of the construction business, at least inevitably.

That late summer and fall I covered every game I could, often times writing the stories in the TU newsroom on a Late Friday night or Saturday afternoon at a frantic pace. I became so proficient at the job I was offered to stay on and write basketball stories in the fall and baseball in the spring. In the meantime, I started freelancing stories on all different types of subjects for several papers. I wrote about fly fishing, bird hunting, honeymooning in Venice, book reviews, you name it. It was after collecting a portfolio of clippings that I started freelancing for some larger magazines like Hudson Valley, Game and Fish Magazine, New York Newsday, and just about any rag that would take a story.

At the same time, I'd also started writing short stories that for the most part were collecting rejections. But every now and then, I would receive an acceptance by a journal the likes of Negative Capability, or Orange County Magazine, or the University of Idaho's, Fugue. When that happened, I would feel myself levitating from the earth, flying as high as a kite with its string snapped off in a wind storm. I'd spend an entire weekend celebrating. I wasn't making a whole lot of money, but I was making something. Suddenly, I was a professional writer and I was building a career that was all my own.

You’re expecting the big BUT here right?

Then Monday morning would arrive.

Since I had a family to support, I was still employed by the Zandri Construction Company. It was a strange existence, because when I was writing, I was so very happy, so very determined, so very inspired, so optimistic about my future. But when I was working in the construction office, I was so horribly sad, depressed, and pessimistic.

There weren't enough hours in the day to do both jobs.

I would wake up at four in the morning to write my stories and then I'd put in an eight hour day or more at the construction office. My dad could see the desperation that was painting my face. Not to mention exhaustion. My coworkers could see it. There was very little peace in my life and I was not easy to be around. Something had to give.

My dad and I started to fight.

He knew how much I was retreating from the business, if not physically then mentally. My mind just wasn't in the game. But then, my head had never been in the game. Our arguments were vicious. My dad, a short but stocky, salt-and-pepper haired intense man, took my retreat personally. But, as it turns out, there was a good reason for that.

My dad, after all, was a gifted musician. A skilled trumpet player who had given up all his hopes and dreams of being full-time performer to take over what had become in the early 1960s, a failing Zandri Construction Corp. from his father.

Although the details of the agreement are sketchy to this day, my father made a promise to his father who, at the time was literally in tears over his ensuing bankruptcy, that he would not only make the business a success once more, but that he would pay back all his debtors. My dad would do whatever it took, even if it meant giving up his own personal dreams to make the most out of his God-given talent. That one decision made by my father in his mid-twenties took strength, conviction, and selflessness.

It also changed the course of his life forever.

But here's the thing: As much as I resembled him, I was not my dad.

And when it came my turn to step up to the plate, so to speak, I could not give up what now had become a dream not only to be a writer and freelance journalist, but to be a full-time novelist. I felt that if I "wrote on the side" as so many people suggested I do, that I would eventually give up the dream, succumb to the enormous demands and responsibilities of the business, grow soft in the middle, hard in the arteries, and angry, and unhappy with my middle age. In essence, what I foresaw was living a very slow death. Nobody wants to be that guy who looks at himself in the mirror at sixty and whisper, "I should have stuck to my guns. I should have lived my life while I had the chance."

So the day came finally, when I decided to make the official announcement to my dad, while he stood over a blueprint inside his corner office. "Dad,” I said, “I'm going to become a writer."

“Good luck with that,” he said. But the look on his face said, “Rest in peace.”

I applied to writing school and in late 1994 I was accepted to the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College. It was while writing and reading for two straight years that I came up with my first novel. The book that would become As Catch Can or, in its most recent form, The Innocent. That book would get sold to Delactorte Press less than a year after my graduation from writing school for a quarter of a million dollars.

That deal, which was touted in Publishers Weekly among other publications, hit my family with all the subtly of a major seismic event. I was thirty three years old. I now had money in my pocket, some pre-publication notoriety, the promise of a stellar bestselling series, and even reads from major film production companies and talent like Dreamworks, Robert DeNiro, and George Clooney. My dream was finally becoming real. I had also achieved something else. Validation. Not only for my writing, but for my convictions.

Ironically, the first person to congratulate me was my dad.

I still remember the smile on his face when I first told him about the deal. He laughed and then he told me something I'll never forget. He said, you and I fought because you assumed I wanted you to stay in the construction business. But that's not what it was all about. I just wanted to make sure you were able to make a living for you and your family. I took him at his word, but there was a little salt to be tossed onto his sentiment.

 Of course, as successful as that first deal was, there were to be many more trials and tribulations to come. A first divorce, contracts that went unfulfilled, depleted bank accounts. But also, wonderful things too. Many of my books would sell hundreds of thousands of copies. I was able to become a freelance foreign correspondent for RT and other news services. Work that took me to Africa, Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, the Middle East, Asia, ... so many places I've lost count. I've seen the sun rise on Machu Picchu and I've seen the sun set on the pyramids in Giza. I've hiked the Amazon jungle, been bitten by piranha,  and nearly drowned last year in the Ganges. I'm able to live in Florence, Italy for part of the year and I support it all, not with paychecks from the construction company, but with royalties from my twenty-plus in-print novels.

When I started writing those first football stories for the Times Union newspaper all those years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would hit the New York Times, or USA Today bestseller lists, or that I would nail the overall No. 1 spot on the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list. I never thought for a moment I would win the ITW Thriller Award or the PWA Shamus award for the best paperback original with Moonlight Weeps.  I just wanted the chance to make a living as a writer no matter how humble.  I wanted to go my own way, forge my own path. To have a life of adventure outside of a construction office in Cohoes, New York. To be thrilled by a life that's admittedly unstable, but far more gratifying. So gratifying in fact, that even now, at 51 years old, I feel younger than I did when I felt I had no choice but to step foot into the construction office each and every morning.  

My dad stayed with his business long after I left, working seven days a week, sometimes ten or eleven hours a day even into his mid-seventies. While our relationship was strained over the years because of my career decisions, we eventually became friends again and I think he enjoyed seeing me off on my adventures. He'd often tell me to stay vigilant or to watch my back, especially if I was entering into a country that was particularly unstable at the moment.

I recall our last phone conversation together. It was well after work hours, but he was calling me from the office after everyone had gone home. He was more than a little stressed out over a job he was working on in Troy, and the hard time the architects were giving him. Young, up and coming architects schooled in contracts, digital know-how, and a particular brand of 21st century business savvy that was as far away from my dad’s philosophy of doing business with a handshake than Portland, Maine is from Portland, Oregon.   

He knew he was going to lose money on the project but that wasn't the point. They were insulting his integrity and that's what hurt the most.

"How are you doing?" he asked. "How's the new publisher?"

You see, I'd just signed a new five book deal at the time with Thomas & Mercer and it was for very good money. "Did they pay you yet?" my dad pressed. Always the worrier, he was forever looking out for my well-being.

I remember laughing and telling him that yes, I had been paid and what a joy T&M were to work with as opposed to Delactore of Dell. He also asked me about my second wife Laura. We'd become estranged over the years and divorced, but had been talking again as of late. "You two aren't done," he said. "I just know it."

“Time will tell,” I said.

We hung up then, and I never spoke with him again. The next morning he died of a heart attack while putting his work boots on.

But I can still recall the last time I saw him in person before he died. I remembered seeing something in his tired eyes. I can't quite explain it, but it was a look that exuded both pride in my achievements, and a kind of sadness. A sadness that told me maybe he too could have followed his dreams. That had he chosen to do so, his life might have turned out differently. But much like the writing life chose me whether I liked it or not, I think he felt deep down that the construction business snatched him up in its claws, for better or worse.  

My dad died a successful man, but I'm going to be perfectly honest: I’m not sure how happy he was when death struck him so very suddenly that bright December day. Even at 76 he still bore a tremendous weight on his narrow shoulders. The responsibility of carrying on the family legacy, even long after his own father had passed away.

But you see, my dad was a man of integrity. The kind of man we see less and less of in this new 21st century. When he made a promise, he kept it. Even with his dying breath. And now, I no longer recall our butting heads, or arguing over my path in life. Instead, I thank him for all the lessons he taught me about being a success not as a writer necessarily, but at whatever path I chose.


Monday, April 11, 2016

"Moonlight Falls" Again...

"Man's life is flashing before his eyes...."

The first line in my novel, Moonlight Falls, still causes chills to run up and down my spine. I was in quite the state when I wrote it. The second marriage was crumbling, the bank account was in the red, my original Big 5 publisher wasn't about to roll out a third book for me now that I hadn't earned out a mid-six-figure advance, I had no freelance prospects, and my dog died. Okay, well I'm fibbing about the dog, but things were pretty bleak to to say the least. So much so, that not even the worst country music ballad could do it justice.

How does the line go in the famous Wilco song? I shiver whenever the doorbell rings. Or something like that. And yeah, I must admit, there were times I thought, you know what, why not just check out now and beat the reaper at his own game. But then, even the next cheeseburger is worth waiting for. Especially if the cheese is sharp cheddar and you're washing it down with an ice cold beer.

But it was in this state of mind that I began Moonlight Falls, with those first seven words. Because in a real way, my life was flashing before my eyes. I knew that I had no choice but to write my way out of my depression. That a creative mind had no other choice. That is, it wanted to survive.

I can still recall sitting across from Suzanne Gluck's big glass desk inside her glitzy William Morris Agency office in Manhattan, while she read the manuscript one page at a time, a pair of brass knuckles set out on the desktop, and her rather attractive assistant bringing her a bagel (no cream cheese). Gluck was, is, arguably, the best literary agent in the world. And that is no exaggeration. She took a special interest in Moonlight Falls and I was convinced at the time that all my problems were solved. But it was not to be. In the end, that big ass advance I hadn't earned out at Delacorte plagued me like a bad shadow and even she couldn't sell it. I had no choice but to go with a small publisher.

Said small publisher treated me very kindly, but as time went on and the manuscript was whipped into someone else's editorial vision, it sort of lost it's original gritty vision in order to become more attractive to a wider audience. But only now, nearly ten years after I first started writing it, is my original vision of the manuscript available for both new readers and Zandri completests. It's hard-boiled, it's noir, it's romantic suspense, it's raw, it's sexy, it's bad ass, and yeah, it's as close to the original version Ms. Gluck read inside her office with me staring at her, wondering if she was single (she wasn't).

So, without further rumination, for the first time in a long time, I give to you, MOONLIGHT FALLS (EXTENDED EDITOR'S CUT EDITION)...

 Also, check out the original MOONLIGHT FALLS TRAILER



Friday, February 19, 2016

How Do I Publish My Novel?

Lately, I've been fielding more than my fair share of phone calls, emails, texts, and barroom queries over how precisely one goes about getting one's book to the marketplace. The kinds of people asking me these questions might be varied in age, gender, occupation, and relationship to the author (that's me), but they all have one thing in common: not only the desire to publish a book or books, but also to make money from it.

What I find most interesting is that they come to me in the first place. As if I know a secret formula no one else knows and all it will take is my snapping a photo of said formula with my smartphone and forwarding it along the digital transom. Within a day or two, a new novel would be available for sale on the global marketplace. But what's even more interesting is the way these people perceive me as a writer.

"You have a lot of luck publishing eBooks."

"You publish real books."

"You publish with a big publisher."

"You work with an Amazon Publishing imprint."

"You work with an independent publisher."

"You write pulp fiction."

"You write stand-alone suspense thrillers."

"You write PI series." 

It goes on and on. The truth is that I am all of the above and more than all of the above. I am a hybrid author who at one time or another in his career, was a slave to the old system of write a novel, submit novel to agent, wait to hear from agent, finally hear from agent, rewrite novel, submit once more to agent, wait while they submit to publishers, wait some more, collect rejections until maybe...just field an offer. Then wait some more. Just like magic, however, your book appears in the bookstores where it will live a  shelf life of perhaps six weeks, if you are lucky. That entire process can eat up two to three years of one's life.

But now, with the advent of eBooks, Kindle Direct Publishing, and a new breed of author/reader friendly major publishers like Amazon Publishing (in particular, the Thomas & Mercer imprint), I am able to publish many books per year, in several different genres, in multiple formats, and enjoy infinite shelf life. Since some of these books are published under my own imprint, I make a far greater profit per unit sold than I would under that aforementioned "12 Years a Slave" publishing process of yesteryear.

So when it comes to answering the queries from those interested in getting their new opus in print, my answer is not always simple. There are simply too many options available to authors these days. From going strictly indie to pursuing a traditional deal. I do stress the importance however, of keeping one's options open and not sticking strictly to one method of publishing. I published with Amazon Publishing because, hands down, they are the best at what they do. The marketing department operates like they invented book marketing. Because of their efforts, I'm closing in on my first million sold. In terms of the traditional deal in a no longer so traditional world, I can't imagine being anywhere else.

But then, AP and independent bookstores don't always see eye to eye, and that means the paperback versions of my novels aren't often found inside those hallowed brick and mortar walls. Which means I need to also publish traditionally with a publisher who will produce a hardcover book and distribute it to all the bookstores. Enter my friends at Polis Books who recently published my newest stand alone noir novel, Orchard Grove.

And yet, there's the third method of publishing for the hybrid author and that's self-publishing. Back when I was in writing school, if you even breathed the words "self publishing" you might have been banished from campus (I was banished anyway, but for other reasons I won't get into here). Now however, self or "indie" publishing, is all the rage. And while I avoided it for far longer than I should have, I now make significant profits from my own imprint, Bear Media. My son, Harrison, who will release his first supernatural YA novel, Howard, in April, can't imagine going any other way than indie. "Why would you want to give away your rights, dad?" he says. You gotta love the millennials.

But what KDP also allows me is speed. I'm a fast writer and I work everyday, six and a half days per week, as if I were working for a big company like Miramax, for instance, who might expect me to put out a script per week. "But don't you ever get writer's block, Mr. Zandri?" the would-be writer asks on occasion. I always answer them the same way, "My dad worked construction for sixty years before he died. Never once in all his working life did he experience construction block."

So back to the basic premise of this essay which is first-time authors asking me how to go about publishing their first novel. It's totally up to you. Do your research. Google the term "traditional publishing." And do the same for "hybrid publishing" and "self/indie publishing." Determine which method suits you best, your goals, and the effort you're willing to put into it.

One thing is for sure. There's no fast track to riches and fame in the writing business. Sure, there's the occasional first time breakout that takes the globe by storm, but you have a better chance of being struck by lightning while cashing in your winning Power Ball ticket than you do becoming a mega bestseller right out of the starting gate. There's only one sure fire way to succeed as a writer, and that's to write, publish, stretch, repeat. If you possess talent, and you're willing to put in the work, you will enjoy a degree of success. Perhaps even major success.  So stop reading this and get to work.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Feel the Beat: How to Propel Plot

I did a reading in New York this past week as a part of the Mysterious Bookstore launch for Orchard Grove, my new standalone noir novel from Polis Books. After the reading, a fan asked me how I'm able to balance my dialogue with the prose while pushing along the plot so swiftly. It wasn't an easy question to answer. In many ways, it was like trying to find an answers for why do our hearts beat? Or why life?

Ask one hundred authors how they go about writing something and you'll get one hundred different answers. But for me, it's a matter of rhythm. Of creating a specific beat to the writing, much like a drummer laying down the back beat behind a particular piece of music. I'm able to make this analogy because I'm a drummer. And when I'm drumming, I feel the beat more than I hear it.

It's the same with writing.

I'm able to create 3,000 new words a day, not because I grind through it, but instead because of an ability to create a specific rhythm or beat that I feel inside my body and that is made manifest on the paper (or digital screen of my laptop). The steady beat comes about by a balancing act of description and dialogue. Never should one overtake the other or the entire piece of music will crash and burn. The reader senses the rhythm, and whether they end up liking the story or not, they will almost always point out, "Holy crap, I just could not put the book down."

Sometimes I'm writing to a frantic punk rock beat and other times, I'm writing to a more creative, improvised jazz rhythm. Sometimes it's funk, and other times, I'm writing to a slow, lovely but sad ballad like The Long and Winding Road, strings and choral voices bringing tears to my eyes.  

Looking for a way not only to write more words per day, but to create novels and stories that are unputdownable? Think in terms of rhythm. Feel the beat, man...Feel the beat.