It begins with a whisper …

From the blood drenched depravity of The Wounded King and the ancient curses of The Elder, we now follow a young man in his journey to the coveted red and gold robes of a Priest in Red and Gold, the third installment in The Martuk Series, Jonathan Winn’s ongoing collection of short fiction inspired by his award-winning novel Martuk … the Holy.

It begins with a whisper.

The words a warning, silently spoken to the heart of this innocent kneeling in the mighty Temple of Uruk one thousand years before the birth of Christ. A young one who dreams of being wrapped in the red and gold robes of a priest.

But this warning whispered by a mysterious Magi leads to doubt. And then to fear. This stranger who wields magic from the anonymity of shadow forcing this initiate to look beyond the power of the Temple into the frightening black hearts of those who rule.

Haunted by the cries of those Bones in the Stones, his kindness stumbling under the weight of a young boy he leads to slaughter, all while trapped in this life he’s chosen and now can never escape, this is the story of how horrible truths and bloody betrayals destroy the dreams of innocent hearts.

This is … Red and Gold.

– available now –

Killing us softly

Although the dust is still settling and no one — not even Barnes & Noble, evidently — is sure just how indie authors might be affected, this latest decision to not carry or make available ANY books published by Amazon or Amazon’s KDP (and perhaps even CreateSpace) in their stores, both online and retail, is just one more sign of Traditional Publishing’s push-back against the growing success of indie authors.

How’s that?

Books published by the Big 6 aren’t limited to one pipeline when it comes to sales. They can choose B&N, brick and mortar, Amazon, and anything else out there that makes their work available to the widest readership.

Independent or self-published authors? Well, hell, B&N obviously doesn’t give two shits about us. To choke off potential sales and Nook readers for those of us not repped by Traditional Publishing in order to fight back against a company that’s playing the game a lot better than they are is the height of both arrogance and stupidity.

So, in the short term, this may hurt sales as we self-pubs recalibrate to NOT include B&N into our marketing plans. And, perhaps in the long term as self-pubs continue to climb the ladder of public success, Nook readers will openly question why they can’t get the latest hot release from Author X.

But nothing will kill my desire to write, to publish, and to forge something of a career out of it.

You want to compete with Amazon, B&N? Convince me to publish with you, make the process easy and quick, and give me a strong royalty rate. To throw me — and hundreds of thousands of writers just like me — overboard to make a point to a behemoth who will just laugh at you like the petulant ingrate you are then go on to sell even MORE of my books (while you won’t) does nothing but turn the self-publishing community against you.

And I find it somewhat laughable that you think any self-published author is going to choose you over the powerhouse that is Amazon. And, again, this cutting off my nose to maybe hopefully perhaps maybe spite Amazon’s face isn’t endearing me to you.

At the end of the day, this latest move by B&N won’t kill my career or even the careers of other self-published authors. In fact, as mentioned earlier, I trust as self-pubbed books go on to gain notable success, the Nook will become synonymous with NOT getting the latest bestseller everyone is talking about. This could end up hurting them in the long run more than it will me and my self-pubbing compadres.

They’ll going to have to try a little harder to do that.

I’m not King

If you’ve published a book, you’ve probably found yourself asking “Why isn’t my book selling?”

Heck, let’s just be real here. If you’re independently published or even lounging under the umbrella of the Big 6, you’ve most definitely asked that question.

Oh, c’mon! Of course you have. We all have.

In this vast ocean of pages and ink and black pixels on white, Why isn’t my book selling? is the bond that links us, all of us — rich, poor, newbie, old salt, superstar, anonymous hack –, together.

And if you haven’t wondered Why isn’t my book selling?, well, let me be the first to welcome you, Mr. King. Or is that you, JK? Mr. Patterson? In any case, Hello!!! Glad you could drop by.

Any-hoo …

Trudging your way out of NoSales Desert isn’t always an easy thing. And, in the end, the answer to your How the Heck Do I Get Out of Here may not be up to you anyway. I’m as proactive as the next guy, but sometimes the What of what has to happen isn’t a Something you can do.

I mean, there are the usual culprits to look at first. The inevitable chaff to separate from your literary wheat. Your formatting sucks or your writing isn’t what it could be or your cover throws people off or the lack of reviews makes potential readers skittish or your price is way, way too high or, swimming in a sea of millions, people just don’t know you exist yet and you’re still stuck believing that somehow the book will magically market itself.

It could be any one of those things. And those are things you can fix. Sometimes.

What you can’t fix is Time.

Someone once said to me that a good book — a really good book with great writing and professional formatting offered at an appropriate price with a cover that is genre specific and really pops — takes a solid 6 months to a year to find its audience.

Yep, six months to a year. If you’re lucky.

Do some writers bolt out of the gate and become overnight sensations? Sure, if by “overnight” you mean a couple years spent building a readership on fan-fiction sites or laboriously crafting an online platform for the past three years via their blogs and websites and social media.

But most of us aren’t that prescient — or smart –, so instead of working our already strong internet presence, we spend the first several months wondering where in the heck we went wrong.

Which is where the second piece of advice from this very wise Someone comes in.

Instead of waiting for your book to sell, obsessing over the big, fat 00 on your sales chart, and wondering when it’ll get better, write.

That’s right.

Write.

His point, this Wise Someone of whom I speak, was that writers with more than one book tend to sell more. As if somehow readers feel more likely to commit to an unknown if they see the journey has the potential to continue past that first book. Furthermore, he insisted, books in a series tend to attract readers who prefer, well, reading series. They’ll buy one and then another and another until the end. And then look for your next one. If your work is good, of course.

I guess the point of this rambling missive is this:

You’re a writer, so write. Don’t worry about sales. Don’t worry about your plummeting ranking. Don’t woulda, coulda, shoulda yourself to death. It is what it is.

Just write.

If it means writing another book, write another book. I think every writer has more than one in them. You should by all means offer as much as you can to potential readers. If they like what you do in one, the chances are great they’ll follow through with your next.

So, get busy. Type The End, publish the book, open a new document, type Chapter One, lather, rinse, repeat.

If it means writing on a blog, go for it. In this day and age, the more readers interact with you, the better. For some, having a glimpse behind the Chapter Headings and discovering an opportunity to talk with the author of a book they’re considering reading could be a key selling point that tips it in your favor. Or slamming out a guest post on someone else’s site. Abso-frigging-lutely. Brilliant. Being a part of a community never hurts. And, again, the more who know you exist, the better.

Whatever can draw more eyes to your work, that’s what you want to do.

Besides, anything is better than looking at those double doughnuts on your sales chart, right?

Obsession and Oblivion

From a recent guest post I wrote:

Why do I do what every indie writer does every single day?

Because I’m curious. No, scratch that. Because I’m obsessed.

This obsession can’t be stopped by the absence of a Big Publisher brandishing a goody bag of guidance and media connections. This obsession won’t be quieted by the lack of a sizeable advance propping up my bank account or the implicit promise of three martini lunches in suit-and-tie restaurants. With tablecloths. And flowers. Or not.

In fact, my obsession — perhaps I should be calling it a sickness by now? — isn’t even disheartened by this apparently endless wandering among the parched, wind-blasted dunes of NoSales Desert.

My characters, my stories, my books steamroll everything else into oblivion.

dancing unicorns of hope

A friend of mine, seeing how “easy” it was for me to publish a few books, has decided that THEY now want to jump in the game and, I don’t know, write something. (their words, not mine)

Now, I’m a supportive, encouraging friend even if I’m not at all confident this will actually happen. And I’d love to be something of a guide to this person. Steer them away from the mistakes I made and maybe make the transition from fantasy to reality a little easier. Perhaps prepare them in some way for what waits after they click Publish and their baby goes Live.

But they are SO not open to hearing any of that. They’re convinced they’re unleashing the next 50 Shades of Grey and will most definitely get 10,000 sales a day and soon be supping with Spielberg, so …

I’ll just go ahead and tell YOU.

As a self-published Author without a strong platform (read: blog that’s a few years old and has massive traffic i.e., a built-in fan base), your first month will probably be your best.

Why?

That’s when friends and family and friends of friends and friends of family and coworkers and friends of coworkers and so on and so forth and whatnot will buy your book.

And that’s it.

You see, the second month, when everyone you know already has you locked and loaded on their Kindle (which they may or may not read), that’s when the reality of what you face hits you. And unless you’ve already laid the groundwork via your blog (see above) or other blogs (a process that, if done with sincerity, can take many months), no one will know you exist. And if you don’t exist, how do you sell books?

Reviews.

Reviews from your built-in fans (family and friends) come almost right away. They rave, they weep, they insist this is the best thing since sliced bread and you HAVE to buy it. And savvy ebook buyers tend to discount them just as quickly. The reviews that matter are from well-known reviewers on well-known blogs who, like it or not, are going to be honest. If your book sucks, you’ll hear about it and it can hurt not only your bottom line, but your career as well. If they love it, you’ll see sales pick up.

Now, to get those reviews.

It can take months. Even upwards of a year. Or more.

Bitter pill to swallow? Yep. But don’t you think knowing stuff like this would be helpful if you’re just starting out? That the minimal sales you see as a new author are the same for practically every other new author? And that most books don’t find their rhythm or readership for at least the first six months? And that’s if it’s strong work that’s smartly promoted?

Don’t you believe it SHOULD be common knowledge that the work in getting your book noticed is an ongoing, laborious, lengthy process holding no guarantee of success? And, let’s face it, it’d be a HUGE help knowing that the interest of those closest to you peaks in the beginning and then, after that, becomes polite support. That’s a good thing to understand, don’t you think?

Of course. Or at least I think it would. And I haven’t even touched on promotion via excerpts and guest blogging and Twitter and Facebook and blah blah blah blah blah.

So, for you writers out there gearing up to begin your self-publishing journey, I hope you find the above useful.

It’s not offered to prick your balloons or throw cold water on your dreams or suffocate your prancing, dancing unicorns of hope. It’s simply out there so can be prepared and understand what’s happening instead of believing it’s because you suck and your book sucks and no one cares.

It’s a business, this publishing thing, and the more you know going in, the better off you’ll be.

So consider this your friendly reality check.

(^~^)

I don’t hate you

If you’ve visited in the past few days, you probably think I have some irrational, uncontrollable hatred or animosity or something for Legacy Publishing aka the Big 6 or Traditional Publishing.

Granted, this rant and that bit of angry hoo-how would certainly give you that idea.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t HATE Traditional Publishing.

Really! I don’t!

Without them, I would have grown up without books. Without them, my imagination would have floundered. Without them, my creativity would have withered and died. Without them, I would not be who I am and where I am.

And, without them, there’d be no vanity press, no online publishing, no self-publishing via Amazon.

In fact, in many ways, Traditional Publishing is the parent of Self-Publishing.

A distant, unloving, hyper-critical, potentially abusive parent. But a parent nonetheless.

The anger I feel toward the Big 6 has more to do with their apparent attitude toward self-published authors than it does with who they are or how they operate, even, ostensibly, through surrogates. (cough) NY Times (cough)

Listen, it’s one thing to be rejected by a Publisher. Happens all the time. No big whoop.

It’s another thing to have those at the Big 6 not want you to publish PERIOD.

It seems like it’s no longer enough to ignore you outright or have an intern toss a rejection letter/email your way. Now they have to bludgeon, bloody, and belittle what’s becoming a strong cornerstone of an increasingly viable industry.

From questioning the quality of the work and the work ethic of the authors to throwing doubt on the veracity of the reviews, it looks as if Legacy Publishers are hell bent on destroying self-pubbed authors.

Why?

Is the royalty check I’m getting this week — my own version of “One small step for my bank account, one … giant leap for my bruised Writer’s ego” — really that much of a threat to their bottom line? Is the fact that ANYONE can publish and, therefore, the Big 6 no longer decides who does and doesn’t end up in Readers’ hands killing them that much? Do they so desperately need to be The Gatekeepers that they’ll stoop to staining the collective reputations of authors who, collectively, are hardly a threat to their more established Superstars?

Why? (I ask again)

Listen, I understood early on that what I write — my story about a haunted immortal desperate for redemption lacking vampires and werewolves and wizards and a clean, easy fit in the YA genre — wasn’t what New York was looking for. That’s why I didn’t submit it.

As I said in the Comments to this great Post over on Carl Purdon’s blog, I could spend years perfecting a query letter to land an agent and then try to get published — which could be several more years — OR I could self-publish and spend that time building an audience and writing more books.

That Legacy Publishers would seem to have a problem with that is, frankly, confusing.

That they’d apparently take fairly overt steps to diminish us is what angers me.

So, I don’t really have a problem with Traditional Publishers per se. As long as they let me do what I want to do, why would I?

All I ask is they give us self-publishers the same respect and allow us the chance to find our Readers.

At the end of the day, the Publishing World is a vast, endless ocean. I’m sure there’s room enough for everyone.

Isn’t there?

Lunch is on me

An Open Letter to the NY Times:

In a recent article — The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy by David Streitfeld –, you insinuate quite strongly that the 4- and 5-star reviews one finds for self-published authors on sites like Amazon cannot be trusted to accurately represent the work or the writer’s talent because there are companies out there that sell favorable reviews and, due to the possibility of a potential relationship between the Reviewer and the “Reviewee”, these reviews should be ignored or mistrusted.

Are there writers, like John Locke, who admit to purchasing reviews? Yes.

Do they perhaps help lift sales? Some would say yeah, they could.

Is this a well-known aspect of Marketing 101 that those at the Times are well aware of? Of course.

Does the fact that a company like this could exist and do business negate every single review a self-published author has ever gotten? It damn well shouldn’t.

Let me ask you this, NY Times:

How many times have your Reviewers had lunch with someone from a Big 6 Publisher right before receiving the free review copy of Star Author’s next book? Or even after a favorable review ran? How many times have your Reviewers received Thank You notes from Legacy Publishers for good reviews? Or birthday cards? Holiday cards? Phone calls? Gift baskets stuffed with expensive trinkets as a gesture of their appreciation?

How many times have those at the NY Times found themselves mingling at parties with those from Traditional Publishing? And how many NY Times Reviewers found their reviews edited by Higher Ups in order to cast a kinder, more ecstatic light on Star Author’s new opus?

More importantly, how many self-published books has the NY Times officially reviewed?

If none, why not?

If you’re going to write an article all but suggesting the reviews a self-published book receives should be discounted because of the potential for some kind of nefarious collusion between the Reviewer and the Reviewed, please be aware this may — and should — bring into question the veracity of your own Reviewers and the often cozy relationship you hold and have held for years with those obviously feeling most threatened by self-published authors: the Big 6.

So remember that the next time Mr. Publisher gulps down the last of his chardonnay, whips out his Black Amex, smiles, and says “Lunch is on me”.

Oceans of blood

How about an excerpt from my book Martuk … The Holy?

Pen at rest, she sat back, looking at me, her fingers fondling the silk scarf tied beneath her chin.

I had stumbled upon her speaking in a bookstore on Boulevard Saint Germain. An American author and PhD, she had written a slender, earnest tome on ancient religion, a popular work weaving archaic beliefs and myths with those principles we hold in our modern world.

Intrigued, I stopped to listen. Learning of her second life as a psychologist, I requested her card.

And now here I sat, fighting the urge to lunge at her, lift her by her slender neck and slam her against the wall, the back of her skull smashing against the diploma, shards of glass raining to the floor.

Of ripping the expensive cloth protecting her tender flesh, tearing the skin between her breasts, cracking open her rib cage and stealing her heart, that feeble ball of cold, uncaring muscle. Void of compassion. Of understanding. The glistening lump now anemically beating in my monstrous red paw.

My fingers puncturing those delicate sockets above her nose to pluck out the slimy dark nuggets of judgment. Of disapproval. The fantasy of spiriting them from their safe little caves to roll about in my palm now obsessing me.

“I feel your frustration,” she lied, staining the white with more scribbling.

I suppressed the urge to smile.

“But it’s important to understand as much as I can,” she continued, her pen again at rest. “About you. Your experiences. Your life. From there we begin the real work of dealing with this feeling of powerlessness. With these dreams. Your nightmares.

“Your demons.”

The pen began its destruction of a new page, the first tossed aside and lying face down. Exhausted by the scratching, no doubt.

I shifted in my chair.

Demons, she said. I didn’t want to deal with demons. Demons were dangerous. I turned my back on demons long ago. That wasn’t me anymore.

“So, you can’t die,” she suddenly said.

“Yes. I mean, no, I can’t.”

“How so?”

“I just can’t.”

“Okay,” agreed She of the Hyperactive Pen, “you’re invincible.”

“Of course not. I didn’t say that. I’m just like you. Normal. Just normal, you know? Nothing special. I just can’t die.”

“Normal?”

“Yes.”

“Yet you claim immortality. Is that normal?” Her eyes glared at me from beneath a curtain of black bangs.

“How?” she then asked, her tone softening. “How did you achieve this immortality?”

Glimpses of an altar piercing the stars clouded my vision. The chanting of Priests. An unseen crowd cheering far below. Oceans of blood for everlasting life, an Old Woman whispered. Bloody footprints on polished stone. The cloying scent of decaying flesh and the splitting of blistered skin as it roasted under an unforgiving sun.

Lips kissing mine and linen dripping red. Weeping, lying, bleeding, dying, the blade in His hand as He straddled me, both of us lost in the roar of the Darkness.

No.

It’s not you, Sue

I’ve gotten some private flak for my recent post on Sue Grafton and the interview she gave.

You know, the one where she called those who self-publish too lazy to do the hard work?

Yeah, that one.

But, listen, this isn’t about Sue. I have no doubt those who know her and love her and read her find her to be simply lovely. And, frankly, anyone who can write a series with titles based on the letters of the alphabet (I’m assuming G is for Gimmick?) knows her way around a keyboard … and the alphabet.

In fact, this isn’t even about the dismissive, condescending tone she used to describe, well, me … and 99.9% of the self-pubbed authors out there.

In all honesty, this is about the death of traditional publishing.

Okay, maybe death is too strong a word. Let’s go with extreme reluctance to grab the lifesaver we self-pubbed authors are throwing them. But even that gives us too much credit.

How about we just say We’re showing Them that We can do what We do without Them.

And that terrifies Them. (thus ends my brief foray into capitalized pronouns)

A cursory wander ’round Google will bring up all kinds of hits from well-established blogs and writers who’ve discussed this issue at length. So, if this intrigues you — and, if you’re a writer, it damn well should –, there’s a lot out there to read.

I’ve decided to take this bull by the horns in a more personal way.

One person who wrote me about the earlier post said that if I were offered a contract from a traditional publisher, I’d take it!

But, hand to God, I don’t know if that’s true.

You see, as a newbie writer, a contract with a Publisher would basically put me where I already am. I’d still have a book to write, still have a book to market, still have a book to sell, still have other books to write. The only differences would be A) I’d be under contract and more than likely have to alter what I write — bye bye, awesome freedom –, and B) I would not be getting the sweet royalties I get now.

Oh, and there’s a C) in there, too: I’d be not-so-gently penalized (Hello, Bargain Bin) for sales that underperform expectations.

Ouch.

When publishers make budget cuts — and, believe me, the floors are awash in red over there these days — the first things to go are Executive Pay and Star Author Perks.

Just kidding.

Marketing and Editing hit the chopping block first.

So, as a new writer, you’ll get a line edit looking for typos and grammatical errors, but you’re not getting any structural edits. Gone are the days when a pair of Wise, Experienced Eyes would look over your opus, highball in one hand, cigarette in the other, and say in a sonorous voice, “Listen, kid, trim here, give me more of Character A, pep up Character D, ditch Character B ’cause he’s a boring asshole, and lose that bit with the blue hat ’cause it doesn’t make sense”.

Nope. Typos and misplaced commas. That’s what you get as far as Edits go.

And marketing? You’re on your own there, too.

Sure, they may throw a tiny bit of cash your way in the very beginning. But, and this is the kicker, if your book doesn’t show strong numbers right away based on the small ad they ran in some obscure publishing magazine, guess who gets bundled with two other low performers and tossed deep into the shadows of the $1 bin.

Nothing you can do about it.

Shoppers will continue to find themselves face-to-face with Bestselling Author A’s Big Tower’o’Books the minute they escape the revolving doors while you languish deep in a box in a warehouse or far, far, far in the back of a shelf no one can reach.

You signed the dotted line, you agreed to it, you are contractually trapped.

And you no longer call the shots.

Oh, did I mention the royalty payments? If you’re lucky enough to sell a physical book, you’ll see perhaps 12% of that. Or 15%. Or 20% tops. If you’re lucky.

When?

Payments are sent quarterly. Maybe. There are all kinds of accounting gimmicks they pull out of their hats to buff up their bottom line and sap the happy from your checks.

And ebooks? You’re looking at maybe getting 20% to 30% of that. Maybe not. Accounting gimmicks apply as does the quarterly schedule.

So, in the face of all this ridiculousness the Author has no control over, why would I or anyone else who self-pubs go with a Major?

Well, if you’re as unknown as I am right now, you wouldn’t. If you’re Amanda Hocking or that 50 Shades of Grey chick, money. Up front. A lot of it. You sign away the rights, agree to a new series or something, shock your bank account with more numbers than its ever seen, and, finally, take a deep breath and relax.

And then it begins.

Your books no longer priced at .99 or $1.99 or $2.99, you lose a chunk of your audience. The marketing angle the Major decides on is fairly Old School and completely misses the mark ’cause they have no idea who your readers are. You do, but they won’t listen to you because, well, you know, you’re just the Author. Oh, and the new covers kinda suck.

But it’s out of your hands.

So is the fact that your books are no longer selling at the numbers they had been when they were self-pubbed, usually because your readers balk at the new price point and it feels like the work is no longer speaking to them. Because it isn’t.

The marketing budget for you is reigned in a bit. Your new agent assures you everything’s okay when you know it’s somehow not. You’re lost in the dark wondering when the next interview or book signing or whatever will be. And no one is returning your calls.

Surprise! You’re expendable.

Because the unspoken deal behind the smiles and three-martini lunches at restaurants with table cloths and violins (no, scratch the violins … too distracting) the Major will shower you with is that the numbers you have as an incredibly successful self-pub are the numbers you have to bring as a non-self-pub … and then some. If even a small percentage of your readers leave — which inevitably happens when a series ends or they outgrow the genre and move on to other things or the phenom hits its peak and then ebbs or, although your readers love you, they don’t love you enough to splash out $9.99 for something they used to buy for $2.99 or .99 — your numbers suffer.

And where will the smiles and tablecloths and violins (changed my mind, they’re back in) be then?

But there is a way around this.

A very successful self-pub whose name escapes me (apologies) just signed with a Major. For physical books. Only. He keeps the ebook rights and profits, they work the physical book angle and he gets the standard 15 – 20% or whatever.

Smart, yeah?

So, if a Major were to ever wine and dine me — and, let’s face it, the chances of my getting a gilded invitation to sup at Fancy Pants Restaurant are pretty darn slim — , that’s the kind of deal I’d make. And if they balked and hemmed and hawed, I’d walk away. A bad deal will never magically become a good deal. Best not to agree to it and then fan the flames by legalizing it with my Jonathan Winn.

I’d just go back to doing what I was doing well in the first place.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s pretty damn awesome being self-pubbed.

It’s about time the Majors realized that.