1. SHOCK & DENIAL & PATHOLOGICAL BULLSHITTING. Yes, even you authors of high body-count murder mysteries may be SHOCKED to realize that you are OOP (Out of Print). With no prospective publishing deals in the works, even your friends at the bar have stopped asking, “Hey, when’s your next book coming out?” Because they know, you know, it ain’t.
2. PAIN & GUILT, YOU TRY POETRY. You start thinking you’re washed up, a has-been. Worse yet, a never-were. Your parents were right, you should’ve gotten that law degree or plumber’s license so you’d have “something to fall back on,” instead of falling on your face. You write a few poems and submit them to poetry zines. You feel dirty afterward. You can’t believe how conscientious these little hipster rags are about sending out rejection letters and explaining in great detail why your work didn’t make the cut.
3.ANGER, DRUNKEN BUTT DIALING:. You drink to excess, because that’s what writers do. And one night at the bar with your phone in your back pocket, you blame your agent’s gender confusion and braided nose hairs for all your problems with publishers, and as luck would have it, your agent’s number is on your speed dial and that’s the call that gets you in trouble. She takes it like a man: She has the whole rant transcribed and posts it on Facebook and it goes viral. Now even those dinky little university presses won’t touch you.
4. DEPRESSION, REFLECTION, CRAIGSLIST ADDICTION. You want to feel superior to someone–anyone, so you obsessively scan the employment ads on craigslist so you can laugh at all the pathetic job offerings there.
BLOGGER WANTED: We need MOTIVATED writers who create eye candy for readers, compelling prose that TOTALLY EXITS [SIC] readers. Can you write like 30 or 40 short articles a day? Send us like 20 sample stories on something really cool. Pay is $5 per article.
5. THE UPWARD TURN, GOING DIGITAL. You’ve always hated Kindles and Nooks and eReaders, but then Apple comes out with its iBook Author app, where you can publish your book for the iPad with music and pictures and video, 3-D, and all that cool stuff, and you start dreaming again. Creative juices flowing, you write like a house on fire, and then you learn the app and you actually publish your own book and release it to the iBookstore, which only keeps 30% of your sales. Then you put it out on Kindle and Smashwords.
In the early spring of 2012, eBook sales are booming. Sales of eBooks have outstripped sales of old fashioned print books. A major factor in this phenomenon is the Kindle Prime program. Authors enroll their book in the Kindle Prime Program–authors offer their book for free during short promotions, then, according to some obscure algorithm, are paid a share of a large pool of money , their share determined on how many people downloaded your book. Does anyone read these free books? Surely some people do. How many? Who knows.
It sounds like the worst ripoff in the history of writers getting screwed, but for some crazy reason, free works. You actually know of writers who couldn’t get arrested before, and then they started publishing to Kindle and they have quit their day jobs. No, they’re not in the Nicholas Sparks bracket yet, but they are making enough to survive and pay the mortgage every month. Not bad. Some of the successful ones even blog about it, bragging about how many copies of their books were downloaded for free and how much money they made from that, and the buzz from it helped actual sales, too. And the kicker is, these authors aren’t exactly in the Michael Ondaatje league–hell, they’re not even in the Mickey Spillaine league–but they’re making money writing. As the saying goes, it sure beats working.
6. RECONSTRUCTION, WORKING THROUGH, AMAZON GETS PICKY ABOUT AUTHORS WRITING THEIR OWN REVIEWS.
Not that you would ever do this, or maybe you’d do one or two and then remove them once the “real” reviews started coming in. But it’s a sign that change is in the wind. The digital tidal wave is losing steam. Or maybe it was all hype to begin with. Maybe it wasn’t the “books” part of “eBooks” that people were excited about, but the “e.” That is, all the guys in the high rise board rooms who really run the world decided that Kindles, iPads, Nooks and whatever were supposed to be the new electronic gadget everybody has to have, and fortunately there was no shortage of suckers out there willing to work for free to provide the digital products these gadgets snacked on.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE, YOU GO BACK TO PRINT
Remember way back in the old days, like 2001, 2003, etc., when every time you got on an airplane or talked to a security guard or something, they were reading a paperback book? Nine times out of ten it was a blockbuster, what they call an “airport” novel. We’re talking about James Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, etc., not exactly the avant gard guys, right? So one thing about e-publishing that always appealed to you was the DIY aspect, the idea that the little guy can do it on his own, and mud in the eye to the giant publishing conglomerates. Right?
But now you get on a plane and about the same number of people are reading on their Kindle, iPad or Nook, even their iPhones. And guess what? They’re reading James Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, etc., the same old stuff. Blockbusters, airport novels. Not the avant hard. Not the little guy.
And another thing is, many people you know, not just your mother and your extended family, and the old gang down at the guitar store, but almost all of your writer friends, and almost everyone you know, are not going to buy your eBook. They’re not going to spend two minutes moving their browser over to Amazon or iTunes to buy it, they are not even going to spend 60 seconds to download the sample, or ten seconds to hit the ratings link and give you five stars or even one star.
Well, friends can be like that. That’s just how it is. Also, a large number of them have said, “Hey, I just don’t do eBooks. I still love book-books. I love the feel of a real book in my hands.”
You think about that. Come to think about it, you can relate to that. Sure, you buy eBooks occasionally and you’re always reading McSweeney’s on your iPhone, but nothing beats a real, live forest-decimating book-book.
So you find out about this outfit called Blurb . “Blurb“ is a word that will make the seasoned author nod his or her head knowingly. A real writer knows when a colleague needs a blurb. All they have to do is send you the book. Maybe their agent sends it to you and says, “Johnny X wanted you to have a copy of his new book.” That does not mean Johnny X actually wants you to read the book, nor does it mean Johnny X really hopes you like it. Johnny X wants a blurb, like: “With this ticking time bomb of a memoir, Johnny X gives the hipster generation the reedy, nicotine-stained, but lyrical howl in the darkness it truly deserves.”
Blurb is basically a print-on-demand, self-publishing company with a number of bells and whistles not offered by the average book printer. Yes, as you peruse the website and notice all the coffee table size formats, the emphasis on high quality color printing, it does appear that the average Blurb customer might be someone who is so fond of the photos they took on their trip to the Grand Canyon or Barcelona or whatever, they want a permanent physical artifact, like a book. But Blurb also has a proprietary book formatting program called Booksmart, which allows even novelists, bloggers and poets to upload their work into various templates, which can be manipulated and customized to a large degree.
The help desk at Blurb is also very quick and thorough as well. And when you finally (yes, there’s a learning curve and the app isn’t as good as sex, but what is?) get your book formatted and ordered and it arrives via Fed Ex in about seven days (there are several options, but the one week shipping rate is a pretty good deal (hey listen, maybe if Hemingway had been able to ship off a manuscript and get the books back in seven days he wouldn’t have committed suicide…) the print quality is pretty impressive.
It really is. No kidding. A lot of the stuff in items 1 — 6 is not necessarily true. I’ve been writing a long time now and as you know, writers are not all that reliable when it comes to the facts. Plus I had to go along with the Seven Steps of Grief format. Obviously, I do have a handful of good friends, including writers, who took a few minutes out of their busy schedules (and happy hours) to write some cool blurbs for my book, and I think they were halfway sincere when they said they liked it and they think it’s pretty good.
In any event, now that we’re on the 7th stage of E-Book Grief, we’re sticking to the facts.
Around the first of February I started working on the BookSmart app and ended up deciding to self-publish, in print, my entire last novel, Grave Digger Blues. So what if various other digital editions already exist–even a Blues Deluxe Edition for the iPad that has my original blues soundtrack, numerous audio chapters with jazz soundtracks by Johnny Reno and myself, and 100s of photos and drawings, plus some video. I decided to rethink the visuals on the print edition and replaced most of the ones from the digital versions. I found lots of public domain photos of atomic bomb tests, silent movie vamps from the 1920s and 1930s, and even some great shots of Marilyn Monroe. Plus my drawings of women, armadillos and grizzly bears. Nearly all of these images all printed out quite well in black and white on uncoated paper. And the new cover looks very, very good.
I ordered 2 print copies so I could proof the text one more time and also give one copy to a friend who collects my work and is just a great guy, anyway. He happens to be an attorney and for some reason this made me reconsider some of the material in the book, which some might have considered libelous or defamatory, so I made a few last minute changes in that area, too.
The book is a surreal detective story, set in the near future or, as we often say, it’s the story of Hank Zzbynx, the last detective at the end of the world. The book also has a few of my songs in it, as well as the parallel story of a doomed jazz musician called The Blues Cat. I’ve written about this book a lot elsewhere, including on this blog, so just check this link, and Amazon, and iTunes, to read that stuff about it.
So I’ve become truly self-published, I reckon. I’m doing a micropublishing venture.
I’m as excited about having copies–PRINT COPIES–of Grave Digger Blues as I’ve been about anything I’ve created in the last 30–40 years and released to the public. We’ll be doing some small book signing events and readings in the near future (after the tidal wave of madness a k a SXSW passes, that is), and I’ll bring some with me to sell at gigs, too. And I’ll bring the print copy to our E-Book MeetUp on Tuesday, March 13, at SXSW 2013. Representatives from Blurb will be there, and also people from Standard magazine, and myself and Nettie Reynolds, the fabulous Austin author/ book publicist/ performance artist.
Also, I guess I’ll find out if all those people who said, Hey, if that was a book-book, I’d buy it, were telling the truth.
Listen, I’ve had fun. In 1978, I started a band called The Skunks with two of my pals and in about 6 weeks time the band was the talk of the town. At the same time I was in a band called The Violators, with Kathy Valentine (later of the Go-Go’s) and Carla Olson (later Textones). We helped ignite the punk/new wave scene in Austin, Texas, which jump-started Austin into its LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD reality. The Skunks had a pretty good run. In 1987 my wife and I moved to Los Angeles so I could write detective novels, and six weeks after we moved there, I had a publishing deal with Viking Penguin, which published my first three books: Rock Critic Murders, Tough Baby and Boiled in Concrete. In Los Angeles I was living the life — a novelist, screenwriter, working in documentary television, and playing in bands with ex-Go-Go’s and ex-Rolling Stones, among other people and fun times. Stuff like that.
I’ve published more books. I started painting and have done art shows. Now and then I even write poetry. (No, I never submit it. I’m not that crazy.) I have a great time doing my gigs, playing murder ballads and blues.
Acceptance & Hope? A real writer never accepts things as they are. He writes his own reality. Hope? I don’t know, it’s just another form of visualization. Right now I’m visualizing a real book with my crazy ideas inside it, raising hell, howling at the moon, and it feels pretty good.