Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In Defense of Authors

Over the last few years there have been any number of articles written about the death of the publishing industry.  Or, I should say, the traditional publishing industry.  And while an embattled publishing industry is nothing new, the rise of ebooks and self-publishing have caused the media spin surrounding the issue to change drastically.  In fact, through a rather stunning feat of propaganda, publishers have managed to conflate their rallying cry of "Save the Publishers!" with "Save the Authors!"

What is rarely explored in such articles is the fact that big publishers and authors are not on the same side.  In fact, they're not even fighting the same battle.  In a best case scenario, publishers and authors form a mutually beneficial business alliance.  But this is a far cry from the type of loyalty that a common cause engenders—just watch how quickly a publisher will drop an author once there's a dip in sales and that alliance ceases to be "beneficial" to them.

The publisher wants to make money.  Likewise, the author wants to make money.  There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but there is something wrong with pretending that the relationship is any more noble than that.  Even if you have a wonderful editor who slaves over your every comma (and I've had a wonderful editor), there's little she can do when the sales figures don't meet expectations and someone upstairs decide to pull the plug on your next book.  Because sales (i.e., money) is the whole point of your association.

So when publishers claim that the rise of self-publishing, ebooks, and Amazon is destroying the "literary world," what they really mean is that these things are destroying the "publishing world" as they know it (and want it).  They're afraid for the potential loss of their own livelihood, not the livelihood of the writers they publish.

To be clear, authors are still writing books in droves, readers are still reading books in droves (including ebooks), but the unfathomably archaic publishing industry has become obsolete.  In the age of instant digital files, publishers still take a year and a half just to get a book to market, and their ridiculously inefficient distribution/return system dates from The Great Depression.  Not only that, but in the same way that record companies fought tooth and nail against the inevitable changeover from CDs to MP3s, publishers are doing everything they can to promote print sales and delay the adoption of ebooks.

The big six publishers have launched a massive smear campaign to paint Amazon as a predatory mega-corporation trying to monopolize the industry (if not the world).  What they neglect to mention is that behind their friendly little imprints, they too are predatory mega-corporations trying to monopolize the industry.  My first novel was published by Harper Perennial, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.  My wife's first two novels were published by Atria, which is likewise owned by media leviathan Viacom.

Is Amazon really worse than News Corp or Viacom?  If one of the other mega-corporations of the publishing world had been visionary enough to see ebooks as the future and pursued market share the way Amazon has, do you really think it would be acting any differently?  This is not a David versus Goliath battle.  This is a Goliath versus Goliath battle.  This is capitalism.  It's how business in this country works.  And just because the business is "literature," doesn't change that.

So what does this mean for authors?

It means (duh) that we too need to look at books as a business.  Until recently, the only practical business model for a fiction writer such as myself was through the traditional agent/publisher route.  But the rise of ebooks and the ability to self-publish has changed that.  Despite all the nostalgia for print on paper, ebooks are the future.  And despite publishers' attempts to belittle it, self-publishing is now a viable business option.  Authors such as Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath have proven it.

Choosing to self-publish has some very distinct advantages.  You can publish instantly, as opposed to waiting the aforementioned eighteen months or so for a publishing house to get in gear.  You can earn up to 70% royalties, as opposed to the tiny percentage publishers offer and most writers never actually see.  And most importantly, you don't have to get the golden stamp of approval from an editor (not to mention an agent, the head of sales, the head of marketing, and at least ten other seemingly random people) before you can get your book out to the public.

Are there disadvantages?  Of course.  But since just about every other single media piece written about self-publishing enumerates them ad nauseum, I won't go into them here.

Obviously, I'm not saying I wouldn't still sign with a major publisher if they offered me a truly lucrative (and fair) deal.  But they are no longer the only game in town.  And despite overblown fears to the contrary, Amazon isn't likely to soon become the only game in town either.  While they might currently be the slickest of the various self-publishing outfits, they in no way have a lock on this new world of ebooks.  After all, remember when the mighty AOL had a "lock" on the Internet?

Authors have been forced into subservience to the publishing industry for so long, that we've forgotten that WE are the essential component of this business.  We make the product.  Without us, there is no business.

Why campaign to "Save the authors!" when for the first time in history, we can now save ourselves?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Rebirth of Literature

The word "genius" is tossed around lightly these days.  And perhaps nowhere more so than in the ever hyperbolic world of contemporary fiction.  It's the literary equivalent of academia's "grade inflation" and it sickens me.

After all, once we start referring to the rank amateur work of "writers" such as James Joyce, William Shakespeare, or Homer as genius, we devalue the very word itself.

Which is why I've decided to refer to my new novel Die Like a Girl as ultra-premium genius.

It's the story of...

Who the fuck am I kidding?  It's not a story, it's the freakin' divine reanimation of the bloated adverb-ridden corpse of American literature.  Die Like a Girl doesn't just transcend genres, it humiliates them.  With extreme prejudice.  Chuck Norris-style.

Now you might think that I'd charge something like $9,999,999,999.02 for such a work.  And I would.  Except, then you wouldn't buy it.  (At least not as an ebook.)  So instead, I'm going to give it away for FREE.  Actually, I'm giving it away for BETTER THAN FREE.

And by "better than free," I mean $2.99.

How is that better than free?

Imagine you have a coupon for a free latte at a local coffee house in your pants pocket.  The coupon expires today, but you still have seven minutes until closing, so you should be fine... Except, on the way to the coffee house, you happen to stroll across the International Date Line, and suddenly it's not Tuesday anymore, but Wednesday, and the coupon in your pants is expired.  Worse yet, the giggles of the cute barista behind the counter as you enter the store cue you into the startling fact that you're not even wearing pants.

So, in summary, if aforementioned latte costs $3.57, and my novel costs $2.99.  You just made 58 cents.

Do the math, bitches:

(Don't forget to carry the remainder.)

Anyway, here's the blurb:

Fiona Blacklock sells drugs.  Not the hard stuff, but a rare hybrid strain of thousand-dollar-an-ounce marijuana called Biodiesel.  Given that she lives in the left-wing Mecca of Portland, Oregon, the cops mostly just look the other way—if they're not looking to score a little herb themselves.

Sure, she's fifty grand in debt to a psychopathic loan shark named Barry the Hippie, but other than that, it's really not a bad gig… that is, until she agrees to take emo pop star Finn "The Well-Coiffed Penis" Jameson along on a drug deal so that he can research a new indie film role.  A drug deal that goes very very wrong.

Now Fiona has to figure out who set her up, who's blackmailing who, where to environmentally dispose of a disemboweled corpse, how to seduce the single most attractive man in Hollywood… and, most importantly, whom to kill next.

(Praise for Jonathan Selwood's first novel "The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse"):
"Read this book, because laughing yourself to death is the second best way to go."—Arthur Nersesian
"Selwood's laugh-out-loud madcap debut mocks today's digitized, hard-sell, sex-obsessed world as it teeters 'somewhere between carnival and riot.'"—Booklist
"[Selwood] could be the next big kinda underground but still really marketable Chuck Palahniuk-type author."—Bookcritics

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where the F#%k is Godot?

Crocus in my yard saying "fuck you" to winter.
I'm done waiting.

Like most authors, my life has been utterly defined by waiting.

From the early years sending out short stories to lit mags and waiting up to TWO YEARS for a rejection (cough, Zoetrope, cough cough).

To sending out queries and sample chapters of my novel month after month trying to get an agent.

To submitting to publishers and waiting a year for my first novel NOT to sell, and then another eight months for my second novel to finally sell.

Of course, once the novel did sell, I only had to wait another 18 months or so for it to actually hit bookstores (and even then, they arrived late).  And once the month or two of promotion for the new novel was over, I went back to... waiting.

If you were to ask me what the worst part about being a writer is, I'd have to say it's the waiting (and obviously, the worst part of the waiting is the waiting to get paid).  And while there are some significant downsides to the new ebook revolution, the biggest UPSIDE is that the waiting is over.

I can put an ebook online any time I freakin' want to (instead of waiting 18 months for a publisher to put it out) and get paid with each individual sale (as opposed to waiting for years to see if royalties will ever appear... which, due to creative accounting, they won't).

The waiting is over.

Fuck Godot.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paper is the Tool of the Tool

A Lovely Clearcut
Fuck paper.

There.  I said it.

Whenever I tell people that I'm switching to e-books, they either:

A) Blather on for a good ten minutes praising the miracle that is the Kindle.


B) Tell me that while they've never even TRIED a Kindle, they just love the feel of a real book and could never imagine switching.

(Actually, there is a "C) With Netflix streaming 24/7, who needs a book?," but we'll ignore those ignoble people.)

In any case, if you've never tried a Kindle, how can you so vehemently defend print?  I mean, I'm sure when electric light came in and replaced whale oil lanterns as a source of illumination, there were plenty of people who challenged the change--waxing nostalgic about the stench of burning rancid marine oil or lamenting the decline of the lucrative whaling industry.  But once they TRIED electric light, they quickly changed their minds.

And really, when it comes down to it, how good are print books as a reading format?  I personally hate reading hardcovers, because they're just awkward.  And while there are a few "acid-free" books coming out that will last awhile, most books are starting to decay before you even bring them home from the store.  (That "smell" of a book that whale oil-lovers are always going on about is really just the stench of literary compost).  And as for the environmental angle--just look at the freakin' clearcut picture.  Most readers don't understand that with the current publishing system, it's not just the paper books you buy contributing to the environmental apocalypse, but all the millions of copies that don't sell and get "pulped" (or half-assed recycled).

Sure, there will probably always be a romantic soft spot for paper books, just like there's still a romantic soft spot for ye olde timey oil lamps.  But for the most part, the paper book is dead.  And anyone who defends it hates whales.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Too Many F#%king F#%ks

Sexy Pictures Increase Blog Traffic
My soon to be self-published new crime novel is about a low-level marijuana grower here in Portland, Oregon who is almost killed in a drug deal gone horribly wrong.  She subsequently manhandles, maims, and murders a staggeringly large number of people in an effort to figure out who set her up.  It's filled with graphic violence, torture, excessive illegal drug use, and, yes, even a (tasteful) male mouth-rape scene.

There may have been a time when such things were shocking, but these days, crime readers have been primed to expect and accept the most disturbing (not to mention disgusting) situations imaginable.  Hell, even prime time television is showing torture and male mouth-rape these days (C.S.I., The Shield... etc.)  But you know what mainstream television and modern crime novels are not showing?  Profanity.

If you've ever spent any time hanging out with real criminals, you noticed rather quickly that they f#%king swear all the m#th%rf#%cking c#%$ksu#$ing time.  It seems like most crime novelists (and crime TV show writers) spend all their "research" time hanging out with cops and lawyers.  Given that I spent most of my slightly wayward youth trying to avoid cops and lawyers, I took another route to my research.  I hung out with honest-to-God criminals.

And you know what?  They swear like a m#$therf#%king #$%@&#$%s prolapsed @$%@#$ Tijuana donkey @#$#@@$% Cincinnati soft-serve @#%#$##@ #@$ #$^#^# SpongeBob Squarepants.

So when I wrote my soon to be self-published crime novel, I went ahead and left in the profanity in an effort to be "authentic."  And the #%$@$$@$% hell if I'm gonna take it out...

...Except, I am going to take it out.  Or at least 80% of it (there really is a pantload of cussin' in there).

It was actually my sister who got me to see the light with her wise words: "There's too much profanity in your novel."  If it had been anyone else, I probably would have dismissed the criticism and kept on #$%#$%, but not only is my sister a huge crime fiction fan, but she... Well, she's my sister.  So I went back through the manuscript and underlined every word of profanity, only to find that conjugations of the (ever conjugal) word f#%k appear at a rate of over four per page.  And that's just f#%k.  You should have seen how many times I used #$^&#%%#$%.

Rereading the book with non-#%$#%^*$ eyes, I can see that all this f#%king is just too much.  It's a case where the "truth" (i.e., the verbal practices of real drug dealers) fails as fiction.  It's too $%#$^# monotonous.

So, long story long, I'm taking out at least 80% of the profanity.  Not because the publishing house "Man" is making me, but because my sister told me to.  And she's right.

You got a f#%king problem with that?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Self-Publishing: Step 1

Buy a Kindle.

Duh.  If I'm gonna publish my work on Kindle, I need to actually use a Kindle.  I've played with the Kindle app on my iPod and briefly looked at my mother's old one, but Amazon is betting their new line of affordable Kindles will be the tipping point in e-book publishing.  I think they're right.

Of course, the new Kindles aren't actually out yet, so I still have to wait for mine to ship.  I went with the $99 Kindle Touch e-ink one, because I hate reading on a backlit screen (I spend all day on my laptop, anyway) and Gizmodo recommended it.

Why Kindle?  As far as I can tell, it's the easiest way to electronically self-publish as well as the most popular.  Plus, anything I publish on Kindle will show up on Amazon right next to my "traditionally published" novel The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I'm changing my website to more of a blog format, and figured I might as well import the old blog posts from terminalalienation.com.

Mostly, because they're sheer genius...