Tagged: independent publishing

Black Dog Press news (March Madness)

Awhile back I noticed that sales of the e-book versions of So Dark the Night and Of the Night had really flattened.  No growth, which meant my best marketing device (word of mouth) wasn’t having much of an impact.

Then I came across a blog entry from a gal who had read the e-book of So Dark the Night and complained that its formatting was funky and created a number of annoying glitches.  Not good news.

Not long afterward I learned about the ePub format, which supposedly renders text compatible with most tablets and reading devices.  So I contacted my chum Daniel at Scribe Freelance and had him whip up ePub versions of both my “Ilium” novels and dispatched them to Lightning Source, instructing them to replace the old files with this latest batch.  Now we’ll wait and see if this helps re-ignite sales.

My e-books are available through places like  Powell’s (among others)…and, yes, there are Kindle versions of all of my titles.

I admit (eyes cast down) I’m a very poor self-promoter.  As a publisher, I complain bitterly but as an author I won’t be moved.  I leave it up to readers to discover my work and I’m absolutely convinced that once they do, they become fans for life.  And only too happy to spread the word about this whacked out Canuck writer who defies all conventions, tackles every genre and has carved a different path for himself, independent of the mainstream.

I’ve sent out some review copies of The Last Hunt to some western-themed magazines but, honestly, does anyone read book reviews any more?  In those few publications that still deign to leave some space for something as retrograde and uncool as books

It can be disheartening.  How do you draw attention to one particular title when the media is flooded with thousands of new releases (books, e-books, CDs, DVDs, games) every day?  You begin to feel like a tiny, insignificant figure lost amidst all the others in one of those Where’s Waldo? books.

On the other hand, this tiny press has been responsible for some pretty fine books over the past twenty (+) years and my readership is growing, albeit very, very slowly.  My wife reminds me that I’m always been a late bloomer…let’s just hope it’s not too late.  At some point, I’d like to enjoy the fruits of my labor.  Instead of getting pelted with them.

What I wouldn’t give to be able to make the “Grand Tour”—see all the great capitals of Europe, capping things off with a long-anticipated visit to Thermopylae.

Sigh.

But will it ever happen?  Will my workaholic nature and bouts of agoraphobia allow such a scenario?  I’m dubious.

If nothing else, it’s a helpful, distracting fantasy.

A possibility, however remote, that some day all this craziness will lead to better, happier times.

A golden age, yet to come.

In case you’ve only just arrived

The name is Burns. Cliff Burns.

Indie author and publisher. Creator of weird music and even weirder short films.

You’ll find all the relevant biographical info about me here.

I offer a sizable batch of my stories for free reading and downloading, you’ll find them here.

A number of my books are available for purchase and you can find ordering info here.

I know some of you (many of you? most of you?) view indie/self-published writers with a great deal of misgivings. I don’t blame you. The advent of blogging, print on demand and e-books has led to an explosion of self-published novels and volumes of poetry and the vast majority of them are unbelievably horrible. So bad, I wouldn’t wrap fish in them (real or virtual). In my view, when it comes to self-published offerings, Sturgeon’s Law is too kind—at least 98% of the self-published efforts I’ve tried to read are embarrassingly juvenile and inept. Derivative, tuneless, execrable drek.

I acknowledge that.

Now I want you to pop back to my roster of professional credits, scroll down until you get to the blurbs appearing below them.  I think it’s pretty clear I’m no dabbler.  For the past twenty-five (+) years, day in and day out, I have been putting words on paper.  Writing is my obsession, an essential article of my faith, the activity that keeps me from absolutely losing my mind. Have a glance at one of my stories, a tale like “Daughter”.  If that one doesn’t have you hooked within about ten lines, kid, you’re reading it upside down.

I became an independent author and publisher by choice.  Producing and releasing my own work allows me to present it in the manner I intended; every choice is left to my discretion, from the cover art to the layout. It’s time-consuming, frequently maddening but, in the end, worth it for the control it gives me over all aspects of book production, promotion & distribution.

My books are available through Amazon and can be purchased as e-books from Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, etc.

I hope you’ll take a chance on an author who has taken advantage of the new technologies to present an alternative to the rather dreadful crop of books the trads (traditional publishers) have been releasing since they went corporate and lost their souls. My stories and novels are thrilling, original and literate. They transcend easy genre classification; years ago, someone referred to my odd oeuvre as “Twilight Zone on acid stories” and I suppose there’s some truth to that. I draw inspiration from the surrealists and my work frequently displays more than a passing affection for the macabre.

If you’re feeling a bit flush this month, experiencing a craving for a much-needed mental goose, give some thought to picking up one of my books or downloading some of my stories.  It’s simple, just a matter of a few clicks of your mouse.  Remember how bored you were the last time you walked through a bookstore? Unable to find anything that spoke to your particular zeitgeist. Now’s your chance to veer off the beaten track and discover an author who makes no attempt to cater to the marketplace or kowtow to editors and agents.

But be warned: here there be tygers.  My writing takes a toll on readers who have been lulled into lazy modes of thinking. My fiction is a wake up call, a warning klaxon, a condemnation.  You can do a lot of damage with a steady hand and a sharp scalpel.

Time to check out some of my work. Go ahead. What are you waiting for?  You’re not scared, are you?

Article on the future of books

Peter Darbyshire has just published an article in the Vancouver Province, discussing the future of books and publishing—you’ll find it here.  He was good enough to ask me about my experiences as a long-standing independent author and publisher (21 years and counting) and I was only too happy to oblige.

Smart man, Peter, a guy who knows what he’s talking about.  He’s had his own adventures in the publishing biz and is familiar with the new technologies that are allowing authors the chance to by-pass traditional gate-keepers and take their work directly to readers, via e-books and print on demand efforts.

As I wrote to Peter in a followup note, one of my fears is that while these technologies may empower good authors turned off by a corporate system that slots and niches books, producing dozens of copy-cat knockoffs of popular titles, it also accords terrible scribblers the opportunity to foist their mindless, adolescent crap on the world.  Thus, the marketplace is currently overwhelmed by dreadful vampire porn, brain-eating zombies and godawful tripe that wouldn’t pass muster in a high school yearbook.  Anyone can call themselves a writer these days and with a minimum investment can produce a decent-looking book with their name on the cover.   “Look at me!  Aren’t I great?  And you all thought I was a loser!”

I recently posted similar views on a couple of sites frequented by amateur writers and wannabes and was soundly taken to task for my arrogant insistence that there is a difference between good writing and bad writing.  One remark I’ve heard a number of times is that “we live in a post-literate society and the old standards no longer apply”.  You know, standards like good spelling, syntax that isn’t tortured beyond recognition, an ear for dialogue, an aversion to over-writing, etc. etc.

In the old days, these dingbats would be working in the rightly discredited sub-sub-genre of “fan fiction”, read by a few geeks with too much time on their hands and a roomful of Star Wars action figures.  Now they can inflict their offal on a far wider audience, pricing their e-books at 99 cents to draw the most possible readers and congratulating themselves for their genius.

It’s truly sickening.

I do not want to be lumped in with folks who have no respect for the printed word, who wish to emulate literary idols like Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson…the very worst of the worst.  I revere great writing and devote enormous time and effort to producing the finest, most literate work I can; to hear these people crowing about how many e-books they’ve sold, how much money they’ve made, goes against everything I believe in, as an author and an artist.  Their attitudes revolt me, their “writing” makes me shudder, their success impresses me not one whit.  They are bottom-feeders and pornographers and if that’s what sells these days, the literary world is in more trouble than I ever imagined.

Looking ahead (2011 & Beyond the Infinite)

This is the view from my window.  Notice the old, dessicated oak tree struggling for life alongside our big maple.  It’s a “witch tree”, all right, look at it.  Entangled in the strangling roots of its neighbor but somehow surviving, year after year.

Cold this morning, with a nut-cutting wind chill.  A good day to stay inside, build a fire and read.  Yesterday, I finished the new Lee Child novel, Worth Dying For, in about five hours.  Just tore through it.  Give Child credit, he’s got a sweet franchise going.  Sometimes his “Jack Reacher” novels are suspenseful, sometimes they slip into formula.  Reacher the unstoppable superman (yawn).  This one is better.  The story hums along and there are good supporting players.

January 1st, if you recall, I start my “100 Book Challenge”.  I’ve already set aside 18 first-rate tomes, fiction and non-fiction, that I’m hoping will get me going, build up some momentum that will carry me through the year.  These include some of the smashing great books Sherron, er, Mrs. Santa left under the tree for me.  Stuff I’ve wanted to read for ages.  Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, Jim Shepard’s Love and Hydrogen, Ken Kalfus’s first short story collection, Thirst,  and Huston Smith’s autobiography, Tales of Wonder.

I’ll be spending most of the next two days finishing my year-end cleanup.  A ritual that goes back many years.  Remove all material related to last year’s projects and prepare for new work.  New Year’s Eve, sometimes pretty close to midnight, I clean and vacuum the crappy old carpet in my office and that’s it:  I’m ready for whatever comes.

I know, my family thinks it’s weird too.

And there are my resolutions to prepare, a roster of promises I try very hard to keep (and usually end up batting around .500).  Then I write out a list of “pending projects”, big and small jobs I’d like to focus on in the coming year.  Need to straighten up in the basement too; the workbench overflowing with crap that has to be put away (or shit-canned).

I find I’m feeling pretty good as 2010 draws to an end.  Two books released this year, a number of solid shorter efforts…plus there’s the music I’ve created with Garageband, two disks of weird ambient tunes that still make me smile.  I’ve discovered I love noodling around and experimenting with different media—Sherron has infected me with her belief that making art shouldn’t always be work, there can also be an element of play involved.  In 2011, I want to do some photography, stills and short videos.  Sometimes I get tired of working exclusively with words and need a break.  A chance to explore non-verbal, non-narrative concepts.  I’ve even tried my hand at painting.  I hope to do more visual experiments in 2011 (and beyond).

But the main focus, of course, continues to be improving as a writer, growing and developing,  moving the bar ever higher with each book or story I take on.  I’m certain the “100 Book Challenge” will introduce me to different influences/perspectives and it will be interesting to see how that affects my work.  God, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I started writing more like Italo Calvino or with the ferocity and power of a Celine?

Er, I forgot.  Louis Ferdinand Celine’s not exactly a popular figure these days.  Very difficult to find his work.  Awful man…but even Beckett  admired his writing and those two were miles apart, ideologically speaking.  Celine’s malign nature is as undeniable as his genius.  They probably went hand in hand.  But anyone who denies themselves the opportunity to read Death on the Installment Plan or Journey to the End of the Night because of his personal failings (however despicable) is missing out on some of the finest writing of the 20th century.

All that said, the first book I’ll likely tackle in the New Year is Michael Palin’s Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-88.  A volume I can zip through in less than a day.  Something fast and breezy and fun to get me started.

And then only 99 more to go…

Twenty years as an indie publisher

Last night we had the official launch of my new novel Of the Night at the North Battleford Library.

A heartfelt thank you to Wendy and all the hardy souls who braved the first serious cold snap this winter to celebrate the birth of my latest literary offspring.  Sherron and my two sons handled the lights and tech and made sure everything went off without a hitch.  Thanks, guys!

Naturally, I over-prepared, endlessly rehearsing my introductory remarks and the three excerpts I had chosen to read.  Ah, well.  I think it went off well and the good vibes bubbled over into the book signing afterward.

Speaking of those remarks:

I’ve decided to post them, since they’re a good, concise description of my experiences over the past two decades as an independent author and publisher.  I hope these words will inspire others while, at the same time, providing insights re: some of the difficulties and frustrations I’ve endured for choosing the less-travelled path (my essay “Solace of Fortitude” covers similar territory, albeit at greater length).

To all the indie authors out there, struggling to make themselves heard:  write on!


* * * * * * * *

 

What do you do when you’ve written a good book and no one wants to publish it?

Twenty years ago, when faced with that dilemma, I made the somewhat irrational decision to go ahead and print it myself.  I knew nothing about what went into producing a physical book but, to my mind, that was beside the point.  Getting that book, that gruesome little book, into the hands of readers was paramount.

Because the alternative—giving up, throwing in the towel—means that a good book never even has a chance at finding a readership.  It languishes in a box somewhere, years and perhaps even decades pass and it doesn’t see the light of day.  It might be a lost classic…or a piece of garbage.  We’ll never know.  Book-lovers aren’t accorded the opportunity to render their verdict.

And let’s take a look at the recent track record of the folks who decide what gets published and what doesn’t.  Hardly encouraging, to say the least.  Sales figures are dropping precipitously, bookstores and chains all over the U.S. and Canada are closing or seeking bankruptcy protection; independent bookstores have almost entirely disappeared.  Venerable publishing divisions have been lopped off or dramatically downsized, layoffs announced, the demise of the book predicted, onset of a post-literate culture looming—

Doesn’t sound like publishers and retailers have succeeded at capturing the contemporary zeitgeist, does it?  Why have so many people, apparently, stopped reading or scaled back to the point where a substantial number of respondents in one poll indicated they hadn’t read a single work of fiction in the past year?

Could it be that the industry is printing and selling books that nobody wants to read?  Perhaps in their efforts to meet the lowest common denominator, rehashing the same types of books over and over again, scraping the creosote off the bottom of the barrel, traditional publishers have alienated serious readers; worse yet, bored them with formulas, derivative prose, copycat covers and cookie cutter authors.

Publishing today has been debased by celebrity and dumbed down to attract people who normally wouldn’t tackle anything more demanding than the back of a cereal box.  This mentality is abetted by greedhead agents looking to nab their 15% of the pie and corporate editors who know full well the suits upstairs want big numbers, bestsellers…and if they don’t deliver, they’ll lose that rent-controlled apartment, all those sweet perqs and per diems that make their lousy lives bearable.  Shit, let’s face it, the markets take one more big dip, the guys in the boardroom start getting nervous and anyone could end up in the street.  There are more than a few ex-CEOs and executive vice-presidents living behind 7-11’s, begging spare change so they can get their Blackberrys out of hock.

So let me ask you something:  why should I, as an author, defer to anyone affiliated with an industry that publishes godawful tripe by the likes of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Sophie Kinsella and…well, feel free to fill in the blanks with your most detested hack of choice.  Those inept scribblers aren’t better writers than I am:  their prose has all the symmetry and grace of someone slipping on a wet floor with an arm-load of pots and pans.  Understand, I don’t resent their big money contracts, but I sure as hell detest them for taking up valuable shelf space and making mince-meat out of the printed word.

I love good writing and revere authors who trust and respect their audience enough to break away from convention, fearlessly leading readers into strange, unknown terrain. But it’s getting harder and harder to find work that seems fresh and exciting.  You have to look farther afield, to some of the small and micro-presses out there…because traditional publishing is a wasteland of zombies, vampires, tepid romance and poor-me memoirs.  It’s enough to make a book-lover weep.

But there are alternatives.  Those small presses I alluded to…and a growing number of independent authors who, taking a cue from their musical counterparts, have gone their own way, demanding total autonomy over their career and creations.  Seizing control of the means of production, refusing to be exploited and humiliated by a system as ancient, obsolete and calcified as a dinosaur turd.

Independent authors…like me.  Back in 1990 I knew I had a good book, a cool collection of short stories that counted among its fans none other than the great Timothy Findley.  How could it fail?  But that volume, titled Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination, was turned down by literally every press and publisher you can name.  So I released it myself.  We sold out the entire print run in 4 1/2 months…and I was hooked.  I loved the sense of empowerment the process of self-publishing gave me, loved how every decision–from the selection of cover art to the choice of interior font–was left completely up to me.

This year, 2010, our imprint Black Dog Press is two decades old and it’s my 25th anniversary as a professional writer.  Usually I’m not one who displays much interest in birthdays or anniversaries but I felt compelled, on this occasion, to do something I hadn’t done before, which is release two books in one year—just to prove my oddball micro-press is still alive, still kicking.

I think the books in question, So Dark the Night and Of the Night, are representative of the best of what independent presses are capable of producing.  Thrilling, literate, original fiction; books for readers who still treasure a well-told story.

And aren’t they beautiful?  For that, credit belongs to our long-suffering cover designer, Chris Kent, working his magic with lovely artwork created by Ado Ceric and Adrian Donoghue.  I also want to say special thanks to Sherron, for the invaluable role she has played in the conception, creation and release of literally every single thing I’ve written for the past quarter century.

So…what do you do when you’ve written a good book and no one wants to publish it?

D.I.Y.  Do it yourself.  Use new technologies like print-on-demand and e-books and blogging to get your work out there.  Let your readership decide if your prose is worthy…or not.  Write as well as you can and edit your work carefully; do a better, more conscientious job than your traditionally published, over-paid counterparts.  Help defeat the impression that the indie movement is nothing more than a haven for amateurs and never-will-bes.  Most of all, don’t let anyone deny you a voice, your rightful place at the campfire.  Your story is important.  It’s part of a long tradition, a Great Narrative as timeless and enduring as the very fabric of Creation.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

And don’t you ever forget it.

“Of the Night” (Cover art & design)

Well, here it is, unveiled for the first time.

The cover of the next novel in the Ilium “cycle”, Of the Night.  Coming soon to a bookstore near you (we hope)…

Our pal Chris Kent completed work on the cover this weekend and I have to say he’s come up with another beauty (Chris also executed the cover for my previous book, So Dark the Night).  Australian visual artist Adrian Donoghue created the original image and Chris, as designer, supplied the fonts and conceived the “look” of my book without damaging Adrian’s wonderful work.

(Click on the cover if you want to see a larger version)

Final edits on the text will be complete this week and both the text and cover files will be sent to our printer, Lightning Source, by the weekend.  Then we get a proof copy, check it out and if everything looks A-okay, Of the Night will be available for sale.  I’m anticipating an official release date somewhere around October 20th.  Keep checking back for the latest updates and news.

My deepest thanks to Chris, Adrian, and my wife, Sherron, for combining their talents and visual acuity to give me the loveliest cover an author could ask for.  Folks, you’re the best!

Job Satisfaction

A good day of work yesterday:

I think I nailed down the final version re: the jacket copy for Of the Night.  That’s one of the great things about being an indie writer and publisher, I have complete control over every aspect of my book, from the title and cover art to the selection of layout, fonts, even the composition of promo copy.  Some authors may not want the responsibility, the expenditure of time and effort, but I sure as hell do.  I have final say over the content and how it’s presented to readers.  I love it.

I’d decided to add an Afterword to Of the Night but for some days had been stymied as to what I wanted to say.  Yesterday the dam broke and the Afterword came in a rush.  Spent most of the day editing and cleaning it up and last night, just before bed, read it to my wife and sons.  They had some suggestions for revisions, small corrections, but for the most part they loved it.  So I’ll be adding the short essay to the end of the manuscript in the next day or two.

The book itself is close to completion, really just little niggling things that need to be touched up and smoothed over.  98% of it is finished, in the can, and I pronounce myself delighted with the end result.  Of the Night is a stand-alone effort but it’s set in the Great Lake city of Ilium, just like So Dark the Night, so it’s a short and sturdy companion piece to that longer tome.  It is not a sequel; it features a new cast of characters and an entirely different storyline.  Perhaps not as ambitious or immediately endearing as its predecessor, but Of the Night possesses a special charm of its own and readers are going to fall in love with it.  Take my word for it.

And since I mentioned So Dark the Night, let me say that it’s doing quite well, sales-wise, though it seems to be selling better in the e-book and Kindle editions than as a physical book.  The times they are a-changing.  The new technologies (e-readers et all) leave me cold and, candidly, I’ll keep buying books until the last forest is felled and converted to pulp.  Sorry, but it’s the truth.  When you buy my book, the actual “dead tree edition”, you can hold it in your hands, ogle that gorgeous cover, feel the rasp of the pages with your fingertips.

Sorry, techno geeks, your gadgets just can’t compete with that sensation.

But I’ve said my piece, given you an update so I’ll leave it there.  Gadgets/technology (pro and con) is a discussion for another time, another place.

The important thing for you to know is that Of the Night is on schedule and it looks very much like I’ll meet my self-imposed deadline and will be holding a proof of the book in my arthritic hands by my 47th birthday (end of October).  A short time later, it will be ready for ordering and reading.

Thrilling times ahead.

Watch this space…