Painful Lessons in Publishing

A more official word will be going out soon, but it looks like we’re cancelling the Outliers series for good.

The fact that it was ever made at all is something of a small miracle. Five authors putting together a world of stories and characters, each shared and culminating towards a greater epic? That’s no small feat. Yet even before founding Thunderbird Studios, we had a publisher who backed out. This was early 2016, and the small press market seemed to be in a real flux. So, I started an LLC, grabbed some ISBNs and got to work with Manuel.

To help promote it, we even put together a primer, Outliers: The Shape of Things to Come, that was regularly given away for free. What threw us for a loop was that the primer seemed to do pretty great. The shorter length plus the art helped us quickly reap ten very positive reviews on Amazon’s UK site.

It looked like a really promising start for us.

Then we published the first volume of five novellas.

And it did not sell.

That was a year ago. We blamed some of it on the election upset last year and kept trying to turn it around. Facebook advertising, reaching out to folks directly, trying to get reviews. We had almost 250 followers on Facebook and several groups we could tap for more, and a few more on Twitter. We had our own personal networks. And we even launched our own product site, backed with freebies. But none of this helped.

Ask me why and I can think of a dozen reasons. Maybe more.

We really fought against labeling it as “superheroes,” focusing more and more on the science fiction elements. We dived into more grounded concerns, a formula that involved adding incredible talented people to say… the nursing profession, government bureaucracy, crime and law enforcement, the plight of the poor, and market manipulation. There were even a few modern day political points, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and police being required to use cameras.

These weren’t superheroes. They were just ordinary folks who could do something unique, and the world itself was reacting instead of the other way around.

We had serious and lasting impacts from our antics. The final story of Outliers: 2016 involved a sizable chunk of New York burning down. In future volumes, that section of the city is still very gone. And the politics of that event were still being debated. Less laser beam eyes and more modern cloak and dagger.

But I guess people took one glance, saw superheroes and didn’t look again.

What’s wrong with superheroes? Nothing, unless you’re not Marvel or maybe DC. Jon called it when he pointed out that the glutted market (especially with three companies using Marvel’s properties) makes anything one does seem derivative. Particularly when Fox came out with The Gifted, one of several in-universe terms we used to describe our Outlier characters. He described it as “a kick in the teeth.”

And speaking of terminology, Outliers was not a great choice to call our series. Search for it and the first thing you’ll discover is the book by Malcolm Gladwell. Keep digging and you’ll find The Outliers, a novel by Kimberly McCreight that was released earlier in 2016. Our efforts were a painful third.

Another big sign, one I should have watched for, was that the only people who ever seemed excited for Outliers were other authors and writers. Conversations about it drifted towards, “Can I pitch something for that?”

Yet most of them backed away when they realized that Outliers called for no small amount of homework. We weren’t big on “limitless powers,” and frequently nerfed what our protagonists could do. There were factions to develop, and sharing characters meant learning about their backstories, abilities, relationships and philosophy. Basically, every contributor was an encyclopedia in a series. And the wiki we developed to hold all this information got pretty damn big.

Joining us was buying into a creative contract. And when they realized that meant limitations, they seemed to lose interest.

In the past, a few people who were cross with me called prior works failures. I always shrugged. Those efforts never bothered me because they were trial and error, and I was always upfront about that. They were projects of learning that actually did go on to make several dozen sales. In the case of Far Worldsa couple of hundred.

But Outliers was a true failure. It sucked because most people remained silent on the matter. Folks said that they would review it, then they flaked. Not only friends but family just couldn’t be bothered. No one wanted to be honest and say, “Yeah, cool. Listen, I’m not really interested in reading that. But good luck.”

Not loved, not hated. At best, unknown. At worst, no one cared. And we’re left humbled hard by that truth as we leave our work to be trampled into dust by time.

Sigh…

…Anyway. The Outliers site is shutting down in a few days. The primer is coming off market too, and we’ll probably be retiring our social media outlets as well.

Advertisements

C’est la Divertissement Vie. (That’s the Entertainment Life.)

Games:

I may seriously never purchase another game from Konami again.

mgsvYes, I’m late to the party. But their last great game, Metal Gear Solid V, was never given the chance to be completed. The game was delivered in an episodic fashion that spanned 50 missions. 51 was supposed to effectively be the game’s final boss battle. Cut material from the collector’s edition showed a half complete last episode, which would have been an excellent note to satisfy one last dangling plot thread and go out with a bang.

It was never released. And according to Konami’s spokesmen, never will be.

This information was never quite clear to me given the layouts of story-focused wikis, or the strategy guides and commentary boards that avoided discussing the plot for fear of spoilers: I only just learned of the mission conclusion after completing 89% of the game. But imagine, if you will, the Harry Potter series sans the final battle with Voldemort and the epilogue. Or Star Wars: Return of the Jedi without the Battle of Endor.

Others have covered the likely cause of this sad state of affairs better than I have, but the likely culprit was the Konami/Kojima split. I’ve played several Kojima games in my life and I know that he would never willingly leave a story incomplete. Of those titles were Zone of the Enders and its sequel, as well as Metal Gear Solid, Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater. While he always had more stories to tell, leaving the current arc incomplete was simply never his style.

Of the game itself, I could see how it was almost a masterpiece. Almost. The game play constantly brings me back again and again for its completeness, it’s total immersive elements. The depth of strategies is profound in and of itself, where no item or weapon ever seems to have just one purpose. Every game play session, I learn something new about how to combat my foes; some trick, a tactic or vantage point I never considered before. Even without the cut ending the story was somewhat weak, but this was countered with dozens of great moments that constantly made me forget vulnerabilities in the overall tale. Mission 51 would probably make me condone this, but I will never know for certain.

That being said, I refuse to give up after coming this far. I’ll see this through to the end but that is all, despite my disappointments and reservations.

Movies:

The Professional: Golgo 13golgo13 feels like something that could and should have been better.

Golgo 13, sometimes known as Duke Togo, is Japan’s answer to James Bond: an ageless, ongoing assassin whose stories often have to entertain without ever developing the man himself. Instead, the creators rely heavily on crafting sensational plot twists, over-the-top sex scenes, backstories for his victims, visually insane villains or researching mind-boggling but physically possible acts of sniping such as ricocheting a bullet off an ocean wave. Anything to avoid piercing the titular character’s stoic demeanor and mysterious allure.

In this film, Mr. Togo is contracted to end the life of Robert Dawson. However, it happens at a sensitive time during a company coronation, when Robert is dubbed the new CEO of a massive, massive enterprise. Although Togo succeeds, the contract’s legacy turns sour as the would-be CEO’s father (the current CEO Dawson) seeks revenge for the death of his son.

The beginning feels almost distracted by another contract that Golgo accepts, which concludes with him being chased by the FBI, CIA and Pentagon. All these agencies under the employ of Dawson himself, who wields his company’s power in a way that the Sherman Antitrust Act was exactly designed to prevent. Despite the threat, Togo seems oblivious to the danger and completes another contract. Only then does he realize how unrelenting the government’s hitmen are, as Golgo’s informants are either killed or turn on him.

The visual style of The Professional was somewhat distracting. While the action scenes were straight forward, coherent and well handled, Director Osamu Dezaki seemed determined to punch up even basic dialogue with flair unnecessarily. The movie also used some CGI animations to handle some helicopter assault scenes, but the technology was simply too immature at the time to effectively tell a story. Likewise, the story concocted several Bond-level villains for Golgo to fight as well, the story actually suffers from the introduction of too many antagonists to effectively develop in its 90 minute running time. However, the final plot twist at the end was somewhat satisfying (highlight to see spoiler): It turns out that Robert Dawson ordered the hit on himself, an act of suicide because of his fear of being unable to live up to his father’s expectations.

Television:

I gave up on Orphan BlackAmazon’s sci-fi series about clones.

“Where’s this madness going?” I asked myself after the ninth episode of season two. The plot consisted of most of the characters milling about in circles. Once again, the protagonist’s daughter had been kidnapped, after a long season of hiding about the countryside to no real effect. Meanwhile, antagonist Helena was stolen by some strange religion-meets-genetics commune who took her eggs. After she escaped and then willfully came back, she threatened a harsh nanny for mistreating the children under her care, not long before Helena sets the compound on flame regardless of the lives of the kids inside.

Characters portrayed by anyone besides Tatiana Maslany became less interesting, and except for concerns regarding a genetic disease amongst the show’s many clones, the entire season felt like little more than “filler.” ggrThe show felt like it willfully resisted growth despite a strong first season. Only Maslany’s skillful acting kept me going this far, as she slips in and out of versions of herself in a believable manner.

On the plus side however was Good Girls Revolt, an amusing and unexpected show actually made me realize how bloody boring Mad Men sometimes was.

I can see how Good Girls Revolt was probably stiff-armed by Amazon for years until the latter show came to an end. Mad Men was/is the Oscar of television, but sometimes didn’t feel like it wore enough of the sixties (at least the pieces we wanted to remember) on its sleeve. GGR certainly does, but the other huge difference is that the series focuses around one major climax that the main characters built towards through behind-the-scenes politicking and subterfuge.

The girls seemed to truly wrestle with their guilt; a sharp contrast to the occasional acts of Mad Men’s cruel, tragic and unapologetic attitude.

The bad news however is that the show isn’t going to get a second season, at least not on Amazon. One aspect downplayed is that GGR is built on real events, namely Newsweek’s EEOC lawsuit in 1969. Although the name was changed to the fictional “News of the Week,” the historic aspects are still very highlighted. It’s safe to doubt that Newsweek enjoyed someone dredging up a nearly 50 year-old legal filing that put them in a bad light. And I could see why Amazon might not want to start a mudslinging contest with the news outlet in all in the name of entertainment.

Info on Amazon Reviews

primerToday, I want to talk about Amazon reviews. And this is of importance for both readers and authors.

First, I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who has been supporting, reading and helping us promote Outliers: The Shape of Things to Come. We truly hope you’re enjoying our work. It’s also available for free on Amazon until the end of today (September 16th), a magazine-style release complete with stories and artwork so why not pluck a copy to read later?  Last time I mention Outliers until next month, promise!

Now although we’re loving the promotions and marketing side of this, there’s a point that we could really use outside help.

Amazon uses a number of algorithms and business flows to help decide on what to market, what to suggest and promote in front of other buyers. There are millions of titles in the United States, and even within genres you can easily be talking some tens of thousands of titles.

Who knows what they like better than the readers themselves?

Or at least, those who are vocal about it by submitting reviews to the vendor. Right now, there’s a rumor that 20 reviews, good or ill, “bump” the appearance of a title on suggested reading lists. Another piece of gossip states that 50 reviews puts it among the spotlighted positions of mailing lists.

Now, it’s a safe assumption that these statements are just scuttlebutt. Maybe someone noticed a loose pattern in the advertising and drew these assumptions. Or maybe they were or even are true, although the latter is subject to change. Even the Amazon business guys probably couldn’t comment with certainty because code and formulas are always being tweaked and modified. In tech, what’s true today might not be true tomorrow.

But it’s also a safe assumption that there is some validity to it. Reviews undoubtedly have an effect on advertising suggestions. Feelings of any kind are a more valuable metric than numb silence. Whether you love it like the first season of True Detective or hate it like the second, saying so with reviews matters. So please, if you enjoyed or hated our work, say so. Artists cannot grow in the absence of valid criticisms, nor know what to keep producing without compliments to encourage that which is enjoyed.

Now… there’s one final point to cover, and I must admit that this is a saddening factor for authors: Amazon divides its reviews by region as well.

Some argue that it’s cultural preferences. I disagree, as few seem to care geographically where their entertainment comes from. The United States imports some of the finest actors from England, almost all variations of Sherlock tend to do well and Warhammer 40,000 of Nottingham is very acknowledged here. Likewise, I pal with my English friends knowing that we can quote The Simpsons with abandon or even recruit them into my growing Stranger Things cult.

But the stars from the Amazon.com site aren’t appearing on Amazon.co.uk. If nothing else, people browsing work would see far less in the ratings. Amazon is doing a beta of “the most helpful reviews” on the pages themselves which crosses the ocean (for example, with Far Worlds in the UK), but the results thereof are not being added topically into that region’s ratings.

So.

If you read our work, we love you. If you enjoy it, please say so back. And if you’re really feeling generous, try to log onto both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk to leave reviews on both sites. I believe the login credentials are shared which should make it much easier. And thanks again for reading!

Tough Times For Authors

A BBC article has reported that 5% of authors made 42% of income from published works in 2013. The number of authors who can make a living writing has dropped from 40% (back around 2003) to 11.5%. I strongly recommend you read the article yourself.

The news made me grimace a little. Something like this wasn’t entirely unexpected by any means. A first hand look at sales reports illustrates how difficult it is to earn much. But seeing one’s fears in the raw numbers does give me pause.

When someone encounters a disheartening situation, it pays to take a pragmatic glance at ones’ goals. My personal objective was to build my name enough that perhaps I can comfortably write full-time when I retire. As it stands, my retirement is no less than 30 years away, and a lot can happen in those three decades. This report proved that the market has changed, and is probably preparing itself for a kind of bubble in the next couple of years.

marchingtimeBubbles, at least in the context of markets, are never fun. Amazon’s e-publishing services are a blessing and a curse in this regard, for they opened the flood gates and removed barriers to entry. I can’t complain, because if Amazon hadn’t offered these services, our anthologies like Far Worlds and Marching Time would never have been published. And some of the publishing companies I’ve worked with might not exist either.

But as Amazon has removed our inhibitions, they’ve also gone on to inflame our passions. Although not the only company to do so, Amazon’s print-on-demand service CreateSpace is a proud contributor to National Novel Writing Month. In 2013, there were over 310,000 contributors to that and more than 42,000 winners. Even if as little as .5% of just the winners decided to push their work onto Amazon in the next year, it creates a deluge of new titles for sale. And that doesn’t include the other 268k non-winning contestants who could finish and submit later.

The pressure is not going to alleviate for a while. It will eventually. There are many of folks who will realize that they only ever had one story in them. Others just wanted to crank out a novel for the sensation of accomplishment. And still others may realize that being a full-time author was not quite what they hoped to be their calling.

In the end, the situation only serves to reinforce the same rule that being a writer is tough and persistence is the only way it can pay off. I guess it finally makes sense of that old phrase how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Never Get Comfortable

I started to write some bit about “what it means to be a writer”, prefacing the idea with it being my current philosophy on it. Then I realized, “Who am I kidding?” I don’t feel accomplished enough to claim that yet. I don’t even feel like a writer.

It’s easy to think about your precious successes, but what about your failures? People always try to say something about not letting the past bug you. Or that it’ll tear you down. But trying to get published is reality’s way of reasserting Murphy’s Law.

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

-Murphy’s Law

The most common thing I am told is that my story does not quite fill their needs or isn’t quite what they’re looking for. Many rejections go on to remind me that they receive hundreds of stories despite a very limited number of slots.

A fresh reminder that Murphy’s Law is in effect can make the unseen obstacles incredibly clear. You could have a phenomenal story that is well polished, with grammar and spelling that are sharp, good characters, great plot and memorable prose. And despite these confidence inspiring aspects:

  1. The general theme of the story might not quite fit what the publisher is looking for.
  2. Someone else happened to have a similar idea and got their story in first.
  3. The anthology has to be cancelled (it happens.)
  4. Your story is sharp but you forgot to check the manuscript requirements, so you get rejected on a technicality.
  5. A number of better known and better followed writers submit stories, and their reputation allows them stronger consideration.
  6. The slush readers have a mixed collective reaction to your story.
  7. Your story is the 13th best for an anthology of no more than 12. Unfortunately, those dozen authors get their acceptance contracts in.
  8. A trait of the story goes against the maturity rating (ie too much blood.)
  9. Your story is good but fails to stand out among 3,000 others they receive.
  10. The publisher changes their mind, rejects all stories and continues to only use work produced by their in-house writers. They welcome your submissions but really have no plans to publish them.

Every possibility of rejection is a sobering reminder of the challenge. And little by little, I can’t help but feel some of the cynicism I’ve detected from reader the blogs of established writers. You or I might have a few dozen rejections, but they could very well have hundreds.

And professional writers can even seem to jealously guard the keys to the kingdom. The shining new author from nowhere can be a threat to what they want to do and what they’re already doing. I’ve spoken before about the benefits of writers cooperating. But there are bottlenecks where competition is inevitable.

Yes. During submissions, you are competing. Though unseen, you are fighting dozens, hundreds, even thousands of other writers who are just trying to get one more notch on their Amazon publishing list. It’s hard. It’s rough. And I don’t think anyone can get to the top unchanged.

You’re pushing your way through mobs of little recognized or unknown writers who have varying degrees of talent.

You’re being pitted against medium-weight authors who have dozens of stories in various anthologies or even novels.

And afterwards are the big names. Names who have cult followings. Authors who have important publishing houses on their cell phones. Writers whose work is being fought over in Hollywood, or will be once they’re gone.

And there’s only one real constant.

Nobody likes competition, especially when everyone is a dark horse.

 

The Black Wind’s Whispers, Out Now!

The Black Wind's Whispers, by the Bolthole.

The Black Wind’s Whispers, by the Bolthole.

After months of work, it’s finally here… The Black Wind’s Whispers. Available now on Amazon. (Also in England.)

Included within are nine tales of  horror, featuring new twists on classic monsters, managed by yours truly, James “He2etic” Fadeley. Edited by CS Barlow and Andrew Aston, it features tales by Andrew Aston, Alec McQuay, Simon Howers, Jeremy Daw, Johnathan Ward, Robbie McNiven and Keanu Ross-Cabrera. Cover art by the amazing Manuel Mesones!

But best of all, it includes a tale from special guest author and veteran horror writer, CL Werner!

Get your copy today from Amazon! Smashwords version coming soon!

100 Horrors on Sale Now!

This is what will happen to you if you don't buy it.

This is what will happen to you if you don't buy the book.

Here at He2etic’s Hysterical Horoscope, I am hard at work setting up a cult of He2esy. And like all cults, we are fated to either drink arsenic-laced Kool-Aid or sell out with dues and merchandising.

Sometimes, even both.

But good news, my cultist children! I have opted for the former of the aforementioned options (for now). I will not, however, ask for your car, house and first-born just yet. No, instead I offer you the honor of buying my new e-book, 100 Horrors: Tales of Horror in the Blink of an Eye, edited by Kevin G. Bufton.

Okay, maybe it’s not quite just my book. I mean, I am splitting the credit with the editor. And the cover artist. And like, ninety-nine other authors… who are probably better writers than me.

But still! Now is your chance to own a piece of authentic He2esy. So act now, and years later you could look back and say, “Hey, I know that guy! I read his blog and book!”

With a tone of both remorse and disgust.

Buy 100 Horrors: Tales of Horror in the Blink of an Eye today! Only $2.99.