Thursday, November 08, 2007

Another market sadly passes...

I know it's been a while since I've posted here. I've been focused on a couple of projects, as well as posting a lot on my OTHER blog, Pressed for Answers.

But I wanted to address the recent demise of a paying market, Great Mystery and Suspense. An email announcing the end of publication of GM&S magazine was recently sent out by its publisher, Vicki Lipira. I've spoken with Vicki several times about her magazine, and in fact have had two stories published in her quarterly, small-format mag.

Vicki and her husband, Mike, had a dream of a print magazine for mystery and suspense fiction, but with a difference: "wholesome" stories, with no overt sex, no bad language, no unnecessary blood and gore. It's an unusual way of looking at stories which may contain murder, violence, theft, drugs and other things normally considered to be unwholesome. But I understood, as I have tried to establish similar standards for my own online 'zine, Crime and Suspense.

The authors published in the pages of GM&S were a diverse lot: myself, B J Bourg, Barry Baldwin, Patricia Terrell, Simon Wood, Stephen D. Rogers, Tom Purcell, and many others. She also ran non-fiction articles such as an interview with Carol Higgins Clark by Charlotte Adelsperger, and the occasional poem. In short, even though she published many authors whose names may be new or unknown to you, Vicki also published many better-known and very experienced authors. The stories ran the gamut from traditional and PI mysteries to cozies to supernatural/crime crossover stories. You could always find something to enjoy in an issue of Great Mystery and Suspense.

But having a dream doesn't always mean it will come true. Reality intrudes, sometimes all too harshly. Vicki and her husband, Mike, were more than generous when paying authors for their work. Authors were paid $50 for longer pieces, $25 for shorter ones. The zine was 64 pages plus a cover, so that meant 11 or 12 pieces per issue, probably averaging around $475 paid out to authors, per issue.

They were generous to others, too. GM&S ran public-service advertisements for missing children. The last page was always a list of links to other places of interest to crime fiction readers, including competing ezines, publishers, organizations, etc. My ezine was listed there, as was my publishing house, and Vicki never asked us for a dime. She did it out of courtesy and a desire to help fellow authors and publishers.

But there were no paying ads in the magazine that I ever saw, even though her rates were very reasonable. The truth is, I was just about to put in an advertisement when Vicki contacted me about the possibility of the ezine shutting down in the near future. But "just about to" from one advertiser is not going to save the boat from sinking.

The proliferation of "free" content on so many online sites has made it difficult for those who charge a fee to make a go of it. We have become so accustomed to so many free things (freeware, free information, free sites, free this and that) that we often balk at paying, even when the price is reasonable and the product is desirable. "I can get that same sort of thing for free at [you fill in the blank here.]" I think it's an American thing that is growing, perhaps, along with the idea of super-sizing everything for a few pennies more.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was signing books at the Fall Festival in Calhoun, Georgia, and a couple of ladies came up to my table to look at my books. They looked at the front covers, read the back cover, flipped through the books and seemed on the verge of buying. One of them asked me "How much are your books?" The books they were looking at were $8.95 each, perfect-bound books, and I told them the price.

One of the women looked scandalized and put the book down with a decided thud. "I can get a big, thick book for that much!" she said. (My books were about 200 pages and 230 pages, respectively.)

I just smiled and bit my tongue, thinking at the same time, "Yes, and you can get a FREE copy of the telephone directory, which is MUCH thicker, but you wouldn't enjoy reading it."

But back to the demise of Great Mystery and Suspense... Those of you who only borrow magazines from others or read them in the library, please consider: that magazine is not going to stay in existence without subscribers or buyers.

I'm not saying that subscribers pay for the production of the magazine. Far from it: a mag like Great Mystery and Suspense costs about $2.25 to print and $1.60 send out, and it was only $25 to subscribe for the four quarterly issues, including postage. When you consider that many large-format magazines are published monthly, in full-color, and only charge $22 per year for subscribers, you might wonder about that. But I have a big listing of magazine markets in front of me, and it tells a lot about each mag. Some are not honest enough to release their advertising percentages, but here are some that do: Field and Stream: 112 pages, 32% advertising; Fate: 128 pages, 15% advertising; Brides: 186 pages, 50% advertising; Playgirl: 96 pages, 30% advertising.

The more advertisers a magazine is able to attract, the more cheaply they can sell their subscriptions. They know that it's not subscribers who pay the bills--it's the ads. But lest I be misunderstood, though subscribers themselves are not the life-or-death of a magazine, circulation IS! For example, Inside Kung Fu (130 pages, 65% advertising!!) has a subscription base that is only 15% of its total circulation of 110,000! The rest are sold through newsstands and bookstores. But it IS circulation--110,000 printed, published copies, placed out there and available for the public to peruse and purchase. That circulation figure is what impresses advertisers, and why Inside Kung Fu is able to sell so much advertising space, even with a small subscription base. They probably don't really care very much how many of their copies in bookstores actually get sold, because as long as they can report that big circulation number, they can sell a lot of ad space, and that's what pays the bills.

A small, relatively-new magazine like GM&S doesn't have as much of a chance of selling ad space. After all, nobody much knows about them. They're an unknown quantity. I believe GM&S was only carried in one or two bookstores, so that part of the circulation figure was depressed, and I'm willing to bet that they had 100 subscribers or less--not because they were not a good magazine (because they WERE) but because (1) people had not heard of them and (2) there are so many sources of "free" crime, suspense and mystery stories on the 'Net, "why pay for them?" It's the same old saw that Mom's used to tell their daughters in the Fifties: "Honey, why would he buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?"

Let's put the numbers together for a moment:
  • Four issues a year
  • Average of $475 per issue for stories, so $1900 a year to authors
  • Printing costs for 200 copies per issue (to fulfill 100 subscribers and have some for one-off sales): minimum of $450 per issue, so that's another $1800 annually
  • Cost of sending out 100 copies (postage and such) $160 per quarter, so that's $640 annually
That adds up to about $4340 per year in expenses. It doesn't include the cost of the website, hosting, etc., which has to happen.
  • Income from subscriptions: $2600
  • Income from advertisers: $0 (that I could see)
  • Net income from another fifty copies of each issue sold as one-offs:$107.50 per quarter, or $430 per year
All that adds up to $3030 annual revenue. We're still in the red by over $1,300 annually, and that doesn't include the website and other operating expenses (phone, electricity, etc.) which would take us even deeper into the hole. Even if we only printed 100 copies to fulfill the subscribers' needs, it would reduce the expenses by $900 a year... but also reduce the income by $430 a year, so that's a net gain of only $470.

Now, don't get the idea that I'm criticizing Vicki and Mike for what they tried to do. They were troopers for sticking it out as long as they did, in my estimation. The truth is, though, as a new venue with very few people who knew about them and a low circulation, it was very hard to convince advertisers to pay for space. And Vicki was so generous with payments to authors from the outset that the little bit of money coming in from magazine sales just bled away.

In retrospect, they might have done better to
  • pay lower fees to authors for the first year
  • try to line up advertisers from day one
  • work on getting their mag into places like coffee shops and bookstores as well as relying on subscriptions, even if they didn't make any money on the retail sales, because it would all count as circulation.
But it's easy to sit to one side and observe like I'm doing here. I don't disagree with their decision to stop publishing. I think they did the best thing they could do, under the circumstances. I think they have a strong grasp of the First Law of Holes: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!

But I'm going to miss Great Mystery and Suspense.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Writing creatively--a job?

This posting will probably annoy a few authors. That's OK. I've never been known for my tact. And don't forget that I'm an author, too.

There have been a few discussions I've seen lately in different venues, both in print and online, that have me scratching my head. While writing of fiction may be an author's livelihood, it is not in any way comparable to a "job."

We (authors) all like to think of writing as a creative endeavor, as artistic as singing or painting or acting... yet when it comes right down to it, we often seem to wish to deny the most universal rule of artistic endeavors: the pay is usually slim, irregular and slow to arrive.

I hear authors who say, "My work is not for free! I don't write anything for anyone unless I get paid. The money must flow TO the writer, not away."


I've never met a musician who was paid for every gig they performed, especially when they were in the early stages of their careers. They play for free, for food, for the beer... in other words, just to get their music out in front of people.

Actors almost invariably start out doing unpaid amateur theatrical work--little theater, community playhouses, etc. Painters usually have to beg for a place to hang their work in the beginning so they have a chance to get noticed and possibly get commissioned to do a work, or sell a piece of their work. The same goes for sculptors, weavers, and other artists. If they're good enough, and lucky enough, and in the right places at the right times--they eventually achieve some measure of success. What is it about writers that makes us think we have a RIGHT to be paid for everything we manage to publish, or to think we have a RIGHT to a regular income?

Sure, we do have to turn a business-like eye on things and count the cost of promotion, of doing business. It only makes sense. The publisher and bookseller must do the same thing, unfortunately, and that is often where the conflict comes into play. But to think that we as writers of stories deserve a regular paycheck of some sort, or have a right to be paid for our work, is ludicrous. Gauguin didn't have a right to be paid for his paintings, nor did Van Gogh. No artist has a right to be paid for his or her work unless it is work done for hire. Michelangelo was paid for his work in the Sistine Chapel because it was done on commission for Pope Julius II, and even then they argued about it.

It is impossible to draw an equivalency comparison between what an author does and what a textile worker does, or a plumber, printer or even a bookstore clerk. These people are working at the behest of and for the convenience of others, producing a product or providing a service for which there is a demand. As writers, we create something which WE feel a need to create. We pour ourselves into it and then try to find someone else who will value it at least as much as we do. Sometimes that doesn't happen. So, we give up or we rewrite it or we start a new story... but the process is repetitive: we still have to find someone else who wants out story and will (we hope!) pay us for it and publish it.

Brutal honesty time here: If you want a regular paycheck for your work, get out of writing unless you want to do work for hire. If you feel you must be a writer, then be a technical writer, copywriter or journalist, and write what someone else tells you to write so you can be paid a regular wage.

But if you want to be an author of creative works, free to write what you wish when you wish, then stop griping about how much money you make and about how much it costs you to make the money you DO make. You chose to be a writer. You chose to abandon sensible ways of making a living such as being a carpenter, firefighter or test pilot.

Understand: I'm not saying that we shouldn't be paid what we are TOLD we will be paid. I'm not saying that a publisher has the right to withhold royalties from an author or ignore contractual obligations. All I'm saying is, when we are in a creative career field, our possibility of income is a very nebulous thing, depending much upon the vagaries of public opinion. A writer is a lot like an inventor, week after week creating new devices he or she thinks will be the Next Big Thing. But if consumers aren't interested, or the inventor can't find a manufacturer, no matter how wonderful an idea may be it won't make any money. Being a writer, like being an inventor, is no way to have a regular paycheck.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Well, the description DOES say occasional...

Life has been full, and something has to take a back-burner position, ergo this delayed posting.

But I recently received such a ... ummm... well... unique? Yeah, that's it. I recently received a rather unique query letter for a story to be published in my ezine, Crime and Suspense. In the interest of aiding all you writers with high hopes of being published, I'm going to put it here, in all its unvarnished glory, with the exception of changing the names/emails to protect the privacy of the poor wight.

Here we go:

Mr. X. Xxxxxxxx word count
Post Office Box XXX
Davenport, XX #####
'Dear Editor,
Please consider my submission for your publication.
Thank you,
Mr. X. Xxxxxxxx'


Now, let me address this on a couple of levels. First of all, there was no submission attached, although it does say that the writer would like me to consider his submission, and there is a space for "word count" although there are no numbers.

Secondly, although arrogance might work for some people, when they have a reason to be arrogant, this didn't. A person who types IN ALL CAPS, and can spell neither "genius" nor "allegorical" properly, has no reasons for arrogance, at least as a writer.

Thirdly, this individual either didn't bother to read the submission guidelines, or thought they didn't apply to him. That is NEVER a way to get on the good side of an editor.

Fourthly, when I rejected his initial query email and pointed out that (1) he hadn't included a submission and (2) he didn't follow the guidelines, he became abusive and wrote back to me with homophobic insults. Now, I'm not gay, and I'm not saying that it's insulting to BE gay, but when someone comes back with expressions like "you are so stupid, gayboy," it's obvious that the writer is attempting, however lamely, to be insulting.

That author is now filtered immediately into my email trash. It's obvious that I have not increased his count of "People I Like" to four.

Lesson to be learned from all this: If you are a writer seeking to be published in some market or venue, read the guidelines and follow them in your submissions. And DON'T TYPE IN ALL CAPS WITH MISSSSPELINGS AND BAD GRAMMAR, or become abusive when the editor rejects your work. The writing/publishing world is a relatively small one, and getting a reputation as a jerk or someone who is hard to work with is a quick way to reduce your chances of being published anywhere.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The "One Drop of Blood Rule" and Publishing

Beginning in pre-colonial times in America and extending into the mid-twentieth century, there existed the One-Drop Rule. (There may in fact still be people who hold it to be true, but the majority of Americans do not think that way any more.)

What is the One-Drop Rule?

Well, if you didn't visit the link above, here's the short and bitter version: A person who had even "one drop" of sub-Saharan or Native American blood mixed in with their "otherwise pure" Western European blood was considered to be of sub-Saharan or Native American ancestry. For example, a person who had one black ancestor 8 generations back, with everyone else in the family being Caucasian, would still have been considered black.

The unfairness of this is not in titling someone "black" or "Indian" when they are a larger proportion white. Many people who have been so-titled are quite proud of that, and that's just fine. The unfairness is in regarding someone of such mixed ancestry to be somehow inferior, no matter what. We know that black people, Arabic people, Semitic people, Native American people, Oriental people and Western European people are all human. They are all equal in the eyes of God, or in the eyes of the Universe if you prefer. Why is this inferiority assumed, whether the person is of completely sub-Saharan ancestry, or is fifteen-sixteenths Caucasian? It's a fallacy, an error and abominable for any intelligent person to think that way.

"OK, Tony... thanks for the ethics and eugenics lecture. Now, what does this have to do with publishing??"

I'm glad you asked.

We who are in the writing and publishing biz all know what a subsidy publisher is. A subsidy publisher, for whatever reason (limited market, niche, specialized book, etc.) does not take the risk for a published book but rather asks the author to foot the bill and only handles the more mundane matters of formatting, editing (sometimes), page layout, cover design (again, sometimes), printing and distribution. Many people will lump vanity presses and subsidy presses together, and that's their choice, but in my mind the vanity press will print ANYTHING by ANYONE (see PublishAmerica's record for a good example), and the subsidy press is more selective. That's a personal differentiation, however, and may not be held by everyone.

Subsidy presses have a valid place in the book business. They serve very well for the following sorts of projects:
  • Specialized training books
  • Textbooks
  • Reference books with a very narrow market
  • Genealogies, family histories and other books where the market is likely to be very small
  • Books intended as gifts
  • Books used as part of a lecture or speaking tour
  • Books meant to be sold exclusively by the author, either directly or by mail/Internet
  • Where the author's main goal is to have the book published to use for some esoteric purpose other than selling through bookstores
My company, Wolfmont Publishing, and its secondary imprint, Honey Locust Press, occasionally do subsidy publishing for selected authors. I'm not ashamed of that. I have turned down many more manuscripts than I have accepted; the manuscript may have been "unsavory" or pornographic, it may have been racist or full of hate, it may have been litigation-inspiring (you'd be amazed what some people think you can get away with printing!!) or it may simply have been so badly written I didn't want to wrangle with the author about all the editing that needed to be done.

As I stated above, I think subsidy publishing has a very valid and legitimate place in the book business. I've published a book of poetry that was intended as a gift for the poet's relatives, in memory of the poet's late son. I've published a book of radio plays (definitely a niche market!), where the author planned to be the primary seller from his website. I've published a book written by a minister that is a history of the translation of the King James Bible, used as a reference and for a course taught at a seminary. Again, this is a pretty narrow market. (Although, it was released less than a month ago and has sold almost 250 copies thus far--he did a signing today and sold over 25 at that signing.)

All of these were situations where the authors would have been hard-pressed to find a traditional, commercial publisher to take on the venture. (I would say it would be impossible, but you NEVER KNOW.) In all these situations, the authors were pleased with the results. Where is the harm in such a thing?

Oh. I did cooperatively-publish an anthology, where the seven authors each kicked in $50 (along with me), and in the fifteen months since the book's release the authors have each received almost $500 in royalties, with more to come. That's not a bad return on the $50 investment and the 4,200 words maximum they wrote for the anthology.

Commercially, I have published:
UNDER A RAGING MOON, a novel by Frank Zafiro
BY THE CHIMNEY WITH CARE, an anthology which raised $1,365 for Toys for Tots
FOOLS RUSH IN, a novel by Sunny Frazier
BLINDED BY DARKNESS, a novel by Tony Burton
A WICKED GOOD PLAY, a novel by Tony Burton

"Ummmm... Tony, we STILL don't know how this is tied to the One-Drop Rule!!"

OK, OK... I'm getting to it! Recently, a friend of mine was looking at a site known for making sweeping pronouncements about the advisability of using certain publishers. (I won't name them here because I don't want to give them any more press than they already get.) Personally, I've always taken their recommendations with a grain of salt because of the arrogance with which these judgments are posted, and because all it takes is one sour customer for the axe to fall.

She told me that Wolfmont Publishing is listed there as "a subsidy publisher." Now, while I don't find that subsidy publishers are bad people inherently or that subsidy publishing is an Evil Thing, I do know that many authors are looking for a commercial publisher. So, I wrote the people in charge of this web site. I gave them the same information I just posted above, and suggested that, since the majority of my work is commercial/traditional publishing, that I simply be listed as "a book publisher."

Here is the response:
"Writers have a right to know that you also subsidy publish. While a subsidy publisher can also publish commercially, ************** is of the opinion that the subsidy description must take precedence."

Hence, my reference to the One-Drop Rule.

I have written to the person who administers the site and asked them to consider listing the fact that I publish both commercially and via subsidy. We'll see what the response is. Until then, I suppose as long as I have one drop of subsidy, I'm a subsidy press.

"We shall overcome..."
(come on, sing with me!)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Sexual Politics of Writing and Publication

I've heard a lot of hot air blowing around lately about the lack of fairness in the crime/suspense/mystery writing arena(s), with regard to gender. I'm all for being fair. Heck, I'm a member of the Sisters In Crime, for crying out loud! But maybe it's not all about gender.

Here are my opinions, for what they are worth:

(1) If you write crime/mystery/suspense, you CHOSE to write it. Therefore, if you think the competition from the "other side" is too intense, maybe you need to write something else. The thing is, men have been writing this stuff for longer than women have; it only makes sense that there are more of them represented. It's logical, even if it isn't "fair." I have yet to see, in my over fifty years, any worthwhile endeavor that is always and inherently "fair." Even Life is not, and it was devised by a Higher Power than any human.

(2) Conversely, if I went into the romance genre, where women are the predominant writers, I would have no recourse to whine and moan about the competition being overloaded with women. There again, women have been the major writers of romance fiction for years and years. It would be patently stupid of me to gripe about men not being adequately represented.

(3) I'm not so foolish as to think that no bias exists. Sure it does. But it's not unique to Crime/Mystery/Suspense writing. Bias exists, in one form or another, in every form of endeavor and/or competition. Chess teams don't get the kind of financial backing that basketball teams do, and women's basketball teams don't usually get the kind of financial backing that the men's basketball teams do. Kids in inner-city schools don't get the same breaks that the kids in suburban schools get. All else being equal, white men usually have a harder time getting a small business loan than white women do, and ethnic women usually have an easier time getting a small business loan than white women do. (Remember, I said “all else being equal.”)

Get a grip. Write. Write your very VERY best. Submit, and submit it again if it gets rejected. Polish it, put it in an envelope and kiss it goodbye as you submit it once more.

Then go sit down and write something else. But don't waste your energy worrying about why someone else gets a better chance than you do.

And to view the results of a recent poll on the topic of "Author Gender versus Genre" in the crime, mystery and suspense fields of fiction, go HERE.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ye Gads!

You know, it's a lucky thing for many people that I am neither God nor even a powerful demigod. About two weeks ago my main computer was attacked by a trojan/virus, and it has wreaked havoc and ruination. Ticked me off, too, which is why it's good for those who write such things that I don't have the power to blast them out of existence in manner messy and painful.

Read and be forewarned...

For over a year, I used F-Secure, a fantastic antivirus program and firewall. One of the best I've ever known, truth be told. But it's only available as a download from the creators, at least in this country. My subscription was about to run out, so I was in Office Depot one day in late May and a salesperson says to me (as I ruminated in the software aisle), "You should try the Norton 360! It's on sale, and it's a great deal!"

Since I was in imminent need of AV protection, and the Norton 360 product seemed to have a lot of features—plus, hey, isn't it okay to trust Peter Norton??—I decided to purchase the product and install it. Installation went smoothly and the software seemed to work. It also had a firewall and automatic backup facilities... very slick and integrated.

After about a week, my computer started to slow down for no apparent reason. Then, the browser would seemingly open of its own accord, popping up to screens inviting me to search for great deals on a new car, or to find a soul mate, or to buy some sort of antivirus software that I had never heard of. I wouldn't even be accessing the Internet, and this would happen!

So, I ran a forced scan with Norton 360 and guess what? It found a virus! It also told me that it couldn't remove this virus, that I needed to contact the Norton mothership for help.

I contacted them and after being in queue for some time, managed to hook up with Amit. Amit required several explanations of the problem, but eventually he understood. And eventually he also told me that it was beyond his power to help me: I needed to be in touch with the Virus Removal Team!

He transferred me to the VRT (don't you love acronyms!?) and after being in queue again for some time, I managed to hook up with Pradesh. I explained.... once more in painful detail... the problem to Pradesh. After he repeated my sentences back to me a few times, the following dialogue took place:

Pradesh: Ah, Mr. Burton, we can remove that virus and get you going again!

Me: Wonderful! Let's get started.

Pradesh: Sure, Mr. Burton. All I need from you is your credit card number and...

Me: Excuse me?!? I just bought this less than two weeks ago and it's not working! I'm within my support period, correct?

Pradesh: Mr. Burton, I understand that you are upset, but do not worry, we can get rid of that virus for you and educate you on how not to acquire another one. But this is a paid consultation.

Me: And how much will it cost?

Pradesh: Mr. Burton, it will be $99.95 for me to take control of your computer, clean out the virus and educate you on how to avoid this in the future.

Me: But I just bought and installed your product. I have not had a virus or trojan to get into my system for over a year and within two weeks of installing Norton 360 my life is hell! And you are telling me, since your software FAILED to protect me sufficiently, you have to charge me $99.95 to remove the virus that YOUR software allowed to infect the computer in the first place?? That's *&%$@#@!!

Pradesh: Mr. Burton, I understand you are upset. But this is the best I can offer you.

Me: Well, Mr. Pradesh, the best I can offer you is to say NO and tell everyone I know about how lousy this software is, and how much like an old-time protection racket your virus removal service is.

The manager of the Office Depot, Bobby, was very nice. When I went in and told him what happened, he agreed with me that it was
*&%$@#@ for them to want to charge me like that and he promptly refunded my money, while recommending a better product. He also told me that if I had asked HIM instead of the sales clerk on the floor that day, he would have told me not to waste my money on Norton because it was worthless and primarily just window-dressing.

BUT! Although that part of the story is now happier, the agony continued. Remember I said that the Norton 360 was supposed to be backing things up for me? Well, it did back up... a few things. It did NOT successfully back up the .PST files from Outlook which I told it to back up. It did NOT back up my postage records from my shipping software. I managed to lose about a months worth of recent email and about 30% of my address book. I have a BIG address book, so that's a lot of names and addresses. Luckily I had manually backed up some of my Outlook PSTs from before I bought the Norton 360, and was able to recover at least that data. But all my postage log, with names, dates, amounts spent on postage, etc., disappeared.

Sooooo... I am out of the cyber-ICU, but I'm still in Recovery. I have a new, better antivirus program, and am running Spyware Doctor as well as SpyBot S&D

I hope to have much less worry about such issues in the future, anyway, since I recently ordered an iMac from Apple, and it is supposed to arrive sometime on June 29. According to all the people I have talked to, the Mac has only a very few viruses that attack it... compared to the over 114,000 that are lusting to get into a Windows-based PC.

Now all I have to do is learn how to use a new type of computer, and buy a lot of replacement software in their Mac versions.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

No-Fee Writing Contest on Crime and Suspense!

I guess I am remiss in announcing this, but there is still plenty of time before the deadline.

The "Austin Camacho Beltway Crime Writing Contest" is now in progress at Crime and Suspense ezine. It's a NO-FEE contest (Woo-Hoo!!) but has some neat prizes. My good buddy Austin Camacho, author of (among other things) the Hannibal Jones mystery series and the Stark & O'Brien adventure series, has contributed a full signed set of his Hannibal Jones books for first prize, as well as two more signed Hannibal Jones books for second prize and a copy of the Crime and Suspense Anthology I with his story signed for third prize.

The deadline for submission is June 15th, at midnight eastern time. For full details on word count, theme, etc., go to the Crime and Suspense web site and click on the link for the contest.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

To blurb or not to blurb...

It's funny, but the discussion of blurbs: how to get them, whether you need them, when to give them and how honest to be, came up on two discussion lists I frequent in the last couple of weeks. I have to admit I got a little verbose about the subject, but I think the observations are sound, so I'm going to repeat them here. If you have a comment or something to say on the subject, please feel free to tell me!

And even though I request blurbs, and will give them if asked AND if I can honestly do so, I really dislike them.

I dislike them because they are, in many ways, an imposition on the author being asked for one and I hate imposing on an already-busy person. Should she be honest? Should she be "over the top" complimentary? Does she really have the TIME to read the book so she can give an honest blurb. I know I won't give a blurb unless I have read the entire book, though I do know a few people who will quickly scan the book. One person told me she reads the first two chapters the middle chapter and the last two chapters, whether blurbing or reviewing. (No, I won't reveal the name!)

I read of one mid-list author who said he receives between 15 and 20 books a WEEK asking him for a blurb, and he simply can't do it. How do you decide, if you have this kind of blurb-request traffic???

I also dislike them because they are so very, very subjective and say as much about the blurber as they do about the book. Does the fact that Stephen King loved a book mean I will love it? Does a ravingly positive blurb by an author I detest mean I will also detest this new book by someone else??

I know one very well-known A-list author who has told me point-blank that he DOES NOT read anyone else's work in the crime genre, or for that matter, very much fiction at all. His reason was that he didn't want to have his own voice affected by the voice of another author. But, since that is so, I now hold any blurb written by that man to be very suspect. Did he read it or not? Was he lying to me then, or lying to the reader now?

I had one book blurbed before, where I knew that the blurber, even though very complimentary, had not read the book very thoroughly. She made a very distinct factual error in the blurb. This person admitted later that she had not read the book through, but had skimmed it and with her permission, I changed that part of her blurb.

If I look at the 3,000-plus books on my shelves, I notice that books published in the sixties to mid-seventies had hardly anything on the back cover, other than perhaps a quote from a major review venue: NYT, the Chicago Tribune, whatever, and usually about a prior book. Then comments from other sources started appearing in the late seventies and eighties, until now you can't find a book without a blurb containing lots of stars and exclamation points unless the poor soul is blighted enough to not know anyone who will write one!

I wish they weren't needed. I wish we could have a synopsis of the book on the back cover, with perhaps a pithy quote about a previous work from some review venue and maybe some information about the author. But, the reality is that they are a necessary evil, so I will continue to ask for them and to give them when I can. I simply fear the the curse of "blurb inflation" will become so bad that they are ALL meaningless, whether accurate or not, because no one will know which ones to trust.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Garden Party of Authors

This past Sunday I was privileged to be a part of the Heflin, Alabama, Garden Party of Authors. Heflin is a small town, with under 2,000 inhabitants... yet they managed to pull together ten authors from a variety of locations in the Southeast, and assembled about 70 people who were willing to pay for a ticket to have (a DELICIOUS) luncheon and spend five minutes with each of the ten authors.

I was made to feel very, very welcome and had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people as well as seeing again some people I already knew. Clara Cavender organized this event, the second one they have held, and she did a grand job!

One of the really unique things that happened there, had to do with the mayor. The mayor, the Hon. Anna L. Berry, is also the head of the Heflin Arts Council. She was there to greet us, and went so far as to give each author a key to the city of Heflin! I'm fifty years old, and this is my first municipal key, ever! It's a big, heavy brass key with a nice golden tassel hanging from it... and of course, since I write crime and mystery stories, I hefted it in my hand with an eye toward its potential use as a murder weapon. (Just kidding, Mayor Berry! Really!!)

On a mercenary note, I was able to sell and sign some books, including some to the Heflin Library, which I hope serves to introduce more people to my work!

Great weekend, all around.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Writing contests, and the vagaries of setting them up

I try to hold a writing contest every so often through my ezine, Crime and Suspense. I've held two thus far this year, and plan on having at least one or two more. The prizes have been nice, but... I didn't feel the excitement from the entrants, you know?

So, I set up a survey to ask people who read the Crime and Suspense ezine what they would like to see in a contest... what would encourage them to enter, that sort of thing.

But why hold a survey? Why not just go ahead and hold a contest? Darn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!!

Last year, I set up a contest called the Publish Me! contest. The entrants would submit the first two chapters of their magnum opus and pay an entry fee of $30. Two judges (well-known published authors in the genre) would read and score the submissions. The winner would get his/her story published by my publishing company, cover designed, 100 marketing postcards and fifty copies of the book (up to 300 pages), and have their book set up for distribution through Ingram and Baker & Taylor. The second and third place winners could have their books, if they wanted, set up as ebooks and marketed on the Wolfmont Publishing web site.

If you've never run a contest similar to this, you may not understand the costs: the judges have to be paid SOMETHING. There's the cost of the cover design, the postcards, the book setup and printing, the catalog listing, etc., etc. People expressed interest and sounded excited... but when I started the contest, only five people entered. Since I needed at least fifteen people to break even, it simply wasn't financially feasible to finish the contest!

Thankfully, I had given that caveat to each entrant; to wit, if I didn't have fifteen entries by a certain date that I would refund their money to them. Even with that, however, it bothered me to have to start a contest and then disappoint the entrants like that. So, I'm doing a miniature "feasibility study" to see if it's worth it to try a contest with bigger prizes again.

I'm curious... why are people so averse to paying to enter a contest with a significant prize? I don't understand the logic that says, "Prizes must not cost anything because the contest holder is giving them away!" And I've had more than a couple of people say to me, "Oh, reputable contests don't charge fees!" Excuse me? Writer's Digest isn't reputable? Glimmer Train? The Writer magazine? Byline magazine?

It's a little amusing, if sad, to see a respondent say to me, "I don't enter contests with fees" or "Charge $5 for the entry fee," yet also say to me in response to what a judge should receive for judging the contest, "A fee of $150" or "A $100 honorarium." And from where should that fee or honorarium be derived?

I know... there ARE people who run so-called contests which are scams to take your money. Thing is, I have yet to make any money on a contest I have run. In fact, with the last three or four contests I've held, the awards have been least partially out of my pocket and without payment of entry fees. Warner Brothers was nice enough to contribute some t-shirts, hats and posters, but some people don't get very excited about prizes like that so I threw in some Amazon gift certificates of my own.

"But money must always flow TO the writer, not away!" Oh, Lord, would that it were so!! Let's see... editors' fees, promotional bookmarks and postcards, writing courses, signing trips where the cost of transportation and lodging is over $400 and the total profit from books sold is less than $50, the cost of mailing out review copies that may never get reviewed, trips to writer cons and fan cons, buying ink and toner cartridges and paper... it ALL Costs Money! It makes as much sense as saying "Money must always flow to the employee, not away!" What about cost of training for the job? Taxes? Paying for benefits? Paying for parking and/or commuting? There are costs associated with EVERY form of moneymaking, whether it is writing, being a nurse or working in a factory. To say that every attempt to make money with writing should be free of risk of my OWN money is foolish in the extreme, and limits me tremendously.

I'm not at all attacking anyone, and especially anyone who simply can't budget an entry fee. I've been where money was tight before, where I wondered where my next tank of gas would come from... so I understand that. But for those who think that no opportunity to make money or gain recognition should cost the author money... it simply isn't reality. The costs are there, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not.

Yes, there are free contests, and God bless the people who hold or sponsor them. I hold them myself pretty regularly, and God bless me, too! But when people are lackadaisical about entering because the prizes are small, token prizes, yet are not willing to put their money where their writing is to take a shot at a larger prize, I have no sympathy.

*** If you think your writing is good enough to win, then why is it a risk to spend $5 or $10?

*** If you don't think you have a good chance of winning, then why are you entering at all?

Have faith in your writing, and be willing to back up your beliefs with an entry fee once in a while.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Book signings and signed books

I'll be signing books and meeting some very nice people at the Moveable Feast of Authors in Heflin, Alabama on April 29. If you happen to be anywhere around Heflin on that Sunday, please drop by and see me!

Also, I will be at the Calhoun-Gordon County Library in Calhoun, Georgia on May 5, during the "More Than a Taste of Calhoun" festival. I'll be reading from my books and signing books there, as well. Again, I'd love to see any of you!

Finally, if you have purchased one of my two novels (Blinded by Darkness or A Wicked Good Play) in a location where you couldn't get it signed by me, here's your chance! Drop by my personal web site and fill out the form telling me what books you purchased, etc., and submit it. I'll sign a signature book plate and drop it in the mail to you just as quickly as I can! Such a deal, huh?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Launching, contest winners and such

The last time I posted, I mentioned that Jem and Scout (the two recently-hatched additions to our Finch family) had not left the nest. Well, about three days ago all of their parents' twitterings must have had an effect, because they are now out of the nest and flying about on their own. Of course, this necessitated getting a bigger cage. Even though finches are small, four of them in a tiny cage is not a good situation!

The guineas we moved have settled in well, too, laying quite a few eggs. We added a nesting box to their pen, to encourage them to get "broody" and hatch the eggs, but so far the maternal instincts of the hens have been poor. So, we've been eating guinea-egg omelets and using guinea eggs in the pancakes and cornbread. They taste fine, but let me tell you—the shells are doggone hard! I had to whack one three times on the countertop tonight to crack it, and I don't mean a light tap. Sounded like hitting a cueball on the formica top.

The recent Southern Gone Wrong writing contest (inspired by Cathy Pickens's books) at the Crime and Suspense ezine (my baby!) has just finished up, and the winners were selected by vox populi. If you'd like to read the winners, or in fact any of the entrants' stories, just drop by the Crime and Suspense site. There's a link on the main page there. The first and second place winners each will receive a signed copy of a Cathy Pickens book, and the two third place winners (a tie) are getting a copy of BODIES WE'VE BURIED, a book about the national CSI training school and their procedures.

I will have more contests in the coming months, and would love to have your story as an entry. The last three writing contests have been "no fee" contests, and I like to keep them that way whenever possible. Of course, that often means I must rely, as Blanche DuBois, "upon the kindness of strangers" for prizes and so forth. Hey, the ezine has no subscription fee and comes out monthly, rain or shine!

Drop by and read the stories in the contest, take a look at the previous month's issue, download an old-fashioned radio drama, and maybe even subscribe. Like I said, it's a freebie.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spring Book Show 2007 and other craziness

Not necessarily in order of occurrence...

This weekend I was a presenter and attendee at the Spring Book Show 2007 in Atlanta, GA. I enjoyed myself there, and gained a view of the book publishing and selling world that was very vague to me before now.

By the way, did you know that (according to a speaker there), there were over 170,000 new titles published in the United States last year? Yep. One hundred seventy THOUSAND new titles. Sort of makes the inner eye of the mind go all unfocused, doesn't it? If you are a writer, your Great New Book last year was competing for attention... and shelf space in the store... and the consumer's dollar... against about 169,999 other new books.

If you are a publisher, you had to be SUPER-selective about which titles you chose to risk money publishing, because money spent on books that don't sell, either TO the store or once they get IN the store, is wasted money.

The Spring Book Show is all about the Remainders and Returns market. It is where books that didn't sell, either from the publisher or from the retailer, get "recycled" in an effort to try to make some money, somehow, for someone. I saw a LOT of dealers there, and none of the book dealers were selling single books. The closest thing I saw to a retail sale was a dealer who allowed you to buy a minimum of three of a title, but your order had to be $100 or more. So you either bought three VERY, VERY expensive books, or three copies each of nine or ten books, because a lot of books were selling for $1, $2, or a little more. One dealer had a minimum $1000 order from any single FOB point. I tell you, it was a little bit overwhelming.

Books were being sold by case lots, by "Gaylord" box full and in numbers that literally went into the hundreds of thousands, for one buyer.

What was I doing there?

I was teaching at a seminar being held on Friday and Saturday, and my presentation was on "The Trials and Tribulations of Starting a Publishing Business." Most appropriate, I think. I sold a couple of books, too, though that wasn't my main reason for being there.

Other recent events for me:

If you've read much of my blog, you know Dear Wife and I are working on creating a haven on a little over 16 acres of land in the mountains of North Georgia. I finally had the time to rent the equipment to dig the trenches for all the water lines we have to run for the orchard and garden beds. The bloody thing weighed 6,000 pounds. Here's a picture:

And since the guineas were sitting right where the trench needed to go, Dear Wife and I ended up moving the guineas, pen and all, to a new location. I had to strap the little guinea house to the front of the trencher to move it, since it was so heavy. Oh, and the eight guineas were inside it when we moved it, too. They really didn't like that aspect of it, I don't think.

But they are now in their new location and seem to be very happy there.

Speaking of birds, we also have some little zebra finches who live in the house with us. In a cage, not loose! Atticus and Arabella are their names. But actually, we have more than that now! About two weeks ago, two of their eggs hatched and we now have two MORE in the Finch family, Jem and Scout.

Like the recent movie, Failure to Launch, Atticus and Arabella seem to have some problems getting their little ones to leave the nest. The babies are almost as big as their parents, but have yet to poke even a single feather outside their woven-twig nursery. I believe Atticus is getting annoyed with this, too, because he has taken to sitting on the door of the next and rather angrily twittering at them. I can just imagine what he is saying: "Get outta there! What do you think, all we want to do is to chew up seeds, bring them in here and upchuck them for you?? Get up, find a job, you little freeloaders!!" But they sit there in silence, their black, beady eyes shining up out of the nest. I think Atticus has taken to drink. I found a tiny, empty bottle of Four Roses at the bottom of their cage.

Have a great weekend!


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bookmark success! PrintPlace comes through

Well, folks, I have to give PrintPlace credit: after a true dramedy of errors, they came through with flying colors.

The order from PrintPlace came to my house, and I opened it up. The bookmarks looked pretty good on first inspection, but then I noticed that one of the graphic elements was missing. It was a minor thing, so I decided not to worry about it. But then I counted how many bookmarks they shipped me. I ordered 2000. I received about 720. THAT wouldn't do!

I called Nic back, and spoke with him about it. Strangely enough, although he was surprised about the missing graphic element, the shortage didn't surprise him. It seems he had received almost twenty calls that same morning from other people whose orders were shorted, so he was going to go down to the production floor and give a lesson in Basic Counting to the people running the presses!

Nice guy that he is, he set up a new order for me, told me to resubmit my artwork and make sure the graphic element was there, and he's have them printed (all 2000 of them) and shipped to me posthaste. No extra charges.

The order arrived Wednesday of this week, and I'm very pleased. All the bookmarks were there, and the artwork looked just as it did when I sent it. In fact, I'm so pleased, I ordered some more stuff from them the same day.

I figure, everybody makes mistakes. But only a good businessperson stands up and takes responsibility to make good on the mistake.

My take, anyway.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Bookmark Saga

Things are looking up! The day after I filed a complaint about The Print Place with the BBB in Arlington, TX, I received a phone call from their customer service manager, Nic.

What it came down to was this:
  1. He was very sorry for what happened
  2. The person who had taken the order, pretended to be a "Director" and generally messed me over had been fired
  3. I wasn't the only person to complain about said former employee
  4. I was right—their online template HAD BEEN screwed up, and they were in the process of fixing it
  5. They would refund my money if I wanted
Nic and I had a conversation about things, very amicably. I agreed to try their service by resending the graphics to him once more, and I ordered the bookmarks. They are refunding the amount of money I paid to them that is not applied to the order. The bookmarks should arrive by March 1, and when they do, I'll let everyone here know about their quality.

I'm really glad I'm not going to have to fill out the fraud report form that my credit card company sent to me, because it's a pain in the tuchas.

Tony Burton
Check out Blinded By Darkness and A Wicked Good Play

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bookmark refund? NOT!!

Well, The Print Place has yet to refund any money to me. I called the representative, Corey McGrath, last week, one week after faxing them the refund request form he sent to me.

I asked him about the status of the refund, since I checked my credit card account daily and had seen no refunds. (It's pretty interesting that they can CHARGE my card within minutes, but somehow it's a lot more difficult to give me BACK the money they took from me.) He sounded surprised that the refund had not yet been issued, and asked for a callback number so he could call me back that day (Thursday) with an answer.

It's Tuesday, and still no refund has hit my credit card, and I have yet to hear from Mr. McGrath. I went to the BBB website for their city (Arlington, TX) and found that they already had a complaint file established.

Wow, WHAT a SURPRISE! (Do you hear the sarcasm in that??)

Anyway, I filed a complaint with the BBB Online, and later today I'll be calling my credit card company to get THOSE wheels in motion. I have also emailed Mr. McGrath about his failure to honor his word.

We'll see what happens. Over $120 is at stake, as well as this company's veracity and reputation.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Conferences, book sales and bookmarks

As some of you may have read earlier, I was scheduled to be a part of the Murder In the Magic City and Murder On the Menu events in Alabama this past weekend. Well, I drove over late Friday night and checked into the Drury Inn (great place for the price, by the way--they had a real breakfast, and it was free!) On Saturday, I was part of the first panel of the day with Denise Swanson, JoAnna Carl, Patricia Sprinkle and Heather Webber. (Four lovely ladies and me... am I lucky or what??)

Directly after that, the intriguing and prolific author, Thomas H. Cook, stood up and spoke to the group. The rest of the day included three more panels and book signing sessions, and the talented Laura Lippman addressed the group in the afternoon. I got to meet some wonderful folks, many of whom were authors. I also managed to sell quite a few books, and signed most of those, so it was a great day all around. Margaret Fenton, the president of the Southern Sisters chapter of the Sisters In Crime, organized the event and did a bang-up job on it.

The next day all the authors travelled in a caravan to a little town with fewer than 6,000 souls, Wetumpka, Alabama to attend Murder On the Menu. Delicious food, delightful readers and mystery fans, and great conversation. There, too, we sold and signed books. I got to meet a couple more authors who were NOT at the previous day's festivities, including meeting an old friend with whom I had corresponded for over a year, John M. Floyd (a contributor to By the Chimney With Care and Seven By Seven.)

If you would like to see a few photographs from these events, take a look at my ezine website, Crime and Suspense. There's a link there to a page with photos and a few comments about what went on there.

And about the bookmarks... I have yet to hear anything from The Print Place about my refund. I reiterate my previous statement: BEWARE this company!!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bookmarks... get yer bookmarks here! NO! DON'T!!!

For those of you who are authors or publishers, I wanted to share the recent fiasco I went through with The Print Place.

First of all, their website looks professional and friendly. I uploaded the graphics for the front and back of my bookmark, and checked them against the immediate proof template they show (via PDF or JPG). Although I had sized my graphic according to their specifications, it did not meet the bleed lines on the ends of the template, and there was a big warning underneath that said that such a situation could cause white space to appear around the edge of the bookmark. Since I didn't want that, I rejected the proof graphic and did not send the job to print. But there was no place to change the parameters of the bookmark without starting a new job.

So, I went and created new graphics for the front and back and set up a new bookmark job. With the new, larger dimensions that were larger than specified by the company, the bleed and trim lines were exactly aligned with the graphics as required.

However, the next day I received an email that said the graphics I submitted were too big, and would result in my bookmark text being cropped!

I decided to cancel the job, and discovered to my surprise and anger that BOTH jobs had already been charged against my credit card, for 1000 copies of each bookmark, without the proof being accepted, without the job being sent to press and without my consent.

I called the company, and they said that their "policy" is to charge for the print job immediately, even when it has not been approved or sent to print, because they "have to send the graphic through a piece of software that cost them $250,000." This was from a person who later claimed to be a director within the company, although his email sig line says "Sales Associate."

After some discussion, this person agreed to process the graphic files personally if I would send them to him. I sent them, and did not hear anything back. I followed up with a second email four days later, and still didn't hear anything. Finally today I called, and he said the files were awaiting my approval. I asked why I had not been notified, and he said my email must be bouncing his messages. I told him I had received other emails from the company, both automated and personal. He then sent a test email and it went through within seconds. Hmmmmmmm!

Finally, after much discussion where he tried to tell me that charging before the proof was accepted was the standard policy for ALL online printing companies (which I knew to be false, as I have worked with other online printing companies, notably Vista Print and Printing For Less), he agreed to refund the entire amounts to me, including a "non-refundable production fee" of $15 per job--to handle the overhead of their receiving the files, I guess. I just faxed them the refund forms, so we'll see if I actually get the entire amounts refunded. I'll keep the readers of this blog updated.

I am on a panel at a conference this weekend, and will be signing books at two events. I now will have NO bookmarks for either event.

This long narrative was simply to justify what I'm about to say next: As you love your sanity, don't use this company!

(One frustrated and very angry author and publisher)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Shall I return?

OK... here's a question for those of you in the publishing and book trade: How do you deal with returns? Meaning, if you are a publisher, do you allow returns? And if you do allow them, is it across the board or are you selective? Do you set any limits?

And if you are a bookseller/storefront, will you order books that are non-returnable? More to the point, will you shelve books that are non-returnable?

I ask these questions because I'm trying to formulate my own returns policy, and I'm getting a lot of mixed messages, both from other publishers and from booksellers. For example, one bookseller has said she simply will NOT order books to shelve, if they are not returnable. Another said that they want the books returnable, but will pay the return postage. And another has said that they want returnable, but will only order books that are both returnable AND returnable at no expense to them.

One thing I have discovered in my investigations is that Baker & Taylor, at least, seem to have the best of all possible worlds when it comes to returns. If a bookstore returns a book they have purchased through Baker and Taylor, the bookstore must pay the postage to return the book. If I ALLOW returns through Baker and Taylor, I am charged $2 per book for the privilege, plus I must pay for the shipping to get the book back to me, else it is destroyed. And of course along with this, there is no guarantee that the books will be in a resalable condition. As one publisher acquaintance of mine has said, "If I want to sell damaged books, I don't have to send them to [bookstore name here] first. I can do the damage at home and save a lot of transaction costs!"

Understand that I'm not griping about the situation. The situation is what it is. I'm just trying to come up with a policy that is fair to both sides of the equation. Problematically, if I allow returns through my primary North American distributors (Amazon, Ingram, Baker & Taylor), I have no way of setting any limits. I can't say, "This bookseller can return books but this one cannot," or "I'll accept returns of no more than XX% of the bookseller's order." It's flat, across the board returns. For a small press, one or two bad orders under those sort of conditions could spell disaster.

So... what do you think?