Saturday, September 25, 2010

Prophecies about the ebook and the self publisher- where's Nostradamus when you need him?

We've all heard the growing debate about the rise of the ebook, and the question of self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

As is often the case, both sides have valid points and not-so-valid points.

Some say badly written, non-edited writing will flood the market with drivel and that the overall quality of literature will slowly but eventually erode. (I didn't know we needed self-published writers for that...oops.)

Others believe the free market has a way of sorting it all out, and ultimately the best will find an audience while the rest fades into obscurity.

Unless you have a time travelling DeLorean that can hit 88mph, predicting the future is a mug's game at the best of times, but let's give it a nudge, eh?

For many years musos unable to score a record deal have released their music on their own indie labels, marketing their work via YouTube, Facebook, My Space, you know the culprits...

A select few have had success. They've become "name" artists, either continuing to self-release, or by signing on with one of the big companies.

The rest are simply swept away by the net's own, quick but cruel version of time and tide. And sadly, some of those sucked in to the world wide web's big black digital hole are actually very good.

In reality, that's the way it's always been out there in the wider showbiz world.

It seemed that writing wouldn't go in that same direction - but that was before the rapid advent of the ebook via Kindle, then the Kobo and the Nook and the Iriver and the Ipad and other ereaders, and of POD (Print On Demand) publishing.

There have already been examples of self-pubbed authors breaking through to both a wider audience and critical acceptance.

Scott Sigler self published his earlier works as ebooks and podcasts, achieving strong sales and then signing with Hodder and Stoughton.

Jack Henderson followed a similar route with his first thriller, "Maximum Impact," now published by Sphere. Booklist called it "accomplished." Not drivel, then.

J. A. Konrath, on the other hand, is the traditionally published author who began self-pubbing his own ebooks to great success. Some commentators believe he is an exception to the rule. J.A. has plenty to say about this on his blog, "A Newbie's Guide To Publishing." If you're not already a fan, check it out.

Almost as if to annoy the naysayers, publishing giant Hachette announced in July 2010 that James Patterson had surpassed the one million mark with ebooks sales of his novels. Well okay but he is James Patterson.

Later the same month Amazon announced ebook sales on its site had surpassed those of hardcover titles for the first time.

Confused?Join the club. Perhaps everyone is a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Maybe no-one really has a clue what's going to happen next. DeLorean, anyone?

As I'm writing this blog changes are happening, seemingly daily. Bestselling author David Morrell has now published his new novel directly to ebook. He's not the only one putting out their own backlist or new titles: F Paul Wilson. Lee Goldberg and Scott Nicholson are just a few of the many doing similar things.

And thousands of new authors are self publishing and promoting their own works and selling thousands of ebooks in the process.

What is clear is that the game is changing - the extent may be unknowable, but it just might be seismic.

For myself, I don't believe traditionally published books are headed for the great big library in the sky. Not at all. Just as radio survived TV, just as cinema held its own when videoes, then DVD's and YouTube came along, so I believe the traditional book can happily co-exist alongside the ebook, podcast, and the self publishing brigade, and that they all have their own little gems to offer.

There, I've said it.

Do I have a history of being right about these things, or about things in general? (, not according to my wife. But let's not go there...)

I wonder if all this hasn't happened before, in different eras with different technologies...It's a little known fact, and I sometimes have to keep reminding myself, that classic authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain and Zane Grey all self published and went on to stellar careers.

In the 1940's Penguin launched the first pocket paperbacks. The snobs frowned, but as we all know the paperback has dominated bookstores for over half a century.

That's it for me, predicting what lies ahead is exhausting stuff. Nostradamus did it better even if he did speak in riddles. I need to relax, perhaps with a good movie. In fact, I know just the thing. A couple of hours in the company of Marty McFly and good 'ol Doc Brown and his DeLorean.

Yep, I'm going back to the future.

Maybe we all are.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thrillers With A Scientific Edge

I've been reading Michael Crichton for twenty five years, give or take. Crichton is the author of modern s/f classics such as 'Jurassic Park,' and 'The Andromeda Strain.' The creator of TV's ER series, his work includes medical thrillers, historical pieces and non-fiction.

He also wrote contemporary thrillers with a strong undercurrent of evolving science and/or technology, evident in 'Disclosure,' and 'The Terminal Man.'

I'm an avid thriller reader, and I run the full gamut from police procedurals, detective, noir, romantic suspense and espionage.

I'm also a fan of science fiction.

So when a mystery/suspense novel has a science theme that drives the plot, I'm intrigued and I'm lining up at the door.

There doesn't appear to be a "name' for this sub-genre, perhaps because its popularity has rocketed during the same era that gadgetry, the internet and medical breakthroughs have exploded in the real world. The scientific thriller has quickly and subtly integrated itself and become part of mainstream pop culture, with authors such as Michael Cordy, John Case, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs, James Rollins and F. Paul Wilson making regular visits to the bestseller charts.

In Michael Crichton's 'State Of Fear,' the environmental lobby and the pros and cons of climate change debate, are probed. In 'Next,' Crichton explores the impact of genetic research on both the individual, and the wider community.

In British writer Michael Cordy's 'The Messiah Code,' (a.k.a. 'The Miracle Strain,') a genetics researcher seeks an artifact with Jesus' DNA in order to find a way to heal his dying daughter.

There are websites and magazines aplenty out there for fans of mystery, crime and detective fiction, and for s/f and for romance. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover a website, simple title Science Thrillers, at devoted to reviews and synopses of this evolving genre, but not excluding thrillers of other kinds either.

Dr. Amy Rogers, from Northern California, herself a writer and reader of the genre, saw the need for a site with such a focus and it currently features Amy's first on-site interview with C J Lyons, author of 'Lifelines.'

Good luck with the site, Amy. Thriller fans everywhere will be hoping the good ship Science Thrillers has a long and fruitful voyage.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sci-Fi - Why?

Ever wondered why science fiction is referred to as "sci-fi", but mystery fiction isn't called "mi-fi," thriller fiction isn't "thri-fi," romantic fiction isn't labelled "ro-fi," historical fiction isn't "hi-fi" - okay, so that one's already 'owned' by the music industry, but why not "his-fic" (too much like hissy fit?) or...there's nowhere else to go with that one, but I gather you get my drift.

If you haven't wondered about the above, then I guess you are now.

I'm wondering what I might have stumbled on to here? Is this a literary form of bias against one of our greatest fiction genres? If there's racism in our world (and sadly, there is), if there's sexism in our world (tick that one as well), if there's ageism in our society (been on the receiving end of that little nasty), then is there in fact yet another, hidden evil that lurks among them...fictionalism?

What about women's fiction that's referred to as "chick-lit", you ask? Okay, but that one's deserved (no bias here.)

I admit labels can be fun -  and for those poor, impoverished souls who visit bookstores and libraries and ask the staff what would be a good read, or can they recommend so and so - then possibly labeling could be very useful.

So what works?

Here's a few random suggestions:

For teenage romantic vampire fiction - how about "te-va-ro-fi"?

For fictional showbiz biography-type sagas - "sho-bi-fi."

For spy fiction - "spi-fi" (with my little eye.)

For supernatural drama - 'su-dra."

The more I write about this idea, the less I like it, and the less sense it makes.

Maybe the real reason science fiction is known as "sci-fi" and/or "s/f", is because it's a mark of reverence for a genre that stood apart, and alone, for many decades until it was embraced and interwoven with other genres and with the mainstream. It's blazed its own trail, a homage to its pioneers - Verne, Wells, Rice Burroughs and others - and to its leading lights - Asimov, Clarke, Wyndham et al - pushing boundaries, and illuminating the infinite possibilities not just of the universe around us but of the ingenuity within us.

And that seems like a good enough reason to me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Rejected? Dejected? Why not try this cheap and easy cure?

I admit to being one of those poor unfortunates, always throwing their hands up in despair and giving up. Later on, optimism kicks in and I'll go all out to give it another go. After all, I remind myself, if Don Quixote could go around tilting at windmills, then why can't I...I'm starting to look like 'ol Don might've looked anyway...

In today's world you can't look left or right without being exposed to yet another self-motivational sales pitch, speech or article, but you know what? I don't mind, I need the encouragement, and I suspect I'm not the only one.

There's always room for just one more "inspirational, rags-to-riches, beat the odds, don't let the bastards get you down" pep talk.

Okay, so it's best to avoid them if they're from those self-serving, self-deluded, manic "send me your money and I'll reveal the secret of how it makes me rich" con artists. Permission granted to ignore those guys, in fact permission granted to let 'em rot in their dead-of-night tv ad zones or their locked room, hyperactive $500 per head, once-in-a-lifetime seminars...

It's the genuine, proven, humble and sometimes spiritually enlightening true stories that I'm really referring to, and which serve us best when we need a lift without feeling that we're being conned and conning ourselves in the process.

The good news is that the genuine underdog-makes-good stories are out there, we just have to wade through some crap in order to find them.

Most writers, and readers, have heard the story of how John Grisham's first agent spruiked his early novel 'The Firm' to every publisher in the U.S. and got knocked back by all of them (or something like that.) This indefatigable guy then started doing the rounds again and second time around he "struck pay dirt." Certainly qualifies as not-taking-no-for-an-answer, doesn't it? And that's something that every writer, and this one especially, needs as a constant reminder.

When Walt Disney lost the rights to his first successful cartoon character, Mortimer, he got back up, dusted himself off, and created a new character (a little fella by the name of Mickey Mouse.)

If you haven't heard those stories before, then you have now (this blog is also educational.)

At the other end of the spectrum there's someone like Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for twenty-six years for opposing the apartheid regime in South Africa. During that time the story of his struggle and his incarceration became a beacon to the groundswell of anti-apartheid sentiment around the world.

Mandela was released to an international hero's welcome in 1990. A patient, intelligent, articulate, inspirational man, he harboured no bitterness, spoke for peace, and went on to lead his nation through great change.

In between those three extreme examples, there are millions of tales of people from all walks of life who've fallen over, got up, dusted themselves off, and carried on.

Years ago, in a small way, I experienced this when I submitted my short suspense fiction to magazines. Each story was sent out two, three, four...sometimes a dozen times...and on a semi-regular basis one of them would find a home. It rarely happened on a first submission.

On a few occasions a story sold to a magazine, which had previously rejected it under a different editor. (Idiot!) Being rejected didn't matter. Being knocked down didn't matter. Giving it the 'ol Don Quixote was what really mattered. You don't have to a Mandela or a Disney or a Grisham to be inspired by their true stories.

And think about it. You've experienced something like this, perhaps in a small way, perhaps in a very big way, at some time. We all have. And yet, despite that, it seems the dogs of doubt are always on our tails.

That's why I never mind hearing another persistence-pays-off story. I need the reminder.

If you have a story of your own or know of a good one, feel free to share. (But keep it brief, I'm the only one allowed to ramble on this blog.)

Remember, David beat Goliath, the tortoise beat the hare...

Oh, and welcome to 'Take It As Read,' a new blog on the block about writing, publishing and the whole damn thing.