Tag: Publishing (page 1 of 3)

10 Thoughts on Thrillerfest 2016

TFestI’ve attended numerous publishing and writing events. Thrillerfest is one of the more accurate gauges of where traditional publishing stands. For several reasons:

  1. The vast majority of the published authors who attend are traditionally published, or are seeking the traditionally published route. RWA events tend to be more of a mixed bag as Romance quickly embraced indie publishing. The thriller world, not so much.
  2. Thrillerfest is held in New York City. So there are plenty of industry people. While BEA is packed with industry folks, it’s not focused on writers. Thrillerfest is focused on both those who are already published and those who want to get published.
  3. The founders of ITW—International Thriller Writers—are heavy hitters in the world of traditional publishing and the conference always draws prestigious guests. This year, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn was one of the guests of honor.

So here are my takeaways:

  1. The conference, ranging from Craftfest through Thrillerfest is extremely well run. Lots of people put in a lot of time. Kudos to Kimberly Howe, her staff, and all the volunteers.
  2. People in publishing tend to be nice people. Actually, one thing I’ve always loved about being a writer is I work in a world where the players tend to be honorable and friendly. But it is a business and . . .
  3. Once more, the refrain is that the dust has settled in the world of traditional publishing. Which, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people are grasping onto data that dedicated e-reader sales are slowing to be indicative that eBook sales are doing the same. There seems little recognition that millions of eBooks are sold that aren’t being tracked in the industry standards.
  4. Despite that refrain, many are aware that things are changing. However, I didn’t get a sense many people have a plan for change.
  5. On a panel, a senior editor talked about how they were chasing the technology and the changes. I’ve heard that many times in the last ten years. In most industries, if one is chasing the changes, one is losing. I know there are various efforts to try to utilize what is available and innovate, but overall, what I saw and heard indicated that much of publishing is still business as usual instead of forward thinking and more importantly, taking action to make the necessary changes so they don’t have to chase the technology.
  6. Traditionally published authors seemed focused on the cocoon of the NY Publishing world. For what I call “Airport Authors” that’s understandable. It’s a nice cocoon. These authors are so big, they’re racked in the airport. But there are only a handful of those. There are many high-end authors who are NYT bestsellers, move a lot of books, but are not cornerstones that are indispensable, and not racked at the airport. Mass market paperbacks are being hit the hardest. Simply put, there’s less rack space available. Also . . .
  7. The flood of eBook content has affected indie, traditional, and hybrid authors alike. Publishing is a business that relied on distribution for many, many years. The reality for authors is that discoverability is the key to success and is a term everyone in publishing needs to be intimately familiar with.
  8. I write my Time Patrol books with the premise of “what if . . .” something in history is changed. I run my business the opposite way: “What if . . .” something in the present changes? What is my plan? I look to the future and contingency plan, something my Special Forces background beat into me. I pose a “what if” that every author who relies on print sales must consider: What if Barnes and Nobles folds? I don’t want that to happen, but it is a possibility. Last I checked, roughly 30% of print sales are already via Amazon. What needs to be considered is that even if those who bought print from B&N shift to Amazon, the focus has shifted, again, from distribution, to discoverability.
  9. Further, the future of print is going to be Print-On-Demand, which will completely wipe out distribution as a chokepoint. I foresee Amazon kiosks everywhere with POD technology in it. But not many shelves. Well, maybe for the Airport Authors.
  10. Authors who have not gone hybrid, and who need to, are behind the power curve by two years are least. And it takes 3 years to learn how to do it. Any author who has been in the business for more than a handful of books has learned about reinventing themselves in order to survive (except, perhaps, some Airport Authors). That reinvention needs to be happening now. I didn’t get the sense of eagerness for adapting and innovating for the future that I’ve picked up at romance conferences for the past several years.Spinal tap 11
  11. Because, we must always be able to turn it up to eleven: We’re living in an exciting and dynamic ecosystem in publishing. The distance between the author and the reader is the Internet. That’s a radical change that we can embrace and enjoy.

Nothing but good times ahead.


Where goes Barnes & Noble, there goes the traditional midlist

I remember when there was one Barnes & Noble. 18th Street. New York City. Where I grew. As a kid, my uncle would drive me down to Manhattan (from the Bronx, Manhattan is down– there’s a song about it). We’d go to it. Large tables piled with books and books and books. I was into books as a kid. I think I read through everything to read in the closest library so I’d get on my bike and go to the next closest library in da’ Bronx. This was before the days where people worried about kids being out and about so much. No helicopter parents.

That original store closed last year. I took that as a sign.

B&N’s stock is down. A lot. It’s 11.18 right now. Less books are being racked, the space being taken over by other things like games and dolls– stuff that’s not sold on consignment like books.

B&N accounts for roughly 30% of book sales for publishers. Two years ago at Dragon Con on a panel, I asked “What will happen if B&N goes under?” and the other authors’ face got pale. Science fiction, surprisingly, is a very antiquated market genre wise in terms of the business. Romance is on the leading edge. I’ve had the fortune to have been brought into the RWA, and lucky enough to be the only male author on their honor roll.

So let me speculate and tell me what you think. If B&N goes under and no other chain replaces it on scale (Amazon is opening their 3rd physical store, but that’s another discussion):

  1. The traditional midlist author who is currently being published is screwed. B&N racks lots of titles. Most indies (yes, they are on the rise, slightly, but they have limited shelf space). Those titles are the midlist. While that 30% figure is for all titles, I suspect for midlist print, it’s a much, much higher percentage of sales through B&N.
  2. The big names, what I call your airport authors, will sell more books.
  3. As a result, publishers will focus more and more on brands, as they already are. Tom Clancy is still a brand and still publishing. BTW– he’s dead.
  4. Publishers will publish a lot less midlist.
  5. Advances for midlist will go down because advance orders will cause print runs to shrink dramatically.
  6. A midlist author who is not already hybrid is at least two years behind reality.

This is  something that requires contingency planning for those affected. What we called a “Go to shit plan” in Special Forces.


The Kernel Idea (The Original Idea)– Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Toolkit_TNThe kernel idea is the Alpha and the Omega of your book. By that I mean it starts your creative process and it completes it. It’s what you begin with and at the end of the manuscript, everything in the book points toward it.

The kernel idea is the foundation of your novel. When I say idea, I don’t necessarily mean the theme, although it can be. Or the most important incident, although it can be. But it can also be a setting. It can be a scene. It can be a character.

It’s simply the first idea you had that was the seed of your novel. All else can change, but the idea can’t. It might be a place; a person; an event; a moral; whatever. But you did have it before you began writing and you must remember it as you write. If you don’t, your story and style will suffer terribly. You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence. And repeat it to yourself every morning when you wake up and prior to writing. Knowing it will keep you on track.

For every new book I begin, I write out this one sentence on a word document as the very first writing I do. I print it out and put it where I can constantly see it. The kernel idea is the moment of conception.

Can you clearly state what your book is about in 25 words or less? This is a key, essential ingredient of writing a good book. This idea keeps you focused and on track. It is important to:

Write The Kernel Idea down

Ask yourself: What emotional reaction does it evoke

Good writing and strong characters are the key to great writing and knowing what excited you to write the book in the first place will bleed onto the page. However, if you don’t write the idea down, you might forget and get lost along the way.

What Is Your Kernel Idea?

Good news is you had one

Bad news is you probably forgot it

It is usually the first thought you had (the spark of inspiration, the moment of conception)

It is the foundation of your book, the seed

KERNAL IDEA EXERCISE: Write down the idea behind your current project.

If you can’t do it, then you need to backtrack through your creative process to find it, because you had it at one point. Everything starts from something. While idea is not story (something I will talk about later) idea is the only thing in your manuscript that won’t change. Your story can, but your idea won’t.

In one of my early novels, the original idea was an action: What if Special Forces soldiers had to destroy an enemy pipeline? That’s it for Dragon Sim-13. Not very elaborate, you say. True. Not exactly a great moral theme. Right. But with that original idea there was a lot I could do and eventually had to do. I had to change the target country after the first draft. But that was all right because I still had the idea. I had to change characters, but that was fine too, because it didn’t change my idea. I had to change the reason why they were attacking a pipeline, but again, the original idea was the same.

You will have plenty of latitude for story after you come up with your kernel idea; in fact, I sometimes find the finished manuscript turns out to be different from what I had originally envisioned, but one thing is always true: that kernel idea is still there at the end as the Omega.

For my first kernel idea, I made it as simple as possible to enable me to focus on the writing because when I was in the Special Forces my A-Team had run a similar mission on a pipeline.   Since I had a good idea what would happen in the story, I could concentrate on the actual writing of the novel.

I’ve sat in graduate literature classes and heard students say, “the author had to have a moral point in mind when they wrote that book.” I agree, but sometimes it is not at the forefront of the story. Many authors write simply to tell a story started by that kernel idea, which indeed might be a moral point, but sometimes is a story that they wanted to tell and the theme developed subsequently.

A moral or theme (screenwriters call it intent) always does appear in a book by the time it’s done.   No matter what conscious expectations or thoughts an author has when they start writing, a lot more appears in the manuscript than they consciously anticipated.

After you have that kernel idea, you should spend a lot of time wrestling with it and consciously uncover your feelings and thoughts about it. I try to look at my main characters and determine what will happen to them emotionally, physically and spiritually as they go through the story. Who are they at the beginning of the story and who are they at the end?

This is an example of being aware of what you are doing. Not all authors have a conscious theme when they write a novel, but experience has taught me that it is better to have your theme in your conscious mind before you start writing. It might not be your kernel idea, but it will definitely affect your characters and story.

The reason it is important to have a theme in mind is because people want to care about what they read and the characters. If there is some moral or emotional relevance to the story they read, they will become more involved in the story and enjoy it more. Even if the reader doesn’t consciously see it either.

Some writers balk at the kernel or one-sentence idea. How can you be expected to write the entire essence of your epic novel in one sentence? You are told that every word, every sentence, every paragraph and every scene must have purpose, so how can any writer sum up their work in twenty-five words or less?

It’s simple. Your story started with an idea. If you write it down when you think of it, then summarizing your story in one-sentence is that much easier.

During the Write on the River workshop, the very first thing we do is write the idea on whiteboard.  It’s not as easy as you think!

One way to work on understanding the Kernel Idea is to take your favorite movie or book and try to figure out the Kernel Idea. This will help you narrow the focus and see how it is the foundation of everything in the story.

Do you know your kernel/original idea?

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