Saturday, April 24, 2010

Google Thyself

It’s fun to Google yourself (it’s also funny how that statement would’ve sounded perverted ten years ago).

Every morning before work I Google my novel, Killer Cows, just to see what pops up. Most links are to this blog site, but a few reviews are popping up here and there. I think the most bizarre has to be from a website in Belgium (!), written completely in Dutch. Google was able to, rather crudely, translate it into English (sort of). It was a reasonably favorable review, and the direct word-for-word translation is actually kind of amusing. And who knows? Maybe someday I can have a tee-shirt made which says I’m big in Belgium! Here’s the link:

Mary Lewis at Virtual Wordsmith ( ) wrote a short but very positive review as well, which I’m grateful for:

Never assume you know what shape an alien will take, it will probably be the last thing you expected. Killer Cows is a terrific sci-fi book for young adults - action packed, fun and entertaining! But, it's also an excellent interpretation of what happens when we don't take care of the things we need to sustain us.

If you're looking for a book to add to your child's Summer reading list, Killer Cows is a book they'll enjoy reading, and also learn from.

Anyway, it’s always nice reading opinions of those I’ve never met, and hopefully others will read those reviews and decide the novel’s worth buying. As I think I’ve said before, getting word out the book even exists is hard...maybe even harder than actually writing the thing. And, Killer Cows being my first published book, I’m still learning.

Sales are low right now, but every little bit helps, and I appreciate those who took the time and thought my novel was worth writing about.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reality Sucks

I hate it when reality rears its ugly head, especially now, since my first novel, Killer Cows, was released as an eBook in March, and is scheduled for paperback release in June.
For awhile I was loving it. I loved seeing the eBook listed for sale at places like Fictionwise and Omnilit. I got excited seeing the title listed among its current bestsellers (eventually reaching a high as #2 on both sites). I love seeing it available on, cover big and bold, and became addicted to checking out its sales rank among all the books available at the site. The eBook reached as high as #40,000, preorders for the paperback reached 89,000. Yeah, not spectacular, but when I considered the millions of books available, I was happy.

Then insidious reality set in over the past week...

And I’m learning a lot in the process (which may actually be a good thing).

First, while I’m well-aware of the sudden boom in eBooks and eBook readers (which, depending on who you ask, is the salvation of the book industry), the cold reality is, this recent explosion has resulted in literally millions of eBooks made available by, not only established authors, but countless new ones like myself. In addition, I’ve discovered that most eBook sites do not differentiate novels from short stories; they are all lumped together. Add the recent boom in the eBook publishing business, and you’ve got literally hundreds of thousands of authors (new, old, good and bad) competing for a reader’s dollar. Imagine a Barnes and Nobles store the size of the Mall of America; even if it carried only one hard copy of every eBook in available right now, it would still be unable to stock them all.

Which means it only took a few actual sales for my book to chart on these so-called eBook bestseller lists, as I found out when my publisher informed me, despite the appearance of Killer Cows on several ‘bestseller’ charts, sales are actually ‘very low.’ I’ve got no problem with eBooks. I think they are a pretty cool thing, but as an author who, not too long ago was proud of achieving his dream of publishing a novel, reality has set in again. I’m just another writer among countless thousands, once again struggling to be noticed.

And, no, this isn’t self pity. This is reality. This is the world of publishing where, if you aren’t a Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer or John Grisham, getting people to know your novel even exists (no matter how good you or others say it is) is hard bloody work. At any time, I can Google myself and see Killer Cows all over the place, but what are the odds of even a few people on this planet thinking, “Hmm...wonder if there are any books about killer cows” and searching that title? That’s the task facing me and any other new writer trying to reach beyond their circle of friends, family and equally struggling writers.

Another reality is the amount of patience required on my part, which I often forget about. My eBook has only been available for six weeks, and though I’ve submitted it for review to various places, so are thousands of others, all with the hope that a decent review will generate sales. I can’t imagine the glut of book review sites get every day. It would be impossible to review them all.

Another reality is that some genres make more successful eBooks than others. For example, at, one of the leading sellers of eBooks, 19 of the current top 25 bestsellers are romance novels. 20 of their 25 best selling novels in the past six months have also been romance novels. I write young adult fiction, and there are no YA novels on either of these lists. The reality is that romance is, by far, the best selling eBook genre (followed distantly by science fiction). My conclusion is that some genres lend themselves better to eBook readers than others. That actually makes a lot of sense. As a middle school teacher, I have yet to see a thirteen-year-old whip out an eBook reader, and most kids who enjoy reading tend to prefer having a physical copy of the book in their hands. For them, computers and iPods are meant for surfing and listening to music, not curling up with a good book (at least, not right now). I could look at this data two ways...that my novel isn’t selling because YA isn’t a popular genre to download, or that I’m not doing enough to promote the novel to a YA audience with Kindles-in-hand.

Then there’s the reality that there are a lot of people who don’t consider eBooks to be real books. Of course they are, but I’m also privy to the reality that most of the people I know were not impressed Killer Cows was published as an eBook, though many of them (which number in the hundreds) are waiting until they can buy the paperback. Even my own parents didn’t buy a copy until they were able to pre-order the paperback, even though it’s $11 more than the eBook. After I inquired my local newspaper, The Oregonian, about a possible review, they replied they be happy to look at the paperback, not the eBook. The school where I teach didn’t order a single eBook of Killer Cows (save for a few of my colleagues who owned a Kindle), but once the paperback pre-order was made available, they ordered 60 copies.

The reality is, even though eBook sales are booming (I, myself, would rather pay ten bucks to read my favorite authors than shell out thirty for the hardcover version), until the Kindle and other eBook readers costs about as much as an MP3, promoting and selling an eBook is a venture in which I’d personally advise any newly-published author to remember one thing: Sincere congratulations on being published. It is an incredible accomplishment. Now get ready for the real work...trying to raise your name and work above the thousands attempting the same thing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

'The Outsiders': The Most Important YA Novel Ever

Young adult fiction is so much different than it was when I was considered a young adult (about a thousand years ago). Back then, it seemed like YA fiction consisted mostly of really old novels, ‘classics’ according to my numerous English teachers who forced stuff like The Hobbit, Cheaper by the Dozen and Animal Farm down my throat. I hated most of them, partially because I was required to read them, partially because I was already reading stuff like Stephen King, but mostly because most of them really weren’t YA novels at all. For me, the stand-out exception was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, which was actually about young adults, who were at least depicted somewhat realistically.

Of course there were always plenty of YA novels featuring kids as protagonists, but I never found too many that weren’t either condescending and/or just plain boring. Maybe it was the teenager in me at the time, but I felt like most of those authors were older writers who simply tried to write at young adults, not necessarily about them, and if they did write about them, many characters seemed as realistic as Yoda.

But Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she herself was just a teenager, and I think that voice is one of the main reason the novel is still relevant and timely today, even after 43 years. Yeah, some of the main characters may be just a little overly-sensitive for teenage boys, but the important thing is they sound like real teenagers, not an adult’s idea of one. I don’t personally know S.E. Hinton, and I doubt she had no other intention other than writing a good story, but she captured teenage angst and class struggle brilliantly.

I also think its no coincidence that her subsequent novels, though some were very good, never had the intensity and rich characters of The Outsiders. By the time she completed her next novel, That Was Then, This Is Now, she was no longer the age of the people she wrote about, and it shows.

Young adult fiction today owes a lot to Hinton’s first and best novel, which wasn’t necessarily written for kids; it was written about them. No, you don't have to be a teenager to write about teenagers, but it sure helps if you at least know what it’s like to be one. I think that’s why such authors as Gordon Korman, Lois Duncan and Jerry Spinelli are so good at what they do. And even though I’m not a fan, Stephanie Meyer is one author who knows this better than anyone, and why her books have transcended the YA genre to become a cultural phenomenon. The only real difference between her Twilight series and other gothic romance novels aimed at adults is the ages of her characters, and the fact they sound like teenagers (well, sort of).

Twilight has since out-sold The Outsiders, and even though I personally don’t like the book at all, as a YA writer myself, I have to admit it’s pretty cool that a young adult novel has had such wide-spread appeal (the downside, of course, is the YA market is now glutted with vampire-romance novels by other writers hoping to strike while the iron is hot). In addition, Twilight, along with J.K. Rawling’s Harry Potter series, helped redefine what YA fiction can be. In modern YA fiction, no subject or genre is really off-limits.

Of course, Twilight is not of the same genre as The Outsiders, nor is it likely to become a long-time staple of novel study in English classes. But it is likely to continue to be a widely-read series long after Meyer draws a curtain on these characters, mainly because the one crucial element Twilight shares with The Outsiders is that its teenage characters feel like teenage characters...troubled, flawed, imperfect and, sometimes painfully, being forced to leave childhood behind.

Some of today’s YA novels are increasingly edgy, dealing with such subjects once considered taboo (drug-addiction, homosexuality, suicide, school violence, etc.). As with other genres, some are good, some are bad, but all of them owe more than a passing debt to S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, one of the first novels to realistically capture life as a modern American teenager.

As an educator who has since taught the novel for a few years in middle school, it’s amazing how well The Outsiders has held up over the years (even surviving a truly terrible film adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola, who seemed hell-bent on turning it into an epic). Yes, it’s a novel of its time, but its themes are still relevant, its characters are still intriguing and Hinton’s prose is so perfect that not even she was able to pull it off again.