Monday, August 23, 2010

2010 Northwest Author Fair - A Learning Experience

I just attended my first book signing event, the 2010 Author Fair, held annually at Bob’s Beachbooks in Lincoln City, Oregon. If you’ve never been to Lincoln City, it is a beautiful little costal town whose tourists constantly out populate its inhabitants. Located on Highway 101, if it weren’t for the unreliable Oregon weather, the constantly-clogged outlet mall and the casino on the north end of town, Lincoln City would be the embodiment of what most people think of when they picture a cozy Pacific Coast town.

Bob’s Beachbooks is a wonderful little store, crammed floor-to-ceiling with shelves and shelves of all those obscure little titles of various genres, mingling with the usual bestselling paperbacks and hardcovers. An indiscreet place, you’d probably pass it right by if you weren’t paying attention to where you were going.

Anyway, as a new author, I was very excited to be invited to this event. I even made reservations at a hotel in town and trucked my whole family (and dog) to make a weekend out of it. The bookstore ordered ten copies of Killer Cows for people to purchase and have me sign.

The event was outdoors, which was nice since it was sunny for once, and after setting up my table with posters and display copies, I wandered around to check out the other authors’ tables. That’s when I noticed a few things...

First, I was one of the few authors pitching a first novel, and one of the few who was pitching a young adult novel. There were dozens of authors of mysteries, non-fiction, poetry and fantasy. Many authors were self-published (not meant as criticism), and a few had books published by major book houses. The author next to me, Sheila Simonson, was one of the latter. She hauled out a half-dozen novels (some in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press). I was impressed, not to mention a bit humbled.

Second, my inexperience was obvious. Most all other authors came armed with postcards, bookmarks, business cards and flyers. I meant to at least have some bookmarks made, but did not find the time (or the money). I rued that choice once the book fair started, since those bookmarks and postcards are what most visitors grabbed at the tables. And after talking about Killer Cows with folks who stopped at my table, when they asked for my card, I was forced to sheepishly admit I didn’t have one.

Lesson learned: Bring some damn bookmarks next time!

Not that it would have mattered at this particular event, for most of the visitors were older, and based on my observations, more into serious stuff like literary fiction, mysteries, non-fiction and romantic fantasy. Lots of books about lighthouses and historical Oregon landmarks. I fitted into none of those categories; I write pulp fiction for kids.

I saw very few parents toting around kids of the age Killer Cows is aimed at. In fact, most people who stopped at my table chuckled at the cover before moving on. I was surrounded by poets and authors of books with titles like “Murder in…” or “The Realm of…” or “Midnight Musings,” and here I am with…Killer Cows. Perhaps I should have retitled it something more serious for this event, something like “Legend of the Bovine Kingdom” or “Murder in Satus Creek.”
On a lighter note, I did find a few fans. One was a six year old boy enamored by the toy stock cars and motorcycles on my table (both are major parts of the story). He stood and played with them for about twenty minutes. Another was a teenage girl who was more impressed with the Killer Cows poster I brought along, and wanted to know where she could get one.

Lesson learned: Don’t bring toys.

Still, the book and its B-movie title did appeal to some, who bought copies for me to sign, which was a lot of fun. I also enjoyed talking about the novel to people. Some picked up the book and did what my wife always does…read the last page first. I never understood why people do that. To me, it makes more sense to open to a random page in the middle to get a feel for a book, but never mind…

Though I didn’t exactly sign as many books as I anticipated, I did sign more than many of those around me (except for Ms. Simonson, of course). I’m pretty certain some authors didn’t sign any, mainly those whose books were obviously labors of love and self-published, or priced so high that customers didn’t think the books were worth it.

On a related note, one fifty-something author who did gangbusters was a fantasy writer and was pitching herself like a street evangelist, passing out pre-signed bookmarks to anyone passing by, whether they asked for one or not. She also touted her book was soon going to be a major motion picture. Her book also looked impressive, enough that my wife, an avid fantasy reader, bought a copy. When we got back to the hotel later on, I looked up the author and publisher, and they ended up being one in the same. My wife got about 40 pages into the novel before declaring that it really sucked. Still, I gotta hand it to this lady…she did what she had to do to sell copies, and was savvy enough make herself sound like the second coming of Anne McCaffrey.

And by the way, based on my extensive research, her novel is nowhere near to becoming a major motion picture. But, hey, who cares? Maybe next time I’ll do that. I can just hear myself now: “Killer Cows…soon to be a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks and a special appearance by Marlon Brando, coming back from the dead just for this film! Metallica is gonna do the film score! Oh, and did I mention it’ll be co-directed by Steven Spielberg and James Cameron? It’s also gonna be in 3-D!”

But who am I to judge? This lady sold more copies than I did.

Lesson learned: If you’re gonna BS your potential book buyers, do it big.

After three hours, the Author Fair ended. It was a fun weekend. I visited a great book store, met some nice people, some good writers. I also got a nice red sunburn, signed a few copies of Cows and spent the rest of the day on the beach with the family. Most importantly, it was a learning experience.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sassy Gal Interview: Karen Syed, Author & Echelon Press CEO

She wears several hats - author, publisher, business person - and uses more than one name. Her real name is Karen Syed, CEO of Echelon Press and its numerous imprints. To others she is known as Alexis Hart, author of several novels and stories. For some of us who’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to share our own stories with the world, she’s also known as “boss.”

Karen is constantly busy running the business and working with her large stable of authors from many genres, so it was fortunate she was able to find some time to talk with me about herself, her writing and how she made the move to publishing.

How long have you been writing, and what first inspired you to first pick up a pen?

KS: It's funny how that happened. Actually, I'm not sure. I've always been a word girl. Started reading at four and have never stopped. I used to have books, even before I could actually write or read and if after someone read it to me I didn't like the story I would get a pencil or something and scribble between the lines, writing my own story, in my own language. Some might call it destruction of books, I call it the creative spark.

What was your first sale? Was it a short story or a book? When and where did it first appear?

KS: Now this is funny. When I met my first husband, Butthead, I was deeply in love…with the idea of being in love. I was totally smitten to being married, just not so much to him. In an effort to mold my life into something else, I wrote a piece called "The Value of Human Life." At the time I thought it was a piece about how my life was, but looking back now, I have come to expect that it was a piece about what I prayed my life could be. I actually sang the praises of the man who ultimately abused me. Go figure. It was published in a little magazine called, crap, I can't remember. At any rate. I got the notification and the check for $15.00 two days after I filed for divorce from Butthead. How's that for irony?

What made you decide to write under the pseudonym of Alexis Hart?

KS: At the time it seemed like a good idea. I was trying to get established in the book business and I thought I needed to keep that separate from my writing. Turns out nobody really cares. Writers come in all shapes and sizes and now I am just paying the price by trying to get everything into my real name so someone has a clue who the heck I am.

I must admit I’m not too well-read in the romance genre. What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

KS: When I first started writing for publication I was in the midst of marital hell and romance novels were my escape. I could read about other women's lives and how beautiful it could all be. I would stay up all night reading to avoid going to bed. I would escape into the worlds of authors like Jill Barnett and Caroline Bourne (who is actually responsible for me wanting to be a writer.) In romance novels things might get bad, but they ALWAYS end happily and that gives readers hope. Some say, but it's all fiction. But think about it, those thoughts and emotions come from real people and they must at some point have experienced them or be experiencing them, and that is hope!

Most authors have a daily routine. What is yours?

KS: My routine is pretty screwed up now that I am a publisher. I spend most of my time working to sell other people's work, but generally I wake up, brush the toofers, boot up the laptop, check my e-mail, check on my Farmville crops and livestock, then eat breakfast, maybe go work out, then plunk down in a chair to edit, format, market, what have you. Writing is very sporadic for me. I tend to write longhand, in notebooks, in restaurants or coffee shops. Ideas come to me all willy nilly and I just kina roll with it. I love to write, it is very peaceful for me.

When you’re approaching a new idea for a story, how much of it do you have outlined in advance?

KS: Outlining? Psshaw! I don't need no steenking outline. Actually, I can't outline. I am ADD and have the attention span of a gnat. If I outline and plot out the story and how it ends, I cannot write it. I know how it will end and my mind will not let me write the book out. It's almost like a mental block. Once I know the end, what's the point?

I almost always have a character's name first, or sometimes the title. I will see or hear something that triggers and idea, then I instantly have to come up with my main character's name, then I worry about writing the rest of the story and I write by the seat of my pants. I have a mystery that I have been sitting on for almost three years. I have it written almost to the end. I have five suspects, and for the life of me cannot figure out who dunnit. Seriously. I'm not kidding.

We all get writer’s block from time to time. What’s your way of dealing with it?

KS: I start a new story (I have the first three chapter of about 70 books and short stories. Sigh…) or I eat something. Neither one is really all that effective.

Of all your stories and books, which is your personal favorite and why?

KS: Of my books, DARK SHINES MY LOVE is my favorite. My hero is blind. Writing a blind character was really hard, but everyone says I nailed it. It was supposed to be a contemporary Gothic story, with the brooding recluse who falls in love with his nurse. But my damn hero fell in love with her kid first and then got a personality and the whole gothic thing went straight down the tubes. Gothic heroes don't smile and play with kittens.

Of my short stories, I think TOO FAST FOR LOVE is my favorite. It was written as an ultra-sensual story and my hero is a race car driver who is pretty full of himself-who would have think it? The banter between the two main characters and the sexual tension was really cool for me. I don't write sex scene well at all, but I can do sensual pretty good I guess.

Could you describe your latest story?

KS: Oh Good Lord. I guess I'll just pick one. I'll tell you a little about the mystery. I call it a Retro-Futuristic (I coined that phrase about six years ago, and I just discovered that someone else came up with it and took all the credit.). It is actually set in the 2030s but everything has reverted back to what it was like in the 1930s except we have all the computer technology of the present/future. The story is called DRESSED TO KILL and my main character is Gloria Gumshoe. She's a detective, despite the fact that her mother wanted her to be a nurse. Gloria's first big case is to shadow a Fashionista who is bucking to be the queen of the fashion world. She gets killed at her big universal premier. It's all very gruesome and flashy. I love this story, if only I could figure out the murderer. Hmmph!

Based on everything I’ve seen, the romance genre is really booming right now, particularly with the growing popularity of ebooks. What’s your take on the current state of the genre, quality-wise?

KS: Romance has been the top dog in the industry for decades. More than ten years ago they passed the point of contributing more than 50% of mass market sales to the industry and they have not let those sales drop. In fact, they have increased. I do think that the mystery genre is and will continue to give them a run for the title though.

I think the quality of the stories out there has actually diminished a bit over the last decade. There don't seem to be any fresh ideas. Like any industry, the authors have glommed on to the "next big thing" and are refusing to let go or move on. I mean how many stinking ways can you fall in love with a vampire? No disrespect intended, but this is one of the reasons I have moved away from romance. I have been raving about this since I owned my bookstore ten years ago. There is so little originality. They recycle the same stories over and over with new character names and a new city. But little else changes. I call it the Harlequin syndrome. Used to be babies, cowboys, and amnesia, now it's vampires and shapeshifters.

I wish authors would go back to thinking for themselves. With that said, I think the eBook industry will continue to grow because it is the one part of the industry that does allow and encourage free thinking and adventure. The big dogs used to ridicule those of us praising eBooks. They complained about how they were ruining the industry and letting just any old person get published. Now they are jumping on the bandwagon and claiming all the kudos for having discovered the format. Bull hockey!! eHarlequin did not put eBook on the map, they just happen to be the ones who could afford to give it a big flashy sign. I have been publishing eBooks at Echelon Press for TEN years. Consistently. I have never stopped, and I have never waivered, and yet, eHarlequin gets all the glory for making it happen. Pphhllbbttt!

In addition to being a writer, you also run Echelon Press. What made you decide to venture into publishing?

KS: I had been published by small presses and had been raked over the coals several times. I had been rejected by the major houses because my stories did not fit into their molds. Seriously I have rejection letters that say almost that very thing. Quite a few editors loved my writing, but couldn't figure out which line to put it in, so they would pass. It was heartbreaking. So I decided there needed to be a place for writers like me to get published. A place where they could tell the stories they wanted to without having to fit into a mold.

It must be difficult to run Echelon and still find time for your own writing. How do you juggle the two hats you are wearing? Do you have as much time as you’d like for your own work?

KS: I hardly have any time for my own writing. I am a good writer, I have complete faith in my ability, but I feel like I am much stronger as a publisher. As for hats, I look really good in them, but they make my head sweat so I tend to avoid them if I can help it.

Between writing and publishing, which do you find the most rewarding?

KS: Definitely the publishing. I absolutely LOVE making other people's dream come true. I love the rush I get when someone sends an e-mail or tells me they loved a book I published. Or the joy of watching one of my authors, who has been rejected by major houses, accept an award for the work that I published. I admit to loving that neener-neener moment of knowing they screwed up by missing that opportunity.

Echelon and its imprints (Quake and Explorations) publish a wide variety of genres. Aside from genre, what are some of the things you look for when reading a manuscript?

KS: Originality is key. I don't want the same old stories. I don't want anything that has already been done to death, or even done. I also look for heart. I hate when authors write stories because they think they can capitalize on a "trend." Trends don't work, they really are kinda dumb. You don't know it's a trend until it has already happened. Hel-lo! Write what you love and write it wonderfully and that is what I want.

Are their particular genres Echelon has been more successful with than others?

KS: Mystery has been the very best for us. Mystery is an incredible genre and the authors are some of the most committed writers I have ever met. They love what they write and they write what they love. Better yet, the mystery genre has some of the most loyal readers out there. Mystery readers LOVE to spend money on books.

Are there any genres you would absolutely never publish?

KS: Nope. Well, maybe literary fiction. I just don't get it. Oh, and I don't do poetry.

Based on your experience as both an author and publisher, what’s the single most important piece of advice would you give a beginning writer?

KS: For the love of Pete and Mike, PAY ATTENTION. Submission guidelines are developed for a reason, don't ignore them. And remember, while your relationship with a publisher is a partnership, you are going into THEIR business. Don't assume you now more than everyone else, and DON'T expect everyone else to sell your books. Some people hate it when I say this, but it is YOUR book and it is really nobody's job to sell it but yours.

Could you describe your ultimate goals, as both a writer and publisher?

KS: As an author, I would like to write a book that sells enough copies to get on a major bestseller list. Hey, my publisher goal is the same. I want to publish a book that sells enough copies to get on a major bestseller list.

Anything else you’d like people to know about you, personally or professionally?

KS: I guess I would really like for everyone to understand why I do this. I love words, I love books, and I love helping people better themselves. I am a reader first and always, which makes it even more important to me that our books be the most interesting stories and the most entertaining they can be. Readers deserve that. I also do this to make money. I have dreams. There are places I want to see, like Greece, Italy, Aruba, and so many others. In order to make my dreams come true, I have to have good solid partners who want their dreams to come true.

Thanks to Karen for taking the time for this interview. You can check out more of her thoughts, musings and advice to writers at her website:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pirates Beware! by Karen Syed

Do you know what eBook piracy is? As the technologies of our society advance, so do the villians who abuse the power they have.

Have you or anyone you know downloaded a FREE copy of an eBook that is selling somewhere legally? You know the sites, they claim that since they bought it they have the right to resell it. They do not. This may work with many things, but consider the fact that an author and a publisher use the income of sales to keep their businesses running.

If you download an eBook from a site that is not legally authorized to sell it, they are stealing and you are stealing. You are stealing income from not one source, but two. The author and the publisher.

If you think you have found a pirate site, don’t repost it to your forums or groups, this just spreads the opportunity for more lost sales. Instead, send the link directly to the author and the publisher.

If you want to continue having access to inexpensive and wildly entertaining eBooks from your favorite authors, don’t support piracy.