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Archive for the ‘Devil of Echo Lake’ Category

Making Advances

Yesterday was my birthday. It was fun. I went out to dinner with the family and ate cake. It might have also been our puppy’s first birthday. The rescue vet records estimated January 13, so close enough. We put a stupid hat on the poor guy and fed him some ice cream.

For gifts my wife and son made me a really cute bumblebee out of pipe cleaners, my son drew me a giant flag of Gondor because I’ve been reading The Return of the King to him (he’s only six, but hanging on Tolkien’s every word), and my wife gave me a keyboard I really wanted. This here Logitec solar powered beauty that can toggle between my computer, phone, and tablet. Thanks, honey, it rocks!
pipe cleaner bee
After lobster alfredo and lemon cake, I also got a royalty statement from JournalStone. I was delighted to see the spreadsheet for what they had already told me to expect: my first novel, The Devil of Echo Lake, has earned out its advance (with a little help from a foreign rights sale and my second book), and this month I’ll see my first royalty check for about $400. Yay!

By coincidence, just a couple of hours before I got the statement, there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Facebook when Caitlin R. Kiernan posted a photo to her Live Journal of a royalty check  for her novel Threshold, published by Penguin in 2001. Her book also just earned out its advance, and this was the first royalty check she has received for it since it was published twelve years ago.

I don’t think she was bitching about that. It’s a pretty neutral post. You can see it here. But she made the pun that it was a “reality check” to show aspiring writers that the idea of retiring on royalties is delusional for most of us who aren’t Stephen King.

Reality Check. That made me chuckle. But I didn’t worry that she’s been living on Ramen all these years because I also knew she must have been paid a nice advance up front for the book. So nice that it took twelve years for her percentage of sales to exceed that amount and start paying royalties.

But it was a little too easy for readers unfamiliar with the terminology to assume she was saying that $82.28 was all she had ever been paid by her big New York publisher for Threshold. So there was a little brush fire of outrage for a couple of hours. She’s a brilliant writer, and some fans thought she’d been screwed, and a man I greatly admire—the big hearted, fair minded Mike Davis of the Lovecraft eZine—encouraged his legions of followers to subscribe to her newsletter to help her out.

Ms. Kiernan soon reminded everyone that yes, of course she received an advance, and most writers live off advances, not royalties, and most books don’t ever earn out, and that’s publishing. To ever see royalties is considered icing on the cake in traditional publishing.

Which, combined with my own royalty statement, got me thinking about advances and royalties in general, and how misunderstood they often are.

I have at least one author friend who says he doesn’t like advances because they make him feel indebted to the publisher. I get it. Many authors, myself included, can relate to the fear that if their book doesn’t earn back the money the publisher put up to acquire it, then they will have become a liability in the publisher’s eyes, and will have a harder time selling future works to that publisher. Fair enough.

While it’s certainly true that a publisher needs to make back their investment in an author and a profit on top if they’re going to view that author as an asset, it’s a mistake to think that the earned-out advance is the threshold (Kiernan pun, sorry) at which this happens.

Of course the publisher has expenses and investments in a book well beyond just the advance. That’s why they get paid first on sales and take a much bigger slice than the author’s 7 to 10%. But a publisher usually starts seeing a profit on a book long before the author’s royalty percentage adds up to the amount of the advance. Unless it was a big advance and the book performed below expectations. And no author wants to be in that boat, even though they get to keep the money. No one lines up to publish your next book if Publisher’s Marketplace told the world about your million-dollar advance and then the book tanked.

Smart authors want their books to be assets, not liabilities. Smart authors want their publisher to succeed and thrive. And smart publishers know that good work comes from authors who can prioritize writing because it pays them. A balance has to be struck, and in the small press world where I work, that usually means modest advances. The fact that I’m seeing a first royalty check fifteen months after DOEL was published and Kiernan is seeing hers twelve years after Threshold was published tells you that her advance was a LOT bigger than my two grand. Penguin made an investment and it paid off.

Here’s the thing, though: as John Scalzi has pointed out on numerous occasions, the advance = the publisher’s skin in the game. You can tell how much confidence a publisher has in a book, and how many copies they expect to sell by looking at that number.

These days I see a lot of small presses offering great royalty splits with authors, and that’s good, it can make for a solid partnership, but most of those presses don’t pay any advance at all to acquire the work. Writers should remember that no money down means very little risk, and it also means that the publisher doesn’t have to be as discerning about the books they accept.

Think about it. A publisher that fronts a few thousand dollars to buy the rights to a book is going to more carefully weigh the merits of that book and view it as an investment. Whereas a publisher who only offers a royalty split needs only to assess whether or not the author has enough friends, family, and social followers to sell beyond the production costs. It’s a different game. Low risk. Any unexpected success is a bonus.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all small presses only offering a royalty split are bad. The good ones can do a better job of production and promotion than a self-published author, and that’s the bar they have to meet to be seen as valued partners.

By the same token, if a publisher pays one author a $5000 advance, and another author a $500 advance, which book do you think will get priority when it comes time to push new product?

So I don’t think authors need to feel guilty about wanting to see proof of commitment in the form of decent advances, especially at a time when we have so many self-empowering options. Authors should value their own work or no one else will.

As for me, I’ll try to be a bit clearer than CRK: I’m very happy with my publisher. JournalStone has treated my books right, and as my birthday wound down and that statement popped up in my inbox, the icing on the cake tasted pretty sweet.

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DSC_7662_2_3_2A couple of weeks ago I attended the World Horror Convention and Bram Stoker Awards weekend in New Orleans. What a blast. I’d never been to the town before, and even though it was a quick trip, it was fun to stroll around the French Quarter and take it all in.

 

My wife spent some time in New Orleans years ago when she was a teenager traveling with a carnival (yup, I married a carny and she married a rock singer and God help our kid), so she’s always wanted to go back with me and show me around. It was cool to have dinner on Bourbon Street on Friday night with live jazz, and in the morning…the croissants…to die for. They must put a fucking stick of butter in each one. Croissants, man… Yeah, we uh, don’t party like a carny and a rocker anymore.

 

The convention was cool too, and a little overwhelming.  A year ago, when JournalStone picked up my first book, I didn’t know anyone in publishing. And the idea of socializing with other horror writers? Well, I wasn’t going to take out a craigslist ad.  But to be in a gorgeous old haunted hotel rubbing elbows with so many people I admire, people whose books I’ve read and loved—that was awesome.

 

Highlights:

♦Meeting my publisher, Christopher C. Payne in person for the first time. After a hundred emails, it was great to finally shake the man’s hand.

 

♦Hanging out with my fellow JournalStone authors, which felt like a reunion of old friends.  And authors from other presses, many of whom I’d become acquainted with on social media, but it’s different in person, of course. There was just a lot of good energy in the air, a real sense of mutual admiration and support everywhere you looked.

 

♦Seeing Steel Breeze in print for the first time and signing a stack of them!

 

♦Picking Ellen Datlow’s brain about her editorial process at a Kaffeeklatsch. So far I’ve been too intimidated to submit any of my stories to her (first impressions, and not having the right thing for the right anthology and all) but how often do you get to hear about the nitty-gritty of story selection and editing from her point of view? She’s a titan!

 

♦Sharing a table at the awards banquet with a great group of people including Megan Hart, J.G. Faherty, Greg Bastianelli, and Brad C. Hodson was a pleasure, even though it was mostly too loud for conversation. Sharing a table with Joss Whedon’s Stoker award for best screenplay (Cabin in the Woods) was also pretty damned cool. J.G. Faherty presented and accepted the award on Whedon’s behalf. Hey Joss, I voted for you, man, you owe me.

 

♦The Clive Barker tribute.  This was the heart of the convention for me. Clive Barker is one of my biggest influences, so to sit in on a roomful of writers and friends of the man paying tribute to his work and sharing stories about his resilience and passion for creativity was really inspiring. We almost lost Mr. Barker earlier this year when he spent some time in a coma after a dental infection. I remember back in January, hearing that he could have slipped away, and how forcefully it reminded me of the immense influence he has had on my interior life. He’s much more than an entertainer. He’s a philosopher.

 

My first book was published just nine months ago. I’m a small fish. The convention gave me a sense of the pond: the genre, the marketplace, and the community that I’m now a part of. It was, at times, enough to make my head spin (riding in an elevator with Ramsey Campbell after the awards, or with a dripping wet Glenn Chadbourne on the way down from the rooftop pool). In an environment focused largely on awards, marketing, and networking, it’s easy to get distracted. But taking time to reflect on Clive’s legacy reminded me of what inspired me to write fiction in the first place: a fearless and original voice, a visionary artist exploring the extremes of human experience: horror, sex, death, and spirituality. Clive may have redefined horror with The Books of Blood and Hellraiser, but he very soon transcended genre with Imajica, Weaveworld, The Books of the Art, and Abarat. Painter, poet, mystic, storyteller. I truly believe he is the William Blake of the 20th century.

 

Here's me gazing across the Mass Signing room at all of the eager fans lined up... in front of Jonathan Maberry.

Here’s me gazing across the Mass Signing room at all of the eager fans lined up… in front of Jonathan Maberry.

I’m not a natural when it comes to networking and schmoozing, and I’m sure I missed a lot of opportunities over the weekend, but at the end of the Barker tribute, I stalked Mark Miller (Clive’s collaborator and representative at the convention) and raved like a rabid fanboy for a minute before stuffing a copy of The Devil of Echo Lake into his hands. Sorry, Mark, but after hearing you speak with so much authentic affection for Clive’s genius, I just couldn’t help myself, and the only way to really continue the conversation about Clive’s influence was to say, “this book wouldn’t exist, nor would I be here in New Orleans today, if it weren’t for Clive.”

 

I only met Clive once, at a book signing in Cambridge when I was about twenty-one. I asked him if he had any advice for an aspiring writer, and he said, “Always try to be as original as possible, no matter how strange or taboo that might be.  If you’re true to yourself, there will be an audience for it.”

 

I can’t tell you how often I’ve reflected on those words. Words that put me on a path to find my own vision and voice.  I’m still finding it, and it was good to be reminded that that’s what writing is about. It’s an act of remembering, like Gentle in the Imajica or Candy in the Abarat, who you really are.

 

And so, at a convention devoted to a genre that is still close to my heart, the big takeaway for me was the realization that my true ambition is still to write stories that reach beyond genre.

Douglas Wynne at World Horror Con 2013

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MM_LastChordA while back I came across a short article in Rolling Stone about Bob Dylan’s legendary Fender Stratocaster, the one he busted out at the Newport Folk Festival to make his electric debut.  Supposedly the guitar had been found by an instrument appraiser after being lost for many years.  Dylan himself denies that it’s the same guitar, which he says he still has, but I suspect that Dylan just likes to be contrary whenever a journalist gets him on the phone.  Anyway, I liked the idea of a kind of forensics being used to verify if the wood grain pattern matched photos from the 60’s, and it stuck in my mind.

I’m a guitar geek, so it didn’t take long for that scrap of a story to get remixed in my mind with my own geeky obsessions, such as some of the details of David Gilmour’s famous Black Strat.  I’ve even worked up my own replica of that guitar for when I want to bask in some Pink Floyd tones.  Mine is nice, and cost a lot less to assemble than the one sold by the Fender Custom Shop.

When the guitar obsession collided with the horror fiction obsession, I finally got a short story out of it that I’m quite happy with.  “The Last Chord” is about a vintage instruments appraiser, a Rock n Roll Detective if you will, who discovers a haunted Stratocaster.  It first appeared in Dark Discoveries magazine, and is now available on Kindle.

I almost titled the story “Black Widow Blues,” but then my friend Jill proof read it and picked “The Last Chord” from my list of possible titles.  I’m glad she did, because in a way the story is a final chord of The Devil of Echo Lake, struck years after the events of that novel, when we find sound engineer Jake Campbell once again wrapped up in some sinister paranormal weirdness with a Lovecraftian twist. You don’t need to have read the book to enjoy this standalone story, and if you do pick it up, you also get a preview chapter of my next book, Steel Breeze, tagged on at the end.  Not bad for a buck.

Since this is my first foray into self publishing… (clears throat, sheepishly swats dog hair from his sleeve) if you do read the story and like it, a really short review would make me love you long time.

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ImageIf you don’t live in my neck of the woods and can’t make it to a book store reading, now you can hear me read the first chapter of The Devil of Echo Lake on Soundcloud.  You can stream it or download the mp3 to take with you for offline listening.  And hey, if you’re hanging around Billy Moon’s Soundcloud page, you can also listen to his 3 song demo and hear some of the music mentioned in the book.

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The reading/signing events we did a couple of weeks ago were a lot of fun.  I really enjoyed celebrating the release with family, friends, and readers.  Can you believe that cake in the photo?  It was made by Chef Erin of Wild Orchid Baking Company, and it was delicious!  Check out the woodgrain.  And the edible planchette. What an amazing gift from my friend, Jill.

Other highlights:

There were live guitar atmospheres provided by my old friend and Echo Lake cover artist, Jeff Miller, at the Jabberwocky reading, so that really cranked up the creep factor; I had the pleasure of meeting fellow JournalStone author, Greg Bastianelli at Water Street; and my Mom even made it to the Newburyport gig after moving back east from Montana!

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Jeff Miller at Jabberwocky in Newburyport.

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Yours Truly at Water Street in Exeter.

At Jabberwocky I had a really sweet introduction from proprietor Sue Little, a hero of the New England Indie book store scene.  Sue had read Echo Lake in manuscript a while back, and she has been an encouraging friend and advocate for me along the way. It’s nice to finally bring some sales to her wonderful shop.

Another advocate for me in this sometimes lonely occupation of scribbling and wondering if it’s any good is my friend Jill Sweeney-Bosa (of the cake), who did a stellar job of event planning and publicizing the signings.  Without Jill’s help these events would have been minimalist to say the least, but thanks to her both nights were truly creative celebrations of the book.

Here she is introducing me at Water Street.

The basket beside the typewriter is her take on a guest book where folks could write me a message.  It was a treat to read through them when things settled down a few days later.  Lots of love and encouragement in there.

BIG THANKS to Sue and Paul at Jabberwocky, Dan and Stef at Water Street, Jill, Jen (my awesome picture snapping/book pimping wife), Jeff, and everyone who came out and bought books and asked fun questions and partied with me.

Now that I know how much fun these things can be, I might even do some more after the holidays. We also got video of the readings, so stay tuned for that.

And I’ll tell ya… nothing makes up for a couple of years of collecting rejections like signing a pile of books.

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Here’s a picture of the display window at Water St. Bookstore in Exeter, NH with a 3D riff on my book cover. BIG thanks to my dear friend/event planner/publicist, the amazing Jill Sweeney-Bosa, for making that happen.

I’ll be doing two local gigs this weekend to launch the book. Both are reading/signing events. If you live in the area, I hope you can make it to one of them. There will be cake, there will be wine, there will be profanity–so leave the kids with a sitter. I figure both events will run about an hour.

Friday night at 7PM is Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, MA
Saturday night at 7PM is Water St. Bookstore in Exeter, NH

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Fangoria.com, the web presence of the renowned horror magazine, is giving away a signed, numbered hardcover copy of The Devil of Echo Lake this week. So head on over and click on the email link to enter.

Since Fangoria is a hub for horror film buffs, I’m especially excited that they’re running my book trailer on the site!

Good luck, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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