Monday, January 31, 2011

Looking for a Publishing Metaphor

Over at Joe Konrath's blog, the discussion about e-self-publishing goes on and on. Joe is a big proponent of it, and lately he's had a series of guest blogs (with plenty of his thoughts added) from writers who have successfully ESP-ed. Some of them have a prior print publishing background; some don't. Monday's post by Blake Crouch is a good example. As always, the discussion that follows these guest posts is both informative and entertaining. Here are some examples.

by Blake: To be paid monthly to write exactly what you want to write and have absolute control over the presentation is an amazing thing. me, the best thing about the ebook revolution isn't the money. It's the unlimited creative potential. No more asking permission to write the book you're dying to write. No more constraints on form.

by Joe: Self-publishing is a guarantee it will find some readers, while pursuing a traditional publishing contract is still a long shot.

by Michael: I can't emphasize too strongly that this is an age of STAGGERING opportunity for writers. ...To be free to write any length you want, in any genre, without some [expletive deleted] editor telling you how to do it, is pleasure enough in itself. But to be able to publish so easily, so quickly, and stand at least some change of making money—hard to believe.

I've been trying to think of a metaphor that describes what is happening to the publishing industry as the e-reader/e-book revolution comes storming on. I've heard that before an avalanche there is a "cracking" sound, then the snow comes down. Maybe that's a good analogy. The publishing snow is cracking, the avalanche of e-book sales is about to start, and the traditional publishers are not listening. I read in several books about prisoners of war who escaped from prisoner-of-war camps via tunneling that the sand also does this cracking sound right before a cave in. Perhaps either metaphor applies.

Yet, in those cases there is no falling sand or sliding snow before the deluge. In the publishing industry, e-book sales are 11 percent of total book sales, although this data may be several months old. So there's something visible and measurable going on. It's not just a cracking sound. Maybe it's more like either a flash flood or a gradually rising flood. The water is there, making enough sound that the person not paying attention to what is coming from upstream doesn't realize a flood is coming. This seems an apt metaphor to the situation.

When Gutenberg invented movable type, the copyist industry fairly quickly went out of business. Now digital devices are slowly driving print out of business. Oh, print books will never disappear completely. e-books won't even command a majority of market share for some time, maybe a decade. But it's going to go up from 11 percent. The flood is coming.

The Storm is Almost Here

The winter storm that is so much in the news is bearing down on us. The winter storm warning from the National Weather Service starts at 6:00 PM tonight for us, so that probably means we'll start getting some frozen stuff around 8 PM. The forecast has called for sleet, ice, snow, mixture—it keeps changing. That's to be expected as the time nears and the computer models come together. The best guess right now is we'll have a half inch of ice followed by 3-5 inches of snow.

Rather than negotiate the hills of Bella Vista tonight, I'm going to stay in Bentonville with my mother-in-law. Here apartment is about 3 miles due north of the office, on flat streets. If need be I could walk to work from there. Tomorrow should be the worst, with an inch of snow on top of the ice at the time of morning commute, snow still falling. She doesn't have a computer or Internet, so I'll probably stay at work late, or perhaps go to the library until it closes.

The storm is hitting at work and in writing as well. I have to have one of my flood studies re-submitted by Thursday. I worked on it some Saturday, and am in good shape with the computer modeling; now need to have the CADD tech do the mapping and pull a brief report together. It would be a snap except yesterday our 18-inch diameter water transmission main advertised in the newspaper, so today we should be deluged by contractors coming by to obtain drawings and specs—which aren't ready. Hopefully they will be by 10 AM. Plus I really, really, really need to make major progress on my Rogers flood study. I'm so close to being able to run the first computer model. Four hours of undivided might do it.

In writing, I will be a journalist this morning. I have phone interviews scheduled with two DOT officials in two states, for information on my article for Safe Highway Matters. That's due on Wednesday, and since this is the first time I've written for them, I'd like to get a draft in Tuesday. It's only a 400 word article, but short doesn't necessarily mean easier. Then I have an article due for Buildipedia the following Wednesday, and another the Wednesday after that.

Meanwhile I'm working on Documenting America and on articles for Both of these are discretionary, of course. I could drop them at any time. But if I did, I would in effect be saying, "I don't have what it takes to be a writer." So I keep going, keep my schedule a whirlwind, hoping that I get to the point where I have something more than freelance articles published. Having decided to go the e-self-publishing route, this year is the critical year. More on that in future posts.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Little Bit of Progress

I have two main writing tasks at present:

  1. Complete as many chapters as possible in the first volume of Documenting America.
  2. Complete the article I'm under contract to write for Safe Highway Matters.
On the second one, I'm having trouble getting hold of various sources the editor suggested. I've done all the research I can without talking to some people. I could almost write the article from the research, but really it would read much better, and I'm sure be more valuable, if I could get some quotes and some practical information in it. I hope I hope I hope today I'll be able to reach some people. The article is due next Wednesday; only 400 words.

On Documenting America I'm making good progress. Last night I finished chapter 21. Unfortunately this took me a lot longer than I wanted, due to letting myself get caught up in the tentacles of research. This chapter is about the wilderness conditions the first settlers encountered on coming to America. The source is one I found in my 20 volume set of The Annals of America, an Encyclopedia Britannica product I picked up for $25 at a thrift store. Back before the Internet, that was my source for original documents. Now, of course, so much is on the Internet I don't have to rely on that for original documents. But I still use it to find things and make decisions on what document to base a chapter on.

The document in question is a 1711 letter written by Rev. John Urmstone, a missionary/pastor in North Carolina, to his sponsoring organization, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The Annals have only an excerpt of the letter, and gave no biographical information about Urmstone. The excerpt was suitable for my purposes. Urmstone described the harsh conditions and the work he had to do just to survive, work that supposedly would prevent him from his work of propagating the gospel. However, the excerpt seemed to have a whiny tone, so I wanted to see the full letter if I could.

Through a simple Google search I found plenty. I didn't find the whole letter (thought Wheaten College has it on microfilm if I want to drive eleven hours each way), but I did find a longer extract of the part in the Annals and I found extracts of two other parts. What I found was a lot of information on Urmstone. Rather than take too much time to write it out, here's what one of his colleagues wrote about him to the same person in England: "Mr. Urmston is lame and says he cannot do now what he formerly has done, but this lazy distemper has seized him by what I hear ever since his coming to the country." Wow! Not exactly a glowing recommendation.

So, that, and the other biographical information I found, puts the entire body of writing by Urmstone in question. His letters to England over ten years were constant complaints about his situation: no servants; little meat; unproductive land; slaves too expensive; wicked parishioners; etc. His description of the North Carolina wilderness is probably accurate, and I can still use is at the document for a chapter. But how much more interesting it is given the knowledge about the original writer. I shall have to have a later chapter on Urmstone, maybe one about how not everyone came to America for religious liberty reasons. Some, like the good reverend, really came for economic gain.

In all of this, I spent way too much time on research. I managed to pound out the chapter last night, not yet in polished form. But what should have taken me four hours took seven. Maybe the extra three will form the basis of an other chapter, maybe not. But I've got to get more efficient in my work if I'm ever going to finish the book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crowded, Uncrowded, Crowded, Uncrowded

The new market I added to my post yesterday didn't work out. So my schedule is less crowded than I thought. Well, that's not entirely true. I can write for that market if I want, just not the type of article I wanted to write. The articles they want would require more research than the articles I wanted to write. So if I write for them, the schedule will be even more crowded; if I don't write for them, less crowded. My choice.

I had my call with the Buildipedia editor today. We agreed to get two articles under contract with February deadlines. He also wants another article from me with an early March deadline, and a series of articles I could write that would string out through the year. This sounds about like the frequency of articles, the amount of time, I want to put into that source. So the schedule regarding Buildipedia is about as crowded as I thought and hoped it would be.

Everything I see about e-self-publishing, every new bit of information I gather or opinion I see from someone whose opinion I value, says this is something with no downside, something I should do. So that means I need to dispense with further research and get my short story and first e-book on line. That means I'll have to learn how to format an e-book, or hire someone. That means I'll have to learn how to design and produce a cover, or hire someone. That means I'll have to come up to speed with marketing an e-book. All part of a schedule crowd.

But that also means I can ignore the need to go to writers conferences. Money saved, time saved. It means I can quit worrying about a platform big enough to impress an editor or agent. Time saved. It means I can quit looking for new freelance work, since that is mostly for the purposes of platform building. The income I'm getting from articles will pay for hiring the covers done, so I'm sure I'll do that. It might also pay for hiring the formatting done, but I think I'll at least take a stab at the formatting. If my technophobia results in my being unable to master the formatting, I can always then hire it out. All that's wasted in that case is a little time, but that's not even wasted if I can later use that initial effort and figure out the formatting for book two, or book three.

So is the schedule more crowded, as crowded, or less crowded than I thought it was when I posted yesterday? I think less crowded, due to that one market then under consideration now being out of consideration. I'll hold that market in abeyance, always there for the future.

Documenting America and "Mom's Letter", here I come.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Schedule is Getting Crowded

I mostly took yesterday evening off from writing. The reason? My wedding anniversary. Our 35th. We had plans to go out to eat. I scheduled a 4 PM meeting with a client who is only three or so miles from the house, which put me home about 4:30 PM. But we stayed home. Lynda had a persistent headache, and my stomach was doing jumping jacks for some reason, so we stayed home, worked on a puzzle, ate left-over enchilada soup, read some, watched a couple of our favorite news shows, then three episodes of Criminal Minds. A good evening, despite the change of plans and doing nothing special for our special day.

While we were sitting and watching TV, I worked on the next chapter of Documenting America. It's going a little harder than I'd like. Later, from 11:00-11:30 PM, I read in a biography of John Wesley, which I consider research for a future small group study I'll write. But that was it for evening writing.

Of course, during the work day, in my pre-hour and noon hour I worked on some things. I did some research for the article for the "Safe Highway Matters" newsletter. I read two writing related blogs, one by an agent and one by a writer. That's not a lot of writing work, but it counts.

Now, I have a week and a day to complete the highway article. Tomorrow I'll have my call with the Buildipedia editor and we'll establish a schedule of articles for the next couple of months. Those will all have fixed deadlines. My two floating deadlines are articles for and chapters for Documenting America. I'd like to write two of the former and three of the latter each week. However, that alone would require about 15 hours, perhaps more than I can dedicate to them.

ETA: Shortly after I posted this, I learned of another on-line writing gig that would be just up my alley, I think. Did a little investigation on my noon hour, and it continues to look promising. The pay would be great, if I would be approved for the premium section of the website. I'm waiting on replies to two e-mails before I do anything else about this, other than some more research into the site tonight.

So I see things backing up very quickly, as they often do, and a logjam not too far in the future. I'll just have to see if I can do a good job of managing my time and completing as much of this as I can. Lofty goals are good, so long as they don't become stressful. As an long-gone evangelist in our church is quoted as saying: "I'd rather shoot at a star and miss than shoot at a toad in the road and hit it."

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Freelance Writing Report

I wrote yesterday that I had a good day of writing, being at home due to the snow storm. That continued into the evening, as I completed the research on the next chapter of Documenting America, and wrote most of it. I also did the work I needed to do on Life Group class teaching prep. I haven't quite finished typing the handouts yet, but I'll get that done after work. So the day started well and finished well.

I thought it was time to make an overall report on my freelancing activities. Here it is.
  • I'm up to 120 articles there, having posted 4 so far in January. I'm working on a series of genealogy articles right now. After that I may get back to stock trading articles. Beginning with the month of December, we now receive data on which articles actually earn money. I'll watch these new stats for a few months to see if there's any pattern, then maybe change up my article mix. The month of January is on track to be my biggest revenue month there, though I'm earning a paltry $0.14 per article per month. I do it because I enjoy it, seem to be somewhat good at it, and, well, I just want to.
  • I had another article posted there today. I'm not quite sure how many this is, somewhere around 15 I think. I need to get my records up to date for them. Yesterday I sent the editor an e-mail, pitching 5 more articles. He's interested, and we'll talk next week. I'd like to do an average of two articles a month for them. They pay pretty good, and I think the exposure I get there is excellent. They also seem to be growing, which can't hurt. I'm also getting articles by assignment for them, which is nice. The whole query-go-round for freelancing is not particularly enjoyable for me.
  • I reported yesterday that I had been approached by an editor about writing an article. The publication is "Safe Highway Matters". Today the editor and I agreed via e-mails that I will write the article. I'm waiting for the exact assignment details. This may well be a one time gig, but having an editor come to me, based on writing of mine she saw on-line, is sweet. And maybe in the future she'll need another article. Or maybe some editor will see my writing in that publication, and....
  • I have given up trying to find print publications to write for. I won't say I'll never go back to seeking that publishing outlet, but for right now, no. The pay wasn't much better, the query process stinks, and my limited experience shows they don't pay on time. For now, I'll stick with on-line publications. It has been a good, professional experience for me.
One other thing I should mention. The article I did for Buildipedia on the Crystal Bridges Museum, which posted there on January 6, 2011, was new ground for me in that I had to interview someone I didn't know. That was a definite first. It made me feel like a journalist. Not that I really know what that's like. I have absolutely no journalist training, took no classes on it in college or in writers conferences. But the editors I work with seem to like my writing, and other editors are taking notice, so maybe in a sense I am a journalist. That wasn't planned. I just want to be a writer when I grow up.

I originally shifted to freelancing as one plank in a "platform" to present to editors or agents to whom I would shop my books. Now that I'm considering e-self-publishing my books, as I have discussed in recent blog posts, the platform doesn't count for as much. My freelancing doesn't generate fans of my writing. Yet, I think I'll keep with it for a while. It never hurts to learn to write to deadlines, to figure out when something is done rather than to endlessly revise, to learn how to please an editor, and to make more and more contacts.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snow Day Writing Report

It's 4 PM. I'm at home, at my dinosaur computer in The Dungeon, writing away. Yesterday the forecast was for snow starting around 11:00 PM, 3-5 inches accumulation, or maybe 4-7 inches, depending on who you believe. I e-mailed my boss to say I wasn't going to be in on Thursday, and I reported on Facebook that I was going to read, research, and write till my fingers were raw, my arms and shoulders tight, my butt numb, my eyes blurry, and my head hurt. Okay, I didn't actually mention the butt numb part on FB, but I was thinking that.

The storm gave us only a little over 3 inches; it was over by 11 AM. With that little, I probably could have driven the 15.6 miles to work with no problem, so possibly I wasted a vacation day. But I get plenty of vacation after 20 years with the company, so I don't mind. And it wasn't wasted at all. It was kind of a dry run for what a day might be like if I had a real writing career, where I wrote full time. Now, it wasn't a true dry run, because knowing I have the day job to go back to tomorrow, I didn't stick to writing quite as faithfully as I should have.

But write I did. And research. The day began with a couple of chapters in Ezra. Devotional, yes, but also part of my research for To Exile and Back. From my reading chair, I discussed stocks with Lynda, and I began to draft a genealogy article for Then I came to The Dungeon. First I proof-read and reconsidered the Documenting America chapter that I wrote yesterday. It still seems good. I polished it a little and consider it done. Then I wrote and posted the article on That brings me up to 120 articles there.

Upon publishing, I saw an e-mail in my Suite inbox. It was from an editor of a transportation newsletter. They need a writer with a civil engineering background to work on the feature article for their next newsletter issue. Would I be interested? I quickly said e-mailed her yes, and suggested a phone call. Then I went upstairs to listen to the weekly conference call Lynda joins each Thursday noon for stock trading. During the call I worked in ideas for new articles for After the call and lunch I returned to The Dungeon and fired off an e-mail to the Buildipedia editor. He quickly replied that he's interested, and asked for a phone call next week.

About that time my computer bad stuff protection program decided to do something, so I pulled out a volume of The Annals of America and chose the next subject for Documenting America, read it, and began to formulate a chapter about it. I next went to the daily writing blogs I follow, and found a great new post on Jon Konrath's blog.

During all this activity, I came upon about six ideas for posts to this blog. I think the next step will be do get those down on paper so I don't lose them. I might be posting here with greater frequency for a while. The internal but public debate about e-self-publishing continues, along with some other subjects.

For the rest of the day, I'll finish reading a couple of blogs, plan and perhaps draft the Documenting America chapter, maybe work some on either the harmony of the gospels of on my baseball novel. Oh, I need to prepare for teaching Sunday school, and write some student sheets. I don't know if I'll look to do any recreational reading or not, but perhaps.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Two Nights of Research and Writing – What a Concept!

After my post from work on Monday, about needing to have writing available worthy of eSP, I came home and took the evening to research and write. I had already done some research into my next genealogy article at, so I decided to write the article. I did so, it taking less than an hour after the research was done. I'm not up to 119 articles at that site.

Having finished that, I went to my book set Annals of America to look for something to write for my Documenting America series. I pulled out the volume covering 1895-1904, mainly because I hadn't yet done anything after the Civil War and I want the series to cover much more than that. I found a good article, by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts (the first one, not the second). I read the article and found lots of good material for my article. By the time 11:00 PM rolled around I had the quotes identified (if not yet condensed), the introduction written, and a fair couple of paragraphs. Tonight I've been working on the actual chapter, and it now stands at 950 words, on its way to 1000 to 1200. This writing took me longer than expected, because I haven't written this kind of piece for a while.

It all felt good. I've written very little since mid-December, except a Suite article and a couple of articles for Buildipedia. The reading I've done to research To Exile and Back was fine, as was my reading of Eudora Welty's short memoir. But there's just something about writing new material from original research. Kind of like home-grown tomatoes vs. store bought, if you get my drift.

I can't abandon market research, or eSP research. Actually, I did some of the latter today by reading two writers' blogs. But I have to say that carving out some writing time was really satisfying. After I check stocks, I'll head upstairs, turning back down the thermostat in The Dungeon, sit in my reading chair—perhaps with coffee—and try to complete on paper the ending of my Documenting America piece. The title of it: "We Have Lost Sight of These Vast Interests". Fitting for a writer on two days he sets aside for pure writing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Something to E-Self-Publish

The beginning of the work week resulted in my again considering whether I should e-self-publish or not. Over the weekend, I kind of forgot about it. I used the time to finish the Eudora Welty memoir I started in December and to blog about it. I did a little research for the Bible study To Exile and Back, which has turned out to be much more research-intensive than I first thought. I planned out a series of articles for Suite 101, and wrote the first one, which I hope to proof and publish tonight. I set up statistical spreadsheets for 2011. All in all, it was a profitable weekend for my writing career.

Now, back to consideration of e-self-publishing (I think I'll abbreviate that as eSP from here on out). As I read Joe Konrath's blog, and other testimonies and advice I find from following links I find on it, it seems I can't go wrong by choosing to eSP. It will take some time (as in man-hours), but probably less than following the traditional publishing route. Probably? Almost certainly. eSP will burn up less clock than will traditional publishing. You can tell I watched some football this weekend.

All that aside, to make sense to eSP I've got to have some completed work to eSP. It seems the people who are making the most success at this have multiple titles out there in the e-book world. The examples on Konrath's blog are all novelists, so I'd naturally be thinking novels. The only one I have available is Doctor Luke's Assistant, which is a good candidate. Unfortunately In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People is a long way from being finished, and my other novels are dreams and outlines at this point.

But in terms of non-fiction, I've got a couple of things close to being ready. Documenting America, which I first planned as a self-syndicated newspaper column, could easily be adapted to e-book format, probably 30,000 to 45,000 words. In fact, it might be better as an e-book. Some of the columns I wrote were squeezed into newspaper word limits, and I felt they were choppy. The ability to marginally lengthen those would be a good thing. If I dropped other writing projects, I could have one of those volumes ready to go in a month, including proof-reading. I think I could then produce one of those every three months or so, giving me multiple volumes within a year.

I also have a couple of Bible studies reasonably far along. Life on a Yo Yo, The Dynamic Duo, and Sacred Moments are candidates. Each of them could be fleshed out into a small book, say 20,000 to 30,000 words each, in a month or a little more. Is there a market for such as these? Only one way to find out. Related to Bible studies is my small group study guide to C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, which I have tentatively titled, Screwtape's Good Advice. That one is fully planned, but only about 10 percent written. That would take a couple of months, or maybe three, to do a decent job on.

From what I've been able to gather from my study, poetry is difficult to eSP. Because the Kindle platform allows readers to increase or decrease text size, the fixed line breaks of poetry can easily be messed up. It's not impossible, but poetry will probably have to wait for the next round of e-book reader technology. So Father Daughter Day, fully finished and as polished as I know how to make it, is not a candidate right now. Of course, it's still not illustrated either.

So the answer to "Do I have anything ready to eSP?" is yes, but not a whole lot. Time to get busy writing, to put dreaming aside, to buckle down and find out what I can produce when under a deadline, even if self-imposed.

I'm edging closer, closer....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review - One Writer's Beginning by Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty is one writer I don't remember reading. Possibly in an English class somewhere we were assigned one of her stories and I read it. I know I haven't read any of her novels. Yet, when I saw the small paperback One Writer's Beginning at a thrift store for 50 cents, I bought it. I was pretty sure I would gain something from it.

The book was assembled from lectures Welty gave at Harvard University in 1983. She was from Jackson, Mississippi, to parents who moved there from Ohio and West Virginia when they were married in 1904. Welty was born the next year, to be joined by two brothers over the next five years. In the first part of the book, titled "Listening", Welty tells how her earliest childhood years, and how they fed her imagination. She doesn't talk about writing at all.

In the next section, "Learning To See", she tells of family vacations back to Ohio and West Virginia, and spending time with the extended family. Train trips and road trips are part of this section. A road trip in 1917 was quite an adventure. Each set of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins had an impact on Eudora. From abundant story telling on her mom's side to an absolute ignoring of the past for sake of looking toward the future on her dad's, she learned to look to the past and the future.

The third section, "Finding A Voice," is where Welty tells how the events of her life became scenes in stories, and neighbors and teachers became characters. Welty even says how she put some of herself into one character.

All in all, the book didn't give a lot of information for writing help. It was not inspirational, or motivational. It didn't really provide hints on the writing craft. it's a straight memoir. If it had anything to help a writer it was: Use the events and people in your life to populate your stories. That's not exactly an earth-shattering revelation. Despite the lack of immediate benefit, I'm going to keep the book, and possibly re-read it in a few years.

The previous owner of this book made a note here and there. Inside the back was written, "Purchased at University of Arkansas Fayetteville, Ark June 1987". Most of the marginalia was a single word, such as "genealogy," "scenes," "library," "Latin". Many words or phrases are underlined. But, what caught my eye was the single word written on the introductory page: "Interesting". Ah ha, Dr. Farina, former high school English classmate. I'm not the only one who find that an acceptable word to characterize reaction to a composition.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Editorial Silence

In the seven (almost eight, actually) years I've been trying to be published, I think my biggest gripe against the publishing industry is what I call editorial silence. Let me think, though, if you include submittals to literary magazines I've actually been submitting for about ten years. There's always a time lag between submittal and answer. Magazines, agents, and book acquisitions editors almost all state what their response time is: 6 weeks, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, whatever. It's a little different if you meet an agent or editor at a conference and they ask you to submit something. That's a little less formal, though I suspect their posted response times could be considered to apply.

From my perspective, I don't mind the slow response. What I mind is non-response, or responses so long after the stated response time that it might as well be a non-response. That's the way this business works. A non-response most likely means a no. Most editors say to send them a reminder e-mail once you're a little past their stated response time. When you do you'll get a no.

Some examples. I met with an agent at a conference in Kansas City in November 2007. He asked me to send him the complete manuscript of Doctor Luke's Assistant, as he was planning to represent more fiction in the coming years. I did so about a week later, and heard nothing. The following April I learned this same agent was going to be at a conference I was hoping to attend the next month in North Carolina. I thought we could meet then to discuss my manuscript, if warranted, so I e-mailed him, now five months after he requested the material, and asked for a status report. He said he couldn't find my mss and would I send it again. I did, and talked to him briefly at the next conference. He said, "Your writing is strong, but I don't know if I can sell it. I'm still reading it. Send me a reminder e-mail every week until I respond."

That sounded strange, but I did as he asked. About two weeks later he passed on my book. Looking back, I now suspect he hadn't even looked at the book when I saw him the second time, and he was just giving me "agent-speak".

Another example. At that same North Carolina conference in May 2008, I met with another agent and pitched In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. She asked me to send her a partial (30 or so pages) and a proposal. I did so promptly, and heard nothing for four months. I sent a reminder e-mail, and heard nothing for two months. I sent another reminder e-mail, and she responded, passing on my book because she already represented something similar.

How strange that these two agents, who I met with and who requested me to send them some material, should totally fail to respond. Add to that about thirty magazine submittals where I've either never heard back or heard back up to a year after submittal, and I've concluded that the submittal process is broken across the board. Some writers call it the "query-go-round". Others have a less complimentary term for it.

It's enough to drive an unpublished author to self-publishing. For now, I guess I'll go do something that will make me some money.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reality in Big Doses

Yesterday I closed my post by saying today I would discuss why I'm waiting to e-self-publish my work. The main things I was going to say were:

- Time needed to learn how to self-publish

- Probable upgrade of a computer in order to support the software needed to self-publish

- Cost to self-publish.

But now I have one to add, provided to me by a writer I corresponded with. In an e-mail she said, "Your best bet is to get a traditional contract before you self publish." She's a NY Time bestselling author, so should know a thing or two. She went on to say that the success with e-publishing experienced by Joe Konrath should be considered in knowing he was a multi-published author with a large backlist long before he ever e-self-published; an aggressive marketer/promoter with a fairly large fan base. Yes, he points to successful e-self-published authors who do not have his prior publishing background who have been successful at it.

Still, this author-correspondent in the know seems to think differently. I only know what I read in the blogosphere and elsewhere.

It's all so confusing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Are There Really any Negatives to E-Self-Publishing?

Maybe I'll cut my internal debate a little short, or at least the part of it I post to the blog. I'll think through a few "negatives" often expressed about self-publishing, which can also be applied to the electronic version of it.

Most self-publishers sell only a few copies of the book, to friends and family.
That's true, but not if the book is a good one and not if the author does some promotion. The chance of doing well with a self-published e-book is perhaps more likely than with a paper version, for the e-book is cheaper. More unknown readers are likely to pay $3.00 or less than are likely to pay $15.00 or so.

Self-publishing only makes sense if the author has a platform—a ready made audience.
Guess what? That's what the traditional publishers are saying about traditionally published books, and to get published now if you don't have a platform is, well, very rare.

The self-published author has to be their own marketer and aggressively promote their book(s).
Again guess what? That's what you hear traditional publishers are interested in with their new, untried authors. There's really no difference in the amount of promotion needed between the newly author traditionally published and the self-published author.

Only those who can't get accepted by a traditional publisher self-publish.
Quite a few people have successfully countered this, especially where e-self-publishing is concerned. People with prior publishing background, but who were dissatisfied with that experience, have self-published and done fantastic.

Once you self-publish, the chances of you ever getting a book contract with a traditional publisher drop.
Those who have successfully self-published say, "So what?" Since author earnings are greater per book sold, even at the steep discount that seems to be the norm in e-self-publishing, authors are earning more. And at cheaper prices for e-books they are selling more units than they would have with a traditional publisher. So successful e-self-publishers seem to feel the traditional publisher has nothing to offer them, and so aren't looking for an offer from them.

The quality of the book, both the words written and (in the case of a printed book) the bound product, are less with a self-published book. Thus readers tend to stay away from them.
That is changing, or has already changed. Many print self-publishing companies have improved the bound product. The quality of the words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that make up the book is totally within the hands of the author. You don't have the benefit of the publishers line editors and copy editors. But there are other ways to obtain these services, so the product can be made quite good, as good as something coming from a traditional publisher.

So are there any negatives to self-publishing, especially e-self-publishing? I suppose distribution is one. You are at the mercy of people finding your product on line and ordering on-line, as opposed to seeing it in a physical bookstore. Fewer books are found and ordered on-line than bought in a bookstore. That is changing, however. E-shopping for books and e-books is about the only segment of the book industry that's growing. Growth hasn't slowed, and doesn't look to. Right now few people own a device for reading electronic books, but that is changing. Projected sales of the Kindle and similar platforms suggest incredible growth in e-book sales over the next 6 to 12 months, based on the number of e-book readers alone.

So why am I waiting? I'll discuss that tomorrow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Evaluating My Enthusiasm for e-Book Self-Publishing

Back to my internal debate about whether to self-publish my writing, primarily with e-books, rather than continue the quest for a traditional, royalty paying, print-based publisher via an agent.

Okay, I admit it, when I first came upon the new data about e-books last week I got excited. Really excited. Me, who has eschewed the very idea of self-publishing. The sales numbers reported by those who have released a number of books this way are very exciting for an author.

Then, in the comments to an older post on Joe Konrath's blog, I read this:

If you're thinking you have a chance to break through, or start a indie career, or even be able to call yourself a published writer after uploading your manuscript to the kindle, they you're delusional. The opportunity to break into traditional publishing through the kindle has passed. Youre indie career will be limited to moving a few thousand copies of your manuscript at the most.

Well, nothing like throwing cold water on a hot dream. This is just one person's opinion, of course, but the study I'm doing has to be realistic, not just take the successes of others while ignoring the true status of the market. But wait, he said a writer who now decides to e-self-publish "will be limited to moving a few thousand copies of your manuscript at the most."

A few thousand copies? Why, to be able to claim your print novel is a best seller requires sales of only 5,000 copies; 7,500 copies for non-fiction. A few thousand copies? Most self-published books through POD publishers such as LuLu, Publish America, Tate, and others sell less than a hundred copies. So, if the prospect is to sell a only few thousand e-copies, well, that sounds pretty good. Maybe I should keep my growing enthusiasm. Heck, that would be a few thousand copies e-sold, whereas no matter how good my work is the chances of being traditionally published are still next to nil.

But of course, I'm a nobody to the readers of the world, or more specifically, to the e-book buyers of the world. There's still the issue of writing something so good that people will want to pay $3 to $5 dollars for it in Kindle format. There's the issue of publicising your work, developing some kind of buzz so that it gets noticed.

At a minimum this means having a good cover (of the quality of a traditional publisher release), because buyers still make buying decisions based on the book cover. Then, once the cover draws them in, you need a great marketing paragraph to hook them. Then, once they download the first chapter as a free sample, that chapter better be so good they say, "I think I'll spend $2.99 on this one."

The post today on Konrath's blog is about how most of those having success with e-self-publishing were in my exact situation, with no prior publishing history and no name recognition. They are having success despite that, so maybe I could too. I still need to curb my enthusiasm for e-self-publishing, at least until I finish the study (still need to know if I'm tech savvy enough to do the uploads, and there's still the issue of the cover). But all signs seem to be pointing me in that direction.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Movie Review: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Today after church, Lynda suggested we drive past the Carmike 6 Cinema that we pass and see what time The Voyage of the Dawn Treader would be playing. Unfortunately, we were already past the drive to the shopping center when she suggested it. So I turned around in the Dairy Queen parking lot up the road, went back, and we learned it was to start at 12:15 PM. It was 12:20, which meant all we had missed was dancing hot dogs or previews of movies we will never watch. I paid for two senior tickets at matinee prices, and we arrived in the theatre before all the previews were done, but not too much before.

The Dawn Treader was good, much better than Prince Caspian (which we saw on TV only). We missed The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe both at the cinema and on TV. Of all the Narnia books, which I never read until adulthood, I liked The Dawn Treader best. It had the best imagery of them all, and seemed to have the least fill in stuff. The wall of water at the end of the book has often crossed my mind, as has the city of people underwater. I had forgotten all about poor Eustace Scrubbs—not the name, but his becoming a dragon. After seeing the movie, the cleansing of his dragon nature by Aslan came immediately to mind.

But back to the movie. Obviously it was not totally faithful to the book, but it did a good job of putting into pictures what C.S. Lewis must have been trying to paint with words. The details of the ship, and of ship life, and of sailing on open seas were quite good. The different islands they went to and the quest to find the seven missing lords. The island with the gold dump was quite well depicted. Oh, and the mansion that Lucy goes into and finding the book of spells to read from, that was great.

But I do have a little fault to find. It's been about ten years since I read VotDT, and obviously I don't remember it all that well (except the great imagery). But one difference in the message of the book doesn't seem to come through. Or rather, one message I get from the movie I don't remember in the book. And I may be reading too much into it. Narnia is overcome by evil, or at least the island realm of Narnia is. To break evil's hold, they must find the seven swords of the seven lost lords and lay them on Aslan's table. Only then will the spell of evil be broken.

To find the swords, they must go where the lords went, to this island and that one, and overcome evil along the way. Part of the journey of the three children of Adam and Eve is overcoming their own obsessions: beauty for Lucy, power for Edmund, and I guess greed (or maybe self-indulgence) for Eustace. This they do, and they fight evil, but none of that overcomes the evil. The evil is overcome by the magic of the swords, once they touch each other on the table. It seems to me that is the wrong message to send. Evil is not overcome by magic, but by the constant application of good.

As I say, maybe I'm trying too hard to figure out a message from the movie, rather than be entertained. The three children are faithful to the task laid before them, and only through their faithfulness can the magic be applied. Eustace goes through the biggest character arc, from a sniveling twit worthy of his name to a boy one might want to know and be with. The removal of his dragon nature in the movie was much less dramatic than in the book, and seems much less of a metaphor for Christian conversion. I seem to remember that the book included Aslan ripping at the dragon flesh with his claws, and the cleansing thereby was much more significant in the book than in the movie.

This review is late relative to the movie's appearance in theatres. At many places it's already been removed and replaced by various banal comedies that appear designed to entertain our sexual nature rather than our intellect. But, if you haven't seen it, and can find it, by all means go see it. Then read the book soon after. I may do so this week.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Time Factor in Traditional vs E-Self-Publishing

Forget about whether you will be accepted by a traditional, royalty paying publisher. For the sake of argument, assume you will. It will take a lot of work, maybe conference attendance, networking, querying, submitting, seeking an agent, etc. But assume someday it will happen.

The day you are accepted by an agent for representation, with a completed manuscript, it will likely take at least six months before you have a contract in hand from a publisher. At that point the clock is ticking for publication. Deadlines are set. If you don't shoot yourself in the foot, your book will be published—in 24 months.

Yes, that's right. Two years is the approximate time from manuscript acceptance to the completed book hitting the bookstores. That's the time for cover design, jacket design, jacket text generation, copy editing, line editing, sales meeting, pub house strategizing for marketing they won't actually do, printing, warehousing, distribution. So today, if an agent told me, "I'd like to represent you" (which isn't going to happen, since I don't have any queries out with agents at the moment), My book would be in bookstores around July 2013.

But, if I took the plunge and decided to e-self-publish, my novel Doctor Luke's Assistant could be available to readers somewhere around March 1. Now I'd have to move pretty quickly to make that happen. I'd need to find a cover artist and pay some money. I'd have to write dust jacket text, and catalogue text. I'd have to figure out how to format a .doc file for Kindle and other e-reader platforms. But all I'm reading suggest this is not rocket science, and that it's all do-able in the stated time frame.

That, in and of itself, is a good reason to go the e-self-pub route. When you add in the infinitesimal chance of being accepted by a print publisher, it seems like a no brainer to choose e-self-pub. You might say how small the sales would likely be for the e-book. Agreed; most likely the sales will be small. But they'd still be more than they would be never being in print at all with a traditional publisher.

More internal debate coming...stay tuned.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Self-publishing Study: Defining the Task

As I reported in my last blog post, I'm embarking on a study of self-publishing, to see if that is an acceptable and attractive alternative to traditional publishing (i.e. with a print based, royalty publisher). The last couple of days I've been trying to define the problem. It is complicated in that now, as compared to say ten years ago, self-publishing has become more complicated. Now there is e-book self-publishing in addition to print.

Print self-publishing hasn't changed all that much. You plunk down a chunk of money, give the e-publisher your manuscript, and they make a book out of it. You buy some number of books required by the publisher, and you sell you books yourself with no help from the publisher.

Changes have happened in print self-publishing. Print-on-demand machines have brought down the up-front costs, as well as reduced the amount of inventory the writer needs to carry. Of course, the cost for this is the higher cost per book printed. It used to be that self-published books were of dubious quality, both the writing and the printing. Paper quality was low; binding quality was low; cover art quality was low.

The publisher did nothing in terms of line editing and copy editing. So if the writer couldn't do that, or didn't pay a freelance editor to do that, the quality of the finished writing was poor. And, let’s face it. The gatekeepers in the publishing industry (acquisitions editors and agents), filtered out most of the poor material, the writing that was just plain bad. Lots of these manuscripts became self-published books. That part of the print self-publishing industry doesn't seem to have changed.

Now comes e-book self-publishing. E-books have been around for a few years, and sales have been soaring while sales of hardback books and paperbacks are pretty flat. Recent changes in pricing structure and royalty share from Amazon and some other sellers, as well as improved platforms to allow authors easier production, have made this much more attractive route to self-publishing. Cheaper too.

But this has spawned a whole new language, it seems. And a whole new list of things to learn. I've been reading back posts on Joe Konrath's blog, and following links from there to other e-self-published writers or related services. Looks as if I'll have to learn what Smashwords is and how it related to e-self-published. And PubIt. And learn how to work with the Kindle and Nook formats. And the iPad.

This research is going to be harder than I thought. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Strategic Thinking for 2011

In previous posts on this blog, I've written about my journey into the writing life. The idea for Doctor Luke's Assistant came to me. I wrote the novel, began looking into how to get it published, and learned publishers don't want to publish someones book—they want to publish career writers. That was in 2003, and that was okay, for as I wrote the first novel, ideas for many other novels began to occupy gray cells.

Then I learned that the desire to be a career writer was not enough. You needed a platform (i.e. a ready made audience) or almost no publisher would touch you. So I switched to freelancing for platform building. That was in 2009, and was okay, since I enjoyed that type of writing and have seen a little success with it. I also worked on Bible studies, and enjoyed writing them.

During this time, my primary writing goal was to have a book, preferably a novel, published by a royalty paying publisher, the type of publisher who pays an advance against royalties. This, to me, was a sign that my writing was good. An alternate route was always open: self-publishing. I have resisted that for a number of reasons. First, it can be expensive, both to pay the set-up fees and to purchase a quantity of books that may or may not sell. Second, self-publishing carries a stigma, a statement that this writer is not good enough to make it with a real writer so he publishes himself with a vanity press. Third, the conventional wisdom is that no royalty publisher will ever touch someone who first self-publishes. Fourth, the quality of self-published books is often very poor. So why would I want to self-publish?

However, several things are changing in the self-publishers. Availability of print on demand (POD) type printing machines have brought down the cost of set-up (although often with the requirement that books cost more). The quality of many self-published books (cover art, paper quality, binding) has greatly improved. There are still lots of lousy self-published books added to the market due to bad writing, but good ones can rise above the chaff.

The big change, however, is the emergence of the e-book as an alternative means of distributing books to readers. This takes care of much of the cost. The writer gets a bigger share of the price paid; there's no inventory; cover art can be just as good as with printed books. There are lots of e-book mediums, from the Sony Reader to Amazon Kindle to B&N Nook, and even more. And, perhaps most importantly, many writers seem to be having success with it. Joe Konrath reports on his blog about these successes.

So maybe I need to rethink my previous decision. I'm going to take at least two months, maybe longer, to consider what to do. I've had these sorts of inspirations before, and don't want to make a quick decision. Don't mind me if I discuss this out loud on the blog.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year, Old Goals Revised

We arrived home about 8 PM last night, after 10 days and 9 nights on the road. How nice to have time last night in my own reading chair, and at my familiar work station in The Dungeon. How nice to sit up till 1:30 AM reading. Today is the day our company decided to have for New Year holiday, so I'm home. My wife and mother-in-law are still in bed as I begin to write this, though both have stirred at times in the last four hours.

I was up at 8:30 AM, tired of the prone position, and ready to drink some coffee and read. So I've been doing that. My mind thought to the new year. I'm not one to make resolutions, though goal setting is always possible. I thought about my writing career, and what I would like to accomplish. So I wrote some goals, quickly, without giving a lot of thought to exactly how achievable these are. I used to post monthly goals on this blog, but gave that up early last year. I will, however, post the goals I wrote on the last page of my current journal notebook.

  • Finish In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. Currently at 15,000 on its way to 85,000 words, it's well along but far from done. I will consider finished to mean having the book completely written and having gone through one round of edits.
  • Finish A Harmony of the Gospels. The harmony is done, and I'm working on passage notes and appendixes. This goal is definitely achievable.
  • Write 100 articles for This might be a stretch. I have 116 written and three started. This is a good goal, one I should try very hard to meet.
  • Continue writing for, with a goal of earning at least $2000 from articles there.
  • Finish the Bible study I'm currently researching, To Exile and Back. This has turned out to be more involved than I originally expected. In a vacuum it would be easily achievable, but with other writing to do I'm not sure.
  • Plan, research, and write a small group study Essential John Wesley. This has been on my mind for some time. I've been mulling over what I would consider to be essential of his writings, and may even have a few notes somewhere.
  • Work on my small group study book Screwtape's Good Advice. I began this three years ago because I had a publisher in mind for it, and prepared a detailed outline and four sample chapters before meeting with that publisher at a conference. When, after a considerable delay, the publisher said he wasn't interested, I let it lapse. But it's a good idea (if I say so myself), and so would like to follow-through with some more of the chapters.
  • Develop the Bible study Good King, Bad King. I began this a year or two ago, doing two lessons in it, but then didn't find time to work on it further. I'd like to at least know the length of the lesson series, have an outline of the lessons, and know the research needed prior to writing. The actual writing, if the planning proves there's really something worth doing here, is most likely a 2012 project.
  • Blog at least 120 times. Only 119 to go.
So there they are: 2011 writing goals, with some justification added and some thoughts on how achievable they are. I may check in from time to time on what I'm doing on them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year Wishes

We are still in Oklahoma City, at our daughter's and son-in-law's, and it looks like we will be here through tomorrow at least. I'm anxious to get home, and I think we are suffering from the discomfort of an uncomfortable bed, a crowded house, and the rigors of intense potty training boot camp of a 2 1/2 year old. But all in our travelling party don't see it that way, so I guess we'll stay. I don't want to force the issue.

Of course, since our kids aren't financially able to have cable TV on the salary of an inner-city pastor, and since only one of the New Year bowl games is on broadcast TV, we will miss all the bowl games today. There's no place to read in the house that is not subject to the noises of everyone else, so it's not really possible to read or write. After lunch I may just put on my two jackets and go for a long walk. Of course, it's about 30 degrees here, so maybe that won't be possible.

Happy New Year everyone. At least the economy is looking better right now. We were given back some of the salary cuts we lost in 2009, so I'll start out 2011 at a higher salary. And I made payout at last month, barely, but at least I made it. A little bit of silver lining.