Saturday, February 27, 2010

A reading with Roberto Scarlato

On the 4th of February I had my first ever public reading event.

Three weeks beforehand I called some bookstores and found that the Borders in Oak Park had an Open Mic Night. You can do music, skits and a bit of storytelling. The night was a blast! I invited my friends and they came to support my work as a writer. It was the best feeling in the world. Also the most nerve-racking. I signed my name in the fourth column on a list thinking, great, this will give me time to panic and get it out of my system before I go up. But when I came back to the list, people were signing in RIGHT UNDER MY NAME. Damn it! I thought. That's not fair. I need my panic time! They called my name first and I went up. Met this guy, whose name happens to be "Guy" who was the coordinator of this whole event. He stopped me before I left to tell me to come back and read more short stories! I was floored! Happy as well. I passed out some cards that had my blog on them, met a few people signed a friends' book.

Below is footage from the first reading.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Pitter-Patter of Patterson

James Patterson has written over 70 books. He releases two to three books a year and I've always seen his books on the endcaps in the book department of every grocery store you can think of. It helps that he comes from an ad marketing background. He was the one who coined the phrase, "I wanna be a Toys-R-Us kid." His stories know no boundaries. He's written fantasy, young adult, adult dramas, adult crime thrillers and a couple of non-fiction books. I admire this guy's zeal, even though I haven't read anything from him.

What's interesting to know is that even though a portion of his works aren't well liked, he continues to outsell both Stephen King and John Grisham together. I haven't read one full book by him but when I do, I'm going to make sure it's one that I know I will like such as Sunday's at Tiffany's or The Witch and The Wizard or The Dangerous Days of Daniel X.
But I think one important thing to take from Mr. Patterson's writing is that he is not stopping. He's written so many, he's become a household name, like it or not. That got me thinking, if you write enough you will gain more publicity and more recognition whether the work is garbage or not. Being a writer is a risk anyway. Sometimes you get a hit and sometimes you don't. But just keep writing. We already view each piece of work as our babies so why not be fruitful and mutiply.

For more in depth information on James Patterson's writing process, take a look at this interesting article by The New York Times:

James Patterson Inc.

"Don't be 'a writer'. Be writing." — William Faulkner

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Job of a writer

Sometimes I browse books on Amazon just to see what is new and fresh. One fear of mine is that one of my ideas will be written by another author and I will be forced to abandon the project, or respectively bow out, without cursing, if necessary. I've come across a novel which at first had me panicked. The Last Bookstore in America was the book, written by Amy Smart. I panicked because I thought I would have to abandon one of my favorite projects. Thankfully, this was not the case because both our stories are very different. After reading the premise and a few of the reviews, I let go a big sigh of relief. But then something else happened: I started browsing around Amy Smart's site, and I found this cool bit of info. I always fantasized about being a writer but had no idea what their payment process was like. Amy cleared all the confusion away. And, since I found it so interesting and thought her new exclusive novel-in-progress kindle book needed more readers, I've decided to share this with all of you.

Without further ado, here's Amy Smart, explaining the business of publishing:

[ When I first started writing books (you can find out about my other books here), I was surprised by how secretive, befuddling, and un-transparent the money side of the business was.

For one thing, authors get paid in a very strange way. We get an advance--a check up front when we sign a contract--and when the book sells, we get paid royalties on every sale only after the advance has been paid back. The amount that an author receives for an advance is generally a secret, unless it's a very large, shocking number, in which case everybody finds out somehow.

But let's take a normal advance of, say, forty thousand dollars. You might get half up front and half when the book is finished. Your agent gets 15 percent. So basically, that $40,000 translates to $17,000 up front. After taxes (including self-employment taxes) you might be left with $10,000. Let's say you can somehow live on $2000 per month. That gives you five months' worth of income to get your book written.

When the book comes out, you get paid royalties of anywhere from 7.5% (for paperbacks) to 10-15% (for hardcovers, depending on how many copies sell) of the cover price. Which means that authors make about a dollar for every paperback that sells, and two or three dollars for every hardcover.

And that money comes in 6-9 months after the book sells. Writers usually get paid twice a year, once in spring (for July-December's sales) and once in fall (for January-June's sales). Because bookstores can return unsold books for a full refund, publishers often hold back a 'reserve for returns,' meaning that you don't get paid for all of the books that sold because it is expected that some of them will be returned.

It is also surprisingly difficult for authors to know how well their book is selling. We obsessively watch our Amazon sales rank because it's the only real-time data we have access to. Publishers can usually tell you how many copies have been shipped out of their warehouse, but that's not the kind of data that really does you much good.

When I'm on a book tour, people ask me all these questions that I don't really know the answer to:

How many books do you sell the week after you're on NPR?

--I have no idea.

Do you sell more books on the east coast or the west coast?

--Huh. I don't know.

Do you see an uptick in sales of your older books when a new one comes out?

--Who can say?

So authors operate with an astonishing lack of data about how their own products are selling. That's one of the reasons I'm so interested in the idea of digital books. Imagine: real-time data! Fast payments! Instant feedback!

So in the name of transparency, here are some facts and figures about The Last Bookstore in America. I'll update this as I go along, so check back.

Scribd: On Scribd the book is priced at $1.81. After Scribd takes its 20%, plus a 40 cent per-transaction fee, that leaves me with $1.05, the same royalty I make on $13.95 trade paperbacks.

Kindle: On Amazon the book is priced at $2.99. After Amazon takes its 65%, I'm left with the same $1.05 I make on paperbacks.

So why, you may be asking, do books cost so much if the author only makes a dollar or two?

First, the retailer gets 40-50% of the cover price.

And what's left goes to editing, design, marketing, printing, and distribution, not to mention those advances that don't earn out. None of that comes cheap. Read a great discussion about book pricing here and here.

But my novel, being a novel-in-progress that has not benefitted from editing, design, marketing, printing, and distribution, is not priced to factor in those expenses. Why should you pay for what you're not getting?

Here's what I have spent to date.

$10 to register the domain.

$0 to set up this blog because I already had a TypePad account, which would otherwise run $108/ year. (Or I could have used Blogger for free.)

$200 for cover and blog header design from a freelance designer I found on eLance.

$60 to get the book professionally formatted for the Kindle because I didn't want to learn how to do it myself.

$0 for editing. A few writers and editors I know read the manuscript and offered comments, but I didn't pay them--I traded my time for theirs in a variety of ways--reading their manuscripts, helping them with a website or some other thing they needed assistance with. A couple friends read it and asked for nothing in return, but they know I owe them a favor. (Freelance editors can be found here and typically charge a few thousand bucks.)

$0 for publicity. I'm getting the word out on Twitter, Facebook, on this blog, and through my friends.

Total: $270. So that's my budget. This is not, of course, a realistic budget on which the brave new world of digital publishing can be based. But for a beta test of a novel-in-progress, where all I'm asking is for feedback from a community of readers, it's all pretty feasible.

And I'm still considering a print version if anyone seems interested in that. More soon.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the financial side of what is, after all, a business as well as an art. ]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I can't read Guts!

Chuck Palahniuk is known for such works as Diary, Rant, Invisible Monsters, Choke, Survivor and Fight Club.

Chuck is one of the weirdest writers I've ever read, working in a genre all his own - Disturbing.

I've seen Fight Club and read Choke and that was enough for me. I think I need a break of one to two years in between each Palahniuk book.

He makes me sick.

And I don't mean that in a negative way. I mean it in a literal way. Let me explain. Over the years I've heard that one of his infamous stories, known as Guts, has been in circulation all over the web. Someone paraphrased bits of the story for me and I thought, well, that stuff sounds disgusting but what's the big deal?

The big deal is that since his first public reading of this very short story was read, the faint toll has risen. Last count was seventy something people fainting or physical ill while he was reading the story.

I chose not to read it or believe that a story could cause that much harm. That was until my girlfriend dared me to read it. I took the dare, being the cocky guy that I am and sat down and started reading it on the laptop. Got through the first paragraph okay. Along with the second. But in between paragraphs 3 to 6 my forehead began sweating, my palms felt clammy and I was slowly gulping saliva as the monsoon in my stomach began. If you have a vivid imagination, or vivid dreams for that matter, it is best that you not read this story...ever. Let's just say that in the part that I read, the part that drove me over the edge, the main character does something that is clearly in direct violation of how not to use a candle sexually.

I stood, queasy and clutching my stomach.

"Babe," I called down to her from the top of the stairs. "Can't do it. I'm going to be sick."

She hurried up, smiling, thinking I was playing around with her. I couldn't even look her in the eye, I was hunched over the kitchen sink. "It's not funny. I feel really bad." And I did. Not only was my stomach doing flips, I was feeling sympathy pains in my nether region. I ducked into the bathroom with a glass of water, guzzling the liquid and humming happy songs. Looking back, it was kind of funny. By the time I felt my body was over fifty percent better, I walked out of the bathroom. My girlfriend was shocked to see my face turned a shade of green. Seriously, the disgust is that potent. This story hits you where it hurts.

There was one point, when I hadn't read the story but heard about it, that I thought I could top Mr. Palahniuk by writing a torture story which later was called The Letters which is in the collection For What It's Worth. But after reading something like Guts, well, that door to my imagination is not only locked but I bricked and mortared the damn thing.

To those don't want to read Guts: You've made the right choice.

To those who still want to read Guts: Best of may want to be in the bathroom though when you read it. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Notable Movies #5

It isn't surprising that some of the most successful authors out there are plagued with problems and become the neighbohorhood recluse. But what I like most about Nim's Island is how Jodie Foster portrays that paranoid reclusive writer in all of us. She writes out of the comfort of her apartment, second guesses herself and argues with her main character. To it's credit, Nim's island is a little cheesy but also fun. First PG movie I've seen in a long while. One scene I loved was when Jodie, as bestselling novelist Alexandria Rover, decides to leave her apartment for the first time in years. Once inside a taxi, she opens the door and vomits (don't worry, they don't show it.)

The cab driver says, "Lady, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. I just get motion sickness sometimes."
"But we're not moving."
"Well, it's really the idea of motion that sickens me."

I reccomend this movie to anyone who locks themselves away from the world in order to write. You might get a kick out of it. I know I did.