Monday, January 23, 2017

Indie publishing: Is it still a trip worth taking?

     Every indie author knows that a book’s main marketing vehicle is a good cover. Whether it’s an ebook or print book, it’s the cover that sells the book and becomes its branding. As a book designer, author and publisher, I’m sure that is true, but what else is true about marketing indie books in this ever-changing publishing landscape. As I’m about to publish my first series of novels, I’m embarking on a journey to find out what is true and what is not true about indie publishing and marketing.

     One thing I know from personal experience is that exposing yourself as an artist is scary and it’s even scarier without the support system of a publishing house. I recently watched comedian Neal Brennan’s show on Netflix in which he talks honestly about how scary it was for him to begin a stand-up career after working behind the scenes as a writer for many years. I relate. It was scary for me to publish my books and start to put myself out there on social media. In fact, last year I had to take a break from social media because I was being stalked. There are real and imagined dangers for those of us who step out of the shadows and bare our souls without protection.

     Another thing I know is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to sell your own books and the process is becoming more complicated. A good friend of mine, a fellow author and publishing consultant, was the first person who delivered the bad news to me. She had published her first novel during the golden time for indies and the book was hugely successful. She didn’t make a fortune but the book was well received and made some real money. When she published her second novel several years later, things had changed, and even though her second novel garnered even better reviews than her first one, it was much more difficult to market.

     The golden time of indie published I refer to was four or five years ago when it was coming into its own and flourishing. Technology had made it possible and those who had discovered that were able to take advantage of the opportunity to publish online and market their own books through a number of available book marketing sites without shelling out their life savings. But, sadly, things have changed since then and it is much more difficult for indies such as myself to compete with the big publishing houses. Why? Because the big publishers don’t want to let go of their power. Of course, they don’t. We all know from watching politics how reluctantly people give up power.

     For hundreds of years, the decisions about whom and what would be published resided in New York City with the literary gatekeepers—the agents, editors and publishing executives. When they lost that power to indie publishers and authors, however briefly, they looked for and found ways to subvert them. They began to monopolize the most successful avenues for marketing books, pushing aside those who had less money and less clout than they have.

      Ebooks have been the backbone of indie publishing because they are so much easier to market and distribute than print books. Depending on whom you talk to and what articles you read, ebook sales either are or are not flourishing. The state of publishing is cloudier than ever and is complicated by indie ebooks not being fully counted, the closing of book stores, the rise of novelty print book sales, and many other factors. In fact, according to publishing guru Jane Friedman, sales are down even for the big publishing houses. One thing is clear, being an indie author requires even more knowledge and work than it did in the past. Things are changing so fast that those of us who want to remain independent have to study, study, study. We can’t rely on old methods for success (and by old, I mean what worked last year).

     I want to know what’s working right now, don’t you?

  • Besides writing novels, I also design my own and other authors’ books. I’m currently designing and formatting a book for humorist Bill Rodgers, to be published soon. Visit my book design website at
  • My novels, available on Amazon and other bookseller sites, are: The Legend of Juan Miguel, The Passion of Juan Miguel and The Return of Juan Miguel.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On Being a Bona Fide Texan

            I am a native Texan and I write fiction about Texas. So, naturally, when I saw that the New York Times had published an article titled, “What Makes Texas Texas,” I decided I’d better see what those folks in New York think about us. What can they tell me about Texas that has eluded me while I’ve been living here all my life?
            It was interesting. They employed someone who moved here from Brooklyn to write about it. Typical. The guy actually did have some interesting albeit cliché observations about the livestock shows, Frito pies, open carry gun laws, Texas flags all over everything kind of stuff.
            The meat of the matter, though, as usual could be found in the comments section. The comments from people deploring our culture (or lack thereof) got the most thumbs-up recommendations from others around the country. No doubt very few of them have ever been here or done much more than fly over or drive through. They know us by reputation only.
            Novelist Stephen Harrigan, himself a Texan, summed it up. “I think part of the reason Texas is having a moment is because it’s being more itself than it’s ever been.” I do love that quote. There’s just a hint of sarcasm in it—so Texan. Bless their little hearts up there in New York, they don’t know when someone is pulling their short, stubby legs.
            Some of the commenters who do live in Texas managed to capture its essence. The mass of contradictions. The friendly optimistic people. Love of land. Competence. You know, real stuff. Living here in Austin surrounded by people who moved here from other places, I sometimes miss the real Texas and real Texans, the ones I grew up with. It gives me such great comfort to know they are still out there and I can rejoin them any time I want to.
            Not everybody feels that way. A semi-famous liberal who had moved to Austin looking for a progressive mecca recently published a nose-thumbing (er, I mean farewell) letter to the city and Texas as she exited the state bound for San Francisco. I paraphrase: “I expected Austin to be the way I expected it to be and it wasn’t. Boo hoo.” Many people wrote back to point out that she was, after all, in the middle of Texas. A few, I think, offered to buy her plane ticket. If I could, I would just reply, “… and the horse you rode in on.” But not being from Texas, she probably wouldn’t understand. Anyway, you get the gist. It isn’t paradise and it isn’t perfect. But it has substance. There is definitely a there there.
            One of my grandfathers left home at 13, worked as a cowboy on cattle drives, sold moonshine, became a U.S. Marshall, and then built a railroad. My other grandfather raised 12 college-educated children on a dirt farm in the middle of the dust bowl. That is called dealing with the unexpected.
            Most Texans are passionately Texan, and that is because they are not dead inside.
            My historical fiction series, The Juan Miguel Series (The Legend of Juan Miguel, The Passion of Juan Miguel, and The Return of Juan Miguel), is available online from most book sellers.


Friday, March 11, 2016

The revolt in politics follows a revolt in publishing

Several years ago, writers revolted against the publishing industry gatekeepers, the so-called experts, the insiders playing an insider’s game. They were the agents, literary critics, and other hangers-on who were in it to make money, to promote their own agendas, and further the interests of their friends. Suddenly, we as writers were on to them and their game.

So, writers started publishing, publicizing, and marketing their own books, which was something that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the Internet. There was a burst of expression, some of it well done, a lot of it un-refined. Things are still shaking out but overall it’s been a boon for writers.

It seems to me that same sort of revolt is now happening in politics. Suddenly, voters are on to the so-called experts, the fakes, the people who’ve been lining their pockets by being self-serving poseurs. You know, lobbyists, pundits, and professional politicos. That old adage, "Pretty words are not always true, and true words are not always pretty," never seemed more true.

As with any revolution, it’s not pretty. Things have to even out again. People have to get over being mad. The inauthentic have to be weeded out. We know who they are. It’s painfully obvious every time they appear on television and proclaim their shifting, self-serving messages, trying desperately to win us back. Those of us who’ve had bad spouses are familiar with this game of manipulation.

I read a story recently in the New York Times about how the GOP elites can still control the situation if they just follow certain guidelines. Has it come to that? People think nothing of openly trying to subvert the will of the people, however misguided their will may be. When the people speak, they speak. That is democracy, take it or leave it. What a writer writes, he or she writes. Both are pure expression, not to be feared. It’s a process and until some stop trying to manipulate what people do and what they think for their own motives, things won’t get back to normal.

My historical fiction series, The Juan Miguel Series (The Legend of Juan Miguel, The Passion of Juan Miguel, and The Return of Juan Miguel), is available online from most book sellers.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Foreign films can teach us about the state of our own culture

If you want to know how cynical our entertainment industry is, watch some foreign films and compare them to our own. Personally, I gave up on American film and television several years ago. I reduced my cable to the basics so I won’t be a complete hermit and I rarely go to the mainstream blockbuster films in theaters.

American films can now be divided into three categories: things that go boom, puerile comedy, and partisan propaganda from Hollywood elites. These just don’t interest me.

How do I entertain myself? I watch movies and television from other countries. Almost any country has better drama than ours does. Better structured plots. More intelligent dialogue. More finely drawn characters. More heart-felt emotions and themes.

British drama is the best, hands down. They are, after all, the land of Shakespeare. But many of the Scandinavian countries also have wonderful television series. Our neighbors south of the border do an array of exciting films, many of them quite controversial and provocative. Asian film is also really good, from its historical drama to its romances and comedic dramas.

Yes, you have to get used to the subtitles, but once you’re over that obstacle, there’s a world of good plotlines to explore. It’s a wonderful way for a writer to see, within a few hours, the differences in plot construction from one culture to the next.

Here are a couple of really good dramas I watched recently—the Dutch movie, “Secrets of War,” and the Korean series, “Secret Affair.” The word secret in both titles is coincidental. One is about a couple of boys during World War II who befriend a young Jewish girl before she’s sent away to the concentration camp. Such a beautiful story and such great young actors. The other is a romance about a young man who’s a talented but poor pianist and his older female mentor. Of course, they fall in love, but the ins and outs of the plot are artfully done and the acting is superb.

My series, The Juan Miguel Series, on Amazon: