Monday, May 13, 2013

Writer or Author

            The word Author appears pompous to me; conjuring images of Longfellow and Victor Hugo and Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe and Emerson and Herman Melville; of suits with ties worn morning and evening in library rooms with the musty smell of burned tobacco and dank walls of dark moist books.

            The way the old saw cuts, when you are unpublished you are a writer; as poker players say, you’re betting on the come. Once you reach the hallowed plateau of publication, you become by-God and luck, an Author. If you receive some kind of literary prize – no matter how insignificant – you are absolutely an Author. You can actually hear critics applauding with the cry, “Author… Author...”

            When I started in the writing racket, fresh out of the Navy with a pregnant wife and living in a $50 a month duplex, cranking out a story a week for the Men’s magazines, that mostly came right back, I determined that I would be a writer; that I would write. Not that I would be a rich and famous Author, or that I would make a fine living with the written word, (although that thought always hangs back there scratching away) but that I would write, be a writer.  The kids are grown and gone now and the wife is off living with somebody else. I never had the inclination to find a second wife, but I still write, wearing t-shirt and cut-offs, living on a battered old fiberglass sloop that I sometimes sail.

            All my writing life I had to get up and go to work doing something else. I never had a career. I was a writer. Before and after work, I wrote. While years and life experience accumulated, I finally retired as Senior Editor of Technical Publications from Boeing. I now had retirement income and I could write full time. And I did.  

            As a writer, I never became a success. With dozens of published short stories and articles and a present count of 33 published novels, nothing ever hit the big time. No cash advance from mega publishers for a novel, no best sellers, no movie deals, no requests for a series based on one of my books, no fat royalty checks, no long lasting agents. Considering how long I’ve been at the writing racket, some might say that as a writer, I had failed miserably, and I am compounding the felony by continuing to fail.

My beginning efforts never hit Playboy or Esquire though I received many form rejection letters from them (at a time when publications were kind enough to send rejections instead of silence). My stories sold to magazines like Adam, Nugget, Male, Men, Best for Men, Men’s Digest, and I hit a zenith of some sort with a sale to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and then never sold them another. It was through the Men’s Digest and their connection with Neva Paperbacks in Las Vegas, publisher of Playtime Books that I had a request to write something as long as a novel. My mystery was titled, ‘The Surfer Killers’ and was published as ‘Surfside Sex’ with an advance of $500. I never made another dime on that 95¢ book, although you can’t buy it today used for less than $12. I still don’t make a dime on it.

That sale started the process of my novels. Because of ‘Surfside Sex’ I hooked up with Lyle Kenyon Engel and wrote a bunch of Nick Carter spy/adventure screw-and-kill books then got into my Operation Hang Ten series writing as Patrick Morgan, and years later began publishing my own books with small nobody-ever-heard-of publishers. Five books I self-published. I now write the Baylor Rumble and Logan Sand series of tough hardboiled crime novels. My association with small publishers continues. Although my royalty checks are small, I do get them, every quarter.

So am I an Author? Or am I still a writer? Well, I won this award. Unannounced, in the mail one day I received a Certificate of Award in the Mystery/Detective/Thriller category from the Southwestern Writers Conference out of Albuquerque. The thing was judged by the managing editor of Pinnacle Books. Heady stuff. Along with it was a $100 check. Being no fool, I quickly deposited the check before they realized the error and stopped payment. I had entered a contest based on the first three chapters of my novel, ‘The Farewell Heist’ and truly forgot about it. The novel has since been contracted for publication by my favorite small publisher and will be released July 2013. Publishers know to pass over the first three chapters of anything. Those chapters get all the work and polish while the rest of the novel may fall apart. Nobody puts much stock in the first three chapters, except, apparently, conference contests.

Ernest Hemingway considered himself a writer. Even after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he called himself a writer, never an Author. John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark, Denis Lehane, James Crumley, James Lee Burke – these guys call themselves writers. I like the company. I’m a writer not an Author. Except for one difference. That award must have gone to my head. When I was trying to impress an attractive woman at a gathering, I told her I was an Award Winning Author. I wrote low life hardboiled crime novels almost nobody reads.  These days when I want to impress an attractive woman at a gathering, I just give her one of my cards. It states that I’m an Award winning writer of hardboiled crime novels. I verbally add the part about them being low life novels that almost nobody reads.

George Snyder


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Price of Books


          When Ford Motor Company releases a new car to the dealer, payment comes when the car is sold, usually on consignment. The dealer gets a percentage; Ford Motor Company gets a percentage. That is the only money the company makes on the car. No matter how many times the car is sold and resold, the company earns not one nickel more.

          So it is with books. As part of a review at Amazon, a reviewer reprimanded the author for the ridiculous high price of the book. The out of print book was ‘Baja Sailor Tales,’ a collection of stories and character studies based on people I met during my one-year solo sail through Mexico. The price asked was $37 and it was from an online used book outlet. Eight copies were left, seven used beginning at $1.50 and the one new at the $37. The reviewer stated that the author must be looking for a new boat. 

          Like Ford, once a book has been sold, the bookseller gets a cut, then the publisher, then the guy who wrote the book in the form of a royalty. No matter how many times that book sells after that, the writer receives nothing, not one cent. Here’s another flash. The writer has no say whatsoever what the book will sell for, unless it is self-published, and even then the price must fall within certain guidelines. And, the dozens of free books given for reviews, book store samples, to influential people, friends and family, eventually end in a used book outlet, offered at a low price, with nothing going to the writer.

          It is no surprise many writers have decided to go the self-publish route which offers control of your work. Of my more than 30 published books, I self-published five. This was at a time when publishing your own book was the same as making used car sales your lifetime career. Much of that stigma still remains, mainly because of badly edited books. A good editor can make a book; a bad editor can ruin it. But respectability is easing in. Self-published books have received literary awards, and at least one self-published writer has made over a million dollars. Many make more than $50,000. Thanks to Amazon and Kindle and Create-Space, the process has become easier, and you don’t have to pay ridiculous prices to print mills to get your book out there.

          It has been written that if your book is listed with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you are reaching 85% of the reading public. To be listed costs you 40% to 45% of the retail price, a big chunk. Publisher and writer cuts come from what’s left after that. And reaching the reading public does not mean connecting. To connect you need all the rest of that marketing stuff: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and so many others. You must get on writer forums; get others to review your books while you review theirs, join writer clubs and critique groups, do book signings, print book markers and business cards – all the nonsense connected with product peddling. You need all of it whether your book is published by a big time house, or a small independent, or by yourself. And even doing all that is no guarantee you’ll sell many copies of your book. Marketing may get the reader to the book, but the book must be good enough to sell itself.

          The only time much of this is unnecessary is when the publisher you sign with has full time sales reps on the payroll. The rep physically visits bookstores and pushes your book. It is the rep who can make a New York best seller. Few publishers have sales reps, and those who do are cutting back. These days everything is handled electronically, not by personal visits.

          Currently, I am with two publishers. The only books I now self publish are early novels that missed the electronic revolution in eBooks, but times they may be a’changing. I’m bringing them out as New-Revised-Editions in eBook format only and I’m selling them for 99¢. One of my two publishers is a small independent; the other is mid-size. The mid-size, who has only one book of mine, offered what they called the ‘standard’ contract: 35% royalty print, 40% eBook, 40% discount on author purchased books, and no time dates when editing, electronic or print was to be released, no author input on cover design. I fought for changes before I signed. Some I got, some I didn’t. The royalty went to 40% print, 50% eBook, definite dates for completion of editing, and author copies at publisher cost. I still had no say on cover design. I consider it a bad contract but I can live with it. My small independent publisher is local and we have lunch every time we sign a contract. He pays. Our split is simple, 50% of net down the line on everything. They both have the same distribution markets. They both sell books in house. My small independent publisher has all their books reviewed and the review is published on their site. I have three books with them with two more pending. Neither offer an advance. Neither pushes marketing for their books.

          So, next we must explore self-publishing.

George Snyder