Words of Encouragement

I’ve probably spent too many recent blog posts bitching about elements within the writing/publishing business. And believe me, I have plenty of other complaints I could air. But I don’t want this to turn into a grouse session. Having said that, this will sound like another scathing criticism. But it isn’t. This was perfectly professional. I just thought it was funny.

Rejection letters. Every writer has seen plenty. I’ve been around long enough to have received them when they were actual letters, in the mail, with addresses and stamps and everything. Now it’s all email, but it’s the same difference. No more submitting manuscripts with a SASE (that’s self-addressed, stamped envelope for the young’ns). Of course, with the ease and inexpense of email, there’s no excuse for failing to get back to someone who’s submitted a solicited story. Form letters are still the norm, but now they can be copied and pasted in mere moments. Anyone in the business who can’t be bothered to at least do that much to turn down a professional inquiry or manuscript is, in turn, no professional.

I have a story I’ve tried repeatedly to find a home for—stubbornly. It’s one of a handful I have that doesn’t thematically fit in with the two or three collections of shorts planned for somewhere down the road, so its best chance to see the light of day any time soon would be for me to sell it to somebody else’s anthology. It’s come close to a sale multiple times, making it to the final round of consideration on a couple of different books, only to be dropped before the finish line because there was simply no room left.

It happens. No biggie.

And it happened yet again, recently. Still no biggie.

The rejection email was standard but sweet. I’m sure everyone got the same one, but what amused me was a certain across-the-board presumption in it. It read, in part, “Please keep on writing, revising, and submitting to the very best markets you can find. It can be an arduous journey, but a fulfilling and rewarding one as well. And with each new story you write, you’re honing your craft. No effort at your writing desk is ever wasted.”

Words of encouragement. For a noob.

Me, I’ve been doing this professionally for thirty years. Maybe I should be flattered to be lumped in with hungry young writers full of energy and delusions. But I’m not. I’m old and broken and jaded.

A rejection email that reads, “No thanks,” is sufficient for me.

I guess that doesn’t seem as cordial, but it’s enough, and it lets both of us get on with our day. More importantly, it lets me know I’m free to peddle that story to the next publisher looking for something that fits a niche of a niche of an unpopular sub-sub-sub genre.

The story I’m talking about is unironically titled, “Wait Your Turn.” And it has, indeed, been waiting for a very long time now. Patiently.

I was going to wrap it up there, but screw it. I’m out of patience. “Wait Your Turn” is now up on my Patreon page at one of the lower tier levels. It is, after all, a horror story, and Halloween is coming up fast.

Incidentally, my Patreon page has been a bit of an embarrassment since the whales migrated south for the winter. Those high rollers made a big splash for a couple of months, but the party is over. Now I’m looking for more low-level backers just to get the number of subscribers up. A plan is formulating to richly reward those who chip in at only a buck a month. It’s just a matter of finishing a new wave of material—time, as always, permitting.

Terrible Career Advice

I listen to a fair number of writing podcasts that cover the business end of things. I never know when some random interview might offer up a relevant nugget of information that has direct bearing on my own endeavours. People like Joanna Penn, the folks at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast, and the lamentably defunct Self-Publishing Roundtable have uploaded many hundreds of hours of worthwhile material that serve as a guide for do-it-yourself authors.

As I’ve said, probably too often, the publishing industry has changed, and I’ve been seeing a real deficit in professionalism from the old guard. Often, it’s the bigger, established publishing houses that are the worst offenders. They do increasingly less to promote their stable of writers, while the options for new authors to bootstrap their way to a readership increase. My decision to go it alone remains firm.

Nevertheless, I don’t like to live in an echo chamber, listening to confirmation bias. Sometimes, a suggested video will cross my feed that provides another viewpoint to counter an argument I’m already sold on. No stranger to self-doubt, I like to remain open, asking myself if I made the right call.

One recent video I saw offered a bunch of reasons to not self-publish—to stick it out on the slush pile, go pro with the establishment press, avoid the solo-act fad. It was a well-produced video, from a YouTuber who was slick, presented himself well, and spoke with authority.

And he was completely full of shit.

The nitty-gritty details of why I disagreed with each of his points is academic and not likely to be of much interest to casual readers. But the way I knew he was full of shit may be more generally enlightening: I looked him up.

Simple, I know, but effective. I do this all the time when I listen to writer interviews. If they sound like an authority, I want to confirm they are an authority. So I check their credits and sales.

Sure enough, this guy had an Amazon author page, complete with photo and bio. Bearing in mind that his video, advising other writers to keep banging their heads against the wall of mainstream publishers, was uploaded to YouTube two years ago, I was eager to see how many books he’d since come out with, and how well they were doing.

He had one credit. One. And it was for a short story in an anthology. Hilariously, it was a collection I was also in, from 2015. And I remember what they were paying. It wasn’t the sort of money careers are made of.

In the two years that have passed between his video upload and now, he could have learned the ropes of how to manage his own little publishing empire. I did in that same time frame. And whatever novels he’s shopping around to indifferent publishers—who can sometimes take a year or more to reply to a single submission—could have been edited, designed, and printed for a growing readership by now.

I hope he’s doing well as a video blogger giving bad advice, because he’s not an author.

Contributor Copies

I haven’t been submitting short stories to anthologies much lately. Mostly I’ve been stockpiling shorts for future collections. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a backlog trickling out over the last year. It’s been a while since I updated the anthologies page on this site, but the information on there is now current, with final covers and links to where you can buy copies.

One of the reasons it took so long to update the page was a lack of good cover scans. I’ll grab them out in the wilds of the web if I have to, but the ones I found of the most recent books were too low rez. That meant I had to make my own scans of the covers.

Problem: I still hadn’t received my contributor copies of certain books, months after publication.

This has happened before, so I’m used to it. It’s completely unprofessional, and again, I’m used to it. But it does burn bridges. If I’m well-paid for a story, I accept it as a petty pain in the ass to have to order my own copy. But if I do something on the cheap—or even for free—and you don’t at least send me a copy, we’re done. A copy of the damn book is the least you can do.

I’ll take a moment here to specifically point out that I’m not talking about MX Publishing. I give them my Sherlock Holmes stories for free because all the profits go to charity. And they’ve been phenomenal about sending me early HARDCOVER copies, fresh off the presses, from overseas no less. No complaints there. And if I weren’t so busy on other projects, I’d already have other adventures of Sherlock and Wiggins lined up for future volumes.

No, I’m talking about some of the small-time publishers. And I get it. You’re small, you want to save money, and postage is expensive. I don’t like the sticker-shock I get when I have to mail a book either. But one contributor copy is the bare minimum authors should be able to expect when they appear in a new book or magazine. In my comic-writing days, I’d get at least ten copies to pass around, often 25 and, in the case of my solo issues, 100+. And then there’s Money Talks #5, which I co-published with SLG back in the day just to make it through the first act of the story before the series got cancelled. I’ll die with copies of that comic filling boxes around the house. I don’t know enough people to give them all away to.

One copy. It’s all I ask. Let me gaze at the spine of your book on my author shelf and remember our time together in the publishing biz. Failing that, I’m afraid our business interaction will never be more than fleeting.

The Grind

To give you an idea what my days and nights have looked like for weeks, here’s a typical setup on my desk as I continue to typeset the new editions of Longshot Comics: Books One, Two, and Three. You’ll note from the computer screen that I’m currently transcribing the most torrid sex scene to ever appear in a Longshot Comic. Those dots can get up to some really nasty shit.

Astute fans of the series might recognize the magnifying glass as the exact one that appears on the back cover of the Slave Labor Graphics edition of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers. Now I’m using it to help my old eyes see what the hell I’m doing with all this tiny text. The new editions will feature 40 panels per page with larger text in order to torture readers less. Novel as the overwhelming grid of panels was for everyone who ever cracked an issue back in the day, that was born of a 24-page limit for standard comics. I had to squeeze all 3840 panels into this format in order for the book to be cost effective. These days the same configuration is impractical, if only because the Kindle Comics algorithm can’t even recognize that many panels on a page. The paperbacks will be done first, but yes, there will also be ebook versions for those who want to spare a tree.

Also on the tree-murdering front, I just got my copy of the latest Sherlock Holmes anthology from MX Publishing. My story, “The Adventure of the Old Boys’ Club,” is featured in this, the ninth volume. What tickles me even more is that I’m in a book with a forward by Nicholas Meyer. With all due respect to Lee Child, who wrote a forward for the last one, I’m a bigger fan of Meyer. He not only wrote one of the finest Sherlock Holmes stories of the last century (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), but also single-handedly saved Star Trek from oblivion (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) after the collective yawn that greeted the first movie, and adapted and directed the wonderful H.G. Wells/Jack the Ripper adventure, Time After Time.

Okay, that was my break from the grind for the day. Back to it…

Too Many Plugs, Not Enough Sockets

Despite my recent diatribe against unprofessional publishers, I continue to have good experiences with a few I’ve worked with in the past. Most recently, my story “Crocodile Tears”—heretofore an exclusive for newsletter subscribers—has been published in Betty Fedora Issue Four. This will be of particular note to Necropolis fans, since it prominently features professional moiroligist and funeral livener-upper, Tracy Poole.

There’s also my latest Sherlockian adventure featured in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part VII. The Eliminate the Impossible chunk of the series also encompasses Part VIII.

That leads us, naturally enough, to the Kickstarter for Parts IX and X, AKA the 2018 Annual. My next story is confirmed for Part IX. The Kickstarter has been backed for a long time now, but it’s winding down, so if you want to take advantage of reduced prices and early shipping, now’s the time to do so.

Then there’s the latest multi-author giveaway I’ve entangled myself in. This is a big one, with not only a shit-ton of free funny mystery novels up for grabs (Sex Tape included), but also a new Kindle Fire for one lucky winner. You have until Monday to enter.

On the current-project front, it’s been very same-old. I get up in the afternoon. I have breakfast at an entirely inappropriate hour. And then I work away most of the night on Longshot Comics. I’ve picked up the pace in an effort to get it done at last. Longshot Comics Book Three: The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers is effectively complete. I’m just waiting for what I hope will be the penultimate paperback proof copy to show up in the mail. They’re stacking up on my desk, with copious Post-It notes to remind me how I tweaked the art on this page versus that page. This will be, fingers crossed, the one that allows me to make a final decision on percentage of contrast against sharpness in which piece of software moving forward.

Typesetting on Longshot Comics Book One: The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers is nearly done. Longshot Comics Book Two: The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers remains dreaded unexplored territory.

As 2018 is the 25th Anniversary of the original minicomic edition of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers, the entire trilogy will be published/back in print/available as ebooks this year. Hopefully in a month or two at most. I can’t wait to work on something—anything—else again.

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

I sometimes wonder where all the professionals went.

I’ve now lost track of how many publishers are in breach of their contracts with me. In major and minor ways, one after the other has taken it upon themselves to not honour the terms we both agreed to and signed off on. I’ve seen everything from a refusal to send me a contributor copy of a book because “postage to Canada is more expensive than I thought it would be” to an outright failure to pay a four-figure installment of my fee because, apparently, math is hard. The cavalier way legal documents are ignored for petty, self-serving reasons makes me wish I were more litigious, but in most cases they’ve safely hedged their bets. How many starving artists are going to throw away more money than they’re owed just to pay a lawyer to write a firmly worded letter? None, that’s how many.

The breaches even flow the other way, like a bad case of acid reflux. In recent years, I myself have been accused of being in breach by one publisher—right up until I reminded him of a specific clause I had added to our contract to cover the precise eventuality in question. That one turned on its heel damn fast, going from a vague threat of legal action, to a polite “my bad” mea culpa in less than an hour. Still, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Read your fucking contract before you start with the cease-and-desists. You might be surprised what’s in there.

On the screenwriting front, this sort of shit is handled by my agent. When I have to cope with it myself on the publishing end of things, I’m reminded why I pay her a substantial cut of the proceeds for TV gigs. Most artist types aren’t built to swim with the sharks. Even if we don’t get eaten alive, we sink to the bottom without our water wings and drown. I normally try to avoid confrontation, and I don’t like to play the bad guy, but I have to keep reminding myself that if I’m getting screwed, they’re the ones being the bad guy. An “unfair engager” is what they’re called in the film and television business, where writers have an entire guild to bring pressure to bear and put these short-changers in the doghouse where other members aren’t even allowed to work for them until they set things right and pay up.

Independent publishing is too new, too scattershot, too disorganized to expect any sort of collective bargaining to emerge anytime soon. It’s still the wild west out there, and that’s a good thing. There’s a certain freedom I enjoy when I have to do it all myself. On occasions when I deal with middlemen because I’ve opted to sell a story to a promising anthology, I know that if I end up eating shit, it will only be a one-time affair. I may not like confrontation, but I hold grudges forever. Screw me once and you don’t get to work with me ever again. That might not seem like a dire threat. There are plenty of other sucker writers out there waiting to bend over, but not an inexhaustible supply—especially when it comes to talented or even competent ones. Publishing has long been a pulp business, and writers are the trees in the forest. Chop down too many and you’re left with nothing but a spoiled, clear-cut wasteland.

Only a couple of years ago, I’d typically have as many as ten stories making the rounds, trying to hook publishers at any given time. As of this writing, I have one story out, flirting with two different publishers. I have another two that have been placed and are awaiting publication. That’s all. My writing hasn’t slowed down any. I’m still pumping out a new short story here or there, but for the most part I’m hoarding them. There will be more collections like Raw and Other Stories in the future. Increasingly, they’ll feature more stories that have never appeared anywhere else, and stories I never so much as submitted. The rewards for handing over exclusive first-print rights for a year are often token. And the time these stories spend in rights limbo, or collecting dust in a slush pile, is better spent getting edited, prepped, and formatted for the next book of my own making.

The industry has changed vastly since the first time I had a story printed in an anthology. Few publishers have stepped up their game to contend with this change, and authors are leaving them behind in droves to go independent. If it’s gotten to the point where many publishing houses can’t even meet the bare-minimum requirements of a professional relationship—like honouring a legal contract—they’re going to vanish into history like the Gutenberg Press.

Dream Deals and Fantasy Fodder

January has rocked the spreadsheet here at Eyestrain Productions. Only a few days past the mid-month mark, a number of personal records have fallen. This is already my biggest month for Kindle Unlimited page reads, and today has hit a new single-day record for most pages read (taking out the previous record that was set only yesterday). It didn’t just break that record, it shattered it. And the day is far from done.

Some of the success lies with the current multi-author fantasy-novel promotion that is going on thanks to the efforts of Andrea Pearson. Necropolis is featured along with over fifty other books that are being offered at a reduced price under the broad genre umbrella. Everything from epic fantasy to urban fantasy is included, with self-selected content ratings ranging from G to NC-17. I chose an R rating for Necropolis, humorous though it is, due to some naughty language and the icky nastiness of the infamous Chapter Thirteen. If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, it’s priced at $0.99 until the end of tomorrow. If that’s going to break your wallet, plenty of other books in the promo are free, including Andrea’s own five-book box set.

I should reiterate for those of you who always tell me, “But I don’t own a Kindle,” you can still read Kindle ebooks on many other devices. Amazon offers free apps for your phone, your laptop, and your desktop. I’m pretty sure, if you look hard enough, that you can find a reader for your electric toothbrush and toaster oven as well.

Paperback Writer

After many weeks of proof copies and revisions, all my books are finally available as paperbacks from Amazon. Those of you who aren’t into ebooks and only like to curl up with a book they can physically spoon with, now’s your chance.

Here are some quick links to get you to the appropriate pages fast.

If you’re an Amazon.com buyer, you can get your copy of…

Necropolis here.

Sex Tape here.

Raw and Other Stories here.

and Filmography here.

If you’re an Amazon.ca buyer from Canunkistan, you can get your copy of…

Necropolis here.

Sex Tape here.

Raw and Other Stories here.

And Filmography here.

And if you’re an Amazon customer from anywhere else in the world, with your own local yokel-outlet, I’m sure you can look up my work all on your own because I’m all hyperlinked out.

Moved to Tears

The first person on earth has now read Longshot Comics Book Three: The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers. It was the gentleman translating it for the Italian edition from Prospettiva Globale. “Moved to tears” was the verdict. “A few times,” no less.

And yes, it was intentional. There are plenty of jokes throughout, but it also gets into the feels by the end. Dots and toilet humour can, when played correctly, conspire to make you cry.

Work continues to march along. It’s still too early to give you a solid release date for Book Three or the reprints of One and Two. The covers, at least, are just about done, but there remains a lot of heavy lifting to be done for the interiors of the first two volumes.

I am reliably informed that December is a terrible time to publish anything new, so I expect early 2018 is going to be it. Appropriate really. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers. If that makes you feel old, think how it makes me feel. That’s right, old and tired.

In the meantime, Raw and Other Stories is being offered for free to the wider public for the first time ever this weekend. It’s part of October’s Mystery and Thriller sale, which is full of fun free ebooks for you to grab while the grabbin’s good. Follow the links, click, tap, swipe, or do whatever it is you crazy kids get up to with your devices, and get reading.

Dead Trees

A two-month break is a long non-blogging stretch at Eyestrain Productions, but rest assured it’s been all work and no fun. After the not-so-subtle hinty post in July, I can now officially confirm that Longshot Comics Book Three: The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers exists. In some form. Just not a purchasable form…yet.

The Italian edition is off for translation, and work on reprints of Book One and Two continues.

The proof is in the dog-eared proof copy. Finnegan expresses as much curiosity about Book Three of Longshot Comics as any other long-time reader.

And then becomes its first critic by shoving pages off the table.

Meanwhile, paperback editions of Necropolis and Raw await my final seal of approval before being made available through Amazon.

And my contributor copy of Part VII of the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories has arrived. My story “The Adventure of the Mind’s Eye” bookends this edition with Jack Reacher author, Lee Child’s foreword. Retail copies are available at the end of October, but you can pre-order now.