Monday, March 28, 2011

Studying the Joy of Cooking, Sex, & Electronic Publishing Does Not Compare to Reality

Nineteen attentive (and one irreverent) writers gathered in Gainesville, Florida, yesterday to hear all I had to say about the art and anguish of Electronic Publishing. As an “Expert”, with two books and one feature story whirling around the digital publishing world, I'd been called upon to relate the joys and woes of virtual authorship.

It might have been a larger audience if the WAG (Writers Alliance of Gainesville) President's email reminder had reached its target audience, and it would have been wonderful if the pages of notes, references and links I'd compiled and printed were not still sitting on the desk – at home.

I just can't wait to replay the hour-long tape, to find out what I said !

The audience (did you spot the irreverent one?) was promised a listing of links and useful info would be posted on my blog. It was not meant to be a crafty way to drive people to view it – but it ain't such a bad idea now I think of it. Hope you are helped on your way to the New World of Publishing.

Self-publishing has always had the stigma of “Vanity Press” label hung on the author's efforts by the traditional publishing houses. But in its early days, long before social networking was a click of the switch and a tweet to pass the word, hard copy print pamphlets, broadsides and books were the only way to reach a large readership.

American patriot Thomas Paine stirred the pot of rebellion with several missives in the 18th Century, enough to provoke English legislators to have him tried in absentia and condemned to be hung for treason against the Crown. One of his Philadelphia based rent-a-publisher produced a four-page pamphlet printed for a few pennies in 1776. Today, the first edition of Paine's Common Sense, is listed by antiquarian bookseller Bauman Rare Books, at $52,000.

Paine is not around to claim any cash rewards for his efforts, but a couple of “instant success” electronically-published writers have done very well recently, thank you.

Poster boy on the publisher's hit-list, and target of ridicule and wrath by articles in PW (Publisher's Weekly) is J.A. (Joe) Konrath. His series of liquor-labled titles featuring female Det-Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels, of Chicago PD ( Whisky Sour - 2004; Bloody Mary – 2005; Rusty Nail – 2006; Dirty Martini – 2007; Fuzzy Navel -2008 and Cherry Bomb – 2009) were traditionally published by Hyperion Press.

The “instant success” in the electronic world, where he had been touted as the possible “First Millionaire”, has encouraged a revolution amongst writers to by-pass the tortured, lengthy, hurdle-handicapped traditional route – and low royalties. Konrath claims he received 500 rejections before selling his first hard-copy book. He's also pumped out 7,000 letters to libraries, done signings at 600 bookstores and guest-blogged on 100 sites in month.

No doubt his reader following helped when he jumped onto the electronic publishing carousel for an exploratory spin – and took off, outpacing all previous brick & mortar generated sales.

But a hot new star of the EP horizon recently reversed the trend. Former aide to the adult disabled, Amanda Hocking, 26, who made meals and cleaned up after her clients, would pop a can of Red Bull (POWER-drink) and type up the novels in her head influenced by Vampire, Zombie and Troll young adult readers strolling the Wal-Mart supermarket bookshelves. Her output in EP stuck a chord with that niche market and clicked along steadily at a few hundred sales a month until January, this year.

According to AP (Associated Press) reports, sales topped 333,000 in January and hit the 300,000 mark in February: “... enough to back her claim to have sold between $1.4million and $2million in e-books.”

Until recently, her only hard-copy books have been published by LuLu, the ubiquitous imprint found on many do-it-yourself writer's efforts.

The traditional publishing world is all abuzz about the four-book deal she inked with St. Martin's Press, following an auction of rights to her next series, in the Young Adult paranormal genre, last week (March 24). Other competitors, including Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, dropped out when bidding hit seven figures. Guesstimates put the gavel-price at $2million for world English rights, according to a New York Times story!

But – before you leap to the fridge, pop a Red Bull and crank up your computer – spend a while reading the blogs and background on these phenomenal “instant” successes. They didn't gain without some pain. And its only just begun.

One WAG member was concerned about the ephemeral nature of electronic books, They can be wiped out by everything from sunspot activity to a refrigerator-door note-magnet frying a file, and obsolescence. He pointed at props I'd taken to the talk, including a 3,000-year-old piece of papyrus, a 17th Century leather-bound book, a copper-plate writer legal parchment of Indenture, including wax seals, and some 20th Century customized books.

He feared electronic books would not outlast our generation. The written word, reproduced on battery-operated readers, could go the way of 8-track cassettes. I agreed, but pointed out classic works have been reproduced and reprinted in some fashion, for centuries.

Using my favorite overused phrase of the year, I said:

“It depends. If its worthy of revival it will survive, Thomas Paine's works will still be in print – somehow - long after we have gone!”

List of helpful links include:
(you may have to copy & paste)

The tools are there, YOU have to do the digging to find out about Royalties, Formatting, Pricing and a zillion other questions churning through your mind.

Good Luck!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Flummoxed About "Electronic Publishing" - Join the Crowd ...This Sunday in Gainesville

I'll be wearing my "Who Made ME the Expert?" cap Sunday, March 27 at the 2:20 p.m. session of WAG (Writers Alliance of Gainesville) at the Millhopper Public Library (Google it) to give my take on How-To: Get a manuscript from a computer file into Electronic Print.

Not quite a case of "the blind leading the blind", I have a couple of things "in print" (see my earlier blogs) but I was too slow stepping back when a "volunteer" was called for!

IF you're in the Gainesville neighborhood this next weekend, don't fancy any of the games on telly and have an opus itching to get into print, stop on by. And if you're a computer geek with PUBIT or SMASHWORDS savvy - HELP!!!

ps: You can also Google The WAG Digest to eyeball the monthly newsletter and features.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Good News...Bad News...GOOD News...

Barnes & Nobles' PUBIT bean-counters inform me they have send a royalty check to my account.

Bad news is - the Eagle has not landed and the Bank Routing number used probably went straight into a Nigerian bank account somewhere on the Dark Continent.

Good News is my PUBIT schoolboy escapade feature, playing hooky to see Bella Lugosi in a matinee performance of Dracula in stodgy Olde England, matches sales of my epic WWII-era saga The Jekyll Island Enigma!

Bad News is Smashwords is taking forever to approve Premium status on the out-of-print but newly digitalized and formatted Palm Beach Scandals - An Intimate Guide.

The Good News is - its available and being eyeballed and bought BEFORE any promo of any sort, via Smashwords.

Go figure!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"LOST" Found Living in Yesterday's Literature

Threads of yesterday's literature from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Richard Adam's Watership Down have been unravelled to reveal the craft of creating the whole cloth, duringLOST's construction, in Sarah Clarke Stuart's first book, recently published by New York based Continuum Press.

It is the latest structure in the cottage industry which has grown around the popular made-for-television series, fueled by fans as fanatic as the world-wide Trekkie phenomenon. The University of North Florida English Department Professor Stuart's earlier course, based on "Religion in Sci-Fi Television" was featured in the nationally circulating publication TV Guide Magazine.

Earlier this week she described to Clay County Writers, the process which propelled her first book from query to publication,the "traditional way", within 12 months. And placed her book Literary Lost ABOVE Stephen King's On Writing on the virtual LOST University Reading List!

If you're not a television viewer, and not in the LOST loop, you may think most of the aforementioned data doesn't affect you.

But, the basic process of getting a concept on paper in the form of a query which appeals to the publisher's bottom line, applies to any non-fiction project. What is evident in Prof. Stuart's "How-I-Did-It" tale is the research, leg work and pre-marketing she applied before creating her platform to pitch at an academic venue.

She was not coy listing why her proposal, and academic qualifications plus pre-publicity and potential high-profile author endorsements, would enhance the chances of Literary Lost filling a need. Part of her proposal included marketing potential.

Her focus on the narrow niche of an educational tool, compared to a more general mass-market entertainment option, emphasises there are always ready made markets for experts and specialists, no matter what the field.

She's currently working on her next book, targeted for the mass-market potential based on Nielsen viewer ratings of the Sci-Fi television show Fringe. The working title is Into the Looking Glass: A Companion Guide to 'Fringe'.

And again, the pre-publication research is given an intense workout before the "creative writing" portion of the project which will eventually be viewed by the public.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jack Massey, 96 (HUG-meister}

It was with great sadness I learned this weekend of the passing of Jack Massey, a fixture in the community of Palatka, North-Central Florida, for decades. An affable anchor at his jewelry/photography shop downtown, he held court - at odd hours as he neared his Century - telling truly awful jokes and gossiping. A trait we shared, long before I wrote the following profile for a local magazine.

He will be truly - missed.

WAR movie-maker Ken Burns missed a wonderful vignette for his epic saga of WWII when he failed to include 93-year-old Palatka jeweler Jack Massey’s viewpoint of the *Battle of the Bulge.

Massey, a myopic medic in the winter of 1944, sat out five snow-bound foggy days a few miles away from the beleaguered city of Bastigone – in the middle of a briar patch.

Surrounded by Nazi troops, many of whom decided to use the fringe of Jack’s 10x20-foot hideout as a latrine, he sat out his stint on the front lines of the last great battle of “the big one”.

“I had put my own entrenching tool to good use too, digging a hole big enough to keep from being captured!” he recalled.

Massey, is a sprightly character who seems to have wandered Palatka’s downtown forever when he merges from his shop, with its clock-faced showcase window piercing a dull black-painted brick fa├žade.

He can usually be spotted bedecked in patriotic-colored suspenders, wearing lens-less spectacles (which support a jeweler’s loupe) as part of his alluring uniform – and an “I Love Hugs” button pinned to his shirt as a proclamation of his persona.

His saunter-speed along the sidewalk depends on the inevitable interruptions as he collects hugs en route, given by local gal groupies.

“I’m an old man – what can I do?” he innocently poses the question with a twinkle in his eye.

Usually he’s found propping up the counter, chatting to customers within the confines of the landmark Jewelry & Photo Supply shop at 615 St. Johns Avenue, under the watchful eye of daughter Suzy, youngest of the seven children he’s had between two wives.

His first died in a tragic freakish accident, slain by the flying blade from a broken lawn-mower (on their 13th wedding anniversary) the second from natural causes.

After surviving close to a century the southerner, with kin in Alabama and Georgia, has adapted to Florida’s ways and weathered the boom-bust-boom-bust cycles.

“Pop, a veteran of the Great War (1914-1918) moved from Alabama to Jacksonville in 1919 when he bought the Liberty Sign Company,” Massey said.

“He was 6” 4”, a good-looking rascal and the women went crazy over him. Mom was just five-foot,” he explained as he barreled north along SR 100 in his half-ton pick-up with a hefty cargo in back. The jeweler turned junkman for a day was not hauling precious metal, befitting his occupation, but a slab of cast aluminum to the 1st Coast Recycling Inc., collection site.

With a modern alchemists touch he converted the discarded base metal into cold cash, which in turn will morph from money into the Palatka All Saints Anglican Church Parrish Hall - one day.

“Pop’s sign business made money hand over fist, until Black Friday of ‘29 and the Depression which followed,” he recalled. “He was able to pay off $300,000 debts - cash – then we all had to go to grandma’s farm in Georgia, to eat!”

The active teenaged Jack Massey spent two years in the country earning his keep on the farm milking cows and plowing fields.

“Luckily, the mule knew much more about his job than I did, thank goodness” he chuckled. “He knew when it was time to feed and time to quit and when he headed for the barn, that was it.”

Like many youngsters of the era he was an enthusiastic member of the newly-formed BSA (Boy Scouts of America) fathered by Baden-Powell in England in 1907.

The organization’s tenets played a major role throughout his life, despite his apparent characteristic Lothario-like flirtations (call it Southern Charm).

On a memorable day in mid-August 1935, he says, a life-saving escapade propelled him onto the front page of the Denver Post & Rocky Mountain News. He shared it with the announcement of the death of American pundit, champion lariat performer and movie star Will Rogers.

“It’s a day I’ll never forget.”

The fortunes of the Massey family had fluctuated with the passing years as they joined the migratory patterns of many other Americans seeking far-flung opportunities. Jack’s educational studies at Birmingham-Southern, Alabama, were cut short then resumed at several other locales.

He attended one semester as a pre-med student at UCLA (University of California) but an upset in the family disenchanted him. He was en route back to his roots, where his father had secured a patent on a window security device, when they stayed in a cabin complex near the Platte River in Colorado.

“Some boys were fishing off a railroad trestle. One boy’s line wrapped around a temporary power cable and when he tried to unravel it – splat!”

The flash, scream and splash from the teenager propelled the Eagle Scout into rescue mode. He stripped down to his shorts then jumped in feet first into the river, groping around in the murky water.
“I couldn’t see diddly-squat, then I felt a foot,” he said. He pulled the 14-year-old to land, told the younger boys to run for help, then began artificial respiration.

“Out goes the bad – in comes the good,” he repeated the drill litany he’d learned on his way to earning merit badges.

When the boy’s body wriggled he knew his training had paid off. By the time the sound of an ambulance siren could be heard the victim, his hands charred from the electric shock, volunteered to walk.

“I told him I’d pulled him back once – I wasn’t going to do it again,” huffed Jack. He hoisted the boy onto his shoulder in a fireman’s lift and carried him toward the ambulance. “It wasn’t until we got close, and a nurse came out, I realized I was in soaking wet shorts. I was more concerned about my nakedness, than about the victim!”

The story got around, was picked up by the wire services and made front page news in Denver. He said his folks did not know about it until the cabin manager said AP (Associated Press) wanted to speak to Mr. Massey – the younger.

“I hadn’t told them (about the rescue). It was just what you did, then,” Jack explained.

During his early pre-wandering period a favored uncle had taken his young nephew on a day trip up-river from Jacksonville to Palatka when it had been a tourist Mecca. The memory remained for decades.

Throughout the period of his father’s successful decorative wrought-iron security business, his own life-threatening short stint working in a machine shop (loose clothing got caught in moving parts) and his persistence in obtaining the jewelry job he really wanted – Palatka images lingered.

Massey worked for the Duval Jewelry Company in Tampa from the Depression era to the outbreak of WWII. He beat out the many competitors for the job by charming a female employee – out taking a coffee break – to deliver a hand-written note to her boss: ”Don’t do anything until you talk to me.”

It resulted in an hours long interview and instructions to start work the next day.

After the war, married with children, he and a partner operated a jewelry business in Tampa until his first wife’s death.

Then in 1954 he rediscovered Palatka.

“Oddly enough the shop was owned and operated by the man who replaced me at Duval when I went into the service,” he shrugged. It has proven to be a bedrock of security for the Massey family and countless customers who have become his friends over the years.

“We do more than repair broken jewelry, watches and cameras,” he said. “We mend broken hearts, too.”

At 93 years of age he shows no sign of slowing down or quitting his membership and activities in numerous service, social and church organizations in Putnam County.

At least, not until he hits his 111th birthday.

“That’s my lucky number,” smiles the soldier who survived the Battle of the Bulge in a briar patch, while serving as an ambulance driver and mobile X-Ray specialist in - the 111th General Hospital.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Azalea Day Arrival Heralds Spring

> Spring is forcing its way out of the frozen earth, bursting from bud to blossom.

Just in time for the amazing Azalea Day (today) where 95,000 multi-colored hand-planted bushes were installed during the Great Depression, in a 146-acre park created in, and around the 130-feet deep ravine, will be viewed by "bookoo" visitors. The Ravine has been around yonks (eons) gradually forming as underground springs eroded the sandy soil.

We, my dog Basher, schlepped the two-mile paved roadway yesterday, to beat the crowds, We avoided the hiker-paths (and ticks) and suspension bridges across the sulphur-ozoned natural springs; alligators lurk under lily-pads where Basher would gladly become "Splasher".

The relaxing nature of the ramble still stimulated the brain.

During American Civil War days, when Florida was officially on the side of the Union, southern soldiers from the Confederate
side raided this appendix to the body politic dangling in isolation. The Ravine's natural springs, dense undergrowth, and easy access to the up-side-down flowing St. John's River and transport shipping, was a Sherwood Forest to marauders.

Gotta be a story there


ps: Think the wilderness is tamed - check out the warning!