lost in the noise

At some point in the next 24-72 hours Dog on Fire will be for sale as an e-book through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. At least that’s the plan.

I’ve published a bit in the analog world; a novel, a few non-fiction books, several short stories. I’ve been included in a few anthologies (including Otto Penzler’s Best American Mystery Stories 1999 and Alfred Hitchcock’s 50th anniversary anthology). I’ve ghosted a number of books for other people. I’ve put out a buttload of words in actual print. But this is the first thing I’ve done specifically for e-publication. (To be accurate, some of the stories in Dog on Fire have already appeared in print, but the stories presented as a collection is something new.)

I think of this as indie publishing. A lot of other folks think of it as self-publishing—which is generally seen as a sort of lower species of publishing. What’s odd is that many of those same folks regard independent cinema as very cool, and they see indie music releases as bold and ballsy. But putting your own writing out there seems to spark a bit of skepticism. There’s that silent but underlying question “What…you can’t get a real publisher to release your work?”

My initial response to this is “Yes, I can, but fuck you very much.”

I have to admit, there’s basis in reality for that skepticism. Technology has made it possible for a LOT of people who couldn’t get published in a traditional venue (and let’s face it, people whose work doesn’t really merit broad publication) to bang out something and put it up for sale on B&N.com and Amazon.com. And a lot of ‘real’ writers will complain—with some justification—that the amount of noise emitted by those folks makes it more difficult for their own work to find an audience.

My initial response to them is “Yes, you’re right, but also fuck you very much.

The democratization of publishing is a good thing, even if it makes it harder for the rest of us to earn a buck. Some people will claim good work will always find an audience—which is completely delusional. A lot of good work will get lost in the noise. The odds are that’ll happen to Dog on Fire too. It’s just the reality of the situation.

And then there are the folks who say something like “But you’re not really doing this for the money anyway.” Want to guess what my initial response is? “I am most certainly doing this for the money, and fuck you very much.” If I sell a short story, I get paid once. If that story gets anthologized, I get paid again. And that’s it. With an ebook collection of short stories, I get paid every time somebody buys it. I get paid less, of course, but the idea is that volume will make up for it. If the ebook gets lost in the noise, that may not work out. But if that happens, the fault doesn’t lie with the noise.

So I consider this something of an experiment. Experiments sometimes fail. Often fail. If this one fails—well, what the hell, I’ll probably try it again. I may be in this for the money, but if money were the primary consideration I’d have a straight job.

poor bastard

The beauty of traditional publishing is that all the writer has to do is write. That’s it. You make shit up and write it down. You finish the manuscript, you take it to the Post Office or Federal Express, you drop it in an envelope, send the damned thing off and that’s it. You can forget about it and move on to the next project. Easy peasy, as they say.

Some other poor bastard (or several poor bastards) will have to do the grunt work of copy editing, and considering issues of typeface, and dealing with formatting, and coming up with cover art.

But e-publishing makes every writer a poor bastard—at least in the sense of all the grunt work that’s necessary to prepare the manuscript for publication. Copy editing? You have to do it. Typeface and formatting? Figure it out. Cover art? Dude, it’s all up to you. You can stare at your computer and say “Dammit, Jim—I’m a doctor, not an engineer.” But you still have to get the warp engines back on line.

I’m okay with the copy editing. I hate it, but I can do it. I don’t know dick about typeface, but I can see that there are certain industry standards and follow those. I can cope with the formatting because the e-publishing software makes it a bit easier. But cover art? Dammit, Jim—I’m a writer, not a graphic designer.

Graphic designers never get the credit they deserve. I’ve known this for a long time—partly because graphic designers keep telling me it’s so, and partly because I’ve seen graphic designers make almost unnoticeable changes that somehow magically turns a dull design into one that seizes and holds the eye and the imagination. So I’ve known graphic designers have their own peculiar genius, but now that I’ve tried to build a book cover, I appreciate it all the more.

I tried to take a lot of things into account. The cover is for a book of non-traditional detective stories, so I wanted the cover to have a light noir-ish vibe—somewhat urban, but not quite hard-boiled. I wanted it to relate to something that appears in the stories—a setting, an object, an atmosphere. I wanted the cover to be clean and simple and somewhat austere.

I guess I’ve made maybe a couple dozen different covers now. They all look too simplistic to me. They look like—well, they look like I made them. They don’t look to me like real book covers. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at e-book covers on Amazon.com and B&N.com, and I’ve got myself so turned around at this point that they don’t look like real book covers either.

I suspect I’ll settle for one of these four covers. Years ago I learned to be able to let go of a manuscript; now I have to learn to do the same with a book cover.

But this shit ain’t easy.

he quipped

Some words annoy me. Quip is one of them. Not the noun–I have no real problem with the noun. It’s the verb that offends me, and it offends me especially when used as a dialog tag. “Blah blah blah,” he quipped.

Dude, if you have to tell me it’s a quip, it’s not a very good quip. If you have to point out the quippy nature of the line, then you’ve failed in your job as a writer. If the context isn’t enough to reveal the level of quipitude–if you have to rely on a 16th century verb usage to rescue you–then just delete the fucking line and start over.

this writing gig

I’m about 85% finished with a short story and, as usual, I’m not particularly pleased with it. But that’s how it works for me–I get about 85% finished and I start to think it’s an absolutely stupid story. It’s not just stupid, I tell myself, it’s dull. But usually I bang on through and finish the damned thing, and in the end the story does sometimes turn out to be stupid and dull, but most often not. But I’m aware that my judgment at this point in the process is suspect, to say the least.

What’s worrying, though, is that this happened with another short story about three weeks ago. I was about 85% finished, didn’t like it, but instead of banging through I decided to set it aside and start a new one. Now it’s happening again–I’m at that 85% mark, and I’ve got a half-formed idea for a new story that interests me immensely.

So what to do? Put this one aside and write the one I’m interested in? If I do, what happens when I’m 85% finished with the new new story and I get the urge to put it aside? Or do I finish the impossibly stupid and dull story I don’t want to work on (which is probably not nearly as stupid or dull as I think it is)?

This writing gig is hard.

brave not-so-new world

It’s never been easy to be a writer. Never. I’m not talking about the act of writing, though that can be difficult as well. I’m talking about all the associated aspects of writing. Finding the time to write. Finding an agent. Finding a publisher. Finding an audience.

With the advent of e-publishing, some of those chores have disappeared. But other chores have taken their place. You no longer need an agent…but you probably need Facebook. You no longer need a traditional publisher…but you probably need a website. You don’t have to live in New York City anymore…but you probably need social media.

So here I am. I’ve done all this before. I’ve had blogs, and let them fade away. I’ve used Twitter, but only to make announcements for Utata.org. I’ve avoided Facebook, but I’ll be joining it soon. These are the things you have to do.

It’s not a bad deal, really.