Here’s a question for you: Which authors’ books do you buy—preorder, even—without question? You’ll pick up their next book no matter what?

I have three at the moment.

1. Tana French

I love her Dublin Murder Squad series and click “preorder” without hesitation whenever a new one is announced.

2. Ben Aaronovitch

Yeah, the last couple Peter Grant novels were wobbly, but I’ll still read them.

3. Kate Morton

She has a definite formula, but I enjoy her books anyway.

I enjoy a lot of authors on a regular or semi-regular basis, but in most cases I’m still pretty selective. Like, I won’t read every Stephen King novel. And I fizzled out on Neil Gaiman. And I haven’t enjoyed the most recent stuff by Anne Rice.

So which authors inspire your loyalty and why? What is it about their work that you keep coming back to? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Brynnde is still free, but today is the last day!

I saw a headline from the London Book Fair today touting that, in the UK at least, print books are on the upswing. For two years running sales of print titles have gone up. Now, the article doesn’t mention if some of that rise is due to adult coloring books (which is what accounted for similar boosts in print in the U.S.), so maybe it’s much ado about very little, but…

I think most authors dream of holding their book—an actual, printed book—in their hands. Maybe as new authors grow up in the digital age, this feeling will diminish. Younger authors will be happy to have their work “on screen” (and I don’t mean a movie). And while I can say that my e-books do sell more than my print ones, at least thus far, I’d still truly love to see some of my digital titles in print format. Not for monetary reasons (see above) but for concrete satisfaction and a full sense of accomplishment.

More and more, readers online tell me they prefer “real” books. By which they mean physical, printed books. An e-book is, of course, also real, but the experience is decidedly different. Reading from a screen versus a printed page, scrolling rather than turning, even just the feel of it in one’s hands is very different. Our brains certainly take in a screen differently than they do something printed. It’s why they tell you not to look at a screen before bedtime—the interaction with a screen fires your brain up when, in the evening, you’re trying to wind it down for the night. Which makes me think that reading from an electronic device must be, to our brains at least, less relaxing than reading from a printed book.

The pros of e-books: less expensive (for both reader and publisher), faster to produce, easy to revise, one can change the size of the type to suit one’s needs, and one can carry a substantial number of them on an e-reader so that one can basically have a portable library.

The pros of print books: a different kind of engagement with the text, and that great book smell. In short, while on paper (har!) the e-book appears to have more advantages, there’s simply something satisfying about a print book. And people will give up a lot for that satisfaction, including a number of seeming conveniences. We’re not rational creatures, after all, at least not wholly. When logically we should think e-books make the most sense, we still find ourselves buying and reading physical books.

Anyway, I do have an e-reader that I sometimes use, but not nearly as much as I could. I’ll almost always reach for a print book before thinking to check my e-reader. I must have dozens of titles on the e-reader that I might never get around to actually reading, and I’ve heard the same from many other bibliophiles. They download e-books when they see a good deal (read: free, or maybe 99 cents if the books sounds interesting enough to risk a little money) and then promptly forget them. Leaves me to wonder how many of the e-books I sell remain in a never-ending TBR stack…

What about you? Do you buy e-books or print or both? Which do you read more of? Are there other pros and cons to either format? Let me know in the comments!

It occurred to me the other day that being an indie author these days is a bit like a never-ending popularity contest.

I only say this because so many online sites where indie authors are featured have contests where the author has to try and get friends, family, readers to vote for their books. So instead of a book being judged on its own merits, or an author being judged on ability, it’s really the author being judged on how many people he or she can muster.

And when agents these days insist on an established platform, what they’re really asking is, “How popular are you?”

Sites that demand you have a certain number of reviews or a minimum star rating before they feature your book—they’re asking you to prove your popularity.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been popular. I don’t think I was unpopular in school, either, just sort of quiet and people left me alone. Which works well enough for me being a writer, but not so well when I’m trying to market myself. Or when “popularity” is the deciding factor in whether my book wins an award or an agent signs me.

Life is not a meritocracy. It’s a shame, but true. It turns out gold stars are not for stellar work; they’re given to the students the teachers like the most for whatever reason. Same goes for job promotions. You don’t have to be the one who is really good at the job, just the one other people like.

Alas, in school they don’t teach you how to get other people to like you. Feels like a missed opportunity, doesn’t it? “How to be Popular” would be a full course every term, I bet.

Maybe I should grab a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People . . .

I read an article yesterday about how authors who publish 4+ books in a year may be rushing things a bit. There’s a link to the article on my Facebook page, along with my remarks on the subject; I’m not going to re-discuss it here. Instead, the article made me wonder: What was the most I’d published in any given year?

Now, I recently wrote about how 2012 is the year I consider my first “real” year as a writer. But it actually wasn’t the first year I published anything. Here, then, is a chronological list of my publications:

2000

  • “A Day in the Life of a Moderately Successful Writer” and “The Snake”—each short pieces—appeared in Dingbat #4.

I wouldn’t publish anything again until

2004

  • “Haiku 101” appeared in The Aurorean
  • “There Was an Old Woman…” appeared in Rosebud

Both of the above are poems. But also

  • “A.B.C.” (short story) appeared in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine

Then I had another break before

2008

  • I put the first edition of The World Ends at Five and Other Stories on Lulu.

And since I apparently take four-year breaks

2012

  • “Warm Bodies” is produced—twice—which isn’t quite the same thing as a publication, but kind of?
  • I publish “St. Peter in Chains”
  • I publish “Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Last Line”
  • I publish “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Ichabod Reed”
  • I re-release The World Ends at Five and Other Stories on Amazon with a new flash fiction piece

Okay, so 2012 wins hands down as the year I put out the most stuff. But three of those pieces are short pieces and one is a re-release. And does the play count? I’d actually written it the year before.

But here is where I also begin to put out work more regularly rather than having the big hiatuses.

2013

  • I publish The K-Pro

2014

  • “Warm Bodies” is adapted into the short film Adverse Possession. Yeah, not a publication, but… still a thing. That happened. That year.

2015

  • I publish “Sherlock Holmes and the Monumental Horror”

2016

  • Tirgearr publishes The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller
  • Evernight Teen publishes Manifesting Destiny
  • Aurora Wolf publishes my short story “Aptera”

2017

  • I publish Brynnde

So there it is, at least so far. I’m a pretty slow writer. I can put out a few stories a year or one to two books, I guess. I do still hope to have one more out later this year, but it depends on how long it takes me to, well, write it.

What do you think? Do you have any feelings about writers who publish a lot in any given year? Too much to keep up with or is it worse if the author is slow? (If so, sorry. I promise we writers can’t always control how quickly we produce work.) Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Five years ago, I had no real plan.

Five years ago today, I went into surgery first thing in the morning. Nothing major; I just had a bone spur on my right index finger that was making it painful and almost impossible to write or type. After the surgery, I hopped in the car and headed down to Enfield, Connecticut, where my play “Warm Bodies” premiered. It was my first ever produced play, and I consider that to more or less be the moment that officially started my writing career. I’d worked in publishing, and before that in film, but having a play produced was the jumping off point for my own work.

In fact, 2012 was a big year. Not even a month later, we moved from Massachusetts to California. That June, my play was produced again as part of the Source Festival in Washington D.C. (It would later go on to become the short film Adverse Possession.) 2012 was the year I first self-published two of my Sherlock Holmes stories. It really, truly was the year I decided to be a writer. For realz.

If you’d asked me then about a five-year plan, I’d have given you a blank look and said, “I dunno. Write, I guess?” If you ask me now, I’ll probably give you a similar answer. I do have a better idea of some of what I’d like to accomplish, but I also remind myself to be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and proud of how far I’ve come. It’s easy sometimes to be frustrated with a seeming lack of progress. But in reality, I’ve come a long way. And I have a lot of great things to show for those five years: 6 self-published books, 2 traditionally published books, a play, a short film, an award-winning screenplay (that I’m still hoping to get produced one of these days—put it on the next five-year plan) . . . Not a bad haul.

But I couldn’t do it without YOU, dear readers and fellow writers. THANK YOU for the support over the years. I’ll be celebrating five years of writing by putting out an audiobook later this year, too. Hope you’ll enjoy that and whatever else might come from these [now fully functional] fingers.

Every time I write and release a book, I feel so sure it’s “the one.” You know, the one that will break out and do well. I felt so sure Peter would be my bright star, and then Manifesting Destiny (which ostensibly has a much wider market potential), and now I find myself hoping Brynnde will find a solid readership.

Sigh.

It would be easy to lapse into yet another lament about how difficult it is to get discovered in this business. How tough it is to be heard and seen above the clamor.

If I get hung up on it—on the numbers—I’ll lose the will to write. I’ll cease to enjoy it for its own sake because I’ll be too anxious about how no one wants to read what I write. And then my writing will get worse instead of better because I’ll be forcing it, or trying to write what I think others want to read, or something.

Well then. Head down, eyes on my work. I can at least say that, yes, Manifesting Destiny has done relatively well (and it’s all relative, isn’t it?). And it remains to be seen what happens with Brynnde. In the meantime, I’ll get on with it.

Digital Book World is happening now (wish I were there), and one topic up for discussion is whether more people would visit bookstores if the stores also had booze? You know, cuz the café thing has worn thin.

I think bookstores have to do something to get people in. Now that people get their books off Amazon, the bookstores need to offer something else to tempt people, something that will get them off their couches and into the physical stores. Author events seem to draw middling crowds at best, depending on the author(s). In fact, I’ve already been told that if I’m going to do an author event, I should plan to have food and drinks too. Just being an author is no longer enough. Author + Something Else (a class/workshop, a dinner party, whatever) is the way to go.

Or maybe just dump the author entirely and open a bookstore restaurant. I don’t know. That seems to be the way these things are trending. The books take up less and less space as more room is needed for, as the article linked above mentions, dance classes and the like.

Look, I love bookstores. I want them to stay in business. And like we authors, they’re doing what they have to do to stay afloat. Even if it means on a wave of wine.

So tell me: what events or perks should bookstores offer? What would it take to get you out of the house and to the bookstore rather than the convenience of ordering online?

It’s in human nature, I think, to want to avoid criticism. We want to please. And in careers where pleasing others is the ultimate goal—where one’s livelihood is based on pleasing the greatest possible number of people—criticism can feel all the harsher and sometimes seemingly fatal.

Writers, for example, want and need readers. So they want to please that potential audience. Sometimes they do, and sometimes the readers make it very clear where the author has fallen down on the job.

The key is to remember you really can’t please everyone. There’s just no way. Unfortunately, those who are displeased are often more vocal than those who are perfectly content with your work. (Of course, if more than a few people are unhappy with whatever you’ve done, you probably need to revisit it.)

But here’s the next important thing when facing criticism: Don’t respond.

It seems there are usually two ways artists of whatever kind are likely to react to criticism. They either (a) argue their side, or (b) try to do what they think the critics want.

I’m here to tell you not to do either of these things.

If you argue against your critics, you come off as arrogant and unlikable. If you are perceived as arrogant and unlikable, you make yourself a greater target for criticism while simultaneously risking your core fan base who might be turned off by your behavior. Be gracious, always. Be willing to admit when the critics might be right (yes, they sometimes are), or if you don’t think they are, thank them anyway for their input, or else remain dignifiedly silent. Then walk away.

The flip side of sparking out against your critics is to try and please them. In a day and age where there are so many ways to be aware of what others think—not just magazines now, but social media—an insecure artist may gather up all the bits and pieces of his or her failure and try to make amends by doing ALL THE THINGS the critics say they should do. In short, they try to write to spec. But in the process they invariably lose the flow and joy that was the origination of their art. They start to worry about doing it “wrong” or whether people will like it. They cease to enjoy the work, and that shows in the final product. The end result is something stilted and unnatural.

Fear of criticism should never be allowed to color the work.

You know how they say “dance like no one is watching.” It’s true for every art. Write like no one will read it, like it’s only for you and your characters. My best moments on stage occurred when I forgot the audience was there and just felt the role. Paint until you’re satisfied with the picture because in the end only your opinion will matter. Yes, it’s true. In the end, you must be satisfied with your work. If others like it, that’s just icing. And gratification seldom if ever comes from catering to the reader or viewer. Oh, you might make more money that way! If money is your only goal, by all means, crank out whatever formulaic thing is hot these days. Otherwise, I advise against it.

I, for one, consider The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller to be my best work. At the very least, it’s the one I put the most love and craft into. I’ve been told by many others, however, that my Sherlock Holmes stories are best. And at least two people have told me, no, Manifesting Destiny is the best thing I’ve ever written. What’s a writer to do? Well, I certainly do take all this into consideration. But my own heart counts for more than the outer clamor. So while I know from a logical point of view I should write more Sherlock Holmes in order to make more money, I find myself flowing with my inspiration and writing . . . Whatever I feel like.

(BTW, I have at least *started* a new Sherlock Holmes story. Just don’t know when I’ll finish it.)

I’m not going to say, “Don’t listen to your critics.” Feedback is important. But you need to learn to weigh it appropriately. And you shouldn’t let it drive your art.

I’ve noticed the chatter on various Facebook groups and message boards—something weird is going on with Amazon’s reporting. Authors have been saying their page reads disappeared. There one day, gone the next. So I, of course, went to look at mine. I generally have a pretty steady stream of page reads. But somehow, from December 31st onward . . . Nada. Not a single read.

Now I’m worried.

Amazon holds all the power here, and we’ve all been aware of it for a long time. If they have a glitch, well, what can I do about it? If they decide I haven’t made any money, how can I prove otherwise? My success is in their hands, and that’s not how it should be. I should be in control of how well I do.

But what are my options?

The problem is that most people shop at Amazon. So that’s where most sales come from (assuming I have any, considering Amazon’s data suggests I have nothing since the start of the year). If I quit selling at Amazon and only sell via other vendors, will I lose my readers?

Then again, if Amazon is already showing me I have no readers, then maybe trying other outlets is the way to go.

Of course, ideally Amazon will fix whatever problem there is. And yes, I do believe it’s a problem on their end. I’ve never in 4+ years of publishing not had any reads at all like this. Things didn’t magically screech to a halt with the turn of the calendar.

So I don’t know. I’m on the verge of launching a new title but now have doubts about using Amazon for it. Quite the dilemma. What would you do? Continue to sell through the big retailer and hope they didn’t screw you over and/or fixed any problems? (What would be their motivation to make things right? We indie authors are a dime a dozen.) Or pull your titles from there and go wider?

I’m hopelessly late to the party about the piece in HuffPo condemning self-publishing. I almost wonder if it was written just to go viral because Gough knew there would be many biting responses (and possibly also many who agree). Well, FWIW, here’s another one.

Let me start by acknowledging that I’m a hybrid author. I use that term to mean that I’m both self-published and published by, well, publishers. (I think some others use “hybrid” to mean other things, and the truth is the terminology in publishing has become muddied overall and can be problematic, but that’s another blog post entirely.) While I’m pleased that some publishers have seen fit to take on my work, I’ve done better with my self-published material. By “better” I mean I’ve sold more. That’s one of the only concrete metrics we have when it comes to writing since it’s so subjective. We fixate on numbers—sales, units printed/sold, how many reviews/stars—because those are tangible. We take them as an indication of “good” or “not good” via a kind of sliding scale. But in reality, “good” isn’t quantifiable. It’s entirely based on personal preference.

Now let’s just look at some of Gough’s claims:

To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.

1. This assumes that readers only respect and want to read traditionally published books. That’s clearly not true since some self-published authors sell plenty of books and make plenty of money. (“Plenty” also being subjective.) Someone is buying self-published books.

2. This also assumes that agents, publishers, editors, and reviewers hold the corner on what is “good” or not. As we’ve already discussed, that’s a highly personal matter. Even agents, publishers, editors, and reviewers don’t agree on what’s good. And what about all the self-published books that get rave reviews? Or are we going to begin arguing about which reviewers “count”? Are we going to say that some readers have “no taste”? That’s not possible. Everyone has taste, just not the same taste. And no one’s taste is more valid than any other’s. This is one time when it really is a matter of opinion.*

3. Another assumption: readers expecting books to be vetted before they buy. Well, yes, if I’m buying a book published by [insert Big 5 Publisher here] I have that expectation. If I’m buying a self-published book I certainly hope it’s been edited and all that, but I admit my expectations are not as high. Maybe they should be, but . . . I’m just being honest here.

4. “It’s the best system we have.” Really? It’s a system that is primarily worried about making money, not about promoting “good” art. So, in truth, something half-assed that will sell still makes it through over something really well written that has a smaller audience. Does that mean the well-written book doesn’t deserve to be published? Because that’s the system that’s being touted here.

The article goes on to talk about how a good writer must put in thousands of hours, years of work in order to hone his or her craft. Okay, with this I agree. You should not immediately go self-publish that book after the first draft. You need to get feedback, possibly hire a freelance editor, etc. But in the context of this article, Gough just sounds bitter that she took the time to “do it right” and others are doing it faster and still seeing some success.

Or perhaps, as she mentions being an editor, she’s sour that some self-published authors don’t use editors or an editing service of some kind. I agree that can be a problem. (I also used to be an editor.) But to condemn all self-published work because some isn’t well edited is a terrible generalization.

In fact, the entire article is a generalization. It makes a sweeping assumption that all self-published work is crap that couldn’t hack it in the “real” publishing world. As if there is such thing as “real” and “fake” publishing.

The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there. And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.

Sure, some of these writers haven’t learned the craft and should probably do a bit more work before pushing that “publish” button on Amazon. But to say every single self-published book tells me she either hasn’t tried to read very many or has chosen the worst ones, probably just to prove her point.

She then quotes Brad Thor as saying, “If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.” Well, that’s nice, but it’s not realistic. As mentioned previously, publishers are looking for something that sells, which isn’t always something “good.” And as the big publishers merge and shrink and smaller publishers fold under financial stress, there are fewer shots at a publishing contract even for “good writers and great books.”

I understand the general frustration of seeing poorly written work for sale online. But let’s look at this in terms of movies. Is an independently produced film—one funded by the writer and/or director using actors trying to make names for themselves—any less of a film than one produced by a major studio? Sometimes they’re bad, yeah. The quality can be lacking. But sometimes they’re wonderful and unique and couldn’t get a break with the majors because the majors all want blockbuster superhero films. And sometimes the majors make really terrible films, too. So it is with books. There are great little self-published books and dreadful ones. There are splashy traditionally published books with big names on them and atrocious ones where you wonder what they were thinking when they made it. And you can argue that you’ve seen more bad indie movies than bad studio films, and maybe that’s true. But you can’t honestly say there are no good indie movies ever. Nor can you say that of self-published books.

*Excepting grammar. Spelling and grammar are not a matter of taste or opinion.