Writers Will Write, Singers Will Sing and Someone Will Sell It

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The other day there was a simultaneous meltdown among the writing groups that I follow on social media. It happened when Amazon announced that they were changing their royalty structure for books downloaded on Kindle Unlimited and in the Kindle lending library. Authors will now be paid per page as opposed the former system in which an author was paid a reduced royalty when a reader reached 10% of the book.

Initial reactions were that this was some way for Amazon to screw authors, as if someone were only required to pay for a book if they read it. Writers were looking for publishing’s version of what Taylor Swift did to Apple this week. In fact, it has nothing to do with what authors make off books sold digitally to anyone not in Kindle Unlimited (which most people aren’t) and the Kindle lending library (I have no clue how much this happens, but I lent a book once and the recipient was confused.) So we’re talking about a small, but growing, sliver of the eBook market. I just got my dad a KU subscription for Father’s Day because he has a tendency to read all the free samples, and not splurge on the book. So far, Amazon can’t come to your house and take a physical book off your shelf if you don’t read it.

Will this mean less money for authors? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve downloaded a “book” from Amazon, only to find it’s about 20 pages of very large print… almost like a PowerPoint presentation. The business category is full of these “books.” Life is a little different for a fiction author. Books take longer to write, edit and publish. The new system rewards longer books that are good enough that people read them!

I reminded some fellow writers that until Amazon came along and upset the apple cart, unpublished authors had to spend years, decades, or a lifetime in the query process, hoping for a break, or use a “vanity” press who was more interested in how much money the author would part with to hold their book in their hand. I still get calls from Xlibris asking me when I’m going to publish my book (answer: last year.)

The fact is, Amazon is in this to make themselves money. And to make money, they need product. Good books sell for a higher prices, and sell more downloads. If they don’t pay authors well enough, we won’t use them. No wonder they pay the highest royalty to authors who publish exclusively on Amazon (I am doing that, for now.) People place Amazon in the same class of corporate villain as Wal Mart. Yes, they prey on vulnerable markets, but at least they don’t need to destroy 10 acres every few miles in every city from Miami to Anchorage. As far as I can tell, a lot of people have jobs delivering these packages and it looks better than retail.

So what is a reader to do? How do you read with a clear conscience? Is Amazon killing small book stores? No. Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, and Borders did that a long time ago. Amazon is killing the big book stores (also a long time ago.) Ironically, it seems like small book stores are finding that they are better at being local book stores than the big stores. The jury is out, but Amazon might be the best thing to happen to the small book store.

When record stores died, music didn’t die. In fact, music is thriving. Never has more music, more variety and more quality been so easy to obtain. Artists are adapting. There are some who think that more people are making a living in music today. It might not be through record sales, but through touring, merchandise, and selling their songs for commercials, television and music. Commercial are the new music video. (So… in a way, MTV does play music videos, between pregnant teen shows.) Fewer people are getting rich but more musicians don’t need day jobs.

I don’t care how people are reading, as long as they are reading. To beat an overused meme to death:

keep-calm-and-read-on

The Grandfather Clock is the book club selection next Wednesday at Critical Drinking. Gulfport Historical Museum. 7pm, July 1. People are going to drink and critique my book in my presence. No switchblades allowed.

-J

jkilewrites@gmail.com

We Can Talk About Flags, Not Guns

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This week’s post ventures into serious territory. There are a lot of opinions out there on the tragedy in South Carolina and a lot of eloquent things have been said (and a lot of idiotic things.) I don’t watch TV or cable news, but I get the impression that the networks are handling their coverage as badly as we would expect. It’s irritating that the massacre has resulted in a debate about the Confederate Flag, but talking about gun control is “politicizing” their deaths. If we could take a poll of people who died in mass shootings, I’m guessing that somewhere in the neighborhood of 100% of them wouldn’t mind their death being used to enact some reasonable regulations for obtaining a deadly weapon – you know, the same sort of thing we do for people who buys cars (registration, liability insurance, taxes.) Even more frustrating to me is that it seems like the shooting in Charleston isn’t rising to the level of Cheney, Schwerner & Goodman, Medger Evers, or Emmett Till. How will we remember the summer of 2015? We’re debating whether Obama can use the “N” word. We’re so programmed that each side in a debate has validity, that we give equal time to lies.

Guns Don’t Kill People – Flags Do

Oh… the Confederate Flag… excuse me, “Battle” Flag. I moved to the deep south when I was 15, so I’ve seen some crazy stuff, but I’ve been lucky to miss the worst the South has to offer. I’m not letting the rest of the country off the hook because I’ve lived on the west coast and the midwest and no region is innocent.  It’s easy to pick on the South because country clubs ban blacks and women and people fly Confederate Flags on their trucks (and houses and boats and motorcycles and shirts and bikinis.) I know the rationale – “A. the flag isn’t racist,” “B. it’s celebrating heritage;” “C. the racists are misusing it;” “D. it wasn’t the national flag of the Confederacy.” (A. Yes it is, B. No it’s not, C. How coincidental!, D. So what?) But if we’re being honest, the KKK and countless white supremacist groups have used it as their symbol, and no one who sees a Confederate Flag sees a symbol of Southern Heritage. Please don’t tell me that the Confederate Flag has a PR problem.

A while back a cafe in India opened with a Hitler theme, swastikas and all. It was an example of how distant India was culturally from World War II, and also a naive owner’s unfortunate attempt at being original. Apparently, the swastika has a different reputation in India and was around for 5,000 before Hitler used it. It sounds pretty outrageous, but I could see an American merchant making a similar mistake once or…uh… 14 times – Urban Outfitters. In fact, when I was having covers designed for my book, one of my early ideas was a clock face with hands in the shape of a swastika. Obviously (hopefully, obviously) a swastika on the cover of a novel has a different context than if I had a swastika on a bumper sticker on my car. But when I focus-grouped my cover ideas on Pickfu.com, I had not one, but two comments from people saying in effect, “I could never be seen reading a book with a swastika on the cover.” This surprised me a little, and definitely impacted my decision to downplay the Nazi symbol, without removing it entirely. I wanted the symbol to loom ominously, not be celebrated. I would go as far as to say that other than a book cover, there aren’t many places that you can put a swastika – or a Confederate Flag. Both symbols have been co-opted by racists. That is their heritage.

I’m not trying to start or settle a fight. These are arguments that shouldn’t be happening. This may come as a surprise to some, but taking down every rebel flag isn’t going to stop the next lunatic from taking out a church, movie theatre, or schoolhouse.

But… we can’t talk about that.

jkilewrites@gmail.com

P.S. I didn’t promote this post on social media because like many, I am weary of important issues getting distilled down to a snarky meme. I almost didn’t post this at all, but decided that more voices would be better than fewer. Thanks for reading.

There’s a conspiracy to get you to read this blog post…

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My first idea for a blog was going to be about being a dad and a writer. Before I plunged into that, I looked around and not only did “Writer Dad” already exist, it was the launching pad for one of indie-publishing most prolific writers (look up Sean Platt, he’s got like 77 books on Amazon, and his serials with Johnny Truant and Dave Wright at Sterling and Stone are hugely successful). There was also Part Time Novel, doing an excellent job of conveying the plight of the working stiff, night-time novelist. Today I stumbled upon a great blog that started around the same time I did: Everyday Author: For Author’s Who Can’t Quit Their Day Job… Yet.

Honestly I never wanted my blog to be only for writers. I do hope that my writer friends near and far enjoy my blog, but I wanted a place to connect with my readers between books. To do that I just try to be some combination of entertaining and topical. I’m going to be me (when I’m entertaining and topical.)

I’m easily amused, so when I stumble on to an obscure topic, I get a huge kick out of seeing random hits on my blog from South Africa or Belgium because I’ve mentioned an author with ties to those places. I don’t know if these people are checking out my book, but I do hope they enjoyed landing on this page. (Still wondering if my Chemtrails comment got me on any CIA watch lists.) I’m a little mad at myself for ever mentioning them because they’d be a great vehicle for a plot twist, like the conspiracy in the The Grandfather Clock (no spoilers here, read the book.) Hell, where I live, the Tea Partiers briefly got FLUORIDE removed from the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people because of a conspiracy theory (but they don’t buy climate change, weird.)

Great memes change minds, right?

Great memes change minds, right?

A writer friend said that a another author said that watching good television helped their writing. That makes sense… just as reading good writing, hearing good stories can help you be a better storyteller. (As opposed to right now, my wife has The Bachelorette on. As a man I am totally capable of tuning this out completely. I have no idea what Kaitlyn sees in Sean.) When we aren’t watching these ‘most shocking episodes,’ we’re binge-watching Mad Men, because we have 2 kids and are generally a half decade behind pop-culture.

But I do get a chance to read (print and audiobooks) and I want to talk about a book (with a conspiracy or two) that I’m very angry no one ever told me to read. It’s called Shibumi by Trevanian. It was recommended to me by our babysitter… not a teenager, but a hip child of the sixties who outfits our kids with “Haight Ashbury” and Rolling Stones shirts. Trevanian is the pen name of a university professor who hid his identity for much of his career. His best known work is The Eiger Sanction, which was made into a Clint Eastwood movie that is half way between James Bond and Austin Powers. (If you want a truly accurate accounting of who Trevanian was, you know how to use the internet.) Shibumi doesn’t bother pretending that the spy genre needs to be grounded in reality. It’s the anti-Tom Clancy. Clancy would spend ten pages telling you everything you need to know about surface-to-air-missiles, even if you don’t really need to know for the purposes of the story. In Shibumi, Trevanian creates an (absurdly) ultimate spy who could eliminate a room full of Jason Bournes without breaking a sweat. If you like the spy genre, read it, and never read another (unless I write one, then you can read another.)

Why am I telling you this? It’s my blog. I can say whatever I want. You read this far… so maybe you were entertained. Let’s review: We talked about some good writing blogs, the fact that my blog is for everyone (even you, Dan), also Chemtrails!, how I do NOT watch The Bachelorette – but in case you do, read this blog: Lost Angeles, and I gave you a terrific book recommendation. On top of that, some family member of the great Trevanian will have a Google Alert out, stumble across this page and know that his work is still dazzling readers. I tip my hat to Trevanian.

Thanks for reading. Drop me a note at jkilewrites@gmail.com. Everyone who emails me get a FREE email back.

Cheers!

-J

It isn’t the Oprah Book Club, but…

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I got a call the other day from fellow writer, Cathy Salustri, asking if I would mind if her book club used my book for their next meeting (check out her blog here.) Of course, I don’t mind, nor do I think I have the power to prevent any book clubs from reading my book if I wanted to. This club is a little different in that it is connected with one of St. Petersburg area’s literary organizations (Wordier Than Thou) and has unofficial ties to Creative Loafing, which is the free (and very well done) entertainment weekly. While it might not be the bump that Oprah can give, it’s cool to network with local writers. In honor of this, I’ve temporarily dropped the price of my book to 99 cents. If you want to come see a writer get critiqued by a bunch of other writers he doesn’t know, here are the details:

critical drinking

Critical Drinking: A Wordier Than Thou Book Group, 7 pm, July 1 @ Gulfport History Museum 5301 28th Ave S, Gulfport, Florida 33707. 

Cathy’s last blog post has a funny quote: “Asking a writer about his work is like asking a cancer patient about the status of his disease.” – Jay McInerney. I wouldn’t go that far, but I understand the sentiment. Someone I’ve only met once just came up and asked me if I’m working on the sequel. I’m more than half way done with the follow-up to The Grandfather Clock, but I had really hoped it would be in my editor’s hands right now. I’m about to go into high gear and knock out the rest of the book…. gimme 4 weeks. By the time I stand before the Critical Drinkers, the draft will be DONE. I’ve be re-reading some of it and I’m feeling like it is far more polished than the first draft of anything else I’ve written. I’ll feel that way until I get the notes back. Circle August/September for the release of book 2… whose title will be announced soon. I said it would be out this summer, even if that means Sept. 20, it’s still summer.

Speaking of my editor, the other night she was beating me soundly at billiards, and I started giving her a preview. Explaining an unfinished novel is sort of like telling someone about a dream you had. My wife and I have a rule (that we don’t follow) that we don’t tell about “the dream we had last night”. It is never as interesting as it was when you first woke up, and you will not possible be able to tell it in a way that is interesting to the person who didn’t have the dream. I re-proved this rule the other day when I told her that I dreamt that she’d hired a babysitter – who happened to be Taylor Swift with gray hair, although my dream-wife didn’t seem to notice that she’d hired a pop superstar. Not only was this dream not interesting, but now my wife thinks I have a thing for Taylor Swift, which I would readily admit if it were true. The purpose telling you this story is to get the SEO hits for “Taylor Swift.” I didn’t mention Oprah for no reason. #41yearoldmanknowsnothingaboutSEO… (Caitlyn Jenner, Kim Jong Un, Stanley Cup, Lebron James, Amy Schumer, Josh Duggar, Apple Watch, Song of the Summer). Whew.

Thanks for reading! Drop me a note at jkilewrites@gmail.com.

P.S. An earlier version had the date of the book club incorrectly listed as July 8 because that’s when Facebook told me it was.

Well Oiled Writer is lost in the wilderness

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My wife’s email once got hack by someone who sent out a message explaining that she’d been in an accident in London and needed help paying a hospital bill. The hacker was lucky, in that many people believed that my wife is the type of person who might find herself in a predicament in London (she loves to travel). Unfortunately for the hacker, my wife’s cousin was on an extended stay in London and people started telling my wife/the hacker to call her cousin, who she was close with, and he’d be there to help within an hour. This was not a good solution to my wife/the hacker who acted like an amnesiac who didn’t know who they were talking about. At one point I was even swapping emails with the hacker, offering a donkey and an can of fish because I had no money.

All this is to explain that I went on vacation and was literally in the wilderness while I was not writing or blogging, and figuratively my 2nd novel is in the wilderness. I know where it’s going, but I’m in this difficult middle section where I’ve thrown up my hands and started reading my book from the beginning, just to get a sense of the pace and story to see what needs to happen. See, unlike other “sequels,” this book is going to be better than the first. I’m a little obsessed.

Yes, my daughter looks like she's about to put a knife in  my back. I'm about 3 times zones and 3 days from my last shower.

Yes, my daughter looks like she’s about to put a knife in my back. I’m about 3 times zones and 3 days from my last shower.

Speaking of the first book. A literary organization in the Tampa area called “Wordier Than Thou” has selected my book for their monthly book club called, um… Critical Drinking. In honor of this selection, I’ve dropped the price of my book to 99 cents for a few days (gotta save money for the booze). The club will meet at the Gulfport Historical Society on July 1 at 7pm. If you’re in the St. Pete / Tampa area and you’ve never been to Gulfport, please check out this fishing village that refuses to grow up. I used to take a morning run past the waterfront bar, that opened at 8am for the early birds. There’s a fair amount of drinking in my book so… Get the book HERE. (If it’s not 99 cents yet, it takes a few hours for the price to update… or you missed it altogether.) I look forward to the raw brutality of having a bunch of tipsy book lovers critique my book while I’m in the room.

Speaking of critiques, I got a couple of new review on Amazon the other day. One was a nice 5 star review. The other was an amusing negative 3 star review that was titled “Definitely Fiction.” And I must admit that they were right, it is fiction. And also, “Easy to pick up and put down,” which I appreciate. I do not want my book to cause physical stress. But seriously, I love that a complete stranger read my book and chose to share their feelings, even if they are ambivalent and surprised that the fiction book they purchased was indeed fiction. If I have some luck, perhaps I can get a 3 star rating like one of Stephen King’s The Shining that says, “The movie was better.”

Thanks for reading. If you’re a movie producer, email me at jkilewrites@gmail.com.