Tonight, I made my very first radio guest appearance! Rachel in the OC and Amber Scott of the Indie Book Collective invited me to spend some time on their blog talk radio show tonight to discuss some do's and don'ts for authors on Goodreads.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Tonight, I made my very first radio guest appearance! Rachel in the OC and Amber Scott of the Indie Book Collective invited me to spend some time on their blog talk radio show tonight to discuss some do's and don'ts for authors on Goodreads.
Monday, August 29, 2011
At around the same time, a friend of mine insisted I rejoin the world by joining Facebook, which I was initially against, but eventually it was the gateway drug for a life online. I decided to make my time on the web useful by putting up installments of a short story, which eventually became "Secret Lives..." There was demand from readers who lived even more digitally than myself to have the entire series available for their ereaders.
Having lost hope and the desire to become part of the workforce again, the three decide to “to abandon the world like the world has abandoned us,” and embark on adventures that they only promised themselves that they would take when they were overworked desk jockeys.
Funded by their Unemployment Checks and cashed out 401(k)s, the quirky team develop an unlikely friendship and an unplanned love triangle as they trip their plight–fantastic.
There is interest, because my background is in film, in having "Secret Lives..." developed into a TV series or a movie. And I am also working on that. Whatever form it takes, as its writer, it would be a privilege to inspire people in these times, to help them 'work their way out of the hole."
Sunday, August 28, 2011
It's the end of the line, folks! The David Maine Blog Tour bus has pulled into the station. I don't know about you but I couldn't have asked for things to have gone any better.
- Sunday, the party started right here with a guest post by the author of the hour on what being indie means to him.
- Monday found David Maine guest posting on author Steve Himmer's blog.
- Tuesday, author Michael Davidson dissected David's new eBook Gamble of the Godless.
- Wednesday, Lisa of The Bibliophiliac reviewed Fallen, one of my favorite Maine novels.
- Thursday found Tara from BookSexyReview gushing over Gamble of the Godless.
- Friday, David was interviewed by author Rena Rossner.
- Saturday bounced back to me for a slew of mini-reviews on all of David's previous novels.
- And finally, Sunday... David Maine's thank you post!
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Have you enjoyed our week full of David-centric blog posts? Have you gained some new insight into the mind of this amazing author? Have you marked each of his novels as To Buy and To Read on your goodreads shelves? If you answered yes to each of those questions, our jobs here are done!
For the final leg of the tour, I wanted to wrap things up by discussing each one of David's novels.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Richard explains how it all came to be: "While working at Soft Skull, juggling the little details of running an independent publisher, I became aware that the only thing we knew for sure about what we were doing is that we had to connect writers and readers. Going through the slush pile, speaking with folks who read our reading letters to our writers- it was the interaction of the people around the books as much as, more so than the books on their own. This idea was crystallized in my mind by a comment by a reader in England, commenting on a blog post in The Guardian asking what books got you laid. “Anything published by Soft Skull.” That kind of power comes from more than just thin paper surrounded by cardboard sheets. It’s well known, an oft repeated, that writers are often great readers, but readers are often more than not writers also, it’s a continuum. I realized that that the content provides the energy for the connecting line between all the parties involved in making, producing and reading books.
I left Soft Skull with this idea in mind, surrounded by the rise of technologies on the internet that can facilitate and encourage these kinds of connections without geographical limitations. We all wish we could be part of a group of creative individuals, the Beats in the 50s, Paris in the 20s, Soho in the 70s, and have a meeting place that can facilitate conversation centered around the creative process and the books themselves. My business partner and co-founder Mark Warholak was actively engaging travelers at a major travel site. As we discussed these ideas about connecting and engagement, our company Cursor took shape. Red Lemonade is the first imprint of Cursor, that is an online application and site that provides content to allow for community, people connecting with people. So, Red Lemonade has been percolating a long time from my experiences with readers and writers, but our beta site didn’t go live until May 2011."
In his speeches, Richard shows a slide which is a quote from E.M Forster’s novel Howard’s End: “Only Connect.” Those two words say a lot about what Cursor stands for and believes in. He continues, "As for Red Lemonade, its “edgy alt lit,” literary fiction that takes on questioning cultural assumptions, rethinks memory and examines how we come to understand our understanding. Our first three authors, Kio Stark, Lynne Tillman and Vanessa Veselka flesh and flush out the early gleanings of what we are about and serve as a guidepost for what the community will produce. And that’s been thrilling: it’s one thing to yap about the future of publishing, or post on the blog about how Cursor works, or berate the industry for overlooking the very folks who keep them in business- but to flip the switch and open the doors, terrifying and magical, exhilarating and nerve wracking! Members are joining, they are making comments and they are going into the manuscripts on site and making comments, editing, and asking authors questions—connecting in ways that have gone on for hundreds of years, but now online with easy access.
And we’ve already had our first success. Matthew Battles, whose book, The Sovereignties of Invention will be published this January 2012 by Red Lemonade started as an uploaded manuscript like hundreds of others. Our members liked it—they read it, they commented on it, they asked questions, they suggested re-workings and re-writes, the work ‘gurgled up’ from the community and it was the members of Red Lemonade who selected that title, I simply encouraged and agreed with the “maddening crowd.”
And that’s why other readers and writers and people who like to discuss books, or fans of literary fiction, or even more technical folks interested in online communities are flocking—and will continue to flock to Red Lemonade. And later on, to community specific sites which will generate their own content and their own reader-writer relationships! I'd add, for the sake of clarity, that the value is in the community, because it is uncopiable. You can get content on a torrent site, but to connect around content, you need community. There are lots of tools and online applications out there and I see new publishing platforms almost weekly, but Red Lemonade is founded on the idea of community, even that human connection between book lovers which enlightens your mind makes you question your belief/maybe even helps you get the girl/boy of your dreams."
Community is such a buzzword, though, that Richard warns, "We have to be extremely careful to live up to what the term promises. Critical in that is to ensure that we can all speak truth, not just to power, but to one another. We have a feedback form, or entry panel on each of the sites pages, and members can easily report issues or make suggestions. Members— I’ve christened them The Fizzy Ones, as Red Lemonade is an actual drink that happens to be carbonated—post comments on people’s work, make announcements about their current projects or ask about current reading material or magazine. We’ve included book tour dates and even interviews with authors. Red Lemonade is reaching out through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to speak with the world outside; you can easily tweet or like a manuscript right from the page. While we are still in Beta our goal is both help Red Lemonade thrive and provide information, strategy and guidelines for creating further sites on the Cursor platforms."
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
“Independent” is one of those loaded words. Everybody likes to be independent, right? We fought a war for independence, right? And celebrate Independence Day as a result. Dependence, on the other hand, is a downer. Who wants to be dependent on someone, something, somebody else’s charity? Blecch. And what do you call those diapers for incontinence? Depends. Who wants to wear those? Not me, man. And don’t even get me going on co-dependent.
It’s funny though—when we talk about independent movies, independent record labels, indie rock bands and, increasingly, indie authors and publishers, I rarely stop to think about the other side. What is Random House, then—a dependent publisher? Does Warner Bros make dependent movies? Or maybe dependable ones? (Hell no!) Are bands like Led Zeppelin dependent and therefore less desirable than indie bands like The Coathangers? (Don’t worry—I pulled a completely obscure band out of the darkest recesses of my memory.) My point is, are indie things better just for being indie?
Obviously, the answer is no.
Let me make something clear: I love publishers. Big, New York- or London-based, high-rise-inhabiting, 300-books-a-year publishing, ridiculously-inflated-advances-offering publishing houses like HarperCollins and Knopf and Simon & Schuster have published tons of books—literally tons, as in thousands and thousands of pounds, if you stacked them all on a scale—that I have read and loved over the years. Until this recent small-press and e-publishing wave of the past few years, I could probably have said that every book I ever read (apart from some small-press poetry and theatre stuff in college) was published by a big-name publisher. These are the folks who published the books that made me want to be a writer in the first place. Genre specialists like Del Rey and Tor put out the fantasy/sci-fi stuff I inhaled like oxygen as a teenager, while my mainstream heroes—Flannery O’Connor, Langston Hughes, John Steinbeck—were ably supported by devoted editors at publishing houses like Farrar Strauss.
But times change. These days, publishers are being squeezed from all sides—fewer people read books every year, even as the number of wannabe writers graduating from MFA programs swells. The internet offers plenty of reading matter free of charge, while movies and TV have been joined by video games, social media sites and the likes of YouTube in clamoring for the time and attention of potential book-buyers. Amazon, of course, slashes prices and margins.
From what I can see—and this is only one guy’s perspective—all this has led to an sort of entrenchment in the publishign industry. Years ago, screenwriter William Goldman (Marathon Man, Butch Cassity and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) told a bunch of us students at Oberlin that the movie industry was predicated on fear. Everybody in Hollywood—I’m paraphrasing, but this was the gist—was motivated primarily by a desire to not lose his or her job. This meant that the movies that got greenlighted were the ones most similar to the previous year’s hits. If a movie bombed even though it was a carbon copy of the previous disaster hit or rom-com, well, no one could be blamed. On the other hand, if a movie bombed and it was a unique, one-of-a-kind production with a quirky worldview and a demanding storyline that the audience had to pay attention to—well, that failure could be ascribed to the studio exec who had given the go-ahead. That exec wouldn’t be around long enough to repeat the mistake.
From what I can see, the publishing industrty is moving toward this studio-movie model. If The Da Vinci Code is one year’s surprise hit, you can be sure to see a string of books about Knights Templar and lost prophecies and whatnot. If you like Harry Potter, don’t sweat the end of the series—we’ve got Percy Jackson lined up. If Twilight is your thing, you’ll be happy to peruse through several thousand vampire boks in this aisle over here…
Of course this has been true for a long time, but the pattern is accelerating now, or so it seems.
The reason to support indie publishing, then, is the same as the reason to support any writer, anywhere, who is telling a story that you think deserves to be heard: because someone has taken the time to tell you something that you could not hear from anyone else. This is not some blanket admonition to go read obscure self-published books that you don’t like, or to ignore great novels being published these days by traditional publishers (David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was the best book I read last year, and it was put out by Random House). It’s just a gentle reminder that not all stories follow the same route to publication, that some take a little longer than others, or require a little more sweat than others to see the light of day, or maybe demand a little more of their readers than others.
For my own part, I started The Gamble of the Godless over fifteen years ago, and wrote an early version of the sequel three years later. In the intervening years I’ve moved intercontinentally twice, written a bunch of stuff that never got published and then a few books that did—books that inadvertantly got me catergorized in a particular way, as a particular kind of literary writer. Being the short-attention-span kind of guy I am, I knew I wasn’t going to stay happy writing Bible lit forever, but I was surprised at the resistance I found in the industry when I tried to move to another genre. This is a shame, because epic fantasy is what I grew up on, and I humbly submit that The Gamble of the Godless is a pretty great one.
I guess that’s the last reason to throw some support behind indie writers from time to time: because maybe, just maybe, they can be trusted to know their own work, and their own talents, and their own strengths as storytellers, as well as or even better than the editors and marketers in the publishing industry. Are some of us deluded in that regarded? You betcha. Are there editors out there who do good work? Absolutely. As I said before, indie authors aren’t better just because they’re indie. But that said, there are writers out there doing good work, and the indie movement is an unprecedented opportunity in the history of publishing—an opportunity for readers to directly support those authors who are doing work worthy of their attention.
That sounds like the kind of movement I could get behind.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Better Word Books was founded back in 2002 by a couple of friends who were selling their textbooks online for some extra cash. They are driven by a sense of social and environmental responsibility. Everything you purchase through them is shipped FREE worldwide.
To see a list of the funds they've raised so far, click here.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
After I wondered aloud on Twitter recently if it matters that “indie” has come to describe both small press publishing and self-publishing, Lori invited to think it through here at TNBCC. I said I’d be glad to, but warned it wouldn’t be a polemic — I’m not interested in pitting one group of writers against another or laying claim to words in exclusive ways, and flexibility is more compelling to me than lexical purity.
The truth is, what first comes to mind when I hear the word “independent” is a company that makes skateboard trucks, the metal axles mounted under the board to hold the wheels. There’s no reason for it, because I was a lousy, cowardly skater. I couldn’t convince myself to risk more than an ollie and was persuaded away from rail slides and half-pipes by injuries I could imagine too well. Sure, I might have learned a decent trick or two given time, after plenty of practice guaranteed to be painful, but even the mildest mastery would be hard won, never mind the level of mastery that might interest anyone else. Call it an intuitive risk/reward assessment. Still, my feeble attempts at skateboarding have their legacy, because while I might like to say “independent” calls up something noble like patriotic feelings or romantic notions of art, no, it’s skateboards... and not even skateboards, but the less glamorous hardware that lets the deck get the attention. The delivery system for something ultimately more interesting.
A word like independent and its shortened form “indie” (which of course conjures the archaeologist with his whip and hat) aren’t so different from skateboard trucks. Calling yourself independent isn’t an end but a means, a way of describing the approach a writer takes to delivering their work, albeit a means lacking an agreed upon meaning. In the circles where I’ve done most of my publishing, webjournals and small-run print magazines, indie isn’t a single aesthetic, exactly, but a DIY attitude that often goes hand-in-hand with embracing styles and subjects assumed unlikely to catch the attention of large publishers or audiences. There’s a community ethos, even if that community is fragmented and contentious and multivocal, as the most productive communities are; what better demonstration of that than the group blog HTMLGiant, where posts range from erudite to juvenile to creepy to brilliant often in the course of a couple of hours, and though the comment threads almost always scare me off before I add anything, they’re full of diverse, rewarding ideas. Still, as much as I value the excitement of a community under constant construction, I’ve resisted applying the indie label to my own work because there’s an uncomfortable sense of being judged by the guys at the record store inherent in the term, and perhaps an assumption of eschewing a focus on storytelling in favor of linguistic and formal experimentation that doesn’t quite fit my goals as a writer.
Now that other use I mentioned above seems to be catching on: “indie” as interchangeable with “self-published.” First it was Kirkus Indie, a section devoted to reviewing self-published books. Then IndieReader, which describes itself as “a venue for discriminating book-lovers to find and purchase books published by the people who wrote them,” which seems called for when according to TeleRead, as of April 2011, “28 out of 100 top e-books in Kindle Store are self-published; 11 are in top 50,” and for the most part that’s happened independently of major reviewers. Yet James Frey, about as visible an author as there is and one whose Full Fathom Five fiction factory is as corporate-minded as literature gets, self-published his latest book with international media attention that is anything but indie.
Perhaps because of that flexibility, the question of how much the difference between one definition and another matters seems a non-starter: if someone says they are indie, whether they self-publish or publish with a micropress distributed by hand or an autonomous imprint distributed by Random House, well... how can you prove otherwise? It’s like trying to convince someone they aren’t a nice person. Maybe there’s only one thing being independent requires: something to be independent of, and asking what that something is raises much more interesting questions.
In the small press world, there’s often a degree of pride in not being driven by commercial taste and by the horrifying notion that books are products equivalent to crackers and widgets. That pride is shared in self-publishing, where authors commit to getting their personal vision of literature in front of readers exactly the way they want it to be read, for better or worse, without letting other voices dictate their vision. At their best, self-published books are as carefully edited, designed, and produced as the best of small presses, and the worst of both groups are equally bad. Independence from syntax and spelling and attention to design and detail don’t strike me as freedoms worth fighting for. And as much as I love radical, experimental work that breaks with the canon — and breaks with the assumption there could or should ever be a single canon — it’s awfully hard to read something that makes a total break with traditions of literature and culture and thought. That’s where scary manifestos come from.
What no writer wants to be independent of is audience, whether you aim for wide distribution to general readers or focus on readers (often fellow writers) most likely to get what you’re doing and enter a conversation about it. I worry sometimes that small press writers, myself included, don’t always reach for an audience beyond other writers, the same writers we’re publishing stories beside in journals and on websites and who are already inclined to know where we’re coming from and support it. I worry that having such a community ethos, such an assumption of buying each others books and supporting each other regardless, mitigates the risk of sharing the work at the time it reinforces or normalizes certain types of writing, creating less room for risk and surprise — less room, in other words, for voices independent of the existing conversation.
On the other hand, novelist Ron Tanner wrote recently of what happened when Amazon accidentally offered not the intended sample of his novel Kiss Me, Stranger as a free download, but the whole novel: the book was rated and reviewed at Amazon and Goodreads by readers unlikely to have read it without the error. Readers perhaps unfamiliar with the literary traditions Kiss Me, Stranger is part of, and not necessarily those author and publisher expected. That doesn’t mean those readers should feel unwelcome — far from it — but the risk of reaching unlikely readers when their reviews carry such weight is that those ratings impact the decisions of readers otherwise more inclined to pick up the novel. Not to mention the inevitable flattening of ratings toward the meaningless middle as more reader reviews appear for a book. And if you’re telling stories that are inherently risky, about lives often menaced by mainstream culture, why would you reach out to readers who don’t even acknowledge your right to speak?
Whatever readership you’re aiming at, if being indie is only about style and content and purity of vision, it doesn’t much matter how a book gets distributed as long as it does. But if your version of being indie is political, too — if you’re more Dead Kennedys than Green Day — how you get the book to your readers matters a lot. It’s no secret the big, commercial publishers are tentacles of much larger corporations involved in everything from lightbulbs to biscuits to atomic rayguns (okay, maybe not rayguns), and there are a few writers who refuse to work with big houses because of those things. Would that we all had the choice. Yet the financial ramifications of that choice might mean those writers teach, as I do, at colleges and universities dependent on research funding and institutional support from those same corporations or others like them.
If you do stay away from big houses, online bookstores — Amazon chief among them — are great levellers of access to small and large press books, but how independent is it possible to be when you sell or even publish your books through one of the world’s most powerful companies, one with corporate practices destructive of or indifferent to writers and publishers alike? Yet Kickstarter, one of the most popular tools for requesting financial support to make bigger, bolder projects possible by shifting the financial risk from publisher to would-be reader, invokes that community ethos while using Amazon to accept payments. For that matter, several of the most popular self-publishing options seem to be owned by a single private equity investment firm, and another company refused, at one point, to reveal the name of its CEO. To be clear, my point isn’t that these companies are all up to nefarious things, just that most of the available options for publishing and selling a book inevitably leave you independent of more or less nothing.
A small press or self-published author might choose to avoid bookstores altogether, because as Engine Books noted recently publishers benefit far more from direct sales to readers than from sales via Amazon or even brick and mortar stores, making it easier to remain independent. But if being locally- and community-minded are important aspects of your own indie ethos, as they are mine, you’ll want to shop at a community bookstore. Perhaps through Indiebound, which does terrific work to support and connect those stores. Yet even Indiebound doesn’t extend that focus to independent publishers and writers — not that they don’t sell small press or independent books, but only the biggest of small presses get on the radar of their monthly Next lists or earn a prominent place on their website. Despite decrying behemoths like Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble, Indiebound doesn’t appear so concerned about the even larger behemoths publishing books (though individual Indiebound member stores, in my experience, can be incredibly supportive of small presses and local writers). They decide what being independent means to them, as we all do, to avoid getting paralyzed in that lexical, ethical snarl. And unless you’re printing books with your own press, binding them in the garage, and selling them all hand-to-hand, you’re probably equally tangled in all these overlapping, contradictory choices of what independence is and what you’re willing to do, or not do, to maintain it.
Being indie is like the fear that drove my early abandonment of skateboarding: an assessment of what risks are required to attain what reward. Are you willing to break an arm or a leg to master that trick? Are you willing to wait years or even decades to have that novel published, maybe, by a big house? Writing, like all art, requires risk, whether it’s fearing your story won’t speak to anyone else but telling it anyway, or stripping away the safe, comfortable elements of language to make the mundane become new. Maybe it’s spending your personal savings to publish books you believe in without knowing there’s an audience for them, or spending thousands of a company’s dollars and risking dozens of jobs on a book you sincerely hope and believe will speak to the culture at large. It all requires risk, but it doesn’t require all of us to take the same risks in the same ways.
Small press, big house, or self-published, I don’t think it helps one camp to diminish the others, or to insist on indie meaning only one thing. I’m suspicious of outright dismissals that tell us anything reviewed in the New York Times is automatically bad, or anything not reviewed there isn’t worth reading, or anything self-published is trash. It’s a big tent, literature, with plenty of room, so why not have more conversation across the corners? With all the flexibility and opportunity afforded us by innovations (and collapses) in publishing and distribution, there’s no reason for a one-size-fits-all approach to being a writer or reader. What could be more indie-minded than everyone deciding individually what indie means? And besides, every writer worth reading — every person worth listening to, for that matter — is independent by definition, while sycophants can only be boring.
A few weeks ago, I went to a cocktail party thrown by one of the biggest of the big publishers to promote an upcoming novel. Months before its release the author is traveling the country, meeting booksellers, and building buzz. At first glance I was envious, considering how hard I’ve been working to promote my own small press novel; as enormously supportive and dedicated as my own publisher is, I wondered what I could do with those deeper resources. But I’m not sure I’d want it, not at this stage in my “career,” because the pressure must be intense: if a book that big doesn’t sell right away, it’s a flop, whereas a small book like mine, with no expectations, can build momentum slowly (I hope) while I ease my shy self into the world of promotion. Or it can fail, if it’s going to, in a quiet way hardly noticed by most of the world. It’s a level of risk, and a definition of “writer,” I’m comfortable with at this point, and I’m glad to be working in a cultural moment that gives me any number of options for self-definition and self-direction, and gives those to other writers, to publishers, and to bookstores, too. Some of us shoot for high risk artistic stakes, while others aim for large audiences and big royalty checks. Some want to be the voice of a generation and others just claim the right to have a voice. Like I did on my skateboard — though more bravely, I hope — we can decide for ourselves how much we want to risk and what we value most, and can make our decisions accordingly.
Publishing a book, or just writing one, is a lot like dropping the nose of a skateboard over the lip of a pool or a pipe without knowing if you’ll roll or wreck, trusting that your experience and practice have prepared you for the height of that particular ramp and the risk of the trick you’re attempting, and that you’ve assembled the right hardware beneath you for support. But once you’re ever the edge it’s all up to you and it’s too late for changing your mind. What could be more independent than that?