Sunday, December 30, 2012

You Do Not Need a Literary Agent

     What follows is a long comment I left at a literary agency's website earlier today. Every once in a great while (like, once every couple of years), I'll go to Janet Reid's website and she usually never fails to satisfy and validate my cynicism of agents in general when she misrepresents her profession, its MO and mouthing pieties she knows we authors want to hear. Note the epigraph I used below, the closing line of a post she'd written early this month.
     By way of illustrating exactly what I mean about agents being an unnecessary evil, let me relate a story that had occurred just before Janet Reid wrote that post in which she misrepresents agents and their actual intentions.
     Earlier this year, my intermediary exhaust pipe had become disengaged from the muffler. fearing the pipe was corroded and an expensive fix, I decided to continue driving the car until such time as when I had the money to fix. I took it to a mechanic whose boss had taken over the same service station at which I'd worked off and on for eight years and I thought I'd get a fair deal.
     Without putting the car on a lift or even a portable hydraulic jack, the disinterested mechanic pronounced the intermediary pipe was corroded and needed to be fixed immediately (although how he could've seen that when I myself couldn't get a good view of the pipe is beyond me). I asked him if he could find a matching pipe from a junk yard and he dismissed that idea out of hand as not being worth his time. He said a new pipe would cost me about $180, without labor, which was exactly $10 more than I had in my wallet. When I told him that, he just walked away as if irritated by my very physical existence.
     I drove to the local Auto Zone and explained my situation to a young Hispanic kid behind the counter. He was the honest sort and told me what I needed was a collar, likely a 4" one, that I could slip into the flanges of the intermediary and the muffler. He said Auto Zone didn't carry that kind of stuff and recommended I drive to the local NAPA Auto Parts. In about 45 seconds flat, they found precisely what I needed and the 4" collar and the two clamps that it needed came to $11 and change.
     I took it to another mechanic who, even though I'd dropped it off near the end of the day, then put the connecting collar on and my car was silent again. After $40 in labor, the total fix was $51+ and my car was once again inspection-ready.
     Now, I tell you this rather uninteresting tale in order to illustrate that just because someone says you need them and need them in a certain capacity, it doesn't make it so. True, I needed a mechanic to do the half hour's worth of work that I could've done had I a jack that would've given me the elevation I needed but $40 flat is a far cry from the $220+ the guy across the street was quoting me.
     Literary agents will tell you the same thing over and over and over again. "You need us. You can't get your foot in the door without us. You can't negotiate a contract without us, blah blah blah."
     Just remember why literary agents like Janet Reid tell you such bullshit. They have a vested financial interest at stake. Maybe not $80 an hour in automotive repair work, but in their case 15%. 15% of a huge runaway best seller could mean millions down the road for an agency, especially if their client is a coddled, naval-gazing little teeny-bopper like Lena Dunham whose Oberlin-educated opus sells at auction to Random-Penguin for a $3.6 million advance.
     Other professionals will tell you the same thing. Plumbers will say, "Don't fiddle with your pipes, let us do it." Contractors will tell you if you want your drywall hung right, let them do it. And in many cases, especially regarding electrical work in your house, they'd be correct. Sometimes you do want an expert to do the job and take the headache away.
     But I've done minor plumbing in my house. I've hung sheet rock before and have painted and hung paper and I've learned how to lay down floor tiles and all sorts of contracting skills. I do basic maintenance on my car and, if I had the right jack, I could've clamped that collar on myself. And I certainly know how to negotiate my own contract and query publishers. By extension, if I can learn to do these things, so can you.

Quit fulminating about gatekeepers. We're not. We're your first step on the road to success, and we're looking for you every single day. - Janet Reid, literary agent

     Oh, man, where does one start? And it's not even my birthday. And I know this stands a Chinaman's chance in hell of getting by the censor but here goes...
     Literary agents aren't gatekeepers?! Are you kidding me, Reid? That's precisely what you guys are. Or have you forgotten about the scummy, collusive deal that publishers began striking with your colleagues about 30 years ago when they decided they didn't feel like doing their jobs, anymore, and hired you agents out as their unpaid slush pile weeder-outers? The whole idea was to stop getting so much dreck from authors and wouldbes and to foist off the job to agents without adding anything to their overhead expenses. In return, they promised them guaranteed income of 15% or whatever percentage they mutually decided to siphon from authors by telling them, "Ain't no one not repped by one of you guys is getting through this front door." But something strange happened "on the road to success" which neatly dovetails into your insistence on trying to get us to believe that you're looking for us "every single day" (except for weekends, holidays, vacations, August, when you're jetting off to the Frankfurt Book Fair or any number of conventions and fairs):
     The younger agents coming up forgot about that "gentleman's agreement" that was collusively signed between their predecessors and publishers (while forgetting to send authors the memo). Some of the veterans of that bygone day and age when authors actually interacted with their publishers (such as the aforementioned Binky Urban of ICM) have also forgotten about said collusive deal. Many agencies, both big and small, have long since closed their doors to tiresome little doorknockers like us. Now they work by "referral or invitation only", meaning their new business model of skeeving perfectly good and publishable authors depends entirely on serendipity (and where does say just because an author is referred by another or is invited to submit by an agent actually has a higher chance of success for both agent and author than cold-querying?).
     If you're a genre author like me, that leaves, after weeding out the fee-charging agents, those that don't rep fiction or your particular genre, the scam artists and the ones that have slammed the door shut to brilliant unpublished authors like me, perhaps a few dozen agencies to which one can make a calculated pitch.
     And Janet Reid, far from being the agent she presents herself as here, has imperiously ignored or form rejected through flunkies I'd never addressed several of my novels.
     Literary agencies are set up to make you fail whether you deserve to or not. Agents look for reasons to reject you, not to sign you. They're solipsistic, greedy, stupid and arrogant. It's rapidly getting to the point where the only people who can get inked to a deal are those who've either made it or those who are connected. It's turning into an old boy's network.
     Folks, you don't need a literary agent and stop listening to people like Janet Reid who try to fool you into thinking otherwise. I've reached acquisitions editors, senior editors and even a publishing executive or two by going over the transom and just writing out the middle man entirely. And if I can learn how to get their interest and if I can learn how to negotiate a contract and what to watch out for, so can you. 
     I repeat: You don't need a literary agent. They're fast becoming as relevant as buggy whips in the age of POD publishing.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Goebbels Lives

     This just yesterday from the
      Scores of authors in Britain and across the Atlantic have recently reported that their reviews have either mysteriously disappeared or were never published.
     Amazon has now admitted that it has introduced a ban on authors leaving reviews about other people's books in the same genre because they may pose a “conflict of interest” and cannot be impartial about their rivals.
     This means that thriller writers are prevented from commenting on works by other authors who write similar books.
     So where does it say you have to remain locked in one genre or another? I've published novels in two genres (LGBT and suspense). Plus, differentiating between a self-congratulating review and one that's legitimately laudatory is still a judgment call and one that I'm sure, knowing how lazy Amazon is, is being done by algorithms. Do yourself a favor: Get Amazon out of your life. They're fascist and they treat like dog shit their own customers, authors, warehouse temp workers and even giant publishers. All for-profit corporations are inherently evil but Amazon is fast becoming my least favorite one of them all. And, considering Blackwater, Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, Monsanto and others, that's saying a fuckuva lot.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Too Big to Fail Everyone But the Little Guys

     Those of us who last October had followed the merger of Random House and Penguin's trade divisions, especially those of us who are pragmatic enough to know what mergers inevitably result in, the news wasn't good whether you were a reader/consumer, "real"/indie author or even a literary agent. By the same token, industry professionals, namely executives who directly had a stake in the merger, could be heard all the way from Avenue of the Americas licking their chops and rubbing their hands.
     It's not as if we haven't seen the same thing over and over again in Corporate America even in this age of so-called, increasingly elastic antitrust laws. And mergers mean only one thing for the rank and vile: Many people will lose their jobs and their office space getting turned into storage rooms or devoted to digital media.
     Screamingly obvious are the reasons this merger that turned the Big 6 into the Big 5 and enabled Random-Penguin to corner about a quarter of the book market, will work to the benefit of that new publishing behemoth's executives and their shareholders. People will get laid off under the guise of making the transition to digital media (although publishers, the most conservative and least agile executives tried for as long as they could to strenuously ignore the digital revolution as staunchly as oil executives today strenuously ignore clean, renewable, alternative energy that will surely need to replace oil). Another piece of good news for them is that their much more muscular bulk will mean Jeff Bezos and his fascist thugs at Amazon will have to think twice before axing their next catalog if they don't get the deep-cutting discounts they're accustomed to demand, and get, from smaller publishers.
     Fewer titles in their catalog, less office space to worry about maintaining and fewer people on the payroll is classic, tried-and-true scumbaggery designed to do one thing: Drive up market share, make their shareholders and top executives happy. Approximately 3-5% of a publishing company's revenue goes into publicity and advertising and out of that relatively slender amount, the lion's share of that money will get dedicated more than ever to pimping the books of their proven bestsellers written by people who already have household name recognition.
     And that dovetails beautifully into how this will affect agents and authors. Far be it for me to take the side of a largely unnecessary and incompetent faction that's treated me with horrendous disrespect for going on two decades but in this case, I have to play Devil's Advocate here and pluck a violin string or two for literary agents.
     Since it's obvious that Random-Penguin will ruthlessly edit more than a few pages from their catalogs and provide authors with fewer publishing opportunities, this inevitably will result in fewer selling opportunities for literary agents as well as having fewer acquisitions editors to whom to send their pitches. Agents, as I'd alluded earlier, already have a dreadful time selling even excellent properties. This, as I'd gone into elsewhere, is largely because they are simply stupid and wouldn't know a true bestseller if it crawled up their fat asses and gave birth to flaming pamphlets. Some agents even admit on their websites, as if they're trying to discourage the unwashed rabble from approaching their forbidding moat, that 90-95% of the adult fiction they take doesn't sell. This is because they are solipsistic and have deluded themselves into thinking they can't sell a book or make at least make an impassioned pitch for a promising property if it doesn't personally tickle their fancy. All too often in form rejection letters I hear about "how subjective the business is." Well, considering how well subjectivity is working for them, I might suggest in my less diplomatic moments that what's called for is some objectivity, since their subjectivity results in a 5-10% sell rate.
     Still, there are some decent, hardworking, honest literary agents out there who are legitimately seeking new talent and exciting new properties and who will rep even books they ordinarily wouldn't read or buy. My first literary agent who'd worked at the time for Reece Halsey, was one such example. She hated serial killer novels yet repped my first novel about Jack the Ripper and in the beginning of the submission process had placed it in the hands of the biggest publishers and editors in the business.
     Fewer spaces in the catalogs simply means fewer selling opportunities, which in turn neatly seques into how this affects the author.
     Starting about a generation ago, publishers decided to stop doing their jobs and to use literary agencies as their free slush pile readers. In return for this added workload, publishers collectively struck a collusive deal with agents without telling authors: "Read the shit we get, wade through the slush pile and we'll make sure not a single author will breach our front door unless they're repped by one of you."
     Agencies, now being made official and primary gatekeepers, jumped at this chance with alacrity. The problem with this scenario, aside from the obvious, is that the agents who'd originally struck this scummy deal with equally scummy publishing executives have since retired or died off and the younger agents just coming up are now shrugging off their end of the bargain. Their job, and the original idea was, to keep their doors open to give unrepresented authors a place to go to while publishers concentrated on their market shares and lowering the literacy IQ of the American reading public.
     Now all the largest literary agencies (some of them being folded into talent agencies in Hollywood, such as ICM) have long since closed their doors to the unwashed rabble just as publishers had in the late 70's-early 80's and have archly sniffed they now work exclusively by referral or invitation only. You'd have to have 100 pounds of brain damage to think that by that business model of talent recruitment that seems to depend upon blind serendipity your day in the sun will come if you but be patient and wait. As with publishers, the wealthiest and biggest agencies look down their nose at unpublished or independent authors. When you have 100 or more clients and are siphoning 15% of all their royalties, you could easily find yourself wealthier than any of your clients and that kind of pelf buys a lot of hubris. One can practically hear the self-satisfied belch echoing in from Beverly Hills.
     Ergo, with no one to hold them accountable, literary agents had long since closed their doors to tiresome little doorknockers and refuse to accumulate the slush piles that publishers had foisted off on them 30 years ago. The smaller agencies, with fewer resources, are telling unrepped authors much the same thing: "We're such a small agency, we have to be VERY selective in who we take on, therefore we regret we're not seeking new talent."
     And if you're a genre author, that effectively rules out all but maybe a few dozen literary agencies that represent your genre of fiction, don't charge reading fees and that aren't either too big or too small to put out a welcome mat. And good luck pleading this case to an agency that has no interest in hearing about you drawing breath.
     Logically, this in turn brings us to how this will affect the reader/consumer: Obviously, this Random House-Penguin merger, as with all prior publishing mergers in years past, means that you, the reader, will have fewer titles from which to select while they blare more loudly than ever about the latest book by Stephen King, John Grisham or, God save our souls, Stephanie Meyer. As with manufacturing companies in this outsourcing-happy day and age who refuse to hire people they'll need to train, publishers seem to think the "right" authors will live forever and never die and that they can sustain this absurd business model with the same people indefinitely.
     In recent years, Michael Crichton, Olivia Goldsmith, Nora Ephron and other bestselling authors proved they, too, are mere mortals. Hell, even Phillip Roth got sick of the rat race and called it quits.
     I don't give a shit where this leaves literary agents, who are little more than necessary evils. Their parochial mommy mentalities (many agents won't ever rep anything that places children in danger, which would effectively rule out every other book written by Stephen King and everything by Jonathan Kellerman and Andrew Vachss). But I do care about where this leaves unpublished, unrepresented authors and readers.
     So where does that leave the ones that really do matter, the ones who really do define this once-great nation's level of literacy?
     Plainly, this untenable and unsustainable business model that would make any pragmatic person shake their head, is largely if not entirely resulting in a self-publishing industry led by Kindle, Nook and CreateSpace. Perfectly good authors (and quite a few wouldbes and wannabes), sick and tired of getting disrespected by idiotic and self-absorbed literary agents and their low-paid flunkies are striking out on their own and leaving out the middle men completely. Without having to worry about forking over to agents 15% of the 7-10% they would get trickled down to them by traditional publishers, independent authors are finding a new, untapped readership through POD and digital publishing.
     For no money whatsoever, CreateSpace, a subsidiary of, will print a physical copy of your book and give you near-total creative control over the content and cover, something of which firsttime or midlist authors can only dream. Plus, with Kindle, your royalty rate can be set as high as 70%. Nook is very comparable to Kindle (and, in some aspects, even more attractive).
     Media consolidation, if you're a reader or author, has been the bane of our existence since time immemorial. Corporate mergers have only one intent in mind, one goal and elevating the literacy of what used to be one of the most literate nations on the planet has nothing to do with it. Mergers are designed to maximize profits for a select group of shareholders and interested executives and the rest of us, from the workers, authors, readers and agents, have no choice but to somehow deal with and adjust to the inevitable fallout.
     Back in the 90's, Borders, Inc, Ingram and German media behemoth Bertelsmann AG attempted to form a super company that would've done more than its fair share to corner the publishing, distribution and selling of books. The deal was scotched at the last minute only when the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, said they would violate existing antitrust laws. But, if the merger between Random House and Penguin, which shrunk the number of traditional book publishers from 6 to 5, is any indication, then we have a lot of mergers to look forward to, especially since the Obama administration like the one before it seems to have no problem with gigantic corporations like Facebook forming near total monopolies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


     When I ordered my first hard copy of The Toy Cop (which, at this writing, is on its way to Vero Beach with my fiancee), I was basically going into it with an attitude of, "I know I should've proofed this book better than I did but being an old-fashioned reader, I much prefer doing so off something that's made of paper." I knew before ordering it that, aside from CreateSpace's fuckups with the formatting (producing about a dozen blank pages), I knew there were other errors to which I had to own up. It's one thing to proof something on a digital viewer or a Word processing program and another thing entirely to proof an honest to God book with a red pen next to you.
     One of the first things that hit me when I opened up the book was the rude introduction of the story right off the bat. I guess I should've thought to write an acknowledgements page before uploading the file but since I wasn't deluding myself into thinking it was a real book brought out with a real publisher I also thought inserting one for the two or three people who'd wind up buying and reading it would be pretentious. But on reflection, I guessed it would be ungracious of me not to thank the several people who'd helped bring it into being. Plus, when opening up a book, whether it's produced by Simon & Schuster or a vanity press like CreateSpace, we've come to expect that little buffer, that small handshake or kiss before getting down to business in the prologue or Chapter One.
     So, for the one or two people a day who actually read this blog, here's a thoroughly revised version of my acknowledgements that I'd written last weekend for The Toy Cop.

Authors are fond of saying their books couldn’t have possibly been written without the help of this person or that. I suspect most of the time that’s merely traditional literary courtesy but in this case it happens to be true. When I began writing this novel in 1998, the sum total of my knowledge about crisis negotiation was gleaned from Jeffery Deaver’s, A Maiden’s Grave. It’s certainly a superb thriller, but a badly researched one, as I later learned from Fred Lanceley, former FBI crisis negotiator who’d been in more hot spots than Ebola and Hanta virus combined. Fred refused to help me until I assured him I’d be the first novelist ever to get crisis negotiation right. Through emails, corrected proofs, his own book, On-Scene Guide for Crisis Negotiators (of which he’d given me a free copy and which is now going for almost $60 on Amazon, almost $34 for the Kindle version.), and a particularly memorable night at his motel room on Cape Cod after he’d given a seminar, Fred confidently guided me through the fascinating, white knuckle world of top level crisis negotiation. He wanted to make sure that if anyone in the business had read this book, they’d say, “This guy knows his stuff.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Argeo Paul Cellucci, who lived down the street from me and whom I regularly met while he was still the state’s Chief Executive, also advised me on Constitutional points regarding the death penalty. A former state’s attorney before becoming the acting and then the elected Governor of the Bay State, Mr. Cellucci’s legal input was invaluable.
Much research went into The Toy Cop. While I was able to do the requisite study on VX nerve agent, the events of Waco, Rudy Ridge and the Omagh bombing in Ireland by myself, some things such as the piloting of helicopters needed direct input and this is where helicopter pilots George M. Semel, Arthur Jolly and especially Doug Ashworth came in. As with crisis negotiation, I was completely ignorant about makes and models of helicopters (not “choppers”), the all-important Jesus nut, what a high-powered round would do to a helicopter in flight and what exactly a pilot would do to compensate. Through their tireless help, I’d also learned the nomenclature that helicopter pilots use in their work.
Beethoven’s first drafts were so horrible, those who can read music are amazed they’d turned into the masterpieces of western culture they had become. The same is true of many of my first drafts. After I showed my original prologue to her, PJ Gray author Shirley Kennett (now writing under the nom de plume Dakota Banks) essentially rewrote the entire prologue from scratch and I had just revised and added to it. Without her expert guidance (while yet, somehow, escaping her seductive creative influence), the novel may not have been set on the right track on which it had eventually been placed. While she never acknowledged my game-changing input on her debut novel, A Perfect Evil, I’ll be bigger than Alex Kava and mention that she, too, had weighed in on the earlier drafts while awaiting publication.
Charlie Chaplin once sang a beautifully spotless version of an aria. A friend in attendance said to the great silent film comedian, “Charlie, I didn’t know you could sing!” “I can’t,” Chaplin replied, “I was imitating Caruso.” It’s one thing to have a fully-grounded working knowledge of subject matter and another entirely to merely reproduce a small percentage of that hard-won knowledge through scrupulous but shortterm, opportunistic research and literary ability. This is what novelists do, pretend to know what they’re talking about, and it requires the abovementioned experts in their own respective fields to ensure my characters give the impression they, too, know their jobs. My gratitude to these men and women is boundless. Obviously, any mistakes that remain I own.
                                                   -Robert Crawford, December 9, 2012, Hudson, MA

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Cinder Block of a Book

     The Toy Cop arrived in the mail yesterday and I half-imagine the poor UPS guy going to his doctor at the end of the day to get a hernia brace. This head-on shot (admittedly, a crappy one as it's blurry and doesn't capture the vividness of the colors I'd chosen) doesn't give you a sense of how large this book is. It would make Tom Clancy or Steig Larsson green with envy not because of its literary merits but because it weighs in at 610 pages. You couldn't run over this thing with a Humvee.
     It's one thing to know the exact word count of your manuscript (just over 170,000 words) but another thing entirely to format it for POD publishing and seeing the physical size and heft of the thing when it's finally in your hands. I'd shrunk the font size to 11 dpi (I use a standard 12 on Word) to help reduce the page count. But as I said with American Zen, when you're formatting a book with a substantial word count, there's only so many things you can do to compress it and the much smaller 6x9 trim size I'd selected for TCC forced me to squeeze the margins, hence the high page count. And each full page contains 34 lines, two over the standard 32.
     A few things ought to be mentioned. I've said before that virtually all my novels are tied to others in a constant crossover effect. One example is the heroine of this novel, Officer Penny Gallagher, briefly makes an appearance in Chapter One of American Zen. This was an 11th hour change not done until two years ago when I was doing the final revision and proofing for the Kindle edition. Penny notices Mike Flannigan, AZ's narrator, is down in the dumps at a Pop Warner banquet and somehow convinced Mike to get on stage and do a Karaoke rendition of his favorite song. This taste of what he used to do is what helps get Mike on the road to look for his old bandmates.
     Similarly, when I was doing the final revision and proofing of TCC for its own Kindle edition, I decided to insert Mike Flannigan into that universe, writing for him a fictional article on capital punishment for the New York Times. To date, Flannigan also appears in two of the three Joe Roman thrillers I've started, even having a phone conversation with Roman in The Puppet Children.
     As I'd stated before, my dream is to incorporate the main characters of several of my novels, including Penny, Roman and Flannigan, into one massive super novel in the future that would make The Toy Cop look like Strunk and White's Elements of Style.
     For now, though, that'll have to remain a distant dream as publishers, thanks to the shrinking goldfish attention spans of the typical American reader, dictate that books above 100,000 words don't sell and they avoid them like Republicans do the NAACP annual conventions.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Shall Name Thee... David

     A couple of days ago, American Zen arrived in the mail. It's a novel on which I'd been working intermittently since March 18, 2008, although the drafting phase only took 120 days flat (if only they could all be that easy).
     The CreateSpace folks gave me exactly what I'd sent, proofed and approved and any faults I completely own. It's a high-quality production with a nice, glossy cover (albeit at a coffee table-sized 8x10). What I can't understand is, why didn't I feel the sense of elation that I predicted I'd feel on seeing one of my novels professionally printed and bound for the very first time?
     Perhaps it's the fact that CreateSpace, however noble its intention, is essentially a glorified vanity press, minus the outrageous printing costs. I know there was no editorial gatekeeping and no hurdles to overcome aside from the headache of formatting, uploading, proofing, etc. Any idiot with a pile of words and internet access can publish and all too many of us prove that every day.
     It wasn't as if I was blase or nonplussed by the book's arrival. I knew it was mine, I was seeing it ritualized in print and I still feel that American Zen is my most brilliant sustained literary effort to date. I know it belongs between covers. It was more like a sense of numbness at seeing my book in print, one of only two copies thus far extant on the planet earth.
     The closest I can come to describing the experience is to refer you all to that scene in Steven Spielberg's AI in which the husband brings home the robot boy David for the first time and his wife reacts coldly to it. He looked like a boy, spoke like a boy and acted like a boy but the wife knew he wasn't the real thing. That's what it was like for me. It looked like a book, felt like a book and read like a book. But I knew it wasn't the real McCoy simply because it neither validated my existence as a writer nor honestly realized my ambitions, because no real editor was involved, no P&L done on it, no real publicity and advertising behind it, no agent that had sold it. Through no fault of its own, it's a fraud. It's like that guy you see scuttling from the bushes in the last 100 yards of a marathon. He crosses the finish line like everyone else but it doesn't count and everyone knows it.
     Maybe in time I'll come to accept it and, hopefully, those who order it will feel a greater sense of excitement than had I. But I regret that I can't share the elation of others who receive their CS books in the mail for the first time. I doubt that when I get my second book, The Toy Cop, the reception will be much warmer.

     Here's a mini preview of how it would look on your Kindle in landscape. All told, the book stands at a trim 358 pages (although there are 46 lines on each page, as opposed to the standard 32. There's only so much you can compress a 150,000 word manuscript.), which comes out to just under 2.5¢ per page, which is pretty comparable to "real" paperbacks that generally have lower word counts. Right now, I'm in the process of writing a "sell sheet" and learning how to register my novels with mega distributor Ingram's so I can get it on their catalog.
     Now, I've begun taking some hits ever since I took a sabbatical from political commentary. My own hit count here has gone down, I'm losing followers on Twitter by the droves and if I gave a shit about that, I'd be wringing my hands. It's not as if most people give a damn what I have to say about anything, anyway.
     But American Zen was different, a completely atypical novel for me, and this represents the best of me and, I'd like to think, the best in all of us as a species. There are no car chases, no exploding buildings, no serial killers or body counts, no dark, twisted conspiracies. It's a fairly simple and straightfoward story of a typical, middle aged guy who's comfortable and then begins to wonder, as do many of us at that age, "Is this all there is? Should I have gone in another direction way back when?"
     I know of only one other author who can share my near out-of-body-experience and that's Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (who, ironically, crashed his plane and was nearly killed this past fall). Bach said right after the book's publication in 1970 that it was unlike anything he'd ever written. In fact, the genesis for his novella was even stranger than mine. He reported hearing a loud voice in his head that shouted, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull!" and the book then took shape.
     Well, I didn't hear any disembodied voices in my head, thank goodness, although I can imagine the voices of each of my characters as vividly as their physical characteristics. By Day One or Two, I had all the dramatic spikes lined up and it was merely a matter of writing the transitional chapters that would come later.
     American Zen not only is by far the most atypical novel I've ever written, it was also the easiest to write, revise and the only one written more or less in chronological order. Despite the fact it was extremely difficult to hold off from writing the later chapters that I had percolating in my head for up to four months, the self discipline I used shows, making for an unforgettable yet believable story. Believe me, I wouldn't be pimping this book for years unless I thoroughly believed in it.
     I never wrote nor will ever write a political blog post I'd ever want to put between covers and the topical 1660-odd articles I've put up at Pottersville and here over the last four and a half years will be forgotten in time. But I'd like to think this will stand and that it and other books I've written and am writing now will be my way of saying not only, "I was here" but "We were here and this is what it was like to be human."

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Toy Cop Comes to Create Space

     For some reason, maybe it was the larger trim size I'd chosen, formatting and proofing American Zen was a breeze compared to The Toy Cop. It took a dozen uploads before the margins all around were just right and even after I'd uploaded the final manuscript to Create Space, they still screwed up the chapter breaks. They're higher up than they should be (The Chicago Manual of Style dictates chapter breaks be a third of the page down), which resulted in quite a few blank pages. A panicked call to the help desk proved fruitless.
     So I just said, Fuck it and went with the proof they'd given me. Blank pages in a book, to me, are no different than selling a music CD with dead air. But I just got sick and tired of fiddling with the margins and going over every single chapter break to make sure it was exactly 11 spaces down. Bottom line, The Toy Cop is finally for sale on Create Space and as with American Zen, I ordered a hard copy for myself.
     I realize the unit price is a little more expensive than paperbacks go for but when I have the time and the energy, I'll widen the margins a bit and reduce the page count (presently weighing in at a Tom Clancy-esque 610 pages), which is helping to keep the price at just over $11 with shipping.
     But obviously, I think it's well worth the money because not only is it a hell of a story drenched with tension and high concept drama, I'd worked on it for 14 years and the work shows. And I wouldn't have gone through this re-formatting hell if I didn't think it was worth the effort.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Open Letter to Deidre Knight, Literary Agent

What follows is a comment I'd just discovered here at Kindle in the Wind that was written last November 18th by Deidre Knight (I go for months without checking that Gmail account), with whom I'd crossed swords on Twitter last month. Her comment follows in italics and my answer is in regular font:

Hi, Michael:
I sought out your blog, as I wanted to apologize for how badly our interaction went on Twitter the other day. But first…this prologue is beautifully written. You have such a unique voice, filled with verve. Anyway, I know you’re not seeking any praise or whatnot from me, but I figured I’d mention how much I like and respond to the quality of your prose that’s reflected in this opening prologue.
So, about Twitter.  I am sorry I didn’t see your original inquiry, which prompted the issue. Twitter was acting up on Thursday and Friday—and that bled over to tweet deck for me. I was actually locked out during one of our author chats the day before, and it was still being wonky on Friday, not allowing me to post regularly, and also not showing all my mentions. Because of that, when I received your second mention—the one that said I was a typical #RWNJ, out to “fuck the 99 percent”, I hope you can understand how taken aback I was. I realize that you may use that kind of language regularly, but in my daily professional life, to suddenly have it lobbed at me felt like an assault. So I did, in fact, block you (and I saw that you subsequently blocked me?) Which is why I’m here, on your blog, because I wanted to reopen a dialogue and also to apologize for having offended you.
But I did want to set you straight: you misinterpreted my politics. I’m certainly not far left, but I’ve taken a political grid test more than once and I always come out left of center. You wouldn’t agree with my full spectrum of views, obviously, but I’d like to make sure you don’t have a false impression of where I stand. I’m very much a gay rights advocate, and have been extremely vocal to that end on both Twitter and in my own writing. For instance, Publishers Weekly said of my book BUTTERFLY TATTOO: “Making a compelling case for bisexuals who make no gender distinctions…” My Gods of Midnight series (RED FIRE, etc) features a very strong secondary plotline about the painful ramifications of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I am truly an independent. I don’t find any party that fully reflects what I believe right now, and I’m not alone in that fact. Anyway, as for who I follow—if you noticed, I’d only just followed Drudge and Tammy Bruce in the past week. That’s why they were among my most recently followed, along with Oprah and some others. I’d gone through another user’s followings and clicked on people who I thought might be interesting to follow for a while. But I also follow a variety of liberal news sources, as well.
In short, to have suddenly been told I was out to fuck the 99 percent on Friday—when we weren’t even in a conversation at all—felt like an assault to me. So I blocked you, and there it went. You can certainly tweet whatever you want about me, but I really didn’t feel like you gave me any forum for interaction before you pulled the judgment trigger. Which is a shame because you’re a beautiful writer and I would have welcomed being professional associates.
I wish you all the best. I don’t expect you to respond, or if you do, it may well be with derision. Just know I’m wishing you only the best in all of your endeavors. I mean that. Deidre Knight

First off, the name's Robert. It's an honest enough mistake that others have made. You're probably thinking of my alter ego, Mike Flannigan, the narrator of American Zen and erstwhile contributor of my political blog, Welcome Back to Pottersville. Which neatly dovetails into politics:

Secondly: From having been a political blogger for close to eight years, I can smell a right winger a mile away. Some things are just screamingly obvious and anyone who seriously entertains Tammy Bruce (who, I guess, as a lesbian would also advocate for LGBT rights, which certainly doesn't make her a liberal) or Matt Drudge (another gay person yet, once again, hardly a liberal) for even a nanosecond proves right then and there they do not respect or recognize the truth. I also read your comments on the Hostess bankruptcy and closing and your opinion seems to be that the unions and workers are to blame for the closing of the company and the loss of 18,500 jobs. This is certainly not true although it doesn't surprise me that someone who follows right wing nut jobs like Drudge and Bruce would believe that. The union was incensed that Hostess would offer them a reduction in pay and up to a 32% reduction in benefits, including the pensions for which some people had worked for over 34 years. Meanwhile, nothing from you or other right wingers on the executives being allowed by a bankruptcy judge to pay themselves $1.8 million in bonuses during their second bankruptcy in eight years and year-long wind-down. I am blue collar through and through and my loyalties and sympathies will always go to the working man and woman.

Thirdly: It was certainly your right to block me and I guess I did come out of left field (figuratively and politically). But I cannot understand why you would've wanted to engage me in a dialogue and "would've welcomed being professional associates" since you rep a genre of fiction that I loathe and in which I do not write. It's yet another example that contrasts my scrupulousness and sense of professionalism and a literary agent's utter lack of it.

You hold the distinction of rejecting me faster than any other agent in four countries and three continents: In three minutes flat last year, you'd rejected my book, saying you rep only romance fiction. Once again, that is your right (although I think a literary agent that reps only what gets them wet is, once again extremely unprofessional and narrowminded). Yet you railroaded me and made me waste my time because you didn't update your website to inform writers such as myself that you rep only romance.

Fourthly: Your apparent withdrawal of literary representation (and, I reiterate, I do not write romance, read it nor respect it) is fallacious. You assume that I would ever be interested in you or any other agent. I have no mss in the swim at agencies nor am actively soliciting the indifferent attention of those of your ilk and profession. And I stand on firm ground when I say that your so-called profession, made artificially indispensable by cheap and lazy publishing houses, has done more to tank this nation's literary IQ than perhaps any single industry.

You're right about one thing: I do have a beautiful voice, one cultivated over years through ceaseless work, trial and error and doing so mainly in a vacuum. Thanks for being that honest. Yet this same prologue that you'd rightly praised had been passed over, ignored and rejected by every single literary agent that had seen it. I am tired of the blatant disrespect to my work despite my research, appropriate submissions and obeying guidelines to the letter. This is why I am not seeking an agent and have published The Toy Cop and American Zen on Create Space and Kindle. You and other middlemen like you have been completely written out of the equation. I am sick and tired of getting treated like the 98% who DO deserve form rejection letters from flunkies I'd never written because the agent to whom I HAD written didn't think it worth the five seconds it would've taken to disrespect me and my brilliant work.

Having said that, allow me to close by passing on to you something I invariably hear from boilerplate form rejection letters by thanking you for your interest in me and good luck in your future endeavors, yada yada yada...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

American Zen on CreateSpace

     I'm sorry I haven't been screaming my fool head off of late on matters political and social. I've been busy setting up my dedicated book blog Kindle in the Wind, reuploading a lot of files on my new Scribd account. And for the last 24 hours or so, in between my neverending job search, I was busy reformatting, uploading, designing and proofing the Create Space edition of American Zen. The templates they give you largely suck and doesn't allow me to use the cover done by my soul sister Alicia Morgan two and a half years ago but when CreateSpace offers to give you a physical copy of your book as a freebie, you don't say no.
     The cover above is what I decided to run with for now until such time I can afford to pay CreateSpace's cover art team to redo it according to my exact specifications (click on the cover for a full-scale image). American Zen was originally a 421 page Word file but on account of the reformatting and the trim size I'd chosen, I had to narrow the gutter and outside margins so you'd think the page count would be larger. But on account of the limited options for trim size, I had to go with a Reader's Digest-sized 7x10 inches, meaning each full page has 43 lines instead of the standard 32. This means American Zen is now at a trimmer 358 pages.
     It goes for $5.14, just a few cents more than the Kindle version ($4.99) but the shipping and handling is over three bucks, meaning a copy of American Zen goes for $8.57, the lowest price they would allow me to set. The royalty rate, for POD publishing, is a joke, at about 20%. But I'd ordered a physical copy for myself after I'd proofed the galley and I'll be posting a picture of the physical book when it arrives next month.
     Please give it a looksee (I'm transferring the CreateSpace edition to Kindle as I write this but the first few chapters of the Kindle version can be downloaded for free and you don't even need a Kindle. Just click on the image on its product page.).
     Interesting trivia: When the template I'd chosen demanded an author photo, I panicked. It would've looked borderline antisocial if I'd gone with an avatar of something else like I do on Twitter and elsewhere. But since I look every nanosecond my age and am now about as photogenic as southern roadkill, I didn't know what to do until Mrs. JP sent me from her cell phone a picture she'd taken of me at the Stewart/Colbert Fear Rally in Washington DC two years ago.
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