Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Choosing an Indie Publisher? Choose Wisely

                                          "Are you an author? Well have I got a deal for you, bro..."

Most of you know by now that I don't stick to one type of publishing method or even one publisher. My books are published by several publishers both large and small, and they are also published traditionally and independently. The new digitally-based publishing model has not only become a boon to small, entrepreneur-minded individuals looking to create new indie publishing start ups, but it has literally turned upside down the method by which the old New York mega-houses have been doing business for nearly a century.

Perhaps the biggest example of an indie-minded start-up is Amazon Publishing and their many imprints (I publish with AP imprint, Thomas & Mercer). AP, however, can also be considered a traditional major publisher since it operates much the same way by offering big advances, stellar marketing, and equally stellar editing. But there are other far smaller indie publishers springing up all over the country who don't offer advances per se, but instead offer a high ebook royalty rate along with the promise of a quick draft-to-distribution publishing experience.

I've published with one or two of these "indies," and trust me when I say, not all of them are what they appear to be. An author just starting out (or even a seasoned mid-list author looking to re-establish his career) needs to have their guard up when it comes to publishing with these new outfits who might appear, on the surface anyway, to be "writer friendly" and "an alternative to the old traditional model that locks up your rights forever." These indie publishers might even invest in a nice website with false testimonials plastered all over its facade, but the outfit might truly be a rat in a sheep's clothing.

By this I mean, the indie publisher might persuade you to sign on the dotted line by dangling promises before your eyes like, "superior marketing," "a 50% ebook royalty," and even "manipulation of the Amazon algorithm system." But these are false promises delivered by shady characters who are looking for one thing and one thing only: to make a buck off of your hard work. The reality is more like this: these indie publishers will get you to sign their contracts knowing full well that they will (and I bullet here for your reading convenience) ...
--Skip out on the editing (or hire interns for no pay who are entirely incompetent)
--Make no cash investment in marketing (they will expect the author to do this...)
--Manipulate the pricing of your book entirely to suit themselves
--When your book doesn't sell, they will quickly lose interest and move on to the next victim
--And this is the big one: if your book goes on to sell very well despite the odds, they will lock up your rights forever and ever, or gladly return them to you say, in exchange for a couple hundred grand. Or, if the book is being picked up by a major, demand half your advance money plus an on-going percentage. Highway robbery? You betcha...

So what should you look for in an independent publisher?
--First thing to ask is this: what are the publisher's terms should you decide to request the rights back to your book, regardless of how it sells. Get the facts of author rights reversion clarified before you even think of signing a contract. To be honest, if you end up signing with a bad indie, it's really your own fault. I blame myself for past mistakes.
--Are the publisher royalty rates competitive?
--Ask about editing. Who are the publisher's editors and what are their credentials? Read one or two of the novels on their list and scrutinize them for mistakes.
--Talk to other authors who are publishing with the house. Do you recognize any of the names?
--Do some of the top agents work with the publisher?
--Does the publisher attend events like Bouchercon and Thrillerfest?
--Is the publisher willing to put serious cash and effort into marketing? Marketing that enhances your own efforts? Ask about a marketing plan.
--Is the publisher in fact, a wanna-be writer himself? If so, this could actually be a conflict of interests since the would-be author will always take care of himself first and foremost. I know of several indie imprints being run by established authors. Some are well run establishments. Others are traps designed to lock up your rights.
--Has the publisher experienced a mass exodus of writers who feel they've been lied to or even shafted? Do writers sign with the publisher only to realize they've been snared into said trap, and then fight to get the hell out? 

There are of course other things you will need to watch out for, like detailed royalty reports for instance. Anything less is criminal and reeks of underhandedness. Demand a sample royalty report upfront prior to signing.

Bottom line is this: If you're going to publish with an indie publisher, make certain they are as reputable as one of the big publishers. Your best bet is to engage in the publishing process via a reputable agent. Don't make the mistakes I've made by entering into some of these agreements casually, only to have been burned in the end. Again, I have myself and only myself to blame. In a word, don't drink the Kool-Aid. Better to start your own indie publishing business which publishes your own books exclusively than to give away your rights and profits to a used car salesman posing as a saint.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Preston and NYTimes Resort to Pathetic Tactics

Preston, an admitted wimp, talks tough via the NYTimes ...

I've been in the limelight recently with my take on the Amazon/Hachette situation. My opinion on the matter is said to be somewhat unique in that I don't support one side or the other. I would like to see a healthy publishing environment where many publishers compete for the right to publish great books for low costs to consumers. Seems like a no-brainer to me. I said as much on my interview this week at Fox News.

Recently The New York Times featured me in an article that was pretty much balanced in its take on the publishing war situation, if you want to call it that. The reporter, David Streitfeld, and I have become professional friends over the years we've corresponded via Internet, telephone, and more recently, in person. But the latest article the journalist penned regarding Douglas Preston and his encouraging 900 authors to sign a petition against Amazon and its practices is so off base as to be not considered journalism, but instead, an attack on a company that has treated me, my books, my family, and my career, far better than the corporate giants who make up the Big 5.

(Me, taking a breath, ...)

Questions and more:

--Why do I feel like The New York Times, and Mr. Streitfeld in particular, take an opinion of Amazon Publishing that is not far different from Jimmy Carter's take on the terrorist organization Hamas, which utilizes little children as human shields to protect their missiles which they indiscriminately lob at Israel? Amazon Publishing wasn't born with the sole purpose to destroy Big Publishing anymore than Israel was created to crush Palestine. AP was born as a result of Big Publishing's mistakes, greed, and mismanagement. They have thrived out of a reader's basic need for good books at low prices. They have thrived out of an author's need to make a living without being a slave to an antiquated system that places writers at the bottom of the totem pole. 

--What is wrong with a major publishing company that wants to treat its authors like human beings and offer books up to its readers at low costs, and willing to take a huge loss as the same time? It's easy for the Times to select an author like Preston to give them the cocaine they need for their anti-Amazon fix, when said author is speaking to them from a cozy writer's cabin on a golden pond only feet away from his mansion. Of course Preston doesn't want to see change, folks. He's swimming in Hachette loot. Do you think he gives a rat's ass about the mid-list author barely making a living? Trust me mid-list author, you have about as much chance of being invited to the Preston's for dinner as Nancy Pellosi does of housing all those poor south-of-the-border kids who were dropped off at the border. 

--Have we, as a country, become so disenchanted with "winners" and "doers" that we want nothing more than to see success become failure? Have we become jealous and bitter over someone else's success? Preston describes himself in the NYTimes piece as a wimp and a boy who used to run from fights. That's pathetic. I prefer the company of strong people who stand up for strong values.

--I was treated so poorly by a Big 5 publisher that I nearly had a nervous breakdown. For certain, their dropping of me and many other authors over a corporate merger, resulted in my wife and I divorcing when I nearly went bankrupt. People in the business whom I thought were my friends turned out to be morally corrupt and concerned with saving themselves.

--It took me years to battle back to my level of success when none of the Big 5 would touch me because I hadn't earned out my advance (Of course I didn't earn out my advance. I was dropped before I had the chance!). Because in the publishing business in NYC, if you don't earn out your advance, it's not the publisher's fault. It's the author's fault. But when you score, it's because of an awesome publisher marketing program. Later on, when I was able to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of these same books via Amazon Publishing, suddenly, I'm not only back to making a living, I'm building up an audience that my Big 5 Publisher prevented me from establishing by not only dropping me, but by holding my book rights hostage for 8 years ... Hey Hachette and the Big 5, if you're gonna drop an author, then how's about releasing their books rights immediately!!!!????. Perhaps Mr. Stretfield would like to write an article about that.

--Listen up Hachette Authors, it's not Amazon Publishing that's holding you and your books hostage. It's Hachette Publishing's corporate giants and their Hampton's beach house mortgages and their Park Avenue rentals. Wake up, you are being used in a ploy meant to dismantle a success story, when in fact, reporters like Mr. Streitfeld are not only championing an antiquated and author-unfriendly system (and this goes for you too bookstores and your "returns" policy), they are doing so not with true reporting, but with propaganda. This isn't journalism, it's butchery.

--I still support a healthy publishing environment, and I hope to God that publishers like Hachette wake up and realize that by trying to fabricate a bully out of another publisher is really just a maneuver to tug at the heartstrings of those who are ill informed. Let's all get on the same page and create a new New York and a new publishing world with lots of publishers who offer great books at low costs. Come on David Streitfeld, you are so much better than this! And sorry, Big 5 New York, this might mean that you have to give up the Broadway location, move to Jersey, and buy a metal building for both publishing and distribution. Instead of lunch at Les Halles, you can eat at Franks' Diner. Costs less, the savings of which will be passed on to authors and readers. And you authors out there who are drinking the NYTimes and Preston Kool-Aid, save yourself now. You are being used for their own profit, for their own agendas, and as a palliative for something that is seriously missing in their souls and in their lives.

But don't take my word for it. Berry Eisler has written far more eloquently about this matter than I ever could in a response to today's NYTimes article. Get Berry's blog here:


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Writers Take Control ... And That's a Good Thing

Speaking my independent mind on Bloomberg TV

The publishing wars seem to be gathering more media attention these days than Israel's current war with the terrorist organization Hamas. More specifically, the ongoing tug of war between Amazon Publishing and Hachette. You can browse the web and find dozens of articles written about the situation that are chuck full graphs, numbers, charts, and more mathematical and statistical equations than I was besieged with in high school (I was never more than C+ math student).

The simplest way to understand what's happening is this: Amazon Publishing wishes to offer great books to all readers for far cheaper than more traditional publishing companies like Hachette are willing to offer. At the same time, AP wishes to pay their writers a bigger profit than the old traditional New York houses (what's left of them) are willing to dole out. Hachette has big rents to pay in the Big Apple and more than enough mouths to feed. So they need to keep prices high while keeping author's wages as low as possible. Unless you're James Patterson of course. But then, Mr. Patterson doesn't write is his own books anymore, which means he's gone from writer to sort of corporate cog in a giant machine filled with many cogs and wheels that must constantly be greased and oiled by guess whom, the consumer.

I entered this business as a writer and I intend to stay a writer until the bitter end. When I have a publisher who is willing not only to aggressively market me but also tell me things like, 'Vince, we just want you to write,' and who, at the same time cuts me (and my agent) monthly royalty checks, well then, I need look no further. However, I don't take sides in the Amazon/Hachette situation because it doesn't really involve me directly as a writer. I don't want to see any one publisher gain a monopoly share of the market any more than I want to see authors (and readers) continue to be subject to an antiquated publishing system that not only steals control from the writer, but also places him at the bottom of the totem pole. Authors and readers deserve a healthy and competitive publishing market in which many publishers compete for the privilege of publishing a great writer. Taking sides will only work against that and continue to fuel the war. 

In a word, I'd like to see what's left of the big new York Publishing system wake up to the reality of the new publishing paradigm which includes e-Books as the dominant method by which we will all be reading books in the near future. Paper won't disappear, it will always share the podium with e-Books. But just take a look around you. The digital format is here to stay, and it is an inexpensive way to get great books to readers for low costs while at the same time, allowing authors to make more money. In the end, it's not AP that's putting the big publishers out of business. What's putting big publishers out of business are the big publishers and their inability to adapt.

But I'll say it again. I'm not going to take sides. I run as an independent politically, religiously, and I run as an independent as a writer. Hell, I even consider myself independent from those who writers who publish "independently." The recent New York Times piece that featured me got one thing wrong. I don't just publish with AP. I maintain a healthy mix of publishers that includes not only AP, but also Down & Out Books, Meme Publishers in Italy and France, and more. I've also started my own imprint, Bear Media. In the old days, I had one publisher, Delacorte Press. And when a corporate consolidation caused my mid-six figure contract to suddenly take a nose dive, I found myself without a job or a future. Sure they honored the contract by paying me all my money and publishing my books, but they did so with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man shuffling to the gas chamber. I vowed never to allow that to happen to me again. Never again would I or my family be crushed by a big publishing corporate mandate. Trust me when I say no one up in their big corporate offices were crying for me, and I'm not crying for them now.  

This is a good time to be a writer. For the first time in decades, we have control over what we do and how we want to do it. We're no longer slaves. We're no longer forced to live from advance to advance. No longer at risk of being terminated during a corporate consolidation, no longer forced to kiss up to marketing departments that really have no interest in promoting our books. This alone, frightens the traditional houses more than anything else. Writers taking control of their careers. Because what happens then? Writers no longer need the traditional houses in order to get their books out there to a public who wish to devour more and more novels for reasonable prices. Amazon Publishing is dedicated to giving both the people what they want and their authors what they need. It's a the free market system working at its best and thank God for it.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

100 Miles from a Bookstore

In the places where some of us spend the summer, there is no such thing as a bookstore. You cannot drop in casually or order a book sent home. Or perhaps the nearest bookstore does not have the kind of book you need. 

Yet books are necessities. There are long, rainy days when you crave reading... And you may be 100 miles from the nearest bookstore. Perhaps 1,000 miles....But there's a bookstore that works all summer long....If you're not sure what you want, just write and ask. It is waiting for you ... A letter will bring it instantly. There will be no delay. 

We arrange it so that each book arrives on the proper date. So when one book is read the next arrives automatically!

Words written by the sales staff at Amazon Books?

Not at all.

These words were written in 1915 by the sale staff at the old Scribners Bookstore on Fifth Avenue in NYC. It was a time when readers not only craved good books for a good price, they took advantage of stores like Scribners who were willing to go the extra mile by sending their books to the consumer "automatically." 

Scribners wasn't just a store. It was a publisher too, responsible for the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Scribners edited these authors, promoted their work, and sold their books in the Scribners bookstore, an outlet that attempted to deliver their products "instantly" to the consumer.

Sound familiar? 

Perhaps all publishers, bookstores, and authors can take a lesson from a system that worked quite well a century ago.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

End of the Road...

...or is it just the start?

A month on the global road:
--16,860 miles traveled by air, including a perfect circle around the globe, heading on an east-bound course the entire way (NYC to NYC) 
--Seven flights
--Six countries, three continents
--At least four different time zones (I've lost count)
--Temperatures ranging from 45F to 115F
--Modes of transportation: Airliner, boat, rickshaw, tuck tuck, tram, train, 4x4, car, van, elephant
--Food: vegetarian, seafood, mutton, beef

--Average amount of sleep per night: 4-5 hours
--Number of currencies: Four
--Terrorist attacks while en route to Dehli: two (both by Maoist Rebels aimed at the railroads. Total dead and injured: 100+)
--Top memories: The burning of the dead in Lumbini. The cleansing of the body in Varanasi, the giant orange swastika a holy backdrop. Monsoon rain and winds pummeling our little boat on the upper Ganges, and a human skull lying jaw up on the banks where we anchored and held onto our ratted rooftop tarp for dear life. Swimming downstream in the Ganges, nearly drowning when we hit a stretch of water so deep, the clear-over-gravel-color river turned to blue. The overnight train to Agra, sleeping beside dozens of Indians, young and old. The woman who rushed the train on a stop from Occha to Agra, slipping between the car and the platform, her right leg cut off just below the knee as the train pulled out of the station. Touching, for the first time, an elephant's ear, its smooth almost silky texture taking me by complete surprise. The nervousness of a rhino cooling itself with mud only a few feet away from where I stood in the back of the 4x4 ...

Next stop...who knows.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Dangerous Place

The train is late leaving Orchha.
Hordes of people wait in the station looking to get somewhere else. Ceiling fans mounted to platform shelters attempt to cool the stifling air but manage only to push it around. Air that makes your clothing stick to your body even at six thirty in the morning. The flies are relentless, as is the smell of stale urine and rotting garbage.

The train that will take us to Agra is late. But when it arrives, it's a mad rush to get on and to get off. People's very lives seem to depend upon this crucial transfer from ticket holder to train passenger, from passenger to the newly arrived.

I squeeze into a car marked B-1 represented in the white hand painted script of several languages. I step over suitcases, bags of onions and potatoes, sleeping children, and bodies everywhere. Someone is sleeping on my seat. An old man. He sees me coming, gets the gist of what's happening and gets up. He leaves, never to be seen again.

I set down my bags, pull my hat over my eyes, fall asleep.

An hour later, the train arrives in another station. It's the same deal. Masses of people waiting for the train. Men dressed in loose, bland colored clothing and sandals. Women dressed in colorful sarees, their rich black hair protected with thin veils, their black gem stone eyes accentuated by the blood red mark placed between them in the same manner as Catholic ashes.

The train whistle blows. Not everyone has boarded the train yet. I'm staring out the window when my eyes lock onto a woman who is beginning to panic. She's also dressed in a colorful saree and a veil. She's waving her hands in the air as if this gesture will make the conductor stop the train just for her. But instead the train begins to move. She runs for the still open door, but falls off the platform onto the tracks. The train doesn't buck or make even the slightest of odd movements or sounds when it cuts her left leg off. There are only the screams and shouts of the witnesses on the hot platform. The train stops. The woman is pulled up off of the tracks, her stump bleeding, the amputated leg left behind.
My fixer and I rush outside to see what we can do. But of course we can do nothing. Those who attempt to help the woman run the risk of making the situation worse, and even facing an inquiry of the law should that happen. The woman lies on her back, her hands raised over her head. No one does anything to help her. Her blood stains the hot platform. Soon it will attract the flies.

My fixer turns to me.
"There is a hospital here," he says. "Nearby. But it will take a long time for them to get here."
He shakes his head sadly, and turns.
I follow him back into our car.
As we sit back down, he turns to me once more.
"After the train leaves the station," he says, "they will retrieve her leg."



Friday, June 20, 2014

Border Crossings: Northern India

(Note: Please excuse the grammatical errors. I'm writing on the run...)

The sweat that soaks my khaki shirt has nothing to do with the relentless heat that covers this land like a heavy, hot water-soaked, wool blanket. I'm at the border between Nepal and India. It's six in the morning. Skies ominously overcast with gray/black clouds that threaten monsoon season rain. It's been raining heavily on and off all night and the narrow road that accesses both countries is nothing more than a thick layer of gooey brown mud that, taken along with the ramshackle single and two-story wood, concrete and brick buildings that flank it, looks more like the setting for a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.

My guide and I are stopped by a soldier dressed in olive green who bears a World War II era bolt-action rifle over his shoulder and a thick black leather belt around his waist. He tosses our backpacks onto a wood table and begins inspecting them inside and out. India's mega Hindu population gets along swimmingly with its smaller, but major Muslim population. However, no one gets along with the radical Islam component that has snaked its way into the country via Pakistan and other ports of entry. That said, the bags are checked thoroughly.

After looking us over ...up, down, and up again...the solider gives us the go ahead to proceed across the border. I've already made it through Nepal customs and received my stamp. But it wasn't Nepal I was worried about. What's in the back of my mind is all the trouble I got into recently at the American India Embassy back in the States. The short of it is that the embassy wouldn't issue my journalist's visa unless I met with them in person in Manhattan and attended one of their "press lectures" regarding the benefits of the "New Era India." An invitation I blew off entirely. I didn't come here for politics, but something else instead. Originally that reason was to research a new Chase Baker novel, and to write a couple of travel pieces while also writing for the Vox. But now, having spent a little more than a week in this part of the world that will slam you with a million different sensory alerts at once (from the persistent smells of curries to cow shit, from huge, colorfully decorated trucks speeding directly for you, to millions of people who peer at you with their dark, penetrating eyes as if you are the very first westerner they've ever seen), I'm not entirely sure I can put my reasons for being here into mere words.

Trudging through the mud past the many overloaded cars, 4X4s, and trucks queued up before the wood-pole gate, my guide points out the immigration office and, heart in my throat, I immediately go for it.

It's not much of an office. A couple of rooms in a very old building the interior of which is shaded by old wood shutters left over from the filming of Gunga Din. There's a counter on one side, and a wood table on the other. An overhead ceiling fan blows the hot humid air around somehow pleasantly, while behind the counter, a pot of tea boils atop a hot plate set upon an old wood desk that also supports a computer and a Royal typewriter from the 1950s.

There's a middle aged man manning the counter. He wears loose slacks and an even looser button down shirt. He collects my passport, along with those of a half dozen other people waiting to cross over the border. College kids mostly who look like they haven't slept or bathed in weeks. It makes me smile inside to know that I must appear as a much older version of their wanderlust-filled selves.
After filling out the immigration form, I hand the passport back to the counter man. He in turn hands it over to a second, smaller man, who takes it with him to the computer. As he runs the passport over a scanner I see my face pop up on the computer screen. This is it, I think. The moment where they'll ask me to accompany them into the back room where they'll spend hours lobbing questions about my intentions for visiting India. "Why did you not attend the lecture in New York?" the men will shout while blinding me with a single bright white light. Eventually, the tall one will turn to the smaller one. "See if you can get him to talk," he'll say. Then, as the tall man leaves the room, locking the door behind him, the smaller man remove his shirt, bearing a chest filled with scars from knife fights too numerous to count. He go behind a desk and pull something from out of a drawer. A pair of brass knuckles maybe. As he slips them onto his right hand, he'll smile at me, bearing a gold tooth. "So what's the weather like in New York this time of year?" he'll say.

But within a few minutes, something far different occurs.

The little man behind the desk takes hold of his stamp, and positioning it above the page that contains my visa, brings the inky business end down hard onto the page. The little man hands the big man the passport. And the big man, in turn, hands it to me. He smiles politely but genuinely.

"Welcome to India," he says. "I hope you enjoy your stay."


Check out the first Chase Baker adventure novel, THE SHROUD KEY, and look for CHASE BAKER AND THE GOLDEN CONDOR coming early this Fall.