Monday, August 29, 2011

More news, and an actual post.

First, the commercial:  As of today, SwanSong is now available for Kindle.  I'm working on getting a dead-tree version together.  I'll let you know when it's available.

Also, thanks to everybody who used my Smashwords coupon over the weekend!  I hope you enjoy the book.  If you do, please consider going back to Smashwords and leaving a short review.

Okay, phew, that's out of the way.  Thanks for your indulgence.
Shortly after I started this blog and committed to posting once a week, my Creative Brain went into hyperdrive.  "Oh boy, there are soooo many things I could talk about!  There's this, and this, and this -- I've got enough material for at least half a year!"  At that same time, a still, small voice -- a.k.a. Rational Brain -- said, "Y'know, you probably ought to write all of these great ideas down somewhere."  Alas, Responsible Brain, which is in charge of making lists and keeping me on track and whatnot, was at that precise moment distracted by the approach of Hurricane Irene.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, the List of Great Topics did not happen, so this week we will have to muddle along with a middling topic, which is:  Why Self-Publishing Is Not a Stupid Idea in Today's Publishing Environment.

Back in grade school, when I was just a little teeny writer, I saw an ad in our local paper from a "New York editor" who was coming to town to evaluate manuscripts for possible publication.  I pointed out the ad to my mom, who -- bless her heart -- actually called and made an appointment for me to see the guy.  So Mom and I met him in his hotel room (okay, it was a motel room -- my hometown didn't have any classy hotels) and he looked over my stuff.  To his credit, he gave me some decent on-the-spot advice about writing mysteries ("If you're going to end a chapter on a cliffhanger, don't continue the same scene on the very next page"), told me to keep writing, and sent us home without a contract.  I know now that it was probably a blessing because he represented a vanity publisher, and it would've cost Mom and Dad money to get my work published.

For decades, that's what self-publishing meant:  You paid a vanity press money to format your manuscript so that it looked like a real book and printed it for you, and then you paid them some more for copies of your book (some of which you sent to the relatives at Christmas and the rest of which languished in boxes in the garage).

At the same time, the real publishers, who paid you to publish your book, were still looking for, and signing, midlist authors:  writers whose books weren't bestsellers but which made the publisher enough money to justify publishing something else by the same writer.  It wasn't easy to break into print, but publishers back then were more willing to take a chance on somebody they'd never heard of.

That began to change (I am learning right now from Wikipedia) in 1979, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a tax case (Thor Power Tool Co. v. Commissioner, 439 U.S. 522 (1979)) that companies could not write off unsold inventory on their taxes simply because the stuff didn't sell.  Publishers, who were in the habit of keeping a lot of unsold books on hand, had to tighten up their inventory procedures.  In other words, they had to start concentrating on buying manuscripts that would sell.  This is why today, publishers prefer to buy manuscripts from authors who have made a name for themselves in some other arena:  politics, business, entertainment, whatever.  They figure the author's name recognition will help move books.

Pity the poor prospective midlist author in this environment.  If it was hard to break into publishing before Thor Power Tool, it was nearly impossible now.  For every J.K. Rowling, there were, oh, I dunno, thousands of other decent writers, maybe, who didn't get lucky.  Literary agents, who had stepped in as the first line of defense between publishers and would-be authors, had a field day picking and choosing clients.

Then the Internet began to level the playing field. First came print-on-demand (POD) operations like Lightning Source and Lulu, which take your formatted manuscript and your money and print it for you -- no editorial help offered (unless you pay extra).  Then came shady operators like PublishAmerica, which is an electronic version of the old vanity press, except worse.  Authors who submit their work to these places get a book-like object in return, but it's often a formatting mess, sometimes riddled with errors.  (Reportedly PublishAmerica is in the habit of introducing errors into books that weren't there in the original manuscript.)  No wonder self-publishing got such a bad name.

But then came the e-book.  That's when everything began to change.  Now you can send an electronic file to, say, Smashwords, for free, and Smashwords will sell it for you as an e-book.  Find an error?  Just fix it and upload a new file.

And the pay scale is better.  Under the old publishing model, the agent takes a cut, the publisher takes a big cut (which is only fair -- the publisher pays for the editing, printing, marketing, and warehouse space), and the author gets what's left.  But by selling an e-book on Amazon, the author can take home as much as 70% of the purchase price.  You do the editing and formatting, Amazon does the marketing.  The only thing an author might lose this way is the warm, fuzzy feeling you get by knowing somebody liked your work well enough to publish it.  But I tell you what:  warm, fuzzy feelings won't pay the rent.  And if the point of the exercise is to make money, and if you're going to sell at a midlist level either way, well....

Oh sure, there are still people in the publishing industry who look down their noses at self-publishing.  But that's changing, too.  I've been reading reports of agents (who really are left out in the cold by the new business model) who are setting up their own e-publishing houses and approaching indie authors (that's the hip, new label for self-published e-book authors) with pitches to publish their work.  And while dead-tree books still command a larger share of the market, e-book sales are growing faster.  Which is apparent every time you pass a Borders going out of business.

The times, they are a-changin'.

For me, self-publishing makes sense right now.  I survived broadcast journalism, another absurdly competitive business, in which it took me almost fifteen years to get a job in a major market.  I could spend another fifteen years working my way up the publishing industry ladder, the way I did in broadcasting -- but I'm eligible for retirement in eight.  And if I can make decent money by doing something I love without banging my head against the wall for the next fifteen years -- really, what have I got to lose by trying?

I just hope self-publishing hasn't jumped the shark.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We're Irene-centric this weekend.

We're in the path of Hurricane Irene here.  The eye of the storm is supposed to track east of us, which means we're likely to get a fair amount of wind and rain, but nothing more serious than the usual nor'easter.

If you're hunkered down for the duration -- or even if you're not -- I've arranged for something to help keep you occupied (assuming you have an e-reader or the power doesn't go out).  If you go to this weekend, buy my book, and put the following code in the "coupon code" box at checkout, you can get SwanSong for 99 cents.  Here's the code:


Stay dry, everybody.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New book! and: Hearth? Myth?

First, as promised, the new novella is live at  It's called SwanSong and it's based (pretty loosely!) on the Irish tale of the fate of the children of Lir.  You can find it from my author page.

"The Fate of the Children of Lir" is one of the three classic tragedies in Irish myth, the others being the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows (from the Finn MacCool cycle) and the fate of the guys who killed Lugh's father.  Only the third one really has a moral, which is: don't mess around with Lugh.

This leads kind of nicely into the rest of this post, which will be an attempt to explain why I chose the name I did for this blog.

For starters, I'm Neopagan, and among the flavors of Neopaganism I have briefly looked into is Druidry -- specifically ADF, an American Druid organization that would like to be a Druid church.  I eventually decided not to join.  But I did take away several ideas from them for my own spiritual practice -- among them, the idea of a hearth culture, or a specific cultural pantheon of ancient gods and goddesses that one concentrates on honoring.  ADF cautions both against adopting more than one hearth culture and against mixing-and-matching deities from various cultures.  But hey, like most Americans, I'm Heinz 57; I'm Czech on my mother's side and Irish-with-a-bunch-of-other-stuff on my father's side.  So my "hearth culture" is mix-and-match to start with.  And I've found myself drawn to deities from both the Slavic and Celtic pantheons, with an occasional nod to the Norse (the Cantwells were Normans who came to Ireland with Strongbow) and to some Native American gods (yes, we've got an "Indian princess" in the family tree a couple of generations back; sadly, I don't have enough Native ancestry to claim any tribal casino earnings).

To make things even more interesting, the Czechs themselves are mix-and-match.  I once ran across an article by an ADF member from the Czech Republic who said some modern Czechs honor not only to the Slavic pantheon, but the Celtic and Norse pantheons as well.  The Czech lands have been overrun by numerous folks over the centuries, among them the Celts, who passed through on their way to what we now think of as their homelands.  And of course the Northern tribes made forays into central Europe.

Anyway.  Suffice it to say that Mom was Czech and Dad was Irish (and stuff).  So I began to read myths and legends of these hearth cultures of mine, and ran across two that wouldn't leave me alone:  the Czech story of the Maidens' War, and the Irish story of the Children of Lir.  The rest is publishing history (ar ar! humor!).

But there's more than one kind of myth.  There are also the myths we tell ourselves -- our own personal stories that we use to justify our actions and our personal beliefs.  Geneen Roth, who wrote Women, Food and God, among other books, points out how damaging these myths can be, and how unconsciously we hold them.  It's not just, "If I eat that brownie, I'll gain three dress sizes and no one will love me"; it's, "If I allow myself to feel scary emotions, I'll die -- so I'll do X instead to numb the feelings."  X is often a destructive behavior, like overeating or cutting or compulsive shopping, and it can take therapy and/or years of self-insight to put these myths to rest so the behaviors can stop.  Neeve, the heroine of SwanSong, needs 900 years to find her way out from under her personal myths.  In The Maidens' War, Sarka needs to be trapped inside a mountain for longer than that -- but when she is free, she helps Maggie get to the bottom of her own story in a much shorter period of time.  And I believe that, like Maggie, we can discover our own truths in others' stories, so that it doesn't take us a thousand years to heal.

Mind you, I don't write with that as a conscious goal!  But I know I've found insights in fiction.  If my readers find insights in the stories I write, that's great -- but mainly I just hope they're entertained.

So:  hearth = both where we live and where we come from; myth = the stories we tell ourselves about why things are the way they are, both in our culture and in ourselves.

Hope you like the new book.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New blog, same old mission.

Once upon a time, I had a blog called "Allegedly, She Has Something to Say."  I was supposed to use it to generate interest in my fiction, specifically in a couple of my short stories -- and, later, my first novel -- published at  Alas, it degenerated into political commentary before petering out altogether after, I dunno, five posts or so.

Maybe it was four posts.

Apparently she didn't have much to say, allegedly or otherwise.

Anyway, I am trying again now, on a different blogging site, with a renewed sense of purpose (now that I'm nearly ready to unleash novel #2 on an unsuspecting public, muahahaha).  I'm still having trouble convincing myself that anybody will want to read my meandering thoughts about this and that, but nevertheless, we shall carry on as if that were, in fact, the case. 

I'm going to try to keep myself on task, to a degree, and talk mostly about writing.  Some stuff about my other creative pursuits is liable to creep in -- I'm big into knitting right now, for instance.  So you may see stuff about these other creative pursuits, especially as they keep insisting on insinuating themselves into my fiction.  (You'll see what I mean once novel #2 comes out.)  But there are a zillion knitting blogs out there, and a kazillion blogs about politics --and as of yet, none about my writing.  (Not even "ASHStS.")  So I'm aiming for a unique niche!

A little more about me, besides what's in the sidebar on the left:  I've got a journalism degree that I used to use to make a living (I've worked at Mutual/NBC Radio News, CNN, WTOP Radio in Washington, DC, a moribund wire service called Zapnews, and a slew of other places you've likely never heard of); a paralegal certificate that I've parlayed into my current day job; and a master's degree in fiction writing that basically gathered dust in a drawer until one of my kids pestered me into participating in National Novel Writing Month 2008.  The resulting manuscript, titled The Maidens' War, was published by Calderwood Books.  In November 2009, the same kid pushed me into doing NaNoWriMo again; the result of that is tentatively titled SwanSong and, with any luck, it'll be out within the next month or so.  (Just in time for NaNo 2011.  Will I go for a hat trick?  Stay tuned!)

If you look for me on Amazon, you'll see that I also co-authored a nonfiction book called Live Simply in the City.  Oddly enough, I've made more money from my fiction than I did from that book, so we shall never speak of it again, if it's all the same to you.

I've alluded to having kids.  There are two, both girls, both out of college (and, at this writing, both looking for work -- so if you know of anything...).  I also have a cat.  I'm sure she'll work her way in here, too -- she certainly manages to get into everything else I own.

I guess that's enough for starters.  I'm going to aim for a post a week.  Let's see how long it lasts.