Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wall Street Journal Gets the Story Half Right

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal online edition Sunday titled "Authors Feel Pinch in Age of Ebooks," regarding the difficulties being faced by authors of so-called "literary" novels in the rapidly-changing environment of bookselling and publishing early in the 21st century.

If you're not versed in the difference between "literary" novels and "genre" novels, this is how I view it: Authors of "literary" works win the snooty literary awards; they get recommended by Oprah for her book club; they write stories where nothing much really happens.

Authors of "genre" fiction win awards, too, they're just not the snooty ones. Their awards have mostly been developed by purveyors of the different genres (horror, mystery, thriller, romance, etc) to recognize the outstanding authors and works that might otherwise be overlooked. Those authors don't often end up on Oprah's couch, but they do write stories where lots of stuff happens.

Anyway, as a writer of genre fiction I am naturally predisposed toward it. And any media attention toward authors and the changing publishing landscape is a good thing. But a few things in the WSJ article rubbed me the wrong way. Here are a few examples:

- WSJ: "It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses."

- My response: You should remove "literary" from the above sentence. It has always been tough for all fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. It's the law of averages. Lots of people write manuscripts; relatively few of them can be published. It's like trying to make the major leagues - lots of people play baseball, very few of them at the big league level.

- WSJ: "...publishers who have nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances."

- My response: Again, why limit the point to literary fiction? If you remove the "literary" from the quote, it is just as applicable. Smaller advances and fewer book deals for all but the blockbuster authors are the norm as publishers try to figure out how the hell they're going to survive.

- WSJ: "...fewer literary authors will be able to support themselvs as e-books win acceptance, publishers and agents say."

- My response: I have a couple. First of all, remove the "literary" again from the above quote. If it's true for literary authors, it's true for all authors.

Second, of course publishers and agents would say that. Those savvy to the new technology might disagree. Ask JA Konrath, who has trumpeted to the world the success he has achieved marketing his work on e-book platforms, making more money faster in this new reality than he ever did as a member of Big Publishing. Of course, JA Konrath probably qualifies as the ultimate "genre" writer, making him one of those unwashed masses of authors the WSJ seems intent on ignoring.

- WSJ: "The new economics of the e-book make the author's quandary painfully clear: A new $28 hardcover book returns...15%, or $2.40, to the author. Under many e-book deals currently, a digital book sells for $12.99, returning...typically 25% of that, or $2.27, to the author."

- My response: Again, I have a couple. First, someone in editing at the WSJ forgot to add "literary" into the above statement, and for that I applaud them, even if it was by accident. The quandary for the "literary" author is the same as the quandary for the "genre" author.

Second, the above statement is true as far as it goes. But the real question is this: How many books will you sell at the $28 price and how many will you sell at the $12.99 price? It is entirely possible that the author will benefit more from 25% royalties on a $12.99 book than from 15% royalties on a $28 book. It depends how many more sales you will make at the lower price. JA Konrath would argue, and I would agree, that the author would benefit the most from an even lower price, inflating sales far beyond what they would otherwise be, as readers take a chance on a book for which they have to spend just a few dollars.

Third, the advantages of signing with a "Big" publisher, especially if only e-books are involved, might be negligible at a 25% royalty rate. Many, if not most, smaller, independent publishers offer a far higher royalty rate on e-books than 25%. Most are at least 40% and many are even higher. Konrath's deal with the brand-new Amazon Encore nets him a royalty estimated far north of 50%, although he is prevented contractually from specifying the exact number.

- WSJ: "...many editors are no longer committing to new writers with the expectation that their story-telling skills will evolve with the second, third, and fourth books. In the past, many literary authors were able to build careers because of such patience..."

- My response: Ah, why bother. I'm sure you get it by now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Coming Soon to a Reviewer Near You

I found out yesterday that the ARCs for FINAL VECTOR will be going out in October to review sites and to those authors who have very graciously agreed to read the book and possibly provide a blurb if they like it. The book is in the final stages of layout and formatting, which Medallion says will be completed by the end of September, so I'm assuming the ARCs will be on their way to their destinations earlier in October rather than later, but that's just a guess on my part.

I have to confess to feeling equal parts nervousness and excitement. I'm thrilled - no pun intended - that the process is moving along; that the rubber is finally beginning to meet the road. After all this time, we're arriving at the point in the process where I will soon begin to get some feedback on the product I have worked so hard to create.

I know I'm supposed to react to the news of my ARCs going out with practiced indifference - the late, great Walter Payton used to say, "Act like you've been there before," after scoring a touchdown - but the fact of the matter is I haven't been there before. This is all new to me. And unbelievably exciting.

Undoubtedly guys like Barry Eisler and Tom Piccirilli find out the ARCs for their latest book are almost ready to go out and say, "Yeah, okay, great. I wonder who's gonna get kicked off Dancing With the Stars tonight?"* while unsuccessfully stifling a yawn and putting the finishing touches on their latest bestseller. For me, though, it's Happy Dance time. And I can't dance.

There is, in the back of my mind though, a small but growing ball of nervous tension. What if nobody likes the thing? What if the reviews start to come in and they're, you know, universally, historically, cosmically bad? I understand not all my reviews are going to be great. After all, everyone has different tastes and even the most successful authors receive the occasional poor review.

But what if they all suck? What if they're really, really bad? William Hung bad? What if I become the laughingstock of the literary equivalent of Youtube which, I suppose, would be - what? Publishers Weekly?

I know that's not going to happen. FINAL VECTOR is quality work and I'm extremely proud of it. I'm just a little nervous; that's all. And excited. Did I mention the ARCs are going out soon?

Man, this process is excruciating.

* Official disclaimer: I have no idea whether Barry Eisler or Tom Piccirilli watches Dancing With the Stars. Not that I'm passing judgment if they do. I still love their work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scratch This Itch

I just finished a short story yesterday, a noir piece I wrote in two sittings called "The Ticket." This story was inspired by one of my co-workers winning half a million bucks a couple of weeks ago on - get this - a scratch ticket.

Now I will be the first to admit I'm not much of a gambler - in fact I have a funny story about something that happened to me when we vacationed in Vegas a few years ago that I might tell you if you buy me a couple of drinks - but I had no idea it was actually possible to win that much money on a single scratch ticket. My daughter won seventy-five dollars on a one-dollar ticket last winter and I was amazed at that, but five hundred grand? Wow.

Anyway, after my co-worker won that big prize (Congratulations Bill, don't forget the little people when you go Hollywood) it got me thinking - which is almost never a good thing - suppose the guy who won a big, fat, completely unexpected jackpot on a lottery ticket wasn't a middle-class family man with a steady, mostly respectable job?

What if the guy was a leg-breaker named Beck, working for a low-rent loan shark, wracked with guilt at doing the only job he's suited for, the only job he's good at, who comes into all this money and looks at it as his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape the crew he is working for and make a brand-new start at a respectable life?

Sounds good, right? How can you not root for this guy? Who hasn't looked at his own life and thought how much better it would be if he just came into [insert completely unreasonable amount of money here] dollars?

There's only one problem. Beck's boss, Fat Tony Fillichia, knows about Beck's million-dollar score (For the purposes of my story, I thought a million bucks sounded better than five hundred grand. Sorry about one-upping you, Bill) and he wants his share of it, which Beck is not about to give up. It was his ticket, after all.

Anyway, that's the premise of "The Ticket." I'm not about to let you in on how it ends, to do that you'll have to read the thing for yourself, and to do that, I'll have to get someone to run it in their magazine, and to do that, I have to get back to work and start the submissions process.

Hopefully someone will see this story as worth publishing, because I'm really happy with how it turned out. If and when that happens, I'll be sure to let you know where you can find it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering September 11

September 11 is one of those watershed days in American history, an event that is so universally remembered and understood it has no need for further explanation or introduction when the subject comes up. It's not September 11, 2001, it's simply September 11. Appending the year to the date is completely unnecessary. It's like saying Pearl Harbor, Hawaii or the Watergate Hotel, where Nixon's presidency fell apart. These things are just understood.

So, like most Americans old enough to recall the horror if September 11 with any amount of clarity, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when American flight 11 struck the north tower at roughly quarter to nine on a beautiful, clear morning, and then when United flight 175 struck the south tower about fifteen minutes later.

I was working the Plymouth Sector at Boston Approach Control, the radar facility serving Logan International Airport, where both of the ill-fated jets departed. One of my best friends and my carpool partner was working the Initial Departure Sector and was one of the last people ever to speak to the pilots of both airplanes on an air traffic control frequency.

I remember the entire seqence of events vividly, as if it happend only yesterday, rather than nearly ten years ago. The morning was bright and clear and when the supervisor ran into the control room and announced an airplane had hit one of the WTC towers, my first thought was, Bullshit. Impossible. There is no way an airplane could have hit that huge building in these weather conditions.

My initial assumption was that someone must have detonated a bomb in the building. It even never crossed my mind that anyone would intentionally fly an airplane filled with passengers and crew into the side of a skyscraper. That seems oddly naive now, knowing what we learned about the nature of terrorism on that awful day nearly ten years ago, but it's the truth.

I kept working. At just after nine o'clock, the same supervisor came back into the control room and announced a second airplane had hit the south tower. And that was when I knew. That was when everybody knew. We were under attack from a faceless enemy with an (at the time) unknown motive. My first thought then was, Oh-oh. It's terrorism and if two planes have been taken over, how many more are out there, waiting to be flown into buildings?

We didn't have to wait long for our answer.

Soon the order came to clear the skies, an unprecedented and technically challenging task that was completed in an impressively short amount of time. The volume of traffic at Boston wasn't a whole lot busier than it would normally have been while everyone was being diverted to the closest available airport; we would have been pretty busy anyway. The only real difference that I could see was in all of the foreign call signs of the overseas flights headed to JFK that now had to land at Boston.

Before long the airspace above Boston, and everywhere else for that matter, was empty, filled only with emergency flights, law enforcement flights, and the military fighter jets dispatched to patrol over all high density areas. It was unsettling and disturbing. You could almost picture tumbleweeds blowing down a dusty road.

I worked a midnight shift that night and it was more of the same. I sat in front of an empty radar scope and watched the targets of the two fighter jets circle in wide, irregular patterns over an area from roughly Providence, Rhode Island to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. If the pilots felt the need to descend into my airspace (14,000 feet and below in roughly a thirty mile arc around Boston) to check something out, they did it, without asking and without a radar handoff. Without even talking to me.

If you know anything about ATC procedures, you know that is simply not done. But it was done on September 11 and for about two days afterward. Why not? There was nobody else in the sky.

After a couple of days, traffic began getting released ever so slowly, a trickle at first, beginning the long process of getting passengers, flight crews, and airplanes back where they belonged. Things started to get back to normal, aviation-wise.

But they never really got back to normal, at least not to what was considered normal before 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001.

They never will.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Revenge is Sweet - and Deadly

Ever been in a situation where someone hurt you so badly you just had to get even, just had to make a statement, and the more emphatic the better? Of course you have.

But what happens if the person you need to get even with isn't someone you know? What happens if that person is completely anonymous and the only way you can find him is to search, night after night, in the only places you can imagine he might be?

And what happens if, against all odds, you finally find the person who hurt you, and after years of planning, are able to extract the revenge you've dreamed about for so long?

That's good, right? But what if the revenge you have planned is so . . . twisted, so . . . depraved that it goes far beyond all boundaries of justice and decency? What then?

That's the premise of "Dance Hall Drug," my short story featured in the Autumn 2010 issue of Dark Valentine, the classy new dark fiction ezine that has just gone live with their second issue. I wrote this story a while ago and had serious doubts about it ever getting published due to the disturbing nature of the tale, but kudos to the publisher/editors of Dark Valentine for their willingness to run with it.

Here's a snippet:

Halfway through her second drink - another club soda, of course - Carrie caught a glimpse of a young man who made her skin crawl and her stomach clench in instinctive fear, and immediately she knew. The terrifying visceral reaction made it clear. This might be the guy. Tall, close-cropped brown hair, snappy dresser. Good with the ladies. Great dancer. She felt a jolt of panicky electricity surge through her body as she jostled her way through the shifting crowd for a closer look. She couldn't take her eyes off him.

Her drink sloshed over the sides of the glass; she didn't care. Men and women glared at her as she elbowed her way past, and she didn't care about that, either. She had to get a better look at the tall guy with the close-cropped brown hair, because if it was who she thought it was-

Carrie's breath caught in her throat. Her eyes widened. Her stomach tried to evacuate its contents but she choked down the nausea, swallowing hard.

It was the guy.

This is one cool magazine and I'm thrilled to have found such a good home for "Dance Hall Drug." One of their classy touches is that each story is accompanied by outstanding original artwork. In the case of "Dance Hall Drug," the artwork was contributed by an artist from the UK named Mark Satchwill, whose work has been exhibited in London and Dartmouth, England. I couldn't be happier with the results of his work, as I believe it captures perfectly the dark and disturbing elements of the story.

And of course, mine isn't the only story in the Autumn issue of Dark Valentine, a magazine which bills itself as "fiction on the bleeding edge of a black and bleeding heart." In total, there are 23 creepy tales to check out, with all but two of them featuring original accompanying artwork.

The best part? This 149 page magazine won't cost you twenty bucks, or even ten bucks, or even a single lonely dollar bill. It's free. That's right, free, as in it won't cost you a thin dime. A red cent. Nothing. It's available as a PDF download, meaning you can read it on your computer, load it onto your Kindle, whatever.

If you'd like to check it out, here's the link to the download. Did I mention it's free?

And if you do check out "Dance Hall Drug," don't worry. I'm really not as disturbed as you're going to think I am.


Friday, September 3, 2010

And the Winner Is...

My first-ever contest has come to a conclusion and I would like to congratulate winner Chris Haviland, who will receive, whether he wants to or not, one free copy of every book I ever publish, from now until the end of time. Or until I keel over, whichever comes first. As I said in the email I sent Chris, this may or may not be something to celebrate, depending upon my ability as a writer, but he's stuck with me now.

All he had to do to become eligible to win was go to my website, www.allanleverone.com, and sign up for my twice-yearly (or four-times yearly, depending upon activity) email newsletter. That was it. Simple.

But although the contest is over and the winner has been selected, it's not too late to get in on the action for next time. I have more things planned for the coming months and years, all involving free stuff, and all of it will be going to those readers with the foresight to sign up for my newsletter.

Some of the things I'm planning include a free digital copy of FINAL VECTOR when it's released in February, as well as free copies of the various print magazines and anthologies containing my short fiction, not to mention other things still in the planning stages. Don't ask, because I can't tell you about them yet.

And this is mentioned on my website, but it's worth restating here as well: Your name and email address will NEVER be shared with anyone else for ANY reason. It will not be sold, given away, lent, borrowed, or hinted at. Ever. For any reason, as I may have already stated. I have no desire to infringe upon your privacy and Vertical Response, the company handling distribution of the newsletter, does not either. Period.

So don't worry if you entered the contest and didn't win, or if you meant to enter and forgot, or if you had never heard of the damned contest until right now. Go to my website, click on the "Contact" button on the left side of whatever page you happen to be on, and sign up for my newsletter. Do that, and you don't have to worry about entering the next contest; you'll automatically be entered for that one and every following one.

Plus, you will be able to keep up with all the information you ever wanted about new book releases, short story publications, both online and in print mags, and anything else that might come up. Sounds like a win-win to me.