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A Conversation With Kevin Brennan, Part Three

Part One.

Part Two.

MP. In your last comment, you mention that you like to think of your books as deceptively simple.  You also clearly like “journey” stories.  Somewhere I have read that there are only a handful of story plots that drive just about every story ever written.  One of those story types is “journey.”  It can be a physical journey, a mental journey, a journey to find the truth.  There are all sorts of journeys that can form the structure of a story.

Thinking about Fascination, I realized that all of your novels stem from the journey concept.  And in Fascination, it seems you have doubled down, or tripled down, on the format.  All of the main characters are on journeys of different types, and even many of the minor characters are on journeys of their own.  The question is whether this was intentional or whether it just happened.  The second question is whether you ever found yourself tempted to go away from the “deceptively simple” structure of the story.  There are so many places in Fascination where you could have started to wallow in a scene or a concept.  Do you ever want to stay there for a bit and wallow?

KB. I guess when you think about it, most stories are at least partly built on a journey of one kind or another. Sometimes metaphorical, but often literal. That’s because life is that way. When we meet someone, we’re on our journey and they’re on theirs, and we travel along together for a while until our paths head off in different directions.

There’s also the practical fact that, in fiction, the journey is a terrific plot engine. Things have to happen as a matter of course.

I’m not sure all my books are journey tales. Occasional Soulmates not so much. Town Father only partly. Yesterday Road is for sure, but it’s both a physical journey and one through time. My next book is definitely not a journey, though one of the characters fantasizes about one — to get the hell away from her family. (More on that in the coming months …)

On the question of “staying and wallowing,” I’m usually concerned with keeping up a lively pace, so when I do linger a little bit I want to make sure it serves the story well.

Do you have an example of “staying and wallowing” in other books? I don’t think you just mean a digression from the plot. More like longer internal monologues or poignant flashbacks?

MP. A lot of what you say here makes sense.  Every story is, in the end, a journey.  But what intrigues me about Fascination is just how many journeys there are in this one novel.  One could argue that Mason Speck’s piece in this really isn’t a journey, but to me it is.  It’s a journey to the life he believes he wants for himself.

Fascination is essentially a physical journey that wraps itself around a whole lot of internal journeys.

When I referred to “staying and wallowing,” what I meant was that there are so many places in which you could have stopped and spend so much energy and detail to explore more in depth one of Sally’s stops along the way.  In New Mexico, for instance.  There’s detail there for sure, but so many writers would have, could have written an entire novel based on just one of Sally’s stops along the way.  That’s what I refer to as “staying and wallowing.”  What you seem to have mastered is the ability to bring the reader to a place, raise the questions that place or plot turn brings out, and then moving on to the next, without wasting time or words.  It’s one of the things I really appreciate about Fascination.  You let the reader decide where they want to wallow rather than forcing it on them.

I don’t necessarily have examples of “staying and wallowing” from other published works.  But I will say that it is one of the reasons I’m struggling with my own writing.  As I write more, my stories become more complex and I find myself getting far too much into the details.  I’d like to avoid the wallowing.  😉

Let’s move to guerrilla publishing.  As far as I know, your first novel was published the traditional way.  By William Morrow, which is no small thing.  But then it seems you left the world of traditional publishing behind and have self-published since then.  Is this remotely accurate?  Before I get to your guerrilla publishing stage, is there any story there about why you went from the traditional approach to self-publishing?

KB. I see Fascination that way too — a baker’s dozen journeys. Even Matt Damon is on a journey of sorts.

And you’re right about how any of Sally and Clive’s stops along the way could have become its own novel, but I saw this as kind of like “The Game of Life,” that old board game, where you don’t stay in one place very long. Pretty soon you have to spin again.

As for your question about traditional publishing, I’m the first to admit that any writer — or better yet, every writer — would prefer to land a contract with one of the Big Five. The truth is, I was unable to persuade them to take a chance on a second novel. I think I had three different agents after Parts Unknown, and none of them was able to make the sale. So, because I wanted to get my work out into the world, I decided to go indie, and the rest — say it with me — is history. Or my story, anyway.

Bottom line? Them’s the breaks, I guess. At least I can publish my books on my own terms now, on my schedule. And I’ve enjoyed it too.

MP. Well, if it’s like the game of Life, where are all of the kids?  Oh wait, scratch that.

I wonder if we writers are making a mistake in our belief in the holy grail of a publishing contract.  It’s kind of what motivated me to self-publish initially and why I still aim towards that with my future efforts.  There is something about traditional publishing that seems to be just a one-in-a-zillion crap shoot.  Unfortunately, self-publshing has become the same thing.  There are so many of us writers now publishing their own works, it seems impossible to make the noise that will create the attention to really attract an audience.  It’s particularly difficult when you try to occupy some space on the literary fiction shelf as you and I do.  It seems to be a forgotten genre in the world of indie publishing.

So, you indie published in the traditional way for a few books and now you’ve launched this book via what you have termed guerrilla publishing.  I know you’ve blogged about this on your own site, but for anybody visiting my site who doesn’t know about you, can you explain what guerrilla publishing is and why you decided to try it?

KB. I do think the nature of traditional publishing has changed over the last ten to fifteen years. As a bastion of literary fiction, it was geared toward building writers’ careers, so there was no expectation that a debut novelist had to sell a lot of copies. As my own agent told me, publishers didn’t expect writers to have much of a following till their fourth or fifth novel. It’s different now. If you don’t hit that home run on your first at bat, it’s back to the minors for you.

So that’s why indie was attractive, but you’re totally right on two counts: that the field is unbelievably crowded now and that there’s not very much literary fiction in the indie world. What there is seems really hard to find, except by word of mouth.

And that’s why I landed on #guerrillapublishing (I use the hashtag in case it catches on over at Twitter …) as an alternative. To my mind, #guerrillapublishing is simply a way of getting books out into the world without relying on anyone but ourselves as writers. No corporate platforms, no cover designers (unless you want to use one), no ebook formatters. And, like the old Soviet samizdat, where people passed around typed copies of banned books, this work is completely dependent on the efforts of readers to spread the word. If they like it, they tell someone else about it.

But another interesting slant here is that readers buy the book directly from me, via PayPal. I sign and inscribe each copy to the buyer (electronically, anyway), and deliver the book myself. It’s hands on. Plus, if you have any trouble getting the book onto your e-reader, I’ll walk you through it because I want you to read this book.

Who knows, this might be my only #guerrillapublishing attempt, but Fascination felt like the right kind of project to experiment with.

MP. Your description of the why of #guerrillapublishing is exactly why I came up with the idea for myself a couple of years ago.  After my second indie-published novel, which was much more literary than the first, completely and totally failed to attract any readers beyond people who knew me or followed my blog, I despaired.  And then there is the fact that the reading public basically expects that indie authors will charge a minimal amount for their book — or nothing at all.  And I despaired again.  A potential solution to all of that despair is what you have done with #guerrillapublishing.  Sell directly.  Cut out the middlemen, Amazon, the publishers, the agents.  Charge what you can, or invite the reader to pay what they believe your work is worth, and keep it for yourself, instead of the fraction you get through all of the other avenues.

There has got to be a better way for this to work for both the reader and the writer.  I hope your experiment opens some doors.

So, let me end our conversation here.  Not that the conversation you and I have about writing and publishing will end, but this small chapter of it needs to close.  One final question for you … is there anything else you want readers to know about Fascination and #guerrillapublishing?  Here’s your chance.

KB. I would add to everything we’ve already talked about that I hope readers out there — and maybe writers too — can become more open-minded about what books can be and where they can be found. With all of the tools available to us now, writers don’t have to limit themselves to traditional publishing or to the Amazon model — not if those don’t suit their needs or their material. We can publish on our blogs, via Tweets, on thumb drives — the possibilities are many, and many of them might just be better for the author than the current models.

As I say about Fascination, you don’t know till you try.

 

 

Amazon vs. Hachette

For several months now, Amazon and Hachette (one of the largest book publishers in the world) have been at war over e-book prices.  As far as I know, Amazon has been relatively quiet about the situation, letting Hachette and its supporters win the PR campaign.  Until now.  What follows is an email I received from “The Amazon Books Team.”

I have extremely mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, Amazon has far too much power in the world of book publishing these days.  On the other, I’m disgusted by the prices the big publishers charge for e-books.  On the other other, I have a real problem with how Amazon is using its power here — delaying delivery of books not because the book isn’t available but because it can — which only punishes authors and readers.  On the other other other, traditional publishers have become dinosaurs trying to stave off extinction and they’re not looking too good these days.

If, as the email states, this is about Amazon’s trying to get publishers to lower those e-book prices, then I’m all for it.  Problem is I just don’t trust Amazon enough to believe that’s what it’s all about.  I also have a real problem with Amazon calling their effort Readers United.  I’m sorry, Amazon is a business, a huge business that is concerned only with maximizing its profit.  Anyway, here’s the email…

 

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at www.readersunited.com

Today’s Publishing Question

Does anybody out there know if purchases made via the CreateSpace eStore count as sales in the super-secret Amazon sales algorithms?

Kindle Publishing Question

For all of you self-published authors who have published via Kindle Direct Publishing …

I’m trying to publish Zoe’s book and have run into a snag.  In the opening chapter, the Kindle version has a page or two where the paragraphs are all indented much more significantly than normal.  Checking the source document shows those indents at the normal measure and nothing in the formatting of the source document that would suggest a reason for the different in those paragraphs.

I’ve uploaded it as a Word document.  I tried as a PDF and that eliminated all indents and spacing between paragraphs and looked horrible.

Any of you run across this?  Any ideas for how to fix the formatting in that chapter?

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

When I thought of writing this post yesterday, it was going to be titled Accountability, because I was going to cover a couple of “promises” I’ve made in the last couple of weeks.  To hold me accountable.  But, then there were some updates I wanted to provide in some other areas.  And, then there was something that came up that seemed to just be a random thought.  More fitting to my A Peek Inside kind of posts.  So, here’s what you get…

Accountability

A little over two weeks ago, I started walking.  Inspired by another blogger, I decided to engage in a serious commitment to start running again.  I started walking on August 15 and talked with my physical therapist on August 16.  Since then I have gone for a walk every day except for the two days I was in Long Beach.  Some days I have gone for two walks — one first thing in the morning and the other when I get home from work.  All told, I’m thinking I’ve probably walked about 45-50 miles over the last sixteen days.  Yesterday, I hit five miles for my morning walk.  I’ll be walking again today.  On the physical therapy side, I’ve done my exercises every day except for those two Long Beach days.

So, how’s it all feeling down there?  I can tell I’m getting stronger, but I also know that the PT exercises I’m doing are at the lowest level of engagement with my injured area.  To recap — I tore a muscle high up in my inner thigh three times before going to see the sports doc.  It’s a groin muscle and what I’ve learned is that the whole groin complex of muscles is, well, complex.  The injury has caused serious problems in other areas of the groin.  While I can tell that the muscle I tore is still damaged and weak, the other areas seem to have improved.  Plus, they continue to be less bothersome with each walk.  On a pain/discomfort scale, two weeks ago, I was probably at a three while walking.  Now, I’m down to a one.  There’s enough there for me to know it’s there, but that’s it.  I’m now waiting for the next round of exercises from the physical therapist and trying as hard as I possibly can not to break into a jog while walking.  That’s the hardest part.  As I walk along, very briskly, I think “if I can walk five miles, why can’t I jog a bit?”  I know why, so I resist.  It’ll come.  Hopefully in a couple more months and the truth is that I’m enjoying the walks.

My goal:  A half marathon, October 2014

More Accountability

After a long cold spell on the writing front — marked by little progress and massive indecision about what to work on — I have made significant strides in both areas.  Deviation is chugging along.  Every time I sit down to work on it, I’m able to produce 1,000 words relatively effortlessly.  It’s now over 13,000 words long and I’m beginning to think of how the story is going to wind down.  I’m also considering the editing I’ll have to do for the story.

I’ve also made some very specific decisions about the next few months of writing projects.  September is for completing Deviation.  October will be for Northville Five & Dime.  November will be for Spaceship Earth — a story I don’t know that I’ve mentioned here.  It’s a sexy, end of the world, sci-fi thingamajig.  Once I have all three stories complete, I’m going to publish them individually for the Kindle.  I’m also going to publish a paperback with all three stories, plus my other two longer short stories — The Marfa Lights and Shady Acres.  Or maybe I’ll just publish the three new stories together in the paperback.  Haven’t decided about that yet.  But each of these stories will, or should, end up being in the 15,000-25,000 word range, although I’m not sure about Spaceship Earth.  It may well end up longer than that.

Once I’m done with those stories, I’ll head back to one of my half-completed novels.  These short stories are helping me tremendously.  To write and also to remember that I can actually bring to conclusion a significant writing effort.  I was beginning to wonder if I could do that.

An Update

August has been a long, cruel month for my publishing efforts.  One Night in Bridgeport was doing well as I entered August, selling 250 downloads in July and continuing to produce a handful each day.  I decided to see what would happen if I raised the price to $2.99 and learned a painful lesson.  Sales dropped off.  So I put the price back to .99 and then offered a couple of free days.  Things were still slow for a few days.  I have this idea that Bridgeport at .99 could (should?) produce at least 100 downloads every month.  It wasn’t looking good for August and I thought I had done permanent damage to my sales of the book.  Until the last few days when I went from 68 to 97 for the month.  Almost got there.  I’m done monkeying around with the price.  Bridgeport is now there at .99.  For good or bad.

Weed Therapy, however, has been completely flat.  What I learned from promoting Bridgeport has produced virtually nothing for Weed Therapy.  Lesson learned — different book, different genre, different approach.  I’m still noodling over this while waiting for some more reviews to come in.  There must be a way to find the audience for the book.  I just haven’t figured it out yet.

Another Update

Go here.  The Paperbook Collective is a new on-line literary/creative effort.  The September 1 issue is the second for Jayde Ashe, an Australian blogger who is trying to put out a monthly collection of poetry, short stories, photography, art — just about any type of creative mode.  I have two short pieces of flash fiction in the September issue.  Check it out and contribute yourself for future issues.

A Peek Inside

I think some people will look at President Obama’s speech yesterday and say once again that he is weak, that he vacillates, that he’s unwilling to take a stand, that he doesn’t know what he is doing.  Personally, I think what he did was a master stroke.  Everybody wants him to do something.  Nobody wants him to do anything.  Great.  Give it to Congress and let them figure out a way out of this mess.  Let the Republicans self-destruct over this and demonstrate, once again, their unfitness. It also turns back the tide of criticism about the Imperial Presidency — that in matters such as these where the Constitution and federal law requires Congress’s consent for military interventions Presidents should not go it alone without the required Congressional approval.  It actually returns the U.S. to a place it should have occupied for the last few decades but didn’t because of the fractures in our political system.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Congress handles this.

What do I think should happen?  I’m a believer in using force for purposes of good.  There are times when the powerful have a moral duty to protect the less powerful.  It’s why I supported Clinton’s efforts in Bosnia 20 years ago.  It’s why I thought we should have down more in the Sudan.  Yes, there are plenty of examples of such efforts producing no benefit or, worse, dragging us into a mess.

The Middle East is certainly a mess waiting to become a quagmire.  We have done enough damage to our standing in the area over the last sixty years and even more so in the last decade.  And there are enemies on all sides just waiting for the opportunity to turn one country’s civil war into something larger.  As a result, there are huge risks if we strike Assad’s regime or intervene more heavily in the civil war.  That said, a government’s use of chemical weapons is simply unacceptable.  The brutality the Assad family has unleashed on the people of Syria for decades at some point has to end.  I struggle with the idea that we should just stand by and watch.

And now a video for you …

Or two …

It’s 6:24 in the morning.  It’s dark outside, but the sun is about to make it’s appearance.  Time to go for a walk.

 

 

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