Monday, December 22, 2014

My New Novel! THE IMMUNE!

And now for the big news about my new book, THE IMMUNE.

The novel, about a man looking for his daughter in the wake of a catastrophic global pandemic, is ready to roll out.

It's long, like Stephen-King-long, so I split the e-book version into 4 parts and gave each its own very cool cover.

Part I (Unraveling)Part II (Void), and Part III (Evergreen) are available now. 

Citadel, the fourth and final installment, is up for pre-order now.   

You can order the first three parts here for automatic delivery to your Kindle or Kindle app (download the free Kindle app to your phone or tablet and link it to your Amazon account.)

It's been a very long road for this book, and I'm very excited to finally send it into to the world.

Thanks to all of you for your support as I make my way through the publishing jungle. And please do feel free to share the link - I am not at all above begging.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Slowpoke Variable

A couple Sundays ago, my daughter had a friend over to play.

They were sitting on the floor near me, chatting and laughing and putting together rubber-band bracelets or bead necklaces or whatever it is schoolkids are excited about these days. I had a football game on and I was trying to bang out some words on the new manuscript.

And then I overheard my daughter drop this bombshell:

“People call me slowpoke, but I like to take my time.”

She might as well have ripped my still-beating heart out of my chest and showed it to me. It was the cutest and most devastating thing I have ever heard her say and probably will ever hear her say.

I have called her a slowpoke. My wife has. I’m sure her brother has.


She won’t be rushed. Whether it’s her homework sheets or a craft project or simple coloring, she does take her time to make sure it is done right.

She’s the baby of the family. She hits a lot of the stereotypical checkboxes for adorable little girls. When she gets tired, she grabs whatever’s in reach and sucks her thumb. And so sometimes I admit that it’s easy to forget what she’s becoming.

A bad-ass.

I know one thing. I won’t ever call her a slowpoke again.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Print Version of The Jackpot Now Available!

It only took three and a half years, but I'm excited to announce that a paperback version of The Jackpot is now available! The list price is $11.99, but I've seen that fluctuate downward a bit in the last few days (something I have no control over). Last I checked, it was $10.53.

Here's the link.

It would make a fine Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Festivus receptacle stuffer.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Brief History of My New Book

A few years ago, I was watching an episode of a now-cancelled television show in which the villain, who was trying to unleash a biological weapon that would have decimated humanity, was stopped at the zero hour. Good guys win, bad guys lose, see you next week.

I've made no secret of my undying love for novels of the apocalypse. I love reading about the breakdown of society, following ordinary characters living through such extraordinary circumstances, and watching how they deal with the brave new world of the day after.  I had long toyed with the idea of writing a post-apocalyptic novel of my own, but for years, the setting was all I had. And it's not enough to only have a world wiped out by plague. That's a setting, a backdrop. You still need a story. A loaf of bread for your main character to trek to the store for. Otherwise, the characters are just wandering around eating canned goods.

But back to that television show. I started asking myself, well, what if the villain had gotten away with it? What if the bioweapon had gotten loose, and there was no way to stop it? I had this vague image of the architect of this disaster nervously waiting to find out if his bioweapon had been successfully released. He's sitting at a bar, drinking too much booze, his heart racing, certain that any moment, the feds will bust in, arrest him and haul him off to prison. I didn't know much about him. I didn't know why he was doing this. But I couldn't shake the image.

And I had the beginnings of the story. Eventually, I fleshed out the full storyline, or at least the early prototype, and I began work on it in June 2011. I worked on it for four months, wrote about 115 pages, and then stopped. This was one of the dumbest things I have ever done. I didn't stop writing totally, but I decided that this book wasn't marketable enough, and I wrote another book instead. That book, which I finished in April 2012, sucked, and I finally put it out of its misery later that summer when I realized it would need a complete re-write. As in throw out 350 pages and start over. That's how bad it was. Key takeaway: Never stop working on a book you love.

I flailed around a bit, and in November 2012, I went back to my unfinished novel of the apocalypse. Abandoning it had felt like the biggest mistake of my writing career. So I spent the next six months writing my big, sprawling tale about the end of the world, not caring a whit about agents, editors, publishers, contracts, or the like. I loved writing it. Every day was a joy. There were obstacles, of course, as no book of that scope goes off without a hitch. But by April 2013, the first draft was done. It weighed in at 180,000 words - double the length of any book I had ever written.

The book went out on submission in February 2014. Well, I wish I could tell you that there was a happy traditional publishing end to this story where the book sold for seven figures and in a dozen countries, but there wasn't. I was hopeful, but in the end, none of the publishers have come calling. That's been a hard thing to deal with, but I've made my peace with it. Because we live in a world now where the book still has a chance.

So as it looks like we have exhausted all the traditional publishing outlets, I'm going to be self-publishing it. I'm very, very proud of this book. Although the final version of a book never matches the author's original vision (which always is perfect), I can say that this is as close as I could have hoped to come.

I hope you will stick around as I bring you THE IMMUNE, one way or the other....

Friday, November 28, 2014

30-Day Running Challenge - Update #3

28 days down. 81.5 miles. 

And now I'm fighting a pretty nice little respiratory infection. It started as a sore throat on Thanksgiving Day, which is my favorite holiday, SO THANKS FOR THAT UNIVERSE. Now I have a little congestion and stuffiness. I put in two miles today, and I doubt I will do much more than that tomorrow or Sunday. 

The worst day of the month was the day before Thanksgiving - temps in the low 40s, and it was pouring down rain. But I got through it. 

I'm debating continuing my streak through December, when I'll have a similar schedule that made it relatively easy to get through November. Runner's World is sponsoring a run streak starting on Thanksgiving Day and going through New Year's Day. 

I haven't lost any weight but there's no doubt I'm a bit leaner. I like that. I feel pretty good too. 

Now back to the abomination of the Virginia-Virginia Tech football game. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

30-Day Running Challenge - Update #2

Still at it. 

At lunch today, I ran 3.5 miles to get me through my 20th straight day of running. 

This has been the toughest week yet due to the ridiculously cold November weather that we've been enjoying. 

My November 19 run was 1.08 miles, just enough to qualify as a run and keep the streak alive. When I headed out the door that morning, the temperature was 15 degrees. Easily the coldest weather I have ever run in. 

I was layered up pretty good, but my exposed skin, namely my face, took a beating. I thought about pushing it to two miles, but after a mile, my lungs hurt and my face burned.

No physical issues. My legs feel pretty good, and I haven't developed any lingering pain from overuse. 

I've even started to see a couple pounds come off. 


Monday, November 10, 2014

30-Day Running Challenge - Update

For those keeping score, I've now completed one-third of my November running challenge.

I've run every day for the last ten days for a total of 30.1 miles.

It hasn't been terribly difficult, and I really haven't experienced any pain or fatigue issues. I've been pretty good about keeping my pace steady and easy. Yesterday (Sunday, November 9) was the hardest day but that was because I stayed up way too late Saturday, um, sampling, uh, our region's finest craft beers. Yeah, that didn't end well.

The best thing about this project so far is that it's made getting my workout in automatic. I don't think about it or look for ways to get out of it. I just get dressed and go. And the deeper I get into the month, the less likely I will be (I HOPE!!) to bail. If I miss one day, that's it, it will feel like it was all for nothing.

The worst thing so far is that I haven't lost any weight. I've been pretty good about my calorie intake, and I think I feel a bit leaner, but the scale really hasn't budged.


I'll be back with another report on November 20.

Monday, November 3, 2014

30-Day Running Challenge

Running is my primary form of exercise, but it can get a little boring from time to time. I didn't have time to train for the upcoming Richmond Half-Marathon, which I've run twice before, but with colder weather setting in, I need something to keep me going with my fitness plan.

So as I debated this dilemma this past Saturday, November 1, it occurred to me that I could shoot to run every day this month. It actually works out pretty nicely on the calendar - we have 10 weekend days in November, and I'll have four additional days off from work due to various holidays. I work from home a couple days a week, which makes it easy to squeeze in a lunchtime run on those days. So that will leave me with only 9 days that I will be in the office this month, which will be the trickiest days to navigate.  

I've done this once before, back in 2008, when I ran every day in January. I logged about 90 miles that month, by far the most I've ever run in a month. I averaged about 2.7 miles per day. I experienced some knee pain down the stretch, but that seemed to resolve itself before the month was out. In reviewing my running diary that I kept, I see that I started to come down with a cold, around January 20, but that, too, seemed to go away on its own without affecting my streak. 

There are three big differences between this attempt (now three days in) and my 2008 challenge.

1. Last time, I did all of my running on a treadmill. We don't have a treadmill anymore. I'll be curious to see how my body responds to running outside without a break. 

2. Thanks to completing P90X in 2010, I've lost a fair amount of weight since 2008, weight that I've mostly managed to keep off. I'm hoping this will make things a little easier on me. 

3. I'm almost seven years older than I was in January 2008. That blows my mind a little. But I'm a much stronger runner than I was then, so I'm hopeful that the age difference won't have any impact. 

I'm now three days into November, and so far, so good. I've averaged about 3.3 miles per day (and plan to go a little shorter on those days I'm in the office). Since I will get no recovery days, keeping my legs fresh will be extremely important. To that end, I've dialed back my pace - I normally run an 8:45 to 9-minute mile. This month, I'm planning to run much slower, around 9:15 to 9:30/mile, even slower if I need to.

I'd like to break 100 miles for the month, but that might be a shade out of reach. Because of Thanksgiving, I'll be off work from November 26-30, so I'll see how far away I am from the century mark with five days to go (assuming I make it that far). 

Running every day without a break is a popular activity in certain running circles, and having done this challenge once, I can see why. According to most of what I've read, you need to log at least one mile for the streak to stay alive - so that will be my measure as well.


OK, so that's my challenge. 

Any long running streaks out there? 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

James River Writers Conference 2014

We just wrapped up this year's annual James River Writers Conference, the signature event for the James River Writers. It was a terrific event this year, and included a very high caliber of speakers, including my own agent, Ann Rittenberg, Hugh Howey, Jane Friedman, the Book Doctors (Arielle Eckstut and David Sterry) and a number of other authors, agents, and editors. 

It was a fantastic weekend with a lot of excitement, not the least of which was meeting Ann for the first time in person. I also got to spend time with Hugh AND LOOK AT ME NAME DROP WITH THESE FANCY AGENTS AND EDITORS. 

HAHAHA seriously - spending a weekend with these kinds of people is a master class in publishing. I learned all kinds of fascinating industry information from Ann, and I loved hearing about Hugh's experiences the last couple years. 

It goes without saying that Hugh is one of the most well-known and controversial figures in publishing today. You don't have to agree with everything Hugh says, and he'd be the first to tell you to do your own research, to do your own study of the business. 

But I say this, and I mean it, and you should really listen to me ... You ignore or underestimate Hugh at your own peril. He's smarter than me. He's probably smarter than you. He's thinking of things that the big publishing houses are not (or simply won't). That's not to say he'll be right on everything or that all his ideas or predictions will pan out. But I'm willing to bet that most will. 

And here's the thing. It sort of goes back to something I wrote back in February, in a post called Why Hugh Howey is Wrong - Sort Of. My main point then was that self-publishing had become a legitimate way to fail. 

The truth is that very, very few authors will ever be offered a traditional deal (me included). Self-publishing may well be the only option the vast majority of authors ever have. So we shouldn't be looking at this as a traditional vs. self-publishing argument. We should be looking at it this way - look at what's possible now. 

As for me - I'm more motivated than ever to get back to writing, whatever the future may hold. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

R.I.P. Copper (2000-2014)

Our dog Copper died today. She was 14. 

I wrote her this letter. 

Dear Copper, 

In 2000, which, when I was a kid, seemed like the distant future but now seems like ancient history, I decided to adopt a dog. I’d never had a pet before. My soon-to-be-mediocre career as a lawyer was underway, I was in a relationship that looked like it would go the distance, and it seemed like as good a time as any to get a dog. 

So that August, Jennie and I visited a bunch of shelters before landing at the Richmond Animal League, a no-kill shelter just south of the James River. "No-kill shelters" are favored by five out of five dogs surveyed! The staff had just brought in a litter of cute 4-month-old pups - you and your three brothers. They'd named you Silhouette, due to your jet black coloring. You'd been abandoned in a baseball field and you were all sick with parvovirus (sadly, one of your brothers didn't survive). You were a mix of some kind, mostly lab, maybe a little chow and hound in there. Little did we know that you were also a nuclear reactor meltdown in canine form.

From the beginning, we knew you were the one. After the adoption was squared away, we took you home, re-named you Copper, and OH MY GOD PUPPIES ARE AN ADORABLE PAIN IN THE ASS. I won’t sit here and say everything was hunky-dory from the get-go. Because it was not. When you’ve never done it before, having a puppy kind of sucks. Housetraining a puppy sucks. You don’t realize that having your home soaked in urine for a month is pretty much par for the course. You don’t realize that a puppy will whimper all night and bark explosively at something that happened yesterday. 

And this was my failing. Not yours. You did what dogs do. I, on the other hand, was a total coward. In fact, one day a couple of weeks after we got you, I even drove you back to the shelter with every intention of returning you. We were standing there in the reception area, and I think the staff even knew why I was there, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. Instead, I made up some reason why I had come back with pup in tow, and we went back home. I still feel so, so guilty for that, and I'm so very sorry. 

But eventually I got my shit together. I think. And we got through the hard stuff. Well I did. You just continued being a dog. By your first birthday in April 2001, we were rolling along. There was a dog park a few blocks from my apartment that we went to most evenings after work, which you loved. Always a dozen or more dogs in a (mostly) friendly battle royale. I still remember the closure of that park – that summer, a big sign went up at the gate that read THIS PARK WILL CLOSE 9/1/2001. Given what happened ten days later, the sign still haunts me. 

At night, you'd plop down on the floor of the bedroom, but by morning, without fail, I found you curled up at my feet. You once ate and digested a tennis ball cover. You ate a bunch of rat poison and survived (that one required some medical intervention). You chewed up a pen and pooped blue for two days. In November 2002, you developed a bladder infection (a chronic problem that we ultimately solved with a diet change) and peed blood on the carpet about 2 feet from from Jennie’s wedding dress (which admittedly was bagged and hanging off the floor, but still). You hated to play fetch or quite frankly chase anything unless it was alive (your snatching a bird out of the air in mid-flight remains one of the most amazing things I've ever seen), but you loved to go running with me. 

I remember once, we were out running at dusk, headed down a street near our apartment building. Up ahead, I could see a man standing there, silhouetted in the gloom. I didn’t think too much of it, but when we got within about half a block, you stopped dead. You weren't a huge dog, but I couldn’t get you to budge an inch, and your fur bristled. You were staring right at this guy, who I still couldn’t quite make out. Finally, I gave up and turned back; immediately, you released and followed me the other way. I think about that moment from time to time. What you were protecting me from, I’ll never know. Probably nothing, but I'll be telling the kids that you saved me from an ax murderer. 

Life went on – Jennie and I got married and bought a house with a huge fenced-in yard. When you were five, our son was born, and you happily accepted the change in the pecking order. When you were eight, our daughter came along, and you welcomed her as well. Later that fall, you tore your ACL and meniscus, and Jesus knee surgery for dogs is expensive. But we made it through that too, and by spring, you’d never have known that you’d blown out your knee.

You were there for everything important in our family's life. Marriage, babies, our first house, our second house, employment drama, first steps, first words, first day of school, lost teeth, our third house, book writing, job promotions, sickness, health, the Sopranos, Chinese food delivery. You were the best alarm system I've ever had - if a stranger got within 20 feet of our house, the whole neighborhood would know it. You loved table food and treats and especially when I held the remnants of a t-bone steak and let you chew off the bone. 
You loved running in the backyard and having your ears scratched and using our furniture as a napkin. And woe to the plate of food left unattended on the coffee table. 

You only got lost once, very briefly. Jennie was 8 months pregnant with baby #2, and I was out of town at a conference. A couple days earlier, a workman had come to mark utility lines in our yard and left the gate open. That Saturday morning, you finally found her way to that side of the yard and Jennie only realized it when you never came back inside. So there’s your pregnant momma, in her PJs, scrambling to get our toddler out the door, me in D.C., when the phone rings. All was well. You had made friends with a family about a mile away who found our number on your collar, and you were home less than an hour after disappearing.

In 2010, you hit double digits. That fall, you injured your other knee, and we decided against another operation. It seemed to be the right call, because within a few weeks, you were walking normally again. You weren't quite as active as you used to be, and a bit of white had started to take hold around your snout, but you still looked and acted far younger than your years.

The years rolled by, and you never seemed to age, even as you hit 11 then 12 then 13 years old. Our life got busier and crazier…. but in January 2014, something changed.

We noticed you hadn’t eaten for a couple days. That was followed by a couple days of … let’s call it stomach issues. We tried our best - medications, new foods, more medications, more new foods, but your appetite never returned, and your bathroom trips became wildly unpredictable. You grew weaker through the spring and summer as your weight dwindled from a peak of about 55 pounds, until physically, you were a shadow of your former self. You began sleeping downstairs all the time after a scary fall down the stairs. You couldn’t hear the doorbell anymore, which was nothing short of astonishing. I still tense up when I hear a doorbell, even if we’re at someone else’s house. But you always seemed happy, always in the mood for a treat here and there. You turned 14 in April, an age that I think any decent-sized dog would be proud of.

But by the end of July, walking was becoming a struggle and your stomach was a mess. Despite all the medications, including our last-ditch effort, an appetite stimulant that didn't work, you just weren't eating nearly enough, and you were wasting away. You didn’t seem happy anymore.

It was time. After consulting with your vet, who cared for you for nearly your whole life, I made the appointment. The whole family went because they wanted to be with you as long as they could. We made a special stop and fed you two hamburgers and a doughnut. You didn't tremble at all during the ride there, like you always did, and that told me you were ready. 

You didn’t fight or struggle because I think there was no fight left in you. You'd given us all you had. It was over quickly.

And I know we made the right call. You were thin, paper thin. You were deaf, and your once-bright eyes were clouded with cataracts. There was no pep in your step. There were barely any steps. I don’t know when you passed the point of no return, but the important thing was that you had passed it. Everything that made you you was gone.

But the house seems empty without you. Quieter, even though you hadn't made a sound in months. Your leash hangs by the door, where it will remain.

I have never been the world’s most patient person. I fly off the handle at stupid things, and I worry about things no rational person would. I’ve always known that, so I won’t claim some brightly lit revelation about that in the wake of your passing.

But in looking back at your joy-filled life, which you gave to us unconditionally, I would be stupid not to at least try and live as you did, if not all the time, then at least a little bit.

So farewell, sweet girl. Wherever you are now, the place is richer for it. 

And this world is darker without you in it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Inside a Writer's Head

Ooh, I have an idea. Where are the Post-It Notes? Fuck it. I’ll remember it. Dammit. I already forgot it.

This laptop is so slow. Can I buy a new one? I’ve had this one for eight months. I can write it off. It’s like 50 percent writing, 50 percent RedTube. So I can write off half, I guess. Do I even owe taxes? I made thirty-eight dollars from writing last year. I’m not reporting it.

I’ll check my e-mail. Maybe someone made an offer on the book. I better call my agent. It’s been two weeks since we talked. That’s a good non-stalkery time to wait. Saying “my agent” is weird. It sounds uppity. I find myself saying, “the woman who submits my work to publishers.” Really rolls off the tongue.

I should do some outlining. Why bother. Writing sucks. The Onion makes fun of writers a lot. I can’t remember the last book I read. I should just pants it. That’s what geniuses do. I should've gone to law school. Wait. I did go to law school. I SHOULDN'T have gone to law school. 

I have a funny observation. I’ll post it to Facebook. I got 21 Likes for that Facebook joke! I’m good at Facebook. Please kill me.

I’ve seen this episode of Beachfront Bargains. Twice. So much for making a Best Writer Under Forty list. It’s not me, it’s the editors. Hahaha. Seriously, it’s probably me. Or my book. It’s trite. It’s tired. It’s clich├ęd. I’m terrible. How did my agent even like this? Maybe she didn’t read it. Are my beta readers brain damaged? Why did I write a 620-page book?

Lunchtime. Tuna fish is healthy. But this cheeseburger is delicious.

My characters don’t talk to me. How did this even become a thing? I don’t cry when I kill a character. They’re not real. Maybe I’m a sociopath. More likely a shitty writer whose characters have no life.

I’m so happy about the foreign deal. Did the publisher read it? They probably didn’t even read it. If they read it, they wouldn’t have bought it. I love my foreign publisher. They're the best. 

Good thing I self-published it. Should I self-publish again? I should probably self-publish again. I should never self-publish again. You can wait longer. Don’t be stupid. No one cares where the book comes from. Well some people do. Fuck them. You could be sitting on a gold mine. You could be sitting on a time bomb.

That was a good song.

Can I mention the name of a song in this book? A guy kills another guy for the lyrics to a song. That’s a good idea for a book. Wait. It’s probably been done. I’m too dumb to craft a mystery novel. All the clues.

First plot point. Goes right here. 

I’m on page fifty of this book. The one about the murderous singer sounds better. That guy in Star Wars keeps yelling “stay on target.” I should stay on target.

This book is horrible. 

Game of Thrones is on.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mailing List

Over there on the right side, you'll see a new widget. 

This gives you an option to subscribe to my newsletter, which I will only send out when something really momentous happens. 

In my case, momentous will mean only one thing - the publication of a new book or story that was written by me. 

Given that this hasn't happened since May 2011, you can rest assured you won't be spammed by this newsletter. 

But if you would like to stay up to date on my new work, please subscribe. 

I will NEVER sell, distribute or otherwise disseminate your e-mail address to anyone. Period. 


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My First Book Deal (With Surprise Twist Ending)

In January 2012, with my self-publishing venture lying in ruins, I enrolled my book, The Jackpot, in Amazon's KDP Select Program.

As you may recall, and as I documented here, this proved to be one of the smartest things I ever did for my writing career. 

Because the book had finally done well, my agent Ann and I decided to see if there were any foreign publishers that would be interested in the book. So in February 2012, Ann submitted the book to a number of overseas publishers. She warned me that foreign deals were hard to get, and that they could take a long time. 

The book toddled off to faraway lands, and we went on with our lives. The Jackpot's time in the sun came and went, and its carriage finally turned back into a pumpkin. 

That spring, I finished the manuscript I'd been working on only to realize far too late that the book was a total disaster and would have to be re-written, almost entirely from scratch. I documented that experience here.

I floundered about for a while. Then in November 2012, I returned to a manuscript that I had started but had not finished. I loved this manuscript, but had abandoned it, thinking it would not be marketable. Eff it, I thought. I loved writing it.

I worked on that book for the next year and sent it to Ann last fall. She loved it. We spent the last part of 2013 and early 2014 whipping it into shape, and it went out on submission about a month ago. 

There were a number of interested editors, but, as it turns out, I'm not the special quick-sale flower I was certain I'd be, and these submissions do really take time for all but the luckiest of authors. So we wait. And we wait.  

Then on Tuesday, March 25, I got an e-mail from Ann's co-agent and my fellow Wahoo, Penn, with this subject header: 

FW: THE JACKPOT by David Kazzie/ Bulgarian offer

As writers tend to do when they get e-mails like this, I looked at the words all out of order. Offer? The? Kazzie? FW? And I was like, what? 

I opened the e-mail to discover that one of the leading Bulgarian publishers had made an offer for the Bulgarian language rights to THE JACKPOT. 

A real, actual book contract. For a book whose heyday I thought had long since come and gone. More than two years after the book was submitted.

So here we are. My little self-published e-book, which I finished writing years ago, which I often worried should never have been self-published, is going to be a real book. The book that I'm most proud of is out there fighting for its publishing life right now, while its ancestor, The Jackpot, becomes the first one to kick down the traditional publishing door. A publisher is buying my work. My words. And hopefully, this bodes well for my new book. Hopefully, The Jackpot, old and wise like Mr. Miyagi, is establishing a beachhead for all my work to follow. 

Chuck Wendig recently wrote (I'm paraphrasing a bit here) that every writer tunnels his own way through this business and then detonates the tunnel behind him. I couldn't agree more. Everything about my career has been weird and nothing at all as I had envisioned it when I was a rookie writer. I've been at this a long time. I've had some bizarre experiences, some terrible heartbreak, and some weird successes. Nothing compared to the moment that I saw that e-mail. Life is weird. 

I'm beyond excited about seeing a print version, seeing a new cover (I'm guessing), seeing my words translated into a language I cannot read, and especially reaching a new audience that I wouldn't be able to on my own.

I'll post updates about how things go as THE JACKPOT marches along to publication in the next year.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why Hugh Howey Is Wrong. Sort Of.

Like many other writers, I've been watching with interest the fallout from the publishing dirty bomb that Hugh Howey detonated this week with his Author Earnings website.

This is not a post about that site. 

It is a post, however, about something Hugh wrote today in a post titled "Luck and Lottery."

First off, I like Hugh a lot. I loved WOOL, and I'm now reading SHIFT, which I might like better than WOOL. I respect his work and his usually spot-on analysis about what is going on in traditional and self-publishing. 

Although I agree with much of what he wrote in "Luck and Lottery," there were a few points that I really took issue with, enough that I decided to write this blog post when I should really be asleep. 

He wrote that "[m]ost people will be happier getting their works out in the wild and moving on to the next project than they will reading rejection letters. We don’t see these stories."

 When I self-published The Jackpot, I was ready to become a professional writer. I had an agent. I'd had half a dozen short animated films go viral. I had more regular Internet exposure than the vast majority of writers (at the time, those videos were drawing 3,000-4,000 hits per day). I wasn't doing this just to get my work out into the wild. I was doing it to get my work in front of a lot of readers and to start making money. 

So the reason that I argue that Hugh's contention is wrong is simple, and it is this: there is one thing I've done in self-publishing that Hugh really hasn't. 

And that is fail spectacularly. 

Now hang on: I'm not saying Hugh hasn't struggled as a writer and doesn't understand the work and sacrifice it takes to become a good writer. His pre-WOOL work proves that he's been in the trenches and that he has seen his work not sell like he'd hoped.

But I'm talking specifically about self-publishing here. 

The Jackpot entered the world in the late spring of 2011 ... and crashed with a gigantic thud. It sold less than 300 copies in eight months (a good chunk of which went to friends and family). Believe me, no one was clamoring for more fiction from me.

Hugh further writes that: "...[Y]ou can self-publish, have the pride of having done so, hold a copy of a physical book you wrote in your hands, see your e-book up on Amazon, get a sale or two, hear from a reader, and want to write more."
I didn't feel pride. I felt fucking heartbreak. I felt sick. Seeing my book on Amazon ranked at #237,135 didn't make me feel very good at all. All my work. All my sweat. All for nothing. It was as painful as any rejection letter I'd ever received from an agent. Except it went on for eight miserable months. And I didn't want to write more. I wanted to take my Kindle out back and take a baseball bat to it, Office-Space style. 

Yes, The Jackpot ultimately did find great success thanks to Amazon's KDP Select program, but that was pure luck (a factor that Hugh is totally correct about and doesn't brush under the rug). Moreover, it came via a marketing strategy that no longer works, one that's as dead as the dinosaurs. Don't get me wrong, the day my book hit No. 1 in Legal Thrillers and the Top 100 overall was one of the great days of my life. But it was as much of a lucky strike as bestsellerdom via traditional publishing would've been. So, while I realize that without self-publishing, The Jackpot had a zero percent chance of becoming the No. 1 legal thriller on Amazon, it's tough to get unduly excited about a platform that gives it a 0.00000001 percent chance of that same success. 

It's like that line from Dumb and Dumber, where Jim Carrey's character says to his romantic interest: "So you're telling me there's a chance!" 

And I've never forgotten the misery of watching my book wither away on the vine. Without KDP Select, the book would have vanished. I mean, if I hadn't been able to draw readers when I had a huge audience for my videos, what hope would I have one or two or five years later? Virtually zero. The memory burns brightly as I pursue a traditional deal for my current book. 

So just remember that when you think about self-publishing. I think this is particularly applicable to those of you who can't manage the high-volume production that it seems to take to succeed self-publishing, those of you who are thinking about writing "merely" a book a year. 

Toward the end of his post, Hugh writes: "And what’s mind-blowingly-brilliant about this data is that it has already moved self-publishing into a position of equality (emphasis in original)." 

I agree, Hugh. Self-publishing is just as legitimate a way to succeed as a writer as traditional publishing. And it's just as legitimate a way to fail.