It’s impossible to comment, or even think, about the current state of the world, without mentioning Noam Chomsky. Brilliant, erudite, impossible to bullshit, he’s at the top of his game in this remarkable lecture, in which he describes why things on our planet are what they are. It should be required listening for all graduating high school seniors, as well as every citizen of the U.S.
There is an alternative to misinformation and apathy. It’s called knowledge. We don’t have to wallow in ignorance – the truth is easily discoverable, even if there’s an entire industry devoted to obfuscation, and even if veracity is at times uncomfortable. Enlightenment is rarely comfortable. That’s just how it works.
Chomsky reminds me of David Foster Wallace, and to some extent, Kurt Vonnegut. Both were insightful social commentators. The man’s 86 years old, and sharper than I ever was on my best day. Impressive is the understatement of the century.
The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of JET – Kindle Worlds, wherein interested fans and authors can write in the world of Jet, Mossad super-operative extraordinaire, who faked her own death to escape the clandestine life, but whose enemies won’t let her be.
Here’s what happened. Amazon approached me about taking the series, which has shifted multiple six figures of units and seen over a million downloads over the years, and opening it up to other authors, be they professionals or fans, to write their own stories using my characters and environment – my “world.”
There are really no limits. Books can be any genre – action thrillers like JET, romance, dystopian, whatever. The only caveat is no hardcore erotica…and you can’t kill off Jet, Matt, or Hannah.
Stories can be set before Jet joined Mossad, during her tenure with that organization, or after, sometime in the future. Sky’s the limit. One could have it be steampunk JET, or Jet’s first love, or JET set the day after the end of the world. Part of the fun of Kindle Worlds is taking the familiar and twisting it to do one’s bidding – and getting paid to do it. Those authoring in the world will see a 35% royalty, and will be writing in a world that’s already got many, many thousands of fans. That’s exciting as an author because, besides the obvious economic possibility, it exposes participants to a whole ready-made reader base who just might discover a new name they like. It certainly happened when I wrote in Steve Konkoly’s Perseid Collapse world, with Deadly Calm, my novella (if you haven’t read it, shame on you – you don’t know what you’re missing). I have a slew of new readers I can trace to that little book, which is a bargain at twice the $1.99 price. So the model works – assuming, as with everything, you tell a story folks want to read, in a compelling manner.
I’ll soon have an authors section with more info for those interested in writing in the world, which describes all the do’s and don’ts (there aren’t many). One of the big things is that any characters an author creates for the world, are that author’s property, outside of the world (thanks, Joe Konrath). So if someone comes up with the guy who got away but whose romance with Jet as a teen rocked her world, that guy is the author’s, and can be used however the author likes in non-KW world, as long as it doesn’t include my characters (Jet, Matt, or Hannah, or David, her old control in the Mossad).
Some possibilities are an exploration of David and Jet’s romance. Or missions she undertook before leaving Mossad. Or her years in the orphanage, and then juvy hall. Hell, authors can put her in space, or on a desert island, or in a sub, or on a rocket, for all I care. It’s about what readers would think is cool. That’s the beauty of fan fic. Recall that 50 Shades started out as Twilight fan fic, which is the biggest selling book of the last 3 years. Pretty interesting to consider how something like this can blow up bigtime.
Readers get a new spin on the characters, which isn’t written by me. I don’t have any creative input. I don’t edit or approve or offer my two cents. The approval is up to Amazon. Editing is up to authors. The voices can be near, or completely different. Doesn’t matter. It only matters what readers think.
I’ll be posting details on the world as soon as I get finished with Emerald Buddha’s first draft, which should be in a week, when I will turn to this for several days. Until then, if you have any questions, email me and I’ll do my best to get to you and answer them.
Let me close by saying this is pretty damned cool, and I’m very excited.
Oh, and Ramsey’s Gold goes live on the 29th, and it can be pre-ordered here. It’s a seriously good read, and fans of Cussler, Brown, and Rollins should love it.
I’ll confess to more than a little arrogance. But I’ll also excuse it somewhat by stating that writers need a healthy sense of their own worth, because otherwise they’d never write a word. It goes with the territory – to have the temerity to believe your words are worth reading, much less paying for, you have to believe that you can make magic happen with prose, or at the very least, tell a story well.
I happen to believe that being a writer is a noble calling, in the same way that being any artist of any sort is. Whether or not the world rewards you with riches can be the luck of the draw – consider what an acknowledged master like Van Gogh made from his art, which is basically nothing. No question his work is brilliant, and also no question that nobody really gave two shits while he was alive. The world can be unfair, and we only get one spin of the wheel. If you want fair, look elsewhere than the arts.
But I can remember as a child, reading the work of Poe and Lovecraft and Ludlum and Forsyth and Christie and LeCarre, and thinking that there could be few things as fundamentally important as being able to transport a reader to a different place, into a different world. As I aged and discovered the work of Orwell and Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace and Steinbeck and Hemingway, I further realized that one could tackle serious subjects with a certain grace, and even whimsy, and transform the way people view their reality.
Then the business of being an adult claimed my time, and I turned to mundane adult things, the making of money and chasing of women and building of empires, all the time thinking that to be a successful writer must be wonderful, because then you can have your financial cake and pursue a grand passion simultaneously. I mean, I’ve enjoyed some of the things I’ve done for a living, such as architecture, which still gives me tremendous pleasure for its artistic challenges, but mostly I did things because they made the most possible money with the least expenditure of effort, not because they were particularly redeeming or self-actualizing.
But all along, I managed to find ways to write. Be it ad copy, or manuals, or brochures, or how-to books, I wrote, honing my skills, putting them to use in the interest of communicating ideas or affecting behavior.
When I retired and settled permanently in Mexico, my idle meandering didn’t last long, and I wound up starting a design and build firm that had startling success – but after five or six years and over a dozen “important” builds and at least fifty design projects, I was restless. That too had become a grind, and I remembered why I had retired in the first place. It wasn’t about the money – once you have sufficient to live however you like, more doesn’t involve living any better if you’ve truly chosen a life you find fulfilling to start with. Rather, I’d been bored after a few years of navel gazing on the beach, and it’s not my nature to sit still too long.
A friend of mine had read some of my scribblings and badgered me with article after article about the new wave of self-publishers conquering the world, back around 2010. After a year of that he shamed me into trying my hand at it. I approached the business of writing and publishing the way I do everything – full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. For seven months and about 10 novels, I sold barely enough to buy beer and a couple of decent dinners, but I never let off the gas, and continued to pour all my time, money, and soul into the work. I caught a tail wind in early 2012 as Select was making waves, and hit the market with a decent backlist and the right product at the right time – and the rest is history.
But back to why I think writing is an honorable calling (if honorable can be used to describe inventing lies and selling them for a living), if not also a kind of alchemy. To write well you have to be literate, and it helps if you’re informed and have opinions, because otherwise you likely aren’t particularly interesting to anyone but yourself. To be able to create worlds on the page imbues the author with the power of a god, and if executed correctly, offers escape from reality to the reader, immersing them in a universe of your making. That’s an amazing thing to be able to do.
How many other gigs enable you to do that? Few, besides lying politician, I’d say. But while being a politician is largely anything but noble, to embark on an effort for which there will likely be slim, or no, reward, other than perhaps touching others in a profound way, is a sort of quest – a calling, if you will. It can be transcendental, and I believe can put one in touch with a deeper part of ourselves only reached through artistic meditation – what some might call the creative process, that joy of discovery wherein you read your prose a few months after writing it and think, crap, did I really write that?
That fugue state where you’re something larger than yourself is an amazing thing, to be cherished. To have the ability to share it, to effectively connect one-on-one with readers and enable them to enter your thoughts for a few hours, is incredible. And to be able to entertain to the point where someone’s willing to pay you is validating beyond description.
It would be wonderful if all books received warm welcomes from readers, just as it would be great if all puppies found loving homes. But the world has never been just, and many don’t. I think the trick to persevering in this business is to truly love the act of creation, and if you can earn a living at it, to remind yourself daily that you are the luckiest person alive. That’s what I do. And I believe I truly am. Okay, maybe not as lucky as a Kardashian or members of the lucky sperm club, but still. Lucky enough.
Which is my longwinded way of saying I’m grateful for the support of my readership, and as I close in on four years of publishing (June 11 is the big day, and yes, cocktails will be consumed, no question), I’m humbled at the opportunity the universe has provided me to do what I enjoy, and to be rewarded more than equitably.
They say that a lucky man is one who feels lucky.
I feel lucky.
Apparently the death of the ebook is greatly exaggerated. Perhaps not for the big publishers, whose market share of ebooks is indeed shrinking. But for indie authors, whose share is growing by leaps and bounds, it’s the best of all possible times.
Hugh Howey and the Data Guy just published their latest report on the state of publishing at Author Earnings. What it shows is in stark contrast to what mainstream sources that ignore indie titles are declaring. Contrary to the hype, it would appear that the reason those pundits are claiming a decline in ebook sales is because indie authors are taking significant market share from traditional publishers.
The reasons, I believe, are twofold: 1) Price. Readers could give two shits who publishes a book. What they care about is the quality of the content, and it would seem that indies are delivering as good or better quality as their trad pubbed brethren, at a lower cost. 2) Visibility. Indie authors market. Many are quite good at it. They maximize resources like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., because it’s their money at stake, not some mega-corporation’s. This savvy marketing results in more readers seeing their wares.
To the second point, trad publishers release tens of thousands of new titles each year. It’s impossible for them to market them all, or even a significant percentage, but their model’s fine with that. They just wait to see what catches fire, and then push whatever does. The rest are left to sink.
Forget about marketing backlist titles. That’s a dream. There are an endless stream of new titles to push.
Whereas indies are aggressive at promoting not just their new releases, but also their brand, and their backlists.
Take a trad pubbed author for whom I have enormous respect: James Lee Burke. The price of his backlist is quite reasonable – it fluctuates between $5.99 and $6.99, and is totally worth it.
But he shifts less ebooks than I do at the same price. Why? Because the publisher isn’t screaming about his backlist on every available channel. It’s crickets, so the only ones buying those values are those who stumble across them, likely after buying his latest work.
I’ll take a novel that’s coming up on four years old as an example of what I mean. The Delphi Chronicle is a modest seller for me, and yet it’s shifted over 20K copies since I released it December, 2011. I price it at $4.99. It was languishing for the last few quarters, so I did a promo for it that moved almost 4000 units. Sales post-special price are respectable, and the title’s earned a nice return that’s several multiples of the marketing cost, and continues to do well.
As it will for many years, if I keep marketing it periodically. Because it’s new to 99% of readers on Amazon, regardless of how long it’s been released. That’s an important point – every day there are hundreds of thousands, or millions, of new readers who have never heard of my work. Every day I can be discovered. But I have to help myself, or get lost in the rising tide.
If you look at your backlist as an investment portfolio of IP, it’s a good model. Even if I stopped writing tomorrow, with almost 40 novels out, I could market my existing work, change covers occasionally, and likely make a nice living in perpetuity. But if I were trad pubbed, those books would go unloved and unread as the marketing folks push the latest shiny, and I’d be back working at Burger Barn before I knew it, or eating dog food, or both.
Needless to say, that gives me a significant advantage over a trad pubbed author with similar ranking. I’ll earn around 5X what he will for the same books sold, and I control my destiny. I like that. A lot. So should you.
In other news, I listed the first 10 chapters of Ramsey’s Gold, which releases end of this month, on Amazon for .99. I tried to make it free, but it didn’t work. If you’re interested in checking it out, be my guest, and feel free to return it for a refund once you’re done. Hopefully that will motivate you to purchase the full novel. I think it’s some of my best work, and recommend it highly. Then again, I’m biased. But you should still buy it. Really. I’m serious. Here’s a link.