Thursday, July 3, 2008

Blastoff accomplished ... major thanks to all!

Just back from lunch ... my day off and so forth. Very nice, but I'm glad we don't do this too often, because you always eat way too much at these places. There's a bunch of brain cells that get together in the back of your skull, conference, and program the conscious part of the brain with a terminate-stay-resident routine which runs along the lines of 'Hey, man, you're paying for it, so get your money's worth.'

The squid was excellent. So was the shrimp. And the roast beef. Also the pork and applesauce, and the vegetables in some kind of cream sauce. And the baked custard, and the rumballs, and the profiteroles (how DO you spell that?) with Italian custard.

The only problem is, now I need a nap to sleep it off, and I have a moral objection to sleeping on my days off, because they gits up and vanishes too fast.

Many, many thanks to the people who have visited the new website and sent messages! Our hit counters have been turning over enthusiastically ... gratitude to one and all, and especially to those folks who bought bundles of eBooks (you know who you are, kids, and a special thanks from me personally, and DreamCraft in general).

Th launch of the new website has been a riotous success, and by way of feedback I can tell you that by far our best selling titles are SF, and of the SF list, the NARC books are, at this point, 'romping it.' Which is nice to know, because I'd love nothing better than to be writing more about those characters...

I wrote a feature for the new site, taking a look at specifically gay SF, wondering where in the world it all is. If book and ebook sales are anything to be judged from, gay SF is an enthusiastic marketplace which is sadly undersupplied. And yes, this gives me inspiration to get busy.

To answer one question which was fired at me just a few hours ago (vis the 'Ask Mel' page on the website ... incidentally, you can also post questions here. I've found a temporal niche in each afternoon for blogging: I'd call it my coffee break, but I usually drink tea)... Why am I using Lulu and DreamCraft rather than signing with a 'proper' publisher in the US or UK?

It fact, it's a complex question -- and a good one. The reasons are numerous.

First, working with DreamCraft suits me personally. They're publisher-smart, they're computer and internet-savvy, and they're good friends. They're local; any problems can be worked out on a Sunday afternoon, when the rest of the country is comatose in front of the boob tube, or flying kites off the beach. It's a very laid back working environment, yet one where (and this has become important to me) I retain a lot of creative control. We no longer get books coming out with covers that are disappointing, or juvie, or just plain wrong.

Next, if I were to sign with a publisher in the US or UK, I'd have to relinquish any suggestion of creative control, and also it's a hell of a lot harder to thrash out problems. You can, and do, bounce a lot of emails back and forth; but it is VERY easy to be misunderstood in an email. Nuance doesn't carry, especially when people start to communicate in shorthand. Irony and subtlety don't translate into SMS, yet you'd be horrified, the number of people who try to use SMS to convey critical messages. Working with an overseas publisher is never easy. I did it for well over a decade, and in those years only eight books were produced. One reviewer (at Amazon??) called me one of the 'most annoyingly unprolific writers.'

Not true! I have a stack of unpublished works so thick, if you arranged them into a ziggurat and jumped off the top, you'd break a leg! But (and this is a critical point) when you sign with a publisher, you work at his speed, not yours. If the publisher decides to hold off on your book till next year, then you get a year without a new credit -- also without any 'new book splash' royalties, which is not cool, when you're trying to work your way to doing this professionally. Any potential financial problems suffered by the publisher are transmitted to the writer like the Black Death: delayed printing dates, shorter printruns, even royalties checks that go missing in the mail and are replaced ... many months later. It can all happen, if/when you risk signing with a third party.

Now, you'd be forgiven for asking, 'So why don't you just go find another publisher?' Another good question, and this time the answer is fairly simple. Because you can't. You probably could find another publisher, if you were determined enough ... and if you were allowed to. But you're not allowed. You're locked into your contract through a clause requiring you to give your existing publisher the 'right of first refusal on your next appropriate work.' You signed that contract, you locked yourself in. But if you try to strike out the clause, there's a real danger of the publisher who offered the contract simply withdrawing the offer. Believe me, you'll sign, to close the deal.

(There are halfway-decent reasons for publishers requiring this clause; the reasons are fairly sensible when they're dealing with newbies, wannabies, first-timers, contractual virgins. Alas, the reasons fall apart when they're dealing with long-time professional writers ... but as writer, one is more likely to be held over this particular barrel, and the risk is considerable. At this juncture, it's one Keegan doesn't have to take, and doesn't want to!)

The last, and probably the best reason to go the route of Lulu, and Payloadz, independent publishing and (much more importantly) independent marketing, is financial. Royalties off books sold in stores, are rarely above $1 per copy, and more usually in the 80c bracket. Some publishers are still offering the old '10% net' deal -- meaning, the writer earns 10% of the net price, which is 25% of the cover price. You do the math. A book sells in the States, at a cover price of US$10, and the writer makes 10% of $2.50 ...! If the printrun is in six figures, who cares? It's still good money. But it the printrun is around 10,000, it's getting lean. And small publishers (ie, gay publishers) usually don't print more than 6,000, and can print as few as 3,000. The other thing to think about is the percentage of the printrun which has zero earning potential. Copies returned shopsoiled; copies still in the warehouse and never distributed; copies given away for review purposes; whatever. It can be as much as 20% of the printrun that was spoiled on the shelf, or given away, or never left the warehouse!

Now, it's absolutely true that POD (print on demand) publishing and ebooks don't have the numbers in the short term that the major publishers can quote, but as a writer there are two things one must consider: the profit of each copy sold ... and the lifespan of the product. When you use a printshop like Lulu, and a host like Payloadz for your e-products, the lifespan of a book is infinite. You don't HAVE to generate all the sales you're ever going to get in the next 3 - 24 months! (Mainstream books have something called a 'shelf-life.' This means that they sit on the shelves at physical bookstores for as little as 30 days before the 'returns' go back,and most returns get pulped!)

At this point, DreamCraft and I cover the (considerable) costs of re-press work, hosting, advertising, whatever comes along (and there's plenty of cash-drain). What's left is designated profit, and split more or less evenly. And it's a hell of a lot more attractive than a mainstream, traditional publisher could offer. So ... put it like this: at this point, there's quite a lot more money, a load less angst, and no risk whatsoever involved with publishing this way. Meanwhile, the reverse is just as true: to sign with a publisher in the US or UK, I'd have to accept a pay cut, angst galore, and run the risk of getting locked back into a contract where I could easily find myslf on the 'one new book in two years, with a small printrun' routine.

Hope that covers all bases!

And now, let me go digest that lunch! Days off are lethal.

Ciao for now,

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