Saturday, February 10, 2018

Reject rejection

Photo by Jessica Painter

You heard it right.
From the moment you're born you begin to experience rejection. Maybe you don't get fed when you want. Or maybe one of the 'rents doesn't pay enough attention to you. Then comes school and you get left out of the end-of-year prizes. Or the girl you've had your eye on forever doesn't want to exchange love notes (she likes your best friend). Then comes high school and you're home alone for the prom and the college you set your sights on has politely said, 'No thanks.' Then comes writing school and you get hammered in the workshops. So much so you start a fight with one woman and she goes storming out in tears. Now you're not only rejected, you're an asshole.

When I first started in the writing business, rejection was everything. You know, you had to paper your walls with rejection slips before you earned your first acceptance. And what a magical moment that was. And still is. But then came rejections from agents, from publishers, from bookstores even. The writer was competing with a whole bunch of other writers for a finite space on the physical bookshelf. Even after nailing a deal worth $250K there would be more rejection. Why? Because the writer was powerless. The writer's future was at the mercy of one or two people who could pull the plug at any moment.

But all that's changed. Now, in this golden era of writing and publishing, I no longer waste anymore time with rejection. Now, I know for certain, that one way or another (traditional, small/medium-sized press, or indie publishing), my new novel is going to be published. Nowadays, I don't need to rely on competing with the physical bookshelves since the digital shelf offers unlimited space, unlimited shelf life, unlimited opportunity to make a passive income that will be the gift that keeps on giving long after my headstone is planted into hallowed ground.

These days, I don't fear rejection. It no longer wastes my time, sucks me of my energy. These days, I reject rejection. And it frightens the men and women who used to say "No!" to their very core.

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

The most important thing for a writer is...

I'm lucky enough to spend part of the year writing in this place

... not to think of yourself as an artist. Let me rephrase that. While a fiction author is most definitely an artist first, it's probably more important for us to think of ourselves as entrepreneurs first. What I mean is, we're all running a business with accounts receivables and accounts payables. We have electric bills and cell phone bills (exorbitant), and for some of us, child support, and then there's the bar bill. Yeah, that last one can be pretty steep sometimes, especially if you've just nailed a new contract or a Book Bub and you find yourself buying a round for the whole bar. Luckily, the big contracts don't happen all that often (that's a joke. ha ha).

Writing for a living

But authors need to separate the art from the business because otherwise, the bank accounts will dry up and we won't be able to write for a living anymore. It's that simple. The trick, is to live as simply as possible. Here are a few rules that I abide by for my writing "business."

1. Live simply, in an apartment preferably, since household repairs are taken care of for you (heat and hot water are free too).

2. Don't get married (or at the very least, give it a lot of thought before saying "I do") I recall saying this very thing to a journalism class I was guest lecturing for at the State University at Albany. You wanna see some jaws drop. Marriage comes with massive responsibilities, both emotional and financial, and eventually your partner is going to tell you your writing comes first and you just might find yourself on the next episode of Divorce Court.

3. Purchase a vehicle that you can pay off quickly or even in one single payment. Cars are expensive and require constant maintenance. Add to that a monthly car payment and it can sometimes consume the entirety of your month's royalties. I drive a very expensive Jeep Wrangler, the monthly payment of which is more than my rent was, say, fifteen years ago. But I'm paying double payments and soon I will own it outright.

4. If you are an indie writer, DO NOT USE A CREDIT CARD TO PAY FOR ANYTHING PUBLISHING RELATED. Your return on investment (ROI) will most likely be slow, but the interest rate on your credit card will compound fast.

5. Don't hire an assistant until you can afford it. If you live near a college or university, consider taking on an intern. In exchange for assistance, you can help him or her with their writing and you can also provide them with a small stipend.

6. Travel. If you can't afford to head to Europe for a couple of months, or if you don't have enough to cover the flights to Nepal, get in the car and drive. Sam Shepard was always driving his pickup somewhere, and despite his fame, he lived frugally, often staying at the Motel 6 or the Howard Johnson. Jim Harrison, used to drive all over the States as well. He also stayed at cheap roadside motels.

7. Work Saturdays, but try and take Sunday's off if you can. This will help you recharge those precious batteries. I often find myself working Sundays too, but then, I'm a freak.

8. Back to relationships. Some of you are gonna wanna toss a beer bottle at my head, but I'm going to say it anyway. Do not get involved with someone who is too needy, too expensive, and just generally sucks the life out of you. Do not get involved with anyone who will consider your writing business competition for their time and attention. Better that you involve yourself with like-minded individuals who will be supportive of your work, and of the fact that you are always writing even when you're not at your desk. In turn, be just as supportive to them and their work. At the end of the day, pop a cork together, make a nice meal, and talk about one another's day. Then have sex (that's another joke ha ha)

9. For indies and hybrids: Think in terms of scalability. By this I mean, is it more worth it for me to be working on a genre novel that will earn me a passive income long after I'm dust?  Or is it better to spend my time writing an article for a magazine or newspaper for which I'll be paid a one time fee? I'm a firm believer that you could, and should, do both. But I also lean more on the side of writing books and stories that will earn me money for nothing, for a long, long time. Which leads me to...

10. Don't place all your eggs in one basket. Back in the early 2000's I had one contract with one publisher and when it ended, I was shit out of luck. I found myself having to start all over again. Publish traditionally and independently (build up that list of books for the passive income), freelance when necessary or freelance because there's a particular topic that intrigues you.

11. Maintain a blog and monetize it. The Vincent Zandri Vox has thousands of readers, many of whom click on my books and purchase them (Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!). I try and write as many helpful articles for writers as possible at the Vox.

12. Exercise. Sitting at a writing desk makes you fat.

13. Give your books away for free. Seriously. I give away thousands of books a year and in turn, many of those who read them go on to buy other books in the series.

14. Start a YouTube channel. I sort of suck at this, but I'm learning.

 Writers need to work their bottoms off

Okay, so there's just a few rules/advice that I try and abide by for my writing business. These are by no means gospel (you might even find a few of them insulting), but they are definitely something to consider if you're thinking of doing this full-time. Be smart. Be creative. Be a business person. But most of all, work your ass off.



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Promoting your book could become illegal...

"Hi, I'm William Devane." Just joking...

More specifically I mean, promoting your eBook over various "home run" sites that boost your rank from never-never land to the top 100 of the Overall Kindle Bestseller List in sixty seconds flat. I exaggerate, but you get the point. The top 100 was and is the most coveted place to be and the place you could consistently count on to make you a whole bunch of cash say every two or three months. But more recently, KDP has been coming down on those authors who appear to be manipulating sales rank. Doesn't matter if you're legit or pushing books written by someone in the Philippines and then paying for KU clicks in Hong Kong. Either way you're gonna get busted.

The old days

In the old days, say pre-2014, there were all sorts of ways to shoot up the ranks. Of course, the big Kahuna was Book Bub. Used to be, I could count on three of those bad boys per year. Add in a fourth if my publisher Thomas & Mercer nailed me one. But Book Bub seems more intent on handing over promotions not to indies so much as the big four publishing houses now. I'm not sure why this is happening, but perhaps it has something to do with the quality of the books they are pushing, or perhaps the big 4 are paying more for the privilege of BB's super promo power.

But even if you are lucky enough to nail a Book Bub, or something just as powerful, chances are Amazon might strip you of your rank since it reflects a book that shot up the charts way too fast. That is a no-no these days, so I'm told. It remains to be seen if I ever have a ranking stripped, but from what my sources are telling me, the situation has become a source of concern.

Amazon can kill your account

What an author has to remember is that Amazon can kill your account at any time, and they don't need a reason to do it. If they suspect foul play, legitimate or not, they can come down very hard with sanctions such as taking away your KU account (this happened to me once, but they realized it was a mistake), or something else, such as the ability to leave reviews (I currently cannot leave reviews since I'm guessing I was suspected of review swapping, which I have never done).

Amazon Giveaways

Recently, I was also told I could no longer run Amazon Giveaways. After many calls and emails attempting to find out why I could not run giveaways, I hit a brick wall. But I suspect the privilege is somehow tied to the review thing. Also, this isn't a KDP issue, but a seller issue. Other sellers have run giveaways on my behalf, but I'm probably not going to run many of them anymore since they are no longer the effective marketing tool they once were.

The solution? 

The solution...and it always seems to come back to to simply keep on writing good books while building your email lists. If you wish to utilize giveaways as a form of publicity, go to Good Reads or Book Funnel or Istafreebie. I do all three. Slow steady growth aided by AMS and FB ads is the ticket these days. There's no getting around it.
Slower writers are screwed

The problem slower writers are going to have is that their sales will trail off. They will eventually get tired of earning less and less, and many will drop out of the fold altogether, and the indie playing field will be leveled. Perhaps this is something Amazon and KDP inevitably want. The future remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the indie side of things is not only always changing, but it can be volatile. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Publish many different ways. Become a hybrid like me. But as always, proceed at your own risk.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Is it possible to make a living writing fiction?

Signing The Corruptions earlier this year at Mysterious Bookshop in NYC
Probably not if you set out to write literary fiction (I recall one of my assigned reads back in MFA writing school was The Lime Twig by John Hawkes. I nearly barfed it was so boring). Literary authors, in my mind at least, view a commercially successful book as a failure, which is why so many literary writers must teach to make a living. It's different for a genre author. We write books for the masses and gladly take their casheshe for our efforts and in the end, much of our work stands up to the test of fine literature anyway. But I'm getting ahead of my skis here.

The Experiment

This past year (2017), was more or less an experiment precipitated by my having been suddenly fired from the one steady trade journalism gig I had going. It brought in a nice baseline income so that I didn't have to worry so much about royalties and/or advances. Plus I loved the gig. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely needed the book royalties if I was going to survive financially. It's just that because I enjoyed a writing/editing income separate from the fiction, I didn't wake up suddenly in the middle of the night wondering what I could be doing to sell more books.

So, last year, when that ten year gig suddenly vanished due to a cooperate buyout, I found myself with a choice. I could either look for more journalism-freelance writing gigs, or I could concentrate entirely on my fiction efforts and hope that I brought in enough money to at least keep the cable TV on.

Work, work, work

It turned out to be the most productive year in my twenty year professional writing career. I wrote six 60K+ word novels, a couple novellas, and several short stories. In fact, I wrote and published so much stuff that if I write not a single word this year, I am all set for publishing (both indie and traditional) well  into 2019 and perhaps 2020. How did I do it? Simple. I dragged my ass out of bed every Monday morning and set it in the writing chair just like any other working stiff. I wrote whether I wanted to or not (In all candor, I pretended to be an employee of say FOX, and they were expecting me to put out at least one novella per month, or no pay check. The ruse worked!).
Exploring Central American ruins and fictional inspiration this past June

Dollars and cents

Ok, so in terms of dollars and cents, what does all this mean? I'm not going to be entirely transparent here but according to the tax documents I've received thus far, I made a solid mid-five-figures. In terms of more recent years, it wasn't all that great, but this is the nature of the business. Some years you're hitting home runs and scoring major deals and you're pulling in a comfortable six figures whether you like it or not. Other years are down years. Production years I call them. Years when you're working your tail off and not a whole lot is coming in, but the important thing is you're making a living.

 A smart move

For once in my life I made a smart move: Every advance I received (and I took in quite a few of them) over the past five years from agented deals, I invested in mutual funds, which means those monies are working for me on a monthly basis. Another smart thing I did was to invest a big portion of my royalties into my indie books. When you invest in creating a new book, it's almost as if you're buying real estate. Eventually the return on investment will be enough to pay back what you spent and earn you a nice 10-20% per year of passive income from that point on. The key, is to write more quality books that will stand the test of time.

Steady growth 

2017 proved to be an interesting experiment. There were no big advances (I did receive a small four-figure advance from an independent press), no big Book Bubs (I had two Europe only BBs), and no one single title entered into the Amazon Top 100 (that I can recall anyway). Like I've intuited in previous posts, it was a year of steady growth, steady writing, steady sales. And in the end, I earned enough to make a living. I'm actually quite shocked, to be honest. If this were the old days and hybrid authorship were an impossible dream, I would have found myself begging for a job ("Welcome to McDonald's, can I take your order?").

Instead, I'm able to do something most writers only dream about. I can get up every morning, sit myself down at my laptop in my PJs, and write my particular brand of noir and hard-boiled fiction. Hopefully my books are more interesting than the Lime Twig (No offense, Mr. Hawkes). And hopefully they keep on selling so I can continue to work at the only job there is for me.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Japan plans for the end of the world...

Kids run for their lives and not because of Godzilla  
It's a sure sign of the times: Japan holds its first air raid drill since WWII amid growing tensions and threats by North Korea, whose fearless leader has said he wishes to both sink the island of Japan while turning it into ashes. I'm not sure he can do both in that order, but you get the idea.

Missile is Inbound

According to Japan Today, residents were startled to attention by a disturbing siren broadcast over public address system loudspeakers. The sirens were followed by an announcement that a missile was inbound. People were asked to take cover immediately, place their heads between their knees and kiss their asses goodbye.

False Alarm 

As people scattered for shelter in building basements, subway tunnels and even sewers, the city was once more gripped in a fear not known since the Second World War or, the last Cold War anyway. But when moments later, the tinny loudspeaker voice announced that the inbound missile had missed its target and plunged into the sea, residents were relieved that they could once more resume their daily activities. Sushi anyone?

The New Normal

One 77 year old woman who won't accept this as the new normal, stated that she did not participate in the drill since a nuclear war would destroy everything and everyone. There would be nowhere to hide. So why bother? 

Olympics Union and Disunion

Next month South Korea will host the Winter Olympic games. North and South Korea will be unifying for this event, yet many in the south are angry about being associated with the rogue regime from up north. To them, NOKO is still not only their enemy, but they are threatening to launch a nuclear war should Kim Jong-Un get up one morning and decide it's a good day for the world to die. That said, they are burning the Olympic game unification flags in protest. Can you blame them?

Kick the Can

For the past 25 years, US Presidents have been kicking the can down the road, not wanting to deal with NOKO and their nuclear ambitions. The excuse was always that they don't have nuclear weapons now and won't in the near future, so just ignore them, maybe give them some money and hopefully they will go away. But now they do have nukes and now it's just a matter of their being able to transport them safely on their many ballistic missiles (some of which are supplied by Iran). There's an entry and re-entry problem which will be solved within months, that is, it's not solved already. Game on.

The Final Solution

The solution? It could come down to a US President who feels that kicking the can is no longer an option. The only option would be a first strike to not only eliminate the NOKO threat once and for all, but also to send a message to the world: rogue regimes bent on obtaining nuclear weapons will not be tolerated. Whether this first strike is nuclear or not, remains to be seen. But I can bet you dollars to donuts, it's coming. Once thing is for sure, we're living in dangerous times.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

I did not have sexual relations with that woman...

...Yes you did...

That was the crazy thing I recall about Slick Willy's press conference twenty years ago in what would become known as the Monica Lewinsky Scandal. Of course he had sex with her. But he was relying on some sort of bizarre semantics argument over whether or not a oral sex constituted real sex. Last time I fell off the turnip truck it was. So yeah, Slick Willy lied and did so to Congress and earned himself an impeachment.

Today he would be reviled in the #metoo movement. Or would he be? 

I recall being down in NYC for a book singing for my first novel, As Catch Can (now The Innocent). A mega snow storm had struck the east coast and the airports were shut down, which meant a lot of people had to take the Amtrak rail service to their Upstate destinations. Two of these people were Monica Lewinsky and her mother. They sat beside me in the business car and we talked. Talked a lot. But not about Slick Willy. They did however whisper among themselves about how the Clinton's were maligning them. Names like Hillary, Bill, and Linda (as in Linda Tripp) were freely floated, but under their breath. 

How surreal when almost everyone in the car was reading the New York Times, the headline being, "Clinton to Face Impeachment." Or something like that. I was a young novelist barely out of writing school, with my first big contract, and I was having the time of my life. The world was changing as the 21st century loomed large and ominous in the very near future and our President was not only liar, he was a sexual pariah.

I'm reminded of a story a former Indiana school teacher revealed not long before her death of a young up and coming charismatic politician by the name of William Jefferson Clinton who would pull up to her tiny bungalow in his chauffeur driven car. He would have sex with her in her living room while her baby boy slept in the close by bedroom. Then Clinton would simply leave and go about his day. That same young woman would eventually marry the novelist Norman Mailer and she would die tragically of uterine cancer in her middle-age.

Slick Willy is still around though.

He came damn close to being back in the White House, a fixture in the West Wing and that Oval Office where the sexual relations with that woman most definitely went down. Way down. Instead, the Clinton's are finished with politics, many mega donors to the Clinton Foundation having bailed, Hillary reduced to writing books blaming others about why she lost the Presidency to a New York City-based developer/reality TV personality with zero political experience. It must be a bitter chapter in their lives. As bitter as the day twenty years ago when Slick Willy felt he had no choice but to lie to the American public over a BJ he solicited in the Oval. Hey, we all screw up, but that was a doozy.

Can you believe that all happened twenty years ago? It must be hard for you to imagine.
Me too.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

38 minutes to live...

We got inbound...38 minutes to live..

What if you suddenly found yourself with just 38 minutes to live? Residents of Hawaii were faced with this very dire question just last week when their Emergency Broadcast System sent out an alert warning residents that a nuclear armed ballistic missile was incoming from North Korea. That this was not a drill, the message said. It was in fact, the real deal.

People who were going about their day suddenly found themselves dropping everything and taking shelter, or trying to get home to family, or just plain panicking in place. In the words of one resident who was home at the time, I didn't know of the proper protocol. I guess I had no choice but to sit there and wait for it.

So what would you do if you suddenly had just 38 minutes to live? How would you react to knowing you were about to be vaporized into oblivion? I can still recall the duck and cover drills of the early 1970s.  It seemed like sci fi to me then because I was just a little boy, and I suppose it still sort of seems like that to most people now.

But we are vulnerable, our species. Never was that more apparent this week when some knucklehead working for the Emergency Broadcast System apparently, and I quote, "hit the wrong button" and sent out the message giving Hawaii only 38 minutes to exist on this planet. Imagine if Rocket Boy suddenly hits a wrong button?

The fact that we're ill-prepared to defend ourselves against a nuclear attack has become painfully apparent. The fact that when faced with just 38 minutes to live, I wouldn't know what the hell to do, is even more apparent. What's for sure is I'll keep on keeping on in the mean time.